Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guest Post: Every Work of Fiction is a Fantasy

The latest release from Seventh Star Press is a book called Spirit of Fire, the third installment of the Fires in Eden series and author Stephen Zimmer’s sixth published novel.  It’s an epic fantasy romp I’m eager to read (and if you haven’t gotten your copy yet, Amazon is your friend).  SSP has launched a blog tour to coincide with the release, and they’ve been kind enough to fit me in on the tail end of the tour.  I even got the badge to prove it, see?  I’m official.

Fantasy has always been a genre near and dear to my heart.  I practically cut my teeth on this stuff.  During high school, my leisure reading was composed almost entirely of sci-fi and fantasy novels.  But when I went to college and jumped head first into the world of high-falutin’ learnin’ and figurin’ (i.e., all the stuff they make you read as an English major), I began to drift away from my roots.  I blame it on the insane number of classics I had to read—none of which, by the way, included my beloved Fantasy.  OK, so there was that entire class on Arthurian lit, and then we read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, which is kind of sci-fi/pulp, but not really.  And you might say that “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” counts too, but whatever.  The hell with you.  You know what I’m getting at, so quit playing the devil’s advocate.

Anyhow, since getting into this book blogging thing, I’ve been sampling more fantastical fare than I have in the last ten years, and low and behold, I’m liking it.  I thought I’d long since moved past dragons and space ships and knights in shining armor.  But I haven’t.  They still resonate with me despite all that literary indoctrination, and I can’t help but wonder why the literary canon doesn’t show more love to the fantasy nerds.  I mean, there’s plenty of high-quality stuff out there, fantastic literature worthy of being studied and dissected and analyzed in an effort to understand deep thematic components.  So what gives?

To this end I asked Stephen Zimmer if he wouldn’t mind stopping by and giving his opinion on the subject—which, to put it mildly, is an impassioned defense of the Fantasy and, indeed, speculative fiction as a whole.  So with that being said, I’ll step to the side and let the man speak. 

Stephen, my good sir, you have the floor.


There is a particular phrase that I have heard used in a few variations, from several people, in several places, which sums up everything nicely when it comes to a discussion of the literary merits of the fantasy genre.

 “All fiction is a form of fantasy.”

When you really think about it, this is true.  All fiction derives from the imagination, no matter if it is a literary novel or the latest manga.  Fiction, at its essence, whether it features dragons and wizards or not, is a fantasized creation on the part of the author.  That goes for mysteries, dramas, romance, and even literary fiction.

This is why I always chuckle when speculative fiction is treated in some circles as a second class, or even third class, type of literature.  Such thinking demonstrates a rather substantial level of naïveté.  If anything, fantasy, horror, steampunk, and all the speculative fiction genres contain unique writing challenges that authors in literary fiction never have to worry about in their artistic process.

The ultimate goal of a writer is to connect with a reader in such a way that a story comes alive.  It is the art of using words to create a sense of realism, to attain that suspension of disbelief.  Achieving that kind of reality when dealing with things that the reader has likely not encountered in their daily lives, from exotic creatures to different worlds, raises the bar even higher in some ways for a writer of speculative fiction. 

To get a reader to believe in dragons, or the reality of Westeros, Middle Earth, or the Hyborean Age, is no small feat.  I find it highly ironic that the very thing that fantasy is disparaged for by some literary types is actually one of the most compelling strengths when evaluating fantasy and speculative fiction’s literary merits.

At its core, fantasy and speculative fiction of all kinds are no different than any other genre of fiction.  An author still has to succeed in delivering solid characters and interesting plots, no matter what kind of fantastical dressing has been applied.  The speculative fiction writer’s challenge is no less than the literary fiction writer’s when it comes to description, point of view, exposition, action, or any of the other ingredients contained in a well-written piece of fiction.  

Yet, there are some additional areas to consider that are more unique to the speculative fiction genre.  With some areas of speculative fiction, such as epic fantasy, there is a high degree of complexity to the large casts, plots, and sub-plots that far surpasses what you find in literary fiction.  This cannot be underestimated, as creating an ensemble cast that is filled with distinctive, dynamic characters, and constructing layered plots and subplots that flow together well, is no easy task for an author. 

