I read an award-winning fantasy novel for tonight’s book club meeting. It won one of the many awards given out by the fan community, and that is only right because the book is basically about the fan community. In fact, a good two-thirds of it is a list of books the fan community will have read, and paeans to the delight of finding other people who have read those books.
I’m the target market for this, aren’t I? The very fact that I’m in a fantasy book club marks me as a fan. I had read almost all of the books the narrator listed, at the narrator’s age. Yet I was not charmed by a listing of them, I was irritated. I was not flattered by the image of true fans or convinced that the narrator could find soul mates among them, I was scornful of the superficial relationships portrayed. I did not identify with the narrator’s angst, I wanted her to grow up. The only part of the book I liked was the critical part, where the underpinnings of magic, its ethical issues, the very existence of the narrator’s world and the veracity of her explanations of it were questioned.
This keeps happening to me whenever I venture in from the extreme edges of fandom. I used to think there was something wrong with me, some defect in enthusiasm. But in fact, I have a tremendous enthusiasm – it just isn’t the kind of self-celebratory enthusiasm for enthusiasm itself that seems to dominate fandom nowadays. No, the enthusiasm that led me to SF is for the opposite; for self-questioning narratives.
I like to read things by realists who aren’t sure the world actually exists, by antirealists who think their own positions are internally inconsistent, by religious folks who aren’t sure there is a god. I read conservatives who distrust the Republican party and liberals who think the left wing is going nuts. I love articles about why mouse studies are irrelevant to medicine, how we may be using the wrong endpoints in treating chronic diseases, and whether there really is a ‘normal’ body temperature. If I had a coat of arms it would be a house of cards, and the motto under it would be ‘But This May All Be Wrong…’
Isn’t that what science fiction has always given us? What’s better than a novel to build an alternative world, with new assumptions, yet then show how it may all be wrong? But the point of reading such novels is surely not to sit back and congratulate ourselves for having read them.
Which is to say, I am not in sympathy with a love-letter of a novel that tells me how great it is to be a fan. Reading such stuff brings out all the contrarian in me. I want to argue with every sentence.
So here I head off to a fantasy book club, primed to disagree with every premise on which such a club is founded. It should be an interesting evening.