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Dislocated Fictions
by Gabriel Chouinard

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tolkien mountain; will it topple?

So I was down at my local Borders, looking for something to read; something light and mind-numbing to while away a few moments that I have now that I've quit my day job... and I found myself confronted by, quite literally, a WALL of Tolkien.

I don't mean just a stack, or a display. No, this was an impressive mountain of pure Tolkien goodness, hot and fresh off the presses, stacked a quarter-mile high and impossible to navigate around. Stack upon stack of thick, meaty bound-up Trilogy trade paperbacks, movie photo cover editions, new artwork cover editions, paperback editions; there were Tolkien art books, Tolkien's Letters, enough copies of The Silmarillion to use as housing for Kurdish refugees, and even Tolkien-fucking-Tarot decks.

Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring Call me an asshole, but I found myself in the poor state of projectile vomiting somewhere in the vague direction of Del Rey's offices. Said vomit didn't make it, though; it was deflected by a big fat seven-book boxed edition of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I managed to flee Borders, to take solace at my local Half-Price Books. The recovery took some time, aided only by finding some groovy paperback first editions that I had been seeking for some time. (Ace Specials. Remember those, folks?)

Now, I can't fault Del Rey for wanting to cash in on the resurgence in popularity that Tolkien has found with the upcoming movie. I hope they rake in an assload of cash, actually. I REALLY hope they then take that assload and put it to good use, though... and by "good use" I don't mean "paying the advance for Terry Brooks's latest."

This recent trend of fat fantasy scares me a bit. I'm concerned, you see. I can't help thinking that a rise in the popularity of Tolkien, coupled with the vast range of writers who are willing to produce chunky Tolkien-lite clones, with the addition of a concerted marketing push by all the genre publishers, could actually hurt the industry worse than it already is.

What makes it worse is that it ain't all bad!

Hard though it may be to believe, I actually have that same fondness for quest fantasy that many of you have. I know, it's a horrid thing; an insidious, beastly leftover of a childhood spent devouring far too many books that were peachy-keen then, but don't exactly stand up now. Still, when fat fantasy is done well, it transcends being a sub-genre. It becomes something good.

defending good fat fantasy: hell freezes over

You're scratching your head and wondering what, exactly, is good fat fantasy.

Like good writing of any sort, good fat fantasy is simply and purely the direct result of a writer's individual vision.

That's what it boils down to. Individualism. Non-derivative writing.

Hmmm. No, that isn't quite it, is it?

It has everything to do with individualist vision, true. But there is another factor which figures into making good fat fantasy. And that factor is subversion.

All of the good fat fantasy that is being published today -- that is, the ONLY good fat fantasy -- has this subversive quality in spades. I say this with authority, and I say this with absolute Truth. In order to be good, fat fantasy must be subversive.

Subversive fat fantasy may appear as generic, run-of-the-mill fat fantasy, but in truth they are night and day. Hackwork muckery pumped out for the cash, which is lifeless and bloated and stinking with the rank decay called "sell-out," has absolutely nothing to do with GOOD fantastic fiction, and certainly nothing to do with good fat fantasy. This generic Fantasy is, to put not too fine a point upon it, pandering shit. Plain old, run-of-the-mill shit.

But the other...

[Cover] [Cover] There is a handful of good fat fantasy writers out there. John Marco is one. George R.R. Martin, with his A Song of Ice and Fire, is one. Tad Williams is one of the most accomplished of them, writing some of the best (and fattest!) subversive fat fantasy out there. Certainly Matthew Stover writes fat fantasy, even if it is action-packed and crammed with enough philosophical musings to almost qualify as a conte philosphique. And there are others....

So what makes these books -- these series -- good fat fantasy, when others fail so miserably?

Each of the above writers uses the standard tropes of Fantasy (i.e., "commercial fantasy") to fulfill their inner vision. They subvert those tropes by doing interesting things with them. Don't like the generic swooning princess? Well then, we'll just cut her into little tiny pieces and feed her to the dogs. Need an elf? Well then, we'll just make sure that the elf is a lesbian club-owner that is in love with a sprite, and we'll make sure that you shouldn't piss her off...

Tolkien and his Puritanical clones would collapse beneath the sheer corrupting subversive weight, I'm sure.

[Cover] [Cover] These distinct voices are the only thing that saves fat fantasy from becoming a dreary, lifeless husk in the desert wasteland of sub-genres and popular writings. Without them -- without their distinct, vital imaginations -- fat fantasy would be overrun by commercial crap remakes of Tolkien-istic tropes.

And I admit... I like subversive writings. Even fat fantasy ones.

See, fat fantasy isn't for kids. Not strictly, anyway. Fat fantasy, like any kind of genre writing, is simply a framework; an exposed mass of two-by-fours that can be used to build stories upon. Sometimes, those stories are meaningful and well-written. Most times, those stories are derivative crud that would make even the heartiest fantasy reader cringe in disgust.

