I noticed this discussion on twitter and decided to join (it also sports Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie defending their work). Not because I needed so bad to put all the blame on Ian Sales, but because it typifies an attitude that I see frequently, and so I decided to do my best to expose it for what it is.

ian_sales: John Crowley, Mary Gentle, Paul Park, David Herter, Cat Valente. No other authors working in fantasy even comes close to them. And certainly not anyone writing epic fantasy – most of them can barely string coherent sentences together.

If you’ve read one grimdark fantasy, you’ve pretty much read them all.

some types of fantasy attract the better writers. Commercial epic/grimdark fantasy isn’t one of those.

it seems a bit daft to start defending writers of commercial epic fantasy given that we all agree that beautiful prose in such books is neither desirable nor expected.

It seems pretty obvious that ian_sales’ thesis on this forum thread is that all Epic Fantasy is crap, because of what it is and not because of who writes it.

His mistake is the common one of those who absolutely need to put labels on everything, or draw lines on the ground: here’s where there’s quality stuff and where I stand with my lofty standards, over there is the popular, commercial stuff for the uneducated masses. So in order to elevate himself and his literary taste, he needs to mark the difference from the Genre.

The mistake is clumping together stuff so that he can put the “sh*t” label on all Epic Fantasy. It’s a prejudice like any other. It’s what enables him to pick up a book and be able to tell whether its good or crap just by looking at the cover. It should be obvious that this is delusional, as are always delusional prejudices in all forms.

The simple fact that he RESISTS the suggestion of making distinctions within Epic Fantasy, and the rationalization that goes in explaining why Epic Fantasy MUST have crap prose as an unavoidable requirement just exposes his “bias”.

On the matter of prose quality and elaborate obfuscation, I used in the past to compare Erikson and Wolfe. This simply because they can be seen as two opposites. I sometimes criticized Gene Wolfe because he can write in elegant, elaborate ways a simple concept. I don’t consider this an honorable achievement. What’s more praiseworthy is the opposite: express clearly a complex matter.

Wolfe’s prose usually require lots of work to extricate meaning from his sentences, and he loves obfuscation on all levels. It’s as if reading becomes a puzzle itself. And it’s not simply just prose, since everything from the characters to the plots, to the dense symbolism contributes to this puzzle. So I use here another broad scheme: writers that are “esoteric” and those that are “generous”. No matter how hard you try, some subtle meanings and purposes in Wolfe’s books will stay out of your grasp, simply because you lack the knowledge of some external material that Wolfe is referring to. Either you share the “code” to decipher what he writes, or you’re left out staring through a window and figure out a fragment of what’s there to figure out. I sometimes resent this kind of deliberate obfuscation.

Erikson instead I consider more “generous” because the writing style and purpose don’t hamper comprehension. There’s stuff that is complex, but it just requires patience to figure out. He doesn’t write deliberately to obfuscate or to be understood only by cultists who share an hidden code. Some writers like Pynchon, Joyce or Wolfe sometimes work hard to avoid being understood, to obfuscate and hide. This game is interesting to play, but it’s an elitist purpose. You write for a self-appointed minority. Whereas other writers tackle complex matters and demand work from the reader (the same way I put Wolfe and Erikson as opposites, I can do with Pynchon and David Foster Wallace), but the kind that is accessible and that wants you to be part of it, instead of pushing you away. So this is a broad distinction that I sometime use because it works.

That said, even the quality of prose sometimes is still subject to the purpose of the book itself. I enjoy the broad spectrum. For example Glen Cook has a disjointed, blunt prose. You’d think that the prose being not good pulls away from the book, but instead it’s the kind of prose that perfectly fits the story and adds to it. A prose style also is a tool that can fit a specific purpose.

So the broader error is once again trying to decide the formula that is perfect and ideal for every case. The Golden Standard. Writing being art, instead, draws its qualities from its variety and the impossibility to canonize. Or it goes stale and fades.

If you enjoy just one flavor, whether its Literary, or popular, you’re simply missing out by drawing your walls safe and near.

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