Amph What's important for Fantasy/Sci-fi literature to have?

Discussion in 'Archive: SF&F: Books and Comics' started by Twinky_Stryder, Jan 7, 2006.

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  1. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    No problem, dontlookatmethatway. The social position of women is merely an aspect of the world that the author creates, you said. My counterpoint would be, well, why do fantasy authors base their own make believe worlds on primative European mediveval society? And since it's so widespread and dominant in fantasy, I think readers and authors alike have assumed it as standard acceptability.

    My characterisation of Wolfe's writing isn't as unfair as you put it. Even if he gives his elves and dragons a twist, he's still using the same tired old archetypes, isn't he? That's my point: 80 percent of available books show the same species time and again. Would a twist in Star Wars be a heroic nice Sith Lord?

    Tolkien was a great author. The long descriptions that he gives in his books are one of the things that make them good. He goes to great lengths to describe the world that his story is set in, and that's a real boon to the reader. I cannot see how people think that it is boring.

    Gandalf rambled for a page just to describe his Saruman escape. As for world building, it's all heavy exposition. Told to you, not showed. You are flooded with endless and needless scenic detail and locale names just for walking down a forest road. This is not world building, this is just you told a mountain of people and places that have little direct relevance to any current scene topic.

    My question above still stands unanswered, and ties into the thread topic: does heavy description make a book more acclaimed, when a lighter one gets to the point faster? Does fantasy need such "world building" to "stand out" amongst lesser peers? The Second Sons Trilogy had absolutely none at all, and it was all but criminal. On the other leg, Son of Avonar did, and in very rich verbose; yet more direct than Tolkien rambling.
  2. ezekiel22x Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 9, 2002
    star 5
    First off, I haven?t read The Wizard Knight, so I?m not going to comment on it other than say I have heard praise thrown its way for taking such a familiar storyline and imbuing with trademark Gene Wolfe attributes like high-end prose, graphic honesty in battle scenes, and a distinct narrative voice that captures the evolving mindsets of the title character.

    But like I said, I?m not talking about that book. You were speaking of your inability to find quality fantasy writers that offer a product that respects readers, and thus I recommended you read Wolfe?s Book of the New Sun, a work regarded by many as one of the best novels ever written regardless of genre.

    You proceeded to ignore this recommendation, suggesting that Wolfe writes ?teen food.? Hence the reason I suggested you were unfamiliar with his work, because out of all the opinions I?ve read about Wolfe and his oeuvre, I?ve never once heard any criticism that claims he targets and/or attracts an immature readership.

    But correct me if I?m wrong, and do feel free to tell me how much Wolfe you?ve read.

    Or at the very least, keep in mind that I recommend you read The Book of the New Sun if quality if what you're craving.
  3. Jairen Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 1, 2000
    star 4
    Well, I have two answers for this one, the first being a little contrite and obvious - it sells. Love it or hate it, that style of fantasy, set in a medieval culture with magic is at the core of what many people believe to be Fantasy. Swords, Magic, Quests, etc, have always been at the forefront of this style of writing.

    Cliched, hell yeah, there are more of that style than anything else out there on the market in this genre. Are there others that seem to stand out above the general mish-mash, yes, and as many of them are based in that cliched world as not.

    The second reason, and the reason that I use for my own writing, is that it is the world that I want to write within. It appeals to me, this medieval world, though I have noticed that in my own writing, and in other newer stuff I am reading nowadays, there is a mix in societal values between that time and our own. Some writers craft a world that still lives by those older customs, women struggling for identity and acceptance in male dominated worlds. In fact, it is some of those struggles that can lead to extremely well written novels that can grow with their crafting. Just because a book contains a rape, admittedly I prefer it not to be excessively graphic, I think that if it is pertinent for the growth of the character and story, then it should be harrowing enough to make the reader understand what has happened, the depth, pain and horror of the incident.

