Another post to the GemmellFantasy mailing list in response to an Amazon feature by Stan Nicholls (here).
As I said earlier, I’ve been wondering about this [you’ll have to go and read the article for this post to make any sense, and even then it probably won’t], in the context of belief and religion. I hadn’t thought about it in the context of the decline of sci-fi.
But then I hadn’t thought about it in the context of an increasingly technical and ‘man made’ world either.
I think reading is a form of escapism, in the same way that music can be, or film, or dance, or anything you do which takes your mind from the real world for a moment. Good books are those that engross us so much we don’t notice the world, and bad books are those that keep jolting us back or never take us away.
I think we read fiction to either put ourselves in the story, to do in our mind the things we’ve dreamed of, or to at least watch someone else act out roles that intrigue us. Among other reasons probably.
The question then is, what genre? Crime? Thriller? Horror? Sci-Fi? Fantasy? Multi-genre? What draws us to read the genre we read most?
I read Fantasy just about to the exclusion of everything else. Oh I’ve read bits of other genre’s, the odd sci-fi book, some crime stuff, a bit here and there, but I stick to Fantasy mainly. And I have to wonder why.
For me, it’s perhaps logical. I was a roleplayer before I was a great reader. I fantasized about magic and myths and heroes. Did that lead to my selection of the Fantasy genre? Or was I led to roleplaying and mythology for the same reasons that I now read Fantasy books?
I’m not religious. I really don’t believe in any gods. I think I’m a sceptical realist. I talked long and hard in my younger days with a good friend, and we put the world to rights, formed our own opinions about life and how it works, and formed our theological beliefs, or lack of them. I concluded a long time ago that we (the human race) don’t really deviate from the normal animal requirements, I don’t need a ‘creator’ to explain my existence. I think evolution does a good enough job.
But I wonder if I’m missing something?
Is my lack of belief in the sources of religion the thing that drives me to seek other worlds or realities, or is it just something else I do.
I’ve said a couple of times that for me, David Gemmell’s books evoke a sense of old-world storytelling. The kind of storytelling that took place around a fire, outside of a cave, with the youngsters close by, and the ‘teller of the village relating the history of their small world through story and myth. Instilling confidence and morals into their young, through the use of story. Passing down knowledge in the form of legend, myth and exciting adventure.
David’s books evoke that imagery for me; I can imagine three thousand years ago, a group of people relating the story of how a Legend stood and defended the walls of their Broch against the invading Picts. I know how they felt. Energised, complete, confident, sure of their place in the world, because the story gave their life meaning.
I want the world to be a place where good wins, where evil and spite and fear are locked away for good.
Do I read Fantasy because it gives me that? Or do I feel that because I’ve read so much fantasy?
And the world is so hi-tech. My life is hi-tech. I’m a frustrated gadget freak. My job revolves around computers, my hobbies generally revolve around computers, I met my wife as a result of computers. Am I lacking a closeness with nature? Am I missing out on the things that we always had in the past? Is there within me some urge to fight and defend and stand in the way of wrong?
Do I read Fantasy because it returns me to how I think the world once was – dangerous, a place where you had to be strong to survive.?
Do I avoid sci-fi because my life is already science fiction? When I was a kid, sci-fi meant wrist phones and video phones. You can buy them both now. I can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world for free. And I can see them when I do it. In real time.
Flash Gordon never had it so good.
What do I need sci-fi for? There’s no-where to look to, everything they said would happen, has or is happening. I just _expect_ the colonisation of Mars. I just _expect_ holidays in space. I just _expect_ there to be life on other planets. What else can sci-fi tell me now? That there isn’t? That it won’t happen? Other dimensions and realities are the food of sci-fi now, and is that not fantasy with guns?
I have read some sci-fi in the past few years, one book in particular was interesting, Permutation City by Greg Egan. Good book, interesting slant on virtual reality. But was it really sci-fi? Half of it is already possible, and the rest? More like fantasy if you ask me.
Sci-fi doesn’t _give_ me anything any more. Even I can imagine the next 20 years. I’m sure I’ll be wrong, but I can already envision it.
But every Fantasy book is a trip into a world that never did and never will exist. Fantasy truly is speculative fiction isn’t it? In the way sci-fi used to be, before it became reality?
When they re-discover magic and elves, perhaps Fantasy will lose it’s edge and I’ll have to turn to Horror to fill the gap.
Whatever that gap is – which we still haven’t worked out.
Religion gives some people hope. I look around and I think it would be nice to have hope, to see a better future for us. And then I interact with people on and off the ‘net, and see spite, greed, ignorance, fear, hate, and wonder if there is a reason to hope at all.
And then I read, and discover there is perhaps hope. That spite can be quashed. That greed doesn’t always win. That the ignorant can be taught. That fear can be beaten. That hate can be turned and driven away.
Fantasy fills me with hope, wonder, excitement, courage. It’s not the only thing in my life that does so. Grete does. Sometimes my friends do. Occasionally movies do.
But surely Hope is the bread and butter of any Fantasy work? Hope in the face of imminent defeat? Hope in the face of hate. Hope in the face of fear.
Stan suggests that Fantasy was always a little more cynical than sci-fi, I won’t argue with him, and I’m certainly often a cynical person, which is probably another reason why it appeals. But I read Legend and Hero in the Shadows and I feel that perhaps there is a chance. I read Tigana and I think that anything can be overcome if only we try hard enough.
I guess other people find that hope in the Koran, or the Bible, or the teachings of Buddha, or in the wonder of music, or the beauty of physics, or in the lines of a painting.
I’m left to discover it in the shelves of a thousand fantasy books, but I won’t complain.
 People may remember that I don’t usually define good or bad books, I think all books have value, so this definition is one possible definition of what a good book or bad book is _to_me_.
 Within reason, you should always fear falling 10,000 feet, it is rarely good for you.
 Frustrated because I’m also skint 😉
 Is this why I do Live Action Roleplaying?