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09 May 2011 @ 02:21 pm
Why do I do these things to myself?  
I've been greatly enjoying the new HBO show Game of Thrones.  It's a fantasy series, for those of you not familiar with it, though it's definitely very grounded in real, nitty-gritty human interaction and politics, something non-genre aficionados don't always realize.  Anyway, on Friday I was reading the TWoP thread on the latest episode, as one does; when I finished that, I moved on to the other threads.

I finally came to the thread on Racism and Misogyny in the show.  A valid discussion, obviously.  What I found interesting were the defenses of the show, which I didn't always disagree with.  Namely, that epic fantasy is usually set in a kind of medieval European setting, which means that the roles of women are going to be fairly strictly circumscribed, and that there will be conflict between "knights" and "savages."  I don't think that putting a fantasy world inside that very prototypical Tolkien-esque environment necessarily means you have to write female characters who do nothing but have babies and enemies who are ambiguous brown people who just aren't that civilized - even Tolkien himself wrote Eowyn, for starters.  So even though I ended up deciding that Game of Thrones isn't really better or worse than most of television on those scores, the conversation did make me think.

It made me think about why fantasy always does seem to be set in that quasi-European dark ages?  Why is there always a backdrop of knights and castles and chivalry, and dragons and quests?  Could someone write a fantasy with a different setting?  Different rules?  Would it still be fantasy? 

Aaaaaaaaand now I've spent three days pondering an idea for a novel - a NOVEL, for Christ's sake - and wrote 3000 words on it today.  Why.
 
 
 
Ms Dref: Star Trek TNG - Riker blowsdref22 on May 9th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
I think when it is futuristic, it becomes Star Wars. :P

Perhaps fantasy is really only about knights, castles, chivalry and dragons? I don't know, perhaps it's like westerns, you can't make a western without a wild west? Am I making any sense here? :D

Maybe that is also why I always think of myself as a sci-fi fan who is not really interested in fantasy.
there's coffee in that nebula: TNG picard role modelun_crayon_rouge on May 9th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
Basically, what dref22 said: I think the swords and quasi-medieval stuff are what fantasy is all about. When it's not there, it's science fiction or that other thing - "speculative fiction".

Also, I <3 that icon! :-)
Ms Dref: Heroes - bennet pigeonsdref22 on May 9th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
Yay! :D I love any kind of Troi/Riker interaction and I knew I had to make that icon when I saw the screencap. XD
Shannon: tng picard commandkungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC)
Interesting - what about something set in the same time period, roughly, that kind of "Dark Ages" era, but in Japan? That's kind of what I was musing on. Just switching stuff up.
there's coffee in that nebula: movie star wars han right onun_crayon_rouge on May 9th, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
I think that would still be fantasy; after all samurais do have swords, don't they? Somehow I get the feeling that swords are really important...
Shannon: tng dynamic duokungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
See, now that just makes me want to try to write a western without a Wild West!!

(Which, I mean, Firefly kinda is, though I suppose it gets muddy when you start talking about genre hybrids.)
Ms Dref: Star Trek TNG - Riker and the starsdref22 on May 9th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
Now that would be an excellent writing challenge! :D

YES! I think Firefly is a nice example of a genre hybrids. I don't know, I guess it still doesn't break the general rules or something?
a universal sigh: HP - Luna - radish earringsnaushika on May 9th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)
I can't comment on GoT cause I don't watch it, but I consider both Harry Potter and Star Wars to be fantasy, and they have very different settings than usual and more "advanced" views on women and whatnot. Which is good to me because I'm not a fan of the whole medieval knights and castles thing at all. I generally stick to scifi because of it, and I also find in general scifi is good to women (though there's still some fails now and again).

You know i'd also put Buffy and Angel in fantasy but I have big issues with Whedon's treatment of women.
Shannon: sarah connorkungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
I am super-intrigued as to why you list Star Wars as fantasy. I can definitely see it, but I don't think I've ever read anything about classifying it as such. I mean, as far as, like, plot mechanics and the whole Joseph Campbellian thing goes, it definitely plays more fantasy than SF.

