A few months ago I got into a discussion with someone on Twitter about the quality of fantasy/sci fi in the UK and US. Basically, this individual’s perspective was that, “America has all the good musicians. The UK has all the good fantasy authors.” While I don’t know if I agree or disagree, or if I even think it matters, it’s surprising how often a discussion simliar to this pops up on Twitter, or blog posts all over.
I thought it would be interesting to see if my readers agree or disagree with what I quoted above. Do you think the UK pumps out higher quality fantasy/sci fi than the US? Do you have any theories as to why that may/may not be the case? Or, do you fit in more with the “who cares” camp?
The majority of my favourite fantasy authors are from the UK, but that may be a question of proximity – they're in the UK so I'm more aware of new releases etc. I think, though, that UK authors have access to a greater collective knowledge of material for 'epic fantasy' since it's traditionally based on a Medieval European model.
Who has GRRM? 🙂
He's a big one for US corner, but I LOVE what I've read of Abercrombie, so that's one for UK. Good fantasy comes from both sides of the pond.
GRRM? You mean the guy who has admitted to his Fantasy series being a "re-telling" of the War of the Roses, a war that was a UK/English civil war?
Seriously though, I don't think you can quantify quality in a book/series/story in any objective way. If you could all reviewing would have been done by computers. And of course you'd have a formula to write to that meant all books would be "perfect".
-But I don't think that should stop us from having a discussion about this 🙂
I think Jamie is touching on the answer in a roundabout sort of way.
People, and therefore authors, in Europe generally (and yes, I am generalising here) have a higher level of knowledge, both when it comes to history and politics. Since both of these are themes that are more or less essential to Fantasy I think that an European author will write to a "higher level".
It may of course be that the problem does not lie with Amaerican authors, but with American publishers who aim for a lower common denominator. But I think that generally American fiction (I include TV and movies here) is aiming for being instantly approachable to a large audience rather than having a level of quality that will make people drawn to it over time.
And who's also been compared to a UK guy (American Tolkien). I know I know, I was just making a joke here. 🙂
I really don't think we can say that Europeans have more knowledge about history and politics, and especially not because they live around it. In this day and age, that really doesn't count for much I don't think.
Numerically, I can argue that Americans probably have better SFF because there are much more of them and with so much more being produced they are guaranteed to have more wheat among the tares. Then again, this argument also goes for Americans having the worst. 🙂
I honestly don't think it's possible to say who's better. I can come up with a list of favorites from both sides of the pond and I'd rather not give up either.
Most of my favourite fantasy authors in my my childhood were British: Robin McKinley, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, J.R.R. Tolkein, Evangeline Walton, C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett etc.
On the other side of the coin, the Americans had Jane Yolen, Terri Windling, Ellen Datlow, Ellen Kushner, Anne McCaffrey (although she lived in Ireland), and Mercedes Lackey. Plus Charles DeLint as my representative Canadian.
I think things are starting to even out a bit more.
Personally I think that we're fairly even when it comes to fantasy, with the big hitters being shared fairly.
If you look at the mid-listers, you'll be amazed by how many of them are Australian origin. Check this out: Trudi Canavan, D. M. Cornish, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Sara Douglass, Greg Egan, Jennifer Fallon, Ian Irvine, Margo Lanagan, Fiona McIntosh, Garth Nix. These are just a few of the fantasy authors who aren't from either the UK or US – I don't think we should forget the influence that they've had on our genre!
When it comes to science fiction, I'm UK all the way. We have the biggest, most forward-thinking, talented science fiction authors out there. It feels like the US is still dealing with Napoleonics in space, while the UK are truly pushing the boundaries.
I'm in more of the "who cares" camp. If I'm honest, I probably don't know the national origins of half of the people whose books I read. Some I know are American, some I know are Brits, some are from other places, but most I associate more with the lands they create than the lands they live in.
It's a bit of mix for me.
I love Tolkien and Terry Pratchett, but also really enjoy Jack Vance, David Eddings, Stephen Donaldson, Bob Salvatore etc.
Steven Erikson – Canadian! Best one of the lot
For me personally this question is not a question at all. Certainly not in light of quality. I am reading books based on reviews and if the setting/plot meets my approval. I do not check the nationality of the authors. With some authors I do not know what country they are from. For me, this is not important. During the reading of a book I sometimes check the author biography and learn where they come from.
I choose books by different criteria: mood, setting, Fantasy or Science Fiction (I like to alternate between them) and others.
Books I have read this month are (with author's country):
David Weber – Storm from the Shadows (US)
Ben Aaronovitch – Moon over Soho (UK)
Lavie Tidhar – The Bookman (Israel)
Books I might read next (not decided yet):
Terry Pratchett – I shall wear midnight (UK)
Kaaron Warren – Walking the Tree (Australia)
Brian Ruckley – Bloodheir (Scotland)
C S Friedman – Black Sun Rising (US)
Or maybe it will be a different book all together. And for this list I had to look up most authors online to find out their nationality.
Maybe it is because I am German, but I find this discussion interesting to read, but for me personally, in the end, not that important. I like to read good books, wherever the author may be from. I have read Fantasy books from authors all over the world: The usual ones (US, UK, Australia), but also Fantasy books (of course) from Germany, Poland, Italy, France, Canada (R Scott Bakker: WOW)….
As long as it is a good book… 🙂
I don't know if I can comment on the current day fantasy writers (although…I think my favorites are pretty evenly split) but the UK definitely has the edge on classics. Nearly all the greats were British: J. M. Barrie, P. L. Travers, E. Nesbit, George MacDonald, Francis Hodgson Burnett…and L. Frank Baum, who was American but somehow contrived to write the great British novel anyway.