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The Doors Are Open – SFF Goes Mainstream

A Fantastic World From A Cup Of Tea by Lucas de AlcântaraSometimes it’s difficult to imagine that, sitting here in this cafe, I am likely the only person in the building who knows who Peter V. Brett is. Because surely that’s just impossible: Peat is a legend. Moreover, it’s completely at odds with the rotation of my universe that when speaking to even my closest friends, they have no real knowledge of what I’m talking about when I’m ranting on about the latest hot topic within the SFF or geek community.

Surely everyone reads fantasy and science fiction? Why would they not?

Then I remind myself that although my axis is set to zero-point-Rothfuss with a spin of ten-point-Weeks, everyone else is somehow off with their rotation. Not everyone is a geek. Not everyone knows just how deep and varied a genre fantasy and science fiction is. And that’s pretty sad.

This isn’t a point to separate the legendary “Real Geeks” (female or otherwise) from the fake ones, rather a statement that whilst being immersed within the genre community, fantasy and science fiction are seemingly the centre of the universe, the reality is very different. Standing on the inside and looking out shows that fantasy is still underappreciated.

The Gift of Knowledge by Jeremy OwenFantasy is a subculture. Being a “geek” is alternative from the supposed mainstream. Some people hide their geekery and reading choices behind the blessed anonymity of an ereader, embarrassed otherwise to be seen holding books featuring swords and unlikely towers whose spires pierce an imaginary sky. Others mount a geek wall and hide behind it, allowing passage to no one who cannot pass a stringent initiation test whereby their right to the title “geek” is questioned.

Neither of these situations are good: nobody should be ashamed of what they read, and nobody should have to apply for an imaginary geek card.

Essentially, however, things seem as though they are changing. The world of fantasy is still very insular – and not necessarily by choice: I know I want nothing more than to be able to talk about fantasy and the writers and worlds I love without enduring the patient nods and smiles of friends who lost the thread of conversation somewhere between discussing the latest from my Twitter feed and being all dewy-eyed over the last book I read. However, something is happening that is providing a doorway that is neither invisible to the rest of the world, or admittance by geek ID only, patrolled by the geek nazis.

Lord of the Rings (poster)This something, is media. Movies, TV, video games. It started with The Lord of the Rings movies, but back then it didn’t really seem to stick. However, it did lay down the first cobblestones. There had been fantasy and science fiction movies before this, of course, but nothing on quite the same scale, nothing that penetrated the mainstream in quite the same way. Nothing that wasn’t really just science fiction.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere – especially if you’re someone like me, who absolutely follows nothing of the mainstream world – fantasy became something people at least knew about. Suddenly, Sean Bean’s fur-mantled portrait was on the front of a book that I’d admittedly not even heard of before this point. I’d turned around and fantasy was on TV; movies were being made and my favourite YA SFF books were being optioned for TV.

I’m not A Song of Ice and Fire fan, so whilst it is frustrating that people are talking about and reading GRRM’s epic and not the whole and vast spectrum of SFF at large, it is an undeniable fact that Game of Thrones shoved a dirty great wedge in the door that LotR creaked open.

Game of ThronesThe movies might have not been that good, compared with the book and, the television adaptation of GoT might leave much to be desired from the viewpoint of its fans, but it’s safe to say that when people see that little line “based on the book by …” that they’ll consider checking the book out and seeing for themselves. I know people who do not read fantasy, who do not know about this, that or the other, but who have sat on the bus to work, tweeting about reading GRRM. These people will finish the books and then … then they will need more books. And maybe these books will come from the SFF shelves.

The same sort of doorway was opened by movies such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, inviting younger adults (or those disinterested by the very adult content of GoT) to step through the door. Sometimes these film adaptations are terrible, inaccurate or patronising, pared down past the bare minimum and repackaged for what producers think their audience wants, like the City of Bones film, which is so jumbled, confused and butchered that the book used as reference is probably lost behind a table, chewed on by someone’s pet chihuahua. But maybe a bad movie is good for the book.

Adapting a book into something new is almost like a rerelease of the book itself. Sometimes there’s a new cover, other times it is simply faced out and crammed happily onto the “we recommend” shelves with a nice sticker proclaiming “now a major motion picture”. The time when anything gets most notice is at time of release.

