Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Opinion | Cliche Attack! And My (Very Subjective) Pet Hates in Fantasy

This shorter post brought to you by the lovely, lovely ARC of The Alchemist of Souls sitting right in front of me. Seriously, I'll end up a professional Gollum impersonator if this continues. So - as you can probably guess, this is a not-so-serious post about my pet hates in fantasy. They're not all universal, but if you'll excuse me, some of them should be! ...Subjectively speaking, of course.

The Wheel of Time can be fun, but...
come on, 'The Dark One'?

Antagonists Who Haven't Read The Evil Overlord List

As a book approaches its conclusion, the probability of its antagonist making a mistake from the Evil Overlord List approaches 1. And as a reader, this is very almost as annoying as Naked Empire - if the antagonist loses because of a stupid and cliched mistake, the protagonist hasn't won through interesting tactics or heroic sacrifice or even just a plain fight: he's won through luck. To me? That seems pointless - as well as overused. Likewise, if the villain is chuckling evilly while sacrificing an infant to the Hell God of Mismade Cream Teas, I start looking elsewhere. Antagonists should be empathetic, too! I don't have to like them, but they should be flesh, not cardboard.

Because Destiny Says So

Again, this is a problem I've talked about before - see HERE. It's very subjective: most readers are just fine with destiny telling characters when they can win. Not me: if there's a prophecy that only one person can save the Archetypical Fantasy World, I'd like to know why! And the titular answer irritates me. If the struggle is predetermined  and isn't , say, a tragedy where inevitability is part of the focus, then where's the point of the novel? A hero who needs destiny to make him the main character is likely going to arouse a critical glance.

The Completed World

This is, to me, when there seems to be nothing to the world beyond the book: no loose ends, no obscure allusions, no persisting mysteries. Where the novel ends with one big 'happily ever after' and I'm left thinking: 'My, that must have been a shallower world than I thought'. A world only seems real when there's more to it than simple plot demands - and that's why I love authors like Erikson, who have those mysteries and allusions around in the background. Hobb, too, has the chapter epigraphs (something of which I'm particularly fond!). Worldbuilding done well is a joy to read, and this is part of it. As is plot. Does everything have to be tied up neatly at the finale? I don't think so. It cuts out the lure of a further tale, and makes the story seem an artificial construct. (Of course it is - but you don't want to think it!)


I love historical fantasy - and historically-based fantasy. But when entire cultures, nations, or religions are imported into what seems like a unique world - well, it's a shortcut to my loss of interest.  If your world has simply grabbed a culture wholesale, I'm less interested in discovering it in-story: though if it's historical fantasy, that's fine. in fact, it's necessary. But in other fantasies, it hints at laziness, and a lack of depth. Why would I spend time in a shameless Italy expy when I could read about the real place - or be exploring Brandon Sanderson's Roshar instead? Answer: I wouldn't. It also makes me start reading more allusions into the story than are there, which is generally a bad thing.


  1. Hi, Jacob !

    Excellent interview, the one with Aliette de Bodard.
    I'm Cristian Tamas, from the Romanian Science Fiction&Fantasy Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of SF&F in Romania. I'm kindly asking you to allow me to translate into romanian and to post the material on our site,
    I will obtain also Aliette's approval. Kindly search on our site her stories and essays that had been approved by her.
    We'll credit you as author, mention your approval and Aliette's also and we'll insert a link to the original interview.

    Thank you very much.

    Kind regards,
    Cristian Tamas
    Romanian Science Fiction&Fantasy Society

  2. Hi Cristian,

    Thank you very much! It's a pleasure to hear from you - feel free to translate and repost the interview. Hope it helps, and that the Romanian fans enjoy it. ;)



  3. Hi, Jacob !

    Thank you very much for your kindness and support. Of course, I will let you know and a link we'll be inserted.
    I had received also the OK from Aliette. By the way, shall I mention you as "Jacob from the Drying Ink blog" ?

    Kind regards,

  4. Hi,

    Yep, that's fine with me! Hope it goes well.


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