May. 24th, 2008

heron61: (Gaming)
Here's an absolutely fabulous article on the influence of RPGs on modern fantasy authors. In addition to being a fantastic article, it's also wonderful for me, because I had only heard of two of the authors mentioned (being far more knowledgeable about SF than fantasy) and several of the others look to be quite interesting (and thankfully none of them are writing the sort of genetic Tolkienesque fantasy I have no interest in reading - Paul Witcover's Tumbling After sounds especially fascinating.

However, the article itself is also excellent. I've seen a great deal of dismissal of gaming by some SF&F authors & fans, and it's wonderful to see such an alternative and positive view. Also, the last portion of the article contains China Mieville's discussion of the issues, and is predictably amazing. While he does not ( as I very much do in this post) dismiss outright fantasist M. John Harrison's (IMHO somewhat condescending and ill-informed) dismissal of what he refers to as "commercial fantasy", Mieville also clearly does not agree, and instead has the following to say:
RPGs had a powerful effect on his subconscious in what he referred to as the "awe/system" dichotomy. "Many of us who love the fantastic, particularly the generic fantastic (as opposed to, say, what you could loosely call the 'haute literary' fantastic (scare quotes deliberate) of Gogol, Bulgakov, Kafka, etc. —) is an oscillation between two aesthetic gravitational pulls. One is what is sometimes called the sensawunda. From this perspective, what draws us to the fantastic (including sf and, in a 'bad-numinous' version, horror), is the awe at the unrepresentable. The vasty strangeness, the 'Real' (in Lacanian terms), that which is definitionally beyond our power to successfully represent. You see that in everything from the appearance of Cthulhu to the apotheotic monolith of 2001 to the sudden Becoming at the end of Tiger! Tiger! That's the side of the fantastic that puts it in a lineage with the visionary and ecstatic.

At the other end of the pole, however, is "our obsessive love for systematization, for categorization and rigid and rigorous taxonomy. This you see in the profusion of bestiaries, of spurious encyclopedias, and above all in the 'stats' and rules of fantasy RPGs. A lot of what we think of as genre fantasy seems to me a fascinating crossbreed of those contradictory pulls. What we love about Cthulhu is that it is beyond our ken, as Lovecraft repeatedly points out. Then, in an act of Promethean heroic vulgarization, the Call of Cthulhu RPG neatly laid out Cthulhu's 'Stats' - Str, 100, or whatever it is. This is not a dis of RPGs. My point is that that desire to systematize even the fantastic, the point of which is to evade systematization, is a kind of geek honor, a ludicrous and incredibly seductive and even creative project, an almost majestic point-missing, that in missing the point, does something new."

Mieville views his own work as oscillating between these poles. "I see that tension between wanting to remain true to what I think of as a M. John Harrisonian fidelity to the inherently unstable and evasive nature of the fantastic — his Viriconium, after all, changes its names and its boundaries, and its refusal to submit to RPG-style rules is part of what makes it magnificent — and the passionate D&D-style desire to rulify and systematize the world — to have stable maps, a set of bestiaries, a timeline, etc. (Perdido Street Station includes a party of cheerfully psychopathic and amoral player-characters, as an affectionate internal swipe at my inspirations.) For me that system/awe dichotomy is key to genre fantasy, and the systematization of the system half of that dyad is the RPG-tradition's great feat. We can react against it, surrender to it, argue with it, or whatever, but it's part of the mulch in which we grow."
There's not much that I can say to that beyond agreement and being again impressed with Mieville.

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