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Author of queer, quirky sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Strong Women, Weak Fathers: Daddy Issues in Sci Fi

Hello hello!

As some of you who follow my Twitter phuquerie know already, I am a recent convert to Doctor Who-ism. I'm also a Farscape and Lexx fan and pretty fond of Mass Effect. Star Wars is a childhood favorite. My literary science fiction fair tends to be pretty diverse and focus on subgenres, so it's TV and by-proxy gaming that provide a lot of my mainstream sci fi fixes. I'll warn you right now. There are

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS 

for a few of these and of other sci fi games to come, so don't say I didn't warn you.

You might notice that these are mostly 'quirky' programs. I'm going to be exploring some sci fi cliches in a future post, and also examining how science fiction handles other equality issues, but my remarks today are going to centre on some things I noticed while watching the Ninth and Tenth Doctor's only and first seasons (respectively). I noticed them while enjoying Mass Effect, too.

What is it you say?

It's daddy issues. Strong female characters who are otherwise well-developed are invariably hamstrung by family or daddy issues; it's chronic for romances. This is one of sci fi's few regressive afflictions and it NEEDS to stop.



Source. This character arc is done extremely well...but the fact remains that  there are some uncomfortable parallels between her father and the Doctor in terms of personality.


Daddy issues?


I can hear you protesting already. "But Magpie, it's normal for characters to have family trauma! Chriton has daddy issues in Farscape too!"

The thing is, male characters with daddy issues generally are trying to impress their fathers. Female characters have the emotional connection thing going on. They usually did not know their fathers or had a poor connection. In Doctor Who, Rose's father died when she was a child (though she later meets him). Liara's 'father' in Mass Effect ran out on her mother after marital problems. The Leia/Darth Vader thing in Star Wars is another example.

The problem with the daddy issues is that it is usually used to make the heroine more accessible to the hero. I wrote a long blog post about the love interests in ME and their issues some time ago--I give some points to Tali for trying to impress her father as a son would, but Tali, Liara, Ashley, and Miranda all have enormous daddy issues. EDI does not have these (unless you count Cerberus as her father....) and Morinth and Samara also lack them...but none of these can be properly romanced. Jack doesn't have daddy issues but did have a severely traumatic childhood nonetheless. Compare the male love interests' issues--Garrus has duty and honour, Kaiden has the biotic thing, and Thane--who does, admittedly, have the issue with his son--mostly is concerned about his wife. Jacob does have daddy issues as well, but he's the only one.

A few series manage to avoid this issue, but those characters aren't usually love interests. Consider Zev in Lexx.  She doesn't have daddy issues, but like Jack, she does have a traumatic/unnatural childhood. I don't watch Battlestar Galactica, but a quick info check on Wikipedia revealed that even hard-drinkin' and sharp-shootin' Starbuck had a traumatic childhood and was abused; her father was also conspicuous by his absence. Aeryn Sun, a personal favorite, had an absent father and grew up in a facility with restricted freedom. Admittedly, Starbuck and Aeryn both have romances in their series, but considering how powerful they are, the fact that they're hobbled by a similar past trait is interesting.

Diverting into the superhero world, more evidence of the rule of daddy issues OR being raised in an unnatural facility is easy to find. Spiderman's Gwen Stacy conflicts with her father. The Marvel X-Men are rife with it. Oh, not all females are abused, and plenty of the men go through the same sort of trauma (Batman's parents, for instance), but it's still a disturbingly consistent trend.




Source. This ass-kicking geek goddess was Morrigan in Dragon Age,  voiced two characters in Mass Effect, was a  main character in both Stargate SG-1 and Farscape, has been in Gears of War, and was in Pitch Black. 

Why is this happening? 


It's a reasonably well-known fact that girls often base their romantic expectations on their interactions with their fathers from a young age. I don't have information on how this is affected by orientation, but it definitely has an impact on the relationship's longevity and health. When I was still in classes and studying for my degree, the link between healthy parent-child relationships and attachment to a partner was a big topic of discussion. Without delving too much into psychology textbook territory, the cliche that problems are usually rooted in childhood has a nasty tendency to be true.

