Reading

Fantasy vs Science Fiction

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I’m worried I’m losing my taste for Fantasy.

There was a time when my fiction reading was a fairly even split between SF and Fantasy. ‘Fairly even’ as in SF probably edged out Fantasy, but it was likely on the order of 55-45.

If I look at my reading notes from the last four or five years, the ratio is more like 80-20, and this year has pushed that further so that of the 51 fiction books I’ve read so far this year, only 7 of them qualify as fitting into the Fantasy genre.

While I’m not sure it’s fair to talk about the World Fantasy Award winners in this vein (although they are part of my long-term quest to read all of the novel-length winners of the major English-language awards), but of the 52 novels that have won the award since its introduction, I’ve attempted 24 so far and they shake out like this:

  • Loved = 1
  • Enjoyed = 6
  • Decent Read = 1
  • Meh = 9
  • Did Not Finish = 7
  • No chance I’m going to read that = 3. (One is outright Horror which is just going to make it a DNF anyway, one completely didn’t appeal to me based on a reading of cover copy and general themes, and one sharing themes with another book I barely got through – and hated – by the same author and on this same quest.)

Not the greatest ratio for 27 books.

I’m not sure what’s shifting in my tastes or when it started, but nearly every fantasy book I read the synopsis on or lift to read the cover copy, I get the impression that it’s something I’ve already read something very much like, or that it’s not bringing me anything fresh or exciting. Whether that’s a fair impression for any given book or all of the books I’ve put back down without reading (and that includes some books that are already in the house which seemed attractive at the time) doesn’t really matter, it’s what the Fantasy genre is doing for me lately, which isn’t much.

And that’s weird.

I won’t say that I discovered Fantasy before I discovered Science Fiction (see previously disclosed early memories about watching Star Trek with my Dad), but it was pretty early. I remember reading The Hobbit for the first time at about age 7, and The Lord of the Rings at 8 (my Uncle gave me an all-in-one-volume copy during a long summer visit to keep me quiet for a while – it worked, but not for as long as he’d hoped it would), and I’ve been tearing through both genres ever since.

Except, well, not so much tearing through Fantasy anymore as poking it with a stick and mostly from a distance.

And that feels unfortunate. I don’t get the same sense of wonder out of entering a new fantastic world as I used to, and Science Fiction still gives that to me. There’s more to it than just that sense of wonder, though. There’s something else Science Fiction gives me that most Fantasy doesn’t seem to: it makes me think.

The more, ahem, mature I get, the more I’m interested in being stimulated intellectually by my entertainment in addition to emotionally. I absolutely want to connect with the characters – caring about them helps drive the story forward for me – but I want the story to make me think at the same time.

And most Fantasy doesn’t seem to do that for me anymore. There are great characters to be found, and amazing worlds and conceived realities, but so often it seems to be some version of a quest or adventure or an exploration of the world and the strange cultures that the author has built or even just a telling of events happening to those characters in that setting. It’s offering me fresh vistas, but not fresh thoughts or ideas.

So is that a problem with me or with the genre?

Or is it not a problem at all and just a changing preference?

Maybe I’m just not finding the right Fantasy lately.

I’m open to suggestions for the coming reading year. Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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