When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien and Tolkien's innumerable heirs. Call it 'epic', or 'high', or 'genre' fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can't ignore it, so don't even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there's a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien's clichés—elves 'n' dwarfs 'n' magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation', thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.That is a revolting idea and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.Of course I am not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it's impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick's superb Iron Dragon's Daughter gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it's getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy's radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts and they're not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we're entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn't been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don't know if he's right, but I am excited. This is a radical literature. It's the literature we most deserve.
China Miéville
Kestrel's eyes slipped shut. She faded in and out of sleep. When Arin spoke again, she wasn't sure whether he expected her to to hear him.'I remember sitting with my mother in a carriage.' There was a long pause. Then Arin's voice came again in that slow, fluid way that showed the singer in him. 'In my memory, I am small and sleepy and she is doing something strange. Every time the carriage turns into the sun, she raises her hand as if reaching for something. The light lines her fingers with fire. Then the carriage passes through shadows and her hand falls. Again sunlight beams through the window and again her hand lifts. It becomes and eclipse.' Kestrel listened and it was as if the story itself was an eclipse, drawing its darkness over her.'Just before I fell asleep,' he said, 'I realized that she was shading my eyes from the sun.' She heard Arin shift, felt him look at her.'Kestrel.' She imagined how he would sit, lean forward. How he would look in the glow of the carriage lantern. 'Survival isn't wrong. You can sell your honor in small ways, so long as you guard yourself. You can pour a glass of wine like it's meant to be poured and watch a man drink and plot your revenge.' Perhaps his head tilted slightly at this. 'You probably plot even in your sleep.' There was a silence as long as a smile.'Plot away, Kestrel. Survive. If I hadn't lived, no one would remember my mother, not like I do.' Kestrel could no longer deny sleep. It pulled her under.'And I would never have met you.'s Curse
Marie Rutkoski
The Everlasting StaircaseJeffrey McDanielWhen the call came, saying twenty-four hours to live,my first thought was: can't she postpone her exitfrom this planet for a week? I've got places to do,people to be. Then grief hit between the ribs,said disappear or reappear more fully. so I boardeda red eyeball and shot across America,hoping the nurses had enough quarters to keepthe jukebox of Grandma's heart playing. She grew uppoor in Appalachia. And while world war IIfunctioned like Prozac for the Great Depression,she believed poverty was a double feature,that the comfort of her adult years was merelyan intermission, that hunger would hobble back,hurl its prosthetic leg through her window,so she clipped, clipped, clipped -- became the JacquesCousteau of the bargain bin, her wetsuitstuffed with coupons. And now --pupils fixed, chindangling like the boots of a hanged man --I press my ear to her lampshade-thin chestand listen to that little soldier march toward whateverplateau, or simply exhaust his arsenal of beats.I hate when people ask if she even knew I was there.The point is I knew, holding the one-sidedconversation of her hand. Once I believed the heartwas like a bar of soap -- the more you use it,the smaller it gets; care too much and it'll snap offin your grasp. But when Grandma's last breathwaltzed from that room, my heart openedwide like a parachute and I realized she didn't die.She simply found a silence she could call her own.
Jeffrey McDaniel