Today’s storm in a teacup in fantasyland was the brief and unlooked-for revival of a Venn diagram, on Twitter. Take a look, and see if you can spot what’s wrong with it.
Now for context, let’s point out that the diagram was originally posted in a blog in August 2015, and the author specifically asked, in the post, for more women authors to be suggested in the comments. Which means that he knew the diagram was badly flawed. But not so flawed that he couldn’t resist resurrecting it now without any corrections, tweeting it without that context. Unsurprisingly, with that context not in view, folks started to get upset, and the author removed the tweet in a huff (well, in a huff with me, at least…).
Now, let’s finish sighing and shaking our heads, and agree that this is a bad diagram. It was bad in 2015, when the author didn’t add the suggested women to it, and it’s still bad now. Pratchett and Erikson are hardly alike, and nor are Bakker and Hobb. And while you could still perhaps argue that GRRM was a central pivot of the fantasy genre in 2015, I think the genre has changed massively since then.
In fact, this is a highly exclusionary diagram. These 25 are on the inside; everybody else is outside. Don’t bother reading outside this diagram, there’s nothing out there. Everything else is irrelevant. Well, that’s pretty bullshit. I like these authors but as Jake said at the end of the Gunslinger, There are other worlds than this.
Here’s the important bit:
Fantasy isn’t a Venn diagram. It’s a landscape. It’s a map. There are hidden treasures. Close your eyes, take a stab, that’s your starting point. Pick a direction, any direction. Go. Stay on the road, go off-road, up into the mountains, down into the grimdark swamps, have a good old ramble. See what’s around the next corner, and the corner after that. Make your own map. By all means ask for advice along the way, ask for directions, but don’t force yourself to travel only in one direction. Don’t go walling yourself in. Don’t get caught in dead ends. Tear down the borders. See that empty space beyond the Venn diagram? It’s all yours.