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Dislocated Fictions
by Gabriel Chouinard

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Note: This piece is a direct outgrowth of a discussion currently raging at M John Harrison's message board at www.ttapress.com and a flurry of emails between myself and Mike. I am personally indebted to Harrison for encouraging such a proliferation of ideas at his board; if you haven't been visiting TTA Press's boards, now's your chance to dip in and say hello. See the good of global communication?.

fumbling for reality

I like to climb rocks. It's fun. It's a rush. It's an adrenal high, an intellectual stimulation, a FORCE OF NATURE to suddenly realize that you are dangling by a single fingerhold from a sheer hundred-foot cliff face, and the only thing holding you up is determination and your own stretching tendons and quivering muscles. It is staring death in the face; but more, it is a confrontation of life. It is a reaffirmation that you are LIVING and EXPERIENCING life in its full ugly brilliance.

Climbing is amazingly like writing fantastic fiction.

Life is amazingly like writing fantastic fiction.

In fact, I would even say that fantastic fiction is amazingly like life. At least when it is at its best.

Life is about fantasy. Fantasy is about life. It is a come hither, go yon relationship at best. At worst, it is a recipe for confusion and circular logic, a futile grasping for what is real and what is not; what is possible and what is not. It boils itself down to perception -- how we view the world and how the world views us in return. It is a property of light, a feathery touch of breeze on our cheeks. It is memory and extrapolation all balled into one babbling voice inside our heads, clambering for attention. It is what makes us all a bit schizophrenic.

Listen; I want to tell you a story. It's a tale of my youth, or what passes for youth, though it comes from a time when I was well into my twenties. So it isn't really about my youth, is it? Or is it?

For close to a year, I lived beneath a bridge. Yes, an actual bridge, and I actually lived there. No home, no roof above my head, no two-car garage and Pathfinder in the drive.

Wait, now -- that isn't completely true. Nine of those months were spent hiking from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to Los Angeles, California. Except I came out in Pismo Beach, California. My aim was a bit off. However, many of those nights were spent living beneath various bridges, or no bridges. So technically I didn't live beneath a bridge that long. But for the sake of argument, we'll call it that...

Nowadays, I look back at that time and wonder how I'd managed to seep so far into madness without noticing it happening. Then, though, I was the happiest I could have possibly been. I was Free, in the best sense of the word; unrestricted by schedules and responsibilities and societal norms. I was living fantasy fiction, rather than reading it. And it has coloured my perceptions.

Life is all about perception. As children, we often went about in our own unique world. People speak of the imaginative powers of childhood. I think that is wrong, or at least not quite truth. As adults, we look back at ourselves and mark our wild fancies as imagination. But as children, we never imagined. We experienced differently. Our perceptions of the world were a different colour than those same perceptions as adults. So who is to say which experience is true, which is real? A subjective reality is damnably difficult to pin down and dissect.

MY subjective reality says that it is all right, and perfectly normal to live beneath a bridge for a year. Does yours?

And this is where fantastic fiction comes in handy, becomes a necessary component of life. Perhaps it IS all right to live beneath a bridge. That would explain the appeal of endless quest novels featuring innocent protagonists adrift in a strange world, cut off from their complacent normality and thrust into new and dangerous realities. It is a Romantic Ideal, an archetypal desire experienced by the vast majority of the populace. We all yearn to be cut free from our mundane existence, whether we overtly admit it or not. And so we seek out fantastic fiction as an escape, a temporary displacement that satisfies our vague longings for adventure and newness.

But quest fantasy does not live up to the realities of dwelling beneath a bridge.

To find that reality, to fumble toward that reality, we have to delve deeper into the murkier boundaries of genre fiction. We have to look elsewhere.

True fantastic fiction is not about escaping reality; it is about confronting reality. All realities, I think. Not just our everyday experiences, but also our childhood experiences and realities. Our dreams and our nightmares. Our daydreams and our longings, our yearnings and lustings. Fantastic fiction -- true fantastic fiction -- is as much about ourselves as it is about the world around us. And that internal/external quest cannot be found in the pages of a fat quest series. It just doesn't work.

There are writers who are modern-day mythographers. I am convinced that they are tapping into the well of common experience, mapping territories and trajectories of dreamscapes and memories. And these are the writers who are writing True fantastic fiction. Take, for example, Philip K. Dick. PKD didn't sit down and start imagining things to write about. His novels and stories are a direct interpretation of what he saw around him, what he experienced, what he LIVED. Fantasy was a part of life, as concrete as a broken-down car and horsemeat for dinner. That is why his novels and stories carry such resonance; because he did not dwell apart from his stories. He was there.

Philip K. Dick knew what it was like to live beneath a bridge.

I call this organic fantasy.

