May. 3rd, 2008

heron61: (Default)
There are times when one encounters an idea that significantly reshapes how one thinks about something. Today, that happened with thinking about the sorts of stories and games I both like and dislike. I love epic, grandiose, and deeply exotic settings, but often do not enjoy the sorts of novels or games typically set in them. I have various explanations for this, but today I found another, and perhaps better one. I was reading this fascinating and wonderful thread on RPG.net, and in addition to deeply loving the idea of the setting, the person who came up with this idea also wrote this passage, which reshaped my thinking about stories a bit:
A crucial difference between heroic myth and trader myth is the degree to which the world can be changed. A hero is knocking his shoulders on the corners of the universe all the time; he can't help but change it all in his image. He doesn't have to work at it at all, the child of chance and privilege. A trader is a small being in a vast and endless omniverse; triumphs and failures are, by the nature of that, of the self rather than of one's surroundings. The hero is the mirror of his universe. The trader is the mirror of himself, and he has to work hard to polish that surface to the desired image.
Amber (both Zelazny's books and the RPG based on them) is a heroic story, as is Exalted, especially if the PCs are Celestial Exalted – these are in fact two of the penultimate examples of heroic stories – an epically mighty hero conquers, transforms, or otherwise drastically reshapes the entire setting. I have very little interest in the most epic heroic stories. I often enjoy less epic hero stories, but I love truly epic settings and in heroic stories, these always contain equally epic (and thus to me inherently dull) heroes - the deeds and lives of exceptionally powerful demigods hold little interest for me. In such stories and games, the characters are by their nature world shapers and makers, and I ultimately find that idea to be constricting and dull.

I do not see myself in such stories and characters and I find little interest in following the ever-grander triumphs of most truly epic heroes. I don’t think such tales are inferior, they are just not for me. In vivid contrast, there’s little that I enjoy more than a good trader story. I’ve read Andre Norton’s The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars more than half a dozen times each, and on a more epic scale, I love Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. Tales of traders, scholars, and wanderers exploring settings far vaster than they are, and which they cannot and have no hope of conquering or controlling are very much the stuff of my dreams and what I prefer in the games I play and the stories I read. Which, is of course why when I write for Exalted, my heart is always in the tales of Enlightened (ie magic using) mortals, God-Blooded, and other beings who are manifestly not the lords and rulers of Creation, but merely exotic travelers and a wondrous land. I find it definitely a shame that heroic stories are almost the sole model for gaming that arent’ dark stories of hopeless horror, of which the most obvious example is Call of Cthulhu. However, not that I have a name and a concept that I didn’t have before, I can perhaps change that somewhat with my own work.

In any case, while trickster stories are more definitely not the same as trader stories, and are slightly less to my taste, I can definitely enjoy a good trickster story, which is why I definitely enjoy the epic trickster story that is Doctor Who. The Doctor does not (except on the rarest occasions and for the briefest moments) control the world he’s visiting, but he influences everyplace he goes. Of course, it’s easy for me to think of this, because Alastair Reynolds’ brilliant new novel House of Suns is in many ways a trader story, in a spectacularly epic setting. I very much loved it and highly recommend it.

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