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noranne
03-14-2016, 07:46 AM
So in recent years there has been a lot of pushback against the sort of standard medieval-European fantasy setting. It obviously still exists (I mean, ASOIAF is firmly in this territory and it's, you know, doing okay...), but I constantly see agents, editors, readers, etc. stating how much they want varied fantasy settings.

I like varied settings too! I have a few different ones that I'd like to explore. But the project that is in the percolating-and-ideas stage in my brain insists upon being of the more traditional variety. I've tried asking it very politely to consider being something else, and it said no way. Now, I try not to focus too much on saleability when I write, but I also don't want to be totally blind going in. Are traditional fantasy settings in the sort of tough-sell, auto-reject territory right now?

JSPembroke
03-14-2016, 08:10 AM
I don't think it is in "auto-reject" territory but editors and agents - and one would assume by extension, the reader base - is looking for more variety in their settings. And characters. And themes.

I think the traditional fantasy setting is a harder sell than it was twenty years ago but excellent writing, submitted to the right source, will still carry the day.

Kerosene
03-14-2016, 08:15 AM
I don't think you'll get knocked with your setting created around medieval times, but you will get knocked when you don't put your own spin on it. Not an automatic rejection, though. The medieval setting is one of the biggest convention of what we think of as "traditional" inspired fantasy, coming from Tolkien and Arthurian stories.

What I hear from big authors and agents for what they hope to see in a fantasy novel is an interesting and fresh world. It's fine to be set in medieval times, but bring something interesting and use it well. The fault I commonly find is people just default to a medieval setting and do nothing with it.

shortstorymachinist
03-14-2016, 08:25 AM
I feel like an agent presented with a medieval fantasy setting will be extra critical from the get-go, simply because if they find something wrong with it there's no shortage of stories in the same setting.

jjdebenedictis
03-14-2016, 08:33 AM
If that's what the story wants to be, write it that way.

Anything can be done so well it piques interest, even something that falls into a subgenre that all the publishing professionals swear is as dead as an electrocuted wine cork. For example, by the time Twilight rolled around, agents who dealt in SFF had been saying vampires were done, overdone, and dead with a stake through 'em for about ten years. Obviously, they were wrong.

Roxxsmom
03-14-2016, 09:32 AM
I'm beginning to suspect that this is the reason I've been getting a lot of rejections with mine. It's actually not that traditional. It's early modern era, and while the aesthetics are somewhat European (in terms of clothing and climate and architecture and so on), the culture is pretty made up, and most of the story takes place in a society which has a rather matriarchal social system populated by people of different races, in fact, and the cast is a very even mix between men and women.

But the query, as I originally wrote on it (with a focus on simplicity, voice, and snap) doesn't describe the world itself, and it focused on the MMC (who is the one who gets the plot bunnies hopping) and his antagonist, who is also male. And the opening chapter takes place in a kind of standard-issue prison setting, from which he escapes. While I have a few touches that suggest it's not medieval Europe (firearms, priests with masks, and a reference to the MMCs skin not being pale), there's not a female character in sight (the FMC shows up in chapter 3).

Given that so many agents want novels with non-western-based cultures and women and other underrepresented characters in important roles, I can see how someone who reads the query and the opening pages might get the impression it's all dudes all the time. When I started querying it, over a year ago, I got a couple agents early on who liked the query and opening (told me that the query was good enough to be used in a "how to write a query" workshop and the opening very well written), but they ultimately passed after getting up to fulls.

Okay, so maybe it's not that good further in. But since then, no one else has even wanted partials based on this supposedly good query and strongly written opening (aside from a couple twitter pitch contests, and the only feedback I got there was from one who said she liked my FMC much better than my MMC).

I've burned through about half my list of prospective agents and I've put further querying on hold until I can figure out whether there's a way to rework the query and story to make it clear it's not such a traditional fantasy story, but at the end of the day, my story is what it is, and I can't tie it in knots to be something it isn't.

It kills me to think I might have good story that was finished and ready to go at just the wrong time, but what can I do? Write something better, everyone says. But I don't really know how to do that, because my own tastes and comfort zone as a writer are what they are too.

So for anyone who has multiple ideas and is just starting, my advice is to go with the weirdest one you can. Of course, that could be wrong too, because weird could be old hat in a couple years, and they'll be back to wanting traditional.

MaryH
03-14-2016, 10:00 AM
Stick to your guns. If that is where you envision your store to take place, that is where it should take place. Worry less about catering to the current whims/fads of what agents are looking for. A great story can stand out, no matter what.

noranne
03-15-2016, 07:15 AM
That is mostly what I have been thinking. Maybe it would be best to hold off and not try to get this one done as a debut. The problem is the more non-traditional setting ideas I have are mostly series ideas, which I *also* don't want to try to do as a debut. Damn, why can't it just be easy?

rwm4768
03-15-2016, 07:32 PM
I got a couple agents early on who liked the query and opening (told me that the query was good enough to be used in a "how to write a query" workshop and the opening very well written), but they ultimately passed after getting up to fulls.

Okay, so maybe it's not that good further in. But since then, no one else has even wanted partials based on this supposedly good query and strongly written opening (aside from a couple twitter pitch contests, and the only feedback I got there was from one who said she liked my FMC much better than my MMC).

I've burned through about half my list of prospective agents and I've put further querying on hold until I can figure out whether there's a way to rework the query and story to make it clear it's not such a traditional fantasy story, but at the end of the day, my story is what it is, and I can't tie it in knots to be something it isn't.

It kills me to think I might have good story that was finished and ready to go at just the wrong time, but what can I do? Write something better, everyone says. But I don't really know how to do that, because my own tastes and comfort zone as a writer are what they are too.

So for anyone who has multiple ideas and is just starting, my advice is to go with the weirdest one you can. Of course, that could be wrong too, because weird could be old hat in a couple years, and they'll be back to wanting traditional.

I had one big-name agent send me a personalized rejection stating that my query was well-written and that I had a strong concept. After that, I was sure I'd get requests from somebody, but not a single agent asked for anything more.

I guess that shows how subjective these things are.

Weirdmage
03-15-2016, 10:42 PM
I don't think agents are actively rejecting traditional Epic Fantasy just because it's traditional Epic Fantasy. (This thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?316807-Most-Popular-Kinds-of-SFF-in-the-Current-Market) talks about some of the same subject.) However, agents are actively seeking more diverse Fantasy, probably since the market seems to be more accepting of that then it has been at other times.
Of course, and this has already been mentioned, lots of people write traditional Epic Fantasy so the bar might be set a bit higher for those novels - purely because there is more to choose from.
I think you should write what you want. But, if I am allowed to give a little tip about writing Medieval inspired Fantasy, I'd suggest reading some history about the Medieval period outside of the English/French/German area of influence.

Roxxsmom
03-15-2016, 10:59 PM
That is mostly what I have been thinking. Maybe it would be best to hold off and not try to get this one done as a debut. The problem is the more non-traditional setting ideas I have are mostly series ideas, which I *also* don't want to try to do as a debut. Damn, why can't it just be easy?

I think something with the potential to become is a series is likely your best bet for a debut, so long as book one comes to a nice ending and not a cliff hanger. This is anecdotal, but every fantasy writer I know personally who published their debut with a big-5 publisher in the past 5 years or so got a contract for anywhere from 2-5 books. I'm guessing that these publishers know that series are better at building a readership over time than a single novel does (with fantasy, at least) or 2-3 unrelated novels brought out at the beginning of a career.

I wouldn't go nuts trying to predict the market, though. Who knows where things will be in 2 years, or whenever what you're writing now is ready to query. Something that's unusual but not so out there that it doesn't appeal to fantasy readers at all seems like a good bet, but what that will mean in the future is hard to say.

I don't think agents are rejecting epic fantasy consciously either, but if you only take on a couple of new projects a year in the fantasy genre, and you get dozens and dozens of well-written prospects a month or whatever, you're most likely to take a second look at the ones that stand out in some way. Looking at one of those "ten queries" twitter streams from an agent who rejected my MS, one of her frequent rejecting comments was "Oh look, another dude story," or "Too much of a Game of Thrones vibe."

Dreity
03-15-2016, 11:02 PM
I wouldn't say European settings are totally out. I do think the time is passing for people to get away with making their setting a vague mishmash of various places in Northern Europe. It seems like people have more success if either they go with a more focused approach, IE draw heavily from a French tradition or something, or go full "hard" fantasy with totally alien cultures.

Roxxsmom
03-16-2016, 08:36 AM
I wouldn't say European settings are totally out. I do think the time is passing for people to get away with making their setting a vague mishmash of various places in Northern Europe. It seems like people have more success if either they go with a more focused approach, IE draw heavily from a French tradition or something, or go full "hard" fantasy with totally alien cultures.

There are certainly a number of alternative historical British settings that evoke the 18th and 19th centuries that have been popular lately (the Temeraire books, The Lady Trent dragon novels, Sorcerer to the Crown, Shades of Milk and Honey and so on. Unlike Steampunk, they tend to be pretty faithful to how things really were in their countries (or the countries which serve as a template for the alternative world in question).

Maybe the popularity of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell have whetted an appetite for that kind of Regency/Napoleonic-to-Victorian-era British voice and setting? I've enjoyed a number of these books, but they're not what I want to write (which is probably just as well, because by the time it was finished, the interest may be over).

I tend to be happiest sinking myself in a fantasy world that evokes a general feel in terms of period or setting (usually with a vaguely Early modern style European aesthetic, because it's what I feel most qualified and comfortable describing and occupying in an emotional sense, and they have characters whose values, choices, and stakes are very relatable to me), but I like to throw some twists in too so it's not just 1600s Europe (or whenever) with the serial numbers sanded off. I do research, but more to get a sense of what kind of things are possible within a given level of technological or social development.

Ripples created by those differences can create headaches, but also fun opportunities to explore the possible differences that might arise in a society.

For me, my sweetest spot as a reader (and writer) lies at intersection between really weird, out there worldbuilding that creates societies like nothing that ever existed (or maybe could have existed) in our own history, and a more faithful recreation of some time and place in history.

Brightdreamer
03-16-2016, 09:16 AM
What I hear from big authors and agents for what they hope to see in a fantasy novel is an interesting and fresh world. It's fine to be set in medieval times, but bring something interesting and use it well. The fault I commonly find is people just default to a medieval setting and do nothing with it.

+1

For quite some time (and still today, especially among those whose main exposure to fantasy is Disneyfied fairy tales, the LOTR movies, and some dusty recollection of book covers seen on shelves twenty or more years ago), the recipe for Fantasy seemed to be "Fold one Peasant Hero into Vaguely English Stereotypical Medieval Kingdom, add Swords, Cottages, and Castles to taste, bake with Dragon Fire: serves 1-3 books." As for research... read a little Grimm, watch a few adaptations of King Arthur, change any smaller-than-normal race's name to "halfling" to keep Tolkien's estate from sniffing around, and you're good to go. Of course, it wasn't quite so monolithic as that, and not all authors were nearly so careless, but that's the popular perception, and it still likely lures new writers, particularly those who see Fantasy as a simplistic genre, with the promise of an easy snap-together formula for the next blockbuster.

There's also the fact that the "medieval setting" people default to is somewhat fictional itself, based on Renaissance and later interpretations that tended, like so many do, to denigrate earlier generations in order to elevate themselves. With those ideas growing flimsy and worn in the real world, maybe it's only natural that it's growing equally flimsy in the fictional world, too.

snafu1056
03-16-2016, 09:51 AM
I think a nice twist on fake medieval Europe would be actual medieval Europe. Pick a real time and place and use local folklore to insert fantasy into it. The truth would probably look fresh and different compared to the the standard tropes. For even more freshness points, pick a really obscure time and place. What the heck was going on in 10th century Sicily?? I sure as hell don't know. Add some monsters and magic and it's as good as any made-up world as far as dummies like me are concerned.

Roxxsmom
03-16-2016, 10:03 AM
The funny thing is, LoTR really never seemed that medieval to me at all. The Shire was a rather idyllic view of 17th or 18th century rural England, Gondor came off as more of a classical era civilization, the Riders of Rohan were kind of like Vikings without ships and so on. No one felt terribly feudal, and if any of the kings relied on serfs for agricultural labor, Tolkien didn't dwell on it. But I think it's shaped a lot of fantasy readers' perceptions of what the middle ages were really like.

And A Game of Thrones isn't really a medieval society (http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/game-thrones-isnt-medieval-matters-83288) either. Neither are most of the fairy tale fantasy worlds when you really examine them, or at least they don't dwell much on what actually defined Medieval Europe. Popular perceptions of what life in the middle ages was like (right there it gets confusing, because we're talking a 1000-year time period and differences between different parts of Europe too) aren't terribly accurate anyway, or are over generalized and overly simplistic. A lot of "medieval" fantasy really seems to be taking place in an early modern world that never seems to have stumbled across gunpowder. One thing most portrayals of so-called medieval (and even later) cultures is they often fail to portray how integrated and important religion was in the lives of most people.


I think a nice twist on fake medieval Europe would be actual medieval Europe. Pick a real time and place and use local folklore to insert fantasy into it.

