a thoughtful web.
Good ideas and conversation. No ads, no tracking.   Login or Take a Tour!
comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  107 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: NPR's 50 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of the Past Decade

kk so check it

The "what if?" at the heart of sci fi can be anything. No limits. What if our very cells were sapient? (Blood Music) What if space itself had cancer? (Spin) What if there was a planet made of nothing but dunes that improbably had giant sandworms whose diet is unclear but they poop magic stuff that people can snort and it lets them cross space and time instantaneously?

The "what if?" at the heart of fantasy is ALWAYS

What if there was magic?

It's never well-defined magic, either. It's some nebulous form of instantaneous deus ex machina that always gets whipped out whenever things are tough. Now remember - I named my daughter Arya. Game of Thrones? I'm a fan. But fundamentally, every problem George RR Martin ever faces, he solves through deus ex machina:

- Danaerys is kinda fukt and things ain't workin' out there with the barbarians so POOF she has dragons.

- King's Landing is gonna fall and the Lannisters are totally outgunned so POOF Tyrion wipes everybody out with Greek Fire.

- The zombies are gonna wipe out the world but suddenly poof "I am no man" magic loophole.

Fantasy is fairy tales. Fairy tales writ large, generally without the morals added on. Cinderella gets to the ball because her fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage yadda yadda.

How much more interesting a tale would Cinderella be if the bitch crashed the party?

I don't care what fantasy you're talking about, the core purpose of fantasy is to get your characters out of a scrape by bending physics. Unlike sci fi, however, the flexibility of physics is unknown prior to its bending. Why didn't the fuckin' eagles just drop the goddamn ring into the volcano? Same reason every problem in The Hobbit is solved by a magic invisibility cloak. Been captured by trolls? Good thing someone can be invisible! Giant spiders? no prob, we got invisibility. Big damn dragon? Invisibility! Oh, but that invisibility comes at a horrible price that will take three entire books to explain away but doesn't figure at all in the moment because whoopsy-daisy the ability to be invisible at the drop of a hat kind of solves pretty much every possible difficulty your characters might ever encounter, huh...

Know who writes good fantasy? Sci fi writers. Jack Vance took a read of that invisibility easy button and wrote Liane the Wayfairer. The whole of The Dying Earth is, in fact, Jack Vance playing with the tropes of fantasy and turning them upside down. That whole "you can only use a spell once" thing that forms the backbone of D&D and everything that came after? That's Jack Vance deciding magic sucks. Turn it into a hand grenade though and now, baby, you got a stew going.

Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber fundamentally play with the idea that there's magic-world and normal-world and the difference, fundamentally, is chemistry doesn't work in magic-world and magic doesn't work in normal-world. Until our protagonist, one of the few people who can bop back and forth, somehow stumbles on a combination of household goodies that are effectively gunpowder in magic-world. It's a lot of fun for three or four books but the problem is, once you've introduced physics and rigid rules into fantasy the fantasy breaks the fuck down, the Rock Biter cries, Atreyu loses Artax and The Nothing consumes the universe. Who was it that pointed out the Death Eaters would have been irrevocably fucked if Harry Potter had just decided to bring a couple AR-15s with him to Platform Nine and Three Quarters?

Muggle this, bitch

So your choices are limited (what if everything hard was predictably solved through loopholes) and the plots are gonna suck (the resolution to every problem is "and then a miracle occurs"). Yes, there's good fantasy... but there's good fantasy despite the loopholes, not because of them.

Here's one to add to your list. I couldn't remember what it was called. I think I found it by literally browsing my audiobook application from the library and it was like "unlimited" which means anybody can borrow it so why the hell not.

I found it again by googling "new fantasy series with airships and talking cats."

Now - does "The Aeronaut's Windlass" need airships? I mean, it's basically Master And Commander with blimps so yeah, pretty much. Does it need talking cats? No it most definitely does not, but it has them. Is it fantasy? Well, the magic crystals that run everything might as well be Warp Cores and Scotty is definitely in this book. Talking cats?

I love how Wikipedia is all "maybe fantasy, maybe steampunk, whatever." Realistically Jim Butcher wanted to write about blimps and swords and talking cats, so he did.

But Jim Butcher isn't going to whip out a fuckin' magic invisibility ring because his culture is "I am Chun the Unavoidable" not "one ring to rule them all." Because he understands that "our world, only with magic" is inherently bad, and inherently devoid of stakes.