A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was starting to feel a little oversaturated with Fantasy. As someone who runs a blog centred around the genre, and also an aspiring writer working in the genre, this could be a rather distressful type of comment. One of my readers, Sean, thought so, too:

“Burnt out on fantasy…..uh oh….aren’t you halfway through writing your own fantasy book?”

I responded:

That’s a good question, a very good question. I suppose I should have qualified that statement by saying that I’m feeling burnt out on ‘Epic’ or ‘Secondary-world’ fantasy, rather than the genre as a whole. What I’m really craving and enjoying at the moment seem to be novels with a more modern spin to them and, most importantly, a modern cadence and flow to the dialogue.

Science Fiction (especially set in the near future, like Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, which I’m reading now) and Urban Fantasy (I’m itching to read some more Gaiman at the moment) are some of the obvious sub-genres of speculative fiction that fill this itch.

How is it impacting Through Bended Grass? Well, not really, as far as I can tell. It’s set in a contemporary setting, as you know and that allows me to play around with a modern language (it also helps that it’s written in first person) and Rowan views the Fey world through the eyes of someone everyone of our generation can relate to. I think, in many ways, writing Through Bended Grass is responsible for how my tastes are shifting at the moment, rather than the other way around.

And then James at The Accidental Bard picked up on the idea:

Aidan Moher recently commented that he was getting a bit “over-saturated” on fantasy, a feeling I can definitely understand. Even putting aside personal fatigue, the genre as a whole is in transition right now. Publishing houses are emphasizing urban fantasy to the extent that epic and high fantasy have been sidelined and newly classified as “traditional” and “old-fashioned.” Authors producing epic fantasy of the type that dominated the marketplace even a few years ago are scrambling just to get published in the current climate.

I thought this would be an interesting subject to turn back to and might help me better understand why I’ve been turning away from the typical Epic/Secondary World Fantasy for the last several weeks.

Part of the reason, I suppose, is just that I’ve read so bloody much of it. For the last 15 years, or so, since I first picked up Tolkien’s The Hobbit, I’ve almost exclusively read within the sub-genre: Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie, Raymond E. Feist etc…. Of course there have been diversions throughout the years – a little bit of Science Fiction here, a little bit of Biography there, and even a little bit of mainstream literature thrown in for good measure – but for the most part I chose to lose myself in the same story over and over again.

I think the reason I kept coming back to the genre was simply for safety; I knew what to expect, I knew the rules, I knew how to read it. What was exciting to me, rather, was watching how the various authors handled the tropes, how they put their own spin on the ideas and cliches that have been around for decades. But, over the last several weeks, I’ve found this infatuation with the sub-genre waning, my interests shifting toward different forms of Speculative Fiction.

The interesting thing is that I don’t seem to be the only one. From James’ article:

The market for epic fantasy is cornered by a few giants of the genre, the George Martins, Robert Jordans, and Terry Brookses of the world, most of whose work consists of unfinished series. So many readers looking for good epics are stuck in a holding pattern, digging behind stacks of Laurell K. Hamilton’s pornographic rubbish in search of undiscovered high adventure while they await Book 7 (or 5 or 12 or 10) of their favorite doorstop series.

Authors like Joe Abercrombie still manage to write new epic fantasy, albeit it with a snarky, often metafictional twist, but in a noticeably pulpier format. Abercrombie’s trilogy lacks the material trappings of traditional high fantasy; published by Pyr, an imprint of Gollancz, The First Law comes in trade paperback, not hardcover, and the cover art, while eye-catching, is graphic design, not the custom artwork traditionally associated with modern fantasy. Maps, glossaries, and appendices of any kind are conspicuously absent. The effort comes off as refreshingly minimalist, but the underlying motive is undeniably minimizing costs.

These days, having a marketing angle, knowing how to sell your book, seems to be at least as important as the quality of the work itself — often overtly more so. But most writers did not study marketing, and as artists their first concern (ideally) should not be mainstream appeal. The genre fiction marketplace is forcing writers of epic fantasy in particular, unless they have an original idea of Phillip Pullman proportions, to prioritize marketability and to produce work that conforms to current standards of saleability. I can’t help but wonder: is this squeeze on traditional fantasy effectively filtering out what was unworthy anyway, or is it killing the subgenre? And where is this trend heading? Will it peak and begin its decline soon, or are we seeing a more long-term shift taking place?

