Good fantasy basics

An article in the New Yorker, recommending various fantasy books. The recommendations are mostly good. (Haven’t read Guy Gavriel Kay, and it’s been — gasp! — ten years since I’ve touched a Terry Brooks, but the rest are very good recommendations. Robin Hobb especially.)

Now, the griping. “Essential”? Please everyone, never ever use that word again unless you really mean the dictionary definition of it, because so very clearly this list was never intended to be anything like “of the utmost importance”. I hate the word so much it’s started to skew my spending — I waited an additional few weeks for the American edition of Stross’s Wireless just because the British one had that aggravating insult to meaning smeared all over the cover.

Now, a good basic list of recommendations; a nice selection for the neophytes. And of course the article’s comments are alive with the scorn of the never-ending futile wars of better and worse, mostly of the three tribes of “waah they left my favie out they’s evil and hate women”, “how dare this person recommend books? How dare he have an opinion when he knows not all?” and “but surely there are more challenging and, er, less genre-y books?”

This is silly because, one, a selection of the good is still good, and at the level of casual introductions to the genre something of a random toss because of the volume anyway, as there is plenty of good fantasy; two, terrible indeed that one person hadn’t read all fantasy there is, and dared to voice an opinion on what he had — such people should not be allowed to live; and three, the casual reader not very familiar with the genre might not fully appreciate the more unusual works, or yet relish walking into too exotic settings. (Also, daring genrebending falls flat unless the reader knows the genre being bent.)

Not to mention that it would be evil to recommend a subtle, heavy, meandering, dreamlike, pretentiously artsy, philosophically navelgazing book classic about the human condition, slathered with more art-aficionado name dropping and muddled nude dream sequences than actual in-world realistic fantasy, when you’re asked for good entertainment — there can be overlap, but that’s no excuse. And, er, sorry, I feel somewhat strongly about this point. Magical realism is not fantasy; fantasy is realism with magic. (My opinion may be this because I haven’t read much/any of the more serious work; it’s easy to pontificate when you don’t know the errors you are making.)

A final gripe: one mention of Tolkien, two of Tolkein. Is it really so difficult? (Also, “on about a fourth-grade reading level”? Four letters, three letters, exclamation mark, rude hand gesture.)

(New Yorker, through Patrick “Oh yeah, he’s good too” Rothfuss.)

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