March 9, 2023 · 6:27 am
Content warning: discussions of transphobia, dysphoria; brief mentions of self-mutilation and surgery
It’s a beautiful day in March, 2023. The morning air is crisp, shimmering in between summer and autumn. The sun’s rays melt through a low-lying mist, lighting the world in smudges of gold, as if on the edge of a dream.
It is two years since the anime season of Winter 2021, when a certain series called Wonder Egg Priority aired.
And I’m still thinking about it.
God damn it, I’m still thinking about it. C’mere. Get comfy. Can I get you a cup of tea?
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Filed under Archetypes and Genre, Fun with Isms
Tagged as Aiden Thomas, Andrew Joseph White, Cemetery Boys, fantasy, LGBTQ+, queer YA, The Spirit Bares Its Teeth, Wonder Egg Priority, YA, YA fiction
February 9, 2023 · 6:47 am
Fiction always responds to, and reflects, the context it is created in. In the year of our lord 2023, we’re several years deep in what one might politely call Historic Times. COVID-19, and the social context surrounding it, is gradually making itself known in various genres.
Jodi McAllister’s rom-com Here For the Right Reasons (2022) asks what might happen if a cast of reality TV contestants were suddenly trapped together by a snap lockdown. Emily Gale’s middle grade novel The Goodbye Year (2022) explores how the already weird, transitional phase between primary school and high school is disrupted by the first, scary wave of the pandemic in 2020. Contemporary YA novels are increasingly having to decide if, and how, they factor more than a year of remote learning (and a boatload of collective trauma) into the high school experience of their characters.
Alongside these texts that address the realities of COVID times, though, seems to be a rising wave of speculative fiction that responds to the pandemic. And I don’t mean sci-fi thrillers about post-pandemic post-apocalypses—quite the opposite vibe, in fact!
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December 6, 2018 · 8:45 am
And so Rogues of the Republic comes to its climax and conclusion, and so I come to the end of what turned into a trilogy of review posts. It’s been something of a rollercoaster ride, and, despite these not being my most view-grabbing posts, I’m glad I decided to write up my thoughts on each instalment separately. For one thing, hey, even if these aren’t my most view-grabbing posts, I want to put the word out about a story that I enjoy, and if coming across these gets at least one person to say “hey, that sounds like fun” and discover a new book they enjoy, I have done my work as a blogger and can be delighted with that. For another, I’ve had quite a different reaction to each individual entry in this trilogy, which has been interesting to chart. And the reaction to the third one… well, it’s not as positive as the previous two, but in a way that highlights why the previous two were so successful. Without further ado, let’s get into exactly why. Continue reading →
October 11, 2018 · 8:08 am
Every time a trilogy’s Book Two is better than its Book One, an angel gets its wings. One of my early posts on this blog was a somewhat scientific (and pretentious, but hey, that’s what most of my early posts seem to sound like) study of what I called Second Book Syndrome, the curse that afflicts sequels and mid-point novels in trilogies that makes them… just not great comparatively, for a variety of reasons to do with both author heebie-jeebies and narrative structure. Well, my younger self would be pleasantly surprised to learn that I’ve found a series where Book Two is both better constructed and more enjoyable than Book One. It’s a Christmas miracle! It’s a rollicking fantasy action adventure! It’s Rogues of the Republic: The Prophecy Con!
If this sounds intriguing but you haven’t read my review of Book One and/or Book One itself, I would do that first—this review will naturally contain a few spoilers for its predecessor, since discussing the plot of The Prophecy Con will naturally involve discussing what happens in and after The Palace Job. Honestly, this book does a wonderful job both following on from the previous book and feeling like its own individual, fresh story, and perhaps it’s striking this delicate balance that helps it avoid Second Book Syndrome. It’s also a big improvement in terms of craft: the chaotic nature of the writing itself that threw me off about The Palace Job has mostly been ironed out, and the plot is much cleaner-cut into arcs that make a Three Act Structure more discernible. The prose on a page-to-page level, as well as the plot itself, are much easier to follow, and you get swept up in the adventure and intrigue with even more vigour than before. Also, this is the book where things get gay. Consider these your vague, non-spoiler recommendations, and proceed from here if you want more details. Continue reading →
September 13, 2018 · 8:25 am
Sometimes a family is a thief with a plot for revenge, a soldier, a safecracker, an acrobat, an unqualified wizard, a unicorn, a death priestess, an orphan with a grand destiny, and a talking warhammer with the soul of an ancient king inside it. And sometimes they steal stuff together.
