Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My Art Is A Big Bag of Dope

I wonder, you know, if fantasy - big, chunky fantasy with the politics and beliefs of naive teenagers - is not just another form of sedation. Another form of over the counter sedation. Shit, maybe literature and film and music has just become it, in a general way. Do we read/watch/listen for escapism? Our art will never be outlawed, but is it now performing the same task as a big bag of dope?

Ben Peek's writing in response to VanderMeer's essay about "real-world" politics in fantasy fiction.

This got me to thinking about why I haven't been writing a lot of explicitly "political" posts about, say, Justice Alito, the lack of a true progressive party in America, abortion rights (well, not lately anyway), Katrina relief, or/and etc.

I mean, the post that got me the biggest hit count was, predictably, one on abortion. If I was looking for hit count numbers, I could make this the all-about-my-opinions-on-abortion blog. That always gets a rise out of people. Or I could make it a purely fat-acceptance blog. Or pure SF blog. Or "pure" whatever blog. I could write a really cool women-in-war blog (and in fact, I should write more about that here).

The reason I've steered clear of posts that have to do with "timely" political issues like Alito and Bush's "oh duh" moment (yea, we need alternative energy resources! We've known that since 1970 you fucktard!) is that I'm burned out on approaching them in non-fiction. I see this bullshit on CNN and read it in other blogs every day. And unless they really piss me off, I'm not going to waste space here when so many other people are talking about Old White Dudes. I'll write my letters through NARAL and PP and keep writing posts about feminism and science fiction and keep writing SF/F stories and mix up this blog with a diversity of posts.

I don't want it to be all white guys in politics, all the time.

In fact, later this year when I get back into boxing classes and recover from the wackiness that's been my life for the last few months, I'd like to get back to talking more about women, weightlifting, boxing, and martial arts. Recording my own successes and failures has, I know, helped and inspired at least a handful of people, and that's something.

Changing the world in some small, secret way...

The truth is, I write about politics, about the world, every day. That's how I process it. It may not show up here, but it'll show up in my fiction.

Yea. Fantasy Fiction. About the Real World. What, you think you're divorced from it?

Silly rabbit.

I've had at least one editor call a story of mine, "too didactic." Yea, it was a story about abortion - only the one being denied the abortion was a man. It all made sense in the story, mostly. Sorta. I had another story that touched on the issue with a bit more skill, and that one sold pretty easily. I tend to work out my beliefs and politics in my fiction.

My story, "Wonder Maul Doll" (Yea, WMD) just finally sold as well. It's about a bunch of women sent off to a foreign country in search of deadly organic weapons in order to boost a president's election campaign, and it pretty brutally shows how many people are killed and ruined for one woman's (false) accusations.

Most of my stories deal with war and feminism to one extent or another. Even tDW (The Dragon's Wall), the fantasy saga, is a story about the genocide of an entire race based entirely on fears and fictions of who those people are.

Oh, but wait.

tDW, being a "big, chunky fantasy," must just be another of those dull stories "with the politics and beliefs of naive teenagers" and therefore "just another form of sedation." Like "Ender's Game," or "The Forever War." Totally removed from the real world. Another form of escapism. Doesn't get you to think about The Real World at all.

I certainly think that some stories - not fantasies in particular, but ALL writing (including lit, mystery, horror, romance) - are indeed forms of escapism. There are bubble-gum stories where nobody suffers much and everything turns out OK and nobody's going through a political crises or performing illegal abortions or running a country on anarchy. And yea, sure, there's a place for those stories.

But you know what? Some of the shit you might think is the most awful of fluff can surprise you.

I've been re-reading Mike Moorcock's Elric stories recently, and I've been struck by the moral ambiguity of some of the tales. What is good and evil? Is wholesale slaughter or random killing ever justified? How much power does one have over the expectations of the people around them? Should humanity be "saved" if it's really Insane, Evil, Corrupt? Is humanity worth saving at all? Are you willing to sacrifice yourself for your beliefs? Does that legitimate those beliefs?

