Thursday 26 August 2010

From the Comments: Inferior Fantasy

Last week I came clean about something that'd been playing on my mind for ages.

Shamefaced, I admitted how I'd been secretly stepping out on speculative fiction. After eight months of reading almost exclusively within the genre - the better to have something you'd all be interested in to blog about from day to day, you know - I confessed that I'd had to take a break from it to recharge the old batteries. I'd hoped that together the time and the distance might mean I would come back with my enthusiasm renewed.

And so it did; so it has. Over the weekend I gorged myself on the first volume of The Hunger Games (tremendous fun) and began The Uncrowned King by Rowena Cory Daniels, which I'm totally digging. Now I don't mean to belabour the discussion we all had last week - I'm back, and it's good to be back, damn it - but of all the comments on Stepping Out, and thank you kindly for those, one in particular, I think, bears further consideration.

Rachel had this to say:

"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."

And I tend to agree with her. Fantasy can be a bit crap, can't it? However close the genre may be to our hearts, we've all read some particularly awful examples of the form in our time, I'm sure.

But I'd go one further. Put what the consensus has deemed a "well-written" fantasy beside an acclaimed non-genre work, and I'd bet good money that the latter is of a significantly higher quality than the former. I mean technically... artistically... narratively - every which way, ultimately. Would anyone argue the merits of Brandon Sanderson's latest tome as opposed to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet? Is there a soul out there who'd fight for Mark Charan Newton's City of Ruin - a warmly received fantasy indeed - over Solar by Ian McEwan, say?

I can see this being a divisive subject, but let's not everyone lose our literary lunches at once. After all, the market for non-genre literature is so much larger, and so much more crowded, than that for fantasy - and there's hardly a shortage of fantasies - that the barrier for entry is that much higher. Rachel's point about Sturgeon's Law bears out here. The cream of the crop of non-genre fiction is going to be necessarily creamier than that in fantasy, simply for the fact that there are more crops to cream from. Fantasy is but an isolated field; "general fiction," meanwhile, as it's so ominously known, is a network of farms entire next to the smallholding of our genre of choice.

What a fine line this is to traverse. Don't for a minute think I'm asserting that fantasy is an inherently inferior genre of fiction. That's borderline bigotry, and as a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the form utterly repugnant to me. But there's something to this argument, isn't there? I've not taken two and two and come up with five here... have I?

So set me straight. Where has my equation gone wrong? Is fantasy truly inferior - woe betide us all if that's the case - or is it simply a case of strength in numbers?


  1. Very much true and it needs to be said. Small pond versus big pond is part of it but too often the genre sees itself as only being in the business of entertainment and craft rather than art.

  2. If fantasy, writers and readers alike, has one flaw, it's the inability to see differences.

  3. Hmmmm. Fantasy as literature will often be labelled/published as literature so fantasy 'the genre' (whatever that is) tends to lose out in the comparison stakes.


  4. I think "inferior" is over-egging it a bit - there isn't necessarily some sort of hierarchy going on. Both the dense, intense, sensitive books (and they do exist in the fantasy genre - I'd cite Cities of Saints & Madmen, Cat Valente's Palimpsest, the Earthsea books, Bujold's Chalion novels, and the best of Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay) and the straightforward adventure-story books, the bildungsroman, milwank, furry, and aristo-fetish that fill up most of the fantasy shelves, have their places, because both of them are what people want to read. And most of the Really Good fantasy books out there are actually reactions against some of the tired and worn-out tropes & unexamined cliches.

    It's also a relatively young genre, at least because so many of the earlier examples have been coopted into Classics and become respectable. So in a century or two, with the inevitable winnowing of time (lurching towards the remainder pile of eternity), we'll get more and more layers of cream rising to the top.

  5. I'd argue for Mark Charan Newton!

    The main issue for me is that mainstream literature doesn't have to deal with heavy plot and weird worlds - which need to be described to make work. It has plenty of room to develop characters and prose has the opportunity to connect to common phrases, idioms, metaphors etc. Secondary world writing is inherently restrictive, because you don't have the variety of current, contemporary culture. I would say it is as simple as that, for the most part. However, it does provide ample cover for bad writers.

    One thing you've missed out, with regards to Sturgeon's Law, is that mainstream fiction tends to get judged on the 10% good writers, whereas secondary world fiction is judged on the 90% of dross.

  6. Art exists to comment on humanity. If it says nothing new, then it is a poor book.

    Standard fiction's job is to comment on it.

    Fantasy fiction's job is to comment on it in a different way.

  7. This is only true if you decide that "fantasy" excludes: Kelly Link, John Crowley, Susanna Clarke, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, Michael Cisco, Caitlin Kiernan, Jeffrey Ford, Michael Chabon, Gene Wolfe, Connie Willis, Jay Lake and a host of others.

    So, if you define "fantasy" as "guys with swords on quests," then maybe. But that's a bit like defining "literary fiction" as "guys who have affairs." And, if that's the case, then I'd rather read more of the "guys with swords on quest" authors than the "guys who have affairs" authors.

    All told, however, this is a spectacularly dumb conversation.

  8. Mark - "mainstream literature doesn't have to deal with heavy plot and weird worlds"?

    Eg. Pynchon, Fischer, Heller, Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Zadie Smith?

  9. Gosh. Hello everyone!

    There are a couple of examples of the genre I'd hold up as art, rather than craft, entertainment or commerce, as Martin suggests: pretty much anything by China Mieville, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ian McDonald, Jeff VanderMeer and so on. But can a handful of truly worthwhile instances of speculative fiction be said to be representative of the genre entire? I wouldn't say so. No more than the very best of non-genre fiction can stand in for the tosh so often passed off as literary in that sphere. And yet literary fiction, I feel, has a higher base value than fantasy fiction - on a technical level at the very least, and I'd go further, but there's no sense in baiting the "anonymous" trolls. Bad general fiction is still better, as a rule, than bad fantasy fiction; the bar for entry to the professional end of that latter mode of storytelling is just... lower. Would anyone take issue with that?

  10. I love me some anonymous commenters. If you think this is a "spectacularly dumb conversation", contenstant number seven, why have it? Certainly throwing your hat in the ring under the guise of anonymity is a sure fire way to ensure your point of view is taken seriously.