    And be careful of creating a world where everything is equal. It is unbalance which drives most stories. There is something wrong, whether it be in society, in magic, in the antagonist or protagonist, most stories only work where there is some form of conflict (and I'm not necessarily talking about battle here.)

    For me, for any novel to work, whether it be fantasy or non-fantasy, you must have strong characterisation, people that are believable, that make me understand them through their actions and thoughts. Does that mean I need a sweeping, all encompassing plot that has multiple plot twists? Not necessarily. If the character's require a world that puts them through that to create the growth and understanding that I am looking for, then great. If I can see that same growth in character as he comes to terms with being dumped into an unknown world, coming to understand his own magical abilities, then using them to fulfil a destiny to free this land from whatever, then that works too. I have a broad love of most writing out there. Do I feel that some are better than others? Yes. Do I feel that I should look down on someting because it doesn't have a complex, multi-weaving plot that leaves me lost and confused unless I read all the volumes in the series? No. When I read a book, I expect a satisfying story, told well. If it's the first part in a series I expect to at least understand what I've read, even if it raises questions for me that I know won't get answered till future books. Damn, both Martin and Jordon do that to me all the time. There is so much in their books that I want to know and will hopefully discover in future pieces, but each books in and of itself leaves me satisfied rather than confused.

  4. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    Now, that's better. No, the teen food comment only applied to Wizard Knight, which is all I was talking about.

    I can handle dragons. They're beats, like horses. But I won't tolerate elfs and bearded dwarfs wielding axes. I'll look into New Sun, but if it doe shave heavy archetypes it's not worth my while, when I still have one Erikson book to go, a book that will have silvered creativity to yet another . . . elf.

    As for targeting/attracting teen readers you said, this is now a big problem in publishing. More and more authors are now doing this. Zahn's last 6 books were YA. The first of Ian Irvine's new quartet has come. The Eddings have YA books in their series. McIntosh, the new Canavan, the list goes on.
  5. Jairen Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 1, 2000
    star 4
    And it's your right not to, however it is the right of other people to enjoy that style of writing. Just because there are elves or bearded dwarfs doesn't inherently make the work bad, though I can see from your reaction that it probably does for you.

    I have a novel that contains elves, dwarfs, demons etc, etc, and will continue to use those devices, because they are right for the world that the novel is set in. Are they your normal cliched elements, perhaps, but in the writing I have done, I delve more into their particular cultures, why they are the way they are, etc, etc. And that is what I am looking for from my reading. I'm not looking always for something totally original, because I hate to say it but you're gonna be disappointed after a while. What I do want is new perspectives, different ways of telling those 7 mythos's over and over again. It's the details, the way in which they are presented that makes the story strong for me. Not just the fact that it doesn't have any cliched elements in it.
  6. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    Careful, Jairen, I'm not sure about the "it sells" motto of publishing. That's a heavily speculated topic, based on where, how and sagacity of information.

    Where . . . different countries have different markets. America has swashbuckling heroes on their covers, Aust tend more for scenery. The Malazan series covers are indicative of that, especially book 3. How . . . where do pubs get that info anyway? Is good sales of cliche books accurate if you're not offering more variety. And what is the sagacity of the sales records? Overprinting and awareness are mitigating factors.

    Remember, publishers choose what to sell but they are also basing selection on their selection. Is what they're getting predominant with dragons and dwarfs, elfs and magical swords? Two new genres have increased in fantasy last few years: the magic school scenario, and nature "druids" often penned by women. We're going to see more of them.

    Anyone read Rhapsody; Symphony of Time? It's cover and inter flaps are littered with the highest accolade of praise. The book was 3/4 pure boredom of walking and talking. I'm finding that the more anyone from the publishing party praises a book, the crappier it is. I'm curious to know if Stackpole really read Erikson's Deadhouse Gates. Somehow, busy with your own books, I can't see how you'd have time to read a thousand pager.

