Guest Post and Giveaway: “The Cost of Magic Systems” by Christopher Hoare

(Giveaway info will be at the very end of this post.)

I’d like to discuss some aspects of magic in fantasy novels, specifically how the magic in my novel Rast both differs from and coincides with that used as a plot device in other novels.

First, in my novel, magic is described as a power active in a particular place; the magic kingdom of Rast, ruled by a Drogar, the sorcerer king. But later developments reveal that there is also another realm where magic is mastered, Easderly, where cousins of the sorcerer king reside, and from where a daughter has to be sent to be mother of a future sorcerer king. This is similar to the treatment in other works as well as folklore, where special places exist where magic happens – in Fairie or Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. In fact, the latter work has a fairy princess necessary to bear a future magic king – clearly testimony to the power of magic’s distant influences, because I’d never heard of that novel before researching for this blog post.

In this discussion I will assume (drearily lacking any sense of wonder) that in both the reader and
myself, magic is accepted as being wholly fictional. This was not always the case, even in fiction; in William Shakespeare's time, witches like the Weird Sisters in Macbeth and wizards like Prospero in The Tempest were widely considered to be real.

To my mind, the greatest difference between the magic in Rast and that in almost every other work of fiction is the ‘price’ mine charges for its use. In all works where magic is a plot device, there are two considerations; firstly that there must be sufficient limits on its use to retain the necessary plausibility that opposition to the magic wielders is possible (there is no story else); secondly that these magic wielders have had to learn or otherwise exert themselves to acquire the ability. There is one exception that I will deal with later.

In Rast, the ability to exersize magic is inherited, but has to be mastered and is ultimately fatal. It comes with a huge price; after a number of years the restless magic will overpower the sorcerer king and burst the bounds he places on it and so destroy him. This is the major plot problem of the story, which takes place during the interregnum while the old Drogar is losing his last struggle and his heir, Prince Egon, is learning how to take up the deadly power.

The wieldable magic isn’t the only manifestation in Rast; there are magic entities and creatures that have been created in the past by magic, but always through the workings of the same magic force. Thus these are all interconnected to that force by a greater or lesser degree, making magic an immanent reality, like gravity.

Magic artifacts are common to many fantasy novels, and there are a few artifacts of magic in Rast. The gossamer net that the Princes’ sweetheart uses to protect herself from the Deepning’s spells was created for the purpose in such a distant past that its origin is lost in myth. Prince Egon was given a saffron crystal by his father as an aid to learning to use and control the magic. The princess sent from Easderly was given one spell sealed in a bronze bound casket as a gift from her father. The Deepning, a magic created creature, can send out siren spells to lure victims, but they are actually part of its own substance.

And the earlier exception I mentioned? In many works of fantasy the magic is bestowed by some form of object, a talisman, a wand, or a ritual object, and here we get very close to folklore and the belief that magic actually exists. How much difference is there between believing the power of a magic lamp or an enchanted sword and in that of a holy relic? While magic in fiction has to be an integral part of the law of the story, in the real world magic is something that is completely outside of the laws of physics – supernatural; a completely unnatural power. In fiction we might enjoy playing with a tamed facsimile of this magic, but the tension is always greater when the audience has been brought to suppress their scepticism and to fear it as the ancients did. Perhaps we are not all that distant from Shakespeare’s audience after all.

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About Rast
In Rast, magic is not a convenient parlour trick, it’s a deadly force that takes no prisoners. Those who must wield it are doomed, for it never ceases to work within the mind and nerves until it destroys its master.

And now, the time of the interregnum is here; the reigning sorcerer king, the Drogar of Rast, is struggling for a last grasp on magic power while his heir, Prince Egon, must take up the deadly mantle. Egon is fearful but courageous in his duty. Not one peril threatens Rast, but many.

While he struggles to tame the magic to his command the mechanistic Offrang adventurers arrive to seize the land for their empire. The Offrangs don’t just disbelieve in magic, they treat any attempt to discuss it with withering scorn. Then, when the Drogar falters, the North Folk sweep out in their multitudes to cover the land of Rast at the behest of their depraved Casket of Scrolls. Deepning too, a creature of earth magic in its mountain pools, stirs to gain power enough to conquer Rast.

