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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Examples of Fantasy NOT set in feudal times?

   
Author Topic: Examples of Fantasy NOT set in feudal times?
jackonus
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Okay, maybe feudal is the wrong word, but are there any fantasy stories you know of set in a period other than where horses are the main mode of transportation (after dragons) and all roads are actually "paths?"

Is there any good reason why the "formula" has to include pre-industrial civilization as the core?

I'm sure someone's written one of these in a modern setting, but I sure haven't run across it. Let me know if you have, please!

Thanks, Bob


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Survivor
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Magic.

Or, to expand the point a little, there is a famous saying.

quote:
A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
I would point out that the inevitable correlary of this is that magic is therefore indistinguishable from an advanced technology. In fact, the magic in my world is all based on a hypothetical advanced technology (or several, actually).

In our own history of technological advancement, the key turning point in exiting the middle ages was the migration of intellectual effort and brilliant minds from various other professions to investigation of technology. There are several other avenues to pursue, like law, or theology, or philosophy, or various forms of magic. All of our legal theories are derived from, and often inferior to, theories that were first developed thousands of years ago. The same is true of theology (or Christian theology anyway) and philosophy. Modern philosophers may have written more (or perhaps it is simply that more of the ancient works are lost) but they have nothing on Socrates and Sun-Tzu.

The entire problem with magic is that it doesn't really work, or at least, it doesn't really work in our own world. But if it did, then there would never have been a movement away from it, the most learned and able would all have been drawn into magical technologies (technology meaning know how) and there would never be any impetus for development of the working technologies we are familiar with.

Actually, I have to mention something funny that your first paragraph made me think of. See, in my world, no one rides dragons, of course, but they also don't ride horses, unless they're a servant of the horse in question. The Rhunhanin have never lost a battle on the open plain, and they're not likely to, all things considered, so there are no slave horses.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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The fantasy story, first and foremost has it roots in fairy tales, and to the English speaking audience of the world, fairy tales come from one place: The Grimm's brother's vision of a magical medieval Europe.

Later J.R.R. Tolken had the idea( and he wasn't the first) to take many of these mythical figures and create a story around them. He did it with such vividness and power that his kind of story became the archtype for the fantasy genre.

Look closer, and you will notice that even within the medieval period that most fantasy's are set in, there are differents. The dragonlance books have sort of a dark ages feel, while something by Anne Mccafferry has more of a Camalot sort of setting. My own fantasy story I'm working on it more based on Roman and Greek levels of culture. A lot of the period of the tradition fantasy depends who what cultural source you draw from.

As far as "modern fantasy" goes--set in today, I don't see how you can't find any. It's seems that is all that gets published these days, (I don't like them at all, so maybe that's why I know every time one comes down the pipe). I'll post of list of stories that are New York City with elves running around stories.

Then there are, like Survivor, the backwards technology storeis, where the world once was highly advanced (like a sci-fi city) and then destruction reigns down and the peoplestart over. Thus, the first back in history you go, the more sci-fi like the book becomes.

Lastly, if you want to see some really great fantasy that doesn't follow the medieval style stuff, go buy a Sony Playstation and buy Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. Their prices are falling these days, so it shouldn't cost an arm and leg. These are fantasy games set in the FUTURE, where magic and spaceships exist side by side. The story and characterization are excellent, and just playing these games could give you tons of ideas about where the genre could go.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Recent Modern Fantasy novels.

King Rat by China Mieville
Changer by Jane Lindskold
The Lake Dreams the Sky by Swain Wolfe
The Gumshoe, The Witch and The Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman
The Wild Swan by Peg Kerr
The Border by Marina Fitch
Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein
Chocolat by Jonna Harris
The Marriage of Sticks by Jonathan Carroll

All these books were published 1998/1999. The only one I've read myself is The Border, which I did not like, but as I said in the other post, I have something against fantasy set in modern day America. All these books did get glowing reviews in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, you check them out at your discretion.


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Survivor
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An important note for Final Fantasy, get someone else to play it, and have them tape the storyline elements and one each of the battle sequences. Those games are so much more fun to watch than to play it's not even funny. Lovely graphics, compelling storylines, and nightmarishly repetetive gameplay.

