View Full Version : The next step

09-27-2004, 08:56 PM
I sincerely believe that, when a genre or form takes a major leap into a new area, it comes from discontent. Some writer is dissatisfied with the way things are currently being done and writes a book that matches the writer's idea of How It Should Be Done.

Maybe they're sick of the Usual Protagonist. Maybe they're sick of the Usual Situation. Maybe they're sick of Unrealistic Settings. Maybe they think the story is Irrelevant In These Times.

Whatever the cause, the writer does something that satisfies themselves, and so creates a New Thing. At least, that's what used to happen.

But maybe the field has grown so big and so diverse that there is nothing to reject. We can find whatever we want somewhere in the field, and avoid the stuff that doesn't work.

Can we have another New Wave? Is it even possible?

09-27-2004, 09:30 PM
One thing I see possible for the fantasy genre (and I think it's going to happen very soon) is a shift away from medieval-type worlds, where magic is present, but people still drink in smoky, dimly-lit taverns (ever heard of a light spell?), live in castles meant to repel ground attacks (so what happens when a dragon flies by?), knights wear plate armour that is absolutely worthless against magical attacks, and where literacy is widespread, but everyone still write by hand on scrolls... (huh?)

Let's get real here, folks! A world with magic in it would be a lot different from a medieval world...

aka eraser
09-27-2004, 10:19 PM
No other genre is so dependent on a writer's imagination. New ground is broken by the most creative and then often becomes a well-trodden path by those who follow.

Ultimately readers decide where they want to go and who they want to take them there. Judging by sales, a great many prefer the comfort of revisiting the "known" over and over again. As long as they do, writers will oblige.

I noted once on one of the AW boards that in the last decade I've gone from reading hundreds of books a year to a handful. So I'm in no way qualified to talk about the leading lights in SF&F these days.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I'm going to predict that 20 years from now, perhaps on this very board, a consensus will point to Tad Williams' Otherland series as one of the half-century's greatest achievements.

It is an epic fantasy without familiar parameters. To my knowledge, it borrows from nothing. It could almost take place today. Its "magic" is technology that exists in rudimentary form now. I suppose that gives it a bit of a SF flavour.

It's the book that leaped to mind when I read HConn's post. I don't think Williams was necessarily disgruntled with what's being published today; it's more that his imagination knows no bounds and thankfully, he has enough of a track record with his publisher that they gave him free reign to exercise it.

09-28-2004, 12:16 AM
A world with magic in it would be a lot different from a medieval world...

Very interesting you should say that Ruth. Very interesting indeed....

09-28-2004, 01:12 AM
Let's get real here, folks! A world with magic in it would be a lot different from a medieval world...
I would think it depends on how prevalent magic is in said world. If everybody knew and used magic, then yes, every tavern would use a light spell instead of being dim and smoky. And if dragons routinely flew the skies, the architects would erect buildings capable of withstanding dragon attacks.

But consider: in most of those fantasy worlds, the populace rarely had contact with wizards and the like. And if they did, they'd either run away in fright, go after them as an angry mob, or revere them as wise people with great powers.

If you had a light spell in every tavern, consider the reaction of the patrons. Are they well-schooled and know the spell is merely a convenience? Or will they fear it, thinking the glowing ball in the middle of the room will curse them and cause their crops to die?

A fantasy novel in which the setting is not medieval and magic is used everyday by everybody? I'd call that contemporary fiction.

Terra Aeterna
09-28-2004, 01:29 AM
A fantasy novel in which the setting is not medieval and magic is used everyday by everybody? I'd call that contemporary fiction.

You could call that "magical realism" or "urban fantasy", but I don't think I'd call it contemporary fiction. General fiction or Contemporay fiction or whatever you want to call it tends to have a different focus I think than Fantasy. However much character development there is in Fantasy, ultimately the play's the thing (to horribly warp some Shakespeare ;-P). Contermporary fiction seems to mainly be about angsting. Or maybe I've just had poor luck with reading contemporary fiction.

09-28-2004, 01:35 AM
Oops. My bad. Forgot about urban fantasy.