The problem is "real" medieval folklore about magic is rather dull. Magical communion biscuits that make everyone who touches it stick to it, or stories about a tree that when cut down contains another tree (http://www.livescience.com/44599-medieval-reality-game-of-thrones.html). Though stories about witches who removed men's genitals and make them perch in trees like birds have some potential to be interesting.

waylander
03-16-2016, 02:36 PM
And A Game of Thrones isn't really a medieval society (http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/game-thrones-isnt-medieval-matters-83288) either. Neither are most of the fairy tale fantasy worlds when you really examine them, or at least they don't dwell much on what actually defined Medieval Europe. Popular perceptions of what life in the middle ages was like (right there it gets confusing, because we're talking a 1000-year time period and differences between different parts of Europe too) aren't terribly accurate anyway, or are over generalized and overly simplistic. A lot of "medieval" fantasy really seems to be taking place in an early modern world that never seems to have stumbled across gunpowder. One thing most portrayals of so-called medieval (and even later) cultures is they often fail to portray how integrated and important religion was in the lives of most people.


Very true, compared to people today most of medieval society would be thought of as religious maniacs. It really mattered to people when the Pope excommuncated King John of England and all the churches were shut, they thought they were going to hell..

Dreity
03-16-2016, 08:47 PM
There are certainly a number of alternative historical British settings that evoke the 18th and 19th centuries that have been popular lately (the Temeraire books, The Lady Trent dragon novels, Sorcerer to the Crown, Shades of Milk and Honey and so on. Unlike Steampunk, they tend to be pretty faithful to how things really were in their countries (or the countries which serve as a template for the alternative world in question).

Maybe the popularity of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell have whetted an appetite for that kind of Regency/Napoleonic-to-Victorian-era British voice and setting? I've enjoyed a number of these books, but they're not what I want to write (which is probably just as well, because by the time it was finished, the interest may be over).


I tend to be happiest sinking myself in a fantasy world that evokes a general feel in terms of period or setting (usually with a vaguely Early modern style European aesthetic, because it's what I feel most qualified and comfortable describing and occupying in an emotional sense, and they have characters whose values, choices, and stakes are very relatable to me), but I like to throw some twists in too so it's not just 1600s Europe (or whenever) with the serial numbers sanded off. I do research, but more to get a sense of what kind of things are possible within a given level of technological or social development.

Ripples created by those differences can create headaches, but also fun opportunities to explore the possible differences that might arise in a society.

For me, my sweetest spot as a reader (and writer) lies at intersection between really weird, out there worldbuilding that creates societies like nothing that ever existed (or maybe could have existed) in our own history, and a more faithful recreation of some time and place in history.

I'm actively seeking out fantasy worlds that are either super out there or inspired by a not-well-represented place and time, but yes, I will always have a soft spot for a really textured 1600s Europe-style setting.

As a writer, I'm having a lot of fun experimenting with different climates and biomes. So much about a culture's diet, dress, architecture, etc is informed by it that it almost becomes easier to build a "custom" culture around it once you get a feel for the basics.

There's a place in my world where the flora, fauna, topography, and weather patterns strongly resemble the western Pampas in Argentina. It started out as just generic grassland. Then, I was researching animals native to the area, and stumbled across one that shares a name with the most famous tavern on my continent. (The Pink Fairy armadillo.) I decided it was fate, and ran with it from there. :greenie I also feel like, as a Stupid White Girl, drawing from the surroundings rather than the people themselves keeps me from treading too closely to appropriation territory. For example, I use commonly served food and drink, but I won't root out neat-o rituals from an obscure indigenous tribe so I can co-opt them for my own use.

TMeuretBooks
03-16-2016, 09:58 PM
All you can do is write what you write, and it will sell or it won't. This is the first draft. Thoughts like these will only stifle and discourage you this early in the project.

kuwisdelu
03-16-2016, 10:06 PM
I've never understood this conflation of historical fiction with secondary-world fantasy.

Fantasy isn't just historical fiction with fantastical elements, and I don't know why people try to pretend it is.

I have no idea why people talk about historical accuracy or historical realism in secondary-world fantasy. It's not historical fiction.

Kerosene
03-16-2016, 10:13 PM
That is mostly what I have been thinking. Maybe it would be best to hold off and not try to get this one done as a debut. The problem is the more non-traditional setting ideas I have are mostly series ideas, which I *also* don't want to try to do as a debut. Damn, why can't it just be easy?
Write the first of the series, make it mostly stand-alone, and draft out the other books. Then write another first of a series. When you query one book, query it as, "has series potential" and get into talks with agent over what could be done. If that first book gets rejected on basis of the story, toss another first-of-a-series at the agent to see if they like that. The hard part is resisting writing out the rest and forming the first's ending to feel more complete. Regardless, I don't feel like there's a ton to worry about over writing a story you want to write.


For quite some time, the recipe for Fantasy seemed to be "Fold one Peasant Hero into Vaguely English Stereotypical Medieval Kingdom, add Swords, Cottages, and Castles to taste, bake with Dragon Fire: serves 1-3 books."
If you double the batch and add some water, you can spread it out to 8+ books no problem (other than making the others feel a bit thin).


The funny thing is, LoTR really never seemed that medieval to me at all. The Shire was a rather idyllic view of 17th or 18th century rural England, Gondor came off as more of a classical era civilization, the Riders of Rohan were kind of like Vikings without ships and so on. No one felt terribly feudal, and if any of the kings relied on serfs for agricultural labor, Tolkien didn't dwell on it. But I think it's shaped a lot of fantasy readers' perceptions of what the middle ages were really like.
Tolkien had a lot of influences. Most notably IMO, he set-out to write a mythology of England with Nordic storytelling on his mind (as he was translating Old Nordic and Old English at the time).

Most of the medieval fantasy setting comes from Arthurian storytelling, and Tolkien's influence spun that a bit.

Dreity
03-16-2016, 10:36 PM
I've never understood this conflation of historical fiction with secondary-world fantasy.

Fantasy isn't just historical fiction with fantastical elements, and I don't know why people try to pretend it is.

I have no idea why people talk about historical accuracy or historical realism in secondary-world fantasy. It's not historical fiction.

I think it started as a way to keep the worldbuilding logically consistent, for one thing. A lot of people got irritated with the mismatching, particularly when it came to technological developments. Like, a writer would throw in these massive hay bales when describing a farm, when there was no sign of a hay press around, nor was there mention elsewhere in the world of the other things that made the hay press possible. Thus, people were encouraged to stick to one place in one time to somewhat lessens the potential for gaffes like that.

It can go too far though. I see it the most when it comes to social issues. Just because I love the Athenian aesthetic doesn't mean I want to have a culture where women aren't even considered citizens, and live their lives in almost total seclusion from men. In the end, the world of X is the world of X, not ancient Greece, and as long as everything is internally consistent, there's no reason to make it an exact mirror, or why would I bother calling it a fantasy in the first place?

snafu1056
03-16-2016, 11:00 PM
I'm not even talking about treating fantasy like historical fiction, I'm saying make it actually historical. Name names. Present an actual culture at an actual point in history. And if you want supernatural elements, work within the given culture's own traditions. A lot of (if not most) pre-Tolkien fantasy had one foot in the real world, so I don't consider historical fantasy to be an offshoot of the genre. I think it is the genre in it's original form.

kuwisdelu
03-16-2016, 11:17 PM
Personally, I have little interest in having my fantasy diluted with history.

Least of all European history.

But that's me.

Lillith1991
03-16-2016, 11:29 PM
Personally, I have little interest in having my fantasy diluted with history.

Least of all European history.

But that's me.

I assume you don't read Historical Fantasy, Kuwi?

As for accuracy, it was as Dreity already said. There's modifying things and there's inserting the impossible for the proposed timeperiod. People have become increasingly critical of something not possible for the period they're being presented with. You wouldn't expect a car in a medieval setting and you wouldn't exppect hay bales the size of modern ones.

Roxxsmom
03-16-2016, 11:30 PM
I think it started as a way to keep the worldbuilding logically consistent, for one thing. A lot of people got irritated with the mismatching, particularly when it came to technological developments. Like, a writer would throw in these massive hay bales when describing a farm, when there was no sign of a hay press around, nor was there mention elsewhere in the world of the other things that made the hay press possible. Thus, people were encouraged to stick to one place in one time to somewhat lessens the potential for gaffes like that.

That thing's been common since the time of Tolkein, at least, and continues to this day. George RR Martin had Hodor schlepping hay bales around in an early scene in AGoT, for instance. I don't think most readers notice such things, to be honest. Those of us who write fantasy do, but we're hardly the average, generic fantasy reader.

For me, I think the "realism" of a world or not tends to bother me in proportion to how important the projected ripples from the fantasy elements end up being. Is the story more focused on the what or the how? hay bales are a minor thing an editor should possibly have spotted and fixed. Sometimes the unrealistic element is what drives the story.

For instance, Novik's popular Temeraire books take place in a Napoleonic-war-era world where everything is the same except for the presence of dragons, which are domesticated as beasts of war. The purpose of the story is to focus on these exciting naval style battles on dragonback and on the relationship between the main character and his dragon, not to explore all the ripples that really would exist in such a world (it's unlikely that the nations of the world would have evolved in anything like the same way if we were in constant competition with large, flying predators, nor would culture, technology, religion and warfare have evolved in the way they're portrayed in this book).

I can either mutter darkly about how unrealistic her world building is, or I can suspend disbelief and enjoy the story for what it is. Of course, readers will differ in their ability to do this, but eh, why expect all stories to be there for the same purpose? She wanted an early 1800s Europe where everything is the same except for the dragons and their immediate (rather than long term and historical effects), so there you are.

kuwisdelu
03-16-2016, 11:39 PM
I assume you don't read Historical Fantasy, Kuwi?

I rarely read historical fiction of any kind. Not my cup of tea.


As for accuracy, it was as Dreity already said. There's modifying things and there's inserting the impossible for the proposed timeperiod. People have become increasingly critical of something not possible for the period they're being presented with. You wouldn't expect a car in a medieval setting and you wouldn't exppect hay bales the size of modern ones.

See, a car in an otherwise "medieval" setting sounds awesome to me.

Edit: But as I'm sure you know, I mostly come at this from a magic realism and surrealism angle. I'm more interested in speculative elements making sense in terms of metaphor and elucidating characters' internal conflicts, rather than worrying about "realistic" world building.

Edit 2: For me, not having to worry about such kinds of realism is one of the joys and advantages of speculative fiction. So I'm the kind who is baffled that more writers don't take advantage of the fact that they *can* write about cars in medieval settings if they want to.

Lillith1991
03-16-2016, 11:48 PM
I rarely read historical fiction of any kind. Not my cup of tea.



See, a car in an otherwise "medieval" setting sounds awesome to me.

Edit: But as I'm sure you know, I mostly come at this from a magic realism and surrealism angle. I'm more interesting in speculative elements making sense in terms of metaphor and elucidating characters' internal conflicts, rather than worrying about "realistic" world building.

Yup. And I agree in a lot of ways. But for the majority of readers, cars in an otherwise medieval setting sounds like a bad day at the renfair more than an interesting concept.

TECarter
03-16-2016, 11:58 PM
Traditional fantasy is not dead. Tons of agents and editors are still seeking epic fantasy work. The challenge isn't the genre; it's offering something new. Why should they pick up your query/MS out of 500 that look very similar? Without something unique, it becomes about luck more than anything. That's the day they got to your MS and were in the mood for traditional fantasy. I don't think that will go away, but it will be a harder sell without something different.

What makes ASOIAF unique is nothing about the genre or format or writing even. It's the characters. Most epic fantasy is about heroes and villains. It's very focused around the Tolkien model of good vs. evil (the romance archetype). GRRM's characters, on the other hand, are almost all gray. There are a couple outright villains (Ramsey and Joffrey, for instance), but no true heroes. Most people are honorable in some ways and awful in others. Ned Stark is loyal to his word and to what's moral and right, but he's also stupid and gets most of his family killed off because he's stubborn. Cersei is power hungry, but she's also so driven to protect her family that it's hard not to empathize with that. Daenerys is kind, but also naive and she's sometimes inflexible. Jon Snow is very similar to Ned in his stubbornness, but he's also genuinely decent in a lot of ways. Sam is weak and kind of inept, but also brilliant. Jaime is arrogant, yet loyal. Tyrion is a drunk and kind of a jerk in a lot of ways, but also he's been through so much and he's still decent and honest. Arya is smart and focused and cares for her family and honor, but she's become corrupted by revenge. Theon is horrible in many ways, but he clearly has a heart. Sansa is easily manipulated but also means well and is just young. Clearly, I could go on and on about these characters, but my point is that they're vastly different from LOTR, and that's where the story stands out. (Not to say LOTR or ASOIAF is better or worse than the other. Just saying they are different and yet fit the genre.)

Roxxsmom
03-17-2016, 12:03 AM
Oh, I don't know. Trying to guess what the majority of readers will like and accept can be darned hard. Writers tend to hang out with other writers a lot, and after we embroil ourselves in history and world building 101 theory, and after we've read all of Limyaal's rants (and other such sites on the web), we become the pickiest of the picky readers. But the fact that these books we love to rant about keep getting published and selling well suggests that there could be a sizable market for improbable settings. I remember someone once saying in another thread that they'd wall bang another member's book if they created a medievalish world where characters were sipping tea while sitting around in their jammies and reading books by the fire, but that's essentially what Tolkien did with his Shire.

