February 17, 2020, 07:21:03 PM

Author Topic: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction  (Read 1166 times)

Offline cupiscent

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2020, 03:28:33 AM »
I read a lot of books last year and while at the end of it I looked back and thought "Oh yeah, that was good", little of it thrilled me. Little of it was *fun*. It was really good in parts, but it wasn't fun. Profound maybe, but not fun.

(Hsst. Try Gideon the Ninth. Or maybe Empress of Forever if you don't mind a detour into wuxia cyberpunk space opera. Those were probably the most fun I had reading last year.)

Offline Peat

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2020, 09:36:06 AM »
I read a lot of books last year and while at the end of it I looked back and thought "Oh yeah, that was good", little of it thrilled me. Little of it was *fun*. It was really good in parts, but it wasn't fun. Profound maybe, but not fun.

(Hsst. Try Gideon the Ninth. Or maybe Empress of Forever if you don't mind a detour into wuxia cyberpunk space opera. Those were probably the most fun I had reading last year.)

Gideon the Ninth is very prominently on my list and I'll ready everything by Max Gladstone so that's there too. Although Wuxia Cyberpunk Space Opera is certainly appealing. I should read more wuxia - Jin Yong's A Hero Born is high up on my fun list for last year.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline Yora

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2020, 09:44:29 AM »
But I do think a lot of it has lost the idea of taking having a fun adventure in weird and whacky worlds seriously. Either there's an ironic wink at the camera, or its busy being sincere and serious about pain, or it's cleaving close to history, or... you get the idea. I read a lot of books last year and while at the end of it I looked back and thought "Oh yeah, that was good", little of it thrilled me. Little of it was *fun*. It was really good in parts, but it wasn't fun. Profound maybe, but not fun.

And the book that are fun don't feel sincere about it. And they're too sane, by and large.
This really might be a more precise description of what I was feeling. I don't know enough about art of the 2010s in general to say of there is still a "crisis of ironic detachment ruining culture". But in fantasy there seems to be a split between silly nonsense and serious business. It's the idea that heroic and magical things can be deeply meaningful that I am missing the most. And which to me is the whole reason that fantasy exists.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline cupiscent

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2020, 09:52:01 AM »
It's the idea that heroic and magical things can be deeply meaningful that I am missing the most. And which to me is the whole reason that fantasy exists.

Hmm, but there's the thing. What defines "heroic"?

Offline Yora

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2020, 10:29:06 AM »
What I am thinking of is characters who take action to do good, out of a belief that it is a moral obligation and to be an example to other. I come across plenty of characters who do good, but it seems mostly they don't really know why they do it, see no greater purpose behind it, or even feel insulted by the accusation of having a moral conscience.
There are of course many characters who act heroic in this sense, but often the stories they appear in don't take them serious. It's been ages since I saw a superhero movie, but Captain America seems to be such a character. And then you always have Iron Man being ready to mock him for it. That's not the movie being sincere about Captain America being heroic. They always backpaddle and disassociate themselves from it by making jokes about it.

All that said, what "sincerity" and fantasy sparks for me is a memory of discussion of the LotR films, and how a big part of their strength is that they are going at it straight. There is no tongue-in-cheek. There is no winking. They are not being camp or silly or playing it off as a whimsical story. They are sincerely putting forward the story.
The Lord of the Rings movies are a good example. There are many parts that I find really stupid and silly, like Legolas surfing on all kinds of things. But even at those moments, I still get the impression that the film fully believes  that this is amazing.

Then on the other hand you have the Hobbit movies.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Peat

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #20 on: January 11, 2020, 10:43:01 AM »
I somehow missed the cupiscent paragraph that Yora just quoted, but yes.

I also think the other big alpha example is Harry Potter, which very firmly said that being nice and brave and standing up for your friends matters, and that you can tell how it matters through a big fun adventure story, and that it'll be alright in the end, and said it with complete sincerity. That's what made Harry Potter a phenomenon (well, part of it).

