For those of you who don’t know this about me, you should know for the context of this essay that I’m a former English Language Arts teacher and an Adjunct Professor in Writing Comprehension. Now, I work as a librarian and I continue to use my knowledge of the English language to write my essays, my book reviews, and my works of fiction (works-in-progress). That is not to say I know everything about English grammar, syntax, style, etc., but I know enough to recognize a decent, a good, an excellent, a poor, and a bad work of writing.
Yes, I am referring to the article written about Brandon Sanderson in WIRED magazine. Now, along with all of you who are reading this essay, our initial reactions to this “article” was one where we all agree left a bad taste in our mouths. This article not only bullied Brandon Sanderson’s lifestyle, but also reiterated stereotypes of the entire fantasy—and to an extent, the Nerd fandom—community. As a writer and as a Nerd, I had several issues with this article; and, I expressed my thoughts about the article on my social media page (Twitter). If you read through ANY of the comments across social media from authors, influencers, bloggers, writers, fans, etc., then you’ll realize that EVERYONE was upset by this article. Now, I find myself agreeing with larger names in the speculative fiction fandom such as Elliot Brooks and Daniel Greene in what they had to say about the article. My comments do reflect almost all of what was said in those videos, so I won’t repeat them in this essay. Also, Brandon Sanderson posted a statement about the article on Reddit, which is both laudable and comical in tandem. Brandon Sanderson asks that we don’t “bully” the author of the article; at the same time, he mentioned something that could be a possible reason as to why the article was written the way it was presented in WIRED magazine.
Here’s my view on what I considered could have happened with this article. The author of this article aspired and a “plan” as to how his interview with Brandon Sanderson was going to go. When those “plans” fell through for whatever reason, the author realized that he didn’t have much of anything to write into the article he had been commissioned to write and he has a deadline coming up. So, instead of writing a “reasonable” and a “coherent” piece for the magazine, the author took it upon himself to write a commentary of the author’s lifestyle and his fandom, which is just the latest example of negative criticism the fantasy fandom has been dealt. And, this is from a magazine that has roots in being “for Nerds.” What was sent to WIRED magazine was an equivalent to what a student would have turned in when left scrambling to write an essay 24-48 hours before the due date. The submission was just that, a submission. There was no effort put into the writing of the essay; run-on sentences, grammatical and syntax errors, and incoherent and obnoxious thoughts are what readers were given. This wasn’t just a failure to present the positive side of a successful author, it was an insult to anyone and to everyone involved in the fantasy community: writers, readers, publishers, etc.
As for an author’s style of writing, not everyone has “the best writing style”; but, after a while, readers can distinguish one author’s writing style from another one. I’ve finished only 1 book by Brandon Sanderson (I’m halfway through another one), and both the characters and the world building are what keep me engaged in his stories. Yes, there are several other authors who write better than Brandon Sanderson. Ironically, I know of a few individuals who cannot stand George R.R. Martin’s writing style for his A Song of Ice and Fire books (you can read that essay here). George R.R. Martin’s style of writing works for him and for those books he writes (remember, he writes other series, too).
Remember when I mentioned I used to teach high school English and College Writing? Well, one of the most entertaining times in teaching those classes are due dates of writing assignments. Not because there were always a handful of students who either are “absent” or are “late” on those days, but because of the reading of the turned in assignments. I knew I was about to read essays that were very good, ones that were on the level they were supposed to be, and ones that were terrible and/or were written poorly. In cases of the last, this occurs when the individual fails to write a coherent essay and write whatever comes to mind. Facts and opinions are mixed into an essay so that the length of it covers up the content within it. When this happens, the individual turns in an essay that reads more as an incoherent rant instead of a “structured and formatted” writing piece.
As for the attack on the fantasy fandom…its members find themselves in familiar territory yet again. Only this time, it’s from the P.O.V. of someone who is not in the “in group.” And before you say anything else, this isn’t just about adults who enjoy fantasy stories, it’s an attack on the fandom overall. This isn’t similar to when Tom Shippey foolishly wrote his opinion on how adult fantasy has “grown up,” but about how someone doesn’t understand how 1 particular fandom operates and why such a fandom has such a large following. Yes, these fandoms are similar to sports fandoms! The Conventions are equivalent to attending a game/match in person!
Why is it that the fandoms of Doctor Who, James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones are allowed to exist within the (larger) public, but fans of Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, Seanan McGuire cannot? As a sports fan, I’ve been enjoying March Madness and I’m looking forward to both the Penn Relays and the Women’s World Cup later this summer. But, it’s strange that I’m looking forward to Season 3 of The Witcher and the next season of the reboot of Sailor Moon? How many more decades must pass before the “out group” realizes that Nerd fandoms are NOT going to “fade away”?
I don’t want this post to become a rant, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. In conclusion, the author of the article in WIRED magazine neither found an author who was “rolling in his success” (personally, all of the authors I’ve met and interacted with are very humble and are very helpful with their writing advice) nor found himself “comfortable” at convention where he was the “odd one out.” His article projected his insecurities while he interacted with the fandom (I won’t state anything about Brandon Sanderson because he mentioned it already in his response), which caused him to lash out at Brandon Sanderson and everyone else within both the Mormon community and the fantasy fandom. It’s sad and ironic that the article presented the author’s frustration at being the “odd one” in an “in group” because so many fantasy fans (and other Nerds) still experience those same frustrations on a daily basis. But, something needed to be submitted by the deadline and the article was written in frustration and in haste. Now, the entire speculative fiction fandom have something to talk about in agreement (can we put that effort into the issue surrounding book bans, please?), which is a good thing; but, will the author of the article be willing to pick up one of Brandon Sanderson’s books to read as the hype surrounding his words die down? Only time will tell.
6 thoughts on “In Defense of Brandon Sanderson and the Fantasy Literary Genre”
I knew nothing about the controversy, and I liked your essay abuot it.
It happened this past Thursday and it was one of the strangest things I’ve read. The entire fantasy community was angry to say the least, especially the authors.
I didn’t even know this mess was happening. Thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful breakdown.
The incident with Brandon Sanderson happened this past week. Unfortunately, attacks on the fantasy fandom is nothing new.
No lies detected