July 19, 2018, 12:31:19 PM

Author Topic: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?  (Read 709 times)

Offline ScarletBea

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On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« on: March 12, 2018, 12:28:44 PM »
I've been thinking about this lately...

Maybe it's just what I've been reading, but it seems that nowadays there are more and more books which while being apparently "secondary worlds", end up being "our current world, just thousands of years after us".

I don't really mind that, if it's done properly, but in some books it looks like it's done only for shock value, or to get a twist, and that's why I chose this thread's subject (becoming a trope). In some cases it also feels lazy, allowing characters to solve problems that would be very difficult with their own 'technology' or inventions.

What do you think? Am I being harsh?
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Offline xiagan

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2018, 12:57:45 PM »
I don't know which books you read besides Broken Empire who do it, but in truth it's an old trope/cliche. ;)

Shannara (1977) from Terry Brooks and (most likely) Wheel of Time (1990) are two very popular old series that do it and there are countless others I can't think of atm. It's not much used in WoT but in Shannara it is similar to Broken Empire with old artifacts and knowledge and even a sub-series which deals with the technical apocalypse and the dawn of magic.

I think it's like with any other cliche. If executed well, I love it, if not it seems cheap.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2018, 01:31:02 PM »
Oh, I haven't read those you mentioned... oops!

(I don't really want to say, to avoid spoilers)
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Offline xiagan

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2018, 01:37:40 PM »
(I don't really want to say, to avoid spoilers)
Plot relevance is a good sign. :)
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Offline Nora

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2018, 02:13:25 PM »
The only time I encountered that in pure fantasy was when I gave a shot at the Shannara tv series and was like "wtf? Why are there ruins of NASA's massive dishes in the background?".
I read about half of wheel of time as a teen and don't even remember it being in our far future.  :-\

It's not something I'd consider a trope because it doesn't show in my reading. And when it does it'll be more likely to be in sci-fi or post-apocalyptic type of stories. Like The Road, The Chrysalids, Children Of Time, or heck, my own WIP.
These aren't what I'd call a secondary world.

But I can imagine how fast it'd become annoying if you read many high fantasy novels going "we're actually set on earth!" after introducing magic, wargs and elves... Funny a few times, not that interesting as a trend, unless it's well handled.

If you were an anime fan, there would be another trend turning into a cliche to annoy you: these past few years the industry as been riddled with stories where the MC is catapulted in a RPG game setting. Often they're Mr Everybody, with a bland personality, but some OP trick as a game character. Some do it well, others less so. A funny one is Overlord, in which the MC is stuck in his avatar character, so he is that massive skeleton in armor guy.
Anyway, as an anime fan that has turned into a sordid cliche and each new season has its new load of unimaginative guy-sent-to-a-secondary-world-based-on-rpg-video-games, so I can empathise.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2018, 02:28:51 PM »
I make a distinction between tropes (a convention) and a cliché (a poorly executed trope or one so-often-done it's become boring), but I do not particularly like this trope. I almost dropped Prince of Thorns for this reason, but stuck with it. For my part, all of those aspects of that book and most stories (when the ancient present world do connect to the plot) are my least favorite parts. For my part, I prefer that this not be a thing, and when it is, I prefer it to be a surprise a la Planet of the Apes, where it just changes the bigger picture without providing a Deus Ex, which the trope sometimes does.
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2018, 05:12:56 PM »
I make a distinction between tropes (a convention) and a cliché (a poorly executed trope or one so-often-done it's become boring), but I do not particularly like this trope.

That distinction is a good one. To be fair to the Shannara books, the fact that it was set in the super far future after a nuclear war (and the after effects of that war are what led to humans diversifying into other races) was really only an interesting footnote in the original Shannara series, and Brooks didn't lean on it as a crutch or deux ex machinima.

At the time, I thought it was cool, having never seen it before. And then, when Terry Brooks started publishing the Word/Void series (still one of my favorites) it felt more than justified, as that series begins in our modern day (urban fantasy) and culminate in that war after the forces of the Word basically LOSE. Yep, the books have a sense of doom about them since, no matter the victories the protagonists win, you know the world will eventually be nuked to hell (though you also know it will eventually regenerate).

Brooks also wrote books bridging the end of the Word/Void series (with the destruction of our world) and the start of the Shannara series (hundreds of years later, when the world has begun to recover) to create a complete timeline of stuff, and I found the way he pulled it all off incredibly cool. But hey, different strokes!

It's possible the "it seems like fantasy, but it's the future" may have been common for fantasy books before I saw it in Shannara, but if it was, I didn't read many books where that was the case. And even if it's become a trope since, I'd judge writers on whether they used it well, not forbid them from using it because it's been done before.

I'm largely in the camp where I find the idea of "tropes" a bit silly. There's nothing wrong with a trope, there's just ways where the writer doesn't pull it off or uses it poorly. Tropes used well are fine with me.

So far as I'm concerned, there are literally no new ideas out there. None. Someone somewhere has already written about every possible idea we can come up with, which is why I find the call to avoid tropes or be "original" kind of silly. There's no "new" ideas left, and just because we haven't read it doesn't mean it hasn't been written. That's why I say authors should worry less about falling into "tropes" than writing a good story with the story elements they choose to use (including the fantasy is actually distant future one).

