The Thrill is Gone
January 8, 2014 § 7 Comments
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.