Wednesday, 8 August 2007

I was thinking…

We all read sci-fi/fantasy primarily for entertainment but also because it’s an escape from all the rubbish we have to deal with on a daily basis. I’ve just had a pretty awful day at work and the first thing I did when I left was to dive straight into ‘Shadowbred’ (by Paul S. Kemp, I’ll be reviewing it tomorrow) where I exchanged a world of office drudgery for a world of swords, sorcery and high adventure. By the time I got home things were already much better.
The thing that struck me though is that while we all want to escape into these fantastical worlds, we all moan if these worlds are lacking in realism in any way. My pet hate is names that blatantly look as if they have thrown together using the left over pieces from a game of scrabble. For example, “Qualhurg sank a pint of werghiz, stroking his battleaxe ‘Unfelliaz’ whilst watching the Trilladan in the corner”, a line like that is pretty much guaranteed to have me crumpling an otherwise decent book into a ball and throwing it out of the window. I’ll bet you’re the same, it may not be names but I’ll bet there’s something that makes you think, “that’s just not realistic”. My point though is how much realism is it appropriate to expect from something that (at best) may only have a very tenuous link to reality? Should the reader expect something that they can identify with on some level, something that grounds them and prepares them for more fantastical elements. Or should the reader be expected to just completely suspend their disbelief and take whatever comes?
What do you guys think? What do you hate seeing in genre fiction? Should a writer write with the reader in mind or should they stay true to the vision in their head and to hell with the consequences…?


GS said...

My favourite fantasy stories have one foot in the real world - High House/False House by James Stoddard (now sadly out of print) - The Great Game sequence by Dave Duncan (ditto) and The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix.

I guess the problem comes when characters that are blatantly human - as most central characters of fantasy stories are - are dealing with worlds that are undeniably Earth with just the names changed and a bit of sword and sorcery thrown in.

It's a weakness of the world building if you think that something is ridiculous and couldn't really exist. And giving things a silly name for the sake of it is just that.

It also makes it harder to read when you're thinking well it's really a horse - why isn't it a horse - would it spoil the story that much if it actually was a horse?

So unless a writer can fold there new elements within our expectations we're always going to struggle.

And the more you read the more you can spot the gold plate from the gold.

DesLily said...

I think fantasy needs someone or something you can connect with.. Some of the best characters in a book would be either one that you yourself identify with.. or one you can really wish was real! lol..

Kim said...

Most important question answered first. A writer should stay true to their original vision. After all, we (readers) are paying them for their thoughts. If we wanted our own thoughts to be reflected back to us, we should just write the story ourselves!

My pet peeves are similar to those listed by gs. I once read that the element of fantasy should be added only when it actually adds something to the story. To have a romance, mystery, or western and randomly throw in a character that shoots fireballs is to sensationalize the story for no particular reason.

Things should make sense and be consistent within the context of the story. If those guidelines are followed, I find I generally enjoy the story no matter the genre.

As for your initial pet peeve, I usually just give characters with unpronounceable names my own nicknames, which makes it hard to talk about the book a year later but much easier to read ;)

Angela/SciFiChick said...

I think that if an author is going to use an obscure name for a creature or person, they should give us a pronounciation guide at the end of the book. I think that's what bugs me most, when I can't pronounce a name. I was so glad that the Harry Potter movies explained how to pronounce "Hermoine".. I would have never thought to pronounce it correctly just from reading the books. And I would have felt like an idiot trying to discuss it with a friend.

And I guess I don't really mind a strange name for a strange beast. As long as the animal is original.

Graeme Flory said...

Thanks guys! You've all given me a new way of looking at things with the whole 'too fantastical' and 'silly names' things...

Violet said...

Dear Graeme,

Hi there! I've just found your blog. One of my friends forwarded the link to this article to back up some of his arguments. Looking through your reviews, it looks like you've put a lot of thought into this genre.

As an long time reader of fantasy, I feel it is pure escapism, not that there anything wrong with that. However, I do avoid the books with the silly words, more out of fear than anything else. Just as heavy metal contains satanic exhortations when played backwards, I know there's some secret message being transmitted.

It's always nice to hear that I'm not the only one who reads on the train to leave the world of work behind. I do feel a little embarrassed at some of the cover artwork, though. Do you ever find this an issue? Do your fellow travelers know you're inhabiting a parallel world where sorcery is the norm?



Remy said...


I know you asked Graeme this but I thought I would chime in with my thoughts. It personally does not bother me at all to be seen reading a fantasy novel in a public place. Fantasy cover art/book names aren't that bad especially compared to the romance novels I have seen being read in public.


What did you think about the names Brian Ruckley used in Winterbirth? I just started reading it and I don't know why he changed human to huanin and elf to kyrinin.

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Amy!

Thanks for stopping by. I love reading on the train in the morning. I'm lucky enough that none of the covers on my books are too cheesy so I'm not too bothered showing them off on the train ;o) Having said that though, the other commuters are usually too busy reading their own stuff to notice me!

Hey Remy!
I was pretty cool with the names that Brian Ruckley used in 'Winterbirth'. The Kyrinin were obviously elves but he had put his own slant on them so the name change worked for me. The use of 'Huanin' was so close to 'Human' that you almost imagine their language developing and them calling themselves 'human' in years to come so that worked for me as well.