  11. I don't know I would agree with Mark here, either: that speculative fiction is necessarily harder to write, or read, because it has to first build a world before it can tell a story in that world.

    Does it, really?

    I may be in the minority here, but I don't for a second believe worldbuilding is a requirement in fantasy and sci-fi any more than it is in general fiction. Sure, there's a certain amount of cultural currency inherent in a story told in a world we know, but it's not as if books set in Africa are only read by people who've been to or are otherwise familiar with that continent. In order to reach beyond readers in such and such a specific market, a story set in the Arctic, say, or indeed Swindon (I haven't been), has to establish its setting and the particular idiosyncracies of that setting in much the same way as Mark had to familiarise us with the Boreal archipelago in his novels.

    There's certainly an expectation of worldbuilding in speculative fiction, but need we suffer, time and again, through hundreds of pages devoted to describing landscapes rather than allowing us to discover them in our own time? No. And yet we do. Because that's par for the course. Hence my argument: genre readers and writers will hide behind any one of a number of rationales for why their literature of choice is perceived as inferior - and I believe it is perceived in that light - but in the end, perhaps it just isn't up to snuff. Perhaps the senseless defensiveness of fantasy fans is giving authors the impression that all's well. It's not.

    Quite a scattershot argument there. Hmn.

  12. Anon said pretty much everything I wanted to say on the subject.

  13. I think I'm with Anon on this one I'm afraid.

    Deciding that one group of books is inherently "better" than another group of books just makes me sad. And it's daft. There's good and bad with everything, as many people have already stated.

    And I'd chose China Mieville, Gene Wolfe, Neil Gaiman etc over Ian McEwan any day- not just because fantasy is my bag, baby, but because they are brilliant and fully worthy of the term "art".

  14. Dunno about this. Seems to me you're spiking the definitions to fit your argument. You put "well-written" in inverted commas as though you acknowledge that it could mean anything, but then you don't define it. Nor do you define "higher quality". The comparison of Charan Newton, an admired newcomer, to Ian McEwan, long-established at the top of his game, seems a little unfair. Wouldn't, say, China Mieville or Gene Wolfe vs McEwan be fairer? And surely Brandon Sanderson's more in the line of a Grisham than a Zoet? Judging him by Zoet's terms seems a little unfair. Might as well point out that Zoet sucks ass when it comes to magic swords. You say, "the market for non-genre literature is so much larger," and indeed it is, unless you start including folks like Tolkien, Rowling, or Meyer, all of whom could be said to have more in common with George RR Martin than they do, with, say, Zadie Smith. It's a weak argument to label a cardboard box "FANTASY", remove everything that's hugely successful or of perceived literary quality, then cock an eyebrow at it and say, "hmmm, seems to me this box contains nothing successful or literary." You’d be better off comparing full-on, category fantasy to other genres, like thrillers (with James Ellroy taken out and put in general fiction), westerns (though obviously without Cormac McCarthy), or romance (excepting Jane Austen, cause, you know, she's too good to be in a genre...)

  15. I was trying very hard to come up with right words and then Joe cam along. *Points childishly to Joe Abercrombie* what he said.

    I also think anon made quite a few excellent points - they ain't no troll is they're contributing to the conversation.

  16. Damn my fat fingers! Excuse the typos in my previous post!

  17. (Also I think Joe means David Mitchell when he says Zoet - though I could be wrong)

  18. Three points to consider:

    (Part I)

    1. Genre fiction as light reading:

    Genre fiction whether it be chicklit, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, horror, or crime novels, bring with them certain preconceptions and expectations on the side of the reader. One of these shared by by the majority of genres as opposed to literary fiction, is the novel as light entertainment.

    Very often I hear the argument that readers of genre novels are often "just wanting to be entertained" not challenged by what they find between the covers. Summer reads, after work books, familiar formulas and series, something to while away the time on a long train journey. In other words, these readers and there are many it seems, look first for uncomplicated stories told plainly and quickly. They are then, in the market for light reading. Unsurprising then, if much of what is produced is exactly this sort of book.

    This isn't however, what they normally might expect from either the "classics" or from literary fiction which they may also read, but at different times or for different reasons than genre fiction. So why should we be shocked that the bulk of published books with the various genres is aimed toward fulfilling these more basic needs? Authors and publishers need to make a living, and always have. Pulp fiction, even the best of it, arose in part out of much the same market.

    2. Fantasy linked to our early interests in reading:

    Another consideration which ties into the point made above, is that much of the familiar tropes, worlds, and stories which we find in the bulk of fantasy, are strongly connected to our childhood. By this I don't mean that they are juvenile or written only for children and young adults, but their landscapes are littered with wizards and dragons, magic and myths, all topics which are very well understood pleasures for most people and which harken back to many of the same things that might have fascinated them as children.

    Few children would be interested in the bulk of literary fiction, not simply because the writing might be more difficult to penetrate but frequently because the subject matter is far easier to perceive as being boring or overly adult in nature. This is not to say that there are not books and authors clearly belonging in the literary camp that are for many readers an important part of their formative experience; but I'd argue that there are more elements in fantasy which attract children, and do so even at an age typically well before the start of readership.

    A great deal of inferior fantasy is something that may very well be attractive to younger readers, not just children, but readers who are starting out in their habits, are interested in gaming and role-playing, and/or in general may be less comfortable with literary fiction or even literary-esque genre fiction. Coupled with the first point regarding reading as pure entertainment, this tends to keep a lively market for simplistic, action and fighting filled, fantasy fiction.

  19. (Part II)

    3. Serial fiction and serial authors attract more "fanatic" readership and less criticism

    Few readers of literary fiction spend weekends dressing up like their favourite characters. No doubt in part, this is because they are "us" already, modern or past, stories about people living in the relatively mundane world we all already inhabit. Genre fiction tends to inspire a more dedicated following at times, who enjoy partaking of the wider ranging secondary worlds and fantastical characters and creations.

    A great deal of genre fiction is serial in nature. Authors produce sometimes dozens of books, with the same characters, set in the same secondary worlds, or even shared ones. Tie in products ranging from television series to cartoons, graphic novels, and movies, all these help to form a web in which fans can truly immerse themselves. It is possible then, to enjoy the overall milieu of the product so much, that one can overlook or under appreciate what might otherwise be seen as flaws in the prose, execution, or story - all for the sake of loving the series and the world it inhabits to the point of distraction.

