Discussion of modern fantasy

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Frogger5
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Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Frogger5 » January 1st, 2011, 3:43 am

I personally think that modern fantasy writing is going downhill, and the best fantasy novels you can read were published 8+ years ago.
Wanting to become a fantasy and sci-fi writer myself, my biggest fear is ending up at the bottom of the hill as well. What I want to know, is what modern fantasy writers are doing wrong, which areas are really lacking, and how you can write a fantasy series that appeals to an older and wider audience.
I know there are some people on this forum that have fantasy writing dreams as well, and enjoy reading fantasy.
If anyone has any rants on this matter I'd love to hear them. :D

What do people think?
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by PeterPorty » January 1st, 2011, 4:12 am

Not all, but a LOT of modern fantasy just copies already pre-made stereotypes of... everything, they no longer create a world, with unique races, characters, it's always the same old fashioned thing. At some point the savage orcs against the highly respectful elves was fun, but that was ONCE, in ONE world created by ONE author. How come nobody has thought about the peaceful, yet primitive beasts with 4 legs and 2 arms that live in poorly made cities? Or the Extremely intelligent shadowlings that feed off light, and therefore live in the middle of the desert, hunting for the little resources they need other than light, and fighting the menace of mercenary elves trying to expand their horrible full-of-trees forests? Of course this again is a generalization, but in my opinion, new fantasy authors are just too influenced by older texts.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Frogger5 » January 1st, 2011, 4:28 am

Indeed. Tolkien and such ideas are being recycled over and over again to the point where you know exactly whats going to happen. Which of course takes away all the excitement.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by thespaceinvader » January 1st, 2011, 9:47 am

Don't tar every author with the same brush. Read Brandon Sanderson. Read Patrick Rothfuss. Read Robin Hobb. Then say that.

There are a lot of crappy generic fantasy authors. But that's true of any genre. I wonder whether they tend to show up more in fantasy and sci-fi, though, due to the less-rigorous process of editing for a smaller market, and due to the paucity of truly great authors at any given time.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by johndh » January 1st, 2011, 2:36 pm

Personally, my favorite part of fiction is the world-building aspect, and a lot of generic post-Tolkien fantasy authors just recycle the same basic setting, even down to very specific details about races (elves and dwarves hate each other). If you want to write a novel set in Middle Earth or Greyhawk, then it's called fanfic, but copy the setting and rename it to something else and you're a "legitimate fantasy author". I have no problem with a bunch of stories from different authors in the same setting, as it builds upon that setting and expands the existing mythos while allowing the stories to be connected (Drizzt can stumble upon the aftermath of something that Sarevok did), and it does so at the opportunity cost of creating a new and unique world. Coming up with a new world every time allows for a variety of interesting settings and new possibilities, and does so at the opportunity cost of having consistency and connectivity between the stories (Jango Fett is Wolverine's grandson?). Copying an already existing setting and calling it something different has the worst of both worlds -- it has neither innovation nor connectivity. On top of that, they usually seem to leave out what really makes the source material great in the first place. It's like they think "Middle Earth has elves and wizards -- cool, I'll copy that", which is completely missing the point. Elves and wizards are not why Middle Earth is awesome!

It's interesting that this is so common in fantasy, but not so much in, say, science fiction. They may copy many of the same themes and ideas, but I don't think a sci-fi author can really get away with putting an order of psychic space wizards with plasma swords into his story and calling it anything other than Star Wars. Then again, the whole "space marine" video game genre is getting a little old, so maybe I'm wrong. :hmm:
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Velensk » January 1st, 2011, 3:41 pm

After I finished typing this post, I realized that it had gone on quite a bit longer than I had intended. It may be quite rambling.

I have read something from the first one at least and I actually did not enjoy it as I started to see more of it. The last one looks familiar but I can't bring any books to mind.

For me it just seems as though editors (and maybe some authors) from many major publishing houses are looking for different things I'm looking for in the same way many readers seem to be looking for different things. I don't really expect an author to write books for me because when it comes to it, I'm a rather difficult reader to satisfy.