So in the end, it really doesn't matter what the framework is. What matters is what goes on top. And that includes epic fantasy, at times.

It's just harder to find.

serbian fantasists and collections galore...

Time Gifts Zoran Zivkovic is a wonder.

A well-regarded fantasist in his native Serbia, Zoran's work is barely known here in the US. There has been one release of his, the excellent novel-collection Time Gifts, published in the States by Northwestern University Press as part of their Writings From An Unbound Europe. He has one story in David G. Hartwell's Year's Best Fantasy, and he has been published fairly extensively within the pages of Interzone. And Jeff VanderMeer, smart guy that he is, will be collecting Zoran's The Library in his upcoming Leviathan 3 anthology.

Zoran Zivkovic is about as far away from a fat fantasy writer as you can get. His books are slender; the writing has a sparse appearance that is a lie -- to read Zoran Zivkovic's work is to step into a living, mutating dream that is quite prepared to take you places that you may not wish to go. But in the end, you will be much better for it.

With lyrical precision, Zoran tells fantastic tales that make use of dream imagery and surrealism to explore ideas that other writers are afraid to ask. Often, his novels consist of tangentially-linked stories that seem to be vastly divergent; in the end, however, he always manages to wrap things together with the skill and timing of an accomplished storyteller. And Zoran is absolutely an accomplished storyteller, weaving plots and ideas into an intricate tapestry of philosophical questioning, fantastic imagination, and sheer wild speculation that remains nonetheless completely beneath the author's control.

I am ashamed that a US publisher has not snagged Zoran's books before now. It seems to me that a crime is being committed; this much imaginative power should be unleashed upon the world like an elemental force. In a country that is quick to snag any literary movement to capitalize upon, I am amazed that Zoran's work has been overlooked for so long. Comparable to the Latin American magic realists, his writing would not only be a boon to American culture, but I'm pretty sure it would sell well too.

So if you're listening... pick up Zoran Zivkovic's books! Get them distributed in America, for God's sake!

And if you need a sample of his work, just head over to and read The Captain's Library. You'll thank me.

Speaking of good stories...

As I mentioned above, Leviathan 3 is forthcoming from Ministry of Whimsy press. To satiate my appetite until it arrives, I turned (naturally) to Leviathan 1: Into the Gray, and Leviathan 2: The Legacy of Boccaccio for sustenance.

Both are still available from Ministry of Whimsy, and both are well worth your money and your time. These are anthologies that show exactly WHAT an anthology should be. Containing a wide range of genre-bending literary fiction from authors known for the offbeat and the fantastic, as well as mainstream authors, these two collections are notable for the simple fact that there isn't a shitty story in the bunch.

Moreover, within these two collections you will find a wide range of stories, from horrific to humorous; dark edgy science fiction to loose and fun fantasy; intense love and longing to the depths of depravity. It is a literary experience that you should not deny yourself. I am particularly fond of Rhys Hughes' "The Darktree Wheel," Kathryn Kulpa's "Insensates," and Richard Calder's "Lost in Cathay." Go now and pick these up!

Finally, I would also like to recommend an old favourite.

Brian Aldiss wrote The Malacia Tapestry on another world, I'm sure of it. The tale of Perian de Chirolo, a Renaissance man in the Eternal City of Malacia, The Malacia Tapestry is a wild speculative romp through alternate reality. In the Eternal City, the Malacians are descendants of dinosaurs, giving rise to my personal title for this book -- Of Lizardry and Wild Romance.

The Malacia Tapestry is indeed strange and wild; a mix of unfettered imagination and Aldiss' lush language-play. Filled with clever witticisms and strange debauchery that leaves your head a bit jumbled, Aldiss still manages to weave serious undertones into the story, as the winds of change begin to blow in the never-changing Eternal City. Following de Chirolo on his adventure -- if you can call it that -- is a disorienting trip that is well worth it in the end. If you have never read The Malacia Tapestry, I suggest you do so, or pass up the opportunity to read one of the most decadent, unnerving, and bizarre novels ever published.

Sadly, this book is out-of-print in the US. However, you should be able to find it in a secondhand store, or at least in the UK.

fantastic metropolis: like no place else

Fantastic Metropolis It has begun -- taking over the internet, one hit at a time.

Fantastic Metropolis has launched at last, and I am not disappointed. Please take the time to check it out; there are oodles of Good Things, just waiting to be discovered. We now feature original and reprint fiction, essays, reviews, interviews... and it's focused solely upon literate fantastic fiction. In upcoming months, there will be tons of stuff to peek at, so be sure to visit often. It is, after all, vital to becoming cool...

More importantly, take the time to also check out our partners; there are wonderful places out there, and if you want to support literate fantastic fiction, these are the places to do so.

And please, do not hesitate to let me know what you think of the site. Whether you hate it or love it, your opinions matter. So share them!

Until next time...

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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