Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.
When one considers the difference between fantasy and science fiction, theme should be taken into account as a determining factor. I like to separate the genres according to themes of novelty and nostalgia. Science fiction is beholden to the Novel. The events and story begin by observing certain truths about the world but, by the end, those truths will have been subverted in some way. The world in which the story began will be headed in a totally new direction.
An easy example from cinema of this adherence to novelty is The Matrix. The truth revealed to Neo about the world sets off a series of events that will change the way characters perceive reality forever forward. Some of the final words we hear from Neo are “I didn’t come here to tell you how it’s going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.” He promises to show the people a world where anything is possible.
These are very science fictional statements. Ender’s Game fits this mold in that Ender has altered his reality irrevocably by the end of the story. The future it presented is totally different from the world (universe) readers were presented with in the beginning. Rendezvous with Rama, a story concerning human confrontation with a truth larger than any thus conceived, also hues closely to a plot governed by novelty. Each story is about reconciling a new worldview and the problems it presents.
Fantasy on the other hand deals very often with themes of nostalgia. Fantasy presents an ideal, sometimes bucolic setting to begin a story. Imagine the Shire at the start of the The Lord of the Rings. That ideal is then upset by the introduction of a threat to the status quo, a threat to everything we think should be true about the world: namely, that good is the predominant force in the world. The story, then, is about vanquishing that threat in order to return the world to its ideal state.
Given the influence that the Lord of the Rings has had on the genre, there are any number of fantasies that fit this mold (but there are many that are working to subvert that tradition, too). Mainly, what I’m hoping to begin here is a loose examination of novelty and nostalgia. This week is for novelty, as we look ahead to what books we can be excited about for 2014. Next week will be nostalgia as we look back on the publishing highlights of 2013.
As for what is novel in 2014, Daryl Gregory has some very interesting ideas about what the future will hold. His new book, Afterparty, is scheduled for April. On his blog, Mr. Gregory calls his forthcoming book a “near-future SF novel about neuroscience, drugs, crime, and God.” I like all those things. To this he adds that Elmore Leonard and Philip K. Dick were his main influences for the book. I can’t think of many corners cooler than the intersection of those two writers. I for one am very excited to sample the wares Mr. Gregory will be slinging this spring.
I am also very excited for the February release of Burn, the concluding novel in the Pure Trilogy by Julianna Baggott. Ms. Baggott is one of those authors who is taking the genre in unexpected directions. Nominally a post-apocalyptic dystopian series, the Pure Trilogy puts a new spin on established tropes, infusing a bit of New Weird into a YA coming-of-age love story. It may sound like a lot of elements clashing, but it is really an orchestral presentation of a vivid world, and Ms. Baggott’s expert prose lifts these books above the morass of typical YA dystopia.
My third but by no means least anticipated book scheduled for 2014 is Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, a book that promises to be the first in a series called the Southern Reach Trilogy. You may know Mr. VanderMeer from his Omnivoracious posts or from his stories set in the city of Ambergris. He is a critic, an editor, and an author who is hard to categorize.
The tagline for the book, which does little to help us narrow the field, reads “If J.J. Abrams, Margaret Atwood, and Alan Weisman collaborated on a novel...it might be this awesome.” Let’s hope so. That sounds like a promising conjunction, but it does little to tell us about what the book is.
For that, we have VanderMeer himself, who gives us a bit of a preview on his blog. One of the great things about this trilogy is that all three books are scheduled for 2014. Annihilation is slated for February, the second book, Authority, is slotted for May, and the final book, Acceptance, is going to be ready in the fall.
I think it is a good move from a reader standpoint to get all the books into the marketplace in a timely fashion. Who knows what new thing may sweep in and change the way we think about the world. Next week I’ll be back to reminisce about the 2013 titles that we know and love. In the meantime, are there books on the horizon that you can’t wait for?