RSS

Tag Archives: Jeff Vandermeer

Things I Wish SF(F) Had More Of

So, after thinking about my last post on education, I’ve come to some conclusions. I’ve been reading less and less science fiction lately, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. But now I think I know. It’s because I’ve been seeing a lot of the same things recently. Here’s a list of recent sub-genres I’ve become disillusioned with lately, and some ideas I think could infuse them with new life:

1. Space Opera–Don’t get me wrong, I love this sub-genre, but we’ve been harping on post-humanism and alien combat quite a lot lately. How about we try something new? Like some new thoughts on STL travel, or Near-Earth Space exploration.

2. Near-future SF–Love this genre as well. (Futurismic, here’s to you!)  But we’ve been seeing a lot of the same thing, lately.  Nano-tech, cyberpunk, bio-punk.  I’d love to see some more stories on information technology pre-singularity.  VR’s been a common theme, but very few books out there seem to be addressing Augmented Reality(AR), which–for those who don’t know–is the mapping of virtual information, such as audio and video, onto the real world.  The more well-known application here is the good old “heads-up display”, or HUD, in use in targeting systems and mapping.  Stories about AR that come to mind:  Dennou Coil, Rainbows End, Eden of the East.  There’s a lot of potential in this technology, and a lot of conflict that it could create.  Virtual ads in fields, or modern digital graffiti are two.  And think of the networking and social media applications.

3.  Science fantasy:  There’s been a rise in this genre lately, which I have greatly enjoyed.  Some examples are anime’s Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou, which postulates a modern form of magic created with digital information instead of personal energy and ancient symbolism.  A great deal of steam-punk also falls into this category, although it’s generally not as modern as the normal idea of the genre.  Of course, I’m somewhat misrepresenting this term to describe a combination of scientific and fantastical elements.  I’m not really refering to just planetary romance or dying earth scenarios, as much as contemporary or near-future fantasy outside of the UF genre.  We might also include some space opera works in the category.  Anime provides the example of Heroic Age, while C.S. Friedman has given us the Coldfire Trilogy.

4.  Let’s also throw in alternate universe science fiction here.  Earth-like worlds with different cultural and geographical settings that nevertheless approximate our present level of technology.  I’m hard-pressed to come up with an example of this grouping that doesn’t involve alternate dimensions or the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.  I’m not talking multiverses or dimension-hoppers here.  I’m thinking of entirely independent worlds.  Which makes me want to read this sort  of story even more.  Perhaps Jeff Vandermeer’s Finch could be an example book, although that veers closer to Science Fantasy/New Weird than I’m trying to go.

5.  Oh, and let’s not forget the Chimney-punk.  This isn’t a recognized genre yet, but I’m hard at work behind the scenes, spreading awareness(lol) and writing material.  New Weird isn’t the only interstitial genre out there–at least, not for long.

Anyway, those are a few genres I’d really love to see some new material in.  Does anyone have particular areas of their own that they find interesting but under-populated?

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Two Types of Urban Fantasy

Looking at the genre from one angle, there are two types of Urban Fantasy, Type-P fantasy and Type-D fantasy.

Type-D, named after Harry Dresden–because he is awesome and I saw the TV adaption on the Sci-Fi channel (before they came up with that ridiculous re-branding “SyFy”), and because someone over on AW used it– is fantasy where the MC is aware of the story’s supernatural elements.

Type-D can further be divided into stories where magic is “out of the broom-closet”, and known to the world at large, and the much more common set of stories where it’s a Big Fuckin’ Secret. You might guess which one I prefer. It’s probably due to my bias from secondary-world fantasy, where even if it’s a distant existence, both physically and mentally, magic is usually known to the general populace.

Type-P, named after Harry Potter–which is one of the more famous examples currently–is fantasy where the MC discovers that magic exists.

These stories come in two common varieties, stories where the MC does have magic, and stories where they don’t. The latter are usually the most popular.

Both types have their advantages and disadvantages:

Type-D can throw you right into the action. The plot is to the fore and it is where most of the attention is focused. Demon-hunting, vampire cabals, changeling conspiracies. A great example is Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire. MC knows about magic, is involved in magic, and is going to have a great time hunting down the “bad” kind.

Type-P is different. You might have some action at the beginning, such as the kid-napping or murder of someone close to the protagonist–or of the protag themselves. But then you have to deal with the fact that, “ZOMG! Magic!” Whether you’ve got a reluctant protagonist or one who Jumps at the Call, they have to process their reaction some time. You get a lot inner dialogue, friction with more worldly allies, and a great deal of shock and awe. All of these contrive to distance the beginning of the story from the real plot.

Which could go either way. Sure, their twelve-year-old sister got kidnapped, but… “Level 12 Fireball!” How can that not be cool? And that’s one of the major differences.

Type-D is often about the surface events, the plot, even though it is likely to be quite “character-driven”. Type-P is often more about the character arcs, the themes. Of course, these are only generalizations. You can still have fantastic character arcs in Type-D UF, and run around collecting plot coupons and fighting bad-guys in Type-P.

