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  1. #31
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    At the risk of sounding like a semi-broken record, I think Modesitt's books tend to be a very interesting mix of technology and magic. A number of the Recluce books contain steam-powered vehicles, and his initial Imager Portfolio trilogy is set in a proto-steampunk, Victorian-era technology world in which the use of magic (imaging) is very strict. It's something only a few have (and fewer still live to use it with any control) and the way it works is very interesting as it suggests that magic cannot replace technology when it's used by such a small number of people (as I believe Kat just implied).

    Plus, y'know, it's Modesitt.

    Edit: Talking of Modesitt, there's an episode of Sanderson's Writing Excuses with him on in which he discusses technology (and the Imager books). One of the problems he raises is "cities in the desert" - very, very interesting listening. Go find it.

  2. #32
    Resident Gadfly Pugio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    The point of creating a secondary world is not necessarily to recreate Earth and give it a different name. By mixing cultures and time periods, fantasy authors can create worlds that have the social and environmental conditions they want to use for a particular story and their own specific history.
    Totally, I agree 100%. I don't think there's anything wrong with fantasy authors mixing and matching from other cultures and time periods. But I'm trying to point out that it can be difficult to say that fantasy is stuck in a medieval setting when a lot of second worlds are based off a whole host of pre-industrial times.


    I don't think it's an issue of being romantic, but of it not involving distance. Often thematically and in set-up, authors need to have a close-in conflict. (Whether they render it with complete accuracy is another issue.)
    I'd still argue that there's a subset of readers/writers who view guns as a "coward's" weapon and who prefer to read about hand-to-hand confrontations, but what you're saying about distance is very interesting. I hadn't thought about that before, but now that I am I'm really liking it. That would maybe help explain why you see so many "showdowns" in Western stories; it can be a convenient way to have two people square at a relatively close distance in a setting where firearms are very prevalent.

  3. #33
    Registered User Atw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pugio View Post
    In fairness, some fantasy writers don't make it easy. While there are a few authors like Guy Gavriel Kay who try to deliberately base their second worlds on a specific time period, plenty of fantasy uses everything from the Iron Age to the Elizabethan period. It seems like a lot of writers are more enthralled with hand-to-hand combat than any particular period. So I'm inclined to agree with the people who say that fantasy is preoccupied (probably a better term than "stuck") with pre-firearms settings because of romantic notions of fighting someone face-to-face.
    A few things I have to say about this. First: The thread is about middle ages and one does see lots of middle age stuff, but in this post you talk about ďpre-firearmĒ which would imply we see lots of Greek, and pre-historic stories as well as middle ages, but to my knowledge, we donít. (Some yes, amounts equal to middle ages stuff, no.) Iím sure itís a contributing factor, but it canít be the main one.

    A second, minor point: I don't know if you mean pre-firearm as in periods of time where the gun wasn't the main weapon of armies. But guns existed in the middle ages. Of course your argument that fantasy authors mix time periods counters this particular point, in some cases.

    Third: This is just my opinion. But, to me the 18th century fighting, American Revolution type stuff, is extremely interesting and personal. Fighting with guns that are ineffective at long ranges, bayonet charges, pistols that are usually used at point blank range, and swords still being used in certain situations. Cavalry for instance, as well as duels.

    Once again, Iím not saying it doesnít effect things, but itís not the primary reason, otherwise weíd see more stories in B.C. type settings. And possibly, if other people agree with my views, more 18th century stuff. (The 19th century might be in a similar boat, but I havenít gotten to researching that period of time yet, so Iíll not offer an opinion.)

  4. #34
    Resident Gadfly Pugio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atw View Post
    A few things I have to say about this. First: The thread is about middle ages and one does see lots of middle age stuff, but in this post you talk about “pre-firearm” which would imply we see lots of Greek, and pre-historic stories as well as middle ages, but to my knowledge, we don’t. (Some yes, amounts equal to middle ages stuff, no.) I’m sure it’s a contributing factor, but it can’t be the main one.
    I've seen fantastic stories with a Greco/Roman feel, but you're right, I haven't seen a lot of speculative fiction with pre-historic peoples (though William Golding's The Inheritors comes to mind as a notable exception). Anyway, I agree when you say that a pre-firearm culture can be a contributing factor but might not be the sole cause.

