Category Archives: high fantasy

Edmund Pevensie Got Ripped Off

I tried Turkish Delight for the first time this weekend.

Turkish Delight, of course, is most famous as the candy the White Witch uses to tempt Edmund Pevensie in CS Lewis’s classic THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. I first heard of Turkish Delight when I read the Narnia books for the first time in 2004, but I never tried it until now.

I have to say…I was underwhelmed. Essentially it is a lump of viscous Jell-O powdered with sugar. Not bad…but not enough to tempt me to sell my soul to the icy Satan figure of another world. Edmund sold out his siblings for this? Granted, I know it was wartime Britain, with rationing and all. And it wasn’t really about the Turkish Delight, but Edmund’s willingness to keep malicious secrets and sell out of his family to this weird strange lady he met in the woods.

But still. He should have held out for cake. Or at least some pie!

-JM

UPDATE: A reader suggests that the Turkish Delight was actually a psychic mirror that let you taste whatever food you are most tempted to gorge yourself upon. In my case, that would be pepperoni bacon pizza with a french fry topping.

what can change the nature of a man?*

You might remember that “what can change the nature of a man?” is the central question to Planescape: Torment, a computer RPG that came along in the late 90s.

I have no time for computer games these days (I last played SKYRIM sometime in October), but this might make me find time – there might possibly be a sequel to Planescape: Torment coming along. 

I got Planescape: Torment in 1999, and did not actually finish it until 2005. Ah, but it was a twisty, complex, deep maze of a game, with layers upon layers, like a fractal onion. A definite classic, and there has been nothing like it before or since. It was really more of an interactive novel with occasional battles – if I remember correctly, something like 500,000 words of dialog were written for the game.

Because of that novel-like nature, there were scenes of remarkable power in the game, scenes that I still remember years later. Like the ultimate purpose of the bronze sphere. Or the Nameless One’s confrontation with Ravel Puzzlewell in her black-brambled prison. Or the inscriptions around the sarcophagus in the Nameless One’s tomb. And the fact that of all the potential combats in the game, I think only three of them are actually unavoidable – the Nameless One can literally talk himself out of anything else, up to and including the game’s final battle.

So if there is a Torment sequel, I will definitely be checking it out.

-JM

*In the game, the question has no right answer – the point of the question isn’t the answer, but how you answer, since it’s one of those questions that reveals more about the person answering the question than any sort of objective truth.

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

This is very cool – the 1998 classic computer RPG Baldur’s Gate is getting remade as an Enhanced Edition to work on modern hardware (and there’s even going to be iOS and Android edition). It will also include a great deal of new content, in the forms of quests and new characters, and have the capability to expand the game further with new DLC modules.

I’m looking forward to it. Not that I have time for computer games these days, but I think I’ll give it a spin.

-JM

Elf Opera

John C. Wright has another excellent essay on magic and Christianity and morality in fantasy fiction.

Specifically, he argues that there are three kinds of fantasy – hard fantasy, which works off real moral and supernatural principles (in that communicating with spiritual entities other than God is a bad idea and leads to all kinds of evils), in much the way hard science fiction works off real scientific principles. Soft fantasy, which does not, and fudges a bit – you can have good magicians and evil magicians. And Elf Opera, where the magic is simply a backdrop to get on with some good old-fashioned orc-bashing.

(In my heart of hearts, I think I would like to write Elf Opera.)

But of my books, I think Demonsouled and Soul of Tyrants are soft fantasy – they have both good wizards and bad wizards, and good magic and bad magic. However, I’m almost done with the 3rd book, Soul of Serpents, and at least part of the book takes a sharp turn into hard fantasy territory, when the well-intentioned (but nonetheless bad) decisions of a particular magic-using character catch up to him in a remarkably unpleasant way. (I suppose this reflects a decade’s worth of changes in my own thinking – I wrote Demonsouled in 2001, Soul of Tyrants in 2005, and Soul of Serpents this year.)

By contrast, the Caina short stories and books – Child of the Ghosts and Ghost in the Flames – are hard fantasy. During her adventures, Caina does not meet a single good sorcerer, and the scope of their malevolence ranges from cruel bullying to mass genocide for the sake of power. The closest thing to a good sorcerer that Caina meets is Septimus Rhazion in the Ghost “choose your own adventure” stories, and Rhazion’s potential for evil is limited by his motivation. He doesn’t want to rule the world or become immortal – he simply wants to save his daughter. Still, he’s not a particularly nice guy – his attempt to use forbidden powers to save his daughter results in the deaths of several innocent people.

My inclination is to believe that anyone with supernatural or superhuman powers will almost certainly abuse them. That said, I suppose the source of the power matters considerably – power obtained illegitimately will result in the destruction of the user. Look what happened to Julius Caesar, after all – and that was only political power!

-JM

magic in fantasy fiction

John C. Wright has an excellent post about the morality of magic in fiction.

