Monthly Archives: January 2014

Worrying about Serials and History in Fantasy

This is one of those posts that are proving to be a pain to write. I am torn between two purposes in regards to the subject matter’s direction. On the one hand, I wanted to write two essay posts. One would explore the influence of soap operas on long running epic fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire (though I wonder at the influence of comic books, too). The other essay would argue, after MedievalPOC’s tumblr post on A Song of Ice and Fire, that while history is an important influence on most fantasy, that the fantasies themselves are more reflective of the world today than the past. (Hey, the postcolonial analysis of ASoIaF sounds really promising.) But the problem with writing both posts is that I need to do far more research. I will need to watch a lot of soaps, read a lot of history, and read a lot of fantasy. And well, I’m not actually a professional literary critic. I want to spend my time writing my own stories. 

So, instead of blathering on about soap operas and critically looking at the role of history in select fantasy novels, I will explore how these ideas could entail into my own work as influences. 

I will admit that I have an obsession with primetime soap operas. Hell, I have half a mind to write a closet primetime soap. Or possibly adapt one of my too numerous to count projects into such a format. 

And there, in a nutshell, is my problem. 

I want to create worlds of depth that are typified by the soap opera/ serial genre. I want to dive in and explore as much of these characters as I can. I want to wring as much storytelling gold from those worlds as I can. 

But I have way too many projects I want to write. And I’m leary of being confined to just a few works. And there is always the problem of prose only serial fiction. 

Though novel series seems to be the preferred fantasy storytelling form, many series are hampered by many readers waiting for the series to be completed before buying the individual books in the series.How many prospective series have been cancelled midway through due to low sales when there is a huge waiting market at the end?

And traditional book publishing is relatively slower compared to television and comic books. 

I want to write some serials. So how do I solve this problem?

Well, what is the definition of a series? And what other publishing avenues are there? Does it actually have to be a series of novels?

The Lord of the Rings is a single long novel broken up into three volumes. Does that count as a series? Could I write a single long novel that could, should a traditional publisher choose, be split into a duology or trilogy? That is one solution.

Another solution could be some form of hybrid publishing. I could write a true serial, publish installments online and look into having volumes traditionally published. Sort of like how Monkey Brain Comics is approaching their publishing model. (At least the last time I checked).

But do the works really need to be solely prose novels? Why not experiment? Why not have The Goetic High be a Lord of the Rings length super novel, Two Cities be a closet television series, Hobbes County be a “novel” in short stories, whatever the hell Tyler Spang eventually stars in as a comic book series, etc? (Please don’t steal my title names. Or Tyler Spang. And if I do write a comic book series, please remind me not to attempt the art, too.)

To be honest, if I were to write a series the size of A Song of Ice and Fire or The Wheel of Time, I would probably prefer them to be in a form other than strictly prose novels. Personally, I find such large series to become, at some point or another, bloated for the sake of being bloated. 

I’ve blathered on about serials and I haven’t even touched on history, yet. Time to rectify that. 

If a critic has not yet written a book on history and fantasy, then someone should. The relationship of history as influence and setting to fantasy is a rich and complex one that would bear, and benefit from, a professional and scholarly critical eye.

Anyway, I’ve always been torn when it comes to history’s role in fantasy literature. On one hand, fantasy is generally set in a “historical” setting. On the other hand, most fantasy is not written to portray an “accurate” historical reality. Hell, the historical narrative tells us as much about ourselves as it does about “the past.” 

So, while I recognize the fact that fantasy uses history as a metaphor for the present, it is so hard to not be hung up on the minutiae of the research. Or on being affected by those fans who demand “historical accuracy,” whatever the hell that means. 

In the end, the only answer I can come up with is to try, as hard as possible, to maintain an internal consistency. But leave a little wriggle room to make sure the world of the text doesn’t come off as too artificial. 

So, what have I learned? Don’t be bound to forms. Be willing to write in whatever form feels right. Right to you and to the individual project. And, finally, never let the research, whatever the research is, hijack the narrative. I’m not rewriting the Hundred Years War, after all. 

 

R.I.P. Teen Titans (Until Next Time)

So. Teen Titans is coming to an end in April. 

The New 52 iteration of the Teen Titans has been controversial since the beginning. Rather than reintroducing the team with core (and traditional) members (say the team as constituted in the Teen Titans animated series), the team is a mix of traditional members (Robin/ Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Superboy) and newer members (Bunker, Solstice, and Skitter) with Raven and Beast Boy being relatively late additions to the team. 

