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Fantasy with industrial and social revolution

  1. Sep 30, 2013 #1


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    Despite the 20+ answers in this thread I think most of us would agree that life for 99% of fantasy world inhabitants would be awful. Strip away the royal courts, the fellowships, the magic schools etc and most of the time you're left with a feudalistic world full of peasants that have to work 10 hours a day to not starve and will most likely die of infection the next time a bandit cuts them during a highway robbery. Either that or when the local lord has the daughter of a neighbouring count executed the peasants get to don heraldry and hack at each other in fields in a militia. Or when an Orc eats them.

    Pre-industrial societies were/are full of hardship. If nature didn't kill you through disease or exhaustion your fellow man would because he's your lord and he doesn't like the look of you or he's a different lord who doesn't like the look of your lord. I'm getting pretty bored of this to be honest and would love to find a novel/series that's primary focus is a fantasy world experiencing industrial revolution, political revolution or both. Things like steampunk or arcanepunk are close but generally the respective mechanisation and magical revolutions are artefacts of the setting and the stories don't focus on this.

    I've just finished the first merchant princess omnibus by Charles Stross that is tantalisingly close (it features a family capable of jumping between alternate universes, one of which is ours and the other two are pre-industrial alternate versions of history), hoping the rest of the series will expand.

    Even if you don't know of any I've got a related question: why is so much fantasy routed in either a static feudal or urban setting? Given that a lot of science fiction and fantasy comes out of the US (a country that fought to get away from monarch and establish a radical-for-the-time republic) and the UK (a country that spawned the industrial revolutions) it's a strange trend that I can't fathom.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
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  3. Sep 30, 2013 #2

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    The appeal of the middle ages as they never were is as good a fantasy as, say romance novels.

    The novel I would like to see is one where the rightful ruler of the realm is a bumbling idiot and the hated usurper is actually fairly good at ruling a kingdom.
  4. Oct 13, 2013 #3


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    Hasn`t that been done with say Robin Hood, who keeps the Sheriff of Nottingham in check along with the assumed ruler ( name = ? ), and saving the poor villagers, all the while when the abscent good King Richard is away on a quest.

    Maybe the fantasy is about how one person can change the world through honesty and integrety and all those other good qualities the hero is supposed to possess, and a backdrop of knights in shining armour gives the plot that advancement without explanation. White is good. Black is bad. Think Star Wars. ( where I used to wonder what do the regular folk think about all this fighting and mayhem )

    (Although not science fiction, Zorro, turns the white/black on its head, but it is still one man fighting against evil.)

    You want your hero to be good so donning him in chivalry promotes the fantasy and all the other stuff comes along for the ride.

    Just putting some ideas out there.
  5. Oct 19, 2013 #4


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    I really have trouble with the simplistic middle-ages like settings, and see it as just that --- simplistic, easy to manage, easy to create contrast and romanticism. But I'm not an ardent fantasy fan so that may be an oversimplification.

    The Stross's Merchant series at least managed to contrast the multiple societies in an interesting way - not a bad read.
  6. Oct 20, 2013 #5
    I have a large fantasy setting that I've taken from the early bronze age to the steampunkish industrial age. I basically started with a prototypical Tolkien-esque world, then began giving it kinks and quirks to make it interesting. This basically means the dwarves became ancient Greeks (Gylippus' Sicilian campaign turned into Glyphios' Katalian campaign), the halflings became Persian-like empire builders, elves turned into Canadian Native Americans with strict population control, there are two human nations (the Wends and the horselord culture Arcmalians). There are no evil races and eventually they began to merge and form trans-racial societies. The real game changer is when pseudo science starts to manipulate with the Medium (think late 19th Century aether theory becoming a reality). They use this to power various contraptions, use it to bend light which creates strong lenses that leads to invetions of microscopes. There's also a boom in Biochemistry and they start tinkering with Lycanthropy to create super soldiers and various other variations.

    I'm always open for suggestions; I will definitely give Stross a read.
  7. Oct 20, 2013 #6
    Don't get it MartinV...
    When does the story exactly start? How much is historical background and how much is active story telling?

    One of the major hiccups seems the depiction of the transition...it has to be balanced...the things are important to the structure of story but from what you have written it seems too monotonous- you will probably have to provide disjointed short stories to achieve that balance or rely on fragmented narration by the characters and sometimes by the narrator. So which one are you going to go with? Or do you have something else in mind?

    Another thing is where is this all leading? Whatever you do, there has to be some kind of objective to be accomplished at the end. Super soldiers indicate a war- for what objective? Is their going to be a struggle to end a war, attempt to start one or stop it before it starts?
    The base story seems great but also a bit bulky- you may have to trim a few things down... A common mistake is stringing together stories which are beautiful individually but together some of them seem extraneous.

    Anyway, have fun tinkering with your ideas!
  8. Oct 20, 2013 #7
    You need to learn to distinguish between a plot and a setting, Enigman. I see this thread being about settings, not plots. I described the basics of my setting and hinted at how the technological development might affect the story. I would need to write down a whole lot more to give you a feel of the entire gradual transition, not to mention the story itself.

    But I did manage to succeed in making you curious about it. That's a good start. :biggrin:
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2013
  9. Oct 29, 2013 #8
    "Even if you don't know of any I've got a related question: why is so much fantasy routed in either a static feudal or urban setting?"

    Personally i'm not glad that they invented gunpowder for example, medieval settings have many advantages, lots of unexplored wilderness, good swordsfighting (magic healing against infections...) a world rather alien from us.
    Otherwise i have no trouble with a victorian setting.
  10. Nov 1, 2013 #9


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    Much of Theodore Sturgeon's work is more like fantasy than SF, and is set in modern (in his day) settings. Though he will often put a half hearted scientific gloss on it, the un-real have more of a magical feel to me, as does the story construction.
  11. Nov 1, 2013 #10


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    There's also Magic, Inc. by Heinlein, which features, if memory serves, a political revolution for the control of magic in a modern society.
  12. Nov 1, 2013 #11


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    and a lighter vein, Harry Potter...
  13. Dec 20, 2013 #12
    Because both powerful magic and quickly developing technology would be an overkill? And mass produced wands are not cool.

    For non static, Witcher setting (according to book series which was not yet published in English):
    -one character mentions historical processes as inevitable which would replace old monarchy with republic and supports it because considers masses as easier to manipulate (as an author joke this character is a traitor and an adversary of protagonists)
    -a gnome mentions that a sword found in catacombs is indeed old because of primitive technology
    -dwarves are approaching industrial revolution, humans built sewage treatment facility
    -elves try to spy from humans crop rotation
    -new weapons (tiny crossbow and kind of thrown blades are being introduced as new inventions)
    -magic is clearly an experimental endeavour, not just reading ancient books
    -gender equality is a recent innovation within setting, to not all characters perceive it as good idea
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013
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