S&S stories are notorious for being badly written tales of escapism, but there's some great stuff out there that will challenge you to re-think your positions on "real life" ideas if you give it a chance.

I don't plan to write pure fluff. I'm not keen on bubblegum. Will some of it be read that way? Sure it will. It might even be something Baen would publish! But if I'm writing doorstoppers and pulling you out of this world, it's to take you somewhere different so you'll be able to read about the issues of the here-and-now in another context. And maybe, just maybe, I can get people thinking about things just a little differently.

Because what I don't want to be faced with when I come home is another blaring night of CNN and hysterical left and right-wing bloggers screaming about the same issues. I want somebody who'll show me another way of looking at it, somebody who reminds me that history churns on, that we've been here before; we'll be here again.

I love adventure stories. I can go somewhere else for an hour, a day, and wake up the next morning with a view of the world that's just a little bit different.

4 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

actually, i don't reckon anyone would call haldeman's FOREVER WAR fluffy or niave. it's fairly obvious it's about the vietnam war, after all. likewise, not all big fantasy is going to be divorced from all interesting things--though a huge chunk of it does run on the niave, teenage, dope idea.

but, moving outside that, i'm kinda fascinated by how the art of literature, film, tv, even music, has become more about creating escapism than about anything else. there was an interview with lydia millet recently where she said she found it odd how only non-fiction was allowed to educate, to bring up real information openly, but fiction was discouraged to do so. interesting, huh? 

Posted by ben peek

Kameron Hurley said...

Well, no, they wouldn't call FW fluffy or naive - that was sorta the point. There's a lot out there that *isn't* fluffy and naive, and even more that doesn't have to be.

I do agree that a lot of fantasy books run toward the dopey, naive, and teenage, but then, so do a lot of lit books, romances, mysteries, SF, etc. 90% of everything is crap, afterall.

I'd be interested to read the Millet interview - I was always under the impression that fiction books that were jam-packed full of "educational" information like the pseudo-science of Jurassic Park or the pages and pages of info about submarines in Hunt For Red October were the sorts of books that *more* people wanted to read.

The chief complaint I get from people who don't read novels (I can't imagine) is "Why would I want to read about something made up?" (hence the hysteria about the Frey book. Granted, pissing off Oprah of all people didn't help). At least if they read Mobey Dick, they might learn something about whaling...

That's often the huge aversion to fantasy among the "lit snobs" I encounter (that and the cheesy genre covers that they're embarrased to be seen lugging around). If they're reading genre, they figure, it's all about pure escapsim or reading for reading's sake, not reading to learn anything. And I do think that's a false belief: there's great stuff that has a lot to say, it's just not marketed that way (instead, books are marketed as pure escapism and writers are encouraged to write it that way, and all the sudden you have a shelf of Terry Goodkind).

So I don't think that all fiction is discouraged to bring up "real" information openly - I think they're actually encouraged to do so. I'd bet Goodkind thinks he has lots to say.

I love adventure stories. I love adventure stories that have something to say even more. But those books are tougher to write, take longer to write, and fewer writers are up to writing them.

I don't know that anybody's actively encouraged to write a bad book.

benpeek said...

yeah, i've heard the 'why would i want to read something made up'. i don't much get it, myself. i mean, you read a biography, and a lot of them read like fiction anyway, and how can you be so sure?

the frey thing in the states is not a new thing from where i am. we've had it happen twice in two bigs way in the last fifteen years (maybe ten?). the first one was a woman claiming to be polish and related to parents in the nazi death camp. turned out to be a total lie--but her book won awards and such, and so people asked the question of if the book had obvious literary merit, then what did it matter where it came from? more recently there was the autobiography of an indian woman, i think, who claimed to have escaped this horrible past. turns out she was living in the states quite happy, never having been through that.

and yet, you know, people got an aversion to fantasy. *shrug*

there is, as you say, a lot of different books out there, each that offer different things to people. that's all cool. i reckon, though, maybe the books that say things need to be championed more. or mayeb not.

i got kinda lost in this reply :)

ben peek said...

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2006/20060116/millet-a.shtml

millet interview, btw.