Although The Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an anime I greatly enjoy, its immense scope (110 episodes, detailing the rise and fall of immense superpowers through the lens of two men who emerge as their figureheads) makes it a challenging prospect to write about. It is not just epic in terms of its plot – epic in the sense of scale, with planets and star systems changing hands and yet also in the sense of character, talking about the rise of charismatic leaders of men with ambitions to bring down political entities centuries old – but in terms of ambition as a piece of fiction. It presents two entire ideologies embodied by its warring factions, in a sense – monarchy (and a quasi-respectable monarchy under an “enlightened” ruler at that) versus democracy (a corrupt, self-serving democracy that is no more enlightened than the monarchy it fights againt) with capital – the private sector and corporate interests represented by Phezzan – and religion, via both the spirituality of the Empire and the mysterious, destabilising Earth Cult – as third-parties who play both sides. This scale makes discussion of the series as a whole less fruitful than character studies or discussion of individual plot arcs – but these are still articles I have trouble beginning to write. More accessible is the creator of The Legend‘s, Yoshiki Tanaka’s, more recently adapted work, The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Currently two episodes into its 2015 adaptation, Arslan presents the same thematic intent as Galactic Heroes but within a different context.
In a past article about Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series I talked about how a key part of the setting and overall mood is a result of the sense of inevitability and inescapability that is created. Routine becomes destructive and insular, and as a result any kind of change – even change from a traditionally “evil” source – is welcome to the reader. This ties in to what I see as an interesting possibility for historical or pseudohistorical fiction – an exploration of evil. The concept of the empirical novel, central to science-fiction in its consideration of the effects of a setting on its inhabitants, becomes interestingly mutated when the settings and attitudes being explored are real ones or close to real ones.
It’s been a while since I wrote an article in this series and it’s because I wanted to write something positive. However I have until very recently been unable to find any genre fiction that didn’t fill me with a crushing sense of disappointment; I went from the underwhelming books of Joe Abercrombie to the unremarkable but at least interesting in terms of setting Nylon Angel by Marianne de Pierres, and from there tried the Malazan series. The latter showed the most promise but fell too far into the traps of other fantasy in that its setting was so reliant on explanations of things, exposition (some of which was only made really clear in glossaries and appendices) and chunks of verse that weren’t naturalistically slotted into the writing to be truly enjoyable. Once you got over the terminology and the central conceit (that humans resented, rather than welcomed, the interference of the pantheon in their affairs), what was left was a very ordinary fantasy setting to my mind.