Myself, I have a hard time writing magicians/wizards/sorcerers as good guys. It’s difficult to believe that kind of power wouldn’t corrupt someone. I mean, look at what money or political power does to people – think of how the ability to shoot lightning bolts and teleport could corrupt the character.

I think the most favorable magic-using character I’ve written in the last few years was Septimus Rhazion in the Ghost “Choose Your Own Adventures”, and even he screwed up and got several people killed because of his attempt to cheat death via forbidden power.

-JM

I can return to my lost love

But before we come to the main point, I have to put that in some context by mentioning some ebook sales.

My “The $0.99 Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide” in May sold 65 copies, in June 165 copies, and so far in July has sold 62 copies. For a self-published eBook, this is crazy freaking awesome. It is astonishing. I have never, not ever, had a successful book before – it feels something like this, to be honest.

In fact, I’m going to turn it into a series, the “$0.99 Beginner’s Guide” series of computer books.

Here’s the thing, though – “The $0.99 Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide” is only 30,000 words long or so. It doesn’t need to be any longer (though I will expand it with a second edition in a few months), since 30k words covers the topic adequately, and further “Beginner’s Guides” will weigh in at about 20,000 to 30,000 words, I think.

This is a revelation to me – that something can be short, and still sell.

Which brings us to the main point – why this is such a revelation to me.

Back in high school and college, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and neither the Kindle nor the iPod was yet a twinkle in Amazon’s and Apple’s respective eyes, I used to really enjoy writing novellas – stories longer than a short story but shorter than a proper novel. Think 15,000 to 30,000 words. In fact, the first story I ever wrote was a novella about 18,000 words long. To this day, I really like the form – long enough to tell a complete story, but short enough that you don’t have to compress things or get gimmicky.  And I’ve always wanted to write serials, too – a series of novellas, or longer short stories.

But then I got older and I wanted to get published, and I quickly realized that hardly anyone bought novellas. I tried to sell a few, repeatedly, but never did. So I switched to short stories and novels, and haven’t attempted to write anything of novella length for years. Which is part of the reason I enjoy “Choose Your Own Adventure” so much – it’s exactly the length of story that I like to write.

But, ah. That was a different epoch. In our bold new world of electronic publishing, you can write whatever you want. Or whatever you think readers want. And a 15,000 to 25,000 word story priced at $0.99 (or $1.99, if you prefer) is a perfect fit. It can augment and supplement an existing novel series. Or it can stand alone.

Look for novella experiments in the very near future, my friends. I’m rather excited about it.

-JM

guest post – women warriors in preindustrial society

Today at Rogue Blades I have a guest post on the anachronistic quality of female fighters in preindustrial societies (an expansion of some thoughts I’ve had earlier on this blog). Basically, I argue that female warriors were a rarity in preindustrial societies, and that heroic fantasy set in an ancient or a medieval setting should be aware of that to avoid an anachronistic quality.

Needless to say, it’s only been up an hour or so and has already inspired vigorous discussion. 🙂

Check it out here.

-JM

Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 comes out today. And I have no time to play it! Frustrating.

I liked Dragon Age Origins immensely (as I’ve written before) – it was triumph of interactive multimedia storytelling. In fact, it’s time to wax pompous and quote myself:

A game like “Dragon Age”, I think, isn’t merely a game. It is art, a form of truly interactive storytelling. A new medium, created by blending voice acting, graphic design, artwork, music, and superb writing & world-building, fusing them together in a way that would not have been technologically possible until a few years ago. “Dragon Age” represents a new form of art, a new medium, come at last it into its own.

I hadn’t finished Dragon Age Origins when I wrote that, but the ending of the game did not revise my opinion – it’s a truly nasty moral choice. In fact, Dragon Age Origins is now my favorite computer RPG, replacing Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment. It’s not that Dragon Age Origins was necessarily a better game that Baldur’s Gate or Torment (all three games have excellent writing and plots), but that Dragon Age Origins superseded them in terms of technological advancement, and the storytelling possibilities opened up by that advancement, in much the same way that radio superseded the telegraph.

So I hope Dragon Age 2 lives up to its predecessor’s excellent example. Once I have time to play it, of course.

-JM

Nobody really wants to read subversive fiction that challenges their boundaries

Most of the SF/F blogs on the planet have responded to this article about moral nihilism in heroic fantasy. I noticed one particular thread among the responses: the idea that it is the purpose of good fiction to be subversive, to challenge the boundaries of its readers.

Oh, rubbish.

Want to know the truth? No one wants to read subversive fiction that challenges their boundaries. What people want is for other people to read fiction that challenges their boundaries. Then they get to feel all superior and enlightened at the resultant outrage. Like if you could get a Wisconsin union protester to read all the way through “Atlas Shrugs” and enjoy the resultant head explosion, that kind of thing.

Liberals are just as bad at this as conservatives – neither hell nor a woman scorned hath fury like a liberal SF/F reader who discovers that his favorite author voted Republican.

-JM