09-28-2004, 07:38 AM
If you had a light spell in every tavern, consider the reaction of the patrons. Are they well-schooled and know the spell is merely a convenience? Or will they fear it, thinking the glowing ball in the middle of the room will curse them and cause their crops to die?
I couldn't help picturing a lightbulb as I was reading this. :p

There's always the ambiance factor. Many bars and restaurants are dim. And some junky tavern might prefer that the clientele not look too closely at the condition of the food.

09-28-2004, 08:12 AM
I've never read the book, but all of this lightbulb talk reminds of a YA novel (fairly new, I believe, in all of this Harry Potter light) that centers around a world with no light... _The City of Ember_, maybe? Ember is in the title, I know....

Flawed Creation
09-28-2004, 08:14 AM
actually, i've been struggling with just this issue. in my two WIPs, i have taken radically different approaches.

Magic is the technology of a fantasy world. this is indisputable. technology is the means by which we exploit the natural laws of the universe. magic in a fantasy world is the means by which people exploit the laws of the universe. ultimately there's no difference between natural and supernatural. in fact, there's no such thing as supernatural. if dragons exist, they exist. they're as real as cows.

in Tolkien's middle earth, magic exists but is no part of people's daily lives, because there aren't enough magic users. (on the other hand, maybe it IS part of daily lives. the elves of lothlorien, e.g, live in a forest kept healthy and safe by galadriel's Ring.)

if wizards are at all common, then some will find employment using their powers to improve the standard of living.

in Harry Potter, wizards do with magic everything we do with technology.

in one book i'm writing, "flawed creation" the prevalence of magic has changed.

the world makes little distinction between magic and technology. the obvious difference is that not everyone can use magic, because it requires enlightenment. however, the people of Babylon used magical devices (and purely scientific) created for them by the enlightened. I, personally couldn't build a TV, but i can use one. similarly, if creating a crystal ball requires a wizard, many people can leanr to operate one.

by the time of the book, the angels have decreed it heretical for humans to use magic. they stamped out the human magic users, and disappeared fromhumans daily life.it helps that my books is very light on magic. the only supernatural creatures i have are angels. magic is generally limited to what we would call paranormal phenomena- telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, pyrokinesis, etc.

in my other book (which has four possible titles. "Delusion", "prophecy', "hero" and "hero(ine)?") low scale magic plays a part in people's daily lives but powerful magic is available only in big cities most people never see in their lives, and couldn't affor to pay for anyway. but the village shaman can provide minor magical assistance.

(for a demonstration of how thin the line between fantasy and skiffy can be, see niven's "the flying sorcerers")

09-28-2004, 09:50 AM
Tolkien referred to the difference between people who use magic and people who find it strange, when the elves don't understand what the hobbits mean by "magic". Because it's part of their lives, it isn't separate from anything else they do.

A world where magic is everyday would certainly be interesting, but I prefer writing about settings where the average guy in the street would be just as freaked to witness magic as in our world. I think the attraction of the standard fantasy world for this (half medieval, half classical, half exotic barbarian - what, it is fantasy) is that your average medieval peasant or Babylonian citizen would take it for granted that magic existed - but "out there" somewhere. Just like the hobbits.

09-28-2004, 07:03 PM
So much to respond to.

One thing I see possible for the fantasy genre (and I think it's going to happen very soon) is a shift away from medieval-type worlds,
This has already happened. There are lots of non-medieval books out there. Check out Freedom and Necessity by Steven Brust and Emma Bull, or the Age of Unreason series, by Greg Keyes (first book: Newton's Cannon).

where magic is present, but people still drink in smoky, dimly-lit taverns (ever heard of a light spell?),
This and the snipped part of your post, is part of world-building. In many fantasy worlds, an oil lamp will be preferable to a light spell. And knights in armor will face more swords and axes than magical lightning.

Tad Williams
I'm reading The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams right now. It's well written, with an interesting world and solid characters, but it's so boring that I'm tempted to set it aside. Only his rep has kept me going as far as I have. If the book doesn't pick up soon, I'm not going to be reading any of his other work.

A fantasy novel in which the setting is not medieval and magic is used everyday by everybody? I'd call that contemporary fiction.
Did you mean "contemporary fantasy?"

Magic is the technology of a fantasy world.
It doesn't have to be. I think think this is overly-restrictive. Fantasy "magic" can be much more (or less) than technology.

