The other day I came across an observation about one of my Recluce books noting that the Saga of Recluce, unlike many popular fantasy series, does not have an “overriding plot line.” While I agree with the observation, what struck me as I read it was why so many fantasy series do in fact have such an overriding plot line. The most obvious reason for “an overriding plot line” is that such series tend to sell more books, but I find such plot lines that span years and even generations to be somewhat artificial.
Perhaps it’s my background in history and experience in politics, but when it’s rare for even a capable and distinguished family to maintain power and influence for more than a few generations, when most rulers are fortunate to last a decade, trans-generational consistency and aims seem rather unlikely, except in the most general way. Even in ancient Egypt, which boasted the longest continuity of any earthly ruling structure and culture, there were dynastic changes, outside invasions and foreign rulers.
My own years in politics taught me that accomplishing even a few goals took an incredible amount of effort, coordination, and resources… and that there are almost always those with power who, for various reasons, oppose what seem to be the most reasonable goals. As for secrets, forget it. Over any length of time, the old adage that three people can keep a secret only if two are dead pretty much holds. It’s also true that a good leader can maneuver matters so that acts and events that supposedly serve one purpose serve another as well – provided he keeps the details in his head and to himself. But that effectively limits the scope of his actions in double-dealing.
Admittedly, there are scores of books about secret societies that have manipulated governments for centuries, and there are some institutions, such as the Catholic Papacy, whose influence has indeed last centuries, but the evidence of long-term success of such societies is virtually non-existent, and it appears that few popes have followed very closely the aims of their predecessors in anything but attempting to keep the Catholic Church strong.
Human beings seem incapable of or unwilling to maintain eternal and unchanging governments, and the stability of human governments seems almost inversely related to the level of technology, in that the higher the level of technology the faster governments change or rise and fall.
For better or worse, I’ve tried to stick fairly closely to that model in what I write. In the Saga of Recluce, over the roughly two thousand years about which I’ve written, empires have risen and fallen. Cities have been destroyed, some never to rise again. The balance of power between nations and continents shifts. There’s no such thing as an “eternal empire,” even though some lands have styled themselves as such.
In the Corean Chronicles, the almost magic feudalism of the Alectors only holds Corus together until the Cadmians and Soarers gain enough power to destroy the basis of that power, while in the Imager Portfolio, governments are continually in flux in one way or another.
So it’s not surprising that I have no “overriding plot line,” except perhaps for the principle that extremism in any form inevitably leads to disaster.