Imagining the world as a better place - how common in fantasy as compared to sf? (And I don't mean winning the battle against dark armies.)

POINT 3 Running a country is a lot of hard work, a lot of it many people would find boring. It can be expensive to fund the running of a county. So as long as things get done and those at the top have their comforts, many at the top won't care who or how those comforts come about


The larger the population and the more complex the society, the more work there is. A couple of historical examples include – the Royal Naval Dockyards. Keeping a massive navy at sea required vast dockyards, lots of workers and lots of materials. I toured the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and a nice Georgian two storey brick building was pointed out to me as the world's first office block – they'd needed an awful lot of clerks to keep track of all those workers and materials.


I saw a documentary a little while back talking about the Royal estates in the UK (the Crown Estates) and who owns what and why. I found an article on Wikipedia Crown Estate - Wikipedia and checked what I was remembering was correct – it says

“Historically, Crown Estate properties were administered by the reigning monarch to help fund the business of governing the country. However, in 1760, George III surrendered control over the Estate's revenues to the Treasury,[5] thus relieving him of the responsibility of paying for the costs of the civil service, defence costs, the national debt, and his own personal debts. In return, he received an annual grant known as the Civil List. “

So George III (and previous monarchs) were actually funding the government of Britain from the Crown estates and it was getting more complicated and ever harder work, so he decided he'd had enough and came to an agreement with Parliament that....

This one – of the hard boring work of running things - pops up in both Goddard and Pratchett. In Goddard the council of Princes are fairly OK with the Emperor's Civil Service headed by Cliopher taking on more and more responsibility for various things – because they are boring things like fixing the roads. As long as it all gets done, many of them don't really care who does it. In Pratchett he says that Vetinari stays in power because none of the nobility or heads of Guilds really want to be faffed with running the whole city state and they know if they stage a coup they'd have to do it.


POINT 4 Bosses want a skilled workforce but don't always want to pay for training them.

One of the Goddard concepts on improving the lot for the lower down people is the central government providing book libraries and tool libraries – the latter being a place where you can rent tools when you are setting up in business, rather than having a big capital outlay.

Both of these exist in our world today. I don't know any history of tool libraries, but public lending libraries have existed for centuries – often with a fee – and for those who couldn't afford a fee, reading rooms where you had to read the book in the room and not borrow it. The funding for those varied, but did include philanthropists with many motivations for wanting to improve the education of working people, and also people with an agenda to promote, so those type of reading rooms would be heavily stocked with materials supporting whatever the patron's agenda was.

So regarding libraries, it is not implausible for the state in a fantasy to start paying for these, or to persuade an aristocracy/merchant class to provide donations to these, so long as the cost per business boss/aristo is a lot less than paying for training, they might grumble a bit but will generally go along because they do want skilled workers and this is a relatively cheap way of getting them.
 
Magic – so far I've just dealt with non-fictional power that could be in opposition to the kind of social improvements in Goddard's book. Now I am turning to looking at Magical powers.

Magic

First off, in fantasy, there are generally limits put on what magic can achieve and how much magic can defend property and person, so even magicians generally want to have well kept farms, good greengrocers and some skilled weavers in the neighbourhood, whether or not it is explicitly stated in the book. That level varies with fantasy type, but if you set your world levels at that type of magic, rather than insanely over-powerful evil overlord, then magicians wouldn't be any more bothered than nobles by small, incremental improvements effected for the benefit of the bottom of society, by reformers in central government, providing the good stuff keeps coming and there isn't much of a ripple in their life. Pratchett's wizards like multi-course meals and provided those keep coming, a lot of their efforts are focussed on their rival wizards and they are paying no attention to domestic details.


The way Goddard handles magic is complex and does have some elements that support Cliopher's endeavours, or provide a climate in which Cliopher's ideas take root. So her concept goes:

1. There are wild mages – who vary in power from hedge witches to great magi and they tend to be link to the elements and can work instinctively.


2. There are schooled wizards – they work with ritual, often in groups, have set movements, use materials – salt, herbs, minerals and the like.

