Fanboy Fantasy

As always, XKCD hit the nail on the head.

There’s nothing worse than finally having time to sit down with a good book and finding, instead, a bad one. It happened with SS-GB, with Empire and with The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but because those books are largely police procedural thrillers set in alternate universes, my expectations couldn’t have been too high.

Fantasy, a genre closer to my heart and one I grew up with, is another story — properly speaking, it’s a lot of stories, but that’s neither here nor there — and it’s far more susceptible than thrillers as far as making up unpronounceable, foreign-sounding exoticisms.

Reading Eragon burned me inside, at a level that I sensed something rotten in the pulp of cheap fantasy. I couldn’t quite place my finger on what it was, at first, but now I can.

As Orson Scott Card wrote:

Nothing is more tacky than to have a bunch of foreign-sounding words thrown into a story for no better reason than to have something that sounds foreign. James Blish called such needlessly coined words “shmeerps.” If it looks like a rabbit and acts like a rabbit, calling it a shmeerp doesn’t make it alien.

If mugubasala means “bread” then say bread! Only use the made-up stuff when it used for a concept for which there is no English word. If your viewpoint character thinks that mugubasala is nothing but bread, then later discovers that it is prepared through a special process that releases a drug from the native grain, and that drug turns out to be the source of the telepathic power that the natives are suspected of having, then you are fully justified in calling the bread mugubasala. It really is different, and deserves the added importance that a foreign name bestows.

I’m calling off krytoses and shmeerps, not that I’d mind getting my hands on some mugubasala. I’d love me some telepathy.




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