Jersey Shore Fantasy, also Maps

Firstly Maps. I am thinking of dropping a map into Bloodlust. A few people have asked, and it seems like a better solution than just putting up a map here. It is a fairly easy task to update the eBook, and free to people who have already purchased.

Now… Jersey Shore Fantasy

A Jersey Shore Fantasy is a fantasy book that has all of the worst qualities of reality television.

Before you read further, I am not naming names, nor am I saying that using one of these devices makes a writer bad.Fantasy has always had a subset of writers who strive to write gritty, dark, and even horrific books. The best of these write that way because it suits the story they want to tell or because it is the style that is most natural to them. The create works that are wonderful and terrifying, great reads if that is what you are in the mood for. However some writers seem drawn to dark and gritty Fantasy because they want to be seen as edgy. These are the guys that turn Tolkien into a straw man, and seem to think the only way to rescue Fantasy from authors who create overly cheerful worlds is to drown readers in the exact opposite.  I am just tired of seeing these tropes used in certain ways.

1. Rape, with a side of Dragons

Critics love sex. Erotica sells. Consequently modern Fantasy that is written for adults often has a healthy dose of sex. Some authors make brilliant use of sex for characterization or even to drive the story. One thing that really turns me off is authors using rape flippantly, particularly just to show off how cruel and gritty their world is. Rape is traumatic, unambiguously vicious, and profoundly uncomfortable.  Seriously, if your book has no consensual sex at all, but is chalk full of random rape references it is really telling. If I get even a whiff of an author using rape in a Fantasy book just to seem edgy it makes me nauseous.

2. Assassins and Mercenaries? You don’t say…

The Shadows are getting crowded these days. The most common protagonist in modern fantasy is the assassin, followed closely by the mercenary. It is getting to the point where I think one could be startlingly original by writing a good book about a knight or a prince. Dark Fantasy often works by subverting traditional Fantasy tropes, and anti-heroes are an easy way to do this. Assassins and Mercenaries are easy anti-hero archetypes, dripping with the kind of adolescent cool that only a person who kills for money can manage. Good writers can turn a mercenary or an assassin into a brilliant, original characters that is both dark and sympathetic  Bad writers turn them into teenage fanwank fantasies about having immense power without any risk or responsibility. The later are far too common.

Also if assassins are super-powered killing machines, you’d think those in power would take better precautions… sometimes it just seems like modern fantasy city-scapes are just designed as playgrounds for sociopaths.

3. Bodycount is King!

Back in University, I remember a month when all of the Games Club GMs held a contest to see how many characters they could kill. Wisely, I opted out. I remember quite a few players were annoyed at the arbitrary way in which their favoured characters got offed, and statistical glee of the GMs. One meaningful, well-written death is worth far more than dozens of pointless deaths that are just there to show how gritty and X-TREME your world is. For all the scorn that is heaped on Tolkien for not killing enough characters, the deaths of Boromir and Theoden-king actually impacted me as a reader. A surprise/random/shock value death of a named character here and there certainly helps establish a gritty tone. Some writers do this brilliantly. I don’t like it when a writer seems to go for quantity over quality, to the point where they are introducing characters just to kill them off. Death ceases to be gritty if it is so commonplace that I start wondering how society holds together. You want lots of death? why not put it in proper context and write about a battle or a revolution? if people are dropping like flies for little discernible reason, I’m out.

4. Cynicism is the best power!

In one of the aforementioned assassin Fanwank books, I remember a scene where the protagonist is forced to fight a group of hardened veteran soldiers. He not only survives, but he kicks the crap out of them. Why? because he fights dirty. His cynical attitude towards life gives him the upper edge, the willingness to use those dishonourable tactics is the secret to his success. Except its not that much of a secret — I don’t know any adult that does not realize that they could enjoy a little more short term success by being a little less virtuous. The idea of a veteran soldier who does not understand the power of fighting dirty, even if they don’t want to use it,  is utterly unbelievable. Like I said if your world is full of assassins, people are going to take precautions just to survive. The alternative is that your world is populated by idiots, and I don’t want to read that crap…

5. Everyone is a jerk…

If I can’t relate to any of the characters in a book, I am immediately turned off. In a gritty world, everyone is broken, but I am not interested in books where authors double down on degenerate character traits just to come off as edgy. No one is normal! no one is an innocent! ok, sounds gritty… there are no heroes!, oh, very grim… everyone is trainwreck with no sympathetic traits whatsoever? pass. The worst are the books where the characters stumble from event to event, never learning from their mistakes, becoming more and more broken but somehow coming out on top. Some readers enjoy watching broken characters get what’s coming to them repeating their mistakes over and over again for the crowd’s amusement. I don’t, its why I don’t watch reality TV. Nuff said.

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3 comments on “Jersey Shore Fantasy, also Maps

  1. judaidan says:

    I agree with most of what you argue, especially about needless and salacious physical and sexually violence. I find it difficult to watch shows like Law and Order SVU and CSI because it frankly makes my skin crawl. I think people who are fans of such shows enter into a sort of sado-masochistic thrill seeking relationship – and I frankly find it troubling. Even shows like Dexter (which I do watch, don’t ask me why because I really don’t enjoy it) try to sanitize this serial killer by having him pursue other killers. Is justice served? I don’t believe it is – if I or someone I cared about was a victim of such a crime I would want to know that person couldn’t harm anyone else – but Dexter’s victims just disappear. There is no day in court, victim impact statements and no real resolution for the victims and loved ones. I think that the fantasy genre has absorbed the “anti-hero” prevalent in literature and other forms of media to varying success. What has been the catalyst I can’t say for sure. A lot of my favorite fantasy writers seem to be inspired by traumatic events. Tolkien wrote out full passages of what would later become the Silmarillion in is hospital bed recovering from war injuries – and that is one bleak damn book if you ask me (I could never finish it). Then you have writers inspired by the Vietnam war, like Robert Jordan (who was a vet) and George R R Martin (who managed to get out of the draft but was a reportor deeply affected by such events like My Lai Massacre) and they both reacted to these traumas with quite different forms of fantasy. Jordan can be quite dark but there is always a clear delineation between the good guys and the bad. In Martin, you won’t find a dark lord of any sort, he writes a “magical historio-fantasy” modelled loosely after the War of the Roses and his world is riddled with anti-heroes, violence of every sort and is a direct (historically reasoned) reaction to any sort of glorification of war. I love both authors but for very different reasons, and I think that’s ok. There are lessons to be learned from both and both gentlemen admired each other’s works despite their differences. Yikes! I’ve written so damn much. Sorry – it’s a topic I feel pretty strongly about.

  2. grimkrieg says:

    Its not that I mind dark Fantasy. I just don’t enjoy it when the writer goes out of their way to take it to extremes without giving me a good reason to read on. I don’t like overly rosy Fantasy, either…

    I enjoy the anti-heroes in Best Served Cold, the Scar, and Knights of Dark Renown but each of those is written by a someone who handles the subject with a master’s deft touch and pulls you in with an interesting premise or a character who is compelling despite being dark.

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