Rachel Manija Brown’s recent blog post on the apparent unmarketability of YA portal fantasy has gotten nearly 200 comments and is still going strong. There’s some interesting discussion of portal SF, immigrant stories, and other related topics. If you’ve noticed the distinct absence of Narnia analogues from the YA shelves of late, it’s worth a read. I think the link to immigration is particularly interesting; in both cases, the driving question of the plot is “What would drive you to leave behind what you know and seek the unknown?”.
I’m still too jetlagged (and neck-deep in catching up on work) to make a strong connection between “agents won’t rep books about people leaving the familiar to explore the unknown” and Paul Kincaid’s “the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion” essay, but I feel like there might be a link there. Kincaid’s conclusion:
This one story illuminates the exhaustion that seems to have overtaken SF and fantasy, the sense that the future is something to be approached wearily because we have already imagined it and rubbed away anything that was bright and new.
He speaks of the future as though it were a secondary world once glimpsed through a portal; and now we have come through the portal and are “living in the future”. The secondary world has become the primary world. Might this lead to general disenchantment with secondary worlds?
Is it in any way useful to think of SF’s oldest fans as immigrants into The Future, the mysterious 21st century so frequently imagined in the 20th? They have certainly taken a long voyage from one to the other and learned that the streets on this side are not in fact paved with gold.
For that matter, is alternate history the new portal fantasy? The whole world has gone through a portal from The Past to The Future, only it’s a different portal than our world went through. I’d count a lot of urban fantasy in this camp, incidentally, since much of it relies on a premise like “then magic returned to the world” or “then we discovered supernatural beings have been living among us all along”.
Maybe what we’re so tired of, so skeptical of, is the idea of a single step through a single door changing a single person’s life.
I don’t know; I’m rambling. But I think these things are worth thinking on. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.