Saturday, August 13, 2011

Finishing the Mammoth Book of Fantasy: The Platypus Reads Part CXXVI

The Edge of the World by Michael Swanwick

Well, it's been a long hall.  Shifting constantly from author to author, from genre to genre, can take a lot out more out of you, page for page, than just sticking to one.  Maybe that's why I've never liked fiction anthologies.  I usually just skip over that section in the bookstore.  Still, reading through this particular anthology was worth it.  It's expanded my knowledge of the genre and put new and interesting authors on my radar.  With that preface, let's turn to Michael Swanwick.

"The Edge of the World" is a fitting name for the last short story in this collection.  In a sense, we've come to the boarders of the genre.  Like Swanwick's protagonists, we've shifted from great and mighty heroes, to cynical adventurers, and withered into broken, whiny teenagers frantically hoping someone will notice them.  There no longer seems to be any purpose or meaning to existence, so why not cease to exist?  This ultimate expression of the will to nausea in fantasy literature seems to signal the final failure of the genre.  Our imaginations have soared passed the "Wall Around the World" and found instead of the promised faerie kingdom a vast nothing.  Perhaps more than the exhaustion of genres or modes, this is the question that haunts modern fantasy: is there any point to the imagination?  Tolkien believed that it could be used to imitate God, and help us turn our hearts toward the greater reality beyond this vale of tears.  If that's all rubbish, then we are left with the burning question of why bother.  Oh, we will still go on writing fantasies, of course, so long as we're unwilling to chuck in the towel and disappear, but that underlying purposelessness will always be there, like a worm, gnawing away the strength from all we do.

So here, at the shores of the sea, I must leave you.  I will not say 'do not weep,' for not all tears are evil.

Until next time, gentle reader. 

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