Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brandon Sanderson: Post Modern Fantasist…Really?

Over the weekend I saw this Big Idea post by Brandon Sanderson over on John Scalzi’s Whatever. He goes on to discuss deconstructionism and post modernism and how his Mistborn series (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review) is intentionally post modern and that his latest book, The Way of Kings (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review), is intentionally not post modern. He also discusses it a bit more briefly in this interview.

After reading that post I sat up a bit more strait and exclaimed something like ‘Huhhhh….’ I like Brandon Sanderson’s fiction – I've reviewed it rather favorably and I had a wonderful time when I met him (you will not meet a nicer, more humble person). But in no way do I consider any of what I’ve read of Sanderson to be post modern. Frankly, it’s almost laughable. Subverting a trope or two does not equal post modernism.

I won’t claim that I have the pedigree to call out Sanderson on this, even though for the past two days I’ve really, really wanted to. Thankfully, Jeff VanderMeer has stepped in. He does have the pedigree and is an author in the SFF world that I do consider to be post modern (at least some of the time). Thanks Jeff, I needed that.


BryStearns said...

Never read anything by Sanderson. Should I?

Neth said...

That's a bit hard to answer without knowing anything of your reading tastes. I linked my review of his Mistborn trilogy and his latest book The Way of Kings in the original post. I suggest you read those and if the books sound appealling, then give them a shot.

As I've said, I'm a fan.

Seth said...

I couldn't agree more. I don't remember which interview I heard, or maybe it was an episode of his Writing Excuses podcast, but I heard him call Mistborn a postmodern work and had the exact same reaction.

You're right, subverting a few tropes does not a postmodern novel make. Postmodernism, admittedly, is kind of a slippery fish, but to me postmodern fiction has more to do with its form than its content. Non-linear storytelling, unreliable narrators, intentional self-reference, these are all elements that I associate with postmodern fiction, although none of them in themselves are enough to render a work postmodern.

Mistborn, while it does some amazing things with our expectations about fantasy, is in its narrative structure very straightforward, indeed almost cookie-cutter. Sanderson himself has admitted on several occasions that he modeled the first novel on the Heist formula.

I'm a big fan of Sanderson's work too, but I found this claim to be a bit odd.

Neth said...

And everyone should read the comments in the post I linked on VanderMeer's blog. A fascinating discussion with numerous people participating - including Brandon Sanderson.

The Erudite Ogre said...

Sanderson obviously misapplies the terms, particularly "deconstructionism," which as far as I know does not exist. And I'm not sure that you can even say that he subverts the tropes; he really just retasks them to create a different narrative progression, to give his work a twist and to stretch some fantasy conventions.

But while VanderMeer's correction is good to an extent, his idea of postmodernism falls short as well.

I just wrote something about this over at the Apex blog, is folks are interested.

Anonymous said...

Mr Ogre--did you even read the comments section to my post? Jesus Christ. jv


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