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Thinking Deep Thoughts

Not so long ago Kate Elliot wrote this great article about women in SFF and highlighted something that I completely relate to:

“Even now, when I announce that I am an avid fantasy reader, I often find myself on the receiving end of comments from my non-genre counterparts along the lines of, ‘oh, like elves and stuff?’ and the explanation of why this is a ridiculous way of understanding the genre usually takes more time than we have .”

This is very close to a conversation/argument which I have had several times in the past few weeks. One particular comment was especially annoying and went along the lines of ‘but I always thought you read really deep, important books not these fluffy entertaining genre things.’ Yeah, I’m making that sound worse than the original comment but it was the gist of it.

I am currently compiling a list of quotations/sections of books that I can point at to prove my point. My point? That genre books can in fact be intellectually stimulating. Fantasy can be a wonderful lens through which we can more accuately see reality. There has been a lot of talk of genre and genre-bashing recently and I’m not getting into it. One simple reason for that, I don’t know enough. If you want a genre argument, google it, there’s plenty by people who know much more than I do. I read the classics of children’s fantasy when I was a kid but I only really got into it four or five years ago. All I am trying to do here is undo a little of the snobbery because it shocked me that people really couldn’t see how amazing all literature is.

So I have a request for all of my genre-based friends, if you have any especially good examples of philosophical, deep or just plain amazing sections of genre books please let me know – either in the comments section here or by email (vclinde@gmail.com). For my non-genre friends hopefully I’ll soon have a list of things for you to pore over and decide where you’re going to start reading.

I used to use quotes from literature to open my essays in University. Partly because I really was an English student trapped in the body of a Politics student and partly because I thought it would put my tutors in a good mood before reading (and more to the point, marking) my essay. They were always relevant and quite often from genre novels. My favourite was an essay on democracy in the Middle East where I used this quote from Witches Abroad by Sir Terry Pratchett:

“You can’t go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Otherwise it’s just a cage. “

And now I’m off to start making a list to prove that I am right, because some people still aren’t clued in to the fact that I’m right most of the time.


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  1. I found this quotation by Brent Weeks on Goodreads and thought I'd stick it as a postscript here. One because it's relevant and two because it's Brent Weeks and therefore fab (his new novella is out really soon – much excitement!)

    “The truth is, everyone likes to look down on someone. If your favorites are all avant-garde writers who throw in Sanskrit and German, you can look down on everyone. If your favorites are all Oprah Book Club books, you can at least look down on mystery readers. Mystery readers have sci-fi readers. Sci-fi can look down on fantasy. And yes, fantasy readers have their own snobbishness. I’ll bet this, though: in a hundred years, people will be writing a lot more dissertations on Harry Potter than on John Updike. Look, Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction. Shakespeare wrote popular fiction—until he wrote his sonnets, desperate to show the literati of his day that he was real artist. Edgar Allan Poe tied himself in knots because no one realized he was a genius. The core of the problem is how we want to define “literature”. The Latin root simply means “letters”. Those letters are either delivered—they connect with an audience—or they don’t. For some, that audience is a few thousand college professors and some critics. For others, its twenty million women desperate for romance in their lives. Those connections happen because the books successfully communicate something real about the human experience. Sure, there are trashy books that do really well, but that’s because there are trashy facets of humanity. What people value in their books—and thus what they count as literature—really tells you more about them than it does about the book.”

    Sorry I can't attribute this better than a quote from Goodreads, if anyone knows where it's from please let me know!


  2. I write fantasy and I have to admit, I quietly feel like I'm somehow “less” because I don't write literary fiction – despite the massive amount of work put into creating worlds and making them functional.

    And I have been on the receiving end of comments like “Yes, but it's just stupid, isn't it?” and I'm amazed people can say that.

    I'll stop boosting my ego now and focus. Pretty much everything Terry Pratchett writes is a brilliant lens on our society – and he has trolls, elves, the lot. What makes his work amazing, and indeed what makes any fantasy author's work great, is that they reflect our own society back at us. Few manage it with such eloquence and humour.

    “The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.” – Hogfather

    “It could not be happening because this sort of thing did not happen. Any contradictory evidence could be safely ignored.” – Jingo

    “Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.” – Pyramids (and one of my favourites)

    I was trying to find some Ursula K Leguin, too. For great fantasy that digs deep there's also China Mieville, but I can't think of snappy quotes right now *brain fries*. I hope these help!

  3. I recommend the final couple of pages of Olaf Stapledon's Last And First Men, which discusses what it means to be human; and how that humanity relates to the universe; and what it is to die.

  4. “There is something profoundly cynical, my friends, in the notion of paradise after death. The lure is evasion. The promise is excusative. One need not accept responsibility for the world as it is, and by extension, one need do nothing about it. To strive for change, for true goodness in this mortal world, one must acknowledge and accept, within one's own soul, that this mortal reality has purpose in itself, that its greatest value is not for us, but for our children and their children. To view life as but a quick passage alone a foul, tortured path…is to excuse all manner of misery and depravity, and to exact cruel punishment upon the innocent lives to come.”
    — Steven Erikson (The Bonehunters)

  5. Steven Erikson would be a good idea, if you'e read his work. He can get a little preachy, but his books can make you think about how you view the world.

  6. @Joely – Absolutely, it gets to a point where people are saying something so loud and so often that you end up half-agreeing. Which is daft of course! Peer pressure in action.
    Ego boosting is perfectly acceptable. And I think people should head over to your site (http://joelyblack.com/) and have a look at what you’ve been writing!

    I love the Sir Terry quotes you’ve chosen. 'Hogfather' is a great source for deep thoughts. I’ve yet to come across an Ursula LeGuin quote but you’re right – there must be some great ones. I think my favourite China Miéville quote is actually from 'Embassytown'. I loved it so much I wrote it down when I saw it.

    “I never understood the injunction not to regret anything, couldn’t see how that wasn’t cowardice”

    Which perfectly summed up how I’ve always thought of regrets. Clever chap.

    Thank-you muchly both for the quotes and insight,

  7. @Gareth – Brillliant. Will look it out, that’s exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to find.
    While this actually came from some thoughtless people saying mean things I have found some great new authors and books from researching it! That’ll teach them!

    Thanks very much,

  8. I got so excited there I managed to put a spare L in. Apologies!

  9. @Jessie – Yes! Perfect. Thank you. ‘Gardens of the Moon’ is on my re-read TBR pile as I have a shiny 10th Anniversary edition that’s not been read yet! I’ll add this into the list and I’ll be popping them all up in a new blog-post pretty soon.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  10. Wow, thank you for the promotion!

    I'm actually really excited as I'm half an hour from going to see China Miéville talk about Embassytown in person. *Fangirl moment*

    That is a brilliant quote from him. I'm about to start reading Kraken, so if I find anything really good in there I'll pass it on.

  11. @Joely – Hope you have a fab time at the talk and please do let me know if you find super-quotes in 'Kraken'!

  12. “If it is only after that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing. Thus we shall define the soul as follows: that which precedes everything.”
    – R. Scott Bakker (The Darkness That Comes Before)

  13. Thanks Sam, 'The Darkness That Comes Before' is on my TBR pile…which never seems to get any smaller. Looking forward to reading it!


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