But I understand your point. To crib from Lawrence Watt-Evans, if the dragon is made by magic, it's fantasy. If it's created by genetic engineering, it's science fiction.

www.watt-evans.com/sfvsfantasy.html (http://www.watt-evans.com/sfvsfantasy.html)

If you clink on the link (and you should, it's a good article--and short), be sure to also read "Laws of Fantasy."

Flawed Creation
09-29-2004, 06:46 AM
wizards are basically the same as genetic engineers.

they spend all day in underground labs, muttering things we don't understand and sending adventurers in search of rare herbs, stones, and animals.

then they unleash some new and strange power upon ythe rest of society.

09-29-2004, 07:59 AM
Except that genetic engineers don't have pointy hats and staffs. Or bushy eyebrows, as a rule (though I expect some do).:D

09-30-2004, 01:29 AM
be sure to also read "Laws of Fantasy."

Really good stuff. Thanks, HConn.

09-30-2004, 08:00 AM
One of the things that bugs me about much fantasy is that the magic exists in worlds that would not be much different if there were no magic. And I don't mean light spells instead of oil lamps, but something much more fundamental. Magic, even if you give it intrinsic limitations (such as deciding it can't do this or that or making it exact a price from the user) is a power that exceeds ordinary human powers in the same way that a bomb exceeds a handgun--and it's governed entirely by the human will. It therefore always presents the potential for chaos. Why should the wise old wizard serve the king, when he could go out and kick ass and terrorize the populace, or conjure up a castle and turn the milkmaids into sex slaves? The only thing that binds him is his own acceptance of whatever terms and conditions are placed on him. The king he serves has no means of coercing him.

You can come up with various ways to address this, such as magical guilds or or sorcerous bindings or severe brainwashing or some kind of religious setup that involves moral strictures on magic use, but those are measures that derive from the magic users themselves, so the basic problem remains: Why should they cooperate? And what happens if they don't? (The standard Dark Lord or renegade sorcerer doesn't count.) For me, a world in which magic exists is a scary world, a world in which non-magic-users are always potentially under threat from magic-users. This is something that has to have an impact on society. Perhaps the magic-users will dominate the culture--and if so they'll have to have a highly structured organization or else they'll be annihilating each other all the time. Or maybe society as a whole will come up with some way to control them. Or maybe there's some sort of countermeasure that's intrinsic to the world. I've used variations of all these setups in my books, not entirely to my satisfaction.

- Victoria

Kempo Kid
09-30-2004, 09:28 AM
Well, some of us still write about dragons and wizards and bards. :o

But I do go into attack from the sky, and in the second book I explain why there is no magic and where the dragon came from.

09-30-2004, 11:06 AM
Victoria, in a discussion on other boards about a "realistic" world of superheroes, one person said that, if superheroes really existed, we'd all be wearing badges identifying which we belonged to.

I suspect the same would be true for most high fantasy wizards. Imagine the loyalty you could command if you could cure diseases or restore someone's youth. IMagine the punishments for betrayal.

But to bring this back to my original point: it's exactly this kind of dissatisfaction that fuels new ideas in the genre. "That's not realistic" is one of the few big insights that make a writer change the course of a genre.

09-30-2004, 07:30 PM
HConn, I think your question is so interesting. Do you think it's a matter of 'the next big thing,' or just a resurgence of the typical publishing cycle?

With so much focus on fantasy in the world of spec lit, perhaps it's time for SF to come around again... maybe the mysterious "slipstream" I keep hearing about? Or "literary" SF?

I certainly don't have the answers, but I think it's interesting to talk about.

10-01-2004, 06:50 AM
I think the question of why mages don't do exactly what they want is rather equivalent to why don't nuclear scientists use their knowledge to hold the world to ransom for what they want? (Outside of James Bond films, that is). In the first place, mages would be human beings, who will be on the same sliding scale of good, bad & indifferent as the rest of us. In the second, there's no automatic reason to assume that magic makes you unbeatable - most magical systems seem to have built-in limitations, even if it's as simple as spellcasting being tiring. And thirdly, a degree of self-regulation of unusual skills seems to be a human trait.

