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Growing Tired of Fantasyland

I was at the bookstore today, and my buddy Mur (who is awesome and also just got interviewed by USA Today, and has a new book coming out which includes many things that really truly happened to us in New Orleans) gave a book a vague recommendation. "It's okay," she said. "It didn't work for me, but it might for you. I'll loan it to you."

"Eh," I said, realizing that there was no chance I would read this book. "I'm just not reading very much genre fiction these days. Well, our genre, anyway."

And this is the truth. My genre--my great love and the one that everything I write wanders into--is fantasy. I love fantasy. I love it dearly and I believe it is terribly important and it was the one thing I wanted to read as a kid and god help me, I am so very sick of nearly all of it.

There are still a few authors that I will buy instantly, immediately, without checking my bank balance. Most of them are fantasy, though a couple of mystery/horror have slunk in there. And I read them. And I enjoy them.

And I go on jags where what I want is Miss Marple or Brother Cadfael (and the nice thing about being me is that my memory is not what it used to be and I can't always remember who the bad guy is.) or Georgette Heyer, and I re-read them with great love. And there are times when I re-read fantasy I love, and I still love it very much. It is a visit to an old and much-loved friend's house.

But I scan the new book section of Barnes & Noble and go "Cloak-guy, Cloak-guy, Steampunk Guy, Cloak-guy, Tiger, Cloak-guy, John Jude Palencar That I Would Buy A Print Of But Not The Book, Tough Urban Fantasy Woman, Cloak-guy.*"

None of it excites me. It's the setting, I think. Has to be. I picked up The Ghost Bride and read it in two fascinated days. When I discovered Sarah Addison Allen's magical realism books, I devoured every single one, one after another.

I think I am tired of Fantasyland.

You know where it is. It's the vague European city and countryside that has no sense of place to it. (Chocolat, for example, was magical realism set in a European city, but it by god had a sense of place to it that is not remotely found in most fantasy. I would not cry if most of these cities were half so clearly rendered as Chocolat.) There are no plants in it that are not darkly dripping trees, healing herbs, cloak-catching brambles or grass suitable for feeding horses/rolling around in. Oh, and heather. You can order a DLC pack with heather in it, if you're trying to write a vaguely Celtic fantasy. Angry carnivorous vines cost extra.

The only birds are crows, swans, eagles, and vultures, forming a somewhat improbable aerial food-chain.

This is not, however, a call for more non-Eurocentric fantasy, because people have made that call better than I will, and anyway, I write many things set in vaguely European fantasy worlds and so I have no moral high-ground whatsoever.

(Perhaps that's part of the problem. A book set in Fantasyland is not escapism for me anymore, it's attending a party at work. Reading most fantasy novels now is pretty much a staycation.)

Perhaps it's just a call for books to take me someplace that I haven't been already. Many, many times.

Most of the books I read and love now are set in places, when I think of it, some of them real-ish, like--McCall's Botswana or Peters' England, some of them not, like McKinley's Damar and Pratchett's Discworld. (The rest seem to have grisly murders. Suitably grisly murders will stand in just fine for a sense of place, apparently.)

I cannot bear what China Mieville does to his characters most times, and I will still buy any Bas-Lag book he puts out, even if Iron Council did make me want to yell "Yes, we get it, you're a communist, that's fine, you're among friends." Because his books will take me somewhere I have not been.

And I return to LeGuin's Kesh whenever I am reminded, because that is a place, a real and true place, that merely happens not to exist. Gont and Atuan too, though not quite so starkly.

Hand in hand with my increasing ennui toward Fantasyland is a great boredom with its denizens. You will have to do something truly extraordinary with fairies to impress me these days. Otherwise they are just more people from work. "This is Oberon, from Accounting." (Do not even talk to me about vampires.) Dragons have been done and dragons that are friendly characters have been done and I have witnessed many states of their done-ness and about the only one that I still find interesting is the one where they are a not-particularly-exciting form of vermin, because very few people do that yet.

I am desperately tired of farmboys in search of their lonely destiny, and if you are going to introduce yourself as a ranger, you goddamn well be putting out fires and fretting over declining woodpecker populations in the next paragraph.

If you are plucky or spunky or feisty, I come pre-tired of you.

If you are from the Kingdom of Blah, ruled by blah, and must awaken the blah within yourself, with the aid of a rag-tag band of misfit blahs, in a desperate race against time before the terrible Blah occurs, we are done here.

(And yet I still love fairy tales. They still work for me. I do not know why this should be, but it is. I could read fairy tales and fairy-tale retellings all day, and sometimes I do.)

