How do you like your fantasy?

This Friday, on the main stage of the SFX Weekender, I’ll be taking part in a panel called Elf Preservation (3pm, if you’re going to be around). Rather than just waffle on as I usually do at this sort of thing, I thought I would try a couple of polls to judge the opinion of folks. I would also be very grateful for additional explanation and experiences passed on in the comments – good examples, bad examples, that sort of thing. It’ll be clearer once you’ve seen the questions.

The theme of the panel is whether it is really fantasy if it doesn’t have monsters in it? The quick answer is, “Well, duh, of course it can be!” but I suspect I might need to go into a little bit more detail.

With that in mind, here is the first question. This is quite a broad topic, and what some people think of a traditional fantasy tropes will differ from others. Bearing in mind this sort of individuality, I don’t want to restrict ‘traditional’ to Tolkeinesque, but that’s a good start. Most of us have read quite a bit of fantasy, played fantasy games, and we know what the staples are : dragons, castles, elves, goblins and so on. For the purposes of this question, a novel contains these elements if it uses those names, even if the author’s iteration is different from the norm; if it uses the tried-and-tested portrayals of those elements even if the author has changed the names (for instance, a brutish, bad, warlike race of humanoid monsters called borcs, or sylph-like forest dwellers known as the Fey, or Nomes, or whatever). These are as much about medieval tradition and old folklore as they are modern-day fantasy.

Okay, now for something a little tougher, but requiring less qualifying, I hope. Note there is no ‘It depends’ or ‘I like both’ answers; choose which you prefer in principle. You can explain yourself in the comments.

And just how much do you love the beardies, pointy-ears and greenskins? By character I mean either a viewpoint characters, or non-viewpoint characters that are significant to the plot.

And one last question. Think about this carefully, and try to answer truthfully.

I lied, I have one last question. I will try my best to keep notes/ record the panel so I can pass on my thoughts after the event…

Published in: on January 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I can honestly say that some of the best non-human stories have been yours. The Path of The Warrior/ Seer bits I think felt …alien. Non-human. Some of Graham McNeill’s stuff have done the same.

    Karen Traviss’ Clone Trooper series do a good job of getting in to the head of a clone (realize that a newly decanted trooper is a brutally indoctrinated ten year old in a man’s body.) which was very nice.

    Some Space Marine books grasp the post-human pretty well.

    I really loved the way Bioware handled Dragon Age and their criss-crossing of certain typical sterotypes.

    Of course, in all of this I’m quite biased.

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  2. Good luck with it all first of all, expecting some nice blogging after the event then.

    ..Fishmen eh ? You can take the writer out of Gw but etc etc

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  3. I think the “Have you read any fantasy novels that contained no human characters?” could be followed up by “Would you like to read more?” – it’s not something I’ve personally read much of, but not because of distaste but because I’ve not found much of it and, if done well, is very interesting.

    In regards to “could the non-human characters be replaced with human characters of similar personality without the story changing?” – if you can simply swap out a character’s description and say they’re blue with five heads and nothing else, they’re not really “non-human” in a sense, more the star-trek style of rubber forehead alien.
    Obviously it’s hard as a human writer to portray an alien thought process, but I’d hope that changing any character wouldn’t be as simple as a pallet swap.

    Oh, and question 2 I would have said “either one, if it’s done well”. I’ve read books where they were straight up sword and sorcery, but great, and books with twists and alternate concepts used not as a gimmick but to improve the story.
    Conversely I’ve read terribly cliched fantasy and had twists that make me roll my eyes so much they come in danger of popping out of my skull.

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  4. My attraction to fantasy is simply the blank canvas– the freedom to order your own world how you please. I never put in non-human creatures while writing, unless there’s a good reason for it.

    If we leave aside the genre, my favorite thing to read about is intrigue. I like motivated characters stabbing each other in the back, making deals, breaking them. George R. R. Martin may take forever to write his books, but his material is rich, complex, unpredictable, and utterly without a safety net of any kind. Joe Abercrombie’s war and revenge schemes, Stephan Deas’ political murders. My steampunk novel is all human, except for the characters who happen to technically be undead (which is the point of the story).

    If there must be other creatures, I prefer them to be necessary, and add something to the story. Midsummer Night’s Dream would never have been the same if the fae were just quiet forest-people. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods certainly wouldn’t have worked if he had no gods (though the gods looked and acted just like con men and blue-collar workers). Narnia may have had talking animals, and it is a classic, but when it comes to Lewis, I think his last novel, ‘Till We Have Faces’ is infinitely better. The Last Unicorn isn’t my usual fare, but let’s face it: it had to have a unicorn.

    My vote is that fantasy races are fine… but if you have them, make it the point and not a side dish?

    Unless it’s steampunk, and the non-human creatures are twisted aberrations of science. That’s just fine with me.

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  5. I’m pretty much happy with any story as long as it’s good. But I rarely buy books if it looks just a little too close to what’s become the cliche. I call it masturbating to Tolkien. Charming image, I know.

    Nowdays, the trend I’m seeing is to be heavily influenced by GRRM, and I don’t like that either. All of the unpleasantness, less of the sense of wonder and clever world-building.

    The problem with creature/magic-heavy fantasy, I don’t quite see how the world could have evolved into the familiar medievalesque society when so much could have thrown it onto a completely different track.

    So I’m happy with orcs, elves, Klingons, Wookiees, all, none, or anywhere in between as long as I enjoy it and can suspend my sense of disbelief.

    Probably not as helpful as you want, but that’s just what I feel.

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  6. […] blogging more about this in a couple of days’ time, so will say no more here (except – go to my last post and vote on the polls please, I’m still collecting […]

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