    Personally, I'd like to see a book where it's the villains that must surive the powerful heroes to win the day and conquer all, and I think I may just do it.
  7. Jairen Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 1, 2000
    star 4
    In that case, you want Grunts by Mary Gentle, about a group of Orcs faced with the Army Of Light at the end of the world. Very funny, very well written, and exactly what you're talking about.

    And be careful you don't ignore everything I wrote. Only the first reason I gave had anything to do with the sales of books. I think the second reason, that it's what I want to write about, is far more pertinent. Having had discussions with several of my favourite authors including Robert Jordan and Tad Williams, it is interesting to note that they write what they write because that's what they enjoy writing about.

    You're probably very right in that the more avant garde Fantasy, those that don't use the cliched standards, are not being seen on the desk of publishers as much as the more standard fare, but that will be as much about there not being enough of it out there in the first place as it is about the taste of the agents. And that's what it really comes down to. The tastes of the agents. It is almost impossible in todays world of publishing to get something straight in front of a published. You need an agent first, and getting an agent is entirely dependant on a couple of things. Who you know and what their personal tastes are. The number of books I have read in recent years where you look at the acknowledgement page and you see that the author KNOWS someone else in the same field who they were able to talk through their stuff with.
  8. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    I'm looking closely at those acknowledge pages myself. Walter Williams did indeed help with Martin's river battle of Clash of Kings. Seans Stewart and Russell are factors, and apparently Allston got the X-wing gig from Stacky's recommendation.

    Speaking of agents, Jairen, what's your take on workshops? I've gotten a lot of useless drivel, ranging from starship lasers compared to our invisible medical lasers and implausable to competent villains being Mr Thrawn siblings. I'm starting to presume on reader intel. Maybe the tried and true generics is all they can handle? Hmmm.

    I've looked Grunts! up. Orcs working for generic dark powers raid a dimension-travelling dragon's cave and find a horde of 21st century weapons?
  9. Jairen Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 1, 2000
    star 4
    That's the one. It works very well, you begin to sympathise with the bad guys by the time you get even a bit into it.

    With regards to workshops, it can be very difficult to get one that you can trust and that will understand what you're working on. I've run into the issues several times, where they can't understand a concept that you're going for, not because the concept is too complex, but because it doesn't fit into their "world view" of Fantasy.

    However, I do find workshops invaluable if I restrict the feedback to the mechanics rather than the concepts. Concepts I think work better with the small select group that I can sit down and discuss them with whilst having a drink or something.
  10. Mastadge Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 4, 1999
    star 7
    First, The Book of the New Sun is not The Wizard Knight. TWK is a relatively fresh take on tired tropes; New Sun is absolutely Wolfe's magnum opus, and one of the finest pieces of literature in the English language canon. And how is it that you can condemn WK for having a the same-old plot of boy entering alternate world, and praise other works that have some-old plots of countries at war?
  11. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    Could you be more precise?
  12. NYCitygurl Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2002
    star 9
    Don't know about sci-fi, but i like fantasy books to have:

    magic and wizards
    hero(s)
    heroine(s) that kick butt as much as the guys
    swords
    really evil bad guys who are trying to take over/destroy the world
    some romance
    usually some sort of prophecy
    a happy ending :)
  13. Raven Administrator Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Oct 5, 1998
    star 6

    I do tend to like relatively happy endings. I like it when the book as a whole is dark, but ends up an upbeat, positive note, where the romantic relationships work themselves out.
  14. NYCitygurl Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2002
    star 9
    Exactly. In my mind, nothing good comes out of a story where they set it up to have this great romance, and then they die. Then you think, well, the beginning of the book was happier, too bad they couldn't just stay like they were at the beginning.
  15. Raja_Io Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 28, 2005
    star 4
    I like kind of sweet-bitter endings. Not a real Holywood-like happy end, but not an apocalypse either. Like in most of Le Guin's books.
  16. Radical_Edward Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    May 2, 2002
    star 3
    I find that great sci-fi and fantasy can still contain the archetypes that are either beloved or reviled, and prove to be well worth the investment, and at the same time, they can go in a completely different direction, turn away from the archetypes or completely change them, and also be great. The most important quality is that the story does something DIFFERENT. I don't think that anyone wants to read the same tale over and over again, only with slighly different settings and slightly different names and, occasionally, slightly different objectives. We don't need another LOTR clone or WoT clone, or even a ASoIaF clone. If I wanted to read that story or those plots, I'd just go back to the source material.