As mentioned earlier (and something I talk about HERE), Urban/Contemporary Fantasy is taking the market by storm, forcing aside the stalwart Epic Fantasy not only in terms of sales, but also in terms of publisher interest.

I have two good friends in the online space, (whom I’m sure many of you are well aware of!), Patrick St. Denis and Shawn Speakman and their stories share many similarities. Both are well connected aspiring writers, known to many in the publishing field and St. Denis is even represented by one of the biggest Fantasy agents in the game (Matt Bailer, who represents Tad Williams, Eldon Thompson and Patrick Rothfuss, among others). Both have written the beginnings of promising Epic Fantasies (I’ve read Speakman’s and the premise of St. Denis’ looks solid). I can’t speak for St. Denis, but both also seem to be having trouble finding publisher interest in the stories.

Speakman talks about the subject HERE, and is refreshingly candid about the various rejection letters he recieved for Song of the Fell Hammer:

Other writing friends of mine have been getting the same few sentences thrown at them too. They too have written epic fantasies and they too are being rejected for it. It is not just my experience with all of this that counts; it is the overall industry’s choice, and that choice doesn’t want to read or buy or publish an epic fantasy.

Well, what are they looking for then?

If you pay attention to the industry—via the internet or through Publishers Weekly—there is a very distinct pattern that is going on. Most of the book contracts being offered are for urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Editor Liz, who is one of Del Rey’s newest editors, has several deals below her belt already for urban fantasy and paranormal romance. A few of the other newer editors have been hunting it as well. Coincidence? No way.

Part of me wonders how accurate this is. Between Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Brian Ruckley, Karen Miller, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Robert V.S. Redick, Brent Weeks, it’s clear that publishers are still actively publishing new Epic Fantasies, especially the mid-level publishers like Orbit and Solaris. The thing is, though, that these days it’s taking a lot more praise to get me interested in reading a lot of the new Epic Fantasy coming out; I’ll only flock to the ones that I know are going to be great. Perhaps that’s what’s happening with the general readership: the good Epic Fantasy still finds a home, and the sub-par stuff gets pushed aside in favour of, well, a lot of the sub-par Urban Fantasy that’s flooding the shelves.

I think another big factor in my shift in tastes is this blog, A Dribble of Ink. Up to a year or so ago (and even beyond, into the life of the blog), I read mostly for comfort, for an easy escape from the realities of life. This made it easy to fall back on the same types of novels, ones I knew I could trust to weave a good yarn. It was also the type of story that I thought I wanted to write. But as A Dribble of Ink grew, I started to gain a broader understanding of (and appreciation for) the Speculative Fiction genre. I realized that I wasn’t stretching myself enough as a reader, not testing the waters, missing out on too much good literature.

All of a sudden Epic Fantasy begain to feel a little tepid to me. Even while reading Greg Keyes’ The Born Queen – a great finale to a fantastic series – a part of me felt a little staid. I didn’t want to admit it at the time – was just a tickle at the back of my mind – but I had begun to realize that Epic Fantasy just wasn’t grasping me in the same way it used to. What I was looking for was something new, something I hadn’t experienced before, something I didn’t know how to experience.

I’m a firm believer that there are only so many stories to be told, and that they’ve all been told for centuries. The trick, however, is in the telling of the story. For that matter, despite the shift in focus to Urban Fantasy, despite the sales trends regarding fantasy novels, I can’t help but feel that Epic Fantasy will see its rise again – both in my heart and on the shelves of stores. All it’ll take is that one special telling of the tale (Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is probably the first example to come to mind) and suddenly readers and publishers will find themselves reinvigorated on the idea of quest fantasy.

Like everything, I think reading habits are cyclical. Back in my youth I read a lot of Science Fiction – Tom Swift and Michael Crichton, in particular – but all it took was one book (J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit) to show me that Fantasy wasn’t just Fairies, Unicorns, Princesses and all that other pansy shit. My eyes were opened and the next dozen years or so were (mostly) devoted to exploring The Lord of the Rings and its derivatives. It was a journey for my young self, always discovering new lands, new people, new sights.

But now it all feels like visiting an old friend – fun, nostalgic and familiar, but rarely something that stretches my perceptions of myself or the world. Just like a family trip to Aunt Martha’s house in Buttfuck nowhere, sometimes it just isn’t what you’re looking for. What I want right now isn’t the familiar, it’s the new, exciting and bold. I want to be reminded of exactly how I felt when I first picked up The Hobbit, and right now Epic Fantasy is rarely doing that for me.