(I definitely prefer SF to fantasy, too, though I find that it's really only TV/movie SF that does well with portrayals of women. There's still a lot of yuck and fail in print.)
a universal sigh: SW - Obi-wan - damn it feels goodnaushika on May 9th, 2011 11:32 pm (UTC)
To me, scifi is something somewhat based in potential reality. In Star Trek, for instance, Gene Roddenberry researched a lot of the science he used. I mean sometimes Trek dips into fantastical ideas but Star Wars is about this mystical "force" which imbues magical powers upon certain individuals. (It's only later in the modern 'prequels' that Lucas tried to make it a bit more scientific by doing the whole midichlorian thing. Originally it was just some abstract concept of mystical-ness.)

Then there's the whole thing where *basically,* it's a story of good versus evil. There's a bit of grey area but not a whole terrible lot. Scifi tends to have a LOT of grey area. "Oh that alien culture is so bad, look what they're doing!" "Well wait, let's not be so ethnocentric about it, we have to look from THEIR perspective." Etc.

Jedi Knights. All about this force of good, protecting everyone/thing. It's a higher calling. Not just anyone can be one. Hell, Leia's a princess! (But a BAMF princess. :D) (In the books, even Han is a descendant of a monarchy, even though his relationship with his family's not that good. So even our scruffy smuggler has some noble blood in him.)

Sword fights. Sure they're laser swords but they're swords nonetheless. And EVEN THOUGH blasters exist, somehow a magical laser sword is *THE* weapon to have and all the major battles use light sabers.

So in summary, Lucas tried to make Star Wars more scifi-like with the prequels but if you discount the retconning, Star Wars is pretty much a fantasy epic, just set in another galaxy that's got a bit more technology and has aliens. It's even set in the past, still. XD
a universal sigh: Voy - Seven - red lips gold hairnaushika on May 9th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
Oh and as for the books thing, it's interesting to hear that, because I actually rarely read modern scifi books. I read a lot of books written in the 50s/60s (Heinlein, Asimov, etc) and there's a definite air of misogyny and all that in those books but I just sort of write it off as a product of its time. Disheartening to hear that that front hasn't progressed at all, but I find that the world of scifi books is a very different one to the world of scifi movies/tv and has a lot more "good old boy" type personalities in it.
Icepixie: [Other] Bookicepixie on May 9th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, man. There's actually a ton of non-Tolkienesque fantasy out there featuring non-European, non-medieval settings. Thanks in large part to Tolkien's popularity, that particular sub-category has had a stranglehold on the genre as a whole, especially the most popular ones, but in the past couple decades it's gotten much more diverse.

I know I've seen lists of non-Dark Ages fantasy around, and I'll have a look to see if I can scare one up. In the mean time, off the top of my head:

* Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke - Regency England
* The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher - Contemporary Chicago
* Tam Lin, Pamela Dean - 1970s small town liberal arts college (that whole multi-author "fairy tales retold" series has a lot of interesting settings, mostly contemporary)
* The Isavalta novels, Sarah Zettel - Starts out in Victorian Wisconsin, then moves to a Russian-inspired made-up world
* Terry Pratchett in general

And those are far from the most diverse; they're just what happens to be on my bookshelf. If you want to sample some, I suggest those big short story anthologies that come out every year, like Year's Best Fantasy or something like that. There's often a wide range of stuff in those kinds of books.

IMO, the only requirement necessary for a text to be considered fantasy is that something about it, whether big or small, not be possible according to the current understanding of the laws of nature. To me, sci-fi is a particular subset of a larger "fantastic" category, the chief marker of which is an attempt to ground the differences from our world in some kind of scientific context (as opposed to the "it's just magic" of fantasy).
Shannon: eternal sunshinekungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
LOL, I've read most of that list - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was my favorite new book I read year before last. I guess what I meant to say was not fantasy in general, but specifically that kind of epic historical fantasy where it's all about great houses battling and that sort. Obviously (or I guess not so obviously, heh) I know about urban fantasy and the like. To me something like The Dresden Files is so far removed from, say, Terry Goodkind that I hesitate to label them in the same genre.

