My byline in The Drink Tank #408 – the John Scalzi issue. What it’s like to form an opinion and then meet the author.
My byline in The Drink Tank #408 – the John Scalzi issue. What it’s like to form an opinion and then meet the author.
Title: Wizardry & Wild Romance
Author: Michael Moorcock
Publisher: Monkeybrain Books
Publisher’s Blurb: … this invaluable work analyzes the Fantasy genre from its earliest beginnings in Medieval romances, on through the notable practitioners like Howard, Lovecraft and Tolkien, and up to the brightest lights in the field today. Insightful and often controversial, this is a book every fantasy reader should have on their shelf.
“Michael Moorcock – Extreme Librarian”
Introduction by China Miéville
“To read something that somebody else has written and have it make better sense of your own reactions than you have been able to, is a momentous thing.” (p14)
Miéville’s central thesis, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is we should all want better, demand “vision and passion” from the epic fantasy we read. Not because Moorcock says we should, but because so much of it has fallen into disrepair. A lot of it is imitative and limited. Fans can get caught in the Catch-22 of reading what’s available which keeps getting written because it’s what sells.
And yes, Moorcock is frustrating. He has a lot to say, all of it supported by citations of his arguments. His prose is dense, his meaning often obvious, but his insistence we should want better is absolutely right. And how in the hell has he read and studied so much and written so much?
“I admire intelligent, disciplined, imaginative entertainment if it seems to offer me some perspective on my own life.” (p 18)
In the first paragraph, Moorcock defines what he’s writing about. Romantic epic fantasy “whose writers invent their own Earthly histories and geographies.” Not, I am relieved to learn, that sentimental love story rubbish churned out by the likes of Danielle Steele.
This too, resonated with me. “I admire intelligent, disciplined, imaginative entertainment if it seems to offer me some perspective on my own life.” I’m finally able to admit to myself that much of what I have read wasn’t bad so much as boring. Too repetitive, unambitious, and often self-congratulatory.
“I believe that critical dissection of the fantasy story into its components does not detract from the story. Rather, it adds a new dimension to it …” This is what I’ve been fumbling around for much of my life, and was what I enjoyed most in my English classes. The many ways to look at a work and interpret it and the richness that adds to it.
Epic fantasy then, loosely defined, are the stories told which feature exotic landscapes from the imagination of the writer, with symbols which evoke strong sensations as a way to escape and discover ourselves. Moorcock references the escape from objective pressure, which can also mean an escape from the inward pressure we place on ourselves to survive an often unpleasant world.
Each chapter title takes on an aspect of Epic Fantasy.
Chapter 1 “Origins” gives a history beginning with 16th century tales deemed Chivalric Romance and its influence on Gothic Romance. Here, romance is defined most succinctly as exploration of the exotic. When Moorcock writes about early epic fantasy he writes, “… their chief purpose was to amaze and shock.” While the prose may not be easily read by contemporary readers, the presence of dragons, magic, castles, ogres, doom and tragedy are instantly familiar.
Chapter 2 “The Exotic Landscape” discusses the landscape of the internal as expressed in the external. The exotic landscape is used to distance the author/reader from reality. In some ways, as though realism is too much to abide.
An interesting brief topic was Moorcock’s discussion of “bachelor-fiction” written by the likes of Lovecraft. “… [Lovecraft’s] more successful horror stories in which death, idealism, lust and terror of sexual intercourse are constantly associated …” (p. 55) (emphasis mine)
And then there’s this, “Too frequently one gets the impression that … most practitioners of epic fantasy read only one another’s work.” (p. 77) This continues explaining how epic fantasy can do better by its readers. Don’t just read your peers’ work, avoid the bloat and the boring and the stereotypical by reading works in other genres as well.
Chapter 3 “The Heroes and the Heroines” focuses on the lack of mature, nuanced, emotional reactions in epic fantasy characters. Most are adolescent, immature or “pretend-adult.” A frequent adjective he uses is “infantile.” The men are in charge, all knowledgeable and the women are fundamentally passive, waiting to be taken care of by the man. (This is the trope which made me uncomfortable enough to go elsewhere for my reading pleasure.)
