Hypocrisy! It’s surrounding! (on genres and categorization)

So, blogger I overall admire writes about “myopic” points of view, and to illustrate his theory he shows how myopic is himself. I can’t comment in detail because I’ve not read most of that stuff, but:

R. Scott Bakker, The Prince of Nothing and The Aspect-Emperor series – Bakker is a friend of mine, and while I do enjoy his erudite take on epic fantasy, his is not (as he’ll readily admit) a story that’s going to have mass appeal outside of certain gender/age demographics and online forums.

I haven’t read Bakker in detail, and while it’s obvious that his series doesn’t have a “mass appeal”, it’s the qualification to be rather hypocrite. “certain gender/age demographics and online forums” shows some serious generalization and prejudice. Why the need to build these sharp boundaries and categories? There are surely more useful considerations to make instead of deciding in advance who could or couldn’t enjoy a particular book or writer.

Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, Malazan books – Although each has some interesting anthropological perspectives that enrich their shared-world setting, I wouldn’t think of these books as being anything more than just continuations from what Glen Cook, Jack Vance, or Michael Moorcock has done with their epic fantasy/sword and sorcery tales.

Huh? No really. I’ve read Erikson. Saying that his books have the same intent of Glen Cook or Moorcock (haven’t read Vance enough to say) is some silly claim. Glen Cook inspired Erikson directly, he took and played with certain aspects of those books and the terse prose, and of Moorcock there’s only a vague similarity of mood. But that would be the same as every writer out there who read and was inspired by someone else. Is David Foster Wallace irrelevant or lessened because of William Gaddis or Thomas Pynchon? Really? So we can roll all those writers into a generalized “Don DeLillo”? They all do the same stuff and so are not relevant to be considered on their own terms? They write a genre and are limited by it?

You really think literature is that powerless and strictly bound? You really think that those writers merely stand in someone else’s shoes? That’s ungrateful for every name I made, the same as with Erikson and those other names. For them it would probably be the biggest offense you can make.

Then there’s the link to Werthead’s article. Which is pretentious fluff:


The ‘new fantasy’ is much harder to pin down. Broadly it refers to fantasy which is either grittier and more realistic than previous ‘safe’ authors, or to traditional epic fantasy which has taken on some of the ideas and tropes of steampunk and the New Weird (a fantasy movement sparked off in 2000 with China Mieville’s PERDIDO STREET STATION but which has now more or less merged with fantasy in general). Or indeed, both.

“It refers”? You mean you stumbled on a piece of paper that had “new fantasy” written on it and you started to wonder what it may be about? Nothing refers to anything, especially “made up” words. It refers to whatever you want it to mean, and as long you persuade enough people to agree on that definition.

Here you make it sound like you gawked at the sky to discover some kind of truth pertinent to a category of books.

a number of more ‘old-school’ authors who reject some of these new ideas in favour of a solid story, well-told, are also incorporated into the movement, leading to the conclusion that ‘the new fantasy’ is nothing more than fantasy works simply published in the last few years.

The mind boggles. So you’re saying that “solid story, well-told” is antithetic to “New Fantasy”. This new fantasy must really suck if it’s qualified by a weak story badly told.

But, HEY, it seems there are also good writers that found themselves into this new genre, so I guess it’s not possible anymore to claim: New Fantasy = CRAP.

So, basically, here we learn: Beware, not all New Fantasy is crap.

The following is a list of authors who may be said to work in this movement:

“May be said”. By who we’ll never know. It must be some mythical creature who tells the writers in which “movement” they are supposed to work. And don’t dare contradicting the Beowulf, or it swallows you whole.

Follows a list of relatively well known writers and his overall opinion about them. I wouldn’t criticize this all that much because it’s supposed to just give a general idea so that a reader may then look further if there’s something that gets the attention. I could argue endlessly about what he says, for example calling Abercrombie’s first novel “very traditional” gives a very wrong idea of it. If it was “very traditional” the book would’ve never ended in my reading pile and I wouldn’t have read it and considered it excellent. Daniel Abraham gets the benefit of the longest description and a summary, probably because he’s his current “protege” that needs promotion since the first series didn’t sell enough and the last book didn’t get the mass market edition. He defines Bakker as “adventurous”, which is really perplexing. Martin is “Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE remains the dominant work of epic fantasy in the genre”. Dominant of what or who? Sales? Aren’t sales consistently lower than, say, Jordan or Goodkind? I’m really asking. I know the series sold a lot, but I don’t think it “dominated” the sales of the whole genre. Or maybe those are too old? But wasn’t “New Fantasy” the fantasy released in “the last few years”? Martin released one book in the last 10 years. I doubt he “dominated” anything at all. But in general I wouldn’t mess or argue too much with opinions. Everyone is entitled to his own and they are good for a more specific discussion. It’s when they are set as absolute canons that they are dangerous.

But the discussions on genres and classifications are ALWAYS stupid for the simple reason that it’s implied that a “genre” is a strict definition that corresponds to an objective “Truth”. So the need to define absolute canons and even a neatly organized ladder from “most relevant” writer to the least. With the illusion that this is actually something more than a very personal opinion.

We have from a side one who claims he can define objectively “The state of modern epic/secondary world fantasy”. The supreme judge. And on the other side one who criticized the first for being myopic because his view of the genre is too narrow in scope. This is not a problem of scope, this thing is stupid because these are irrelevant generalizations that have no place in reality. They represent your, and only your, limit and consequent necessity of simplification and generalization.

Hint: “genres” do not exist. They are created and used to simplify things. They are tools, not canons, to reduce the world out there to a manageable state. Like words in general, “genres” are arbitrary categories where you put whatever you want. It means that what you put in there is decided by you, not by any objective rule. There are no sharp boundaries if not those you arbitrarily make, so there’s no correct or better definition of a genre. Debating whether a book is in or out a certain genre is like debating in which bookcase of your bedroom this or that book goes. It’s the same of someone who argues aloud with himself. So if you are the one who makes the choice have at least the courage to take the responsibility of it. It’s not “THE STATE OF”, it’s “my opinion on some stuff I read recently”.

Define the market if you want, since the market follows certain concrete rules, facts and categories, but do not try to categorize and define culture. The boundaries and limits only exist in your head.

You want to make a blog about “fantasy”, or whatever definition of fantasy that is so broad that includes everything, go on. The god of Language won’t come to take its toll. I titled my own blog “Cesspit”. You can be sure that everything can fit in.

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