Introducing Slacker Fantasy: David Tallerman’s Giant Thief And the Reluctance of Agency

David Tallerman. Giant Thief. Angry Robot Books 2012.

Giant Thief. The ambiguity begins with the title and spreads slowly through the text. Is it in fact a thief who is a giant, or a thief who literally steals a giant?

As it turns out, it is the second. Easie Damasco (note that first name) steals a giant and the means of controlling it. Damasco is a thief and, remarkably, he might almost be fantasy fiction’s first slacker hero. There is little magic in the faux-Medieval Spain setting, and that is an unusual choice, worth a comparison with K.J. Parker’s secondary-world-fantasies-without-magic novels.

But what’s interesting about this novel (the first in a loose trilogy) is the reluctance of agency.

The Western tradition of genre writing has certain demands. It requires plot – it requires action – it requires active, not passive, heroes.  And while Giant Thief fits into the recognisable mode of traditional Western fantasy it also… doesn’t.

I’ll call it Slacker Fantasy. I’m not quite sure what to call this novel. It might have the feel of sword and sorcery, but it has little interest in either sword or sorcery. It isn’t really a Biblical epic. It isn’t really epic in any sense of the word, certainly not Epic Fantasy with its multiple cast of characters and large scale fantasy-world (usually the size of Wales, admittedly) conflict.

There isn’t even much conflict as such in this book. There’s just Damasco, the thief, dragged along into events he has no control over and no real interest in. Even Bilbo Baggins set of to steal a treasure of his own volition. Easie, here, just wants to be left alone.

And this is interesting to me. This is not Thomas Covenant battling the question of reality, and it isn’t the everyman character who discovers a magical London or wherever and is dragged into its mysteries.

More than anything, what Giant Thief does with its reluctance of agency is resemble a host of slacker movies, featuring sympathetic but essentially passive characters. Dude, Where’s My Car? or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure seem to me to be the precursors to this tale of slacker fantasy.

I’ve been trying to think of other examples of this sort of book but I can’t (perhaps you can suggest some in the comments?). It seems to me that Tallerman is doing something deceptively clever in this book or, at any rate, something new to fantasy. The novel’s reluctant to engage with the essential mode of Western fantasy lends it a strange appeal, its very half-assedness a meta-comment on a genre filled with bloated tales of action men and wicked wizardliness. This is Fantasy Mundane, and I am curious as to what Tallerman is planning with a further two novels. Will he choose to embrace agency, to turn his endearing slacker hero into a proper man of action and the series into properly-accepted capital-F Fantasy? Or will he continue to turn his back on convention with more novels that fall, quite deliberately it seems, between acceptable modes of genre?

And will we see other examples of emergent slacker fantasy, or mundane fantasy (two separate and distinct terms, but both of which apply to this novel) , coming out in future?

I will be very curious to find out.

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6 thoughts on “Introducing Slacker Fantasy: David Tallerman’s Giant Thief And the Reluctance of Agency

  1. I didn’t particularly enjoy Giant Thief when I first read and reviewed it mostly because I quickly became so irritated with Easie Damasco (starting with the name) and his passivity, refusal to engage, whatever. I admit I’d not thought about it in quite the terms you suggest, as slacker fantasy, but while that crystallises the reasons for my dislike – I don’t particularly like slacker fiction in any form – I’m not sure it will encourage me to read more. Indeed, I wonder how long Tallerman can sustain such an approach without it becoming formulaic in itself.

  2. It’s difficult to engage with passive characters, true, but Damasco is not entirely passive. He behaves like most of us would in the same situation, that is, not heroically. He does incite incidence, just not the main plot incidences, which are left to other characters such as the rebel leader Estrada. Why can stories not be about the person who is dragged along…? In that sense I agree with Lavie’s article, it’s an interesting perspective. On the other hand, I understand in further books, Damasco starts to grow and to believe in his ability to effect events and again that’s more true to life, it takes years for people to change, not just one adventure. But I don’t think Tallerman is trying to be ‘real’, I do think he’s tired of the usual cliched fantasy tropes, and that’s both cool and brave.

  3. Curiously, I just finished Jeter’s INFERNAL DEVICES, where the protagonist does a little self-motivated investigating (mostly in the first half of the book), but spends almost the rest of the book being shuttled about and lectured to by other characters. While he may not be a slacker, his position as the unheroic, anti-sex, passive, non-rogue hero does raise questions about agency in genre fiction.

    Although, if you really want a slacker hero in genre, you might also look at 1990’s MAJOR BUMMER (DC Comics), where the literal slacker accidentally receives super powers.

  4. Lavie: Danny Kaye movies. That’s your answer. 8)

    Well, to be fair, not the entire answer, but there’s more than a little of Danny in Easie. I’m fond of Easie. And Saltlick.

    Easie has a pretty fine level of snark too.

    Anne*—

    P.S. Also, Bilbo was more than a little shanghaied. (I’d forgotten how sneaky Gandalf was.) Still, riddles in the dark… I’m pretty fond of Bilbo for that matter. He’s more Took than he knew.

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