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  1. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    What's Next for Fantasy? A theory of fads and ripples.

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Lazaares, Aug 2, 2020.

    An interesting thought hit my mind recently; a thought about the various "ripples" and "waves" we have seen in fantasy, especially in recent history. I am sure you can extrapolate this theory way back to the past (and I hope it will be somewhat applicable for the future), as it is a pretty baseline observation of a trend.

    One big work defines the next couple years' style, themes and structures. This isn't unknown, happened with warships, with periods of literature, with architecture, guns, even with smartphones. This thread's about the observed trends in fantasy, each sparked by a major piece. And of course, under fantasy, I'll also include movies, tabletop and video games as I judge the writing for these all follow common trends and ripples. Whether by coincidence (being more conscious of the genre) or an actual trend, I feel like these "fashion waves" are more and more prominent each after the other.

    The first major wave I want to mention is the "Dungeons and Dragons" wave; an era mostly in the 90s that defined fantasy with mythological creatures and elaborate sword & sorcery worlds. I mentioned D&D because I consider this period to be sparked by a switch from "Conanesque" to "Forgotten Realms" fantasy; the world, books and games most defining the period. This was also a golden age of early fantasy games with some of the most famous ones created, all following this general trend/idea (Might & Magic franchise, precisely Heroes of Might and Magic, the early Elder Scrolls games and the "Six big RPGs" all based on the Forgotten Realms world. This was also the era for most of Wheel of Time c

    The second I judge was a wave sparked by the resurgence of Tolkienism through the LOTR movie trilogy. The last of the six big forgotten realms RPGs was published the same year Two Towers came out. Similarly, it was the same year Morrowind smashed the market which was the last Elder Scrolls game with a prominent alien / D&Desque style. Neo-Tolkienism promoted epic fantasy, familiar environments and cosmic struggles. Can really mention the Mistborn series here and the sheer change some fantasy worlds encountered: the shift in the Elder Scrolls universe from "alien and strange" to "cozy and familiar", and a similar shift in the Warcraft universe at the same time also extending to the various novels published (which started during this "era"). Mind, however, that the Warcraft change happened parallel with the ...

    Third is the most interesting to me; the very definition of a "quick fad", the "viking era". Something that still grinds my gears, there was a quick succession of seemingly "random" viking-inspired fantasy works published in a quick succession between 2010 and 2013 - some of these in production/writing somewhat earlier. Even weirder, some franchises / worlds had a whole period dedicated to the "viking fad".

    So far my tracing goes:
    Warcraft Universe (2008 Frozen Throne) - How to Train Your Dragon (2010) - Skyrim/ES Universe (2011), Vikings series (2012-2013).

    What is firm that both the Warcraft & Elder Scrolls universe "shifts" were in planning/preparations as early as 2007 (the year of the semi-flop Beowulf).

    Know anything about this? Have a clue where this originates from? Do share; I'm ... perplexed.

    Fourth comes the most recent; the rise of gritty/low/dark fantasy sparked rather obviously by the success of HBO's Game of Thrones series and also ended by the ridiculous failure of HBO's Game of Thrones series. Easy to define the timeframe; 2011 to 2019. An interesting precursor to this "fad" is the Witcher series which predates the GoT series, but was "pushed" parallel with it and now became a somewhat prominent alternative with books, games and now even a series dedicated to it. I may have felt this far more than the others because I mostly abandoned reading fantasy at this point in favour of active roleplay, lore writing and participation - and oh boy, wherever you went in the mid 2010s people were trying to emulate GRRM's great houses (if not straight-up copy them), often with cringe-worthy results.

    It is, however, clearly over. Or so I feel. Man that last season DESTROYED the sub-genre's appeal. So fast its flames were snuffed it is unbelievable the series only ended a year ago.

    Once more, somewhat ignorant of trends in traditional written literature, I have seen some resurgence of Roman/Greek themes (but that may have simply been my historical fiction reading skewing my spectrum of vision). There was also a brief "opening to the East" in multiple fantasy worlds and franchises at the time of China's entry to the web-market, most of that over by now. Ironically, the very entry to the market that prompted eastern-themed expansions, books, additions and works has been quenched by the Beijing government through their recently imposed regulations.

    What do you think of these ripples? What do you think will be the "next big fad"? Perhaps you can add onto or contest my interpretation of prior fads; all in all I am skewed to reading/consuming franchises present both in literature and video games.
     
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  2. Jan Karlsson

    Jan Karlsson Member

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    Interesting. I never really paid much attention to the shifts in the Fantasy genre, if I’m honest.