More fantasy films and TV options are due, providing a fairly steady release of new media. The door is open and the way is carpeted.

Final Fantasy (logo)Video games are somewhat of a different consideration, but relevant nevertheless. People who play fantasy games, are not necessarily fantasy readers. It’s an odd fact that many people will play a game of any genre, without really considering the genre itself. Many people just play games. The Final Fantasy franchise is undeniably fantasy – and sci-fantasy, depending on the title – and yet it’s unlikely that when selecting the game, most people stop and consider its genre. But if they did, what might the chances be of them ambling into the nearest bookstore next Saturday and browsing the shelves?

Dragon Age - Inquisition (logo)This is where games like Dragon Age and The Witcher are an even bigger wedge in the door. Irrespective of the fact that the Dragon Age books are built upon the foundations of the game, unlike The Witcher, which originated as a book, both games franchises have accompanying literature, in one way or another. Unlike movie adaptations, where the story is (supposed to be) essentially the same, fiction or comic books (the latter most specifically related to the Dragon Age franchise) expand the story in one way or another, adding new plot to the universe. This is a lovely little carrot dangled before the potential SFF reader; a carrot that says “hey, have you ever thought about fantasy? Oh, see, you’re already reading fantasy, how about a little more?”

Essentially, the more widespread SFF is across a variety of platforms, the more accessible it is. With the rise of fantasy and science fiction through different media, including comic book heroes gracing the silver screen and more and more books being transformed into graphic novels, the world that we live in has the chance to up its population, whether with tourists who read a handful of books, the movies of which they’ve seen and fancy dabbling, or those that check out the climate before they full-on emigrate. In view of this, even though we might grumble and grouse about botched adaptations and the like, what we can’t complain about is the fact that SFF has never been more relevant.

The Lure of a Book by FictionChickRelevant is good, it means that even though there is still some stigma attached to being a geek (perhaps a lot of stigma, but in my little world of Elspeth Cooper, Strange Chemistry and anticipation for Dragon Age: Inquisition so palpable it’s almost maddening, I’m not exposed to the world outside very often), as more people tune in to watch fantasy TV shows, see fantasy films at the cinema, and turn up to comic cons and SFF expos, the negative connotations attached to being geeky and SFF might start to blur. This is good.

Naturally this is just one angle of the changes occurring – my angle. There are probably several other doorways being opened that lead into exactly the same building: speculative fiction. Whether its fantasy, supernatural or urban or epic, or whether it’s science fiction, dystopian or futuristic or space opera, or even comic books and superheroes – there are lots of routes into our vast, strange and wonderful world, and never have so many doors been opening all at once. Capacity is infinite and our doors are always open, whichever way you enter. Stay a while; we have cookies, and we want to share what we love, just like everyone else.

Title image by Supercolorstudio.

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The Doors Are Open - SFF Goes Mainstream, 9.2 out of 10 based on 13 ratings
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3 Comments

  1. Alex Hurst says:

    What a great post. It’s so very true, too, though in my family, if you ever read anything BESIDES fantasy and science fiction, you were looked upon strangely. I’m more the reader who crouches down behind a paper cover if it’s contemporary fiction, and don’t catch me with a romance novel with a beefy beefcake holding the next Belle (the horror!)

  2. Derek Tyce says:

    Just as the comic book heroes I loved as a kid are now coming to life on the big screen and TV, I think it’s great seeing the success of fantasy books being adapted to the screen. Even Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles has been optioned for television, which I hope gets made (and that they do it right).

    With the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones doing so well, I think we’re going to see a lot more adaptations, and it’s going to do the fantasy genre a lot of good, and keep fantasy books alive and strong. Great post!

  3. ali says:

    Lovely article. I agree that fantasy and epics are re-gaining their status in the eyes of the world. Maybe like in ages past, fantasy will once more sit atop the world, and be a gateway to dreams. Still, I’ve always found it hilarious (in retrospect) that when people bullied me for being a geek, they would express shock and horror when I beat them into the ground. Always a good chuckle.

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