We see the echoes of this in science fiction. The ladies I've mentioned here often choose strong alpha male heroes to replace their absent fathers. Their damaged histories make them more approachable, giving the hero a shot at winning their hearts. It's as though a strong woman can only be made by childhood trauma and an absent father. Is it really necessary to suggest that the only way a woman is accessible is if she's had a terrible childhood? Would a woman with a healthy background look twice at these heroes, or--worse--would she be even more of a threat to them? None of them really lead independent lives without their love-interest heroes, who are usually implied to be quite fine standing on their own without said girlfriends. It would be nice to even suggest that these women would be fine without the men in their lives having come by to save and 'fix' them.

I have to give Farscape and Mass Effect and Portal some points though; all of these explored issues with the female character's mother in great detail, as opposed to blaming absent fathers for all of the issues. I also loved that Bioshock 2 had the father figure as the nurturing one and the mother as the villain. However...mothers are often absent when fathers nurture. I've even done that in my own writing. It's clearly a tricky balance. So why are mothers the next go-to villain?



Source.  If you look carefully, you can see that GLADoS does look like a bound, tied-up woman, as the designers intended. Also, her voice actress is an opera singer! 

Mommy Dearest--the scariest villain


Mothers as villains tie right back into the stories of our childhood. Most fairy tales across cultures focus on evil mothers. In fact, the Brothers Grimm originally collected tales about evil mothers and only made them stepmothers to avoid offending their audience. There are few things more frightening than the idea of the ultimate nurturer turning against us, the mother eating her children for example (something that literally happens a lot).

When you realize in Portal 2 that GLADoS is made of Carolyn's mind and that Carolyn was apparently Chell's mother (it's implied by the 'take your daughter to work day' stuff and a tiny shadow of Chell in the portrait of Cave and Carolyn in in Cave Johnson's office) the entire story becomes far more horrifying and touching. It's one of the many reasons I absolutely love Portal and why it's an effectively frightening and creepy game.


Does it need fixing?


Well...yes and no. The fact that heroines in romantic relationships invariably have daddy issues is kind of disturbing. It would be nice to see a healthy girl fall for a hero for once instead of having that too-easy emotional vulnerability set up in advance. Also, it implies that even in the far future, women will always be hamstrung by our family's expectations and previous life damage. I'm not saying that family trauma has to go away completely...but what about some siblings? These girls tend to be only children as well.

The weird thing is that women hamstrung by their families are all in sci fi. I've seen less of it--so far--in fantasy. Leiliana in Dragon Age comes to mind. When it is not a family issue, it tends to be a sexuality thing. Consider Molly of Neuromancer, a former call girl, or the many prostitutes in Phillip K Dick's work. So...sex and family define women in the world of the far future. It's not exactly reassuring and suggestive of societal advance.

On the other hand, the fact that these women are still strong and that all of them resolve their family issues is pretty reassuring. That's a good thing. I mentioned Lexx as a program I liked earlier, and the fact that Zev does not really have a family and that her issues centre on her training to be a wife as well as body-image issues makes her a nice deviation from the norm. However, she is a rare exception and the sort that doesn't get nearly enough air time. 

One could also argue that it gives a voice to women who've been abused or have had these sorts of traumatic childhoods. I don't know if I'm qualified to give an opinion on that, so I'd appreciate feedback on it in the comments. I can say, though, that science fiction and fantasy do offer both escape and inspiration during life's dark times, and that their usefulness in that respect alone definitely merit an article. You can expect that in a future post. 

Admittedly sci fi is still kind of a men's field and a boy's game, so that is probably part of the reason. However, I'd still like to see this change. There are female sci fi writers--and we should gently introduce this change. We can do better. Lots of books do. This is our gender role issue, the same thing as the presumed misogyny in so many fantasy settings. Time to step into the 21st century. We are so much more than just our families of origin or our childhood trauma. The future should reflect that, not merely echo our past.


*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. More interviews and witty commentaries are coming. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Breaking News: Now in Paperback! News from Friends!

Hello hello!

Just a little bit of a post today. I wanted to share the good news (slightly late) about being in PAPERBACK! WOOHOO! I made an "EEEEEEEEE!" noise when I first got my proof copy.


The amazing Kit Foster did this one--I love it to death.

If you do not have a copy already, GO BUY IT NOW. The ebook version is still available, of course.

BUT! I am not the only one with big news. As you can see here, my friend Richard Long is running a Kickstarter for a trailer for The Book of Paul. As you might know from my interview from him, it's a dark and wonderful horror book. Throw a few dollars in the bucket--this trailer is going to be AWESOME and I want to see it. And, there are rewards, of course! So, be sure to drop by and have a look at that. The Book of Paul really blew me away. Seriously. Don't miss it.




