Low Key
 subscriber, 239 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 08:51
Alternative Fantasy
The discussion in another thread has got me thinking.

Most fantasy (be it fiction, RPG source books, games, whatever) comes from a similar place.
This leads to similar tropes, species, etc in most of the fantasy I've been exposed to.
There's nothing inherently wrong with genre shorthand. If I'm playing a space wizard game it's easier for my character to have a lightsaber than for me to spend three pages describing a laser sword powered by myber mystals.

But, I want to know what fantasy is out there that is separate from the Tolkien-esque fantasy that is (in my experience) common.
I'm not talking 'orcs but it's from their POV so maybe they're nuanced', that's normal fantasy with a twist. I'm talking totally, utterly different.

I'll start:
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
A compelling and utterly different (to me) fantasy novel. It's the first of a planned trilogy, and the only book released so far, but I'd still thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for fantasy from a different perspective. It changed how I think about fantasy (in a good way) and is also a really good story.

What else is out there that I should add to my reading list?
Yaztromo
 supporter, 366 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 08:58
Alternative Fantasy
First settings that come to mind are Talislanta and Tékumel. Have a look at them:they are really interesting!
Under some point of view, you can consider Dark Sun at least in part under this category, although it takes several tropes from other literary works, starting from Barsoom.
Low Key
 subscriber, 240 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 09:08
Alternative Fantasy
I'm not familiar with Talislantia or Tekumel, I'll give them a look, thank you! :)

Dark Sun I am passingly familiar with, I'd class that as fantasy with a twist.
I think I'm looking for fantasy that starts in a place totally different from what I'm used to, rather than fantasy that distorts and changes traditional fantasy.

To use an analogy, I'm familiar with Golden Age superheroes.
I'm not looking for Watchemen (an excellent comic, and totally different to Claremont's X-Men, but it's still built on the skeletons of those books), I'm looking for Maus, Asterios Polyp or Sandman.
It's not a perfect analogy (I've left the superhero genre behind!) but hopefully it helps explain my thoughts a bit more clearly?

This message was last edited by the user at 09:09, Thu 02 July.

Egleris
 member, 186 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 09:19
Alternative Fantasy

What would you qualify as "different approach"? In "Practical Guide to Evil", the characters are aware of fantasy tropes and use them against each other, but it's otherwise set in a relatively normal fantasy world (medieval/late renaissance technology, orcs & mages, undead armies, etc). Would the fact the character are self aware about the narratives they're in be enough to make it the kind of different approach you're seeking?
Low Key
 subscriber, 241 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 09:27
Alternative Fantasy
I'd still have that as a twist on classic fantasy. Which, I do enjoy. But that's not what I'm looking for here.
I love Pratchett, for example, but he's still playing in the same sandbox. He's just taking a different approach to traditional fantasy.
Ditto Game of Thrones. It's a different take on the same toys. I want all new toys.

The only thing I've ever encountered that hits what I'm looking for in regards to being 'totally different' is the book I mentioned above, Black Leopard, Red Wolf.
I didn't know different like that could exist before I read it, but now I have read it and do know I'm greedy for more!
evileeyore
 member, 357 posts
 GURPS GM and Player
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 13:12
Re: Alternative Fantasy
Low Key:
Most fantasy (be it fiction, RPG source books, games, whatever) comes from a similar place.

Most fantasy comes from a lot of different places.

Conanesque fantasy is nothing like Tolkien.  The Dying Earth is nothing like Tolkien.  Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser are nothing like Tolkien.  The Barsoom series is nothing like Tolkien.  The works of Lord Dunsany are nothing like Tolkien...

