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!