FINALLY! Last, but not at all least, the adorable Christy Foster (also known as Sierra Sofia) has just released a new baby herself. Her party for the next one going on over here. You should still have a look, especially if you're a paranormal or short-story lover! She also has a new book,



That's all for today...happy reading!

*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. More interviews and witty commentaries are coming. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Borderline Stories: The Grey Zone of Fan Fiction

Hello hello! Time for a thinky bit. It seems particularly relevant for fantasy month, since fantasy is rife with this sort of thing, and trust me. This post has been a long time coming.

It's no secret to my followers and friends that I am less than fond of fan fiction. Sometimes I poke my head into other forums and discussions just to talk about it with people. Its defenders have some strong arguments (and some not-so-strong arguments too). For years (literally, years, not figuratively) I despised it. My first exposure was the infamous fanfic.net, known for some of the absolute worst writing to grace the internet.


What is fan fiction, you ask? 


For those who haven't encountered fan fiction, or 'fanfic' for short, it falls under a couple of definitions. Simply put, it's work written by fans of a pre-existing story or universe. It relys on the canon stories of that universe, but is technically outside canon; the vast majority of it is written without permission by the creators of said works. Books, movies, television series, and comics are just a few of the media used for fan fiction. It's extremely controversial, and in the past, I've made it clear that I'm one of the many people who despise it.


Let me revise my opinion on this: Fanfiction is a legitimate form of expression that deserves a place at the literary table, instead of being sent to the kitchen to eat on its own. It's not going away, and given the history of literature, some of it has actually contributed to the world.

"How!" you demand incredulously. "Why!" scream others. Have I betrayed my cause somehow? Changed my morals? Taken up bath salts?


While your heads spin about this 180 degree shift in opinion, I'd be delighted to explain why it's come about.


Source. No, unlike Regan, I'm not possessed. I promise.  

The prosecution makes its case. 


To be fair, the fan world deserves some of the notoriety and spleen vented upon it. A few examples of the worst come to mind: the infamous 'head canon' fans who insist that their version is better than the author's, and the (mostly teenagers) who write improbable gay 'ships' (imposed relationships) on characters and describe 'M-preg' (male pregnancy) story-lines--and worse, more ridiculous things. Fan fiction is also known, by and large, for poor craftsmanship of prose, cliched and recycled ideas, misunderstanding of characters, general sloppiness of creation, and a lack of proper critiquing and dialogue within the community. 

There's also the simpler issues of confusing newcomer fans, who may not realise they're reading fan fiction at first. Some people have been turned off of series by the fan fic they've resulted in--for instance, my partner had a very poor experience with Harry Potter fic. It can clog up search results when one is looking for information about the original story--this has happened to me, when I was trying to find a particularly vile poem from the Dragonlance original trilogy and spent hours wading through fan-made crap, trying to find the original source material. 

There's also the simple fact that fan fiction rarely stands on its own. Where The Stars, My Destination did not require reading The Count of Monte Cristo first, the majority of fan fic is completely unreadable without prior knowledge of the existing canon. Not unlike the TV Tropes website or other meme bases,       the layers of culture and in-jokes are so deep that newcomers can get completely lost very quickly. And god help you if your interpretation of something differs from someone else's; fan fiction flame wars (internet ego battles, in case you're unfamiliar with the practice of flaming or trolling) are legendary in size and scope.

And yet, I have a deep love for retellings of fairy tales and other stories--truth be told, I've even done both, with a retelling of a few fairy tales and a riff somewhat inspired by Crime and Punishment making their way into my most recent book. So, am I allowed to criticize? Sure, but only with the awareness that a broad and liberal definition of fan fiction kind of includes my own work. 

Before the screaming starts (I assume it has already, of course) let me also present some supporting evidence for the defense of fan fiction. It's had a huge impact on literature as we know it, and even defined some of the greatest ideas of our time. 


Let the defense rise!



