Fantastika, critical thought, and the start of history

The Guardian is a delightful newspaper, and one that tends to go a little further afield than the usual books section; they’re well into genre fiction, and I delight in reading some of their publishing-related articles.

So I was fairly pleased to see this article on taking a critical look at science fiction and fantasy. Should the genre be held to a standard higher than “mere entertainment”? Of course it should! There’s nothing wrong with just wanting a rollicking good adventure, but there’s also nothing wrong with wanting said adventure stories to be well-examined – don’t just shrug off huge problems with, say, a lack of women, or non-whites, or non-vanilla-heterosexual main characters. Don’t give the genre a pass just because it’s entertaining; there’s nothing that says entertaining can’t also be accurate, or thoughtful, or beautiful.

Hell, that’s what Candlemark & Gleam is about, in large part – proving that there are wonderful stories out there waiting to be told and devoured, in which people of all shapes, colours, creeds, genders, persuasions, etc. can flourish and play a role.

I’m doubly pleased by the article’s acknowledgment of the term “fantastika,” too. As you can tell by one of our slogans – “Purveyors of Fine Fantastika,” I’m a fan of this term – I find it more musical and more applicable than the alternate “speculative fiction,” and both of those terms encompass far more than “science fiction and fantasy” or “sf/f” ever will – and we certainly publish things that fall outside those strict subgenres.

I quite dislike the idea, quoted in the article, that history “began in the 1800s,” however. Not only is it pretty darn Anglocentric (not just Western-focused – ever hear of Greece and Rome?), it’s just plain wrong. Even if you’re looking at it as “the history of fantastika began in the 1800s,” you’re wrong. I would really like to take John Clute out back and thwap him with a copy of Lucian’s True History now, please.

But overall? Nice article. More fantastika. And yes, please, let’s hold authors accountable for expanding out of the “middle class white heterosexual male rut” that so many – regardless of genre – find themselves in.

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  • Jclute

    As you might guess, there are some nuances in the argument about the more or less simultaneous shift to planetary perspectives in the Western world, and the transformation of fantastic material into  idea to call fantastika (a term stolen from lots of places), all beginning round about 1800 or so. And I do think that that was also about the time when “non-mimetic” texts (an anachronism, I know) began to look as though they “knew” they were not mimetic texts. Absolutely no claim on my part that pre-1800 texts weren’t fantastic, though a very strong claim that they were not therefore perceived as deficient for that reason. My focus is on the Western literatures, and on what happened to them in the last couple of centuries; I do think something new was happening, that fantastika texts during this time were maybe the first to subvert the Rule of Reason after its apparent triumph. Completely to one side: the Oxford University Press translation of Lucian from 1905 (within a year) still expurgated him, so us latter day saints wouldn’t be offended

  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    Based simply on this very reasoned and nuanced response to my little grumble, I now /desperately/ need to read your original source work, rather than simply referring to the quotes offered up in articles discussing it. I’m quite interested in the evolution of genre fiction and how various fiction tropes came to be codified into genres, and sometimes ranked hierarchically based on the perceived value of those genres/tropes – and in just this small space, you’ve very nimbly defended your frame of reference for the topic, so now I’m quite interested to see your full arguments!

    And in response to your aside: It’s fascinating to see how long classical texts have been abridged, amended, bowdlerized, or otherwise sanitized. Even the people who claimed to revere the Greeks the most – certain Victorian scholars – really couldn’t wrap their minds around some of their weirder practices or proclivities, let alone the strangeness of some of their writings! Yet another reason I’m glad I read Greek.

  • Jclute

    I just got sight of a review of the book of mine — Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm (2011) — that contains most of what I try to think about fantastika and all. The review is in Science Fiction Studies (whole 116, vol 39. part 1), is by Gerry Canavan (I don’t know him), and gives a far more coherent and succinct summary of this line of thought than I ever managed….

  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    Oh, thank you! I’ll check that out while looking for a copy of the book itself.