Oh, it’s a opinion time, yay! It’s been a long time since I’ve done a discussion post and I don’t think I’ve ever really officially titled one ‘discussion’ so maybe this is a first? Either way, discussion posts are part of my goal as a blogger this year, so here we go.
I’ve talked at length before about why I love Fantasy, and the larger speculative fiction genres, so much. You can really do anything within a fantasy story–mystery, police procedural, quest, coming of age, heist, epics, social commentary, romance, etc. These can even be mixed and matched and made into something fresh feeling. So fantasy and science fiction are already providing us with a wide range of entertainment–everything from comedy to thought provoking stories exist therein (and sometimes combined–Discworld comes to mind). So, what more could I possibly want? Well, there are a few things I’d love to see more of from my favorite genres.
Hopepunk / Optimistic Stories
There was a huge surge in fantasy the last several years where grim and gritty and ‘realistic’ stories were super popular and seemed to flood the market. People were tired of black and white versions of good and evil characters and wanted something more nuanced. Then it felt like things got grim and violent almost for the sake of being grim and violent, or maybe even to comment on those things but never being very ‘positive’, always very cynical in a ‘the world is shit so why does anything matter’ sort of a way. Which…who am I to argue with when some days I wake up and the world looks pretty freaking grim. But it’s in these somewhat trying days that I’m clinging on to every bit of hope and positivity and stories telling me that maybe, just maybe, everything will be okay.
One of my favorite books is The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, and the reason I love it so much is because the main character, Maia, remains good and positive despite all the terrible things that he’s had to deal with in his life. And his goodness is infectious when he suddenly becomes emperor and finds himself questioning ‘why do we do things this way again?’. There’s such a feeling of optimism in that work that resonates with me.
I read three other books last year that also gave me a feeling of great optimism, despite that they were all post-apocalyptic/semi-apocalyptic/light dystopian in nature. How could a book about the end of things, the partial or total collapse of society, a society raised on fear possibly give you hope? And yet. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher, A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker, and A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen–these are all stories I can recommend if you’re looking for hope in what might seem like grim times. More like these, please and thank you.
Mundane / Slice of Life Stories
As much as I love a good epic, a thrilling tale of empire with lots of politicking and court intrigue or huge battles and high stakes, I also love small scale stories. Stories that are more personal in nature. Stories that show a small part of the overall picture and maybe don’t always have a lot of plot to them but are enjoyable nonetheless.
One of the reasons I love Becky Chambers’ books so much is because they’re so slice of life. Record of a Spaceborn Few is basically a bunch of vignettes of various characters living their lives, showing how an event affected their way of life and wondering how it might change in the future. There’s not much of a plot. But it does make you think. I loved that book so much. Even her recent novella, To Be Taught, if Fortunate, was slice of life in a lot of ways. All those little glimpses tying together to make a broader picture and ask the reader ‘isn’t this worth it?’
In struggling to think of something in Fantasy that isn’t as plot heavy, A Magical Inheritance by Krista D. Ball comes to mind. The main plot of the book is a character inheriting a large amount of occult books from her uncle and then having to sort them and keep track of how much money she’s making off of them. There are other things going on, including a ghost, but it’s probably one of the most slice of life fantasy books I’ve come across, and I loved it for how non-epic the story was.
Different Settings / World building
For some years fantasy especially felt pretty stagnant as far as world building and things have really started to come around in the last several years with stories being told in different settings and different time periods other than ‘ye olde (faux) medieval Europe’. I’m really glad to see a lot more variety coming into the field because that keeps me interested. I like a setting that may seem familiar, but can also still surprise me! I have nothing against any fantasy based (loosely or otherwise) on medieval Europe, but I love having more things to choose from.
One of the things I loved so much about Steel Crow Saga, the book that was taking me forever to finish for some reason, is its world-building. It’s obviously based off of countries in Asia and their complex history with one another. But the brilliant thing this story does is not only showcasing these different cultures and how they clash, but the varying levels of magic and technology. If I were to have to guess what time period this is based on, I wouldn’t be able to say. The technology is sometimes similar to our own but seems to be fueled and spurred on by magic, not just mechanical advancements. I can only thank the author for giving this reader something that felt new and fresh while still familiar enough to not overwhelm me with information.
