Writing Discussion

There is no better time than now

All we have is now, isn’t it?

Some thoughts have been bubbling through the back of my mind regarding conservativism in SF and Fantasy, and a sense of nostalgia for the past. Let me preface this by saying, I don’t like boxes. I prefer playing with and pushing against the fuzzy boundary spaces between things – so defining certain things as ‘proper, true, and canon’ in the fantasy genre really bugs me.

This is a bit long overdue, but these two posts kicked off this train of thought: It’s amazing the things we know that are actually wrong by Kate Elliot, and Concerning historical authenticity in fantasy, or the truth forgives you nothing by Daniel Abraham.

Writers of fantasy are particularly prone to research, and I don’t think that is a bad thing. Dropping in bits of reality do help lend a sense of authenticity, and as writers, achieving a suspension of disbelief is important, but most of us are not historians nor archaeologists. If you’re like me, most of what you know about history is likely accumulated from books and movies, and that is problematic, because these sources need not be true. Likewise, written history is in no way complete. It has a point of view, often that of those who have conquered or are the dominant cultural institute, and it is not free from propaganda. Certain segments of society are at times purposefully erased, but it does not mean they did not exist, nor impacted the world. Archaeologists are filling in the gaps with research. Note: I’d recommend reading up on current archaeological research for a more rounded view, and see how historical writings are not always correct.

So, let us go to the past, or the pseudo-past; fantasy as a vehicle for indulging a longing for a better, simpler, time and place… or does it?

Really it depends on who you are. Honestly, as a woman with poor eyesight, bad allergies, there aren’t many historical eras that I know of, that I’d want to go back to, even just to visit. The world today is full of problems and is nowhere near paradise, but for someone like me, it’s probably the best era I could hope for, in terms of living out my dreams and or being afforded the simple freedom of choosing what I want to do with my life.

So I guess my point is that not everyone has the same sense of nostalgia, nor fantasies. Maybe this is why my writing turns out darker than I expect… I don’t think I could write about a farmhand leaving his idyllic life, to go on a great quest, then coming to long for his old life again. Some of us just get plopped out into the middle of the quest and the conflict, and what home we have we fight for and build ourselves.

Thoughts, scrambled, with a side of cute (because puppies make all things better)

Corgi Puppy by Sindy Yao

6 Comments

  1. That’s an interesting point that I see offered a lot – and I agree, given my own health conditions and personal proclivities and preferences, the present is a better time for me to live in than the distant past (if born in the distant past, I’d very likely be dead at this point in my life), though I might opine that there’s the possibility that the future is even better still.

    I don’t often see that point further illuminated on. But I find your analysis of how this influences your fiction – and tends to make it darker – very interesting.

    Personally, I don’t think I buy into the concept of Fantasy as a vehicle for Nostalgia. I think that’s because I got into Fantasy at an age before I had anything to be nostalgic about. When you’re living life with an age in the single digits in a loving home and food on the table, etc. you’re pretty much already living the good life. Or at least I was (sure there were challenges, and we were a knife’s edge from “poor” more than once, but the life of a single-digit-year-old was pretty nice). So when Fantasy first grabbed me, I didn’t have any way of “looking back” and imagining a more idyllic time.

    Instead, I think what I saw in fantasy, even then, was a powerful metaphor of the human condition: of advancing from childhood to responsibility, and of becoming an adult. That aspect of the “farmboy” narrative was always, to me, basically a type of bildungsroman.

    But I think that you make a very good point that there’s a world of difference in the way that narrative will impact different people with very different backgrounds: not everyone starts from a place of comfort and happiness, and acknolwedging that will affect the form of the narrative, for sure.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Nostalgia was never a factor for me, and so I always thought that in fantasy ‘anything goes’ in terms of world building, etc. Really a bildungsroman can take place in any kind of setting (ie. Harry Potter).

      I think the feeling of nostalgia comes from a sense that some people only want to read certain kinds of things, comfortable things, and not push their world view or imagination further. It’s a tickle at the back of my throat, and I can’t articulate why or how it bugs me so much.

  2. “Honestly, as a woman with poor eyesight, bad allergies, there aren’t many historical eras that I know of, that I’d want to go back to, even just to visit.”

    I know what you mean. I often think of that (the eyesight part more than the allergies, or my family’s history of cancer) and thank goodness for modern medicine.

    On the other hand, I’m sure people of every era thought they were luckier than those in the past, in terms of health and technology. So who knows what’s to come…

    But to your point, all we have is now, so we should probably appreciate it, instead of always longing for the past or dreaming about the future. (And I mean that in more of a zen way than a writerly advice way. Historical and SF/F are totally worth writing about!)

    1. I get what you mean. I keep looking forward to tomorrow, when I really should enjoy now as much as I can. I really hope the future is better. Sometimes it gets hard to envision, but then I meet some good people and that gives me hope again. 🙂

  3. I think you can write any genre (including “literary”) with nostalgia, but nostalgia doesn’t come built in with any genre.

    Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon is about, well, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, but there is not one ounce of nostaligia for the 18th century. On the other hand, the Sherlock Holmes stories are mysteries, but there is some nostalgia in there also (Doyle wrote about hansom cabs, telegrams, and gaslight, but he was living in a world which already had automobiles, the telephone, and electric lights).

    When I was growing up, I listened a lot to a radio monologist named Jean Shepherd. He always said, “Nostalgia is based on the idea that things have ever been any better than they are now. They weren’t. Things have always been lousy.”

    Kristan’s point about perspective is important. I was just on another blog (http://bit.ly/QQntMK), talking about how my mother saw movies when she was growing up (black and white, silent, projected on a sheet hung up in the back room of the local church), but at that time that was a huge leap beyond how her mother had grown up.

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