When you realise your inner editor is killing everything

I have made many discoveries in the past year and a bit. One has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me and I sometimes wonder whether I’m too brutally honest.

Ever since I picked up my first book, I’ve been hooked on reading. I’ve read a lot and I’ve reread a lot as well. Some of the books on my, now wall-to-wall-ceiling-to-floor, bookshelf have been read 12 times. I obviously love those books and something in them must appeal to me quite a bit.

But, after three years of literary analysis at university and two courses specifically aimed at novel writing, I have become just a little too aware of the flaws in stories and story writing. After recently rereading some of my old-time favourites, I was appalled at the terrible prose and sometimes massive, gaping plot holes. For the past year, all my favourite authors’ work just didn’t meet my apparently vastly elevated standards. You can understand my distress.

On the one side, it certainly did give me hope. If I could see all these mistakes made by people who have written best sellers, then certainly I could avoid at least some of them. It also meant that my chances weren’t that bad after all. On the other side, just who is the best selling writer: The person sitting on piles of money from book sales? Or is it the woman waiting to hear back from the first publishers she’s ever approached?

Then, a personal revelation broke through a couple of days ago: Nobody’s perfect. Everyone will make mistakes. The more you do, the more mistakes you will make. It’s as simple as that. And, you know what, it is in the human nature to appreciate the good things. And, even more importantly, what one person hates, the next person loves.

Now, I approach my favourites with a brand new attitude. I read them and appreciate them for what they are, for however they have touched my life. Not every writer writes charming characters. Not every writer has spell-binding plot lines. Not every writer creates believable situations or settings. But each and every writer has a talent for at least one aspect of story writing that makes his or her readers want more.

Fantasy vs Science Fiction

Fantasy in all its forms

So. In my string of posts about Fantasy as an overarching genre that covers all things magic and not yet technologically possible, I pose that Science Fiction is but a subgenre of Fantasy.  Oh dear! What has happened? How could I possibly say that?!? Well, it really depends on your point of view and how you define certain things.

If you argue that Science Fiction covers fictive narratives that have a possibility of becoming possible in our reality of experience, and that Fantasy covers fictive narratives that have no possibility of becoming possible in our reality of experience…then, I guess it really depends on what you, as an individual, find plausibly possible.

All in all, I see it like this: The real difference between pure Science Fiction and pure Fantasy is magic. In Science Fiction, there is no magic. In Fantasy, there is magic.

But, like I have said in other posts, these genres just won’t stay in their own play pens.  Does Steampunk fall under Science Fiction or Fantasy? A lot of the gadgets in Steampunk are actually possible to manufacture right now…so, is it still Science Fiction? It certainly isn’t factual history. I guess it could depart these shores and head off to become Historical Fiction…but, you can ask almost any Steampunk fan and they would tell you that Steampunk falls under the Science Fiction/Fantasy banner. Sooooo….

This is why I put all the piggies in one pen. Sometimes they want to play  together, sometimes they don’t.

 

What do you guys think?

Science Fiction

As a subgenre of fantasy, Science Fiction (or SciFi, as most of us call it,) is actually a broad genre on its own. There are very few hard and fast rules for this subgenre. It can be far in the future, like Battle Star Galactica, or even a “long, long time ago”, like Star Wars. The only real factor is technology or a not-yet-realised scientific future.

Some SciFi is very pointedly a story that takes place in space (any space that’s beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, really) – think Star Trek or Alien – but others may use Earth or a planet like Earth to give the story a more subtle SciFi angle – Æon Flux and Real Steel can give you a bit of insight on this angle.

If you have looked at some of the older SciFi, you will even see that some of the elements that were Science Fiction in those days, are now a reality – like the Internet and nano-machines.

Popular themes:

  • Space exploration
  • Intergalactic politics with alien races
  • Aliens
  • Bio-engineering
  • Nanotechnology
  • Reviving extinct species (think Jurassic Park)
  • Colonisation of other planets/solar systems
  • Space pirates
  • Bionics
  • Robots
  • Cyborgs
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Domination of the human race by aliens/machines
  • Mystical forces from space (2001: A Space Odessy, AvatarStar Wars  and many more)
  • Alternate realities
  • Mutliverse
  • Time travel
  • Teleportation
  • And lots, lots more…

It’s really so broad, one could write volumes about this subgenre. But, for me, it is important to note that it can easily be used as a flavour in the other fantasy subgenres. Examples of fantasy that typically contain SciFi elements are: Steam Punk, Cyberpunk, Dying Earth and Other Planet.

Never for a moment think that subgenres are mostly found in their pure forms. The very way they have found their way into existence is by developing from other forms of the main genre. The rules are hardly ever set in stone.