Seems like some people like that sort of thing. Imagine if a bunch of modern beta readers had a go at his world, or that of many other popular and beloved fantasy and SF writers.

rwm4768
03-17-2016, 02:33 AM
In the end, it boils down to writing the kind of stories you like. If you try to write to the market, you'll probably be a few years too late. Obviously, you don't want to disregard the market completely, but the best thing to do is tell a story you're passionate about. That will show in the end. If you have two stories you feel equally passionate about, choose the one that feels like it might be more marketable.

Roxxsmom
03-17-2016, 04:15 AM
Sometimes it comes down to the old escapism versus realism thing. Many fantasy readers still read to escape, not to meticulously explore realistic and internally coherent digressions in history (or completely novel and possibly unsettling worlds) due to introduced fantasy elements. Such a reader might insist that sharks that shoot laser beams out their eyes turning the tide of the Spanish Armada sounds cool! Who cares how they'd affect the ecosystems, culture, history and religion of the world leading up to that battle.

This doesn't mean that a carefully constructed and thought-provoking world can't also be fun to escape to, but not everyone reads for the same reasons. I think we all have to decide how in love with a particular setting we are for its aesthetics and comfort food elements versus how in love we are with the idea of tweaking something and following the ripples to their logical extreme, even if they result in a world that's very uncomfortable.

I don't think Martin's work stood out because he was the first writer to have to fixed heroes and villains. Plenty of fantasy writers have been doing that since before Tolkien, even. I don't think one can point to any thing about Martin's world or approach to fantasy that is completely unique. But he created a blend of elements that stood out in a certain way, and it came out at a time when the market was receptive to that kind of grit and narrative style.

TECarter
03-17-2016, 05:01 AM
Sometimes it comes down to the old escapism versus realism thing. Many fantasy readers still read to escape, not to meticulously explore realistic and internally coherent digressions in history (or completely novel and possibly unsettling worlds) due to introduced fantasy elements. Such a reader might insist that sharks that shoot laser beams out their eyes turning the tide of the Spanish Armada sounds cool! Who cares how they'd affect the ecosystems, culture, history and religion of the world leading up to that battle.

This doesn't mean that a carefully constructed and thought-provoking world can't also be fun to escape to, but not everyone reads for the same reasons. I think we all have to decide how in love with a particular setting we are for its aesthetics and comfort food elements versus how in love we are with the idea of tweaking something and following the ripples to their logical extreme, even if they result in a world that's very uncomfortable.

I don't think Martin's work stood out because he was the first writer to have to fixed heroes and villains. Plenty of fantasy writers have been doing that since before Tolkien, even. I don't think one can point to any thing about Martin's world or approach to fantasy that is completely unique. But he created a blend of elements that stood out in a certain way, and it came out at a time when the market was receptive to that kind of grit and narrative style.

technically, that's not true. ASOIAF did fine, stumbling along like lots of fantasy for many years until two readers who happened to work for HBO got involved. I don't think he's the only one who's done it, but I wanted to show how he's different yet similar to other popular fantasy authors. I don't think GRRM is the best or only. I just think he's the most recognized now for both the timing, as you said, and the right readers. If they hadn't read the books, he would be just another solid fantasy writer doing plenty well on his own, but not a household name. This should give all writers a bit of hope, because it can happen to anyone! (And maybe WoW would be out now if he'd just been left alone!! ��)

Liosse de Velishaf
03-17-2016, 06:09 AM
I'm against surrealism unless I'm purposely seeking out a surrealist story. So if you advertise a story as surrealist or campy comedy and have a car driving around Roman Britain, I'm all for it. But if you advertise as epic fantasy, I'm going to be irritated if I see that.

Also, I love world-building and con-worlding, much of which is about setting your parameters and working out the effects. it's speculative in the "what if...?" sense, much like hard SF. So I enjoy reading about logically consistent or versimilitudinous worlds with just a few things changed. Generally secondary world, but I'll take historical fantasy set on earth if it's cool enough.


You can certainly be logically consistent with a car in medieval Europe, though I doubt that's what Kuwi was aiming for.

kuwisdelu
03-17-2016, 06:27 AM
You can certainly be logically consistent with a car in medieval Europe, though I doubt that's what Kuwi was aiming for.

Right. I'm the kind of reader who cares more about metaphorical consistency than logical consistency. I don't really care about logical consistency if things make sense on a metaphorical, emotional, and symbolic level.

Roxxsmom
03-17-2016, 07:50 AM
technically, that's not true. ASOIAF did fine, stumbling along like lots of fantasy for many years until two readers who happened to work for HBO got involved.

ASoIaF was a bestseller before they made it into a TV series, and I'd hazard a guess that this is why they wanted to make it one. The novella (Blood of the Dragon) that was the nucleus of the first book won a Hugo award, which might explain why he got more latitude than many writers do with pitching a novel that didn't lend itself well to the standard query format. Of course, he was a well-established author before he wrote Blood of the Dragon. In any case, ASoIaF was hardly stumbling along before the HBO people decided to make it into a TV show, though the TV show made the books even more popular.

I think in many ways ASoIaF is an example of "gateway drug" fantasy (a book that pulled people who don't usually read epic fantasy into the genre), because it really resembles a big family drama/soap opera in many ways, but with lots of "medieval" rape, violence and torture. Not saying this as a put down (there's a reason people like family dramas and soap operas), and I think there's some damned fine writing and characterization in the series, but not every fantasy writer is striving for this effect. Perhaps one down side is that its success has raised expectations for the genre, so those of us who have few aspirations besides writing the same kind of midlist to more modestly bestselling fantasy we've always loved might have a harder time finding interest from agents and editors that we might once have.

waylander
03-17-2016, 03:43 PM
I think one of the things that set GRRM apart - even before the TV series exploded - is his use of so many POV characters, most of whom are really well realised. I can't think of any other epic fantasy that uses so many.

jjdebenedictis
03-17-2016, 10:26 PM
technically, that's not true. ASOIAF did fine, stumbling along like lots of fantasy for many years until two readers who happened to work for HBO got involved. ... I just think [GRRM]'s the most recognized now for both the timing, as you said, and the right readers. If they hadn't read the books, he would be just another solid fantasy writer doing plenty well on his own, but not a household name. I just want to +1 what Roxxsmom said -- A Song of Ice and Fire was a very popular bestselling series long before it became a TV series. It wasn't "stumbling along".

It did not become a household name until the TV series, of course, but very few books do.

griffins
03-18-2016, 12:04 AM
I think one of the things that set GRRM apart - even before the TV series exploded - is his use of so many POV characters, most of whom are really well realised. I can't think of any other epic fantasy that uses so many.

Robert Jordan also comes to mind for me. He was my go-to epic fantasy writer as a kid, until he passed and R.R. Martin came along. But I can't imagine Jordan's series becoming a hit HBO show, though. ASoIaF is just leaner, meaner, and better constructed as a series.
Anyway, I think this discussion about R.R. Martin answers the OP in a nice, roundabout way. ASoIaF may not be the (technical) best or first of its kind, but it's a well-done series that comes in an appealing package. I don't think epic fantasy is dead, but you can't just plop things into a generic, medieval setting anymore. The series needs a distinct identity to set it apart from all the R.R. Martin-inspired clones coming through the pipeline.

themindstream
03-18-2016, 01:10 AM
For instance, Novik's popular Temeraire books take place in a Napoleonic-war-era world where everything is the same except for the presence of dragons, which are domesticated as beasts of war. The purpose of the story is to focus on these exciting naval style battles on dragonback and on the relationship between the main character and his dragon, not to explore all the ripples that really would exist in such a world (it's unlikely that the nations of the world would have evolved in anything like the same way if we were in constant competition with large, flying predators, nor would culture, technology, religion and warfare have evolved in the way they're portrayed in this book).

I can either mutter darkly about how unrealistic her world building is, or I can suspend disbelief and enjoy the story for what it is. Of course, readers will differ in their ability to do this, but eh, why expect all stories to be there for the same purpose? She wanted an early 1800s Europe where everything is the same except for the dragons and their immediate (rather than long term and historical effects), so there you are.

I don't think that's accurate or fair as a description. The ripple effect of having (intelligent!) dragons is considerable and the series has a foot firmly in the alt-history camp. Termeraire himself is extra-intelligent for his species and his outsider perspective allows him to be a mouthpiece for criticism of the hypocrisies of the British Empire. Several of the books place the main characters in the position of emissaries in other countries where the presence of dragons seriously changes the balance of power between nations. North America was never colonized. African tribes suffering under the slave trade are able to mount a successful revolt against the British. China is a formidable military power that could put a serious hurt on Europe if there were ever cause to and stuff like the Opium Wars is very unlikely to happen. Does this revisionism extend to everything? No, but these things aren't completely the focus of the stories but they are the backdrop that drives large parts of them, and many of the middle books in the series are very much about exploring the relationship between other cultures and their dragons.

Anyway, this isn't really on topic but thought it needed saying anyway. Carry on.

KMTolan
03-18-2016, 01:58 AM
Rarely have a reason to comment in this area of the forum due to the buckets of great advice given, but if you're looking for something different in fantasy, don't overlook the broad stretches of Americana and the tales told in various crafts. It really doesn't take much to expand upon what otherwise might be a common mention. I've had reasonable success with turning the mundane life around trains (circa 1930's) into fantasy settings. I mean, how much a stretch is it to take a "knight of the open road" as hobos were often called and run with it? I'm sure you can look at a lot of romanticized parts of American life, especially back in history, and give them the fantasy treatment. Doesn't have to be Europe. Doesn't have to have dragons.

Kerry

noranne
03-18-2016, 05:51 AM
Thanks for all the thoughts.

To me, a traditional setting doesn't have to mean epic fantasy--the story I have in mind is definitely not an epic fantasy story, but the setting is more of the familiar type. I think I'll just have to forge ahead and hope that the awesome parts of it can overcome the "this again" setting (and that I can make that setting feel awesome too).

Roxxsmom
03-18-2016, 06:13 AM
All you can do is write what you write, and it will sell or it won't. This is the first draft. Thoughts like these will only stifle and discourage you this early in the project.

I think this is very truth. There are few things that kill one's joy in a project that worrying about whether anyone will like it before the first draft is even finished. The internet can be a great resource for writers. Want to find out what a dangling participle is, or you don't know what this monomyth thing everyone is talking about and you're embarrassed to admit it, or you want to figure out what a query letter is and find examples of how to write one, all you have to do is google. But the down side is there is no shortage of people out there who will tell you why they think your ideas and tastes suck.

All you can really do is forge ahead and hope for the best.

rwm4768
03-18-2016, 08:49 AM
I think this is very truth. There are few things that kill one's joy in a project that worrying about whether anyone will like it before the first draft is even finished. The internet can be a great resource for writers. Want to find out what a dangling participle is, or you don't know what this monomyth thing everyone is talking about and you're embarrassed to admit it, or you want to figure out what a query letter is and find examples of how to write one, all you have to do is google. But the down side is there is no shortage of people out there who will tell you why they think your ideas and tastes suck.

All you can really do is forge ahead and hope for the best.

This is probably my biggest stumbling block in my writing. I discard so many first one to three chapters because I think no one will ever publish a story like this.

jjdebenedictis
03-18-2016, 07:18 PM
I think this is very truth. There are few things that kill one's joy in a project that worrying about whether anyone will like it before the first draft is even finished. The internet can be a great resource for writers. Want to find out what a dangling participle is, or you don't know what this monomyth thing everyone is talking about and you're embarrassed to admit it, or you want to figure out what a query letter is and find examples of how to write one, all you have to do is google. But the down side is there is no shortage of people out there who will tell you why they think your ideas and tastes suck.

All you can really do is forge ahead and hope for the best.I have nothing to add; I just want to dangle off the wisdom of this comment for a while. :)

Feidb
03-19-2016, 07:17 PM
My fantasy world has elements of Tolkein, D&D, steam punk and my own stuff with a bit of science-fiction thrown in, more in the upcoming second book. Stuff I'd like to see. It's an adventure set in a fantasy world. I don't really care what the "rules" are supposed to be. I just write what I feel and it works. So far, my readers have agreed. So does the publisher.

You have to follow your muse and see what comes out in the wash. If the story is good and entertaining, it will work.

lenore_x
03-20-2016, 09:47 PM
This conversation makes me curious, if we're seeing so-called traditional settings go out of style, what kinds of settings have recent sales had? In fantasy specifically. I feel like most of what I hear about is sci-fi.

Latina Bunny
03-20-2016, 10:07 PM
This conversation makes me curious, if we're seeing so-called traditional settings go out of style, what kinds of settings have recent sales had? In fantasy specifically. I feel like most of what I hear about is sci-fi.

Are taking about secondary fantasy, or fantasy in general?

I see tons of Urban Fantasies or Contemporary Fantasies on the shelves (in the new releases of adult sff section).

Now I also see scifi (usually dealing with dystopias, AI, generic alterations, or virtual reality), or Near Future kinds of settings as well.

