Happy post-Labor-Day, for you Americans out there. I spent the weekend relaxing with friends, eating peaches and drinking peach-flavored wine, and writing — blissfully writing. ::happy sigh:: It’s been awhile since I could write as much as I wanted. Felt really good.
Anyway. Earlier this weekend (starting September 3), I inadvertently provoked a sprawling discussion on Twitter by wondering out loud, “Does fantasy have to be set in the past, or use bygone technology?” It was a good convo — included reviewers like Niall Harrison and Rose Fox, as well as fellow writers Justine Larbalestier and Nnedi Okorafor. Go check it out.
However, I’ve been noodling a corrollary to that question: “Does epic fantasy have to be set in the past, or use bygone technology?” Because I tried to think of an epic fantasy that’s set in the future — one which is clearly fantasy, not just space opera with a little handwavium a la “Star Wars” — and it took some effort. I suppose one must consider “Star Wars”, since it fits many of the tropes: there’s a prophesied Chosen One, a Dark Lord (who’s even called a dark lord), a quest, a Five-Man Band, there’s magic (however much they BSed it with “midiwhatchamacallits”) and despite the ubiquity of laser pistols, the decisive battles are mostly fought with swords. But it takes more than tropes to make a fantasy, IMO, and as Lucas has continually expanded/revised the SW universe and franchise, he’s mostly added science fictional tropes: aliens, weapons based on actual Science, the occasional bit of real astrophysics. It’s clear that he intends for it to be science fiction, so I’m inclined to give him that — lest he retcon even more skiffy stuff into it and render the conversation moot.
But fictionwise, textually, the only other clear example I can think of is Weis and Hickman’s “Star of the Guardians” series. Which, like SW, is peppered with enough science fictional tropes that it’s debatable.
But does futuristic epic fantasy have to look like soap opera, and resemble past-oriented epic fantasy so closely? Must it contain swords, Chosen Ones, prophecies, all that? Is there any epic fantasy in a postapocalyptic setting? (Hmm. Maybe Steven Boyett’s Ariel and Elegy Beach qualify. Or Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series.) What about dystopian settings? Any epic fantasies set in the near/high-tech future, maybe cyberpunk? (Might “the Matrix” qualify? OK, but that’s not textual.) Could there be such a thing as an epic fantasy with a hard science fiction aesthetic?