Out & About: A dream come true on Tor.com

Yesterday on on Tor.com, I published a long-in-the-making article that has me internally (and externally) screaming with delight. It’s the story of my introduction to fantasy through Magic: The Gathering, an immensely popular trading card game that has endured for 25 years. Recently, the game’s creator, Wizards of the Coast, has made an effort to revamp the game’s fiction (delivered via online short stories and, soon, novels) by hiring some legitimately great SFF authors. I mean, look at this list: Cassandra Khaw, Martha Wells, Kate Elliott. That’s some serious clout.

So, I caught up with the authors, and creative director Nic Kelman, to discuss the past, present, and future of Magic’s storytelling, which encompasses one of the largest and most intricate fantasy worlds ever created.

Here’s an excerpt:

If someone asked me how I got into fantasy, I’d bring up the summer of ’96. I was 12 years old and had just graduated elementary school. Enjoying one of the longest summers of my life. One day stands out vividly above the rest. It was hot, sunny—brilliant and full of possibility, in the way that only summer vacation can be. I was with my dad, driving to southern Vancouver Island so that he could meet with someone who worked for his online scriptwriting workshop. The drive was about an hour, but it felt shorter. I wasn’t looking out the window, or chatting with my dad; instead, my nose was buried in my mom’s battered copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I was in the car with my dad, but I was also in Middle-earth alongside Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarfs. This might not seem like a remarkable introduction to fantasy, but it was for me. I grew up treating fantasy with disdain—dismissing it for being full of unicorns, princesses, rainbows, and the sort. (Who’d’ve thought that 20 years later I’d be looking for exactly those things in the books I read?) Instead, I was a remarkably loyal science fiction fan. However, Tolkien’s novel of loyalty and adventure, danger, magic, and friendship showed me the error of my thinking, and convinced me that, hey, fantasy is cool. I became a voracious fantasy reader after that—an obsession I still live with today.
However, my roots as a fantasy fan go back farther than that—which I’m only realizing as I write this article.

Rewind a couple of years to 1994. Spearheaded by Ms. Lukyn, the fourth grade teacher, a new game was spreading like wildfire in my elementary school. Magic: The Gathering was a Trading Card Game (TCG) that pitted two Planeswalkers against each other. The players took on the role of these wizards and faced off in combat by casting fireballs, drinking healing salves, and summing great beasts like Shivan Dragons or Sengir Vampires. It was easy to learn, cheap to start playing (or, the teacher had spare decks), and it ignited youthful imaginations. How else on the school grounds could you step into the robes of a wizard?

You can read the whole thing—all 4,000 words of it—on Tor.com. Whether you’re a existing fan of Magic: The Gathering, a lapsed fan, or just love fantasy fiction, I think you’ll enjoy it.

First Impressions: Green Rider by Kristen Britain

A couple of weeks ago, I was spitballing on Twitter about wanting to read more ’90s-style epic fantasy. You know the type. Lots of pages. Travelogues. Plucky heroes. Coming-of-age. Magic. Quests. Adventuring parties full of D&D stereotypes. It was my bread-and-butter growing up. I loved Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Raymond E. Feist, and their contemporaries. I received a lot of great recommendations, but eventually settled on my first choice: Green Rider by Kristen Britain.

Green Rider tells the story of Karigan G’ladheon, a young woman who, after being expelled from a prestigious school for duelling, becomes snared in the magical and political machinations of Sacoridia’s elite. Like most epic fantasy of the time, Green Rider is a story of hope and perseverance, and grows larger in the tellings as the conflict around Karigan gets bigger and more deadly with each turning page.

Things pick up quickly (no Lord of the Rings-style easing into the story here) with Karigan getting caught up in the murder of F’Ryan Coblebay in the novel’s early pages. After that, it’s an avalanche of appropriately epic set pieces, escalating levels of magic, several seemingly impossible-to-escape scenarios, and just enough hints of a larger threat to keep things interesting. Karigan travels on her own for much of the book, and each new chapter reads in an almost episodic manner as she stumbles across some new character or two, who present danger or succour, until Karigan eventually moves on or escapes.