This is not, believe it or not, a call for recommendations. I am actually pretty okay with my ennui. It is as if I have acquired a weird and genre-specific form of depression--no, I don't care, I don't even care that I don't care, there are days when I care very much but not many and mostly there is simply no reason to get out of the fantasy bed in the morning if the day is only going to be more dragons and heroes and vampires and nobody is going to bother to grow peas.

Sadly, while I have dealt with depression as it applies to life, I am not sure how one deals with it when it comes to a genre. They do not make fantasy-specific Zoloft. There are no therapies available for when you have burned out your sense of literary wonder.

So I flail away at my books set in deserts and my gardener heroes, I throw saints into everything because fantasy is sadly bereft of saints, and I try not to feel too much guilt about that thing I just finished that was set in a vaguely European forest or that other thing with the castle. I write about priests and grandmothers and hoopoes in waistcoats.

But mostly I just scan over the new releases and feel no desire to read any of them.

(And some of them are by friends! Who are good people! Who I want to support, and who I KNOW are doing exciting things with the genre, and I just...got nuthin'. Mind you, I still buy the books, because I want to be supportive. And Kevin reads them.)

So I sit in the tub with gardening books. And mysteries. And Gothics. There is no shortage of reading material out there. And except for the vague feeling of guilt that I should be reading this because I'm writing it, and if I don't love it enough to read it, why the hell am I writing it?--I'm fine with that.

I have no desire to write mysteries. If I try, the protagonist turns into a were-bear. (I tried. It happened.) Fantasy is the thing I do.

I just find, increasingly, that when I'm off work, I want to leave Fantasyland and go someplace else for awhile. And so few books in my genre seem able to do that.

*Seriously, Cloak-guy is getting around. Mur and I counted sixteen hooded figures in flowy cloaks on covers last week, and only two of them were on Assassin's Creed novelizations.

This is more or less exactly how I feel about Victorian literature. I'm sure there's plenty of lovely things being written in it--but I'm done. Good bye.

I feel your pain (some years, I feel it far too much). You should join us in Mythopoeic-land at some point; the stuff that makes it onto even the long list is (almost) entirely not set in Fantasyland (and that which is can be bounced off the nearest soft object).

Mind, I think this is one reason pretty much everything Patricia McKillip writes makes it onto our list. I mean, her work is all pretty much "definitely written by by Patricia McKillip", but by -god- it has a sense of place to it.

I think Mythopoeic-land may be a suburb of Fantasyland, and she's been there and back. She even has a souvenir from her visit.

As a side note, We'll be at Mythcon this year as well

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Believe it or not, I actually own a book set in Fantasyland that features a wombat. Well, he's currently a wombat. He was a crow for a while. And before that he was a pickpocket. But wombats are marketable, and Fantasyland needs the revenue. I am not making any of this up.

(Witch and Wombat, by Carolyn Cushman. Yes, I picked it up entirely for the title.)

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I get that sometimes. It usually goes away, but if not, well, oh well.

I WILL say that I have a lot more fun with fantasyland when it's nonstandard. Both in the reading of it--because I love going to new places--and in the writing of it--because it's a lot more fun to invent non-Eurocentric cultures.

I've been working it out where dragons are just another order in taxonomy. Basically trying to get dragonwatching the same level of interest as birdwatching. I ... may have to take up birdwatching.

*checks library website*
*finds the first Shambling Guide*
*reserves the hell out of that*

The ebook price was too good to resist. Sounds like it will be a fun read.

You will have to do something truly extraordinary with fairies to impress me these days.

Have you ever read Crowley's Little, Big? I thought it was wonderful, although I know some who had the opposite reaction.

Edited at 2014-02-26 10:45 pm (UTC)

"Little, Big" is one of my favorites.
John Crowley is on my "must read everything: author" list.

Hear, hear. I'm not 100% aligned with your specific state of ennui but I recognize many of its plaints. And maybe a big part of it is that yeah, trying to relax where you work is trickier than one might expect.

In my case, having tried steampunk and found it wanting (I'm sorry, Cherie Priest!) and urban fantasy mostly leaves me cold (Seanan McGuire having offered a rare exception) and the recent heavy hitters not succeeding at the holding of my attention or being too, too, too grimdark (Joe Abercrombie's trilogy earning a "thrown aside with great force")... bah.

I have gotten a kick out of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s series, though. He did something I didn't think would work for me, namely taking all of the usual "humans drawing powers from their aligned totem animals" stuff and applying it to... bugs. Beetle-kinden, Wasp-kinden, etc. And I don't like bugs! (Sorry, sorry.) Riveting stuff, and at least it does something different and does it well. Yay!

