Pat, from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, brought to light this terrific article by Richard Morgan, author of the upcoming The Steel Remains, where he rips into a lot of the elitism that surround the Science Fiction and Fantasy fields.

For the last five years, I’ve stood on the sidelines of this endless scrummaging, with feelings that range from mild curiosity to irritation to fascinated disbelief. I’ve haunted the messageboards and the blogs and the con panels, I’ve even occasionally dipped my toe into one pool of critical vitriol or another — Clomping Foot of Nerdism, New Weird, “political” SF — but mostly I’ve just watched, in much the same way I guess you’d watch footage of those guys in Shia Muslim nations battering themselves in the head with sharp objects until the blood clots their hair and streams down their faces from their lacerated scalps and evidently makes them all feel really good about themselves. O-kay, guys. Whatever gets you off, I guess.

“Consolatory” fantasy does well. So does “consolatory” Space Opera. People like it, and so, not unreasonably, they buy it by the ton. Of course, it’s become customary in genre debates to sneer and blame this sort of thing on marketing — as if without the marketing departments, Terry Brooks fans would suddenly be marching en masse into Barnes and Noble and demanding a reprint of In Viriconium; as if marketing is what prevents the readers of Star Wars tie-in novels from developing a passion for Stanislaw Lem. I mean, come on, guys, get real — enough of the false consciousness rap, already. People know what they like (and, yes, sadly, they tend to like what they know). And a large number of such people within the SF&F readership like straightforward, by-the-numbers story-telling with a lot of sensawunda, heroes who achieve their goals, bad guys who go down hard, and a solid happy ending. In this, they are no different than the reading (or indeed TV, or cinema-going) public in general. Marketing is simply a system for shifting product to that public in as large quantities as possible. And I never met an author yet who didn’t want their books to sell in large quantities.

So. This is the landscape around us, and we all know what it looks like. What we need to do is stop qvetching about the terrain, and just decide where we’re going to pitch our bloody tents. Ian McEwan argues (obliquely, through conversation and event in The Child in Time) that good writers write for themselves, and I think probably that’s true; certainly I try never to write for anybody else. But writing for yourself does carry an opportunity cost. If you’re lucky, your self shares tastes with enough other people that your books are going to sell well; you can hand your finished product over to the marketing guys, and they’ll run with it. As Neal Asher once remarked to me, I don’t mind doing the crowd-pleasing stuff because most of the time what pleases the crowd also pleases me. But if that particular piece of serendipity doesn’t happen for you, then you’re simply going to have to make a choice. Want to make a shit-load of money? Want to make the bestseller lists? Then get on and write a three brick fantasy trilogy about a good hearted farm-boy who becomes a wizard or a warrior (or a space pilot) and defeats an evil empire. Want to write grim and gloomy portraits of emotional decay in unemployed, divorced or otherwise alienated Londoners who may — or may not! — have come from an ever so faintly different parallel universe? Prepare to keep your day job for some time to come.

It’s always appreciated when eloquent, intelligent arguments are made that grind ignorant, elitist assholes into the ground. Morgan puts a lot of things into perspective and – whether you’re a fan of Terry Brooks or R. Scott Bakker; a fan of Raymond E. Feist or Hal Duncan; or have a liking for them all – it’s an article well worth reading.

You can find the whole article HERE.

  • Jeff C April 23, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Awesome post. I am glad an author made those comments. I had gotten fed up with the elitism, which is why i posted my rant a couple of weeks ago. It would be nice if those of us who like the generic tale with the happy ending werent looked down on for enjoying such a tale (not that we should care if we are looked down on, but people do have emotions).

    I also think this argument is related to posts being made recently about some folks getting tired of “gritty”.

    Personally, I think there are places for both. The guy who likes the Bakker type story is no more “intelligent” than the guy who like Brooks. Simply comes down to preferences.

  • aidan April 24, 2008 at 10:15 am


    I’m not surprised you liked the article. In fact, I was reminded of your rant from a few weeks ago as I was reading it.

    What’s most effective about the article is that it’s not written by a bubblegum-fantasy writer like Brooks/Feist/Salvatore/etc…, whom I have respect for as writers but are mostly ignored by many of the Internet SFF community. Instead it’s written by Richard Morgan, an author at the forefront of balls-to-the-wall, gritty SF, and a fellow respected by even the most hardnosed fanatic.

    Strictly speaking, I’m a fan of Fantasy and Science Fiction, period. I prefer some authors to others (Brooks to Eddings, for instance; Martin to Erikson, another), but certain subgenre’s aren’t inherently better or worse than any other.

    To my mind, Terry Brooks and Greg Keyes do traditional Quest Fantasy as well as George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson do the Epic Fantasy. Do I begrudge people if they prefer one over the other? Nope. Do I begrudge people if they look down on my tastes because I’m a big fan of Brooks and Salvatore? Damn right, I do.

    The fact is, a story’s a story and – whether it entertains me, allows me a form of escapism, or makes me think – that’s all that matters and I certainly shouldn’t be judged for it. Especially by other SFF fans.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Jeff.

  • Stormy70 April 24, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Word. Finally, someone says what I am thinking.

    No need to put someone down for what one reads and enjoys. I like good to overcome evil in my fantasy novels.

  • Larry April 24, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Not surprising, but I disagreed with quite a bit of Morgan’s interpretation, even if I empathized a bit with his frustration. That being said, this “elitist” labeling, what is it but yet another attempt to differentiate with pejoratives? After all, what am I but “elite”? I surely am not a shitty reader or reviewer, but if aiming (and perhaps achieving) for an elite level in my writing/reviewing is now a bad thing, then what’s the point of associating with others who hold such a negative view?

    Just an ironic observation, similar to what another said to me in an email recently about this subject. Morgan hates the fighting, so he engages in many of the same tactics that he deplores? Amusing to no end when you think about it :P