Buried Giant: Genre and boundaries in fiction and gaming

1

This book elicited an active discussion of the relation and boundaries of Fantasy and literature by some experts, e.g.

1) Neil Gaiman's review in the NYT (paywalled, excertps from here: http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/2015/03/neil-gaiman-on-kazuo-ishiguros-buried.html - short summary: he thought it was important and effective, didn't love it because it might be allegory);

2) Ursula K Le Guin took active offense against Ishiguro as disrespectful trespasser, and then drew back: (https://www.ursulakleguin.com/blog/95-are-they-going-to-say-this-is-fantasy and https://www.ursulakleguin.com/blog/96-addendum-to-are-they-going-to-say-this-is-fantasy); and

3) Ishiguro's response in the Grauniad (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/08/kazuo-ishiguro-rebuffs-genre-snobbery)

Reading through this stuff I started thinking about how there is an idea that people's expectations and identities deserve to be met, respected, confronted.

This applies to rpgs as well, e.g. narrative games, OSR games, crunchy games, SF vs Fantasy games, table-top vs computer RPGs, etc. And I think there might be something important here about how TTRPGs work in play - the people playing have expectations of what's allowed or not within the frame, people expect their play to be validated, and this can leaed to conflict e.g. a) Some people might want to play immersive games where their character's actions occur as described in the 1st person, other people want to simply describe what the character does in the 3rd person and let the system shape outcomes through mechanics; b) Some people want to use combat to resolve all encounter, others might want something to do something other than kill Bill.

It comes up in our discussions as well. Interested in hearing what Buried Giant provoked among the TTRPGBC, if anything. How did Buried Giant satisfy or disturb expectations? Anyone have any experiences with this in play?

Comments

  • 0

    I have flicked through the comments by Neil Gaiman and Ursula LeGuin and I suppose in some measure I share them. Interesting though that some folk consider this fantasy as opposed to historical fiction (maybe historical fantasy?) - to me this shows that the book isn't really sitting comfortably anywhere!

    Now, I agree that there are potentially fantasy elements - such as a dragon - but these are, so far as I recall, always presented as what the characters thought they were and not what they actually were. I don't remember the dragon in its own reality being described as anything other than rocks and trees. So such elements aren't out of place in HF since that deals, among other things, with how people of a particular era perceived the world, not necessarily how it is seen from a modern scientific perspective. (To clarify, I thought this was a strong feature of the book, not a shortcoming).

    But in most other ways it was not HF - as mentioned in my earlier comments I do not believe that Ishiguro has any real interest in the period of time in the way an HF author would do, such as how people lived, talked and so on. He is writing a modern novel about memory and forgetting which happens to borrow some trappings from HF tropes. Which doesn't work for me. I think this is what is behind UKlG's comments, though she focuses on fantasy as opposed to HF.

    Should people's expectations be challenged? Sure, absolutely. But does that mean that anything goes? I don't think so. For example. A few authors have tried subverting language in order to present something of a different reality - Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban for one, or Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks for another - of those two, I found that Riddley Walker worked and Feersum Endjinn didn't, but others may differ. But other much less accomplished authors try to do things like trashing grammar and spelling on the dubious grounds that "people's expectations should be challenged", and IMHO this very rarely works. It seems to me that to challenge expectations you need to start from an agreed set of rules rather than start from chaos (others may, of course, feel differently). In gaming terms it would, perhaps, be like letting everyone know that they were going to use D6 and then in reality use D20, or just make random choices unrelated to a dice score. That could work for a very specific scene and setting (where, for example, normal spatial relationships are subverted) but surely not if it changes all the time without compelling internal reasons?

    So I guess I'm saying, in part, that genres have a reality in terms of setting up a framework within which flexibility and challenge is encouraged - HF readers expect one thing from a book, space opera readers something different, hard SF readers another, crime readers another and so on. Of course you can find books that straddle genres, or probe the interfaces between them, but for me, Buried Giant doesn't do this. It is too cavalier with the underlying genres and their conventions.

  • 1

    I think many "nerd" types are deeply conservative. Some of that is restricted to the adoration of "canon" and the urge to specify all the loose ends in a setting. It has its uglier side too: witness the controversy about casting in the recent "Rings of Power" and the Star Wars sequel films. Gaming's not immune, from various arguments about "the best game system" to the hate speech (and worse) in some corners of the OSR movement.

    I've noticed this in my local gaming club. Most people want to play D&D or CoC and it's hard to get people to try new and different games. It's not through any malice, but people want what they're familiar with.

    That means there very much is a desire in the fantasy-reading community for books to tread safe and familiar ground.

    As for this book... is it "fantasy"? Does it fit the standard expectations of what "fantasy" is? I don't think so. As I've said elsewhere, I think this book is about memory and forgetting, atrocity and love, and surface features are brought in as needed. More standard fantasy, I think, is concerned more with plots and events external to the characters' thoughts. Good stories need both! But the balance in this book is different from what fantasy fans expect.

  • 1

    I thought LeGuin's comment was a bit harsh, though I also though KI's rebuttal not quite convincing. In any case, I didn't think this was a fantasy novel, as least not in the genre sense. I thought it was a mythological novel. Sure, modern fantasy is based on Mythology, but there's a difference in the vibe, somehow.

    Before reading, I didn't really have much in the way of expectations. I expected the writing to be very good. I wasn't disappointed on that front. I expected it to be set in England, and wasn't disappointed on that front either.

    Once I got into it and learned it was Dark Ages, I did start to feel a little disappointed. I never really felt it was meant to be historical fiction, but I though that he might have made more of an effort to research the period. Wikipedia again reveals that he set it in the Dark Ages because he heard that very little is know about them, which he seemed to think would give him carte blanche to make stuff up. But for Richard and I, at least, this didn't work. See, people actually DO know some stuff about the dark ages.

    But that said, I wasn't tremendously bothered by the lack of historicity. Why? Because it's a mythological novel, that's why.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    Once I got into it and learned it was Dark Ages, I did start to feel a little disappointed. I never really felt it was meant to be historical fiction, but I though that he might have made more of an effort to research the period. Wikipedia again reveals that he set it in the Dark Ages because he heard that very little is know about them, which he seemed to think would give him carte blanche to make stuff up. But for Richard and I, at least, this didn't work. See, people actually DO know some stuff about the dark ages.

    I think that captures something of my feelings. I felt that far too much of the writing was basically along the lines of "they were simple folk back then", attributing childish vocabulary, attitudes and lifestyle to the various individuals and groups. So I got to feel aggrieved on behalf of the actual people of that era who, I am convinced, were every bit as complex and sophisticated as contemporary humans - just lacking in technological advance and a commitment to writing! It just seemed very lazy and dismissive of people who happened to have left very little by way of written record - a bit like old-fashioned writing about the noble savage and such like.

    But in fact, "Dark Ages Britain" was sitting at the end of something like 6-8000 years of cultural development and change in the land, and the mere 1500 years or so since then pales in comparison!

  • 1

    It isn't fantasy. It isn't historical fiction. It's intellectual wankery and snobbish pretension.

Sign In or Register to comment.