Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Evolution of Fantasy

Today, I've been thinking about some of my many ideas for additional fantasy stories, and one thing I've noticed is that a lot of them involve non-standard fantasy settings. Mainly, I like ideas that fuse fantasy and science fiction, or even fantasy worlds that have modern-day technology levels.

When I think about what I've read, though, I don't see very many stories like this. So much secondary-world fantasy has a somewhat medieval settings. Sure, there are some variations on this, but most fantasy still features a quasi-historical period more than five hundred years old. Why, when you have all of history to draw from, when you're writing a genre with limitless possibilities, do you see so many settings that are so similar?

Some of it likely comes from the popular beginnings of the fantasy genre. Just look at the biggest influences. The Lord of the Rings has a setting that appears largely medieval. No guns. No modern technology. The same could be said for writers like Robert E. Howard, whose Conan stories have had such a huge influence on the Sword and Sorcery sub-genre.

The authors who followed in these traditions largely stuck with familiar settings. Even to this day, there are few authors who make a major break from the pseudo-medieval fantasy world. I'm not saying they're all medieval fantasies, but that there are general technological and cultural conditions that seem to be most prevalent in fantasy.

Recently, though, I have encountered a few authors who are beginning to take fantasy in new direction. Brandon Sanderson's second set of Mistborn books is set in a world with a late 1800s level of technology. Brent Weeks, Brian McClellan, and Django Wexler have written gunpowder fantasies. For me, stories like these are a breath of fresh air. It's nice to see people doing something different with the genre. Not that I don't like standard fantasy settings. There's just more out there.

However, I still don't see people taking the kind of steps I'd be interested in seeing. Sanderson has said he has intentions of doing this with his Mistborn series. There should be another set with a somewhat modern level of technology, and then a futuristic setting, but these are a long time down the road, and they're different eras in an already established world.

This all leads me to think there's a major hole in the fantasy genre. Most of the "science fantasy" stuff tends to be a far future with fantasy elements. That's fine, but I'd also like to see completely secondary world settings that are more modern, or even futuristic.

If anyone knows of books along these lines, I'd love to find out about them.

Of course, this does give me an idea of what I might choose as my next writing focus. I have no idea if there's a market for these stories just yet, but it's something I want to see.

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