    This is not to say that readers can't be fans of literary authors, or that there are not similar venues such as festivals, prizes, and scholastic careers based on it. But it would be disingenuous to suggest they're exactly the same. Often even the most revered literary authors seem less certain of their readership and far less certain of getting positive criticism - and are sometimes only a bad book away from falling out of popular acclaim. I find that many genre novelists can be far more uneven and so long as they keep the overall serial nature of their worlds ticking along, they can get past rough patches without loosing their core readership.

    Now, all of the above are generalizations. They do break down for individual authors, have slight variations on a theme among different genres, but I do believe that they hold true all the same, overall.

    No doubt there are other factors at work here - perhaps even these very preconceptions I'm expressing; but to ignore them simply out of injured pride, isn't I believe the best way forward to making genre fiction both more widely read and more highly regarded.

    Demand more, expect better, and I think authors no matter what side of the literary/genre divide they may consider themselves to be (or even those who sit firmly if uncomfortably in the middle), will rise to the challenge and meet those expectations. After all, their livelihoods depend on it.

    Happier reading,


  20. Niall - I didn't meant that is harder to write, but that there are massive constraints which make things... a challenge, shall we say, to generate anything remotely interesting. Humour is especially difficult, because you can't always relate to our own cultures any more. You've had many conveniences removed.

    And good lord, but am I stepping behind Mr Abercrombie's argument? I believe I am.

    There is also an assumption here that genre fiction and mainstream literary genres are the same vehicle. I'd argue strongly that they aren't at all.

  21. Sorry but this is really a load of bollocks.

  22. I think it's wrong to compare two genres based on what they achieve since, fundamentally, they set out to achieve very different things. Thrillers thrill, children's books tell stories appropriate to kids, fantasy brings a strong sense wonder and escapism, etc. So quality really depends on what is expected of it. To say that sf&f books are not as 'good' as literary ones "technically... artistically... narratively" is just not a valid argument.

    Besides, arguing to decide whether one is superior when contemplating two such large and varied groups is virtually impossible.

    Are you trying to become the Literary Scotsman, Niall?

  23. As usual, Joe speaks a great deal of sense. So do many others in this thread. You've put your thumb on the scale with the specific comparisons and the definitions you provided, Niall.

    Elio M. GarcĂ­a, Jr. (aka Ran)

  24. I don't think there's any objective criteria to say any genre, or book for that matter, is superior to another. If there was, reviewing could be done by computers.

    In my personal opinion Literary Fiction is boring, uninteresting and formulaic. SFF beats it in every way.
    Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion about what is a good book, and I don't expect everyone to agree with me.

    And if you really think Speculative Fiction is an inferior genre, why start a blog about it?

  25. Your comparisons are strange. They assume the superiority of the usual Booker Prize "literary" fiction - which, rather than being part of this enormous mass of "general fiction" that you pit against plucky little Fantasy, is actually a carefully constructed and marketed genre in itself.

    Who'd take any of Ian McEwan's boring middle-class-professional-has-a-lifechanging-experience crap over a selection of short stories by Borges by the way? Not I!

    I studied English Literature and so am fairly well versed in the spurious criteria that is generally used to determine literary worth or substance. I'd take a China Mieville or Gene Wolfe novel over practically anything I read for my degree, or practically anything else out there full stop.

    Sounds like you've had some time off, read something more mainstream and supposedly a bit more highbrow, and have come back thinking you're hot shit and Fantasy's a load of rubbish. LOL.

  26. Seems to me a lot of you have made a leap: I did not, categorically DID NOT, say that speculative fiction is inferior as a genre. I iterated on an argument Rachel raised in the comments to a post a week ago, outlined the perspective I believed she was trying to communicate. And despite myself, I found a lot about the argument she'd made - not to hang you out to dry here, Rachel! - that made a certain amount of sense to me. A great deal, in fact; on a rational level, if not an emotional one.

    Now I don't believe fantasy or the larger field it's a part of is anything remotely approaching inferior, or lesser, or lower. What I'm trying to get at is that it is perceived thusly, outside of this narrow spectrum of perspectives we - you, I, everyone reading TSS today or on occasion - represent, and why that might be. Knee jerk defensiveness such as evidenced in a few comments above - would that I dare raise a subject as divisive as this for discussion, I must hate fantasy, surely (despite all evidence to the contrary) - could be part of that reason. We love fantasy. We know there are tremendous examples of the form, so of course we don't believe it's inferior. But most people do, do they not? Could that be because so much of what makes up our genre, so much of what we herald as "great fantasy," given the low standards inherent in the fandom surrounding speculative fiction, is (relatively speaking) a bit mince? Technically, narratively and artistically - as I said in the original post.

    In short, let's not all get our panties in a bunch. You love fantasy, I love fantasy, we can even love fantasy together if you haven't already decided I'm some sort of bigot simply for asking the question. Can't we love fantasy at the same time as debating why so few readers do?

  27. Honestly. A question does not beget an opinion. Where in the following do you think I'm saying fantasy in inferior, exactly?

    "Don't for a minute think I'm asserting that fantasy is an inherently inferior genre of fiction. That's borderline bigotry, and as a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the form utterly repugnant to me."

    I have no delusions of become the Literary Scotsman, as Weirdmage suggests. How bored would I be?

    I took a couple of weeks away from fantasy, yes. What did I read? Crime fiction, mostly. Hardly more "highbrow".

    I. Love. Fantasy. Let's be good and clear on that. Please, save your vitriol for the snobbish twits in positions of power in the media who won't give the genre we all adore the time of day.

  28. Niall, you should stand for what you say. This is your comment:

    "And yet literary fiction, I feel, has a higher base value than fantasy fiction - on a technical level at the very least, and I'd go further, but there's no sense in baiting the "anonymous" trolls. Bad general fiction is still better, as a rule, than bad fantasy fiction; the bar for entry to the professional end of that latter mode of storytelling is just... lower. Would anyone take issue with that?"

    -Looks like you say that Fantasy is an inferior genre to me. You can't just claim you didn't say it because people took issue with it.

