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Thread: My apology for cynical comments about Fantasy

  1. #1
    That hairy-handed gent
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    My apology for cynical comments about Fantasy

    Lest anyone think otherwise, I like Fantasy fiction. At least, non-clichéd, creative, clever Fantasy fiction. Alas, so much of the newer stuff I've attempted to read in recent years is obvious, slightly veiled, rehashes of Tolkien, that I get dismayed even looking at stuff in the bookstore anymore.

    I really like the original Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, who is a terrific writer of both Fantasy and straight SF (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven). The subsequent follow-ups were less successful to me, but overall, she's a giant in the field.

    And if you've only been devoted to the Fantasy writing of the past couple of decades, and you want to read something totally new and refreshing, go back to the good ol' stuff, which is often absurdly hard to find these days. Start with George Macdonald, Phantastes, Lilith. Both are in public domain and I believe available on-line, free. And Lord Dunsany, a quirky genius at both short and long forms, a writer so unique that he hasn't really had any subsequent imitators, that I'm aware of. Or, if you really like pseudo-archaic overwrought prose, go for William Morris, E. R. Eddison, W. H. Hodgson (The Night Land), or Tolkien's contemporary and friend, Mervyn Peake. Peake, in particular, tried to write a Fantasy epic that didn't involve magical powers. Opinions vary as to how well he succeeded, but he's a considerable writer who can't be ignored.

    In short, I value creativity and originality more than clever facile follow-ons. So, yeah, the latest farm-boy confronts evil dragon guarding a hoard of stolen wealth from the beautiful princess story doesn't usually stimulate my interest.

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  2. #2
    So, blacbird, is this to be the a thread where we all can get to flog ya? Ya know, for any reason at all?

    I kinda need to transfer some frustration onto an innocent, and ya seem to be asking for it ... if ya know what I mean. ... (Thank goodness this place has an "ignore list"! I just used it to <deleted> But now I got ya to kick, I hope.)

    Do we have to make the flogging be related to some fantasy issue?

    Or can we start plucking out your feathers, one by one, just because?

    Wait, you don't have me on your "ignore list", do you?
    Last edited by F.E.; 03-06-2012 at 09:34 AM.

  3. #3
    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    Lest anyone think otherwise, I like Fantasy fiction. At least, non-clichéd, creative, clever Fantasy fiction. Alas, so much of the newer stuff I've attempted to read in recent years is obvious, slightly veiled, rehashes of Tolkien, that I get dismayed even looking at stuff in the bookstore anymore.
    You're reading the wrong stuff.

    Sure, ninety percent of the fantasy out there is crud. But remember Sturgeons law: "Ninety percent of everything is crud".

    There are some really fine fantasy writers around these days.
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  4. #4
    Mildly Disturbing Filigree's Avatar
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    Well, on this issue I have to side with Blacbird. I'm one of those strange people who read Dunsany, Haggard, Merritt, MacDonald, etc. because I read Tolkien, and wanted to retrace the wellsprings of adventure fantasy. I did this at age 11, armed with a dictionary to help with obscure words. So I have little patience for current readers who whine 'But those words confused me, or those names were too hard, and I stopped reading...'

    There's some good stuff across all fantasy genres. I will always make time to read Lynn Flewelling, Robin Hobb, Patricia McKillip, Terry Pratchett, and Scott Lynch. But too much current epic fantasy is either self-consciously gritty or self-consciously whimsical.

    Urban fantasy and paranormal romance tend to make my eyes burn, because too many newer writers have simply not read anything older than themselves.

    So I'll set myself up as a target, too, waving a flag for originality, not farmboys-n-dragons. Unless you can figure out something really astonishing with the trope, I'm not getting past the jacket cover.

  5. #5
    ...it's anything but. AW Moderator amergina's Avatar
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    Have to say, that for the record, I found Tolkien horribly long winded. I gave up before Bilbo? had even got to the party. For arguments sake though, I tried, really.

    But, yeah in these situations the ignore button really is best.
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    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    There are tons of good fantasy books out there:

    Robin Hobb
    Scott Lynch
    Terry Pratchett
    Naomi Novik
    Ekaterina Sedia
    etc...

    Not everything is a Tolkien rip-off.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by StaceyJaine View Post
    Have to say, that for the record, I found Tolkien horribly long winded. I gave up before Bilbo? had even got to the party. For arguments sake though, I tried, really.

