I just finished a major project: a fantasy novel. Now, I’m seriously considering a new venture for next year: a science fiction novel. Anyone who’s known me for more than five years should know that science fiction was my first great literary love. It’s what pushed me to become a writer. It’s the genre I read and saw and instantly thought, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
It’s also why some people wondered why I would possibly write a fantasy work.
I never really considered the genre when writing Charcoal Streets. In fact, given some tweaks, I could see it adapted as a science fiction story instead. I recall once reading about a version of The Hobbit that was rewritten as a space opera. The methods of getting the fantastic into the “real world” or introducing strange concepts really just depend on window dressing. Maybe telekinesis is due to mutations or maybe it’s due to magic. Science fiction has robots and fantasy has golems and animated statues. What’s the difference?
That being the case, I’ve realized I write fantasy or science fiction specifically based on the kind of story I want to tell. I write fantasy to show something about people. I write science fiction to show something about the world. I’ll admit it’s not always the case, but it seems to be a general pattern.
Fantasy allows me to introduce something strange into a person’s life. It’s not so much how it happened, but rather just that it happened. Does it really matter, for example, if the monster in the closet is the boogeyman or a mutant escaped from a lab? Maybe. Maybe not. In the grand picture, the important thing should be the story. Am I trying to say something about the nature of science and the world? Science fiction is probably the best way to go. If I’m trying to analyze culture, fantasy is probably the best option.
In the end, really, I’m just trying to show something about the world. I just have to pick the best vehicle for that message.
And now, let’s enjoy some science fiction becoming science fact. You are about to watch a man on a space station record a song and transmit it to your mind using light processed through a silicone chip.
Mary plays a dragonborn. Manny, our new player, gave her a little Charizard toy. Said toy is now her marker on the board. Here's Mary's dragonborn encased in a block of ice because she failed tow saving throws. Any questions?
May 1, 2012
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about tabletop gaming. It’s no surprise, seeing as how “Elves with Shotguns” is just about ready to hit RPGNow. However, I’ve also been thinking about my experience in RPGs. In a way, I can chronicle my journey through gaming the same way I chronicle my journey through writing.
My first character was a runethane named Seth. He was curious about everything (much like me since I was new to the game), and used words to cast his magic. Writing and runes were his power source. This echoes my own mentality that writing was an important, if not vital, aspect of everyday life. However, Seth was also a very squishy mage. Two or three hits and Seth went down faster than Lindsay Lohan trying to get into a nightclub.
Seth was a reflection of how I saw myself. I was fairly new, and while I was proud of my early accomplishments, I knew I could do better.
My next character had no name. He was simply called the Envoy, a warrior with a purpose. He was a soldier through and through, flexible enough to fling razor-tipped darts before unsheathing a sword and going to town on the enemy or either beat a prisoner into submission or scare the information out of him. He even got the kill-shot on an elemental after having been poisoned for much of the fight. All in all, a good sophomore try, but he was tough and boisterous and lacked the subtlety of Seth.
Likewise, my early forays into writing left me with a bruised ego, so I overcompensated in some ways. I wanted the writing to be tougher, grittier, but it only lost the little elements that I enjoyed inserting into my work.
Next came Jareth, a half-elf rogue who could do a lot of things… he just wasn’t that great at any of them. One running gag with my group was that it was better to have me try and lock something than to try and open it. Because I rolled so low, it was just assumed that instead of unlocking treasure chests, I had somehow just put an extra lock on it. Yeah. That bad.
Jareth represents the evolution from enthusiastic to hard-headed and then to jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I had to find the right balance…
Next came Pommel, my warforged fighter. Resolute to not fall into the trap of the meat shield again, I built him to fit the world: this was an evil campaign. He was strong and tough but had some smarts. He wasn’t reckless… except for that level of barbarian that let him rage. Pommel was controlled chaos. He was simple but effective in what he did, and he could be versatile if the need arose.
After realizing I couldn’t do everything as a writer, I did something similar. I started specializing, but I never forgot to pick bits and pieces from here and there to supplement my work. Every writer needs to read poetry, news, and memoirs even if he or she only writes novels. Likewise, a fighter could always benefit from a level of wizard and barbarian.
