Yes But No But…

In a response to my post about RPGs killing fantasy, Jeff Vandermeer asks, ‘Isn’t it just about characters and plot?’

Well, yes and no. Novelists will always have the upper hand over games. The characters will be richer, the plots more complex and intriguing, and there will…or rather, should…be some level of meaning and subtext that makes the whole experience worthwhile.

The point is, if the area they’re writing in is so degraded by over-familiarity, characters and plot aren’t enough to provide that sense of ‘otherness’ that fantasy readers require. But Jeff is already working in a completely different area of fantasy.

On a slightly different tack, M John Harrison quite rightly expresses no interest in that obsessive level of world-building detail that gamers demand. Which is interesting, because in his excellent ‘Viriconium’ tales from a few years back, he created a fully-realised world with a few brush-strokes. What some people don’t realise is that books are a collaboration between writer and reader – both bring something to a story, and both help realise the world through the power of their imaginations.

And No Maps, Either!

For all you fantasy fans who keep banging on about world-building, some words from M John Harrison:

Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.