    But, yeah in these situations the ignore button really is best.
    I inhaled The Hobbit in a single half day in the school library when I was eight. I have never understood the complaint that Tolkien was long winded or similar complaints to that sort of effect. I very much like that sort of writing if the idea is a good one and the simple person rising up to a challenge thrown into their lap by fate or conspiracy is a good one. Tolkien handled it well, I thought. Of course, I also can read Kant easily, while others tell me it seems as impenetrable as old oak from the back of a cabinetmaker's stockroom.
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  9. #9
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    Is there anyone on these forums that actually likes your normal fantasy, instead of all these weird new-fangled things?

  10. #10
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    I can read The Hobbit over and over, and I love it. I've only ever managed to read The Lord of the Rings once, and very long ago at that. The two are, in mine opinion, entirely different animals. I'm trying to read Robert Jordan; I finished Eye of the World after what felt like a year of determinedly off-and-on slogging through it. By contrast, I ate A Song of ice and Fire (at least the first two which is all I own) like it was going out of style, except for the Catelyn chapters which bored me. I would read Terry Pratchett religiously even if doing so was a capital offense. I read Dune once, also long ago, and honestly I don't think I could tell you anything that happened in it really, especially if I hadn't watched the two movie adaptations and played the games of it so very, very much. the whole middle two-thirds of the book blurred together into a terrific non-entity in my memory. I've read three of the four of the Inheritance Cycle, and am about to read the fourth, and though I find them cliched and mock them at every turn, I find that I kind of love the books as well. I forced myself through the Twilight Saga to see what the fuss was about and sarcastically shredded it the whole time. Hell if you count Harry Potter, those are fantasy and decent. The Firekeeper novels by Jane Lindskold are excellent beyond belief to me. The list goes on.

    I guess the point is that I've read a decent amount and some is good, some is bad, some is old, some is new, and some is in between.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dreambrewer View Post
    Is there anyone on these forums that actually likes your normal fantasy, instead of all these weird new-fangled things?
    I would suppose that depended on how one defined "normal fantasy", and also "weird new-fangled things"?

    So...what do you mean by them?

  12. #12
    phoenix blazing Parametric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amergina View Post
    Wow. My bingo card is filling up fast!
    I was just thinking that. For a thread titled "My apology for cynical comments about Fantasy", the ratio of cynical comments to apologies is pretty high.


  13. #13
    What a desolation. Alexandra Little's Avatar
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    Frankly blacbird, that's not an apology, that's a non-apology. It's an "I'm sorry, but I'm still right."

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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dreambrewer View Post
    Is there anyone on these forums that actually likes your normal fantasy, instead of all these weird new-fangled things?
    Normal fantasy?

    Didn't know what I write isn't normal.

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    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    Like Rugcat says, you're reading the wrong stuff. I don't know about where you are, but on the shelves over here I'd have to look quite hard for thinly veiled Tolkien ripoffs.

    My personal bug-bear is grit for the sake of grit, but hey, I can find stuff that isn't that too, if I try!

    There's some fantastic stuff about, but, like in every other genre, you have to go looking for it, for what tickles your fancy.




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    Quote Originally Posted by StaceyJaine View Post
    Have to say, that for the record, I found Tolkien horribly long winded. I gave up before Bilbo? had even got to the party. For arguments sake though, I tried, really.
    I'll admit that my love for Tolkien might be coloring my view just a tiny little bit but I never considered his prose long-winded, even when I read LOTR for the first time, in my teens (aeons ago...).
    He's descriptive and lyrical, yes, but never unnecessarily so. IMVHO of course.

    Granted, the first part, the one where you stopped, has a very different tone from the rest of the book: a bit more... YA-inclined, for want of a better word, but soon enough it changes into something darker and more complex.

    All this long-winded speech (sorry...) just to encourage you to maybe try again, and - who knows? - enjoy a pleasant surprise...

  17. #17
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    Jack Vance - The Eyes of the Overworld, or Zelazny's Jack of Shadows. Or Barry Hughart's Eight Skilled Gentlemen. None of these are particularly conventional, and none are particularly new.
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  18. #18
    Psychopompous AW Moderator RichardGarfinkle's Avatar
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    For old stuff I'd recommend James Branch Cabell.

    For recent how about Neil Gaiman?

    As for Barry Hughart start with Bridge of Birds, it's the first of his three books.

    Some of us are working on writing weird new fantasy and still love the old stuff. Tolkein I can read over and over again.

