Library Journal has an extensive article on new trends and new books in fantasy and science fiction.
The article actually does a good job of highlighting new work both in established subgenres as well as new developments. But it is marred by the smug insinuation that urban fantasy, steampunk and zombies are fading in popularity and were only a transient fad anyway, supported with quotes from various editors, which may well be taken out of context, so I won’t pass judgment on them. Though it is telling that of the four editors quoted, two work for houses that barely feature in my personal library at all.
Now I believe that more variety on the shelves is a very good thing. And urban fantasy and steampunk once brought in that much needed variety along with New Weird, because the scope of SFF available had gone very stale in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, if not for discovering urban fantasy, I probably wouldn’t be reading fantasy anymore, because I had become bloody sick of the whole genre when book upon book was a disappointment.
So why are so many people hoping for urban fantasy and steampunk to go away? Even if you personally don’t read that stuff, why would you deprive those that like the subgenre of what they enjoy? Personally, I don’t care for zombies at all, but I don’t begrudge those who like zombies that there are zombie books available for them. I would get a bit annoyed, if there was nothing but zombies on the shelves, similar to the situation with epic fantasy in the 1990s (pretty much nothing else on the shelves). But right now we have an almost unprecedented variety of fantasy subgenres on the shelves (SF is a different story) and there should be something for every reader.
Though the article actually does mention a few upcoming zombie, steampunk and urban fantasy titles. However, the urban fantasy novels mentioned are all written by men and feature male protagonists. Now those authors listed that I have read are good and certainly deserving of some love. But the exclusive focus on men with the implicit “Look no girl cooties or icky romance” message bothers me. Especially as there are plenty of urban fantasy novels by women who are a bit off the beaten track and equally deserving of love. For example, Rob Thurman’s Leandros Brothers series, Caitlin Kittredge’s Black London series and Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series are all wonderful and not nearly as well known as they should be.
My reaction to the supposed renaissance of epic fantasy (of which I do see signs) was, “Oh please, haven’t we gotten over all epic fantasy all the time already?” Never mind that epic fantasy never went anywhere, it just wasn’t as dominant for a few years.
It is notable that the current trend in epic fantasy seems to move away from the Tolkien clones towards more and more George R.R. Martin clones. And I was sick of George R.R. Martin clones before the Game of Thrones TV show started. This also puts me into an odd position, because while I think that George R.R. Martin is a swell guy who deserves all the success he has, even if A Song of Ice and Fire was never to my personal taste, I do worry about a flood of more and more George R.R. Martin copycats who will make up for Martin’s storytelling skills with more gore, more torture, more rapes and more murdered children. And that I really don’t need, nor does the genre. After all, it’s not as if the SFF genre is short on gritty epic fantasy. There’s more than enough of that fare around. Just take a look at the book that prompted this rant. The bad Tolkien clones that dominated the subgenre for many years were at least somewhat enjoyable, if terribly derivative. Bad Martin clones, however, tend to be just gore and shock value and sometimes tedious philosophizing.
Of course, I’m probably biased because my few genuinely bad experiences with arsehole authors were all with people writing in the gritty epic fantasy subgenre (all in the second or third tier, none of the really big names). As a result, gritty epic fantasy pretty much equals dickhead genre to me.
But I have another problem with epic fantasy in general, namely that I find it incredibly difficult to find books that I will enjoy. I can pretty accurately tell whether a given urban fantasy or space opera novel will appeal to me, though I’m still wrong on occasion and the book that sounded so wonderful turns out to be a dud. But for some reason, I have enormous problems finding epic fantasy that appeals to me. I’ve tried everything, blurbs, reviews, recommendations from people I trust and I’ll still end up with a book I don’t enjoy far more often than with one that hits the spot. And because of this abysmal hit to miss ratio, I tend to avoid the genre altogether in favour of other genres that deliver the goods far more often.
Still, because we should discuss the good rather than complain about the bad, Sherwood Smith points out this great interview with Kate Elliott at Tor.com. If there was more epic fantasy like that, I’d have less issues with the subgenre.
As for science fiction, it’s not dying in spite of the obituaries for the genre penned every six months or so. But looking at the science fiction novels recommended in the Library Journal article, I can’t help but wonder whether it wouldn’t be best to just bury the SF genre already. Because none of the books featured sound even remotely appealing to me. I’ve had problems with epic fantasy for a long time now, but SF was always my favourite genre in spite of the occasional dud. Nonetheless, I can’t I find anything remotely appealing in the recommendation list for a genre I used to love. Nor is this a new development, I find SF less and less readable. In the past few years, pretty much the only new SF I enjoyed were borderline works marketed as YA or futuristic romance.