Finally, we get to my latest character: Wren the warlock. Wren was very much a hard-hitter. He was a striker. He did the most with the least. He also had that bit of versatility I’d come to embrace in Pommel. He could cast ritual magic aside from blasting things at long range. He was also personable and could handle himself in social situations if need be, but there was nothing that said he wouldn’t pick a pocket if it got him.
Wren embodies my most current attitude towards writing. I write short articles like this, but I also have learned to say the most with the least in everything from Charcoal Streets to the upcoming gaming book. I read news, journals, poetry, and anything else that seems interesting if only to be exposed to new writing styles and keep mine from getting stale. Of course, I don’t doubt my writing and gaming will change. It’s just interesting to me how each stage can get represented by a character form that time period.
And now, back to making prints and proofreading the final chapters.
See you soon. Oh, and feel free to share your own gaming stories below. How do your characters represent you? Or are they reflections of what you wish you could be?
While you ponder that, please enjoy two and a half minutes of sheer nergasmic joy.
Who needs a gun when you can summon a demon from the Abyss to crush your enemies?
November 30, 2011
It’s no secret that I like me some fantasy. I started out and still love science fiction, though, and you’ll find most fans have a nice overlap in their tastes like this. Sword and sorcery is awesome, especially if I can make it part of an Saturday RPG session. However, one thing that’s always bothered me is the lack of guns in fantasy.
Please note that I am not advocating gun use or gun control or anything like that. I’ve always just wondered why fantasy in general, even in stories set within a medieval time period where gunpowder could exist, shy away from firearms. Science fiction isn’t shy about including “magic” like the Force, so why is fantasy afraid of technology?
Historically, firearms have existed in one way or another for hundreds of years. Everything from single-shot hand-cannons to rocket-powered arrows made a bang on the battlefield, even if they weren’t primary weapons. Most of us probably know early firearms as the slow-loading muskets and flintlocks from old Revolutionary War movies and Three Musketeers. For most fantasy stories, a bow or a crossbow will do.
There’s something elegant about an archer with a bow, so I can see why a black powdered-fueled firearm seems clunky and overtly modern. Even a crossbow looks too much like a gun. Some writers and players want that feel of agelessness that bows and a gun-free world evoke. Imagine the elves in Lord of the Rings wielding muskets or shotguns instead of bows and arrows. It might look awesome, but it would also be noisy and time-consuming to shoot and reload.
There are valid reasons for not using firearms in fantasy, though. Some people believe they led to the death of the knight and all those wonderful medieval combat clichés we’ve all come to know and love (they didn’t, but contributed). Say goodbye to shining armor and clanging swords. Who needs those when you can shoot a .70 caliber ball of lead at your enemy from fifty yards away? There goes the one-on-one duel. Likewise, firearms are more closely tied in with modern times. Even though gunpowder and gunpowder-based weapons have been around since the 14th century, we still mostly associate them modern war. Of course, all this is moot if, in your fantasy world, magic has advanced to the point where wands and spellcasters can rain eldritch homicide on their enemies. Firearms maybe accessible… but why use them?
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Plenty of fantasy uses firearms. Urban fantasy justifies it by usually being set in a modern world. The Harry Dresden series, for example, has the titular wizard carry a gun to deal with threats magic can’t handle or if he tires himself out. Likewise, Final Fantasy hasn’t shied away from guns, either. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower has the main character be a gunslinger who would be right at home in an old Western (except for the whole End of the World and different realities thing).
It just depends on flavor. For example, in my own Dungeons and Dragons game, I’ve always been interested in introducing firearms, but making them one-shot weapons that have to be reloaded more slowly than a bow and arrow. I don’t want to get rid of the sword, shield, and bow and arrow, but I want to show a world in transition. Eventually, I’d like to actually have something like the Old West… but not yet.
Besides, it’s FANTASY. If you want to have samurai swords and revolvers next to each other, why not? If in your world, dwarves use shotguns heavy enough to double as warhammers, what’s going to stop you? Me? I’m thinking of actually writing up rules for firearms in 4E in maybe selling that pdf at some point. Don’t hold your breath, though…
In the meantime, let’s enjoy a trailer for a movie that takes this kind of genre-bending to heart, shall we?
Art, music, gaming, and booze go together like... well, like art, gaming, and booze.
November 9, 2011
I recently discovered Drinkify, a website that matches muscicians with the type of drink best suited to listen to their music. There’s a short list of a few samples over at Buzzfeed, but I think someone needs to make a database for drinks best suited to artists and other areas of art. And gaming.
