When I was writing my first Master’s Thesis, which was on using Semiotics to define the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found a typo in one draft that caught my attention: I had spelled “Fantasy” with a “c” where the “n” should go. I burst out laughing when I found it. I thought that was a beautiful word, potentially a portmanteau in the making. So I defined it.
It would be easy in the current political climate to find a decisive use for it and turn it to derogatory uses, and I am well aware that this will happen if the term ever takes off, but I still want to root the idea in something real, something that could have its uses in something approaching intellectual pursuits, if not quite (yet) academia.
The definition is as follows: a work of Factasy is a work of fiction that pretends to base itself on actual-world sources. One of my favorite examples is Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Clarke uses footnotes to quote and reference sources on the study of magic. These sources are so convincing in their detail that it took me a good three hundred pages to remember that there had never, in our actual world, been a Raven King ruling the North of England for several centuries after the Middle Ages.
But on the other hand we have novels like The Da Vinci Code. It was very popular, but I didn’t like it. Part of the reason I didn’t like it was because it seemed to play fast and loose with its sources, which put it on uneasy footing. It’s one thing to have an expert in a field make discoveries over the course of a novel of “facts” that aren’t representative of any reality outside that novel, but the sources in Dan Brown’s most popular novel were confusing enough that I never figured out which sources he made up and which I could track down myself and read, if I took a fancy. And that was very dissatisfying to my reading experience in the long run—perhaps in part because I wanted so much to believe the version of reality that he presented.
So if I were to write up an instruction manual as how to incorporate aspects of Factasy in one’s work of fiction, my first bit of advice would be to be absolutely clear from the beginning on the relationship between the world and the sources. If they are tongue-in-cheek and all-encompassing like Clarke’s, then commit to them fully, but if your main character is a “world-renowned expert” in the field in question, and there is nothing utterly different about the world (i.e. if this is or could be the world we are living in) don’t be casual with the Factastical sources. Be careful. Be respectful of reality.