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In defence of Traditional (Eurocentric Quasi-Medieval) Fantasy: #1 I'll read what I like

My name is M Harold Page and I recently sold a short story with a dragon in it.

As I wrote the story, I could hear the voices of snarky snobbery in the back of my head:

"Oh look, LOL, you could reduce all Fantasy maps to a blotchy version of Europe but swap in Orks for Mongols.... OMG another book about E'lves and D'warves... (chortle) Historical fiction for authors too lazy to do research."

And:

"Sigh. Isn't it time to explore other cultures?"

Yes it's pretty easy to snark at -- call it - Traditional Fantasy, and also to give it a political kicking critique. It is, after all, a genre in which everything is possible, and yet where it usually delivers European-style secondary worlds and archetypes.

I think the snarks and critiques rather miss the point. However that's for a different blog post. Instead let's consider the short defence of Traditional Fantasy, which is the starkly simple...

"Go [redacted] a [redacted]! My reading time is my own."

To me that's a pretty unassailable position.

Clever people with loud views on genre often forget that most of us consume books in the ragged gaps in our lives - on a train or bus to work, while watching over a sleepless baby, or just before keeling over exhausted at night. Nobody is entitled to our reading time.

They also forget that it's not a zero sum game with other literature, writers, or sources of information. Having Traditional Fantasy as a go-to precludes neither reading other kinds of books by other kinds of people, nor engaging with the political world through other means; Sometimes I put down my Conan to read the Guardian. Nor does a love of Traditional Fantasy necessarily imply any sense of entitlement that might, just for hypothetical example, manifest in wanting to hijack a popular speculative fiction award. (Blackgate Magazine, for whom I blog, likes its Traditional Fantasy, but spurned its puppy-soiled Hugo nomination just as soon as the editor could find a big enough poop-a-scoop.)

However, as I said, the clever people forget, and in forgetting feed a casual snobbery against Traditional Fantasy.

This matters because snobbery against a genre really means snobbery against actual people; those who create and consume the genre in question.

Sure, who cares if you tease my wife for binge-reading almost the entire Wheel of Time while on maternity leave?

But stop and think about the result when a High School English teacher slaps down a teenager who writes a book report on the latest Joe Abercrombie. And, consider the practical professional implications when those in charge of the various literary pork barrels - festivals, grants, residencies, teaching gigs - exclude Fantasy writers because what we write doesn't really count as literature

The snobbery against Traditional Fantasy also matters because it feeds a more general snobbery against Speculative Fiction, that snobbery really being part of a nasty little power struggle between the old and the new middle class tribes.

The old tribe gets its culture from the private ("independent" as in "posh") school system, from certain sorts of degrees from certain kinds of institutions. Its members often come from established middle class families, passing privilege down the generations via contacts and inside knowledge as much as actual resources.

Members of the old tribe like smart clothes and typically get their spirituality from expensive yoga retreats. They are suspicious of intellectuals, but aspire to refined tastes and defer to a tribal intelligentsia that likes post modernism, "serious" literature, and opera, that dabbles with champagne socialism, and claims to enjoy "crucial" plays about the underprivileged in which nothing much happens.

The new tribe are the Geeks. Us.

At our best we're as meritocratic as we are inclusive. We come from all backgrounds. Our sense of style veers wildly between practical and playful, and is always more semiotic than fashionable. We get our spirituality from fire festivals and Yoda memes. We aspire to being an intelligentsia. Many of us are hands on activists. We prefer screen to stage, and insist on stories where things happen (like that bit in Firefly where Mal...). We like all sorts of books, but, historically at least, have a soft spot for those with rockets and elves on the covers.

And we are the new technocrats. Not a lot goes on in business or academia without a card-carrying geek making the computer side of things work, or handling the bewildering maths or abstract concepts. We may not have taken over the world yet, and we're certainly not overrepresented in the 1%, but our rise is as inevitable as that of the 19th century factory owners and industrialists.

Normally, the old tribe would just absorb or overawe us - hand out knighthoods and teach us to eat with a knife and fork. However, we see mainstream culture as just another set of options, and we play very different games of social dominance:

"You do improv theatre? That's cool! Did you know I'm a GM?"

It's like watching Sparta and Athens come to grips... infantry versus navy.

A good way to win a war is to move it onto a battleground of your choosing and then define the interaction so yours is the most powerful side - our King Robert did that to the English back in 1314. And that's how I see what's happening: By a sort of collective unconscious reflex, the old tribe pushes back, dismissing geek culture, ignoring it in their arts columns and literary festivals, writing grant rules to exclude it, putting down the things that give us pleasure: "You may be clever, but your tastes are childish. Get back to work, techno-peasant!"

And we often buy into it enough to say;

"Oh no, not MY tastes. I read [Your Genres Here]. But those tastes over there? Those are childish."

Oh that was the other good way to win a war; Divide and Rule.

This is why Traditional Fantasy deserves a more systematic defence than just that of mere personal preference, which is what I'll get to in my next blog entry.

Oh, and that dragon story?

I told those voices to go to hell, and for good measure put in skeletons, elves and dwarves. When I settled to my next gig - a franchise short story about battling wizards in a ruined city - the snarking snobbish voices in my head had stilled forever.

Or.. (shameless plug)... perhaps I just can't hear them over the remembered sound of Jutes and Ostrogoths clashing in the breach at Orleans while Attila's archers storm the parapet and bring down an arrowstorm on the mercenary shieldwall...

174 Comments

1:

Welcome to the machine, Mr. Page.

One good thing about using traditional fantasy tropes: no one will accuse you of misappropriation of other cultures. So that's one modern mine-field you can avoid. There's always a mine, no matter where you step; so just do what you love.

2:

The snobbery against Traditional Fantasy also matters because it feeds a more general snobbery against Speculative Fiction...
Presumably the Odyssey & Jason's voyage don't count, or do they?
Or Ovid's Metamorphoses?
Or the tragedy of Euridice?
Niebelungenlied?
Now there are really traditional fantasies.
Is someone ( i.e. the lit-crit snobs ) a trifle confused, here?

our King Robert did that to the English back in 1314
Sure?
Only after Robert had sneakily murdered the proper claimant, the Red Comyn & also with assistance from English barons who really didn't like Edward II's policies & IIRC the castellan of Stirling castle, who changed sides.

3:

Hah yes. Though there are plenty of other things the'll accuse you of.

4:

Actually, more of that line of reasoning in my next post(s).

(Re King Robert, he set up Bannockburn very careful indeed and otherwise preferred to avoid battles. It was really all his little brother's fault...

Murdering your rival in a church probably doesn't count as sneaky. Nor did Comyn look like he wanted the crown. Back then, the crown of Scotland was a big inverted poison chalice.

It's actually very hard to work out what either of them thought they were doing! I have a theory about what actually happened; you'll have to read my story in Crusader Kings II Tales of Treachery (http://amzn.to/1JWmh9B) )

5:

Er, the main reason that I don't read "High Fantasy" any more is that I'm at least presently rather bored with it (not helped by trilogies that spend 1050 pages getting deeper and deeper into a mess and 50 wrapping it up with a deus ex machine ending).

However, I did (sort of) have that High School teacher, although mine did say up front that "I don't like SF".

6:

A more accurate put-down would be:
"You think you're clever and your tastes are childish. Get back to work, techno-peasant!"

Also, look up meritocracy some time.

7:

Not actually liking Traditional Fantasy is OK. There's also so much of it that it's really hard to pick the good stuff. (I've actually ranted on this over at Black gate: https://www.blackgate.com/2013/12/05/so-whats-wrong-with-some-modern-fantasy/ )

8:

Yes. That as well. But the point is there is a kind of cultural turf war going on between old and new tribes.

(Regarding meritocratic, I was careful to say "At our best". In general geek culture is more interested in how good the idea is, than who's saying it, and we privilege intelligence over things like class and charisma.

This can have its own problems, including our own intellectual and ethical snobbery, toxic life hacks, and, of course, the famous Five Geek Social Fallacies ( http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html ).

However, I'm not here to dissect Geek culture or precisely define the opposition.)

9:

When you think about it the first wording is much more insidious than the second.

Original: "You may be clever, but your tastes are childish. Get back to work, techno-peasant!"

Rewrite: "You think you're clever and your tastes are childish. Get back to work, techno-peasant!"

The original is almost a back handed compliment, the second is just an insult. Remember the purpose of the old guard is not to insult but to make the new comer feel inferior and want to fit in with existing expectations of behaviour and tastes. The original offers a compliment in the first clause, and then pulls the rug in the second (good doggy, but you are not my equal), then closes with an explanation of how you should behave in future to win further praise. And the sad thing is that this works, it hacks many of our basic social programming protocols; whereas a straight up insult just makes us defensive.

10:

Don't bet on it. A lot of modern fantasy has just picked up the
thud and blunder trope that used to be common in war stories (e.g.
some of the ghastly ones for boys, in my youth). Unless you are a
slavering sadist, long passages of such prose is at best tedious
and distasteful, and I tend to skim them when they occur in
otherwise readable books. Even the bloodier (traditional)
mythology doesn't dwell on the details to that extent. I damn
most modern 'detective' fiction on similar grounds - there's
far too much that relishes multiple murder, psychopathy and so on.

The other very common crime of a lot of mediaevalist fantasy is
a pseudo-childish or pseudo-mediaeval prose style. Fine, IF the
authors have done their homework properly - but it really grates
to the more literate when they can't even get it right. The name
of the culprit now escapes me, which is probably just as well,
but there was one who used 'thee' in the nominative for ALL
speech in a complete series! Incidentally, the Memoires of
Lady Trent are the first in decades that have managed to catch
the style of an upper-class, adventurous Victorian lady, even
somewhat modernised and with some mistakes; I can recommend them.

But, yes, I agree - so what if a story uses such a background?
An entertaining or thought-provoking story is one irrespective
of trope. I was taken to task at school for describing Utopia
as science fiction, because the latter was (by definition)
trash. But it IS fair to damn 90% of most modern 'action'
fantasy on such grounds, which merely confirms Sturgeon's rule.

11:

I was lucky in that a student teacher introduced me to Anne McCaffrey when I was about 10 and soon after a friend of my grandmother's (and a high school English teacher) lent me A Wizard of Earthsea. I had also discovered Tolkien for myself a bit earlier. I don't recall ever having my tastes disparaged by a teacher but then my tastes were never limited to SFF.

I'm not reading much High Fantasy at the moment (other than reading LotR to my kids), but I'm sure I'll return to it in due course.

12:

My experience was similar to yours. Coming back to it, I think High Fantasy has improved somewhat. For example, Harry Connolly's series is readable and modern in its storytelling and style: https://www.blackgate.com/2014/12/22/more-hardboiled-than-the-dresden-files-the-way-into-chaos-book-one-of-the-great-way-by-harry-connolly/

13:

Don't bet on it. A lot of modern fantasy has just picked up the
thud and blunder trope that used to be common in war stories (e.g.some of the ghastly ones for boys, in my youth).

Well don't read my Shieldwall: Barbarians!

It's based on just that kind of book, though I think I got something different from them. For me, big combat scenes are all about decision making in a hazardous environment. The gore should be mandatory, because combat is literally bloody awful. (I wrote up my approach to combat on Blackgate.)

Even the bloodier (traditional)
mythology doesn't dwell on the details to that extent.

Ah but pre-modern writers don't dwell on very much detail at all! If you read Malory, you'll find several chapters entitled "And yet more of the same battle" and very specific accounts of wounds, e.g. that went to the teeth.

14:

"Go [redacted] a [redacted]! My reading time is my own."