Trying to be more specific, I was more thinking about what it is about that European Dark Ages world that just feels like fantasy as opposed to any other time period. It's all sort of a moo point since this thing I've started writing feels more like alternate history than anything else.

(I most emphatically deny the idea of science fiction just being a subset of fantasy, but that's a discussion for another day. :p)
Icepixie: [DW] Nerdy Doctoricepixie on May 9th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
I guess what I meant to say was not fantasy in general, but specifically that kind of epic historical fantasy where it's all about great houses battling and that sort.

Ah, I see. (Although I think perhaps one could make the case that the Dresden Files involve great forces/houses battling in whatever Butcher's version of Fairyland is, and even has knights and whatnot. Maybe?) I'm reasonably certain I've heard of heroic/epic fantasy with roots in other cultural traditions, although I don't read a lot of fantasy any more, so no names are coming to mind right at the moment. Well, besides Xena, anyway. ;) I want to say there was at least one set in Japan, though, and Zelazny's Lord of Light is rooted in Hindu tradition, although I've not read it and can't tell you if it's epic/heroic or some other sub-genre.

I was more thinking about what it is about that European Dark Ages world that just feels like fantasy as opposed to any other time period.

I think it's just an oversaturation of it in pop culture. Tolkien became the face of fantasy in the sixties, and we've rolled with it ever since. (Not that he was the first to do elves and great houses and whatnot, but he was the first to get really popular doing it, from what I understand.)

I most emphatically deny the idea of science fiction just being a subset of fantasy, but that's a discussion for another day. :p

Oh, but now I'm curious! :)

I don't mean in a subordinate sort of way. Just...I feel like there are two broad genres of fiction: realistic and fantastic. Into realistic (= not breaking the laws of nature) go mysteries, straight historical fiction, most of what you read in a literature class, most romance novels, etc. Into fantastic goes vampires, magicians, starships, time travel, urban fantasy, magical realism, and anything else that couldn't conceivably happen in our world. The different facets of fantastic and realistic fiction have extremely varied approaches and ideals, but you can still put them into one of those two categories. (I came up with this categorization because I wanted to include as many things as possible in "fantasy," because I hate the ghettoization of SF/F, when absolute shit on the bestseller list gets claimed as more relevant to people in general and/or academic study, argh argh.)
Shannon: lotr legolas balrogkungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
(Although I think perhaps one could make the case that the Dresden Files involve great forces/houses battling in whatever Butcher's version of Fairyland is, and even has knights and whatnot. Maybe?)

I don't know; I got bored after the first book and wandered off someplace else. My sister keeps imploring me to try it again, but my list of books-what-to-read-at-some-point is so long that I've never gotten around to it.

I don't mean in a subordinate sort of way. Just...I feel like there are two broad genres of fiction: realistic and fantastic.

Ohhhhhhh-kay. Gotcha. I was reading you like "fiction > fantasy > SF," but you're saying "fiction > not realistic > fantasy/SF/time travel/etc." We are in agreement. I basically think of horror, SF, and fantasy as cousins. All three describe a world that in some way isn't the world we live in, but there are different rules governing that not-our-world part of it.

(I came up with this categorization because I wanted to include as many things as possible in "fantasy," because I hate the ghettoization of SF/F, when absolute shit on the bestseller list gets claimed as more relevant to people in general and/or academic study, argh argh.)

