Category Archives: Fantasy

Posts that especially deal with Fantasy as a genre.

Once Upon A Time

I’m going to try to keep this only mildly spoiler-y, but considering people nowadays call “Spoiler!” over things that are in trailers (newsflash: that’s what trailers are, they tease you with spoilers so you’ll watch) I’m going to say; there may or may not be spoilers ahead.

I absolutely love Once Upon a Time. I remember when I first tried to watch the premiere in 2011, I thought it was really gimmicky and decided not to continue watching the series. Thanks to the amazing advent of Netflix bingeing, though, when Once Upon a Time was put on Netflix I sat and watched the first episode again. On second viewing of the premiere, more than the tale of Snow White and Prince Charming, I got sucked into the story of Emma and Henry.

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How to Build A Fictional Education System

Few things say as much to me about a culture as its education system. What a society values, it teaches to its young, and that means its values are at the core of any system designed to teach and enculturate children.

Education is a big issue right now. People are drowning in student debt, but many of them are unable to get jobs in the fields that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire qualifications in.  We’re wrestling with questions about what education is for, what constitutes a good one, and how much it should cost.  Eventually, questions like that will (or should) filter into our speculative fiction.

There are lots of middle grade and YA books where schools function as a setting element.  Harry Potter, Vampire Academy, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid come to mind. In those stories, if education is relevant at all, it’s a catalyst for adventure or an obstacle that the characters have to deal with while trying to get what they want.  So the education systems are familiar: residential English school, American-style public school. They’re a backdrop, or a motif, not a problem in themselves.

Adult lit doesn’t spend much time on education at all, unless we’re dealing with some kind of magical initiation and training. In those cases, again, the method and problems associated with the educational system are usually not discussed beyond the protagonist whining or complaining about the hardass mentor. I’m betting we’ll see a shift in the next 10 to 15 years because more and more people are returning to school later in life, and we have increasing numbers of college grads who can’t get the jobs they want.

Check out The Foxes of Synn by Rose B. Fischer

I’m also betting on this because, in the past five years, I’ve had two long-term, large-scale spec fic projects up-end themselves and decide that they were suddenly going to start making a HUGE DEAL about how the education systems in their societies are broken, holding people back, and need to change.  Well, I’m not a political writer, and I’m not a psychic, but I do pay attention to social movements, and I listen to what is important to people.  I didn’t plan to write about education, but I figure if both of my story worlds have decided that education needs to be written about, I’m gonna go with it.

So, when I realized this was happening in my work, I took a step back and started asking myself some hard questions. What is the purpose of education? David’s tackled that here in a Feminist Friday Post and here in an analysis of education in Naruto. What does the ideal education system look like? Who should have access to education, and who should pay for it? Is education really the social equalizer? The more questions I asked, the more I didn’t have good answers – and I still don’t, but that’s okay with me because I never want to preach to my audience.  I want to pose questions and let my readers make up their own minds.

I decided to get more purposeful about the education systems in my universes, though, and to that end, I came up with a list of “ideal education system criteria.”

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The Last Witch Hunter

Last weekend I got to go see the Last Witch Hunter. I had mixed feelings about seeing it because reviews had been pretty bad, but I really like Vin Diesel and know that he is actually a big fantasy fan. I also realize that there are a lot of movies that I enjoy that do not get good reviews. In the end I decided to go and see for myself.

Now it is not the greatest movie ever, but I still had a good time for a couple of hours, which in my book is a win. There were definitely some elements of the movie that I really appreciated and made it a more enjoyable experience. So I’ll try to avoid spoilers and give you a couple of reasons I enjoyed The Last Witch Hunter!

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Three Types of Stories

There is already a breakdown of plots into three types of conflicts – man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self. The “man” there is used super loosely. However, I want to argue today for a different breakdown of story types.

  1. That which was.
  2. That which is.
  3. That which could be.

I’ve spent a lot of blog posts exploring and defending and fighting for the genres I love, for science fictionfantasysuperheroes, and Romantic Literature. For the types of stories that fall in the “that which could be” category. And that’s the place where I have the most to say – so let’s get back to that.