The Palace Job is the first novel in Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic trilogy, and the very definition of “a rollicking good time”. It blends genres by planting an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist caper in a high fantasy setting, following a rag-tag group of lovable criminals (and you know I have a soft spot for those) as they band together to rob a powerful politician in a floating city. It’s a chaotic adventure in both content and sometimes in storytelling, but it absolutely hooked me with its diverse and delightful cast of characters. Continue reading →
July 19, 2018 · 8:09 am
Once upon a time, a scholar named Farah Mendlesohn set out on a valiant quest to create a classification system for the fantasy genre. The result was her 2008 (yes, “once upon a time” is approximately in the realm of 2008) book Rhetorics of Fantasy, an analytical and example-piled volume that digs deep into the question of what the different types of fantasy are, what we expect from them, and why they work.
Mendlesohn assures the reader that these four categories she’s come up with—Portal-Quest, Immersive, Intrusion, and Liminal—are not the new “rules” for fantasy writing nor the be-all-and-end-all of classification within the genre. They’re a tool meant to make studying these stories easier and more interesting, allowing readers, researchers, and fans to look at the genre from new angles with a new frame of reference. And so, just as I have previously brought you Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Tolkien’s Cauldron of Story, and Leavy’s Swan Maiden, I bring you Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy, summed up in several paragraphs and with a lot more anime and video games than the original textbook. Continue reading →
February 23, 2017 · 12:17 am
Canon has been slow roasted at 225 and carved for juicy bits
—Now-famous tags on an AO3 work
Once upon a time in his essay On Fairy Tales, fantasy’s grandpa J.R.R. Tolkien laid out the idea of the Cauldron of Story. The Cauldron of Story (or the less epic name Tolkien also gives it, the Pot of Soup) is the idea that the collective imagination is bubbling away in a hypothetical pot full of every major story that’s ever been told. If something captures people enough—be it a particular character, a historical event, a tale or an archetype–it is added to the Pot to be stirred around, taking on the flavours already in the Pot and adding its own new taste as well. When you ladle out a new bowl of soup to tell a new story, you’re scooping up elements, ingredients and flavours of things long-since added to the big Cauldron—whether you intend to or not. Continue reading →
February 20, 2014 · 12:29 am
“You see this? The author’s going to geek out about this for the next 1k words”
“But it’s magic. The entire point is it doesn’t have to make sense!” This is the logic of my sister’s counter-argument after we saw Frozen a few weeks ago, where I came to realise that not everyone who goes to see movies does so with their literary analysis brain switched on. Some people don’t even have literary analysis brains, and don’t think deeply and examine and obsess over most things they watch or read. Good lord, how do they do it? That’s beside the point. My argument was that the magic in the movie didn’t make sense, which was met with the perfectly valid rebuttal that well, magic is unrealistic as a matter of course, it being magic. Yet is that the way it should be thought of? I say no.
If what we call magic was real, it would just be another science. In the fictional worlds it functions in it’s perfectly accepted by those who know about it as part of the natural world, thus it should work with at least a set of vaguely scientific rules. Yes, we’re already expected to suspend our disbelief to enjoy a story where people can be turned into frogs, but that should only go so far. Magic without rules is random and unpredictable and therefore any plot point it has anything to do with will feel like it’s been pulled out of the writer’s behind. It’s also pretty boring. If your magic can do anything, where’s the tension?
