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inspiration » C - Other Things We Like » 01 - The Book Shelf » Greatest literary universe ever executed?
Author Topic: Greatest literary universe ever executed?
Lord Union
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posted 08 July 2005 12:34 PM      $post_id   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
After finishing up Hat full of sky and rereading about 20 of his books this summer, my vote is Terry Pratchett.

If you don't know why, I'll quote RJ, RAFO RAFO RAFO.

I could write at great length about why I think this, but what do you think is a great literary universe? Do you find this quality important? If so, how should it be measured?

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Fist of Lightning
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posted 08 July 2005 02:42 PM      $post_id   Email Antacid   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
Well, i don't like the discworld books, so it's easy to understand why i disagree, although, i wouldn't consider a humor based universe great anyway as a good world should have some inner logic and geopolitics/nature/magic system/etc. that make sense, and humoristic universe authors don't care about that (although some others don't either).

Yes, i do think a good world building adds a lot to a book, although there are several ways to go about it. Most fantasy worlds are a lot smaller than our Earth, a small number of provinces and continents, it's somewhat believable because their level is medieval so you can assume other parts are unknown, as was America/Australia and the far parts of Asia and Africa to europeans during the medieval period, but the europeans did have legends, myths and rumors about some of those places, so i find a world believable when there is some indication that the world is bigger than we see in the story, a lot bigger (a good example, China Mieville's Bas-Lag), and of course, the more complicated the part of the world we do get to travel in the books the better.

Another important thing is history, it's not very believable to find a world with, for example, 1000 years worth of history consiting of some 1 empire and 1 great revolution in the past. Look at our world, thousands of years, dozens of empires, lots of wars, various systems of rule, etc., so the more complicated the history is the better.
Aside from those two major factors, there are other factors that add something to a world, a good mythology/religion, more than one is better, a good magic system in fantasy worlds, various societies and organizations, and countries that actually differ from each other in more than name (differnet cultures).

Well, that's what i find good, having said that, it's really hard to choose a favorite from worlds, the ones that spring to mind are Martin's world, Middle Earth, Feist's Midkemia, Randland, AD&D's Krynn and Mieville's Bas-Lag, who is best? hard to say, some are better at geopolitics, some are better at the cultural aspect, some at history or mythology...
I'm having the most fun with Martin, so maybe his.

"Sometimes it's damned hard to tell the dancer from the dance." - Corwin, prince of Amber.

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Lord Union
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posted 22 July 2005 02:47 PM      $post_id   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
Interesting post.

2 Points. 2 contentions 1 personal 1 philosophical. The Philosophical is probably the better for discussion.

I can understand what you mean by not liking a humor-based universe in relation to Discworld, I think that you mean that you don't like Frivolity. You want your universe to treat itself seriously. But Discworld is complicated in the ways that you mention, it has history, there is racial (species-based) strife, competing religions and worldviews, and a very deep philosophical foundation. I think that you might want to read Small Gods if you are interested a great book that stands alone and is not, primarily, humorous.

All of what you are talking about seems to be based in complex conflict. That there are many forces in the world, that these forces have mutually incompatible goals, and that protagonists must negotiate these forces.

But your description seems to reflect our own history (As a grad student I would have written herstory or histories :)). That you want a Universe to reflect the complexity of our own. I'm not sure that that is what fiction should be about. I know that I really dig Zelazny's Amber series (the first 5 mostly) for that, but I also like his "This Immortal" and "Lord of Light" as two of the all time best universes and they don't have a great depth of complexity. They seem perfect like a haiku. Simplicity that is beautiful.

So should it only reflect our complexity or should/can it be completely different?

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Fist of Lightning
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posted 22 July 2005 03:36 PM      $post_id   Email Antacid   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
Indeed my description reflects our own history, i have interest in history too, and i find it more interesting and belivable the way i described it, of course, other worlds might have different settings that lead to different kinds of histories, if so, provide a good background for why it's like that, if the gods created the world 50 years ago, ok, then it's safe to assume there wasn't more than one big war.
I do find complex conflicts more interesting, more than two sides to a conflict is more interesting to me because it provides more oppurtunities for twists and turns in the story that you can't forsee in advance, it reduces predictability and it increases the thickness of the plot, (See Whee of Time: Seahnchan, Rand followers, bad guys, independent nations, organizations like Children of the Light, Aes Sedai, etc. it makes for a great story).