The Prince’s sweetheart Jady does her best to support him, but she is not strong enough in the power of the lineage to bear him a magic wielding heir. She sets out to meet the caravansi of the cousin princess who is sent to be his consort with duty and anger both warring in her mind. The crisis will reveal surprising enemies, surprising friends, and as the Drogar tells Jady, “Even a Drogar may not see a future not yet determined.” While Egon goes west to spy on the Offrangs and Jady makes her way east, the oracle provided by the Pythian that lives in a cavern beneath the palace reveals, “You have no high point to see the scattered threads but must trust to those who grasp them.”

Everyone, enemy and friend, has a part to play in the preservation of Rast.

Rast is available for purchase here.

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Christopher Hoare lives with his wife, Shirley, and two shelter dogs, Coco and Emmie, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. As a lad he lived, breathed, and dreamed aeroplanes, won a place at RAE Farnborough learning to engineer them, but found the reality didn’t fit the dream. Did a stint in the army and then away to Libya to join the oil circus. Flying objects only appear as tools when they now appear in his writing.


His stories never take place next door to the lives most people live; the less charitable find similarity in characters who tend to be stubborn, independent, and contrarian. Perhaps there’s a connection between the worlds he portrays in fiction, and his working life in oil exploration in the Libyan Desert, the Canadian Arctic, and the mountains and forests of Western Canada.


He has written stories set in Anglo-Saxon Britain, in modern industrial projects, in the alternate world of Gaia, and the fantasy world of Rast. Sometimes known to satirize jobs and organizations he knows. Likes to write central characters who are smart, beautiful, and dangerous women who lead their male counterparts to fulfill dangerous duties they'd rather avoid. Gisel Matah in the Iskander series is perhaps the most Bond-like of these, but Jady in Rast can match her in many aspects.


Visit his website at http://www.christopherhoare.ca/ to learn much more, and download the free novella “Gisel Matah and the Slave Ship”. You can find his blog at http://trailowner.blogspot.com/

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Giveaway
CONTEST! Christopher Hoare is giving away two e-Copies of Rast during his virtual book tour. You can find his entire tour schedule at here. Leave a comment (including your email address) at any of his blog stops during the tour. He will select two winners from all comments received. The more blogs you visit and comment at, the greater your chances of winning a copy of the book.

International SF/F: Does it get an out from the “cliche” argument?

I've been meaning to talk about this subject for a while, and it is result of an experience I had a few weeks ago when the fine folks over at Tor sent me Alexey Pehov's Shadow Prowler.

I am, by all accounts, somewhat more critical of fantasy for its lack of originality than I am of other genres. It's not an unusual position to take, since so many arguments launched against various fantasy titles typically include terms like "derivative" or "Tolkien-esque" and so on. The genre is saturated with familiar tropes. But, as I've argued many times before, a good writer can take a fairly cliche idea and make it good. Additionally, Sometimes the way a book presents itself (i.e. via the cover and the cover synopsis) can alleviate a lot of the knee-jerk reactions readers may have when they discover a new fantasy title. It is this reaction that I want to talk about here.
When I received Shadow Prowler in the mail, I was immediately pleased by the cover (see above), which led me straight to the text on the cover jacket. That is where the problems started. The description of Pehov's story is, to put it mildly, about as cliche as it gets. Read for yourself:
After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring.

An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.
Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).
Great. Another novel about some Nameless One with elfin princesses and a city so cleverly called Avendoom (ha ha ha, get it, Avendoom...and the city is threatened by the Nameless One). But then I read this and my reaction changed:
Reminiscent of Moorcock's Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series.
Something about the explanation of the texts' origins caused me to pause. A Russian fantasy epic originally published in Russian? A link to another fantastic series by another Russian SF/F great? Suddenly I was interesting and a little inner dialogue shot off in my head:
Me: Oh, well, he's a Russian author writing fantasy. That's interesting.
My Head: So?
Me: So, I want to read it.
My Head: But a minute ago you rolled your eyes and sighed because it sounded too cliche.
Me: Yeah, but that was before I knew he was Russian.
My Head: So, if you're Russian, you can get away with it?
Me: Apparently.
My Head: You realize how stupid that sounds, right?
Me: Quiet, you. You're just my head talking.
While the dialogue didn't proceed exactly as described above, it does provide a basis for the complete turnaround I had when I discovered the novel's origins: translated from Russian. I even gawked at my own idiocy. Why was I suddenly okay with a novel that sounds horribly cliched? Why did the fact that it is an international book change my mind? Stranger yet is the fact that I am/was fully aware of the long tradition of genre fiction in Russian history, dating back centuries. But, there I was, suddenly excited about a novel that only moments before I was about to toss onto my "likely will never read because it's too cliche" pile. Maybe it's a good thing, though. Maybe more reactions like this should happen so that novels like Shadow Prowler don't get lost in the sea of English-based fantasy titles loaded with just as many cliches. Something about that makes me feel strange, though.