    A second, minor point: I don't know if you mean pre-firearm as in periods of time where the gun wasn't the main weapon of armies. But guns existed in the middle ages. Of course your argument that fantasy authors mix time periods counters this particular point, in some cases.
    Yeah, cannons and some very primitive small arms were around in the middle ages, totally. When I say "pre-firearm" I'm talking about before firearms were the primary weapon of armies, which I'd put to sometime during or shortly after the 30 Years War.

    Speaking of cool time periods for fantasy, the 30 Year War seems like a seriously untapped vein. If you're looking for a "dark" setting, it doesn't get much darker than that until the 20th century.

    Third: This is just my opinion. But, to me the 18th century fighting, American Revolution type stuff, is extremely interesting and personal.
    Couldn't agree more. Saintjohn made a similar point with Last of the Mohicans. When you're talking about smoothbore muskets & Napoleonic tactics, there's plenty of room for personal heroics. Bernard Cornwell writes some really great Napoleonic battle scenes in his Richard Sharp novels (hell, Bernard Cornwell writes great battle scenes, period). Not to tip my hand, but my latest pet project sort of rests on people being able to buy a fantasy based on this period.
    Last edited by Pugio; February 6th, 2012 at 08:27 PM.

  5. #35
    Quote Originally Posted by Garet Jax View Post
    But is it so bad to be stuck in medieval times? I still enjoy books that revolve around that era.

    To me, I seem to run across books with more of a renaissance feel to them than medieval. But if I go into a Barnes & Noble, there sure seems to be a large variety of fantasy themes compared to what I may have found in a bookstore 10-20 years ago.

    Fantasy appears to be representing itself well when I look at Best Sellers or recommended reading lists.
    So much of the same thing can get boring after the same. It's all so homogeneous. In antiquity at least you had a wide variety of cultural aesthetics spread out over the face of the world. The cultures were less homogeneous too. That is my other pet peeve. The cultures in many of these settings seem so much like. In some cases, none of them even have their own religions.
    Last edited by Riothamus; February 6th, 2012 at 09:29 PM.

  6. #36
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    The cultures in many of these settings seem so much like. In some cases, none of them even have their own religions.
    Religion was a hugely unifying force by the Middle Ages. In Europe there was Christianity. The Middle East, North Africa and Spain were all Muslim. I don't know anything about Asia or the Indian subcontinent but, by the same period, religions had spread over vast areas and unified the peoples.

    This is not to say that there weren't other religions. In Europe they were called pagans which, actually, only means that the religion is not the dominant or state approved one. You have the Norse as a big, non-Christian religion in Europe, for instance. However, Christianity and Islam were spreading far and quick and were destroying everything else in their way. Conform or die, pretty much.

    So, if a lot of neighboring lands in a fantasy set in the Middle-Ages have the same religion, well, there's a reason for that. The authors are picking all sorts of things from real history, might be from different periods and cultures, but that is one thing that is hard to ignore if they do choose to include it.

  7. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by RedMage View Post
    Religion was a hugely unifying force by the Middle Ages. In Europe there was Christianity. The Middle East, North Africa and Spain were all Muslim. I don't know anything about Asia or the Indian subcontinent but, by the same period, religions had spread over vast areas and unified the peoples.

    This is not to say that there weren't other religions. In Europe they were called pagans which, actually, only means that the religion is not the dominant or state approved one. You have the Norse as a big, non-Christian religion in Europe, for instance. However, Christianity and Islam were spreading far and quick and were destroying everything else in their way. Conform or die, pretty much.

