November 21st, 2006



Ink is here, in a glorious ARC. That's bumped Wintersmith off the top of my reading list.

In case you were wondering, here's my reading list, in rough order, once I've finished the Stemwinder draft:

Ink, Hal Duncan
Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett
several unpublished novels and novellas for possible blurb (including Bruce Taylor and E. Sedia)
Goblin Quest, Jim C. Hines
1491, Charles C. Mann (bumped up from the 'someday' pile at casacorona's recommendation)

Followed by, in no particular order, Radiant Cool, The Years of Rice and Salt, some more tulip-related matter, and whatever else has come along by then.

Right now I'm on a no-reading-novels-while-I'm-writing-them kick. This is as much as motivational trick as a craft issue, but I've gone back and forth on it over the past few years. I'm capable of keeping several plot engines running in my head, I just don't want the distraction.


Back in the thread on The infinite, the unthinkable, and the magical, someone made a comment that disbelief in God does not affect His existence.

The comment was anonymous and unsigned (I cleared it anyway, even though it's borderline trollish), but that's precisely the sort of circular thinking which annoys me considerably. (Assuming I read it correctly.)

My response was:

Your belief in God does not affect whether He exists or not. The proposition is profoundly unprovable. Either you've made the leap of faith or you haven't -- there is no logical or empirical path to God.

ETA: I don't object to trollishness, even, from any angle of the discussion, just anonymous snark.

ETA2: Corrected a misquote of mine regarding the original comment, per a tip from rosefox

Letters from your characters

Per Bruce Holland Rogers, Dr. Sara Hodges and her graduate student Mike Myers at the University of Oregon are working on an interesting project reflecting an idea I've never personally tried.

[We] have a nice little result showing that people who are told to write emails for a week either to or "from" an imaginary character that they created earlier produce essays about that character a week later that result in more "transportation" for readers (more vivid, more able to "draw" in readers).

This strikes me as an interesting way explore character development and depth outside the realm of a story, either by way of preparation, or by way of thinking through revision.

What do you guys think? Have you ever tried something like this?

The purpose of fantasy

Catching up on my blog topic list (and taking a break from the politics|religion axis), I want to come back to something I promised pauljessup (of Lotus Lyceum fame) sometime in ages past. To wit, I have this notion that I can set some pins around the concept of defining the purpose of fantasy. I am confident that the mighty commentariat here on LJ will tear this one apart, but that's kind of the name of the game, innit?

I submit that fantasy is the oldest form of literature. Three of the earliest pieces of narrative which survive for us today are the Bible, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Odyssey. All three are filled with tropes, events and settings which are by modern standards inarguably fantastic. While I can't pretend to understand the original cultural setting of any of those three works, I will grant without argument that both storytellers and their audiences in the ancient world were far less likely to distinguish between the imaginary and the merely unknown than we are in our modern Western frame of reference.

However, I don't think this matters for the purposes of this discussion. Much of the power of those books in the modern world is the scope of that selfsame fantastic imagination. The Homeric vision of wily Odysseus wending his way home amid sirens sweetly singing, the porcine transsubstantiations of Circe, the cyclops and his woolly larder, has a compelling persistence that trumps other work of the Classical and pre-Classical era, including even Homer's Iliad. What is a mere war story when compared to the true adventures of a working-class king, after all?

Now fast forward to the emergence of the novel as a modern form. Don Quixote (1605) is fantastic, as are many works in the Gothic tradition -- that stream of literature which eventually birthed romance, horror, fantasy and science fiction. (We're all double-cousins in this family.) Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown (1798) is one of the first novels written in the United States, and it is a dark fantasy. Manuscript Found in Saragossa (1797-1815) is another favorite of mine, with a textual history as strange as the book itself, and I can reasonably argue that Eugene Sue's The Wandering Jew (1844?) is science fiction, albeit in no wise by authorial intent. Onward to Well at the World's End by William Morris (1896), The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison (1922) and so forth.

All of this before the outbreak of what we think of as fantasy today, in the post-Tolkien tradition. (Not to slight C.S. Lewis, Mervyn Peake or many other fine mid-20th century fantasists.)

So fantasy exists, and persists, from the dawn of literature, at least as seen through a modern lens, and right through to being a best-selling genre in the present day.


Fantasy is a map of the terrain of our subconscious, a doorway into myth. This is true in a meaningful degree of all story-telling, all literature, but fantasy has a special role in being perhaps the least interpolated of our story-telling forms. (If I were Jung at heart, I could go on about archetypes.) There are other agendas at play in the Iliad, for example, and likewise the works of Herodotus, the satires of Lucan, the plays of Sophocles -- politics and religious messaging and cultural reinforcement that move to the forefront, ahead of the mapping of the dark light within the mind.

Fantasy is phrenology-by-proxy, subsuming and possibly incorporating the (at least nominal) rigors of science fiction, the emotional axes of romance, the time-binding of historicals, the adrenaline of thrillers and so on, in favor of an appeal to the escape of self. Perhaps its closest cousin in the current genre framework is horror, which blends into fantasy through the borderland of dark fantasy.

The purpose of fantasy first and foremost is to be a mirror of the mind, a reflection of the soul, a playing field for the imagination. It is us.