One of the recurring arguments I hear is the Low Fantasy/Epic Fantasy argument. That is, does the audience want small-scale stories where we spend time close to a few (or even one) character. Or is the balance in favor of the traditional Epic Fantasy (“saving the world”)?
This article is relating to games. But it dredges through this argument on the side of Low Fantasy/”small scale” story telling again. http://toybox.io9.com/im-sick-of-saving-the-world-the-case-for-smaller-scale-1631918032?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow
Here’s the first thing I’d say: It doesn’t matter.
No Really. This is a Much Ado About Nothing debate. Execution matters more than scale. Characters have to be memorable in either setting. And there has to be stakes, or we’re in the realm of navel-gazing lit-fic, and while you might get an award, you won’t have enough readers to buy you a pack of K-Cups. If the story isn’t something that resonates with the reader, it doesn’t matter if you’re a hacker hiding from the Corps in a CyberJungle, or off on the world-saving quest.
Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence for an audience for both. Especially in books: Urban Fantasy sells. So does Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, or Malazan Book of the Fallen. Execute your vision well, market the story strongly, and there will be an audience. No, you won’t win everyone over. Guess what? No story does. But write your story with ambition, drive, quality characterization and a taut plot, and you have a chance. Don’t, and you won’t.
In games, I think it’s a little harder to prove. Everyone remembers Planescape. But it never really sold well, especially in comparison to the other Golden Era of Infinity Engine Black Isle/Bioware titles. The games we know: Mass Effect, Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Fallout, Diablo, and the Elder Scrolls series. They are all ‘save the world’ games. Set against that Planescape, a fine, if quixotic game. And if we’re being generous the Witcher series, which even here has a ‘global’ component to it. Now, do I think a smaller scale COULD work? Sure. But again, it has to be executed well.
I don’t buy what the article says about more ‘variety’ in smaller scale stories either. The only thing constraining either small or large scale stories is the imagination of the writer. Indeed, a large scale story can be comprised of several ‘smaller’ ones as subplots that tie into the overarching one. And a seemingly small scale story can blow up into a world-spanning one (See Dresden Files).
And as The Black Company showed, and Daniel Abraham is doing now with The Dagger and Coin series, one can write a seemingly large scale story from a constrained cast. Thus we see the universe as it effects each of the personal issues involves. Babylon 5 did this exceptionally well also. Londo and Mollari forming the heart of the story that the rest of the universe circled around.
So not only is this a Much Ado About Nothing Argument. In a very real sense, it’s an argument from a generation ago. This isn’t the Speculative Fiction environment anymore. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser CAN save the world.