Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Further to our discussions

Damien Walter, The Guardian's SF blogger, despite some discouraging words in a comment thread in Cinerati, is always an interesting look at mainstream reactions to the SF world. This week he discusses commercial and literary fantasy. As any good blogger does, he responds at length to interesting commenters, of which there are more than a few. From the comment thread:

Commenter Cromis:
In the case of Mieville and VanderMeer, they were chugging down a steady diet of Peake, Harrison and Moorcock.

Commenter Hudson P:
Using my own reading life as a yardstick, though, I only encountered Peake & Harrison because they were stacked on the shelves next to the dross that I happily and uncritically devoured.

Moorcock is almost a representation of entire genre in miniature, with brave and exciting works mixed in with pay-the-rent books of more humble achievements.

Today's high/epic fare is more akin to blockbuster publishing, whereas Moorcock was writing at the very arse end of the pulp era, when publishers were still chasing the cheap and cheerful market.

I see those Moorcock novels in the context of the Sphere Conan reprints and the stuff written in the sixities and seventies by, eg, L SPrague De Camp or Lin Carter, the jolly fantasy hacks of their day. (This point of view is is perhaps a symptom of what doctors call "getting old".)

One of the the things that makes those books appealing is brevity born of the commercial necessities of that era - hammer out 60k in a week, pick up cheque, pay rent. FWIW, Kim Newman wrote his Games Workshop novels of the 80s in the same way, and they are also under-appreciated gems.

These days, the commercial necessities are different, reflecting (one supposes) the desires of the contemporary audience. It's the LotR effect, that demands every new fantasy aspire to epochal granduer. While there has been some return to crunchier, pulpier roots (assuming pulp roots would be crucnhy, syneasthesia overload!) the heroic mode still seems to dominate in terms of form (ie, long series, world-changing events etc).

I still like some those L Sprague De Camp books - The Fallible Fiend still makes me smile!

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