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Self-Hating Fantasy Writers: Why Do They Exist?

February 11, 2010 1 comment

People, as you’ve probably surmised by now after reading me gush at length about manga and shows like Hey Arnold and Clone High, I am kind of a dork. I know I’m a dork, nerd, geek, and so on and so forth (after all, I currently work for a company where I am literally in a Squad with other Geeks. It’s in my job title). This is a label I wear with pride, not shame. I learned long ago that I should not pretend to be something I’m not. If I pretended I was not a geek, it would be about as effective as pretending I was a lumberjack: pretending doesn’t make it true and succeeds in fooling no one except myself. Luckily, I have no desire to pretend I am not a geek (although pretending to be a lumberjack actually sounds a lot more fun).

One of the things I am most geeky about is the fantasy and science fiction genre. A good 90% of every novel I read is in those genres and I doubt I’d ever get tired of them. It’s the genre I’ve tried to write original stories in the most and the genre which contains most of my favorite stories (I have many favorites, but if you twisted my arm to give you my most favorites, I’d probably say they’re currently Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett). Although there are many people who don’t consider fantasy or science fiction as “literature” (which I personally consider to largely be nothing more than petty prejudice more than anything, but I ranted about that enough in my Bakuman review), I do consider it literature and a very respectable genre. I have absolutely no shame in reading or writing stories in that genre.

Now, I ask you, why are there authors who write fantasy or science fiction who feel ashamed of it?

Some of you may not know what I’m talking about, and I will admit that the authors who feel this way seem to be in the minority, but I’ve always wondered about that. There seems to be a tendency for a few authors who write a hit fantasy or science fiction story to hate being in that genre. Hate being compared to others in that genre and hate it when people say their book is in that genre. Brandon Sanderson (who is not by any means an example of someone ashamed of being a fantasy writer and seems rather awesome…which reminds me I should pick up Mistborn) once referred to people who expressed such an attitude “self-hating fantasy writers”.

There are a couple writers who express this attitude, but the main offender most people have heard of is probably Terry Goodkind, who really seems to hate his books being referred to as fantasy. He instead likes to call his stories “philosophical novels,” almost giving the implication that fantasy stories can’t be philosophical or have complex themes (yeah, try telling that to Terry Pratchett). Other authors are said to feel this way, such as Philip Pullman, but Terry Goodkind I think is the one most outspoken about it. Not to say that his work is bad or anything, but I find it odd he would dislike his book being considered a part of the fantasy genre. Especially when his first book is called the Wizard’s First Rule. I mean… the word Wizard is in the name. But he doesn’t want us to consider it a fantasy.

It would sort of be like if I wrote a book titled Encounter at Station Sedna: The Second Novel in the “Eric Fenrir, Space Explorer/Private Detective” Quartet, but said it wasn’t a science fiction or detective story. Like pretending to be a lumberjack, it doesn’t really fool anyone except me. And I’m not trying to say you should judge the merits of a book simply by its title or its genre. All I’m trying to say that fantasy and sci-fi aren’t genres to be ashamed of and many books in those genres are just as complex and mature as any literary novel you could find on the shelf. Just because a series can possibly considered a fantasy does not mean its dumb or that it isn’t worth reading. Authors shouldn’t feel that way if they write a fantasy and readers shouldn’t feel that way if they see its in the fantasy section.

Like I’ve said, most writers don’t have this problem. And, while there was a time when a lot of readers considered fantasy beneath them, more people have been warming up to the genre, especially in recent years (you could attribute that to a lot of things such as the rise of Harry Potter, the success of the Lord of the Rings films, and a lot more contributing factors that are probably to complicated and numerous to go into here). I just wanted to share that because I believe fantasy and sci-fi are respectable genres that nobody, reader and author alike, should be ashamed of enjoying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read some more of Storm Front before going to sleep. Which is a fantasy story that I find very awesome and engaging. If there’s a fantasy book you’ve had your eye on recently, maybe you should pick it up and do the same.