Ask yourself right now, do you often find entire new worlds, filled with the richness and depth of Middle Earth, portrayed in literary fiction?  Do you find a multitude of characters like you do in A Song of Ice and Fire, all of whom are fleshed out, living and breathing, and unique, in literary fiction?  Do you find the kind of plot complexity that builds from book to book, with the depths of foreshadowing and setups, that you do in a series like Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen novels?   No, I didn’t think you would find these things in literary fiction novels, and these are some of the reasons why I do get a little tired of hearing some of the barbs and patronizing remarks that I occasionally hear from literary fiction writers. 

Let’s look at another area.  How about the range exhibited in epic fantasy and some of the other speculative fiction areas such as space opera?  An epic fantasy tale can shift gears smoothly from an intimate character moment to a cosmic perspective, and everything in between.   From the Valar and their conflict with Melkor, down to a couple of hobbits making their way together on a long journey, everything has its place in the story of Middle Earth.  Gods and mortals dwell in the same tale, which can encompass centuries, or even millennia of a world’s history.   

Of course, this kind of range can get unwieldy if not done right, but few genres offer the ability to take such a range of views in the telling of a story.  To use a painting analogy, it gives the author the broadest of palettes to work from.  Or, to use a movie-making analogy, it gives the author a full range of lenses, from the most extreme close-up to the widest angle possible.   Layers, depth, and complexity are afforded the epic fantasy and larger-scale speculative fiction writer in a way unrivaled in other genres.  

Finally, let’s take a look at the area of world-building that has such a strong place in many facets of speculative fiction.  The development of an engaging world involves well-thought out cultural aspects, politics, religion, geography, and history, and all of it within an inventive context as it pertains to a world other than the one that we, authors and readers alike, inhabit.  A vibrant, compelling world requires sound research in multiple areas, and careful thought processes in the implementation.  

The various spheres must work well together for a story to really take on life.  A prime example of doing it well is A Song of Ice and Fire, with Westeros’ conflict between its various kingdoms and lords, the slaver cultures that Dany has to contend with across the sea, the conflict of religions with the coming of Melisandre and her advocacy of the Lord of Light, the icy north with the Wall, and so many more elements weaving together politics, geography, culture, and religion into one great story.  It takes a well-rounded mind that has engaged in thorough research in many areas to craft something of this magnitude.

While some may not personally enjoy speculative fiction or epic fantasy, it is high time that they accord it the respect it rightfully deserves.  Speculative fiction has every bit as much literary merit as anything else out there, and in some ways challenges authors in unique ways when it comes to the writing process.  So the next time you hear speculative fiction being slighted, just stand tall and remind the misguided individual that “all fiction is a form of fantasy.”


Author Biography:  Born in Denver, Colorado, Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning fantasy author and filmmaker based out of Lexington, Kentucky.  Stephen has two series being published through Seventh Star Press:  the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series (which includes Crown of Vengeance, the winner of a 2010 Pluto Award for Best Novel) and the urban fantasy series, The Rising Dawn Saga.  Both series are now affiliated with two growing collections of eBook short stories, The Chonicles of Ave and The Annals of the Rising Dawn.  Stephen’s short fiction has also been featured in the Dreams of Steam I and II from Kerlak Publishing.  Further information about Stephen and his work can be found on his website, his blog, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. Great stuff as always from Jomathan and Stephen

  2. Thanks for having me address this topic, as it is something I'm more than a little passionate about. :)

    1. Really? I couldn't tell. :)

      Passion for a subject just means you care about it, and if you care about it, you're more likely to do a good job with it--just another reason I'm eager to read your work!

  3. This is the result when an author meets and excellent host on the blog tour.

    Well done Stephen and Jonathan.

  4. Ah, excellent post. One of my brothers once told me "All fiction is a form of lies."

    1. Hey Sheila, next tour, just for your brother, I may have to do a post on my position that what we call non-fiction is really just another form of fiction. Might spark some household discussions there, LOL.

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