Hello, and welcome to What_Fantastic! If you're new here, you should probably read our profile
to get some idea of what we do.
There are a few rules to keep in mind as we play with fantasy and sci-fi here, and we'll thank you to abide by them:1. No flaming.
None. If you want to critique a writer or artist or theorizer, please do so respectfully and without resorting to nasty ad-hominem attacks.2. Keep an open mind.
We're all about broadening fantasy's and sci-fi's horizons, and not shrinking them. No one wants to hear, 'Elves aren't like that!!!11one!!'--if you think elves are different, write/draw them differently. We'll all benefit from sharing.3. For stories/art, use a subject and a header.
This will help people to find your work more easily. Your subject line will be the title of your work. Your header must contain the following elements, although you can add more at your discretion:
(If this is a chaptered work) Chapter:
Summary (for fiction)/Description (for art):
For chaptered works, we would appreciate but do not require links to previous chapters.4. Love the lj-cut.
Images and works of more than 100 words should always be placed behind an lj-cut or a link that will go just below your header. Don't know how to make an lj-cut? LJ will tell you.
Don't know how to make a link? LJ will tell you that, too.5. Tag responsibly.
What is responsible tagging? Come find out.6. Try to have fun.
i've been absurdly obsessed with ludology and game criticism lately, and i thought i'd rec this episode of the critical distance
it's about genre in video games in general, but around 18:45 the discussion gets turned towards the popular sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres. one of the fellows teaches myth and has some interesting things to say about mythic settings and how they can be used to express themes that transcend sort of day-to-day details -- i particularly like how he uses archetypes to explain the comforting familiarity of zelda
games. certainly there's more to be said than gets laid out here, but it's worth a listen.
i'd also be curious to hear what anyone here thinks. how do you think video games deal with the speculative fiction genres? are there any games that you think do it particularly well or poorly? does the nature of the medium itself have interesting possibilities -- is there a difference, for example, in exploring a fantasy world as a player inside of it instead of a reader on the outside?
(-- has there been a midweek meta question about the reverse -- about games and interactive narratives that exist in fantasy/sci-fi worlds? that would be interesting -- !)
This week's topic: musical representations of fantasy and sci-fi.
We talk frequently about books and films, and occasionally we talk about plays and operas, but we seldom talk about songs that depict fantastic or science-fictional worlds and situations. What's your favorite? What difference does it make to have this world portrayed in a song rather than in a longer work?
This week's meta-question is very, very general, and aimed at writers, artists, and other creators of works more than at consumers:
What do you hope to accomplish, through your work in SF/F? What do you want to have achieved?
Interpret this question in whatever way you like; you could talk about your concrete output goals (finish X novels, construct X games), or your intellectual or emotional goals (work through a personal relationship with or understanding of X), or your goals for your consumers (make them consider X, act on X, or adopt the political position X).
This week's topic, inspired by my "Literature and the Fantastic" class:
Talk about works on the border between "fantasy" and "fantastic." What makes something one and not the other? To what purpose? How do symbolism and allegory work here?
(For reference, the syllabus: 1001 Nights, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Gulliver's Travels, Lyrical Ballads, Songs of Innocence and Experience, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Dracula, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Alice in Wonderland, The Turn of the Screw, a few others.)
This week's topic: luxury.
What is luxury? How do fantasy and sci-fi work through the idea of luxury? What is portrayed as 'luxurious,' and who can have it? What are the moral valences of having access to luxury? What are the economic structures that support a culture containing luxury? How does luxury fit into the overall plot of the narrative that contains it? What are good examples of texts or films that engage with this concept?
A good example, for me, is Dune--while the religious and cultural components of the series will always be highly dodgy, there's something really compelling about how the Dune books engage with desirable commodities. Herbert allows the economic realities of the spice market to influence the ways in which the sociopolitical structure of Arrakis becomes constructed, and he does interesting work with his characters' desire to have.
This week's topic: background magic and technology.
Though cool magic and technology is often the point of FSF, it doesn't always have to advance the plot. Magic can make otherworldly music; technology can make neat futuristic games. What are some things of this nature that you're read/seen or that you would like to read or see?