And that's just a short list from the works that inspired D&D.  ;)

I could elaborate further, from fantasy that has come since and from before Tolkien, but my point is:  Tolkien might have had a strong influence of D&D, but it's not the end all be all of fantasy, let alone fantasy RPGs.
Low Key
 subscriber, 243 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 14:24
Re: Alternative Fantasy
Thanks, I'll have a google and see if any of that scratches my itch :)

And any elaboration is welcome
I'd probably prefer newer than older, given my general taste in books. That said, I'm looking for different to what I know, so I don't think I should rule anything out for being 'not what I'd usually read' because that sort of misses the whole point

And to clarify, I used Tolkein-esque as easy shorthand to try to evoke the fantasy feel I'm used to, not to suggest JRR was the be all and end all. I'm not an expert on the depth and breadth of fantasy (hence this thread) but I'm not quite that sheltered!
Kagekiri
 member, 192 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 14:45
Re: Alternative Fantasy
So by completely different are you saying: no elves? no castles? no dragons?

I'll give it a try anyway. The Stormlight Archives, by Brandon Sanderson, I felt was a pretty big departure from anything Tolkien-esque. No traditional races (I mean, unless you're counting humans). The place where most of the story takes place feels pretty middle-eastern to me, though I'm no anthropologist.

I guess part of the problems I'm having with your description is Tolkien used some pretty universal themes like, "There's a big calamity about to happen and we need to stop it," so you might have a hard time finding anything if you're going that far as a point of distinction.

I would say Black Company (no elves, orc, etc. and no 'good guys,' the books are told from the perspective of mercenaries), but again, you still have an ancient evil that everyone hopes will never wake up (Sauron, the Dark One, Voldemort, Fenrir, Loki, Cthulhu, Gary Gygax, Satan). I guess the problem I'm running into is that if you deconstruct enough times, everything is the same and nothing means anything. LOL! :'(

This message was last edited by the user at 14:50, Thu 02 July.

Low Key
 subscriber, 244 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 15:54
Re: Alternative Fantasy
That's a very fair point.

It's difficult to define exactly what I mean, but I'll try to explain how the Marlon James book was different, and maybe that will help?

The setting was a fantasy world, but it was one influenced by myths/stories I wasn't familiar with.
So, there was no ancient Greek/Roman influence, no Norse influence, no Grimms fairy tales, etc. None of the (to me) familiar mythology underpinning it.

There were some familiar races/character types. A human, a shifter, a witch. But the rules for them in this world were very different to the rules I'm used to associating with those types. (With the exception of the people, in a biological sense).

Culturally and geographically the setting was different to what I'm used to seeing in fantasy.
There were jungles and towns and villages and a magic cloud place. But the unwritten rules underlying the reality were not the rules I'm used to expecting to see in fantasy.

I think the best way to describe it is that it was a world that was seen through a very different lens to the one I'm used to seeing this type of story (or, honestly, any story) through.

It was very clearly a fantasy story, but it was also totally different to anything I've ever encountered.
Which I know isn't a very useful description, it's basically 'it's different because it was different' but that's sort of at the root of it.

I also don't think it was a classic three act hero's journey, but it's the start of a series, so it's difficult to comment on the structure as a whole

Thank you for the suggestions, I'll add them to the list and check them out :)
sean213
 member, 10 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 16:14
Re: Alternative Fantasy
Kagekiri:
I'll give it a try anyway. The Stormlight Archives, by Brandon Sanderson, I felt was a pretty big departure from anything Tolkien-esque. No traditional races (I mean, unless you're counting humans). The place where most of the story takes place feels pretty middle-eastern to me, though I'm no anthropologist.



I was going to bring up Sanderson, but Kagekiri beat me to it. So I'll just add that not only is the Stormlight Archives a very good series, but his Mistborn novels were also good, as is most of his writing.  Also each of his series are set in their own unique world, with their own rules for magic, and often their own species (though humans are still the most prevalent). Yet all these various worlds exist in the same universe and on rare occasions people/objects cross over from one to another.
tibiotarsus
 member, 178 posts
 Hopepunk with a shovel
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 16:25
Re: Alternative Fantasy
China Miéville, Ursula LeGuin (mostly her space fantasy stuff), Mervyn Peake, KJ Bishop, Ken Liu...you're probably too old to get the best out of Michael Moorcock, but he's awesome (why D&D has a Law/Chaos axis, does elves as the actual Tolkienian* baby-eating Gentry they should be, not a kind of snooty feeble human)...Mary Gentle, Guy Gavriel Kay (not the Fionovar Tapestry, though, good grief), Jeff Vandermeer, Robin Hobb...oof but my top-of-head list is white, talk about relict industry bias...nope, I think that's it for really good secondary-world fantasy I'd recommend to any stranger without pulling up a library list.

