Russell Kirkpatrick's Journal
While I'm offending everybody, I might as well share this, an answer given to Orbit UK when they asked me: Do you have a personal theory on why Fantasy is so popular?
A generation ago we lived in a world where progress towards utopia was taken for granted. We believed technology and human ingenuity would overcome any obstacle. In this period science fiction proliferated. However, we’ve more recently had a rude awakening: people are asking ‘who benefits from all this technology?’ and are realising the wealth is not spread evenly. More, we have come to recognise the environmental damage we’ve done with our unthinking trust in technology. I believe the 1970s saw the beginning of a widespread public rejection of the ‘tech fix’, and this is mirrored by the rise of the fantasy novel, in which technology is absent or at least tightly prescribed, and the consequent decline of science fiction.
I bet some of you have your own theories as to why fantasy is more popular (at the moment, I stress) than science fiction. Care to share them? Or pull my theory apart?
BTW, it looks like I'm appearing in the window of Dymocks Lambton Quay tomorrow from 12 noon to 6pm, writing a chapter of my new book. If you're in Wellington, bring fruit to fling. I like apples.
Abbreviations as follows:
SFF = science fiction and fantasy
Con = convention
Natcon = National Convention (held annually and moved around)
Panel = Fans and authors sit on a panel and discuss a topic in front of an audience
BFF = Big Fat Fantasy (usually trilogies, can be longer)
I’m relatively new to science fiction and fantasy conventions (cons for short). The first one I went to was the 2004 New Zealand Natcon. I registered and sat down, and a gentleman with a casual attitude to personal hygiene plonked himself down next to me. He spent the next hour explaining to me how I wouldn’t be accepted by NZ fandom until I’d been to twenty years’ worth of conventions, how he’d lived for six months under a bridge, how my opinions were worth nothing, and exactly what furry fandom was all about.
Even though I was booked to present a session, I nearly left and went home. Thanks for the welcome, buddy.
Fortunately I also met an extremely gracious and knowledgeable fan who put me at ease. I won’t say who it was, because Ross Temple embarrasses easily, but his kind words and demeanour kept me from running away.
That, and the fact I was once heavily involved in a charismatic church. No convention could begin to approach the deep obnoxiousness I experienced on a regular basis in the church. Surely.
Highlight of the convention had to be the Guest of Honour, Greg Benford, coming over to me and asking if that was my map on the wall. Upon confirmation, he asked if I wrote SF or fantasy. I indicated the latter, whereupon his comment was: ‘what a waste.’
So. I learned a great deal about SFF conventions and fandom and authors and anti-fantasy snobbishness that weekend. I’ve been to NZ natcons since and found the fans immensely friendly, knowledgeable and generous. Must have been my bad luck to strike Dr. Benford and Mr. Hygiene on my first time.
I’ve attended seven cons in Australia since the first in NZ. I found Conflux 1, 2 and 3 immensely enjoyable, naturally, as these cons have a literary bent, run as they are by Canberra writers. It took me about two minutes after I registered for my first Melbourne con, though, to realise I’d stumbled on something strange: the person who took my registration was wearing an ‘I am Not an Author’ T-shirt. As were others. It may have been an in-joke, as I later heard, but it made me feel a little – er, unwanted. So, forewarned, I kept quiet about being an author. Had a good time, too.
What did I find out in Melbourne? There’s an enormous – I’m not sure of the right word: Bitterness? Hatred? Too strong. Unease? Resentment? Never mind. There’s an enormous something between a number of senior Australian fans and SFF novelists. I mean senior – there’s a definite hierarchy in fandom. Not sure how it works – some esoteric amalgam of number of years as a fan, number of unpublished manuscripts in the drawer, number of small press publications, number of failed small presses – I’m being unkind, but the hierarchy is there all the same. As is the something. There have been murmurings against Conflux by Melburnians because it’s too literary and doesn’t cater for the fans. So this year the Natcon is in Melbourne, and there has been an attempt, it seems, to balance the scales. There’s relatively little offered for authors. That’ll fix ‘em. Fine. I’ll save my dollars.
