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Jeromy Henry

Fantasy and sci-fi took a grim turn somewhere.  Maybe it's the times.  But aren't fantasy and sci-fi supposed to provide an *escape* from real life?

Take urban fantasies.  The hero, with more personal problems that those wailers in country songs ever had, fights monsters only marginally less pleasant than the protagonist himself (or herself).  In epics, venal princes and Dark Lords plunge continents into war.  The carnage, torture, rape, pillage, and cruelty lovingly depicted even beats out TV news for its ability to depress the audience.

Sure, characters need problems to solve.  Tension is required to drive a story.  Characters with no flaws tend to look like cardboard cutouts.  But authors now strive to give their characters more problems, worse lives, more horrible dystopias to live in, and more evil villains to fight than anyone else.  It's like a contest.  I like edge-of-your-seat drama just the same as anyone else, but after a while, you wonder where the comedy got off to.

The eighties and nineties saw loads of comic fantasy and sci-fi, from Douglas Adams to John Morressy to Craig Shaw Gardner to Robert Asprin to Terry Pratchett.  Add your favorite authors to that list.  And besides straight comedy, one could find books with a more pleasant or fluffy tone.  One used to see lots of the stuff, good and bad.  It's not as if no one ever publishes funny or fluffy novels anymore.  But there sure are fewer of them, and they are less popular than they used to be.

I see some great sci-fi and fantasy come out every year.  At the same time, much as I enjoy some of it, I wish the authors would tone down the blood, guts, and angst just a bit.  I wish publishers would release more light fantasy novels to lighten the mood and provide a change of pace.  Give the characters a break and let them enjoy a happy ending sometimes.

The real world sucks.  I see it every day.  But let me forget about it for a few hours when I pick up a book.

To do our part to fight angst in sf and fantasy, we held a humorous sf and fantasy contest.  You can see the winning entries in this month's issue!  Thanks for reading.

2011-07-18 13:36:52
RossK- I whole-heartedly agree with what you are saying about the trend for grittiness in fantasy (I don't read much sci-fi beyond China Melville). I dont think that is a particularly new phenomenon though. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant had a much discussed rape scene in his 1977 novel and George RR Martin kicked off the excellent (but miserable) Song of Ice & fire in 1996-- fifteen years ago! But I do agree that almost most new fantasy fiction I have found tends to err on the tortured hero, a shade lighter than the villain, with an odd need to aim for brutal realism. I wonder if it's an insecurity related to the status of fantasy amongst literature- a need to make it more serious and gritty to draw in non-regular fantasy audience. So perhaps it is Market driven- authors are seeing Martin's exceptional (and deserved) success and following suit. Abercrombie admits Martin majorly inspired his work and there must be many others. Obviously there's room for both and I enjoy all the above writers. Conversely there's time when I crave the gentle style of the Belgeriad or Dragonlance. I started writing fantasy two years ago and intentionally sought to create likeable characters and enjoyable fantasy -- similar to the stuff I read twenty years ago-- as opposed to gritty gory glum torture realism driven fantasy. It'll probably mean no agent/publisher will lift me out of a slush pile but, hey, it's about what you enjoy writing!!

2011-07-05 12:56:38
Ironspider - I'd agree that there's a certain grimness in a great deal of science fiction and fantasy, which seems to be on the increase. I'm personally not sure if it's a reflection of real life (look at Who Goes There? or On the Beach) or just a passing phase, where authors are trying to out-do each other by injecting their version of reality into their stories. This tends to correlate with less pleasant protagonists or settings with the nasty meter set to 11. I don't mind grim, and don't even mind nasty, but just occasionally it's better to relax with something lighter that leaves you feeling amused rather than depressed.

2011-07-05 06:54:20
Dear Editor--It may be that folks just can no longer imagine having fun with reality, reality being all-pervasive, and as you say, often it sucks. Unless of course they are ad writers for the cruise lines. My favorite ad for a cruise vacation is backed by the oldie, "I don't wanna work, I just want to bang on the drums all day...". Yet, who can afford a luxury like a cruise vacation? Folks who can probably do. For the rest of us, a trip to the library or the book store provides a lot of relief! When I can't find anything "new" in the light and fluffy genre, I go for the authors you've mentioned as well as others and re-read my favorites. Like you, I appreciate arm-chair escapism because the book will be there when the crisis which interrupts my reading passes, should that occur. Thanks for having the light and the dark both represented in the selections you offer here. HH

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