As usual, the lusty headline of this post is just a cheap trick to get you to read something that is not lusty whatsoever. Sorry.
I do want to talk about fantasies, though, or more accurately about Fantasy, the genre. And Horror and Science Fiction while we’re at it. Collectively, the three genres are known as Speculative Fiction. Collectively, the three genres ought to be my favorites. In reality, they’re a continual source of disappointment. Like Charlie Brown with Lucy’s football, I keep going back for more, thinking this time it will be different. But there’s just so much crap being published in SF that I have to settle for a Suspense or a… well, a Suspense. God bless you, Jeffery Deaver.
I am a total slut for anything paranormal. (Hey! That was lusty! Kind of!) I am the tiniest bit psychic– remind me to post that story someday– and I have this embarassing fascination with supernatural stuff.
Case in point: Lo these many years ago, when I watched television, I couldn’t enough of the X-Files. I would actually cancel dates to watch it.
(This is not true, at all. I didn’t have dates in high school.)
(Who am I kidding. I don’t have dates now.)
And I love being scared. And I prefer dismal endings to happy endings. Which might explain why I love Russian novels.
I’m a prime candidate for loving speculative fiction. It is the segment of popular literature for us folks who won’t read anything that could be described as wholesome, or heart-warming, or inspiring. If you cannot abide the thought of an adorable critter solving a mystery, give SF a try. (Or hard-boiled or noir. That could work, too.)
So whatssamatter with me? Why oh why can I not be content?
Perhaps because I am undersexed. That would explain a lot, really.
But more to the point, I just don’t like the SF books being published. There are exceptions, of course, like anything written by Ian McDowell. (Yes, I’m pandering to Ian. I know he likes it, same as his uromastyx likes to be scratched behind her ears, or where I assume her ears are.) Ian has written two Dark Fantasy novels, Mordred’s Curse and Merlin’s Gift, and lots of disturbing short stories. But most SF is disappointing. Let’s criticize the genres separately, shall we?
Fantasy. A common criticism is that there’s nothing new. I’m pretty lenient about conventions, but even I get weary of beautiful, noble elves and belligerent, hairy dwarves. But my bigger complaint is with sloppy editing and sloppier writing.
I’m gonna pick on C. S. Friedman, cuz she just sucks. (Or is it C. J.? …C. Something Friedman.) She used the word "mere" or "merely" twenty-three times in three chapters. I counted.
Not everyone’s as bad as C. Whatever Friedman, but very little fantasy rises above mediocrity. It’s a shame. Just because a story includes wizards or goblins doesn’t mean it has to sacrifice artful writing or sensible word choice.
Science Fiction tends to have very cool plots and lousy characters. The narration is usually very distant– impersonal, like– and the style is usually dry. ‘S all right if that’s your kind of thing, I guess, but me? I like to get emotionally involved with the story and the characters. (Maybe this is why women don’t read science fiction.)
And horror— well, I only have one main criticism of horror. The characters are usually much better than what you find in science fiction; otherwise you wouldn’t be horrified when the monster eats them. The plots are good ("Hey! A monster’s gonna eat us!") and the writing is no worse and no better than in most genres.
So what’s my problem? Y’all, I haven’t been scared by a horror novel since I was 11. What’s the point of reading horror if you don’t get scared?
I’m willing to concede that the problem here might lie with me, not with the genre as a whole… (But seriously, was anyone actually scared by The Haunting of Hill House? Or Matheson’s Hell House? They put me to sleep. Am I obtuse?)
If anyone knows of a book that’s really, truly scary, let me know about it, kay? In return, I’ll tell you about a SF books that don’t suck. They do exist, if you know where to look for them.
Horror. Fat White Vampire Blues (Andrew Fox) is more about humour than horror, but it technically counts. Our hero is portly because he lives in New Orleans, where all of his entrees are fat. (See? See what I mean? Isn’t that funny?)
‘Salems Lot, by Stephen King, was the last book that scared me. You’ll recall that I was 11, and you’d probably be hard pressed to find any 11 year old who wouldn’t be scared of it, but I’m guessing there are a lot of adults who might get a tingle, too. Vampires infest small town. Terror ensues. Lots of gore and thwarted love, too, just the way I like it.
John Bellairs writes kids’ book, but they’re pretty creepy for all that. He’s good for ghosts and mummies, that sort of thing. He’s always making his boy-next-door heroes face eternal undead evil. Good stuff.
Science Fiction. Connie Willis, I love you. I love you I love you I love you. Read The Doomsday Book, and read it now. It is time-travel science fiction with awesome characters, unexpectedly funny bits, nasty diseases, and the sinking suspicion that everyone is doomed.
Dune– just kidding! I think Dune totally sucks! BLEARGH!
Kurt Vonnegut is kind of miffed that he’s been pegged as a Science Fiction writer, but that’s not preventing me from mentioning him here. You’ve got lots of choices for older science fiction (Ray Bradbury, anyone?) but I think Vonnegut is the most compassionate and readable of the lot. Welcome to the Monkey House is a collection of his short stories, SF and otherwise, in which you’ll find the classic dystopian "Harrison Bergeron."
Lois Lowry, like John Bellairs, is a children’s writer with appeal for adults. The Giver is a Newbery winner and is the first of her dystopian trilogy. Bear in mind that dystopias are often simplistic (gotta make sure the dire warning hits home), and of course children’s writing is usually simplistic, and yet Lowry still manages a complex, sophisticated story. She is capabale of tugging at the emotions, oh my yes. Immediately after finishing the last line in her trilogy, I set the book down and said "You bitch." I’m still pissed at her for the way she twisted my heart.
Fantasy. Guess I should mention Neil Gaiman at this point, though I could have done so under the other two genres, as well. Neil Gaiman is an astounding writer. I am unutterably grateful that he chooses to write stories with witches and zombies instead of contemplative middle-aged women. Go read his Sandman series. (Actually, I would prefer if you first read my NoveList piece on him, and then read the Sandman series.)
I feel silly writing about J.K. Rowling. If you’re not familiar with her by this point, well, there’s really nothing I can do… know why I’m such a Harry Potter fan? It’s because the books affect me like nothing, bar nothing, has done since I was a kid. When I was a kid I could totally get into my books. As an adult I have never been able to recapture that escapism, with the sole exception of the HP series. After book 7 comes out, I won’t have a reason to live.
I feel silly writing about Terry Pratchett here, too. Yeah, he’s a fantasy writer, but only incidentally. First a foremost he’s a satirist. He happens to satirize fantasy, but then again he happens to satirize everything under the sun. But hey, it counts. He’s the funniest writer alive. So there.