The Thrill is Gone

January 8, 2014 § 7 Comments

Over the past couple of days, I have seen writers, publishers, publicists, and a legion of other sundry foot soldiers of that nefarious “fandom” discuss the works that should or should not eligible for a few awards, such as the BSFA and WorldCon/Hugo Awards.  Some of their choices I think are risible; others I sigh at, knowing that these have a legitimate chance at making the final ballot.  But instead of begrudging others their choices and their rationales for promoting this work (occasionally their own, in the case of writers wanting voters to remember their own eligible writing), I want instead to reflect on something else that occurred to me last night, soon after I wrote a post listing some anticipated 2014 releases.

If you look at that list,  there are almost no epic fantasies and even fewer outright science fiction works there.  Ten years ago, just before I started this blog, there would have been many more of each that I would have cited as works of interest.  But today?  No, outside of being curious to see how a few finish their works, there is nothing that makes me want to read a secondary-world fantasy.  The imagined vistas?  They all feel much the same to me, as though they were templates upon which a few “trendy” elements such as increased violence and “geek stuff” were plastered.  Neither has ever appealed to me, but more importantly is the realization that I just don’t feel my imagination stimulated anymore by reading any of this pulp fiction.  Whereas at 13 I might find myself re-reading all of Tolkien’s available works because I loved maps and histories and thought it was a good substitute for the histories of the Plantagenets or the mysteries of the pyramids, today I find myself turning both inward and outward, looking at where I am as a human being entering middle age and the aspirations and dreams both realized and frustrated, as well as wanting to understand other cultures, other people, the very “other” itself.

Poetry, ever a love of mine since early adolescence when my mother, a middle school/high school English teacher, managed to get me to love it (it also helped that several older relatives such as my maternal grandparents loved it as well), has been more and more on my mind.  The symbols and metaphors embedded in verse, some of it possessing a chant-like quality, has absorbed more and more of my mind.  Instead of eagerly waiting the next Brandon Sanderson novel, for example, I find myself thinking more about Odysseus, Aeneas, and Orlando and the vistas described within.  There is something musical about poetry and while it shifts from lingua to lingua, there is a quality of singing that remains even within translated poetry.  Twenty years after the course, I find myself thinking that my university course on The Aeneid in Latin was one of the most important courses I ever took in terms of teaching me how to appreciate not just an epic poem, but also the craft of reading and the reader’s pouring of him/herself into the understanding of it.  I truly believe that I wouldn’t be the tenth the critic that I am today if it were not for that Latin professor, now deceased, who helped me learn how to love something so foreign to me.

There just really isn’t much poetry or even any metaphoric elements to be found in what is sometimes labeled as “core genre” fiction.  There is formula and little else.  I am not opposed to writings being written to a formula (after all, some of my favorite works lift elements from anterior sources), but I do find myself wishing that there was something else, something “thrilling” out there.  Outside of the unsettling nature of the best weird fiction stories, there is very little being published today outside of some character studies/social-realist fictions that engage me.  I may not be a professor dithering about an affair with a student, but I am closer to that professor’s ambivalence about growing older and more feeble than I am toward a hooded assassin or any other assorted badass.

Such things seem to be the province of youth.  Years ago, I might have liked them more (even though in my late teens and into my mid-20ths, I had barely read any genre fiction outside of Tolkien or Bradbury), but now?  No, the thrill is gone and I am left wanting something more substantive, something that speaks to my middle-age desires than to any youthful flights of fantasy.  To the younger and I suppose “young at heart,” perhaps SF/F contains much to delight them.  For me, however, there is only the sense of ashes remaining on the tip of my tongue, awaiting some literary fruit to remove its acrid flavor.

§ 7 Responses to The Thrill is Gone

  • Biblibio says:

    I don't think that feeling has anything to do with the specific genre you might be following, rather it's an indicator of everything. I noticed a long time ago that if I stuck too much to one genre, or one designation (young adult, classics, kids, etc.), or one type of author (middle-class New York thirty-something men), I got bored very, very quickly.