    So, if a lot of neighboring lands in a fantasy set in the Middle-Ages have the same religion, well, there's a reason for that. The authors are picking all sorts of things from real history, might be from different periods and cultures, but that is one thing that is hard to ignore if they do choose to include it.
    It's not even that, everyone from different continents, and different races (non-humans in this case), don't even have a different religion many times.

  8. #38
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    It's not even that, everyone from different continents, and different races (non-humans in this case), don't even have a different religion many times.
    Ok. I give you that. When different races or peoples from opposite ends of the continent and/or map of the whole world are sharing the exact same religion, it is annoying. I mean, come on! Give us just a little creativity!

    This is part of why I stopped reading quite so much fantasy and started writing the stories I wanted to read.

    Oh, and fyi to Pugio: my current story is not set in the Thirty Years War but in the decades immediately following my world's version of it. The leaders of the major powers at the end are still alive and ruling. Hmm, perhaps I should delve some more into that history of my story's aging generation?

  9. #39
    Registered User Atw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pugio View Post
    yeah, cannons and some very primitive small arms were around in the middle ages, totally. When i say "pre-firearm" i'm talking about before firearms were the primary weapon of armies, which i'd put to sometime during or shortly after the 30 years war.
    Okay, that's what I figured, but I wasn't clear on it, so I threw that in there. Totally agree about the Thirty Years War, by the way. I especially think it would fit in with darker books you see these days.

    And I've been meaning to read the Sharpe books, thanks for the reminder.

    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    So much of the same thing can get boring after the same. It's all so homogeneous. In antiquity at least you had a wide variety of cultural aesthetics spread out over the face of the world. The cultures was less homogeneous too. That is my other pet peeve. The cultures in many of these settings seem so much like. In some cases, none of them even have their own religions.
    Culture is something that could be done better in some cases. Same with religion. Something I've rarely seen in fantasy is, for instance, splinter groups of the same religion. I see that all the time in real life, but rarely in fiction. Though it's hard/time consuming to create a bunch of religions that aren't copied from real life, have depth, and feel real. Of course, on that note, you could probably throw a few religions in a book without really fleshing them out, provided said religions don't play a major role.

    Overall, I don't think it's a big deal. Yeah, it would be nice to see more depth, but usually with books that I read this particular issue doesn't effect whether I like it or not.

  10. #40
    Agh. I just noticed a really awful typo.

    Also, I need to be able to love with the world of the story as much I come to like the characters. A bland setting is as bad if not worse than a bland character for me.

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atw View Post
    Culture is something that could be done better in some cases. Same with religion. Something I've rarely seen in fantasy is, for instance, splinter groups of the same religion. I see that all the time in real life, but rarely in fiction.
    I think this is covered reasonably well in Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars books. Nothing else really springs to mind though.

  12. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    So much of the same thing can get boring after the same. It's all so homogeneous. In antiquity at least you had a wide variety of cultural aesthetics spread out over the face of the world. The cultures were less homogeneous too. That is my other pet peeve. The cultures in many of these settings seem so much like. In some cases, none of them even have their own religions.
    I can understand that, but I would recommend that you keep looking for books/series where this is not the case. They are out there.

    For example, I've been reading (and re-reading) Michelle West's books set in the world of Essalieyan. There are two major cultures (and several smaller ones amongst those). While telling a very epic fantasy story, the author uses these cultures as a starting point to examine a number of societal elements, including the very different roles of women, the rich and poor (as well as slavery), religion, and how they deal with the question of whether or not people should be able to advance themselves by merit, or be limited based on the "stations" in life in which they were born. More than one religion is certainly dealt with as well.