What saddens me – and what has prompted this out-of-character blog – is that Glenda Larke is travelling from Malaysia to attend this natcon. She’s not wealthy. Malaysia isn’t an economic powerhouse. She was keen to catch up with her authorial and fandom friends. But because of the program devised for the Natcon, many of her authorial friends aren’t attending. Worse, she hadn’t (as of last week) been allocated any panels to be on.
Perhaps that’s it. Authors on panels, pimping their latest Tolkien knock-off. That’s how it’s seen by some in Aussie fandom, if discussions I’ve been party to are any indication. Why should fans go to the trouble of providing conventions that become little more than authorial marketing exercises?
Fair point. Which reminds me. Those who organise conventions do so as volunteers. Unpaid. It’s an enormous amount of work, and responsibility, and the reward is to be gossiped and blogged about. Trevor Stafford knows what I mean. All we con-goers owe a huge debt of thanks to organisers. Thanks; I mean it.
Still doesn’t stop me feeling uncomfortable, though, about Melbourne cons. I don’t like it when people don’t like me, not because of who I am, but because of what I am. Sort of like being hated for being gay or fat. ‘Ewww, look Mummy, there’s an author.' 'Don’t touch him, dear, it might be contagious.’ Having my books ridiculed by those who haven’t read them. (I can take ridicule from those who have read them; from a certain point of view, I am well aware they deserve ridicule.) ‘What do you write? BFF’s published by Voyager?’ Cue rolling of eyes.
You know what this is like? It’s just like church. We look at the Christian church and laugh, all those factions devoting so much energy to opposing each other. The so-called ‘anti-smacking’ bill went through NZ’s parliament a while back, amid demonstrations from Christian groups opposing and supporting it – and each other. A good look, I don’t think. I hated that aspect of church life, the continual running down of people who thought like us, but just a bit differently. That’s why I left.
Hey, senior Australian fans. I think like you, just a bit differently. It’s up to you whether you focus on the ‘like you’ or the ‘differently’.
It was never going to happen. I vowed it would never happen. I hate gyms: you pay money to do exercise you ought to be doing as part of your daily life. You have to look at bodies as appalling as your own, or - worse - bodies in much better shape, and their owners' smug smiles.
But the onset of sleep apnoea means I have to lose some weight. Like 95% of the western world I'm clinically obese, which means I'm suffering from what we used to call 'middle-aged spread.' Righto. Best do it, then. I'd do it by working around the garden - we have a large garden, with serious work needing doing - but tendonitis in both elbows means that's out. So it's off to the gym.
Early in the morning, of course. In disguise.
I'm making good progress on the current novel, and have one more planned in this series. That's it for this world. No more stories set in Faltha, Bhrudwo or Elamaq.
I'm going through my ideas bank for my next project. I'm considering a concept I've called Time Trading - it'd be a standalone scifi novel and love/hate story set in the world's near future. I'm also thinking of designing a new fantasy world, one which has an enormous history, a much darker world than Faltha, where life is inimical to humans. I'm wondering whether to employ the old trick of transporting a few modern-day humans there. Dunno. This world would be revealed in a series of linked novels. As yet I haven't got a series-sized idea, so it's on the back burner.
And a children's book about a donkey with the mange.
I'm very happy with progress today. Wednesday is my main writing day, and today I managed 11,000 words. I normally get about 2500 words written in a good day's writing, and those are few and far between.
Now, words alone aren't a great measure of how well a book is going. But I was excited as I wrote these words. For those of you who have read my first trilogy as well as Path of Revenge, I have begun to fold back the second trilogy on to the first. Things get extremely interesting. I'm enjoying it, anyway, and that's at least part of the point of doing this.
There's still a couple of hours of today left. I may be able to sneak a few more words in. Off I go; look at me sneaking.