Plus ça change…

1987: Ellen Kushner publishes Swordspoint. As Tansy Rayner Roberts notes in the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast, it has become notorious because it is a “fantasy” novel with no actual magic in it. That was apparently revolutionary at the time.

2012: “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” by K.J. Parker wins Best Novella in the World Fantasy Awards. In the latest Coode Street Podcast Jonathan Strahan notes that the story has attracted criticism because it is a “fantasy” story with no actual magic in it.

I guess some people enjoy having something to get a bee in their bonnets about, but personally I am very bored of arguments about genre purity.

5 thoughts on “Plus ça change…

  1. My favourite is still one of Australian fantasy author Jennifer Fallon’s Big Fat Fantasties – it looked and felt exactly like the epic fantasy she wrote before and since, but actually the only “magic” in it was a) mathematics and b) astronomy. In particular, it was about a religious cult that derived their power & the fear of the populace from being the only ones in the world who could predict eclipses. Still, any sufficiently advanced techonology, right?

  2. I briefly emerge from obscurity
    To suggest that it’s not about purity;
    Writing swords with no “sorce”
    Is a possible course
    To achieving a spurious maturity.

    Peake, very probably, wasn’t aware of himself as being a “writer of fantasy”; he just did what he did. To some extent, of course, that’s all anyone does–the story gonna do what the story gonna do–but where magic is (or is perceived as being) consciously and deliberately left out of a fantasy novel, I think it’s possible that it arises from a perception (on the part of the author) of magic as “kiddy stuff” or something similar. Likewise when a fantasy novel attracts criticism for having no magic, it may arise from a perception on the part of the readership that the author actually thinks the genre (and therefore its adherents) silly and immature and is only pretending to write fantasy because [insert pejorative comment here].

    Personally I’ve never read either of those stories, but that’s just my own personal preference combined with happenstance (either there were other things around at the time that I preferred, or I had no money for book-buying anyway). I prefer fantasies that have magic in them, personally, but I wouldn’t be fussed if I found I had read and enjoyed one that didn’t. Unless I thought I was being sneered at for my preference. That would bother me to a degree.

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