When all's said and done, though, one always returns to the classics, especially after another trawl of the bookstore leaves one shaking one's head in mild despair.

Now that DOES sound kinda neat!

Where do you come down on ghost stories? I'm talking classic ghost story territory, like M.R. James and Ambrose Bierce? I feel like we need more of that.

I love a good ghost story. To really work, most of them HAVE to establish setting really solidly, and I appreciate that.

I think the SF/F sections I've been to most recently has a whole lot more "tough urban fantasy woman" covers. Not quite as many as cloak guys, but quite a lot of them. They all look the same, they all seem to involve ridiculous poses with weapons and the blurb seems to always mention the woman being involved romantically with a vampire or some kind of were-person. Male, of course. Most likely wolf or some kind of big cat.

And yeah, I'm feeling the burn-out. I'm not as focused on the place, but I do like having an interesting, well thought out setting. I'm more interested in the characters and thoroughly disgusted with the number of books that try to get you to sympathize with Cloak Guy by ripping his childhood off from Dickens. Blaaaaaaaah!

I refer to that, as I said in a later comment, as the "Naked Chicks With Pentacles" section of the bookstore.

And I say this as someone whose tattoos include a pentacle, heh.

But, yes -- the homogeneity of those covers and blurbs is a bit disturbing. I actually don't mind the odd paranormal romance (Tanya Huff's "Blood" series, written in the 90's, is excellent), but it has to actually bring something innovative to the table, and most of the current crop of books comes off as very formulaic.

-- A <3

It's time for you to re-read "The Princess Bride"

I'm with you.
I've fallen into free-on-my-kindle-regencys because I'm rarely saying Oh, Just One More Chapter!
I can put the damned thing down and go to sleep.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Thread That Binds the Bones kept me up all night long.

I've fallen into free-on-my-kindle-regencys

Oooh! Recs? I presume these are from Amazon?

Aw, and here I was all set to recommend matociquala's (aka Elizabeth Bear) Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and (coming soon) Steles of the Sky), which is fantasy set in a Central Asian (mostly) Fantasyland. Where the colour of horses is srs bzns (among other things). And a rukh (speaking of birds)!

Edited at 2014-02-26 10:55 pm (UTC)

I was thinking of recommending that trilogy myself. Lush, descriptive and definitely different.

You have eloquently explained a lot of what turns me off a lot of fantasy these days as well. Also violence for the sake of it, grisly brutality cos its shocking and other stuff.

I know you dont want recommendations but there are two series by british writers I have read, one is more well known and the other is an indie I have just discovered and love. Both really speak to that sense of place in different ways

The Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch has London itself as a supporting character. So much of the action takes place in various parts of the city and its all beautifully described and incorporated within the story. Clearly the author knows his city well and it has a shape and a presence within the story. Also and I hope its not a turn off, its a bit like Harry Potter wizarding but for grownups, who happen to work in the Police force :)

4 books starting with Rivers in London that may also be called Midnight Riot in the US

The second series is the St Marys Time travel series by Jodi Taylor (on Amazon kindle) and I just LOVE them to bits. Characters are great and varied and indivicual and well drawn, humour is spiky and very adult and the time travel part of it is fantastic.

Im sure physicists will have blue fits over it but what she does so wonderfully is take you into a time and a place and immerse you in it. Clothing, language, food, the sheer drudgery of living in a time when you had to lug your water in from outside to have any inside the house, dust, rats, alleyways that are sewers, its all there in glorious description. Im a history nut myself and never have I had such a strong sense of place than I got from these books

St Marys Chronicles - Just One Damn Thing After Another is book 1 by Jodi Taylor

Also on the Gardening theme, have you read the Vine Art Wars by Laura Ann Gilman - lots about gardening and tending to grape vines that grow magic grapes

I only recently discovered the Peter Grant series and LOVE it, even though I am not usually an urban fantasy kind of person. Or a CSI kind of person, for that matter.

I am in complete agreement. I have a whole pile of fantasy books on my to-read bookshelf, and I have dubbed that pile "I JUST CANNOT" for the time being.

I realized this when I finally read one of the really popular Fantasyland ones right now--cannot remember which--and was vaguely irritated with it the entire time, but could not name a specific thing wrong with it. It turns out I have stayed too long at the Fair in Fantasyland for right now, and my stomach is queasy and my hands are sticky and it is far too crowded.

So I'm vacationing in Biographies.

I'm over in Histories - there are some AWESOME newer books over here!

I think you just described how I feel about mainstream publishing... it's just so generic !

There's lots of weird and wonderful stuff happening in self-publishing nowadays however... for example, there seems to have been an invasion of wombats for some peculiar reason.