The Renaisance Faire Theory of Fantasy Literature

Is fantasy still just for nerds? Why is the fantasy genre so popular?

Fantasy fiction has evolved considerably over the past twenty years.  Most of the time when I read sentences like that I am extraordinarily skeptical, but this is an area where I have a certain amount of confidence.  I’ve always kept an eye on fantasy literature, always found it interesting, but I’ve had trouble finding books that I really enjoyed until the last decade or so.  Since the huge success of the Harry Potter books and films, and Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (and the bloody Hobbit), the genre has changed a lot.  Some of the stuff that’s available now is even too serious for many readers.

The genre started to change even before that, however.  Serious works, like Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun were there, but they were hard to find.  George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire would have been written even if the LOTR films hadn’t been so successful, but I doubt it would have been made into a successful TV show that people talk about on the bus.  There’s a lot of speculation on why, particularly in the rise of Grimdark fantasy, but last week I came up with a funny little speculative theory, that I call the Renaissance Faire Theory of Fantasy Literature Evolution.  Plant your tongue in your cheek if you plan to keep reading.

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Writing Update

Or, How I learned to Stop Growling and Tell People What I’m Working On

People are constantly asking me what I’m working on, and I figured this is a good time to let people know “how it’s going.” If you know me, you know that I have the irritating habit (it irritates me, too) of trying to come up with an incredibly meaningful answer to the question “How ya doin’?” Hopefully this will suffice. People are also always asking me what I do for a living, and in case you missed that I quit science and science teaching (although I’m available as a tutor!) because of the exceedingly screwed-up academic world. I miss the cavernous libraries and lecture halls, but I’m able to visit enough to satisfy me.

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A man, not a god, wrote “Stairway to Heaven”

“Good artists copy, great artists take something anybody could have thought of and transform it into something no one has ever dreamed of.”

Jimmy Page early
Jimmy Page in the early seventies (Wikimedia Commons)

On Thursday a jury of eight of the rarest sort of people—those who’ve never heard the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven”—cleared Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of the charge of stealing the intro to the song from Spirit, a band that many more people have never heard of. The executor of the estate for the author of “Taurus” sued Page and Plant after a bunch of online comparisons showed up (look for them on Youtube). The plaintiffs did a lot of research and put a lot of effort into establishing that Page and Plant had heard the song before writing “Stairway to Heaven.”  I would love to see the transcripts, as both sides called expert witnesses to testify about the creative process.  They may have even proven that Page and Plant used the material from “Taurus” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t write “Stairway to Heaven.”



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Basement Books: Classic Scifi Anthologies

…the Golden Age of Science Fiction is when you’re twelve years old. –Fredrik Pohl

When I was twelve my father had a collection of books in the basement with names on the spines like Isaac Asimov and Brian Aldiss, and this is where I first read scifi short stories. These books dated from the late seventies and early eighties, when my dad belonged to a science fiction book club and my oldest brother was a fan of Doctor Who, Star Trek and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Over the past couple years I’ve been reeducating myself, after a long absence from scifi, about the luminaries of this period. Some of the names I remembered, like C.J. Cherryh, Harlan Ellison, and Fredrik Pohl, but many of them I had forgotten, like James Tiptree, Jr. I had asked my dad several times about these anthologies, but after moving from the house where I first read them, he claimed he hadn’t seen them. Complicating matters was that I had probably taken them off the shelves and left them in my bedroom.  I wasn’t looking forward to going to Colorado over Memorial Day weekend, but I was looking forward to trying to find these anthologies.
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Liberate tutame ex infernis

How I learned to stop being myself…

Over the past ten years I have gradually given up the childish dream I had of having a Ph.D. in science.  I now have a Master’s degree, but the road to not having a Ph.D. led me to realizing that my interests actually lay elsewhere.  I have embarked on a career of fiction writing, after realize that what really matters to me is clear expression of language and beautiful concepts, and telling stories.  Over the course of graduate school I sunk to denying my personality, a process that I am just getting over.  Yesterday I got my appendix taken out, and I feel those surgeons took out a whole lot of fear and conflict I was having over showing people who I really am.  For lack of a better concept, in graduate school and in the jobs I had before graduate school, I tried really hard not to be myself.  I unwittingly agreed to this when I joined the lab.

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