To end this, I have a few questions:
--Does international SF/F get an out from the "cliche" argument simply because it is international? (apply this to any international SF/F, not just Russian)
--Is it a good thing that one can go from being annoyed to being excited about a book due entirely to the discovery of its international origins?

I feel uneasy saying yes to the first question, simply because of the stages many developing or developed nations go through in terms of genre fiction (you can, largely speaking, trace the same general literary developments in science fiction in just about every nation, with some exceptions). And, I feel uneasy saying no to the last question, because excitement for any text is a good thing; if my interest in this text leads me to read it and, perhaps, love it, it might engender a willingness to open my mind to more fiction in this particular vein and more fiction from international venues (which I'm already fairly open to, though I don't go out of my way to find the stuff, with exception to Caribbean SF--more on that some other time).

What do you think? Am I insane? Has this ever happened to you?

Science Fiction and Fantasy in Airports

As promised, I do have something interesting to point out about the presence of science fiction and fantasy in airports, and something that might be a good indicator of the power of books among travelers.

First things first, I can honestly say that I've seen a significant increase in the number of book-specific shops in airports. I don't know if this is national or international, but I've traveled a little bit over the last few years and I have noticed two things: 1) that there are more book-specific shops springing up all over the place, and 2) that some areas are insanely more book-friendly than others (St. Louis and Atlanta, for example, have a lot of book shops and places that carry books).

But what is more interesting than this is how strong of a presence science fiction and fantasy have. When you walk into a book-specific shop, there is almost always a section specific to science fiction and fantasy (and a section for YA, which is usually loaded to the teeth with fantasy titles). Sometimes the section is quite small, and other times it's about the same size as all of the other sections (non-fiction, general fiction, and so on).

The only downside to this is that these shops have a tendency to carry very little in terms of new work, which means that many of these SF/F sections are more like the classic literature section that most of these places have. It's unfortunate, but there must be a reason for it; you don't carry old SF/F (as in classic SF/F) if you're not selling it. This isn't to say that these stores don't carry newer titles; they do, but they typically only carry the more prominent new titles, such as works from various high-profile urban fantasy authors or big names in SF literature. But, what's to complain about? They have SF/F in the bookstores in airports!

Now that I've pointed out the more obvious aspects of SF/F's presence in airports, I think it's worth noting the much more hidden and telling presence: book sections within non-book-specific shops.

While I was in St. Louis a few weeks back, I decided to check out this little tech shop (headphones, phones, DVDs, games, things like that--InMotion Entertainment, I think) in the airport and was surprised to discover that they had a book section that was not only SF/F friendly, but possibly one of the best SF/F book sections I have seen for the size (four shelves no more than three feet wide). What was so special about it? The titles they carried represented a wide range of unique titles you might not find in your local bookstore, and all of the books had gorgeous covers. They had, for example, Paul McAuley's Gardens of the Sun:
They had loads of other titles too, many of which I hadn't heard of until then and most of which looked fascinating (yes, I've heard of McAuley's work, but I didn't write down the titles of all the others, and I've since forgotten them). I might have bought a book or two if I hadn't already spent over $100 on books during the PCA/ACA conference. The selection was simply fantastic. If you wanted something new and a little less popcorn-y, then you'd have to go to this shop.