It's the idea that heroic and magical things can be deeply meaningful that I am missing the most. And which to me is the whole reason that fantasy exists.

Hmm, but there's the thing. What defines "heroic"?

Almost inhuman excellence, commitment and courage in the pursuit of a good cause

Which is not the only definition. There's a reason so many like the more human definitions. But for the purpose of big Fantasy adventures, the more human ones lack a little punch.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline Matthew

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #21 on: January 11, 2020, 02:04:57 PM »
It seems like you're missing the naivety rather than sincerity. A belief that the world is a good place and that it is a moral imperative to do right.

Offline Yora

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #22 on: January 11, 2020, 02:44:04 PM »
That cuts to the heart of the issue. Are naivety and cynicism our only options?
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Online Bender

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #23 on: January 11, 2020, 04:07:11 PM »
As for the OP's question...

I don't think Fantasy has lost having messages. If anything I think it's got more.

But I do think a lot of it has lost the idea of taking having a fun adventure in weird and whacky worlds seriously. Either there's an ironic wink at the camera, or its busy being sincere and serious about pain, or it's cleaving close to history, or... you get the idea. I read a lot of books last year and while at the end of it I looked back and thought "Oh yeah, that was good", little of it thrilled me. Little of it was *fun*. It was really good in parts, but it wasn't fun. Profound maybe, but not fun.

And the book that are fun don't feel sincere about it. And they're too sane, by and large.

That's my take

Not sure if you and me have same idea of fun, but last year was one I read most fun books, Here be Dragons, Chronicles of the Fid, Orconomics and Son of Liche, Gideon the Ninth...
"I shall hunt your firstborn children and laugh with glee as I tell them of your death in terrible detail, with many unpleasant adjectives!" - M-Bot

"Who needs science when you have a dragon?" - Neil DeGrasse Tyson in Sharknado 6

Offline Peat

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #24 on: January 11, 2020, 04:10:33 PM »
Describing all the old Fantasy fiction that felt 'sincere' as naive is a great mischaracterisation imo - particularly when it comes to adventure stories. There is little about a dark world view that the authors of today have to teach to the likes of Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber, Wolfe, Moorcock and so on. Hell, when you come down to it, pretty much all Fantasy is built on the idea it's not a good world as they pretty much all have monsters like all Crime books have murderers. Some are more light hearted and sure that the monsters will be defeated than others, but none of them think the world is good.

And an author can believe in and write stories about the idea that humanity is flawed, horribly flawed, that the capacity for appalling deeds live within most of us... and yet we also have incredible redeeming features at times, and that there's still reason to have hope and rage against the monsters among us. And they can be very sincere about having hope. I don't think there's anything naive about acknowledging the world is dark but that we prefer light.

Online Bender

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #25 on: January 11, 2020, 04:16:23 PM »
I somehow missed the cupiscent paragraph that Yora just quoted, but yes.

I also think the other big alpha example is Harry Potter, which very firmly said that being nice and brave and standing up for your friends matters, and that you can tell how it matters through a big fun adventure story, and that it'll be alright in the end, and said it with complete sincerity. That's what made Harry Potter a phenomenon (well, part of it).

It's the idea that heroic and magical things can be deeply meaningful that I am missing the most. And which to me is the whole reason that fantasy exists.

Hmm, but there's the thing. What defines "heroic"?

Almost inhuman excellence, commitment and courage in the pursuit of a good cause

Which is not the only definition. There's a reason so many like the more human definitions. But for the purpose of big Fantasy adventures, the more human ones lack a little punch.

None of those counter means the hero cannot have a sense of humour or be a bit goofy. The image of a hero being a well built, good looking, dependable, larger than life person who is solemn, kind and just is a cliche/stereotype. Tue heroism has no relevance to humour, goofiness or physical appearance.

