Saturday, January 06, 2007

Review: Magic for Beginners

When Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler visited Google, I asked them questions about the demise of short fiction magazines (their circulation is dwindling, especially amongst science fiction and fantasy readers). They claimed that it was tougher to compete against non-fiction, which has really taken off in recent years.

Having read Kelly Link's book, if it was representative of modern fiction, I disagree. One reads Science Fiction for ideas, and even as lackluster as Vernor Vinge's lastest book was, it was full of ideas worth thinking about and contemplating. One reads fantasy for world-building, or exploration of a character in a consistent world.

Link's book is entirely in the mode of magical realism (the classic book of the genre is One Hundred Years of Solitude). I don't know what one reads magical realism for. As far as I'm concerned, it's an entirely bankrupt mode of fiction. The world has no rules to speak of, since anything can happen (and frequently anything does), so it can't be about world building. It might be a character study, except that if the kind of random things that happened in a magical realism world happened to me, I'm pretty sure my character wouldn't be worth studying --- insanity isn't pretty.

But for some reason people who like magical realism think that because I enjoy science fiction and fantasy, I would like magical realism. Link's book has two stories that are interesting: The Faery Handbag, about a tribe of folks who live in a handbag, and Magic for Beginners, a story about an intriguing TV show that comes alive. Neither stories have resolution, but the language is well done and at least the ideas are interesting. I also found Catskin worth reading, a twist on the usual story of the heir of a dying monarch.

Fox is a television character, and she isn't dead yet. But she will be, soon. She's a character on a television show called The Library. You've never seen The Library on TV, but I bet you wish you had.
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