Friday, April 22, 2011

Fantasy: Where Has the Excitement Gone?

Maybe it has always been this way and I just don't realize it because I am not old enough to have lived through earlier periods, but it sure seems to me that we live in a time where the fantasy is, well, good, perhaps even quite good at times, yet it lacks the excitement I crave.

There were a good many authors in earlier times who produced books that I would pick up excitedly and move them right to the top of my to-read list. Tolkien; Howard; Leiber; LeGuin; the Thieves World series; the early Shannara books; the first five McKiernan books, and so forth, all were must-read for me.

Nowadays the only books that really get me excited and I simply must have them immediately are George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Sure, there are some other pretty good ones out there, from Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series to Patrick Rothfuss's Kvothe books, but even those don't truly get my blood boiling with must-read anticipation.

Is it just me? Have I changed so much? I don't think so, because when I revisit old favorites I still feel that excitement for them. I can reread A Wizard of Earthsea or the first Fafhrd and Gray Mouser book as many times as I like and always love them. Only Martin's books do that for me today. I recently finished The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan and Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, both of which got rave reviews, yet they were very unexciting for me. I liked them okay and will probably never read them over again.

It's true that I am leaving out YA for the most part (though I suspect LeGuin's books might have been called YA if there was such a category back then), but then I don't much care for YA other than the Harry Potter series (sacrilege, I know, given how many of you out there are so heavily into YA).

What are your thoughts on fantasy today?


  1. I think there is possibly a case for saying that fantasy tends to retread old themes, so that once you've read a few, everything else seems slightly derivative.

    I suspect that there is also a case for saying that we tend to be the most culturally excited by things when quite young. The bands we listen to, the books we read, even the things on TV are the best ever, and things that come after never quite seem as interesting.

  2. Perhaps, stu, but how to explain that the 60's and 70's had the brilliance of Floyd, Zeppelin, Beatles, Who, Hendrix, and so forth, while today we have...well, about the only good stuff available today is not on the charts, stuff like Pearl Jam, Green Day, Tool, and Soundgarden. I'd say musically we have truly devolved, from bands that were true geniuses to 'performers' who have dance choreographers and mainly can't even play an instrument.

  3. hahhhahahaahahaaaa!
    so true, so true. on your comment to stu. :)
    anyway, to be honest, i haven't read many fantasy books. i used to read them in junior high, but it's been so long, i don't hardly remember the one i've read. so, i don't have much to say about this.

    TED!!! i started GAME OF THRONES the other day!!! i haven't had much time to get to it, but last night i had a little pocket of time before bed and then i kept pushing bedtime to later, later, just one more chapter, ok one more...
    so far, it's really something special! thanks for pushing me to pick it up! :)

  4. I eventually lost interest in Salvatore, and Brooks' more recent stuff hasn't been on the same level as the first Shannara books. Maybe it's just a cycle.
    Preston and Child are still great though.

  5. Victoria, I am so glad to see you are reading it now. For me there is no one better at fantasy today. I need to find time to reread it all again.

    Alex, I never enjoyed Salvatore or anything by Brooks after his first two Shannara books. I haven't even heard of Preston or Child...

  6. I feel that way about a lot of novels lately. I find myself finishing fewer and fewer of the books I pick up. I'm reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman right now and I'm liking it enough to stay up late reading, but it's been awhile since a book captured my attention that way, so I can relate.

  7. I think it is the serial nature of books today. Authors don't want to write the story in one book, they want to write a series of books, so they stretch out the stories and give you lots of filler. It equates to more satisfying world building but less excitement.

  8. I think you can make a list of things that affect the quality/your reaction to modern fantasy without naming any one of them as a sole culprit.

    You were younger then. You were discovering something for the first time and while they still excite you, part of that, I would wager, is nostalgia for your original excitement. The books represent a wondrous discovery and will maintain that wonder in perpetuity.

    Then there is the change in style of fantasy itself. The people writing now grew up on those books. They're taking their own interpretations and adding their own spin on things. They don't want to write the same things as what were written before, so they write something new.

    Then there's the assimilation and dilution of fantasy by other genres. You don't get as much fantasy now because we have paranormal and urban fantasy and ya and blah blah blah. Fantasy doesn't belong to fantasy anymore. It's the Montreal seasoning you put on the steak rather than the steak itself.

    And of course there's the industry. The industry needs different things, some of it for good reasons, some of it out of necessity, some of it out of preference. You don't get Western movies like you did in the 50s because we still have those movies. We've seen those movies. The high-noon gunfight holds little impact for us. The same with fiction. Tread new water or sink in the old. If someone wants to read Tolkien, they can still read Tolkien (don't get me started on comparing every successful modern fantasy author to Tolkien regardless of what they write).

    And I think at least in a little way, it's because you caught up. When you were young, you had all the books that were coming out at the time PLUS all the books that had been published previously. There seemed like so much only because you were behind on the catalog. Now that you've caught up, you only get new releases and as Martin is proving, those come far and few between.

  9. ...and of course, we tend to remember the brilliant stuff we read, not the meh stuff.

  10. I've got to say, I can't wait for Dance either. I spent three hours on a cloud when they finally announced it.

    The only author that gets me in the same MUST HAVE craving mood is Guy Gavriel Kay. I didn't think anything would beat Martin after I finished A Song of Ice and Fire, but Kay did. They're both awesome, I think Kay simply falls more in my personal tastes.

    I'm lucky, though, because I'm far from caught up on the classic fantasy reads. I've only read one Gaiman, never touched LeGuin yet (yes, I know) and a lot of others. I doubt I'll be bored any time soon!

  11. Claudie, LeGuin is great. To me the Harry Potter stories owe a lot to A Wizard of Earthsea. I have some Kay books on my shelf to be read at some point. Hopefully I'll like them as much as you do, though personal tastes do vary widely.

    Joseph, I could do several blog posts about all the stuff you wrote! I agree at least partly with all that you said, except that I don't believe tastes must always move on. I will always love Floyd and Zeppelin and feel no loss at all for most modern music, and that's the way I feel about the masters of fantasy.

  12. I'd be really interested in you elaborating a bit, Ted. You pointed out some books that stir you and others that are good but not that rousing. Can you pinpoint some reasons why some do and some don't?

  13. Margo, I'm not sure there is a simple answer. I can try to answer but may not really cover the reasons. I think many modern MC's are not particularly sympathetic, for instance in Abercrombie's or Morgan's books, and even in Hunger Games or Twilight - I didn't relate or even much like the MC's in those books. In the books I loved, I loved the characters. Fafhrd, the Gray Mouser, Conan, Ged, etc. are all amazing, flawed, but sympathetic characters. Martin gives extremely flawed characters but is able to find at least small ways to bring reader sympathy to them (see Jaime Lannister's slow transformation).

  14. I'm loving A Wise man's Fear but hating the thought of how long I'll be waiting for the next installment. I absolutely adored Robin Hobbs Assassin series, Dan Simmons Hyperion et al as well as Ilium and Olympus, Tad Williams Otherworld, Raymond Fiest's Riftwar Saga as well as the series he did w/Janny Wurts and of course, The Song of Ice and Fire. But you've probably read all those.

  15. It could be that you're looking for different things than you used to be.

    Anyone here have fond memories of Watt-Evans's "The Misenchanted Sword". I did ... and then I tried to read it again:

    Tastes change ...