    A story can be great even when it has the super-villainous villains and heroic heroes and quests and powerful ancient items, all together, just as long as the story that it tells is engaging, new, and well-crafted. Take a look at the Warcraft franchise by Chris Metzen. That story rolls in archetypes and themes that have been rehashed for years on end. There are more magical swords than I can count, there are evil dragons galore, a pseudo-medieval world, elves, monsters, elves, more elves, bearded dwarves carrying axes, even more elves, brutish orcs, sinister dark villains, teenage heroes departing on quests, oh, and more elves. Despite all this, which would normally turn many (including myself) away from the series with barely a second glance, it has proven itself to be original, inspired, entertaining, and fresh. The story takes all those elements and uses them in new and exciting ways that haven't been explored in mainstream fantasy to any extent. Each character and race and country and people and villain has their own motivations, purposes, flaws, and characteristics. The story has a remarkable vitality and a deep and complex history, and the plots and characters are constantly growing and changing. The characters who started out as villains have grown into heroes, and long-time heroes have become twisted and spiteful. The stereotypical benevolent, aesthetic, wise elves have shown themselves to be schizophrenic junkies, and the evil, demonic orcs are the true noble saviors. If there's a typical fantasy element, it is somewhere in the Warcraft series, but the story has always remained fresh, entertaining, engaging, and new because those archetypes are used in remarkable and original ways.

    Of course, a fantasy story doesn't have to have any of those elements to be great. Martin's novels keep those archetypes to a bare minimum, yet few would argue against A Song of Ice and Fire being a classic. Magic is almost non-existant in his world, dragons almost didn't make it into the final cut, and there are no evil villains. Even the worst villains are real, human characters and can be sympathized with. No character is evil for the sake of evil.

    Personally, I find nothing wrong with a fantasy story lacking all of the archetypes, including evil villains and heroic heroes. The most interesting characters to me are those that want the best ends, but dont worry too heavily about the consequences of the means that they use to get there.
  17. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    What?

    No character is evil for the sake of evil? What part about Cersei and Littlefinger and Gregor Clegane did you misread? :p

    Littlefinger caused the inter-House war from a childhood vendetta. And he shoves people without remorse end of Storm of Lightsabers. Clealry no evil just for the sake of it, eh?
  18. The_Flargg Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2004
    star 2
    Personally, I'm tired of epic. I'm sick of "save the world" plots where, it turns out, everything from your life to the fate of your lover to the existance of your ex-neighbor's cat is on the line, and only the protagonist and/or a band of motley heroes can do anything about it. Does everything have to be on the edge of the abyss for a story to be interesting?

    Look at Solaris. It is easily one of my favorite sci-fi fantasy, and yet it deals with one man's psychological withdrawal from the death of his wife! It is put into a science fiction setting, and yet it is still about basic human issues. That's why I generally like sci-fi more than fantasy: it generally deals with issues, rather than just plot.
  19. Moleman1138 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Aug 18, 2004
    star 6
    The monomyth of the Hero with a Thousand Faces is essential and you have to have characters to pity, to sympathize and to break your heart. Whether it's plot driven or character driven, you still have to have a good story.
  20. Lord Bane Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    May 26, 1999
    star 5
    I won't claim to be an expert on fantasy or science fiction. I've certainly read some books in both genres, but not as many as some of you. But I do have opinions about each genre, things I like and don't like.

