Have you ever had one of those conversations? Where the person finds out you’re into fantasy and science fiction and they say that, although they love the Game of Thrones series, they would never read a fantasy book.
I’ve had that conversation recently.
What do you say to that?
I asked her why.
Her response was revealing. She was obviously well-read, mentioning that she usually read the Booker prize winner after it’s announced. She waffled a bit about the reason for not reading fantasy, but it ultimately came down to that it’s not literature. She obviously wanted people to know she read Booker prize winners, but never fantasy.
I read because I enjoy it. It’s fairly simple. If I like something I’ll continue with it and seek out other books by the same author. If I don’t like it, I stop reading. I haven’t read a lot of Booker prize winners as a result.
I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of people read for a different reason. They read to impress others. They read to be able to tell other people what they’ve read. They read to boast.
Outside the speculative fiction community, you usually don’t get any brownie points for saying you read fantasy. It often gets dismissed, trivialised, even mocked.
And yet Game of Thrones was the most watched series of all time. (Stranger Things and The Walking Dead were two and three.)
So there are a lot of people who are happy to say they watch speculative fiction, but not read it.
Which brings me to a quote from the writer, producer and creator of another series that makes it into the top 15 most watched series of all time—and one of my other favourites: Vikings.
I’ll quote him in full. Michael Hirst says,
‘People hate me for it in a way, but I do draw this distinction between Game of Thrones and Vikings. Because Game of Thrones is a fantasy, anything can happen, so people can come back to life and dragons can fly. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s great, very accomplished. Because anything can happen, it’s actually meaningless. It doesn’t obey any of the laws of geography or biology or anything, and I’m very proud of the fact that Vikings is real, at least it’s based on real people and real events. We make it as real as we can. We don’t use much greenscreen. Our actors actually drag boats up hills, row and fight, so it’s a very real undertaking.’
Don’t get me started on the naivety of what he’s saying here!
Okay… I can’t help it. I’m going to get started.
Michael Hirst should be proud of his series, but he should be ashamed of his boastful lack of understanding about fantasy. The ‘anything can happen in fantasy’ bit is gob-smackingly ignorant of what it takes to build a consistent fantasy world, create characters and structure a plotline within it. How easy is it in comparison to base it on existing geography, biology or historical figures! What’s more meaningless: retelling a story that already exists, or creating something new?
And he doesn’t even realise that, with its merging of Norse mythology and mysticism with historic facts, Vikings is a classic fantasy. The fantasy elements are a key to its success. Well done, Michael Hirst. You’re one of us, and you don’t even know it.
All the best from the cloud!
From Devil-May-CareMichael Gardner
It wasn’t easy being friends with Harrick Asmodeus. It was harder working for him. His best years were behind him—and I mean well behind him—but there was no convincing Harrick he was finished. More than talent, more than the connections he’d made, the thing that had taken him to the top was a laser sharp sense of entitlement and self-belief. It was his superpower.
From Ask BernardGreg Foyster
Alternative: I should have used my special power to become a Great Man, a world leader, rather than just the undisputed quiz champion of the Anglosphere. Emotion associated with wishing one had made different choices? Six letters, begins with R.
From PygmalionJ. D. Moyer
Someone knocked on the cabin door, loudly and insistently.
‘Professor Daniels, Skipper wants you!’
The accent was Filipino. Paix Daniels opened the door to see Cedric, his official ship liaison.
From Indigenous Futurism and Indigenous Australian ApproachesLachlan Walter
The ramifications of the British Empire’s colonisation of the wider world are still being felt, and nowhere is this more evident than in its English-speaking former colonies: America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Disparities in general health, mortality rates, educational opportunities and gainful employment; systemic and endemic racism; paternalistic attitudes entrenched in the governing political and economic systems; disdain for their traditional cultural practices, and traditional ways of life; issues of substance abuse, caused in part by a loss of identity and dispossession of their lands; forced assimilation and the erasure of their history, both overtly and covertly—all still effect many indigenous peoples of these countries, especially those living traditional lifestyles and/or inhabiting their remaining ancestral lands (which typically tend to be located far from each country’s cities and seats-of-power).
From Dying for Answers with G R MatthewsChris Foster
Between teaching creative writing, living out his fantasies through D&D, singing (possibly too strong a word for it) his stories while playing guitar and training to be the party tank by being thrown around during martial arts, G R Matthews has turned his hand to yet another narrative artform: fantasy novels.
With his first traditionally published book Seven Deaths of an Empire (2021) now on bookstore shelves, he agreed to be interrogated in the hope of rolling a successful persuasion check with our readers.
What if an army of Spanish conquistadors, the most brutally effective conquerors in history, found their way into a truly new world beyond the New World of the Americas? Conquist tells the story of Captain Cristóbal de Varga whose drive for glory and power leads him to a place from which he can’t escape and a people he can’t conquer. Caught in a war between two eternal enemies that seem at first to be angels and demons, he must choose sides. When he loses everything he holds dear – his command, his Incan princess, his honor, his God – he needs to find a path to redemption by conquering his obsessions.
This time they’ve found a New World that refuses to be conquered.
The past is a foreign country, all right, but it’s chock full of great SF&F titles to get us through Corona Days. Here are the latest offerings from the Aurealis Editors, complete with our pithy teasers.
Overlooked: Darkfall by Isobelle Carmody (1997). Immersive, transfixing, interwoven.
Underrated: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick (1965). Unsettling, bleak, hallucinatory.
Forgotten: Out of the Silence by Erle Cox (1925). Ground-breaking, best-selling, Australian.
What better time to read? And, as such, Aurealis is continuing our deep dive into the SF/Fantasy of the past, those books that have been sitting at the back of bookshelves for ages awaiting a re-read. Why not these give a try?
Overlooked: The Prestige by Christopher Priest, 1995 . Imaginative, intelligent, gripping .
Underrated: Star Gate by Andre Norton, 1958. Engaging, robust, brisk.
Forgotten: The Devil’s Elixirs by E T A Hoffmann, 1815 in German, 2009 Oneworld Classics English translation. Macabre, disorienting, labyrinthine.