Now, secondary fantasy? Hmm.... Well, in MG, I see all sorts of fantasies, some of which look like "traditional"-ish settings with princess and princes (though with characters with somewhat modern mindsets). MG also have contemporary fantasies, superhero-ish stories, and mythological (like Greek/Norse/etc) fantasies. MG has also been doing fairy tale re-tellings as well.

In YA (which I don't read), looks like still royal intrigues and (some mermaid or underwater?) secret magical being populations, etc.

Alternative re-tellings of fairy tales or classic book re-tellings (like Jane Austen stories) with paranormal/fantasy elements are still around, from what I can see.

I may not be the best judge, though, since I don't read much straightforward SFF anymore. (I read cozy mysteries or General contemporary fiction with some fantasy elements. Basically, some of those books that did have fantasy could be considered in contemporary fantasy side of the SFF spectrum.)

waylander
03-21-2016, 12:28 AM
This conversation makes me curious, if we're seeing so-called traditional settings go out of style, what kinds of settings have recent sales had? In fantasy specifically. I feel like most of what I hear about is sci-fi.

Mark Lawrence has over the last couple of years become a huge F author in the UK with what, at first sight, appears to be secondary world but is in fact far future.

Roxxsmom
03-21-2016, 11:28 AM
I don't think traditional settings have disappeared, exactly, depending on how you define them, but there's a lot of variety these days. Some recent fantasy novels I've read include:

Uprooted, but Naomi Novik. A secondary world setting based loosely on Hungarian folk tales. It has a fairy tale feel, with magic, a wizard's tower and enchanted woods, and a city with a royal court. There's a battle with cannons.

The Temeraire books by the same author. Alternative Napoleonic war-era Europe (and world) with domesticated dragons.

Lady Trent memoirs by Marie Brennan. Secondary world that resembles the Victorian era with naturalistic dragons. Focuses on adventures of a lady naturalist in this world.

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott. Secondary world that has a resemblance to Ancient Asia, but is culturally and politically rather unique. Has magic and people who harness themselves to eagles.

Spiritwalker Trilogy (Cold Mage etc) by Kate Elliot. Alternative magical Europe where the ice age never ended completely, the Punic wars didn't have the same outcome, and there was a diaspora of people from Africa into Europe in the past. Different countries and political boundaries, but society and technology level feels rather 19th century.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. An alternative 19th century feeling Europe/England where magic exists. Main character is of African descent.

Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough. A pretty generic fantasy world, though it may have some Japanese overtones (they eat a lot of rice and drink sake). It reads pretty color blind and their aren't a lot of detailed descriptions of the setting, and the characters are hardly described at all (no idea what races they are, so my mind's eye sees them as white), and the deities and magic system feel entirely secondary.

Updraft by Fran Wilde. A setting that could be futuristic or could be purely secondary world. People live in bone towers that grow from somewhere below and get around by hang gliding.

Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight. A magical three musketeers type setting but the main city has this clockwork element running beneath it, powered by water wheels, where the buildings change location every few days.

The Waking Engine by David Eddison. It's too weird to describe easily, but it's not a standard fantasy setting, either secondary world or urban. It's kind of a life after death fantasy, but the protagonist hasn't actually died and...

I've also read recent books by Carol Berg and Robin Hobb, who write in a sort of traditional early-modern-era European-ish fantasy worlds without gunpowder, but they've been writing books in these worlds for a while, and I have no idea if they'd be able to sell them as new authors.

Joe Abercrombie's First Law books. Kind of the same. His military guys wear uniforms that are reminiscent of the 1700s, politics are very early modern, but gunpowder is only just invented (no one has guns yet), and there are Viking types running around. But this is sort of an intentional deconstruction of many fantasy tropes, so...

NK Jemisin's stuff. Varies, but some of her settings feel like Nubian or Egyptian settings.

Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire. A really bizarre fantasy world that has a vaguely Asian feel in terms of how the people and clothes are described, but it's not modeled after the real world at all. There are carnivorous plants everywhere, bears that aren't bears, weapons that grow from people's hands, magic that depends on dominant satellites and blood, a very different concept of gender (five recognized), and two universes that are twisted mirrors of one another.

Also, some gunpowder military SFs, like the ones by Brian McClellan, Django Wexler, Stina Licht.

These aren't recent sales, of course. Publisher's Marketplace might give some hints there.

AJMarks
03-21-2016, 04:32 PM
Go with the setting which you think works best for your story. Trying to force a different setting could make it worse, despite being different. One problem I see in just about everything, people have this mistaken belief that different means better. It can also mean worse.

Roxxsmom
03-22-2016, 04:54 AM
I don't think that's accurate or fair as a description. The ripple effect of having (intelligent!) dragons is considerable and the series has a foot firmly in the alt-history camp. Termeraire himself is extra-intelligent for his species and his outsider perspective allows him to be a mouthpiece for criticism of the hypocrisies of the British Empire.

Hmm, well, I didn't see those differences in the first book anyway. Same England and France, same cities, same history, same famous people mentioned even. And I kind of wonder how the cities and nations of Europe and Asia would even be recognizable (let alone the same) in such a world, which would need a lot more open land to feed a population of such large, voracious predators. I spent a bit of time wondering about trophic levels and so on before I shrugged it off and figured the story was fun, regardless.

And the whole butterfly effect is such that even one teeny, tiny change in history would likely prevent any particular person from being born (because of all those sperms and eggs that never got a chance to meet across the generations, so there'd be no Napoleon, or Lord Nelson etc. And the presence of an entirely different intelligent species is hardly a teeny, tiny change.

But that's my point, really. When we decide to world build, we make certain decisions that are driven, at least in part, by the story we want to tell. As readers, we choose to suspend disbelief or not. A lot of fantasy is driven by a person's personal coolness factors, which is fine, as long as we don't insist that one person's coolness factor is "better" than another's because it's inherently less realistic.

I liked Novik's dragon books. Not everyone does (I'm pretty sure she and McCaffrey are the authors some people on AW are referring to when they say they only like dragons in fantasy if they're not magical ponies that want to serve humans). But I've enjoyed an occasional fantasy of having my own dragon over the years, so it hits my cool spot.

However, if I'd written such a book, I'd probably have twisted things in different ways. For instance, the dragons would actually be manipulating and breeding the humans to care for them and to help fight the dragons' wars. Of course Robin Hobb already beat me to that idea too.

SillyLittleTwit
03-25-2016, 02:55 PM
I wrote a blog post on this a while back:

I’m not a dogmatist. I think any fantasy setting can work, if done well, and that includes Medieval European Fantasy. Where I have the issue is that it long ago became the default setting. Fantasy, even more than Science-Fiction, is the genre where the author is able to truly let loose their imagination – it is the one form of fiction where you are not bound by the chains of real-world cosmic laws. On paper, then, you would expect Fantasy to be a phantasmagoria of the weird and the creative; the surrealist cousin of conventional realist literature. Yet it hasn’t worked out that way; generally speaking, Science-Fiction is filling the role instead.

Why? Well, that much alone is obvious. The modern Fantasy genre was born with the likes of William Morris, and popularised in its present form by J.R.R. Tolkien. Most Western Fantasy authors continue to draw from the well of traditional myth and legend (or, less charitably, draw from other authors who did), and the myth and legend they know best is that of Europe. Which in practice means Medieval Europe. Similarly, genre is a signpost to readers, letting them know whether this book is like other ones. If you want to write something that appeals to Tolkien readers, having a Medieval European setting should help, right? This was the entire basis of post-1977 Tolkien imitation – the (depressingly wrongheaded) notion that mimicking the surface characteristics, the literary wrapping paper, of The Lord of the Rings will somehow capture the magic and depth of the original. Suffice to say, it didn’t work out like that.

It has even gone a step further. Fantasy since 1977 has not only been trying to borrow from Tolkien, in its more sophisticated form it has been trying to engage with it – to rebut it, deconstruct it, or take it in different directions. Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books, for example, posit a protagonist who is about as far from Frodo Baggins as possible (specifically a whining rapist leper). George R.R. Martin has a setting with graphic violence, sex, and swearing, famously described by one commentator as The Knights Who Say Fuck. It has become a case of “it’s like Middle-earth, but really different!”

All well and good, but going from a genre of Tolkien imitators to a genre of Tolkien imitators and deconstructors still means you’re writing works that orbit The Lord of the Rings. You’re still left, if you’ll pardon the phrase, with a literary Land of Shadows. It doesn’t even have the benefit of exploring an actual Medieval setting – as Martin himself has pointed out, that sort of mindset would be far too alien for your average modern reader (and in any case, Westeros has variable seasons, a giant ice wall, necromantic ice demons, and dragons, none of which were found in actual Medieval Europe). Part of me also wonders whether Martin’s comment is itself is a sad indictment on us as Fantasy readers – as though we, who like to consider ourselves imaginative, are uncomfortable with straying beyond the bounds of Enlightenment liberalism. Perhaps that’s why Tolkien, who wasn’t an Enlightenment liberal, managed to make his world work – he wasn’t trying to tie an anachronistic belief system into a setting where the mindset would have been so utterly different. It’s also why the likes of R. Scott Bakker deserve credit for actually sitting down and giving us something truly alien – ironically in Bakker’s case, the sort of objective damnation world our ancestors thought they lived in.

Rather than going round and round, coming up with ever more creative deconstructive variations on a theme, I think if Fantasy is going to escape this Land of Shadows, it needs to take at least a temporary break from endless facsimiles of Medieval Europe. There are plenty of myths and legends out there from other civilisations, from Native Americans to Africa, from Asia to the Middle-East, from the Australian Aborigines to South America. The Aztecs alone provide scope for a delightful Lovecraftian nightmare. So much material to use as inspiration! Nor does Fantasy (even if European based) have to be Medieval in flavour. You can go with something more Eastern European (Faux Medieval Europe often stops at a variation on the British Isles). Or something more modern. Or something more ancient. Or something more Science-Fantasy. Or something more out-there altogether. Just give us something different, damn it!

Amadan
03-26-2016, 01:17 AM
How many other genres, though, demand something "really different"?

I'm not saying something other than medieval Europe fantasylandia isn't desirable, but I think the fact that that describes the bulk of epic fantasy, with a small (but certainly extant) catalog of exceptions is neither a problem nor remarkable. The fact is, authors tend to write what both they and their audiences are most familiar with. Maybe this is only noticeably less daring in a genre where you can literally conjure anything you like, but just because you can create a world that is made of ice and flat and orbits a gigantic glowing octopus and everyone worships the octopus god and there's no metal and the dominant culture evolved into a sort of vaguely Bedouin-like extended tribal civilization except they ride sessile ice-eating lichen-beasts.... well, I'm sure someone can write that and make it cool, but most of your audience is going to say "Right, how about something with castles and dragons and stuff I can recognize, thanks."

And really, is your setting more important than your story and your characters? The big hits of the last few years have been set in fairly recognizable European fantasylandias, more or less, with some twists but still, Rothfuss and Martin and Lawrence and Abercrombie and so on took established settings and won fans with their writing and the way they mixed familiar ingredients, not by shattering the established pattern to bits and creating alien worlds or putting cars in a pre-industrial civilization.

Look at romances. How many are really different? The vast majority take place in a Western setting, probably an upper middle class setting, and involve boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again, HEA. Mysteries? Mostly taking place in modern Western settings, the protagonist is usually someone from a middle/upper-middle class background, there is a murder, the protagonist solves it, police are involved, there is probably some complicated relationship dynamics, a missing bag of loot, a MacGuffin, whatever. Technothrillers? An ex-military guy, probably Western, usually America, middle to upper-middle class background, there will be terrorists and/or rogue states and/or secret cabals wanting to replace the banking system... Horror? Still probably takes place in a recognizably Western setting that more or less obeys the laws of physics and the monsters will also be something recognizable. (At this point, sanity-shattering non-Euclidian Lovecraftian aliens are no more original than vampires.)

Substitute any handful of ingredients. Oh, this romance is different because she's actually an ex-assassin for the mob and her boyfriend is a District Attorney. This technothriller is different because the protagonist is haunted by a ghost. And here's a police procedural but it takes place in 1950s Hong Kong!

Splendid, there is variety, but the palette is still recognizable.

Readers by and large do not want hugely, fantastically different plots and settings. Those who want to go out of their way to find them can, but most readers are more interested in a well-told story than how creatively you can break the mold. How unique and different are any two Dickens novels from one another?

If you want a boy wizard story that takes place on a moon settled by ancient magical astronauts from the Incan Empire, write it. But audiences won't necessarily prefer it to one that takes place at Hogwell's Prepatory Arcanum in Wisconsin just because it's really new and different.

kuwisdelu
03-26-2016, 01:27 AM
you can create a world that is made of ice and flat and orbits a gigantic glowing octopus and everyone worships the octopus god and there's no metal and the dominant culture evolved into a sort of vaguely Bedouin-like extended tribal civilization except they ride sessile ice-eating lichen-beasts....

That sounds awesome!

Filigree
03-26-2016, 02:17 AM
I'd rather read that than Wisconsin Hogwarts.

