Reflections: a fan of the outliers

I’ve always felt fairly uneasy about the idea of being a ‘fan’ of any given author or series, because I’ve never really had (what seems to me) the typical fan’s relationship with the fiction I read or watch. Even when I was deep in collecting the volumes of long series like Discworld and Fighting Fantasy, I appreciated idiosyncracies and irregularities, the value of allowing writers to go where their imaginations took them. When I encountered other fans’ opinions, the common consensus seemed to be that the closer a given book was to the series/genre norm, the better; whereas the outliers were what most intrigued me.

Over the last 10-15 years, the fields of science fiction and fantasy have become much slicker when it comes to managing series; the trend has been towards valuing plot continuity, ‘world-building’ and high-concept combinations of ‘tropes’. Those, I’ve come to see, are not really my sort of thing, which is one reason I’ve drifted away from reading a lot of genre SF and fantasy in recent years. The work I find myself most drawn to is singular and often self-contained, and I still find myself liking aspects of work that many others seem not to (so, for example, I love The Luminaries for its four-dimensional living metaphors; and I don’t really care much either way about its plot, pastiche or astrology, which seem to get most of the attention). Ultimately, when it comes to matters such as world-building and series continuity, I am more in tune with the project of Viriconium, and I have to proceed from there.

Reflections is a series of posts in which I think more generally about my approach to and experience of reading.


  1. I always fandom as more a genre thing as you say disc world fantasy tends sell on fans of a said writer or even series .I enjoyed a lot writers of the years not sure any I would be an out and out of fan of a few books I am huge fan of

    • Stu, I think you’re right that fandom is something that tends to build around particular authors or series – and I’m also more focused on individual books. I think any writer can have an off day, and I’d like to believe that I would have the distance to acknowledge it if that happened even to one of my favourite writers.

  2. I would not describe myself as a science fiction or fantasy reader though I make occasional forays in and out. But Harrison, he defies categories in my mind. I am always interested in what he has to offer.

    • Joe, I’d agree with you on Harrison. I once read him say something along the lines of “Viriconium isn’t fantasy, it’s Viriconium,” and I know exactly what he means. I don’t always get along with his work, but there’s no one else like him, and that’s what makes him worth reading.

  3. It’s a long time since I read MJH’s work, but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about revisiting. I’m not sure if I still have my capacity for reading sci and fantasy (I read a lot in my younger days), but the Viriconium stories were stand-outs and I’d like to find out what I think about them nowadays.

  4. I wonder if fandom is more common with series rather than with a particular author?

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