the Little Red Reviewer

And it was an epic quest. . . .

Posted on: January 19, 2011

Just so you know, this is a super long post with a funny at the end.  Not unlike an epic quest. . . .

I describe this website as offering Science Fiction & Fantasy reviews.  But going through my list of reviews, I’m seeing far more fantasy than science.  Maybe I should just describe it as a fantasy review site?  Or a gateway to fantasy review site?

When I was a kid, I was an adamant SF fan. Much of my youth was spent building spaceships out of legos and watching PBS shows about astronomy.  I craved scientific explanations for everything.  I wanted to know how everything worked

While my friends were reading Lloyd Alexander, I was reading Interstellar Pig.  As they moved onto Tolkien and Raymond Feist and Katherine Kurtz, I moved onto David Brin and Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert.

To me, Fantasy was wizards with long beards, royals who went on quests where their soldiers and magical armor protected them, and elves and dwarves who spent the first half of the conversation telling you their lineages, and embarassingly rediculous cover art. really nothing else. I had no understanding that “high fantasy” was only the tip of the iceberg of the genre.  My limited experiences with high fantasy let me know quickly that I didn’t care for it.

And then I started reading manga, a form famous for mixing genres. Cyborg mechas using laser guns against a castle and fighting flesh and blood dragons that guarded hoards of treasure? no problem. Kids who get wisked away from their regular life to fight demons and spirits and collect magical shards? piece of cake.  Vampires, martians, aliens, dragons, time travel, often in the same series. And it worked, like magic.

Wait, wasn’t this, um, fantasy?  It sure was fantastical, and it sure wasn’t hard scifi.

With blame falling squarely on Neil Gaiman, Charles deLint, my husband, my friends, manga, and the internet, it was all down hill from there.

I still can’t get into high fantasy, but there is this magnificent, wonderful, most delicious thing called Epic Fantasy, and suddenly my SF books are collecting more dust than usual on my bookshelves.

Maybe five years ago my husband put a copy of Steven Brust’s The Book of Jhereg into my hands and said “you probably won’t like this, but give it a try”.  I devoured t, and have since bought every Brust book I can find.   

Similar experience with Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor series,  which was followed by Michael Moorcock, Robin Hobb, my induction into the cult following of A Song of Ice and Fire, and then The Name of the Wind, which was a major game changer for me.  Joe Abercrombie followed shortly after, and my library request list was never the same.

If I could go back in time visit my twenty year old self, I imagine the conversation would go something like this (I’m visualizing this as a mash up between Grandpa from The Princess Bride and Allie Brosh

* * * *

20 yr old me:  I love science fiction!  I’m reading the entire Asimov Foundation series and all the Robot stories!  I attend an engineering college!

current me: That’s nice, good for you.  You should try some Robin Hobb.

20 yr old me: bah! that crap is all magic and quests and stupid stuff. I want science! I wanna be an engineer and a mythbuster and an astronaut when i grow up!  even though I suck at calculus!

current me:  you should try some George R R Martin.  there’s blood and violence and hot sex and people die, and it’s epically awesome!  I bet your engineering buddies are already reading it.

20 yr old me:  bah!  that sounds dumb!   only science fiction is cool.  only going to outer space is cool.  I read some Dragonlance stuff and I didn’t like it. Thus, all fantasy sucks.

current me:  Wow twenty year old me, you are a stubborn pain in the ass! Fantasy and science fiction are not mutually exclusive, you idiot. You don’t have to give up any of your SF to enjoy F. Let me introduce you to this kid named Fitz and this other guy named Kvothe.  I’m pretty sure they had trouble with calclus too. Oh, and this dude named Vlad Taltos.  He’ll teach you how to throw knives.  And he kills people for a living.  and his wife is super cool.

20 yr old me:  . . . .  fantasy sucks.  you suck.  I’m not stubborn. I read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and a Sheri S Tepper book, they were cool.  

current me:  and this fellow named Locke Lamora?   he’s super hot  and the woman who broke his heart is a redhead. . . .

20 yr old me:  oh?

current me:  and you suck at pouting.

* * * *

it only took ten (and a little)  years, but my epic quest to turn my 20 year old self into a fantasy fan was a success!

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16 Responses to "And it was an epic quest. . . ."

The Book of Jhereg recently found its way to me (through a colleague who shares my love of reading). I’ll put it on top of my piles now. :)

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Your conversation with your 20-year-old self cracked me up. Thank you for the laugh.

I’m a little bit of the opposite, cutting my teeth on high and epic fantasy growing up, with occasional jaunts into hard science fiction. I went through Heinlein and Herbert’s writing, but by the time I got to Asimov, I ran out of hard SF steam around the time I read his collected short stories…and I’ve still never read the Foundations series (I know, I know).

I tend to go on binges where I’ll focus on one genre/subgenre for a while, and then I’ll shift to another. That’s the reason I went with a blog description of “speculative fiction” that would fit not only the SFF reading I mostly do, but cover most everything I read that isn’t non fiction or crazy mainstream fiction.

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I really need to get cozy with that word, “speculative”. It encompasses just about everything, doesn’t it?

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The Drageara(sp?) books is nice. The last one was a bit of a letdown since I hoped for details about the human societies though.