The point of all of this is that airports are incredibly SF/F friendly. While the selection is not always the greatest (depending on the airport), there are almost always SF/F titles somewhere. I'm not sure what this says about our culture. These stores don't carry SF/F if it doesn't sell, so people must be requesting and buying the stuff. Do SF/F books make great travel reads in the same way that others genres have been for decades? Perhaps.

What do you think?

Question: If you were going to teach a class on fantasy literature, what would you cover?

That's a big question. I've always wanted to design an introductory course on science fiction or fantasy (doing both at the same time would be impossible). Selecting texts, however, is always a problem for any genre-specific course. Where do you start? Where do you end? Which movements do you represent or ignore? Do you risk bringing in texts that few people have heard of in the hope of trying to show the true breadth of the fantasy genre, or do you keep it simple and recognizable, at risk of being a little dull or cliche?

Now, I'm no expert on designing literature courses, primarily because I'm a fairly new educator. That said, if I were to devise an introductory sixteen week college course on fantasy literature, it would look something like the following:

Novels, etc. (in order by movement or period)
The Epic of Gilgamesh (pretty much the earliest fantasy text in existence) -- Between 20th and 16th Centuries B.C.E.
The Odyssey by Homer (if any text has been integral to the creation of the modern fantasy genre, it is this one) -- 8th Century B.C.E.
Phantastes by George MacDonald (1858) OR Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)(either of these texts would be a great introduction to the trend of secondary-world fantasy we are so familiar with today)
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka (a lot of classic must-reads for early weird and magical realist writing here) -- 1916-19
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (because you have to have it, even if you don't want to) -- 1954-55
Duncton Wood by William Horwood (by far one of the best animal fantasies ever written, but without all the swords and things) -- 1980
The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe (a unique and powerful fantasy story worth reading and discussing) -- 1986
Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb (a great book for discussing social dynamics and issues of gender) -- 1999
The House of the Stag by Kage Baker (an excellent modern fantasy tale with a wonderful fairytale twist) -- 2008

Note: I would argue that The Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and The Odyssey are interchangeable. It really doesn't matter where you start, because you can talk about all three of these texts without putting all of them on the curriculum. It really depends on personal tastes. Personally, I think the ones I selected for the list are more accessible for a more general audience; Beowulf can be a very difficult text for some folks.

I would also recommend shoving The Rings of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner immediately prior to The Lord of the Rings if there is space and time for it; it represents one of the most obvious precursors to Tolkien's greatest works. You could even show the last act of the opera if you're so inclined.

Critical Texts:
The Fantastic by Tzvetan Todorov (offers a provocative theoretical approach to literature and the fantastic) -- 1973
Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion by Rosemary Jackson (another interesting theoretical text that would do some good for engaging with the novels above) -- 1981
Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (possibly one of the best critical texts to be written in the last ten years) -- 2008

Note: Likely the texts in this section would be read in excerpts as supplements to the fiction reading. There are also essays I'd put in here that aren't directly related to fantasy as supplements to specific themes and texts.

I don't know if I'd show movies in such a course. There are a lot of films worth considering. For example, instead of reading The Lord of the Rings, you could having movie nights to watch the films (which I think are better than the books anyway). There are a lot of other interesting films to consider, such as: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Legend, or The Fountain.

Looking above, it's clear that I'm leaving out a lot of movements and genres--New Weird, Young Adult Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others. It's inevitable, though.

So, any thoughts?

RoF’s Women-Only Issue: Good or Bad?

Realms of Fantasy Magazine recently announced that in August of 2011 they will be releasing a special themed issue of the magazine called "Women in Fantasy." The idea is that every department will be dedicated to that theme in some way, and only women can submit.