Not much of a defence, though, is it? It stamps down any possible discussion of the relative merits of genres - or specific works. And this is what blogging is all about, discussion and interaction.

Now I agree about limited time. I "read" mostly audiobooks on my way to work and manage to snatch 10-20 minutes each night for reading before my deteriorating eyesight forces me to give up and go to sleep. But that is exactly the reason why I need originality, variety and innovation in my reading. I simply don't have the time to read the same story again. And while I will never actually tell them to their faces, I secretly scoff at friends who re-read the same books over and over or consume endless series about werewolves, zombies and vampires. Not because of the content - I read urban fantasy here and there - but because it is ALL they read.

So, nothing wrong with epic fantasy - if you can find your own original take on the genre. Martin did it with great success, after all, dragons and all. Elizabeth Moon created a wonderful character, Paksenarrion, and even though her story was set on what is basically a D&D setting with the serial numbers filed off, it was a great read simply for the innovation of this character and her moral journey. But if you choose traditional fantasy for its familiarity, if you reuse the tropes - the farmer boy and the prophecy and the old mentor and the monsters in the exact same way they have been used in countless other works - count me out. Not interested.

15:

*Not much of a defence, though, is it? It stamps down any possible discussion of the relative merits of genres - or specific works. And this is what blogging is all about, discussion and interaction.*

Hence the post title has a "#1" in it and

This is why Traditional Fantasy deserves a more systematic defence than just that of mere personal preference, which is what I'll get to in my next blog entry.

And yes, genre is a poor excuse for poor writing. Sturgeon's LAw applies to Fantasy, and there's so much of it it's hard to get at the good stuff.

16:

"Well don't read my Shieldwall: Barbarians!"

Thanks for the advice - I may or may not take it :-)

"Ah but pre-modern writers don't dwell on very much detail at all!
If you read Malory, you'll find several chapters entitled "And yet
more of the same battle" and very specific accounts of wounds,
e.g. that went to the teeth."

Well, yes, but you are going to confuse people who haven't!
That's under 4 pages of nearly 500, and most (all) of the other
actual combat sections are far shorter and less bloody (i.e. to
surrender, not slaughter). My point is that the book isn't
dominated by thud and blunder, not even to the extent that the
Game of Thrones is (and that's not bad, by some writers'
standards).

Also, I did mean "thud and blunder", not just bloody battle,
which reflects your comment "For me, big combat scenes are all
about decision making in a hazardous environment." I am happy
with that - it's really the Siegfried trope that I am railing
against (in addition to the brutality fetishism). You are
perfectly correct that battle is not pretty, and should not be
prettified - but the actual battles are a very small part of
even a bloody war.

One could move to the continuity issues. We all know about the
20-shot 6-shooter, but I can assure you (because I do it) that
you need at least 1 Kg of high-calorie food per day on the
march, and much more if running or fighting, and will lose
weight even at that. I am happy with the fantastic elements,
but it gets very irritating when a story RELIES on something
that is impossible even within its own model of the universe.
At least Tolkein didn't rely on the ridiculous nature of his
dwarf society, so that could be ignored. But a hero that, due
to his marvellous physique, can travel long distances for a
month through a food-free landscape is just plain nonsense.

17:

As I said, it's boredom rather than dislike, so I'll probably return to the HF genre at some time in the future. Michael Grosberg's But if you choose traditional fantasy for its familiarity ...- count me out. statement sums it up perfectly.

However, the point about deus ex machina endings refers to one successful writer in particular, unnamed for reasons of professional courtesy (never trash someone by name) rather than because it's likely to impact negatively on her sales.

18:

LOL. Yes. Really it all depends on how people write and what they write, and reader personal taste. I like a good visceral battle scene, such as in the Bernard Cornwell Sharpe books. I also get a vicarious pleasure when a hero rampages through their enemies -- perhaps you just don't have enough enemies?

Authenticity is important. Make up fantastic stuff, sure, but get the logistics right. And the military logic. As a student and teacher of Historical European Martial Arts I actually have difficulty reading on as soon as somebody references a 15lb broadsword.

19:

*unnamed for reasons of professional courtesy (never trash someone by name) rather than because it's likely to impact negatively on her sales.*

There's also the OMG what if we end up in the same pub sometime, thing. I never post bad reviews unless I anonymize, or if it is Michael Morpugo.

20:

"perhaps you just don't have enough enemies?"

No - just a short attention span! It's not the use of battle
scenes, but their use as a substitute for plot etc. - i.e. I
quite agree with what you say.

"a 15lb broadsword" - wielded with one hand, when the other
arm was injured, I assume? :-)

21:

*"a 15lb broadsword" - wielded with one hand, when the other
arm was injured, I assume? :-)*

Yes, and no hero was mighty enough to carry it. I can forgive Harold Lamb... just. But all writers should read that Thud and Blunder essay. Actually they should also attend a HEMA class.

22:

Surely the problem with any genre (and literary fiction is a genre, same as any other) is there are always going to be derivative works. Literary fiction has an official canon in fact. "These are the 'great works' of literary fiction." It is, inevitably, maintained by an old white man. He may, or may not, be the best person for the job - I'm really not the best person to judge that but there's a lot of (IMO) really good stuff written by women, people of colour and in particular women of colour that doesn't get included into the canon as a derivative work.

While that's a whole different can of worms to the main point (sorry, someone pushed my buttons on it again today) even Lit Fic has it's repetitive tropes and well-trodden themes and so on. I was never a big reader of Mills and Boon type bodice rippers but I'm led to understand they were so formulaic you could actually be taught to write to the formula in a day and churn the books out at a ferocious rate. I don't remember how many Barbara Cartland wrote but she published many books per year because it was essentially cut and paste the names, tweak the setting, cut and paste the job roles.

23:

The other very common crime of a lot of mediaevalist fantasy is a pseudo-childish or pseudo-mediaeval prose style. Fine, IF the authors have done their homework properly - but it really grates to the more literate when they can't even get it right.

Well, but isn't high fantasy a sort of deep alternate history? You have a sort of blotchy map of europe (or some other map altogether) with typically no recognizable nation names. Peasants who could have been peasants anywhere in europe, who are not interested in politics beyond the local duke/baron/etc who owns them. Dragons and elves such as we had in folklore but which we can presume did not actually exist in our world. Why would they speak, dress, yodel or folk-dance precisely as ours did?

A little bit of strange language connotes high fantasy. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Courtship Rite it denotes a culture that isn't ours. You don't want so much of it that it's hard to read, but you do probably want enough of it to give the flavor. There may be times when it's useful. An elf whose dialect seems strange and ancient may not have talked to humans for a few hundred years. If your high council has been discussing rational surrender terms and then the enemy negotiators speak with opaque grammar about honor....

What I want is a good story. It's possible to set a great story in the high fantasy tradition. Sturgeon's law is no excuse -- 10% of 20 books and 10% of 2000 books is still 10%.

Maybe part of what's happened is marketing. Maybe a whole lot of people write fantasy without really trying, and maybe a larger fraction of it gets published because publishers think bad fantasy is more likely to sell than other bad stuff. There's a whole lot of bad romance novels written to formula that sell. Utterly forgettable, they go onto the shelves and 2 months later they're gone, marketed like so much kleenex.

To the extent that fantasy is getting that treatment, if you write fantasy that you want to stand out, you need a way to make it distinctive. If Jane Austen was alive today instead of back then, and she sent Pride and Prejudice to Harlequin Romance, probably they wouldn't publish it because it doesn't match their stylesheet. But if they did publish it under the title Tycoon Trouble would it get noticed?

24:

"Well, but isn't high fantasy a sort of deep alternate history?
... Why would they speak, dress, yodel or folk-dance precisely
as ours did?"

That's not my point. The author can choose any world model,
but the language (like the continuity) should be consistent
within that. It is perfectly reasonable to vary the language
when it helps with the story, mood or whatever. But using an
'alternate' history as an excuse for what are simply sloppy
grammatical, syntactic or cultural errors is not good.

Of course, most people wouldn't notice, but literate pedants
like me do - and I regard it as quite reasonable to object!

25:

This gives a page not found error on Blackgate.

26:

THANKS

https://www.blackgate.com/2013/12/05/so-whats-wrong-with-some-modern-fantasy/

[[ Original link now fixed - I've inserted the space that was missing before the trailing close bracket - mod ]]

27:

I hadn't considered the "OMG what if we meet" thing, but since I've met (and know I've met) a 3 figure number of authors (BTW I'm a software engineer, and not in writing or publishing) then yes that's a real issue in itself. That said, it's not one that would stop me publishing a "turkey review" of a book that I found to have no redeeming features or saying "this is not what it says it is". I have done this on MZN, and under my real name, not my fan name.

28:

I actually have difficulty reading on as soon as somebody references a 15lb broadsword.
That is actually a real thing: I've actually held one. Having said that, it could only be wielded 2-handed, and a typical combat (based on film footage) involved a lot of both combatants bouncing their sword tips off the floor.

29:

I am interested that you honour Rowling so highly - I found her
damn-near unreadable, for similar reasons to Gormenghast but
even more so. Specifically, Authenticity Fail! And not in
peripheral aspects (where Tolkein fails badly), but in central
ones.

30:

Of a 15lb broadsword

> That is actually a real thing: I've actually held one.

Well there is real and real. 15lb broadswords do exist, but they are only real in the sense of "physical object that exists" sense. Real weapons tended to be much much much lighter. I Agnes, mean my 52 inch bladed two handed sword weighs something like 6lbs and she's blunt, which adds weight.

At 15lbs, with an original sword, you're talking "bearing sword", a kind of white elephant used in processions but never for combat.

31:

The author can choose any world model,
but the language (like the continuity) should be consistent
within that.

I don't want to be too pedantic over what's at most a minor point, but earlier you complained:

The name of the culprit now escapes me, which is probably just as well, but there was one who used 'thee' in the nominative for ALL speech in a complete series!

You complained about his consistency. He had an alternate world where 'thee' is the nominative. And inconsistent grammar could be used to signify strangers who live far enough away that the language is a bit different.

But it's minor. Even though the pedant can be wrong and the hack author right, usually when it looks sloppy, really it's just sloppy.

32:

Re JKR - I think if she pushes your buttons, then you don't noticed the slightly less than crisp style.

She pushes my buttons, wrote her way out of (relative) poverty while raising kids, and did something very interesting with the way she set up her world then pulled it apart as the characters grew up.

33:

I like fine dining.

But not for every meal and snack in every situation.

34:

It's also quite fascinating to watch the improvement in style over the course of the Harry Potter books.

35:

Plus most fantasy is technically "in translation". There's no technical reason why Conan can't say "Yo! Dude!".

36:

I'm going to be slightly contrary here and ask: what casual snobbery is there against fantasy? Unless you are very unlucky in your friends and colleagues, it doesn't exist anymore.

Borrowing from Fredrik de Boer, the geeks have WON in the 21st C. Big time.

In the USA, the budget for just one season on TV of traditional European medieval fantasy Game of Thrones would be enough to build and launch your own satellite. Here in Australia medieval fantasy computer games are advertised during prime time football.

As for the UK, traditional European fantasy writers Pratchett and Rowling were/are showered with money, awards, and high government honours.

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s maybe still have the inner voice left over from that time. If so, my recommendation is to laugh soundly and carry on writing.

37:

Regarding your analysis of Two Tribes Go To War :)

Having spent a chunk of time hanging around with people you would assume to be "old tribe" by background, education, and accent, I would caution you against inverse snobbery... I think you're defining the old tribe by lazy signifiers rather than more accurate but subtle ones.