For instance, there's the damning fact that the King Arthur mythos had Lancelot added to it after the fact. Or the instances of Wicked and The Stars, My Destination, which are, respectively, re-writes of the Oz saga and The Count of Monte Cristo. Both are utterly superb and provided new perspectives on the existing works, making them both more enjoyable and adding complexity. Or the cases where famed authors--H. P. Lovecraft and recently, Hugh Howey--openly welcome fans to write things within their universes. Other authors, long dead and consigned to public use licenses, often have their works rewritten and retold--consider the many rewrites of Pride and Prejudice, for example. Or the cases where fan advice is used by authors to enhance their stories. The examples go on, and they all fall into a sort of moral grey zone as enthusiasts find ways to add to the canon universes, and the canon universes accept their additions.



Source. "I'LL TAKE THE CASE!" comes to mind immediately...


What's the big deal?


Naturally, there are also many instances of authors who hate fan fiction deeply. Terry Pratchett and Robin Hobb have both been extremely vocal about their refusal to have fan fiction written about their work--much to the chagrin of many fans. In numerous other instances, fans just write it anyway, and the authors are mostly powerless to stop them. For every reverent fan writing a tribute, there are a pocket of others that scream bloody murder when forbidden to write in the universe without permission.

The issue partly stems from copyright issues and the idea of intellectual ownership. While an author nominally owns their work, fans may disagree with decisions, may want more (or MOAR) in a universe that's closed and finished its story-lines  may have wanted different romantic pairings, or may want to see characters play in entirely different circumstances than they originally existed. Parodies and crossovers are another favorite subject. While the characters are technically the authors' and creators' intellectual property, the fans always acknowledge this, and under parody laws, their work technically is entitled to protection. They can't legally make money from it, but sharing and distributing their works for free? It really is a grey zone. E.L. James merely replaced names in her Twilight fan fiction, Master of the Universe, and...well...I think it's fair to say most of you have heard of 50 Shades of Grey. If you haven't, read my blog post here and here about it and save yourselves the trouble of reading it. (Or don't, if you enjoy books that are so awful you have to laugh through them. That works too.)

Fan fiction has made its way into the wider streams of internet culture. A surprising number of people (mostly female, or at least, they're the only ones I've seen admitting to it) like to read erotic versions of stories or just browse for fun rewrites of things they like. Some of these stories are, I suppose, technically competent enough, and some are alleged to be quite good. For myself, every attempt to read fan fiction online, no matter how renowned and liked, has ended in near-concussions from Head-Desk Syndrome, so I'm a pretty poor judge of likeability. Generally, I can see the fan's writing bleeding through and the marks of imitation on the craftsmanship, and I'd be a liar if I said it didn't bother me.



Source. This was one of mine. 

How do we fix it? 

It wouldn't be a SciFiMagpie post if I didn't offer some potential solutions to the issue. If fan fic can pull its collective britches up and show the rest of the world that it deserves attention because it's capable of good things, it can definitely get somewhere. It even deserves that. However, as in the famous AA line, the first step is admitting that there is a problem. The problem is that lots of it is irredeemable sewage.

It's not that people never write a bad story. My partner Disarcade and my friends will attest that there are times I've literally yelled, "HOW DID YOU WRITE THIS CRAP, PAST ME?" at my computer. Some of this yelling (and giggling) made its way onto Twitter. Not everything we write will be perfect the first time. Some it will just be unpublishable.

To help with this, many authors claim to use fan fic for practice. I haven't done it, but it makes sense----because it gives them a storyline with pre-made characters and the opportunity to develop their own, while they slowly practice descriptions of a known world. Personally, I find it sloppy, but I can't deny the impact of inspiration and the desire to play in a sandbox. At some points, the line between 'inspiration' and 'fan fiction' gets uncomfortably thin. Metro 2033 inspired parts of The Underlighters, to point the gun at my own work, and Neil Gaiman has had a huge impact on my writing. Pretending otherwise, and the idea that 'non fan fiction' stories exist in a magical vacuum, is simply codswallop at best and an outright lie at worst.

However, the self-affirming attitude and reluctance to criticize that plague both the indie writing community and the fan fic community are hurting the market at large. Screaming tantrums and reluctance to be criticized are two of the infamous traits of both markets; add poor technique, and you have the reason that it's just about impossible to simply browse through Amazon's Kindle market these days. People take the lessons learned in the fan fic community and from excessively uncritical supporters and end up plagued with a mix of insecurity and overblown egotism. One can sail a ship on the waves of crap churned into the marketplace. And fan fic, whether its community acknowledges that or not, plays into part of the problem.


