Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all get to talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week, it’s Historic and/or Futuristic Settings. And I’m indecisive, so I’m going with half and half.
It took me a little while to beat my brain into submission and stop considering this ‘top ten’ as a sort of literary “Location, Location, Location’, given my first loves are fantasy and dystopia, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy living in most of the dystopias I’ve read about! After a little mental exertion, I’ve managed to focused on settings I’ve enjoyed reading about rather than places I’d like to go on holiday (let alone live. Ye gods and little fishes).
There was a dream that was Rome.
I blame being permitted to watch I, Clavdivs when I was young and impressionable. I have a soft spot for ancient Rome. It’s so broad a setting: military, political, social, geographical, religious – there’s so many angles across a period that spans the Republic to the latter day Byzantine Empire. That said, I don’t love all things Roman – there’s heaps of An Emperor Conquers Stuff fiction that I’m just not interested in – but stories set in Britain, or on the margins of the Roman Empire, intrigue me. I even enjoyed Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas (flaws and all). But my enduring favourite is Rosemary Sutcliff. I nearly exploded with joy when I found a first edition of The Eagle of the Ninth loitering in a second hand bookshop.
Victorian science and melodrama
There’s quite a lot of Victorian fiction on my shelves – again, like Rome, it’s a broad church; but there’s an awful lot more of it I’m not interested in. When I love it, it’s usually seedy melodrama or books about scientists. I’m really not keen on books about Empire (honestly, why are we Brits so proud of worldwide exploitation and cruelty?). But books about the pushing back the boundaries of knowledge and the early evolution of feminism? Fabulous. Bodies of Light, The Signature of All Things and This Thing of Darkness delighted me. I also enjoy books about the seamier side of Victorian London – Tipping the Velvet and The Crimson Petal and the White are favourites.
I’ve never got over my love of Arthur. This is such a well-trodden field it’s tricky to write something fresh, but I’m always ready to consider a new book mining the tropes. Jo Walton’s recreation of the Matter of Britain in a retelling both altered and yet made real is a particular favourite. In spite of years of adoration, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to bring myself to read The Mists of Avalon again (for various reasons), but I proved last year that R. Dragon is endlessly appealing, so I’m looking forward to revisiting The Dragon’s Quest and hapless Sir Griflet.
I’ve got degree papers rejecting the Celts as a meaningful geographical or historical group. But they remain a usefully understood fictional group. For me, it’s the swathe of melancholy, mythical novels set in or modelled on Iron Age Britain. The Castle of Llyr was one of the first books I ever ordered from school bookclub (the other Chronicles of Prydain soon followed) and I thankfully I misunderstood crucial bits of Darkspell (I was 9, and fascinated by Gweniver – the warrior touched by a goddess but no man – and Jill the cross-dressing mercenary with a suppressed talent for magic). And it’s impossible not to mention Juliet Marillier, of course, who wrote up my favourite-ever fairy tale.
Post-apocalyptic Paris is ruled by the Fallen, the remaining Houses looming over the shattered city literally and figuratively. The Seine is a fatal sludge of magical pollution. The Gothic detail of the landscape – the ruins of the Galeries Lafayette; the brooding menace of Notre Dame – is exquisitely described. I do like rich, political intrigue and destructive secrets.
Orthe: a world that rejected technology after a local apocalypse, peopled by descendants of the slaves of those who unleashed it. Orthe is fabulously detailed, with social nuances teased out over time. The Hundred Thousand is a fascinating civilisation, but I sympathised with the tribes of the northern wastes and southern deserts, trapped in the margins. The story leaves no room for future instalments, but in my head there’s continents across the seas to explore; and perhaps more civilisations of that elegant alien race.
Okay, here’s one I’d love to live in. A super high-tech hedonistic future that can offer almost literally anything you could ever desire (and a few more things that you might never desire) – what’s not to like? It’s egalitarian in every sense, and – excepting entrance to Contact / Special Circumstances – the galaxy is your oyster. Have fun.
The Galactic Milieu
This is coming from a similar place: a largely peaceful galactic civilisation driven by psi powers. I’m less keen on the novels than I used to be (although I’ve got a soft spot for Rogatien Remillard, and always liked Marc more than I should), but the setting is fascinating. The wealth of planets, alien species and even the flavours of humanity as we spread across the galaxy all appealed to me.
Another galaxy of largely peaceable – and notably flexible – alien races, where all sorts of interesting opportunities are on the door step? I raved enough about The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet last year – nobody should be surprised that it’s one of my favourite futuristic settings. I can’t wait to hop back aboard later this year to find out what happens next.
But what about other timelines?
The way the topic was phrased has led me away from a number of fantasy (and even SF) societies that I particularly love, as I don’t think of them as being historical or futuristic. They’re alternate, sat in their own timeline, even when they borrow heavily from our world. I might have to save up a top ten of those for a future week!