The Joy Of…. Bangsian Fantasy Stories

2015 Artwork Joy Of Bangsian Fantasy Article sketch

Surprisingly, I didn’t even know what “Bangsian Fantasy” was until I was about seventeen and happened to read a second-hand copy of an old horror/fantasy/thriller novel called “Inferno” by Larry Niven And Jerry Pournell.

This is a novel from the 1970s that is based on Dante’s “Inferno”. It follows a guy who dies and ends up exploring all of the various circles of hell. Although I can’t remember all of the plot details, it’s an absolutely fascinating and vividly descriptive novel which I can still remember more about than I can with most of the other novels I read when I was seventeen.

Although “Inferno” is an old novel that is heavily based on Christian mythology ( eg: I should probably warn you that one part of the story contains somewhat outdated/old fashioned attitudes towards LGBT people, if I remember rightly), it’s basically just a story about a guy who ends up exploring a strange and horrific world. More importantly, it’s also a Bangsian fantasy novel.

So, what is Bangsian fantasy?

In short, a Bangsian fantasy story is any story that is set in an afterlife of some kind or another. It’s a story that takes place after the main character has died.

This genre is absolutely fascinating for the simple reason that no-one really knows what awaits us after death. They’re stories about something that literally everyone will eventually experience and, yet, apart from possibly a few people who have had near death experiences, no-one knows for certain what (if anything) happens afterwards.

So, these stories already come with a pre-made mystery attached to them. After all, “what happens to us after death?” is one of the oldest questions known to humanity. Seriously, it’s up there with “what is the meaning of life?“. Bangsian fantasy stories promise us an interesting, if totally fictional, answer to this old mystery.

Another cool thing about Bangsian fantasy stories are that they are also often one of the most imaginative types of stories out there.

After all, everyone is familiar with at least a few traditional myths, beliefs and legends about the afterlife. So, Bangsian fantasy authors either have to find innovative ways to make these old myths interesting again or they have to come up with a totally new theory about what awaits us after death.

What this means is that these types of stories can often be completely unpredictable. They can contain really fascinating fictional worlds that don’t even have to have a vague basis in reality, because they’re not set in our reality.

Yet another cool thing about Bangsian fantasy novels is that they can also feature famous people from history who have died many years ago. Not only can this allow authors to create interesting meetings between famous people who lived in vastly different times, but it also makes us think “what if these people still exist somewhere?“.

This question can be used in both horror stories (eg: when it involves historical villains like Hitler, Stalin, Jack The Ripper etc…), and in fun/ funny/inspirational stories (eg: when it involves people like Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens etc…).

The idea that famous people still live on through more than just their historical reputation is a universally fascinating one. It can be seen in things like theories that Elvis is somehow still alive or – as I heard of recently – the bizarre conspiracy theory that the famous American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is actually Bill Hicks in disguise.

Anyway, Bangisan fantasy allows us to explore these emotions and themes in a way that doesn’t lead to us following bizarre conspiracy theories.

So, yes, Bangsian fantasy is an absolutely fascinating genre and it is well worth exploring if you can find any examples of it. It doesn’t really seem to be a hugely popular genre, but you can sometimes find Bangisan fantasy-like storylines in some TV shows and computer games.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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6 comments on “The Joy Of…. Bangsian Fantasy Stories

  1. babbitman says:

    Well I’d never heard of the term Bangsian fantasy until about 2 minutes ago, so thanks for info! That kind of storyline has been around almost as long as story-telling itself (Greek mythology has a fair few trips to the underworld). Being a ‘rational atheist’ (i.e. I don’t think there’s anything after death) I tend to appreciate these types of stories when delivered in a humourous way, but can’t really get into them if they take themselves too seriously. There was one terrible British sitcom back in the early 80s (can’t remember the title) that followed a guy who had been killed (possibly murdered) and who wanted to go back and haunt the perpetrator. Unfortunately heaven was full of bureaucracy, red tape and officious jobsworths. The ‘hero’ was eventually allowed back to earth as the lowest level of ‘ghost’ – the ghosted image shown on screen of an analogue TV with poor reception. Like a lot of things, it would have worked best as a short story, not a multipart sitcom. I really don’t know why I bothered watching the bloody thing…

    • pekoeblaze says:

      No probs, I’m glad that you found the article interesting 🙂 Ah, I didn’t really think that much about older types of these stories but, given that these stories deal with one of the oldest and most universal questions than I guess that there would probably be quite a few old examples of them too. My personal theory is that there’s probably either nothing or there’s some kind of reincarnation, but there isn’t really any way of knowing.

