“Top Ten Tuesday” is a feature started by “The Broke and the Bookish“, in which people list their top ten books that match some given criterion. It changes every week, and happens on a Tuesday. Lots (a frankly ridiculous number) of bloggers take part. This week’s topic is “things you want to see more of in books”.
There are lots of things I’d like to see more of in fiction. There are settings and conceits that I’d like to see more of, and character archetypes that don’t get much space. And there are bigger things as well – viewpoints and concepts and styles of writing that I value and enjoy seeing explored.
The following list consists of a mixture of these things, based on how rapidly they occurred to me when I started to think about the topic. It is in no order other than that.
1. Non-human protagonists
Fiction gives us a chance to inhabit radically different minds to ours, to experience impossible and wonderful things. Given that, it seems a shame that there are so few authors who attempt to move beyond human characters, to play with an entirely alien mind and perspective. And of those few, fewer still actually delve into the differences, rather than just presenting them as people with a physical quirk – wings or green skin or living hair. I want to read books that explore albatross culture, or tell the romance of a monstrous glow-worm couple. I want to read about orcs who are more than mindless savages but not essentially colour-swapped vikings.
2. Moral absolutes
Moral relativism is the norm now, especially in fiction. It’s standard now to have flawed heroes and sympathetic villains. That’s not a bad thing – character complexity makes for interesting narratives. However, not everything needs to be shades of grey – some things are actually black and white, and some people genuinely are saintly or irredeemable. Those characters and situations have been somewhat neglected of late – they aren’t common, exactly, but they deserve more space than they are getting.
3. Non-Western fantasy settings
The standard fantasy setting is Medieval Europe. Common variations are Renaissance Europe, or Victorian England. I like these settings – I’ll happily keep reading about them. More variety would be nice though – fantasy based on Aztec history and mythology, for example, or set in feudal China. I understand the Middle Ages and the era of steam; I want something new to me.
4. Pointy objects
Swords and bows are the classic protagonist’s weapons. In books set later, guns are more usual, but there are few firearms that figure as prominently in their narratives as Durendal or Excalibur do. There’s something much more inspiring about hand-to-hand weapons, which is why almost everyone can make light-saber noises but few people can imitate a phaser. What I want is an increase in the variety of exciting weaponry. Why can’t the hero wield a spear? Why can’t kings pull morningstars out of stones?
5. Subtle horror
Violence and gore do nothing to me. I enjoy horror, but the actual moment of savagery or death is of minimal interest. The worst horror is focused on violence and nothing else – barbed wire chambers and ghosts with claws. What really matters is the build-up, the slow growth of tension until you are questioning everything and jumping at shadows. So I’d like more horror that focuses on that, and less on violence – death doesn’t have to be the only threat characters are facing, and it doesn’t have to be the only way they lose. Horror can be subversive and insidious and clever. It shouldn’t just be torture and slaughter.
6. Underwater settings
I like submarine things. It’s a fascinating and alien setting, and something I look for in games and books and films. I want more of it. I want kraken attacks and outposts under the ice of Europa. I want mermaid hunts and the invasion of lizard cultists. I have no better justification for this that that I think underwater settings are awesome.
7. Female protagonists who get to actually do things
I’m pleased to see an increasing number of female protagonists in speculative fiction. It’s not that there should be quotas or anything similar, but a closer reflection of non-fiction population in the fiction population is a reasonable thing to want. I still think there is ground to be won though – quite a lot of these female protagonists face all the danger, but rely on men to save them in the end, regardless of how much that makes sense. A powerfully magic highly-trained assassin shouldn’t have to go running to her boyfriend for safety.
8. Unconventional romances
“Strong burly man and willowy delicate woman” is a common pairing. So is “Sassy self-made career woman and darkly handsome rival”. In the last few years, there’s been a lot of “vulnerable beauty and domineering businessman” (with or without a riding crop). You may be noticing a pattern. There are loads of archetypal pairings that have barely been touched – where is my “uncouth fitness-freak and repressed public schoolboy?” Why can’t I read a romance where the couple don’t jostle for supremacy, or at least with the usual roles reversed?
9. No romance at all
Almost every book I’ve picked up in years has had a romantic subplot, regardless of the topic. It’s a continuing and ever-present human concern, so that’s unsurprising. I still think that there is a relatively neglected niche here – not every story needs to force a primary couple, or twist a friendship into a romance. Other kinds of relationships can bear the narrative weight just as well.
10. Pretty Magic
Magic is often impressive. It’s big and loud and flashy. Sometimes it’s dark and gritty, with lots of grunting and feeling drained. One thing I adore, and look out for constantly, is magic that is wondrous. Magic should be amazing – it should inspire you, run through your head even when you’ve put the book down. It is a constant sadness to me that I can’t control the winds with a thought, and books that let me feel the rush and the beauty of that are something I can always do with more of.
I could expand most of the above into their own post, but hopefully my meaning is broadly clear. The parent post on The Broke and the Bookish is here.