May 13, 2012

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS – The Extinction of Fantasy

In reading and in writing I have been and always will be a science fiction fan.

I will confess in secret that I have read fantasy, but that I am extremely finicky. The fantasy novels and/or series I have read can be counted on two hands: LOTR, Chronicles of Narnia, CHRONICLES OF THE DERYNI (only 9), THOMAS COVENANT (only 6), SWORD OF SHANNARA (just the first one), PERDIDO STREET STATION, JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORREL, WAR FOR THE OAKS, the first book of SONG OF FIRE AND ICE (never again), and the first book of THE WHEEL OF TIME (never EVER again).

For the purpose of this blog entry, let me note the publication dates of these books:

LOTR – 1954
ChronN – 1950
ChronD – 1970
ChronTC – 1977
SoS – 1977
WFTO – 1987
TWOT – 1990
SOFAI – 1996
HP – 1997
PSS – 2000
JSaMN – 2004

According to the data I have obtained, the decline of science fiction began in 1999:

It might be said that at that point, the extinction event of science fiction followed on the heels of the meteoric rise of HARRY POTTER. After that point, science fiction writers, magazines, books and paraphernalia were in the minority. (I don’t count movies here because I believe that movies are more a reflection of instantaneous culture than long-term culture.) Let me also note that the death knell of science fiction was sounded by a children’s book. Let me note again that up until that point, young adults still occasionally read the works of Heinlein, Norton, Christopher and more recently often read Westerfeld and Collins – though I might note for the fourth time that the oldsters dealt in Utopias and the kids deal in DYStopias, which is getting tiresome already and will kill the YA genre dead soon.

I will also note (for the last time of noting) that up until HP, science fiction and fantasy were pretty much neck-and-neck in the race for readership.

Oh, whoops. What’s the difference between SF and F you ask? In the immortal words of Nancy Lebovitz:

Science fiction is about the unknown which is to be understood and thereby changed
Fantasy is about the unknown which is to be loved for its strangeness
Horror is about the unknown which is to be feared
Disaster [fiction] is about the unknown and is to be endured
Realistic fiction iterates that the unknown isn't worth bothering with

At any rate, it is my studied opinion that fantasy is hearing its own death knell. The market has been flooded and the tropes are wearing so thin that parodies are coming out before the ink has dried on the most recent printing ( “The Hunger But Mainly Death Games by John Bailey Owen and Aaron Geary has already been self-published by the authors and sold over 25,000 copies…Owen is a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon, the name behind Bored of the Rings, and New York Times bestselling Twilight parody Nightlight.”)

So then: while there is still science fiction being published and people are also getting tired of teen dystopias; where is the meteorite that will cause the KT Extinction Event for fantasy?

What are your thoughts? Ideas? Irritations?

Keep watching this space for updates!

1 comment:

Paul said...

I don't think fantasy is on its way out anytime soon. It's arguably the oldest form of literature in the world. Maybe it'd be better to say it's changing form, but no one is yet sure what the new form will be. I've hear that Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind has sent shockwaves through the genre, but since I, like you, am more a science fiction than fantasy reader, I haven't gotten round to reading it. Maybe he's the torchbearer of whatever will come next. In any case, I'm sure that there are good surprises ahead.