Monday, August 15, 2011

Fantasy on the Other Side of the Pond

What I mentioned in my last post regarding Neil Gaiman and China Mieville got me thinking:  they're both British.  And they're both very significant names in the fantasy genre these days.  Here's some reasons why:

Neil Gaiman has written some great books, first of all.  American Gods is the first that comes to mind.  It won the Hugo* for Best Novel in 2002, along with a few other honors (and by few I mean a LOT), and its really a fantastic piece of literature all around--all awards aside.  Seriously.  I mean, if you haven't read American Gods, you should go read it right now.  Beyond that, he's also written StardustCoraline, and The Graveyard Book, all of which have been nominated for and/or won a deluge of Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, Newberry, and World Fantasy awards.  And, to top it all off, he co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett (who I'll mention later)--a book that is hilarious, endearing, and a brilliant take on a generally over-done subject.

China Mieville's record is no less (okay, only slightly less) prestigious; his books (particularly Kraken, Perdido Street Station, and The City and the City) have also been nominated and/or won a slough of awards including but certainly not limited to those mentioned above.  He is also spearheading the revolutionary movement of the "New Weird" within the fantasy genre.

So to make a long story short, these are two great authors, and they both happen to be from Britain.  But that's not all.

Let's not forget the aforementioned Terry Pratchett, who's been turning the fantasy genre on its head, and making it hilarious, since the 1980's.

There's Joe Abercrombie, whose work with characterization, voice, and style (not to mention his vivid, gritty battle scenes) has been absolutely brilliant.

And there's Mark Charan Newton.  He's a newer voice in the genre, following partially in the path of the New Weird (if the New Weird does indeed have a path to follow), but his exploration of identity, gender, and sexuality have opened up brand new directions for contemporary fantasy.

Anyway, the point is that there are some incredible writers across the Atlantic, and it makes me wonder what they've got in their water over there, or what they're feeding their babies, or whatever, that makes them so great.  Don't get me wrong--there are definitely some top-notch fantasy authors in American right now, too.  But so much of the real innovation of the genre seems to be happening in England.  Maybe its because of Grandaddy Tolkien (to steal Brandon Sanderson's affectionate dubbing of the master of all fantasy).  He's from England, isn't he?  Maybe its because the People of the Isles are more liberal-minded in general, driving them to explore issues and situations that we on the New Continent aren't quite comfortable with, yet.  It could be any manner of things, and more likely than not a combination of all of them.  But I really think that, right now, Britain is the hot spot for fantasy fiction.  I've even heard (and this is pure hearsay, I'll admit it) that fantasy fiction in general is much more accepted in academic/educated/literary circles in England than it is here in America (which wouldn't be too hard to do, I don't think--I still feel like I have to tip-toe around the fantasy genre in my own MFA program, and I think I'm at one of the more accepting programs in the country).  There's something going on over there, something that I'm sure could warrant a few dozen full-blown graduate dissertations.  Of course, I won't be doing any those dissertations--I can hardly manage my own Masters Thesis--but when they start showing up (if they haven't already), I'll try not to say I told you so.

So those have been my thoughts lately about how fantasy is faring, and who the movers and shakers are at the moment.  Take it or leave it, and if you'd like, tell me what you think.

*  Speaking of Hugo Awards, I'm going to Renovation this week...!  Pretty crazy.  I may or may not publish a post all about my thoughts regarding my first WORLDCON in a near-future post.


  1. So I was thinking about this a bit while I was over there. The thing that gets me is that they have like 50million people over there and we have like 300million here, and yet they are still publish about the same number of high quality books as we do (I don't have actual stats on that, but it seems that way, doesn't it?)

    One of the things that could be the reason they've got such good stuff is the general attitude about fantasy. I've always gotten the vibe that the Brits take fantasy more seriously, actually consider it a legitamate "literary" genre, while most Americans view SF&F as juvenile. I think that stigma keeps SF&F in the states lower, since people don't take it as seriously.

    Other great literary fantasy out of England: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel. So awesome.

  2. Good point about their rate of quality publications; I don't have any exact numbers either but that rings true to me and is pretty interesting.

    I definitely agree that fantasy is taken more seriously there, and I think it also has a lot to do with their deep history and/or mythology. I mean, thats the whole reason Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings in the first place, right?--to make a sort of alternate history/mythology for the British Isles. There's also King Arthur, Beowulf, etc. Even Shakespeare delved into fantasy, to an extent. America, on the other hand, unless we pilfer England's history and adopt it as our own (which we tend to do when its convenient), really only has a history of practicality and democracy--not much mystery involved, or anything worth speculating about. Which is great for a lot of reasons, and has been the source of a lot of great literature and so forth. But when it comes to encouraging speculative art, America really doesn't have much to offer.

  3. Yeah. Puritans hate fantasy, or so it would seem.

    I think those same reasons contribute to there being so many sf&f writers in the LDS world though: we have some puritan in us, but we are much more interested in other worlds. As a religious view of fantasy, we have a place for. CS Lewis actually has a great essay about the importance of fantasy. "Of Other Worlds" it is called. He is writing mostly about children's stories, but there is still good info in there.