But if you look at my examples, you might notice something. How old are the characters in Dresden Files and Child of Fire? How old in Harry Potter? What about, dare I say it, Twilight? You can argue that it’s PR, not UF, but the genres are pretty close, and there’s a great deal of crossover. If you look back at most of the recommendations in my original post, you’ll see that the trend continues.

Now, I’m not dumping all Type-P UF in the YA category–although if you look at the whole Fantasy genre, you’ll see it follows the trend closely as well. There are counter-examples, naturally. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, for example, has a discovery plot and an adult MC. And it is not alone. Nor do younger characters always qualify a story as YA (or MG). But it’s a trend.

And one of the reasons for it is the ability to use magic as a metaphor for just about anything we don’t know about, or are uncertain of. Including growing up, love, getting out of the school environment, learning that life isn’t so simple as you thought, etc. And Type-P UF, and Type-F for that matter, handles these themes very well. Issues of self-discovery, personal identity, social identity, cultural identity, sexual identity. All of these have been addressed within Type-P. Being a wizard, a shifter, a vamp. These are all things that separate someone from the rest of humanity, just like being gay, or black, or female might set someone apart.

In Type-D, characters are usually more stable in their identity, more confident. They aren’t dealing with so many first, so many new things. They’ve already honed their skills, learned their lore, chosen their profession. And this allows for all sorts of stories that you couldn’t have in Type-P. It makes for different approaches as well. Whereas a twelve-year-old is not going to go undercover in an ab-dead dreamshit ring, a thirty-year-old were-falcon cop could do so easily. And vice-versa. Middle-aged investment bankers aren’t going to be wandering around in the attic, or playing hide and seek in the wardrobe. 9-year-olds certainly won’t be hunting down strange sorcerers who turn children in burning piles of grubs that burrow away into the soil.

There are many other ways to divide or classify urban fantasy. There’s N. K. Jemisin’s Stylistic vs. Contextual UF, over on Jeff VanderMeer’s Ecstatic Days. You could classify by protagonist type: “Kick-ass broad” vs. suave vampiric playboy. Or smart, tough, magic detective. There’re the various lineages and influences I mentioned in the last post. The list goes on. They all provide some insight, and some context.

Next time, we might talk about those lineages a little more in depth. I think the term “lineage” in general makes for a great sub-category of “sub-genre”, unless you’d prefer “sub-sub-genre”? Either way, we’ll explore the idea soon.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on January 15, 2010 in Authors, Fantasy, Genre of the Week, Themes

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

First Fan Freakout

I’ve been following Ecstatic Days, Jeff VanderMeer’s blog for awhile, and a few days ago, I finally commented on this post. Jeff replied. Last night, I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep, and I suddenly thought “I just had a conversation with Jeff-fucking-Vandermeer. Oh my God, I love that guy.”

Now, you may be wondering why I’m making such a big deal of this fan squee moment. Well, for three reasons:

  1. I’ve never understood the concept of a fangirl/fanboy moment. Authors are awesome people, sure, I thought, but they’re just people. I respect them for writing great books, but I’d be more nervous from having nothing interesting to say to them than from some speechlessness over their literary awesomeness.
  2. I’ve commented and been responded to on several author blogs, none more or less awesome than Jeff VanderMeer.
  3. Beyond the first chapters excerpt I read to respond to the post in question, I’ve never actually read one of Jeff’s books. Not even a short story. He’s on my TBR list, sure, because I hear so many great things about his books. (And, from the excerpt, these compliments appear to be totally deserved.) And yet I freaked out, days after the fact.

But hey, I’m nothing special. Fanboy moments are the bane of convention-goers—both author and reader alike. Nothing is more embarrassing than meeting your idol and completely freezing up the first word they say to you. I mean, they’re a literary God! And you’re just some reader/writer who nobody knows or cares much about. (And this applies to you whether you’re a multi-published author or a twelve-year-old at their first con—with your parents… ughhh.) How else should you react to meeting them?

Fan Freakout Syndrome(FFS) is practically its own pandemic in most fields of endeavour. Movie stars, sports stars, even someone’s favorite scientist. Anyone you admire can trigger a debilitating attack of Holy SHIT! By just saying “Hello”.   As much as an author might appreciate gushing praise on a now-and-then basis, constantly running into people who make total fools of themselves in your presence can get rather tiring.

And it’s even worse than that, because the fan usually realizes halfway through what they’re doing. This realization is followed by the dreaded “awkward silence”, where the fan experiences a second freakout:

“Oh my god! I’m such a tool. A fool, a clown, a total dumbass. I’ve totally ruined this. What a fuck-up, I bet they despise me! *weeps on the inside* They must see this all the time. Shit, shit, shit!

If they’re lucky, they’ve not said this aloud. (But the writer, being such an astute judge of character, will see it all in the half-second it flashes across the humiliated fan’s visage.  Right?)

Now, since my freakout was not only private but internuts-mediated, I have retained some semblance of my dignity, even if I’ve plastered my semi-embarrassment all across the web–you know, because everybody reads this blog. Including Jeff, obviously.  (Right Jeff?  You read my blog, right?)

So, next time you embarrass yourself in front of your favorite author, remember, they now despise you. You make them cringe every time they see you. They would rather give their grandmother a foot massage than experience one more second in your presence. But don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 9, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Fans

 

Tags: , ,