I have mixed feelings about this:
  • Are they going to do a "Men in Fantasy" issue? If not, why? While I understand the impetus behind creating the issue, it also has the potential to do more harm than good if the RoF folks aren't careful. Yes, there should be more women writers in SF/F, but this is going one step farther by intentionally discriminating based on sex, without considering fairness; it could be seen as playing the payback game rather than doing anything for the community as a whole. This, to me, could be as divisive as all the other discussions begun and ended over the last year.
  • I don't think this is nearly as "revolutionary" as the title and the explanation seems to indicate. While there are not enough recognizable female figures in the speculative genres, this is far less true of fantasy than science fiction. Most of the problems with under-representation seem focused more on SF than F. If Analog or Asimov's were doing a similar thing, then not only would there be more of an uproar (for various reasons, many of them wrong), but such as issue would have a greater impact on the genre. Right now? I don't see this as being all that revolutionary when you consider that their primary genre (fantasy) is much more friendly to women than other genres (and no, I am not saying that F is perfect at all).
  • I agree with one of the commentators that the "Women in Fantasy" idea comes off very much like a stunt. I don't mind stunts, generally speaking, but when dealing with a clearly sensitive issue, this is problematic.
  • I fail to understand why this issue of RoF is "women only" when the theme is "Women in Fantasy." Is there an assumption that men can't properly address the topic? Are men assumed to be less adequate at writing female characters or talking about women figures in fantasy? I don't know. Maybe that's not what they are thinking, but these are things that pop into my head.
  • Generally speaking, I like the idea behind it. I think an issue dedicated to the discussion of women in fantasy (including fiction about women in fantasy worlds) is a fantastic idea. It could turn into something stunning, if done right.
Having said all of this, I'm both curious and put-off by RoF's "Women in Fantasy" issue. I hope it turns out well, but I think the potential for it to be regarded as something astonishing may be hampered by a failure to address the underlying problems of a gender-specific issue. We'll see how it turns out.

(Mike Brotherton offers his opinion here.)

Cultural Literacy and Genre Fiction

I've been researching this concept called "cultural literacy" in preparation for my final paper in my pedagogy course. In doing so, I've come to an interesting "revelation," if you will. Science fiction and fantasy are part of our culture as much as something like math or English; they are unconscious elements present in all of us that sometimes make themselves known, and other times remain in the background, operating as little signals in the reaction center of the brain.

The obvious, though, is how science fiction and, to a lesser extent, fantasy have consumed popular culture. As much as all the other elements that seem to make up the culturally literate figure (history by locale, basic science, math, etc., and all those things that make up our language, our thought processes, and our acknowledgment of the social, however minute or forgotten), pop culture as embodied by SF/F has consumed society itself.

Even if you don't want SF/F television or movies, you know about them. Even if you don't read Harry Potter or Twilight, you know about them, and you may even know about all of these things in some basic detail. You know, for example, without having read Twilight, that Meyers wrote a book about vampires and something resembling romance; you know that Harry Potter is about a boy wizard and wizard-like things; you know that Star Wars has the Force and lightsabers and Darth Vader; you know that Star Trek is about humans and some guy with pointy ears traveling around in the universe seeing nifty stuffs. We all know these things (well, almost all of us) in the U.S. (and Canada and the U.K., mostly likely), because they make up a part of who we are and how we communicate with the greater social apparatus.

John Scalzi said it clearly: SF (and you have assume even F, to a lesser extent) has mainstream acceptance. Whether or not it has any other form of acceptance seems irrelevant at this point. SF/F is a part of our culture, part of that cultural literacy that some older theorists have suggested allows every one of us to be able to communicate without confusing the hell out of one another.

And you have to think about that for a minute and bask in the amazing sensation of that feeling. Science fiction and fantasy have become so integral to the social landscape of the U.S. and other countries, that even Shakespeare is being challenged by the new social paradigm.

Having thought all of this, I have only one thing left to say: now what?

The Fantastic is in the Genes

If you trace back through time you can see through every generation and era the presence of the fantastic. By fantastic, I mean anything that could be construed as fitting into science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, fairy tale, myth, religion, and any other such genres or subgenres in which something we know is not entirely true occurs. The fantastic is somewhat like a virus in that it worms its way into everything and evolves to fit into new shapes so that it may survive in some sort of dominant mode. So, when I say fantastic, I am using a liberal definition of the term, much as literary theorists have, in some respects.

The fact that the fantastic has survived through generations and eras, despite a monumental effort to suppress certain forms of it, is astonishing, and leads me to conclude that there must be something in us, something wired into our DNA, that makes mankind susceptible to the whims of the fantastic (we'll call it fanty from now on, just so it can have a cute name like SF does--i.e. sciffy--and if you're really clever you'll catch the Firefly/Serenity reference).

