Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Still more on SF vs. Fantasy

I am currently reading Jonathan Strahan's new anthology, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year # 2. It's from Night Shade Books, which is publishing some really fine science fiction and fantasy; and Strahan is definitely an editor to watch. He picks good stories.

My favorite stories thus far are "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang, "The Cabrist and Lord Iron" by Danial Abraham and "The Constable of Abal" by Kelly Link.

All are fantasy, though the Abraham story is only fantastic in its style, that of a fable or fairy tale, and because it is set in country which does not exist.

It tells you something about me that all have a format this is pretty close to fairy tales, folk tales, myths and so on.

So maybe I do like fantasy, though I have small tolerance for epic quests and epic struggles against generic evil.

In so far as evil exists, it is people, and they are evil either because they have malfuctioning brains or because they have become corrupted. Evil is not creatures with many legs that remind you of spiders, and it isn't dark lords who loom in the distance. It is the greed heads and power freaks who decided to invade Iraq and destroy a nation to meet their personal needs, whatever those may be.

If fantasy is going to help us understand the world, then it ought to come up with descriptions of evil that help us recognize evil in the real world. Tolkien does this in Saruman, Wormtongue, Boromir, Denethor, the thugs in the Shire and so on. He shows us a wide range of corruption: those who intimidated by evil, those who are tempted, those who utterly corrupted.

I guess what I am saying is, evil is not The Other. It is right here in our neighbors and allies and the leaders we trust.

Tolkien knew this. He had creatures who were evil and otherly: the Balrog and that enormous spider whose name I have misplaced. And he had Sauron, looming in the distance. But the interesting evil in his novel is the people who listen to Sauron and believe him.

I figure the epic fantasy has probably been prety well done, and you aren't likely to find a second Tolkien.


Blogger Helgi Briem said...

Hello Eleanor. I'm a fellow Icelander (the native kind) and I recently (yes, yes, I know) your book Ring of Swords and enjoyed it very much.

I've been a fantasy and science fiction reader for about 40 years and I agree very much with your assessment above. I have a low tolerance for epic fantasy precisely because I prefer my evils small and homegrown. I mostly prefer the low fantasy variants.

I've enjoyed your blog and I'll be checking in regularly.

- Helgi Briem

7:12 AM  

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