Last night, I went to see ‘Jupiter Ascending’. I don’t want to talk about the film itself all that much; suffice to say, I thought it was a lot of fun, ridiculous and cheesy, frequently silly but with dialogue that didn’t make me cringe too often. What struck me most of all, though, was that it was a film that felt curiously joyful. It revelled in its silliness and was absolutely unashamed about the fact that it was pure fluff. And you know what? I sometimes feel like we need a bit more of that in the world.
It’s a topic that keeps coming up in the world of SFF literature, in a slightly different guise. There, the sub-genre of ‘grimdark’ is oft-discussed, and even as frequent conversations about whether it’s dead yet – or at least dying – crop up, it feels like every major fantasy publisher is trying to market their newest authors in the same mould. Where once everyone had to be ‘the new Tolkien’, now they’re ‘the new George R.R. Martin’, no matter how ridiculous the comparison.
It’s far to say that I’m not grimdark’s biggest fan. Clearly, it sells by the bucketload, and I keep returning to it out of hope (that I’ll find something that blows me away) more than anything, but nearly every book I pick up leaves me disappointed. It’s not just that I’m an optimist and like to see that reflected in my fiction: it’s that I came to fantasy, first of all, for its imagination and its capacity for escapism, and reading endless books filled with death, violence and abhorrent characters doesn’t really fit the bill (particularly when I can see enough of that every day on the news). Fiction should attempt to capture the world as it really is, of course, but I feel grimdark tends to forget there’s light to balance out the rest.
Back, then, to Jupiter Ascending. It’s a very silly film, true, but also packed with ideas and imagination. It felt, to me, to have that same spirit of adventure and optimism that fantasy from the 1980s had in far greater abundance than most of what’s being published today. There are definitely things in SFF from that era I wouldn’t want to revive (the fact that huge swathes of the genre were just Tolkien rip-offs, for one), but I’d still love to see some of that hopefulness return to the fantasy genre. Not every book has to be dark or darker, and not every fantasy world has to be a grim landscape populated only with broken souls. If I had to choose between that and pure, escapist fluff, I’d choose fluff every time.