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  1. #1

    Books with "deep history"

    Perhaps the quality of Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen that I find the most evocative is the sense of deep history and his ability to craft it into a quality of mythic atmosphere. Everything that occurs has this weight of millennium, and it isn't empty millennium. The only author that I can think of that does this as well or better is none other than J.R.R. Tolkien, although numerous other authors do this to some extent--including Gene Wolfe, R Scott Bakker, Robert E Howard, and Ursula K Le Guin.

    What other books and authors employ a strong sense of deep history?

  2. #2
    WoT should probably be mentioned. It does have a fair bit of ancient history tossed around.

    the sf side of the fence has some great examples too.

  3. #3
    Omnibus Prime Moderator PeterWilliam's Avatar
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    Abercrombie did some of that with the character Bayaz. Although I have only read the first book in his series, it appears Tom Lloyd is attempting to do so. Greg Keyes hooked me into the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series with a fantastic opening that was a good example of this (though the series declined unbelievably with each successive book).

    I think you've already mentioned the works which most successfully employ the concept. I admit it is also a very strong hook for me. I would even say that, if done well, it is something that could keep me coming back to a middling, or even poor, series.

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    Seven Mary Four Glelas's Avatar
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    I have only read the first 2 but IIRC the Deverry novels contain deep history. It was a long time ago so I could be wrong.

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    Filthy Assistants! Moderator kater's Avatar
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    It's far more subtle than the Malazan books but all the hints in The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies are tantalising. Also more directly linked to Erikson's work is The Black Company books by Glen Cook.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Alchemist View Post
    What other books and authors employ a strong sense of deep history?
    Hmmm...Chronicles of Thomas Covenant come to mind, also McKillip's Riddlemaster series. And in another genre, but fitting: Asimov's Foundation! I'm sure there are more - but the mind is somewhat befuddled tonite

    Cheers,

    Sfinx.

  7. #7
    Too many books to read... Siberian's Avatar
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    Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Cycle has interesting backstory (the best part about the books IMO)

  8. #8
    Unreasonable reasoner
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    No mention of ASoIaF? I figured that would be one of the first replies.

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    From what I remember there wasn't a lot of deep history in the books. Plenty of recent history but nothing like Malazan or WoT.

  10. #10
    Jack Bauer Bastard's Avatar
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    Vlad Taltos has a fairly rich history, plus there are about 6 books that take place in the past... hundreds or so years before the Vlad Taltos series.

  11. #11
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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    As you say, Tolkien comes first and foremost to mind. So does Bakker. I'm not sure which of Le Guin's works you're referring to? Earthsea?

    Abercrombie's series does not have the mythic, epic historical feel as requested, nor does Lynch, Abraham or Rothfuss if we look to poular recent authors.

    Looking to ASOIAF, it does not have the deep history in the chronological sense, but there is significant historical depth closer to the time the story takes place, which makes it an interesting suggestion.

    I understand the Wheel of Time could be mentioned here.

    I don't think there's that many suggestions available actually. This sort of thing takes enormous amount of time and investment and many, many authors suffice with much less depth.

  12. #12
    Great points, Mithfanion. I agree that Wheel of Time applies but not so much ASoIaF or the more recent popular authors you mention. By "deep history" I don't mean "detailed history," but the sense that the world is very old, that history goes back millennia into myth, and that there is a real mytho-history behind the events of the story. The Lord of the Rings is the archetype of this and it is largely because Tolkien actually did create a mytho-history that was actually more primary to his concern than the LotR.

    I mentioned Le Guin because of Earthsea. Now it doesn't have the detail of Malazan, the Prince of Nothing, the Wheel of Time, or Tolkien, but she is still able to provide an atmosphere that implies deep history. The same with McKillip's Riddlemaster and, I would say, to some degree CJ Cherryh's Morgaine books. This, I think, speaks more of these authors' considerable ability as writers and less of hours spent creating a setting and back history. But it may also do with a style of the 60s and 70s that is no longer "en vogue." A lot of the fantasy novels of that era had a denser atmosphere, a feeling of mythic richness, that often seems to be lacking in more recent work.

  13. #13
    Jack Bauer Bastard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alchemist View Post
    Great points, Mithfanion. I agree that Wheel of Time applies but not so much ASoIaF or the more recent popular authors you mention. By "deep history" I don't mean "detailed history," but the sense that the world is very old, that history goes back millennia into myth, and that there is a real mytho-history behind the events of the story. The Lord of the Rings is the archetype of this and it is largely because Tolkien actually did create a mytho-history that was actually more primary to his concern than the LotR.

    I mentioned Le Guin because of Earthsea. Now it doesn't have the detail of Malazan, the Prince of Nothing, the Wheel of Time, or Tolkien, but she is still able to provide an atmosphere that implies deep history. The same with McKillip's Riddlemaster and, I would say, to some degree CJ Cherryh's Morgaine books. This, I think, speaks more of these authors' considerable ability as writers and less of hours spent creating a setting and back history. But it may also do with a style of the 60s and 70s that is no longer "en vogue." A lot of the fantasy novels of that era had a denser atmosphere, a feeling of mythic richness, that often seems to be lacking in more recent work.
    By that definition I think Vlad Taltos does qualify in many degrees.

    Riftwar also fits the criteria.

    The Godless World by Ruckley also seems to fit.

    One that I read recently is Secrets of the Sands by Leona Wisoker should also be considered, particularly with the talk about the first organisms to populate the world, what happened to them, and their possible influence at the moment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Glelas View Post
    I have only read the first 2 but IIRC the Deverry novels contain deep history. It was a long time ago so I could be wrong.
    All of them.

    Deverry novels have an hell of a history

  15. #15
    I should be working metalprof's Avatar
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    One of my favorite plot devices is to have a story going on in "current time" as well as an unfolding mystery about something that happened a long time ago, with both the characters and readers figuring it out together. I think in sci fi this is called a "future history" (someone correct me if I'm wrong) and has been used by, say, Alastair Reynolds. I don't know what it's called in fantasy. In another genre, Peter Straub has made good use if it in some of his books, like The Throat, and Robert McCammon used it in "Mystery".

    But yes, this is one of the reasons that I'm still going on through Erikson's series, because the intrigue of figuring out what big events happened in the past and how they have an effect on the current timeline - my interest in this outweighs my frustration with his Paul Greengrass (director of Bourne movies) style of action sequences: choppy, jumpy and often incomprehensible.

    Ken

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