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Mass Effect 2

Hey guys. Sorry I haven’t been updating much as of late. I’ve been pretty busy with work and my other writing projects that I haven’t had much time to look at older things to review. I do have a few things I might want to review very soon (specifically Wolf’s Rain and possibly the Dark Crystal). But right now I want to talk about a game I just got this past Tuesday that has managed to steal whatever free time I did have before: Mass Effect 2. I have not yet finished the game, but I’m about 30 hours in. If you’ve read all the reviews so far, you probably have heard its a game now. However, I’ve played nearly all of Bioware’s games for the modern console and I would have to say that thus far, this is the best game Bioware has ever made in my opinion. And, although I haven’t finished it yet, it’s already a contender for my favorite video game sequel of all time.

Assuming you’ve never heard of Mass Effect, this series is Bioware’s take on the traditional space opera while still managing to be original and well developed with its setting. There’s a bunch of alien races, all of which are interesting, and the world is well defined and clearly thought through (they even have a Codex in their games that is essentially like a personal Hitchhiker’s Guide for more detailed information about the things you come across in the game). Mass Effect 1 was a good game with a pretty good story, but suffered from several flaws (the inventory system, the frequent “elevator” load times, the inventory system, driving the Mako, the inventory system, needlessly having to drive around uninteresting planets with the Mako, the inventory system, the goddamn inventory system).

Mass Effect 2 is one of the rare sequels that pretty much improves on every aspect of the original rather than just recycling the same formula again and again. It has a lot going for it. First of all, one of the main selling points is that you can import your character from Mass Effect 1 into 2 to “continue the story” of that specific character, with choices made in the previous game affecting this one. When I heard this, I thought it was pretty cool and expected major decisions from the first game to affect the second game, which it does. What I did not expect is that if you import a character from the first game, the second game doesn’t just reference major choices from the first game, it references sidequest and seemingly inconsequential choices from the first game that you wouldn’t expect. You even get to run into the annoying reporter from the first game, who you had the option to Falcon Punch before. If you did that, she remembers it (also, you have the option to punch said reporter again, which just proves why the choices in the game are awesome). The game has a LOT of stuff like this. I even received in game emails from secondary character from the first game I didn’t even remember at first, but still referenced choices I made. This game is really the first video game sequel I’ve seen where you know for certain your actions in the last game “mattered” and had consequences on that fictional world, which is not easy to do for a video game. Importing a character definately gives you a good feeling of nostalgia and satisfaction to continue your own character (and his/her allies) story arc.

Which brings me to my next point: the writing in this game is awesome. Now, if you know anything about Bioware, that’s not much of a surprise. But Bioware really stepped up their game this time. Not only are the dialogue choices for Shepard often amusing or funny, but all the characters in the game are really fleshed out and go through very good character development. Every single party member in the game has a quest you can go on to learn more about that character and help them on a more personal venture. Which isn’t that impressive…were it not for the fact that these optional quest each happen to be almost as long and involved as the main story missions. They have cutscenes, choices, and help you get in touch with the characters. Even if you don’t like a specific character, you’ll find it hard not to sympathize with them in their quests.

And, the big improvement, is the gameplay. The irritating as all hell inventory system from the first game is gone. Instead, this game employs a “research” system where you craft weapons, weapon mods, armor, and other upgrades using rare resources you get from mining resources with probes on planets you can scan (scanning and probing the planets is admittedly not the most fun part of the game to me, but it’s better than driving around irritating terrain with that damn Mako from the first game). Aside from that, there are no items to get aside from research schematics so you can craft better upgrades, which makes things a lot more streamlined and requires none of the inventory management busywork that I hated in the first game. The combat is also better, making it easier to use skills and giving weapons ammo to make it less tricky to use. The combats very fast paced, exciting, and your squad members act fairly intelligent.

All in all, this is a good game that I recommend to any RPG fan. I have not seen an RPG done this well with an enthralling story such as this in a long time.  However, if you’re interested in getting this game, I urge you to play Mass Effect 1 first and transfer over the character. Trust me, you will feel a lot more satisfaction from it by seeing the benefits and consequences of your actions in the first game. It’s a fantastic game and, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play more of it.

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