    Also, congratulations on this:
    "Could that be because so much of what makes up our genre, so much of what we herald as "great fantasy," given the low standards inherent in the fandom surrounding speculative fiction, is (relatively speaking) a bit mince? Technically, narratively and artistically - as I said in the original post."

    -I'm sure every Speculative Fiction fan is pleased to hear they have low standards.

  29. "Put what the consensus has deemed a "well-written" fantasy beside an acclaimed non-genre work, and I'd bet good money that the latter is of a significantly higher quality than the former."

    I believe this also says that fantasy is badly-written compared to literary fiction.

    This blog post was ill-conceived, IMO.

  30. No.

    I was saying there are low standards inherent in fandom, not fans - I'd seperate fandom at large from individual fans.

    As to your first point, Weirdmage, again, I'd disagree. I don't believe fantasy is an inferior form of fiction in the slightest - how many times must I iterate this opinion? I'm saying that in terms of its technical, narrative and artistic merit, bad fantasy - bad fantasy, I say again - is markedly less accomplished than bad literary fiction. The bar for entry is lower. I'd put good money on China Mieville or Ian MacDonald or any of the other authors I namechecked so many comments ago as being the equal of any Ian McEwan or David Mitchell.

    But I'm just repeating myself now. My comments stand, and I still want to know: what's wrong with this picture?

  31. Can we maybe, just maybe, and I know it'll be a stretch, think about the questions I asked in the first place, devote our time and energy to them, rather than to criticising me for voicing what I understood would be an unpopular opinion going in?

  32. I was tempted to write a lengthy bit evaluating the qualities of the four main types of football (International, American, Gaelic, and Australian Rules), but then I thought perhaps sports as a whole would be a more sensible thing when talking about qualities of enjoyment.

    I think the same can apply to the various narrative modes of literature, which in turn is but one aspect of a society's material culture. To separate those modes into rigid categorizations and then attempting to evaluate them seems rather pointless to me. And yes, my comments apply equally to those who feel the urge to expound upon the merits of "speculative fiction" and its perceived "superiority" to that of the equally nebulous "literary fiction."

  33. There are stories... about people... and the conflicts (physical or emotional) that they face.

    Sometimes they have dragons. Sometimes they do not.

  34. So can you give an example of a fantasy writer that would knock socks off most literary fiction in your most humble of opinion? Bearing in mind their aims and objectives are usually very different.

  35. Quite so.

    The thing of it is, some people think that if these stories you mention do have dragons in, they're worthless. I'm only asking why that is. For myself, I think dragons kick ass.

    I mean, fire comes out of their mouths. They're, like, 20 feet long. They're awesome!

  36. It's an interesting question. I admittedly can't comment too much on the specifically fantasy side of things, given that I haven't really read a lot of it. For a long time my only exposure to it was The Hobbit which I read as a young boy, and didn't particularly enjoy.

    However, what I did read a lot of was SF. For years, it was my go to for reading pleasure.

    However, because I fell out of the way of reading mainly fiction while I was at university, I ended up really not reading much SF for a good long time. A lot longer than the few weeks you allude to! This meant that I really didn't keep up with new authors to quite the same extent. This I regret, now (mainly because I'm having to do me some real catching up!)

    I think some of the comments are right - there is a problem in that people will compare the best 10% of lit-fic with the awful tail of genre. Also, there is the problem that some fiction which transcends genre (though it uses tropes) is hailed as being a masterpiece...but definitely not SF/F.

    A couple of things - I've not read Solar (I saw it mentioned above) but my understanding is that it has some clunky writing that would get slaughtered if it were genre.

    Oddly, as I've only really started reading fantasy recently, my experiences are all good.


    I will freely concede that a lot of SF (or any genre) isn't particularly great. But, if the author can get certain things that I enjoy into the writing, I can forgive it. I'm a big fan of Philip K. Dick, and as any reader of Dick knows, he had problems with his writing. A few of his books, I think, genuinely transcend that. A lot, objectively, don't. But, really, it doesn't bother me.

    Not every book can be the greatest book ever written. So as long as it isn't completely demeaning to your intelligence, that's fine by me.

    Tell you what, though - the break did me a world of good. It's like discovering SF all over again, plus I've discovered that Fantasy can be good.

    Interesting post though.



  37. I struggle with the concept of a "couple of weeks away from fantasy". Read what you want, give less thought to marketing, sorry genre. The only difference between Tome of the Undergates and Catch 22 is artificial.

    Better a readable book that's entertainment than an unreadable book that someone other than the reader has decided is art.

    The Jabbercrombie and the unusually terse Mr. Sykes are making a lot of sense.

    Sorry Mark but world building does not make characterisation or humour anymore difficult. It just means you have the chance to embrace invention over research.

  38. Whoops! Sorta contradicted myself.

    What I meant was - I really do regret denying myself the pleasure of reading SF, but the fresh eyes it's given me do make it feel a bit better.



  39. I must be the only person alive who has not a shit to give about whether or not prize committees and "serious" critics like me, my books or my genre.

    "Fuck you, I'll do what I want" should always be the mantra of the writer. "Fuck you, we'll do what WE want" should always be the mantra of the reader.

    I have no idea why these third parties keep getting involved.

  40. You aren't alone, Sam. I'm right there with you. I will say though, that as a reader, I don't give a shit what anyone, not just prize committees and "serious" critics, has to say about what I read, be it genre or non-genre. Just opinions, I see no reason why I should be bothered by them.

    Also, Sam, I rather like your mantra.

  41. Fantasy's not inferior. Inferior is inferior. You can find it in all genres and those works labeled literary. And be warned, just because someone tells you something is inferior or superior, only by reading it can you determine that for yourself. Sometimes you can tell in the first 100 words and sometimes it takes reading the entire book.

  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

  43. I'm at a slight loss why people need literary fiction and non-literary fiction to be the same thing. It's a useless term, in so many ways. How about we just say we could do with better fiction, full stop?

    The more I consider the question, the more I think that people are getting their fingers in a mangle of their own devising. I know, I've wasted a couple of posting sticking mine own in there with them.

    Aren't there after all, many levels of fantasy literature? Absolutely. I think we've gotten off track here a bit, by the problems we tend to associate with the term "literary."

    Literary is an adjective after all, not a genre in and of itself.

    You can have literary historical fiction and cringeworthy stuff under the same genre. You can have literary science fiction like the Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and crap science fiction like Timeline by Micheal Crichton.