3. There are other types who make a brief appearance but not as yet enough for me to comment on – people having more shamanic rituals, or their power is rooted in tattoos.

The backstory of the Hands of the Emperor book is that the Empire of Astandalas started as an empire of conquest by military might and first all countries on a planet were subjugated, then through magical world gates that occurred naturally. Emperor to Emperor it grew. The schooled mages were very much part of the hierarchy of the Empire and some formed the college of Priest Wizards. Then an Emperor came along who was also a great magi and he bound together all the disparate countries and planets with wizard engineers building great road networks (like the Roman Empire) including through the gates into other worlds and this was linked with a great network of magic. This was called the Pax Astandalas and was intended to provide peace and stability. Unfortunately it soon became corrupted and tended to draw magic out of outlying regions – life was great for those on top, especially in the central regions, and awful for those at the bottom in outlying areas. So the resulting Empire happily ran with schooled magic providing amenities like hot water in houses, safe fuel-less cookers, fast road transport – and a few outlying places turned into howling polar wildernesses.

Then came the Fall of Astandalas, when the magic went twang and boom and all sorts of things happened. This happened in the lifetime of Cliopher. So at that point everyone had varying experiences of awful, from volcanoes obliterating islands and parts of continents, to famine and wars. Anyone who could come along and start helping was welcomed. One of Cliopher's earlier reforms is getting stockpiles set up against future disasters, whether magical or mundane – volcanoes, storms, drought etc. Every region is made to build secure stores and keep them stocked. (This is something that has happened through history in our world, from stone built granaries underground in Malta to stores in the Incan empire – it can and has been done at a Medieval level of society.)

Now the Last Emperor, Cliopher's boss, is heavily linked to the magic of the world, so the disasters turn up in his sleep to give him nightmares, and he can see and feel the disrupted network of magic across the world and is trying to work to smooth it out. Even if he was an awful person he'd be doing that to help himself. The book has the premise that the health of the world and the magic influence each other, so getting the participants in a war to sign a peace treaty and stick to it, helps the Emperor to sort out the magic a bit more. Each of the constituent worlds of the Empire has a Lord Magus who is connected to and can influence the entire word, and the Emperor is the Lord Magus of the world on which he resides as well as being the Emperor.

So this is a way of setting up the book that magic is not in opposition to the idea of improving the lot of ordinary people.

And that's my essay finally posted.
Phew
:)
 
One other point in all of this, is it is easy not to realise how relatively early what we might consider modern thinking actually started. A case in point is the Putney Church debates of 1647 at the end of the English Civil war, which were primarily negotiations with King Charles about the shape of the world to be after the war, but included input from the entire Parliamentarian army, including radical regiments, and one of the items on the list was "one man one vote". That you didn't have to be a property owner to have a vote in the government that would govern you. Didn't get through, but they did think of it. Putney Debates - Wikipedia
Part of the Parliamentary army included members of the Levellers movement Levellers - Wikipedia
"The Levellers were a political movement active during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms who were committed to popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance. The hallmark of Leveller thought was its populism, as shown by its emphasis on equal natural rights, and their practice of reaching the public through pamphlets, petitions and vocal appeals to the crowd.[1]"

Returning to the fantasy, and to Cliopher - the old saw "success breeds success" - if you deliver the goods, so for example Cliopher delivering on the concept of stockpiles against famine - then the next time you propose an idea, a few more people will listen and trust in you.
 
Montero - Have you looked at Katherine Kerr's Sword of Fire? I believe it's entirely about a change to the laws in book.

Also, a friend recommended State of Sorrow duology by Melinda Salisbury as maybe fitting.

How is that different from speculative fiction in general?

And let me be clear - I'm not against this kind of fantasy at all. I'm more just pointing out the structural challenges, which I find interesting.

Does it matter if it is different or not?

You seem to be looking for some uniquely fantasy take on the idea. I don't think that's necessary. I think it's often like asking someone in the street what structural challenges wearing a yellow hat causes. You are looking for a level of depth and uniqueness that I think is mostly unthought of and unneeded. I know you said you had certain standards for what fantasy should be, but it's not everyone's standard.