Ugh, I know. I work in a library, right? And it physically pains me to see the same twenty books from the bestseller stand go in and out, in and out, all day every day, and I actually only check out a good book, like, twice a day. And I'm sure for most people it's not some actual reading preference, but just because they've had it hammered into their heads that SF/F = silly and for babies. Especially since some of those bestselling authors dabble in SF/F, and as long as it has that big famous name on the front, everyone will read it.
Icepixie: [Wonderfalls] Hmph lionicepixie on May 9th, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)
Ha! I have issues with Butcher as well, and I've only read the first and fifth(?) books of the series, along with some short stories. (I have a weakness for exactly the kind of ship Harry and Murphy represent, so every once in a while I try to forget all my problems with Butcher's writing and read for the ship.) There are actual Knights of the Cross, though, and there appear to be giant wars simultaneously going on between the Winter and Summer Fae Courts, and between the various species of vampire. All of which is right up my alley, but GOD DAMN, Butcher's "Look at how awesome my self-insert character is, yaaaay!" with Harry just annoys the crap out of me.

they've had it hammered into their heads that SF/F = silly and for babies

YES. Although thankfully, I think this is slowly, slowly going away, thanks largely to, like, Harry Potter. It'll just take another generation or so.
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Shannon: tng picard starskungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, since I vastly prefer SF to fantasy, to not being as up on what's out there, so this is very much coming from someone who is okay with fantasy, has read some, and doesn't turn her nose up at it, but isn't necessarily a huge fan or anything. And I think the Tolkien mold is still pretty much the thing people think of when they hear the word "fantasy," and I was just wondering why that is, you know.

It's funny, if we were doing one of those word association games where you said the name of a book and I had to immediately respond with its genre, and you gave me Jonathan Strange, I don't know that I'd come up with fantasy first thing. Now, what I would classify it as I'm not sure, but it's such a wonderful, odd little* book that I almost feel it's unfair to relegate it to a single genre.

*Obviously not. I could use it to kill someone.
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Shannon: lotr ttt bellskungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
Lol. As far as I'm concerned, anything with magic in it is fantasy or a sub-genre thereof (for example, I have no patience for this new-fangled "magic realism" genre, AKA fantasy novels pretending to be lit-fic so they can be shelved with the REEEEEEAL books that people other than TEENAGERS AND GEEKS read), so... it fits.

Yeah, you're right - the presence of magic is pretty much the dealbreaker.

What's funny is that JSaMN is totally shelved with the Real and Adult Fiction in my library, and not in SF/F where it belongs.

I have both a paperback and a hardcover copy (found the hardcover at Half Price Books for $2, may have screamed a little), but even my paperback is enormous and could take someone's eye out.
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Shannon: ad gob angrykungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
I think the classification system is buggy as a whole. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint Germaine vampire books are all in regular fiction, too, as are most of the paranormal romances. (UGH, THEY ARE GROSS.) But someone like Kim Stanley Robinson can write a book that is set in the real world, today, and just happens to do a "what if" climate change story, and it gets stuck in SF because he's known as an SF writer. I don't get it.

I admit, my lip curls up in revulsion when I see James Patterson's latest book labeled as straight fiction. IT IS A BOOK ABOUT PEOPLE WITH SUPERPOWERS! COME ON! THIS IS SCIENCE FICTION!
Shannonkungfuwaynewho on May 9th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC)
Also, I adore my little ereader. It's great for reading in bed, when sometimes it's a bit of work to keep a big ol' hardcover either held up, or sitting on your chest without poking you. Also nice when the book you want to read has eleventy holds on it at the library... I prefer physical books, too, but the ereader can be pretty damned handy.
Martine: Fringe/He said he loved me toola_loony on May 11th, 2011 01:16 pm (UTC)
We just had that topic a little in your seminar yesterday before going back to English RenaissancexD

What we figured is that fantasy is set in medival European settings because most of the ideas are from that time. Dragon, knighthood, a lot of the creatures you find in fantasy (even if it's not set in edival times) were 'born' in that time so I guess authors tend to put their stories with them in a time that fits their origin.

So I guess a different setting shouldn't be a problem. The closer the setting gets to present time or even future time the more it might get mixed with some SciFi elements but I think that just hurts if it's done badxD Than it would be a mixture, I read hybrid somehwere, which fits even better.
Shannon: fringe peterkungfuwaynewho on May 11th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Mmm, English Renaissance. Me gusta.