    So of course you can have literary fantasy as well, just look at authors like M. John Harrison, Susanna Clarke, Jean Ray, and Louis Borges to name a few. Just as you have - sliding rapidly towards the other end of the spectrum - Terry Goodkind, Trudi Canavan, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan. You also have authors like Haruki Murakami that while they'll never show up filed under fantasy, have so much of the fantastical in them it is a wonder why they are not.

    Now, not all fantasy is literary. And why should it be? The bulk of most genres are always going to be non-literary. The bulk is instead what I'd consider commercial literature - made for its money making, light reading, and bulk entertainment value. Nothing inherently wrong or necessarily, lesser, than the literary stuff. It might be less likely to be presereved for posterity or to raise the standards of the genre it represents (unless its for its sheer, money making attributes and general influence such as the Harry Potter franchise to name a noteworthy example of this) - in other words, less art with a capital "A" but also more likely to keep publishers and authors in business so such big-A art can be endulged in from time to time. And some readers want light reads, not literary, at times. I wouldn't begrudge them this.

    For every David Mitchell you've got a dozen or more Martin Amises (brrr - that's a grim thought). And people don't always agree about the authors anyway. I think Don DeLillo and John Updike are both horrible. I hate their books with a passion, but most folk would classify them soundly as literary fiction. At the very least, I'll agree that is what they aspire to write, even if I think they only occasionally deliver.

    A lot of it then hangs on what shelves the corporate bookstackers choose, and what pretensions the novel in question has about itself. Literary is an adjective, but perhaps it's also a state of mind.

    I just want the finest books available to humanity, I want them here, and I want them now. Whether they're genre or literary, doesn't mean half as much.


  44. Woops, I feel guilty.

    I was just making a statistical point ... if 90% of non-SFF is crap, and 90% of SFF is crap, there's no difference in average 'crapness levels'. Um ... imagine a line chart. Bad to Good along the X axis, number of books on the Y. I would imagine the shape of the curve is the same for all types of books, maybe a normal distribution, and at the far right hand tail of the curve you have your 10% of good books: the proportion is the same, no matter the number of books on the Y. Now if there was skew towards the left tail in SFF ...

    But anyway: point being, if you have an imaginary bookshelf stacked with all the 10% of non-crap, non-SFF and all the 10% of non-crap SFF, the probability of pulling out a non-SFF book is higher, because the 10% represents a larger number of books.

    As to whether there's skew in the curve ... I guess that's subjective. Is one book better than another one? Better at what? Entertaining stories are better at being entertaining. Literary works are better at being literary. Personally, I've hugely enjoyed browsing through the 10% of non-crap, non-SFF ... A) because it's a change from what I'm used to and B) because there is so much of it, the range on offer is huge, constantly surprising and awe-inspiring.

    Which is a rather dull and complicated way of saying: Yay, books!

  45. Fantasy is inherently inferior?

    Bull. Shit.

    First of all, this all depends on your definition of fantasy (not to mention your definitions of inferior, quality writing, and everything else in the discussion). Are we limiting ourselves to epic fantasy, second world fiction, or what? Hell, I've read quite a few things from the Literature section of my Barnes and Noble that were most certainly genre in all but public perception. How, exactly, was the talking cat with a gun in Master and Margarita a realistic concept? Why is one book about a psychic team in world war two considered the highest of Literature (Gravity's Rainbow), while you've got so many others clogging up that same tired vein that it's considered cliche when anyone else does it? Why, again, is it not fantasy when Gulliver meets an entire kingdom of miniature people? Now, the answer to all of the above is obvious: quality. If a book meets a certain standard (especially if it has time on its side) it is not viewed as fantasy. As Steven Erikson said in an interview, fantasy books are never viewed as good by the mainstream, they are merely made "extraordinary" and removed from the genre entirely. So, if you are seeking to say that fantasy itself is inferior, I'd like to see a cadre of writers who can put Gravity's Rainbow to shame. While you're at it, please also discount The Road, Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrel, 1984, Brave New World, etc.

    But we don't even need to leave the boundaries of traditionally accepted fantasy to find great works. No, I would not hold your average fantasy novel up as an excellent artistic work - but neither would I hold up your average nongenre work as such, either. You are, perhaps, right in saying that there are more superlative literary works, but that's merely time at work, and to deny the existence of genre greats is ludicrous. You give me Crime and Punishment (a book whose brilliance I will most certainly not deny), and I will give you City of Saints and Madmen. The City and The City. American Gods. Hyperion. Watchmen. Titus Groan. The Book of the New Sun. Malazan. A Song of Ice and Fire. Etc.

    And no, that last title was not a mistake. I'm not saying that GRRM's work was as successful as, say, Tolstoy in the understanding of what drives man on both an individual and a societal scale. Martin, and countless other authors (genre and non genre) show individual lives with such finesse that I think we do learn something from seeing them, even if it's not a tangible something that we can ever put into words or properly sum up in a theme. Reading about real characters, reading the absolute masters of characterization, provides, I believe, its own lessons and insights, regardless of whether you are discussing a popularly acclaimed author or Robin Hobb. Just because a work is entertainment does not also mean that it is worthless.

  46. Niall, when you start setting books against each other like literaryfuckingPokemon and namechecking a dishwaterdull critics' favourite like McEwan, it makes it pretty clear what battle-lines you're drawing. Please don't insult my inteligence by suggesting otherwise.

    Here's my opinion of the difference between Lit Fic and Fantasy, if anyone cares:

    Modern and especially Postmodern fiction is characterised by selfconsciousness. It CARES what people think of it. It wants to be seen as clever - intellectual masturbation in other words.

    Fantasy dresses up in 'silly' clothes. It gives itself 'stupid' names. It doesn't care. It just gets on with the business of telling compelling, enjoyable, wonderful stories.

    This entire concept of "non-genre fiction" is a fallacy too btw. Wise up.

  47. "intelligence". LOL. Way to shoot myself in the foot!

