About fantasy and science fiction

This blog is not just about fantasy and science fiction. But some of it will be. So I’m going to get this off my chest right from the start.

It’s sometimes hard not to feel shy about admitting you read fantasy novels.

The most depressing phrase I’ve ever heard uttered by an intelligent adult was “Oh, I don’t read that sort of thing”.

I can understand (if I try) that people can find it hard to relate to a world which includes magic and monsters, or laser guns and aliens (same thing), or time travel, or protective forest spirits. I can appreciate that if you can’t relate to the world you’re reading about you’re unlikely to enjoy the book. Fair enough. What makes me want to howl is the phrase “that sort of thing”.

The same intelligent adult, if they think about it, will admit that by “that sort of thing” they weren’t necessarily including Frankenstein, 1984, Gormenghast, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, The Picture of Dorian Grey, The House of the Spirits, Beowulf etc.etc. Or The Time Traveller’s Wife, or Beyond Black, or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, or The Lovely Bones to give more recent examples.

That’s a start. Now if I could only persuade more of them to go and read an Iain Banks Culture novel, or Mary Gentle’s Rats and Gargoyles, or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, or Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, or Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles, or Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon…

Adults are allowed to read fantasy novels too. This is important. The proponents of the theory that fantasy is for children seem to think that on reaching adulthood we should all put away our belief in fairies and concentrate on the real world. What they’re missing is that most children don’t believe in fairies either. They just have no trouble with the idea of a good story which happens to include fairies. We don’t have to prove our adulthood by rejecting the imagination. Our adult ‘real world’ has always been laced with the not-quite-possible. Once it was myth and magic; now it’s urban legends, ghost stories and horoscopes.

Yes, there is sword-and-sorcery dross out there and yes, some science fiction authors come up with improbable tentacled green aliens. There is also chick-lit. I rest my case.

(For more eloquent and interesting versions of the above, please see Ursula Le Guin in the New Statesman, and Audrey Niffenegger writing in the Guardian).

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