EPISODE 47: MISTBORN

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    Today we welcome the first appearance of the disco’s official Fantasy Correspondent, Will Friedle.

    As a voracious reader of the genre, the trio asked Will to pick one of his favorite fantasy novels, and he chose Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. Which, at 672 pages, turns out to be one of the shortest books Will could have selected from this author.

    The discussion lands only on the book briefly, though, as the gang delves into the nature of fantasy itself. What makes for good fantasy, and how is that different from other genres? Is suspense as important as “world building,” or less so? What about moral complexity?

    And, does anybody like singing Hobbits?


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COMMENTS

3 Responses to Episode 47: Mistborn

  • ben rowe wrote on January 22, 2014 at 12:52 //

    Fun podcast as always but the podcast seems to suggest that the genre of fantasy is much less sophisticated and varied than it is. What is really looked at and talked about is more the mainstream epic fantasy sub-genre. There is so much more to fantasy than this. Try reading The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan for instance.

  • S wrote on January 22, 2014 at 5:55 //

    I love this podcast, but I had to eyeroll my way through this episode. You make a lot of reductive statements about fantasy when you’re actually only discussing a very narrow (albeit popular) subset of the genre, as Ben points out. The literary equivalent would be talking about the Dirty Realists as if the recurring themes, plots, and landscapes within them are all that the entire scope of Western literature has to offer. Imagine the ease with which you could skewer some of the lesser, derivative works of that movement.

    There are lots of fantastical books that are morally complex, with sophisticated writing and immensely rewarding storytelling. Some of those books or writers have been absorbed into literary canon (Salman Rushdie, Karen Russell), some of them have a foot in each pond (Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman).

    Places to start would be Octavia Butler’s “Kindred,” in which a contemporary black woman in California finds herself accidentally travelling back in time to the Antebellum South (for credentials, Octavia Butler won the MacArthur Genius Grant as well as genre-specific Hugo & Nebula awards) — or with Ursula Le Guin’s “Lathe of Heaven,” in which a man finds that his dreams alter reality (Le Guin was championed by Harold Bloom, and has influenced heaps of writers including David Mitchell and Salman Rushdie, although I’m sure she needs no introduction to you).

    And of course, you have Rushdie (a story about superpowered kids in postcolonialist trappings!) or Karen Russell, or Michael Chabon (Yiddish Policeman’s Union in particular). Those writers, and so many others (Junot Diaz being the poster boy) also have a history of championing genre fiction, and discussing/criticizing the stigma around it.

    Like I said, I love this podcast & I think you guys do a phenomenal job, so I hope you give it another shot with a much richer, more satisfying novel (and maybe a better understanding of what qualifies as fantasy/genre works). Conflating the most popular books with the best or most representative of the genre (or most critically rewarding) is never a good idea in any swathe of fiction.

  • Tod wrote on January 22, 2014 at 8:24 //

    I think the question of what qualifies as a fantasy novel is interesting — I’d call The Yiddish Policeman’s Union an alternate history book, and Karen Russell I guess sort of falls into a different realm, one that lives somewhere between Kelly Link and Aimee Bender. I’ve read Kindred and I’ve also read a book that was a bit of its harbinger — Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy — and it’s funny, I don’t really consider them fantasy. Maybe genre slips away when something is really good and it’s just a thing you read. That could be. But even in the scope of what we’ve read on the show, Ron Currie Jr’s books could be defined as fantasy, but I doubt he considers himself a fantasy writer in the strictest sense. And I think all of us have read Junot Diaz, Neil Gaiman, and Rushdie, too. So we’re aware of that sort of sect of fantasy genre writing. But obviously none of us are currently reading these big, bestselling books like Mistborn. But here is a book that’s wildly popular, and if nothing else it was important for us to look at what the people are reading in the largest sense, so that before we dive into what might be considered the most well regarded work, we also know what people get obsessed about. And sometimes, popular is the best. It may not be true here, but just because something is wildly popular doesn’t mean it might not also be representative of the best the world has to offer. I guess this is harder to quantify in books than in things like, say, ice cream, but it’s something we think about sometimes.