  48. PART TWO

    My reading over the last couple of years has focussed mostly on SF novels and short stories from the late 1800s to 2010, so I'll speak to SF as opposed to fantasy. I would put H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds in the company of the most important novels of the Victorian Period. I would put Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Gibson's Neuromancer, and Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen alongside the most significant late-modernist and postmodernist novels (say, mid-1950s to the mid-1980s). I would argue for Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (1993-1996) as one of the most vital works of the entire 20th century. I would eagerly claim Watts' Blindsight as one of the key novels of the early 21st century.

    All that said, I would make an addition to Sam Sykes' formulation of the purpose of Art. Rather, I'll suggest something of a qualification. This takes us back to the Ars Poetica, in which Horace advises that poetry should both "teach" and "delight." The greatest Art, we might say, does both to a high degree. Yet a large portion of prose narratives in the form of novels aim more for the "delight" end of the scale -- in other words, for entertainment.

    As The Evil Hat writes just above, "Just because a work is entertainment does not also mean that it is worthless." I agree, wholeheartedly. (I also do not think that Niall's original discussion at all suggests that fantasy is "worthless" in comparison to literary fiction.)

    One of the constant topics of debate from the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century was the value of reading novels, as many for a long time considered novels merely frivolous entertainment, and so potentially morally suspect and polluting (especially for young women). Yet entertainment undoubtedly has its own particular kind of value, or "worth," and one of the driving forces of the literary marketplace in the 19th century, which laid the foundations for the literary marketplace of today, was a burgeoning population of readers who wanted to be entertained. Hence, for instance, we have the development of the pulps in the 1890s and into the early 20th century.

    One possible direction in which I believe Niall's original discussion leads is to the question of whether or not readers/fans should ask for more "Art" in their speculative fiction.

    Some readers/fans, true, are content with enjoying the entertainment speculative fiction provides and do not require much else from it. This is not a wrong or inferior choice. Entertainment is a legitimate and worthy function fulfilled by speculative fiction.

    Yet neither is it "ill-conceived" to wonder whether speculative fiction, however "nebulous" such a categorisation may be, should not "teach" and "delight" at the same high level as the best so-called literary fiction -- whether it should not be "literary" in its own right. Asking this of speculative fiction can only be a good thing in the long run, as it comes from a place of deep love and respect for speculative fiction, which Niall states quite clearly.

  49. I should point out that I don't believe that Niall thinks SFF is worthless. While it appeared in the comments for his post, my rant was not really against Niall specifically, but more against the general mindset that places genre as inferior.

  50. The only difference between Tome of the Undergates and Catch 22 is artificial.

    Er, one is a classic of Twentieth Century literature that had such a cultural impact that its title has passed into common usage, the other is a disposable fantasy novel which will be out of print in ten years.

  51. Niall, I have to ask, why are you getting all wide-eyed and 'everyone is picking on me' instead of addressing the more level headed points that have been made about the literary end of the genre by folks such as Anon and Joe? Do you really want to discuss this or are you going to let what you see as a personal attack make you throw your hands in the air and walk off as a martyr who asked a question which you've decided no-one wants to answer reasonably?

  52. ...

    But the Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet *was* a fantasy novel!

    (Whose fantasy elements were only lightly touched upon, admittedly...)

    It is not even his first, as Ghostwritten had much more prominent fantasy elements.

    David Mitchell is one of my favourite genre authors :)

  53. A fair point, Joe. I was wondering if anyone'd pick me up on that - seems there were a hundred other more important reasons to have a go on everyone's mind than the immortal vampire samurai in The Thousand Autumns, though. :/

  54. Celine ---

    I didn't, um, mean to get all wide-eyed and... as you say. I appreciate that a bunch of people have made some very interesting, and relevant points; addressed the issues I'd hoped to raise rather than the ruckus I did.

    Anyway, I won't be disappearing off into the great blogosphere goodnight, as you and @SpecHorizons have suggested. And I haven't been. The other half was very generous last night, to allow me a few extra hours at Twitter and whatnot to address a few of what seemed to me more pressing concerns before we wined and dined of an evening, and now that I've polished off what work I had to take care of this morning, I hope to engage with those very issues. Just have to catch up on all the comments and parse my thoughts.

  55. That said, I tend to suspect Martin has covered the core issue more thoroughly and more level-headedly than at this stage I could honestly hope to. Don't consider this thread over by any stretch, but do, all of you who're still reading (and don't think I don't appreciate your patience), take a minute to pop on over to Everything is Nice and hear what a gentleman who can put together words better than I has to say on the subject:

  56. Martin, this literary Top Trumps everyone keeps playing really is bullshit. For one it's hugely subjective, for another I could just pull out any number of alternative examples of great Fantasy books versus very mediocre fiction from other genres, "literary" or otherwise. It's getting a bit boring.

    (Not to suggest that any of the Fantasy authors mentioned in these rather stupid comparisons are mediocre, simply that it's a deliberately skewed, straw-man argument)

  57. BTW Martin, since I can't seem to comment on your blog for some reason:

    "whereas secondary world fiction is judged on the 90% of dross." - this singling out is very telling indeed. Although, yeah, there's dross and there's diamonds, much secondary-world Fantasy is actually the best of the genre in my opinion - for a start it is the most daring. It requires the biggest leaps of imagination.

    Every secondary world Fantasy novel, from Perdido Street Station and Wolfe's Severian novels to David Eddings' Tamuli & Belgariad, face an automatic challenge: many readers, especially mainstream readers, are less likely to take them seriously or give them a chance.

    I disagree with Mark's idea that "secondary world writing is inherently restrictive" too, btw. If anything it's more free: you aren't bound by the real world. You can build it all from scratch and take anything from anywhere you like: any era, any part of the world, any culture, and fuse it into your own creation. One might argue that this is actually very laudable literary experimentation. In reality it's become a sticking-point of scorn and derision.

  58. BTW Martin, since I can't seem to comment on your blog for some reason:

    Are you getting an error message or anything? There's nothing in the spam trap and I've not had a problem with the comments system before.

  59. Nah, I was just being thick and couldn't find the comment box.

  60. (Shoot, my original PART ONE somehow got lost in the ether last night, and then the internet connection at home suddenly went dead ....)


    I'll just try to give a summary of what I wrote before PART TWO (see above).

    - I don't think Niall's original question/discussion is "dumb" in the least. Rather, it's an important one to raise and have, particularly because it relates not just to matters of quality in the fiction but also to the critical standards/measures that are and can be applied to speculative fiction. I see Niall's post as coming from a very honest place in this respect, related to the issue of judging and commenting on speculative fiction as a critic/reviewer.