Magic in a story makes things awesome but it should also make things scary, suspenseful and you know, everything that makes a story. Most people who offer advice on this kind of thing recommend that magic creates more problems than it solves, otherwise it just becomes a fix-all solution and there’s no question of how things are going to end since you know the wizard’s going to snap his fingers and set everything right. Magic with thought-out rules, however convoluted or simple they are, is what really makes things interesting. For example… Continue reading →
August 8, 2013 · 12:16 am
In fictional worlds of boundless possibility and imagination, why are they so often riddled with the prejudices of the real one?
Fantasy and science fiction have a serious problem where it comes to equal representation… which, from my humble point of view, is offensive first of all but mostly just bizarre. I mean, the definition of fantasy is that anything is possible, and science fiction shows us a world that we can strive towards in the future. So why are we so limited to the thought processes of the modern (and the not-so-modern) world?
The most obvious example of this is that fantasy worlds are commonly very, very white. This is a topic of much discussion all over the Intertubes and beyond, and a pretty prickly issue. It’s also really weird if you think about it. If the world itself is completely made up, you can do whatever you wish with it. You can have floating mountains and creatures with six heads and people turning each other into frogs. Your main characters could live in a world covered in volcanoes or hanging over the cliff to different portals of existence, your fantasy landscape designed with any level of implausible ridiculousness in mind. The same goes for the people who populate it… yet most of them seem to look overtly European.
Well, there is some solid reasoning behind this: first of all, if you make your world and its populace too bizarre it won’t be relatable and it will be more difficult for your audience to connect with, whether through a question of empathy or just them going “This is silly” and tossing the book aside. This, and a combination of the infinite inspiration lying wait in history, leads to the Fantasy Counterpart Culture, fantastical or alien civilisations with traits we can recognise in societies that exist or have existed in the real world.
The most common example is the fantasy landscape based on Medieval Europe. This is basically Tolkien’s doing, when it comes down to it, seeing as The Lord of the Rings and company were the first books to really make the fantasy genre cool, and thus authors that followed have looked to their master for example. The fantasy archetypes that we’re comfortably and stereotypically used to all come from Tolkien, from the landscape to the Orcs to the armour to the big dangerous faceless force of evil.
And that’s okay. Let it never be said that The Lord of the Rings isn’t amazing. However, with everyone following Tolkien’s archetype we’ve ended up with a market swamped in Europe-esque fantasy worlds, leaving things suspended in a rather absurdly Caucasian persuasion. Continue reading →
Filed under Fun with Isms
Tagged as A Song of Ice and Fire, Avatar, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Earthsea, fantasy, Firefly, Game of Thrones, J.R.R Tolkein, media representation, racism, science fiction, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Ursula Le Guinn
December 27, 2012 · 12:12 am
I haven’t delved into fantasy reading since my youthful days enjoying Deltora Quest and The Hobbit, but recently one series has eaten my brain. Notably more adult than the aforementioned titles, George R. R. Martin’s phenomenally successful A Song of Ice and Fire has completely hooked me, an intoxication shared with my father and the topic of much conversation. I think the rest of the family is growing a bit tired of it, to be honest, but there is no rest for the readers.
Or the viewers, as anyone who has watched the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones will know. May I take the chance to say that I adore what that studio does, taking the budget and detail of a film and dedicating it to a long-running series, acknowledging that some stories are better told in television format and not crushed into movies (even if they do get three billion sequels) and that the television format can in fact support such a level of grandeur. They do, of course, make sure that their shows have as wide an audience as possible to pay for all this by filling them with fan service (read: a good dose of boobs every episode), but that is part of the package.
In any case, it is interesting to note that a fantasy series has become so wildly popular in this era of hard-bitten realists. But then again, fantasy can never go out of style, being the utmost form of escapism: we’ve had a fine example of this recently in the form of the hugely successful Skyrim, latest in the Elder Scrolls games which let the audience literally escape into the fictional world. There’s also The Hobbit, making its way around the world and drawing massive audiences (and not just to look at Aidan Turner’s pretty face, though that helps too), and its predecessors The Lord of the Rings trilogy which raked in academy awards and love.
So fantasy is still popular, if a little nerdy (and what’s wrong with that? Pah), which then reshapes the question to what makes ASOIAF stand out and attract its own overflowing and enthusiastic fanbase? Continue reading →