China on SF vs. Fantasy

This may be old news to some, as China apparently first posted it way back in 2001, but over at China Miéville’s official site, he’s shared his opinions on the SF versus fantasy debate:

Two untrue things are commonly claimed about fantasy. The first is that fantasy and science fiction are fundamentally different genres. The second is that fantasy is crap.

It’s usually those who claim the first who also claim the second. The idea is that where SF is radical, exploratory and intellectually adventurous, fantasy is badly written, clich�d and obsessed with backwards-looking dreams of the past – feudal daydreams of Good Kings and Fair Maidens.

It’s easy enough to distinguish the writers at the far edges of the spectrum – Asimov versus Eddings, for example. But the problem with the ‘sharp divide’ argument is the number of writers – often very brilliant ones – who fall in the middle, who blur the lines. David Lindsay, William Hope Hodgson, Jane Gaskell, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Gene Wolfe: the list could go on. These are writers for whom the ‘fantastic’ is not ethereal and wispy but tough and real, where ‘magic’ operates like science or science magic, and where the sense of subversion, of alienation, of sheer strangeness that saturates their work defies easy categorisation as SF or fantasy.

I generally agree with him, I think, despite the fact that he slags Tolkien and there are quite a few Tolkien-esque fantasy novels that I really like, and it’s well worth a read in any case.

[via Die Puny Humans]

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