In fact, we need to get some drinks together. Let’s get started.
Edgar Allan Poe
1/3 oz absinthe
2/3 oz blackberry liqueur
Add blackberry liqueur to shot glass and layer absinthe on top.
H. P. Lovecraft
Dark and Stormy
1 oz black rum
Pour rum into the beer. Drink.
1 part Schnapps, butterscotch
1 dash Schnapps, vanilla
7 parts cream soda
Add both vanilla and butterscotch Schnapps to mug. Pour in cold cream soda and stir very gently.
1.5 oz Scotch
1 tea bag
1 tbsp honey
Put scotch and honey into a mug. Add a tea bag and fill with boiling water. Steep for a few minutes, then remove the tea bag.
This one actually has several drink suggestions based on your style of play. I’m planning on making the spiced wine this weekend to try it out.
1 bottle of beer (bock works best)
1 shot bourbon (Jim Beam works best)
Add the shot of bourbon to the beer. Drink.
German Hot Spiced Wine
1 gal Burgundy wine
1/2 gallon water
1 tsp all-spice
2 whole cinnamon sticks
Slice half the orange and 2 lemons. Peel the zest from the last lemon. Drop into pot. In a tea ball or a piece of cheese cloth, put the allspice, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, drop into pot. Add the burgundy and water. Heat on low until hot, add sugar. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 2 hours. Turn off and let rest 30 minutes. Remove tea ball or cheesecloth. Serve in warmed mugs and garnish with 1/2 slice orange floating in cup.
½ oz bourbon
½ oz Mountain Dew
1 oz cinnamon Schnapps
Mix all ingredients in mixing glass, along with 1 cup crushed iced. Strain into margarita glass and serve immediately.
That’s it for today, folks. I’d like to make this a regular feature. If you have specific drink recipes or combos you think are applicable for authors, art, gaming, movies, whatever, send me a message through the Contact Me page and I might include it next time. For now, with the recent announcement that Where’s Waldo? might be made into a movie, enjoy this possible sneak peak at what this cinematic, uhm, experience, might be like.
I have Atlantis in the back room. Do you want to see it? I kept it in a little box behind the canned tomatoes. It’s really very nice. When you look at it from above, it looks like a Christmas ornament designed by M.C. Escher. It glitters and glows at night and in the day I get to listen to the citizens play music.
You don’t believe me? Neither did this one kid who always comes in to the store. Every morning, I went to the back and gave Atlantis a single kernel of corn to eat. It’s enough for all of them. They’re really small. This kid, Billy or something like that, came in and wanted to know where I got the music to play in the restaurant. I told him it was from the artists of Atlantis. Billy said he’d never heard of that band, and I had to laugh. I was joking with him, but he wanted to know.
I went to get the day’s kernel when I saw Billy go to the back room. He must have been looking for a CD player or something. By the time I found him, he was already looking into the box and trying to get the cables off the microphones.
The whole restaurant was filled with screaming and crashing and the sound of dozens of Atlantians dying as this kid poked the tiny crystal spires of an entire city playing music for me. And he’d spilled my tomatoes. I grabbed last year’s phone book from the table and beat him over the head with it until he passed out. I disconnected the speakers, but the damage was done. Atlantis was cracked and broken. Millions had died. The kid lay on the ground. I popped the corn kernel in my mouth and dragged the kid out back to take care of him.
I moved Atlantis to the freezer. That door already has a lock. And don’t worry. The Atlantians are already used to the weather. The music they made was just in time for Christmas. The boy? Oh, he’s in the freezer too. No, Officer, I don’t know where I put the key, but I swear I was just about to let the kid go. No, I didn’t know you could get reception from in there, either.
Could you watch Atlantis while I’m gone? They really like corn.
If you’re anything like me, you love you some science fiction, fantasy, and horror. There’s nothing better than an epic space battle with battleships the size of Alaska blasting each other with nuclear-yield weapons, a suspenseful chase as a vicious killer chases the last remaining protagonist you actually like, or the swarms of eldritch sigils flying through the air as a practitioner of the dark arts invokes otherworldly powers to crush his foes.
As much as I’m a fan of the genre, there are those things that just… bug me. Really bug me. They’re things that seem to have just taken hold of the collective imagination for both writers and fans. They’ve become standard, not necessarily something you choose to use. Imagine if you suddenly found out that you didn’t need to use a ball to play baseball and could use rocks, or if you learned that cars could easily be built with three wheels and we picked four because, well, someone did it like that first.