10-01-2004, 08:32 AM
>>Do you think it's a matter of 'the next big thing,' or just a resurgence of the typical publishing cycle?<<

Often a publishing cycle, similar to a fashion cycle, IMO at least. The recent popularity of "new space opera" is an example. It's not so much that it's new, as that it fell out of fashion for a while, and now has returned in a somewhat modernized form.

And don't even get me started on the "New Weird".

- Victoria

10-01-2004, 08:43 AM
Come on, Victoria. Tell us about the New Weird.


10-01-2004, 11:08 PM
"That's not realistic" is one of the few big insights that make a writer change the course of a genre.

Okay. I've been thinking more about this, and I have a preliminary list of "Dissatisfactions" that spur writers to force a genre in a new direction:



1. "That's not realistic." (whether referring to setting or character behavior)

2. "None of these characters are like me."

3. "All these characters are like x. What if they were like y instead?"

4. "This would be a better book if it was more like x." (where "x" is another genre, a classic story, or some other media form that can be blended with the initial genre)

5. "I'm bored with this setting."

6. "Can't they be honest about this?" ("this" being sex, or the effects of violence, or some other aspect of life that has been typically glossed over or avoided in fiction.)


Care to disagree or add to the list?

Keep in mind: I'm only looking for forward-looking changes. Wanting to go back to Howard-esque Conan stories or Golden Age space westerns isn't taking the genre into a new direction.

Or maybe you want to disagree that changes are made by author's dissatisfaction?

What do you think?

10-01-2004, 11:40 PM
I would venture a guess that author dissatisfaction is the primary seed of the kind of change you're talking about.

#'s 1 & 3 are things authors should concern themselves with no matter what they are writing.

#2 smacks of narcissism. Can that propel a genre in a new direction? Possibly, I suppose.

#4 I'm not so crazy about. Seems a little like rehashing old ideas with a different wardrobe. It wouldn't necessarily become the proverbial pig in a dress, but it could if the author wasn't careful.

I'd like to read (or write for that matter) stories that spring from #'s 5 & 6.

10-02-2004, 01:26 AM
#4 was inspired by the paranormal romances I've been hearing about over the last couple years, plus the New Wave movement that tried to marry literary qualities to sf.

(I'm no scholar of sf; I may have mischaracterized either of those two examples.)

I listed #2 because of writers I've heard of who wanted African-American heroes, or fantasy settings based on non-European cultures, and so on.

None of these are mutually exclusive, of course. A single reaction may fall under several categories.

Can you think of any additions to the list?

10-02-2004, 02:55 AM
I listed #2 because of writers I've heard of who wanted African-American heroes, or fantasy settings based on non-European cultures, and so on.
Ah, now I understand. Taken that way, #2 becomes a darn good reason to want to change the genre. A great example is what Tony Hillerman did for the cop novel with his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn Navajo characters.

As for additions to the list, I'll have to give it some more thought. Perhaps someone else has some idears. ???

10-02-2004, 04:46 AM
Yes, I was going to object to #2 as well, since personally the last thing I want are characters that are just like me. But I get the point about different ethnic backgrounds. The same with female characters becoming more interesting in both F & SF.

Given that nothing is really entirely new, I think combining genres that haven't previously been connected can be a very powerful force for change.

10-02-2004, 08:08 AM
Hopefully, I won't set back Hillerman's progress with my detective dragon in Redwing, Dragon from Venus that will soon be published by Double Dragon Publishing. ;)

10-02-2004, 10:30 AM
So, Dave, does this make you number 2, 3 or 4?


10-03-2004, 03:07 AM
For me, a world in which magic exists is a scary world, a world in which non-magic-users are always potentially under threat from magic-users.
Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series addresses this problem to some extent. The humans fear the Deryni, so they outlaw them, exile them, hunt them down. There's also a drug that can counteract Deryni powers, so naturally the humans use it against them. And it's true that the only thing (other than the drug) keeping the Deryni from dominating the world and those around them is their own will NOT to do so.