    For me (and it seems like for you as well) reading is about broadening horizons. It's about finding something new, something that will change how I view things. Formulaic books, or ones that rehash the exact same ideas that previous books have done better, are pointless.

    I don't think it's true that there are no more exciting epic fantasies or sci-fi novels being published or even that it has something to do with age (but perhaps I'm just too young to know?), just like I don't think it's true for any other genre. There's a lot of derivative, boring stuff coming out, but it's still occasionally possible to find brilliance hidden in the stacks…

  • Larry Nolen says:

    True, there is the likelihood of at least some burnout occurring even despite my best efforts to read a wide array of literary forms and genres. But there's also been this growing feeling that the search for “the new” isn't sating my desire for something else, for some vague desire to understand the changes occurring within me.

    It just may be that I am not currently receptive to anything good/original coming out from certain literary quarters precisely because their themes speak much more to a younger or at least a less world-weary heart than my current one.

  • Eric Rhoads says:

    Sure burnout is a part of it but I am more inclined to agree with your original assertion that modern genre is simply missing the richness of epic poetry.

    I know my time spent translating Latin poetry and being made to sing it in verse and discuss the careful interplay between grammar, meter, etc, really opened my eyes to what literature could be.

    I still deeply enjoy genre fiction but I would like to see a little “more” occasionally from the genre world.

  • Anonymous says:

    The amount of books you get through Larry I'm not surprised you've got burnout.

    Nearly Headless Ned.

  • cmike says:

    Yea really. These bloggers who read 215 books a year. Is that really reading for the love of the written word….the thrill of a story beginning to end? I don't know how you get anything out of your reading “experience”. I've been there, read so many books a year I really could only remember the few gems. No, I research, I listen, I think about all that is said in all the MANY blogs about EVERY release and I read what I truly YEARN to read and I read what I chose to SAVOUR and I read I….word by word. Every now and again, a dud……but no burn out because I read more than I could EVER enjoy. Love…..

  • Larry Nolen says:

    Eric,

    You touch upon something very dear to me, the “singing” aspect of hexameter verse, the variation of spondees and caesuras and how ellisions make even more prosaic words seem like something new. After all, it's no accident that Vergil begins with “Arma virumque cano.”

    NHN,

    While I'm not discounting the possibility of limited burnout, I think it's not due to the amounts of what I read rather than a complex series of changes in my life. I hesitate to say “maturation,” but perhaps that is what is going on here.

    Cmike,

    I just happen to be able to process what I read about 5-10 times faster than most people. That certainly does not preclude any “enjoyment,” as I enjoy quite a few things, just more in a time span than the average. Any burnout (which again I don't think is really the case, although I'm not discounting the possibility) would be more in writing about what I've read and while I certainly haven't been as enthusiastic about that in the past 18 months or so, I've noticed in the past three weeks that I am again blogging regularly (at least once a day over the past 18 days or so, I believe) and what I'm writing about for the most part is about things that enthuse me. This article just happened to be an observation about a change in taste and how certain things that I liked to read in my 20s I don't read much of in my late 30s.

    Trust me, I do savor quite a bit of what I read. Take the post a couple of days ago about Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen's poetry, one short example of that I translated from Portuguese. I'm going to try to write more about those things that I read which bring delight, even if it is nigh impossible to capture fully that emotion in writing about and translating verse.

  • genrebending says:

    Our reading tastes certainly change as we ho through life, I think that's a given. I myself tend to go through phases of wanting to read literary fiction, non-fiction, genre. I agree with Biblio, I think that diversity in reading is key to enjoyment. Looking at your reading list, I think you're still looking for something a little bit wondrous and strange in books. It's speculative fiction in a different guise, if you will.

    I am certainly in awe of your ability to read this much. I consider myself a fairly serious reader (159 books in 2013), but you leave me in the dust.

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