Look at The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Exorcist, and The Last Exorcism. What do they have in common aside from mentally tormented young girls and an overuse of the term “exorcism”? If you guessed a white nightgown, you’re right.
I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure The Exorcist started this one. It made sense back then. Regan was a young girl who was thought to be sick, so it makes sense mommy dearest put her in her sleeping gown to make her comfortable. But why oh why did every woman dealing with a ghost or demon (or herself a ghost) have to wear this now? It’s like the similarly ridiculous “ black trench coat = mysterious badass” mentality.
Why not a hospital gown or even regular clothes? Why not just regular pajamas? The easy answer is that such clothes can easily date a character, but a nightgown is something that, at least today, looks old. How many women out there own a nightgown like the ones worn in these films? Anyone?
What’s that? An alien ship approaching your interstellar flagship? Oh no! It’s organic! It appears to have been grown by an advanced civilization. All its systems are carbon-based weapons and armor. All your ship has is a laminated alloy hull with ceramic plates for heat dissipation, high-powered coilguns, and thermonuclear missiles.
Really, though, this one is just plain annoying. It’s hard to really pin down where this one started. Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Timeline stories have a version of this little cliché wherein the god-like Xeelee “grow” their technology, although it’s not organic, so the description is a bit vague. Babylon 5, Star Wars (New Jedi Order), and even Battlestar Galactica to an extent all used the assumption that organic technology is superior to simple metal and artificial materials designed from the ground up to perform a specific task.
Do you think “organic” is better? Would you rather wade into battle with a vest made of hardwood or advanced ceramics and Kevlar built to withstand such strain?
Would you rather have a dozen mathematicians in a room perform split second calculations for orbital reentry or have a single computer system built with accuracy to the trillionth degree?
Would you rather have an artificial weapon, like a gun that fires ferrous slugs at a fraction the speed of light, or biological weapons that are indiscriminate, can be killed by extreme temperature and radiation, and may even mutate?
This one’s a personally sore spot for me. For a show like Star Trek, one which claims to be multicultural, to not have a single prominent Hispanic character besides the animalistic B’Elanna Torres is inexcusable. Want to know how many Hispanic characters I can count in speculative fiction?
Johnny Rico from Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie), Bender from Futurama, and Vazquez from Aliens.
Adama doesn’t count because although he’s played by a Mexican American actor, he does not portray a Hispanic character.
It seems that, in the future, there are no Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or anything else. We’ve got Europeans, Asian-inspired culture to pander to the anime crowd, and some assorted ethnicities for flavoring. But where are the Mexicans?
Or the Costa Ricans? Brazilians? Chileans? Iraqis? Turks? Libyans? Anyone brown?
I really can’t find a good example of these demographics in speculative fiction. Sorry. Any idea?
Why do writers still use these ideas? The best explanation is that at some point, it sounded or looked cool. The nightgown made sense from a storytelling perspective. Biological technology has some useful applications. At one point, Latin Americans were a fringe minority. We know better today, and yet these ideas linger on. These are only three little clichés, but I was thinking about them this weekend. There are many more, and maybe I’ll explain some later.
In the meantime, enjoy these links, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.
Okay, so maybe that won’t be the title of the comic, but the art just below this post should give you a good idea of what’s ahead. In a few weeks, once I finish making the sprites, I’ll be starting a bi-weekly webcomic based on the characters in Charcoal Streets.
At first, the comics may be one to three panels, but as I get more comfortable with the format, I may expand into full sheet comics. The stories will be stand-alone entries into the mythology… although their canon status may be debatable as they will certainly be a but sillier and rely on visual humor as much as dialog. I’ll be honest… it took me hours to get this first comic done. Most of that came from the fact that I had to draw the sprites, get the backgrounds ready, and otherwise do everything instead. I’m hoping to get a gallery of stock backgrounds and props so I don’t have to go hunting all the time.
Additionally, I’m writing up the rules for a contest through deviantART. Those familiar with the site and those that have memberships will be happy to know I’ll be giving away an ad plan and maybe a few months of premium membership.
In the meantime, enjoy these character portraits, take a look at some Charcoal Streets art, keep spreading the word about Charcoal Streets and Randomology, and I’ll see you all here on Friday.