Saying "ah, it's posh schools that decide it" would be as lazy as me suggesting that "ah, it's those effete and impractical types who got their degrees from the Faculties of Arts and Social [S]Security[/S]Sciences".

For instance, I know a young man from a good boarding school with a good degree in an "old" subject from a very good university; commissioned into the teeth arms; who plays Warhammer 40K, and adores Firefly. He even admitted in public to having a tear in his eye at the sight of a pair of reformed and graying smugglers appearing at the end of a recent film trailer ("Chewie, we're home"). Mind you, his current job in Hereford does tend to mean that no-one questions his macho credentials...

PS Thinking of the (borrowed) basket-hilted broadsword that I very occasionally carried as part of a uniform, I'd be surprised if it weighed even three pounds, far less six. Note that this was your properly-made one-handed sword from Wilkinson, sharpen it up and you're ready to fight at Waterloo. Or as a Commando, if your name is "Mad Jack" Churchill...

38:

At the Glasgow worldcon last century, Samuel Delany elegantly disemboweled the false critique of genre fiction. It's one thing to say it can't be good because it's science fiction (or fantasy, or name your poison) We wouldn't agree, but it is at least a defensible position. It's quite another to say it's good, so it can't really be fantasy.

39:

> what casual snobbery is there against fantasy?

There just *is*. Honest. The snarkiness is there in the Facebook memes, for example. Even on XKCD.

And the "establishment" (deliberately sloppy term) tends to treat the Rowlings and Pratchetts as *not* genre. Rowling is a Children's Writer and Pratchett was "Comedy". It's the old, "If it's good it's not SF&F, so all SF&F is by definition bad" thing.

40:

Hah. Perhaps I was too terse, but I chose my words with care. I did not say that posh people couldn't be geeks, just that the old tribe self identified with the posh people.

41:

(Note that this was your properly-made one-handed sword from Wilkinson, sharpen it up and you're ready to fight at Waterloo. Or as a Commando, if your name is "Mad Jack" Churchill...

Is this an 1897 Pattern Infantry Officer sword? I have one. It's like a Spitfire. Great at dealing with Sudanese spearmen, I believe. Also, having one saved Montgomery of El Alamein's life in WWI.

(Monty tripped over his scabbard. When he stood up, he discovered he had just missed a burst of machine gun fire that had mown down his men.) )

42:

"Re JKR - I think if she pushes your buttons, then you don't
noticed the slightly less than crisp style."

Yes. Whatever my personal reaction, there is nothing immoral,
illegal or fattening about writing entertainment.

"It's also quite fascinating to watch the improvement in style
over the course of the Harry Potter books."

That's interesting - I might even try again, and grit my teeth
through the earlier ones.

43:

One good question to ask is why Dunsany, Cabell etc. are
acceptably posh, but modern fantasy is not. A fool can ask a
question that a wise man cannot answer - I know my place in
that one :-)

44:

Because they are old and not easy reads, and because they are not sweaty.

Howard -- life overlaps Dunsany -- is an easy read, and is not posh.

45:

Haters gonna hate. You can't please everyone. If you please enough people to pay your bills, you're doing alright.

46:

Where is the casual snobbery against traditional fantasy you mention? I'm gonna defer to GRRM and Eric Flint here - name names. You are declaring there is some big push to hate on people who want to read Wheel of Time and Dragonlance and the like. Let's see it. Because I range far and wide and I haven't seen it.

I've seen plenty of people applying the basics of literary criticism to works, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, highlighting implicit and explicit politics, identifying metaphors and themes, tracing character arcs and examining world building. I see them do this both because they enjoy thinking deeper, and because they want to notice more about a character than that everyone is always tugging their forelocks. Criticizing and analyzing a work is a core point of the experience. All art is conveying an idea and emotion. You need to consider the message being presented, not just drink it in. If you don't think critically about a work, then you aren't enjoying art, you are consuming propaganda.

I've seen plenty of people encourage others to push boundaries and expand their tastes because of that thinking deeper about a work. Telling people to go try Joe Abercrombie instead of Dragonlance, go to N.K. Jemisin after Abercrombie, go Ken Liu after N.K. Jemisin, go to Pratchett after etc etc etc. I haven't seen anyone going "lol, you like Wheel of Time instead of Grace of Kings, loser"

You are saying it is happening, lets see where. Name names.

And lets go a step further here - "snobbery against a genre really means snobbery against actual people; those who create and consume the genre in question."

Bullshit. That's only true if people define their identities by what they are consuming. In which case, the problem is within them that they don't have an identity larger than the market segment some suit put them in. Yes, I see plenty of people who get violently angry at anyone daring to criticize the work they enjoy, but I would hope that is not what you are defending here; that these people are right to take a discussion of a work as a personal attack and respond as such.

47:

After having read all of the few Greek and Roman mythology books in my school library, I started reading fantasy and science fiction. Sure, some teachers and fellow students thought this was odd but more so because I was such an avid reader than because of my choice of reading material. In high school, Brave New World, 1984, Day of the Triffids, Gulliver's Travels, etc. were on the reading list. Kinda hard to say fantasy and SF are not literature when this is on the final English Lit exam. (Yes we also read the regular roster of Victorian through modern straight fiction.)

Keep in mind that quite a few critics consider The Tempest to be Shakespeare's greatest achievement, ditto The Birds by Aristophanes.

48:

In the case of the 18th Baron of Dunsany, the title helped. But what helps more is a density of language that harks back to the Elizabethans. And to a lesser extent, that applies to Cabell too.

I suspect that when they started writing also helped. My entirely unsubstantiated and unresearched thesis is that the advent of the pulps caused the perception of a 'dumbing down', and that that was what damaged the reputation of Fantasy as 'just another genre' competing for the common readers' pennies. But writers who had managed to make a reputation before that (and I think Dunstany and Cabell had) will have sneaked through.

Not that there hadn't been adventure stories of one form or another for quite a while before that - the works of Dumas, for example. But it'd be interesting to know how the volumes compared before and after. Was it a case that lower quality writing1 got sucked in because more writers were required to satisfy the readership?

1I refuse to define what 'lower quality writing' actually is, you understand. Just that the phrase 'I know it when I see it' was probably applied back then by the critics too.

49:

OMG! You found the hole in my post! Help! Help!

In truth, if I started naming names, I'd have to name a lot of names in order to show each wasn't an exception, and inclusion of each name would itself have to be justified in order to prove that it wasn't somebody making a legitimate criticism of trends in the genre. (I myself have done this on Blackgate, so perhaps I am one of the haters!)

So can we mark your point down as "noted" and see where the ideas lead?

And yes, it's entirely reasonable to criticise aspects of a genre, or particular categories of works. If you'll bear with me, I'll get to that sort of discussion on Saturday.

50:

If you ever find me "Bearing sword(s)" I've probably borrowed my best friend's daisho!

51:

Sorry, I can't swallow that. Try Dunsany versus Hodgson or
Lovecraft - same date, latter two harder to read, but it's the
former who's posh. I agree that there is tribalism, but I can't
for the life of me see any simple criteria on which authors have
been classified into 'literature' or 'just fantasy'.

While I can't confirm this first hand, I am pretty sure that
this tribalism is new, possibly as a reaction to the rise of
science fiction and resurgence of fantasy, so from after the
first world war. There wasn't the same deprecation of Doyle,
Haggard, Blackwood, Wells and others at the time they wrote.
Yes, it has built up since, and isn't justified, either.

52:

I think that we are saying the same thing.

"But it'd be interesting to know how the volumes compared before
and after."

While I can't lay my hands on hard data, I believe that there was
MORE published before the first world war than after, possibly
partly because because of the rise of radio. If one looks at the
reprint figures in older books, they are often extremely high by
modern standards. Whether that was reflected in the number of
active authors, I can't guess.

There was certainly the distinction between 'literature' and mere
entertainment, but only the most outrageous snobs wouldn't read
the latter at all.

53:

When it comes to ANY genre, I have the same two universal opinions.

1) It's great to have classic examples of the genre, doing it right, maybe putting a slight spin on it but still trying to be the thing. In the case of traditional fantasy, we're talking castles and dragons and knights and wizards. If someone else can breathe new life into the same formula, help us remember what it was like to be a kid the first time we encountered it, bravo!

2) Homage and hackneyed are words not far apart. The difference between "inspired by" and "derivative of" depends on the skill of the author and the genre-weariness of the reader. For those who have seen it all before, who can see the twists coming from yonks away, it's good to shake things up, do things nobody else has seen before. This may be less accessible to the new fan but, by the time they've had their fill of the classics, this sort of work will be a refreshing surprise.

New fans will be getting their feet wet with the first class of books and more power to them.

My first pass with heroic fantasy was the Riftwar books. First four. The Empire companion series was also great. Don't read the later books he did, not as good. They were perfect for the age when I encountered them, old enough to see the flaws in the endless D&D novels, not old enough to appreciate LOTR. They aren't something I would hand a veteran reader to get into fantasy but teenagers? Oh, man, you won't go back to Twilight then.

My biggest beef with fantasy these days is that the damn books always have to be a trilogy. Can't ever tell a story in one go, no,no, no, always have to have you on the hook for more. I daresay Song of Ice and Fire would end a beloved series if GRRM could have handled it in one tome rather than the sprawling mess he's created for himself.

So, I'll gladly take your European medieval fantasy, if it's worth the effort. If it'll become the definitive take on the setting and themes. If not, I'll pass. I'll be interested in seeing alternate fantasy settings as well, assuming the story remains rip-roaring and good.

54:

So when asked for evidence of your core assertion, you have nothing. Got it. This is just the usual declaration that there is same great mass out there arrayed against you, and help help I'm being oppressed.

If you've got nothing then no, I don't see why we should waste time seeing "where the ideas lead". Building an argument on a false precondition doesn't work, no matter how many paragraphs you stack on top of it.

55:

I'd disagree on Dunsany vs Lovecraft; never read Hodgson.

56:

Yes, I should have specified that I meant more different books (and therefore active authors). The same book getting more reprints may be indicative, or it may be that more people were reading that book because there was less choice.

A second issue is that the pulp magazines were an alternative way of buying fiction - that magazine serialising a novel over three issues, say, should have cannibalised the number of copies that that novel would have sold as a book. They were coming in during that period.

A third issue is knowing just how many people read each copy. There was a period before which books were published unbound, and buyers went and got them bound individually. And then books came prebound. And then the paperback was invented. Depending on when those transitions occurred, I would expect there to be effects on book reading. (Certainly, the previous innovation of moveable type printing allowed for much cheaper fiction, but that's outside our period.)

(I'm packing right now for a foreign trip, so I'm not going to have the time to start any research on that. If people want to blow my thesis out of the water and sink it twenty fathom deep, I won't hold it against them.)

57:

I know exactly what people will say to you. "It's fantasty; it doesn't have to make sense." To those people I say "bugger off."

Keeping the mundane details straight help you buy the fantastic. If you spend time concerned about the care and feeding of dragons, that makes it feel all the more realistic. Provisioning horses for a massive campaign is daunting. How much more so when your mounts don't eat hay and oats but fresh meat? Show me the logistics of your dragon army and I will be convinced lizards can fly and breathe fire!

58:

Excuse me, I've LARPED with many a worthy who can dual-wield a pair of 15 pound, two-hander swords. In chainmail bikinis, no less.

59:

Well, if you want an example, Martin Amis "Time's Arrow" was short-listed for the 1991 Booker. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time%27s_Arrow_(novel) and see how many F&SF influences and even direct copies you can spot!

60:

"A second issue is that the pulp magazines were an alternative way
of buying fiction - that magazine serialising a novel over three
issues, say, ..."