I have to note that my first post was in answer to the second question, whether there was some logical reason for fantasy to always be set in a medival setting.


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Jeannette Hill
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Personally, as far as fantasy in a modern setting, I like Charles de Lint. I have read a few 'one-shot' books that I like, but my favorite is called _Beyond the Pale_. I can't remember the author's name just now. Really what it is, is one of those "modern people sucked into a Fantasy world", but it's really done well and I liked it very much.

As far as, "do fantasy novels have to be set in medieval settings," it's more like this:
with magic making so much happen, mechanical, (I should say, "non-magical") technology isn't really necessary. I mean, if you can snap your fingers and transport yourself to your friend's house, do you need a car?
A friend of mine made up an AD&D world in which different parts of Earth's history were "rifted" into an alternate world, (sort of like Turtledove's Videssos Cycle, but whole regions were transported, not just a group of people). The latest transplant was from the American Civil War. It was interesting to watch Europeans deal with a world in which the Ghost Dance worked.

Anyway, technology developed out of necessity/curiosity. If you have magical powers, (not just old tech. that they don't understand how it works), you don't need cars.

Jeannette


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Yeah, that's the one thing. FF wasn't exactly "fun" to a play as a game. The story and characters where the only reasons to continue playing those games for the 60-70 hours it takes to beat theam.
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Survivor
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Of course, that brings up an interesting point. Er, I mean, Jeanette's point brings up an interesting point. Why do they have turbolift's in Star Trek? I can understand that the Jeffries(sp) tubes are for crawling around and fixing things when the power is out, but the turbolift can't work without power, has to take up a fairly good volume, and is slower than a site to site transport.

I just thought of that because of Jeanette's comment, not because it's important. Or actually, it is.

Basically, if there is a working magical way to accomplish something, then any alternative technological way to accomplish the same thing must have some advantage. Now take site to site transports. They are probably expensive in terms of energy consumption (which is also probably the reason that they usually use the transporter room for transports, it's probably about half the energy cost). So if the turbolift, a more conventional technology, gives a significant energy savings, then it's probably worth it.

Basically, we would expect to see technology only developed for those things which were just easier to do without magic. Which makes it important to figure out what magic use costs. Is it a natural ability that gets stronger with use? That means that the cost is dealing with some self important gifted person if you don't have magic yourself, and the envy and distrust of everyone else if you do (or maybe you pay the requisite price in being nice all the time).

Also, there are "precursor" technologies. It may be convenient to use cars or computers instead of magic, but cars and computers would never have been developed but for cruder, less efficient technologies. Cars probably wouldn't have been developed if locomotives hadn't been invented, and computers wouldn't have developed without encryption devices and the need for various other data processing machines. If you have, say, telepathy, then computers don't develop, even though they would be helpful. Likewise, if there is no industrial revolution, burning coal, making steel with the Bessemer Process, steam engine, then you don't get locomotives or cars.

It's interesting to note how divergent Russian and American space technologies are, for instance. Russian launch vehicles are almost invariably more powerful and robust. American electronics are far more sophisticated. Russian air superiority fighters are built for dogfighting, American fighters are built for stealth and far horizon missile kills. It's not just a matter of 'national character' or anything, either. Each side was commited to a path of technical development by their weakness in one area and strength in another. Building up the strengths to overcome the weaknesses accentuates the initial difference.

Interesting stuff.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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I read a story recently about magical power and technological power. It was called the Garden of Stone, and it was pretty good. In the book there was many alternate verisons of the same world, and in the main one the author focused on, the people used Mindpower, magic, for everyday life. They created a strict set of laws called Limits that must be obeyed. It was like a tradition, a religion, and a government's laws all in one, and it forbid handpower-- any technological advances.

Anyway, the characters cross over into a world where the other route was taken and the world resembles a modern day Earth, and the characters make the point that magic and technology can't exist together because of the power structure that they each use. Magic based societies are always exclusive, the people who know the secrets of magic have all the power, and the non magic users all considered inferior. Technology is available to everyone, and so everyone has an equal opperunties. The book went in to much greater detail that I am here, but I thought it was interesting anyway. Why would a mass society continue to pratice a system that only let a few people control power when they could use a system where everyone benfits?

