Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 19:50 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Sorry, didn't see your later post. I agree with that as well, but I don't think you could ever arrive with a definition that would include everything considered of the genre fantasy and exclude everything considered something else. And that is the heart of my argument. That genre might be a helpful term but you shouldn't let it actually hinder you in any way.
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at 19:48 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Andy: Yes, I agree. But I would argue that at least your example would be on a very superficially descriptive level. And I have no problem with such usage. The problem comes when we begin to use such definitions to exclude literature, which will happen if we try to define it too closely. Of course genres as such is a modern creation and it would be anachronistic to define historical literature as such, especially if we try to pigeonhole stuff into these genre categories. But for me at least, fantasy literature is a mixture of very different influences from very different sources and while the category of fantasy helps me to find new books or likeminded souls in the world, I do not like it to go much deeper than that. In other words, I don't know what fantasy(or scifi) is, but I know it when I see it.
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at 19:33 on 05-04-2012, Andy G
I'm being nitpicky obviously. Saying you hate all fantasy is a pretty big generalisation. But I think you could pick out a breadth of really good authors from within fantasy as it is generally understood without having to reach out to Kafka and co.
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at 19:27 on 05-04-2012, Andy G
@Janne: I agree that genre concepts have vague amorphous edges. But just because the edges are vague, it doesn't mean that anything goes. You can imagine that the concept of "fantasy" *could* conceivably be extended to include things like myths and legends, but the fact that it *could* hypothetically be extended doesn't mean that it actually *does* apply to those things. If someone said they were a massive fan of fantasy but it turned out that what they liked was myths, legends and magic realism and no multi-volume epics with elves and barbarians, you'd say they didn't really understand how to use the concept of "fantasy".
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at 18:52 on 05-04-2012, James D
I just don't think you can limit fantasy like that, and I'm not sure there are *any* tropes or conventions that you can assign that apply to *all* fantasy, besides the incredibly broad 'includes a significant amount of elements which clearly couldn't exist in the real world.' Tropes and conventions are more the stuff of subgenres, like dragons & elves fantasy or dark urban fantasy or grimdark epic fantasy or whatever. Even basic stuff like magic, or being set in an invented world, are far from universal.
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at 18:48 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
But what are the accepted terms of a genre? I think that with pretty much any definition of the genre of fantasy you arrive at, you will either end up excluding works that everybody would say are fantasy or end up including works that are non-genre. So what is the point of restricting oneself or the literature except in the most superficial ways?

There is no reason cryptic modern parables couldn't be described as fantasy or a precursor to fantasy and myths and legends is a difficult concept as well(which I infer is also your point with the quotes). The greeks did not categorically believe that the events in the Odysseia were real events, although they probably believed they were based on ones. And many Arthur legends were clearly originated as entertainment for the rich. And while Jane Austen is most certainly not romantic fiction, superficially one might consider it such, because of subject matter and how it is usually portrayed nowadays.

Hmm... I'm not actually saying that the term genre is completely irrelevant, it is just that it is much too amorphous a concept to really set any guidelines or demarcations by, except in the process of breaking the same.
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at 18:36 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
Oh sorry, Andy beat me :)
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at 18:36 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
I have no issues with genre fiction but I think it's problematic to try and legitimise it by pointing out fantastical elements in non-genre fiction. It's like saying there are marriages in Jane Austen, therefore she's writing romance.
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at 18:34 on 05-04-2012, Andy G
I'm not sure "fantasy" just means "contains fantastic elements" though, any more than "crime" as a genre just means "contains crimes". Obviously, it's a pretty amorphous concept, but there are various tropes and conventions and expectations that you typically (but not always or exclusively) get with fantasy (not just in the texts but in the ways those texts are received) and that's different from, say, magic realism, "genuine" myths and legends, or the very exclusive genre of cryptic modernist parables in which people transform into beetles.
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at 18:24 on 05-04-2012, James D
Hell, the protagonist in Shakespeare's The Tempest is a wizard, for crying out loud. With magical servants! People who object to fantasy generally tend to be objecting to their narrow idea of what fantasy is, which usually involves vague notions of Conan the Barbarian, Lord of the Rings, and their derivatives.
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at 18:18 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Well, you can replace the dragons with anything that is a staple of fantasy, really.