Many of the style choices / approaches to appeal that several authors take fall flat for me when there is no objective reason why they should. I mentioned that I tried the Brandom Sanderson book 'The Way of Kings' before and if I try to puzzle out why I put it down exactly halfway through I can only come up with a large number of minor disjointed facts. The narrative jumps around through time in space in a way I find disconcerting and occasionally spent a great deal of time away from the person you managed to just get me interested in to meet someone else whom I have little interest in, I cannot get a handle on how the magic in the world works, the fact that one of the cultures in the world apparently as a taboo against walking on stone because it is sacred, the world building feels vaguely like something from a video game without offering a good explanation as to why, the fact that so far most of the views the narrative follow are involved in a war that I don't really care about and don't even redeem this by virtue of seeming to get anywhere in it. None of these things should really kill the book for me however as they keep piling up my inclination to keep going fades; I actually was quite enjoying the book at the beginning.

I suppose at least part of the problem for me is that part of current fashion is to try to write grey and grey or black and black morality into the politics/sides. This may be viewed as more realistic but it is unsatisfying to me because it makes me indifferent to the whole issue. The 'Song of Fire/Ice' books are very popular but when it comes to it I really couldn't care what any of the characters do because it became quite clear that anyone I might actually want to get anywhere would probably just be killed off at some point and as far as I'm concerned most of the rest could be killed by a freak shower of cows without me caring (though I might raise my eyebrows at the cows). I do not appreciate characters for their evilness, I do not think it makes them cool or interesting, for I have seen and met evil people in real life. At least one book I tried in the last year, had a protagonist that I liked and was interested in but spent so much time skipping away from him to keep me abreast of the political situation of the country he served from the perspective of the people at the top that I stopped reading (or perhaps vice versa, spend a very little time skipping away from the various evil politicians to meet the man in the field actually solving the problem they are causing).

Other things that frequently bother me are gratuitously wallowing in grimness or angst. I don't have much problem with them existing in stories however some authors seem to think that I read books to feel fear, anger, or sorrow. I do not, attempts to induce such, are infact major turn-offs whether successful or not. I had no problem with the torture scenes in the Vorkosigan novel Mirror Dance as the author never really attempts to inflict emotions on the reader but instead provides what is going on and how the characters are taking it and lets the reader sort it out for themselves. In this case, the character being tortured gets a chance to avenge himself in a very effective way (by effective I mean that he gets things out of it more than simple revenge). By the same token I don't mind reading Tracy Hickmans work where I know before anything starts that the majority of the world (or in one case most of the universe) will be wiped out. I do not mind this as much because it is rarely used as an excuse to attempt to make me feel anything but is important to the story being told without being the point of the story being told. On the flip side of that coin, I remember once putting down a manga because the book was attempting to get me to feel sorry for the main character because "horror of horrors" the boy who teases her is her crushes brother, isn't that so terrible and shocking. Running into the last one was my fault for being desperate for reading material but it is a good demonstration in how anything can be used as a source of angst to a sufficiently impressionable audience because somehow apparently the mangaka got that published and someone found it worth translating and importing. So on one hand you can have the universe being destroyed and although the characters are definitely affected (though much less than is probably realistic) yet the book doesn't demand that the reader be, or you can have such a minor revelation be worth two pages of shock which the audience is obviously supposed to sympathize (because if they don't there is very little point to reading the book that I can see). Obviously there is quite a bit of flexibility in how you can present anything and it seems that the majority of books are aimed at a different area than I prefer (though considering the range of the scale vs the area I prefer that should hardly be surprising).

