Saturday, June 9, 2007

Prospecting in the hallowed hills

The landscape of fantastic literature is a wide frontier. Genre, subject, character, plot, and theme combine in vistas that stretch wide under the empty sky. Here and there communities gather around the latest popular "high concept", social concern, or cultural theme, writers collaborating and competing within arms' reach of each other. Some of these are old places, heaped with a thousand years of tradition, while others are frontier towns even now losing their fickle visitors.

Readers come to gawk at the sights, sample the local cuisine, return again to a familiar place looking for something more. Some are regular visitors, some are just passing through, some have heard that a particular place might tickle their fancy, and some will be leaving soon for other parts.

I've come through some impressive territory. I've seen the village-turned-metropolis that Tolkein and Howard built in the early days. But while a few continue here to ply their wares, most are pretenders longing for the glory days. Only witches, vampires, and darkness dwell here now.

Not far away, ships come and go from the ports pioneered long ago by Niven and Wells, Herbert and Asimov. But even here, despite the activity, something is lost. Those who once sought bright stars, distant and full of promise, now see only Man, high and lifted up, their own dim reflections by the light of a false star.

Can these places see happier days? Can a fresh voice be heard among those hoarsely repeating history's lost echoes?

Or bearing a pick and a prospector's map, where would one begin to mine fresh ground? How far past the lights of the city lie green fields, room enough for a new gathering ready to welcome all comers? What new treasure lies just beneath the surface, undreamt of by those who mull about the dark corners of Tolkein's tired Jersey, Herbert's filthy Detroit?

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