Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Evils of Potter

So there's this gabe person who lurks on SF/F boards. He employs the use of words like "putzfucker" to "wake up" his "audience" (all three of them), deletes posts from all but his groupies, and tries to make noise even in the most upstanding of debates where heavy hitters like Robson, M. John and Mieville are playing.

gabe is, unfortunately, one of the many with nothing to say who just keeps on saying it. He's also one of the many - though one of the least eloquent - to state that there's something terribly wrong with the SF/F ghetto and its lurid epic fantasies and endless questing romances, and perhaps young children will be permanently damaged by their exposure to Harry Potter novels.

I pick on gabe's ranting to open this post because he's the easiest target: the rants are prolific unresearched blather that feel to me as if they're spewed out as a rehashing of something said better by a more informed writer (like, say, Mieville), and he tends to pop up all over the place. But then, when Strange Horizons is publishing stuff like this, it's no surprise that gabe's mindless wandering manages to find blogspace (yes, I realize the irony).

The insider "backlash" against pulp SF/F and the rise of bizarre groups like the Interstitial Arts Foundation have fascinated me. There's an interest in getting popular fiction recognized as "literary" fiction - Stephen King recently chided the American Book Foundation for its disregard for popular fiction (during his acceptance speech for their Distiguished Contribution to American Letters award), and I've heard lots of chatter at cons about attemps to separate the slash n' hack from the M. John Harrison. Effectively, the SF/F circles appear to want to cut themselves into at least half: the "speculative fiction" books and the slash n' hack media tie in books.

But, you know...


Epic fantasy is great. I read it. I write it. It's candy. It's where you stop for a breather between the Brontes and Tolstoy.

Because there's got to be a pit stop along that highway.

There is a kind of story laid, not in the world as it is or was, but as - to an armchair adventurer - it ought to have been. It is an adventure-fantasy, laid in an imaginary prehistoric or medieval world, where magic works and the scientific revolution has not taken place. Or perhaps it is in some parallel universe, or in this world as it will be in the distant future, when science has been forgotten and magic has revivied.

In such a world, gleaming cities raise their shining spires against the stars; sorcerors cast sinister spells from subterranean lairs; baleful spririts stalk crumbling ruins; primeval monsters crash through jungle thickets; and the fate of kingdoms is balanced on bloody broadswords brandished by heroes of preternatural might and valor. In such a world, men are mighty, women are beautiful, life is adventurous, and problems are simple. Nobody even mentions the income tax or the dropout problem or socialized medicine. Such a story is called "heroic fantasy" or sometimes, "sword-and-sorcery."

The purpose of heroic fantasy is neither to solve the problems of the steel industry, nor to expose defects in the foreign-aid program, nor to expound the questions of poverty or intergroup hostility. It is to entertain. It is escape reading in which one escapes clear out of the real universe... Heroic fantasies combine the color, gore, and lively actin of the costume novel with the atavistic terrors and delights of the fairy tale. They furnish the purest fun to be found in fiction today. If you read for fun, this is the genre for you....

There are still.. many readers who read, not to be enlightened, improved, uplifted, reformed, baffled by the writer's obscurity, amazed by his [sic] cleverness, nauseated by his [sic] scatology, or reduced to tears by the plight of some mistreated person, class, or caste, but to be entertained.

- L. Sprague De Camp, Introduction to Conan of the Isles, 1968.

So let's have some fun, OK? Frickin' relax. And start writing some fiction, instead of snarling at it.