Fantasy does have a number of tropes that tend to get poorly used, perhaps because they are regarded as inherent to the genre with concern for story engineering. It makes it easier to create worlds if you can steal your concepts from elsewhere without having to think too hard. This kind of laze is generally unproductive to making a world that feels deeper because it isn't deeper. That being said there are a number of advantages to using things people are familiar with. If you say dwarf, people will immediately pull out a number of concepts that have been attached to dwarves that you don't need to explain. Now this is useful if you're going to have a similar concept for a culture, people, or what have you, you can pre-explain much about them by simply making them dwarves. Now like most of Tolkeins races, dwarves had quite a bit of depth and history and you cannot transport directly into whatever world you have which is where you can be creative and make something new of it while still taking advantage of not needing to explain as much. I once read a book where they had this mystical, mysterious, and long lived race, with access to magic that they called Aluridum or something similar. Much was made of Aluridum blood and being awesome because of it though no real distinct culture for this people was ever really talked about. Eventually I simply reached the conclusion that Aluridum were elves. After that point the fact that there was this rather unexplained but very important race running around stopped bothering me as much as the name 'elf' fit pretty much everything they were and did. It felt as though the author was attempting to avoid looking like stereotypical fantasy (certainly there were no dragons, dwarves, or orcs that I saw) but when it comes to it until I made that connection I was not sure how I was supposed to be taking the Aluridums role in the world. After I made the connection the delay in conceptualization and the change from a familiar word bothered me. The concepts that Tolkien created are nice not only because when he used them he gave them depth but because many of them have deeper appeals running back to even older myths and there is no shame in using this to your advantage as long as you can give it more depth than a ripped off faceplate and put it to good use.

I will say that odds are there are books constantly being produced that would appeal to just about anyone who loves to read however depending on how narrow your tastes are they may be a very small minority and hard to discover. I don't know what trends will pick up more or less authors in the future but it's always possible that books of the sort you like most (whatever it is) will become more common in the future.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by thespaceinvader » January 1st, 2011, 5:35 pm

Try Mistborn. I've not read Way of Kings yet - but you might just not get on with Sanderson's style. His skill in long-term long-game plotting in the Mistborn series simply astounded me.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Velensk » January 1st, 2011, 6:11 pm

Long term planning for what? (don't answer specifically, that would be spoilers).

What is the end result of this long term planning? The perfect humorous situation, dramtic situation, to watch all the troubles pile up only to have it revealed that the solution to the problem has been long in the making, the point at which our protagonist decides to forsake humanity to save the demons from space and it actually makes sense, the point where the situation proves a bold statement about humanity, or simply just seeing how all the vargant plot threads combine together to move the 'main' one along.

Feel free to use one I didn't list or multiple.

The problem with long term planning is that I don't know what I'm supposed to be waiting for. I can see that there are a large number of pieces and that they are in motion but I cannot see that it is going to be worth watching them all move for long enough to see what the endgame is. The simple fact that there are many peices does not impress me as much as it probbably should.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by thespaceinvader » January 1st, 2011, 6:32 pm

It's a coherent plot driven by a thoroughly-imagined, internally-consistent magic system. It's a succession of moments when disparate plot elements from throughout the trilogy come together in wonderful synergy to make you go OOOOOH right I get it, just before the actual reveal. it's plot elements introduced in the first few chapters, seemingly innocuous, which end up being absolutely key to the whole thing. It's a thorough lesson in foreshadowing, plot arcs, all kinds of good writing techniques.

It's a book with many levels - good epic fantasy, a solid underlying message, examining interesting themes. Excellent characterisation and world-building.

But perhaps more importantly, it's a good, coherent novel right the way through. I was never confused, throughout. I would have expected the same of Way of Kings, so it surprises me that you've had a difficult time of it.

I'll read it at some point and give it a shot.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Velensk » January 1st, 2011, 6:45 pm

The Way of Kings is not confusing or particuarly inconsistant (though the magic would indicate to me in as much as I understand it a number of applications that the world does not seem to take note of, and the concept of a desert culture where walking on stone is taboo is a bit grateing) it just seems to spend a lot of time going somewhere I cannot see and the journy dose not really give me any indication that I want to get there without being fun to watch for itself. It promises to take a very long time to get there and since the situation is obviously complex attempting to skip forward seems like a foolish idea.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Gambit » January 1st, 2011, 7:23 pm

A short, slightly not-safe-for-work, rant about "standard fantasy": http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/ ... ge-Origins (video games in particular)

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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Girgistian » January 2nd, 2011, 4:39 pm

