And last of the rants for this poll.
1) What’s the reason for immigrating/emigrating?
Yes, very basic stuff. On the other hand, I wanna know.
Is it political? Were the emigrants persecuted in their own country? Hey, religious minorities moved across the seas in our own world for that reason. Or perhaps they’re exiled political dissidents—although then I’m interested in why the government would want to exile them, since political groups are often either a) smaller than whole religious minorities and thus easier to kill or imprison, or b) harder to find and make sure you round up, which makes exile really tough.
Is it economic? Why is the new land the land of opportunity? Yes, there are alternate Americas, but if the situation is different even slightly, you’ve got a shitload of new questions to answer. For example, if all the major landmasses have been clearly identified for centuries and have static populations equal in military strength to each other, as is the case in many fantasy worlds, why is there a sudden huge movement of people from one to another? Gold rush, diamond rush, famine, plague, sudden onslaught of evil blue bunnies that turn money into more evil blue bunnies?
Is it war? I am curious as to where all the refugees from the devastating fantasy wars go. Perhaps the wars are so devastating as to get everybody, though I really don’t believe that most of the time; the author will detail at least one or two scenes with wailing victims of warfare whom the hero can comfort himself by helping. So where is everybody else? If magic or the villain has just completely eradicated their livelihood, where are they going? And what will the other society/country/culture do once they arrive there?
Or perhaps it’s individual, and this family has come over on its own, not as part of a mass migration movement. ‘Kay. Why? Most fantasy worlds have chancy travel, and the longer the distance, the chancier it gets. What will possess a family or an individual to uproot and set off across the world, or into a neighboring country?
I’m not recommending any one particular answer for these (though I would like to see more done with refugees, who are always conveniently forgotten). The more creative and rooted in its own world an answer is, the better a story it will make.
2) How will the other society receive the emigrants?
The classic answer is hostility, of course, because of:
- Competition for jobs.
- Lack of housing/shelter for the emigrants.
- Differences in language/culture/race.
- Past warfare with the society/culture/country the emigrants are coming from.
- Bad reputation of the particular group in question (one imagines that Country B would be just a tiny bit bitter about receiving all the religious fanatics who kept burning down other religions’ churches in Country A).
But it doesn’t have to be hostile, especially if you’re following the story of just one family or individual and not a mass migration. He can still have a hard time of it, of course, or they can. Arriving in a strange place, not speaking the language, not knowing the customs, not fitting in—perhaps visibly—with the people around you, not knowing where to go, having to deal with possible nostalgia or homesickness for the “old country” along with possible resentment of the “new country” for not being as good…yeah, there’s a whole lot there that could guarantee a hard time even if the new society is as welcoming as possible.
This is something to work out, in all its permutations. The one thing I’m most sick of seeing in this register is the one persecuted minority who is, apparently, the Only Persecuted Minority Ever. Every religion except theirs is tolerated, every brand of magic except theirs is legal, every group with a sob story is believed except them, wah. I find it too easy to write, since then the author can deal with the underdogs vs. everyone else in a situation where black-and-white ethics carry the day, and unrealistic, since many societies have many scapegoats (sometimes everyone except the dominant group). So try to consider what other immigrant groups might be like, what prejudices there might be against them, what relationships they might have with this particular minority whom you’re concentrating on, which people are friendly to your immigrants and why, and so on.
3) Generation gaps.
The classic story is that of parents mourning their old home and children trying very hard to fit into the new culture, and maybe the grandkids mourning their family’s choice to leave the old home and seeking their roots. It can be. It does not have to be, and even if it is, there are ways you can twist it.
For example, perhaps the reason they emigrated is not something to be proud of, unlike the fantasy novels where the heroine turns out to be the descendant of Special Secret Witches going back twelve generations. (I must admit that I avoid every book where the heroine is a witch on principle now, unless someone can give me a detailed recommendation). Perhaps their family was deeply in debt. Perhaps one of the parents was a criminal, and was exiled, and their spouse chose to follow. Perhaps they could have stayed and fought in a war/revolution, but wound up fleeing, and see themselves as cowards. That’s going to put a new spin on how the parents mourn for the old country. Perhaps they don’t, at all, and bury their past as deeply underground as they can. If their children go back “home,” they may not find a warm welcome. That would also be refreshing, as returned heirs are another subgenre I avoid if at all possible. (Why is it that someone coming into a new place can never just be a stranger? Why must every random person he passes widen her eyes at his name and suck in her breath and declare him the Heir of Such and Such?)
Perhaps the children are divided amongst themselves. Older sister Xenora decides that she’s not going to attempt to fit in with the people who mock her for speaking with an accent, and stays in her parents’ home and takes care of them when they’re older. Younger sister Axliqe makes every effort to lose her accent in public, but speaks the old language fluently at home and marries someone of her own linguistic group. Younger brother Xantaran is arrested for a petty crime that no one would have paid attention to if not for his accent and is thrown in prison, whereupon he meets other people who speak Elianexan and joins them in planning an uprising. Older brother Cax changed his name to Bobbie as soon as possible, married a woman of the dominant group, and never looked back.
Or perhaps the society is not assimilationist, but xenophobic, and makes every effort to shuffle the family into a ghetto. The parents fight against this, having left their home country to escape just such a situation. The children accept it because it’s all they’ve ever known, and find the thought of the outside world a little scary. The grandchildren venture outside the walls and are first stunned to realize that everything is so different from what they’ve been told, and then very, very angry.
Tons and tons of interesting twists to be put upon this, and that’s only for a human lifespan. If you’ve got immortal immigrants, they’ll probably do something entirely different.
4) Resumption/rebirth themes.
These would be easy and interesting to work into a novel about immigration/emigration. How do you find the balance between the past and the future? And yes, I think it would be more interesting if the future was in there, since fantasy so often emphasizes the past—and makes the future of its worlds just like the past, which, while sometimes justifiable, often strikes me as more denial of the problems that caused the war or the usurpation or the Dark Lord in the first past.
So someone sees herself as part of two worlds, or of three, or as largely part of one while trying desperately to be part of another. There is no end of things to be done with that. And yes, so often the attempts are lame and laughable, and we have half-elves angsting about dying after their human friends and before their elven friends, or the author hitting us over the head with the sledgehammer of Racism/Sexism/Homophobia Is Bad, or the character who’s half [dominant group] and half [oppressed group] realizing that her Destiny is to lead the groups into Peace and Harmony.
However, I don’t think that’s a problem with the theme itself, which is the way I feel about Oppressed Special Moon-Worshipping Witches and Lost Heirs With Gaping Retinues. It’s a problem with the lame and laughable treatments of the theme. The ideas escape from the authors’ silly clutches and live out their own lives quite happily, and are still fascinating.
Show me someone who is fascinated by her grandmother’s past, but wise enough to realize that she might just be chasing after it for the faddishness of it all. Show me a character who never done make the supposedly final choice about which world he will belong to, and walks the fence instead. (Ooh, tension, and ooh, suspense, which is often missing from the silly stories). Show me a character who realizes the future isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and retreats to the past in pain and bitterness, only to realize that the past is not a panacea—or vice versa. Show me someone who, no, is not mysteriously at home in a culture she’s visiting for the first time because of Special Blood, but is willing to try, and try, and try, to fit in. The last would be great if she has a sense of humor and can laugh at her own mistakes.
There’s a resonance here that all the angsty halfbreed stories will never match, because they’re too simple.
Post about a poll in a minute.