Yeah, I suppose it makes sense that when you think of knights and all that, you think of that particular time period. I just find it odd how so many other genres can do so many different things, and it seems like a lot of fantasy is very strict with its setting. Not all, obviously, but the fancy mainstream stuff, definitely.
Martinela_loony on May 11th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
...I just had to google 'me gusta' to make sure I guessed rightXD
It was a fun discussion actually just a little one sided because 3 friends of mine and the one guy who was there talked and the other 6 girls were quiet. I don't get what they come for if they never talk.

It's maybe a simple habit to set it all in medival times. Maybe some authors are too lazy to set in somewhere else and have more workXD
Anne Marieindigoviolet on May 12th, 2011 06:12 am (UTC)
Hey! Late to the party as always. Haven't seen GoT yet, but this has been a great discussion and I want to say some stuff. :]

Gender roles in historical settings - well I was thinking about Shakespeare not so long ago. And how he wrote complex and interesting female characters, heroines and villains, despite his times. No matter how restrictive gender roles were at the time, it's easy to forget that women were real actual people with real actual personalities, and obviously a writer of his ability would have observed this instead of writing to the current ideal of how a woman should be. I think fiction can sometimes tell us more about the time it was written than dry historical facts that sometimes have you forgetting the human side of things. (IDK, maybe he was just trying to butter up the queen?)

It's a bit of a cliche in some historical fiction to have a 'spunky heroine making it in a man's world', where the author's just taken a modern woman with modern values and plonked her into whichever time period in the relevant corsetry. But it's always nice to see a woman who may be a product of her time, but still a complex and interesting human being. It's a delicate balance (that I think I'd find difficult to pull off. One reason I've been a bit scared to write anything historical) Lindsey Davis does it well - if ancient Roman noirish crime novels are your thing then I'd recommend her :)

And 'cos I'm a huge nerd I have to give a B5 example, while the Narn and Minbari seem to be gender equal, except for Delenn and Na'Toth there are no female characters that get anything interesting to do ever. The Centauri are patriarchal, but we saw quite a few women and most of them had buckets of character.
Anne Marieindigoviolet on May 12th, 2011 06:15 am (UTC)
And I'd write another tl;dr about fantasy settings but rivendellrose and icepixie have said most of what was in my head and said it much better than I would have done. :)

But it's a shame that mainstream adult fantasy is such a publishing ghetto, and dominated by pseudo-medieval stuff when in theory it's the broadest possible genre there is.

Have you read any Diana Wynne Jones? One of my absolute heroes who died a few weeks ago - it's the first time I've cried over the death of an author. Everyone's got one author who shaped their childhood and she was mine. I'm still pretty devastated because I never got around to writing to her

http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/rosgross.htm

Oh and also The Rainbow Opera/Dreamhunters duet by Elizabeth Knox, it's one of the most haunting and original things I've read in a long time <3

(I am a little biased towards YA/children's fiction because it's a big passion of mine, but a lot of the time it's where you can find the really creative fantasy, that still has depth of character but isn't trying too hard to be 'literary'.)

Edited at 2011-05-12 06:49 am (UTC)
Shannon: pd emerson chuckkungfuwaynewho on May 13th, 2011 01:39 pm (UTC)
I haven't read either of them, either; I'll add 'em!
Shannonkungfuwaynewho on May 13th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
Anything ancient Rome is my thing - I will definitely add her to my list! (If she's not on there already; man, my list is so long.)

It's a bit of a cliche in some historical fiction to have a 'spunky heroine making it in a man's world', where the author's just taken a modern woman with modern values and plonked her into whichever time period in the relevant corsetry. But it's always nice to see a woman who may be a product of her time, but still a complex and interesting human being.

Ooo. This...this made me think of something relevant to something I'm writing right now. THANK YOU.