That being said, obviously world building is just one aspect of a good book, characters building, the story itself, writing style, atmosphere, they all have big parts in how good a book is and sometimes a bigger part. So yes, This Immortal and Lord of Light are great books, but i think Zelazny's strength is in story and characters, less in detailed world building, he does it so good that world building becomes less important. Another good example is Robin Hobb, the world in the Farseer Saga consisted of the Five Duchies and like 2-3 other countries around it that didn't have much to do with the story, but the other aspects of the books were great so it made for a great trilogy. Not all authors are so able though.
So the point is, a book can be good with a less complex world, but it can be even better with a complex one, my opinion of course.

Btw, Zelazny can make a great book out of two people standing together in a room with nothing in it, the guy is a gunius.

As for, Pratchett, too many good books to read to try again something i tried already and didn't like.

"Sometimes it's damned hard to tell the dancer from the dance." - Corwin, prince of Amber.

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Lord Union
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posted 23 July 2005 02:13 AM      $post_id   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
Antacid, thanks, I know you're the mod, and may feel obliged to respond, but I think this is an interesting conversation.

OK on Pratchett, I shan't recant but I'll quit selling. (huzah for unusual contractions).

I think you are right, up to a point, as to the ability of a complex world to enrich a story. But I think that that can go too far. RJ is a great example of this.

Beside some older fantasy serials RJ has the most complex universe I know of, I'm thinking the Conan serials that imply complexity and later Hienlein that tries to unite all of the multiverses. RJ has the most complex universe I've encountered. But, I think that his writing has been paralyzed by the complexity of the narative. I think an author reaches a point of complexity that means sharply diminished returns.

Think about especially the last two books. A common critique of these is that we spend so much time (pages) catching up with characters that the forward progress of the plot is lost. The complexity that drew many readers in (and created great debate focused boards like DS) eventually killed the writing's momentum.

And, surely Complexity and Conflict is only one dimension of what makes for an intriguing universe. This is where I was going earlier with the purpose of fiction stuff. I am not sure that Fiction should be a mirror of the complexity of our reality. I'm a big fan of Histories and herstories, especially those with a economic bent, but when I read that I'm not reading to satisfy the same motivation as I am when I read a fictitious work, or political or homourous or Slate.

So, is complexity the only thing there, it's an easy answer, but I'm not sure. If I were puting down an incomplete list of the qualities of the universe I suppose it should include things like (I'm attaching some problems with each but ignore those if you want, I may do a ROL of these issues):

a) Foreigness/Unfamiliarity- The enjoyment of working out the rules of a universe. //Does this raise colonialist/patriarchal issues in the enjoyment of discovering/exacting control of the unknown?

b) Flawed Status Quo- This means that a protagonist moves around a world that needs fixing. They don't have to do the fixing, but the world itself upsets our value system, begging for change. //Absolutism is problematic.

c) Internal Cohesion- The rules from A need a philosophical underpinning, a consistency. IE this is a working universe and not some inconsistent universe. //This is hard to explain.

What else is required for a nice universe. Or should we be talking about a flawed universe (I'd go to late Heinlein again) to see what makes a satisfying universe.



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Fist of Lightning
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posted 23 July 2005 03:27 PM      $post_id   Email Antacid   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
Hey, me replying has nothing to do with being a mod, i wouldn't reply if i didn't want to, it's an interesting topic, too bad this board is half dead and only two people participate.

About our dear RJ... i don't think he lost control because of world complexity, but because of plot complexity and number of characters, it's possible to write a tighter story in a complex world, Middle Earth is not less detailed as a world, and the lord of the rings is a lot shorter and tighter, another example is the various D&D worlds that are a lot more complex (Krynn, Forgotten Realms, etc.) and the stories written in them are a lot tighter and shorter (although, usually, pretty crappy, but that's not relevant).

