discussions writing & publishing

Fantasy And Revolution

I discovered this old article with China Miéville on fantasy and revolution, and there are some very good things discussed.

Fantasy’s of interest to me because I grew up on it, and–along with horror and science fiction (SF), three inextricably linked genres–it’s still the stuff that I love to read.
For socialists in general, it seems to me that there are three main reasons. The first is a question of mass culture. Look at a bestseller list: Stephen King, J K Rowling and Terry Pratchett are up there in neon lights. Tolkien is one of the most popular writers of the century. I think we should be interested in why certain artistic forms and genres are popular, and try to understand them.

The second factor is that fantasy, SF and horror are completely denigrated as vulgar and sub-literary by mainstream critics. I’d say that socialists’ antennae should be raised by counter-cultures, subcultures and alternatives to ‘polite’ taste. I’m suspicious any time the semi-official arbiters of ‘quality’ tell us, with thinly veiled snobbery, that something is beneath their dignity. (I’m not suggesting that marginality is an automatic badge of quality, of course.)

Finally, and most intriguingly, there seems to be an odd affinity between radical politics and fantastic fiction. There are a number of writers of fantasy and SF who have serious left politics of some stripe. Iain Banks is a socialist, Ken MacLeod and Steven Brust are Trotskyists, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Moorcock are left anarchists, and there are plenty of others, right the way back to William Morris and before. Look at Surrealism, arguably the high point of the fantastic in the arts, and a movement many of whose adherents saw systematic socialist politics as inextricable to their aesthetic. Of course, there are plenty of excellent fantasy writers who aren’t political, or who are right wing, but I think the size of the minority at least begs the question as to whether there’s something in the form of the writing that lends itself to radical or subversive aesthetics.

Of course, the essential thing to note is that even though it’s a few years old, to me it’s just as relevant, as are many of such articles at the time, but I’m trying to understand why exactly.

Perhaps it’s a little nostalgic on my part, but I often wonder, did the New Weird actually have a noticeable impact on fantasy after all, or has the quality of fantasy literature—and by that, I suspect I mean the ability for fantasy to be artistic and challenging as well as entertainment—not moved forward like we once hoped it might? (I’d still consider myself part of that ghost of a movement—or at least, believe I’m possessed by the spirit of it.) How many blogs really get into the meat of fantasy being a wonderful literary art form?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.