Chapter 4 “Wit and Humor” discusses the types of humor most suited for epic fantasy. Irony and melodrama, comedy and fantasy, closely bound to one another in showing the fantastic extremes of life (fairies, dragons, etc.) along with the reversals of fate represented in farce (custard pies, or pratfalls).
Comedy adds a dimension to the characters and the plot. Humans are complex, and often use humor to survive the daily grind. So too should epic fantasy characters.
It’s in this chapter, Moorcock explores the idea that fantasy should “have at its source some fundamental compassion, … ambition to show … what human life is actually about.” (p. 116) Further, he looks for readings which help us (as readers) understand how to deal with problems and respond in a positive manner to injustice and frustrations which hound us all.
Chapter 5 “Epic Pooh” is Moorcock’s tirade against authors such as Tolkien who write childish books and parade them as gentler adult books. The authors who preach moderation and politeness. Those who do not explore the harsher and extreme truths of life.
Moorcock’s explanation, “Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down, they haven’t got the approval yet to put a new one in …” (p. 120) tickles me no end. And while I happen to enjoy Winnie the Pooh, I have no illusions that A. A. Milne wrote anything other than polite, happy nursery rhymes.
Chapter 6 “Excursions and Developments” is the final chapter and deals with the thesis that categorization is destructive. Because it forces authors to pigeonhole themselves in order to sell books and attract an audience. (cf it doesn’t have to be good to sell in Chapter 1.)
This made me ponder how I read. I read books, in search of good stories, not genre. Yes, I like a good dragon tale, time-travel, cyberpunk, etc. but I like other things.
I read John Scalzi because I like his stories, not because he writes military science fiction.
Myke Cole tells the story of a village bullied by the religious government and the teen-aged girl who comes to the rescue. Strong female character (we need Heloise today), story about standing up to the bullies. That it’s categorized as fantasy meant little to me.
Wizardry & Wild Romance is rich, dense, and filled with authors I’ve never heard of. It’s also one I will gladly read repeatedly as I learn more about critical writing. Moorcock’s discussion of what is good in epic fantasy, and what isn’t, can be transferred to other genres, I’m sure. Albeit without the dragons and wizards, etc.
Exhausted! By the time I got home Sunday afternoon, I was veering into walls.
Wow! Lots of interesting questions about contacting extra-terrestrial intelligence. While there was a massive amount of smarts on the panel, it was really cool to learn Vatican City has an observatory, and the director of the observatory, Guy J. Consolmagno, was on the panel.
“We’re always looking for ourselves.”
How do we not anthropomorphize aliens?
Maybe we should warn them about us?
What are we not including/asking?
What is our motivation for searching for extraterrestrial intelligence?
What are the consequences of contact?
Will aliens be truthful? (Based on human history, there’s been a lot of dissembling.)
Should we just remain quiet?
Should we be more powerful?
Would You Baptize An Extraterrestrial?
After the panel it was time for another swing through the Dealer’s Room, and find the line for a John Scalzi autograph.
What a great weekend!
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Five original tales set in a shared urban future—from some of the hottest young writers in modern SF
More than an anthology, Metatropolis is the brainchild of five of science fiction’s hottest writers—Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and project editor John Scalzi—-who combined their talents to build a new urban future, and then wrote their own stories in this collectively-constructed world. The results are individual glimpses of a shared vision, and a reading experience unlike any you’ve had before.
A strange man comes to an even stranger encampment…a bouncer becomes the linchpin of an unexpected urban movement…a courier on the run has to decide who to trust in a dangerous city…a slacker in a “zero-footprint” town gets a most unusual new job…and a weapons investigator uses his skills to discover a metropolis hidden right in front of his eyes.
Welcome to the future of cities. Welcome to Metatropolis.
The reason I don’t read book reviews, or listen to book podcasts, etc. is simple. They lead to adding to my already never ending want to read list. And, as I get older I realize, I have enough books to last the rest of my life on hand. I have this same squeamishness with anthologies.
And yup, as often happens, two more authors go on to the list. It should go without saying, by now, that John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors. His name is the reason I read the book. And his story is my favorite, having to do with pigs and pig shit and politics, and a slightly lighter take on the dystopian themes that run through the book.
