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a question of categories, and more links
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Last night, when I should have been writing more of the climax for Congress of Shadows (which is inching along slower than a weary snail), I ended up making lists of favorite fantasy novels instead. The point? Who knows? I was feeling sick and dizzy and tired, and it felt comforting and orderly to set them out and please myself by remembering all of them.

So I set them out in neat little categories (Favorite Contemporary Fantasies, Favorite Historical Fantasies, Favorite High Fantasies, Favorite Kids' Fantasies)...and immediately tripped myself up, with four of my favorite fantasy novels ever--Lois McMaster Bujold's series (The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt) and Guy Gavriel Kay's Sailing to Sarantium. The thing is, they are ostensibly high fantasies, with made-up worlds and religions...and yet...they are so-very-thinly-disguised versions of real-world history and places. (Not in a bad way, I should add. Bujold and Kay both do a great job of making their versions genuinely distinct and imaginatively different. But still, you know exactly which countries and time periods they're riffing on.) So which category do they fit in?

And then you get to the sf/fantasy mixes. Justina Robson's new novel (coming out in the UK this month), Keeping it Real, is a fantasic novel about elves, necromancers, creepy-cool magic and cyborgs...set in what would be our real world if this explicitly science fictional event had where does that put it in my categories? I found myself scrambling to invent more and more new categories ("Alternate world historical fantasies"/"Science fiction fantasy in a real-world setting"...? Or do I just call all of them "interstitial", without differentiation?) And then I started thinking about how silly the whole thing was. Because honestly. What does it really matter what you call them? There is a real comfort level in being able to line up everything in neat little rows, and it's satisfying in the same way that adding up a row of accounts or balancing your checkbook can be (if you're not panicking at horrifying, unexpected results and racing to call the bank double-quick, that is).

But when it comes down to it, I'm just so happy to have all these interesting, quirky books available for me to read. I don't love them more than books that can be categorized neatly, but I love that I get to enjoy both kinds.

And speaking of categorization, and the way a lot of us tend to fall into it, my brother Ben has written a blog entry that captures a lot of my discomfort with the way a bunch of excellent British SF and fantasy authors (including some really nice people whom I like a lot on a personal level), have been re-presenting the genre to the public--claiming, basically, that being more "literary" must inherently be "better"...and therefore trashing Tolkien and anyone else who's seen as too genre-y, too focused on narrative, too cheery, too commercial, etc...Anytime someone takes on a real missionary zeal, proselytizing about what "good" spec fic Must Be, I get nervous (in the same way that, back in music conservatory, I hated listening to composers say what specific kinds of music were the Only Acceptable kinds to write)--and in this case, they're dissing a lot of the things I find most fun and hopeful in fantasy and science fiction, so it really depresses me. (For a socioeconomic context to the debate--because of course a lot of cash grants and awards have traditionally hinged on it--see also Justina Robson's very interesting comment on Ben's entry, although I can't figure out how to link to it...)

And just for fun (because lord knows it isn't a real-life issue for me yet, but I love reading about this stuff anyway), check out Jennifer Crusie's guide to good cover art!

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