    I do wonder, though, if the next shift may be more centred on characters than milieu. I can see, maybe, a string of books/movies/etc where the main characters are predominantly women and, I truly hope, women written well and not just shoved into the stories as MC’s because and only because they’re women.

    Other than that I couldn’t begin to predict.

    (Although, and this is in no way an indicator, I have seen a rise in ‘fairy tale’ fantasy stories on wattpad. Less emphasis on the brutal realities of fantasy and more on the etherial, wispy traits. Make of that what you will.)
     
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  3. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Now that is something that's been brewing since the early 2010s and a trend I don't regard as a fad, because it will likely be a trend that will stay with us. I would not precisely state a trend towards female main characters; more so a trend to include more female characters in far more influential positions. This is something that came to light in the Warcraft universe recently; with the "big power players" all female characters, including some of the antagonists too.

    Less a ripple, more a transformation.
     
  4. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Senior Member

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    It can be very hard to try and predict fads, it is so dependent on something becoming popular and inspiring imitations.

    I would like to say that I disagree a bit with your list, though I am by no means a fantasy expert (especially within the book side of things). D&D starting a fad is obvious (though one could argue that D&D is so inspired by LotR that it should be considered the progenitor), same with GoT, no disagreement on either of those. But I didn't really see any LotR clones based off the movies, instead that was when magic schools were still big thanks to Harry Potter. And the viking thing just seems like coincidence and not significant enough to be considered a fad.

    As for the horizon, like how GoT got big because of its subversion of the genre, I expect the next big thing could likewise be a response to the current state of fantasy. Namely (and this is with a big dose of personal bias) I feel like the genre might move away from the feudal era war epics, and move towards more mundane conflicts in a democracy/republic setting, just with a healthy dose of fantastical elements. Potential example (though I haven't seen it yet) would be Disney Pixar's Onward. Now I don't see that movie getting popular enough to create the fad, but something in that vein could do so.

    Basically I've noticed recent criticism of fantasy in how it glorifies both war and feudalism and feel like the next big thing will be a rejection of both. One could argue that GoT was telling a story that rejected those notions, but it did so by emphasizing the issues they bring, while telling a fairly standard fantasy story which unintentional still glorified the feudal system and war. Instead of GoT's dystopian take on fantasy, I predict the next big thing will be more of a utopian take on it. But then I predict that given the current state of our own world, utopians will become relatively popular, so this is just an extrapolation of that.
     
  5. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Assertive Neophyte Contributor

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    If Asian influenced high/epic fantasy was a stock, I would probably buy it. It's not my cup of tea, but from what I can judge from internet buzz, it has a growing and enthusiastic readership.

    I also suspect high fantasy will continue to slowly shift away from the medieval and Renaissance eras in favor of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century technology.

    I imagine the themes and conflicts in high fantasy will largely remain the same in the near future. In fact, I'm not even sure it can get away from those. But then again, I don't view works like ASoIaF as nearly as much of a subversion of the genre as many do.
     
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  6. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    I hope I'll contribute :rolleyes:

    It's not really a subversion, but carried tropes and themes that got stuck for a while with the fantasy community. As much as Tolkienism isn't a subversion of its genre, but the "Shire coziness" is simply a feeling that's so inherently part of it.

    I am ought to look out for arabic / african inspired works too. I'm trying to draw from those culture circles for my current project; I reckon they too are having an emergence. Or so I hope.
     
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  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Reading the OP, I suspected the cable show Vikings might have kicked off that trend, but apparently it started in 2013 (the end of the period you mentioned). And I didn't realize it was created by Michael Hurst—Hercules' little partner Iolas from The Legendary Journeys, who I know used do direct a lot of the episodes, also of Xena. I wonder what did kick off the Viking trend?
     
  8. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Yes! If you consider that the series likely needed a years' time to be approved and go through writing (it needed a year for filming), it sets the "conception" to 2011 - right at the "advent" of this viking fad!

    Grrrr. Where is that one root cause?! It may actually be How to Train your Dragon. Or Lich King - no. Doubt that.
     
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  9. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    Personally I hope this recent era of fantasy deconstructionism (making it "realistic", which is to say all grim and cynical) is fading out now so we can get going with some serious fantasy reconstructions. Call me old school but I feel that fantasy, being the genre of wonders and fantastical things, is sorta inherently supposed to be idealistic.

    I don't necessarily want my favored brand of fantasy storytelling to be mainly cartoons and anime primarily intended for adolescents - it would be nice to have some actual literature as well - but I just don't have a lot to work with right now.

