Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Article | Progess in Fantasy Worlds (or: Why Hasn't Mordor Gone Industrial?)

Yesterday, I was reading The Alloy of Law for the second time when a thought struck me: that this book was something altogether new. Not for its genre blending, its magic systems, or even its characters - but for its evasion of stasis. For those who aren't familiar with the novel, The Alloy of Law is Brandon Sanderson's new(ish) standalone novel, set centuries after his bestselling Mistborn trilogy - a world which is now industrialised. And that is something unque: there is plenty of steampunk fantasy and even more medieval, but I can't think of a single other series that implies a transition. In the view of fantasy, era seems to be an inescapable barrier... And with (as ever) Tvtropes to the rescue, there's even a trope for this: Medieval Stasis.

But Brandon Sanderson seems to be one of the only authors who's shown one world not only beginning to advance technologically, but having already done so. And there's one simple question this begs: why? Yes, fantasy is known for its medueval roots - but it doesn't have to be. Yes, guns and instant communications throw out a number of the typical plots - but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. I find myself just a little baffled. this certainly doesn't suit all worlds, but considering that subgenres such as steampunk and urban fantasy are proliferating, it seems a logical step to show existing worlds in later time periods.

It doesn't suit everything. Although later eras are well matched with fantasy's traditional mix, I find it hard to envisage many epic fantasies making the transition to the urban type. On the other hand, just showing that a world will progress makes a difference. And this, in fact, was one of the things I loved in Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet. There are also periods that most fantasies can become compatible with: the later Middle Ages (think muskets and more) or even a steampunkish alternate Victoriana. I don't mean to say that an individual series should make these transitions - it could happen in a fantasy of social change, such as the Long Price Quartet, but otherwise there's no chance of that. But as Sanderson has done, other authors could too - allow readers to experience the world long after a first series. Show progress; show the remnants of the first series' events (because continuity is important) - to me, that sounds fun.

For me, this is one trend I'd like to see continue - and until it does, I'll be wondering why there haven't been many like this already. Any thoughts?


  1. Many thoughts... Mainly thinking about fantasy series I haven't read in ages ( ex: David Gemmel's Drenai/Nadir world, where I got the name Demonblade from ) and imaging how those worlds would be if you advanced them further.
    Gemmel did do something similar, getting the Rigante to flintlock-era...