Nope. Sorry. That's a 19th century feature; Dickens and others
published that way in the magazines. Look up "Make them cry, make
them laugh, make them wait", attributed to Collins. Even the
1920s pulps were descendents of the penny dreadfuls.

61:

And lets go a step further here - "snobbery against a genre really means snobbery against actual people; those who create and consume the genre in question."

Bullshit. That's only true if people define their identities by what they are consuming. In which case, the problem is within them that they don't have an identity larger than the market segment some suit put them in.

Many people define their identities in terms of common interests with others. Someone attacks those common interests, it is an attack on the heart of the group you identify with and, by extension, on your own identity.

If you can't see the snobbery, then brilliant; you're thick skinned and self-possessed enough to ignore it. But deriding anyone who doesn't or can't ignore what they feel is an attack on their identity is a bit close to victim blaming. No?

62:

"Excuse me, I've LARPED with many a worthy who can dual-wield a pair of 15 pound, two-hander swords. In chainmail bikinis, no less."

LOL.

Logically...
...anybody who can wield a 15 pound weapon can wield a lighter one faster and still deliver lethal enough blows.
...anybody with a stick can deliver blows much faster than somebody wielding a 15 pound weapon.
...a really heavy sword would still not be as efficient at dealing with armour as would a polearm.

63:

"It's also quite fascinating to watch the improvement in style over the course of the Harry Potter books."

That's interesting - I might even try again, and grit my teeth through the earlier ones.

To me, it very much appears that JKR wasn't exactly certain what she had in the first few books, and was finding her feet in terms of not just style, but also world building and plotting. Common wisdom is that things don;t really start to come together until book #3 (which I would broadly agree with); but some of the later books, while tighter in terms of style and world building, suffer from the "kitchen sink" approach to plotting in the earlier books and tend twoards bloat asn throw away sub-plots dangle on and struggle to find resolution.

All that is to say: Certainly, give the whole series another chance, but beware that you may still find that even as style imporves, you struggle through later tomes.

64:

Also: Is "wield" synonomous with "fight"? Or is it just a case of becoming a whirling death-blender until someone thinks to trip you up?

(Honest question, not snark, just liked the phrase "whirling death-blender".)

65:

By the way, I'm finding the whole "When did the paths divide?" thing fascinating.

Is it just a question of what literary company you keep? Or is there some strict divider on subject matter?

Did people realise the paths had divided backwhen? Or is this a retrospective division?

66:

How is the existence of something highly regarded that was influenced by the genre but different an attack on the old roots of the genre or the people who read the old roots?

This is not a zero sum game. The argument being laid out, that there is some great unnamed horde that is oppressing "traditional fantasy" by liking and promoting different things, along with the assertion that people liking and promoting different things is an attack on those who prefer the "traditional fantasy" is the exact argument being laid out by the puppy contingent or the psychos of the gamergate crowd for their respective media.

It is nonsense. There are great gaping logical holes in this argument, from the opening declaration that critiques are snark and snobbery rather than a reflection of tastes to the later nuttery that having different tastes is to offend the group from who you differ. There is no presented evidence that there is any group out to trash "traditional fantasy" and its followers. You trying to pass "well here is a book that got an award that has some similarities to a Vonnegut passage" as evidence of the conspiracy Page claims is blocking popular success. Really?


67:

Many people define their identities in terms of common interests with others. Someone attacks those common interests, it is an attack on the heart of the group you identify with and, by extension, on your own identity.

If you can't see the snobbery, then brilliant; you're thick skinned and self-possessed enough to ignore it. But deriding anyone who doesn't or can't ignore what they feel is an attack on their identity is a bit close to victim blaming. No?

No, it isn't victim blaming. Because, and I can't believe this needs to be spelled out, HAVING DIFFERENT TASTES FROM YOU IS NOT AN ATTACK ON YOU. It isn't an attack, there is no victim, it is someone else living a different life. In fact, and this is a shocker, some people having different interests does not attack your interests at all.

Realizing this is not a matter of being "thick skinned and self-possessed enough to ignore it", it is a matter of being sane. To take the fact that I prefer SF to F as an attack, to take the fact I like basketball over soccer as an attack, to take the fact that I like twitter over facebook is not an attack on your identity. The only way it possibly could be is if you take the very existence of anything different as an affront.

Which is, and I cannot be clear enough on this, out of your gourd, off your nut, around the bend, seek professional help, completely fucking batshit insane.

68:

Just to clarify. I don't think there is any kind of conscious conspiracy. Nor do I think anybody is really blocking popular success, since speculative fiction is self evidently successful.

What I'm getting at is interpersonal stuff in unavoidable social situations -- how come Crime is more respectable than SF? -- and niggly little institutional things like, e.g., the Edinburgh book festival not generally having an SF track, even though it covers Crime and Historical in dollops.

It is also infuriating when Delany's situation comes up; where high profile writers write speculative fiction while saying they're not.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this just represents a fierce rearguard action, a footnote in history, but we still have to live through it.

69:

And how long were their beards?

70:

I've been bouncing about between your posts, the replies, and the original article to try to find out why this is aggravating you so much, and I'm a bit stumped.

Although I do have one thing for you to consider: One of the premises in the blog post is that it is snarky and snobby to criticise someone for enjoying what they enjoy.

You asked in your first post:
"Where is the casual snobbery against traditional fantasy you mention?"

I think I found it:
Criticizing and analyzing a work is a core point of the experience. All art is conveying an idea and emotion. You need to consider the message being presented, not just drink it in. If you don't think critically about a work, then you aren't enjoying art, you are consuming propaganda.

71:

But I don't take from the blog post that Mr Page is arguing that anyone is upset about different opinions, he's asking about why most genre's are seen as more respectible than SF/F, and makes the point that anyone (even a tiny minority) criticising someone's taste in SF/F as unworthy *is* a personal attack.

You have a wide circle of friends, colleagues and family, and no anecdotes of someone behaving like that, and that's great.

I also have a wide circle of friends, colleagues and family, and I have many anecdotes of people saying things like: "You're reading WHAT? Why are you reading that, it's for kids!" Which feels a lot like a personal attack to me (even if it's a pretty mild attack, as these things go).

72:

Sorry, just to clarify: I am not arguing that you are wrong when you say:

The only way it possibly could be is if you take the very existence of anything different as an affront.

Which is, and I cannot be clear enough on this, out of your gourd, off your nut, around the bend, seek professional help, completely fucking batshit insane.

I just think that you're trying to counter the central premise of Mr Page's post with anecdotal evidence, and that doesn't build a strong case.

I will also admit, that the central premise of the blog post does to some extent rely on anecdotal and absence of evidence, which also makes it hard to defend in quick and simple terms.

73:

*I also have a wide circle of friends, colleagues and family, and I have many anecdotes of people saying things like: "You're reading WHAT? Why are you reading that, it's for kids!" Which feels a lot like a personal attack to me (even if it's a pretty mild attack, as these things go).*

Yes. And apart from being bloody annoying, this can have unjust practical implications.

74:

You asked in your first post:
"Where is the casual snobbery against traditional fantasy you mention?"

I think I found it:
Criticizing and analyzing a work is a core point of the experience. All art is conveying an idea and emotion. You need to consider the message being presented, not just drink it in. If you don't think critically about a work, then you aren't enjoying art, you are consuming propaganda.

So lacking anything substantive, we are now down to intentional misreading to try to pretend you have a point.

No, thinking critically about a work is not casual snobbery against a work. It is not casual snobbery against people for enjoying a work. You can think critically about a work while fully enjoying it and encouraging others to like it. It doesn't take from a work, it enhances it
case in point: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/lord-of-the-rings-the-return-of-the-king-2003

75:

My concern with this POV is that it encourages tribalism of the sort we see with GG. Once upon a time, there was indeed a lot of trashing of geeks. We comforted ourselves with Slan and (much) later Ender's Game. We ran with the mindset that we were being mocked for our smarts (with a nasty undercurrent of "I'll get back at you/Wait until the tables are turned") And now geeks are pretty dominant. Look at the top grossing films of the past year: Geek heaven! Who cares what lit-crits say? They live in a different world. Face it: The geeks won. Geek culture is mainstream.

But the conceit that geeks are put-upon, mocked, trashed, etc. is still prevalent, and it's frankly making for some toxic mindsets, including gatekeeping and martyrbation. If "The geeks won!" was the end of the story -- our contributions and interests acknowledged and appreciated -- then there wouldn't be a problem. But that isn't the end of it, as we've seen since long before last October. Maybe at our best we're meritocratic; but the evidence is against that being the norm, and we are far, far from our best.

I've got no beef with traditional fantasy. I like a good romp through the Magic Kingdom, myself. One of my all-time favorite books is Eve Forward's Villains by Necessity, within which you can almost hear the dice rolling in the background (and then being nudged or ignored by the GM!) Basically: Write what you like! If you don't like what you're writing, it's going to suck rocks. And if there's a market for it, it will sell! Win-win!

tl;dr: I'm wary of the image of the put-upon geek still having to fight for scraps, and of the idea that geeks are somehow inherently meritocratic. It fosters an inaccurate mindset and glosses over some of the very real growing pains and outright toxicity that geek culture is going through.

76:

I'm not sure that I should spend any time unpacking why that paragraph reads just exactly like casual intellectual snobbery.

You just seem too darned angry about this.

77:

I think we discussed this at length with Charlie a few months back mostly in terms of the rise of urban fantasy. Probably like other art forms, each generation adds its own spin to novels/literature across all genres. I imagine that the 2015 oater is probably quite different versus whatever Zane Grey had written, same with murder mysteries, fantasy/SF ...

Some of the disdain/criticism might stem from what fantasy/SF versus literary fiction ends up being made into films. Basically, how well SF/fantasy films are able to convey an 'important message' without being strident or simplistic.

78:

I just think that you're trying to counter the central premise of Mr Page's post with anecdotal evidence, and that doesn't build a strong case.

No, I am countering it by asking for him to provide evidence. Which, as you admit, he does not provide.

But I don't take from the blog post that Mr Page is arguing that anyone is upset about different opinions,

No, that's exactly what he's against. I refer you to the opening where he says

"Sigh. Isn't it time to explore other cultures?"

as an example of "snarky snobbery". That someone wants something different, that they have different tastes, is the source of his anger here.


and makes the point that anyone (even a tiny minority) criticising someone's taste in SF/F as unworthy *is* a personal attack.

No, it isn't, and the people who think so need professional help.

Along my route to work there is a Subway right next to a McDonalds. Every day at lunch time both are full. Should the people going to Subway launch a campaign to subvert the Healthy Taste Award, to get proper recognition of traditional sandwiches over new-fangled hamburders? Should McDonalds customers try to send someone to rape and kill the manager of Subway? Because that's the behavior being justified under the banner of "criticizing someone's tastes is a personal attack" in geek circles right now. For the life of me I cannot fathom why you are picking this hill to die on.

I also have a wide circle of friends, colleagues and family, and I have many anecdotes of people saying things like: "You're reading WHAT? Why are you reading that, it's for kids!" Which feels a lot like a personal attack to me (even if it's a pretty mild attack, as these things go).

You are not what you consume. That people disagree on what they want to consume does not harm you. That people think critically about what you choose to consume does not harm you. That people may even write up and promote criticisms of what you consume does not harm you. That people question why you are consuming what you choose to consume before offering their own opinion DOES NOT HARM YOU.

It is not an attack. It is not a threat. It is a difference of opinion.

79:

Welcome to the pit, Harold. (And a Harald, doing fantasy, sorry, my instant reaction is Harald Shea, the Incomplete Enchanter....)