Lillith1991
03-26-2016, 02:44 AM
I'm not saying something other than medieval Europe fantasylandia isn't desirable, but I think the fact that that describes the bulk of epic fantasy, with a small (but certainly extant) catalog of exceptions is neither a problem nor remarkable.

Remarkable? No. Not particularly. I agree with you there.

It is, however, my belief that it is problematic. There's liking something and there's stagnation and ignorance. The only concrete rules of Epic Fantasy are the secondary world setting and the scope of the conflict. Tolkien himself wouldn't be considered as writing real EF by many of today's EF because Middle Earth isn't faux medieval, it's faux 17th century with some military tech changes. That's a problem, when one of those who thrust such fiction into the light wouldn't be considered as writing in the genre had they been published today.

The only way to change that is to change our perceptions as readers or to just embrace that we like a particular setting and don't care about accuracy. I like Xena, Hercules, Tolkien, R.A Salvator etc. Typical faux ancient and medieval settings are ok with me, for example. I like that aesthetic and am totally happy to read more stories set there. But if we're going to go that route, we have to grow a pair and be, as writers, Tolkien or Martin level dedicated to our worlds. The problem with faux medieval europe is the worlds often lack depth and don't feel alive. We may as well give the audience our best, and they should be able to demand it.

Lillith1991
03-26-2016, 02:46 AM
I'd rather read that than Wisconsin Hogwarts.

Me too. Or an Epic Fantasy story in a technologically accurate psudo-1930's setting.

Roxxsmom
03-26-2016, 02:55 AM
I've seen a lot of epic and secondary world fantasy that isn't medieval Europe in the last few years, but most are grounded in something that vaguely resembles a real time and place in history, or at least represent something that could have existed on Earth but for the fantasy elements (dragons, magic, active gods, a historical departure of some kind).

The problem I personally have with flat, icy discs orbiting glowing octopi as a basis for world building is that I tend to like high immersion worlds, written from the pov of a character, and stepping outside the story to explain how that worlds works or why the characters have the assumptions, norms, and expectations they do breaks that. But if the assumptions, norms, and expectations of the characters differ too radically from any I've ever heard of or encountered, then I start checking out. It's not a place I can see myself in, or even want to visit. If I don't feel the why of a character's choices (they don't need to be the same as mine would be, but I need to feel why they're doing them), then I may lose the thread of the story.

I've read a couple of well-written books with further out premises than I'm used to seeing lately where the character made some choices and experienced some consequences I didn't quite get. People made decisions that didn't feel quite authentic to me for that reason. This wasn't enough to make me toss the book down, and there were still some things I liked about the stories, but it did lessen my immersion. I couldn't quite visualize the setting or grasp why it was the way it was or why the people did some of the things they did. Maybe the writer didn't do as good a job as they could have of grounding the story in the pov character's reality, or maybe the stories in question would have been better in omniscient, with a narrator from outside the story who could explain things to the reader. Or maybe this fault lies in me the reader.

But my own tastes aside, I'd still like to see fantasy and SF be a genre where there are a variety of stories, worlds and perspectives.

Sometimes a fantasy set in an idealized and somehow more egalitarian version of the early renaissance or late middle ages (with rain-damp cobbles, brightly painted shutters, and taverns with roaring fires but without shit running in the gutters and without sexism) is what I'm in the mood for. Sometimes it isn't. And just because a story is too out there for me personally doesn't mean other people can't or shouldn't like it.

I think people tend to get cross when they're told that their own tastes are wrong because they're not "realistic," or they're too "weird." And I think there's a tendency for aspiring writers to panic or get really scared (and fear tends to make people angry) when they're told that the kind of stuff they like to/want to write is no longer (or never will be) marketable or is either too boring or too "weird" to appeal to most readers.

Lillith1991
03-26-2016, 03:08 AM
I think people tend to get cross when they're told that their own tastes are wrong because they're not "realistic," or they're too "weird." And I think there's a tendency for aspiring writers to panic or get really scared (and fear tends to make people angry) when they're told that the kind of stuff they like to/want to write is no longer (or never will be) marketable or is either too boring or too "weird" to appeal to most readers.

Yup! People can pry my LoTR, Hercules, and Xena out of my cold, dead hands. But they're also sure are hell going to have trouble keeping me from writing a pseudo-regency setting or pseudo-modern setting for my EF. I want comfort AND untapped potential, not just comfort as far as the eye can see.

Liosse de Velishaf
03-26-2016, 03:25 AM
I think a good mix of both is the best way to go. My fantasy settings are... out there. Not crazy out there, mostly, but not pseudo-Medieval Europe, either. If I do have cultural inspiration from Earth, I try to mix it in with original stuff, so it's not "obvious clone of Korea/the Maya/the Zulu clone #652".

Amadan
03-26-2016, 04:58 AM
The only way to change that is to change our perceptions as readers or to just embrace that we like a particular setting and don't care about accuracy. I like Xena, Hercules, Tolkien, R.A Salvator etc. Typical faux ancient and medieval settings are ok with me, for example. I like that aesthetic and am totally happy to read more stories set there. But if we're going to go that route, we have to grow a pair and be, as writers, Tolkien or Martin level dedicated to our worlds. The problem with faux medieval europe is the worlds often lack depth and don't feel alive. We may as well give the audience our best, and they should be able to demand it.

Sure. But I don't think the typical non-European fantasy is necessarily deeper or more accurate than typical European fantasylandias. It's all in the delivery, and it takes more than deciding on a "fresh" setting to make it good, or better. (Like, all those weird /different ideas I mentioned above, I spun off the top of my head with barely a thought.)

blacbird
03-26-2016, 06:34 AM
The problem with "traditional" Fantasy settings is that they've been done to death in recent years. So if you're going to write a story in that milieu, you are up against stiffer obstacles than you might be with something less "traditional". But if you write a cracking good story, you can overcome those.

Maybe.

caw

Lillith1991
03-26-2016, 06:42 AM
Sure. But I don't think the typical non-European fantasy is necessarily deeper or more accurate than typical European fantasylandias. It's all in the delivery, and it takes more than deciding on a "fresh" setting to make it good, or better. (Like, all those weird /different ideas I mentioned above, I spun off the top of my head with barely a thought.)

Of course not. But it isn't about accuracy or depth so much as owning up to what we like as readers. That's the reason I mentioned people needing to pry the more traditional settings out of my cold, dead hands. I like it. I'm not ashamed of liking it. I'm not particularly threatened by people who want more diverse settings in EF. What bothers me is my fellow EF writers and readers narrowing such a broad setting requirement, i.e. secondary world, to something that's not even Eurocentric, but Britishcentric and plastic on top of it. I would rather read EF in a 1920s type of setting that lacks the needed depth than shire 8472. Liking something shouldn't mean stagnation in a genre.

Lillith1991
03-26-2016, 06:49 AM
The problem with "traditional" Fantasy settings is that they've been done to death in recent years. So if you're going to write a story in that milieu, you are up against stiffer obstacles than you might be with something less "traditional". But if you write a cracking good story, you can overcome those.

Maybe.

caw

I disagree. The problem is that it can easily feel like the writer is writing about Shire or Gondor 8472 (Cookies to the person who gets this reference.) instead of giving the reader a new take on the comfortable setting. Even readers who like the comfort setting don't always want their stories from the eyes man, and may want to read about a similar story from the POV of a Dwarf, Orc, Elf, or even some fantasy race the writer comes up with related to the tried and true fantasy races.

SianaBlackwood
03-26-2016, 07:05 AM
I wonder if part of the problem is how few of us actually live in anything remotely like the 'traditional' fantasy setting. When making an 'out there' setting or world, all the little details are that much more likely to be based on our personal environment - the sights and the smells, the way the people think and so forth. That pseudo-medieval setting is something we've all picked up from books and games, not something we experience first-hand.

AlecHutson
03-26-2016, 07:52 AM
This is an interesting topic. I've noticed in my cursory meanderings around posts by agents and editors that many of them claim preference for 'non-traditional' settings and stories from the view point of 'under represented' characters. Which is laudable, certainly. Yet when I glance at the list of most popular and currently best-selling fantasies they are invariably filled with takes on the traditional fantasy world. I mean, who are the big names in fantasy now - Martin, Abercrombie, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Lawrence, Lynch, Staveley - they all seem to craft worlds that resemble Europe from 800-1500 AD.

So I'm wondering - publishing is a business, and clearly traditional fantasy worlds that resemble Tolkien's creation are still the big sellers. The tone may vary, and the themes, but I don't see many fantasies set in radically different milieus, or with MCs that differ radically from the normal child-with-abilities-comes-of-age stories. So are agents / editors ACTUALLY looking for the fiction they claim to be? Or are they still looking to capitalize on the tried-and-true formulas?

Roxxsmom
03-26-2016, 07:53 AM
Hmm, well I know one reason why British-style settings (from an aesthetic sense, if not a cultural) appeal to me is because I've been to the UK a few times, and I've always loved visiting open air museums, castles, old reconstructed villages and farms and so on. Heck, I even went on the smelly Viking village ride at Jorvik Viking Center :greenie

I can "see" what those kinds of places looked like in my mind's eye, at least, and imagine myself in them. Small tweaks are easy, but as much as I google Mayan ruins, or the Forbidden City, or historical sites that depict other styles of architecture, it's harder to "see" them in my mind's eye (or to know if I'm playing with something that might be of more significance to other people than I can understand).

So my first fantasy novel I was serious enough to actually try and shop is set in the kind of setting (again in an aesthetic sense, though the culture isn't terribly European in many ways) I'm most comfortable visualizing and immersing myself in (with some tweaks). So yeah, I'm bummed to discover that only just in the past few years have people in general gotten bored with Europe-inspired fantasy. I can't fault agents and editors for not wanting to pick up what isn't salable right now, but it makes me sad to think that the baby I've had inside my head for years and finally had the guts to write and shop is simply the wrong kind of book at the wrong time (kicking myself I didn't get off my butt ten years ago).

I've got some other ideas, but I'm not sure how to execute them or if I'm the right person to write them. I'm pretty demoralized, and of course wondering if the real problem is that I'm not a good enough writer to get published and won't be until I'm dead of old age (or too old, at least, to build a career that's potentially profitable enough to entice an agent or publisher).

Liosse de Velishaf
03-26-2016, 07:54 AM
This is an interesting topic. I've noticed in my cursory meanderings around posts by agents and editors that many of them claim preference for 'non-traditional' settings and stories from the view point of 'under represented' characters. Which is laudable, certainly. Yet when I glance at the list of most popular and currently best-selling fantasies they are invariably filled with takes on the traditional fantasy world. I mean, who are the big names in fantasy now - Martin, Abercrombie, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Lawrence, Lynch, Staveley - they all seem to craft worlds that resemble Europe from 800-1500 AD.

So I'm wondering - publishing is a business, and clearly traditional fantasy worlds that resemble Tolkien's creation are still the big sellers. The tone may vary, and the themes, but I don't see many fantasies set in radically different milieus, or with MCs that differ radically from the normal child-with-abilities-comes-of-age stories. So are agents / editors ACTUALLY looking for the fiction they claim to be? Or are they still looking to capitalize on the tried-and-true formulas?

Why not both?

jjdebenedictis
03-26-2016, 08:10 AM
Why not both?Yes, this. MOAR BOOKZ, ALL KINDZ YAASSSS...

And I see lots of books written in "radically different milieus" and "with MCs that differ radically from the normal child-with-abilities-comes-of-age stories", but the thing I'm having trouble with here is: we're discussing "traditional" fantasy. The tradition for traditional fantasy is pseudo-Tolkienlandia.

So traditional fantasy looks a lot like traditional fantasy because that's what's traditional in traditional fantasy and so it is call traditional fantasy because it's traditional, you know, and-and-and-and what are we even discussing?

Traditional fantasy is not going to stop looking like traditional fantasy until we make a new tradition. Everybody go read some Kameron Hurley.

AlecHutson
03-26-2016, 08:14 AM
Oh, certainly! The boundaries of fantasy are by the very definition of the genre limitless, so there's space and readers for probably any story, so long as its well-written and executed. I'm just noting that MANY of the twitter feeds of the agents and editors who work in fantasy profess a preference for non-traditional fantasy (other settings, 'under-represented' characters) - - - yet it seems like fairly traditional fantasy is what sells. I'm just trying to wrap my head around this, as the overriding goal of the folks in publishing is to sell books. Why not ask for well done, well executed epic fantasy that stands out with its writing, plot, and characterization? Or is it because they're simply inundated by traditional epic fantasies and want to see something different?

Lillith1991
03-26-2016, 08:29 AM
Yes, this. MOAR BOOKZ, ALL KINDZ YAASSSS...

And I see lots of books written in "radically different milieus" and "with MCs that differ radically from the normal child-with-abilities-comes-of-age stories", but the thing I'm having trouble with here is: we're discussing "traditional" fantasy. The tradition for traditional fantasy is pseudo-Tolkienlandia.

So traditional fantasy looks a lot like traditional fantasy because that's what's traditional in traditional fantasy and so it is call traditional fantasy because it's traditional, you know, and-and-and-and what are we even discussing?

Traditional fantasy is not going to stop looking like traditional fantasy until we make a new tradition. Everybody go read some Kameron Hurley.

