We’ve reviewed damn near every book that Patricia A. Mckillip has published over the many decades she’s been writing. Indeed the editing team is updating the special edition we did on her so that it can be republished this Autumn, as many of us here think of her as befitting the Autumn season. And so it is that I’m reviewing what I think is the first academic work devoted to her.
Macfarland specialises in this sort of book, with this being the sixtieth in their Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy series. We’ve certainly reviewed a number of these in looks at Gary Westfahl’s Hugo Gernsback and the Century of Science Fiction, Simone Caroti’s The Culture Series of Iain M. Banks: A Critical Introduction, and Donald E. Morese and Kalman Matolcsy’sThe Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock: Critical Essays on the Fiction, to name but a fewe. None of them are intended as entertaining, light fare but they generally do tell you more about a writer than you’d know otherwise. Sometimes a lot more.
Not ‘tall surprisingly, Patricia A. McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building is in keeping with the tone of this series. It is a full-length look at McKillip and her writings down the years, something that’s not been done before. Now full length is just a bit of a misnomer as it’s only the length of a novella at just about a hundred and eight pages. The sections here tell us a lot about what the author intends to tell us (“Worlds and World-Building”, “Fantasy Conventions”, “Characters”, “Legends”, “Pastoral Landscapes”, “Cities” and her coda, “Reflections”) and she fleshes them out well.
Usually such works have all the charm of, well, not much and certainly shouldn’t be called entertaining in the least. This is different, as Taylor very obviously has great affection for Mckillip as a person and as a writer. I could detail her approach her in-depth but her article, Notes Toward a Critical Approach to Worlds and World-Building, in Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy does a far better job than I could.
What she does very well is show that Mckillip has taken the often cliched fantasy conventions, say that of a harper with magical abilities, or the Norns themselves, and give them a fresh, lively feel embedded in stories that are exemplars of world-building. And she never loses track of McKillip herself, an all too common problem with such work.
As a librarian, I loved it and will see that my Several Annies read it. Do I think you as a fantasy reader will find it interesting? Actually yes, as it’s brevity is a definite strength in making it something that can read without getting bogged down.