On the one hand, I'm less interested than I was, just because so *much* is derivative, and not original (e.g., Sword of Shannara).

On another hand, it used to be that there were cycles in publishing, and there'd be more fantasy for 10 years, then more sf for 10 years or so. About 15 years ago, it went to fantasy, and stayed: there's a lot more fantasy, and a lot less sf, and of that, far too much is bloody military (and some military Mary Sue, such as Weber descended to). I want my sf, thank you.

On the other other hand, dunno if you've heard, but on this side of the Pond, some authors have begun referring to Real Litrachuh as lit fic, a lesser-read genre of its own....

mark

80:

I would observe that there's snobbery everywhere one goes in life. Never eating a Big Mac, being an example of one kind of snobbery to do with food. Or I drive, insert car make of choice, which is better than you car, because insert reasons.

Snobbery is rooted in value judgements.

In Britain it was the basis of social class too. Perhaps less so now than when I was a child, but it can still be seen when looking at the certain areas of society.

Therefore I would argue that obviously snobbery exists, and the posters original point that people can be snobbish about traditional fantasy are I think reasonable, and doesn't really require naming of names. It's basic psychology 101.

My question would be, so what, who cares and why?

81:

I wish there was more effort into depicting authentic technology of the times in fantasy and historical media. Youtube has given some fascinating glimpses with hobbyists trying to reenact classic fighting tactics. I know that Hollywood swordfighting is more about looking good than being effective and a real fight is usually not cinematic and over quickly, the same way that the way real people have sex wouldn't make for a good blue movie.

It's always interesting when you feel you're getting a genuine glimpse into another way of living rather than someone who didn't do the research regurgitating what they absorbed from other authors who didn't do the research.

82:

I have had some of my writing published on an edited fan-fic site, so I like to think I've done something right. It's a furry world, with an alternate history, mostly between the two world wars. I have tried to get as much of the detail right as I can, and there's a lot of obvious inspirations from the adventure fiction of the time.

You can include Richard Hannay, Berry & Co, and Simon Templar in all that. And real people such as Fairbairn and Sykes, and a chap called Eric Blair who was a policeman in Burma.

The thing is, a bit like the aforesaid Eric Blair, I try to see past the superficial. The tropes are there, but anyone who thinks Lady Helen will just stand around screaming can expect a short career as a hoodlum.

And then they have to live with what they did.

83:

Referring to Lit Fic as a genre isn't only from the outside, it's got a lot of traction in literary theory over the last 15+ years.

They're the sort of people who are interested in how you define a literary genre both in the sense of what make Urban Fantasy different to Paranormal Romance and in the sense of what are the defining characteristics of a literary genre as opposed to say a niche, an author's collective or similar other groupings.

But once you've (more or less) successfully defined a literary genre in the second sense - what are the defining features of a genre as opposed to anything - you are more or less obliged to see what elements of existing writing (regardless of status) it can be applied to. "Literature" in the sense of things in the canon or rejected as being close to canon has the same identifiable group of features that distinguish it as part of that sort of writing as things that fit into the fantasy genre or the SF genre, or the thriller genre or... the list goes on. So the literary theorists insist Lit Fic is simply another genre.

This isn't popular with some people, particularly a subset of people that think if you've read the right books you're automatically a better person. They are out there still. It's different to "I preferred Pride and Prejudice to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (I did, although I enjoyed them both) some people simply think that if you've read P+P you're a better person than if you haven't. Extend that to say 100 "good books" and you start to have the pernicious literature meme.

84:

Speaking to the Hollywood side of things - as a filmmaker with a background in historical martial arts, there can be some unforseen problems in depicting accurate fighting styles.

Often, the divergence between traditional Hollywood / stage swordplay and the real techniques of killing someone with a 52" piece of metal is so great that audiences won't understand what they're watching, or will think it's poor fight choreography.

For example, when a character in my film Death Knight Love Story (http://www.deathknightlovestory.com - fight scene is around 14:45) used a classic murderstroke, I got a number of concerned emails from viewers who thought that it was an animation glitch I'd somehow not spotted in production...

I'm not giving up on accuracy in historically-based films because of that, but audience expectations are an issue.

85:

*Welcome to the pit, Harold. (And a Harald, doing fantasy, sorry, my instant reaction is Harald Shea, the Incomplete Enchanter....)*

And there I was thinking Harold Lamb, and Harold Godwinson, and Harald Hardrada!

It really is my middle name; I was named after my paternal grandfather. I usually use the Martin, but there are already two very well known Martin Pages, so her I am answering to Harold.

86:

Quality of writing in & of itself & coherence of plot & language are impoirtant.
More than most, I suspect in Fantasy.
U K Le Guin reamed this very thoroughly, with a good example or two & a really painful one, in one of her essays in "The Language of the Night"
Go & read it.

87:

If you want to experience real snobbery get caught reading Manga or a "Graphic Novel"

88:

I got a number of concerned emails from viewers who thought that it was an animation glitch I'd somehow not spotted in production...

I just watched the video, and I can see why people would think that. It is not just that the character is holding the sword by its end - it is that you do not see her shift her hands. One instance she is holding the sword by the handle, next instance by the end, few second later handle again. It really does look like a glitch.

89:

"One instance she is holding the sword by the handle, next instance by the end, few second later handle again. It really does look like a glitch."

Actually she isn't - I know this because I was one of the fight choreographers!

If you rewind a bit, she shifts one hand to the blade to go "half sword" then the other hand to murder strike. It's very fluid and fast and -- in hindsight -- it might have been better to have made more of a feature of those hand shifts.

Which just goes to show it aint easy!

90:

Yes, I see it now at 15:18. But it is very easy to miss.

91:

Yes it is, isn't it?

92:

There's a tv tropes for that, something about reality not being realistic. I'm still irked the radiators were left off the Discovery because Kuberick thought the audience would seriously ask why there are wings on a spaceship.

93:

To be fair, Villains by Necessity is a wonderful deconstruction of most of the major Fantasy tropes that were common at the time of writing, particularly Dragonlance.

It's certainly one of the better efforts, and definitely one of the very few comedic deconstructions outside of Pratchett. I think Andrew Harmon rode the same wave in the mid 90s starting with Fahrenheit 666.


I think part of the snobbery people speak of is a reflection of adult works vs childrens works, with teen falling somewhere in the middle. And there is a pernicious social compact that enjoying childrens books as an adult is somehow unseemly.

But the real backlash I notice is against the idea of reading full stop.

And once you identify as a reader, then divide and conquer kicks in - people who read what I like are good, people who don't are bad.

Books bought per capita shows only a few years, but corresponds well with the general knowledge that at least a third of the public will consistently never buy a book at all, a third will buy less than five per year, and the last third keep the market afloat.
And if 2/3 of the general population is either not reading, or only reading 1-5 books per year? No wonder 50 Shades of Grey had such an impact.

SFF is a small subset of the market - Nielsen data puts it at 10-15% when combined, vs 25% for Romance, and 30% for Crime/Thriller/Mystery. Literary fiction is a similar size to Fantasy.
I sometimes wonder if much of the snobbery from Literary critics is simply that they aren't very popular either.

94:
Sorry, I can't swallow that. Try Dunsany versus Hodgson or Lovecraft - same date, latter two harder to read, but it's the former who's posh.

I found Lovecraft the most readable of those three. Hodgson's The House on the Borderland is unputdownable whereas The Night Land is very putdownable and I never actually finished it. I never got on well with much of the respectable high fantasy stuff that Ballantine brought out in paperback under Lin Carter. Cabell - unreadable, Morris - gave up about half-way through The Well at the World's End. I gobbled up Lovecraft, Howard, Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith, Burroughs in my early teens. Read LOTR when I about six or so and thought it a bit boring. One of my favourite fantasy writers in the latter 70s and early 80s was the late Tanith Lee. I remember buying The Birthgrave in 1975 despite the well dodgy cover and being bowled over by how high-energy it was.

Nearly abandoned reading fantasy in favour of SF for a couple of decades when the giant endless series started but was pleasantly surprised to find some good stuff like A Song of Ice and Fire, The Name of the Wind and The Magicians when I started looking again.

95:

I think you are missing a big elephant here. Libraries. Lots of people don't buy books because of libraries, and when I was poorer and unemployed for several years, I was kept in reading by the library and 2nd hand books, I bought maybe a couple of brand new ones a year.
It does not necessarily follow that because 2/3 of the populace buy no new books or only 1-5 a year that they are not reading much at all. Heck, most of the books my mother and grandmothers read in this century were library books, the ones they owned were mostly from the 70's and 80's and some second hand jumble sale types. But they were reading a book or three a week. Of course the USA might be different, and the relentless war on learning and education is farther ahead there than here.

96:

To be fair, Villains by Necessity is a wonderful deconstruction of most of the major Fantasy tropes that were common at the time of writing, particularly Dragonlance.

Such deconstructions of Standard Fantasy Tropes seem to be more common past-1995. Immediately come to mind: "Orcs" by Mary Gentle Lee, "Goblin" series by Jim Hines, "Goblin Corps" by Ari Marmell. All show traditional fantasy world from the viewpoint of bad guys.

97:

That made me think of all the iffy monarchs of England since 1066: William I; William II; Henry I; Stephen; Henry II; John; Henry IV; Edward IV; Edward V; Richard III; Henry VII; Mary I; Elizabeth I; William III/Mary II; Anne; George I (this is without extending the taint beyond one generation or questioning anyone's paternity.)

It also amuses me that Edward the Confessor took the throne by way of his beloved half-brother, not his ill-famed father.

98:

In the interests of simplification I also didn't include digital piracy or second hand shops in that post either. But as a personal anecdote, the libraries in my area of NW London are not heavily used - at least not compared with the ones I used back in New Zealand. And the selection of genre fiction available outside of the largest library branches here is very poor - maybe a single column of shelves, same as you would find in a Waterstones, with a similar amount of back catalogue absence. Old books are disposed of with ruthless efficiency now, and you don't seem to have the equivalent of the Stacks - long term storage of old titles.

I'm also seeing a dramatic decline in second hand book shops in London over the last decade. Rising rents have hit them hard, and it takes a lot of travel to visit the remaining ones.

99:

Getting back to the original point of the post.

Um. Yeah. Right. Modern fantasy is second class. Got that. So all that money that went to, say, Harry Potter, is just a fluke? Every blockbuster summer fantasy is just a fluke?

I'm not buying that.

What I am buying is that the meme of being a disempowered minority in a world that's against you is very often used to justify all sorts of nastiness. It's a classic bully's justification, and it's the mating call of the current US Republican party, financed by billionaires as they are. We don't need more of that

Thing is, we live in a nerd's world right now. Those with the computers have pwned the place. I'll be getting another credit card next week because someone somewhere hacked into a database and found my number, while someone else in the bank noticed the number on the blacknet and took countermeasures. Two faceless nerds dueling it out anonymously, and I'm a pawn in the process.

We're going into an era of "internet of things" not because most people want it or even think it's a good idea, but because so many geeks grew up with talking furniture in the literature of their formative years that they think it's natural that you should be able to talk to your house, not realizing that dumb houses can be incredibly comfortable, cheaper to build, and, oddly enough, proof against nerds hacking in.

So no, I don't think fantasy is a down-trodden minority ghetto anymore. I do think, however, that paying any attention to what literary snobs of any stripe think is a waste of time. The real problem there is that English departments in universities throughout the world have been financed for decades on surpluses skimmed from grants given to the engineering and biomedical programs in their universities. This enforced second class status has led to a lot of predictable bitterness and contempt, and its spread from there through the educational system. There's nothing wrong with keeping the literary canon alive--most of them were best sellers back in their day--but by the same token, there's no particular reason to let the bitterness of one literary tribe set the hierarchy for the writing world.