And why can't the medieval setting be more similar to France or other Western European settings besides Britain? Or be told by eleves or some other traditional fantasy race instead?

I'm a fan of the setting, not of stagnation in how the story is done. Comfortable doesn't mean stock everything. And it sure as heck shouldn't mean some of the stuff we're currently gettimg where the reader dpesnt feel like the story lives beyond the page. Tolkien was famous for more than just his setting, he created a world which was so immersive the reader feels like it lives beyond the page. Feels like it could be real.

Lillith1991
03-26-2016, 08:36 AM
Oh, certainly! The boundaries of fantasy are by the very definition of the genre limitless, so there's space and readers for probably any story, so long as its well-written and executed. I'm just noting that MANY of the twitter feeds of the agents and editors who work in fantasy profess a preference for non-traditional fantasy (other settings, 'under-represented' characters) - - - yet it seems like fairly traditional fantasy is what sells. I'm just trying to wrap my head around this, as the overriding goal of the folks in publishing is to sell books. Why not ask for well done, well executed epic fantasy that stands out with its writing, plot, and characterization? Or is it because they're simply inundated by traditional epic fantasies and want to see something different?

Not all traditional fantasy is epic fantasy. I've been reading traditional fantasy since I was small, many of the stories are your typical high fantasy story. Traditional fantasy is almost always high or low fantasy involving a quest of some sort, metaphorical or physical.

Roxxsmom
03-26-2016, 08:55 AM
I mean, who are the big names in fantasy now - Martin, Abercrombie, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Lawrence, Lynch, Staveley - they all seem to craft worlds that resemble Europe from 800-1500 AD.



I've actually noticed something interesting (and I'm not trying to be divisive or raise the gender difference issue that tends to end with threads being locked): many of the top male fantasy writers these days write in these kinds of settings (a couple of top female writers who also do would be Mercedes Lackey, though her more recent stories are different, and Robin Hobb, though her Fitz and Fool/Liveship Traders world feels more like the Renaissance without gunpowder). But many of the top female writers, especially ones who have become relatively well-known recently, seem to be creating stories in different kinds of settings--often quasi historical ones, or ones that are just completely different. For example:

Susannah Clarke
Marie Brennan
Naomi Novik (her most recent book is a fairy tale type setting, but her dragon books are alternative Napoleonic)
Kate Elliott (she's been at it a while, and has written medieval style fantasy, but her recent books are in different kinds of settings)
Kameron Hurley
Fran Wilde
Zen Cho
Elizabeth Bear (has also written a lot of SF)
NK Jemisin
Katherine Addison (also known as Sarah Monette)

Mind you, I don't know if any of these women are as successful as Abercrombie etc., let alone GRRM. My feeling, from glancing at bestseller lists (http://www.locusmag.com/Magazine/2016/03/locus-bestsellers-march-2016/) on locus (http://www.locusmag.com/Magazine/2016/01/locus-bestsellers-january-2016/) and amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/16197/ref=pd_zg_hrsr_b_1_4_last) is that most top selling EF writers are men (though I've never heard of Lisa Blackwood, and she has several epic looking fantasies on the Amazon list.

Here's a list of forthcoming releases from Locus forthcoming stuff (http://www.locusmag.com/Resources/ForthcomingBooks.html), but it can be hard to tell from a casual glance what subgenre some of the books will be (unless I already know the author).

There are also some successful male fantasy writers who have emerged in recent years who write non medieval stuff, though, so I don't think it's as simple as "guys write medieval European stuff and women don't, and medievalish Europeanish stuff is popular."

Django Wexler (gunpowder fantasy)
Brian McClellan (gunpowder fantasy)
Brandon Sanderson (books in a variety of settings, actually)
Scott Lynch (more renaissance feel than medieval--I'd say it's a post-1500 world)
Ken Liu
Patrick Rothfuss (not sure what time the setting approximates, actually. It's kind of odd what with the magic school, and various things about the culture and city as described).

It's also harder to tell which of the newer writers who aren't mega bestsellers at this point (didn't write breakout debuts), but are doing reasonably well with their careers will eventually write something that gains them more limelight, and which will eventually do a slow slide into obscurity.

Of course, the books that editors are eagerly signing now may be different from the books we see selling well now. They're trying to anticipate future trends, and whatever is in fashion right now could be yesterday's news by the time a book an agent picks up tomorrow is in print. They know that and they're trying to be ahead of the curve.

SillyLittleTwit
03-26-2016, 12:05 PM
I mean, who are the big names in fantasy now - Martin, Abercrombie, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Lawrence, Lynch, Staveley - they all seem to craft worlds that resemble Europe from 800-1500 AD.


Quibbles:

Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire first came out twenty years ago, so Martin has arguably been grandfathered in.
Rothfuss' world is all over the place (nineteenth century medicine and musical compositions?).
Lawrence is post-apocalyptic.
Lynch is Italian Renaissance-ish.

I'd also point out the obvious omission of contemporary fantasy (J.K. Rowling dwarfs them all in sales, and doesn't use Medieval Europe).

Roxxsmom
03-26-2016, 12:32 PM
Quibbles:

Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire first came out twenty years ago, so Martin has arguably been grandfathered in.
Rothfuss' world is all over the place (nineteenth century medicine and musical compositions?).
Lawrence is post-apocalyptic.
Lynch is Italian Renaissance-ish.

I'd also point out the obvious omission of contemporary fantasy (J.K. Rowling dwarfs them all in sales, and doesn't use Medieval Europe).

I think the focus has been on secondary world/epic type fantasy settings here, since this is where the "traditional" setting is thought to be medieval, but yes, urban, contemporary, alternative (like Pullman's His Dark Materials books) and wainscot styles settings are very popular for both YAs and adults. Portals between contemporary Earth and traditional style fantasy settings were once a common thing too (The Chronicles of Narnia are a great example, as was The Dragon and the George), but those are less common nowadays.

I think the idea has become very entrenched that fantasy's default (or traditional setting) is Western Europe during the high middle ages, so readers project that on fantasies that aren't really in that kind of world. Even Martin's world isn't *really* medieval in all respects (http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/game-thrones-isnt-medieval-matters-83288) (I think I already posted this link up thread). Many things that people associate with the middle ages aren't really, or they were only present near their end.

The European middle ages was a very long time period, so even if one really does want to confine oneself to that time and place, there are a ton of different settings to explore or play around with there. For example, Abercrombie's latest books, his YA series, focuses on a culture that strongly resembles the northmen/Vikings, but it's a diverse world, and there are other cultures and peoples that are important in that setting too.

This has a very different feel from his First Law Universe, which mixed some early modern elements into things. For instance, the way the military was organized, and its uniforms, felt almost 1700 or so, and the whole subplot with the rising middle/merchant class, and the whole subplot with the banks, and the war in the south, and the inquisition and so on (though it was political in nature, not religious). Yet there were barbarians running around in the north and no gunpowder (except in a very rudimentary form). He was attempting to deconstruct some of the standard epic fantasy tropes, however, so the mix and match worldbuilding may have been an aspect of that.

But I think there's interest in stories that don't rock that traditional vibe at all and in societies that aren't inspired by Europe, even peripherally. It might be harder for a new writer to get a toehold with a story that feels traditional right now (even if it's not truly medieval).

zanzjan
03-26-2016, 09:47 PM
Hi Alec,

Respect Your Fellow Writer (RYFW) is the primary guideline by which this community functions. Consider that while most of your analyses are within the scope of fair opinion on individual works, a few cross over a bit into being dismissive of the authors themselves (and by extension, their readers and fans here.) Also, many authors are also members here, so you may be addressing those authors directly without being aware of it. I would appreciate it if you could try to be more mindful of the (admittedly murky and vague) line between expressing one's own opinion and passing judgment on others' when you post, and try to leave the door open to differences in taste (frex, I loved the Liu, and as much as I generally adore GGK, thought Under Heaven by far his worst book.)

Thanks,

-zanz, mod

jjdebenedictis
03-26-2016, 10:36 PM
And why can't the medieval setting be more similar to France or other Western European settings besides Britain? Or be told by eleves or some other traditional fantasy race instead? Well, Mark Lawrence's books are being touted as one of these "traditional" fantasies -- and they are, imo -- but they are also, as SillyLittleTwit mentioned, post-apocalyptic and it's clear that Mr. Lawrence's first series is set in France (or close to) and his second one has mainly taken place in what had been the Scandinavian countries, although it started out closer to what was Spain.

So again, I boing-boing-boing in my miniscule desperation, flailing my tiny arms and squealing in my wee piping voice that indeed, I have read books that reek of being "traditional" fantasy but which are not set in pseudo-England with Super Secret Farmboy King (tm) as the protagonist.

Hey, everyone, add some Richard Morgan to your TBR stack along with Kameron Hurley. Seriously, there are people doing this stuff you say no one does.

Liosse de Velishaf
03-27-2016, 12:23 AM
Quibbles:

Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire first came out twenty years ago, so Martin has arguably been grandfathered in.
Rothfuss' world is all over the place (nineteenth century medicine and musical compositions?).
Lawrence is post-apocalyptic.
Lynch is Italian Renaissance-ish.

I'd also point out the obvious omission of contemporary fantasy (J.K. Rowling dwarfs them all in sales, and doesn't use Medieval Europe).

Richard Morgan in this case is a bit... well. You'll know when you read the books. (This is not an insult.)

Roxxsmom
03-27-2016, 01:58 AM
Lynch's world felt very formulaic to me. Basic European renaissance fantasy. Obviously there was a lovely tone that made the book unique, but I would fold Locke Lamora into a pretty generic fantasy setting.

Wait, you said it was medieval up thread, now you're saying it's a "generic" renaissance setting. Renaissance =/= medieval. And if Renaissance settings are also generic fantasy, that's greatly expanded the definition of generic fantasy.


Rothfuss is actually the epitome of lazy fantasy - a medieval world where the author did not bother to research what actually existed in medieval times, creating a hodgepodge of things that Rothfuss wanted to include to further the plot, but really had no place.

Or he wasn't intending for his world to be a parallel to our own middle ages. No reason history has to follow the same path in every world. I think every author decides what kind of feel they're shooting for, and what the story needs to work. If that's lazy, so be it. You can't argue with Rothfuss's success (and for the record, TNoTW isn't on my list of favorite reads, but obviously it hit the sweet spot of many readers).


Lawrence is post-apocalyptic? I will admit to skimming it, as I find the whole trend of grimdark rather appalling, but it seemed like standard western medieval fantasy (with lots of rape and murder).

I'm not crazy about Grimdark either, though I like Abercrombie best of the batch, mostly because I like his approach to limited third pov and I like the wry humor that is subtly mocking some of the fantasy cliches.

With the Prince of Thorns, though, since the protagonist is a rapist and murderer (he was inspired by Alex in A Clockwork Orange), having those be plot elements is possibly more justified than in many stories that simply include them to make the world "gritty and dark" or to keep female characters terrified and subordinate. But more conventional post-apocalyptic fantasy and SF settings have plenty of these things too.

Perhaps this map from the author's own web site will convince you of the setting being the far future, not the past. There's some serious sea level increase that happened here, for one thing. But poke around on the web, and you'll find plenty of discussion about the world being ours at some point in the far future.

http://www.marklawrence.buzz/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/map-king-of-thorns.jpg


Cho, Novik, Brennan - this kind of Napoleanic / Victorian fantasy seems almost overdone these days, and a natural outgrowth of Western medieval fantasy. I don't consider this a groundbreaking milieu.

Yes, it's it's quite popular, and if what you just said is true (it's well established and hardly groundbreaking), then it belies your earlier assertion that all the popular fantasy coming out in recent years is medieval. A natural outgrowth of Western Medieval Fantasy? Well, it's western, certainly. But you might want to explain why you think it belongs in the same category (even though you didn't list any of these books when you made the statement that nearly all of the popular fantasy these days is medieval).

My point wasn't that Victorian fantasy is groundbreaking, however, just that non-medieval alternative histories and alternative worlds are a thing too.


Liu's book was a disaster. Tried my very best to make it through, as I love Asian inspired stories (lived for years in China, and Under Heaven by Kay is one of my favorite books). I have no idea why he is regarded as one of the bright new shining stars of speculative fiction, but I suppose that's a post for another time.

I didn't get into it either. I found the narrative style to be distancing. But a number of people seem to like it. Not everything is to everyone's taste. Calling it a "disaster" seems a bit harsh and borderline not RYFW.


Rowling - yes. It seems like successful YA fantasy (Compass, Narnia also) is more likely to be rooted in the modern world. Maybe it has something to do with the young adult mindset.

These aren't YA fantasies, but MG (I can think of some successful MG series that are secondary world, however). And actually, a number of very successful recent YA fantasies are set in secondary worlds. Examples include Snow Like Ashes, The Red Queen series by Aveyard, A Court of Thorn and Roses, Arcanist Wasp etc. Abercrombie's most recent series is also YA.


Sorry, I don't mean to sound contrary - I've been returning to the genre after a time apart, and picked up a few of the most popular authors that I hadn't read before (Abercrombie, Staveley, Sanderson) and all of them could be D&D campaigns the settings are so formulaic.

