Rediscovering the foundations of fantasy and sci-fi…

I’ve recently come across two interesting developments in the world of fantasy and sci-fi books.

First, I discovered a somewhat new “genre” or “category” of fantasy and sci-fi, what readers call LitRPG. These are, from what I can tell, basically books that are inspired by video game playing, to such an extent that the main characters have stats that “level up” and gain rewards as they would in video games. They seem to have become quite popular in Russia and are beginning to spread. A small publisher that specializes in translations of popular LitRPG works states on their site:

LitRPG is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy which describes the hero’s adventures within an online computer game. LitRPG books merge traditional book-style narration with elements of a gaming experience, describing various quests, achievements and other events typical of a video game.

These aren’t just stories that take place in online worlds, like Ready Player One. These books actually have game-like status updates in their scenes. You might see something like:

Damage taken. Hit Points reduced by 5: 11 (weapon damage + strength) – 6 (armor). Total: 35 of 40.

Or…

You’ve been hit by Messenger Gnoll! Damage sustained: 12 points. Life 32/60

So, to me, these seem a bit like book-form fictional Let’s Plays. I don’t think I play enough video games to appreciate this sort of style, but I find it interesting nonetheless. It’s certainly something that only this age of self-pubbing makes possible; I highly doubt these sorts of books would have ever come to fruition through traditional publishing alone.

Second, and more interesting to me (and perhaps more recent?), is what’s being called the pulp revolution. This is mainly an effort to rediscover and celebrate the early fantasy and science fiction, the old masters like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Poul Anderson, Leigh Brackett, E. E. “Doc” Smith, etc.. I’m just kind of guessing these names, because I must admit that I haven’t read them. But, hey, that’s what the pulp revolution is for! See “What is the Pulp Revolution?” Of course, the idea is not only to rediscover these classics, but, if you’re a writer, to be inspired by them. There’s sometimes a notion that these early works were less “mature”, full of shallow writing and tropes and loved only by the uncool nerds, and that their absence from modern bookstore shelves is not a great loss. “Not so!” sayeth the pulp revolution. “They are actually awesome! Read them!”

So in the manual for that old 1970’s table-top game, Dungeons and Dragons (obscure, I know) included an “Appendix N”, a reading list of the stories the game creator had taken inspiration from. Fast-forward to present day, blogger Jeffro Johnson reads all the books in the list and writes about them, ultimately compiling his articles in the recently released Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons and Dragons. He also does a pretty nice job of selling the book about other books on a recent episode of “Geek Gab”:

Sold! I definitely look forward to reading some (all?) of the books on this list. I don’t need any extra inspiration for my writing endeavors, but I’ll take it.

Granted, collecting and reading the books from “Appendix N” is not necessarily a new thing in and of itself, especially among fans of D&D. Still, I suppose this “revolution” is bigger than just this particular list. I’ll be interested to see where it leads, especially in terms of modern day indie authors…

(On a side note, I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons (I need more nerdy friends), but its influence on fantasy and sci-fi is certainly palpable, so I certainly find it interesting anyway. I have recently been reading another book called Playing at the World by Jon Peterson which spends a fair amount of time talking about the literary influences of the game, so these older works have been on my radar.)

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