There’s only one class of people who don’t like escape
June 5, 2015 7:17 AM   Subscribe

"It’s very nice to have my story go out there, and if it’s in a different form, I want the thing to mutate slightly." Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro discuss genre, escapism, copyright and how stories expand over time at The New Statesman. (via io9)
posted by thecaddy (22 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic mutual interview!
posted by Drexen at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreed, and I love those illustrations.
posted by Kitteh at 8:16 AM on June 5, 2015

Cool! Looking forward to reading this. The title quote bugs me just slightly because I once knew a guy who was really into Neil Gaiman's work on Sandman and a lot of the ideas from that series ended up figuring very prominently in this guy's psychotic delusions when he started emerging as schizophrenic as a young adult. At the time, it was hard not to see some of Gaiman's work as contributing to his condition, so I went through a stretch of time when I was a little skeptical of too much escapism in literature--not because I wanted to imprison anyone, though. Fantasy can make a kind of prison too, for some people. Of course, as a more experienced adult now, I understand my friend's disease was running its own course and Gaiman's work seeming to factor into his delusions was only coincidental (hell, if people can read race war narratives into Helter Skelter, they can read anything into anything) and a little escapist fantasy not only doesn't hurt most people, but can even be good for them now and then.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:27 AM on June 5, 2015

Slight derail, I'm sorry, but this post and the title quote from the one just above having me laughing.
posted by Fizz at 8:45 AM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

I like escape. But I prefer psychedelics. For some reason fiction just never... grabs me. Except for PKD and Douglas Adams. And yeah, ok, I admit... I did get hooked on DaVinci code, so make of that what you will.
posted by symbioid at 8:49 AM on June 5, 2015

I did get hooked on DaVinci code, so make of that what you will.

The brown acid is not specifically too good.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:59 AM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

This is interesting.

One dynamic I notice is that Gaiman comes across as someone who is quite sophisticated about how his books are marketed, so he is able to talk about these Internet arguments over genre boundaries, etc. Ishiguro, on the other hand, has managed to bumble along without really thinking about how his books are marketed -- I guess because he has been regarded as a genius for so long, got his books made into movies, etc. (but isn't this all true of Gaiman, too?). He says, "I expected some of my usual readers to say, 'What’s this? There are ogres in it . . .' but I didn’t anticipate this bigger debate."

I don't think of Gaiman as a particularly genre-bound author, even if I don't like him that much; he seems to be doing his own inventive twee thing, not making core fantasy or SF product. But for whatever reason he shows himself to be really interested and engaged in issues of genre.
posted by grobstein at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2015

I did get hooked on DaVinci code, so make of that what you will.

it's like going to McDonald's once a year. You know it's garbage but its also strangely satisfying if you don't think about it too much.
posted by Hoopo at 9:28 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seeing who uses the quote about only jailers being concerned with escape is a reasonably reliable way of identifying who it is that views their lives as a prison. Gnostics aside, that usually correlates strongly with people with whom I prefer not to spend my time.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:26 AM on June 5, 2015

[Poet Geroge] Sterling carried a vial of cyanide for many years. When asked about it he said "A prison becomes a home if you have the key".
posted by librosegretti at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

The genre thing reminds me of when western naturalists found the platypus, it was assumed to be a hoax, because it didn't fit into established categories.

Oh, and I liked the Cinderella bit. I didn't know that.
posted by MtDewd at 11:50 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thank you! What a great conversation! The snobbery towards genre and escapism has always gotten my knickers in a twist. A few years ago, I remember telling my rather snobby literature class what book I had read last over vacation (amidst many answers of 'Lolita' and 'Ficcciones' and the like), which was a Louie L'Amour book. I got a lot of looks of disgust/bafflement. Maybe I had just finished Moby Dick, who knows :.), but what I loved about this mutual interview was the total love of story, regardless of genre, expressed by the authors. And the part about China admitting that Sci Fi is imperative for invention was pretty awesome too.
posted by branravenraven at 12:41 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really liked this interview - some interesting insights from both authors, pitched well for a general audience. Of course, Moorcock's famous rebuttal to that Lewis line is that, on the contrary, jailers love escapists. What they hate is escape.
posted by RokkitNite at 12:42 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

KI So what happened? Why have we got this kind of wall around fantasy now, and a sense of stigma about it?
I think there are more than a few reasons for this, including suspicious attitudes toward "escapism," class- and politically-inflected qualms about the value of mass entertainments and/or non-realistic narrative, and the simple fact that many of the commercially produced genre exercises labeled "fantasy" really aren't any more memorable than a bag of chips. But there's another reason as well, I think, that neither of them mention: which is that readers/authors who identify with the genre have helped to build and guard those walls. LeGuin's insistence on identifying fantastic narrative with "fantasy" and more absurdly, the suggestion that failing to do so explicitly is somehow "slumming" is a perfect example of an attitude that maintains those walls.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:45 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

The problem with a dislike of "escapism" is that it seems constructed (sometimes intentionally) to marginalise optimism, by portraying any aspiration to heroism or to escape from our current plight as ridiculous and infantile. But there are real monsters that require real heroism, if they are ever to be overcome.

We need stories that tell us that the fight for goodness is joyful, as well as stories that tell us that it is devastating. Because it truly is both. Escapism is bad only to the extent that it is paralysing, and in that respect at least, it is no different to realism. Consume whatever range of thought sustains you in your fight to make the world better.
posted by howfar at 1:25 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

"I felt like I’d stepped into some larger discussion that had been going on for some time. I expected some of my usual readers to say, “What’s this? There are ogres in it . . .” but I didn’t anticipate this bigger debate. Why are people so preoccupied?"

I'm sorry but I find this entirely disingenuous, especially in light of his earlier interview in the NYTimes. I thought UKL had it right the first time and I was disheartened that she walked back what she said.
posted by newdaddy at 3:33 PM on June 5, 2015

Laura Miller's piece in Salon, in response to all this, really set me off, I admit. Probably it's not fair to hold KI responsible for what she wrote.
posted by newdaddy at 4:00 PM on June 5, 2015

Oh god, why did I read newdaddy's link. Now I want to Hulk Out.
posted by Justinian at 4:52 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Buried Giant didn't feel like a fantasy novel. I don't know why.

My experience reading The Buried Giant: okay whatever okay how many pages is this thing okay ewww really okay okay ... ALL THE TEARS THIS IS NOT OKAY SO MUCH CRYING
posted by betweenthebars at 6:14 PM on June 5, 2015

“You know, you can do all you want, but you put in one fucking dragon and they call you a fantasy writer.”

It seems to me that if you have enough of a reputation as a snooty intellectual big shot, that's the only way around this particular thing. Or at least if you have 20 years of Literary Rep, then you can slip in a dragon and not get treated like you pooped in the pool.

As for escapism, I prefer books to drugs. With drugs, you're still you but in a better mood (and with a possible addiction). With books, YOU GET TO GO BE SOMEONE ELSE ENTIRELY IN ANOTHER WORLD. Nothing trumps THAT for escaping. Since I can't escape shitty reality for real, reading is the best I can do to GTFO. Escapism rocks.

I like Neil Gaiman's story of the first sci-fi convention in China and how it came about-- China needs inventors, not factory cogs. VERY INTERESTING.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:56 AM on June 6, 2015

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