This column was originally a Night Bazaar weekly topic that asked all the Night Shade authors to examine the following topic: “Lightspeed vs. Landlock – Intergalactic Travel vs Mundane Fantasy.” I wasn’t honestly sure if I was supposed to contrast these two things, pick one over the other, or what, so I just ran with my first impression and made some shit up.
The first thing the topic called to mind was my time writing tie-in fiction for the Warhammer table-top battle games. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the games, but Warhammer comes in exactly two flavors. You have Warhammer Fantasy, which is basically humans, elves, dwarfs, orcs and gribbly chaos beasties all running around in a fantasy version of early renaissance Germany, or you have Warhammer 40,000, which is basically humans, elves, orcs and gribbly chaos beasties (no dwarfs – for some reason the poor wee bastards never made it off planet) all running around in a gothic, Imperial Rome meets the thousand-year-reich version of space opera.
I always wrote on the fantasy side of the Warhammer coin. I’m just more at home with swords and spells than with bolt guns and spaceships, but I loved the lore of 40k (as they call it) just as much as I did Warhammer Fantasy. The fans of Warhammer fiction, however, were constantly arguing in the forums over which setting was better. This is fairly standard forum behavior, and I generally paid it no mind, but one of the arguments the 40k guys wielded against the Fantasy guys struck me as sillier than average.
“Fantasy is too limited!” they would say. “It’s just one world! In 40k there is an entire galaxy to explore, with thousands of worlds. Millions!”
Which leads me to the allusion I make in the title of this post. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many villages can you fit into an imaginary country? How many caves can you fit into a fictitious mountain range? How many unexplored cellars can you fit into an invented medieval city? How many taverns? How many secret cults? How many heroes and villains?
The answer is, of course, as many as you want – an infinite amount. I invented new towns and new locations for every Warhammer book I wrote. I invented what I needed, and found a place to squeeze it all in around the already existing bits. The point, of course, is that scale in science fiction and fantasy is just frosting, just like the difference between swords and blasters or magic and high tech. Lightyears equal years. Planets equal countries. Vast, starless voids equal vast, trackless mountain ranges. Spaceport bars equal village taverns. The worlds of fantasy and science fiction are equally infinite, equally capable of accommodating any size story. And if you want some proof of the elasticity of an apparently contained setting, have a look at literary fiction.
Twenty centuries on, and the clever fucks who write that stuff still haven’t run out of stories to tell set on that one tiny little planet they call Earth.