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  1. #1
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    Default Radical Fantasy

    Is there any?

    Literature-wise, I mean.

    Fantasy writing seems kind of ripe for formal or political radicalism - strong association with 60's counterculture, very open ended remit, links in to magick / hyperstition, obvious psychedelic potential, free reign to explore alternative modes of politics or thought. But while science fiction gets the Burroughs - Ballard axis of boundary pushing radicalism, fantasy is (afaict) so moribund that China Mieville is considered to be shoving his radical socialism down your throat by, erm, having a vaguely corrupt government / evil capitalists worldview that's been pretty mainstream in SF for about thirty years.

    So what's going on that I don't know about?

    If nothing, why not? Is it all Tolkein's fault - causing anything remotely modernist to be reclassified as science fiction? Or what?

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    This is a good one about Liverpool:

    Last edited by swears; 20-10-2010 at 12:28 AM.

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    Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy? Although arguably that's better described as science fiction.

    The Harry Potter books take the piss out of Harry's Daily Mail-reading uncle, but then he and his chums all go to a posh boarding school, so I guess it's moot.

    Edit: most fantasy involves the creation of an imaginary world, or at least an imaginary aspect of or demi-monde within the real world, that resembles the real world at some time in the past, very often Europe in antiquity or the middle ages and very often with explicit overtones of chivalry, heroic kingship, Classical mythology/Germanic romanticism/Celtic mysticism and so on. So maybe it's most natural for fantasy writing to tend towards a conservative or reactionary worldview because of this? Of course, this also makes it ripe for subversion, a la Mieville, but this is bound to be in the minority.

    Having said that, there's at least one well-know author who writes in a traditional pseudo-mediaeval fantasy genre but who is highly critical of Tolkien and whose novels poke a lot of fun at what he sees as Tolkien's backwards, anti-modernist, little-Englander mentality. Can't recall his name right now, I'm afraid. (Edited edit: Moorcock, that's the fella. Not read any myself, but he's surely the other big-name lefty fantasy author apart from Mieville).

    And thinking about it, while I think you'd be hard-pressed to describe Terry Pratchett as having a 'radical' agenda in the sense of being a revolutionary socialist, his Discworld novels could surely be called radical fantasy since the subversion of trad fantasy tropes like heroism, divine kingship, predestination and prophecy, black-and-while moral struggle etc., as well as the insertion of real-life social, economic and political issues into a world of magic and monsters, is pretty much his stock in trade.
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 13-11-2014 at 05:19 PM.
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    I know it's China Mieville but does this help:

    http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/50socialist/full/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Tea View Post
    Having said that, there's at least one well-know author who writes in a traditional pseudo-mediaeval fantasy genre but who is highly critical of Tolkien and whose novels poke a lot of fun at what he sees as Tolkien's backwards, anti-modernist, little-Englander mentality. Can't recall his name right now, I'm afraid. (Edited edit: Moorcock, that's the fella. Not read any myself, but he's surely the other big-name lefty fantasy author apart from Mieville).
    Yeah, I was wondering about him but have never read any of his stuff. I mean, he was basically in Hawkwind, so he can't be that straight laced.

    I'd seen that China Mieville list before, actually, but it's mostly science fiction isn't it? Also, I've not got anything against China Mieville, I just don't think he's spectacularly far-out as a writer.

    Lanark by Alasdair Gray might count, I suppose...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slothrop View Post
    Yeah, I was wondering about him but have never read any of his stuff. I mean, he was basically in Hawkwind, so he can't be that straight laced.

    I'd seen that China Mieville list before, actually, but it's mostly science fiction isn't it? Also, I've not got anything against China Mieville, I just don't think he's spectacularly far-out as a writer.

    Lanark by Alasdair Gray might count, I suppose...
    Mieville is too much of a straight-up moralistic leftie to be really far-out, guy just cares about human beings too much. Can you imagine Ballard at an SWP rally? Even Orwell thought those types were full of shit. That's not a bad list, tho.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Tea View Post
    Edit: most fantasy involves the creation of an imaginary world, or at least an imaginary aspect of or demi-monde within the real world, that resembles the real world at some time in the past, very often Europe in late antiquity or the middle ages and very often with explicit overtones of chivalry, heroic kingship, Germanic romanticism/Celtic mysticism and so on.
    A lot of that's true of black metal as well, though. Which may not always be nice, but is certainly less mundane and predictable than a lot of fantasy, afaict...


    I wonder if part of it is that the creation of imaginary worlds in fantasy basically appeals as a purely escapist activity, whereas science fiction involves some significant consideration of the world as it is now in order to predict where it might be in the future. But you'd think there'd be people either i) expanding the fantastic, mystical, subversive parts of real history or ii) using the freedom to think about completely alternative ways of living rather than just sticking to a vaguely idealized european medievalism...

  8. #8

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    If you haven't ever read any Morcock, do it now!

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    yeah, michael moorcock is flippin great.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slothrop View Post
    A lot of that's true of black metal as well, though. Which may not always be nice, but is certainly less mundane and predictable than a lot of fantasy, afaict...
    ...and is also a genre of music not totally estranged from the radical right - right?

    I mean, 'radical' is not a synonym for 'Marxist', it works both ways - is there a widespread subgenre of far-right fantasy fiction? Depressingly, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if there were. Tolkien himself was certainly a small-c conservative and his attitude to race is debatable, but he was definitely no Nazi. Not sure where I'm going with this - I've read basically no 'trad' fantasy beyond JRRT and don't listen to black metal - though of course some of the hardcore Norwegian nutters have a certain orciness to them. Obviously Vim would be yer man for this kind of chat.

    Agree with the rest of your post, though.
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 13-11-2014 at 05:35 PM.
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  11. #11

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    Hmm--I think you have to read a fair bit into Tolkein to find evidence of racism. He was certainly no fan of Hitler and the Nazis or Stalin, which is not an insignificant intellectual achievement for the time, IMO. Wikipedia has a good summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R...itics_and_race
    Last edited by vimothy; 24-10-2010 at 07:09 PM.

  12. #12

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    I just finished the Viriconium books my M. John Harrison. The first short novel is still rather conventional in the sense of narrating a sort of "adventure quest" plot in a fantastic world, but over the course of the complete cycle there's an increasing sense of strangeness and alienation. Don't know if this is what you're after, but it reminds me of how Ballard relates to SF (Harrison is also accociated with the New Wave movement/New Worlds magazine).

    Quote Originally Posted by Slothrop View Post
    causing anything remotely modernist to be reclassified as science fiction? Or what?
    I think there's some truth to this. There's lots of literature that works with fantastic ideas but isn't regarded as Fantasy with a capital F, and a fantasy book that's as far from elves and orcs as Ballard and Burroughs are from Star Trek could easily be filed into some other category. Magical Realism, Surrealism, just generally speculative fiction etc.

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