In LotR, Sam is my true hero.  He has no skin in the game apart from friendship and braves death just for that. There is no destiny or fate or anything that can explain his actions. Simple and heroic. He goofs around...but never once wavers from what he does and is a source of strength for Frodo to complete his quest. Despite his character, Sam is probably the most sincere of all the characters in the series.
"I shall hunt your firstborn children and laugh with glee as I tell them of your death in terrible detail, with many unpleasant adjectives!" - M-Bot

"Who needs science when you have a dragon?" - Neil DeGrasse Tyson in Sharknado 6

Offline The Sword in the Tome

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #26 on: January 11, 2020, 04:29:43 PM »
I don't think there's anything naive about acknowledging the world is dark but that we prefer light.
Well said.  I'm reminded of a quote from Superman's Kryptonian father in Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman.

"Your work is done. You have shown them the face of the man of tomorrow. You have given them an ideal to aspire to, embodied their highest aspirations. They will race, and stumble, and fall and crawl...and curse...and finally...they will join you in the sun, Kal-El. In time you will no longer be alone."
My YouTube fantasy book review channel: The Sword in the Tome

Offline Skip

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #27 on: January 11, 2020, 04:49:30 PM »
I can think of two current examples. One is Josiah Bancroft's Books of Babel series. It's about a man whose wife disappears in a crowd. He is absolutely dedicated to finding her again. Along the way he undergoes many changes, and he's certainly not trying to save the world. And it's a world filled with fantastic fantasy.

The other is SF, but it's so fantastical I think it earns a place here: James S.A. Corey's The Expanse. The main character has a set of ethics that he adheres to. They're wonderfully ... not quite naive, but plain. Everyman ethics. Jimmy Stewart sort of ethics. He does not waver, though he is fiercely challenged in his beliefs and he can doubt himself without wavering. Adherence to those ethics cause *huge* consequences. With a different set of ethics, he'd make a good villain.

Anyway, these books get written. I don't think they are any fewer than in earlier times. When we recall the reading of our youth, we tend to recall what is good, forget what was forgettable, and overlook the fact that *most* books back in the day we never read in the first place. And alot of it was garbage.

And, of course, this being a writers and readers forum, the conventional advice applies: go write what you want to read.

Offline Matthew

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #28 on: January 11, 2020, 06:32:20 PM »
That cuts to the heart of the issue. Are naivety and cynicism our only options?

No, but I'm more referring to the character viewpoint and not the world in general. A character that truly believes that the world is a good place and that people are in their hearts pure often displays naivety as a trait.

It's like they do what they do because the world is good and they are just righting wrongs. They are 'restoring' the world to the way it should be, as opposed to making the world what they want it to be.

Having a hard time defining it properly. I guess maybe the naive character will care because the world is a good place, rather than the cynical character caring because they think it should be a good place.

It's like the naive character isn't special, they don't see themselves as special, and there's often humility to them. The cynical one would see the world as broken and that it's their place to fix it.

Struggling to find the right words. Hopefully some of that made some sort of sense.

Offline Yora

Re: Sincerity in modern fantasy fiction
« Reply #29 on: January 11, 2020, 08:43:47 PM »
I see. And I agree that such characters can have a certain charm.

Though personally I am not a big fan of them myself. I see really only two ways the stories of such characters can turn out. Either they succeed and come out at top despite their naivety, but to me that strongly pushes the entire story to being naive as well. Or they fail, in which case the story portrays the naivety as foolish and doomed to fail.

I find that the interesting characters are found in the middle. Characters who firmly believe in doing good, but understand that their ability to do so is limited and they have to make decisions about where their abilities and efforts are best put to use. Characters who have to question if their choices in that regard were right and whether they should change their current path or continue the way they are doing now.

I think naivety would be the unshacking belief that your methods can't fail.
While sincerity is the conviction that that the characters can make a meaningful difference and they are doing the right thing whether they succeed or fail.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor