Where does one begin and another end? Where do the genres break down?
I’ve always suspected historical fiction is the same as fantasy fiction, but without the confession that it’s really fully committing genre. But I’m genuinely interested in the mental territory where the two actually meet (and, for the purposes of this post, not in the ‘history with magic’ sense).
Previously I’ve talked about how most fantasy fiction tends to borrow its aesthetics from the Dark Ages. But what about when you more consciously attempt to build a secondary world from the bricks and mortar of ancient history?
I’ve just spent a year recreating a fictional classical age. I did a lot of research, from building design to trade routes (indeed, I’m the type of person to find that interesting), and built a world from those components. I like to think that it could now sit just off our maps of the ancient world – a forgotten continent, perhaps. It’s a lot more progressive than things were back then, but then again, history reminds us that cultures have been occasionally surprisingly progressive. There’s a blog post on the subject of male authors writing about women as inferior, and using history as their defence for doing so – which isn’t really true, but I’ll save that for another day. (Edit: on the same day as this post, Daniel Abraham comments on this same subject.)
I suspect, as tends to be the way for pseudo-historical books, people will tend to ask ‘But is it Fantasy?’ Aside from the obvious, ‘Well, yes’, I think those sorts of questions, which come up all the time when we look at series like A Song of Ice and Fire, speak about our perceptions of fantasy. That it’s got to have a bit of magic in it, or that it needs a weird creature or two. Sometimes building a secondary world doesn’t seem enough to invoke wonder.
Anyway, as discussed ages ago, historical fiction and fantasy fiction are close friends. But a question that I came up with to challenge myself at the end of writing the recent Drakenfeld book was: Why didn’t I want to write this as a historical book, in a real-world ancient setting, as opposed to it being a secondary world?
I suppose there are certain freedoms for the fantasy writer. Creating the above, more ‘progressive’ world was one benefit. The sheer geekery of geofiction was another. The closer I looked, though, the less of a distinction I could find. Even if I’d started writing in, for example, Byzantium, I’d be still creating a secondary world of sorts. Some streets of that ancient city would have to have been created out of my imagination in precisely the same way that I’d created a fantastical city made up of ancient world pieces. The mental process was barely any different. They were both fantasy. They were both historical. One had the surrounding of an already well-documented city; the other’s stone was carved from already well-documented places.
It’s an interesting mental point to reach and I’m always fascinated by where genres break-down and begin to merge with each other. Ultimately, both of them seem to become lost in each other’s territory, though I’m still not sure if I answered my own question.
That said, I would, in future, like to write a consciously fantastical spin on the real ancient world. As with most writers, I’m making notes on books that are probably years away…
Just a few things I’ve spotted online recently. First up, one of the most criminally underrated genre writers, Daniel Abraham, writes a private letter from genre to mainstream literature.
I saw you tonight. You were walking with your cabal from the university to the little bar across the street where the professors and graduate students fraternize. You were in the dark, plain clothes that you think of as elegant. I have always thought they made you look pale. I was at the newsstand. I think that you saw me, but pretended not to. I want to say it didn’t sting.
Looks like the Kindle Fire could hit the UK in January, although it’s probably the usual finger-in-the-wind analysis when it comes to Apple releases. If it’s similar to the Nook, which quite a few places suggest it is, it’s not likely to be much to get excited about. When I tried the Nook in the US I found it a huge disappointment: really slow, clunky, and a terrible interface, especially when compared to the iPad (which, let’s face it, I’m going to).
There’s an interesting Top 10 ‘writings from the edge of language’ in the Guardian:
From The Waste Land to Jabberwocky, the poet picks his favourite writing from the ‘conversation between words and silence’
And for those interested in children’s fiction, there’s a special feature in the Telegraph at the moment. It starts with an interview with Jacqueline Wilson and even gives a bit of review coverage to things like adventure or historical children’s fiction
I’m all for things that are good for the genre. I reckon the Kitchies – a serious new award with cash prize-money (£750 for the overall winner) and a sponsorship deal from a large drinks company – is exactly what the genre needs.
The Kraken Rum presents the Kitschies, an annual award for those books which best elevate the tone of geek culture.
The Kitschies celebrate the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works – the books that do the science fiction and fantasy community proud. Winners receive a cash prize in addition to one of our lovingly hand-crafted Tentacle trophies and a bottle of The Kraken’s fine black liquid.
What’s not to like? It’s a juried award featuring the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Lauren Beukes, and the team from genre website Pornokitsch, which has a focus on quality and an appreciation for all things geek. It’s that combination which makes me think that genre fans should really be paying attention to this, because it’s the best of both worlds.
Well, that and Kraken Rum. Read more about it here.