I do find the bits of fantasy I come across place more emphasis on the world than on the characters.
I haven't noticed that in the fantasy I read...
I think there's a simple reason for this apparent discrepancy. I'm going to go out on a limb here and express a *strong* opinion [brace yourselves].
Most speculative fiction (broadly speaking, science fiction, fantasy and horror) is crap.
There. I've said it.
The fantasy market especially (I know, I write fantasy) is saturated with bland, derivative crap. Seriously, you could drown in it.
But... the fantasy novels that people talk about weeks, months, years
after their release are precisely the ones that do have authentic characters, questions and themes. It's just that so many authors never get beyond the surface – Wow, dragons, spaceships, monsters! –
that it's easy to drown in the aforementioned sea of crap. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying anything has to be highbrow, elitist, or life changing. But it does, as the man said, have to be authentic.
I devoured Isaac Asimov but his fantasies tended to be off-world...
I loved Asimov when I was younger as well (still do, but differently). But his stories are intellectual explorations of what if?
There's a reason why his core fan base tend to be engineering students called Dave
. Speculative fiction has grown since Asimov's day. It's matured (the good parts of it, anyway). Now, just like in any other form of commercial fiction, successful speculative stories are about authentic characters.