me getting slighly pompous

So, recently I’ve been reading Mervyn Peake’s “Titus Groan,” the first of his Gormenghast, and it’s simply phenomenal. About half way in there is still no real sense of narrative structure but everything else is simply wonderful and the book pulls you along with the power of its wonderful eruption of prose, wit, and erudition. Never before have I been confronted with so many wonderful visions presented with such lucidity and clarity. His writing is incredible. And what’s more, for all it’s gothic trappings, it’s written with a sense of humour.

Read it, read it now.

However, I didn’t really want to talk about how great Mervyn Peake is, but rather about one of the quotes on the back, which comes courtesy of Mr C. S. Lewis. And it is this:

“[Peake’s books] are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of possible experience.”

Now, obviously there is the usual sense of book-blurb-hyperbole here, but I think the quote really strikes at the heart of what I believe fantastic fiction should be. By throwing of the trappings of the quotidian, or at least by throwing up a point of contrast against which the quotidian can be compared, fantasy doesn’t just transport the reader to other lands but transports there minds to new emotions, new perspectives, new attitudes.

It comes back to the whole escapism/engaging in the world thing.

Speculative fiction has the ability to batter the reader with more weird, crazed shit than any other genre can. It can throw up more contrast to the everyday than any other genre. And unless we are limited by the perceived limits of the genre, then its limits are those of the writer’s imagination.

If fantasy engages with the world, rather than simply offering a route out of it, it can broaden a readers mind more than any other type of fiction out there.

And it’s legal too, kids.

This is not simply a platitude though, this is a call for action. If anyone who writes speculative fiction reads this, don’t just pat yourself on the back and say “Whoop-dee-doo now I can feel good about what I write,” go away with the knowledge of the power of what you can do with your fiction and let that fuel you. Work to confront your readers with scene-scapes they have never even conceived of the possibility of occurring before. Broaden their perspectives. Make them see things differently.

Because that’s the way to change the world. And if it didn’t need changing, why would be pursuing such an escapist pastime as reading fantasy?


a personal manifesto

For a long time I have been talking (not on this site, but out there in the real world) about what sort of fiction I don't want to write in very concrete tewrms, and what I do want to writew about in very abstract terms. I think its time to firm the latter up.

But first, a caveat: this manifesto is for me, not you.

I have my own vision for what I want speculative fiction to be, but the world would be a very boring place if everyone just wrote what I advocated, What's more it would soon stultify and die. The life blood of speculative fiction (and really almost every creative endeavor) has to be change--mutation and evolution. New ideas must come along and the existing ones must react to them, develop from them, be in a dialogue with them, until they themselves become something different and are the new idea. With that in mind, I intend to revist this document about once a year, not only to see where I have succeeded and failed in my goals, but also to updaye it with any additional thinking I may (and hope to) have had.

So, please, takie thias as it is intended: a purely personal manifesto.

1. Everything that is in my stories will be there for a reason
This is the golden rule. When someone asks me why I did something, why I made a particular choice, I shall have an answer/ Asking "why" should be a critical element of the editing process. The answer "because its cool" is not good enough. Everything should served either to build on the themes of the story, or to move the plot forwards.

2. My stories will attempt to leave the world a better place than they find it
As I have stated before, the least a story should be is entertaining. This is the minimum point of success. Stories should move beyond the point of entertainment and also engage in a discussion of the world in which they exist. This world is far from perfect, there are many flaws, problems, and areas of misunderstanding. Stories should engage with these issues, raise awkward questions, expose unfairness, and, where applicable, suggest solutions.

3. My stories will be entertaining
While I have stated that this is the minimum point of success, stories do have to be entertaining in order to succeed. Boring stories fail. Of course, what is entertaining vs. what is boring is an ambiguous area. What I, personally, mean here is that my stories should contain conflict, action and resolution (the latter may well be open-ended but it will offer some sense of completion to the story). I am less and less interested in 3-Act structure and the monomyth, but I recognize the need for rising and falling action, and that I enjoyt stroies that contain these elements. While I strive to experiment with structure, if the story loses a sense of forward motion, then it is likely a failure.

4. My stories shall be clearly written and not confuse the crap out of the reader
This is not to say that I will abandon narrative structure, sentence structure, or language, or that I will abandon the depth of ideas for the breadth of appeal, simply that I shall regard these experiments as failures should they render the story and the ideas unintelligible to anyone except me. Stories are a frm of communication and should thus communicate their theme(s) and plot(s) as clearly as possible.

5. I shall push the language of my stories to be as poetic as possible
That said I am not interested in writing prose poetry. As much as I admire her work, I am not Catherynne Valente. Still, I want my stories to sound good when read aloud, the language to be rich and vibrant and to add to the reading experience. I want the languaged used to add to the emotional tone and meaning of what is written. And I want to do all that without sacrificing clarity.

6. The structure of the stories I tell shall refelect the themes of the story
The monomyth is increasingly less significant in the modern age. I shall not blindly fall back on three-act structure. Instead, the shape of the narrative should be influenced by, and attempt to reflect, the themes of the story.

7. I shall attempt to offer more questions than answers
To be honest, this is likely to be the hardest for me. My desire to influence the reader can lead to preachy endings, and, as I don't like reading that sort of thing, I don't see why I should inflict them on others. Instead of forcing my own opinions onto others I shall strive to simply get people thinking about issues, so that they can, at least, make up there own minds rather than simply accepting received wisdom.

8. When I create secondary worlds (and I shall) they shall exist as reflections of this world
Secondary worlds should not exist as places to which the reader can retreat to and escape from the real world. As previously stated, stories should deal with real world concerns. As an extension of this thought, and secondary world should reflect/mirror/be a metaphor for this world. It should be a tool with which to examine this world. The reflection, of course, will be imperfect. Certain aspects of this world will be distorted or warped to further develop the themes of the story. Otherwise why bother with a reflection?

9. I shall explore the use and updaying of mythic archetypes
While I am movinbg away from the monomyth as an archetype for stories, I am still interested in exploring mythic archetypes and seeing how they can lend power and width of appeal to a story. At the same time, they should should not be used purely for width of appeal, but should be explored for what they once signified and what they now signify, in order to add to stories depth of meaning.

10. I shall include stuff I think is cool
Steam powered suits of battle armour, cyborg monkey samurai, the word "behemoth"--hell yes. But at the same time, being cool will not be sufficient reason to include something in a story (see Rule 1). Still, whenever I can justify it, I will get my geek on.

11. My work shall not emulate or be derivative of Tolkein's work
I have no problem with TOlkein. I love his stuff and geeked out thoroughly to the Silmarillion. Yes, you heard me, the Silmarillion. What I take issue with is his cloying, clogging, stultifying legacy. I see no need to retread the ground which he so thoroughly covered. I will never write about anything with pointy frickin' ears.