Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Are we cool?

Hey, guess what? Songs of the Earth got a mention in the Sunday Times!

Unfortunately, that mention turned out to be little more than a single line of internal dialogue quoted out of context†, with the admonition that lines like that aren’t going to do anything to make fantasy cool.

Um, what? Who says a particular genre of fiction is cool or uncool? Is there a Department of Cool somewhere in the bowels of the Home Office that makes these distinctions? Do I have to apply to them in triplicate for an EC Certificate of Cool Conformity before I’m allowed to write books?

Bollocks to that.

As a reader and writer of the genre, I already believe fantasy is pretty bloody cool, thank you very much. Where else can I get to play with kingdoms all day long, and weird beasts (come on, dragons? Could they be any cooler?), and sharp, pointy weapons. Just because there’s a castle on the horizon, or we’re in some fantastical city run by thieves doesn’t mean the writer can’t examine the human condition just as deeply as anyone else – in fact fantasy writers often get to examine it from new and exciting perspectives, like the inside, amongst the tubes and wobbly bits.

Maybe I’m reading too much into a couple of sentences in a review round-up. Maybe the reviewer was not approaching from a standpoint of “I already think fantasy is deeply uncool and slightly icky, so go on, try to change my mind”. Or maybe I’ve just heard one too many people sneering at fantasy lately, because, you know, it’s all just made up stuff.

Newsflash, people: all fiction is ‘just made up stuff’. Even the kind of fiction that wins the Booker.††

It’s not my job to try to make fantasy cool to people with attitudes like that. Prejudice is their problem, not mine.

It is my job to serve the story, to tell it to the best of my ability, and transport the reader somewhere else for a few hours. My job is to entertain with words. If I happen to also inform, elucidate, illuminate or otherwise make the reader say “Huh, I didn’t know that”, then that’s just gravy.

So here’s my book. Try it, don’t try it, it’s your choice. But why not forget what all the other cool kids are doing, stop trying to be so achingly hip you can barely walk, and make your own mind up for a change. Try some fantasy; it won’t kill you. It’s rousing, riotous, heroic, horrifying, absorbing, philosophical, thrilling, heartbreaking, edge-of-your-seat fun.†††

Hell, you might even get over yourself and enjoy it.

Or is it better to be seen to be cool than be entertained?

***

† I’m not saying it was the best line in the world, but in context it was appropriate, dramatic and effective. Stripped of context, pretty much any ten words (short of Shakespeare) are just words.

†† Keeping it topical. But seriously, is the Man Booker Prize awarded to the best book of the year, or just the best book of a certain type?

††† Not necessarily all at the same time. Obviously. But some books, like Martin and Rothfuss there, will give it a damn good try.

 

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6 Comments

  1. So true! 🙂

  2. So what *was* the line? For those of us that don’t have the Sunday Times. 🙂

    • Ellie

      “Goddess love the boy, he stares damnation in the eye!”

      Ten words, and it was enough for the reviewer to pretty much damn the whole book. ::shrugs:: C’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?

  3. This sort of inverse snobbery is nothing but a pain. Those people who decide what to read based on nonsense like that deserve what they get. So there.

  4. Arturo

    Agreed.
    Sometimes admitting in public that you read fantasy get people to sneer. As you say, it’s somehow uncool.
    Often people only see the stereotypes they themselves have created after watching Lord of the rings and walking past a comic store.
    When you take the time, you get to see that Fantasy isn’t even a single homogeneous genre, but a rich and deeply varied one.
    Take your pick, name your poison, fantasy can and will provided while making you exercise your imagination like you have never before.
    Cool, uncool? Since when has reading become that? I feel a bit sad when I see all these books being sold by the name on the cover. The home libraries where all you can find are the best sellers that are cool, or the ‘certified’ worthy underground reads.
    I read for my own enjoyment, my personal pleasure. If I like what I am reading, then it is cool.
    Songs of the Earth? Cool.

  5. Excellent blog post, with excellent points: there’s far, far too much snobbery from “outside” the genre lately. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, toffs with their noses in “hip” lit-fic decided that SFF fans/writers/readers actually considered their (usually bashing and derogatory) opinions important.

    I agree entirely with your points about the Booker: it will never go to a fantasy book, because no matter how good, or relevant or skilfully crafted, SFF isn’t “important” enough for a novel to win the prize.

    Don’t worry, though: you are very cool! 😉

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