Oh! Oh wait, I looked across the room at my bookshelf and am going to recommend children's fiction, but if you had a Moomin-deprived childhood then it is worth investigating the even mix of bright, playful whimsy and harsh, distilled Scandinavian bleakness of Tove Janssen's Moomin books. I would give those to adults, they're that good.


*Tolkien had no illusions about his elves, he just wanted them to be "what if Norse heroes were literally Just Like That" - the Silmarillion translates as 'Shiny Saga' and is a tale of spiralling, world-wrecking doom set off by one elf in a position of power basically getting some shiny things stolen and deciding to fight God.
Nintaku
 member, 643 posts
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 16:25
Re: Alternative Fantasy
In reply to Low Key (msg # 9):

For game settings, you could try looking into Tenra Bansho Zero (Japanese fantasy), or maybe Nyambe for African fantasy.
Fido
 member, 35 posts
 What to put here...
 At a loss for words
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 17:01
Re: Alternative Fantasy
I'll second Ken Liu, specifically the Dandelion Dynasty. It's a very light touch of magic, at least for the first book, but the world is amazing and the scope feels more like a people doing things instead of individuals like a lot of the high-fantasy I've read.

I'm also finding the Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett great (second book just came out a few months ago). It's definitely fantasy, but veers closer to an almost cyberpunk veneer, especially since the magic system is a lot closer to programming than traditional spellcasting.

This message was last edited by the user at 17:02, Thu 02 July.

GreenTongue
 member, 927 posts
 Game Archaeologist
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 17:31
Re: Alternative Fantasy
If you were interested in Tekumel / "Empire of the Petal Throne" then you may find this discussion interesting:
https://odd74.proboards.com/th...-empire-petal-throne
ricosuave
 member, 152 posts
 joined 6/27/2002
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 18:31
Re: Alternative Fantasy
Not sure if it counts as fantasy (it does for me ) but Redwall Abbey is not like tolkein.
tibiotarsus
 member, 179 posts
 Hopepunk with a shovel
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 18:46
Re: Alternative Fantasy
...Redwall is very like Tolkien - it even has vermin races, a big ol' battle per book and songs. That's why 12-year-old me loved it so much (until the "vermin" thing got uncomfortable). edit: oh, and marvellous food descriptions. I think it was Redwall as much as Tolkien that left me with the urge to always be specific about food if I'm describing any - one type of cheese versus another, seasonal fruits, cordial-making, dang but that very literally adds flavour to a world.

The series was designed for blind kids, so there is a reason each species has un-Tolkienian monolithic dialects, but when the rats are coded to talk like the poor folk you grew up around and the heroes are RP or coded to talk like upper class Englishmen...yeah...

This message was last edited by the user at 19:12, Thu 02 July.

Korentin_Black
 member, 558 posts
 I remember when all
 this was just fields...
Thu 2 Jul 2020
at 19:20
Re: Alternative Fantasy

 Hmmm.

 A problem is that if you grow up in 'The West', when 'Exotic' is 'from somewhere else' we suffer from a huge cognitive gap that we tend to forget that we're also exotic to folks from anywhere else. For an illustration of what I mean, take a look at the way almost any Japanese media portrays London, for example.

 That said:

 Legend of the Five Rings is a fascinatingly non-standard generic fantasy setting which is built entirely around Asiatic tropes. There's some good games and decent novels set there, and I understand also a card game I've managed to wholeheartedly avoid.

