Gideon the Ninth and discarding the fantasy rulebook.

Part 1: The Anti-Lore

Tamsyin Muir and her breakout hit Gideon the Ninth have already been mentioned several times on the blog. There are better books. I’ve read the award winners. They won awards for good reasons, mostly. Muir’s Locked Tomb series doesn’t seem interested in competing with Sanderson and Rothfuss for mainstream fantasy appeal. I think it makes the case against the established “house style” of modern fantasy instead.

Her books are the anti-lore. Gideon the Ninth is written like she doesn't care if you read it and certainly not if you understand it. The whole series seems to be written like none of its details matter. Like Brandon Sanderson and the various wikis devoted to his sprawling sander-verse personally insulted Muir’s mother. Even surrounded by former fan fiction writers, the current generation of 30-something women whose work defines the modern cannon and in many ways revolutionizes it, Muir is dynamite.


A few months ago, I read the incredible comic series DRACULA MOTHER F**KER from Alex De Campi and Erica Henderson. If I was pressed to explain it, I’d fall back on the plot.

"Dracula’s three wives nailed him to the bottom of his coffin in 1889. Now it’s the 70’s and a crime scene photographer is solving the case."

- Image Comics

But that’s a bad description of the comic. It has a plot, but that’s not what I enjoy about it. DRACULA MOTHER F**KER is a vehicle that communicates an energy. If I could explain what that energy felt like, it would be worth less.

We have been telling each other tales of otherness for a long time; They remind us that there is something special about the state of being alive. – Neil Gaimen, TED 2014.

Part 2: Dracula, Mother F**ker

Art, books, storytelling are powerful means of communicating something inarticulate. Our folklore carries the values and hopes of societies. Horror like DRACULA interrogates our dread. It exposes us in small safely administered doses to the things that keep us up at night. Fantasy decontextualizes our lives so totally that only the biggest questions remain.

We can’t ask Pippin if Labour will win the next election, so we have to ask him why he followed Frodo and the fellowship toward Mordor even when he didn’t know if they were alive.

I think I want to return to fiction like this, that isn’t meant to be solved. That isn’t a puzzle. Where you shouldn’t be writing a lore wiki or googling a plot explainer. Writers like Muir create gloriously incomprehensible fiction and you’re supposed to experience it, not google it.


I’ll give you one for free: Tom Bloom’s KILL SIX BILLION DEMONS is an online Patreon supported webcomic, started in 2013. It delights in its incomprehension. When devils and bone gods atop motorcycles made from screaming souls burst onto the page, characters refer to them casually. These things exist. They always have. Bloom’s work isn't about the specifics. There's an energy, a looseness to the world that reminds you anything could happen and moreover should happen in fiction.

This vagueness, as with Muir’s Locked Tomb, makes you want answers. Of course, you want to know where the bone god came from. Maybe Bloom knows the answer and maybe he will one day tell his audience. In the absence of information, we can only imagine.

When Tolkien wrote Lord of The Rings, he was a rebel. No one wrote worlds like this, he was mixing and matching his favorite parts of the bible Greek epics, and English folklore. It was built on the backs of those classics and wholly antithetical to the expected form of fiction.

We've retroactively ruined these works by counting them and measuring them and solving them. Knowing where Han Solo comes from has stopped us from asking. Knowing where the Elves go and why they must, has stopped us from wondering.

We've retroactively ruined these works by copying them. We keep using the Lord Of The Rings as an instruction book for what fantasy should and can be. We keep ignoring LeGuin and Adams and Butler's greatest talent, that of ignoring what rules came before. In repeating their work we’re echoing the format but not the form. Not understanding why those works felt the way they do.

Part 3: Packaged like soap

Reading Gideon the Ninth for the first time, felt like a dare. Being challenged to keep up because Muir doesn’t think I will. It reminded me that reading should expand the possibility space of its genre but also its reader. It should delight you the same way the first book you read in any genre would. You should constantly wonder if the writer is allowed to do what they are doing. Reading should be an act of resistance against people's expectations and writing should be an art not a science.

Muir writes her science fiction / necromantic fantasy / romantic thriller / locked room mystery without a thought for those labels. She writes it with prose straight from your tumblr dashboard. A collection of paragraphs, each of which could be a viral post, strung one after another forming a story so propulsive you forget in a second what the rules are supposed to be, we're posting nothing but bangers, Reblog, this goes hard as hell, turn notifications on, there’s a lot of blood on my dance floor.

When you make, ask if you are making. Create whenever you can avoid iteration. Become something so compelling it demands to be understood. IF THE ZOO BANS ME FOR HOLLERING AT THE ANIMALS I WILL FACE GOD AND WALK BACKWARDS INTO HELL.


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