10-03-2004, 06:34 AM
HConn, I guess you'll have to read it when it comes out to make that determination. I didn't have any of those in mind when I came up with the idea and wrote the story. I just thought it would be interesting to have a dragon detective come to Earth and try to work undercover, though in his case that meant without being seen. Then I gave him a personality that liked watching Earth cop shows because he could pick up the signals that bled from the Earth's atmosphere and let him form some wrong conclusions about how Earth cops operated. Then it was just a matter of having him sent to Earth because he knew more about it than anyone else in his police department--surefire way for him to get into trouble and do some of the wrong things. Who loves ya, Baby?

There are already two reviews out for it. One is at www.bewilderingstories.co...ooks2.html (http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue104/books2.html) and the other is at www.baryon-online.com/bar...edrde.html (http://www.baryon-online.com/baryon96/redrde.html)

10-03-2004, 10:00 AM
HConn, I guess you'll have to read it when it comes out to make that determination.

Dave, that's a smart answer. :grin

edited to add: I just read your reviews. Humor never gets the respect it deserves.

10-04-2004, 02:15 AM
I don' t know the one you're talking about, but I just finished a YA series by Garth Nix, where there is a world with no sun, only artificial light. The Seventh Tower. It was pretty good, too.

Oops, I forgot the quote. It was back a page, about the book about the world with no light. Sorry.

10-04-2004, 03:23 AM
True, HConn, but they're both honest reviews.

Flawed Creation
10-04-2004, 05:53 AM
I love the derynin books!

of course, the deryni have oppressed the humans before. it's always been up to other deryni to stop them.

that what's unusual abot a minority that's wealthier better eductaed and mroe talented.

as for magic being scary, it all depends.

power exists in our world in a number of forms. magical power is typically viewed as personal power. and that's perhaps what's most interesting about it. magic can give mroe power to an individual than the real world does.

however, much of what is done by "magic" in fantasy can be duplicated by modern technology.

in a world where magic acted just like our technology, with everyone enjoying the widespread benefits, and socities completely based on magic, it wouldn't be scary at all. no one would find a light spell mroe dangerous than a light bulb.

as magic is made rarer and less accessible to the public, it becomes the subject of rumor, and people hear more about the negatives than positives. people don't hear about the conveninces of a wizard's tower. but they certainly remeber the time a mad wizard completely destroyed a city.

the peasantry then fear the magic the way we fear weapons of mass destruction. people don'yt know what the enemies have to unleash. your own kingdom/sides wizards are always trying to check the power of enemies. but magic is something that you don't understand and that might unexpectedly ruin you day.

how scray magic is, like technology depends on who has it.

and remember, most fantasies are modeled after the dark ages. often, there was a magical society that fell, and now there's only chaos. magic is mostly lost, and controlled only by a few powerful people.

rarely do we see a fantasy world that has progressed to the level of sophistication of our modern world, in whiuch the spells and inventins of talented wizards keep people alive to be 90, save manual labor, and provide entertainment.

magic is no different than any other tool.

10-05-2004, 05:26 AM
I have nothing against the New Weird as a writing style--some very good writers are working in that vein. But as with the New Space Opera, it isn't truly so very new (you can look back to books like John Crowley's Little, Big or even further to the Ghormengast trilogy), so reviewers blathering about stretching boundaries and pushing envelopes make me roll my eyes.

It also bugs me that a good number of people seem to feel that the New Weird (and the New Weird-ish, because many writers the literati admire don't quite fit into that category) is the lonely standardbearer for literariness in fantasy. While I'm not a big Tolkien fan, the wholesale dismissal--even condemnation--of Tolkien-style epic fantasy by some of the fantasy literati really rubs me the wrong way--not least because it strikes me as a lot like the dismissal of fantasy in general by people who don't read fantasy.

The literary bar for speculative fiction has risen a lot in the past couple of decades. Sure, there's still a lot of schlocky stuff coming out; that's true of any branch of literature. But there is literary work being done in every branch of fantasy, and it seems to me that readers and critics should acknowledge and respect that, rather than seizing on a single trend and denigrating or dismissing the rest.

- Victoria

10-05-2004, 08:54 AM
I agree with everything you said, Victoria.

I think.

Problem is, I've never heard the term "New Weird" before. John Crowley is on my "ought to read" list, and _Little, Big_ is at the top.

Who else would be considered New Weird? What sorts of stories are they? Contemporary fantasy with lit pretentions?