We know this from history: the fantastic is woven into us more finely than a nano-fiber coat (if such a thing exists). The cavemen and other early cultures had some idea what it was, and drew it and exchanged stories about it without realizing that was what they were doing. Numerous religions were founded on the very prospect of the fantastic too, and one cannot deny the relation all religious share to one another, even those religions in existence today. So much of our existence is founded in principles of fantastic discourse as figured through all mediums (fine art, writing, spoken word, etc.). So, is it any wonder that fantasy, as a genre, is doing so well, or that science fiction film (and even fantasy film, for the most part) have such a strong hold on the visual market? The fact that young adults and children gobble this stuff up like so much candy is testament to our human desire for the fantastic; as adults, we may shed some of the "silly" aspects of our youth, but there is always that thread (of course, some of us never grow up, and that thread is still wrapped around us as a coat).

Now, the question is: is it possible to cut ourselves off from the fantastic (assuming we wanted to), and if we did, what would the consequences of that be? Would we lose a part of our souls, or would it be like losing a toe (no big deal at all)?

Science Fiction’s Not Dead, Fantasy is in the Golden Age

People are talking about the death of science fiction again. It's not actually dead, far from it, but as soon as someone says "it's dead" someone else goes crazy (either because they believe SF has long been dead or because they're tired of hearing the argument). Apparently the genre has a few dozen lives and manages to die and be resurrected ten or so times a year. The End of the Universe said science fiction has nine lives, but I think that's too conservative of an estimate. It's died at least that many times in this year alone...

The problem with science fiction isn't that it's dead. To be fair to the genre, it's never actually died, but it has been overshadowed to varying degrees in history. Even in its supposed "Golden Age" science fiction was not exactly as popular people seem to remember. Yes, it was popular, but science fiction never had the popularity of mainstream pop-fiction. That's not to say it was irrelevant or that no science fiction books sold well enough to make it to the bestseller's list; quite a few actually did, but in comparison to traditionally larger genres (romance and quasi-mysteries), it really didn't make the crossover into market dominance at any point in its multi-century lifespan.

Fantasy, on the other hand, has, and not because the genre is necessarily better (and neither is it worse). Fantasy is doing well because it got lucky. Now, to be fair to fantasy, it has always done rather well ever since Tolkien became a persistent model for other fantasy writers. As a genre, fantasy had a lot of uphill battles to fight to get to a point where it had a secure market, but once it got there it never let it go. Now, however, fantasy has exploded. Some have said that fantasy is experiencing a "Golden Age" of its own--and I would have to agree. Why?

Well, as unpredictable as the market often is in regards to what will be the hot item of the year, I would say that fantasy simply got lucky. The publishers had no way of knowing that urban fantasy would plow through the roof like it did, or that other forms of fantasy (more traditional forms, if you will, and even the exceedingly non-traditional--literary, ultra-weird, etc.) would grow moderately over the last couple decades. It just happened.

Now, if I were to argue for a reason, I would say that the last eight years have had a lot to do with the rise of fantasy. Publisher Weekly almost acknowledged as much in the last year when the recession hit and sales of escapist titles (science fiction and fantasy) actually rose (it was temporary in the sense that, while people were going to SF/F for a presumed escape from the present, the downturn of the economy eventually led to an almost universal drop in sales in almost all markets, some of which have yet to fully recover). The reality seems to be that when the proverbial crap hits the fan, readers flock to literature that is less likely to make matters worse. They want heroes and adventures, of a sort. I don't know if this is true for everyone, but sales seem to reflect that. I am unsure how urban fantasy fits into this assessment--UF tends to be somewhat dark in nature. Either we have to accept that people are somewhat darker at heart than we ever anticipated, or urban fantasy offers a bit of harmless, well, fantasy.

I don't know how long fantasy's "Golden Age" will last. As with all booms in literature, there are limits, and I suspect that urban fantasy, which seems to be the genre largely pulling fantasy up out of the pool, will eventually wear out its welcome--fantasy, as a whole, will not. For now, we can sleep soundly knowing that science fiction isn't dead and fantasy is doing quite well. That's good news.

Capitalist Fantasy: Where’s it at?