  13. #43
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pugio
    That would maybe help explain why you see so many "showdowns" in Western stories; it can be a convenient way to have two people square at a relatively close distance in a setting where firearms are very prevalent.
    The symbolism of the street showdown is very powerful. In some stories, the goal is to replicate real life with the fantasy elements added in. In others, it's to resemble reality but in enhanced form, such as 1930's noir type patter dialogue which people never really talked like, etc. In other stories, it's an acquaintance with reality and then dream-like and symbolic imagery going into the surreal -- China Mieville's train track laying and ripping tribe in Iron Council, Alan Campbell's city of chains in Scar Night -- and in other stories, the goal is to wave at reality in passing. This is particularly likely in satires like Terry Pratchett's Disc World, which will have little bits of reality -- the value of a good cup of tea, social commentary digs -- mixed with utter ridiculousness and altered versions of our real world objects. Consequently, things from the Middle Ages, or more realistically, that we associate with the Middle Ages -- castles, warrior knights, blacksmiths etc., can be useful symbols whatever level of reality and history the author is using.

    the 30 Year War seems like a seriously untapped vein.
    They raid all the big European wars. Abercrombie I'm pretty sure you could say has tapped that vein. Martin as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus
    In antiquity at least you had a wide variety of cultural aesthetics spread out over the face of the world. The cultures were less homogeneous too. That is my other pet peeve. The cultures in many of these settings seem so much like. In some cases, none of them even have their own religions.
    Again, that's a preference inclining towards replicating reality, which not every story is going to do. Regional homogenity in some stories is an aspect held deliberately static in order to play with certain symbols. Variety of language may be suspended in an imaginary world in order to focus on other things. I have, rarely, though, read fantasy novels where the cultures don't have religions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atw
    which would imply we see lots of Greek, and pre-historic stories as well as middle ages, but to my knowledge, we donít.
    Again, we have a fair amount that is set in the equivalent of pre-Middle Ages culture but is often ascribed to the Middle Ages by readers incorrectly. A number of fantasy worlds, for instance, borrow a Roman Empire and Celts motif, which is pre-medieval. Jacqueline Carey's bestselling series, for instance, is one of those. The Celts, from whose mythology fantasy authors so often draw, did not exist in the Middle Ages. Instead, Celtic culture was largely a B.C. development whose languages and attributes then melted and merged into the Gaelic Irish and Scots and the Welsh and Cornish cultures in the Middle Ages. The Celtic Revival in Europe in the 1800's as part of Romanticism brought Celtic imagery, ancient texts, religion, etc. front and center and gave us our nice Celtic crosses, knots, etc. firmly in British/European symbolism. Palaces and fortresses existed before the Middle Ages, but if you have them, you're likely to be seen as writing in the Middle Ages. If you write about soldiers wearing breastplates, leather or metal, that's not necessarily Middle Ages either. If you have the equivalent of a Pope in your world, that office existed just before the Middle Ages. Attila the Hun and his Mongol hordes were before the Middle Ages, as were most of the barbarian tribes, and yet, we associate the barbarian tribes in secondary world fantasy fiction with the Middle Ages. China's dynasties and the first Chinese Empire were before the Middle Ages, yet if you have an Asian-like Empire in your fantasy world, it's likely to be ascribed to the Middle Ages, and so forth. Many of the attributes of the Middle Ages -- tunics, swords, cloaks, goblets, horses, etc. were not significantly changed from ancient cultures to medieval ones. So if you're writing about a world that is like the Byzantine empire, for instance -- which is quite popular for fantasy author raiding -- much of the culture is not medieval but it is likely to be seen that way. Essentially, the Middle Ages is our default understanding of pre-industrial fantasy worlds, but not necessarily their actual setting.

    for instance, splinter groups of the same religion. I see that all the time in real life, but rarely in fiction.
    Splintering happens a lot in fantasy. Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series, Bakker's Prince of Nothing, etc. In this thread alone, we've come up with say twenty bestselling series that aren't really matching these complaints just to start. Irritation with some novels is natural, but we're talking about thousands of fantasy releases, sixty percent of which are not secondary world and of the forty that are, numerous different kinds of novels. So as tempting as it is to cast a wide net on the basis of a handful of books read and a possibly incorrect analysis of book covers, it makes more sense to say that the Middle Ages are a popular setting for secondary world fantasy, rather than that fantasy fiction or one sub-set of it is "stuck" there.