"But not everyone who writes fanfic wants to be an author or a professional," protested my friends. "People write for different reasons!"

To that I say: tough cookies. Even if it's free, you published it. That gives the rest of us, your readers and consumers, the right to critique and judge it on its merits, regardless of your feelings. I know people rely on fan fiction and the communities for support and self-gratification--and I really don't care. All creative work and creative communities have those elements. (If they don't, get out!) It doesn't mean that one's work is above criticism. I certainly don't expect everyone to like everything I have written--in fact, I am rather stunned and mildly uncomfortable when I don't see negative opinions. It makes me suspicious and vaguely worried. Much as I do sit there and read through my five star reviews to buoy my ego on a bad day, I rely on criticism to improve myself--as must all writers and artists. Anyone in doubt of the vital need for critique should go examine Deviant Art, another website infamous for the mix of competent and awful art on its thousands of pages.

So, fan fiction has a place, but it needs to work to earn that place.


Your move, fanfic community. Show us what you've really got. Brush off that grammar and spelling checker, maybe pick up a style guide on your way in, and impress us. Don't just rehash things--reinterpret your worlds and share that love with the rest of us.

We--I--will be waiting.

 *****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. Watch out for my fantasy-themed spring: interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Wish Upon a Star: An Interview with Kirstin Pulioff

Hello hello!

Today I have the lovely and sweet-natured Kirstin Pulioff stopping by to talk about her book, The Escape of Princess Madeline. It is much softer than my usual reading material, being written mostly for girls between gr 5 and gr 8 or so, but the rich descriptions and sincere fairytale feel caught my attention.

Curious about the book and about its lovely author? Read on!


*****
Q: Describe yourself in 20 words or less.

A: Ah man, this is a toughie.  I have seen your other interviews and wondered how they did it… here we go, *deep breath*
I dream big, wish on stars, search for rainbows, find treasure in everyday blessings, and live life to its fullest.


Q: Tell us about your novel.

A:  The Escape of Princess Madeline is a coming of age fairytale with aspects of adventure, fantasy and romance appropriate for all ages.  This is a book that takes a modern approach to the traditional princess story and tackles issues of parent/child conflict, finding your path, and first love.


Q: What got you interested in writing for kids between grades 5 and 9?

A: This age range is very special to me.  It’s the age that I really began reading, identifying with characters, and searching for books that spoke to me on deeper level.  As an advanced reader, I found myself reading books that weren’t really appropriate for me at that age.  Although today there are many more options available, when I started writing, it was with the intention to fill the gap that I felt with my own fantasy adventure.

 
  Provided by Author. It's a gorgeous illustration too. 


Q: Madeline is very independent, in spite of growing up in a world where duty rules. How did she develop this trait?

A:  The book opens reflecting on the past- the death of the queen and the birth of Princess Madeline and her brother.  The King, grief stricken, closes off his emotional relationships, and tightens his reign, determined to keep them safe.  Growing up without a mother and under the over-protective rule of her father, Princess Madeline often felt like a damsel in distress.  Living under that much control can go either way- a full submission to the rules and duty, or a rebellion to hold onto her dreams.

I tried to make the characters as real as possible, recognizing that there are many sides to each person.  For Princess Madeline, I was very careful about balancing the hard with the soft- her stubbornness with intelligence, defiance with creativity, and her strength with vulnerability.


Q: Is Madeline a feminist work or a book about defining your place as an adult on your own terms? A bit of both? Neither?

A:  Haha, I never thought of it as a feminist piece, but I do see how some parts definitely fit there. This is a coming of age fairytale that focuses on finding who you are, and the strength to follow that path.  A realization that sometimes dreams come with a price and not every Princess needs to be rescued.


Q: Madeline's father is a very mixed character, with some very sympathetic and very unpleasant traits. Was he inspired by anyone in real life?

A:  No one in particular.  I tried to create the fumbling relationship between a father and a daughter- a relationship that is built on love, but buried under layers of misunderstanding and over-protectiveness.  Over the length of the book, details are unveiled that explain his behavior and open a different level of depth to the character.



The very lovely and friendly K. Pulioff herself!



Q: Madeline is pretty light-hearted as things go, though it has a couple of more fearsome elements. How dark is too dark for young adult fantasy?

A:  That is a hard line to define.  The age range and maturity levels that are covered under young adult are widespread.  And with a large spectrum, there needs to be a variety of what is offered.  For as many dark pieces, there should be equally light and safer alternatives. 