Bangsian Fantasy

Bangsian Fantasy

Bangsian Fantasy, in my experience, is not a very widely-spread subgenre. It can be set in a whole range of realities, from our reality as we know it to a reality very close to ours, to something that is purely a flight of the imagination. It’s one binding characteristic is the featuring of a historical figure from our reality.

Since I really can remember reading only one series featuring Bangsian elements, I will have to use it as my basis here. Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker books don’t actually focus on the historical figures, but they do feature here and there. These books use a version of the world where things have happened a little different to what we see in the history books. The description you usually see on his books refer to “a magical America that might have been”. Napoleon Bonaparte specifically features in these books, having the ability to make people adore and obey him – yes, a maaaagical ability.

Now that I think of it, I’m fairly sure you are likely to find Bangsian elements in Steam Punk books and movies…also in Dark Fantasy.

Wikipedia gives a few examples of Bangsian Fantasy I have never read, so, you might want to check that out too.

Wuxia and Magical Girl

Before I started this blog, I had never even heard of these two genres. But as I read about them, I realised that I had actually encountered some of it before. Maybe not so much in literature, but certainly in movies and animé.

Wuxia is a mostly eastern fantasy subgenre where a character or a few characters have martial arts skills that border on magical abilities and sometimes frolick merrily in it. I’m not sure I can really elaborate without repeating myself more than a few times, so, here are some examples: Naruto (manga and animé), The Forbidden Kingdom (a movie from a few years back) and Kung Fu Hustle (a spoofy movie from the East).

Magrical Girl, as far as I have been able to glean from scanty Internet sources, is an animé fantasy subgenre (fairly popular, I might add) that revolves around a female main character who has some sort of quest or ability that sets her apart from her mundane peers. She might dedicate her entire life to it or may even practice only after school hours. Examples include Elfen Lied and Sailor Moon. I honestly haven’t seen much of these…though I have for some reason encountered the reportedly less common “magical boy” shows – BleachKekkai Genkai and Evangelion.

Don’t take me as the authority on this, though. As I said, I’ve really only dipped my toes in these two subgenres. Check out Wikipedia and do a Google search to get a better feeling for this.

Dark Fantasy

Horror, romance, comedy, action...

Dark Fantasy is a well-established subgenre, though you might not recognise the name. It is seductive, thrilling and sometimes down right cheeeeeesy. What is it? Vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, demons and all manner of  nasties hiding in the dark. But, it’s not just scary stories… It comes in the form of horror, action, comedy, romance and more.

Most recently, the world has been abuzz with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Half the fanbase is violently upset and revolted by her take on vampires and the other half (most of which has only recently discovered this genre) are rabidly fanatic about it.

The basics are (usually): The story is usually set in the present or (starts off) in recent history; the basics of history and reality as we know it sets the background; and vampires, werewolves and all the other things that go bump in the night are the flavour that draw in the readers (and viewers) of this subgenre.

Some authors seduce their readers with the grim (and sometimes rather watered down) aspects of a romantic relationship with a dark lover. Some authors prefer to stick to keeping these dark creatures the Threat. Some authors pick at all the possible flaws in the myths and legends surrounding these beasties to make us laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Examples you are likely to have encountered include: Anne Rice’s vampire and witch novels, inlcuding Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned; Brahm Stoker’s DraculaDawn of the Dead (movie); H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulu and other novels….

Often, all the different nasties and beasties come together in the same stories…think  Underworld (movie); Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Vampire Diaries; TruBlood; this list really does go on and on…

Mythic Fantasy

A lot of people confuse this subgenre with fairy tales. See, mythic fantasy uses characters and heroes and themes from myths and legends as a base for a fantasy story. Think of all the various Arthurian (King Arthur, Lancelot, Gwynevere, the Holy Grail) stories you’ve seen movies and series of, think of the comic books that borrow from Norse Mythology (Odin, Loki, Thor, Valkyries and the like). This subgenre is quite prolific. Back to the confusion between fairy tales and mythic fantasy – depending on how you look at it, the confusion is actually totally understandable. Some fairy tales (those with actual fairies and elves) use elements from Irish and European mythology.

One thing that originally set these stories apart was that mythic fantasy really targeted a teenage to adult audience (as opposed to children). Though, admittedly, the line is blurring more and more. Mythic fantasy also tends to be more on a more epic scale – you know, gods and kings making and breaking the world.

I’ve encountered a lot of mythic fantasy since I started reading. I don’t own all of them…and I think it’s because I read most of it when I was still borrowing books from the library rather than buying too many and just filling my shelves to their breaking point.

Examples include:

  • Wilbur Smith’s The Seventh Scroll, River God  and others (Egyptian mythology)
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradly (Arthurian legend)
  • The Forbidden Game by LJ Smith (Norse Mythology)
  • The TV shows like Hercules, Camelot, Merlin, Robin Hood and Spartacus
  • Movies like Arthur, First Knight, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, The Mummy, Thor and many, many more