As for the things you specified:
a. I also find it fun to discover the universe slowly, and for some things to be left unknown or not understood, but i want to have a feeling that the author has an understanding of a complete universe in his head, not that all that i know is just all that the author thought about in the little time he gave for building his world, and that's what i was talking about when i talked about myths, rumors and tales the characters encounter... i think even if the whole world is not revealed in all its complexity, it's more fun to know it's there, and you have something to look forward to by revealing it slowly.

b. Yes, i find worlds with problems more fun... the darker the better usually. A Song of Ice and Fire would be really boring if it was told in a time of peace and prosperity with no war or problems going on.

c. Consistency is also important of course, but i find most worlds pretty consistent, the inconsistency usually shows in the characters or magic system or the story, can you give an example of an inconsistent world? Maybe Michael Moorcock's multiverse, that one is way too big and was written over too many years to be all consistent.

What else, what comes to mind is balance... i can give RJ as an example again... OP users in Randland... way too powerful, a single Aes Sedai can beat an army and there are thousands of Aes Sedai and other OP users, RJ prevented the Aes Sedai from going wild by their laws that prevent them from harming others, which is guess works somewhat to balance it, but there are also Forsaken, damane, Kin, etc. etc., i think in a real world, they would be curving kingdoms for themselves already with that sort of power.

Can't think of something else right now... maybe next time.

"Sometimes it's damned hard to tell the dancer from the dance." - Corwin, prince of Amber.

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Lord Union
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posted 24 July 2005 01:06 AM      $post_id   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
Wow, tossing out the Moorcock. Woof, that's not a body of work I can wrap my head around. I don't think he even goes for more than passing consistency and there is too much there for me to really see a unified universe.

2 quick things, totally unrelated. 1)Didn't conciously notice the Zelazny signature of yours or I would have hit the Amber novels earlier and harder. 2)I've posted a thread about this before, but these dead boards are frustrating because there are tons of different perspectives out there that could make this more interesting.

Any of you Lurking about jump on in. (mmm... slightly pretentious with the commanding and the typing and the bookiness)

This comes from a fan of Lotr, but not a fanboy. Tolkon's 4 Lotr books are historically important in that they raised the lot of fiction and fantasy and spawned an entire subset of the culture in the D&D set/high fantasy crowds. They are visionary and created a market niche that didn't exist to the degree it does before them. (Most of fantasy before them would be considered fairy tales, romance, or Horror now). But, I don't think that they are the best fantasy books or (internally) the most realized universe. There is a great deal of complexity and unstated history, but I don't see them as the end all, but rather the begining of an Adult fantasy genre. D&D is an extension of this tradition, but I'm not intrigued by these worlds the way that many people are. I think that these both mythologies are made more immersive by other media like games and movies. That's why I wouldn't include Starwars, because it was realized primarily in movies and it's history was a byproduct of consumer/fanfiction interest.

As for consistency, I think sweeping stories like Amber are a great example of the issues arising from consistency issues. Lot's of people didn't like the second book of Amber because it isn't realized as fully as is the first and the world becomes more complicated in ways that are not totally compatible with the underpining of the first book. These books completely create a new underlying conflict that doesn't enrich the plot the way the first were rich with Corwin's Quest. (This is also a cheap way to reflect Zelazny's preocupation with Technology/Civilization vs. Magic/Nature (Gun's of Amber; beyond the gate in Madwand)). Maybe Betancourt's Dawn of Amber books resolve some of the dissonance, I haven't read 2 closely or three at all and I think 4 is coming out in november. They seem to deal directly with the Pattern and Logros as well as filling in reasons for the uniqueness of Corwin's pattern.

Equally, Thomas Covenant was good for the first set of books (I'm not half the fan as I am of anything Zelazny), but the second set just rehashed with enough of the universe changed so that you can't read them as a whole.

