A lot has changed in the past twenty years. Is that statement ever not true? My next sentence should probably be something like: “nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of speculative fiction”. But that would be a lie … we’ve seen far more important changes in the past couple of decades than the evolution of genre literature (climate change, smartphone addiction, the steady erosion of mainstream media).
The point of this blog post is not to list all the terrible things. The point is to list terrible things that are no longer terrible things in science fiction and fantasy books. I am currently reading a pre-2000 fantasy novel, one that is on many people’s “best of” lists. It’s a great read, with incredible world-building and a plot that keeps me turning pages.
A lot has changed in the past twenty years.
Let’s play “top five terrible tropes” – here is my list of things that ought to have withered on the spec fic tree during the past couple of decades, courtesy of the Nameless Nineties Novel I’m currently reading. Had enough alliteration yet?
1. Wry smiles. It was mandatory in 20th century fantasy novels to have one rogueish character who delighted in nothing more than throwing off wry and sardonic smiles. I’m looking at you, Jimmy the Hand.
2. Non-consensual kisses. It was also mandatory for said rogueish characters to get away with kissing intelligent, confident, successful women who, instead of adding the asshole to their #metoo list, would be somehow charmed by getting law-of-surprised on the mouth.
3. Titillating m-m / f-f action. There are lots of examples of genre fiction from this time normalizing queer identities and relationships. There are also lots of examples of lines such as: “Guilford Aelfoldeas bedded a few ladies (and, it was rumoured, a few men) in his day.” Mro ho ho, you don’t say! Colour me titillated, my dear 90s author!
4. Nice guys. No elaboration required on this one.
5. Chivalry. Pre-2000, it didn’t count as fantasy if an honour code wasn’t a central plot device. Even the rogueish characters were bound by them. I’m all for honour, and I understand why we need to fantasize about it when we live in a world seriously lacking in it, but I’m also glad to see modern SFF characters experiencing motivations that I can identify with (e.g. existential dread).
I could go on. Don’t even get me started on feast scenes. What’s your favourite / most hated SFF trope? And how many of these are still going strong? Drop me a line!