This decision, coupled with the initial storylines, and the unfortunate dictates of trying to figure out/ make up what the hell is actually going on in the New 52 incredibly hampered the series. (And several other series in general, but this is not a post to slam the New 52). 

Was this new iteration of Teen Titans any good? It was decent but it could have been a lot better. It certainly was a critical failure. 

For me, I was disappointed much of the time. While I like the idea behind the team’s formation, I’m bitterly disappointed by the execution. And, to be honest, Tim Drake’s character is a butchered shell of what it once was. But hey, there is still Bunker (my favorite after Red Robin). 

Now, though, begins the wait to see what happens to the team as a new creative team, eventually, relaunches the series. Will the team’s composition be the same? What will happen to Bunker, Skitter, and Solstice? That is my biggest fear. When new characters are suddenly left adrift after a creative change, they, and their fans, are often left out in the cold. 

But that is the deal comic book fans make. 

I just hope Bunker will stick around and not be consigned to comic book limbo. 

 

The Easy and Hard of It: Science Fiction and Fantasy

In my last post, I wrote, much to my annoyance, that I find it easier to generate ideas for fantasy projects compared to science fiction. Over the weekend, I took the time to contemplate this state of affairs. Why do I find it easier to come up with fantasy ideas rather than science fiction? Does this equate a “natural” calling or will the harder genre be more fulfilling?

When I read J.L. Laynesmith’s The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503, I immediately began to think up ways I could use that in my own fantasy world building. It has been a few years, but I was thinking of having a subplot where the queen is either especially litigious or is the victim of an overly litigious neighboring magnate. In fact, I wonder if that could not be married to my (currently) discarded medieval fantasy project. Could a lawsuit of some kind be the spark that lights a revolution (I’m thinking along the lines of lawsuits to rebind peasants to the land after decades or longer of freedom). See? Boom. Idea. And incorporate either prophetic dreams or local witchcraft traditions. Again. Boom. Idea.

I recently completed George Chauncey’s Gay New York. While the book is, unfortunately, very repetitious, it is an eye opener in regards to how the gay subculture of New York developed over the half century before World War II. I had originally planed to read the book for research for a historical fantasy set during the 1920s. But, as I read the book, numerous ideas came to me. Take a great, new metropolis like New York. It has to be a magnet for immigration. It has to be new and brash. One of those immigrant groups have a shamanic tradition little understood by the dominant culture. Start of an idea. 

I think two examples will suffice. 

But when it comes to science fiction, that ease of generating ideas isn’t there. I have to work for it. I have to think. 

The reason why, I think, is that I have to extrapolate. I have to take inspiration and project possibilities. 

The postapocalyptic project has been bugging me for years. The biggest headache has been trying to figure out what type of apocalyptic event occurred to destroy civilization. The plot would revolve around the actions of a group of activists committed to rebuilding a new civilization out of the chaos of what used to be the U.S. has descended into. 

The reason why I need to figure out the apocalyptic event is because I need to know its effects. What will Earth be like fifty years after the Fall? A hundred? Two hundred? How much of the previous human civilization is left? How much has decayed? What knowledge has survived? 

You get the idea. I have to work on it. I have to ask and answer those questions. Though I have to work harder, that does not mean that the process is any less fun. In fact, I am more engaged in projects that I have to struggle with. My attention remains focused while I tend to wander when things come too easy. 

Fantasy, given its typically historical settings, has a ready made world building scaffolding just waiting to be used. Science fiction isn’t like that. The science, and everything else, has to be extrapolated. And gotten right. While a wizard may be a useful hand wave in fantasy, such shenanigans don’t truck in science fiction. 

I think I’ve answered my questions. But, to make matters more complicated, why am I so concerned with making a binary of science fiction and fantasy? I want to write both. So what if one genre is easier to generate ideas for while I struggle mightily with the other. In the end, as long as I’m doing what I love, why obsess over these things? 

But that is, I’m afraid, a question for another day. (And likely relates to my inherent “armchair literary critic” complex). 

Magic, E.T., and the Genres I Aim to Write

Many questions have percolated in my mind lately. But writing them down in a blog post has been, honestly, a pain in the butt. None of the previous drafts have flowed satisfactorily. I think I have it this time.

Researching magic systems is a pain in the ass. Especially if the magic systems are those of the real world. So far, I’ve mostly looked into the Western ceremonial tradition. It is crazy! To be generous, the ceremonial tradition of the West is a hodgepodge of specious scholarship and laughable frauds melding together by, perhaps, too uncritical minds. 

Still though, what I’ve uncovered has been very interesting, even if I think much of it is laughable. But it does give me an insight into how different types of magicians or witches work. And why, exactly, they get involved in many of these traditions. 

