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Time for Fantasy


Raymond Coulombe

I’m sitting here looking over the lyrics to an old Lesie Fish song, “Black Powder and Alcohol.”  I have got to get a recording of that sometime.  The song gives instructions on how to make black powder and alcohol.  Both useful skills when civilization collapses.  In my more morbid moments I contemplate the collapse of civilization.  At a young age mysteries of fallen civilizations intrigued me.  What causes a people to rise so high and then fall so low?

I come by my morbid curiosity honestly.  Most Americans grow up with the idea of progress.  Things have been getting better and better.  Things will continue to get better.  The future will be glorious.  Whoop tee do! . . . Right.  Like everyone else who grew up during the baby boom years, I got a dose of that.  Also got a dose of something less shiny.   Decay.  Growing up in a dying mill town will do that to you.  Things fall apart.  The future has great looming dark clouds that overshadow daily life.  People leave.  Wages go down.  Buildings burn.  Main street turns to dust.

Thanks to the current economy, more people are experiencing what I grew up with.  Welcome to the club.  Sing along with me: “Black Powder and Alcohol.”

It’s long been observed that when the economy falters, S/F goes into retreat and Fantasy becomes more popular.  There’s much speculation on why that’s so.  Could be a simple as people wanting a complete escape from their troubles.  That seems reasonable enough.  As the promise of “progress” seems more like a lie, the future S/F world visions get pretty dark.  In the early days of QM, we got a lot of submissions from former Soviet Block countries.  By then, Communism had failed, but Capitalism didn’t look too great either.  Those writers came by their dystopic visions honestly. Even their taste in fantasy was dark.   Glenn Cooks’s “Black Company” fantasy series was hugely popular in the former Soviet countries.  His bleak tales about an outcast band of mercenaries resonated with the people.  

There’s another possible explanation  for the resurgence of Fantasy -it’s a vision of a different path, another way of living.  We live by our myths.  Maybe the American Dream has run its course.  Some are looking for new dreams.  Perhaps the Australian aborigines have it right; we are all living the dreamtime.   We dream our world into reality.  Why can’t fantasy fiction be as much as a dream guide as science fiction?  Science and magic both explain the world and provide methods for manipulation one’s environment.  When the world that runs on science gets into trouble, is it any wonder that magic seems more plausible than it once did?

What about the whole back to nature rewilding movements?  A lot of people are looking at more primitive and tribal ways of living.  Somehow running around the woods with a bow on your back and a stout staff in hand doesn’t seem so extraordinary.  In these times it’s easier to imagine living in a world where that sort of behavior almost makes sense.  Fantasy fiction makes sense.  Well . . . maybe a new kind of fantasy with room for black powder and alcohol.  Maybe we’ll get some cool stories halfway between steampunk and Tolkien.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?

2009-09-01 19:11:32
As for Black Powder And alcohol...Sadly, I feel the need to reach for one or the other to get through a lot of the fantasy that gets written today. Somebody better hurry up with that Tolkien/steampunk crossover.

2009-09-01 14:29:52
Howdy, Interesting thoughts...I'm thinking of Rome. They killed Ceaser then Nero burned the place down while playing a violin, badly. I wonder what sort of fantasy the Romans were into? Peace and Balance,

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