Saturday, December 15, 2012

30 Days of Genre - What Genre Novel World or Setting Do You Wish You Lived In?

Andre Norton's Science Fiction Future
This is always a difficult question to answer, because there are some choices that seem attractive at first glance, but upon further reflection would have substantial drawbacks that would make them less than ideal choices. I love Middle-Earth as presented in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but like all quasi-medieval fantasy worlds, it has the drawback of a pre-industrial society without access to things like modern medicine or indoor plumbing. And if you don't think that indoor plumbing is a big deal, imagine having to use an outhouse or a slit trench for the rest of your life. And I hope you don't mind cholera and typhoid fever running rampant through the populace every now and then. Sure, most quasi-medieval settings have magic as an part of the fantasy world, but how much does it help your typical inhabitant of Bree to know that "the hands of the King are the hand of a healer". Even after Aragorn becomes king, he lives in Gondor, hundreds of miles away. And there is only one of him. I'd rather live in a world in which trained medical personnel are at least reasonably common.

Other fantasy worlds share many of the same problems. I love Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, but I doubt I'd want to deal with Arawn's unkillable cauldron born. I enjoy reading about Ursula K. le Guin's Earthsea in her Earthsea series, but the lives of the inhabitants would not suit me. Even when one advances into science fiction, the fictional worlds depicted in most books seem less than attractive. While Robert A. Heinlein's imagined future in Starship Troopers has advanced medical technology and all the modern conveniences one would want, it also seems to have constant war and a less than appetizing political system. I love reading the stories set in Frank Herbert's Dune universe, but I'd rather not live in a galactic empire ruled by a genetically superior aristocracy and their favored lieutenants where computers are banned. Some fictional futures, like William Gibson's Sprawl books, seem downright unpalatable, and others, like most of Samuel R. Delany's offerings, are so alien that anyone from our time living in them would feel completely out of place. In many cases it seems that what makes a book fun to read is also what would make it less than fun to live within.

As I often do, I fall back on an old familiar favorite of mine: my first science fiction love Andre Norton. Norton only wrote a few books that could properly be called a "series", and those were usually limited to a book followed by a sequel, such as The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars, or Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus. But many of her science fiction novels seem to have shared the same meta-setting, with a collection of commonalities: free traders plying the space lanes, a common collection of alien races, various struggling colonies trying to scrape out an existence on newly settled planets, space pirates, the patrol, clues about the mysterious long-gone forerunners, and so on. The future Norton imagined was a place full of adventure, but a familiar kind of adventure involving commerce and intrigue, in which war was rare and localized, and a single person could own a star ship and ply the space lanes. A future in which a person from the 20th century would almost feel at home, just with a little bit more technology. And one can see the fingerprints of this meta-setting in popular science fiction television such as Babylon 5, Firefly, and Farscape. So, Andre Norton's science fiction future is where I'd want to live, roving outer space between the colonies on a free trader.


  1. I am still getting use to the present world and prefer this over others. I like to visit other times and places by reading historical fiction and sometimes fantasy. Thanks for following my blog. I am now following yours as well.

  2. @Pat @ Post for Now: I read a fair amount of historical fiction, but I prefer fantasy and science fiction. I get enough of the present world on a day to day basis. When I read fiction, I want to be transported somewhere and somewhen else.