Well, maybe you need to read a bit more widely in the genre, then, dig deeper, below the writers who are already well established and look at some of the recent debuts, or maybe the genre isn't for you at this point in time. Nothing wrong with that.


I was just remarking that the genre still seems firmly rooted only a few steps away from Tolkien, after all these years.

If you look at the publication date for the debuts you mentioned, they're not super recent either--pushing ten years old or so. Remember that what the agents and editors are looking to acquire now will not be identical to the titles by established authors who are selling well. A bestselling author is unlikely to become unpopular, even if the market for the kind of setting they write becomes saturated. Fantasy readers tend to stick with their favorite authors, and it can be darned hard (in my personal experience) to get them to try someone new.

But new writers who want to create stories in similar worlds will be competing with these authors in a very crowded market. I think that's why agents often say they're looking for something new, and told from the pov of previously underrepresented perspectives. I think the industry has realized that there's a sea of potential readers out there who feel a bit left out by the traditional protagonists and story arcs.

Thanks to the popularity of GRRM's books (especially after they became a TV show), there was a lot of interest in gritty, dark worlds filled with rape, torture, hopelessness, and protagonists who were a lot like antagonists. But it may be that this star is, if not setting, at least stable in the sky, and new writers will get more traction with something different.

Lillith1991
03-27-2016, 02:06 AM
Well, Mark Lawrence's books are being touted as one of these "traditional" fantasies -- and they are, imo -- but they are also, as SillyLittleTwit mentioned, post-apocalyptic and it's clear that Mr. Lawrence's first series is set in France (or close to) and his second one has mainly taken place in what had been the Scandinavian countries, although it started out closer to what was Spain.

So again, I boing-boing-boing in my miniscule desperation, flailing my tiny arms and squealing in my wee piping voice that indeed, I have read books that reek of being "traditional" fantasy but which are not set in pseudo-England with Super Secret Farmboy King (tm) as the protagonist.

Hey, everyone, add some Richard Morgan to your TBR stack along with Kameron Hurley. Seriously, there are people doing this stuff you say no one does.


I'm not saying that it doesn't happen. I'm saying that people don't think of it as being traditional fantasy, which is ridiculous. If medieval Europe is supposedly traditional, then it should encompass all of Western Europe at least. And people need to stop calling EF traditional. High Fantasy, whether Epic or not, is what is traditional. Equating the two leads to an unacceptable stagnation of the genre when combined with the setting issue.

I like those settings, but I've never been convinced High and Epic fantasy had to take place in Shire 8472. Or that said shire couldn't at least have a tech level of about 1920 or more if the writer wanted. I read a lot of Tolkien fanfiction, one of the popular tropes is a coffee shop AU set in modern times. Modern AUs are big in the fandom, period. There's even Modern AUs that have the epic scope of LOTR. If a fan-fiction writer can do it, well, so can someone writing original works.

Weirdmage
03-27-2016, 02:49 AM
My main problem is that "traditional Fantasy" has in itself become a derogatary term. People who use the term may have different reasons for dismissing the Fantasy they are talking about, but I haven't actually seen anyone using "traditional" to describe Fantasy when they don't mean either "old-fashioned/bad" or exclusionary. (I've seen people using it in the exclusionary sense as that is something good...)

In the last five years the book I have read that was the most derivative, and had the shallowest described setting, was not set in a faux-Europe. ( I will of course not say what book I am talking about. RYFW.)

I've seen a tendency in some authors to feel they have done anough worldbuilding when they have presented a secondary world that is based on a non-European (Medieval) culture.

As someone who reads quite a lot of history, I'd also like to point out that neither the Medieval period nor Europe is as easily definable as many who criticise Epic Fantasy seem to think.
Nor is there been much popular Fantasy that copies Tolkien since the late 1970s. (There are some exceptions to that. Mainly The Eye of the World and the Dragonlance Chronicles. Both of which I found to be derivative to a level I personally found unnecessary.)
But then again, it's pretty clear that people will not agree on which books are unoriginal.

Roxxsmom
03-27-2016, 04:21 AM
I think one problem with "traditional fantasy" as a term is we don't all mean the same thing by it. To some, it's anything that resembles LoTR or D&D, with elves, dwarves, and lesser and greater races of "men" in a sort of heroic world that never was (and where most human people are white and the different fantasy races become stand ins for different human cultures). For others, it's synonymous with sword and sorcery. For others, it's a historically accurate medieval setting, however they understand that to be. For others it's any of a number of vaguely historical European historical or secondary world settings that exist prior to the industrial revolution. For others (this is mostly where I am), it's any pre-industrial, secondary world setting, which includes many books by Abercrombie, Weeks, Brett, Rothfuss, Hobb etc.

And as this thread indicates, many of the "traditional" settings people think are medieval, aren't really. We don't even all agree what medieval really is in terms of a type of setting. I can count on my fingers, probably, the well-known fantasy novels I think are *really* very like a particular time and place the European middle ages in terms of social organization etc. Katherine Kurt'z (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deryni_novels) books are among them, as are Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion novels (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curse_of_Chalion) (based loosely on the story of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon).

It's as bad as agreeing what the parameters truly are for "high" fantasy, "low" fantasy, "urban" fantasy or "epic" fantasy, and how (or whether) these categories can overlap. It gives me hives when an agent says they don't want "high fantasy" or they don't want "medieval fantasy" because while my novels are neither, by my understanding of what these things mean, some see any secondary world fantasy as high fantasy, and others think of medieval as any pre-industrial setting in a country that feels even a bit like Europe. The web has tons of different definitions for all of these things.

I tend to tell people, "I write secondary world fantasy" when they ask me, but that often gets blank stares.

AlecHutson
03-27-2016, 04:42 AM
Huge apologies for those who read my earlier post (since deleted) I must have been in a strange mood as I was definitely rude towards some very excellent writers.

zanzjan
03-27-2016, 05:07 AM
No worries, Alec. So: other than the Mieville (The City and The City is my personal fave of his thus far, but I haven't read his latest) what Fantasy authors are you liking?

AlecHutson
03-28-2016, 03:23 PM
Thanks Zanzjan - I really feel quite embarrassed, and you're being quite gracious.

If I was to make a list of my favorite fantasy books and writers I would say just off the top of my head:

China Mieville, particularly for his New Crobuzon stuff
George RR Martin for Game of Thrones (I love his short stories too)
Elizabeth Bear (pretty much everything she's ever written)
John Crowley for Little, Big
R Scott Bakker for his Prince of Nothing series
Guy Gavriel Kay, particularly Under Heaven and The Lions of al-Rassan
Susanna Clarke for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (awesome adaption by the BBC recently!)
Gene Wolfe's Books of the Long Sun
Roger Zelazny's Amber books
Kelly Link's, Lucius Shepard's, Roger Zelazny's and Jay Lake's short stories

I'm sure there's many more I'm forgetting but that's what comes to mind first

Amadan
03-28-2016, 10:58 PM
Maybe rather than "Tolkienesque" or "Western European (Medieval)" the term that really describes what we're talking about might be "AD&Dish."

FRPGs in general obviously owe their greatest debt to Tolkien, but have also assimilated everything from Arthurian legends to manga versions of feudal Japan to Robert E. Howard and his pulp contemporaries (who by the way should get nearly as much credit as Tolkien for stamping their mark on what is now "modern fantasy") into a big morass of what is recognizeably the sort of pastiche vaguely Western fantasy we're talking about. Not all of the big novels and series that have been referenced above are directly retreading Tolkien, many of them cannot accurately be described as "medieval," and most will give at least a nod to being not purely modeled after European history, but all of them would fit very easily into an AD&D campaign.

That's not necessarily a bad thing - the appeal of RPGs is being able to adapt your favorite settings and then adventure in them yourself - but I think AD&D has been around long enough that even for those who have never played it, the tropes of fantasy gaming have permeated the fantasy genre and now it's become a bit circular. (And of course, many modern fantasy authors are avid roleplaying gamers, and I think you'd find few who've never played even once.)

Galumph_Triumph
03-29-2016, 12:15 AM
I'm glad this thread exists. I'm a horror author but I've been developing a traditional, high-fantasy world for many years now, and I am so in love with it I want to turn it into a book (started off as a video game treatment). I'm concerned nobody will ever want to read it. It's about a medieval-ish fantasy land filled with enchanted forests, exotic creatures, populated mostly by humans and demons. It's very quaint and charming but also brutal; I'm trying to juxtapose the serenity of the landscape with the harsh reality of war and intrigue. Of course it's got a strong female protagonist with a few flaws, a farm boy who is thrust into greater world events (but thank god he doesn't have any secret magic powers and isn't the Chosen One of anything except milking cows), and a chubby, Samwise Gamgee-ish sidekick who is a bookworm that helps out with some of the lore.

Just typing that paragraph makes me want to quit forever. However I will say that I've got a Master's in History and am doing the PhD, so I'm aware of the Eurocentric nature of many fantasy books and I'm doing my best to avoid a lot of the cultural/religious cliches that are common in the genre. And I'm desperately trying to avoid having my villains being evil for evil's sake. Moral ambiguity ahoy!

Amadan
03-29-2016, 01:26 AM
That was kind of my point earlier - your fantasy is not going to be rejected just because it's a Europeanish medievalish fantasylandia (instead of octopus gods and lichen-beasts...) any more than a thriller is going to be rejected just because the protagonist is a square-jawed ex-military polymath trying to stop terrorists.

High-concept originality is overrated.

rwm4768
03-29-2016, 05:29 AM
I think having a non-traditional setting is more likely to get you requests for partials and fulls, but if the writing isn't good enough, you're not going to get an offer of representation or a publishing contract just because your setting isn't traditional.

Roxxsmom
03-29-2016, 05:37 AM
That's not necessarily a bad thing - the appeal of RPGs is being able to adapt your favorite settings and then adventure in them yourself - but I think AD&D has been around long enough that even for those who have never played it, the tropes of fantasy gaming have permeated the fantasy genre and now it's become a bit circular. (And of course, many modern fantasy authors are avid roleplaying gamers, and I think you'd find few who've never played even once.)

You make a good point, and of course many of the D and D ish tropes ended up in various MMOs and computer games, not just the ones licensed to use the D and D system (like Baldur's gate etc), but most of the others, from Everquest to WoW to Elder Scrolls to Dragon Age. They all seem to have some variant of elves, dwarves, humans, dragons, something resembling halflings, and samples from other familiar western fantasy "evil" races (orcs, ogres, trolls, undead, something catlike, something lizard like) that are at least somewhat inspired off the D and D model (more than Tolkien in most cases).

It's pretty common for brand new fantasy writers seeking critique for their ideas or opening chapters in online communities to adopt a sort of RPG-ish or fan fiction approach to world building and writing (and they are usually gently disabused of the idea or roundly mocked, depending on the kindness of the people providing feedback).

But in fact, most of the traditional fantasy (that I'm aware of, anyway) that's come out in the past 20 years hasn't been as D and D ish as the stuff from the 70s and 80s. Some people even post occasionally asking for recommendations for new novels that contain traditional fantasy races. "Where have all the elves gone?" they ask (though dragons seem to be going strong in one form or another).

It seems like the recent trend is towards worlds that are arguably more realistic, or less escapist at least. There seems to be less acceptance on fantasy writing forums for the inclusion of a world building element because it's fun or cool rather than consistent with the commenters understanding of a given historical period. "I'd wallbang a book that has X, Y, or Z" is a common comment. I saw a popular fantasy writer get a one-star review because the person in question thought the protagonist owned "too many books" for someone in a medieval society, for instance. Arguments tend to be over whether a given world building element is realistic or not, rather than "who cares if it's realistic? It's fun."

I'm not sure why this is, but maybe it's because fantasy and SF have become a bit more "respectable" as genres in recent years (so purely escapist stories are regarded with more disdain), or because YA fantasy has branched off and become a distinct (and very successful) category, so there's higher expectations of perceived realism placed on adult fantasy?

Amadan
03-29-2016, 08:57 PM
I dunno about that. I mean if someone wants to complain about a character having too many books in a "medieval setting" then that's just too bad. I would say, "You are willing to accept wizards and orcs but you draw the line at 'too many books'? C'mon!"

Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine, the argument that "If you have wizards and dragons, any sort of realism goes straight out the window anyway so you're just being nitpicky if you complain about implausible technology or nonexistent economies, etc."

Worldbuilding still requires consistency. All but the very hardest of hard SF/F has a few suspensions of disbelief which readers accept because of the genre, but there's a reason people will nitpick details even in a Godzilla movie (Godzilla breaks the laws of physics by orders of magnitude more than a dragon does) and wonder where the hay press is in Game of Thrones but accept dragons. The fact that you have dragons doesn't mean you get a pass on hay bales.

rwm4768
03-29-2016, 09:31 PM
Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine, the argument that "If you have wizards and dragons, any sort of realism goes straight out the window anyway so you're just being nitpicky if you complain about implausible technology or nonexistent economies, etc."

Worldbuilding still requires consistency. All but the very hardest of hard SF/F has a few suspensions of disbelief which readers accept because of the genre, but there's a reason people will nitpick details even in a Godzilla movie (Godzilla breaks the laws of physics by orders of magnitude more than a dragon does) and wonder where the hay press is in Game of Thrones but accept dragons. The fact that you have dragons doesn't mean you get a pass on hay bales.

