Monday, October 25, 2010

Cosmology fail

Not actually a fail; this post would better be titled, "Cosmological observation."

Being a reader of both science fiction and fantasy, it's always bothered me that the two genres more or less ignore each other. Fantasy hates technology; science fiction hates fun.

Alright, you know I'm only foolin'. Actually, what I've really noticed is that fantasy worlds tend to presuppose a cosmology identical to our own: stars, moons, planets, tides, yadda yadda yadda. You can infer this from the varying climes experienced in standard north-equator-south configurations, the constellations viewed in prophecy, and et cetera.

This... really bothers me. But for very specific reasons. Namely: fantasy tends to take place in worlds that are aeon-ancient. That's cool; but why isn't the Dragon Reborn fighting Bugs ands Skinnies, if the world is so dang old?

Of course, this argument is no more interesting than the absurdity that the millenia-old worlds of many fantasy settings are populated by people who manipulate iron but not bituminous coal - who can, say, penetrate the habitats of wild magical powers but not take advantage of the basic physical states of the mundane realm.

What is more weird is that I've never read any fantasy that takes place in a fundamentally different universe - a "truly fantastical" universe, if I'm inclined to play the jerk card. I scribbled down an idea last night for a world without astral bodies - a "plane" type world, which will be interesting to write if only because everyone will be blind and, I guess, really cold.

But I've got to know: are there any cosmologically vivacious fantasies out there? Come on, people, rally to the cause of Ben's reading list!


P.S. I wrote this entire post having confused "cosmology" and "cosmogony" (making this a vocabulary fail). I'm pretty upset that I didn't get to use the word "cosmogony" in the main body, so I'm just throwing in this post-script to write cosmogony a few more times.

Cosmogonical, dude!


  1. Probably the best example that comes to my mind of what you're suggesting is Paul Di Filippo's Linear City stories, which take place in a city that is...sort of...linear...there's just one long main street that goes on forever. Also, Borges' "Library of Babel" has a similar conceit (although I probably should have mentioned it first because it is the greatest story ever written and was also written first).

    And Jay Lake's Mainspring novels, which take place in some sort of clockwork universe.

    There's Karl Schroeder's Sun of Suns novels, which are about a huge air-filled balloon-type world that, if not quite fantasy, is at least totally bizarre and somewhat low-tech.

    There's the whole dying earth genre, which is either science fiction or fantasy depending on how you define the difference between those genres: William Hope Hodgkins _The Night Land_, and the works of Jack Vance are, I guess the most famous members of the subgenre.

    Although I guess I might just be proving your point, as most of these other examples are more often classified as sci-fi than fantasy.

  2. Yeah, I think the trouble with having a world that's *reaaaaaaly* weird is people might think the story is... really weird. But more original worlds are always welcome. I rather liked the world between life and death as envisioned in Everlost, for example.
    Fantasy with sci-fi elements can be a bit tricky I think. Is there much need for magic when everyone has reverse-ion blasters. (Or whatev.)

  3. @Rahul: Some of thems books sound mighty cool. I'll peep 'em.

    @Nicholas: I understand the sentiment... kind of the same problem with having really weird races. But then, the payoff can be huge: I really enjoyed David Brin's alien races, once I was able to get a visual picture of them from reading a few dozen descriptions.

    But yeah, fantasy-sci-fi. I actually was meaning to write a fantasy first-contact story, but I may never get around to it.

    There was going to be space-zeppelins.