Let’s not beat around the bush. My father thinks I’m a loser.
Growing up to eventually become a career genre fiction book reviewer – reading about vampires and dragons and aliens – just doesn’t compute with him. He has never come right out and said it but I’m convinced that he thinks reading genre fiction – and paranormal fantasy in particular – is an outrageous waste of time. It’s literary garbage with no value whatsoever. The last time he was over to my house, I handed him a copy of Green-Eyed Demon by Jaye Wells; I was so excited that Orbit Books had used an excerpt from one of my B&N reviews on the back cover. He just looked at it and said, "What is this? Vampire porn?"
I love my dad – don’t get me wrong. But we’re about as different as two people can be. He worked as an accountant his entire life (he retired about a decade ago), always drove the speed limit (I remember countless irate drivers passing him while flipping him the bird), never broke a single law in his life, and, on rare occasions, got a little crazy listening to The Dukes of Dixieland. He never read fiction – at least that I can ever remember – only newspapers and magazines. He was – and always will be – obsessively organized, rational, undemonstrative, and wound tighter than a two dollar watch. Like a Vulcan with too much fiber in his diet.
Fast forward three decades: I’m almost 50 and have been reviewing genre fiction for almost half my life. That’s a long time and a lot of books. I’m arguably one of the most well-read science fiction/fantasy book reviewers around – 6,000+ reviews, hundreds of author interviews, review excerpts on dozens of book covers – but every time I see my father he inevitably asks, “When are you going to get a real job? I hear they’re hiring at the post office.”
And it’s not just my father – many people that I've met (mostly nonreaders) think paranormal fantasy is somehow dumbed-down, uninspired fiction. Supernatural shlock. There is a definite stigma – trust me, I’ve dealt with it for decades.
But truth be told, reading fantasy – and specifically paranormal fantasy – has been an undeniably educational experience for me. I’ve radically expanded my vocabulary and learned about innumerable mythologies. Authors like Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Kat Richardson, Marcus Pelegrimas, J.F. Lewis, etc. have not only entertained me, they’ve educated me as well.
Bottom line: I am smarter for having read science fiction and fantasy, especially paranormal fantasy. Additionally, I know how to kill zombies, romance a succubus, defend my home from vampire invasion, and survive the apocalypse.
So, in honor of my father – and everyone like him – who think paranormal fantasy is mindless literary escapism, here is just a short list of words that I’ve learned from reading genre fiction – particularly paranormal fantasy. (And a big “thank you” to all of the BarnesandNoble.com forum regulars for their fantastic suggestions as well!)
Put this in your pipe and smoke it, dad – I will never work at the post office, and I don't care if they're hiring.
• Lycanthropic: (from LKH’s Micah) having characteristics associated with lycanthropy, which is the ability to turn into a wolf.
• Dolmen: (from Laird Barron's Occultation and Other Stories) a prehistoric megalithic tomb typically having two large upright stones and a capstone.
• Psychopomp: (from Stacia Kane’s City of Ghosts) a guide to the afterlife/underworld.
• Exsanguination: (from the Unbound anthology) draining an animal or person of blood.
• Defenestration: (from Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings) the act of throwing someone out of a window.
• Widdershins: (from Promises to Keep by Charles de Lint) in a left-handed, wrong, or contrary direction.
• Homunculus: (from The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia) an artificially made humanoid creature supposedly produced in a flask by an alchemist.
• Doppelganger: (from Laura Resnick’s Doppelgangster) a ghostly double of a living person, especially one that haunts its fleshly counterpart.
• Chthonic: (from Blake Charlton’s Spellwright) of or relating to the underworld.
• Oubliette: (from The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi) a dungeon that is only accessible from a hatch in a high ceiling.
So if you’re like me and are a big SF/fantasy and paranormal fantasy fan, add some of these words into your arsenal and unleash them the next time someone mocks what you read. Telling someone "I read paranormal fantasy. Respect me or I will defenestrate you." shuts thems up surprisingly fast...
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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