Fantasy Beyond the Feudal: Bas-Lag and Earthland

I’m an idiot. As I was working on this draft, I suddenly realized there are two series that encapsulate my argument that fantasy can exist beyond the common feudal setting: China Mieville’s Bas-Lag and Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail.

Yes, its steampunk, but the Bas-Lag novels are more fantasy than science fiction. And just because something is “punk” does not mean that it is science fiction.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous work on Bas-Lag, New Crobuzon, and other parts of the world, have a technological and cultural basis inspired by the later Victorian era. This is ameliorated by the many different and weird states that exist alongside New Crobuzon. And, or course, New Crobuzon itself is a city-state (which seems to be the dominant political form). Given the insanity of the environment, the city-state is likely the largest a state can grow without losing itself to some strange natural phenomenon.

In Michal’s post about black powder fantasy, the problem of magic in an industrial setting is brought up. I think Mieville solves that issue splendidly. Thaumaturgy has been industrialized. It is a foundational branch of the universe of Bas-Lag that can be studied. Thaumaturgy is a key part of many professions: Issac uses it in his theories, Bellis uses it to learn languages faster, and Judah Lowe made a fortune with golems.

Similarly, Earthland, the setting of Fairy Tail, is inspired by steampunk and is clearly more magic heavy than Bas-Lag.

Starting with the politics, the only country that the readers have familiarity with is Fiore, the home country of the Fairy Tail Guild. Looking at the world, it is pretty clearly inspired by a somewhat retro 20th and 19th centuries (it is mostly 19th but the clothes and some of the tech is later).

The thing about Earthland is how the problem of magic is dealt with. Here, wizards join guilds and perform various tasks for rewards (although other uses of magic in an industrial capacity is also obvious). If a person has a problem that needs a wizard, then they go to a guild to hire one.

Anyway, these two series show, I think, that fantasy is not exclusive to a feudal setting.


Posted on January 27, 2012, in Books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. There is actually a goodly amount of fantasy set in 19th century style settings, with the somewhat unfortunate label of “mannerpunk.” (Can’t we stop tagging “punk” on the end of everything already. I mean really…)

    Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan trilogy takes place during an alternate first world war, and the biotech is ridiculous enough for me to consider it more fantasy than science fiction. But in the way of actual magic, it seems getting too close to modernity leaves off from the “land far away” of secondary worlds; most fiction of that sort takes place in this one.

    the “common feudal setting” is generally European in character, so looking for non-feudal settings provides a far larger playing field than just stories inspired by 19th/20th century Europe. Sumerian-inspired settings would be great, and I’ve yet to come across any.

    • Michal,
      I agree that “punk” has become just stupid. Hell, most “punk” isn’t even punk!
      I’ll have to check out Westerfield’s work, thanks for the recommendation.
      I’ve had several ideas for a contemporary inspired secondary world. I wonder if it would work better if it were more “schizo” like Bas-Lag or a lot of my favorite manga settings.
      I agree that a Sumerian inspired fantasy would be awesome if done well. I know Karen Miller did something similar with her novel Empress (I think that is the title). The ancient near east is one of my history buff passions.

  2. Then there is also all sorts of modern fantasy that exists outside of feudal settings. Although for the most part magic is hidden from the rest of the world.
    Diana Wynn Jones despite being a “youth fantasy” author has some great books set in more or less modern times with an open system of magic.

    • Cool. Are they contemporary (set in our present) or secondary worlds inspired by more modern times? The later was what I was writing about (since I don’t know of any secondary fantasies set after steampunk).

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