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This book is precisely what it says on the tin, with a first chapter taking the genre to 1900, a second taking it to 1950, and then individual chapters for each subsequent decade, with two extra chapters for a) J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and b) Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett, the whole text weighing in at less than 220 pages (plus index and lists). It doesn't interrogate the nature of fantasy literature in depth (one of the authors has done that elsewhere) but does define the genre clearly and convincingly, and also looks at when and why particular sub-genres (cute animal fantasies, paranormal romance, Big Commercial Fantasy) have become popular at different times. The authors integrate children's literature and also genre films and television into the narrative; this is not just about fantasy for grownups. It would be rather a good (and inexpensive) gateway text for the reader of fantasy (and/or sf) who wanted to dip their toe into criticism.

I know I always say this, but when I read books like this I want i) a better understanding of books I have already read and ii) suggestions of books I might read in the future which may appeal to me, and I got plenty of both here; I also was provoked to start thinking (though not sufficiently to complete the thought) about the books which received popular and/or literary acclaim which I just didn't like (including Little, Big, Light, and The Sword of Shannara). Mostly I found myself nodding in agreement or realisation with just the occasional raised eyebrow - Diana Wynne Jones surely wrote more than four books in the 1970s (p.139)?

For the non-fiction category of the BSFA awards, I have to choose between only two nominees: this book, or Deepa D's January 2009 blog post "I Didn't Dream of Dragons". Of the other three nominees, Hal Duncan has withdrawn his own (excellent if very lengthy) blog post on "Ethics and Enthusiasm" from consideration, recommending instead that people vote for Deepa D; I haven't seen Interzone recently, which is certainly nobody's fault other than mine, but means I have no opinion on the merits of Nick Lowe's "Mutant Popcorn" column in 2009; and although I greatly admire John Clute, the publishers of his Canary Fever have made it abundantly clear on their website that they are not interested in doing business with people like me who don't have sterling or US dollar bank accounts, so I am unlikely to see it before the voting deadline.

Deepa D's essay is heartfelt and moving, and was one of the best things to come out of last year's bruising RaceFail discussions; indeed it ties in to my professional work to a certain extent, which I rarely get with my reading of sff criticism. It was of course only one part of a much wider conversation (and some people, such as Hal Duncan, will vote for it in order to support that conversation as a whole). I will vote for Mendlesohn and James, however, as their book happens to scratch my particular itch; and in the end that is what voting and awards are all about.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:04 am (UTC)
For Canary Fever, have you contacted Roger (books@beccon.org) and seen if there's an arrangement to be made? I'm sure he'd be amenable.
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:36 am (UTC)
The Beccon website is quite explicit: "Beccon can currently only accept payment by cheque (or cash)" and "Payment can be made in either UK£ or US$." There is no indication that other arrangements can be made; quite the contrary.

I did purchase a book from them last year by paypaling the author's wife who then sent Robinson a cheque, but that seems to me a rather ludicrous arrangement, and I'm sufficiently put off by the bluntness of Beccon's refusal to do business with me that I am not going to bother anyone to do something similar this time.
Feb. 28th, 2010 11:34 am (UTC)
Even though I have a Sterling account, I'm rather disinclined to do business with such places.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 28th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
There is no "they". There is only Roger Robinson. Speaking from the experience of Glorifying Terrorism, Paypal solves all problems, but at a price, at a price.
Apr. 6th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
As multiple nominee FJM says (grin!), it's just one guy who runs Beccon Publications pretty much as a hobby, and does a remarkable job of finding and producing fantastic stuff that isn't being printed by big publishers ... including all the uk filk books.

... he's a good friend and is in my Tuesday quiz league (my team beat his last week, knocking him out of the cup!)

He's not got a business account, so (again as FJM says) PayPal may be the best method, but obviously there will be costs involved.
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:53 am (UTC)
I wonder if the DWJ confusion is because someone looked too quickly at a list like this (scroll down to 'Novels') and failed to notice the way series are listed. I would suspect an editor at work in that case, rather than the author's error.

3 (of 4) Dalemark novels, Charmed Life, Changeover, Wilkins' Tooth, The Ogre Downstairs, Eight Days of Luke, Dogsbody, Power of Three, Who Got Rid of Angus Flint? I make that 11.
Feb. 28th, 2010 09:09 am (UTC)
There's a chronological list here: http://scifan.com/writers/jj/JonesWDiana.asp

Not sure how correct it is though.
Feb. 28th, 2010 09:12 am (UTC)
Looks ok - it's a US list so uses US titles, where they differ, but AFAIK there's no major discrepancy in publishing dates there. That also gives a total of 11 books for the 1970s.
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
No: speaking as the author of both A Short History of Fantasy and a monograph on DWJ, the mistake is a consequence of two parts of the working method.
A) we made lists of all the important books in each decade, and for DWJ we were forced to select.
B) chilperic assumed that I, as the resident expert on DWJ, would of course be correct in what I wrote.
C) When checking the book, we forgot about working method A.

9 books in the 1970s according to my own records. Will correct if there's a second edition.

Edited at 2010-02-28 08:45 pm (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
Re: [blush]
Oh dear. I can see how that would happen, yes. :)

I'm now wondering which title is not 1970s - the publication dates for the volumes I've looked at are all correct on Wikipedia and elsewhere. I suppose Changeover was written before 1970, so that's one; what's the other?
Feb. 28th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
Re: [blush]
It may be a difference between UK and US dates. I'll double check. Thanks for catching this.
Feb. 28th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
The voting method is transferable vote. You can vote for A Short History of Fantasy first, and Deep's Dreaming of Dragons second if you want.
Mar. 1st, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)
Have they published a shortlist, then? I ask because I can't find one on the BSFA website, but last time I checked the nominations, there were 30 in the non-fiction category, including amongst them my recent ex-housemate, Tat Wood.
Mar. 1st, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
I see a link to the shortlist from the BSFA front page - direct link here.
Mar. 1st, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Looks like I may have had an older version of the front page cached. Sorry to see that Tat's book didn't make the cut - I quite liked the idea of being able to say a BSFA winner had been written in my house!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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