  • Larry August 20, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    It’s odd, but I’ve never really felt “burned out” on any particular subgenre, but perhaps that’s because I have always had so many pots in the fire that I never could concentrate for long on just one genre of literature (or on just one particular hobby). Perhaps some of the frustration comes from wearing out one particular avenue and not having enough invested in other areas to compensate?

    As for publishing trends, it has been true for a few years now that women comprise the majority of genre readers/buyers and more and more of them are interested in stories that are inherently more likely to have positive depictions of female characters. That is something to be considered when looking at the apparent (and I suspect long overdue) backlash against epic fantasy.

    Although I read Lewis and Tolkien at a young age (by 13), I never really was attracted to the usual epic fantasy trappings; real-world histories were (and still are) much more fascinating to me (which probably explains why I currently teach history ;)). Perhaps it might help with your “burn out” if you were to read various narrative histories as a change of pace?

  • Mulluane August 20, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Its a shame because I absolutely detest Urban Fantasy. I have an aversion to reading anything that remotely resembles the cess pool we currently live in. Maybe its because I just can’t come to terms with magic as having a place in our cynical world. Ancient times where the world was believed to be flat and you could sail right off the edge…..now that is a place where I can imagine all sorts of things being possible, including magic. And that is the type of place I want to escape to.

    Its more then just magic, mythical creatures and the impossible being possible. Part of the charm for me is the old fashioned values. I know for a fact that I can’t stop at a farmhouse for the night, stable my horse and be treated to good meal like a long lost friend. More likely I’d be explaining to a cop why I’m trespassing or find myself facing down a shotgun.

    I have lost all faith in loyalty and trust, friendship and sacrifice, oaths and promises: they have no place in this modern every man for himself me generation. Even the violence in fantasy makes more sense to me. Sword fights take place eye to eye, man to man, not from several miles away where a missile is launched from a ship by people who can’t even see their targets.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of cruelty and evil in epic fantasy but its more real somehow, it has more meaning. Its not oh look, another horrible accident on the highway, wonder if anybody died, honey what are we having for dinner?

    For me, fantasy worlds will always be new, exciting and bold because they are so unlike our own and better yet, encompass many of the things I wish still existed in this one. So I guess I’ll just keep rereading my old fashioned fantasy and hope that it comes back around soon before I get tired of reading the same books over and over and over….

  • Tia August 21, 2008 at 2:26 am

    Part of your shift may be simply a result of getting older. I find that the authors that once engaged me–although remembered fondly–no longer tempt me, at least not to the extent that they once did. They probably have grown as well, but since I remember their novels as being a certain way, I tend to automatically think their writing is the same. Which, of course, is completely unrealistic.

    I have written an epic fantasy as well, and while I have invitations from several agents to submit other novels, I have not found any interest for it. Therefore, I’ve written a new novel that could be termed as an urban fantasy, but think London, circa 1810 rather than New York or Chicago. I’m hoping it will be different enough to stand out in a time where agents and publishers are probably being saturated with urban fantasies.

  • James (Speculative Horizons) August 21, 2008 at 4:37 am

    I went through a similar phase a few years ago when my interest in fantasy dipped a bit. I suppose you could say I felt a bit burned out by it. I remember being a little worried at the time, but ultimately it proved to be just a passing phase.

    For the record, I don’t believe for one minute that Pat’s and Shawn’s manuscripts have been rejected simply because they are epic fantasy. If that was the case, it would surely indicate that epic fantasy is dead – which we know is simply not the case. I mean come on, Rothfuss sold over 40k copies in hardback alone. Gail Martin has sold something similar in paperback. As has Karen Miller. Ok, these might not constitute ‘epic’ fantasy, but they’re all secondary world fantasy. Macmillan in the UK published ‘Empire in Black and Gold’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky this year (an epic fantasy) and are due to publish Mark Charan Newton’s ‘Nights of Villjamur’ next year (also an epic fantasy). Say what you like, but epic fantasy isn’t dead or dying. It’s too popular for that fate.

    Everything moves in circles ultimately. Urban fantasy is huge right now (personally I loathe most of it with a passion)but eventually it’ll level off and something else will rise to the top. And epic fantasy will still be there.

