?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Fantasy and Technology - Laurion [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Laurion

[ website | My Website ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Fantasy and Technology [Jul. 27th, 2012|02:44 pm]
Laurion

Fall, Mortality, and the Machine: Tolkien and Technology – Alan Jacobs – The Atlantic.

 

The above link is to an article discussing one of Tolkein’s enduring bequeaths to Fantasy literature – that technology is the enemy.  This still plays out in literatures and stereotypes today.  How many boffer larpers talk about what they do as a chance to escape modern technology? The SCA has more right to aim for this ethic, as it aims to tackle things from a historical bent, but again there are lots of people who describe it as their opportunity to escape the computers and cell phones, and to portray a fictional character. The dominant element in almost every Fantasy setting (in fact, one of the usual defining elements of the genre) is a world without technology. Not that all fantasy worlds are pastoral and idyllic (Lieber and Martin are clear examples of urban and gritty works), but that somehow, if you include technology you are either ‘Urban Fantasy’ or ‘Sci-Fi’. Or perhaps, ‘Steampunk’ depending on the technology in question.

So, I ask you, help me make a list of Fantasy genre items where Technology is not a banished evil or a hallmark of the enemy.  Off the top of my head, Pratchett’s Discworld embraces technology, although in his characteristic tongue in cheek nature.  Rosenberg’s Guardians of The  Flame starts in a standard world, but with the element of ‘Mundane transported to fantasy world’ addresses the introduction of modern sciences and technologies to a fantasy setting.  Stasheff layers a fantasy world on top of a sci-fi universe in the Warlock series. Piers Anthony has mirrored (almost literally) sci-fi and fantasy worlds in the same books, but in many ways this only serves to reinforce the ‘technology bad, pre-industrial good’ vibe.  Harry Potter likewise uses the notion of pre-industrial/post-industrial as a separator and implies that the post-industrial world is inferior.

Where are the things that can be definitively lumped as Fantasy, but don’t try to claim, outright or through inference, that ours is the wrong world to live in, and that technology is the ruin of all?

Mirrored from The Black Horse of the Blog World.

linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: lightgamer
2012-07-27 06:51 pm (UTC)
Much of the technology in the Kingkiller Chronicles is decidedly magi-tech, but it is consistently portrayed as a good thing and areas without it are characterized as "insular" or "bumpkinish." There's also some mundane technology which follows basically the same pattern.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: laurion
2012-07-27 07:29 pm (UTC)
Ah, good! I will add this series to my 'to read someday' list.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: umbran
2012-07-27 06:59 pm (UTC)
In most ways that matter, Star Wars is a fantasy work, but the trappings are all sci-fi. And, in that world, even the magi use technological laser-swords and starships!

However, the put-down to technology is a whole lot older than Tolkien. Remember that in her day, Shelley's work was pretty much a fantasy - it only today that we'd reclassify it. But Frankenstein is most certainly a technological cautionary tale.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: laurion
2012-07-27 07:41 pm (UTC)
Star Wars is only barely arguably a fantasy work. It's not hard sci-fi either though. That said, even there technology is seen as a tool of destruction. Let's look at the first movie. The pinnacle of technical achievement is being able to eliminate an entire planet in one go. The pinnacle of achievement for the good guys is being able to turn off the technology and hit the critical target using a non-technical, spiritual system instead. Even the one piece of Jedi representative tech, the lightsaber, is in principle an object of violent destruction. The bad guys get: deathstars, at-ats, force fields, and carbonite. The good guys get: living on natural landscapes, swamprats, tauntauns, ewoks, and emotions.

I'm not sure that Shelley's work would have ever been classified as a fantasy. In its own time, it was remarkable for simply being a novel, an art for that was only 50 someodd years old or so in English literature. I think it could only have been classified as Fiction then - a field not yet needing of more diverse classifications. And it is definitely a tale warning of the dangers of science and technology, but I don't feel like most Fantasy is trying to warn us about technologies potential, it is trying to hold up pre-industrialization as an ideal. Frankenstein wasn't ever espousing the virtues of earlier societal forms, just warning about letting the current one go too far down the wrong road.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lilairen
2012-07-27 09:45 pm (UTC)
But not too many emotions! Emotions are the way to the dark side!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: umbran
2012-07-28 11:26 pm (UTC)
To quote Rod Serling, "science fiction - the improbable made possible; fantasy - the impossible made probable". By that measure, Star Wars is fantasy. Dude, the main story is about *wizards*, for cryin' out loud! There's a thin veneer of science imagery over a heart of fantasy.

As for Frankenstein - think of it as a retelling of the golem story, and the story's fantasy nature becomes apparent.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: laurion
2012-07-29 07:49 pm (UTC)
Ok, I'll accept the argument that SW is fantasy. I suppose given the Campbell mythologic influences it has to be. But it still does an unbalanced job in its portrayal of technology. At least, in the movies, having not read the books.

