I was at the bookstore today, and my buddy Mur (who is awesome and also just got interviewed by USA Today, and has a new book coming out which includes many things that really truly happened to us in New Orleans) gave a book a vague recommendation. “It’s okay,” she said. “It didn’t work for me, but it might for you. I’ll loan it to you.”
“Eh,” I said, realizing that there was no chance I would read this book. “I’m just not reading very much genre fiction these days. Well, our genre, anyway.”
And this is the truth. My genre–my great love and the one that everything I write wanders into–is fantasy. I love fantasy. I love it dearly and I believe it is terribly important and it was the one thing I wanted to read as a kid and god help me, I am so very sick of nearly all of it.
There are still a few authors that I will buy instantly, immediately, without checking my bank balance. Most of them are fantasy, though a couple of mystery/horror have slunk in there. And I read them. And I enjoy them.
And I go on jags where what I want is Miss Marple or Brother Cadfael (and the nice thing about being me is that my memory is not what it used to be and I can’t always remember who the bad guy is.) or Georgette Heyer, and I re-read them with great love. And there are times when I re-read fantasy I love, and I still love it very much. It is a visit to an old and much-loved friend’s house.
But I scan the new book section of Barnes & Noble and go “Cloak-guy, Cloak-guy, Steampunk Guy, Cloak-guy, Tiger, Cloak-guy, John Jude Palencar That I Would Buy A Print Of But Not The Book, Tough Urban Fantasy Woman, Cloak-guy.*”
None of it excites me. It’s the setting, I think. Has to be. I picked up The Ghost Bride and read it in two fascinated days. When I discovered Sarah Addison Allen’s magical realism books, I devoured every single one, one after another.
I think I am tired of Fantasyland.
You know where it is. It’s the vague European city and countryside that has no sense of place to it. (Chocolat, for example, was magical realism set in a European city, but it by god had a sense of place to it that is not remotely found in most fantasy. I would not cry if most of these cities were half so clearly rendered as Chocolat.) There are no plants in it that are not darkly dripping trees, healing herbs, cloak-catching brambles or grass suitable for feeding horses/rolling around in. Oh, and heather. You can order a DLC pack with heather in it, if you’re trying to write a vaguely Celtic fantasy. Angry carnivorous vines cost extra.
The only birds are crows, swans, eagles, and vultures, forming a somewhat improbable aerial food-chain.
This is not, however, a call for more non-Eurocentric fantasy, because people have made that call better than I will, and anyway, I write many things set in vaguely European fantasy worlds and so I have no moral high-ground whatsoever.
(Perhaps that’s part of the problem. A book set in Fantasyland is not escapism for me anymore, it’s attending a party at work. Reading most fantasy novels now is pretty much a staycation.)
Perhaps it’s just a call for books to take me someplace that I haven’t been already. Many, many times.
Most of the books I read and love now are set in places, when I think of it, some of them real-ish, like–McCall’s Botswana or Peters’ England, some of them not, like McKinley’s Damar and Pratchett’s Discworld. (The rest seem to have grisly murders. Suitably grisly murders will stand in just fine for a sense of place, apparently.)
I cannot bear what China Mieville does to his characters most times, and I will still buy any Bas-Lag book he puts out, even if Iron Council did make me want to yell “Yes, we get it, you’re a communist, that’s fine, you’re among friends.” Because his books will take me somewhere I have not been.
And I return to LeGuin’s Kesh whenever I am reminded, because that is a place, a real and true place, that merely happens not to exist. Gont and Atuan too, though not quite so starkly.
Hand in hand with my increasing ennui toward Fantasyland is a great boredom with its denizens. You will have to do something truly extraordinary with fairies to impress me these days. Otherwise they are just more people from work. “This is Oberon, from Accounting.” (Do not even talk to me about vampires.) Dragons have been done and dragons that are friendly characters have been done and I have witnessed many states of their done-ness and about the only one that I still find interesting is the one where they are a not-particularly-exciting form of vermin, because very few people do that yet.
I am desperately tired of farmboys in search of their lonely destiny, and if you are going to introduce yourself as a ranger, you goddamn well be putting out fires and fretting over declining woodpecker populations in the next paragraph.
If you are plucky or spunky or feisty, I come pre-tired of you.
If you are from the Kingdom of Blah, ruled by blah, and must awaken the blah within yourself, with the aid of a rag-tag band of misfit blahs, in a desperate race against time before the terrible Blah occurs, we are done here.
(And yet I still love fairy tales. They still work for me. I do not know why this should be, but it is. I could read fairy tales and fairy-tale retellings all day, and sometimes I do.)
This is not, believe it or not, a call for recommendations. I am actually pretty okay with my ennui. It is as if I have acquired a weird and genre-specific form of depression–no, I don’t care, I don’t even care that I don’t care, there are days when I care very much but not many and mostly there is simply no reason to get out of the fantasy bed in the morning if the day is only going to be more dragons and heroes and vampires and nobody is going to bother to grow peas.
Sadly, while I have dealt with depression as it applies to life, I am not sure how one deals with it when it comes to a genre. They do not make fantasy-specific Zoloft. There are no therapies available for when you have burned out your sense of literary wonder.
So I flail away at my books set in deserts and my gardener heroes, I throw saints into everything because fantasy is sadly bereft of saints, and I try not to feel too much guilt about that thing I just finished that was set in a vaguely European forest or that other thing with the castle. I write about priests and grandmothers and hoopoes in waistcoats.
But mostly I just scan over the new releases and feel no desire to read any of them.
(And some of them are by friends! Who are good people! Who I want to support, and who I KNOW are doing exciting things with the genre, and I just…got nuthin’. Mind you, I still buy the books, because I want to be supportive. And Kevin reads them.)
So I sit in the tub with gardening books. And mysteries. And Gothics. There is no shortage of reading material out there. And except for the vague feeling of guilt that I should be reading this because I’m writing it, and if I don’t love it enough to read it, why the hell am I writing it?–I’m fine with that.
I have no desire to write mysteries. If I try, the protagonist turns into a were-bear. (I tried. It happened.) Fantasy is the thing I do.
I just find, increasingly, that when I’m off work, I want to leave Fantasyland and go someplace else for awhile. And so few books in my genre seem able to do that.
*Seriously, Cloak-guy is getting around. Mur and I counted sixteen hooded figures in flowy cloaks on covers last week, and only two of them were on Assassin’s Creed novelizations.