Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Stepping Out On Speculative Fiction

If you'll tolerate it, fair readers, a moment of your time.

You might have noticed something funny going on with The Speculative Scotsman these past few weeks. Perhaps, if you've been paying particularly close attention, you'll have noted an unusual lack... a lack where not so long ago there was an abundance. I've talked about Bioshock Infinite, reviewed Limbo and Splice, speculated rather more often than was perhaps wise about Guillermo del Toro's mysterious video-game venture (turns out he's working with THQ, so all was for naught anyway).

Do you see the missing link?

As well out with it than in, I guess: I have a confession to make. Go easy on me, gentle readers, for I have been unfaithful. I've been stepping out on speculative fiction. In literature, that is. A couple of weeks ago, after reading the first fifteen pages of a handful of appealing-looking books and finding my interest not at all piqued, I realised I must be suffering from a case of fantasy burnout. My first. And what a bitch it's been to shift.

Seven months and seventy books into 2010 - hey, that a lot for me! - I couldn't just go back to my idle old ways, much as I might have liked to. So I tried reading outside my comfort zone. My literary diet tends, I'm afraid, to consist of fantasy, fantasy, sci-fi, fantasy, fantasy, horror, fantasy, fantasy, and so on. These past few weeks, behind the iron curtain, I've tried to radically alter that pattern; the better to whet my appetite for the good stuff you all want to hear about. So I read Anne Holt's 1222, a Norwegian locked-room murder mystery coming from Corvus in December. I read The Newgate Jig, a Victorian crime thriller by Anne Featherstone Hodder's sister company John Murray are publishing in early September. I read The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann. You'll hear about a few of these at a later date. The others I read not with potential coverage in mind, but to cleanse my literary palette.

And it worked. Slowly but surely, I found myself coming back to the beginning, rested, refreshed and rearing to go. A Dead Space novelisation, Martyr by B. K. Evenson, rather disappointed my renewed expectations, but between Lauren Beukes' incredible Zoo City and The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton (in readiness for The Evolutionary Void's release in a just a few, short weeks), I was won over to the cause of speculative fiction all over again.

Make no mistake: I'm ready, once more, to sink my critical teeth into some epic fantasy - either The King's Bastard or The Black Prism, I can't decide. In any event, the services you've come to expect from TSS will thus be resumed. Tomorrow, as a matter of fact.

So I stepped out on speculative fiction, and the time away, pleasant though indeed it was, only made me miss my genre of choice all the more. And now I'm wondering if it wouldn't be a bad idea to make a regular thing of this genre-neutral jaunt. Maybe every three or four months, a couple of books that don't meet the definition of speculative fiction would do wonders to reenergise my enthusiasm for the mode of storytelling I find myself so devoted to.

And I'm wondering: am I late to the party? Do you guys do something similar, from time to time? Take a little time out only to come back feeling like there's ass to be kicked? Or does the break leave you wishing your reading habits weren't so predictable? In short...

How often do you stray from speculative fiction?


  1. Excluding marriage, it's always healthy to step out every once in a while in nearly every area of life.

  2. Every few months I take a break from my spec fic reads and concentrate on tackling my pile of non-genre books. It is actually a bit of a relief to read non-genre books because I can just read and enjoy without the usual commentary going on in the back of my head, telling me how I should express my thoughts in the review.

  3. Yes. I find it helps, because if I'm reading other types of literature or history or popular science books, that I can get a bit of a handle on where the writing styles or ideas of some of my favourite genre authors come from.



  4. I alternate quite frequently, usually between spec fic and romance, occasionally with something literary. I'll shake it up with a non-fiction (usually science or history) audio book every once in a while.

    The best genre readers are well rounded. That way you understand all the different layers the author is writing about!

  5. I have to vary my reading just to keep it fresh. Every 4th or 5th read is a non-SF/F. Mixing in a good History or general Lit book often makes me appreciate the Fantasy books more. I discussed my reading habits recently and also did a poll with some interesting results. We aren't the only ones!

  6. I will say, I hadn't stopped reading non-genre fiction entirely. I've reviewed Solar by Ian McEwan, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - and a few others I can't quite recall - here on The Speculative Scotsman, even. But I didn't start a blog just to update it every few weeks, and the pull you feel to keep content coming quickly infiltrated my pre-TSS reading habits, such that every time I took a few days to read something I couldn't really discuss here, I had this nagging notion that I ought to get back to some speculative fiction proper.

    It will remain a dillema, I'm sure, for as long as I maintain this here blog: whether to read what I want, simple as that, or devote my time to what I think you all want me to read. See, it's all your fault! :P

    But seriously, it's nice to know that I can afford to take a few weeks away from my usual genres from time to time, the better to come back with my batteries recharged.

    And that I am, as of today. I have The King's Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniels laid out before me - the entire trilogy, in fact, thanks to the kind souls at Solaris - alongside The Black Prism by Brent Weeks, who (shame on me) I haven't read before. I so want to read both that I can't decide which to start with, as a matter of fact. Anyone want to take the decision off my hands?