In the vein of Frankenstein though, at the time it had to be science fiction. Scientists were just starting to experiment with electricity and its connections and effects on biology. A very big idea at the time was using electricity to overcome death. Almost two hundred years later we think the idea of animating a body with electricity is fantasy, but at the time it was science.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dervishspin
2012-07-27 07:52 pm (UTC)
Charles DeLint?
His Newford world is not inherently technology = bad. It does contain a longing for a past age, or for The Other, but not with the assumption that The Other is superior or safer. Just different.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: laurion
2012-07-27 09:10 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I've always classified DeLint under the much narrower 'Urban Fantasy' genre. But I think I've only read one book and maybe a short story. Thanks!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: umbran
2012-07-28 11:31 pm (UTC)
Well, what classifies a thing for you as "urban fantasy" instead of "fantasy"?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: laurion
2012-07-29 07:53 pm (UTC)
Urban fantasy to me layers fantasy on top of modern urban life. Examples would be Dresden Files, Buffy/Angel, or even, *shudder*, Twilight.

I'm eliding them from this argument because they naturally embrace modern technology as part of selling the setting. But even there, please note that Dresden Files minimizes technology in the protagonist's life, and anything with characters that have lived for hundreds of years likes to play with idea that they have problems with modern technology. The eqivalent of the stereotype of octegenarians not getting the internet.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: alexx_kay
2012-07-30 07:00 pm (UTC)
And Buffy/Angel are full of anti-technology messages (especially anti-gun), both subtle and overt. It's rare for technology to overtly make life better, and every example I can think of is closely paired with a counter-example showing how that tech fails or is turned to evil ends.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jducoeur
2012-08-01 01:11 pm (UTC)
I'd thought of Dresden as soon as I read your post (I'm in the middle of reading it), and I disagree here. The fact that Harry screws up technology is consistently portrayed as an unspeakable pain in the ass, both for him and everyone around him. The technology itself is more or less never portrayed as bad, though -- if anything, Harry's interference with it is.

(And occasionally, technology is a clear good. By and large, the villains in the Dresdenverse are pure fantasy, and Big Guns are more often on the side of good. The Holy Water Paintball Gun is very, very good.)

I agree that urban fantasy is different, but I sort of feel like your argument is getting a bit tautological there -- urban fantasy is precisely the fantasy that *does* incorporate technology most, so eliminating it is just eliminating the parts of fantasy most likely to disprove the point...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ultimatepsi
2012-07-28 02:30 pm (UTC)
Bujold's Sharing Knife series is unequivocally fantasy, and takes place in a world of where growing technology could be a boon for both the bad guys and the good guys. In fact, one of the main conflicts of the series is how a group who uses traditional magic and how a group that uses evolving technology can live together successfully. I wouldn't call the series tech-positive, but it isn't tech-negative either. Different characters have different takes on technology, and on advanced magic/magi-tech.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: laurion
2012-07-28 07:39 pm (UTC)
Ok, I've only read one Bujold and that from the Vorkosigan line. Some day I'll get to more Bujold... *grin*
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: benndragon
2012-07-28 10:11 pm (UTC)
Oddly enough, the boffer LARP I'm currently playing in has pretty advanced non-magical medical tech, akin in utility to modern battlefield medicine. I'm not sure if there's much in the way of other non-magical tech (there are no guns, for example), but that might be due to the combat focus of the LARP environment.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: laurion
2012-07-29 07:56 pm (UTC)
Not sure. There are boffer games that have guns. Wielding a gun, like wielding a boffer sword, relies on the skill of the wielder. The more logical reason is that if you model boff guns after actual guns, they tend to unbalance the playing field, just as actual guns did. But there may be some 15th or 16th centure gun interpretations that could be employed to keep a balance. Not sure how to do that in boffery mechanics though.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: benndragon
2012-07-29 09:46 pm (UTC)

Oh, I'm positive they could do nerf-like guns if they wanted to - they do archery quite well (arrows tipped with soft foam balls covered in a thin layer of latex/nitrile, bows with no more than 25-lb of pull, rules to discourage people from charging bow-wielders in-game as well as directly, etc.). My point was more than the LARP isn't as anti-tech as implied in the post, except possibly when it comes to guns (I actually don't know why there is good medical tech but no guns - it might be the same reason there are a bazillion kinds of elf: the GM likes it that way).
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: alexx_kay
2012-07-30 06:57 pm (UTC)
I think that "technology is the enemy" is an oversimplification of what's going on in Tolkien and his heirs. There is plenty of good-flavored technology in Tolkien.

What makes it *seem* like he is anti-technology is that he is expressing the much older idea of "descent from a Golden Age". The Past was Better, and we (especially the no-account-youth-of-today) can never live up to it. This trope is older than dirt. It's not technology he's against, it's *change*. Well, that's not right, either; he acknowledges that change is inevitable and maybe even sometimes good, but he laments that which is lost.

To speak in broad stereotypes, Fantasy is a conservative literature of consolation; Science Fiction is a disruptive literature about change. (This is another reason to call Star Wars fantasy.) So I don't think you're likely to find any "definitive" Fantasy works that embrace change.
(Reply) (Thread)