Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Hi Tansy,

It's Luke here (from your Thursday night writing class). Thought I'd e-mail you re your blog entry the other day as Thursday nights we're usually too pressed for time to go into this sort of conversation.

Personally, I think it's amazing that with the glut of epic fantasies in bookshops these days that publishers aren't willing to diversify. The fantasy genre really needs to be injected with some originality and vitality. Over the years I've become very disenchanted with it because of its reluctance to move beyond the doorstopper, Tolkein-want-a-be, cookie-cutter epics. I think a lot of readers feel the same way.

I read David Eddings in Grade Six but tried to go back to him a few years ago and was appalled by how bad his writing is. Terry Brooks does little for me, but I think he's better than most. Feist and Goodkind can't write to save themselves and don't have an ounce of originality in them. And Jordan, well... I hear George R.R. Martin is actually very good and I will get around to reading him one day. However, I think more readers are realising that epic fantasies are really stifling a genre which is meant to be defined by its limitless creativity.

Re comic fantasies specifically - I like comedy as a genre, ie Binfiglioli's Mortdecai trilogy and Alexei Sayle’s short stories, but I don't think I've read anything that's specifically comic fantasy - I haven't even read a Terry Pratchett!! What a lot of people might think is that comic fantasy lacks the dramatic tension, characterisation, etc that draws people to the fantasy genre in the first place. Of course, if something is comic, it doesn't mean it can't be intelligent and emotionally engaging. Anyway, I would love to see more variety in the fantasy genre, starting with more funny stuff!!

Can you recommend any good comic fantasy novels (of course, your own work goes without saying)? Also, what epic fantasies are worth reading (the only one's I've ever liked are Lord of the Rings and Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books)?

Also, I picked up two scrofulous, secondhand copies of Bujold the other day - Memory and A Civil Campaign. Looking forward to starting them soon.

See you Thursday night,

* * *

Hi Luke,

Hmm, any rabid David Eddings fans out there? Actually I have a soft spot for Eddings since he was (along with Dragonlance, shame on me…) the first ‘real’ fantasy writer I picked up. Still, his characterisation makes me wince these days.

Terry Pratchett is the grand master of comic fantasy – I can’t think of a better place for you to start than the Discworld series. Ultimate classics include Mort, Moving Pictures and Pyramids. If you know your classic fantasy (Leiber et al) then the original, The Colour of Magic is pretty damn good, introducing you to the marvellously miserable Rincewind. Guards Guards and the later ‘city watch’ books parody crime fiction beautifully and Wyrd Sisters has a go at Shakespeare (the brilliant follow up to that, Witches Abroad, takes fairy tales apart). Hell, they’re all good. Read one and if you like it, try another.

Tansy’s top 5 non-Discworld comic fantasy recommendations are:

The Princess Bride, William Goldman – the ultimate classic, accept no substitutes (although the movie is also pretty damn good, and is still my favourite fantasy movie of all time despite stiff competition from the Lord of the Rings films and Spirited Away)

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde – a recent addition to the comic fantasy pantheon, and an exceptional piece of world-building. Like all good comic fantasy, it takes itself seriously enough that there is far more to it than gags. Thursday Next is a great heroine who only gets better in the sequel, Lost in a Good Book. Of course, I strongly believe this book is SF rather than fantasy, but I’d probably get a lot of argument about that.

Expecting Someone Taller, Tom Holt – Holt has produced dozens of comic fantasy novels in the last few years, but my favourite is still his first, a classic tale of an ordinary chap who accidentally inherits a lifestyle based loosely on a Wagnerian opera – Norns, dwarves, rings, gods, valkyries, rhine-maidens and all!

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones – just when you thought there weren’t any by female authors! Wynne Jones has more recently produced the first two novels in an adult comic fantasy series – the Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin – which are definitely worth checking out (especially for the way they are cunningly not marketed as comic fantasy), but this particular book is her all-time classic, a chaotic adventure in which the conventions of fairy tales and fantasy are thoroughly exploded. Billed as a kids book (and found in the children’s fiction section) this is a lovely, beautifully-plotted novel that just happens to be very funny.

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – an astounding blend of two authors you would think were completely incompatible. Darkness and light crash together in this funny, brilliant apocalyptic tale about demons, angels, the bible and one very prophetic witch. Explosively good.

Other comic fantasy authors to have a look at include Robert Asprin (the MYTH books, well the first six anyway), Piers Anthony (the Xanth books, although they go steadily downhill from about 8 onwards, then pick up the pace and screech over the cliff after 17 or so but still this addict kept reading and reading until her eyeballs hurt…), Esther Friesner (Demon Blues being the best, a tale of Yale and sex and demons and Richard I), and of course the true classics such as Alice in Wonderland, the Oz books and anything by E Nesbit, Edward Eager and JK Rowling, all of which I would class as comic fantasy.

And then there is comic fantasy in other media, like Buffy and Xena and superhero comics… This has got to be the longest blog ever. Luke, I’ll think over the epic fantasy question and get back to you.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Speaking of comic fantasy (and on a much lighter note) issue 7 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine has been released! Now I am totally biased when it comes to this particular publication, but I think it's the most interesting spec fic magazine being published at the moment, not least because of its emphasis on funny & entertaining spec fic. Issue 7, edited by Terri Sellen, is another great mix of stories including one by me! :)

Memo for Flight Attendants is my first attempt at an 'in-house' story, that is one set in the universe of Andromeda Spaceways, the shonkiest shipping service in the galaxy (and the next). The story is dedicated to the editor herself, Terri, as well as fellow shipmates Monissa and Edwina, who each donned a Space Stewardess mini-skirt for ASIM's award-winning launch last year.

Check out for more details.

Buy! Subscribe! Submit!

(Hobart readers, you can find a copy in the Ellison Hawker bookshop and the West-End Newsagency in Harrington Street)

Sunday, August 03, 2003

I have recently been informed by a very reputable agent that most publishers won't touch comic fantasy with a bargepole. This is understandably a little irritating to me, since I have a manuscript that people keep asking me about (Mocklore #3) which I can't get published.

Many readers including the aforementioned agent (who I do not blame in the least since she was very sweet and apologetic) enjoy my writing, and like the book. It is not the book, therefore, that is the problem, it is the subgenre I have chosen.

Admittedly I knew it would be difficult to find a new publisher willing to take on comic fantasy when I wrote the thing, so this is an entirely self-inflicted problem. But I love comic fantasy, damn it, not just writing it but reading it and there are so few books out there.

Is comic fantasy really so unsaleable that no fantasy authors dabbling in humour (who are not already Big Names) are to be considered? Will readers really turn up their noses at a funny fantasy book when there are shelves and shelves of Epic Questiness to occupy their attention instead?

In the assumption (and wild hope) that anyone reading this blog has at least a mild interest in humorous fantasy, I'd be interested in hearing from you. Send me an email at with any comments about the current state of comic fantasy and whether or not you'd like to see more of it on the bookshelves.

PS: Add a PS letting me know if you're happy to have your email published on this blog, for the sake of getting a discussion going.

If Melanie, currently living in Japan, who sent me a lovely email on the 14th July, reads this, could you resend your email address to me so I can send you a reply?

My version of Outlook or as I have affectionately renamed it, Evil Outlook, has an allergy to Yahoo email addresses and tends to swallow them whole, leaving me with an anonymous message.

I would like to reply to your letter, Melanie, so please do email me again with your return address in the body of the email.