I had an interesting though the other day. With the exception of urban fantasy, which tends to take place in an nearby past or version of the present (with varying degrees of separation), the fantasy genre lacks a capitalist vein. Science fiction, of course, has plenty of this, but why doesn’t fantasy?

The obvious answer is: time period. Most fantasy is written in a pseudo-medieval period with significant resemblance to medieval Europe with exceptional variations (the inclusion of magic, fantastic creatures, and different locales). Since capitalism did not exist in such periods, it makes sense that such places would not be run by capitalist structures. To be fair, medieval Europe was not capitalist primarily because of two factors (at least as I understand it): slow transportation and medieval feudalism. It’s difficult to imagine an economic system like capitalism functioning in a place that is not only seemingly run by an authoritarian figure whose personal rules stand for the word of God (more or less), but also incapable of supporting a system that needs to change, adapt, and move at a rapid pace. Fantasy, thus, enacts this real-world lack; capitalism does not exist there because, as in our world, it cannot.

But why not? With magic such a prevalent force in many fantasies, why wouldn’t we see more of the capitalist structures that made up early capitalist America (or Britain, for that matter)? Magic lends itself so well to being a commodity, for good or bad. You can look to some of the strongest examples of late in which a market is given shape, and yet nothing in that shape indicates any sort of logical economic type. Harry Potter, for example, has Diagon Alley, and Gringott’s Bank, but yet we hear nothing of wages. We’re told there are rich and poor families, but it seems that the richest families embody the nobility and the poorest seem, more or less, like peasants. All of this is on purpose, I suppose, because capitalism is not a central theme, or even a side theme; capitalism is not important to Harry Potter. But why shouldn’t it be? Why does fantasy have to ignore these significant social issues in exchange for the adventures and prophecies (not all fantasy does this, but the stereotype of the genre is not unfounded).

I suppose what I’m asking is: where are my capitalist fantasies? Double entendres are clever!

Talk Like a Pirate Day: Fast Ships, Black Sails!

Avast! Today be Talk Like a Pirate Day, a day o' rejoicin' an' rum drinkin' for all pirates everywhere. On such a day we be needin' to set sail on the high seas to spread the word o' somethin' tha pulls us all together with it's piratey goodness! Cap'in's Ann and Jeff Vandermeer's anthology Fast Ships, Black Sails, published by the fine sailors at Night Shade Books and smuggled to all th' corners o' the earth by Amazon. The tome, fer those wi' the cunning t'read it, is packed like a barrel o'salt pork ready fer a month at sea wi' tales o' our fine people set in fantastical an' science fictional places.

Fast Ships, Black Sails is penned by a fine collection o' landlubberly scribes like Kage Baker, an' Elizabeth Bear. Fine tellers o' tales they be, some o' the best!

Inside this tome ye can find:
"Raising Anchor" - Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
"Boojum" - Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
"Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake" - Naomi Novik
"Avast, Abaft!" - Howard Waldrop
"I Begyn as I Mean to Go On" - Kage Baker
"Castor on Troubled Waters" - Rhys Hughes
"Elegy for Gabrielle, Patron Saint of Healers, Whores and Righteous Thieves" - Kelly Barnhill
"Skillet and Saber" - Justin Howe
"The Nymph's Child" - Carrie Vaughn
"68˚06'N, 31˚40'W" - Conrad Williams
"Pirate Solutions" - Katherine Sparrow
"We Sleep on a Thousand Waves" - Brendan Connell
"Pirates of the Suara Sea" - David Freer & Eric Flint
"Voyage of the Iguana" - Steve Aylett
"Iron Face" - Michael Moorcock
"A Cold Day in Hell" - Paul Batteiger
"Captain Blackheart Wentworth" - Rachel Swirsky
"The Whale Below" - Jayme Lynn Blaschke
"Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarskoe" - Garth Nix

Fine tales, to be sure, from fine scribes, new an' old. If yer in a piratey mood, pillage yeself some dubloons and buy it. Night Shade Books has some mighty fine tales fer sale, an' they're a small press, so buyin' their tomes helps them keep their ship afloat!

So, matey, find yeself a bookseller and hand over those dubloons, or ye might find yerself walkin' the plank! Arr!

(Thank to Capt'n Bourneville fer translatin' me landlubber speak into th' true tongue!)