  7. I agree with what everyone else said. Fantasy, of SFF, is just too easy to burn out on, and breaking to read some simple non-fiction or classic literature always helps rekindle the love for (dare I?) magic.

    As a side, there's a Dead Space novel? Hmm...

  8. Yes indeed - and by Brian Evenson, award-winning author of last year's Last Days, no less - but you shouldn't read it. If it's the fiction you're interested in, Logan, better the Dead Space wikia: it fills in the blanks in as entertaining a fashion as Martyr.

    Such a disappointment. I'd hoped it would another of those tie-ins to champion as portentious of the power of shared worlds fiction. Not. So. Much.

    But more on that later.

  9. I don't really have a set pattern, but I read outside of SFF regularly. I don't have a go-to palate cleanser, but I tend to stick to history, historical fiction or crime. I still have a big pile of early English novels from my Uni days which I still need to read, so those might make an appearance too :) I named my blog A Fantastical Librarian, but I decided I'm going to post about the books I read whether it's truly speculative or not. And I'd love to read your take on some of the books you mentioned above!

    As for choosing which book to start, I can't help you there, I want to read them both too, but I need to find an excuse to let hubby let me go book shopping lol so I'd love for you to read them both and let us know what you think :D

  10. I find that the SFF genre is so huge and diverse that if I start to get burned out on one type of fantasy (I used to love epic, for instance, but that has gradually turned to a rather acute distaste), I just turn to another. I am not sure anyone can accuse Michael Cisco (his bizarre, wonderful novel, The Tyrant, is my current read) of being your standard fantasy novelist. Not to mention, I rarely ever read SF, so anything like that is like a breath of fresh air.

    That being said, I do step outside of SFF. Charlie Huston may be better known for his Joe Pitt books and his recent Sleepless, but he also writes standalone crime novels, which I prefer over the aforementioned. And I have a certain fondness for detective novels, though I hardly give in. I also buy every essay collection that Warren Ellis releases and enjoy a bit of Hunter S. Thompson. I have a copy of Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground next to me at the moment and plan to read that in the near future.

    Really, I should read outside SFF more often and I do have plans to, but I have such a diverse amount of SFF sitting on The Stack and more being recommended from the likes of Larry and Paul and VanderMeer that being burnt out in the near future is unlikely.

  11. In the past, I only ever tended to read fantasy, SF or young-adult fantasy/adventure stuff. But I’ve only read one fantasy book this year (though I have read a few SF books in the last month or so). I didn’t plan not to read any speculative stuff this year – other than the fact I was writing a fantasy story and didn’t want to read anything too similar at the time I was writing … but then … but then … I started reading stuff way outside my normal range – and I loved it. I feel like a kid in sweet shop. There are so many amazing books out there which in the past I would never have considered reading. I’m just gutted that I didn’t start earlier. I have a lot of catching up to do!

    I’m not going to be popular saying this, but I did try to read some fantasy books a month or so ago and found them so excruciatingly badly written that I couldn’t get past the first few pages. I don’t think that fantasy books are in general worse than non-fantasy, rather … if you apply Sturgeon’s Law that 90% of everything is crap: there are fewer fantasy books than non-fantasy and 10% of a small number is going to be smaller than 10% of a large number. Are there fewer amazing fantasy than non-fantasy books? Yes. But only statistically speaking.

    I’m sure I’ll probably get burnt out on non-fantasy and start longing for some swords and cloaks and ancient evils and innate goodness or even squids etc etc, but I’m not sure when.

    And as for writing about non-speculative stuff on the blog: one of the things I like most about this place is that you tend to cover a wider range than other blogs. I’d definitely read your thoughts on non-spec fiction.

  12. You make a very interesting point, Rachel - which (if you don't mind terribly) I'm going to pilfer wholesale for another post.

    And thanks for your kind words about the other stuff I cover here on TSS, however occasional such coverage as been till now. I get the sense I'm going to be better positioned, with this conversation behind me, to talk about some of the other, less-speculative fiction I enjoy.

    Next week, then, you can all look forward to my take on EastEnders.


    Only kidding!

  13. Coronation Street at least, shurely?

    Pilfer away!

  14. Most of what I read is SFF (or horror) but I step outside quite often. Though it's not a hard and fast rule, I'd say that one or two of the ten-or-so books I read a month are outside the genre. My non-genre tastes are generally pretty undefined. I love a lot of Russian Literature (Dostoevsky, War and Peace, Master and Margarita), but beyond that I pretty much just know that I enjoy Pynchon and McCarthy. Still planning to educate myself further on standard Lit in addition to genre.

    I haven't faced a true Burn Out in a while, but that's mostly because I have no real reading plans whatsoever, and the few that I make I usually break in favor of some random book I just bought ten minutes ago, or perhaps one from last year that I never quite got around to.

    As for what you should read...well, aren't you The Scotsman of the blog? Don't let the blog dictate your reading habits; after all, you dictate what's on the blog, and if you feel like doing something outside of your usual genre, well, why the hell not?