Another author who always makes their worlds feel fresh is Stephanie Burgis. She takes what we expect from a fantasy of manners type setting and then says ‘oh but that’s now how this society works’ and flips things around. I LOVE that and I can’t recommend her Harwood Spellbook series enough.
Secondary World Urban Fantasy
I’m a fan of urban fantasy because at its heart is mystery mixed with fantasy and boy do I love a good mystery. What I don’t see as much is these types of stories taking place in another world—usually they’re always set in some city in our real world, whether that’s New York, Chicago, London, or St. Louis–these are all places that exist in the real world. Part of urban fantasy is whether or not the ‘shadow world’–that magic and / or monsters exist–is known to the general public. But there’s no reason that can’t be done in a secondary world, if one chose.
One of my favorite series is The Chronicles of Elantra by Michelle Sagara. This story is, in my mind, very much a secondary world urban fantasy. The main character is basically a cop walking a beat and, in the earlier books especially, dealing with solving crimes and mysteries in the city of Elantra. It’s a fun series and one of the reasons I love it is how different it feels compared to other things. Even fifteen books in I’m still enchanted. Definitely would love to see more of this!
Well, those are a few things I’d love to have more of–dear writers please make it happen 😉 What are some things you would like to see more of from fantasy or science fiction? Leave a note in the comments, I’d love to chat!
33 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Four Things I’d Like to See More of in SFF”
I 100% agree with the more hopeful stuff. With all the challenges our world is facing I go to my books for escapism and hope so I definitely need more of that. It’s partly why I love SFF so much because I can escape to completely different places! I also agree with slice of life books, currently reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which is very much slice of life but dealing with depression etc. And I’m always on the look out for more original interesting world building fantasy too. I guess personally I’d like to see less romance in SFF books. I often find an interesting world and plot gets dominated by poorly done romance which puts me off. If it’s a small part of the story done well then that’s fine. It’s done brilliantly in Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor.
Ooh, I’ll have to check out Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine then, I deal with depression myself so that is doubly relevant to my interests.
Since I also read a ton of romance genre I don’t mind romance mixed with SFF at all, but it still has to be written well. Although I admit that I’m also a sucker for certain tropes which I know are pet peeves for a lot of others lol. 🙂
I loved Strange the Dreamer! Such a wonderfully weird story. I still need to read the sequel and see how things turn out.
After reading your post I added a lot of titles on my wishlist!
I am totally with you with the worldbuilding part, I am always searching for new world and things and I really appreciate when an author creates something new! 😍
Awesome, I hope you enjoy! I’m usually not super into world-building, but I do really appreciate people doing something new and different–it keeps things from being boring. 🙂
I love hopepunk as well! I mean, give me dark and gritty every day of the week, but there’s something about a story that leaves you feeling optimistic. I’m reading The Bards Blade right now and it’s got a character who has been sheltered his entire life, and then he’s thrust into a different, horrifying world and has to survive. I’m not finished, but so far he seems to be sticking to his ideals and principles😁
Yes, that’s exactly what I love about it too. I’ll have to look out for your review on The Bards Blade then, it might be one I want to add to my list. 🙂
Yes please, more hopepunk! I’m so tired of these “the world ends, and now we all turn on each other and the humanity is the worst monster of all” stories. Can I have an ideal to strive for? Please?
Exactly! And there’s nothing wrong with some people being bad or doing the wrong thing still, but it’s so boring when *everyone* is.
Yes I agree with everything here! The Goblin Emperor is my favourite novel and I re-read it every year because it’s so hopeful and comforting and lovely, as is all of Becky Chambers’ work – hopepunk is something we need more and more of. I really enjoy Stephanie Burgis’s work, too, and I want to read more.
A Magical Inheritance is going straight on my TBR, that sounds wonderful! I absolutely love slice of life stories in SFF settings. 🙂
The Goblin Emperor is one of my go to comfort reads–I loved it some much the first time I read it that I immediately re-read it lol.
I hope you enjoy A Magical Inheritance!
Yes to more Hopepunk!!! Grimdark just got too bleak for me, I couldn’t read it anymore.