10-05-2004, 09:22 PM
New Weird, as I understand it, means books with surreal/phantasmagorical settings, as well as a kind of baroque density of story and detail. A few I can think of: K.J. Bishop's The Etched City, Steph Swainston's The Year of Our War, Ricardo Pinto's The Stone Dance of the Chameleon series (though this may edge a little too close to epic), Ian MacLeod's The Light Ages (a fabulous novel--I can't recommend it highly enough), Jeff Vandermeer's books, and of course the prime exemplar, China Mieville (I think he may actually have coined the term).

The reason I've been thinking about this is that I just finished (and reviewed) The Warrior-Prophet, the second volume of Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing series, which is about as epic as you can get, and also one of the most challenging, literary books I've read in a while. Kind of like Robert Graves, if Robert Graves had been a fantasy writer. Yet many who follow the New Weird banner might completely dismiss these books because they are so much in the Tolkien mode.

Do read Little, Big. It's a really fascinating work, one of my all-time faves.

- Victoria

10-05-2004, 09:56 PM
Thanks, Victoria.

So many books. So little time.

10-06-2004, 07:00 AM
That's given a few names to add to my reading list. If they're Gormenghastish-sort-of-things, I might well enjoy some of them, though I'd never come across the term new Weird before.

I agree completely about the literary snobbishness thing. Whether or not it always achieves it, epic fantasy has the capacity to be serious as well as entertaining. It just doesn't fit the very limited code of the literary establishment.

10-07-2004, 07:16 PM

I would add this to your list of dissatisfactions:
I'm tired of seeing the same "Beginning, Act I, Act II, Act III, End" structure in all kinds of literature, but in SF/F in particular.

I've been getting the feeling that SF/F authors for some time now have been stretching the boundaries of the trappings of storytelling without really changing the storytelling itself. It's the same cake mold, just with different frosting. (For a humorous take on this, check out How to Write a Bestselling Fantasy Novel (http://members.ozemail.com.au/~imcfadyen/notthenet/fantasy.htm).)

Perhaps, as SF/F have a tradition of being pulp novels written for young males, there is a preconcieved notion that anything more challenging than the most simplistic plot structure would nullify the SF/F label. I would argue, though, that SF/F readers and writers have become much more sophisticated, and that something more structurally challenging could be really refreshing for both genres.

For example, I think it would be neat to see someone challenge the notion of "Beginning, Middle & End," or maybe play with the false boundary between reader & text, or even do something unique with POV.

Examples outside the genre that received popular acclaim as well as critical would be the films Fight Club or Momento. Both of these films had pretty simple stories; nothing groundbreaking there. Where they excelled is in how they told their stories. Fight Club kept reminding the viewers that they were watching a fabricated narrative, while Momento did some inventive things with chronology. And I don't think anyone would call these films "literary" or "academic."

The fact that I (personally) haven't found anything similar within the SF/F genres (genres I love), is perhaps the biggest influence on my own writing style.

10-07-2004, 09:59 PM
Fight Club is a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, so in that sense the film is literary...I've never read the novel, but the narrative trick the film pulls isn't exactly new--to name just one example, Thomas Tryon did something very similiar in his 1971 novel The Other.

I loved Memento--that was a great puzzlebox of a film. Again, though, it's based not on any real iconoclasm of form, but on a single narrative trick. Trickery of that sort is much easier to sustain in film than in fiction--I think because you get a film in a single short dose, whereas fiction is assimilated more slowly over a longer period of time.

If you're looking for more experimental SF try Zoran Zivkovik's The Fourth Circle. Or J.G. Ballard's Super-Cannes. Or you could go back much further to some of Anthony Burgess's SF--I like The Wanting Seed. And of course, Philip K. Dick, whose books often make no sense at all, but in a very intriguing way. For fantasy, try Jonathan Carroll's The Wooden Sea (I don't like Carroll much, but he certainly plays with narrative form). Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves uses a highly experimental structure to tell two interpolated stories. And I recommend again Little, Big.

Experimental fiction is a minority in any genre, but it's out there in SF/fantasy too.

- Victoria

aka eraser
10-07-2004, 10:55 PM
I'll echo Victoria's endorsement of Little, Big, a wonderful read. Must dig out my copy for a re-read.

