Episode 45: Live with Gary K. Wolfe

Well, the world turned upside down. For scheduling reasons we recorded at a new time, so it was morning in Chicago and late in the evening in Perth. We barely knew what to do, but we did discuss Diana Wynne Jones, Shaun Tan, cover art, framing questions, and other stuff. We’ll return to normal next week, but hope this works (Apologies for a brief glitch at the 9min mark or so).

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9 thoughts on “Episode 45: Live with Gary K. Wolfe”

  1. I was very startled to hear Gary say that Diana Wynne Jones didn’t belong to an obvious tradition within ‘our field’! She would have to be one of the most influential modern fantasists I can think of, considering how dearly her work is loved and respected by so many major writers. You can certainly see the debt that Neil Gaiman and Garth Nix – and just about anyone who writes fantasy at least partially set in the contemporary world – owe to her voice and her portrayal of magic as something that exists in the same universe as dressing gowns and mugs of cocoa and umbrellas.

    In particular (though it has I think never been acknowledged by the Rowling camp) you can see the collected work of Diana Wynne Jones standing squarely between the Victorian-early 20th century fantasists like E. Nesbit, J.M. Barrie and C.S. Lewis, and the Harry Potter books.

    Then there are her juvenile SF novels, and her Tough Guide to Fantasy (a seminal work, in all seriousness, and one recently reprinted to great excitement) and – here I completely lose all sense of neutrality – her comic fantasy novels Dark Lord of Derkholm which so fiercely and cleverly puncture the cliches of the genre. She was utterly immersed in our field, and large sections of it have been rather immersed in her and her work, for decades!

    I’m not arguing against her originality, but she was certainly not working in a vacuum – her influence on the field is resounding, and will continue to be so for generations. I could go on, but I will spare you – after all, I haven’t even read Farah’s book yet! That should provide rather more ammunition. :D

  2. I don’t disagree with you at all, Tansy, and this is what I get for trying to sound coherent early in the morning. The point I’d hoped I was making in saying she didn’t seem to belong to an obvious tradition was that her work didn’t seem to me to emerge from familiar traditions of Tolkienesque or sword & sorcery or much earlier magical fantasy. I’ve not read her widely, but what I did read struck me as disarmingly original, even though the Tough Guide to Fantasyland clearly demonstrated that she knew her way through these earlier traditions, with a very astute eye.

    So I wasn’t talking about her influence on later writers, which I do not for a moment deny. She may well have shaped an entire tradition on her own, and I probably should have followed up on that.

    Just to give you an idea of how foggy I was, I also mentioned a story from Jonathan’s Eclipse Four which I couldn’t remember the title of (it was Emma Bull’s “Nine Oracles”). What prompted me to mention it was that I was looking at a copy of Eclipse Four as I spoke, and it somehow didn’t occur to me that I could open the book and look. Which I eventually thought to do, about an hour after the podcast.

  3. Hi Gary!

    All fogginess is allowed for, of course!

    She certainly shaped a tradition of her own (I love the phrase “disarmingly original”) but I have a bit of a bugbear about the British Children’s Fantasists being treated as somehow outside, or peripheral to the genre – largely because as soon as YA and Children’s authors get excluded from lists or discussions, a lot of women get chucked out with the bathwater.

    I think a lot of DWJ’s work has emerged from a variety of fantasy traditions, but I also tend to jump up and down a bit at any suggestion that if fantasy does not relate back to Tolkien or the sword and sorceries, then it stands alone.

    Would be happy to discuss this further some time. :D

  4. Well, ain’t that funny – just so happens I’m halfway through rereading the Helliconia trilogy at the moment! I’d never thought of it as Victorian family sagas set on a Big Idea Hard SF wordbuild, but you’re completely right, that’s exactly what it is – totally changed the way I understand it as a text. It’s the insights like that that keep me coming back. ;)

    (Well, that and the discussions about the weather, but then I am a Brit… :) )

  5. Tansy got to this one before I did (and her aim is surer, I think), but I am inclined to believe that there are reasons that Neil Gaiman (whose debt to Diana Wynne Jones has been mentioned) waxes enthusiastic about Lud-in-the-Mist, as it seems to lie smack in the path of Jones’ branch of fantasy. Keri Sperring has a recent journal entry that lists the women whose fantasy worldbuilding draws her in (http://users.livejournal.com/la_marquise_de_/291002.html), and it starts with Hope Mirlees and Sylvia Townsend Warner, with Diana Wynne Jones about half-way down the column. Those two seem to me to be part of the root-stock, as does Joan Aiken. (Aiken’s work coincides with much of Jones’, but she was about a decade older.) I suspect the Brontes of lurking in the deep background, un-genre bound as they may be. While you might not be entirely wrong to imagine that George Macdonald and C.S. Lewis are tangentially involved, it’s a very female line of descent. I could, at this point, stomp hard on the hem of the invisibility cloak surrounding the lineage, but I’ll try to refrain.

    Like Jonathan, I stalled out hard (and repeatedly) in attempts to read Helliconia. If I think of it as Victorian, I might just be able to try again and overcome! Thanks for that.

  6. “Science fiction is not about prediction, but about storytelling.”

    Re: The predictive power (or not) of SF:

    SF: “Used to free fall from two previous experiences, and loving it, the fluffy little cat was soon bounding about the cabin in curves and gyrations that would have made her the envy of all back-alley and parlor felines on the planet below. A miracle cat in the dream world of free fall. For a long time she played with a string that the man would toss out lazily. Sometimes she caught the string on the fly, sometimes she swam for it franctically. [...] The cat carefully selected a spot three feet off the floor, curled up on the air, and went to sleep” (Fritz Leiber, “Poor Superman” [1951]).

    and reality (well, sort of):

  7. I think “reality” got lost in posting. Just google “Weightless cats – I can has gravity?”.

  8. Very interesting discussion on the waning influence of Brian Aldiss – which I first heard as ‘Aldous’ and was soon baffled by your assertion that Huxley wrote about starships and other genre topics.
    And the UK title of “Starship” is “Non-Stop”.

  9. Indeed! Thanks for the clarification Mark. I’m not sure why his influence seems on the wane. He wrote a lot of great work and is a fantastic editor/critic too.

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