Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Awful Possibility That Fantasy Is Dying

I know, how can I say that? Bookstores (the ones that are left, anyway) are practically vomiting fantasies, from Twilight to Potter to Tramp-Stamped Werewolves in Heat (I swear I'm going to write that one, so watch out) to the latest Gaiman to the latest angel/demon/ghost/zombie/fanwank.

But the number of genuinely shocking ideas in fantasy is least the ratio of ideas to verbiage is plummeting.

There was a time, back in the 1980s, when the very notion of contemporary fantasy - magic in the here and now, as opposed to some alternate world - was mind-blowingly original. After decades of nothing but Tolkien and Hildebrand, Conan and Frazetta, Emma Bull had written The War for the Oaks, and Matt Wagner had published the first (and best) Mage serial.

Then Tim Powers and James Blaylock came up with their unique takes on magic. (Powers practically invented a new system for each of his novels.) Neil Gaiman started The Sandman, which, in addition to reviving Arabian Nights-style meta-stories, presented a cosmos that was practically animist in its reliance on embodied universal forces. Alan Moore took the supernatural plot devices in comic books and turned them into an entire mythos of its own, and Jamie Delano and John Ridgeway extended his vision into a critique of Thatcher's England with Hellblazer. (For those unfamiliar with that first grotesque year of John Constantine, run out and buy Original Sins, which proves that those first issues still carry some of their punch, a quarter of a century later.)

All of these were filled with brilliant brilliant, they're still being copied, twenty years later, over and over and over, and each duplication is a little more faded, until books like My Demon Lover or Earth Angel or Tooth and Claw (and no, these aren't real books, I hope) crowd the F/SF shelves. They depend on the power of their central ideas for a lift - borrowed interest - and those ideas aren't original any more. They've aged from originality to convention to cliché to...well, frankly, fetish. ("Paranormal romance: It's the soft-core porn with extra bite!")


  1. Tooth and Claw is a real book. Only its an Austen-esque regency romance where all the main actors just happen to be dragons.

    1. HAH!

      "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single dragon in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a knight."