nihilistic_kid has a post on writing fantasy, distinguishing it from some thing(s) he calls “fantatwee.” By this he means “second order fantasy” or fantasy which derives from other people’s fantasies. He links to a story by Theodora Goss here, and people whose opinion I take seriously have spoken of Mamatas’ post and Goss’ story with respect.
I mean no disrespect to Goss, anyway, but the story didn’t have much impact for me. This suggests I’m not the ideal reader for Goss, Clarkesworld or Mamatas, which I had already discovered, but the experience did provoke some thoughts that may be worth setting down.
To my ear and eye, Goss’ story is full of borrowed experience and imagery. It reminded me of some other fiction which uses the political upheavals of Europe as a background and a metaphor (e.g. The Unbearable Lightness of Being or the prologue to The Name of the Rose) and also of the urban fantasies of Italo Calvino (especially Invisible Cities; I’m pretty sure there’s a shout-out to Calvino in Goss’ text). None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but it does make the story feel more like the second-order work that Mamatas scorns. More problematic, but harder to express, is my reaction to the story’s style. It reads with what seems to me a somber singsong tone, affected and precious. This kept me apart from the story, muting and distorting its effect.
If twee is anything other than a term of mere abuse, it must refer to this very quality of preciousness and affectation which alienates the reader. So (for me, maybe for others) Goss’ story is as twee or twee-er than the stories Mamatas scorns–a different flavor, perhaps, a sort of sovietwee, but still twee.
Any story is a set of symbols which invites the reader’s emotional participation, and no set of symbols (and hence no story) will appeal to every reader. If the cry of “twee!” represents a reader’s rejection of a story’s invitation, the reader shares some of the responsibility for the tweeness–it’s an event, a reaction in the reader’s awareness, after all.
So I’m starting to think that terms like “second order fantasy” are (or can be) an evasion of the reader’s responsibility to make his or her case for or against a story. Every story contains elements that are first-order (“I saw this myself”) and second-order (“I read/heard about this somewhere”). A reader who honestly confronts the elements in a story he/she finds alienating may learn useful things about the story and him/her self. I’m not suggesting that every story, even every good story, is always worth this kind of effort. (“Had we world enough and time” etc.) But it may sometimes prove a useful exercise.