    Good post, btw.

  • Rob B August 21, 2008 at 5:59 am

    “Oversaturation” may be strong for what I’m feeling towards Epic/Secondary World Fantasy, but I’ve been gravitating more towards Urban Fantasy/Wizard Detectives and Science Fiction lately.

  • Sean August 21, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Wow, I was quoted on a dribble of ink. can’t tell you how awesome that is!!!

  • raul August 22, 2008 at 2:22 am

    urban fantasy with female lead detectives are making me physically ill. in fact, all magic detectives in modern day is fairly crappy to me.

    epic is my first love and my deepest one, i can handle much worse in it and still enjoy it more then many other subgenres we all read. in fact, its getting easier because of the lesser amount published these days to make way for ‘me-too’ near future cyberpunk(a little late to the party, gents) and female supernatiral detectives…because its really needed to stuff another romance author moonlighting into the few shelves we get at the book store.

  • Gabriele August 22, 2008 at 6:35 am

    So I’m not the only one who can’t get into the whole Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance hype. Which proves again that I’ve never been the typical female reader. :)

    And there’s hope the readership of epic Fantasy won’t die out any time soon, and those books will continue to be published.

  • Mark Charan Newton August 22, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Okay, on the death of fantasy (and a little rambling, so apologies!):

    I think it’s really important to stress that with my experience in the world of publishing, and judging from my conversations with agents etc., there is a shortage of *well-written* and quality epic fantasy. I think my agent has turned down something over two thousand general SF and Fantasy submissions now (a good chunk of those epic fantasy), and other agents just can’t seem to find the right books to sell to publishers.

    Moving on:

    Fantasy is not going to die out at all. Many publishers are putting out either a) very, very commercial fiction – books that are very familiar enough to others out there so that people will by them, and it still has to be well written. No problem with that, because it helps fund option b) the more experimental but not as obviously commercial fiction. I’d suggest that Hal Duncan isn’t going to sell as much as a Robert Jordan book as an example, but man, I’m so glad he is published. I think I’m also assuming that epic fantasy is often a category forced on it – secondary world fantasy is a better label.

    What we have to remember is that the internet discussions are usually grouped around a few select top authors. And the internet forums are such a small slice (statistically) of the genre pie. For example, in the UK, even online *sales* are (were recently) 13% of the market. So most people are out there buying books in a way that has nothing to do with the internet. It makes logical sense that they are not like us, and don’t read forums or blogs either.

    The thing is, if you want variety in the UK, you only have to look away from where you normally do. I mean, once just stepped away from my comfort zone and I read China Miéville — it opened up my eyes to so many different authors, and I can’t look at the genre the same again. There are hundreds of fantasy settings that aren’t the same Medieval-based (though nothing wrong with that) locations, and different narrative styles, literary themes and techniques etc. Man, I can walk up and down the bookshelf and pull out so many different and interesting fantasies. (Though I was lucky enough to work in a bookstore for a while.)

    If the internet does tend to discuss a minority of authors – what would I say we can all do? Get out there, read different things, discover some more writers, and tell the world about them. The industry is as it is because of how people buy books. This is a market pace. It *really* is up to what you buy. The market reacts to what readers want. Purchase older books, backlist titles, buy the books you haven’t seen everyone talking about. Fantasy has NEVER been so diverse, and we can make it more so by searching out what is different, reading it, giving it a chance and telling others about it. It will make the genre a better place.

    So, for those who think fantasy (and SF) is stale, go read people like China Miéville, Conrad Williams, Hal Duncan, Gene Wolfe, M John Harrison (his Viriconium), even cross-over writers like Jonathan Lethem.

    Fantasy can do anything – so give that *anything* a chance and you might find that you are pleasantly surprised.

  • J. Cormier August 22, 2008 at 10:18 am

    I think you’ve answered the questions I asked in that post neatly, Aidan. Quality epic fantasy is still filling the top shelves, but urban fantasy has taken over the middle and lower shelves where the more slapdash epics used to reside. The David Eddings’s of the world have been ousted by the Simon Greens.

    Incidentally, I share Sean’s giddiness at being quoted on A Dribble of Ink.

    Mark — Gene Wolfe, for one, definitely realigned my perceptions. I’m fascinated by the whole concept of science fantasy (an admittedly constructed moniker under which his work is sometimes categorized, and which I’d love someone to define for me).