 There's a lot of Western settings rarely explored and handled from a different viewpoint - the Chalion books by Lois Bujold are based around a fantasy Reconquista with a genuinely excellent magic/theology system woven into the world., for example.

 Also, we tend to forget that when it comes to the strange, years and miles are interchangeable:

 The Hellenic Trader books aren't fantasy and are extremely Western. They are however set in Bronze Age Greece and they're both profoundly familiar and extremely alien because of it. A similar observation can be made of the Falco series (Roman Imperial Gumshoe novels) and the Cadfael books (European monastic murder mysteries).
Isida KepTukari
 member, 352 posts
 Elegant! Arrogant! Smart!
Fri 3 Jul 2020
at 00:00
Re: Alternative Fantasy
I'd like to throw in the Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire, Mistress of the Empire series by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst.  It's the opposite side of the Rift from the Riftworld saga, heavy Japenese influences, a different world with no ores, heavily political with cleverness and scheming.
soulsight
 member, 307 posts
 Reality is 10% perception
 and 90% interpretation.
Fri 3 Jul 2020
at 01:10
Re: Alternative Fantasy
Perhaps I don't understand the OP, but how did we get this far in without mentioning Beagle, Donaldson, and Eddings? The latter two might have some similar plot elements in their major works, but they certainly feel alternative to me, and if you haven't read The Last Unicorn stop posting on RPOL and go do so.
Actually, it's the difficulty of primary world-building that began the "Theives' World" series, and it was as definitively non-Tokienian a series as I've read.
I've never muddled through the entirety of The Chronicles of Prydain but as Alexander is condensing Welsh folklore and Tolkien is creating folklore of his own there are bound to be similarities. Speaking of which, I have, personally, taken to perusing Project Gutenberg for folklore compendiums. Many read as easily Tolkien and almost all of them present a "fantasy world" that is non-typical, at best.
I just took a second look at what I've posted, and it appears these works were published, on average, half a century ago. I'm going to go climb under the blankets and sob, now. Forget I said anything.
Kagekiri
 member, 193 posts
Fri 3 Jul 2020
at 04:05
Re: Alternative Fantasy
The Last Unicorn is a great book. I didn't mention it here because it seems like the OP is after stuff that lacks the trappings of European lore. He mentioned Black Leopoard, Red Wolf as a touch point, which is written by a Jamaican author (coincidentially, the synopsis sounds great, so I'm probably gonna nab it). In any case though, yeah, agree, great book, everyone should read it. It's roughly the same cultural cloth as Tolkien (knights, bandits, princesses, etc.), but its playing a very different game narratively.

If OP is still following this thread, I'd also suggesting looking into Lies of Locke Lamora. Just think: What if Oceans 11, but fantasy? It still has a European vibe, but a very Mediterranean one.

This message was last edited by the user at 04:09, Fri 03 July.

Low Key
 subscriber, 246 posts
Fri 3 Jul 2020
at 09:47
Re: Alternative Fantasy
I am still following the thread, and I'm going to have a very enjoyable Saturday having a more in depth look at all of these new books/settings/authors and putting together a reading list.

So thank you everyone!
GreenTongue
 member, 928 posts
 Game Archaeologist
Fri 3 Jul 2020
at 16:17
Re: Alternative Fantasy
In reply to Isida KepTukari (msg # 18):

While a good series, that is where the fight between it's writer and the writer of "Empire of the Petal Throne" started.  I could easily be thought of as a stealing of IP.
Others see it as an inspiration and not a rip-off.

"Man of Gold" and "Flamesong" are the first two books by MAR Barker set in EPT.
Jarodemo
 member, 843 posts
 My hovercraft
 is full of eels
Fri 3 Jul 2020
at 16:25
Re: Alternative Fantasy
In reply to Isida KepTukari (msg # 18):

Second that - great series. And a female lead protagonist who isn’t an Amazonian asskicker or Red Sonja, which is also unusual for fantasy settings.