Tags: fantasy rants: spring 2005


Writing fantasy without magic

Yes, before we start, just in case, I do believe it’s possible to write fantasy without magic, I don’t consider it an essential requirement of the genre, I don’t think that any novel set in another world but not using magic is therefore “historical,” blah blah blah. If you’re dead-set on convincing me that this isn’t true, save your keystrokes. I’m simply not going to agree. A novel set in a world with invented history, invented people, invented countries, and so on can be fantasy. It doesn’t have to be alternative history (particularly if it’s not closely based on an Earth country), and it doesn’t have to be science fiction (particularly if it doesn’t deal closely with science and the effects of science on human lives). Neither do we have to make up a whole new genre label just for these books.

So. What happens when you take away the magic but write in another world? I’ll be discussing that below. (I suppose there could be a way to write urban fantasy without magic, but as I can’t think of what then would separate it from a mainstream or mystery novel set in a city, I don’t discuss it).

Fantasy without magicCollapse )

A poll on ideas for the next rant will be up shortly.

Adult bildungsroman rant

It helps, I think, that a) I’ve been looking forward to this rant, and b) the fantasy books that I’ve enjoyed the most in the last month were both adult bildungsromans. One, Charles de Lint’s Memory and Dream, was a reread, and perhaps better than I remembered; the character’s adolescent past is entwined with recollections of her adult life, and she gets to see her mistakes in all their embarrassing detail before she gets to fix them. The second, Kim Wilkins’s The Autumn Castle, is wonderful for the consequences that linger on in the character’s life (despite what could have been typical Dead Parent Angst), for the different conception of Germanic(!) faeries, and for a portrayal of what really happens when adults act like spoiled children—or Mary Sues—in what the author aptly refers to as the “Real World.” I’ll be looking out for more of Wilkins’s books, definitely.

If you need a quick reminder of what a bildungsroman is, here’s the original rant I did on them, and here’s the definition: A novel whose principal subject is the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a usually youthful main character.

Doesn’t have to be youthfulCollapse )

Fantasy without magic is next.

City rant (part the first)

The first of two parts. There is just so much to be done here, and a lot of the information will be more or less useful depending on whether you’re writing urban fantasy set in another world or just using the city as a passing-through point.

CitiesCollapse )

I have more ideas, for the second part, but that’s enough right now.

Interesting city-oriented fantasies:

-Terry Pratchett’s Guards subseries of Discworld novels
-Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic duology
-Steven Brust’s first two Khaavren Romances, and certain books of his Vlad Taltos series (particularly Teckla, which deals with what happens when the despised human immigrants start revolting against the Empire—in the Empire’s capital city).
-K. J. Bishop, The Etched City.
-Paula Volksy, Illusion.
-Simon R. Green, Guards of Haven and Swords of Haven.

Deciding on your viewpoint character

This is just a list of questions, really. The answers will be different for each author, and it’ll all depend on the kind of characters you’ve created and the story you want to tell. I will give examples of considerations you might want to take into account and things I’ve seen that don’t’ work, but they’re examples rather than prescriptions; you may be able to make them work, and work very well.

Here’s hoping it will still be usefulCollapse )

Cities next, yay! (Probably a two-part rant).

Worldbuilding through layering

In case the title is confusing, I will say that this is a method of world-building which depends on little, tiny threads braided together at a time, or bricks of many different kinds piled on top of each other, or dozens of different kinds of food made into a meal (choose your favorite metaphor for writing). It does not rely on big honking tapestries and walls and meals that are just descriptions, or exposition, or history infodumps, or scenes of character introspection, or circular conversations. Some people can work like that. I can’t, and I also prefer to read books that don’t; while a book with big honking tapestries or walls or meals of [insert writing technique here] might have plenty of virtues, I consider the big chunks a neutral feature at best, not a recommendation. To add yet a fourth metaphor, I prefer books that are like Arabians rather than Clydesdales.

And now that I have thoroughly confused you, on to the rantCollapse )

A lot of this is tied up with plot, character, and setting, I notice. Well, done properly, a book will be that tapestry or brick wall or gourmet meal, not a bunch of loose ends or tumbled stones or sardines next to ice cream. And Arabian-like fantasies that move, touch on aspects of world-building, race away and circle back, light and swift, have always been my favorite kind.

Brutal fantasy rant

Ah, here we are.

Just as with the rant on transformative fantasy, I’m essentially defining a subgenre here. As with transformative fantasy, it’s a subgenre I like, and one that a lot of the fantasy books I love fall into. This means that I burble.

Like, a lot. As in, this isn’t as much of a rant as a long, long stream of burbling.

Brutal fantasyCollapse )

Several of the brutal fantasies I like—especially Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series—get slapped with the labels “depressive” and “horrible.” But that’s the point of not flinching, of stirring up the shitstorm and then facing it, of using dilemmas instead of imagining a way out of them. There’s plenty of comfort-oriented and happiness-oriented fantasy out there. I think this subgenre deserves a place, too.

Other brutal fantasies:

Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God series
Carol Berg’s Rai-kirah books, especially the second one (Revelation)
Sarah Micklem, Firethorn
Glen Cook’s Black Company series, especially She Is The Darkness

Other fantasy education ideas

The last of the education rants, on ideas that don’t fit anywhere else. Some of these actually present more flexible plots than the academies or schools, I think; a lot of the school fantasies end up sounding the same. (Of course, one could argue that that’s a convention of the genre, but in that case I would prefer to read a less conventional genre).

Fantasy education: MiscellaneousCollapse )

*checks poll* The rant on surprise endings and in-story revelations is next.

Magic education rant

The mage education rant, once again focused on training a protagonist in ways that will not trigger my automatic KILL reaction.

Fantasy education: MagicCollapse )

“Magical training” really should be magical training as often as possible, not just an excuse for random episodes of platitude prattle in between the protagonist flinging fireballs, meeting her one true love, and saving the world from the Dark Lord. *pokes books like that*