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.