An interesting thought, though, is the difference between the, to be less cumbersome, goetic tradition and many of the traditional or local witchcraft traditions. One tradition relies on an (to my mind) archaic philosophical interpretation of the world while the other relies on a deep knowledge of the local environment married to a mastery of local religion (or mythology).  What would a fantasy that confronted the two traditions look like? Also, Richard Cavendish makes a wonderful point that magic is, perhaps, more poetry rather than (proto)science. What would a more poetic take on magic be like? Would it look like reality warping?

Another question I had is whether or not having born wizards/ witches rather than having them desire and learn their powers a better option? The two approaches do have their respective storytelling strengths. But is a biological approach easier to world build? And maybe, easier to have genuinely good characters?

Moving away from fantasy, for the moment, I want to touch now on some thoughts about E.T.s. 

If you’ve ever watched the television series Through the Wormhole, you’ll understand what is coming. 

In the aliens episode, the argument is made that most sentient, or intelligent, alien species will be predators. But I really have to challenge that assertion. Or, at the very least, the notion that we may have to deal with smart apex predators. If you look at our own world, no apex predator has attained sentience. We humans are not apex predators. Yes, we are omnivorous, but we were prey to other species. I wonder if it is not the relative weakness of the human body which requires both hunting strategies and strong artificial defenses that, in part, contributed to our need for increased intelligence. 

Another point. Are we the only sentient species on this planet? Could not certain species of dolphins be sentient? And could some whale species also be sentient? 

Finally, we hear so often that we are the young kids on the galactic block. But what if we are actually one of the older species? What does that mean for us? (Okay, for the record, I have every intention of writing a space opera around this idea. But it won’t be a replay of Western colonialism).

Speaking of space opera, I’ve been thinking a lot about the genres (or subgenres) I aim to write.

There are some genres I’ve always wanted to write. They are the genres that have, as a form, captured my imagination and inspired me. 

Space opera, epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, science fantasy, the weird, cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, etc. 

Writing science fiction has been a challenge for me. In part I think because, while I adore science fiction, actually bringing all of my knowledge and inspiration to bear hasn’t really born much fruit, excepting a few instances (like the space opera idea above).

In a way, I’m a fantasy idea machine. The trouble here is determining how to schedule everything out. And never getting around to writing science fiction.

Writing this post, I got hit by an “I’m an idiot” bomb. My current work in progress is an epic fantasy set in a version of the “real world.” (Mind you, it’s not the real world because, well, magic isn’t real). The other three fantasy projects I have in the works  are no less interesting, genre wise. 

I had convinced myself that the project coming after The Goetic High would be no less epic. But I am not so sure. For one thing, I really wanted to make some kind of science fiction story out of it. In this iteration, the project would have been either postapocalyptic, punk, or space opera. But things just did not click. Now, that is not to say that a good science fiction story will never click into the overall idea. But the idea just works better as fantasy. So the story is back to being a portal quest epic fantasy. But is that really the best option? 

Writing this blog, it “hit” me that maybe I could take more inspiration from sword and sorcery and mix that into the science fantasy it already was. (You know, this project could raise questions about how sword and sorcery and epic fantasy interact). Only time will tell. Anyway, I can’t wait to discuss some of the inspirations that went into this project. Inspiration comes from the craziest places. 

Two Cities has, honestly, proven a pain. What damn genre is it? Yes, it is urban fantasy, if only because the damn story takes place in San Francisco. Then, again, it “hit” me. Magic realism. Or in this case fantastic realism since, so far, the point of the story is very much a human one rather than a more action oriented story. 

The fourth idea is still a ways off. But I suspect it will be a wildly experimental work. And maybe see the wedding of steampunk and southern gothic. (Hey, I love southern gothic, too). 

I’m rambling, right now, so I’ll stop here. 

Writing this post, like many of my “talking to myself” posts, has opened up new storytelling possibilities. So, yes, this post succeeds where earlier drafts failed.

Fantasy: Politics and Armchair Literary Critics

Is fantasy political? According to M. Harold Page’s “Why Medieval Fantasy is Not Inherently Conservative (Or Inherently Anything Political)” and Derek Kunsken’s “Is Fantasy Inherently Not Political?,” the answer is no. Both essays, which appeared on Black Gate, argue that fantasy is not inherently political. I fundamentally disagree with them. 

First of all, what does “inherent” mean? According to Merriam-Webster’s, “inherent” means: “involved in the constitution or essential character of something.” So, is fantasy inherently political?

Well, yes, fantasy is political. You see, fantasy is a form of literature, a form of art. And art is political. No matter if that work is the highest grade of literary fiction or your average epic fantasy, the work is political. Why?

