Fantasy is still getting an unfair press, says David Langford
What the papers say: “If you haven’t seen any of Game Of Thrones so far, you might be wondering if it’s worth ploughing through 40 hours of fantasy hokum to get you up to speed. It certainly looks, at first glance, like a load of old nonsense comprising bare breasts, fighting, dragons and not much else.” ( Telegraph) Very familiar – but it’s the teaser for a rave review.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung also loves Game Of Thrones, but wants it kept separate from that greasy Tolkien stuff. GoT, they say ( in German), is “often erroneously regarded as fantasy, although there are neither magic rings here nor a fantastical triumph of good over evil.”
Meanwhile, US TV host Joe Scarborough explains GoT without the prejudice instilled by watching it: “I think there are, like, gnomes, and elves, and hobbits, and people with spikes coming out of the sides of their faces.” ( MSNBC)
Yes, genre fiction still gets a bad press. When a Guardian hack wants to sneer at PUA ( pick- up artist) culture, it’s instant guilt by association: “They’re sci- fi saddos; they’re World Of Warcraft weirdos.”
The Weekly Standard tackles unashamed SF hack Jules Verne: “And, of course, for those who still feel obliged to read something semirespectable but prefer not to trouble themselves with heavy lifting, there is science fiction…”
A more upmarket pundit admits SF may be likeable but gives it the thumbs- down for not being loveable: “I’m not suggesting that one can’t fully enjoy James Crumley, James Lee Burke, Robert Heinlein, Philip K Dick, and Orson Scott Card, but I’m not sure one can love them in the way that one loves Shakespeare, Keats, Chekhov, and Joyce. One can be a fan of Agatha Christie, but one can’t really be a fan of George Eliot.” ( Chronicle Of Higher Education) I remember Kipling wrote a whole story about Jane Austen fandom…
This review of Michael Faber’s SF novel The Book Of Strange New Things explains its main saving grace: “While the bulk of the book takes place on another planet – a vividly drawn environment with green water, no moon and frequent, spiralling rainstorms – it doesn’t read like science fiction, or like any genre.’ ( NY Times) What a relief.
Even Godzilla is no longer popcorn- fed fun: “Appreciation of a movie like this requires an almost morbid degree of connoisseurship, which may, in practice, be hard to distinguish from bored acquiescence.” ( NY Times)
Genre- watchers enjoyed the uproar when literary author Kazuo Ishiguro published his f * nt* sy novel The Buried Giant, and worried in public about the ghastly stigma: “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do? Are they going to say this is fantasy?” ( NY Times) Ursula K Le Guin delivered a smart ticking- off: “Well, yes, they probably will. Why not? It appears that the author takes the word for an insult.” ( Bookviewcafe. com). No, no, Ishiguro retorted: Le Guin is “entitled to like my book or not like my book, but as far as I am concerned, she’s got the wrong person. I am on the side of the pixies and the dragons.” ( Guardian)
Mainstream pixie David Mitchell chimed in: “‘ Fantasy plus literary fiction can achieve things that frank blank realism can’t,’ said Mr Mitchell, who added that he hoped The Buried Giant would help to ‘ de- stigmatize’ fantasy. ‘ Bending the laws of what we call reality in a novel doesn’t necessarily lead to elves saying “Make haste! These woods will be swarming with orcs by nightfall.”’” ( NY Times) As bad as that genre hack Shakespeare whose fairies spout stuff like: “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.”
It’s instant guilt by association: “They’re sci- fi saddos”
David Langford has long studied the Enemy.