Organic fantasy is the kind of fantastic fiction that grows directly from reality. Or from the author's perception of reality. Or the author's perception of unreality. It is what transcends commercial writing to become literature, or Art. It is the point where genre conventions and labels become unnecessary, where Fantasy slips back to being 'fantasy'. It springs from idea and dream, rather than plot and narrative.

the idea as dementia

What is an idea?

An idea is an internalized thought or concept based on knowledge, perception, extrapolation, philosophy, morals, cultural factors... an idea is everything and nothing, a unique spark within the mind of one person. An idea is a ghost form of inspiration, born out of nowhere and everywhere at once. An idea is elusive.

An idea is a fantasy.

Fantasy is an idea.

When fantasy comes from an idea rather than a plot or setting, the fantasy comes out more pure, undiluted by thought and examination. It is this pure fantasy, grown from the subconscious mind of the author, which injects fantastic fiction with its vitality. Here we find the most primitive imaginings, the deepest wells of ideas. In truth, such fiction may be written by conscious decision, much like archetypal fantasy fiction. However, there is no denying that this fiction comes from a deeper part of the mind, as when written by a child.

Children write different kinds of stories than adults. At least, I did when I was younger, and the children that I know write quite differently from, say, Robin Hobb. Stories that are written by children are driven by IDEA, rather than narrative. And there is an inherent sense of wonder in the writing of children that is often lacking in the more jaded, grown-up writings.

This lack of wonder is, I think, what keeps the majority of fantastic fiction from soaring, from actually propelling from the mundanity of the normal world. As adults, we tend to rationalize -- and you cannot rationalize fantasy. Fantasy just IS. So that is why, when we read a novel by Terry Brooks, or Robert Jordan, or Terry Goodkind, there is no spark. No sense of wonder. The good stuff has long since gone away, driven out by grown-up perceptions and world views.

Still, some writers are seeking the elusive wonders of childhood perception yet....

confrontation of the fantastic

Before, I've discussed the fact that I do not think that fantastic fiction is a way to escape reality; that it is rather a way to confront reality. However, I don't think that I went far enough in my musings.

Fantastic fiction (whether reading or writing it) is not simply a confrontation; it is also, I think, a way to counteract reality. In that way, it is also its own reality -- a separate world view that is often (always?) as legitimate as the day-to-day realities that confront us each time that we step outside. It is a bridge, a connecting point between childhood and adult perceptions. Here we see a commingling of both adult sensibilities and childlike sense of wonder, creating a world view that is wholly unique.

Take Tolkien, for example. The most lauded fantasist ever. Was Middle Earth an escape from reality? Perhaps; there are those who believe that the creation of a secondary world is the ultimate escape. However, is it also possible that Middle Earth was created (or viewed, depending upon one's outlook...) as both a reflection and a counter to the world in which Tolkien lived? And through the Hobbits, do we not see that sense of childlike wonder represented?

As Michael Moorcock said, fantasy is not a genre; it is an attitude of mind.

child-like next wave

If there is one single thing that sets the Next Wave writers apart from their cousin writers in speculative fiction, it is that they are deliberately seeking out that bizarre landscape that exists between childhood, adulthood, and fantasy. Some approach this gray land with a realist's eye, rationalizing the strangeness that they find. And this is a fair approach; this is a worthy approach. Because, though seeking to rationalize it, they are still seeing things in pure form. They do not attempt to remake these dreamlike images into cozy, adulthood images. They are, in a sense, merely reporting from the edges of fantastica.

Other writers do not seek to rationalize, but would rather simply show the strangeness. Again, a worthy ambition. In this landscape, rationalization is not necessary. Sometimes, it is more interesting to simply sit back and watch, to EXPERIENCE.

Different methods, equal goals.

And this, then, is what sets the Next Wave apart from commercial genre.

on a totally unrelated note...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Harry Potter has won the Hugo.

Aside from the fact that I personally do not like the Harry Potter novels, and setting aside the fact that 90% of the people that voted for Harry Potter most likely DID NOT READ the other books on the ballot, I have to ask.... Does it matter?

Really, honestly, Truthfully... Does it matter one whit that JK Rowling won the Hugo Award? Do the awards even matter anymore?

It seems to me that we have long passed the point where the SF industry awards mean anything. Surely I do not fault the winners of any awards. Nor do I fault those who give out the awards. But, like every other award -- Academy, MTV Music Video, American Music, etc. -- the time has passed when awards were reflective of anything more than politics and commercialism and popularity. They have been extended beyond their usefulness, passed the realm when they were any indicator of what is GOOD in speculative fiction. And so, as each new award is announced, I smile and nod and even congratulate the winner... but in the end, I could give a shit.

And I think many people feel the same.

Copyright © 2001 Gabriel Chouinard

Gabe Chouinard is a reader, writer and editor who is very vocal in his support of cutting-edge speculative fiction. He detests skiffy, deplores Fat Fantasy... but is a good guy to have a drink with. Expecting his second child, Mr. Chouinard is now writing with much more frantic vigor, in the hopes of getting published before he has NO time...


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