Shame on me.
I never posted about the Irish SF convention which took place last month. Thanks to Gareth Kavanagh for inviting me onto two panels. The first was on Alternative History. If you missed it, read my article on Fantasy Faction. I confess that I felt slightly hypocritical taking part in a deconstruction of this misunderstood sub-genre, considering how I’ve opined elsewhere that authors ought resist being corralled into sub-genre. What can I say? I’m weak.
The second panel, on Realistic Relationships in SFF, was moderated with aplomb by Celine Kiernan. I was afraid it would be a dry subject but it turned out to be enlightening, for me at least -I can’t speak for the audience but they looked happy enough. We began by probing the unspoken assumption here that realism is always and everywhere a good thing.
From the moment the novel appeared in the late 18th century there was a certain type of critic who insisted that it should be an improving rational form. They hated the penny-dreadful travelers tales and Gothic Horror that people, you know, liked. Only when the great Victorian novel appeared, with its grand themes and plodding realism, did they see possibilities. Today these people dismiss Fantasy and Science Fiction as infantile escapism. The correct way to deal with idiots is to ignore them, but the charge some writers get terribly flustered. It results in the type of low-Fantasy where everyone suffers from gangrene and dies in childbirth. If that’s your thing, well and good. Just don’t insist everyone wear the straight jacket. There’s room in this asylum for everyone.
Is the relationship between Ahab and the Whale realistic? No, thank goodness. The world of legend is a world of heightened values, heightened emotions, and, yes, heightened relationships. You don’t turn up at an opera, and complain that everyone’s singing. The real question is do we believe it? And that, as any magician will tell you, has very little to do with reality.