a rec post for text games, or, as the academically-minded like to call them, interactive fiction. i could only find one online -- but all of them can be played on an interpreter like gargoyle
without busting your harddrive. (floatpoint has to be saved as a .gblorb file, but if you do that, it should be run fine.)floatpoint
. a game of diplomacy and research (what, that doesn't sound like fun?) -- lots of science fiction addresses the question of what to do when dealing with cultures that are fundamentally alien
to ours, and an interesting thing about floatpoint
is that the aliens actually aren't. they're human beings who settled on another planet and chose to change themselves, through genetic modification first and then the longer, subtler shift in values, and they've made their own history of beautiful and terrible things. what you still need to answer is how to deal with them
. it's a small game, but very evocative.slouching towards bedlam
. i wasn't sure whether to classify this as science fiction (because it deals with strange technologies and contact with otherwordly beings), fantasy (because these otherwordly beings aren't explained, and perhaps can't or shouldn't be explained, in scientific terms), or horror (because of the unsettling atmosphere and the real fear about what your discoveries might mean). and i've heard it called lovecraftian steampunk so sure, let's go with that. i didn't notice, until i replayed the game with a walkthrough, how much the story told depended on the sort of story i thought i was in. i won't say more than that.online
. sci-fi westerns are popular, aren't they? this is a fairly short, straightforward example of one, no real subversions unless you count the ending as one, but it's charming for that -- there are plainswomen with plasma spears, a vinyl-lipped saloon bot and a gunarmed reverend, a hanging at high noon -- the sun moves through the sky as you move always and only forward, and nanobots squirm in the desert sand. all the puzzles can be solved with your trusty six shooter and a sharp eye.
i might add more later -- i'm tempted to rec everything by emily short
, but. i'll hold off for now. and if anyone else has some good recs, feel free to comment with them. :)
This week's topic: representations of magic.
What different ways have you seen to represent magic, either physically or in other ways? (For example, Harry Potter often has sparks/light accompanying spells.) Does this affect the tone or feel of the work? Are there any particularly interesting ways of representing magic that you've seen done? Does the medium make a difference here?
Similarly, what ways have you seen magic "done" (besides with wands and the like)? What other ways to do it would be interesting?
I may be phrasing this week's topic a little unclearly--but I'll give it my best shot.
To what extent do science fiction creators have an obligation to inform their writing with science fact? Is SF more an aesthetic, or more a governing philosophy for worldbuilding? Obviously the answer is 'it depends'; the science in many of our great classics is dodgy at best and laughable at worst--but anecdotal evidence suggests that fans either forgive or justify that science (witness, The Physics of Star Trek
) rather than finding it a sticking-point.
What does that say about our perception of science? Do we consider it a basically truthful and immutable guide? Is it a series of successive paradigms, each one more closely describing what is but none of them being
what is? Is it a collection of attitudes more than a collection of facts? Is it an aesthetic?
This week's topic: Dark Lords.
What's the cultural logic behind the prevalence of Dark Lords in fantasy fiction? What is the function of the Dark Lord in the greater narrative? How are Dark Lords portrayed--through absence, through the actions of minions, through their own actions? What factors humanize Dark Lords (if, indeed, they ever are humanized)?
What kinds of subversive portrayals have you seen? Obviously there's Diana Wynne Jones's spectacular Dark Lord of Derkholm--are there other examples?
Who's your favorite Dark Lord? Mine has always been Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, who has this marvelous genre-savviness that more than excuses her posturing.
Interlude: Rec time!
(I imagine that many or most of the denizens of what_fantastic are familiar with some of these and can add to these recs, but so be it.)
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
This is like what you would get if you put Patrick O'Brian and Jane Austen together, shook them up a bit, and added Neil Gaiman's fairy tales. It's snarky, beautiful, and chilling. It is a novel about academia, high society, history, mythology, madness, and prophecy; it is illustrated and heavily footnoted, in large part to books that do not exist. I like the way Clarke fits everything that isn't real into everything that is - the way the short stories in the same universe (The Ladies of Grace Adieu) seem to unveil things instead of tacking them on. I like the times the atmosphere of the novel is almost tangible. I like that it doesn't end neatly.
Discworld, by Terry Pratchett (my favorites are Jingo and Night Watch)
Pratchett is brilliant. His work is very, very funny, and the overall tone is generally light-hearted enough that the moments that make me cry come out of nowhere. He's not afraid to skewer anything, common fantasy tropes absolutely included; he's very self-aware as a writer of a genre so often produced with a cookie-cutter. One of the things I like best about the series is that the Discworld ticks on its own. It's a real place, with all the little details and things going on behind the scenes, and it would go on if every one of the characters dropped dead. Also, Vimes. Vimes alone is a point for these books. (I've read mostly the City Watch books, which are essentially police novels in a world that is not Earth, and are very low-magic.)
Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams, by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett
Oh the worldbuilding in this novel. The worldbuilding in this novel is quite possibly the best I have ever encountered, and this includes Pratchett and Tolkien. I don't say this lightly. The city and its politics, the religious and magical system, the art culture, all are incredibly well-designed without being a ripoff of Earth. These are more fantasy-mysteries, and, unlike in Discworld, the magic is an integral part of the crime and its solution. I like it both ways - where it's not really part of either and the story could just as well be on Earth, and when it's so well integrated that it could never be. Also, the two heroes are a gay guy and a bisexual guy, with other queer background characters. Representation for the win!