    I don't particularly mind either way, especially with my tendency to write female main characters more or less exclusively. No offense to you, Jan, but I think we need to careful with our critique here: The implication that using token female (or LGBTQ, or non-white, etc) characters in leading roles for no other reason than earning progressive clout is somehow worse than not doing it at all and just maintaining the status quo is a wholly reactionary attitude and, in times like ours, increasingly puts ones motives into question.

    Tokenisms isn't good, no, but it's still better than doing nothing. It shows a willingness, no matter how grudging or hollow, to progress the social values we creators express through our creations. And maybe, just maybe, it's enough to inspire the next generation try a little harder.
     
  10. Jan Karlsson

    Jan Karlsson Member

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    Well, as a bisexual person, if I read a story/watched a movie or tv show with a bisexual protagonist that just had the bisexual ‘tag’ to tick boxes, especially if the character is badly written, I’d rather they didn’t bother. I want a character that I can relate to because they are a good character first and bisexual being only a part of that good character. They can keep their tokenism until they learn how to do the characters justice.

    But that’s just me.
     
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  11. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    ^ I tend to agree. Except for the being bisexual part I mean.
     
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  12. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

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    I've noticed a lot of non-European settings the last few years - Middle and Far Eastern, mostly, which I love. Also, steampunk is making a resurgence, though some might consider that closer to urban fantasy. I can't wait to see a Chinese/steampunk mash-up - those two go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
     
  13. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    I do sort of understand why you would feel that way, but I also fear it may be somewhat shortsighted. You're completely justified in resenting shallow token representations of your sexual orientation - I get how that sort of thing might come across as insincere and even insulting. Problem is, that's exactly the sort of attitude that has an unfortunate tendency to be co-opted by the kind of people who straight up do not want people like you represented in fiction at all.

    These people will try to emphasize any potential negative aspect of any attempt to be progressive while completely ignoring whatever good it does. The message is that if it doesn't work absolutely perfectly right away, that means it doesn't work at all and we should just go back to the way things used to be. This is basically what reactionaries do, and they're disturbingly good at it.

    Which is why I said we should be careful. As a straight white dude* I'm probably not the best person to lecture you on this issue, but fortunately it seems we're on the same side here, and I just think we should try to avoid giving those people more opportunities to subvert our own arguments in service of their agenda.

    (Also as a straight white dude I don't have a lot of experience being socially oppressed, and I kinda see how "getting it right" can be difficult for us even when we have good intentions. I don't want to sound like an apologist or anything but I genuinely struggle with positive representation of minorities in my own writing - it's difficult resisting my cultural conditioning to make all the heroes white people, let alone making characters non-hetorosexual without feeling I need to go out of my way to justify it somehow, lest I be perceived as insincere about my motives.)

    What I'm basically saying is that maybe tokenism is sort of a necessary transitional period - that we first have to get people onboard with just the idea of non-straight, non-white (etc) characters getting portrayals in fiction that aren't inherently antagonistic in nature, before we can convince them to view it as normal. It sure would be nice if we could skip all of that bullshit and just do it the right way immediately, but alas perhaps that is asking too much? Maybe we should appreciate whatever small victory we can attain, for now.

    *Who at the most may have some issues regarding his gender identity - which is why I would hesitate to describe myself as "cis." Though, even that I'm not completely sure of.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2020
  14. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Gotta disagree with this. Season 8 may have snuffed out GoT's legacy, but I don't see how it extinguished the "gritty" fantasy trend. The Witcher has broken into the mainstream in the Anglosphere in a big way, authors like Joe Abercrombie are still popular, and you can find tons of "A Song of Ice and Fire"-wannabes getting published. Its influence has lessened, but it's still quite strong.
     
  15. Stormsong07

    Stormsong07 Contributor Contributor

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    Don't forget the "magic school" fad kicked off by Harry Potter. I'd pin that to 1997-present, given that they're still releasing movies (The Fantastic Beasts ones, at least)
     
  16. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Ah, yes. A little side fad I would mention because it traversed into the mainstream & into superhero movies. I remember at least two released with the same setting/premise. One was about super heroes in a high school, other was a secret facility to train them. I would group those together.

    Then again, a "side fad" similar to the Deep Impact / Armageddon "quickie fad" of asteroid movies.
     
  17. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

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    In the paranormal sphere of things I've seen more disabled main characters--blind, mute, use a wheelchair. Although not quite so much to say it's trending...yet.
     