That's another point. If you ask people have they read fantasy and they say no, in a superior tone and with the sort of slimy unearned superiority that exists in such stereotypical people, you continue by asking have they read Odysseia? Decamerone? King Arthur? Micromegas? Books by Kundera, Marquez, Kafka, Atwood or Rushdie? They'll probably say yes at some point so it seems they actually don't have a real problem with the fantastic or unreal, they have a problem with something being called fantasy or scifi. But I've digressed enough.
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at 18:10 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
Personally I handle my dragons kindly but firmly, and I never let them break curfew or eat hobbits.
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at 17:54 on 05-04-2012, James D
I don't know, it depends on how you phrase the criticism. It would be perfectly reasonable for a reviewer to roll their eyes at *yet another* fantasy book filled with dragon tropes. But yes, that would require a slightly more specific criticism of the way in which the book handles dragons.
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at 17:50 on 05-04-2012, Arthur B
This is what happens when people see genres in the same way that (some) other people see sports teams or political parties or religions, where your support for it is a marker of identity and you should be passionately defending your corner even if you don't agree with what the people on your team do sometimes.
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at 17:34 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
The whole idea of genre used in a way to excuse bad literature is kind of self defeating. What is genre, after all, than a very superficial label that tells a person in a very generic way something about its subject matter. At times it is only a marketing category. So how come some stupid tropes or even bad literature shouldn't be criticized? It somehow presupposes a strict existence of a genre that has always been and is not something that is actually a quite recent development and changes constantly.

Of course it is clear that criticizing a book about dragons for having fantastic beasts is idiotic, but a book about dragons can still have literary merits and there is nothing wrong with having high standards, whether the book tells about disgust with a modern consumerist culture through amoralistic teenagers or teenager werewolves who ride dragons(and are amoralistic).
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at 17:27 on 05-04-2012, James D
The thing is, even if the reviewer isn't that into the genre, that's still a reasonable opinion. People who are very much into a genre often seem to miss glaring faults in basic writing because they've been conditioned by shlock to accept it all in service of their Favorite Thing. That might be testosterone-fueled swordplay, romantic entanglements with vampires, or worldbuilding fetishism, but I think sometimes it's healthy to have a reviewer without the entire LOTR apocrypha on their shelf rain on our parade once in a while (assuming they can do so without coming across like a total condescending pissflap).
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at 17:16 on 05-04-2012, valse de la lune
I especially like the idea that if genre tropes suck you're bad for saying they suck, and should be looking into another genre. I don't think some of them can wrap their minds around the idea that sometimes reviews will be negative because the book sucks, not because the reviewer is just not into that genre.
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at 11:30 on 05-04-2012, Arthur B
Photoshop Troll might be the funniest troll ever.
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at 11:24 on 05-04-2012, Arthur B
Yeah, most of what's down there seems fine, but some of it reads like my April Fool's article come to life (particularly the "Why would you ever betray the Literature of Ideas by writing bad reviews of things? That's mean!" stuff).
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at 00:49 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
To be fair to the article, I think some of the stuff is moderately sensible - I like the idea that reviews should be on their own terms entertaining and individualistic as long as that doesn't involve reviewer grandstanding or interfere with the central purpose of a review which is to discuss the text. I know I tend to shade towards criticism (err in the analytical sense of the word) but, hey, this voluntary, I can write what I like :)

Pamela Sargent, however, is egregiously stupid...
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at 00:42 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
The thing I find most disconcerting about the Mind Meld article is the fact most of the commentary comes from writers (or aspiring writers, lol). I mean obviously you can't put an electric fence between writers and reviewers but, err, reviews are for readers, not writers, right? Obviously I don't think writers should be banned from reading reviews, and I'm not saying there's nothing "for" them in reviews, but surely one has to recognise that writers are *not* the primary focus/audience. Also another aspect that generally troubles me is the false-hierarchy of readers/reviewers and writers. These are *separate spheres.* I'm both a writer *and* a reader, and I don't consider reading/reviewing to be an unfortunate preamble to writing, nor is writing what I "really" want to be doing. I like being a consumer of texts, and I think being an enlightened consumer is a valuable role.

And, yes, as Ibmiller says I think this is even more pronounced in videogames, since that whole industry is based around the unquestioned assumption that designing games is the holy grail.
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at 22:42 on 04-04-2012, Wardog
Ferretbrain is entirely amateur, there is no monies involved at all, ever :)

(although I am totally up for bribery and corruption if anybody fancies bribing and corrupting me...)
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at 22:31 on 04-04-2012, Arthur B
Pamela Sargent's argument as to why writers can never get any value whatsoever out of reviews and how bad reviews are nightmarish and traumatic experiences... makes me want to review her stuff.
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at 21:50 on 04-04-2012, Ibmiller
Video game reviewers - definitely supposed to be unpaid marketers.

Book reviewers - well, I would think that since books and their reviews have been out for a bit longer than video games, there's a bit more. Hopefully there's also a bit less poisonous model of production and reviewing than for games, as well. (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/9523-The-Story-Doesnt-Matter)

However, since I generally only read unpaid reviews (like, er, here :-) (unless they're paid and I didn't know it, which, if so, my apologies for the assumption), I don't quite know what they're talking about.

I do like the perspective of a few reviewers I like - at a certain point in a reviewing career, you start trying to use your position to push things you think are underrepresented but worthy. The things that succeed will succeed regardless of reviews (see also, Transformers), but sometimes, you can help smaller things do better.

At this point, I am rambling - apologies again.
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