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?