I could make the case that it's difference from Horror because Horror deals with those experiences that are frightening, unsettling, and so on, while Fantasy deals with the others; and that Sci-Fi is about scenarios that could be, rather than rehashes of the scenarios we've faced. But you could make the case that's the same thing in in red, yellow, and blue hats.

But you could make the case that all of SFF, or Spec Fic, or Fantistika, or whatever you want to call it, is the same thing in red, yellow, and blue hats. And there's nothing wrong with that.
 
Does it matter if it is different or not?
It doesn't. But you answered a question about what is different about the elements fantasy vs SF with a statement that doesn't differentiate them at all.

And maybe that's the answer: Discussing wild deviations from historical social precedent is something you can only do in SFF since history is up for grabs in either genre.
 
@The Big Peat - I've certainly read a fair bit of Katherine Kerr 20 years back, not sure if it included Sword of Fire - will go and look. Legends and Lattes - so far just downloaded a sample and part way through and it is amusing. It is also the book of the month for Goodreads Sci Fi and Fantasy Group
And maybe that's the answer: Discussing wild deviations from historical social precedent is something you can only do in SFF since history is up for grabs in either genre.
Mmm. Firstly wild deviations from which historical social precedent? Here in the west we often have a habit of concentrating on European medieval and later history. Just thinking about things like costume as a random example - historically in India and China women were wearing tunic and trousers when Western women were wearing corsets and skirts - so having a society of 200 years ago with women in tunics and trousers is not without precedent......
I think also that the key thing for me is whether there is a solid basis and reason in the world building, whether it is based properly on a plausible scenario for why there is a deviation from what the audience is anticipating. To my mind Goddard's work is plausible - and also the deviation is not THAT wild - my example of the Putney Church debates for example when the concept of one man one vote was discussed. Wasn't achieved for centuries but was conceived of - if there had been some different people present it might have gone in a different direction.
 
@The Big Peat - I've certainly read a fair bit of Katherine Kerr 20 years back, not sure if it included Sword of Fire - will go and look. Legends and Lattes - so far just downloaded a sample and part way through and it is amusing. It is also the book of the month for Goodreads Sci Fi and Fantasy Group

Mmm. Firstly wild deviations from which historical social precedent? Here in the west we often have a habit of concentrating on European medieval and later history. Just thinking about things like costume as a random example - historically in India and China women were wearing tunic and trousers when Western women were wearing corsets and skirts - so having a society of 200 years ago with women in tunics and trousers is not without precedent......
I think also that the key thing for me is whether there is a solid basis and reason in the world building, whether it is based properly on a plausible scenario for why there is a deviation from what the audience is anticipating. To my mind Goddard's work is plausible - and also the deviation is not THAT wild - my example of the Putney Church debates for example when the concept of one man one vote was discussed. Wasn't achieved for centuries but was conceived of - if there had been some different people present it might have gone in a different direction.
I wasn't talking about specific items, like pants. I was speaking about a non-historical large social movement, not its elements.
 
I wasn't talking about specific items, like pants. I was speaking about a non-historical large social movement, not its elements.
I'm not quite sure how you can have a large social movement without elements. So returning to a historical example - the Levellers movement - which was very "modern" in its demands. The elements that came together were major upheaval - a civil war - people brought together by that war who would never otherwise have met. They were encouraged to go against the King and other high elements of society that supported the King and then at the end of the war they were no better off, indeed because they hadn't been paid they were potentially worse off, they had no gain in status in law, they could still be prosecuted for their religious beliefs, so while they were all still gathered together, the army not yet disbanded, they were putting in their petition for the improvements they wanted to see.

My love of Goddard's writing is how she so plausibly sets up the circumstances and the world building so that the changes made are credible.
 
