With each passing year, I find it harder to wrap my head around the fast-fading memory of a time when media was not, with its informational and emotional impact on our world, a graven image on the mountain top, mouth agape, roaring.
Before anyone gets the wrong impression, I agree with you. The internet is a wonderful thing. My twelve year old can gaze into the palm of her hand and “see” that eight miles to the west there is a frozen custard shop, that it’s open, and that her friends have arrived there. She has more access to insight and divination in the palm of her hand than King Solomon ever had. “Hey, dad. It’s going to snow on Friday.” Power on this scale would have made her my court magician in a different era.
But we all know there is a darker side to this coin.
Consulting with demons for insight often gets you tricked. Just the other day, my co-worker mistook a gag news article for the real deal and told the whole studio that the Pope had decided not to resign after all. That’s right, the pontiff was taking his hat back. And no matter what you believe about Julian Assange, it’s irrefutable fact that in the aftermath of the greatest military leak in history he was attacked and to a large part neutered by events (real or fabricated) that were scooped and fed to us world-wide. If I’m not mistaken, he’s still living in an embassy, barely out of reach from hands that would like to strangle him for good. Continue reading
Magic is often used to keep the status quo, until it becomes accessible to the common man and suddenly turns the world upside down.
You don’t see a lot of gunpowder in fantasy.
It’s there, especially in historical fantasy. But it’s not as common as one might think. Most fantasy seems to take place in a pre-gunpowder period despite gunpowder having been around in our own world since the middle ages. I think this has a lot to do with what we read when we were kids. Many of us grew up on medieval fantasy. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis dominated my childhood. When I was old enough to go looking for books at the library, I read David Eddings, Tracy Hickman, and Robert E. Howard. None of the stuff I read had any gunpowder in it and when I first started writing all my settings were medieval.
So beyond mere habit, why don’t we see much gunpowder in fantasy? I think that magic, in a lot of ways, fills in for gunpowder. It’s something mysterious. Perhaps it can be used by the common man, but the common man doesn’t know the secrets behind it. Only a few people can master those. It can be volatile and dangerous, used for both good and evil. Magic is often used to keep the status quo, until it becomes accessible to the common man and suddenly turns the world upside down. Continue reading
One evening, I had the chance to sit down with Steven Erikson and several other people over a glass of wine and dinner. It was a wonderful evening, full of laughs, camaraderie and discussion. Despite what you might think, me being a book blogger and Steve being a popular author, only a small portion of the evening was spent discussing fiction, books or writing. However, one short conversation, not with Mr. Erikson but with one of his friends, led me to think a lot about why I read, and when I read.
The conversation began with a question, “Do you read before bed?”
Some of us answered no, others, including myself, said, “Yes, I can’t fall asleep otherwise.” Those who answered “no,” had some interesting reasons, though they escape me now, but one of the other diners, a woman whose name I’m sorry to say I can’t remember, began talking about why she reads before bed. She made an observation that has stuck with me since. You see, she reads before bed because it allows her to put aside the events of her day, the events that might be coming the next day, and immerse herself in the emotions, problems and triumphs of the people living in the fiction she holds in her hands. Instead of falling asleep thinking about what needs doing tomorrow, or how her exam went poorly, she falls asleep wrapped in thoughts of these characters, wandering through these other landscapes. Continue reading
“Urban Fantasy” is a hot term these days. You hear it used to describe everything from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. It encompasses the work of authors from Patricia Briggs to Kim Harrison, from Ilona Andrews to Kevin Hearne. With such a diverse range of talent, the definition quickly loses meaning. There isn’t a whole lot that’s urban about the sleepy, small town of Bon Temps.
But that’s okay. Because urban fantasy has never been about urban settings. It’s about *contemporary* settings. It does a very simple thing: it takes the modern world, the one we live in every day, and ask the question, “What would this be like if magic were real?”
If the genre’s popularity is any indicator, that question has traction. Fantasy has, for much of its lifespan, been dominated by ancient and medieval settings. Many of the most enduring works in the genre, from Tolkien to Brooks to Feist, are set in pre-gunpowder, pre-industrial revolution worlds. But readers don’t ride to work on horses, hunt deer for dinner, or carry a sword to fend off the occasional Orc raid. Contemporary fantasy’s popularity suggests that many readers like to dream about the impossible right in their own backyard.
And here’s where you can run into trouble writing contemporary stories. The same thing that makes a contemporary setting resonate so strongly with the reader may also piss them off: Ownership. Continue reading
Fiction, it often seems to me is becoming more preoccupied with deaths, both death itself and the manner of it in nasty, gruesome ways. Why? Many reasons I’m sure – a more cynical age for one. Another is the western obsession with Youth and Beauty as though they alone can stave off Death and Decay. As a society we are more personally removed from death than at any time in history, yet via media at the same time we are exposed – at an emotional distance – to deaths we would once never have known about. Where once bodies were laid out by their family, washed, dressed, respects given, now they are hidden away in their coffins, dressed by strangers, almost as though we’re ashamed that one of us let death overtake him. It is no longer a part and parcel of our lives in the same way – ably demonstrated by my co worker, who moonlights as an embalmer. When she tells people, almost every reaction is a variation on ‘Ewww, you touch dead people!’. So, with death removed from our real lives, less matter-of-factly “there”, perhaps we delve into it more in fiction, because it’s one of the few places we have left. Continue reading