But I don't like boiling fiction down to rules/guidlines without addressing what fiction is. We both seem to like books that, in many ways (complexity, conflict, problem with the status quo) reflect our own reality. I don't think that is what fiction/fantasy is neccesarilly (sp?) about. I think that short stories that stand on their own can include an equally bewildering and satisfying universe. The universe in a book doesn't have to share many qualities of our own to be good as fiction. Look at Naked Lunch.

To open it up again, what do you consider to be a dissatisfying universe? A world that isn't fit for the stories written in it. Maybe that path leads to insight.

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Fist of Lightning
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posted 25 July 2005 03:56 PM      $post_id   Email Antacid   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
Well, i'm not a big fan of LotR either, those 3 books... but i think Middle Earth is a good world with good history and mythology background. Most D&D books are sub par (although there are a few exceptions like Dragonlance Chronicles/Legends or the Drizzt Do'urden books) but the worlds are still very detailed and complex and that was the point of my comment, as tight story is possible in a big complex world. I forgot the most obvious example though - any simple story written in our world, our world is more complex than any fantasy world, yet simple stories are plenty.

I actually liked the 2nd amber series, i think the biggest flaw was that although Merlin is a great character, he pales in comparison to Corwin (who is one of my favorite characters in fantasy).
Btw, another example for Zelazny's interest in technology vs. magic is the world in Jack of Shadows, another great book.
I didn't read the new series of amber prequels because i won't touch an amber story not written by Zelazny, that's blasphemy for me. I didn't read Thomas Covenant either, for some reason it never sounded interesting to me.

I don't really think that what i really like is reflection of our own world... i just like history, i like wars and politics, and i like complex conflicts, well, our world has all that in abundance but that's just a coincidence. :)
But i also like fantasy with differernt qualities, books like Neil Gaiman's Stardust and Neverwhere, or even Alice in Wonderland... so i'll have to say that when reading high fantasy, i like that sort of world, but i don't have to have it in other types of fantasy. Either way, the storyline itself and the characters are just as important or even more important than a complex world, a complex world just adds to my enjoyment.

A dissatisfying universe? Terry Goodkind's comes to mind, eventhough the other parts of the series aren't good either imo, the world building is really bad, things seem to appear when the author needs them, there is no real history to that world, things happen in a vacuum, many illogical things exist like stone age people in the middle of medieval level world, and yes it's hardly detailed, how many nations can you count there?
Another one that i already mentioned was Hobb's, in the Farseer Saga it was really small, with like 4-5 countries, i still found the saga excellent though, because of story and characters.
Another world that comes to mind is Michael J. Stackpole's world in the DragonCrown War Cycle, that world is more like a bunch of countries thrown together, he could just name them Country A to Z, becuase there is no real distinction.

Some more will probably come to me later, but i can put my finger on something that i don't like, and all those worlds share, they seem to be there only for the sake of telling the story, they might as well stop existing after it ends, they began existing few days before it started, i want to feel the world is alive, a real world, not just background for a story.

Well, that's it for now, until the next post, bye.

edited by Antacid on July 25th, 2005

"Sometimes it's damned hard to tell the dancer from the dance." - Corwin, prince of Amber.

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Third Sword
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posted 02 August 2005 08:03 AM      $post_id   Email dalThor   Send New Private Message    Reply With Quote 
I have to say that I think Pratchett is the most hilarious series I have ever encountered. I find myself laughing out loud in airplanes and other embarrassing places... I began reading them this year and have gotten though about 15 of them or so.

As far as complexity I have to say WoT is the most complex - despite the terrible last installment and current ennui, followed closely by Martin.

As far as humor goes I was recommended (Tom?) Sharpe, a British writer by a woman - also laughing out loud on an airplane...

I take Pratchett for what I believe it is: It isn't supposed to be a comprehensive ongoing tale of central characters and is, instead, a vast, magnificent work of humor. CMOT Dibbler rules. He is, in my opinion, the ultimate personification of American Corporate 'values'.

OK, at least there's three of us posting...

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