Imagine if artists decided that they couldn't paint paintings with the color blue because so many paintings had used the color blue in the past. We'd run out of colors to paint with real quick.
« Last Edit: March 12, 2018, 05:14:34 PM by tebakutis »

Offline Skip

Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2018, 05:16:29 PM »
Didn't Eddings do this way back in the 1970s or 1980s? The one I'm remembering had a sword-and-sorcery world that rolled along for a good many chapters, then they found a tank! Or something like that. Been a long time.
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Offline Skip

Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2018, 05:17:52 PM »
As to the OQ, sure. Anything that achieves trope status will inevitably also attain to cliché, simply because there will be that many people doing it badly.

Personally, I think tropes are becoming cliché.

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2018, 05:44:11 PM »
Thanks all, for your ideas and opinions - I see your point.
It just seems an easy way out, sometimes...
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Offline Yora

Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2018, 06:07:40 PM »
It's an old one. Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith is future earth, which goes back to 1932.

TV Tropes has a long page about this idea, though it also lists the sci-fi examples on the same page.

It's something that consistently breaks a story for me, unless it's part of the premise from the start. It immediately makes my disbelieve kick in. To me, it feels like it's not "real" fantasy, just like portal fantasy.
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Offline Peat

Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2018, 08:20:54 PM »
Hiero's Journey by Sterling Lanier featured this too - not that I've read it yet, but reviews make it sound awesome.

I'm pretty neutral on the idea. Most of the time I encounter it, it seems mainly background music. Hard to get fussed one way or the other.

That said... I've heard that Westeros' coastline eerily resembles some of the estimates of what Britain could look like post global warming. I'd laugh my head off if it turned out that Song of Ice and Fire was one of these all along.
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #12 on: March 12, 2018, 09:00:21 PM »
Now I feel bad. I've kind of used this in one of my series. It isn't set on Earth, but it is set in our future.

Offline Lady Ty

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Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2018, 10:15:07 PM »
Yes it is becoming more common, perhaps because the threat of a post apocalyptic world is * still a possibility. If it is used with care it is just one more theme to choose from, only cliche if badly done and or made too obvious.

Sometimes a surprise, at the time Planet of the Apes was an OMG moment for me and completely unexpected. Less likely to happen now because we are more aware of the possibilities while we read.

When it is obvious, as in Mark Lawrence Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War I saw it as an extra dimension to the plot. It was a treasure hunt of sneaky little Easter Eggs trying to work out where and what various parts may have referred to from the old world and disaster sites. So, no surprise but another enjoyable element.

*Both Planet of the Apes and Shannara appeared at the height of the Cold War. That is often forgotten but was was an ever present threat at the time. UK knew they would only have a 'Four Minute Warning' ie time from launch to European target, and US had about 30 minutes. Interesting period writers may find worth checking out.
« Last Edit: March 12, 2018, 11:39:56 PM by Lady Ty »
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Offline cupiscent

Re: On the way to becoming a new trope/cliche?
« Reply #14 on: March 13, 2018, 12:04:19 AM »
This is a really interesting one, thanks for raising it, ScarletBea! :) I've spent half my morning happily pondering this (my bright spot as I wrangle a starting-to-get-better-but-not-that-better toddler). I have a lot of thoughts (surprising no one).

Part of the enduring popularity of this one (as noted by various other contributers here) is that traditional fantasy has an entrenched fascination with "the golden age/advanced civilisation that was". (So marked that it's referenced in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, mostly under "Ancient Engineering Projects", for the curious. I was going to type out the entry, but this post is long enough already!) Having said Lost Civilisation be ours can be a nice shortcut, requiring slightly less worldbuilding, or feeling like easy clever points, or allowing the author to add a touch of Real World Relevance, or something like that. Personally, I'm mostly meh on the whole Golden Age Nostalgia trope, and even more meh when it's our civilisation. (Which isn't to say it can't be done well, just so often it's not.)

I do find it interesting to see the style of apocalypses that have flattened the Earth in newer iterations of this idea. We're getting fewer nuclear wipe-outs these days, and more climate-change ones, which it seems easy to suggest reflect our shifting fears and priorities as a global community. I also feel like I'm seeing quite a few "non-Earth but Earth-descended via colonisation on generation ships" worlds, though perhaps that's a factor of me reading one right now, which is reminding me of other types I've seen.

My biggest niggle with post-apocalyptic rebuilt-world fantasy is discrepancies between timelines and cultural entropy. By which I mean: if it's been that long since European society as we know it was wiped out, why does your society look so much like Europe? Sometimes this is handled better than others, for my money. Abercrombie has a short enough timeframe that radiation consequences are still significant, and he's also taking his Viking-esque people--who've stayed in the same general area as they were, so presuming at least some continuity of culture--back to some first principles. Lawrence, on the other hand, has (as far as I can recall) references to Europe being recolonised post-annihilation, so why do they still have French names? (These are the little details that niggle at me while I read.) The worldbuilding in the Tearling books (something about the US recolonising/conquering France??) made so little sense to me it was an active aggravation as I read. And The Left Hand of God has a mish-mash of real-world place-names that constantly distracted me from the story as I tried to piece together what had happened to the world, but I don't think it actually intended to be real-world related.

Anyway, it's a tricky one. If it's not relevant to the story that this is Earth-but-different, then it just sort of looks like a gimmick. If it is relevant, the story risks seeming preachy. (I actually love Ambelin Kwaymullina's Tribe trilogy, but it's leaning hard on the environmental issue. Similarly, the first instance of this I ever recall reading was a 1990 YA novel called Rocco, involving time-travel to apparent cave-people, who turn out to be in a post-nuclear-apocalypse future, which leans heavily on nuclear-wipe-out risk and understanding of consequences of aggression and lack of empathy.)