Saturday 28 November 2020

Friday Five: Actual Thoughts Caused Lateness

I know. Actual thoughts. And only a day late! Let's get this show on the road, happiest to least happy.

1) Last week saw a slew of big name book releases, many of which I should have reviewed by now. I haven't! I've been awful at reading. But I shall at least give big props to Anna Stephens' The Stone Knife, RJ Barker's Call of the Bone Ships, and Sam Hawke's Hollow Empire here and say belated happy bookday. There will be reviews! Honest.

2) I've just seen this tweet from Jeanette Ng talking about the expectations to be realistic in cultural portrayals, rather than being given the freedom to reinvent. It's an interesting, thought-provoking one, that has a murky mirror in the way a lot of fantasy is talked about (and I apologize if jumping off on this is seen as distracting from Ng's points). There seems to be a lot of expectation that fantasy should be historically/culturally correct rather than as acts of fantasy and reinvention, and a certain amount of low-level complaining from Europeans about American reinvention of their European heritage. The question of "cultural ownership" is far too nuanced for me right now - save to note that reflecting on the complications in our own is a good way to help see how non-simple it might be for others - but the general point that fantasy is intended to have departures from reality is one I will shout all day long. The clue is in the name. It's a far easier shout for me than it might be for Ng, so I'm not saying this is the answer to what she is talking about (although it seems to me it is part of her thinking), but it is something we could perhaps think about more in fantasy in general.

3) Going back to releases, there's also been another big name release that I feel less enthused about hyping, and that is Ernest Cline's Ready Player Two. There's been a lot about it online, a lot of tweets. I don't have much opinion about the book because I haven't read it but I do about the tweets and how they link into the evolving way I see communities and definitions of what we are vs what we aren't. In many ways, that's the predominant political discussion in a lot of communities I'm in. And I think a fair part of the anger against Ready Player Two in certain corners comes from the sense that Cline is trying to promote himself as part of one community/ideology when his words don't fit. Part of me dislikes the assumption that what Cline's character thinks is what Cline thinks, but I can't deny everything I've seen makes it look and sound like a very obvious self-insert, and that it's a very fair assumption (at least). Part of me dislikes the amount of criticism that is based on the ideology rather than the book's quality, but I can't deny that the quotes on twitter show a lot of ideology and that makes it fair game. Cline has made a point of saying something with this book; of course people will say something back.

4) There's also the stuff about the pointing and laughing at how bad it is. It's not particularly nice, but I've yet to meet someone who doesn't point and laugh at something simply because of how much they dislike it. As far as I'm concerned, if an author puts out something that reads like a parody of themselves, people are going to laugh, and why the hell not? 

5) Finally, when the Time magazine list of 100 books came out, it made me angry, and I disliked that because it put me on the side of people I'd prefer not to be near and I didn't want to be crapping on the parades of anyone made up they made that list. It made me angry because it used an objective title for a very subjective list, and because it was very modern tilted in a way I don't think right for all time lists, and because it didn't contain my favourites, but honestly, it probably shouldn't have annoyed me as much as it should have. Not the race thing btw. That's complicated and I'm leaving it alone except to say I feel very bad for all the very good authors who've had to put up with this conversation. However, I recently had a second look as a result of a conversation of Fantasy Faction, and the closer look brought up something that I think is a genuine cause for concern and a little gentle scorn. It is best illustrated by using the British books on here, as it's a small enough sample to make the point but large enough not to be accident:

British Childrens Authors on the list pre-Tolkien: Carroll (2), Nesbitt, Travers (tip of the hat to 'Straya), Lewis (2)
British Adult Authors on the list pre-Tolkien: *tumbleweed*

Same, but post-Tolkien up to Rowling

C: Dahl (2), Cooper, Jacques, Pratchett, Pullman (2), Rowling (2)  
A: White, Stewart, Pratchett/Gaiman, Rushdie, Gaiman (2)

There is a very obvious skew towards children's and young adult literature in this list. Which means the list carries the implication that Fantasy is really a genre primarily for the young, that there's not much good adult fantasy (and most of that literary), and that it's adult fans should grow up, a position that I'm sure a great many reading this list have heard before. And beyond that repetition of a casual insult, there's the consideration of what a perception of "it's for kids" means for adult's fantasy. It is not like the idea of fantasy authors being asked, and in some cases forced to tilt towards a younger market for financial reasons (or denied publication because they didn't) is at all new. Just look at the ongoing controversy over "women = YA'. 

So while I'll freely concede it's a little alarmist to call this list dangerous for skewing towards children/YA in their 100 best of all time, I don't think it's completely paranoid. The idea of adult's fantasy as a respected genre, with all the advantages that come with that, is not permanently safe. As such, I think this list is a little dangerous, and also more than a bit insulting and snobbish. If it were a "Our favourites", maybe it's not a big deal. But as a 100 best of all time? It's a bit of a deal. And my disdain now feels very justified; it is but a mirroring of what this list is.

All done. This might be my last post done on Blogger! I'd be sad, except trying to change my font to my preferred has taken two tries. I hear a lot of complaining about Wordpress' functions, but Blogger's changes for the worse are real too. Now, just to decide on a new blog name (or, you know, think a lot and not change it).

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