In any story, there needs to be a good sense of drama, danger, and a clear antagonist, but the depth of the details and the darkness of theme need to reflect the audience it is intended for.  I think there is a tendency to over expose kids today as the lines of violence and sexuality seem to keep dropping. 

My books fall into the younger range of young adult fantasy- the upper middle grade, tween, and younger young adults.  It was important to me to make sure this book was family friendly, with clean language, and that the dangerous situations were told in a very “Disney-esque” way.


Q: What do you plan to write or publish next?

A:  I am currently working on the final touches to the sequel, “The Battle for Princess Madeline,” due out May 2013.  Now that she has the future of her dreams, how far will she go to protect it?  I also have ideas for the third book, some potential short stories, and collection of twisted tales. 

It’s a flood gate of ideas, once you open it, it is hard to stop.  J


Q: Which foods do you absolutely hate?

A: Ugg.. I cringe even thinking about them.  I hate olives.  Black, green, pickled, stuffed, you name it- just gross.


Q: Which book have you read lately that was most outside your comfort zone?

A: The latest book I have read outside my comfort zone was a paranormal erotic romance by Travis Luedke, The Nightlife: New York.  I never really entered into that realm before, but I can see the charm and seduction of those books.  


 *****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. Watch out for my fantasy-themed spring: interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 1 April 2013

An Unexpected Bounty: C. J. Marco's Counterargument!

Hello hello!


Today I have a bit of a treat. This is a repost from my friend Colin's blog. I challenged him to write a counterargument to my fantasy post on Tolkein. Do you agree? Or do you guys think I was right--that classic mediaeval European fantasy needs to be adapted to maintain its relevance?

*****

All right, I'll admit it: I did not really care all that much for the prose in Lord of the Rings. I preferred The Hobbit, to be perfectly honest. The Hobbit recently hit theaters and is being released for home viewing today, actually. My aim here is to talk a little bit about Tolkien's works, a little about the film adaptation, and a lot about what Tolkien's massive body of work means for those who both write and read fantasy fiction.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (along with a dearth of other, less-known-to-those-who-are-not-hardcore-fantasy-fans works like The Silmarillion) are all set in the pseudo-medieval world of Middle-Earth, a place populated by mysterious, magical, wise, haughty elves, mine-dwelling, gold-greedy, proud dwarves, peace-loving, restive, often-hungry-yet-overlooked hobbits, and the race of Men, the wildcard race. Sound familiar? Probably. These are the most commonly-touched on tropes of the fantasy race mix. Magical objects and swords and runes? Check. Epic struggle between the forces of light and darkness? Oh yeah.  Why does it all seem familiar now? Because Tolkien took off the blinders and showed us how it was done.


Prior to the saga of Middle-Earth, such stories were the province of T.H. White and Le Morte d'Arthur as well as myths, legends, and a few sword and sorcery novels. The Hobbit primed the audience for the saga of the Rings trilogy.


Many people have said that the Lord of the Rings movies were better than The Hobbit, and any time that a fantasy epic comes out in theaters, it is always inevitably compared to LotR, though the reviews generally refer to Rings as being the superior in the mix. Why? Because it is just that damn good. The Lord of the Rings is one of the primary building blocks for fantasy literature, and it also shows on the silver screen. 


But, the well's run dry! Everything's the same as Lord of the Rings! Where do we go from here?


A wizard is never boring. Nor is he cliche. He entertains precisely when he means to. Source.

NO. High fantasy is thriving. It's bigger than ever right now. The Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Diablo, Warhammer, World of Warcraft, and my personal favorite, D&D/Pathfinder, are all influenced to a certain degree by their mighty predecessor, but they are extremely varied and have potential to be even more so. Great stories will always be great stories, regardless of some possible similarities. The sheer number of fantasy products out there are naturally going to incur some overlap. Many of the product lines I mentioned earlier are also equally influenced by Moorcock's tales of the albino Elric, Howard's Conan the Barbarian, H.P. Lovecraft, Ursula Le Guin, Lewis' Narnia, and any number of other sources. In fact, Michael Moorcock has gone on record saying that "one thing I'm pretty sure of, I was not in any way directly influenced by Prof. Tolkien". (Source)


This would have happened even without Tolkien. Source.

