Log in

15 January 2012 @ 07:20 pm
The Age of Reason  

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."
-Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

The world of the Age of Reason is one at the peak of civilization. The great powers on the continent of Tosir dominate global trade with their fleets of Men-O-War and struggle for advantage on land with lines of drilled musketeers. The monarchs of the great powers rule as absolutists supported by the majesty of the church. The aristocracy, stripped of much of their power, still enjoy their great wealth, and relieved of the need to rule, patronize the arts. The rate of technological development has opened up new means of production and given rise to a powerful new merchant class.

The world of the Age of Reason is one on the cusp of major change. New ideas about the world are being discussed amongst the literate: rationalism, liberty and progress. New social trends are beginning to alter the age old rhythm of life: capitalism, urbanization and industrialization. Against this backdrop the ancien regimes of the continent are ruled for the personal honour of the monarch and the greater glory of god. Beneath all this, murmurs amongst the great labouring masses suggest that a New Age requires a New Order...

In the last couple of years, I've been working on a fantasy series I would like to write. I've always loved fantasy, but compared to science fiction, I've always found most of it was poorly written, derivative and lacking in the “big” ideas. There are of course, some exceptions to this, which I spend a lot of time seeking out to read; fantasy that pushes boundaries, explores complicated topics and tries new things. So if I have trouble finding fantasy I want to read, sometimes the only solution is to write it myself.

The series is tentatively titled the Age of Reason, and is in short a series that explores what happens when you have the Enlightenment and ultimately a revolution in a fantasy kingdom. Considering the popularity of the premodern in fantasy settings, I've never seen anyone write a fantasy novel about what happens when people begin to question the age old ideas about the world, and the social consequences that follow. These consequences were very big and long lasting in our own world, and would certainly provide lots of drama for a plot and setting.

Anyway, the world I've been building is something like 18th century Europe, with the same level of development and technology. This means battles with muskets rather than swords, early science and industry, the appearance of Enlightenment ideals, early newspapers and popular literature, and of course frock coats and tricorn hats. Magic of course will exist, but there is a debate between religion and science over what it is. Is it divine or natural? Can it be used for secular rather than sacred reasons? Is the world understandable by human reason?

I've got characters and an outline of a plot, but I won't reveal much about them now. The characters include both sexes and range from the lower to upper classes, and all have different views about their world ranging from the status quo to revolutionary change. The plot is mostly centered around a revolution in one of the kingdoms, and the upheaval and change it causes.

Perhaps the most important theme of the book is the transformation of a traditional society to a modern one as historical process (hence the quote from Marx). In other words, I want to use fantasy to explore why this happens, and how it affects the lives of the characters. It's a look at their individual actions in relation to this transformation, and the structural forces of history (economics, technology, class) that make the transformation possible. It's the birth of progress, and all the injustice that appears along with it. It is the movement of history into a new and unprecedented direction.

One thing I would like to do is copy the stylistic elements of 18th century literature in my writing, particularly the styles of the many famous satires of the period. The tone of the books should be lighthearted, even though the content is fairly serious. Voltaire wasn't just a harsh critic of the problems of his day, he was really funny too.

Overall I've got a framework for Age of Reason, but I haven't ironed out all the details of the setting. This requires more work, and especially more reading, and I have a huge reading list I'm working my way down, including books on history, philosophy, culture, politics, theatre, economics, literature and variety of fantasy works that have some overlap.

So I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this idea for a fantasy series. Also, if you are aware of any fantasy works that cover similar ground as me, I'd like to know about those too.
Music: Civilisation - Justice
Doug Pirkowaiwode on January 16th, 2012 05:34 am (UTC)
Well, I do think it is interesting ground you want to cover. "Late" fantasy is a sub-genre I really enjoy (minus a recent series about a dragon and his soldier I could quite do without, thank you).

J Gregory Keyes' Age of Unreason springs to mind:
Newton's Cannon
A Calculus of Angels
Empire of Unreason
The Shadows of God; as does...

...the three or eight books of Neal Stephanson's The Baroque Cycle.

But mostly because they're written over the same era, and the first (which is more fantasy, the latter more historical science fiction) because the title is similar, despite being opposite in meaning.

Pierre Pevel's The Cardinal's Blades is also set during the same period, but is much more an homage to the style of Dumas.


Edited at 2012-01-16 05:36 am (UTC)
Williamjetfx on January 16th, 2012 08:05 pm (UTC)
I'll definitely have to get my hands on the Age of Unreason series. I did some reading about it to see what it's about to see if he hadn't beat me to my idea, but his series is quite different. It's alternate history with a focus on magic and metaphysics, rather then socio-politics and history. Also a very different plot.

I've already got copies of The Baroque Cycle, and it's high on my reading list. I also have the first book of this series, and it seems that author is doing something similar to what I want to do in a fantasy work. Ever encounter it before?
Doug Pirkowaiwode on January 16th, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, I was most certainly making my comparison based on era, and the similarity of the title of the saga.

And no, I haven't read anything by Juliet McKenna, I don't think.

Gordon: Angrezi Rajbaron_waste on January 16th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)

Oh, yah - big time.

Interestingly, one of the major points of that movie was The Magic Goes Away - in this new Enlightenment of coordinates and mathematical proportions and regimented nature, from topiary to scientific nomenclature to urban design… the fantastic, the inexplicable but miraculous, is being pushed inexorably away. In a very real sense this is the story of its last hurrah, before everything gets dull and workaday and timeclocked and efficient.

Gordon: ADDbaron_waste on January 16th, 2012 02:50 pm (UTC)

- and that painting would make a GREAT album cover.

Williamjetfx on January 16th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
This is true, and in fact somebody already did make an album cover with a similar painting.
Williamjetfx on January 16th, 2012 07:34 pm (UTC)
I hadn't really given The Magic Goes Away trope much thought for this. In many senses, it's fitting for the period, as the rise of Enlightenment thinking takes all the "wonder" and "mystery" out of the world. It's a theme that Terry Gilliam's films have touched on pretty consistently, particularly in the The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. However, the fleeing of magic from the world is a fairly common trope in a lot of literature, and I don't want to retread already covered ground.

It's much like how I want to attack the trope of the individual hero saves the world through the power of his own will. Men do not make history as they please. Although there is room to explore the idea of the magic goes away, in how a changing worldview alters how people perceive magic, from divine to natural - that:
"Is the conception of nature and of social relations which underlies Greek imagination and Greek [art] possible when there are self-acting [spinning] mules, railways, locomotives and electric telegraphs? What is a Vulcan compared with Roberts and Co., Jupiter compared with the lightning conductor and Hermes compared with the Crédit mobilier? All mythology subdues, controls and fashions the forces of nature in the imagination and through imagination, it disappears therefore when real control over these forces is established. (emphasis mine)"

-Marx again, but this time from Capital

Edited at 2012-01-16 07:34 pm (UTC)