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New Short Story! “The Dinosaur Graveyard”

Huzzah! My latest short story, “The Dinosaur Graveyard,” is now available FOR FREE on the Robot Dinosaurs! website.

“The Dinosaur Graveyard” is a long flash story (short short story?) about a robotics engineer spending a long night repairing her daughter’s favourite toy. It’s about dinosaurs (duh) and robot—but it’s also about parenting and coming of age, loneliness, kindness, and sharing passion.

Working on this story with editor Merc Rustad and artist James Kurella has been an absolute delight—and I’m stoked for the upcoming Kickstarter and physical release of the anthology.

You can find out more about the origins of “The Dinosaur Graveyard” here.

New Short Story! “Youngblood”

My latest short story, “Youngblood,” has been officially released! I describe it as LOST meets Jurassic Park—it’s about a girl and her velociraptor companion who live in a colony that was abandoned on a dinosaur-infested island. Things go awry when the corporation that left them behind returns, guns blazing.

I initially wrote it for Uncanny Magazine’s dinosaur issue, and it made it to the final round of cuts—but when it didn’t stick there, I decided to self-publish it. (Spoilers: selling an action-heavy dinosaur-themed short story to serious SFF short fiction markets is difficult.)

Read it here: https://medium.com/@adribbleofink/youngblood-42b6d5d70ad8

The “cover art” was illustrated by Stefan Tosheff. He’s a wonderful artist. Check out his work!

Work-in-Progress Update: The Thousand Shattered Gods & “The Rose and Honey Soul”

The Thousand Shattered Gods

My WIP novel finally has a name: The Thousand Shattered Gods.

I don’t want to say too much at this point about the plot, etc., but I will say that it’s set in the same universe as “The Red-rimmed Eyes of Tou Ma,” my novelette that was originally released in Unfettered II, and shares a principal protagonist: Farid Sulayk. My plan has always been to have a series of novels with intersecting short fiction, and this is the start of that.

You may have seen my Twitter conversation last week about epic fantasy. It began with me searching for book recommendations, but an off-hand comment about how, in my heart-of-hearts, what I *really* want to be writing is big, adventurous ’90s-style epic fantasy, but that I was under the impression that it was a hard sell. Thanks to encouraging feedback from Brit E. B. Hvide and Hannah Bowman, two people with loads of experience in the publishing industry, however, I returned to my outline for a novel I started working on a couple of years ago. It didn’t have a name, and I’d stalled on writing it after about 20k words because something just wasn’t quite right.

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First Impressions: Octopath Traveler (Square Enix, 2018)

The JRPGs of the mid-’90s have influenced me more than any other media outside of fantasy fiction. I grew up OBSESSED with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI; poured hundreds of hours into Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Xenogears, Grandia, and Suikoden; have replayed games from that era over-and-over again in the 20 years since. It’s no exaggeration to say that Octopath Traveller, a new JRPG from Square Enix and Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch that hearkens back to the halcyon days of Squaresoft, was made for me.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time with it now, and I’m pleased to say that not only does Octopath Traveller do justice to the classics of its genre, it manages to take the feeling of those games and create something that feels both nostalgic and modern at the same time.

The first thing you’ll notice about Octopath Traveler is its unique blend of 3D-environments and 16-bit style spritework/pixel art. I left a playthrough of Final Fantasy VI unfinished to pick up Octopath Traveler, and the similarities are obviously striking—but, the more I play, the more I’m reminded of the 32-bit RPGs that melded 2D sprites with 3D environments, like Grandia or Xenogears. However, rather than trying for a 1:1 emulation of the old style, as many throwback JRPGs do, Octopath Traveller combines the 16/32-bit aesthetic with modern sensibilities. As someone who grew up on 16/32-bit JRPGs, it’s a heady combination that manages to look the way I remember those games looking, which is a high compliment.