Velensk wrote:I suppose at least part of the problem for me is that part of current fashion is to try to write grey and grey or black and black morality into the politics/sides. This may be viewed as more realistic but it is unsatisfying to me because it makes me indifferent to the whole issue.
I can very much relate to that. Grey morality can make a good book if it's done well, but it doesn't in itself make even a decent story, and when it fails it's more often than not just an extension of the authors own philosophical views or an enforced way of expressing theirself. The same goes for just about any type of story-morality you can think of. You can make an absolutely great story even with a completely black and white setting if it's classy, consistent and has a point. I've got this thing with story-morals that when the author clearly brings up that some certain character or a significant event is inherently good or evil, there has to be a certain something in the story to back it up and to make it either very interesting or connected to the plot. Otherwise it's just the author telling you what's wrong and what's right.

And it pisses me off, cause I'm interested only in the story, not the bloody writer.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by Stilgar » January 2nd, 2011, 6:31 pm

Sturgeon's Law. It's not like lousy fantasy is new or anything.

Also, I read a biography of Tolkien once. It was a long time ago, so correct me if I'm remembering wrong, but as I recall from it, Tolkien's initial intent never was to write a fantasy story in the first place. He invented a language, because he was a linguist and that was his thing, then he decided that a language needed a culture that spoke it, and that that culture needed a history, and it kind of snowballed from there.

Likewise I've read that Robert. E. Howard started out as a historical fiction writer, and later on came up with Conan because he wanted to write that sort of thing without the constraint of staying consistent with actual history.

I suspect that the best in fantasy comes from this sort of application of prior knowledge put through an other-world lens, rather than some Dungeons & Dragons nerd trying to imitate the stuff they think is cool. If there's more bad fantasy around than there used to be, it's probably only because there's a greater amount of prior material to make a knockoff on, and because it's become easier and easier for any average joe to put out a book.

On the other hand, with particular regard to the "historical fiction" example, one of my pet peeves is picking up a fantasy book only to find that everything is suspiciously familiar because it's based on a historical event with the names changed and some wizard or dragon thrown in. If I'm going to read something that follows real history that closely, I'd rather read real history given that it's not only more educational but probably more interesting too.
Girgistian wrote:I've got this thing with story-morals that when the author clearly brings up that some certain character or a significant event is inherently good or evil, there has to be a certain something in the story to back it up and to make it either very interesting or connected to the plot. Otherwise it's just the author telling you what's wrong and what's right.

And it pisses me off, cause I'm interested only in the story, not the bloody writer.
QFT. Preachy authors are another thing that annoys me.

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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by wayfarer » January 3rd, 2011, 10:17 am

I prefer Scifi before most Fantasy stuff? Why? Because they at least try to build a working world that is believeable not that stupid it is magic [censored].
Stanislav Lem was very good infact because of his ability to be believeable.
I never liked Tolkins work for this fact it all boiled down to magic and well black and white.

For some strange reasons I actual enjoy a preachy author, if his world view is a bit complexer than a chicken with a concussion.
Stanislav lem was always a bit of a pessimist even his more sillier writings.
That's why I also enjoy Terry Pratchets Discworld and especial his Watchmen books.
It is funny it makes fun of itself on the other side it is deadly serious.

It is a world that tries hardto work, perhaps with different laws but still working.
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Re: Discussion of modern fantasy

Post by thespaceinvader » January 3rd, 2011, 12:09 pm

I tend to prefer fantasy to sci fi. Why? I'm a scientist. I find it a LOT easier to suspend my disbelief of magic than I do the read a book that's almost science, but not quite. I just can't shake the feeling of 'YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!' Magic, sure - this is changing the defined attributes of a world, setting up a new system. Some sci fi is similar, and I find it more readable. But sci fi that tries to fit into real science, or use real scientific terms, but is not hard/future fiction using the real science correctly, really grates on me. It doesn't have to spoil a story, but if it's over-used, it can go a long way towards breaking my sense of immersion.

Maybe I'm a forgiving reader of fantasy though, or of books in general. It takes an AWFUL lot to make me give up completely on a book, most of the time. I have some sort of mild obsessive tendency that I can't not finish a story - book film, radio show, even if I don't like the story, or it's really really bad, I can't just leave it hanging.
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