Short Reply to BotF.

Following on from this post here, I thought I’d copy across a further comment. DF, having refused to answer any further comments by me, made this brief post on his blog.

In reply I said the following (shorn of comments at the beginning and end that situated the reply in its context, and that are therefore irrelevent here; please read the first half not as an attack on DF, but as a statement of what I am NOT saying, to elucidate what I AM saying in the latter half), which might make clearer what I was aiming at in my last post:


You would feel less as though you were banging your head against the wall if you hadn’t built your own entirely fictional wall to bang your head against.

Yes, everyone sensible agrees (including any respectable critical theorist) that critical theorists should be damned – their job is to describe, not dictate.

But in this particular instance – what on earth are you taking? Nobody has ever said that “world-building” is the only ‘correct’ (whatever that may mean) term. You’ve said we’ve said it, repeatedly, and every time you’ve been corrected. If you kindly took the time to read anything that anyone else had written, you’d notice that you’re deluding yourself through the creation of ridiculous strawmen.

Likewise, nobody said to you that real places were not real – that would clearly be ludicrous. Again, this is a fiction dreamt up by yourself, seemingly in order to justify your refusal to engage with criticism.

Similarly, you did not address why non-fantasists might not like the term – which is a good thing, really, since nobody cares whether they like or use the term – but rather tried to establish that there was a distinction behind the use of the term, which is an entirely different point. As we’ve all said, there are differences in connotation between the terms, and that can explain differential patterns of usage – this is irrelevent to the question of whether there is a denotational distinction, as I’m sure you are aware, being an intelligent man, however much you have tried to conflate the two in this discussion.

Finally, it is utter nonsense to describe this as a battle against “the epic fantasy people”. Just because people at that board generally like the work of one particular epic fantasy writer does not make us ‘epic fantasy people’. In my own case, I’d say that currently my favourite books are One Hundred Years of Solitude, The God of Small Things, and Blindness; going more strictly into fantasy, I’d put the Silmarillion and the Book of the New Sun as the most impressive works in the genre; the best book I’ve read this year was A Canticle for Leibowitz. Most books I read, however, are philosophy books. I don’t see myself as a mere “epic fantasy person” – although unlike you I don’t see ‘epic fantasy’ as a term of abuse.

What IS being said? Some key points:

– “setting” and “world-building” may differ in connotation and/or register, but there is no clear-cut denotational distinction underlying this usage

– all stories are fictional stories; their events do not happen, their characters are not people in the way that you or I are, their settings cannot be walked through, their cultures do not grow outside the page, and the intricacies of their plots are dictated by the fiat of the author, not by the free will of the protagonists, nor by happenstance or by the will of God.

– consequently, the inhabitants of novels are merely simulacra and mimicries of things we have learnt of in the world. All things present in the imagination take their substance from the things of the world, albeit re-ordered and reconstituted into forms that need not replicate those seen in reality. All novels are simulations, and all contents of novels are reconstitutions of the real. There is thus no literary novel that is pure of invention – not even a report of a real occurence is the same as the occurence itself; and likewise, there is no fantasy that is pure of the real and the grounded; the only distinctions are quantitative. An unambiguous worldbuilder like Borges, a borderline writer like Garcia Marquez, and a ‘realist’ writer like Roy are all doing the same thing.

– this being so, “world-building” should not be scorned and used as the basis for insult and deprecation, by comparison to the behaviour of a favoured literary cadre. Borges, Tolkien and Wolfe are just as respectable in their project (however good or bad their execution) as Garcia Marquez, Roy, or Rushdie.

– similarly, paying great attention to setting (eg Borges, Tolkien) is no more “nerdish” than paying great attention to character, plot, or style (although an excessive attention to any, at the cost of the others, will likely make a work less accessible to a general audience; conversely, such works are likely to be praised by certain afficionados of that element; this is a matter of taste).


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