This is a reaction to the Steve Davidson (Crochety Old Fan) blog post on Grasping for the Wind. A continuing conversation of sorts on the SF Signal community (http://www.community.sfsignal.com) has convinced me that while he and I have some things in common, in some respects, we are not fellow travelers.
To keep it positive, rather than getting pugnacious about the matter, I am going to keep it positive and tell you why I like both SF and fantasy.
I began reading both genres (if you must try to separ at an early age, and read stuff ranging from Tolkien to Clarke, with a healthy dollop of items that fall in the mushy middle.
In a tweet that I posted some time ago, I picked up and transmitted an idea that there are four characteristics to read a book for:
I used to read heavily for setting and plot above all else. The advantage of reading Fantasy and SF is that it can take me places and tell me stories about those places, places that don’t or can’t exist. I can walk the Glory Road, see Helm’s Deep, explore the Ringworld, wander through Lankhmar and more. I enjoyed and enjoyed these alternate worlds.
As a bumper sticker once said “Reality is for people who can’t handle Science Fiction”
As I have matured as a reader, I have learned to love Character and appreciate language more. Some of the clunky writing in some old favorites now feels tinny and false to me, and cardboard characters definitely does in a lot of work. I need a protagonist to identify with, or at least able to follow the story of. Since setting is still important to me, my fiction reading mandates that those protagonists are in Fantasy and Science Fiction environments, or a modern environment with a healthy dose of same.
Thus, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander’s story and characters do not interest me that much, even if Scandinavia is an unknown country to me. On the other hand, Titus Quinn, in Kay Kenyon’s Rose and Entire Quartet definitely qualifies. And while the Entire is setting with a big S and the reason why I started reading the novels, Titus, and the other characters he meets, is why I kept reading the novels. Similarly, Tremaine in Martha’ Wells Fall of Ile-Rien gets points not only because I’ve read and devoured the previous novels set in that universe, but because I liked her as a character and wanted to see where she was going to take her. Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville in her urban fantasy series works for me primarily on the note of character.
Both SF and Fantasy provide these qualities for me. Good Fantasy has the same virtues as Good SF–consistency, depth, and strong fundamentals in the four elements. I am delightfully agnostic on whether that is Hard SF or Epic Fantasy, although I admit that Urban Fantasy is the subgenre of F/SF I read the least. (And even so, besides the previous mention of Vaughn, I very recently enjoyed Laura Anne Gilman’s Hard Magic, urban fantasy all the way).
I have a theory as to why Fantasy is ascendant over SF, a theory different than the ones recently expressed in a recent SF Signal podcast episode., but I think that requires a different and new post.