  18. ruskaya

    ruskaya Senior Member

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    On a side note, I watched the first two episodes of The Witcher, but got bored and dropped it. It felt it mixed too many elements from different sub-genres, like magical, paranormal, super-hero (the mutant aspect), etc., but didn't tie them together in a way that was "necessary" by interweaving them and making them co-dependent. That at least is my opinion.
     
  19. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

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    I thought the first season of Witcher as a whole was sort of a mess, plot-wise, but it didn't seem like it had an abnormal amount of genre smooshing in my opinion. It did feel like it was trying to accomplish too many plotlines and POVs. It all comes together at the end but it takes a whole season to get there! I'll still be watching season two regardless.
     
  20. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Active Member

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    Frankly the first season did more than a few things wrong. I'm hoping they get their act together for Season 2. They focused far too much on Yennefer, showed a battle they didn't have the budget or directing skills for, and missed key details from the books among other things. The timeline jumps were well signposted, but a lot of people complained about those.

    That ship started sinking about half-way, maybe 5/8ths through. The faithful audience tried to look past it because the start of the series was so darn strong. You can see the tension, dialogue/characters, plot, and choreography just shrink away like a patch of snow in January. It's sad:(.

    I have no idea what to expect next. The newest generation of DnD is still growing in popularity. I think we'll see some more mystical galaxy things. Space-Tolkien.

    I'm confused. I thought a person's sexuality was essentially his or her entire identity. /sarcasm
     
  21. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Right in the feels man. Seventh season I still watched huddled up with friends, the morning before exams in the UK to not get spoiled.

    Season eight. Didn't even watch the last three episodes. Just ... couldn't. Watched them around August after the dust settled a bit on HBO go. Didn't miss much.

    That's an interesting observation because now that I think of it, there's been some "lead-up" to a theme like that. I know the Elder Scrolls, Warcraft and Warhammer universes took that direction. Hell, in 2017 warcraft took its playerbase to an alien demon planet with a spaceship where they met crash-landed old allies and united with people deformed by demonic space-radiation. And that's high fantasy - well, normally.
     
  22. r.ross

    r.ross Member

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    I'm not sure, but maybe books about unicorns will be the next fad? Especially in MG and YA fantasy.

    A UK author recently landed a 7 figure deal with S&S and her book is about unicorns. It's a record breaker, and I wonder if it reflects what is happening behind the scenes in the publishing world...
     
  23. JuliaBrune

    JuliaBrune Member

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    I don't think these things can be predicted - if they could publishers would definitely have way easier jobs haha

    I do feel like there are a lot of fantasy authors that take their cultural cues from their own ancestral cultures rather than medieval Europe. Most notably, their has been a push from African and African-American authors to decolonize fantasy and that's pretty cool !

    I agree with you up to a point. As a bi trans girl, I like that authors are trying to acknowledge queer people but I'm wary of them using us as the exotic new thing to show off. So I don't really have a general position and in any case I don't want to assume that an author I don't know is straight and/or cis...

    I suppose the healthy way to deal with that is to write my own queer characters, and that's exactly what I'm planning on doing on my next project. It's gonna be fantasy about queer people living in queer spaces but with magic
     
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  24. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Active Member

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    I'm not good at predicting trends and I tend to hate them anyway, so I'll just say what I would like to see:

    -Less obsession with constructing "believable" worlds, with rules and jargon and complex details, and more cultivation of beautiful atmospheres with poetic language, like Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter

    -Less obsession with epics with complex interwoven plots, and more reveling in mystery and weirdness, like the stories of Leonora Carrington

    -Less obsession with trends and sales, and a deeper engagement with ancient storytelling models from around the world

    -No more striving to create the next lucrative franchise with one's name in the lights. Instead, collective projects and explorations, co-creation and sharing of myths, stories and worlds woven from the bottom up and rejection of the shallow fantasies propagated by corporations

    -A furious hatred of capitalism and its putrid culture, commitment to liberation, pleasure, joy
     
  25. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    Anime has already started to hit the silver screens in different forms (Ghost in a Shell), so if they’re not already trying to translate Akira into something similar it will come soon enough.

    I think Dune will likely spark an interest in more cerebral fantasy and we’re likely to see a mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy more and more as interests shift toward real-world advances.

    I think there is a growing thirst for narratives with more substance and nuance. Personally I find it hard to read fiction nowadays as I read from a critical perspective and find myself too distanced from the story - because I’ve ‘read it before’. I would like to see novels (of any genre) that assumes their audience is interested in multiple topics with reasonable depth. Finding something as engaging as I’d like to read (that requires work) is not easy to come by.
     
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