  14. #44
    Registered User Atw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Again, we have a fair amount that is set in the equivalent of pre-Middle Ages culture but is often ascribed to the Middle Ages by readers incorrectly. A number of fantasy worlds, for instance, borrow a Roman Empire and Celts motif, which is pre-medieval. Jacqueline Carey's bestselling series, for instance, is one of those. The Celts, from whose mythology fantasy authors so often draw, did not exist in the Middle Ages. Instead, Celtic culture was largely a B.C. development whose languages and attributes then melted and merged into the Gaelic Irish and Scots and the Welsh and Cornish cultures in the Middle Ages. The Celtic Revival in Europe in the 1800's as part of Romanticism brought Celtic imagery, ancient texts, religion, etc. front and center and gave us our nice Celtic crosses, knots, etc. firmly in British/European symbolism. Palaces and fortresses existed before the Middle Ages, but if you have them, you're likely to be seen as writing in the Middle Ages. If you write about soldiers wearing breastplates, leather or metal, that's not necessarily Middle Ages either. If you have the equivalent of a Pope in your world, that office existed just before the Middle Ages. Attila the Hun and his Mongol hordes were before the Middle Ages, as were most of the barbarian tribes, and yet, we associate the barbarian tribes in secondary world fantasy fiction with the Middle Ages. China's dynasties and the first Chinese Empire were before the Middle Ages, yet if you have an Asian-like Empire in your fantasy world, it's likely to be ascribed to the Middle Ages, and so forth. Many of the attributes of the Middle Ages -- tunics, swords, cloaks, goblets, horses, etc. were not significantly changed from ancient cultures to medieval ones. So if you're writing about a world that is like the Byzantine empire, for instance -- which is quite popular for fantasy author raiding -- much of the culture is not medieval but it is likely to be seen that way. Essentially, the Middle Ages is our default understanding of pre-industrial fantasy worlds, but not necessarily their actual setting.
    I agree that there is plenty of fantasy set outside of the Middle Ages, I was simply saying that the two are equal more in terms of Middle Ages vs Not Middle Ages, (in this I wouldnít be the least bit surprised if Not Middle Ages won,) rather than Ancient Greek vs Middle Ages vs 18th century. Though, perhaps, as you say, my judgment is blinded by misinterpretation.

    Splintering happens a lot in fantasy. Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series, Bakker's Prince of Nothing, etc. In this thread alone, we've come up with say twenty bestselling series that aren't really matching these complaints just to start. Irritation with some novels is natural, but we're talking about thousands of fantasy releases, sixty percent of which are not secondary world and of the forty that are, numerous different kinds of novels. So as tempting as it is to cast a wide net on the basis of a handful of books read and a possibly incorrect analysis of book covers, it makes more sense to say that the Middle Ages are a popular setting for secondary world fantasy, rather than that fantasy fiction or one sub-set of it is "stuck" there.
    Not sure if all this is directed at me. But, I wasnít implying Iím irritated by a world without splinter religion, or even of religion in general. I donít think, for instance, that Joe Abercrombie even has religion in his books, that doesnít stop me from loving them or the setting. And I completely agree with the notion that Middle Ages is a popular setting as opposed to stuck. Stuck implies we cannot move, but we can, currently both writers and readers deal with fiction outside of the Middle Ages, thus we cannot be stuck there. Some arenít even there at all, and you canít be stuck someplace youíve never been.

  15. #45
    Resident Gadfly Pugio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    They raid all the big European wars. Abercrombie I'm pretty sure you could say has tapped that vein. Martin as well.
    Martin certainly has the desolation of war down pat, but I pictured the inspiration being closer to the War of the Roses or the 100 Years War, especially with its brutal chevauchťe style of warfare. But I get what you're saying; even though Martin isn't writing about a period that has the same equipment or tactics as the 30 Years War, I could definitely see him drawing on themes from that era.

    I haven't made it far enough into The First Law to start seeing parallels with the 30 Years War, but you saying that definitely makes me want to keep reading!

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