Simple. Humans are political animals. When a writer writes a work of fiction, a part of his world view, his politics, is embedded within the text. And readers, no matter who they are, engage in a dialogue with the writer because they interpret the text through their own world view, which has a political dimension. (Matthew Johnson’s comment to Kunsken’s post reflects my own views).

I have to wonder what Page’s intention is when he opened his argument with all of those essays looking at the politics of fantasy. He certainly didn’t use it to bolster his case. Hell, Mieville’s interview (the first link) challenges Page’s formulation of escapism. Bourke’s post on Tor (second link) raises some interesting questions that could (and should have been) looked into. And Moorcock’s seminal “Starship Stormtroopers” seems to have been an outright afterthought. 

And that is what hurts Page’s argument. He doesn’t engage his sources. He uses them as a prop to rage against. Whether or not he is right about politics and fantasy is irrelevant. He doesn’t care. He reads for escapist purposes and reading deeper into the text doesn’t matter.

A deeper literary analysis will reveal the politics inherent in a work of fantasy.

But, you see, his own argument is political. Moorcock’s essay actually exposes the type of apolitical reading Page champions early on. And he himself reveals that he sympathizes with the more conservative elements (Paragraph 10, starting at the image of The Crown Tower). So, I wonder, is fantasy not inherently political?

Now, I will admit that I agree with the argument that fantasy is not inherently conservative. Not even medieval fantasy. Yes, many of the tropes would imply that fantasy has a conservative bent. And many works of fantasy are conservative. Maybe even the majority. But there are many fantasy writers whose works are not conservative. China Mieville and Michael Moorcock’s work come to mind. As does Ursula K. LeGuin and J.K. Rowling. 

(But remember, politics is relative. And a work of literature is interpreted with myriad meanings possible. )

Kunsken’s essay is problematic because he doesn’t prove his case. He essentially declares fantasy inherently apolitical despite the fact that most of his essay leads a reader (at least this reader) to believe that, to the contrary, fantasy is inherently political. Or is the new weird not actually fantasy? 

In my estimation, neither Page nor Kunsken prove their case. Instead, they rely on the knowledge that the comments will be, on the whole, friendly and back them up. In the end, their arguments, to me, ring hollow. 

Reading for pleasure is great. Reading to escape the travails of one’s life is great. But, so too, is reading to edify oneself. Indeed, it is absolutely great to do all three at once. They are not mutually exclusive. 

“The Clash of Steel and the Roar of Dragons” Ain’t Enough for This Reader

The quote of the title comes from an essay by M. Harold Page titled “Why Medieval Fantasy is Not Inherently Conservative (Or Inherently Anything Political)” on Black Gate. I don’t agree with his argument. Largely because his argument is, itself, political. It might have nothing to do with politics as it is popularly conceived, but it is still political in regards to the politics of fantasy. But arguing about politics in fantasy is not the focus of this post. Rather, I want to explore my own reactions to fantasy.

Often times when it comes to reading fantasy, “the clash of steel and the roar of dragons” are all that are needed. Especially if the purpose of reading is escapism. 

But while I do read for escape, I am more interested in engaging the text in depth. What does the text mean? Why did the writer go in this or that narrative direction? What are the politics of the work?

For me, solely relying on “the clash of steel and the roar of dragons” is not enough. It becomes, ultimately, a hollow experience. Kind of like junk food. (Not that I’m saying the literature is junk, but that I find the experience unsatisfying). 

I want the literature I read to be engaging. I want more than simple entertainment. 

Which is why this is so frustrating. I haven’t read an engaging fantasy in months. 

What’s wrong with me? Am I losing my interest in fantasy? Or is it a certain kind of fantasy that I’m just not into anymore? 

The Too Soon to Blog Blues

I am so frustrated right now. 

I want to write about my writing. I want to blather on about The Goetic High like there is no tomorrow. But it is too soon. I don’t have anything concrete. I don’t have anything to sell. 

I want to write about why I chose a contemporary setting for an epic fantasy. I want to discuss why I chose to write The Goetic High as a single novel, just like The Lord of the Rings, rather than the “trilogy of trilogies” I had previously mentioned. I want to blog about the various magical systems I researched for this project. Hell, I really want to talk about my research.

But I just can’t. I have to wait until I’m finished. And then I can blog and market to my heart’s content. 

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, every one. 

I know I haven’t written a profound post in recent days, but nothing has really grabbed my interest. I’m hoping to turn that around in the coming days, though. 

I’m going to sign off now because I’ve got some research to do.