The first two are more obvious. Stories about the past, historical and such, are the stories about that which was. Although, many that I can think of that seem like this category were written as stories about that which is – about the current world at the time, which is now our past. And the best of these seem to become the canon of books that are read in schools, the “classics.” Those books which were about the current life and times, now our past. As a way to try to learn history in a “fun” way.

I’m not a huge fan of the classics.

So maybe that means the most obvious are the stories about that which is – about life around us. After all, the number one writing advice is “write what you know.” That gets you the vast majority of books in this vein. And yes, tons of these are fiction, and it’s made up – but the goal is to create life-like, realistic, “real” characters. To mimic that which is. To give insight into how we see things.

And the stories that are really written about how things were… well, maybe these blur in with ones about that which could be. Maybe a good example is The Da Vinci Code – sure, it’s set in the present, but it’s also a treasure hunt digging up (fictional) hidden facts about the past. So it’s really about this secret history.

A lot of fantasy could be considered a combination of stories about that which was and that which could be. That which could have been… Steam Punk even moreso fits in this, as could alternate history. They’re stories about a different world, but also constrained in a society like our past.

But when it comes to that which could be, well, the sky is the limit.

So we still tend to see realistic characters. Plenty of things we know. But then, to fit this type of story, we see things we don’t know. Things from the imagination. Not just a fictional version of what could be a real person in our world today – but a person who would be a real person in their fictional world, if it were real.

And sometimes, it’s just that that world is different from ours. Maybe the people really are a lot like we are today. Maybe this is to show us something about how we are – maybe it’s the writer writing what they know. Or maybe it’s the interpersonal relationships: maybe they’re just like what we’re used to. Reminds me of a point made on the PBS Idea Channel: Do we spot and process fictional interpersonal relationships the same way as real or realistic ones?

I would say, for all of these things… maybe the answer should be that they should be different from what we’re used to.

If a story is about what could be, then maybe it doesn’t need to resemble our world now. Maybe instead of putting in realistic racial problems, we could show a world without them, a world that’s solved them. I say this during a week when people have started calling for a boycott of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on racist grounds. I reply both that it’s fiction, and that it’s important that it’s imagining who could be a hero – instead of falling back on known formulae.

I feel like there’s always a level of backlash when some diversity makes its way into these stories set in the world that could be. But why? The point and purpose is to be different from the world we’re in. Maybe to be a little better. To do things we couldn’t do now.

Representation matters a TON in stories about what could be – because if the best we can imagine for a world that could be anything is a world exactly like where we are now – then that’s a different kind of story.

What do you think? Can stories be considered one of these three, or some combination of several? And what do you think about representation in these stories? Let us know in the comments below!

Science Fiction and Religion – Prophecy, Part 1 (Fantasy)

One of my favorite literary devices is prophecy. A good prophecy, sufficiently vague and mysterious, riddle-like and maybe rhyming, to keep you thinking back, keep you wondering. It can easily drive a plot. It usually points to a chosen one. Indeed, a recent favorite of mine hits all the important aspects:

“One day, a talented lass or fellow, a special one with face of yellow, will make the Piece of Resistance found from it’s hiding refuge underground, and with a noble army at the helm, this Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm, and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times. All this is true because it rhymes.”

-Vitruvius, The Lego Movie

See? It rhymes. Must be true.

Prophecy, and indeed prophecy pointing towards a chosen one, is grounded in religion. Okay, so for our science fiction and religion series, this post is halfway there. But what about science fiction? One of the fundamental aspects of science fiction I have seen since the series started is that science fiction tends to stay away from religion. Meaning similarly, it stays away from prophecy in large part.

So I’m calling this post part one because I want to talk about prophecy, and the better way to do that is to talk about Fantasy. Then in part two, I’ll go into a couple of good science fiction examples and see how they differ. So onward for Fantasy prophecies, and an open thread!

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