I’m often reminded of a quote from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers book that I will now mangle out of sheer laziness: The Universe is big. Really big. I’m reminded of this when I’m reading a particular type of mediocre SF/F fiction, not because of the size of the universe, but the size of time. Because there are a lot of books in the SF/F world that suffer from serious History Dilation in the pursuit of an “epic” feel.
Ah, epic. So many strive for epicness. For someone like me, for whom personal epicness comes so naturally, this is puzzling: Why not just go out and be epic, natch? Ah, but then I remember: Not everyone wakes up epic. Like me, would be my point. Epic is almost a requirement in Fantasy stories, and a lot of writers hit upon that overused shortcut for epicness: Time. As in, really huge loads of time. Is your magical kingdom feeling a bit flimsy? The traditions and faux culture you’ve sketched out not exactly compelling? Well, add several millenia and BAM! instant epicness.
Sigh. Sure, if you start going on and on about how a certain kingdom has existed for seven thousand years, if you spend 58 pages listing the unbroken line of kings from Day One, if you describe every building as “ancient”, then you do, in some way, achieve epicness. But this effect is then ruined when your reader scratches their head and wonders how in the world an entire world stays exactly the same for seven frickin’ thousand years. And don’t say magic, or I will burn your book on Youtube.
What’s even worse than a culture that is presented to you as static from the get go is when the universe stays static while you’re reading thousands of years of history in the damn story. You read book 1, and the universe is codified. You read book 2 and a thousand years have passed. . .but nothing’s changed. And then you read book 3, and five thousand years have gone by, and still nothing’s changed. Sure, things happen, the plot moves forward, but no matter how many wars, how many epic magical battles, no matter who dies, the universe stays the same.
That’s just lazy writing. The world doesn’t stay static for millenia, especially when the author is busily murdering characters, destroying cities, that sort of thing. This is just SitCom Normal, wherein everything about the premise must remain the same no matter what transpires, or else everything is ruined. Again, I’m not talking about thirty years, here. I’m talking about thousands of years. Thousands of years wherein nothing. Ever. Changes. Ever. It’s enough to make me hurl my copy of Fatal Revenant across the room at least once a day.