    Some people have mentioned world building in fantasy. I must say, it is the attention to that sort of detail that can really make a book for me. The more I delve into Tolkien, the more I appreciate the role of history and the land, for example. Then again, Robert Jordan tries the same thing and while he succeeds in his first few books, his later ones suffer under the expository weight. However, I do not think this to be a bad concept. Fleshing out the backstory - even if its direct relevance is nil - can often set the larger stage and give structure to the actions of characters and the themes you are trying to bring out.

    Look at 1984, a sci-fi story. Orwell could have written it with less detail about what was happening in the world, about the backstory. It could've been as short as Ayn Rand's Anthem or Huxley's Brave New World. But Orwell gave us history; he fleshed things out. The picture he created for us was rounder than many other similar dystopian future stories, and we know his wasn't the first or close to the last.

    Context is key to all detail that could bog down a story. Say you have people traveling across countryside or spacelanes or whatever, and they trade stories about what went on here decades or centuries ago. It might help us understand the characters, even though we're using them as exposition dumps. These scenes also provide depth to the broad setting; it is no longer just a flimsy canvas in the background. That shell of a building, that was where the last free soldier made his stand when the aliens came, and though they are gone, it still resonates with anger and loss and Charles feels this, understands it, as his glider passes overtop. There's not too much exposition there, but it can be fleshed further, the story providing the ghost of a counterpoint to what is currently going on. Tolkien works this the best with his recurring themes and tragic backstories that finally see some happiness (star-crossed lovers finally win in Aragorn and Arwen) or resolution.


    I've ranted enough about that.


    Hero with a Thousand Face: we like Joey Campbell, don't we? He supported Lucas' vision, his primary character archetype. But that style of hero does often pervade fantasy stories and I for one would like to see the all-important young lad knocked down a peg. He doesn't have to always be the savior, you see. Here's a problem in many fantasies, though: we chiefly see through only a few eyes, with one set (usually a young man) being our primary focus and so the story reflects his importance. Martin is combating this by showing the many moving pieces and their shared weight in the narrative. Campbell's archetype is not terrible or something to cast by the wayside, but it is a broad stroke that I'd like to see altered more.


    Fantasy can exist in any time period, so I find the "past only" notion a bit moot. Look at the work of Neil Gaiman: Sandman, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere - all fantasy, all set in the modern world. It's modern fantasy, a subsection of the broad genre, like sword-and-sorcery, high fantasy or power fantasy (the old root of comic books).


    Science Fiction, or speculative fiction as some ashamed writers call it, can be summed up thusly: fiction with a scientific element currently beyong our grasp. It can also contain a healthy dose of social commentary and can delve into the more contemporary themes of the day, like cloning (Jurassic Park, Cast of Shadows). Some executions are more heavy-handed than others, but sci-fi has a long, noble history of using its technologically intrepid platform to weigh important issues and ideas. I think some trace feminism (not the inspiration for, but the movement) to certain sci-fi stories that allowed women different roles than regular stories. Fantasy does that, too (but overcompensates, if you ask me).

    Science fictio
  21. jaya02 Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    May 12, 2002
    star 4
    While I have to agree with the last two points, I don't agree with your first point. It's not necessary for a sci-fi or fantasy story to have a likeable main character for it to be an enjoyable book. For science fiction, A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. Outside the genre, I tend to recall The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
  22. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    I agree too. Are there any books where the main character is a son of a gun, killing and hurting whenever the fancy takes?
  23. -RebelScum- Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Feb 21, 2004
    star 6
    My opinions.

    1: Flawed realistic but ultimately likeable hero. Doesn't necessarily have to be a cliche saintlike or perfect hero.

    2: Great villain, should be 3 dimensional and by able to sympathised with, like Thrawn, he was technically a "villain" but you never disliked him or even disagreed with him.

    3: Great story, good background interworked in the main story and a realistic but still exotic feel. Also I like it when they take down the "hero bubble" and allow them to be killed, akin to A Song of Ice and Fire when it is well done, not like Star by Star when it was for shock value which basically destroyed years of character/story development. (though I believe GL specified who had to die)

    -The Scummy-
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