Fantasy is still largely populated by pseudo-European characters and isn't LGBTQ friendly! Is there any hope?

Fantasy is taking great strides to get some variation in it, particularly in the fields of fantasy roleplaying games. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Pathfinder roleplaying game. According to company reps, all of the iconic characters (characters which personify the features of the classes they represent) are ostensibly bisexual, and include a black female paladin, an albino half-elf magus, a monk who appears to be from the Indian subcontinent, an Asian ninja, a middle-eastern oracle... the list goes on. There's only a handful of identifiably "European-looking" characters in the mix, and even then, they are not the majority, given that many other classes are either demihuman or near-monstrous races, such as orcs. The Paizo staff have actually said that they wanted to move away from the image of the "sword-wielding white guy"

The object of much scorn, Regdar was shoe-horned into D&D against the will of the design team. Sigh. Source.
Most of the Pathfinder design team worked for WotC back in the days of 3.Xe D&D. Regdar, the white-guy-with-a-sword of D&D, was almost universally hated by the design team, and so generally Regdar was typically the first to die in any artistic representation. This even carried over into 4e, where Regdar is both dead on the chapter intro for Rituals, and again in the Monster Manual in the medusa artwork. The team wanted a more diverse team of iconic characters, and instead, the corporate bigwigs forced Regdar upon them. 


For a little variation, culturally speaking, check out Legend of the Five Rings, which is set in a swords-and-sorcerers version of feudal Japan called Rokugan. It's a setting of pure epic fantasy, but it is mostly about warring clans of human samurai and the evil demonic overlord Fu Leng's treachery. 


Come to Rokugan for a break from your knights and wizards. Samurai and Shugenjas will fill the gap. Source.

Fantasy has also been moving away from simple tales of a male youth who grows from being a lowly pigherd into the Chosen One who saves the world from a stereotypical "Dark Lord", as Frodo was, but those archetypes and tropes will ALWAYS persist in fantasy literature. Ari Marmell is an established writer who consistently breaks the mold when it comes to his fantasy literature. His novel The Conqueror's Shadow is an inversion, where the archetypal Dark Lord (spiky, skull-helmed armor and all) becomes the hero by taking on someone worse than himself. His companions are an ogre farmer, a witch who eats people, and a grumpy bound demon. And they're the good guys.


Corvis Rebaine, the Dark Lord who nearly crushed the world beneath his iron heel, and reluctant hero. Source.

Now, I'll geek out a bit more here and I'll say that Marmell's work is EXTREMELY well-written and his other works also diverge from the norm of the fantasy tropes. I am eager to read his book The Goblin Corps, which is apparently a novel told from the perspective of a bunch of goblins, who are usually cannon-fodder in other fantasy books, games, movies, etc. I am big fan of Marmell and, honestly, I think he may write some of the best dialogue I've I've ever read. Read it. It's worth your time.

As cultural perceptions change, we are bound to start seeing more variety in our fiction. Female characters have been taking a greater role in fantasy. The "boys only" concept of fantasy is already viewed as outdated. Racial and cultural diversity is being given greater emphasis. It's a matter of the new, young authors taking steps to look at the existing tropes and finding ways to turn them on their head.


TL;DR - Gimme the Bullet Points!


- Lord of the Rings made fantasy popular, but it's not the only epic out there.

- Not all fantasy is influenced by LOTR. In fact, there's some very popular stuff that was never touched by Tolkien's influence.
- The future of fantasy is diverse, glorious, and is not doomed to endless repetitions.
- Fantasy is evolving, shifting, changing as our cultural perceptions are changing.
- There will always be imitators of great authors - Imitation is still the sincerest (if most annoying) form of flattery.
- If a fantasy novel/movie/show/series/product moves you emotionally or really draws your interest, that is marvelous! Don't let anyone tell you that you don't like "good" fantasy. It's all subjective anyway.

So...


Is there a work of epic/high fantasy you feel really moved you? Do you feel that fantasy is played out? What's your favorite world to lose yourself in? You can always reply here on the blog, or hit me up on Twitter @colinjmarco. I look forward to hearing what fantasy you enjoy. My particular tastes are pretty broad, running the gamut from anime like Record of Lodoss War, games like D&D/Pathfinder, movies like Clash of the Titans, and lots more. Let me know what you think. Am I out to lunch? 

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Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. Watch out for my fantasy-themed spring: interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 
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