Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Broadsword, Flintlock or Fireball?

When I first started writing stories set in fantasy worlds, during childhood and my teens, they were pretty much mediaeval.  At least, the very first ones, when I was around seven or eight, had knights on horseback together with modern-style cities, because... well, why not?  By my teens, it had turned into very much the kind of mediaeval romance style of world that's been popular in fantasy at least since William Morris  ̶  bold knights, maidens in distress (though sometimes getting out of it themselves) and mysterious towers.

That's all very well, but by the time I was into my twenties, the model had changed to "good" countries full of turbulent politics and new ideas flying around and "evil" countries ruled by autocratic tyrants.  By now, I was heavily influenced by classical Greece, though with a fair amount of input from the Renaissance.

To some extent, that's remained my comfort-zone ever since, although there's a good deal more shades of grey now between the good and evil.  I don't follow my models in everything, of course.  I reserve the right to let my favourite societies manage without slavery, and I've allowed them to invent the printing-press before guns.  Still, these are the kind of cultures I enjoy writing about.

In the past few years, though, I've been branching out.  The stories set in my main world, about the Traveller and others, cover a very long period and, although I've perhaps been a little guilty of extending the pre-gunpowder iron age to the limit of credulity, it can't stretch forever  ̶  either way.

I've dabbled a little in neolithic and bronze-age stories, though I need to explore those more, but I've done more about bringing my world up to date.  Various stories have been set in the age of steam, an equivalent of the mid-20th century, and even in this world's own computer age, with one story (due to be published next year) managing to cover the ten thousand years between flint technology and computers.  Musa Publishing has just issued my long story, The Treason of Memory, set in the age of flintlocks and rapiers.  I have been known to describe it as flintlockpunk, but that's just a joke.

It's been huge fun to watch my world growing up, letting it parallel our own but keeping it sufficiently different not to be a straightforward copy.  Some of their
"modern" technology has taken a slightly different course  ̶  electric cars, VTOL planes, phones you wear on your wrist and the like  ̶  but it's essentially a similar world.

This isn't the only possible approach, of course.  I've also written a few stories set in a separate world where all modern-style technology is powered by magical principles, rather than scientific ones.  You set a spell in motion to start your car or your communication device, and the weapon of choice  ̶ roughly equivalent to anything ranging from a rifle to a machine-gun  ̶  is the fireball-thrower.

Nevertheless, my main interest is to examine one particular what-if  ̶  what if the world were essentially as it is (give or take the odd sorcerer or immortal, to create a bit of fantasy) but with all the details different.  Different landmasses, different cultures, different nations, different solutions.  How would it evolve?

I want to explore this further, although I'm not going to give writing in my "comfort-zone", but the options aren't limitless in either direction.  If we go far enough back that the characters know little more of their world than "the forest" or "the grasslands", how is that different from a story set in an equivalent period of our own world?  I have actually written something of the kind, about a group of palaeolithic hunter-gatherers.  It pleases me to define it as being set in my own world, but without anything clearly distinguishable (three moon, a blue sun or whatever) it could just as well be about the prehistory of this world.

On the other hand, there's only far I can go into the "future" without running into a similar problem.  There's some leeway, and it might be interesting to show them encountering issues we haven't yet, but by the time they've developed FTL travel, sought out new life and new civilisations and started their own Federation, I might just as well write straight SF.

Still, that leaves me with anything from urban neolithic to early space exploration, giving me room for a lot more exploration.  Pick a level of civilisation  ̶  there's something to be written about it.
Click here for The Treason of Memory in any ebook format.


1 comment:

  1. It's an intriguing concept--writing stories in the same world but in different eras. Not one a lot of fantasy writers have done this, though Brandon Sanderson's returned to his Mistborn world recently, and they've now entered the age of steam, it looks like (haven't read it yet).

    A lot of writers seem to have worlds with histories that stretch for thousands of years, yet nothing much seems to change. They're "still" somewhere in a nebulous Medieval/Renaissance. That doesn't seem quite realistic, magic or no magic. But I guess those authors want comfortable time buffers between the major story hubs in their worlds. And they have a comfort zone for world building, like you said. It is true that if people are really excited about the way you set up your world in a particular novel or series, they may be less interested in a future book set in a different era where the world and society is no longer recognizable.

    Reader expectations still seem to run towards the medieval in classic fantasy. And there are things "everyone knows" about the middle ages, that may not even be true, but they drive expectations, and readers can be thrown off by something they think doesn't fit with the era they assume you're presenting. Yet there are certain romanticized and patently unrealistic tropes in fantasy that nearly all readers accept.

    At some point, you just have to write it the way you want and hope enough readers will be on board with what you're trying to do.