But it can still be perfectly realistic to have a lot of books or large hay bales. There's no rule saying that a secondary world's technology has to be exactly the same as ours during a certain period.

Amadan
03-30-2016, 12:07 AM
But it can still be perfectly realistic to have a lot of books or large hay bales. There's no rule saying that a secondary world's technology has to be exactly the same as ours during a certain period.

Sure. But I was responding to the suggestion that someone who questions mass printing of books in a medieval world with magic is being persnickety.

I'll buy printing presses or hay presses in your world (or even infernal imps summoned to press hay and typeset pages) if you convince me you thought about it. But if I point out that your world does not show any evidence of having that kind of technology and you just say "Pshaw, magic!" then you lose me.

Roxxsmom
03-30-2016, 01:36 AM
Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine, the argument that "If you have wizards and dragons, any sort of realism goes straight out the window anyway so you're just being nitpicky if you complain about implausible technology or nonexistent economies, etc."

Worldbuilding still requires consistency. All but the very hardest of hard SF/F has a few suspensions of disbelief which readers accept because of the genre, but there's a reason people will nitpick details even in a Godzilla movie (Godzilla breaks the laws of physics by orders of magnitude more than a dragon does) and wonder where the hay press is in Game of Thrones but accept dragons. The fact that you have dragons doesn't mean you get a pass on hay bales.

True, but for whatever reason, fantasy readers didn't always worry as much as some do now about whether or not a fantasy economy that could support books (for instance) was adequately demonstrated in world building. It wasn't so much an argument based on "Dragons and orcs are unrealistic, so who cares about books?" as much as "Books are cool, and I relate to characters who like to read them, and anyway, the plot needs the main character to have access to them, so I'll assume there's an explanation for their presence, even if it's not given "on camera."

At some point, though, fantasy diversified, and some styles emerged that were more about presenting what the authors and fans thought (at least) were stark and realistic versions of life in the "middle ages." Whether or not these authors were always presenting things the way they really were, let alone the way they *had* to be is another question. But I think all readers are more likely to suspend disbelief or give the author world-building benefit of the doubt when an element hits their cool factor.

The thing is, I think we're seeing more readers whose "cool factor" is a starker, bleaker, less cozy version of life before industrialization. That's fine, but some of them seem to think that all readers and writers should have that same "cool factor," and they'll bend over backwards to try to convince everyone else that their "cool factors" are unrealistic, and therefore wrong. To some extent, they've been successful, which might explain the disappearance of some once-popular writers, and the exodus of others to romantic fantasy, YA fantasy, urban fantasy, or other genres entirely.


In the story in question, in fact, books weren't presented as being common in that part of the world. The character was wealthy and a scholar, and he went out of his way to track down and purchase rare books. That was good enough for me (and most of the readers, since it had an overwhelming number of 5-star ratings), but not that particular reviewer (who gave one of the few one star reviews).

kuwisdelu
03-30-2016, 10:03 PM
I think one thing I would add is that "consistency" can mean lots of things. It doesn't have to mean logical consistency. I've often described magic realism as using metaphorical consistency. Likewise, if a story operates on the rule of cool rather than logic, then that is still a kind of consistency.

Though I'm not sure anyone ever added hay bales for the coolness factor...

Amadan
03-30-2016, 10:22 PM
Some stories can get by on the "rule of cool," like superhero stories.

"Traditional" fantasy, though, usually exhibits detailed wordbuilding, meticulous magic systems, a history, and all the things that convince us that the author really wants us to believe in their world. That puts a burden on the author to make the world believable, notwithstanding suspensions of disbelief for magic and dragons, etc.

I have read a few books that got by on "cool" or "magical realism," but I've unfortunately read a few books (and more often, manuscripts, since they usually don't make it to publication) that tried to use "cool" or "magical realism" as an excuse for "I put whatever I want into my fantasy world and I don't want to have to justify it or make it make sense."

Magical realism, in particular, I think is really, really hard, and it's not at all the same thing as traditional fantasy.

Roxxsmom
03-31-2016, 12:00 AM
I think one thing I would add is that "consistency" can mean lots of things. It doesn't have to mean logical consistency. I've often described magic realism as using metaphorical consistency. Likewise, if a story operates on the rule of cool rather than logic, then that is still a kind of consistency.

Though I'm not sure anyone ever added hay bales for the coolness factor...

I actually had this scene where two characters were, um, interacting in a barn, and I started to default to them sitting on a hay bale to make it mechanically plausible without their either standing or lying on the rather dirty floor/ground. But then I started to think, wait, when were the things invented in our world? Oh, Eighteen seventy something? Yeah, that's quite a bit too early for the approximate period of technology, so, er, what? A tack trunk? No, that's kind of modern too. A saddle rack? No, that would probably collapse. So maybe a milking stool? Would that work, or would they fall over?

I agree that epic fantasy tends to involve a lot of world building, because the scope of the story is so huge that we see a lot of the world. But there's a fair amount of traditional fantasy that isn't epic (think of Beagle's The Last Unicorn). And I still think the standards for what is acceptably realistic has shifted a lot in recent years. I could see a lot of negative comments about Tolkien's world building, or even that of a number of more successful writers who started in the 80s or 90s, if they were starting out today.

There's also the issue of trying to feed those hints about the nature of your world or society into a story in manageable bites, but they "trickle" down some readers' chins.

For exampleI had one critting partner express surprise when they got to chapter 10 of one of my story set in a roughly early-modern era world, and a character was using a simple microscope. They didn't have those in the "middle ages" the reader said. Well, no, but my world also has printing presses (referred to obliquely in an earlier scene), lanterns with wicks (mentioned in an earlier scene), fireplaces (mentioned in an earlier scene) and firearms (mentioned in an earlier scene).

But for some reason, the microscope was what alerted this reader that the setting wasn't "medieval."

I also got a question about the society being sexually rather liberated. The reader asked, "Wouldn't they wait until they're married?" Quite aside from whether or not most people really waited in pre-industrial times in our world, in this world, the dominant religion is nothing like Christianity, and inheritance is matrilineal, so it makes sense they might have different sexual norms).

I'm not sure what to do about that kind of thing, as I write "in" pov, so I'm not going to include pages-long treatises about the level of social development, religion, and customs that my characters take as givens in their world.

At some point, I think we have to accept that some people expect certain things when they pick up a fantasy novel, and they don't want something that falls outside that. You can't please everyone.

PeteMC
03-31-2016, 06:22 PM
Even Martin's world isn't *really* medieval in all respects (http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/game-thrones-isnt-medieval-matters-83288) (I think I already posted this link up thread). Many things that people associate with the middle ages aren't really, or they were only present near their end.


That's a good article, thanks for the link.

I actually don't think I've ever read a real medieval fantasy setting, for all the heaps of Fantasylandia books I've read. I just don't think it would work.

A farm boy goes off on a quest? Oh no he doesn't, not in 1200 anyway - he'd have been a serf, probably a cottar or maybe a villein (if he was lucky), and bound to work the parcel of land he was allotted by his manorial lord. The only was he was going anywhere would be if his lord dragged him off to war, where he would die of dysentry.

Doesn't make for a great story...

benbenberi
03-31-2016, 11:48 PM
That's a good article, thanks for the link.

I actually don't think I've ever read a real medieval fantasy setting, for all the heaps of Fantasylandia books I've read.

The main setting of Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars series (King's Dragon is the first) is closely based on the Holy Roman Empire of ca. 900 AD, & even the Fantasyland divergences are meticulously worked out in a realistic-extrapolation way. Those books are a model of good use of historical research in a fantasy context. (So are many of her other books, but in this series the historical elements are particularly extensive and deeply explored.)


I just don't think it would work.

A farm boy goes off on a quest? Oh no he doesn't, not in 1200 anyway - he'd have been a serf, probably a cottar or maybe a villein (if he was lucky), and bound to work the parcel of land he was allotted by his manorial lord. The only was he was going anywhere would be if his lord dragged him off to war, where he would die of dysentry..

Funny you should mention farm boys questing in 1200 -- that was the very period when farm boys throughout Europe WERE thronging to the towns, and whole peasant communities were decamping to explore & colonize the forests of east central Europe (greater Germany). It was a period of rapid population growth and economic expansion, and also a time when customary labor exchanges were being monetized and transformed into cash payments and market transactions. In some places the heavy hand of manorial custom was burdensome, as you suggest, but that was far from universal in Europe. Traditional fantasyland stereotypes err in not doing enough research & sticking with shallow generic tropes, but that doesn't mean there's a problem with the source setting as a valid playground for a fairly traditional fantasy.

PeteMC
03-31-2016, 11:58 PM
The main setting of Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars series (King's Dragon is the first) is closely based on the Holy Roman Empire of ca. 900 AD, & even the Fantasyland divergences are meticulously worked out in a realistic-extrapolation way. Those books are a model of good use of historical research in a fantasy context. (So are many of her other books, but in this series the historical elements are particularly extensive and deeply explored.)


I haven't read any of her books - thanks, I'll check it out.



Funny you should mention farm boys questing in 1200 -- that was the very period when farm boys throughout Europe WERE thronging to the towns, and whole peasant communities were decamping to explore & colonize the forests of east central Europe (greater Germany). It was a period of rapid population growth and economic expansion, and also a time when customary labor exchanges were being monetized and transformed into cash payments and market transactions. In some places the heavy hand of manorial custom was burdensome, as you suggest, but that was far from universal in Europe.

Really? Oh okay, must admit I didn't know that - I was thinking of post-conquest England rather than Germany, admittedly, but that's still interesting to know. Thank you!

PeteMC
04-01-2016, 12:07 AM
I must admit I'm one of those people who will nitpick the hell out of details that don't make sense, like haybales and what not.

I mean, I'm fine if you've got something in your Fantasyland that was invented 'earlier' than it was in history, like a printing press or something, but *not* if your culture obviously hasn't invented the other things that are hard pre-requisites of the thing you *have* given them. That just doesn't work, and it will bug me.

Also military anomalies that make no sense - e.g. Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, much as I love it, has soldiers in 17th century-ish uniforms fighting with swords and bows and there are no firearms. So why isn't anyone wearing armour? It's not that it hadn't been invented, as at one point Logan actually mocks the faux-chainmail of a theatrical costume, saying it wouldn't be of any practical use because it was so skimpy. Fair point, but then they obviously know what armour is and should be like. But other than the King's elite guard, who never seem to do any actual fighting, no one ever wears armour. And as it's not like they can't afford it, either.

I suppose it doesn't really matter in the great scheme of things and I love those books, but things like that do break immersion for me a bit.

kuwisdelu
04-01-2016, 12:23 AM
"Traditional" fantasy, though, usually exhibits detailed wordbuilding, meticulous magic systems, a history, and all the things that convince us that the author really wants us to believe in their world. That puts a burden on the author to make the world believable, notwithstanding suspensions of disbelief for magic and dragons, etc.

I guess it also depends on who decides what "traditional" fantasy is, and how much one can diverge from that before it's no longer "traditional".

Roxxsmom
04-01-2016, 08:18 AM
I suppose it doesn't really matter in the great scheme of things and I love those books, but things like that do break immersion for me a bit.

Me too, though I think Abercrombie was all about deconstructing and satirizing traditional fantasy tropes with First Law, and the mix and match world building was an element of that. We weren't supposed to be completely immersed in the world building.

However, there is a thing in fantasy where a dominant world building element or premise (which may or may not be unrealistic at its core) creates ripples that permeate the rest of the story.

For instance, say the world has dragons, which are rather unrealistic (large, hexapedal, flying reptilian thingies that should be way too heavy to actually fly), but we willingly accept the unrealistic element, because it's necessary for the story, or because it's such a well-established trope, or because it hits our personal coolness factor.

In these cases, what knocks me out more than the unrealistic element itself is when that element doesn't create any ripples or changes that such a thing could realistically have been expected to produce were it present.

So, for instance, the story is set in this world where large, flying carnivores (dragons) that breathe fire are competing with humans for the top slot in the food chain. How might that affect culture, religion, architecture, technology, agriculture, population, weaponry, military tactics, population density and so on? Often, a fantasy world will have dragons (or magic, or a very different social milieu or whatever), but it's still just a generic fantasy world that's loosely modeled after some real historical era with no repercussions from the fantasy elements.

World building elements, imo, encourage one to think about the repercussions and resulting changes that could exist in such a world. I think all writers miss things, though, and sometimes the desire for a certain aesthetic will trump taking an idea to its logical extreme. How much a reader is willing to accept there may depend on the coolness factor as well as their own understanding (right or wrong) of history or the possible consequences of said fantasy element.

But problems arise when readers who have decided that a particular fantasy premise, whether it's dragons, or farm boys going on quests, or gender-equal cultures, or a type of magic, or something else at the heart of a particular story is not to their taste (or they simply think, rightly or wrongly, that it's too unrealistic for their personal taste). In these cases, even a well-constructed set of ripples or repercussions based on that premise won't satisfy. And maybe that's fine. Not everyone needs to like stories with dragons or whatever.