If you want to mess things up, why don't we start inviting mainstream literary types to our conventions? If nothing else, we'll start showing up in their novels as red-shirts, possibly even love interests.

As for traditional fantasy, it's fine. I just think you get a better fantasy when the source material is history and primary mythology, not someone else's sword and sorcery novel. The original Conan stories are pretty good, the derivative ones are increasingly derivative*, and I don't think I've ever seen a story where the protagonist is an honest to Gods-of-the-Steppes Cimmerian. There might be a story there for someone. Someday.

*Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder" should be required reading, as should Diana Wynne Jones' The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

100:

Hmm, interesting. Here in central Scotland there have as always been bubget cuts, and the library folk have also decided against long lines of older books, but I was surprised at how much genre fiction was in my local library, which was just a branch of the main one.
The decline in 2nd hand shops is sort of surprising, sort of not, I would expect more effects from ebooks etc in the last 5 years, but before that it is a little unclear as to the causes.

101:

I think Mary Gentle's Grunts really kicked off the whole villains viewpoint idea to a wider audience in 1992 - there isn't much I can think of from beforehand.
OGH himself took part in her short story collection Villains! it seems, though I've never seen a copy.

"Sir! Permission to call this squad Black Squad, sir!"
"Denied. We already have fifteen Black Squads, twelve Dark Squads, four Raven Sqauds, three Midnight Squads, one Sable Squad, one Ebony Squad and one," she glanced at a sheet of paper, "Pink Squad. Yes...we're all a little worried about Pink Squad."

102:

What is traditional? I could categorize Daniel Abraham's Long Price quartet or Hobb's first Assassin trilogy as traditional or as completely not traditional. They took familiar backgrounds and wrote very original stories against them. In the end, the story is really all that matters.

On the other hand, Gene Wolfe arguably wrote a traditional fantasy twisted into a very weird background. The process of jamming the narrative into said background was sufficient to transform it into something very much other than what most people think is fantasy.

103:

Try Dunsany versus Hodgson or Lovecraft - same date, latter two harder to read, but it's the former who's posh. I agree that there is tribalism, but I can't for the life of me see any simple criteria on which authors have been classified into 'literature' or 'just fantasy'.

Yes. It's a social class thing more than a writing thing.

It's still there, but less than before as the previous posh class is less important.


Imagine Lovecraft trying to meet Dunsany, and Dunsany snubbing him. Dunsany was an Irish lord, and Lovecraft was a commoner, an American of dubious sanity.

Certainly in the early days of the pulps the things that got labeled science fiction did not have the polish of great literature.

And so even today science fiction that gets recognized as literature tends to be called something else. Orwell. Vonnegut. Doris Lessing. Margaret Atwood. Etc. Even when it's old worn-out SF concepts, they aren't old and worn-out to the literary people.

But today it's the media that's important. It labels the old posh literary types as being stuffy, pompous, and out of touch. They mostly don't make a lot of money at it, either.

And it labels the science fiction as something people read when they're living in their parents' basements, saving up their low-pay wages to go to conventions.

On the other hand, when the media talks about the noblest lofty accomplishments of the human mind they tend to think of the literary classics unless they choose to emphasize technology. And when they talk about bad politics they credit SF with 1984, Animal Farm, and various other political insights that they think nobody else could have come up with.

It's the media. They say bad things about everybody, and then say good things about them in the process of saying bad things about somebody else. It doesn't fit together. It doesn't make sense. It's just there, influencing people.

No doubt there are literary people who think that real literature is Serious while science fiction is frivolous commercial stuff written for shallow people. Nobody listens to them much. People instead pay attention to the media, which is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury etc.

If you don't care how the media portrays you, then do whatever you want. Have fun.

If you do care how the media portrays you, then god help you.

104:

Is this an 1897 Pattern Infantry Officer sword?

Nope. Scottish Regiment, hence broadsword. I think it's the 1831 pattern, and so a bit heavier than the 1897 pattern. Our Officers' Mess bought an engraved pair to equip our Colour Party; and a stand to display them as an item of Mess Silver.

The nearest I came to seeing a sword used in anger was when an ex-regular decided to demonstrate how to open a champagne bottle with a sword (there's a trick to it, and being reservists we weren't exactly champagne-swilling caricatures). He caught someone's sleeve on the follow-through... there may have been alcohol involved, but don't worry, the blade didn't even touch skin. The numpty who'd stood too close was fairly upset, mind.

Apocryphal tale... I arranged a Guard of Honour for a friend's wedding at Greyfriars' Kirk; because she'd served in our infantry battalion, and then gone on to serve in a Regular cavalry regiment as a Troop Leader, we had one side from the infantry, and the other from the cavalry. We nipped into a near-empty pub afterwards (naughty us), and the barman was fascinated by the difference between Highland Broadsword, Rifles' sword, and Cavalry pattern sword...

105:

We have a sabre event coming up June the 13th. Swing by Edinburgh and learn how to use one!

106:

Normally, the old tribe would just absorb or overawe us - hand out knighthoods and teach us to eat with a knife and fork.

Given that you've identified the "old tribe" as smart clothes, connections, and yoga retreats; you're describing them as firmly in the well-connected middle classes... not exactly Knighthood-awarding territory.

I'm surprised that you didn't riff on the arguable class replacement by your "old tribe" (politically well connected these past one generations, seats on various boards, drives a rather nice Bentley or Range Rover, breathtakingly expensive holiday habits) of an "older tribe" (have a patchily-maintained ancestral pile, never bought their own furniture, generally to be found wearing battered tweeds and driving battered Fiat Pandas and Landrover Defenders).

One key difference is that the "older" tribe still packs the kids off to the Armed Services (not, shall we say, traditional fans of the Opera - more likely to be found at Glastonbury than Covent Garden), while your "old" tribe is busy sorting out internships for each others' children in an investment bank or a politician's staff ;)

Your test question is whether the heirs to the throne are more likely to be found reading Jane Austen or Joe Abercrombie; and watching the winner of Sundance, or the latest Bond film...

107:

"Never eating a Big Mac, being an example of one kind of snobbery to do with food."

Nuts. Sorry. I would have to be (literally) starving to eat
something like a Big Mac, because it is an extreme example of the
sort of food I dislike and causes me gutrot. There are also
rational reasons to object to them, because they are one of the
things that is fuelling the obesity epidemic, which is harming
society (in many ways).

I could make similar arguments against some authors and tropes,
but not against fantasy as a whole. Tolkien made a good point
about escapism and gaolers.

108:

Caught me blending my thingmabobs! I was riffing on the way the Victorian establishment absorbed the new men. Obviously the old tribe don't hand out knighthoods.

Your remarks on the *older* tribe ring true. I guess if ruling classes are an emergent property of humanity, it's best to have one with a sense of noblesse oblige.

> Your test question is whether the heirs to the throne are more likely to be found reading Jane Austen or Joe Abercrombie; and watching the winner of Sundance, or the latest Bond film...

I think we'll see a convergence again... I think it's already happening. Just it takes time.

109:

The irony - I've got a friend who is a Sabre coach for Scotland :)

His wife fought Epee to Scottish level; then injured her wrist, learned to fence left-handed, and IIRC got back into the Scotland team. Then she wrecked her ankle, and took up competitive rowing.

I did ask whether she could now do the Ultimate Film Sword Fight (tm); namely Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin in "The Princess Bride" (what do you mean it isn't realistic, I'm just surprised that no-one's mentioned it yet :) )

I heard one apocryphal tale that while

I've not figured out whether the same is true in Judo, I must ask our instructor (my wife and I recently did what Greg advised me against, and took up our childrens' sport at nearly 50 - only one broken rib, a staved toe, and some interesting strains between us so far...)

110:

Curses, a paragraph disappeared from the post because I used a less-than operator :( It should read:

I heard one apocryphal tale that while <10% of the population are left handed, about half of world-class fencers are left-handed. The reasoning being that right handers get fewer chances to train against left-handers, than left-handers do against right-handers.

111:

As someone partly from an "older tribe" background (though neither
particularly rich nor aristocratic), you have some good points, but
it is irrelevant to this thread. Literary snobbishness did and
does not correlate particularly closely, and probably not at all,
with upper-classness.

And, yes, I regard our current plutocrats as vulgar, in addition
to their other sins :-)

112:

I would have to be (literally) starving to eat
something like a Big Mac

I have a older son, much like yourself.

I have to drag him into a Macdonalds, explaining that the (very) occasional burger is not going to wreck his diet, and it's the only place I can get him something to eat in the too-short gap between picking him up from school in Edinburgh, and delivering him to his Judo Squad training in Ratho...

...using the IKEA restaurant as a reasonably healthy fast-food joint, discuss...

113:

He's certainly not traditional fantasy, but China Miéville is an interesting author to consider; his stuff is definitely fantasy, not science fiction (I don't think it'd fit into "speculative fiction" either), but it's widely accepted as being "proper" literature by outlets which wouldn't dream of reviewing the latest Piers Anthony or similar. Why do you think that might be?

114:

If nothing else, we'll start showing up in their novels as red-shirts, possibly even love interests.

You do watch "The Big Bang Theory", don't you? Not only are the geeks and nerds played to their extreme, they're the heroes of the piece (all the while exploring and subverting every caricature in the book).

I have a ten-year-old who now sort-of understands the difference between a theoretical physicist, an experimental physicist, and an astrophysicist...

115:

The characters in the Big Bang Theory aren't the heroes - they're the victims. You laugh at them, not with them. It's Two and a Half Men, but with geeks instead of rich beach bums.

116:

Actually, I don't watch the Big Bang Theory, although I'm aware of the premise. Since most of my family are engineers or physicists by training, the few times I tried to watch that show, the actors came off as actors trying to be physicists--they were too self-conscious about it.


It's hard portraying someone who's not of your culture, I think. Not sure what that says about me, since I'm crappy at physics, but there you have it.

117:

Speaking as a former (and very mediocre) left-handed fencer, the weirdest experience I had was facing another left-hander for the first time. I think it's as hard for a southpaw to face another southpaw as it is for a northpaw in the same situation. After all, it's not like left-handers have any greater chance of fencing a left-hander than a right-hander does.

118:

Yeah, I fence ambidexterously. And the lefties always had a trouble when I did that...

119:

China Miéville is an interesting author to consider; his stuff is definitely fantasy, not science fiction (I don't think it'd fit into "speculative fiction" either), but it's widely accepted as being "proper" literature by outlets which wouldn't dream of reviewing the latest Piers Anthony or similar. Why do you think that might be?

I haven't read that much of his, and from what I did read I remember most intensely Embassytown, Kraken, Railsea, and Un Lun Dun.

You can categorize his work as fantasy since much of it doesn't fit anywhere else. (Some of it could be hard science fiction if you accept a few differences in the laws of physics.) But this is you categorizing his work. He doesn't fit socially.

He is an academic marxist and a semiotician. Some of his stuff does not make sense unless you know about semiotics. If you read it with an open mind and think about it, you will re-invent a lot of semiotics.

He just does not fit in with the fantasy writers that people want to look down on. You can look down on it for being too abstruse, too meta, too recondite, for demanding too much of readers, but it simply has nothing obvious to do with comfortable recycled dragons and dwarves and heroic quests. Between who he is, how he writes, and what he pays attention to, he is not what they consider beneath contempt even if the same label kind of fits.


120:

The characters in the Big Bang Theory aren't the heroes - they're the victims. You laugh at them, not with them.

I think they play it close enough to the edge that you can choose to do it either way. They get to have their cake and eat it too.

