Saturday, November 1, 2008

Travel in fantasy

I read an article on travel in fantasies, which made me think. The article covered the usual methods of transportation in a fantasy – animals – and the problems that could and should arise from depending on literal horsepower to reach a destination. But what about alternative methods of travel?

1. Travel through space

I’d like to see a fantasy city which was heavily dependent on canals for transport, like Venice. A map of such a city would be great. George R. R. Martin’s Braavos qualifies, but everything about it seems so exotic that the canals don’t really stand out to me.

Air travel is another option. Hot-air balloons are relatively simple, but aren’t very steerable. Some method of propulsion or navigation that relied on birds or flying mammals/reptiles might be interesting. Then, of course, the story could take a turn into the wholly fantastic and just posit airships or cloudcutters or skyschooners. Over a relatively small area, something like an intangible web across the sky could work as well – it would let in sun and air, but allow people to move rapidly across its strands.

For urban fantasies, I’d love to see more dangerous, edgy methods of transportation, like Blaine the insane monorail train in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Or what about a city where the main method of public transportation was a group of intelligent vehicles (or intelligent pterodactyls, for that matter), who worked for or were controlled by a powerful guild? Lots of story potential there.

2. Travel through alternate space

Science fiction has hyperspace, so why shouldn’t fantasy have it too? Whether it’s another dimension that can be reached only through a mirror, an alternate version of our world or a bizarre M. C. Escher-esque place, it could be used as a method of transportation as well – and that would open up a lot of potential plots.

Whoever controlled the alternate space could charge for transport, or could pull strings in the real world through their influence. For that matter, whoever controlled the real-world doorways or portals (or waypoints or phone booths) that led to the other dimension could also wield power – and might not always be in agreement with the first person.

Then there’s the nature of the alternate space itself. Can you simply use this dimension to step from Point A to Point B, or would you find yourself facing four identical doors and have to pick the correct one to make sure you didn’t end up in an active volcano or ancient Rome?

3. Travel through time

I was thinking of my work-in-progress, where one kind of magic involves time manipulation, and I realized that this could be used to allow a person to reach their destination more quickly. For instance, a lake in summer could have time reversed for it by a couple of seasons, meaning it would freeze over and the characters could cross it on foot.

Or what about a mountain pass or city street where time operated differently from the norm, meaning that whatever entered that passage would move three or four times as fast as it usually did? Taken to extremes, you could even have the time dilation effect.

Fantasy writers of the world, imagine! We have nothing to lose except our brains. :)


Loren said...

Endurance riding and horse gait give an idea of a horse's typical long-distance speed: 4-8 mph / 6-13 kph.

Not very fast, but I remember once riding some tourist-trap horse-pulled wagons, and they weren't exactly fast, either. And one won't get a smooth ride unless one travels on a smooth road, and such roads weren't very common before modern times.

The ancient Romans built lots of roads, but after the fall of the western empire, Europeans didn't get any better until the 18th and 19th centuries (Wikipedia's history of road transport).

Horse-pulled vehicles were a common form of intercity travel in premodern times, and they were extended to inside of cities in the early 19th cy. Omnibus, Paris Late 19th Century shows one of them; those vehicles' name eventually got shortened to "bus". These vehicles often got mounted on rails, thus becoming the first urban-rail vehicles. Interestingly, the first railroads were horse-drawn wagons on rails at mines in the 18th cy.

And as to your idea of intelligent vehicles, what comes to my mind is inanimate ones enchanted by sorcerers.

Angela said...

I love Blaine the monorail. I mean, come on! A psychotic machine? Does it get any better than that?

Marian said...

Science fiction or horror novels often have cool ideas like that. It's odd how the more traditional fantasies don't - urban fantasies tend to push the envelope a bit more, though.