Elizabeth Bear‘s story “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood” about a counterculture which offers its protagonist, Cadie, a safer life caught my attention almost immediately. Then the words Ukrainian mob got me. I need more please.
I also need more Tobias Buckell. “Stochasti-city” features a bouncer who becomes a military strategist for a group of people aiming to build a better community right under the existing power structure’s nose.
My fondness for subversive protagonists and complex emotional situations was satisfied by the stories in this anthology. And, in my mind, it’s never wrong to want more.
Metatropolis edited by John Scalzi ~ Review
Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Lock in is what happens when a flu pandemic turns weird. Some lucky survivors become carriers. Even more lucky survivors have a paralyzed central nervous system, keeping their minds alive but unable to move. Millions die from Haden’s Syndrome.
FBI agent Chris Shane is a Haden. He’s also rich enough to be able to afford top of the line “threeps,” an outer shell which connects to a neural network in the brain and allows for movement. A Haden’s body remains in a sling being taken care of. Hadens don’t actually move their bodies, their brains move the threep, and can do other high tech wizardry.
This is a murder mystery, police procedural, sci-fi thriller. With over tones of inequality (on several levels) and political maneuvering to give non-Haden sufferers access to the same high tech. Then people can make even more money.
I have a running debate with a friend who does not read science fiction. In this debate, she thinks things like threeps are just too weird. She can’t relate. And that’s okay. My side of the debate is that none of this, of course, is weird. It’s just different. Neither of us can decide if it’s because I’ve read a lot of science fiction/fantasy, or if it’s just my easy-going nature.
Either way, John Scalzi’s world-building always seem real and credible to me. Even if the bodies of old people are genetically re-engineered to be younger and more powerful (Old Man’s War), or it’s people adapting to being locked in to a body with no functioning central nervous system.
I wouldn’t mind if there was a series featuring agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann. It would be very interesting to see what happens in this world created by John Scalzi as it evolves and adapts to new laws, and new attitudes.
Apparently, there was a big kerfuffle over something in the book I didn’t even notice until I read about it. And when I thought about it, I spend more time thinking about the automatic assumption I had made, rather than the thing being kerfuffled. But you’ll have to figure that out on your own.
My friends are all feminists. All of them. Especially the men. And we often get into discussions about the pornification of society and the expectations that for women to be deemed worthy they must adhere to impossible standards of beauty.
One of the communities I used to be active in was science fiction/fantasy fandom. While the people who welcomed me were some of the most accepting people I’d ever encountered, and were willing to teach me the not-so-secret handshake, over the years I noticed the cliques, the gatekeeping (by males), and even more sexualization of women, especially in cosplay.
It’s so sad this happens and people make up excuses for why it’s acceptable, when it isn’t.
In 2012, Jim C. Hines and John Scalzi held a pose-off to raise money for charity. The object, male authors attempting to pose in the same positions in science fiction/fantasy cover art as women are drawn. Of course, they’re drawings, because those positions are impossible to hold by real, actual women.
Today, I came across this on io9: 10 Stupid Arguments People Use To Defend Comic Book Sexism. (I look forward to the day when links and titles to articles no longer have numbers in them. Why couldn’t this have been simply titled “Stupid Argument People Use …”?)
The conversation continues to be the about objectification. Reducing women to only their body, and judging them on the impossible standards of beauty as enforced by society. We feminists rail against this all the time. We don’t want the children of the world growing up to believe that the only worth a girl has is based only on her appearance.
We need to understand that every person we meet is a fully realized individual with talents and interests that don’t show on the surface. It isn’t about sex. It’s about sexualization, and objectification. And those are wrong.
How do we change the conversation? As always, we start with ourselves. When we see someone handsome/pretty, do we think of them as people? Do we wonder what stories they might have to tell? Or do we just think of them only as something shiny and bright that would look good in a picture on our walls?
Changing the conversation means we train ourselves and those around us, especially kids, to see people as people. To see women as people. Seeing women as people means accepting that not every body is the same, and that no matter how much you think they should do something (lose weight, stop wearing stripes, wear tighter/looser clothing, etc.) to look good to you, they are under no obligation to do so.
Every person on this planet has a story to tell that is more than just how their body looks. We all have interesting stories, and we need to be asking about those instead of judging people by their looks.