And they managed to put enough personality into the stereotypes that people care about them some, despite the nerdiness.

121:

While "I read what I want" is basically unassailable, the whole "tribal warfare" bit seems a bit overblown, and cultural saturation is a problem that should be acknowledged. I look forwards to the full defence of Traditional Fantasy.

122:

> Clever people with loud views on genre often forget that
> most of us consume books in the ragged gaps in our lives - on
> a train or bus to work, while watching over a sleepless baby,
> or just before keeling over exhausted at night. Nobody is
> **entitled** to our reading time.

From That Hideous Strength. A modern fairy-tale for grown-ups.
C. S. Lewis

Chapter 11, "Battle Begun"

"There were no moral considerations at this moment in Mark's mind.
He looked back on his life, not with shame but with a kind of disgust
at its dreariness. He saw himself as a little boy in short trousers,
hidden in the shrubbery beside the paling to overhear Myrtle's conversation
with Pamela, and trying to ignore the fact that it was not at all
interesting when overheard. He saw himself making believe that he enjoyed
those Sunday afternoons with the athletic heroes of Grip, while all the
time (as he now saw) he was almost homesick for one of the old walks
with Pearson--Pearson whom he had taken such pains to leave behind.
He saw himself in his teens laboriously reading rubbishy grown-up novels
and drinking beer when he really enjoyed John Buchan and stone ginger.
The hours that he had spent learning the very slang of each new circle
that attracted him, the perpetual assumption of interest in things he
found dull and of knowledge he did not possess, the almost heroic
sacrifice of nearly every person and thing he actually enjoyed, the
miserable attempt to pretend that one could enjoy Grip, or the
Progressive Element, or the N.I.C.E.--all this came over him with a
kind of heartbreak. When had he ever done what he wanted? Mixed
with the people whom he liked? Or even eaten and drunk what took
his fancy? The concentrated insipidity of it all filled him
with self-pity."

Chapter 17, "Venus at St. Anne's"

"Two shelves in the little sitting-room were filled with bound volumes
of The Strand. In one of these he found a serial children's story which
he had begun to read as a child, but abandoned because his tenth birthday
came when he was half-way through it and he was ashamed to read it
after that. Now, he chased it from volume to volume till he had
finished it. It was good. The grown-up stories to which, after his
tenth birthday, he had turned instead of it, now seemed to him,
except for Sherlock Holmes, to be rubbish."

123:

Dude what kind of weird alternate reality world are you living? This is the bloody Golden Age of Fanatasy. You have Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones ruling TV and movies. they are even making a Conan sequel for Christ sake. There is a bbc miniseries for freaking Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel , It's gone completely mainstream. The idea that you are a persecuted minority is bullshit

However, there is still plenty of derivative, no originality genre novels out there and the very popularity of the fantasy genre is making that worse not better

Also there were no 15lb broadswords unless they were some kind of wall hangers

124:

I suggest the major disagreement between myself and Harold Page is not whether people are snarky about fantasy, but about whether there's a whole class of people who do so.

I have no doubt that individual people snark at fantasy, or look down on it, call it childish, etc. Why wouldn't they? It's no different from saying soccer is superior to rugby, Antiques Roadshow to Doctor Who.

Where I disagree is that I don't believe this is systematic among the "upper class" or indeed any large class of people. Twenty or thirty years ago, yes. In the 21st C, no.

For example, suppose a member of parliament from one of the major parties confessed on national TV to religiously watching Game of Thrones. Would this affect their standing in politics? Would they lose credibility among their own party and not be considered for senior government positions?

Or, someone moving up in the fast track of finance and banking, or a legal firm. Heck, even the military. Would they feel ashamed at being caught reading Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, or again Game of Thrones by the senior management?

I believe the answer in both cases would be no.

As others have pointed out, the "we geeks are always persecuted" meme isn't true anymore. People are just criticising your particular taste because that's what people do, nothing more.

125:

Ah yes, the number of books read.
And if you have over 7000 ( probably ) in your house?

126:

And if your local authority has reamed your libraries, so there are less books in them than in 1964 & put lots of "Interactive" stuff in instead?
And pulped thousands of books?
Helps if there is a prominent local councillor who tries to close award-winning local museums ....
[ London Borough of What the Fuck, of course & Clyde Loakes, if you really want to know.
These days he's promoting "cycling" & closing roads - needless to say, I will now be cycling less as a result of this. ]

You have to remember that Reading is CULTURE & therefore for the privileged toffs & upper classes.

127:

And which sport was that, pray?
Do tell!

128:

He is an academic marxist and a semiotician.
Trans:
"He is mad."
Does this explain why I find his convolutions almost impossible to read?

129:

Then there's the supposed distinction between "Children's" literature & adult.
Lutwidge Dodgson, anyone?

130:

Well, I grew up reading SF and fantasy and playing roleplaying games, computer games, and trading-card games, and I have not seen it. I have seen many geeky people complaining loudly that SF and Fantasy is a ghetto, but not many outsiders trying to shove them into one. XKCD and Facebook memes are snarky about everything, and pretty much every type of popular entertainment has people complaining that it is predictable and appeals to the base instincts. SF and Fantasy are not special that way: the same is true for sit-coms and romance novels and sports films and soap operas.

I have seen a lot of SF and Fantasy fans complain that something which sells too well is not =real= SF or fantasy but I do not think that is what you mean.

131:

"Dude what kind of weird alternate reality world are you living? This is the bloody Golden Age of Fanatasy. You have Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones ruling TV and movies. they are even making a Conan sequel for Christ sake. "

Then we have the continuation of the snobbery - if it makes a heap of money because the plebs like it, it MUST be rubbish. Ditto McDonalds, football, and anything that has mass appeal.

132:

Quick way of determining the start of the rise of the "mass market paperback"; Check when the first Penguin titles were published in that imprint.

133:

''Where I disagree is that I don't believe this is systematic
among the "upper class" or indeed any large class of people.
Twenty or thirty years ago, yes. In the 21st C, no.''

Actually, no. It's still pretty widespread among elderly people
but, in the 60-80 range, it's a "two cultures" thing (not quite
the Snow one, though). And, as the author of this blog said, it's
still widespread among the self-anointed literati. But it's no
longer nearly universal, the way it was half a century ago. And
it NEVER was associated with class to any great extent!

The flip side is the common claim that all preferences and writing
styles are equally valid, so that there is no such thing as bad
syntax, grammar, spelling or continuity. That position is still
very common (we have seen it in this thread), but is NOT solved
by the claims that there is a single correct English, whether
the Victorian dogma or some more recent variation.

134:

#66 is really all you got from that!?

Firstly, Slaughterhouse 5 was not the first or only example of a reverse or non-linear time novel before Time's Arrow. If you genuinely didn't know that, I'm not sure whether I should apologise for not being able to provide a full list of cites or just feel sorry for you for your narrow reading experience (and note that I already admit to not having read some cited authors ok). Time's Arrow is the only example to have achieved a nomination for a "major literary award" however, despite its very lack of originality.

Secondly, there are other examples, although the only one I can remember off-hand is PD James' "Children of Men" (Phillis is an excellent crime writer, but that doesn't invalidate my point) which copied the plot of a John Christopher novel.

135:

No, what Penguin did was introduce decent quality mass market
paperbacks - the previous ones were mostly of the "penny dreadful"
category, some religious tracts, and things of that nature. Few
have survived or been reprinted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_dreadful

136:

Never eating a Big Mac from choice, being an example of one kind of snobbery to do with food.
Sorry, how is saying "I don't like MaccyDs so I'd rather go somewhere else" snobbery? If you'd made the generalisation "Never eating a fast food burger..." then you might have a point. If I say "I don't like $chain food" it's a reflection of personal taste and nothing more.
In this case, I find their burgers sweet (and made from cheap cuts, source MacDonald's advertising), and their chicken dried out and tasteless.

137:

Meiville is an academic marxist and a semiotician. Some of his stuff does not make sense unless you know about semiotics.
So, in order to enjoy his stuff I have to first learn semiotics? (I do know the basics of Marxist socio-economics)

138:

Would you take "the literary mafia" (people who review for newspapers and/or Tv, 'literary novelists', people outside those categories who appear on 'major literary fiction awards panels') as a class of people in this context?

139:

I see from # 94 - & also from today's paper (5 days late) that Tanith Lee has just died
She was younger than me, just ....

140:

And her Wikipedia entry has already been updated.

Farewell old friend; you were one of the best of us.

141:

Here's something snobbish:

I would never even consider eating any burger in any form, and I can't for the life of me understand why anybody would want to eat one. As a way of arranging/presenting/serving food I find burgers silly, plain and simple. And the bigger the burger becomes in our super-sized times—up to the point where you can't physically fit it between your jaws—the more obvious its silliness.

For me it's simply not a dignified food, and you can only eat one at the cost of your own dignity.

So there. Sufficiently snobbish?

142:

"Meiville is an academic marxist and a semiotician. Some of his stuff does not make sense unless you know about semiotics."

So, in order to enjoy his stuff I have to first learn semiotics? (I do know the basics of Marxist socio-economics)

No, any more than you would have to learn about late medieval history and theology to enjoy The Name of the Rose.

Consider Embassytown, where an alien species has alien thought patterns, one of which is that they do not know how to lie. Human beings make them nervous. Some people find a way to communicate with them adequately, the others avoid them completely, and the whole human enclave on their planet gets its economy from the translators who arrange trade. The rest of the galaxy doesn't need any of it but the trade is profitable. You don't have to be a Marxist to imagine a bureaucratic economy that depends entirely on translators. I'm not sure it even helps. You don't have to understand language theory to be charmed by the aliens and their alien thinking. But it probably helps.


#128 Greg Tingey

Does this explain why I find his convolutions almost impossible to read?

De gustibus is probably a better explanation.

143:

You'll have to try harder, since at the one end of the spectrum you've condemned serving any food on slices of bread larger than bagette slices, and at the other you've also condemned serving anything in rolls, oh and dismissed out of hand the idea of eating a burger with a knife and fork in a real restaurant (not a fast food joint, regardless of what MaccyDs think) or even a decent café!

144:

"Consider Embassytown"; not going to happen. I found anything of his that I have read dull.

145:

The kids' sport is Judo - we've been sitting at the side of the classes for five or six years now; and ferrying them to competitions for the last three or four. They enjoy it, it's extremely well run, they seem to be having fun.

Our sport (my wife and I met through it) was smallbore target shooting; we competed at a reasonable level, we still take part at club level, I still coach. But it's a shrinking sport; we aren't encouraging the kids to follow us.

So, when the kids' Judo club announced that they would be starting an adult beginners' class, we both decided to have a go - and found ourselves in a class that is mostly beginners, some returners, about a third female, and... "mature". Most of us can point to the kids coming off the mat and say "that's our one there", and there are three or four guys who get class as "proud to be stout". At just under fifty, I'm about the median age; at just under 80kg, I'm one of the lightest men - fun when you're doing groundwork against someone who's twenty years younger and twenty kilos heavier :(

Enjoying it hugely, although my beloved wife is recovering from the broken rib she wrote off as "just a bit of a strain" for ten days... and is still taking part in the class, albeit carefully.

146:

"…and dismissed out of hand the idea of eating a burger with a knife and fork in a real restaurant…"

Indeed, I'm dismissing this out of hand. Obviously it's the most silly idea of them all. First, you order a food item that is designed to be eaten hand-in-mouth and only for this reason comes stuffed in a spongy, tasteless pseudo-breadroll. And then you eat it with a knife and fork from a plate, thereby totally defeating the sole purpose this "food" exists for? You have to admit it, it really can't get much sillier.