And I remember reading Philip Dick's books like gobbling M&Ms (or maybe acid - it was the 60s after all...). He'd open doors in your mind you didn't realize were there and reveal delightful surprises.

10-08-2004, 07:07 AM
I would give both these narratives more credit than "narrative trickery." I would call it trickery if I thought it was unnecessary to the story; a sort of "window dressing" added to make an otherwise bland story interesting. But I don't think that is the case here.

In Momento, you have a narrative that is fragmented in order to replicate the narrator's own fragmented sense of identity and time. If the story had been done from beginning to end in standard chronological order, the effect would have been completely lost.

I saw Fight Club as continually drawing attention to itself as a narrative artifact, a technique I find particularly interesting and compelling. No, I don't think it is completely new (I've heard compelling arguments that this sort of self-conscious narrative exists in The Odyssey). My point in bringing up these two film examples is that this sort of narrative experimentation can reach and find broad appeal with a mass audience.

Otherwise, I think that this sort of experimentation can be carried out in a novel-length work. I just finished John Barth's The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor and was astounded. I couldn't help thinking of the potential for an SF/F story using similar techniques found in that novel. It would be challenging, to be sure, but more accessible than Joyce or Faulkner.

**As an aside, I would like to say that I really don't like the terms literary/non-literary or high-art/pop-art. I find them to be poorly veiled reworkings of the haves/have nots. I enjoy Tolkien just as much as I do Robbe-Grillet, and no one can convince me that one is intrinsically better than the other.

As for your recommendations: I've been a long fan of Dick, and really enjoyed Burgess's Clockwork Orange. I haven't read any of the other titles/authors you've mentioned, though. I'll have to check those out. Thanks.

10-08-2004, 07:20 AM
Thanks for some more interesting suggestions, Victoria. I checked some of them on Amazon, and was very intrigued. A funny thing caught my eye, though. In the review for Etched City, this comment was made:

"...this grim tale should strongly appeal to aficionados of literate dark fantasy."

I'm not sure what to make of this. If I like Tolkien, does this mean I'm a fan of "illiterate fantasy?" :huh

Nonetheless, I'll have to pick this up, as I like grim stories featuring complex, morally flexible characters. I enjoy having to guess who the good guy is (or even if there is a good guy). An idea they played with (to a smaller extent) in Farscape.

10-08-2004, 07:39 AM
I forgot to say in my last post, I've got a great movie recommendation for those who like offbeat SF films: Code 46, with Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. I just saw it this past week. It's more of an art-house film than either Fight Club or Memento, and rather slow--but like Fight Club it is a self-conscious narrative, with a narrative frame (a voiceover by one of the characters) whose real meaning isn't clear till the end (no twist, though). It's done totally without special effects or elaborate sets, yet it achieves a very futuristic look, and more important, feel and mood. Very interesting.

- Victoria

10-08-2004, 09:05 AM
Code 46 is slow and the main plot is actually kind of ho hum, but it is full of wonderful sci-fi ideas (not just technologies, but the socio-cultural aspects of it).

Flawed Creation
10-10-2004, 03:53 AM
i know i've seen fantasy and sci-fi that plays with the structure of the story before, but can't think of it now.

my own WIP starts with the end of the story, introduces the story itself as narrated by one character form the end, and continues to evolve the two plotlines, past and present, alternating, until it is made clear both what led u[ to the current situation and what everyone is going to do about it.

10-10-2004, 06:15 AM
I'm writing something fairly similar, a fantasy novel whose POV character (who is about 3000 years old) spends the night before a major battle remembering his past life, out of order, and the events in the various time-scales mirror and influence one another. The final two chapters, for instance, are 3000 years apart but direct parallels. One of the book's themes is the nature of time (in a fantasy rather than SF way). I'd been reading The Crow Road by Iain Banks just before I started it - it's a realist novel, but uses time-frames in a similar way.

Flawed Creation
10-12-2004, 09:08 AM
wow... that sounds really interesting- and difficult.

what i'm doing is much simpler. the entire story is a flashback. there's a brief opening set in the present, the main story, and a final scene also in the poresent.

10-13-2004, 07:52 AM
One of the hardest bits is remembering exactly what the reader does or doesn't know at that point, and getting just the right level of tease if they don't know.