Not that I should be surprised that this happens in a bookstore like Borders, but I found myself incredibly frustrated by the "weird books" corner, where they put their sci-fi, fantasy and endless tie-in novels. Each and every blurb was more and more boring than the last, and I realized with intense clarity that if it stars vampires, werewolves or some variation on fairies (in whichever most obnoxious spelling you choose), I don't want it in my hands. This is a shame on one level, because animal transformation is one of my favorite tropes forever and ever amen, but all the plots and characters just struck me as so tired and done to death. Why do I want to read one more book about the irony-laden modernization of Old World monsters or the hidden underworld of ancient creatures struggling to get by between the grittiness of modern humanity and the vicious politicking of their own kind? It's just not for me. It wasn't the first time. A book might be the greatest thing since Neil Gaiman's last, but no matter what, it's just not my kind of story.
Which begs a few questions, of course: as someone who considers herself a lover of fantasy, what is? What does that mean? Two possibilities come to mind on my end, and one came together thanks to my sudden headlong descent into the world of Etsy
. A blog post
celebrating "weird art" dedicates itself to the artisans on Etsy whose creations spawn their own realities.
One of the books I took home yesterday was The Lies of Locke Lamora
by Scott Lynch (so you can rest easy, wireless
), which so far as I can tell (and I'm only a very few pages in) is that there's a pseudo-Venetian culture and a little magic. It's long on humanity and short on creatures. (Again, I could be wrong. But I don't need to be right for the sake this argument, conveniently enough.) Not that the creatures I'm deriding above aren't psychology, but they're not the only ones, and I find the rest so much richer and more interesting (possibly because they're not all metaphors for sex and desire and self-control).
I got distracted: I think what I'm trying to focus on this idea of creations that spawn their own realities.
That really works for me. (For the interested, the other book I picked up was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,
about which I've heard nothing but excellent things. Three cheers for epistolary WWII-era stories!)
The other angle is realizing that it's possible that I don't love fantasy so much as mythology. This is not to dismiss fantasy (whatever that means) in its entirety, but nearly all my favorite books are about the stories people tell each other. Not to give away my favorite author or anything, but American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Sandman,
Mike Carey's Lucifer
— even the time travel novels of Connie Willis are about historians seeking out the lives of the bygone and familiar. One of the things we're learning in my current level of improv comedy classes is that once your character is solid, the plot happens organically on its own. Character is what drives a scene; on a macro level, I'd call mythology just that. It doesn't apologize for or satirize its setting or its culture: it goes about its business and tells its own damn story.
(Wow, I sound humorless as I read this over. I'm all for subverting this, that and the other for the sake of sharp commentary and belly laughter, but I'm picky. Still, if you want a fantastic fairy story, my friend Yotam wrote a real corker
once upon a time.)