A Purist Grownup Nerd, Kinda

I used to make faces at people like me. People who would say about a story and/or a TV show and/or a game, movie, comic book—we used to call that [x] and it was sooooo much better in those days.

Then I found myself at one of the Oregon Coast Writing Workshops in which everyone had turned in an (assigned) urban fantasy story, and I caught myself thinking—although I didn’t say, exactly—“back when we called that contemporary fantasy, and we didn’t just have to stick it in a city for genre reasons.” Okay, maybe I did say some of that, but not all of it.

Still. I annoyed myself. And probably a bunch of the listeners.

And I can’t help it.

Because I’ve developed some serious pet peeves in the last twenty years.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. Vampires as sexy love partners, particularly for teenagers. Let me ask you this: why in God’s name are we celebrating that non-human creatures who prey on human beings are falling in love with teenagers? Especially when these non-humans are at least 100 years old.  Why isn’t that pedophilia? And why in the hell are these guys (and they’re usually guys) hanging around high schools? And why is that sexy?

2. Were-creatures as sexy love partners, for frickin’ anyone. I’m going to be clear here: What follows is not metaphorical. If my lover turns into some big hairy beast in the middle of lovemaking, I am going to run screaming out of the room. I might call the police, if I think they’ll believe that I’m not totally insane, and then I will never ever ever see this guy again, even if when he’s a non-hairy non-beast he’s the nicest guy in the world. Prejudiced? Okay. I’m not into bestiality. Sorry. (Although my cats are probably relieved.)

3. The urban fantasy glut. Some urban fantasy writers are fan-tastic. I love what they do. The rest seem to follow a very stupid formula. Fight scene with the emotional depth of a game scenario, some character interaction, sex, fight scene, character interaction, Revelation!!!, fight scene . . . and I just don’t care any more. Theme? Nah. Voice? Not unless you count snark that sounds the same from character to character. Ethics? Not really. Morality? Not really.

And, I’m sorry, I’m probably being insulting to game scenarios. Some have tremendous emotional depth. Which means I’d rather be exploring some mythic world in a MMPRPG than reading one of these novels. . . .

4. Unintelligible science fiction. Okay, this one has always been a pet peeve of mine, from the time I started reading sf. I got my start with sf through Andre Norton, Star Trek, and Flowers For Algernon, so I’m biased toward human-centered sf adventure stories or at least to stories that have some rigorous science that makes me cry. The stuff that is all about the latest scientific discovery extrapolated to the year 2233 and written in “future language”? I find that stuff pretentious as hell.

And the idea that you can’t write an sf story without being original should be tossed out along with a lot of the other assumptions of the 1960s.  Seriously. If you don’t want genre tropes to invade your fiction, then read nonfiction. Because every other genre allows repetition and expansion of basic ideas.

You know, like murder in a mystery or happily ever after in a romance. Sometimes spaceships go “whoosh!” in space opera. Get over it.

5. Post Human stories. These things are about what happens when humans are no longer human. You know, when technology gets so advanced that we no longer seem like people.

Um, humans are hard-wired to be human. Sorry. If you could figure out a way past the language barrier and some of the customs, you could have a great conversation with someone from Ancient Greece. You could talk democracy or slavery or heck, human sexuality in all of its forms. You could talk theater or whether or not your last marriage was happy. You could even discuss food.

Humans are humans are humans. If you want to write/read about something that’s not human, either pick an existing creature (Robert Crais just wrote a great dog point of view in his latest mystery novel, Suspect) or make up an alien. A true alien, not a Star Trek alien, which is often so American-normal that there are people in other countries who are weirder.

I admit, some of my crankiness does come from more than forty years of reading sf and fantasy. I do crave something—well, new isn’t exactly accurate. Well done is probably better.

Sure, I’ll read a story about a vampire in high school if the voice is good and the creep isn’t hitting on 16 year old girls (or if he is, make him the villain of the piece, for heaven’s sake). I’ll read about were-creatures if they can control their shifting (or nearly control it—I’m thinking of you, Mr. Banner. Yes, I know you’re not a werecreature, per se, but you do shift form) or if the out-of-control shifting is an issue, and not something that is (ahem) sexy. Unless, of course, the creature that finds it sexy is another werecreature of the same vintage. And even then, you’ll have to write me past some of the more graphic parts.

Eventually urban fantasy won’t be glutted and there will be room for a good contemporary fantasy set in Small Town USA with a little bit of magic or a hint of the supernatural. And there won’t be tons of senseless fight scenes.

When the glut goes away, only the best urban fantasy authors will remain. The copycats who can’t write good characters will leave, and we’ll move on to some other trend. But the best authors will remain, and urban fantasy or contemporary fantasy or whatever the hell you want to call it will be the better for it.

Honestly, I’ve read a few post-human stories that I like. Those stories have managed to convince me that some kind of technology will change part of the human condition, but not all of it. Those stories are rare.

But I’ll be frank: I’ll never get past my prejudice against unintelligible science fiction. I really don’t care about the latest idea, in fiction form. I love reading that stuff in non-fiction—by writers who make such topics interesting. Most of this “original” science fiction doesn’t have anything I read for, from characters, to heart, to a cool setting, to adventure. So I have to chalk this one up to disliking that particular genre is as hard-wired in my brain as . . . well, being human is.

Maybe I’m becoming a cranky old fart. Or maybe I’ve just read so much it’s hard to surprise me any more. But I do find that I’m a lot more tolerant of fiction that would have driven me bonkers in my politically correct twenties. So maybe I’m just a different person.

Or maybe it’s time you get off my lawn.

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