Wednesday, January 31, 2018

ConFusion Recap: Using Scientific History to Enhance Fantasy Worldbuilding

A.T Greenblatt
Dyrk Ashton
Elizabeth Shack
Jon Skovron
Lucy A. Snyder
Kate Elliot

  • Skovron: Takes issue with the panel description that second-world fantasies are often ahistorical.
  • Others disagree!
  • Elliot: Brings up idea of the Hollywood, Disney, or Victorian Medieval, as opposed to historically-informed ideas about the period. The idea that the middle ages didn't have technology, or that women didn't do much. So much of history is ignored; brings up the example of Alexander the Great's warrior half-sister.
  • Skovron: Also, the erasure of people of color in middle ages Europe (famously and ongoingly exploded in the medieval POC art tumblr). Question about disparity of technologies in these fantasies.
  • Ashton: Iron age popular history doesn't match up well with the actual—overlooks early technological leaps in places like African metallurgy, for instance.
  • Shuck: Stories tend to focus on military tech to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Greenblatt: Non-military technology drove entire industries.

  • Skovron: Writing question, how to balance research.
  • Snyder: Has to be a character-first approach.
  • Elliot: Character & culture, how do these people see their world. Uses end of Mulan as a culture-building fail (Mulan hugging the emperor). Brings up research example of how different plow technologies allowed heavy river-bottom soils to be used for farming, with huge ramifications.
  • Greenblatt: Cultures find different solutions to problems at different tech levels, but they still try to find solutions.

  • Skovron: How do you think about magical systems integrating with tech trees.
  • Snyder: Magic is a kind of science, explanations for the world. In writing fantasy, you have to think about the repercussions of magical solutions.
  • Elliot: People are always looking for ways to make lives better or at least survivable; if you have magic in your world you have to have a good reason for the mages not to be ruling.
  • Snyder: Have to have built-in costs of some kind for magic.
  • Elliot: If magic doesn't give users power over others, the magic users will be used.

Discussion of the uses of limitation in setting out rules for magic.

  • Skovron: Song of Ice and Fire uses the War of the Roses as a structuring format, any examples of real history you use as bases for stories.
  • Elliot: I steal from history all the time.
  • Skovron: Example of early New York City history, wild characters like Sadie the Goat (robber who headbutted her victims). You can't make this stuff up, and there's no copyright violations!
  • Elliot: Ptolemaic dynasty as a rich source of characters & episodes for Court of Fives. They're terrible people!

Audience questions/comments:
  • The trope that magic is degrading from a past golden age, which is the opposite of tech, what to think about that? Panel thinks of counter-examples, themes of magic that is progressive. Possibly Norrel and Strange.

Example of stories that blend magic and technology well? Bennett's Divine Cities and MiƩville's Bas-Lag stories cited.

Favorite examples of old tech that gets overlooked?
  • Elliot: Plumbing, I am here for plumbing. Cites Minoan & Roam civilizations.
  • Skovron: Sewage, how not having a good system affects child mortality. Also has an aside about burial techniques.
  • Elliot: Transportation is big for her. People used to move around a lot more than often portrayed today, which required huge systems of roads, seafaring tech, cartography, hostel systems, etc.
  • Shack: How does magic develop as technology increases, for example the printing press allowing mass publication of spell books?
  • Snyder: Writing magic systems requires balance, an internal logic to what's possible.
  • Greenblatt: If anything is possible in a story, nothing matters; the limits allow meaningful stories.
  • Ashton: Pierce Brown's bad physics in Red Rising (which Burroughs had already thought around in the John Carter books) don't necessarily take away from it; so your science and tech don't have to be perfect depending on the level of seriousness to your story.
  • Elliot: Also brings up other infrastructure developments in the Persian Middle East (making me hope we're about to launch into a discussion of wind towers and covered canals), but we're out of time!

No comments:

Post a Comment