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Where Is Fantasy Headed?

and the gate opens by TonyholmstenChange is good they say. Change is progress. Well we’ve seen a lot of mighty changes in the book industry over the last decade, seismic changes that have redefined the world of publishing and literature forever. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last ten years, it’s hard not to ignore what’s been going on. eBooks. eReaders. Online communities like FF. Self-publishing. Amazon. Borders going bust. The so-called death of publishing, we’ve seen it all happen in a very short space of time. But how do these changes affect fantasy? How has fantasy changed, and set to change in the future? Let’s have a look:

Well first off, our market has veritably exploded. Technology has brought us more books than we could shake a sword at. What a wonderful futuristic age we currently abide in, with countless eBooks mere clicks away, eReaders and tablets being hawked from every retail outlet, books with enhanced content, and authors a single tweet away. Not to mention apps, global markets, and hoverboards…

Wait. No. Not yet.

Hoverboards aside, look at all we’ve achieved! The Internet has revolutionised the way we read, and in the process it’s globalised and streamlined it too. You might say that this has nothing to do with fantasy, but wait there. Of course it is. It affects all genres. Now that we have access to far more markets, we have far more fantasy than we’ve ever dreamt. The market’s bigger than ever and in turn we’re thirsty for it. It’s like being invited to a colossal banquet, a smorgasbord if you will, and given a fork, a plate, and told to enjoy yourself.

A Game of Thrones (enhanced cover)Secondly, and a little note in technology – the geek in me can’t resist talking about the inroads we’re making into what a book can actually be. With enhanced content becoming more and more popular as time goes on and tech gets better, we can expect to see our favourite books becoming more than just a text and story. An epic like A Game of Thrones can feature interactive maps and character databases to help you keep track. We’re also now seeing apps that tie together audiobooks and graphic artwork alongside the text. In-book tweeting and sharing is becoming more and more common too. All in all, the book is becoming a lot more than text, and for a genre like fantasy where there are so many excuses for extra content, there are so many things that can be done!

Thirdly, the combination of this new technology and hungry new markets has caused the number of authors out there to balloon. Self-publishing, or indie publishing as it’s also called, has brought swarms of new authors into the fray, myself included. Every genre is seeing a huge influx of new authors at the moment, but a great deal of them are firmly-entrenched in the fantasy genre, mainly due to its current popularity and the writing style that appeals to the imagination of most authors.

The common consensus is that self-publishing is both a really bad and a really good thing. Part of a publishing house’s job is making sure good fantasy gets to market and the poor-quality fantasy stays at home, where it should stay. Publishing imprints such as Tor and Voyager and Gollancz do a very good job of this. What self-publishing does is bypass this gatekeeper function, and therefore anything at all can spill out onto the market, potentially cramming the market with low-quality rubbish. But behold! It works both ways. Downright incredible fantasy that may have been turned down for a reason other than quality (for instance financial reasons, or an unusual sub-genre) still gets to be published! Hoorah! This is what I care about, and why I champion the self-publishing revolution – the idea of letting some game-changing gem of a literary masterpiece go unnoticed on a hard drive somewhat pains me. These gems deserved to be published, and self-publishing can now make that happen no matter what. The result? Once again, there’s a lot more fantasy out there than there was before. The smorgasbord keeps on growing.

Lastly, and taking a really close look at our genre, fantasy seems to be changing at the grass roots level too. With the technology, the expansion of the global market, the ease of reaching new readers, AND so many new authors, the boundaries that define fantasy are being pushed outwards.

Edgedancer by Michael WhelanHigh fantasy. Classic fantasy. Epic fantasy. Urban fantasy. Dark fantasy. Science fantasy. Contemporary fantasy. Military fantasy. Historical fantasy. Mythical fantasy. Gritty fantasy. Western fantasy. Sword and sorcery. Steampunk. Alternate history. Weird fiction. Fantasy romance. Speculative fiction, and countless hybrids, crossovers, monsters, and abominations. I think my Wikipedia just exploded. We do love a subgenre: a little tweak here and there.

“My book is dark fantasy alternate history sort of thing…”
“Oh no, this isn’t epic fantasy – it’s sword and sorcery mixed with a little steampunk…”
“What do I write? I write a mixture between sword and sorcery and post apocalyptic zombie horror comedy…”

Sound familiar?

I think it’s great. Whilst I often find myself a little lost by the new genres, I love this current spate of innovation and unconventionality. Just so long as there’s a great story. I don’t care if it’s a sub-partition-mini-splinter-micro-genre, as long as I enjoy it. The point is that with so many books and so many authors, everybody is pulling in so many different directions. That’s exciting. We’re actually redefining what fantasy is, book by book and new idea by new idea. Competition really does breed innovation, and it’s great.

All in all, I’d say that fantasy is headed in quite an exciting direction. One that not only will change the stories we tell, but how and who will tell it. Time to sit back, settle in, and enjoy this ever-expanding smorgasbord we now find before us.

Now, where’s my hoverboard…?

Title image by Tonyholmsten.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar Martin says:

    I champion the self-publishing revolution – the idea of letting some game-changing gem of a literary masterpiece go unnoticed on a hard drive somewhat pains me.

    Can you name some of these gems?

  2. Great article, Ben! Fantasy has to remain an ever-morphing genre, even as its writers need the freedom to explore new zones not easily classified by bookshelf space. Thank you for an impartial look at the genre and the industry in general.

  3. Avatar John Wiswell says:

    If self-publishing and internet connectivity gives rise to more recognized niches for hybrid fiction, that’d be an amazing achievement in itself. Just came from a very depressing crowd-funding conversation in which it was revealed the only projects getting cash were zombies and war fiction. We know there exist audiences with more diverse tastes. Would be truly revolutionary to find them and share them with each other.

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