    - Sam Sykes' observation that "Art exists to comment on humanity" actually provides a means by which to place speculative fiction and literary fiction on the same plane, side by side. They are both "Art" considered broadly, and more specifically they are both prose narrative art, and even more specifically, prose narrative art found predominantly in the form of the novel. Regardless of genre or market categories, a novel is a novel is a novel (broadly speaking), and so works of prose narrative in the form of the novel can certainly be compared for their quality and significance.

    - I believe there are objective, concrete criteria for measuring the quality of the "art" in novels. There are "technical" measures: grammar, sentence structure, paragraphing; diction; plotting, dramatic tension; dialogue; characterisation (round? flat?); setting; genre conventions/tropes, and so forth. There are also "artistic" measures: style, voice; metaphor, allegory, simile; complexity, sophistication of meaning; rhythm and sound, and so forth. All of these elements are part of written prose narrative art; all of them play a role in the quality, or success, of a novel -- in how a novel, as Art, comments on humanity.

    - Based on these measures, a great deal of speculative fiction is not very good. (See, for example, Adam Roberts' posts on his reading of Jordan's Wheel of Time series.) Thus, Niall's concerns about "inferiority" have merit, and I appreciate the struggle he expresses, for that struggle is perhaps about figuring out one's perspective and standards as a critic/reviewer.

    - However, when speculative fiction is very good, it is very good and easily stands level with the best of literary fiction.

  61. This is a very complex issue, and I don't think there's anything wrong with what Niall said. The question of the relative worth of what's published under genre imprints and non-realistic fiction *not* published under genre imprints is also a worthwhile topic.

    So is somehow putting a nail in the coffin of the whole entertainment versus art discussion, which erupts periodically, serves no use since the definition of both "entertainment" and "art" tends to vary from reader to reader.

    From a purely "fatigue" POV, I know as a reviewer that it can be very daunting to have volume after volume of generic fantasy come in the door day after day. This can skew the perspective if you're not careful because it would then seem like there's a whole bunch of crap coming in from genre while the non-genre stuff doesn't seem that way. But, when I go through periods where I'm also getting a lot of mainstream stuff, I see a lot of crap there as well.

    HOWEVER, I do worry about one thing in particular: too many genre works where, at the paragraph or sentence level, the book is dead. Which is to say, I see sentences doing only one thing, paragraphs with generic description, and in general the equivalent of a vast kill-off of all of the things that happen at the micro-level that make fiction come alive. This is particularly disturbing in the sense of very little real-world experience appearing to show up on the page. You can argue that mimetic fiction perhaps too much of daily life on the page, but a lot of fantasy seems to be operating at the level of received ideas about life and not expressing much in the way of specific detail from the writer's own life.

    There. Now you can all gang up on me and leave Niall alone.



  62. Oddly enough, I actually pretty much agree with you, Jeff. I think that one of speculative fiction's biggest weaknesses is that it can sometimes focus on the epic and life changing to the point where it excludes the basics of life. That's why the authors that do include those small details are often some of my favorites, as it's far easier to care about the end of the world if you care about the world (through the people in it) in the first place.

  63. I have posted just a little essay on this over at the Orbit blog here:

    In case anyone is interested, of course. It seems related with all the other literary anxiety going on recently.

  64. I guess the biggest issue I have is the "us versus them" idea coming from either the "mainstream" or "genre". It's one of the biggest time-wasters discussion-wise and it traps people in a kind of unproductive outlook.

    I prefer to think of linkage between fictions that's thematic so that I can appreciate the resonance between something like Slaughterhouse 5 and Use of Weapons (a crude example). But this also affords protection against seeing books as the emmissaries or enemies of one's self-identification with a particular *subculture*. We tend to do this, you know. We think of a particular book as defending or eroding our point of view about our participation in the book culture we most enjoy. This almost always does a disservice to the books we love by simplifying them into *just one thing*.

    I should also say that the percentage of really great fantasy and really great "mainstream" has remained constant over the years. Which is to say, it's a small proportion of everything published. It's just always going to be that way, no matter how many books get hyped each year.

    I'm actually *energized* by encountering some of the great stuff this year: Nnedi Okorafor, NK Jemisin, Charles Yu, Karen Lord, Brian Conn, Orly Castel-Bloom, Dexter Palmer, and several others. Makes me want to write.


  65. Wow, this post is certainly turning into a phenomenon! with other bloggers putting the word out that "the speculative scotsman" basically thinks speculative fiction is shit!
    Talk about dispersion of misinformation people!
    And Niall you're doing a great job with the blog, yours is actually one of the few blogs I try to check out daily. And from the number and quality of people in the comments section, hmmmm you're quite famous, though this post is certain to make you just a little bit infamous too!

  66. Just wait till you see the next one! :D

    No. Let's just pretend I didn't write that. Although I will be following Inferior Fantasy up with a bit of a thing either tomorrow or on Monday... which will very likely offend as many readers as this post has - though that, I should stress, before I've even let the thing itself loose, is not at all my intent. If certain of the commenters to have graced these very pages are somehow offended that I have the nerve (I can smell the outrage already) to foreground their comments in the cold light of day, who, I wonder, should be judged responsible?

    In the meantime, I really do appreciate the kind words, Fantasizer. In fact, my heartfelt thanks to all those of you who have taken my question, however poorly put, at face value, and engaged with the issue I'd intended to raise, rather than misconstrued my diatribe the better to put me in what some seem to presume to think "my place".

    To everyone who agrees with me, in otherwords: I salute you! :P

    That emoticon is meant to suggest I'm kidding, incidentally. Remember fun? It kills me that the reaction to this post has been so vitriolic that I have to remind everyone as much.

    But I digress - for another day, at least.

  67. Oh, and here's the first part of Mike Johnstone's original comment - for some reason, Blogger seems to have taken exception to it. Dirty gobbling Blogger...



    I think Niall is in fact asking a very relevant and important question that has implications for a wide range of issues related to speculative fiction. Moreover, I think he's coming at the issue from an honest and searching perspective, one that ultimately bears directly on the possible function(s) and significance of reviewing -- or, criticism.