  • JT August 22, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Personally, I think its cyclical in the industry, the same as almost anything else in the entertainment world. Urban fantasy gets hot, so everyone starts chasing it down. The good stuff gets published from each sub-genre, but at the end of the day, many pretty good and fairly crappy epic fantasy books get rejected (when they would have been published 10 years ago), and now the mediocre-to-crappy fantasy being produced is of the “urban fantasy” variety. This too shall pass, and in about 5 more years, we’ll swing back to an abundance of epic fantasy, with some serious trash being published there.
    As for personal saturation within the genre, I can’t say that happens to me. Luckily, I keep trying to find unique authors and books out there, and between the stuff that does get published today, and a lot of older stuff I’ve never read yet – there is plenty of great reading available. I mix in a lot of other reading too, so I never get too filled up with epic fantasy at all.

  • Pamela Freeman August 22, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Since I’m writing the third book in an epic fantasy trilogy,I relaly hope the genre’s not dead! I am with Orbit, and I have to say I didn’t find any resistance there to epic/secondary world fantasy – what they did say they were looking for, though, was new approaches to telling epic stories. I did a lot of reading in the genre for a doctorate, and I found that I was getting jaded, too – when I looked at why, I realised that a lot of secondary world writers were setting up the world and the magic in the first book, and then just letting the story/politics/war run to its conclusion, without revealing anything new. As a reader, I wasn’t getting a constantly renewed sense of wonder about the world, and since I read epic fantasy as least as much for the world as for the plot, I was getting bored. I kept wanting someone else to read the third book for me and just tell me what happened. I am trying hard not to let that happen in the Castings Trilogy, but maybe that means I’m slowing the plot down…nothing’s simple. The great advantage epic fantasy has is that it’s – epic; like Tolkien, I wanted to try my hand a really long story, and this is something you don’t get with urban fantasy series, even those with a long story arc which stretches from book to book.

  • Brian Ruckley August 23, 2008 at 6:31 am

    Sounds like cause for celebration to me, if starting this blog has contributed to a broadening and deepening of your interests in the immense variety of forms and styles speculative fiction has to offer. Dive in, and sample everything that takes your fancy, I’d say. Never regret or question a change in your reading tastes: go with it and enjoy the new vistas opening up. Apart from anything else, I’ve always thought that one of the best things any aspiring writer can possibly do is to read the widest conceiveable diversity of books: spread your consumption as far as you possibly can beyond the confines of the specific genre you hope to write in yourself, and you open yourself up to a host of potentially interesting and stimulating influences.

    As far as the contrasting fortunes of epic fantasy (like Mark, I think the term ‘secondary world fantasy’ is actually much more useful) and urban fantasy: it may well be a bit harder to sell an epic fantasy manuscript nowadays than it was even just a few years ago. But they’re self-evidently still being acquired and produced by publishers, even if in slightly reduced numbers, so it’s by no means a terminally contracted market for the aspiring novelist. As James points out above, when folk like Patrick Rothfuss and others are notching up the kinds of sales they’re getting, the idea that publishers would be turning away manuscripts in that exact same genre solely because they were in that same genre seems a little improbable.

    Urban fantasy is, I suspect, here to stay as a major sub-genre. Its current enormously high commercial profile may lose some of its glitter in the nearish future, but my guess is its actually got more legs than most trends in sf/f. The only reason I think that is my (largely uninformed) suspicion that what urban fantasy has done is draw in, at least in part, a new – and largely female – audience that was previously not actually buying much in the way of traditional fantasy.

    If I was trying to get ahead of potential future trends, I’d probably be trying my hand at horror. Intelligent, energetic horror that’s disturbing and unsettling without wildly overdoing the blatant gore is showing some signs of a tentative recovery after years in the wilderness for the entire horror genre. Might not ever reach the giddy sales peaks of urban fantasy now, and epic fantasy a few years ago, but it’s got potential, I reckon. Of course, I’m probably completely wrong. If any of us could really predict these things in advance, we’d probably all be making rather more money than is generally the case …

  • ediFanoB August 23, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Wow! It’s interesting who answered here. Now I would like to put in my two cents as a “committed” reader.
    Epic fantasy is no question of age. I’m 49 and I still love it after all these years.
    Of course you can get oversaturated but if you really like it you will return sooner or later.
    But this happens also with other stuff.
    A simple example.
    If you like beer and you drink until you vomid. On the very next day you will tell your friends that you will never drink again alcohol. And how long does it take to the next drink?

