We are at a convention. The topic is posted on the whiteboard outside the room: What is the best fantasy world?
Three fans come up behind me, as I am waiting to go inside.
Fan A: (to closed door) What’s going to be in here?
Fan B: The panel on ‘The Best Fantasy Worlds.’
Fan C: See you later, guys, I’ll be in the bar.
Fan A: What? You, who’ve read every fantasy printed?
Fan C: Exactly. Or tried to read. If any authors are on that panel, I don’t want to be anywhere near it.
Fan A: Why not? You don’t like hearing them talk about their story construction and world building?
Fan C: Not with a title like ‘Best Fantasy Worlds.’ What we’ll hear is how brilliant they think their own creation is. And if the other panelists have good manners, they either nod brightly and say, “Yep, sure is!” or else they play Dueling Mics to yap about how much better theirs is. I don’t like any ‘It’s all about me’ topics unless it’s Terry Pratchett because at least he’s funny.
Fan B: Well, who’s on it? Or, maybe they won’t be allowed to promote their own world, but have to talk about best worlds from other people?
Fan C: I’d go to that. Unless–
Fans A and B (together): Right, unless it’s got Twilight fans on it.
Fan B: (waving hand) Yeah, we’ve been there, heard the rant.
Fan C: (arms crossed): Just saying.
Doors are still closed.
Fan A: So . . . what fantasy worlds are the best, anyway? I mean once you get Middle Earth out of the way?
Fan B: Who says Middle Earth is the best?
Fans A and C: What???
Fan B: Well, what do they mean by ‘best’–most details? Longest worked on? Tolkien’s got it made in the shade there, all right, except maybe for L Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson.
Fan C: And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–
Fan A: How about Barsetshire? With or without Angela Thirkell?
Fan B: (galloping over them) OR do they mean best stories from, or do they mean would you want to go there? Well, what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t want to go to Middle Earth. There’s nothing for women to do, and was there any mention of toilets? I don’t think so! Just imagine chamber pots being tossed down the levels at Gondor . . . and which level would we plebes be stuck on? The top, with Denethor and the royalty? I don’t think so!
Fans A and C: (noises of gross-out)
Fan B: Well, so what is it? Like, I love Glen Cook’s stories, but I wouldn’t want to spend one second in his world. Not one second. GRRM either. Any vampire novel, or one of those ones with evil faerie going around offing humans. I guess I’d go to Georgette Heyer’s London because everybody is an aristocrat, and there’s the great clothes and–
Fan A: (thumb to chest) Unless you’re a Jew. All Jews in Heyerworld are greasy and money-grubbing.
Fan C: Or if you’re a servant, you just love being in your place. Better be a pretty aristocrat governess, because you are guaranteed a handsome duke or earl. Me, I’d rather go to Robin McKinley’s Damar. Or one of Sharon Shinn’s worlds. Neal Stephenson’s worlds, definitely. Jay Lake’s Mainspring world might be kinda cool, if you’re into the gear thing.
Fan A: There are a lot of worlds I’d go to only if I can be someone else. Heroine for sure, unless it’s somebody’s tragedy. Sidekick’s okay. Just not a redshirt. But there aren’t many worlds I’d want to go to being a pudgy, far-sighted nerd who faints at the sight of blood and is allergic to pollen.
Fan C: Isn’t that more of a cosplaying question than ‘best fantasy world’?
Fan A: (shrug) Just trying to figure out what ‘best’ means. Best cool inventions, best story, best setting, best appendices?
Fan B: Well, my favorite fantasy writer is Terry Pratchett, but I wouldn’t want to be on Discworld–Pratchett keeps going on about how much Ankh Morpork stinks. You ask for a glass of water and you’re dead. And about the only hot guy is Carrot. The rest are all like Nobby Nobbs.
Fan A: There is only one Nobby . . . whatever he is.
Fan C: World to go to…hmmm…I bet Earthsea would be boring, it’d be just like Discworld in the way of better to read about than to be there. I dunno, where do people like to play with other worlds most? You know, fan fiction? That would probably give you an idea which worlds are ‘best’ for a definition of people liking to spend time there.
Fan B: Back to reading or writing about a place as opposed to your very own personal body being there. I’d read about Middle Earth if Tolkien wanted to come back to life and write more about Gondor or the Rohirrim. Especially if he gets some women in this time. But go there? No. And I bet all those people writing Joss Whedon vampire fanfic would sooo not want to live in Vamp America.
Fan C: Unless they could be Buffy?
Fan B: A bazillion twenty-year-olds would probably want Rowling’s world, having grown up with Potter.
Fan A: I think ‘best’ means the worlds that are bigger than the stories. Like our world is bigger than any sense of history any of us have as individuals.
Fan C: Sounds like one of those computer game things that take a million hours just to learn the rules.
Fan A: I meant sense of wonder bigger, not a lot of rules and lists of stuff.
Fan B: Definitely Neal Stephenson!
Fan C: Magic Realism Earth–that is, here with magical powers. I could get behind some powers. I’d begin with getting rid of all the trogs, trolls, and vampires in Washington DC, and then . . .