[This message has been edited by TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove (edited July 25, 2000).]


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Jeannette Hill
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Sounds a little like Dune. They had some technology, but the laws forbade "intelligent machines"-- computers and such. This series should be required reading for any SF writter. Frank Herbert was a genius.


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jackonus
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Dune! Of course. And, I guess Star Wars too had technology and "magic" elements. Hmm...

Anyway, just a comment on DUNE, I liked the first book a great deal. Thought the 2nd was okay. Never finished the 3rd and gave up following it afterwards. It had my complete and utter interest in the first installment. I still think that's one of the best SciFi books ever written. I have to wonder, thought, if old Frank didn't just get bored with the whole idea later on?

And, did he have ANYTHING to do with that horrible movie version? One more person's whispered voice-overs and I think I might've actually thrown something at the screen. Saw it recently again on TV. That did nothing good for it either. Now we have whispered voice-overs from people who are off screen thinking about whatever danger they've gotten into.

I liked the mentats, but otherwise, garbage.

"My name is a killing sound!"

"We are the knights who say... 'Ni!'"

[This message has been edited by jackonus (edited July 27, 2000).]


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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I liked the movie Dune. The short verison, at least.

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Survivor
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I have to agree with Jack, though, "Ni" is a much cooler 'killing sound' than Muad'ib. I mean, that was just dumb.

"Ni!"

"Ohh! Do your worst."

"Very well. Ni! Ni!"

"No! No shrubbery."

"Ni!..."

"Nu!"

"No, no, it's not Nu, it's Ni!"

Ah, that's such a great scene.

Seriously, though, let's say that there was a system where power and priviledge were concentrated in a specific class of person (and we don't have to assume that it would be on the basis of something as defensible as mental ability, either). Let's say that if you were born to a certain class, then you would be granted greater political power and material wealth, and if you were born to the highest class you would pretty much be the absolute ruler of anyone of a lesser class once you had gained your majority.

Of course, we've seen a number of societies just like that. They persist because the people with the political power find the system rewarding. The people that don't have as much political power have to risk death just to suggest that there is an alternative, let alone do anything to actually change society.

If there were a society in which the most naturally gifted, or mentally disciplined, or most intelligent people were in charge of everything, how hard is it to imagine that they would like to keep the system the way it was? And it's easily defensible as a proposition for a ruling class, far more so than the idea that the ruling class should be chosen by birth.

In fact, there is a similar mindset in the community of legal scholars, if you look at their writings. They feel that it's only natural that they should be the ones, not just to defend the laws, but to decide what those laws ought to be. The entire point of the Supreme Court nowadays is to pass judgment on legislation (you might think this a silly point, since many people believe that is the Constitutionally mandated role of the Court, but it's not). In fact, if you look at the arguments they use in their decisions, they talk more about what the Constitution ought to say, according to their own ideas, than what it actually says. And, of course, they are in power, despite the fact that it's a violation of Constitutional principle, and they'll stay in power, because Justices are chosen from the community of lawyers, and that won't change (it would be politically impossible to get someone that had no legal credentials onto the court).

So you see, it's really not that hard to imagine. We live under a similar system of elite government ourselves, and most of us condemn anyone that suggests that it should be otherwise (I'm just the same, but then, I tend to criticize everyone).

Here's a notion. What if the power to perform supernatural deeds were inextricably connected with adherence to a particular philosophical or spiritual outlook? I'm thinking of something like Taoism, since most theistic religions hold that it's really God that does all the work.

What if Taoism were true? What if, by being all in line with the universe, you could perform miracles and stuff?

(note that you will have to read the Tao Te Ching or a reasonable translation to understand the gist of this, I've found a whole collection of them at http://www.edepot.com/taotext.html )


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jackonus
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From the Dao: (Muller translation, 1997)

3
If you do not adulate the worthy, you will make others non-contentious.
If you do not value rare treasures, you will stop others from stealing.
If people do not see desirables, they will not be agitated.

Therefore, when the sage governs,
He clears peoples minds,
Fills their bellies,
Weakens their ambition and
Strengthens their bones.

If the people are kept without cleverness and desire
It will make the intellectuals not dare to meddle.

Acting without contrivance, there is no lack of manageability.


