Fantasy and Sci-Fi in our Society Guest Post – Thomas Barczak

I haven’t run one of these for a while so I’m delighted to post this so early in the year. Tom Barczak writes some great fantasy, and he knows what’s what in the realms of imagination, magic and monsters.  So welcome to the first guest post of 2017.

Welcome Thomas Barczak – Author of “Mouth of the Dragon – Prophecy of the Evarun” by Perseid Press.

Writing from my desk in Norman, Oklahoma

 It has been argued fantasy is full of ‘tropes’ – what are your views on this? I would agree. But I think some of that is unavoidable. Much of science fiction includes space travel, or at least reference to it. Fantasy has dwarves and elves. Where a fantasy author can get into trouble, is when they don’t try to expand the definition of it. Tolkien broke great ground with his work. It’s so easy to limit one-self to what he did. The publishing industry, even Amazon, has categories that, I think, it’s too easy not to stray away from.

 With “Mouth of the Dragon” and “Prophecy of the Evarun” as a whole, I didn’t want to do that. I have always tried to listen to the story, and let it tell me its own legends and its own myth. There are no dwarves. There are no elves. There are dragons and wizards, but again, they are something entirely unto themselves and unique to this mythology. Smaug has no place in it. Nor does Dumbeldore.

 So then the question becomes, how do you create the mystery without those elements we depend on so much? Like I said, it’s easy to be lazy. It’s not hard to convey mystery walking into an elvish kingdom. It’s a lot harder without them.

 With “Mouth of the Dragon”, I depend on language and culture to show mystery. Go to another country where you don’t speak the language. It will be an adventure. No elves required.

So I guess the question for the author should be, “What does fantasy mean to me?” For me it has always been the story, the hero’s journey. A good story doesn’t need anything else. Even Tolkien, if you took away the fantastic, the hero’s journey would still be there. Where fantasy gets a bad rap is when authors depend on the fantastic instead of the story.

How important are ‘facts’ in fantasy/science fiction – does something need to be plausible to be believable? Great question. Yes. Yes. Yes. And, no.

There is a great fantasy book by a wonderful author, set in a medieval fantasy world. In it, the young hero goes into his room and gets a pair of socks out of his dresser drawer. The author wrote what he knew and he killed it for me. In the real world, peasants didn’t have dresser drawers or probably even socks. Leggings in a wooden box would have been more accurate. Now maybe in this world they do, but that then becomes the responsibility of the author to say that to me. But he didn’t and it pulled me right out of the story.

Another thing that kills me is how everyone has 20/20 vision without any vision correction. Me, I wear glasses. I’d be eaten by a bear in a week. Then again, maybe that’s why there are only people with 20/20 left. I actually addressed that in a short story about a young, almost blind, girl, called “Forged”. The story is in a book called Heroika: Dragon Eaters, published by Perseid Press. The story challenged my writing, having to explain how she saw the world through a veil, and one that was completely normal one to her.

Fantasy and science fiction used to be seen as very male-oriented, do you think this is still the case. Do you have any experience of this? I’m glad to see it changing. I have several strong female characters leads in “Mouth of the Dragon”. The story required them. So I guess I hope that that’s be ok. It certainly is with me. The challenge as a writer, of course, is that it challenges just about every stereotype that you could possibly have. Makes me a better writer, and I daresay, I think it makes me a better man.

 What are some myths in YOUR society/cultural identity, how are they perceived and why are they important? Why have they endured? Well, it seems that much of what I write is about death and rebirth. I don’t know how much culture I have. I’m ½ Polish, ¼ English and ¼ Irish. I grew up in Oklahoma. I’m Catholic, which probably carries more weight than any of that. But probably my two greatest influences have been my own bottom and subsequent recovery, and the death of my daughter. I believe these two things have probably shaped who I am, and what I write, more than anything else. Double negative warning, but it can’t not affect what I write, and how I see what I write.

Death and rebirth. You can’t have one without the other. I can’t. It’s part of who I am.

“Mouth of the Dragon” is a dark, epic, and redemptive fantasy. It’s probably the darkest piece I’ve ever written, but the whole crux of the story depends on this one thing called hope, and faith, and trust. I really believe you have to have the redemptive part. You have to have the shadow too, but without the light. I mean really, what’s the point?

 The whole point of fantasy, I believe, is, and has always been, to give us a vision beyond our circumstances.

 Alex, thank you so much for having me on your blog.

 Mouth of the Dragon on Amazon

Tom Barczak Author Page for Veil of the Dragon

Fantasy and Sci-fi in Society Guest Post – Deborah Dixon

Name: Deborah Dixon

 

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

 

How do YOU define fantasy/science fiction/heroism?

Fantasy generally involves the use of fantastic creatures and settings. Science fiction involves the use of fantastic (for now) technology. Obviously there can be major overlap between the two; that’s why I like the term “speculative fiction” to cover them both. As for “heroism,” I specifically don’t define it. More on that below.

 

How pervasive do you think fantasy/sci-fi is in our society today?  Why do you think this is?

HBO’s most successful show is a high-fantasy epic. The Star Wars reboot came out as one of the highest-grossing films of all time. SF offers a special sort of escapism that society is searching for today, which puts SF writers in a very unique position.

 

Are these genres seen in a more acceptable light than they used to be?

