Monday, November 5, 2012

Fantasy Sub-genres by Carolee Dean

This month's post is a continuation of my discussion with bookseller Elizabeth Anker about fantasy sub-genres. To read her thoughts on Science Fiction vs. Fantasy go to the October Feature Article.

I asked Elizabeth about dystopian fantasy and said she believes dystopian looks at the future as an examination of political structures. In utopia everything is perfect. Dystopia turns everything on its head. Usually a totalitarian and authoritarian government is involved and the story is set in a future that is often post apocalyptic. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the most popular example of dystopian fiction.

Elizabeth said she was personally tired of the genre because as it continues and people write more of it there is far less explanation of why the future described in the book is happening and how the events affects our world at large. These weaker stories tend to focus on a few teens struggling to survive and rely on super powers to explain things.

In discussing other sub genres of fantasy, Elizabeth pointed out that just about any magical creature you can think of has its own series: vampires, werewolves, and even angels.

Scott Westerfeld, author of the Leviathan series, explores zombies, vampires, and classic fantasy creatures by explaining their biology and origin in scientific terms. He tends to fall in her science fiction shelves. For an interesting discussion of the difference between fantasy and science fiction, see our October Feature Article.

Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, combines zombies and vampires with historical elements and extensive research.

In regard to urban fantasy, Elizabeth says it's just what it sounds like. These stories take classic elements of myth and place them in urban centers like New York and London. The author then weaves in the history of those places with the current story. There is a lot of romance and often humor and whimsy. Examples are Cassandra Clare and her Mortal Instruments Series, Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift Series and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize Series. A lot of these writers are aiming for a clever feel working in modern trends and using word play.

In Epic Fantasy like Tolkien authors create a world and send a hero a quest. Good and evil are usually clearly defined. George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones, is an example. These stories are not derived from classic myth but are largely based on Tolkien's work which is in turn based on Scandinavian and British isles myths. Tolkien blended those influences with his Catholic beliefs of good and evil and the idea that there is an ultimate morality we should all be supporting.

I asked Elizabeth why she thought so many of the great fantasy writers are British. She thinks it's because Britains have deeper history than we do and deeper roots to mythology. Americans are good at taking ideas and developing them. Perhaps that is why we have so many good science fiction writers.

For a super handout exploring fantasy sub-genres visit Kimberley Griffiths Little's website with a free PDF called "The View from Under the Fantasy Umbrella".

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