Besides, anything that has burgers on the menu can't be considered a real restaurant anyway.

147:

"Consider Embassytown"; not going to happen. I found anything of his that I have read dull.

De gustibus.

If someone was 30 pages into Embassytown or Kraken I'd say that I stuck it out and I was glad I did. Every time I've read one of his I was glad I did, and yet I'm never in a big hurry to start a new one.

You aren't asking my advice but telling me your choice, and that's fine.

Back to the discussion, what it is that gets consistently looked down appears to be "derivative" fantasy (or derivative military science fiction etc) that looks like it could be produced by the 100 page lot by a hack writer or possibly by a wallpaper printer.

And whatever China Mieville's virtues or flaws, people won't mistake him for that.

148:

The one thing I can be sure of over a MacD is that it will be consistent, wherever I am. That can matter for me.

There is better to be had out there, but if I am in a strange place. there's a value to me in that.

149:

Well, I suppose .... As far as I am concerned, they are
consistently awful and the sort of thing that will probably cause
me bowel disorder. Anyway, I always prefer new experiences;
except incest and folk dancing, of course :-)

That is relevant to this thread, because one reasonable objection
to most fantasy of the sort being described is that it is awfully
often like the result of putting conventional action stories (like
the sagas), conventional fairy stories and romanticised mediaeval
environs through a mixer and picking up the result. It can be
good or bad, even so, but there's usually little of novelty.

Of course, people who favour 'mainstream' writing rarely care, but
they sometimes say (with justification) that using a historical or
fantastic background should be kept for when it matters, and not
just to attract a certain type of reader. Well, I tend to feel
that, too. But I don't think that it's an answer to the actual
question.

150:

Hmmm. Don't be too sure about that consistency thing.
Here's some Japanese MacD's items.

More to the point, US macD sales are dropping steadily, so where I am, the local MacDs even experimenting with kale salads and such.

There are other smaller chains, like Paneras, which consistently have better food for not much more than the golden arches, and that's their MacD's biggest problem. When I was a kid, I ate a lot of Big Macs on the way back from the YMCA. Today I'm an adult dealing with the physiological consequences of that diet, and I'm a lot more picky about what I eat.

151:

Anyone who thinks McD is bad has obviously never sampled the British burger pre-McD - absolute and total shit.

152:

Traditional fantasy is an ideal laboratory in which to examine what is colloquially termed "Feudalism" - that is, a hierarchical society linked by personal commitments in which the higher provides protection to the lower in return for service. Many of the fantasy worlds I enjoy describe this functioning well - The Kingdom of the Isles in Midkemia, Randall Garrett's Angevin Empire, and Aragorn's plans for the future in The Return of the King. Typically this involves both parties recognizing both parts of the bargain.

This structure is still important, because people have a habit of reverting to it. I work as a programmer for a firm whose HR department ticks most of the boxes for good current practice and government initiatives but I suspect that my job security and salary - such as they are - depend on how the Lords of the company that I have personally worked for value my service to them.

This structure need not be without checks and balances, either. If a serf may appeal over their lord's head in exceptional circumstances, and the King is guided by their privy council, there is no single point of failure - and I haven't yet mentioned the influence of the Church.

153:

No
We have made our own Hamburgers (i.e. a mince/ground beef recipe, as devised originally in Hamburg) from proper ingredients.
In the same way that a favourite of ours is also $_MEAT-&-Anchovy meatballs, where "meat" is usually Veal, but can be other things (Ostrich was good) but again with homegrown herbs etc .....
What Macs & Wimpy (Euuggh) etc sell is labelled "burger" but is actually crap.

It's the same as difference between a sliced supermarket "laof" & one I've mixed & baked myself - or ditto tomatoes, & my homegroen ones [ 60 plants in this year, at least 8 varieties, none available in shops. ]

154:

Loyulte me Lie, indeed.
[ "Loyalty binds me" ]

Now, who else knows whose motto that was?

155:

Two things stand out to be about the post. One is the sense of aggrieved entitlement*, the piece's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. The second is that the author goes on about how mean and snarky and judgmental Those Other People are, while being incredibly mean and snarky and judgmental about Those Other People. For Christ's sake, he claims Those Other People aren't even honest about what they like. And where have I encountered that recently? From puppies and from gators.

*If aggrieved entitlement weren't at the core of the piece, there wouldn't be the effort to de-legitimize critiques of problematic tropes and work, casting such efforts as "the voice of snobbery".

Also, I would suggest not proudly announcing how meritocratic your group is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meritocracy#Etymology

Incidentally, I'm a little curious as to the age of the people who encounter lots of genre snobbery. Because you sure aren't going to get that from the cohort that made Harry Potter an incredible success, or from the people who liked Hunger Games or Divergent or Game of Thrones or...

Sure, I don't especially want to talk about SFF with Joe Random Old Dude, but I have pretty good reason to believe Jane Twentysomething might not have the same, mmm, cultural biases.

156:

The answer to such questions these days is generally "Google" - nice quote though, and I had no idea until then who it was. I think the main blow actually reading history gives to traditional fantasy is the amount of change in political structures that actually happened during the period we think of as just "Medieval"

157:

Sure, their range has widened from the bog-standard burger, and I am old enough to know what Dirk means.

A Big Mac is more consistent than fish and chips.

Maybe neither gets the same sort of attention from foodies as a posh restaurant does. What about the local pizza joint or Chinese takeaway? A lot of us are maybe still live at the level of the old Pearl & Dean advert for the restaurant that is so good that even the chef eats there.

My parents found an Indian restaurant on their occasional trips into town. It wasn't the super-hot English version of a curry. I make my own mix of spices, a step beyond generic curry powder.

I'm guessing a little, but maybe, in Britain, the Big Mac and Dungeons and Dragons have a similar enough timing that the similarities are suggestive.

158:

For those who are interested, I have moved onto talking about the literary merits of Standard Fantasy on a new post.

159:

On the use of 'thee', even if the author gets it technically right I usually find it a big flashing red warning light that the dialogue is going to read as stilted and unnatural.

160:

Verily thou speaketh soothe!

It's a real shame that Harold Lamb felt the need to write his dialogue like a bad Ren Fair, and perhaps why people don't know who he is.

Given a time machine, after nipping back and save Robert E Howard, I might want to drop by Mr Lamb and explain to him the effect of that one choice on the longevity of his work.

161:

I shall now to my local supermarket go...

But isn't archetypal fantasy-speak just modern English spattered with the occasional "thee" and thou" and wrapped in German grammatical structure?

162:

But isn't archetypal fantasy-speak just modern English spattered with the occasional "thee" and thou" and wrapped in German grammatical structure?

Sure, and it sets a tone.

You could probably do something with that. Like, your thief is thinking in normal modern english, and people keep reminding him about his funny accent. Then he travels somewhere that he doesn't have such a reputation, and the fantasy-speak is a bit stranger. He picks up the grammar etc real fast, but people still talk about how amusing his accent is. "Ah, heard of this I have, yah. Thou art bespie that land, beknownt for sie orange cheeses and sie poncy young men mit hair ribbons?" He tries to think of a way to inconspicuously remove his hair ribbon.

And he inevitably travels farther. "Ah, sie spikkin so joikklish es! Sie grokken sie chez dunkelgelb? Und de junge munner mit de longe haar!" And no matter how fast he picks up the dialect, his accent is always the first thing people notice about him.

It could be fun.

163:

That would be Britain 100 years ago. As soon as you travel more than 100 miles the accents change tremendously. Even 40 years ago, I met people from Wales and Scotland and could not understand what they were saying because I missed about 1 word in 4. As for Yorkshire and Geordies...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a55iAwMXylo

Of course, in all genres the language problems are ignored. It wouldn't do for Conan to have to settle down for at least 6 month, get a job and learn the language every time he moved 500 miles (or 50, depending...).

164:

> It could be fun.

Could also be bloody annoying in a novel!

That said, Merchant Princes uses parallel earth ersatz German, doesn't it?

165:

Actually the best single player in my RPG circle is a professional voice actor and does improv. . . .

166:

Yes indeed. We mostly see culture on a kind of level playing field - improv as being no more or less worthy than gming, chess - say - being on a par with Eclipse.

I was very careful in my wording when defining the two groups but I suppose I should have made clearer that their tastes are often a subset of ours; we like both Shakespeare AND GoT, theatre AND D&D.

167:

I once got hit with an INT 3 fighter character (and it wouldn't astonish me if there was a fix in by some of the Oxford types involved.) Luckily, I had heard a few episode of The Goon Show.

Seagoon: What's your name?
Eccles: Ah, the hard ones first, eh?

168:

"But isn't archetypal fantasy-speak just modern English spattered with the occasional "thee" and thou" and wrapped in German grammatical structure?"

Probably why much of it sounds so bad - its not that it can't be done well, I mean we can just point at Shakespeare for funny, flowing, smart dialogue even if the insults are over the top and turned to 11. Thing is most authors writing fantasy really can't compete with Will and would be better served by using language they're at least a bit more familiar with than that one time in 11th grade when they read Hamlet.

169:

Hah! I had a character just like that too, and inspired by the Goon Show as well!

170:

Nyd byþ nearu on breostan; weorþeþ hi þeah oft niþa bearnum
to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre, gif hi his hlystaþ æror.


Just a slight correction: you won't notice it in classically trained (by which I mean Anglo-Saxon / Chaucer / Shakespeare background) authors because they'll naturally see the linkages to 'modern' words anyhow.

It's only the faux users who do it. (C.f. Rabid Puppies and bad Latin).

171:

I can make the same argument about Burger King or Subway, both of which I prefer (less certain about KFC, because I suspect that their fryer temperatures vary). Also, I actually like new and different eating experiences.

On your other point, and in case you doubt my credentials as a cook, I'll make my own curries starting with preparing spice and aromatic blends too.

172:

Even yet, according to people I know (have known), accents (if not dialect or language) change in less than that. I'm from Dumbarton, and my university course had people from Glasgow, Motherwell, and Hong Kong on it. The Chinese said that the Dumbarton, Glasgow and Motherwell people sounded different to each other, despite it being about 30 miles in a straightish line from Dumbarton through Glasgow to Motherwell.

Also Doric and Scots are a separate language to English (different syntax, grammar and vocabulary), although Geordie is a dialect (at least as far as I know).

173:

> That would be Britain 100 years ago. As soon as you travel more than 100 miles the accents change tremendously. Even 40 years ago, I met people from Wales and Scotland and could not understand what they were saying because I missed about 1 word in 4. As for Yorkshire and Geordies...

One of the strangest things I've had to do is translate at a christmas party, between two folk from Kerry and Donegal. Both speaking English, mildly intelligible to me from Dublin and unintelligible to each other ...

My father worked in the 1960s-1970s as a travelling salesman around Ireland. He claims (with reasonable truth) to being able to identify someone in Ireland (of that time) to within 10-15 miles by accent.

As for Gaeilge, the creation of Irish language TV station TG4 in the 1990s has been responsible for a visibly ongoing merger of dialects that were mutually very distinct until they were forced to merge in a TV studio. Imagine Welsh and Yorkshire being pushed together into a TV station and left to work out amongst themselves what RP should be ...

174:

Err ... George Bernard Shaw: "Pygmalion" & the film made from it - "My Fairy Lady"
To some extent still true.
Even now there are differences between Watford, E-London & well-sarf (Croydon) accents!

In about 1962, I went to Dunnerdale in the Lake District on holiday ... the farm & Post Office & Hotel & Pub ... Had an elderly farm-hand - I could understand (at first meeting) about one word in 3.
I suspect a Norwegian might have understood more.

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