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Short Story Sale! “The Dinosaur Graveyard” to ROBOT DINOSAURS!

I’m pleased to say that I’ve sold “The Dinosaur Graveyard” to Merc Rustad for their online and physical anthology, ROBOT DINOSAURS!

When I first heard of the anthology a few months ago, as the first stories were hitting the web, I was so enthralled by the theme that I couldn’t help but write a story—despite there being only a glimmer of opportunity for it. I’ve long-admired Merc’s short stories, so I’m beyond thrilled to be able to work alongside them on this new project. One of my main goals as a writer is to produce fun, buoyant, and imaginative SFF, and a project like this—featuring robotic dinosaurs, an anachronistic match made in heaven—was a wonderful playground. 

“The Dinosaur Graveyard” is a long flash story (short short story?) about a robotics engineer spending a long night repairing her daughter’s favourite toy.

It’s slated for publication on August 24th, and will be available for free on the ROBOT DINOSAURS! website. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

If you want to join me as part of the ROBOT DINOSAURS! family, Merc just announced that they’re looking for three more stories, and will be accepting submissions from August 1-15. Get writing!

For updates on the anthology, including weekly stories, check ’em out on Twitter: @robodinofiction

Things I Love: My Top 10 RPGs

Over the past couple of years, I’ve made a dedicated a lot of my gaming time (such as it is these days…) to revisiting older RPGs. I grew up playing everything from Squaresoft’s finest on SNES to BioWare’s amazing output on the PC. It’s been a joy to revisit favourites, such as those listed below, and discover some classics that slipped past me at the time of release.

Since I’ve been thinking so much about these older games, and recognizing (or rediscovering) what makes them work so effectively, especially compared to a lot of modern games, which I’m finding myself less attracted to, I thought it would be fun to explore my Top 10 Favourite RPGs (and 10 Honourable Mentions.

(The list is unordered, except for the first game, which is undisputedly my favourite game of all time.)

Let’s go!

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Second Impressions: Grandia (PSX – 1999)

I played Grandia to completion back when it was first released, and have always considered it one of the high-water marks of PSX-era JRPGs. However, in a lot of ways, it hasn’t aged well, particularly while playing it on original hardware (or PSP, where I first attempted to replay it) due to slowdown, so I’ve never made it more than a few hours into a replay. This time, I’m playing it via Retroarch, using GPU overclock for a consistent 30fps, and it’s like a new experience.

I’m currently two hours deep and exploring the game’s first dungeon: the Sult Ruins.


Some thoughts:

  • I *love* the sense of optimism and adventure. One of my favourite games of all time is Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, which shares these attributes, but Grandia takes it to another level. There’s no overarching horror encroaching on the world at the get-go. In fact, it’s a time of peace. Justin wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an adventurer—to explore the world, discover knew things, dig up knowledge. In this day and age where we have grizzled Geralt from The Witcher, Lara Croft dousing people with gasoline and lighting them on fire, and beautiful but excessively violent games like Ghosts of Tsushima, it’s so refreshing to return to a time when game settings were fun and joyous.
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Reprint Sale! The Penelope Qingdom to Cast of Wonders

Now that the digital ink is dry on the contract, I’m very pleased to say that I’ve sold the reprint rights to my short story, “The Penelope Qingdom,” to Cast of Wonders. It’s a love letter to growing up, ’80s Saturday morning cartoons, Dungeons & Dragons, and falling in love for the first time.

As a huge fan of the Escape Artists podcasts, I’m absolutely thrilled to see “The Penelope Qingdom” find a new home at Cast of Wonders. It was initially published in parallel with the 2016 US election, so got a bit lost in the blast (and subsequent social media fallout that we’ve been experiencing for the past two years), so I’m looking at this as a second chance at life. Cast of Wonders’ target YA audience is *perfect* for this story, and I hope readers (and listeners) enjoy it. 

You can read “The Penelope Qingdom” right now on Curious Fictions. It was originally published in Mothership Zeta.