Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fantasy subgenres: Helpful or needlessly divisive?

Sword and sorcery? Epic fantasy? Sword and planet? Sword and sandal? Does anyone really care about these delineations? Do they serve any purpose?

A couple of the blogs I frequent, Charles Gramlich’s Razored Zen and James Raggi’s Lamentations of the Flame Princess, have in recent days argued both sides of the debate. LOFP sneered that no one really cares about the issue and that all such divisions are meaningless; RZ’s opinion is clearly apparent in the fact that he’s written the first two parts of a detailed three-part series on heroic fantasy and its subdivisions.

So who is right? Here’s my take, for whatever that’s worth.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.


Will Duquette said...

I don't really care about the delineations, though they are fun to think about. But I enjoyed running into Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser whilst reading about them. I do believe I've got this picture lurking on a book somewhere in my library.

Lagomorph Rex said...

it's a good topic, I'm glad you wrote about it, as its something I frequently wonder about.. especially when talking to people who have different tastes in books than I do.

Simply because something is in the " SF&F " Section at the book store dosen't mean I'm going to like it or want to read it. So to me they are useful in picking out other books I may like.

I'm pretty strictly a fan of the Heroic Fantasy (Sword and Sorcery/Planet/Sandal) and Epic Fantasy sub-genres.. I don't really care for Urban Fantasy or whatever else the new stuff is they are putting out.. and I certainly don't care for the new post modern fantasy by the likes of Morgan and Meivelle.. I'd rather read the entire Dragonlance series than just one book from either of them..

Will Mistretta said...

By God that is a terrible Fafhrd/Mouser pic!

The reader knows that Fafhrd is larger in stature, but is anyone *really* imaging one man's head bring twice the size of the other's? Viggo Mortensen and Elijiah Wood looked more reasonable in their Lord of the Rings scenes together.

David J. West said...

I'm with your Brian in that it gives a bit of flavor and better illustrates to people what they specifically like.

Brian Murphy said...

Will and Will: But what about my thought-provoking post? Are you really just interested in the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser pic? This seems to confirm my sneaking suspicion that no one really gives a fig.

David: I knew I could count on you, man!

Lagomorph: The only Mieville I've read is Perdido Street Station and it earned a solid "meh" from me. Morgan (of The Steel Remains seems more intent on being a contrarian than writing compelling fantasy.

Eric D. Lehman said...

"Genre-bending elements like boots!"

I nearly spit out my coffee when I read that one. Great essay, Brian. I happen to like pretty much all the 'genres.' I also agree that categories can be fun, and that any problems are for writers/editors rather than fans and readers. However, even those problems are easily conquered by writing/finding quality work.

That's what my friends and I usually argue about - quality - rather than genre. Of course, that sort of discussion can often be fruitless, as well! Or, like discussion of genre, it can lead to greater understanding of our own appreciations, a more critical eye for detail, and a broader view of the world of literature.

Will Mistretta said...

"But what about my thought-provoking post?"

I agree completely with your first two points, but the third leaves me cold. I'm not much for recreational pedantry.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Helpful. But then I believe I was the one who provoked Raggi's rant, with my initial (shallow) musings about whether D&D was a swords & sorcery game.

Brian Murphy said...

Eric: You're right of course, in the end the quality of any given work is of course far more important than its genre (or sub-genre, or sub-sub-genre).

Will: It is one of my vices, but it beats recreational drug use.

Paladin: Nice work. Look what you've started!

Gabriele C. said...

There are a few too many sub-sub-subgenres around, but overall I'm glad for those larger drawers. For example, I love epic Fantasy, historical Fantasy, Sword&Sorcery, but I don't care about Urban Fantasy or Dystopian/Apocalypse stuff, and for that the subgenre definitions are helpful.

Of course, I only read books I like (to avoid the taste charged 'good books') within the genres I enjoy, but I can't get into books from subgenres I don't like no matter how critically acclaimed and/or popular they are (Dresden Files, or Mieville, fe.).

But I won't blame any writer for putting boots into a Sword&Sandal story ;) , some genre bending can lead to interesting books.

Charles Gramlich said...

For me, it's about the fun of it. I just love the debate and discussion and I don't get upset when folks don't agree with my categories. I read across almost all the subgenres and enjoy them.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Charles, I agree. I like having the categories as I find them useful and fun, but I don't worry about them too much (well, maybe except when someone calls Tolkien sword and sorcery). I enjoy just about all the subgenres, too.

Love your series, by the way.