Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Really, can we NOT sneer at fantasy?

I read the Guardian online obsessively (my life these days is pretty much divided into things I do obsessively and things I don't do at all) and I've noticed occasional coverage of fantasy and science fiction in their book pages. Recently they had a great article about Martina Cole, discussing the double standard of the literary world and how they tend to sneer at crime authors, even (especially) those as successful as she is. Spotting an article entitled Let's Stop Sneering at Fantasy Readers I clicked on it with interest. Spotting speculative references in mainstream news coverage is always awesome!

Only, I discovered as I read on with a quiet kind of horror, the article was about as pro-fantasy as those 'hey isn't it cool women can do anything these days as long as they look hot in heels' articles are pro-feminist.

Possibly the subtitle of the piece, They might be the zit-ridden little brothers of science fiction geeks, but fantasy readers still deserve our respect should have tipped me off.

The worst part is that I'm pretty sure the writer was trying to be positive. The article seems to be trying to present fantasy as something worthwhile and interesting, but sadly it gets bogged down in its own mythology, spending far too much time regurgitating worthless (and old-fashioned) cliches about mainstream culture's perception of fantasy readers and fantasy books, so that its message becomes entirely lost.

Surely the writer didn't need to spend such a large proportion of the article's opening three paragraphs drilling in the idea that "everyone thinks" fantasy readers are "the people Red Dwarf fans sneer at for being too nerdy," and that fantasy itself is "the genre of eternal greasy adolescence."

Finally, having thoroughly introduced fantasy to his readers (who if they didn't think fantasy was for unsocialised geeks before, most certainly do NOW), the author of the article comes up with the idea that fantasy, being such a "new" genre (a mere 50 years old) might be worth taking a bit more seriously - now that some famous people who wrote in the genre have passed on.

Yes, I boggled too.

For every positive bit of reporting - such as about the David Gemmell Legend Award for fantasy - the article's writer cannot help but add another sneer. He approves of Joe Abercrombie being shortlisted because that suggests fantasy readers might (shock!) have a sense of humour about themselves, but suggests that the appearance of assassins, elves etc. means that the publishers are lacking in imagination (and links to an article written by someone who has actually read the relevant books, not just their titles).

Finally, after surfing a sea of snide put-downs, I came to the final paragraph, in which the writer finally came up with one unqualified positive quality of the genre - its openness to translated works, particularly from countries such as Poland, from where the winner of the inaugural Gemmel hails. Ah, translated works, a concept that book people can understand without getting elf cooties all over them.

Really, is it too much to ask that the mainstream media report on our genre without wrinkling their nose in distaste the entire time? Didn't their mothers teach them that if they can't discuss a subject without making a face like they are sucking a lemon, it might be better not to say anything at all?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Watch out for those Elf Cooties, Tansy!

Great post, really interesting.

Flinthart said...

Yes. It is too much to ask.

Science fiction has been mainstreamed, and as a result, it's a lot less interesting than it used to be. Can we not just leave fantasy in the ghetto, so we can enjoy it properly?

Who gives a flying rat-f__k if Guardian readers don't go for it? We're better off without them.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

With the numbers that it is selling, Fantasy must be like that other genre that so many people won't admit to reading. Romance.

Havock21 said...

From a general run of the mill, layman, feral I occasionally have a scribble perspective, yes, its almost a closeted affliction. Why?, well one of the things I have noticed, especially with critics and to a limited extend the INDUSTRY, is that unless you are well versed in the historical, " You must have read' works, opinions rarely count.

Further more, these fellows, posting or writing the dissected, we will deliver it to the masses because they cannot possibly know, book review, have this in built belief on whats good and whats not, its distorted. I mean its distorted to F&^K.

Its not the only issue I have and god knows I have been skipping around this Literary enclave for about two seconds, but a significant proportion of the so called experts, need capping in my book. I'm not sure where the bias comes from in all honesty, maybe its a closed bloody mind, too much emphasis is placed on whether the work is great, as compared to.....WHO THE HELL EVER, I'm not gunna qt legends, because to be honest, I have not read a lot of those masterful pieces of work, that means I cannot "can" them, but it means I should not be canned either, for having not read them. AND ..NO DIRK, ya don't get to keep it to ya self.....thats not being a good boy, its poor form and very very selfish,although I do get where you are coming from..lol.

I wonder how many great pieces of work have been killed off due to the " Perception"...bring'em out I say.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Havelock21 -- When my fantasy trilogy came out the editor of the literary section of the paper didn't review it.

She told me later that she had to review books that people didn't want to read (but were good for them -- that's my subtext) as opposed to my books, which people were going to read anyway!

TansyRR said...

Flinthart - the idea of SF being mainstreamed and therefore dull is an interesting one!

I have no problem with being in a ghetto, there's something comfy about having our own community and people - I think it's just bizarre to see people who seem to be *trying* to sell the concept of our genre to mainstreamers and yet they just can't get over that overwhelming cringe-cringe-cringe factor.

TansyRR said...

Rowena - I do find it interesting that the 'outsider' view of fantasy is that it is Popular as opposed to Good, as if there are only two kind of books.

It does make it kinda depressing when you are in a genre labelled as Popular and your books actually don't sell in the gazillions.

In what other field is 'popular' something people say when sneering? Hmm, hang on. Possibly it does apply to other fields too. But it shouldn't!!

TansyRR said...

Havelock21 - yes, I get tired of the idea that your opinion doesn't count if you haven't read xxx masterwork too...

Though I have to admit if I *have* read said masterwork I do have a terrible anti-social tendency to say things like 'original? HA.'

There are so many layers of cringe and snobbery in any literary area that it's amazing any of us are still talking to each other.