I don’t think they were ever unacceptable. Perhaps sci-fi was at first, in the days of H.P. Lovecraft and Harlan Ellison and others (and that’s a very specific sort of sci-fi), but that’s way before my time. I could only offer hearsay.

 

What makes a ‘hero’? Would you say this definition is different within literature to real life?

Heroism is a concept that I find much too simplified in fiction as well as in real life. The definition varies from person to person – I doubt you’d find anyone over the age of five who would give the same answer. Is it a person who does good things? Perhaps, but what if they use undesirable means to do good things? Is it a person who obeys the law? Perhaps, but what if the person follows the law to the extent that other people are hurt? There is no basic definition one can put on heroism, or on villainy.

 

If you’re a writer how do you portray heroism in your books?

I don’t. I write characters who act based on their beliefs, their frames of reference, and their own capabilities. Whether any of my characters are heroes or villains I leave for my readers to decide. My first novel to be published specifically deals with this concept – of what makes a hero or villain, and who gets to decide who wears those labels. I personally do not label my characters as either (although for story reasons a few of my characters refer to themselves as one or the other. But it’s based on their perspectives of themselves.)

 

It has been argued fantasy is full of ‘tropes’ – what are your views on this?

Do you mean tropes or clichés? There’s a huge difference. Tropes are everywhere – in fantasy as much as your favorite romantic comedy and the last reality show you watched. They’re helpful writing tools in any genre or format. Clichés are tropes that are overused to the point of making a reader groan upon spotting one, such as the typical damsel in distress. Some fantasy writers do overindulge in clichés, but I would stop short of stating the whole genre suffers from them. Authors such as George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman have made an art of writing fantasy while shunning clichés or turning them on their heads.

 

Fantasy and science fiction used to be seen as very male-oriented, do you think this is still the case. Do you have any experience of this?

In terms of writers? The field is certainly more even between women and men in fantasy than it was a couple of decades ago. Sci-fi is probably still more male-dominated, but I suspect that’s by choice; the readership of sci-fi absent any significant romantic element tends to be decidedly male, and so men end up writing it as well, just as women are all over romance. I like being an obviously female sci-fi writer; it’s a novelty I can market. But as far as my work goes, I’d rather get past sex and gender and focus on the material.

 

How important are ‘facts’ in fantasy/science fiction – does something need to be plausible to be believable?

Facts provide a basis on which the writer can build plausibility. For example, if you take the care to explain a hierarchal society in ways that relate to the real world, that will make the action in your high-fantasy novel much more sturdy, and then you’ve built up trust with your reader once you decide to whip out the dragons and magic rings. The same goes for sci-fi; introduce some technology or science your readers are familiar with, and later they will be more likely to accept that the spaceship just traveled from Earth to the galactic north in two hours. Don’t just dump phlebotinum on them with a “they can do that because that’s how this book works” hand wave. You have to establish why they should accept the rules of your world/galaxy.

 

How has science fiction changed from the days of Mary Shelley and Jules Verne?

I personally consider Shelley and Verne to be general literary authors, not science fiction, but that’s due to technology pressing forward and the concepts they worked with no longer holding the novelty of impossibility they did when they were published. Hey, it’ll happen to me too some day. “Oh, the Singularity. I remember that fondly. How quaint.”

 

Fairy-tales, anthropomorphic personifications, mythical beasts and cultural fantastical persons are all about us – such as Santa Claus, St George, dragons and fairies – how vital are these for our identity? Are we who we are because of the myths our cultures hold?

It’s the other way around. Our myths and creatures exist as they do because we are who we are. There’s a reason so many widely spread cultures have such similar stories – we as human beings have a need to believe in a higher power, to create an origin story, to explain away the best and worst in ourselves through benevolent and malevolent beings. Agricultural societies always have nature deities. Hierarchal societies always have pantheons. And they’re still vital to us, even as psychology and science explain many of these things, because they appeal to our sense of imagination, and they give us something to lean on and hide behind.

 

What myths have influenced your work?

All the myths I know. My own background means my works focus most on Abrahamic stories, but I’ve included and toyed with elements from Celtic, Norse, Greek/Roman, and West African mythologies, and feature anything from shapeshifters to kami and all in between. One of my own characters sums this approach up succinctly: “Everything is true, at least in part. All anything needs is a believer.”

 

What are some in YOUR society/cultural identity, how are they perceived and why are they important? Why have they endured?

Jamaica’s stories as they exist now are mostly those brought over from Africa in the slave trade, such as Anansi, the spider who weaves all webs and tells all tales. The reason for those enduring probably has to do with African slaves needing to bring something over from their own lives (including vodou, which is not practiced in Jamaica, but it is in Haiti. Just for the record). Unfortunately, the mythologies that existed before European colonization are not enduring; they were oral traditions and very few of them were written down before the native islanders were wiped out. A large part of my ancestry is made up of people who were extinguished before their stories could be immortalized; I suppose that has something to do with my interest in writing and helping others to write as well.

 

Bio: Deborah Dixon is a lifelong writer residing in New Orleans. She has written nine novels, five novellas, and numerous short stories. She is also one of the three founders of Shalamar, a publishing company designed to help new writers. Aside from writing, she also composes music and promotes small business in her hometown.

 

Links:

http://shalamarmedia.com (Shalamar, my publishing company)

https://twitter.com/Deboracracy (my professional Twitter)

https://shalamartanara.wordpress.com/ (our blog about writing and publishing)

https://www.facebook.com/shalamarllp/ (our Facebook Page)