    Thus, this discussion is not in any way "spectacularly dumb" or "bollocks" or "Bull. Shit."

    The question of quality in speculative fiction compared to literary fiction is definitely a fair one. Above, Sam Sykes writes, "Art exists to comment on humanity," and he's right in a broad sense. However, this statement also suggests that, in effect, all Art can be judged based on this broad criterion.

    Regardless of genre (or marketing category), works of speculative and literary fiction are equally Art, broadly considered. Even more specifically, the predominant form in both is the novel, and so we have a further broad, common criterion of judgement for assessing the quality of each (i.e., a novel is a novel, whether it's sword-and-sorcery fantasy or ).

    In this light, Niall's discussion has a great deal of merit.

    It has merit because there are objective, concrete measures of "quality" for literary art and then for prose narratives in the form of novels. As Niall mentions, these measures are in part "technical," or matters of craft: grammar, paragraphing; dialogue; plotting; description, exposition; point of view; consistency of characterisation and in the setting; genre conventions/tropes, and so forth. These measures are also in part "artistic" (let's say): style, voice; metaphor, allegory, simile; rhythm and sound patterns; layered meanings, and so forth. Together, these technical and artistic measures make up a novel's "comment on humanity," whether that novel involves sorcerers and dragons, spaceships with FTL capability, or real places and times such as New York City or the antebellum era in the southern US.

    Based on these objective, concrete measures, much speculative fiction, unfortunately, does fall short on "quality" in comparison to much literary fiction. As written art, speculative fiction generally is simply not very good.

    Yet when it is very good, it is the equal of the best literary fiction out there, past and present.

  68. JeffV wrote:

    "I prefer to think of linkage between fictions that's thematic so that I can appreciate the resonance between something like Slaughterhouse 5 and Use of Weapons (a crude example). But this also affords protection against seeing books as the emmissaries or enemies of one's self-identification with a particular *subculture*."

    This approach makes a lot of sense to me. A reader who loves Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle may also want to explore more gothic fiction, but that reader may be served just as well by Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. A reader who loves John LeCarre's espionage fiction could do a lot worse than picking up Ian McEwan's The Innocent. A reader who loves The Count of Monte Cristo may find The Stars, My Destination intriguing. Jane Austen fans may love Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Readers who think that Tom Wolfe nailed NYC in the '80s with Bonfire of the Vanities should check out Lawrence Block's Eight Million Ways to Die. Etc.

  69. Thanks for finding and posting my original PART ONE post, Niall!

    Now I'm not sure which version I prefer, though .... Maybe a combination of the two. :-)

    To respond to Jeff VanderMeer's comments:

    His point about the poor quality at "the paragraph or sentence level" in much speculative fiction is very true. Someone else, in a different blog post related to this one, referred to the "love" of the written word, I think. Robert Jackson Bennett calls this "execution." I would call it the poetry of the language.

    Unfortunately, I don't often enough see an attention to poetry in speculative fiction, and such inattention lies behind the feeling that some speculative fiction narratives are just not "alive" (to quote Jeff). This inattention to poetry is odd, for I find that speculative fiction -- particularly SF for me lately -- is the place where many exciting, challenging formal experiments occur: narrative structure; point of view; allusion and intertextuality; linguistics; time and tense, etc.

    Just think of Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" and how it plays with narrative and historical temporality to tell a profound tale about love and heartache and discovering a new perspective. Brilliant.

    At the end of the day, if the craft and artistry are not there in "the sentence or paragraph level," then the writing's poor, plain and simple, speculative or literary fiction.

    As well, with regard to the point about how people can look to their "book culture" as a form of self-identification, I think Jeff identifies what is a curious, weird aspect of SF&F readers/fans -- an odd kind of pathology, if you will. On one hand, there is a wish, maybe even a need, for "mainstream" acceptance, whether that be in the form of nominations for prizes such as the Booker or acknowledgement and reviews in major venues such as the Times Literary Supplement. On the other hand, when someone suggests, such as Niall has done here, that SF&F often just doesn't measure up to many of the works that enjoy "mainstream" acceptance, SF&F readers/fans believe their culture is under attack.

    I do believe there are unfortunate and outdated prejudices against speculative fiction in the "mainstream," literary culture. I also would agree with the sentiment that speculative fiction does not at all need to appease this culture or play its game(s).

    However, back to the level of the "sentence or paragraph," I think that if speculative fiction is to achieve a wider appreciation as a literary art, then it must be prepared to be judged by the criteria and measures for what constitutes the best and highest expressions of prose narrative in the form of the novel. It must be prepared, for instance, to be judged alongside Toni Morrison's Beloved or Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles or Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

  70. I sometimes wonder if the deeper issue is marketing. It's a lot easier to make sales if you split up and target specific niche demographics, and control consumer expectations. Marketing creates labels to sell books, and then, once those books take off, it becomes lucrative to write books within that label. You've created a need, now you only have to fill it.

    With the advent of the internet, it's become a great deal easier to balkanize fiction and serve niche tastes. With each niche believing their own personal tastes are best, it leads to a definite "us vs. them" mentality. Which I agree is not beneficial to literature of any kind.

    Personally, I'm just thankful that Orbit was adventurous enough to take on Mr. Shivers, which is precipitously placed between a lot of different genres.

  71. I found that with Orbit myself, Robert. Though it took a smaller publishing house to initially take a chance on my work, Orbit really put their backs to it once the eds got a chance to read it (as I was discussing in your blog post, getting so called 'odd' work into an editor's hands can be the longest road can't it) For the longest time I was gettign rejection slips saying 'love your work, but how would we market it?' Prior to OBP/Orbit taking a chance on me I was told my work was too difficult to market as it, too, fell between many genres - the language too rich and the plot too political for YA, the protagonists too young for mainstream, the fantasy elements too lightly drawn for fantasy (and on and on)

  72. I'm referring to your recent post over at the Orbit blog btw - sorry for not being specific ( and for the usual typos)

  73. Mr. Abercrombie hit the nail on the head for sure. Not to look like a fanboy, but still, he said it the way i wish i could've.

    Another argument for the fantasy "genre" as you people seem to want to call it can be found at Brandon Sanderson's website in the form of an essay he did called Why Tolkien Ruined Fantasy. Or something along those lines, he might have changed the title to reflect more the attitude of the essay. Very good stuff.