    Fantasy writing as with all arts tends to go through generational phases. I started reading Fantasy in the late '60s when the New Wave was making a splash and Michael Moorcock was leading the charge against Robert E. Howard and the pulps of his youth.

    Nowadays, a lot of Moorcock's ideas (Law and Chaos for example) have become embedded in the tropes and memes of the genre and people don't see that a revolution was happening then.

    Tolkein was himself part of a revolution although he might not have thought so. His fantasy world was one of the first serious pieces of world building ever done. We owe, I think, the idea of the importance of world building in fantasy to him.
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  19. #19
    Jeebus, you don't even need to go to old, public domain, OOP authors that only the fantasy literati have ever heard of to find stuff that bears no resemblance to Tolkien and has no Farmboys of Destiny. Try Catherynne Valente, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, More "traditional" epic fantasy but without the Tolkien tropes? N.K. Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Moon, Jessica Amanda Salmonson (no one has ever heard of her and I love her stuff), or how about Stephen frickin' King?

    Those are just off the top of my head. Anyone claiming that Tolkien derivatives dominate fantasy is bereft of clue. And I haven't even touched urban fantasy/PNR or YA.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wojciehowicz View Post
    I inhaled The Hobbit in a single half day in the school library when I was eight. I have never understood the complaint that Tolkien was long winded or similar complaints to that sort of effect. I very much like that sort of writing if the idea is a good one and the simple person rising up to a challenge thrown into their lap by fate or conspiracy is a good one. Tolkien handled it well, I thought. Of course, I also can read Kant easily, while others tell me it seems as impenetrable as old oak from the back of a cabinetmaker's stockroom.
    Oh I'm not saying the books themselves weren't good or that Tolkein wasn't a good writer. His world building attests to the fact that he was. I just couldn't get into them.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amadan View Post
    Jeebus, you don't even need to go to old, public domain, OOP authors that only the fantasy literati have ever heard of to find stuff that bears no resemblance to Tolkien and has no Farmboys of Destiny. Try Catherynne Valente, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, More "traditional" epic fantasy but without the Tolkien tropes? N.K. Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Moon, Jessica Amanda Salmonson (no one has ever heard of her and I love her stuff), or how about Stephen frickin' King?

    Those are just off the top of my head. Anyone claiming that Tolkien derivatives dominate fantasy is bereft of clue. And I haven't even touched urban fantasy/PNR or YA.
    I have to say I adore Gaiman's work.
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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Korak_Karnar View Post
    I would suppose that depended on how one defined "normal fantasy", and also "weird new-fangled things"?

    So...what do you mean by them?
    By normal, I mean that which springs to your mind when you hear "generic". The stuff that consists of around half the stuff ever written about fantasy.

  23. #23
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    Sherwood Smith's Inda series is excellent epic fantasy, set in her Sartorias-deles world. Kate Elliot's Cold Fire trilogy is a wonderful mash-up of alternate history and fantasy, set in an 18th century ice age. I also highly recommend Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, and anything by Nnedi Okorafor.

  24. #24
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    Hodgson & Eddison are superb fantasists. Smiling Ted is dead on with Jack Vance & The Dying Earth. Rider Haggard was mentioned up thread, and he pretty much invented the Lost Race genre of fantasy.

    Blacbird has a point about Dunsany, but HP Lovecraft wrote some excellent fantasy in the Dunsany vein: The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath is a superb fantasy tale.

    Dunsany & Haggard bring me to the guys who deserve a mention: Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Charles Saunders, Karl Edward Wagner, and to be honest, Edgar Rice Burroughs (ok, Tarzan & John Carter may not be everyone's idea of fantasy, but that's partly b/c they bust the farmboy w/ a destiny cliche, while adhering to a few others).

    Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of second-rate imitations of Conan & Tarzan. But the other guys on my list remain distinct, they built on earlier writers without being derivative. They have few imitators. How would you pastiche Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique, let alone Elric?

    I admit I'm weak on current writers, besides Moorcock & Saunders. But the backlist here is stupendous. There's no need to waste time with Tolkein imitators if you don't want to.

    EDIT: Just noticed Richard already brought REH & MM, with some astute commentary thereon.
    Last edited by Dave Hardy; 03-06-2012 at 06:59 PM. Reason: Afterthought
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  25. #25
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dreambrewer View Post
    Is there anyone on these forums that actually likes your normal fantasy, instead of all these weird new-fangled things?
    I recommend the Illiad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Beowulf, the Táin and the Mabinogi.

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