A Movement Within Fantasy?
Posted on July 4th, 2013 in process, The Inquisition
I’m not even a third of the way through the Inquisition’s gruelling range of questions, but I’m still doing my best to confess, preferably while implicating everyone I can think of, innocent or guilty. Inquisitor Colm asks:
A pretty art-w*nk question here:
Do you consider yourself as part of a general movement within fantasy (Third Wave?) and do you find yourself consciously comparing your work to traditional fantasy, or even some other new strands of fantasy (e.g New Weird – Mieville springs to mind)? Or do you just write what you know and others have imposed these tags/descriptions on you?
I think these ideas of movements naturally appear some time after books are published, and therefore necessarily a long time after they were written. It may be that some writers come to the job with an explicit mission statement, but my experience was that I started writing with only the vaguest ideas of a purpose beyond producing the sort of book I’d like to read. With time you maybe see a lot of readers making similar statements about your intentions and goals and approach and start to think, ‘yeah, they’re right, that is what I was doing, I AM A HIGHLY POLITICAL GAME-CHANGING VISIONARY.’
The truth of the matter, as far as I can remember it, is much less impressive. I played a lot of role-playing games and read a lot of epic fantasy as a kid, got a bit bored with the way it seemed to stick closely to a predictable formula, largely stopped reading it at the start of the 90s and read other things. Then I read GRRM’s Game of Thrones and saw that it was possible to do something daring, unpredictable, gritty and character-centred while still writing in the commercial core of the genre – I saw a lot of what I felt had been missing very clearly expressed in that series. Some time after that, in 2001, I think, and largely because I found myself with time on my hands as a freelance TV editor, I started trying to write, initially without the slightest expectation of being published. My aim, insofar as I had one, was to produce my take on a classic epic fantasy trilogy, very much in the vein of Lord of the Rings, David Eddings or Dragonlance, but with a tight focus on vivid characters with setting very much a backdrop, a grittiness and hence a punch and drive to the action, a lot of twists in the plot (almost a mystery plot, in a way), a stripped-down modernity to the prose, and above all a sense of humour.
I wanted to write gritty, honest, truthful, funny, surprising, exciting, entertaining, thought-provoking epic fantasy. Whether I have succeeded in any of those aims is, of course, for others to judge…
Other than Martin, I was pretty ignorant of what had been going on in the genre during the previous decade, let alone of what people were writing at that moment, but it does seem that there were quite a few people with similar experiences and approaches to me, because around the time I was published in 2006 a whole crop of other authors appeared who have gone on to be very successful by employing various twists on epic fantasy – many gritty, many witty, many surprising in all sorts of ways – and I’ve heard quite a few of them give very similar answers about their influences and intentions to the one I just gave above.
So I guess you could say I’m part of a movement to that degree – a loose group of authors who write similar kinds of work based on similar experiences and intentions. Is that “third wave”? No idea. Certainly the First Law was very consciously a take on epic fantasy – an experiment with and a comment on the form, as well as hopefully an entertaining example of the form. The three standalone books have been slightly different, tinkering with combining epic fantasy with other classic forms and structures. New Weird I know much less about, and has always been hard to define, but I’m less interested myself in that which deliberately eschews familiar structures and aims at something almost disorientingly strange, surreal and fantastical, than I am in twists and reinterpretations of the well known and well understood.
Art-w*nk enough for ya?