I'm not quite sure how you can have a large social movement without elements. So returning to a historical example - the Levellers movement - which was very "modern" in its demands. The elements that came together were major upheaval - a civil war - people brought together by that war who would never otherwise have met. They were encouraged to go against the King and other high elements of society that supported the King and then at the end of the war they were no better off, indeed because they hadn't been paid they were potentially worse off, they had no gain in status in law, they could still be prosecuted for their religious beliefs, so while they were all still gathered together, the army not yet disbanded, they were putting in their petition for the improvements they wanted to see.

My love of Goddard's writing is how she so plausibly sets up the circumstances and the world building so that the changes made are credible.
So what you're saying is that this thread is about actual historical social movements that have been fictionalized?
 
@The Big Peat - I've certainly read a fair bit of Katherine Kerr 20 years back, not sure if it included Sword of Fire - will go and look. Legends and Lattes - so far just downloaded a sample and part way through and it is amusing. It is also the book of the month for Goodreads.

You won't have, Sword of Fire is her latest and on a very different slant to the preceding books to the best of my knowledge.
 
So what you're saying is that this thread is about actual historical social movements that have been fictionalized?
No. This thread is not about that. But I am mentioning actual historical social movements, that many people have not heard of, in support of the idea that you can have social movements in a society in fantasy. I am also floating the idea that some social movements that seem quite modern to us actually happened centuries in the past, or in other words, our perception of the past may be limited and need expanding. So that the type of social reforms achieved in Goddard's book, which may at first seem impossible in the type of society, are in fact far more plausible if you have some knowledge of social movements in history. My habit when discussing the plausibility of a fantasy story is to seek real world examples where I can, whether the archaeological evidence of nomadic steppes female warriors in a discussion about "women can't be fighters" or the Putney Church debates as an example of attempted social reform in the 17th century.
 
No. This thread is not about that. But I am mentioning actual historical social movements, that many people have not heard of, in support of the idea that you can have social movements in a society in fantasy. I am also floating the idea that some social movements that seem quite modern to us actually happened centuries in the past, or in other words, our perception of the past may be limited and need expanding. So that the type of social reforms achieved in Goddard's book, which may at first seem impossible in the type of society, are in fact far more plausible if you have some knowledge of social movements in history. My habit when discussing the plausibility of a fantasy story is to seek real world examples where I can, whether the archaeological evidence of nomadic steppes female warriors in a discussion about "women can't be fighters" or the Putney Church debates as an example of attempted social reform in the 17th century.
Okay, it doesn't sound like you are responding directly to my comments but are talking about other things.
 
With T Kingfisher's world of the White Rat, there is a set up of various gods/saints (and a very strange lot they are too, nothing traditional) and each order is effectively backed by the power of the saint/god plus some sharp politics on the part of the leader of the order. There is a degree of co-operation between most of the orders as they have common interests. This is in a city states and kingdoms maybe 18th century Europe level of settings, with a moderate slice of magic, but said magic is mostly wielded by intense nerd types who love building things and taking them apart, so not really the world dominating sorts - though might be employed by someone who'd want to. In the Clockwork duology there is an invasion that has to be stopped, and the Order of the White Rat doesn't make much of a showing. In Swordheart and the Paladin series there is no invasion and the Order and its work pops up a bit more. Not central to the plot like Cliopher the bureaucrat is in Hands, but the Order has an important minor role that gives a sense of decency to the book. The Order of the White Rat does have a legal system and city watches to enforce it. How much variation between the different nation or city states there is in terms of their legal system isn't highlighted. I do also think with the Order of the White Rat, that with them providing legal aid and medical care, the majority of the population will consider them important - as in let's not annoy them, I might need them one day.
I adore the Order of the White Rat. I wish she would write more books that feature them!
 
Okay, it doesn't sound like you are responding directly to my comments but are talking about other things.
That was not my intention.
My understanding of what you said, was that you thought Goddard's concepts that I described, were not believable in a fantasy with in an-in-the past setting, because things like that didn't happen in real history. Have I misunderstood you?
 
I adore the Order of the White Rat. I wish she would write more books that feature them!
Me too.

BTW I know you like Goddard's Dart and Greenwing series. I'm on her mailing list and today she sent out an email with a free-to-download D&G short story. You might want to hustle over and join the mailing list..... :)
 

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