Right, same thing here. I don’t mind dark things, but there also has to be some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.
I could also do with more secondary world urban fantasy, or really, just anything fresh to breathe new life into the genre these days. Last year I barely read any UF and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these days I’m also a bit tired of the same old, same old from the genre. I did really enjoy Titanshade last year though, I think if you’re looking for UF in a completely original and that feels different, you should check it out 🙂
Yeah, I used to read a lot more UF and it all got very ‘same-y’ after a while so I had to pack that subgenre away for a while and only started reading it again in the last few years–Michelle Sagara’s books were an exception. This is also one of the reasons I LOVE The Last Sun so much, while not exactly secondary world they are bringing so much life into something that feels a bit stale. Thanks for the rec, I’ll definitely look into that!
Grimdark can be interesting, granted, but it’s also true that too much grimness and darkness becomes far too much in the end, and some balance is not only needed but necessary. That’s the reason I’m enjoying my belated run through Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy: there is a definite veneer of humor running through the harshness of his world, and his characters are not only ugly, dirty and mean, they have a heart that comes to the fore in surprising revelations….
Yeah, I have only read most of Best Served Cold by him but I did enjoy his writing a lot. I don’t know that I would read a ton of his stuff in a row but I do enjoy that sort of thing now and then. 🙂
This one is super specific- but I really would love to see more jungle or tropical island type settings in Fantasy. It seems like there are plenty of forest settings, and general temperate climates- but I’d really love to see a fantasy about people who live in trees and treehouses and the antagonist ends up being the jungle or terrain itself.
I sort of caught a glimpse of how amazing it could be in Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James, but in looking for more books like that they’ve been hard to find. Or like- a Moana inspired fantasy? I’d love something like that! Great discussion topic!
Oh that’s a good one. I’m struggling to think of any myself. Maybe some of Judith Tarr’s? I think she wrote some set in South America….I’ll have to ask one of my friends who is a fan of hers. Other than that, I really don’t know. You’re right, it’s something we don’t see a lot of. Oh! I know in one of the later Kushiel universe books, one of the Naamah books, they actually do go to the ‘new world’ and there is a bit of jungle stuff in it.
But yeah, we need more different settings for sure.
Thanks I’ll check them both out! As I was working on my post for this week’s T10T I did find one that sounds promising: Crossroads of the Canopy, but the reviews are kind of mediocre so I’m not too hopeful about it. There are lots of horror/science fiction books set in the jungle but almost no fantasy. I think it’s weird because it’s such an interesting and challenging one.
I guess jungles make for good horror stories–so many things to fear coming out of the darkness of the canopy. I think it does leave a ton of opportunity for fantasy though…so many possibilities when you think about it.
That’s exactly how I feel! And it’s part of why I’m so baffled I couldn’t find much. I feel like it’s an untapped market.
It definitely is.
I’m 100% with you on more hopepunk style stories. There’s something that really resonates with me when the story refuses to give into the “well it’s all terrible so we might as well be terrible just to get by” rut, and I think it also tends to lead to really full, vibrant characters. You can’t give a grimdark kind of world the bird without really having some strong character to back it up and commit to more optimistic approaches.
Great list on the whole!
Yes exactly! I love characters that refuse to just give in to the hopelessness.
Hopepunk – definitely up for some of that – although I won’t abandon grimdark completely.
Yeah, sometimes I’m still in the mood for something darker and gritty, but I love me some hopeful stories these days more often than not. 🙂
Agreed on all of those. I kind of…collect slice of life SFF, but it’s so incredibly hard to find, especially since it’s basically never labelled that way. And I want more hopeful books too, though that’s at least not as difficult to find. I haven’t been able to read grimdark at all for the last year or two…
I don’t know if I’ve ever read straight up grimdark tbh, but I have read some bleak things (like damn, Dark Age gets bleak as fuck at certain points) but I am really craving the hopeful stuff these days.
I had an edgy phase when I was a teenager, I’m pretty damn familiar with it, lol. But idk, I did a complete 180° at some point. Much prefer the…not completely bleak to outright hopeful stuff now.
Hopeful is just so….satisfying somehow.