      Oh, a good bangsian fantasy (well, sort of..) horror novel is probably “Slights” by Kaaron Warren, I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t mention it in the article – since the whole novel basically revolves an extremely creepy version of the afterlife.

      I don’t know, the sitcom doesn’t really sound that bad – in fact, it even vaguely sounds interesting. Although, yeah, it’s interesting how these types of stories turn up a lot more often in TV shows and movies than anywhere else. The ones I can think of that don’t involve plot spoilers (eg: where the twist at the end is that the main character died before the beginning of the movie or TV series) are two gothic Tim Burton movies called “Beetlejuice” and “Corpse Bride”, a movie called “Flatliners”, one episode of “Star Trek: Voyager”, a movie called “The Deaths of Ian Stone” and a few episodes of “Supernatural”. Most of the examples I can think of use the “bangsian fantasy” part of the story as a plot twist.

      • babbitman says:

        I’ve seen bits of Beetlejuice & the Corpse Bride but never sat and watched the whole films. Saw Flatliners years ago (a surprisingly A list cast before they hit megamoney). Yes, the sitcom had potential and that’s probably why I persevered with it, but as I said, it should have been a short story or maybe a one-off short film of about 30-60 mins (but played with dry/black humour, not cheesey 70s/80s comedy with canned laughter).
        I’m sure I’ve mentioned Iain M Banks to you before, but one of the later Culture novels, Surface Detail, has a very interesting take on an afterlife. Here’s an extract from Wikipedia: “As the book begins, a war game—the “War in Heaven”—has been running for several decades. The outcome of the simulated war will determine whether societies are allowed to run artificial Hells, virtual afterlives in which the mind-states of the dead are tortured.”
        Probably not the best book to start your exposure to the Culture but very thought-provoking.
        I’ll keep an eye out for that Warren book as I’m running low on reading matter!

      • pekoeblaze says:

        They’re both absolutely brilliant, although Beetlejuice is probably my favourite of the two films. But, yeah, it’s probably been over a decade (perhaps even almost a decade and a half) since I watched “Flatliners” (on VHS, no less). But, yeah, from the way you described the TV series, I thought that it’d contain lots of cynical humour rather than cheesy 70s/80s humour and annoying canned laughter.

        You’ve mentioned the Culture novels before, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll get round to reading them (I don’t know, I kind of go through phases where I read a lot and phases where I don’t, this seems to be one of the longest “don’t” phases I’ve had in a while LOL!). Although the concept of an artificial hell certainly sounds like a rather creepy one and it’s always good to see horror elements in sci-fi stories.

        But, yeah, even though “Slights” can be something of a slow read sometimes, it has some of the best characterisation [Edit: or, more accurately, the most well-written and subtly creepy narration – the narrator is both a very sympathetic and yet very unsympathetic character ] that I’ve read and there’s all sorts of chillingly creepy stuff in the novel too (everything from outright horror to very creepy stuff that’s only subtly hinted at ). In fact, the ending still kind of creeps me out when I think about it and it’s been about six years since I read the book LOL!

      • babbitman says:

        Hmm, that all sounds quite tempting – definitely need to look it up!
        And yes, Surface Detail has some utterly horrific scenes in the artificial hell.

      • pekoeblaze says:

        Yeah, “Slights” is worth reading – although, from the reviews of it that I’ve seen online, it’s a novel that people either really love or really hate (or, rather people either find the main character to be completely unsympathetic, or they see her as an extremely well-written and complex, albeit very messed-up, character ).

        In fact, if I remember rightly, I even wrote a review of “Slights” on here a couple of weeks after I started this blog, although it might contain some [fairly small] plot spoilers. Anyway, it can be seen here.

        But, yeah, from a description of part of Iain Banks’s “The Wasp Factory” that I heard quite a while ago, it really wouldn’t surprise me if some of his sci-fi novels also contained some fairly horrific scenes LOL!

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