Mortal Engines series, by Philip Reeve
Basic premise: cities in a post-nuclear world have raised themselves up on wheels or caterpillar tracks and roam about eating other cities, taking their resources and enslaving their people. Municipal Darwinism - sounds fun, right? The general aesthetic is very steampunk (there are airships!), and the main conflict is between people in moving cities and people not in moving cities. I like that neither side is right, and neither side is good. All the characters have their own motivations, and their behavior is realistic given those motivations. Warning, though: bleak. Very bleak. Reeve is not afraid to kill off characters for real or show that everything they believed in was a lie. These books also made me cry a couple of times.
Well, er, now you all know what I like in a book.
For many of us, fantasy and science fiction aren't the only genres we write. I write a great deal of historical fiction, myself, and I've occasionally dabbled in contemporary fiction of various sorts. Therefore, I'm curious--how is the process of writing a FSF piece (of any length) different from the process of writing in other genres? Do you begin from a different headspace? Do you revise differently? Do you approach the research process with a different mindset? Do you find it easier or harder--and why?
There's a series
on genre definitions over at meta_writer
, which the genre-interested here might find worth a visit--in this post
, the community mod lays out the goals for the series, and in this post
, she asks for writers to contribute genres (and subgenres, and such) for consideration and group definition. I anticipate that this community will provide us with some excellent food for thought.
This week's meta has the potential to be VERY SPOILERY. If you don't know how to blank out spoilers, the HTML code is like this:
except with angle brackets instead of square brackets. Highlight to read.
Anyway, here's how it goes: post in comments about things that you think would be cool
but that you rarely, if ever, see authors do. Reply to other people's comments with either discussion or recommendations (text whited if necessary). :D!
This week's topic: more about genre-fication.
Mystery fiction, for example, has countless niche subgenres. There are knitting mysteries, cooking mysteries, cat mysteries, vacation mysteries, scholarly mysteries, mysteries that make their main character a sidekick of a detective from classic literature, mysteries that make a famous historical person into a detective and countless other subgenres upon subgenres of historical mysteries (medieval, Victorian), neo-noir...I could go on. Likewise, romance has the historical subgenre, the supernatural subgenre (further divided into vampires, ghosts), the NASCAR subgenre, etc., etc.
So, my questions are:
--Why doesn't FSF do this? There are loosely defined subgenres, of course - epic fantasy, urban fantasy, space opera, etc. - but there's not the same stratification of subgenres. Does it have to do with the intended audience? How much of it is the publisher's/cover artist's decision? What FSF have you read that seems like it fits into a very small niche?
--How much of a fantastic element is necessary for a book to be filed as FSF rather than "supernatural romance" or "supernatural mystery"? (At my library, for example, Dresden Files are FSF, while Pointsman is mystery. Twilight of course is YA, so it doesn't count.) In your opinion? In publishers' opinions?
--What are the trends in FSF author names? Pen names, presumably, or just names that sound like FSF authors. The mystery section, for example, seems to have a much higher occurrence of "Mc______" names than the general population, as well as a lot of triple names, and surnames that are places in the British Isles. Likewise, romance authors are disproportionately named "Josephine" or "Beverly."
(Guess what I was shelving yesterday? :D)
This week's topic: appetite (for media).
What kinds of media do you consume most frequently? Are you more a book-reader or more a filmgoer? How do you consume it? Do you tend to rent/check out from the library, or do you go to bookstores and try to read your material unobtrusively there, or do you buy anything that looks interesting, or are you an obsessive collector of special editions? How much of what you consume do you keep? What is your relationship to your consumption habits--do you wish you consumed more, or less, or differently?
(Hi there. I'm possiblymaybe taking over/alternating with Gil on the mid-week meta.)
What are the minimum elements needed to make a story FSF?
--Is it FSF if the magic or technology are only part of the setting, or a background to a plot that doesn't focus on them? (Which is why I occasionally hesitate before going on to describe some Discworld books as fantasy.) Is it sci-fi if it uses only the known capabilities of existing technology? (I can't think of a parallel for fantasy.)
--What would existing FSF stories be like without some or all of those elements, and how would existing non-FSF stories be changed by the addition of those elements?
--At this point, does a work have to have a certain trope quotient to be FSF? (For example, Cosmicomics is the most sciencey sci-fi I've ever read, and yet it's totally unlike any other sci-fi.) What's the most trope-filled thing you've read/seen that you wouldn't describe as FSF? (Some other Calvino works, maybe.) For the sake of discussion, assume last-century.
As you may have noticed by now, I've never been as regular as I'd like with posting mid-week metas. On top of that, those questions I have been posting lately have generated very little discussion. Therefore, I'd like to open the floor for feedback on a few questions:
* Should we even have mid-week metas anymore? Or have we exhausted their usefulness?
* If we do keep up the scheduled meta posts, how often should metas be posted? Should we keep to a weekly schedule, or switch to (for example) monthly metas?
* If we do continue to have scheduled meta posts, who should post them? Should I continue doing it, or should someone else take the reins?
* How do we encourage greater community participation?