Genre discussions (#SFWApro)

Rebekkah Niles blogs about the way magic can be (and has been) used in different fantasies.
•Michal Wojcik looks at the idea fantasy is simply a holdover from the medieval times when people really believed in that stuff. He disagrees. And here he takes on the argument made by some writers that Tolkien is the kind of simplistic, immature fantasy that the genre needs to rise above (at least one of the writers making this points believes he’s done so).
This kind of debate is, of course, very familiar. Back in the 1970s, Ursula LeGuin dismissed sword-and-sorcery as immature fantasies for teenage boys in which all characters are testosterone-laden Conan clones. Spider Robinson dismissed fantasy much the same (adding that unlike SF, it has neither characterization or emotional depth). One writer in the 1990s explained that on the contrary, fantasy fiction was just too feminine for him (magic and princesses and unicorns and none of that icky technology and hard science stuff that girly brains don’t like).
Likewise, debates about realism and what constitutes realism in fantasy or SF have a long lineage (I touch on some of them in this post). Does gritty realism mean rejecting heroics? Does it matter when, like Tolkien, you’re working in an older heroic style? Is escapism good? Is including modern personalities and attitudes in a pre-technological fantasy world a good idea or not (this essay criticizes it, but I think his assumption any fantasy world psychology must conform to our own history debatable).
•You may have heard about the two-sentence horror stories collected from Reddit; TYG has and she’s not particularly a horror reader.
This is, of course, not a new concept. There’s “The last man on Earth sat in his room. Then a knock came on the door.” or the classic “For sale, a pair of used baby shoes. Never worn.”
But I must admit while several of them are creepy, neat or both ( I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, “Daddy, check for monsters under my bed.” I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, “Daddy, there’s somebody on my bed.”) most of them feel more like set-ups than actual stories. For example, “In all of the time that I’ve lived alone in this house, I swear to God I’ve closed more doors than I’ve opened.” Neat line. But by itself, I don’t think it’s really a story, any more than “The dead walk the Earth” is a story.
Here Niles blogs about the difference between Trope and Cliche: A cliche is frozen, the same every time, a trope has some flexibility.
The writer Jeanine Basinger made the same point about formula vs. genre (in her excellent The World War II Combat Film). Formula doesn’t change. Genre endures because it can adjust to new expectations. For example, the WW II movie can emphasize the need to fight, the futility of fighting, the importance of functioning in civilian life, the brutality of war, the “needs of the many” or the possibility of evil on both sides, depending on the era.

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