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Hehe!

I followed the same path, but the other way. I thought science fiction was stupid blather with cardboard characters and too much emphasis on boring stuff. It’s taken me a loooong time, but I’ve slowly come to realize that sci fi can be just as awesome as fantasy. I still read more of the latter, but sci fi is edging up, year by year.

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I’m the exact opposite of that. I’ve always loved fantasy, and even though I’ve tried I just can’t get that into SF.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve pursued both paths and enjoyed all sorts of fantasy and science fiction. They are not mutually exclusive, and a number of the really good authors did “crossover” works.

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Very fun post! I never found myself locked into any one genre of fiction. I was an avid reader growing up and read nearly anything I could get my hands on. Consequently there are A LOT of science fiction and fantasy MUST READS that I have not gotten around to reading…but I’m trying. Heck, I just read the Foundation trilogy a few years ago and didn’t read LOTR until after the films came out. For what its worth, my adult self is very much in love with both of these.

As far as science fiction vs. fantasy, I read mostly sf during my younger years but that was largely because I had an uncle who was a sf fan and I borrowed extensively from his collection. I consider my first love to be science fiction, but in the end I just love a good story and many fantasy books, epic or otherwise, have given me that over the years.

My first intro to fantasy was just a random one…my brother decided to pick up a book for me for a birthday present when we were kids and he picked out Patricia A. McKillip’s novel The Riddle Master of Hed. I was hooked and went right out and picked up the other two in the trilogy and I’ve been a fan of hers ever since.

Most of my fantasy reading strays in the direction of authors like Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman and the like, but I read the first book of Song of Ice and Fire last year and it was SOOO GOOD. I have also committed to reading The Name of the Wind sometime before the second book comes out, as I have a good friend who wants to read that one together.

All I know is that fantasy, science fiction, or otherwise, I am enjoying your blog and I say call it what you will. The reason my blog is subtitled “Eclectic Musings of a Renaissance Geek” is that I refuse to pigeon-hole my interests, reading or otherwise, into any one or two categories. It means that different readers virtually ignore me during different times of the year, but that is okay. They comment when they are interested and don’t otherwise, and in the end I am happy because I am reading, reviewing and writing what I want.

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It’s a lot of those “crossovers” that were my gateway books (gateway drugs?), the magical realism, urban fantasy (Charles deLint urban fantasy, NOT the other kind). you know, stories where everything starts out normal and you think it’s just going to be a run of the mill, coming of age mystery, and then all sorts of bizarre things happen?

Doesn’t matter that I grew up reading a lot of SF (and mystery, and regular old teenager fiction), there is still a lot of SF classics and must-reads that I’ve never read, never even come across.

Carl, I can’t wait for you to read Name of the Wind!!! and I get the same exact reader response you do – sometimes this site goes virtually ignored, and other times it seems pretty hoppin’. That’s actually perfect for me, as sometimes I’m feeling very social, other days I’m super antisocial.

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“That’s actually perfect for me, as sometimes I’m feeling very social, other days I’m super antisocial”

I know how that is. I am going to try to do a better job of blogging through those times this year, as I have a tendency to disappear for several weeks in a row when I get my own antisocial streak going. We’ll see…

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Hmm, I’d say I love both genres, but what I want from sf would not make Brin proud. You know that definition of “sf” as a story where the science is central to the fiction? To me, worldbuilding is important, yes — but so are characters and plotting and themes. Which is probably why I read The Mote In God’s Eye, went “hmm” at the concepts, then never read it again (in stark contrast to Bujold). Fantasy never seems to have fallen into the same pitfall.

GRRM’s Dreamsongs puts it in a memorable way. In the last essay in that book, Martin talks about the “Bat Durston” problem, and asks: is that really such a big deal, so long as the story is about the human heart in conflict?

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Someone mentioned “Speculative Fiction” above and I was listening to Strahan and Wolfe’s Notes from Coode Street podcast over the weekend and was cracking up at how much Strahan hates that phrase. I’m not fond of it either, for some of the same reasons he points out…one being that it sounds like something made up because it was embarrassed to be called science fiction or fantasy, but ultimately I don’t care. I just want people to read the stuff, because it can be Great!

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Wasn’t it Ellison who coined the term “Speculative Fiction” for exactly that reason?

I just use it as a blanket term for fantasy, sf, alt history, steampunk, etc. :D

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Probably. It never ceases to amaze me just how adamant some people can get about the terminology when it comes to genre fiction. I sometimes think it would be easier to get non-genre readers into the fold if some of the bigger, and smaller, players weren’t spending so much of their time arguing about these kind of things.

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i know speculative fiction is supposed to cover everything and anything that’s “speculative”. . . the phrase just doesn’t sound very appetizing to me.

my phrase that covers anything and everything is “all that weird stuff”.

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I’m currently going in the opposite direction. I used to adore fantasy, and ignore SF, other than the occasional Asimov. Then at some point I realised that almost all the fantasy I was reading was shit, but couldn’t really get enthused by ‘normal’ literature. And now the last few years I’ve been realising that SF isn’t all Heinlein and Clarke, and I’ve started reading Wolfe and Bester and Priest and Miller and Le Guin and kicking myself for not having read it all sooner.

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