Fantasy is Bullshit
It occurred to me today that there are people who have no use whatsoever for fantasy or science fiction. They just don't want to read about people and places that don't exist and events that can't possibly happen. And I suppose at the extreme end of that spectrum are people who don't want to read fiction full stop. If they want stories, they want actual history or biography.
Of course, biographies are about people who didn't really exist, and history is about events that didn't really happen as described. As they say, there's no such thing as a true story.
But make no mistake, fantasy is bullshit.
So when writing fantasy, there's a kind of responsibility to own that. Know what kind of bullshit you're going to spread around, and fertilise your story with it sparingly. If there is a closed set of impossible things in your story's setting, and everything that follows from them holds together, I quite like that. If anything can happen at any time without having to make sense, that's just all bullshit, and bad story construction too.
When I was writing The Silk Mind, I was throwing random ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck, trying to get to 50K words for NaNoWriMo, and not really paying attention. But writing the sequel, The Source of Fire, I wanted to try and do this whole world-building thing with a little more discipline. Which sounds like hard work. Surprisingly though, the bullshit can be categorised into only a few non-realistic phenomena:
- The genetics of the Fer Shea, with their weird matching hair and eye colours. Could actually have been a fashion thing, but I leaned into it, because it's visually appealing.
- A wooden knife blade that can pass though metal, rippling it as though it was water. Only mentioned once in TSM, I can reserve judgement about explaining that in a future book, but it's never relevant in SoF.
- Precognition. Maybe? Not conclusively distinct from clairvoyance or telepathy in the cases where it mattered to the story in The Silk Mind.
- Shape-shifting, with some ambiguity as to whether it's a psychological effect or whether there are physical changes.
- Mind-to-mind contact.
- Mind and animation imbued into inanimate objects containing some living matter.
- A monster that is essentially a defective template for a mind, which replicates itself into worlds containing things complex enough to discover it. Kind of like an abstract mental virus.
Just about all the mind stuff is covered by a kind of radio metaphor for brains. The idea that a brain can be like an antenna and pick up or broadcast thoughts under the right conditions. For example, shape-shifters enter an animal-like mental state, and those immediately around them perceive them as animal-like by a kind of broadcast interference. There is a broadcast interpretation for King Leonard's apparent precognition of the Great Wave too, which sort of slipped in when I wrote The Source of Fire's prologue.
The other side of that coin is mind as patterns of information. As far as I can tell though, that is probably just real rather than fantastical.
Apart from the above, magic is thin on the ground in these stories. No wizards, no spells. Just people solving problems they really aren't equipped to deal with, using what little supplies I can plausibly provide them, of wit and courage, and luck, and bullshit.
#writing #fantasy #sf