I Don’t Like Epic Fantasy

Today I read a thing that pretty much blew my mind. Elizabeth Bear posted something on her Tumblr in response (and agreement) to something else Scott Lynch had posted about Game of Thrones, and how it was basically a high-fantasy soap opera. Both posts are pretty brilliant, and you should click over to read the whole thing, but the part that really blew me away was this:

In fact, the long running soap opera is the modern equivalent of the newspaper serial or comic book or radio drama, and all of those are progenitors of epic fantasy as we know it today.

A story told in western 3 (or 5) act structure has one long peak with a series of quick up-and-down ticks in tension (rising and falling action, always trending upwards to the climax).

But the plot cycle in an epic fantasy or soap opera or serial is a series of overlapping sine waves. (One for each character or plot thread.) Each peak in each sine wave is one of those three-act structure peaks in miniature.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never enjoyed Epic Fantasy of the long-form variety. But I’ve never really been able to pinpoint why exactly. The only thing I could say was that I found them boring. I’ve also never enjoyed soap operas, long-running comic books (one-offs or short series are different) or serialized stories. It wasn’t until today that I finally realized exactly why, or how all these story forms were connected.

I get bored, and confused, with the sort of long-running, serialized, complicated story lines told in those types of fiction. Even when it’s a genre that I’m a passionate fan of (fantasy) I can’t really focus for that long. I’ve only ever really read two particularly long series (as opposed to interlocking short series and trilogies such as Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar). Those are by my two favorite authors, and my writing idols, Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkosigan Saga) and Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody). They’re a little different, structurally though. There IS an overarching narrative for both series, but each book can also be read as complete in itself (mostly), unlike the ongoing structure described in the quote above.

The only exception in this personal preference really is with non-western media, specifically anime and manga. I haven’t done an in-depth study or anything, so perhaps it’s simply a difference in narrative structure which appeals to me.

Anyway, these are the sorts of things I think about sometimes. Some people are introspective about their own lives, but I prefer to ponder on my many imaginary lives. 😉

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Reading Habits or Why I’m Always Tired

Pretty much all my life I’ve had this self-control issue where books are concerned. If books were food, I would have been under a doctor’s care long ago for an unhealthy, compulsive and binge-driven relationship with what I was eating. But books are different than food, and few people think there’s any such thing as “too much of a good thing” where reading is concerned. In my case, it’s possible there is. No matter what my obligations and responsibilities the next morning or the amount of reading-time I’d had during that day, if I was engrossed in a book at bed-time there was a pretty good chance I’d stay up late and finish it. In fact, often, the more time I had during the day to get into a book, the more likely I was to stay up all that night to finish it (unless of course I had enough time to finish it earlier in the day, but that probably meant I got nothing else done all day). Always I would promise myself that I’m going to cut myself off at the next chapter and go to sleep. But some twist would crop up and I’d want to read until it was resolved, but by then the author had introduced a mysterious new character and I had to find out what was going on. And then of course it would be 2 o’clock in the morning and I’d be less than 70 pages from the end, so since I was still up anyway I might as well just finish the book.

Which is why I routinely finish reading new books at ungodly hours of the morning and tend to be a bit of a zombie most mornings. I’m sure my fellow Readers will understand this lack of control with a compelling new book. Those are the best books, the ones you can’t put down until the end. The ones you wish you hadn’t started reading at 8 o’clock that evening because they’ve eaten your entire evening and most of your sleep-cycle.

But here’s where it get’s really weird. I don’t just do this with new books. Nor do I do it only with books I’ve read a few times but am not intimately familiar with. I also often find myself unable to put down books that I’ve read repeatedly, from cover-to-cover and backwards and could recite chunks of in my sleep! The impulse is slightly different here, less of a “I gotta find out what happens” feeling and more of a “I’m just going to keep reading until my favorite part” problem. Of course, my favorite part is inevitably further into the book than I’d remembered and along the way I remember this other favorite part I just have to read tonight which is quite near the end and then I might as well just read through the climax. At this point I’m often left with a dillemma. Once I’ve read through the climax and it’s 3 a.m., do I keep reading to completion or put that last chapter or two off until the next day? The next day, do I bother reading the last chapter I’ve read a zillion times already or do I move on?

And yes, I’ve been on a bit of streak of this lately. I’ve been re-reading Lois McMaster Bujold books you see, about one per day, and I’m a bit sleep deprived. Last night was The Curse of Chalion, and somehow I still stayed up like crazy despite important work-things to do today.

I think I have a problem.