I Need “Real Life” In My Fantasy

This topic’s occurred to me a few times, particularly as I enrolled in the Bookcase Club subscription service for the “Strange Worlds” science fiction and fantasy box. For $15/month, Bookcase Club mails you two books in a genre you select, along with a journal (sometimes even fancy ones like Wreck This Journal). I will definitely do a post about what books I receive when they come in the mail next week. I thought it was one of the best priced book sub services, as the books price out to $6-$7 a copy, which is about what I would pay at my local bookstore.

But I do dread getting one particular thing in my box that may make the subscription less than stellar for me – high fantasy. Or epic fantasy. Or really, any fantasy that takes place in a distant, made-up, totally fabricated world that makes me learn the constitution of UnpronouncableLand before I can even get into the plot. Or the magic system. Oh, the dreaded magic system.

But Michelle! You’re a fantasy author! How can you say that?

Because I like Narnia. I like Harry Potter. I like Once Upon A Time. If we’re going with urban fantasy, I like Lost Girl and I’m intrigued by the premise of The Mortal Instruments. All of these fantasy stories use Earth characters, even if they aren’t necessarily normal or human. And most sci-fi takes place in a far flung future in which Earth exists, but is perhaps not the focus of the story. Even if it’s not explicitly stated, you can assume it’s there.

Game of Thrones (TV) is the only fully fictional fantasy world I enjoy. And it gets away with that because there is little to no magic in the series, especially in early seasons. As far as I remember, there are no elves, dwarves, trolls, etc. Most of GOT is based on Earth history, so GOT world has a sense of familiarity about it. Most importantly, the characters behave just as bawdily as real humans, instead of the weird sense of Arthurian propriety that hovers over most high fantasy. You can almost conceive that Westeros is an alternate history more than a completely new universe. Aside from the White Walkers, there’s not much that couldn’t have happened in our own history (dragons don’t count for me, as dinosaurs did exist *g*).

On the other hand, I find Lord of The Rings was far too dense and removed from reality, despite being Middle Earth. I could never get into Eragon. I never liked Redwall. I couldn’t care less about high fantasy games (I’m a Fallout girl much more than a Skyrim girl). Even when tropes are subverted, when new species are introduced, etc, I look at such books with a sense of exhaustion. I know, it’s not fair of me. I know there are probably original cool books out there that don’t involve elves and wizards and have totally pronounceable kingdoms. Maybe they’re very down to Earth and don’t even have magic – or maybe the magic is proper and makes sense instead of being there for no reason. I know. But I am tired.

Perhaps this is a sign of my waning intelligence. It seems as though I don’t want books that challenge me to keep up. Often, these are the books that are 800 pages long, and I feel they’d be half that length if the world didn’t need to be so explained. But I read postmodernism – S, House of Leaves, Infinite Jest. I’m interested in dense, challenging works. I am not interested in struggling to process or care about a world that is entirely fabricated, and that ultimately has no relatable stakes because of that. I’m often left with the question – why should I care? – when the story seems to be taking place a million miles away in a parallel dimension that never happened. Perhaps it’s the fact that I can’t suspend my disbelief that the story could be happening somewhere, in some time? I don’t know. It’s quite hard to articulate my disinterest, and it’s certainly not meant to be a bash on people who write or read this genre. I envy you, actually, and I’m struggling to figure out why I’m not one of you. I definitely don’t like pure realism, so why shouldn’t I like pure fantasy?

I am a genre bending sort of person, and I don’t like entrenching myself into any genre all the way. I can’t handle full on literary fiction, or full on historical, or full on romance. But if those genres are crossed in some way – if it’s literary fiction with a sci-fi bent, or a time travel romance, or a historical novel that steals from the thriller handbook – I’m intrigued. I think epic fantasy is what we automatically envision when we see the fantasy label, and maybe being that deep into one category is not to my taste. If you can blend a noir or a thriller or an action story with fantasy elements, like many urban/modern Earth fantasies do, you’re much more likely to have my attention.

Are you guys as picky about this as I am? Are there some subgenres you feel you should like but they fail to interest you?

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10 thoughts on “I Need “Real Life” In My Fantasy

  1. I’m not really a fan of fantasy either. If I read it, I, too, like it based in the ‘real’ world like Harry Potter. But like you, I admire those who write it. They have to create a whole new world and keep it consistent. I bet that involves very thorough note-keeping!

    • Oh yes. I may not enjoy LOTR, but I have great respect for Mr. Tolkien. He was an expert on linguistics, and it really shows. I don’t think anyone has built a more complex, detailed world than him. Even JKR, with her hundreds of characters and centuries of historical backstory, did not write fully realistic fictional languages for Harry Potter.

  2. Yeah, high fantasy is iffy with me. I don’t consider myself too picky about books; yet the one genre I can’t seem to get into is the mainstream mysteries like Grisham and Dan Brown. And the Millionaire-meets-secretary romances. I think it’s because it’s so mainstream. It may not be about genre but about mainstream tropes for me…

    • I’m with you there. I am not into straightforward thrillers/crime novels any more than I’m into thick fantasy. Like I said, I enjoy more genre bending works, because that’s where the most original ideas come from. Any straightforward mystery, thriller, western, scifi, etc, is going to be too troped out.

  3. I’m the same way when it comes to epic fantasy, too. GOT and lord of the rings are the only things that’s really interested me. I don’t know why, maybe because they are more character driven then others? If I don’t care about the characters within the first chapter I tend to move on and epic fantasy tends to have so much exposition ugh :p It made me smile when you said you only liked crossed genres…I’m the same way too. I’ll sit down to write just normal fiction and then I’ll be like Noo, now wouldn’t it be more fun if there was an alien or dwarf to mix things up a bit? Sometimes adult fiction just seems to boring to me. Give me some sci-fi or urban fantasy or dragons instead :p

    • GoT is definitely characters first, world later. You catch on to the world through the characters rather needing to understand the world before them.

      Yeah I have a deep appreciation for weirdness. I like realism, but I like the most spectacular, wonderful, interesting kind of realism. The stuff of urban legends, the stuff that makes you think it’s too crazy to have happened….but maybe it did. I find it more interesting to imagine that a dragon could appear in my backyard than imagining that a dragon could come to some far off girl in a far off nonexistent realm. Not to knock the Mother of Dragons, of course :P

      • I’ve always liked to believe that something crazy could happen in real life…maybe these are just our different ways in believing in magic? But your definitely not alone on the whole epic fantasy thing. :)

  4. I really don’t mind high fantasy. Having said that though, I’ve read far too many books that have started out well with a great plot, characters and setting but the it happens. Because the author allows for magic, the story takes an ugly turn and authorial laziness takes over and… well, let’s just say there is way easy to write a deus ex machina ending. *shakes head* I hate it when that happens.

    For now, I’m developing a few steampunk ideas for my NaNo project.

    • There are a few high fantasy alta-world stories that I don’t mind so much because of the lack of magic. I include mysticism in Paradisa in the form of my gods having supernatural abilities, but there is no “magic.” Humans can bind to gods but there aren’t spells or runes or anything a non god can use to be magical. (and that aside, it’s earthbound fantasy to start).

      So maybe it’s magical systems I’m not so fond of. If you’re working on steampunk, that’s great! I love technology blended with fantasy and since steampunk is basically just alternate history, it’s not so “out there” for me. I’ve particularly fond of steampunk that takes a Wells/Verne adventure approach more than an urban fantasy approach as well.

  5. Pingback: Bookcase.Club Unboxing! #BCCUnboxing | Aether House

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