Holy Cr@p!!! This is strange stuff. I dont' know whether to be afraid & run away or just teach through silence.

If I may summarize, keep the people stupid and you can rule over them more easily. But be sure to provide plenty of food.


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Survivor
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You need to read a more plainspoken version. I found one somewhere that was in sixties anarchist beat sectarian jargon that was pretty cool (if heavily loaded with profanity and not entirely true the the spirit of Tao).

Basically, the point of the passage mentioned is, "Let people alone, and don't be rousing them up with things that they do not care about. It is not the way of the master of Tao to think that he is clever, he only thinks of being like everyone else. When the people follow him, they become strong and fat (this is sort of Chinese in flavor, and nothing can change that)."

Oh, no, it's not that hard. Being satiated has a more direct link in Chinese thought to being fufilled, in a more emotional sense. Okay, to continue: "Once the leader has enough, everyone has enough. When the people are fufilled, they are too wise for the crafty lawyers and learned doctors. Being content with what they have, they have more than enough."

Yeah, silly and utopian. There's a couple of commentaries and Taoist legends that sort of clear up that idea. Actually, the Ching points out that the sage is never the governor of anyone but other sages, and never teaches anything that is not already known. There's no way to make rational sense out of the Tao Te Ching. It's all like that.


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Survivor
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By the way, has anyone mentioned Tea with the Black Dragon? That's a pretty good one, and there's a review of it right here in the lost books section of the site, called Lost Books - Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy appropriately enough.

I read it some years ago (found it in the dayroom of a mental patient ward at some hospital, as I recall...nice doctors, but apparently they were a little puzzled as to why I was actually there, not that I blame them )


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Albatross
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I suppose OSC's Alvin Maker series would qualify - it's a fantasy set in early America. Also, Washington Irving's stories (Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow). I'm playing around with a fantasy that draws on a lot of Hawaiian elements. A volcanic region, little people called menehunes. I'm still evolving this world, so I don't know exactly what I'll end up with. I think it's coming out this way because I have actually been to Hawaii and found the landscape fascinating. Much more interesting (to me) than medieval Europe. Of course elements of many traditions are blending themselves in my work. I just hope I can make a convincing and wonderful world out of it all. My hubby is helping me take into consideration geology, politics, economy, geography, etc. I think that if an author can fully imagine the landscape, it is easier to develop the cultures/characters that would evolve in such a setting. And it doesn't have to be your traditional medieval setting.
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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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I've found a game called "Chrono Cross" and it is far and away the best "fantasy" video game I've ever seen, and at it's heart is one of the best, most orginal storylines in a fantasy, ever.

If you like fantasy at all, you must play this game. Everything about it, including the story is just masterfully done, and all with a fresh new orginality. You won't find any Tolkenish stuff going on here. Some of the "ideas" may be familar to you, if you read fantasy and sci-fi but there are so many, and so well interwoven and well-connected it just comes off as an incredible experience.

I haven't quite finished it yet, but I'm getting close to the end, and I have been **inspired.** If I can keep the creative spirit that went into making this game in my mind when I decided to write my own stories, I know I won't have to worry about making anything that's a copy of what's been done before.


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TheUbiquitousMrLovegrove
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Ohhhh.. I forgot this thread had the discussion about Tao! Hey, I've started reading some of it, and trying some exercises and stuff, and things I want to happen are beginning to fall into place.
At least, I hope so.


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jackonus
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So, you've won the lottery while not wanting to.
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Survivor
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Or, in a more Taoist sort of bent, he's stopped wanting the win the lottery and started only wanting to spend frugally, and thus he gets what he wants more easily...of course, if he wins the lottery he'll be in serious difficulty now
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jackonus
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Tao versions of popular songs:

"You can always get what you want,...if you adjust your desires to match current circumstances"


"I can't get (anything but) Satisfaction."

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. And that's fine with me."

"Like floating under a bridge over untroubled waters."

"Girls just wanna have fun" -- well okay, that one just fits any philosophy.


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joanuvark
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oh, i just though't i'd say that the Harry Potter books are a prime example of modern day fantasy. i didn't even think of that untill about two days after i read this thread, and i'm reading them right now, but anywho
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