Against “Hardness”: Genreville’s Implausibility post


I can’t help but think that subject header is nothing more than an invitation for people to Beevis and Butthead this post.

Anyway, I enjoyed Rose Fox’s post on Genreville calling for stories that are less concerned with the plausible. People are feeling jaded and BTDT about the genre, yes? So why not break out of the boundaries we set ourselves regarding realism and believability?

Reading this reminded me of “hard fantasy,” a movement that writers and readers have tried to kickstart twice in the past ten years or so. The first time was supposed to be about fantasy based closely on mythology and folklore–essentially treating them as source material and avoiding other fantastical interpretations. The second time it came up was not very long after, in which hard fantasy was supposed to be little more than a well-researched story.

Which… fine. Nothing wrong with that. As stories go, having that element is neither good nor bad; other factors determine whether the story has value or not. However, back when people were talking about these movements, there was definitely a valorizing tone. “Hardness” was a virtue. Hardness was the way serious people who didn’t mind doing the hard work wrote their books. Googling “hard fantasy” brings up a few condescending blog posts on the subject.

Nevermind that remaining true to folklore is a silly metric. Never mind that showing detailed worldbuilding on the page is not appropriate for every story. This is about demonstrating science fiction-style hardness, and therefore your superiority to the rest of the genre.

And it’s misguided. There’s nothing wrong with hard science fiction as a category or an artistic goal, but the “hardness” of sf isn’t what makes it interesting, imo. I know there are other readers out there who put plausibility uber alles, but they’re a vocal minority. I don’t want to knock their tastes but I also don’t want a bunch of Stockholm Syndrome bullshit driving writers and readers toward the idea that it’s only serious (and therefore good) if it’s plausible.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to calculate the calories in an ounce of (fantasy-land) travel rations so I know how much my characters ought to pack.

By the way, if you find yourself burned out on a genre, take a break from it. Read something else: Westerns, romances, mysteries, popular literary fiction, high-tech thrillers. We all get old. We all grow tired of our favorite things once in a while. Feeling jaded? Walk away for a while, says I.