Writing up the review for The Explosion led to thinking about disaster fiction as a genre which led, inevitably, to thinking about fantasy. (This is, ostensibly, a fantasy-focused blog, although you wouldn't really know it outside of DGLA season.)
Could there be fantasy disaster fiction?
As with all things, need to define a term or two:
By "fantasy disaster fiction", I specifically mean "disaster fiction in a fantasy setting".
By "fantasy", I mean secondary world + magic exists + dragons n' wizards n' whatnot type fantasy. Not science fiction - there's loads of disaster fiction in SF (arguably, all disaster fiction is SF as well).
By "disaster fiction", I mean books like Airport and The Glass Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and Condominium and Tropical Disturbance and The Explosion. Books where the primary conflict comes from a catastrophic disaster occurring in a defined space: establishing a complex system, seeding the flaws in said system, the destruction of that system and the resulting chaos (and perhaps new order).
Is that possible in fantasy? After mulling it over, four responses - in order: no, maybe, "yes", yes (potentially).
On a scheme, and trying to think of non-genre books by famous genre authors.
Define "famous" as you will, as long as the author is better known for their genre than than non-genre work
Define "genre" as you will, I'm primarily thinking fantasy, science fiction, horror and crime, but western and romance would also apply
Non-genre = none of the above. (e.g. Elmore Leonard's westerns don't help, nor do Leigh Brackett's mysteries or Stephen Donaldson's crime or SF books)
By books, I mostly mean fiction (novels), but shorter work would also be ok... I'd rather not get into non-fiction (e.g. Lauren Beukes' Maverick or China Miéville's Between Equal Rights wouldn't really work)
A few examples:
Robert Chambers' commercial stuff (anything besides The King in Yellow, basically)
David Eddings' High Hunt and The Losers [these are exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for]
Mary Stewart's romantic thrillers? (Possibly)
John D. MacDonald's rather insipid domestic fiction, e.g. Contrary Pleasure
Robert E. Howard's boxing stories
Patrick Ness' The Crash of Hennington
Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (Possibly)
Philip Pullman's The White Mercedes
Dorothy Sayers' plays - the religious ones and "Love All"
Stephen King's The Colorado Kid (shudder)
I'm sure there are some Le Guin, Donaldson and Lovecraft short stories that are eluding me, plus some obvious ones from Tolkien and Lewis.
Can you think of any? Doesn't matter if the author is contemporary or classic...
Certainly one of the stickiest issues in book collecting. I was pleased to see that someone wrote in with this same question to the March 2013 issue of Firsts, so Robin H. Smiley was able to tackle it at length.
I won't repeat all of Mr. Smiley's work here (the letters page my favourite part of Firsts, so I'd feel guilty), but he refers back to 2002 article by Ken Lopez which states that "in general, the more writing by the author in a book, the better".
Mr. Smiley concedes that not all collectors would agree, and many prefer signatures alone over inscriptions to total strangers. However, he says that, over time, "inscribed copies to tend to bring higher prices" (reassuring, as I recite this little fun-fact quite often). Mr. Smiley gives two reasons for this: inscriptions are harder to forge and inscriptions bring additional 'charm'.
I would add my own note of caution to this - I think contemporary authors are now more available to readers than they have been at any point in the past. For earlier generations of commercial fiction, inscribed copies seem to be the only available signed copies - the alternative often being 'flat-signed' short runs or limited editions. More recently, with authors more accessible and signings more frequent, it would seem that copies signed - in some form or another - are less rare. So why settle for a signature for someone else when it could be simply signed? More on this below...
This week's title - inspired by Tim Powers and fellow guests Lavie Tidhar and Kate Griffin - is "secret histories". The name was rather unashamedly lifted from John Berlyne's masterful bibliography and appreciation of Tim Powers (you can leer at it here), but, like all of our Kitschies events, we've chosen the term as it represents a certain thematic approach to speculative fiction.
The term "secret history" stems from the Sixth Century historian Procopius. While fussing about in an official capacity for the Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora and their (fairly legendary) general Belisarius, he wrote a survey of their military successes (History of the Wars) and a glowing treatise on the buildings of the day (On Buildings) - both volumes filled with effusive praise for powers that be.
Yet Procopius also wrote the Secret History (or Anecdota), in which he shreds his sponsors to pieces - accusing them of everything up to (and including) being demons in human form.
Procopius' introduction explains not only his reason for this sudden reversal, but also details exactly what is a "secret history":
"It would not have been expedient for me to describe these events fully while those who were their authors were still alive; for, had I done so, I could neither have escaped the notice of the multitude of spies, nor, had I been detected, could I have avoided a most horrible death; for I could not even have relied upon my nearest relatives with confidence. Indeed, I have been forced to conceal the real causes of many of the events recounted in my former books.
"It will now be my duty, in this part of my history, to tell what has hitherto remained untold, and to state the real motives and origin of the actions which I have already recounted.... I reflect that what I am about to write will not appear to future generations either credible or probable, especially when a long lapse of years shall have made them old stories; for which reason I fear that I may be looked upon as a romancer, and reckoned among playwrights.
"However, I shall have the courage not to shrink from this important work, because my story will not lack witnesses; for the men of today, who are the best informed witnesses of these facts, will hand on trustworthy testimony of their truth to posterity."*
The key definition is buried in the second paragraph - the idea of recounting "what has hitherto remained untold". Not only does this reflect on the idea of secrecy, but it implies that a "secret history" is, in some way, going to contradict the "known history" or official record of events. Although he addresses his own safety in the first paragraph, Procopius' primary concern is that his book will be dismissed as incredible, improbable or simply outright fantasy.