    I also recognised the rise of urban fantasy (my wife is really keen on vampires, werewolves and so on).
    I don’t like it. As far as I can see a lot of women like it.
    But there are still a lot of people like me who request epic fantasy. And to be honest, in case the story is good , people will by these stories.

  • aidan August 23, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Larry – If there’s anything in the world I don’t lack in, it’s hobbies. In the past year-and-a-half, I’ve gotten heavily into photography, which is actually taking up more of my reading time than I’m generally happy with. Add that to writing, web design and videogames and I’d say I’m safely set with a good variety of ‘avenues’ for my attention. In fact, since moving over (from Fantasy) to more SF, I’ve been more excited about reading than I’ve been in years. Certainly I think you’re right, though, about people needing more than one avenue of interest to keep themselves motivated.

    Real-world history is something that has begun to appeal to me more and more as I’ve grown older, and is certainly an area which I plan to explore heavily at some time in the future (maybe when I go back to school next fall?) I think part of my drifting away from ‘Secondary World’ Fantasy, or whatever label we want to put on it, is that I’m finding stories grounded in our world much more interesting. Whether they’re Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure, Mainstream Literature, History or whatever is of less importance.

    Mulluane – Hah! Kind of ironic after what I just told Larry. I used to feel the same way (Why would I want to read about our world when I can just go outside and experience it for myself?), but lately I’ve become more fascinated with watching the world I know so well being twisted and played with by the author – seeing our world in a new, exciting light, if you will.

    It seems to me that you’re rather jaded by the clinical, science driven world we live in. Have you done much travelling in your life? I find that nothing helps reaffirm my worldview more than travelling and seeing how much there is out there. Even the most diverse and intensely drawn Fantasy world has little on the depth, realism and magic found in our own.

    You just have to look for it!

    Tia – I left that part out of my article, but growing up is certainly a big factor in the shifting of my tastes.

    James – I’ve gone through the same thing before, also. A few years ago I was in a big slump, picking up a couple of dozen novels, reading the first chapter, and just finding that nothing was working for me. Eventually, however, I picked up Ender’s Game and was instantly hooked. That novel helped me rediscover my lust for reading and I realized that all it took was one good novel to end the slump.

    I expect the same thing will happen with Epic Fantasy for me.
    Rob B – Even now, I’ve never really been attracted to the Jim Butcher style Urban Fantasy. I’m much more attracted to the magical realism written by people like Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jonathan Carroll, Tim Powers etc….

    Sean – Erm… yer makin’ me blush!

    Raul, Gabriele (and everyone else who feels ire towards ‘Urban Fantasy’) – It seems like a lot of people are referring to Urban Fantasy as just the sub-(sub-)genre revolving around detective’s fighting against a magical underworld that the public doesn’t know about. For those of you who keep mentioning that you dislike or hate Urban Fantasy, give some of the folk I mentioned earlier (Gaiman, de Lint, Carroll, Powers) a try.

    Also remember that Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy aren’t necessarily the same thing. Like Tia mentioned, she’s writing a fantasy that’s not set in contemporary times, but still easily qualifies as an Urban Fantasy. Even novels like Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora could qualify as Urban Fantasy, considering they take place (mostly) in an urban environment.

    There’s a lot of good stuff out there that falls outside of the Butcher/Hamilton/Armstrong style of story telling.

    Mark – I was hoping you’d drop by. We can theorize as much as we want about how publishers feel towards Epic/Secondary World Fantasy’s decline and Urban/Contemporary Fantasy’s rise, but to have some actual insight from the other side of the fence is important.

    I’m curious to know if you have a theory about why there’s such a shortage of ‘well written’ Epic Fantasy? Are aspiring writers attempting less of it? Are ideas running dry and execution of those ideas just not fresh enough to make it stand out?

    What kind of factors gets Solaris interested in an Epic Fantasy manuscript?

    You’re right that it’s sometimes hard to remember that we (those obsessed enough with the genre and industry to post online voraciously) are only a small minority of actual readers. Our opinions may be loud, but not necessarily completely accurate to the industry.

