Disarming Fantasy

Very little fantasy seems fantastic any more. A sweeping statement I know, but it’s true all the same. We’re too comfortable with it. While the magic and advanced technology doesn’t exist, for the purposes of stories, it may as well. Space ships, ray guns, zombies, dragons etc. are such a big part of our collective pop culture, that they have lost a lot of their impact.

Take the trailer for Avatar. It impressed me with all its technological wizardry (in creating such a realistic looking world), but none of the creatures, technology or landscapes made me think “WOW”. I just thought “space marines vs. night elves… great…”

I sometimes wish I could erase from my mind all the tropes, clichés and expectations that go with fantasy and SF stories. I recently read The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, both by Alfred Bester, and was blown away. But not as much as I could have been. The former deals with a society where teleportation is available to all and the latter the effects of telepathy on police work. To read these novels without any knowledge of either subject would have been amazing.

The fantasy and SF stories that really excite me are those that introduce something new, either in terms of the magic they deal with or the technology they present. The battle between the sentient storms of Jupiter, described in Phillip Reeve’s Larklight, was so epic in scale that I read the chapter several times over. And this from a writer of YA fiction, something that a lot of fantasy readers appear to deride.

So much SF deals with a future so far removed from our own that we have no basis on which to connect with that world. Far more interesting are tales that look at the potential effects of near-future technologies, those that according to Wired (and other such sites) might be just around the corner, ready to transform our lives. The bite-sized stories told in Global Frequency, by Warren Ellis, are a perfect example.

Is there still room on my bookshelf for a story with magic swords, dragons and faux-medieval kingdoms? Sure. But there’d better be a “holy shit” moment in there too. Preferably two or three. Ideally more.