Saturday, 19 January 2013

Worlds of books: Fantasy, contemporary, and delicious mixes in between

Response to ‘Fantasy Worlds’ post by Heather James

As a reader I think a subtle blending in of the contemporary to the fantasy world is ideal, in that a modern-day reference makes the fantasy world much easier to relate to. It has the power to add a whole level of implicit meaning and complexity to the fantasy world with little effort on the part of the author. For me, Heather James’ use of ‘switch-tops’ in Fire which are clearly mobile phones really made the world she created ‘pop’. 

I love the way the cultures and values of people from the different Realms seem to be derived from the elements they control, for example where fire is the focal element in the Helian Realm, the socially desirable attributes of the population are to be bold, intense and unforgiving.

Fire is thoroughly engrossing and caught my imagination right away. It dangles questions and clues at just the right points yet doesn't give the game away prematurely. I'm genuinely looking forward to the next in the series!

A book that blends contemporary and (historical) fantasy with aplomb is The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson - and I highly recommend it to anyone! Written for the most part from the male protagonist’s point of view and not shy of allowing him to be a bit crass (he is, after all, a former porn star and the book begins with him driving under the influence of drink and drugs) makes this book an unusual read in the world of love and fantasy, and hopefully more accessible to male readers.

Yet ultimately a love story this is. The story traverses between modern day and historical timelines which become intertwined via the eccentric Marianne’s tales of their ‘past’. Think of the ideal romance of one true love, the hope and the joy, played through to heart-wrenching end, reincarnated and replayed poignantly over and over again. I certainly cried a lot for this one.

The most vivid, creative and complex fantasy worlds I have encountered are those in Iain Banks' sci-fi work, for example his Culture novels. He invents an exciting mix of politics, populations, fauna and ecosystems on an immense scale. However I always feel like the story is running, running, running then suddenly falls down flat with an unsatisfying ending. In contrast I really enjoyed some of his contemporary novels such as Dead Air, and the ending of the plot line was like the cherry on the cake. It was realistic, it made sense, the baddies got their ‘just desserts’ while the good characters were left with good things to look forward to and you knew they were going to be ok. I may have even shed a tear in happiness. 

This disparity between Banks' sci-fi and contemporary novels could be due to the feeling that the energy spent on providing a spectacular setting for the story just peters out when it comes to supporting the plot line the whole way through, or it could be to do with other factors (have I just read an unlucky selection of Banks’ books?). 

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – now a film still waiting to be released in the UK – is another interesting mixture, charting the lives of six main characters in a journey through six separate time-points, from historical to contemporary to sci-fi and all the way back again. I love the way each character gains a glimpse of the previous character’s existence, most often by the whisker of a chance but sometimes more overtly. However it slowly becomes apparent that there is some other link between them which hints at the supernatural or perhaps fate, but for me this link was tenuous at best and made a weak impression.  

I look forward to see how this is depicted in the film and hope that it is brought to life in a way I feel the book just didn't deliver!

Other books that I am sorely tempted to sing praises for on the merits of the worlds their authors have created, fantasy, mixture or otherwise, are:

but this post wasn't intended to become an essay! 

If you feel passionately about a particular book and want to rave about it, or want to air your views on what uses of worlds makes a story work, please share it with me!

Book cover images sourced via Pinterest

You might also like:
Murder in the Dark -
Growing up psychologically

No comments:

Post a Comment