    What I find interesting is that most of the authors who you mention should be read if someone thinks the industry is stale, all write outside of ‘Epic Fantasy’ (Let’s let this refer to The Lord of the Rings and its derivaties, rather than all fantasy set in a world other than our own). I’m certainly not burnt out on Fantasy, but rather certain sub-genres that have ruled the industry for decades.

    As someone who works for a publisher, would you say an aspiring writer (of above average skill) writing an Urban Fantasy would have a better shot at being published (in the current publishing climate) over someone of similar skill writing an Epic/Secondary World Fantasy?

    J. Cormier – Your response gave me a lot to think about. I’m glad I could, more or less, satisfy with my own ponderings on the subject!

    As for your giddiness… I can’t help but feel it’s unfounded! I’m nothing more than a hack. A hack, I tell ya!
    JT – When I was reading The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney (the novel that started all this thinking), I couldn’t help but remember how much else there was out there that I could be spending my time reading. Since then I’ve been exploring the genre and stepping outside of my comfort zone and it’s reminding me of that old cliche:
    ‘Variety is the spice of life.’

    Pamela – It’s interesting to hear from someone who was able to break into the Epic Fantasy field, despite all the supposed difficulties. I never really thought about it before, but I think you’re too right about the formula found in too many Epic Fantasies out there. I’m usually a big fan of the first novel, when all the fun exploration gets to happen, but that sense of wonder is often lost as the reader gets more comfortable with the rules of the world by the second and third book. I think maybe this is one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of standalone Fantasy novels.

    I think the really successful Epic Fantasies (George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Joe Abercrombie) do a good job of constantly holding things back through the early novels and allowing the world to grow with the story. It’ll be interesting to see how Patrick Rothfuss’ world grows in the second and third volumes of his trilogy.

    Regardless, I think I’ve got a review copy of your novel somewhere at home. Your comments here alone are more than enough to get me interested in taking a look at your work and (hopefully) seeing how you manage to make Epic Fantasy feel fresh. I’ll probably add it to the pile of novels I’m taking to Europe in a couple of weeks.

    Brian – Glad to see you stop by, also. As I mentioned earlier, it’s always nice to see opinions from the other side of the glass. What’s interesting, however, is that each of you, Mark and Pamela are not from North America. I’d be curious to know if Canadian/American authors and publishers might have a different perspective on things.

    Did you find any resistance to the fact that your novel’s were Epic Fantasy when trying to sell them to publishers?

    In regards to horror, I expect R. Scott Bakker’s recent Neuropath is a good example of the kind of novel you’re talking about. I can certainly see that kind of novel catching on, if one were trying to predict market trends.
    ediFanoB – Very good points! Getting over that saturation can sometimes just be like getting outside and stretching your legs. It goes away after a while!

  • Brian Ruckley August 24, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Aidan: I can’t be sure about what publishers were thinking when looking at my manuscript, but looking at it from the outside, I was certainly never aware of any resistance specifically because of its genre. But, of course this was 4,5, whatever years ago now, and it was, as you suggest, in the UK, not North America. There may well be some Transatlantic (and Transpacific, as far as the Australian market is concerned) differences manifesting themselves – there’s no doubt the various markets are different in non-trivial ways.

    The time lags involved in the business can somewhat confuse things, as well, of course: debut novels being published this month may well, in a lot of cases, have been first landing on publisher’s desks for consideration something like 18 months, possibly even more, ago. So what’s on the bookshelves now shows what publishers were buying back then; it’s possible they have, in the intervening period, gone a bit cool on ‘epic’ fantasy, and become much harder to please in that genre, in which case a decrease in the number of such books would become steadily more apparent over coming months and years. We’ll have to wait and see.

  • gav (NextRead) August 24, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Who said t that fantasy somehow has to be inherently epic. It’s as if after you’ve put all this effort in world building you have to have then go on and write millions of words about the damn place.

    Why can’t you make it a nice 300 page, three book series and leave it at that? And have each book a self-contained section of the whole? Children’s fantasy seems to manage to be epic in theme without having to put so many words in!

    Don’t get me wrong I will read and have read stories that last a few thousand pages but you’re unlikely to see me committing to the never-ending story.

    My biggest problem, well my two biggest problems are that I’m just not that committed as a reader. If your story starts to wander, along with your characters without a quick payoff and I can safely put it down without needing to know what happens next you’ve lost me. Swapping genre’s I read Hamilton’s The Dreaming Void last year and it’s probably the longest book I’ve read in a while but it didn’t feel long. And kept me as a reader to the end and then I wanted to read the next one.

