Guest Post: “In Defense of Fluff and Fun” by Erin Lindsey
You may have caught our review (and GIVEAWAY too!) of The Bloodbound last week, and today we are excited to have author Erin Lindsey on board to talk discuss the novel and her approach to world-building. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and if you haven’t checked out our giveaway yet, there’s still time! It is an excellent book with its perfect mix of fantasy and romance, and not to be missed.
IN DEFENSE OF FLUFF AND FUN
by Erin Lindsey
Recently, I came across an article by Justin Landon on Tor.com [http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/09/book-review-the-broken-eye-brent-weeks] that made me sit up and say Yes.
The post was primarily a review of THE BROKEN EYE by Brent Weeks. The part that made me sit up and take notice, though, was this:
“The frustration I have … is [the suggestion that] there’s something wrong with pulp, and that epic fantasy should necessarily have some larger agenda. … Is it enough to merely entertain? I believe this argument is at the core of a lot of criticism that surrounds epic fantasy.”
I couldn’t agree more, and in fact I’d extend the argument to SF/F in general. Somewhere along the line, it has become a virtual truism in speculative fiction that it isn’t enough merely to tell a good story. A book might be wildly entertaining, but if it isn’t tackling some Big Issue, then it falls short. At the very least, it should challenge genre tropes, subvert expectations, dazzle us with meticulous research and thought-provoking what ifs. It should be meaningful.
The thing is, I don’t buy that. In fact, I think it’s rubbish.
I admire a complex, thought-provoking tale as much as the next person. Guy Gavriel Kay’s TIGANA made me want to hang ‘em up forever, because there was just no way I could ever craft something that brilliant. The commentary on the importance of identity and control of the historical narrative… it resonated so much with me. But you know what? I’ve had just as much fun reading what Landon refers to as “charismatic fluff” – and I’m not ashamed of it. Where is written that SF/F has to be cerebral to be good?
I have a similar attitude when it comes to world-building. One of my biggest pet peeves as a reader of fantasy is gratuitous world-building – “gratuitous” being the operative word here. World-building is a necessary – and wonderful – feature of the genre. But there is a fine line between adding depth and texture and indulging in unnecessary flourishes that don’t actually enhance the story in any meaningful way. Do I really need to know the two hundred year backstory of the hero’s family estate? Is it important to the plot that the spiced mutton being served at this meal is stewed in cherries because that’s the way King Unpronouncablename decreed it must be prepared during the Reign of Terror and it’s been like that ever since? Do I need the entire theology of the world to be crammed into Book 1 of the series? I love it when these kinds of details are folded in gradually and elegantly, in ways that enhance the story. Too often, though, they’re a detour, a scenic route taken not for the reader, but for the author, just to show that s/he’s thought it through. As a writer, I certainly understand the impulse – you’ve created a three dimensional world, and you want to show it off – but as a reader, I often find it disruptive. It doesn’t enrich the story, but intrudes on it. At worst, it can come off as self-indulgent and boring.
So how much is too much? I think it comes down to taste. As with descriptive language, romance, and so many things, some like a heavier hand, some a lighter touch. Somehow, though, it seems as if elaborate world-building, like thought-provoking themes, has become a requirement for the genre, a once-size-fits-all criterion against which all contenders will be measured. I think that’s a shame.
No surprise, then, that as an author, I tend towards minimalism. With THE BLOODBOUND, I made a conscious effort to focus on characters rather than magic systems and religions and backstory. I didn’t have a Message, and the themes I’m playing with are certainly not new. As it says in my author bio, I wanted to create the perfect summer vacation novel. I wasn’t out to re-invent the wheel – just to make it the shiniest, fastest, most entertaining wheel it could be. Because for my money, those sorts of books are often the most enjoyable.
Your mileage may vary. But that’s the beauty of speculative fiction – it’s all about variety.
Or at least, it should be.
* * *
Erin Lindsey is on a quest to write the perfect summer vacation novel, with just the right blend of action, heartbreak, and triumph. The Bloodbound is her first effort. She lives and works in Bujumbura, Burundi, with her husband a pair of half-domesticated cats.