New Yorker x Fantasy
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Much to the bewilderment of all, the New Yorker ventured into the unknown and posted a list of 'seven essential fantasy reads'.
In its defense, the list is well-written, and is composed to the interesting brief of 'going to second base - what do you read after the standards?' (specifically mentioned, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia and... Twilight).
We've done something like this in the past on Pornokitsch (thinking of our 'graphic novels to seduce fans of the Watchmen movie' post). It is a slightly different take on things, and should be encouraged - new readers to any geeky genre are a good thing.
THAT SAID, this list meanders between the baffling and the mediocre.
The Dragonbone Chair - Tad Williams
Anything by Guy Gavriel Kay (especially "Tigana") [Pornokitsch review of Tigana]
Wizard's First Rule - Terry Goodkind
Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb
The Scions of Shannara - Terry Brooks
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss [Pornokitsch hangs with Patrick Rothfuss]
Gardens of the Moon - Stephen Erickson
These are, without exception, high fantasy. Not even 'variations on a theme' - just straight, pure, high fantasy. None of these are progressive. None of these are creatively interesting. Most have formulaic plots and recycled archetypical characters. And if you're looking for something like a female lead or a proper theme? Keep walking, stranger.
I don't say that in total disgust. High fantasy has its place, and I rate several of those books as exceptionally good stories. I think Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel is one of the most enjoyable genre books published in the past few years. And The Dragonbone Chair is legitimately good - a stableboy-turned-high-king story that still manages to keep me engrossed from the first page to the last. (Hobbs is also ok. Goodkind and Erickson, however, are proper crap. The New Yorker reviewer at least has the good sense to warn readers away from any of Goodkind's sequels - a move I can whole-heartedly back).
Robert Berg, reviewer and Twitter-pal, casually hypothesized that it was a list composed by 'someone who only reads fantasy that made the NY Times bestseller list in the 80s'. I don't think that's far off. This list is definitely linked to an era and an attitude.
But as far as the original brief goes, I'm not sure I'd recommend any of these (except the Rothfuss) to a fledgling fantasy reader. This is a list that reinforces backwards-looking, world-driven, repetitive fantasy - it isn't where the genre is now, and, more importantly, not where I think readers want the genre to be.
So, given the original brief - 'going to second base - what do you read after the standards?' - what would you recommend?