    The other problem is my memory would never live up to it. I have enough problems knowing what happened a few pages back never three books back. Maybe I’ve got a bias against it but epic fantasy just scares me.

    I’m sounding like I don’t like fantasy but I do. Garth Nix, Dave Duncan, James Stoddard, Tolkien’s Hobbit, Mark Chadbourn, amongst many others have all held my attention and given me a wonderful experience but I can’t bring myself to tackle the epics of Jordan, Erickson,. I’m just to scared that I’ll get bored and disappointed and then wasted all that time and effort.

    I am an episodic reader and I love Urban Fantasy as it does come in episodic form. I think it helps that it has a touch of reality as the world building takes less effort on the part of the reader. It’s not that far a leap. I guess that fantasy can be accused of being narrow because it’s helping its readers stay grounded by sticking with familiar creatures, societies and stories.

    Somehow I feel safer with new writers like Ruckley, Ruthfoss, Abercrombie, as I’m starting at the beginning and the weight of what I’m committing to isn’t going to hit me quick so much as I’m hoping that they’re not really 200 book epics in disguise.

  • gav (nextread.co.uk) August 25, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Ok, I’ve been thinking about this a little more. I’m confused. I just don’t know enough about the scope of epic/high fantasy. In my head it’s separated into new writers and the old guard.

    The old guard, Jordan, Brooks, Eddings, Goodkind, Williams probably mistakenly represent something traditional. And the new guard like Ruckley, Ruthfoss, Abercrombie, Lynch are trying to shake things up a bit.

    But then again it’s not a corner I’ve lingered in as I’m always put off my the number of pages the stories seem to take. Epic for me will always conjure up book 9 of 200. I like second world fantasy as description and it fits a lot more the books I’ve read.

    But from this outsiders point of view it doesn’t seem that high fantasy is dead and fantasy as a whole is an exciting place to be.

    I do think that Urban Fantasy is appealing to female readers, hence the romantic edge to a lot of titles. And for the most part it has to be a trend but when all that falls away I’d guess it’s still going to have a strong impact when you look at the diversity of writers in the sub-genre and the quality of what they are writing.

  • J.Cormier August 25, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Pamela — I think that’s a very accurate identification of one of the problems of a lot of epic fantasy. It’s exactly the problem that a lot of fantasy authors have — even the big ones. I reviewed The Gypsy Morph, the third book in Terry Brooks’s newest trilogy, recently, and that essentially sums up my review: he was just tying up loose ends. The thrill of discovery was gone, because he didn’t really introduce anything knew. The plot just reached its logical conclusion.

    I also agree with Gav that a lot of fantasy is simply too long. I like it to be long enough to be detailed and deep, but I dislike it when a series is unnecessarily lengthy. The Wheel of Time is a perfect example — a story done in 12 books that could have been done in 8, if not less. I tend to prefer trilogies.

  • […] attitude that Larry’s talking about reared its head a few times in response to my article on feeling oversaturated with Epic Fantasy. Several people mentioned how they have an aversion to ‘Urban Fantasy’ in […]

  • Some worlds never die « Welcome to the Asylum September 19, 2008 at 7:16 am

    […] genre. Is this a passing trend? I personally think so. There is a really good discussion of it here http://aidanmoher.com/blog/?p=230#comment-2057 Epic stories are too much a part of our being. In a commercial, pragmatic world, its nice to fall […]

  • […] couple of months ago, I wrote an article about how I was feeling over saturated with Epic Fantasy. You know the kind – evil forces, […]

  • […] of fantasy, this got me thinking. What made me look even closer to the heart of the matter was the falling out I had with fantasy (of the epic variety, in particular) I had earlier this year. Part of the drive […]

  • Richard Sutton December 18, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Hmm — what a good discussion! I write historical/fantasy myself, and understand how it can get tiring at least. I’m not much of a fan of urban fantasy, mostly because it’s usually somewhat sparse and kind of derivative. A setting and snappy dialog alone IMHO don’t make a book.

    I’m reminded of the dedication and sense of responsibility to their creations that the previous generations of fantasy writers seemed to instill in their books. Tolkien’s writing comes to mind. If a writer is less willing to feel “responsible” to the world created, it will be a lackluster read.