I have been thinking a lot about Fantasy, and specifically about fantastic settings–settings in which the fantastic elements are integral to the world.
And frankly, I’m not interested in writing stories set in some vaguely Central European kingdom in the First Millenium AD. The Tolkien/D&D/Swords & Sorcery kind of setting is one that I don’t really relate to. I’ve never ridden a horse or herded a sheep. I’ve never been in an actual stone castle, never fought using a sword or a mace, never fired a bow, and sitting around a campfire is something I do before I go inside and sleep in a real damned bed.
The idea of a Fantasy setting being tied to a particular cultural/technological level is a very tough one to shake, though. Part of it is the influence of Tolkien and his many imitators, and part of it is the Mythological aspect of Fantasy. And I think part of it is the distancing effect of history–it’s easier to add unreal elements to a time and place that doesn’t feel real to begin with.
And I expect that is why there are so few Overt, Historical Fantasy worlds based on America. Overt, in the sense that magic is an open and recognized part of the world (as opposed to Urban Fantasy like the Dresden Files) and Historical in the sense that magic has always been around (unlike the “magic returned” settings like Ilona Andrew’s novels or Shadowrun.)
Off the top of my head I can think of Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son and Larry Correia’s Grimnoir, both of which are alternate histories of the real US.
I’m not sure about the Anita Blake and Sookie Stackhouse books. I haven’t read either, but I think the supernatural creatures recently “came out” as being real in both series, as opposed to having always been acknowledged.
Stephen King’s The Gunslinger is closer to what I am talking about–a world as entirely invented as Narnia or Melnibone, but based on America. (I was only able to get through The Dark Tower. Stephen King’s style doesn’t appeal to me.)
That’s what I set out to do with Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts. Dracoheim is not on any version of Earth–the Settled Lands are on a world with a different year and a different climate than Earth, the physical/metaphysical laws are different there. Yet the setting is recognizably American (despite a sprinkling of UK terms to describe the government and courts). Dracoheim is Los Angeles in the middle of the 20th Century in the same way that the Shire is rural England at the end of the 19th Century.
And once I wrapped my head around the basic concept I found the setting and the world naturally coelessed while I was writing it in a way that my attempts at more archaic settings never have for me.
And now I am doing it again, with a new setting. I don’t have a name for this project yet–I have been calling it in my head “anyone lived in a pretty how town” which is kind of an extreme title even for me. But I’ll probably take something from e e cummings when the time comes–it has that kind of feel to me.
I’m playing with a couple of ideas I’ve had over the years I’ve never fleshed out. The central one is that of Local Gods–the world is divided into Provinces that each have a Deity that is nigh-omnipotent but only within His, Her or Its domain. Thus it is a world run on what might be called a County-Level Theocracy, with the Gods ruling through priests and regents who carry out Their orders.
The details of the setting are based on Midwest America between the World Wars–say 1920-1940, depending on region. Radio and newspapers, but no television. Telephone exchanges rare and very local. Internal combustion cars and trucks, but also horse drawn vehicles. Electricity in some areas, candles and gaslights in others.
But I will also be drawing on the Mythology of the era–Bonnie & Clyde, The Grapes Of Wrath, and some references to the dieselpunk futurism of the time. Airships, for example. I definately need airships.
There’s going to be one big city, that could be St. Louis or Memphis or Chicago, but I think most of the action will take place in the small towns and farmland. And it’s going to involve the main character doing some travelling across the world, passing through different domains and interacting with the representatives of different Gods.
Probably by train. Trains are sexy.
Anyway, that’s what I’m doing. What I want to do is to encourage other American writers to build your own American Fantasy worlds–instead of basing the Kingdom Of Thisorthat on a European monarchy, try extrapolating from a US setting.
The Everglades before the Civil War. Montana during the Gold Rush. Kansas City circa 1950. The possibilities are endless.