Fantasy that Inspires

I think you can safely call me a fantasy racist. That might seem odd to say, but looking over the fantasy that inspires me, I realize that my interest in Tolkienesque race elements is rather low. I am frequently so fascinated with human elements that exploring other races, like Dwarves, Elves and Orcs, is pretty rare.

No, when it comes to fantasy, I am drawn to fantasy that mingles itself strongly with other common human elements, like economics and politics, religion and psychology. I enjoy the injection of horror into fantasy, the fusing of real world historic mythology. Truly gothic.

So here are several fantasy tales in various mediums that have inspired me. And if you’re looking for fresh materials to stimulate your muse, you can check them out too.

Vagrant Story

Vagrant Story

The Playstation era was a golden age for story telling. The mix of higher resolution graphics, more processing power and greater hardware capabilities was a mixed blessing in that some developers started to make their creations too scripted and cinema laden. But when they got it right, oh boy…

Vagrant Story was one such success story. Squaresoft (before it became Square Enix) created a few games set in a universe called Ivalice. Early games set in Ivalice, such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story were gold, but later Ivalice installments lost their touch as too many fantasy and political elements began to run way too rampant. But for a while in the PS1 golden age, it was unforgettable.

Vagrant Story was a blend of political intrigue in the battle between church and crown, set in the fictious and forgotten city of Leá Monde. The stunning architecture and history of the city meshed with with medieval scheming and grasping for ancient and forgotten powers hidden there. Yet in the depths and dark of the city were old horrors, age old fairy folklore brought to life and the dead who clung to the mortal realm. Meanwhile, the main character Ashley Riot struggles with illusive and untrustworthy memories.

Final Fantasy Tactics

Ramza_BeoulveSet in the same world of Ivalice, FFT was a masterpiece of tactically strategic gameplay and RPG elements. But the real meat of the game came from the real, thick plot. Rife with betrayals and backstabbing, political intrigue and a wide, motivated cast of characters, FFT was gaming meets Shakespeare. After the blood bath, you have such respect for the main character, Ramza Beoulve, for managing to survive such a world with his morals intact.

The story of FFT starts at the end of a war between two kings. A power vacuum has been left that various groups are trying to fill with their own chosen successors. But as it is set in a fantasy world, the leaders of the church choose to play with fire. The other reason the game is fantastic is because it also helps you think about fantasy elements from a strategic and battle point of view. Questions of how magic fits into a fight, the importance of terrain. These are things you don’t normally think about in fighting, but are factors that enrich ones view of pulp fantasy combat.

Try it if you can. You won’t regret it.

I promise you.

Berserk

Berserk

Any of my long time readers know of this manga series Berserk I go on about from time to time. Probably because it’s incredible. Probably because it positively screams ‘adult’ everytime I open it up. You see men and women at their best and at their worst in the story. The fantasy elements are just the side show to the important questions about man’s soul.

Nothing will make your writing feel so inadequate after you feast your eyes on this masterpiece of art and writing.

The story revolves around Guts, a mercenary who was betrayed by his father and falls into a group called the Band of the Hawk. The band’s efforts earn them prestige, and Griffin, their commander and Guts’ friend, is eventually made into a knight of Midland. But Griffin’s ambition proves his undoing when he sleeps with the princess of Midland, and ticks off the king.

The Band of the Hawk is almost destroyed. Guts manages to save Griffin, but all of this was the hand of fate in action. Due to events foreseen aeons ago, Griffin is offered the chance to ‘create his own kingdom’ by demonic forces. All it takes is a sacrifice… the Band of the Hawk. But Guts and another member survive the branding. And though Griffin is elevated to the status of a god, Guts sets out to take revenge upon him.

Guts’ quest for revenge is still on going. But events have conspired that have opened the door of fantasia. Old myths and tales that people thought weren’t true have begun to appear in all their glory and horror alike. Hydras, dragons, fairies. Some good, more for ill. Powerful questions of the human psyche and the belief in karma explain these events.

Trust me. Read it. You’ll understand why Berserk is the greatest fantasy work you’ll ever read.

Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter DOh D, D, D… so much incredible potential. So much background and amazing world building. And yet, the barriers between America and Japan have made the transition so difficult for you.

Although there are more than two dozen novels, a video game and a couple of movies, few have been able to do this series justice. The video game was horrible. If I recall correctly, Playstation Magazine slammed it with 1 star out of 5. The novels from which the series originates were rich with story telling possibilities, but not well translated.

Believe it or not, the movies have been pretty good. The first, created back in 1985, was based on the first novel and filled with a great story even if the artwork is a bit dated now. The latest, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust drew from the third book and is a jewel of animated movie making.

The series takes place sometime in 12,000 A.D. Humanity engaged in a nuclear war, and in the aftermath the nobility (vampires) took over. Although there were some much kindlier vampires, the majority of which were horrifying blood suckers.

Humanity is trying to recover, but the remains of the nobility (they are dying out) make it difficult. D is the greatest of the vampire hunters, being a dhampir.

Castlevania

GabrielCastlevania has been around for decades, as far back as the old Nintendo Entertainment System. But around the Playstation 2 era, Konami has made a real effort to apply more and more story telling elements to their gothic, vampire slaying series. There was Castlevania: Lament of Innocence which details one origin of Dracula, and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, a side story revolving around Hector, a demon summoning man trying to escape Dracula’s legacy.

But Konami really hit gold with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. A reboot of the series, Mercury Steam and Konami refreshed everything, transforming the game into a thick, shocking origin story of Dracula and the Belmont clan. The ending was particularly well done. The story designers kept pounding you with plot twist after plot twist. Maybe you saw something coming early on, but they didn’t stop until they got you with something you didn’t foresee.

But the real joy is coming in the sequel… where you’ll be playing as Dracula himself.

Final Fantasy VI

Well, I almost made a criminal mistake here. As I wrote this, I was tempted to leave it at five franchises, when I remembered that there was probably one more I should speak up about. I suppose the reason I almost forgot about Final Fantasy VI was that it was first an SNES title, as I never owned an SNES, only borrowed. And that it was so long ago that it was released, back in 1994. The previous titles are either still on going or have been reference via other works. Final Fantasy VI stands well on its own.

So what’s it about? I’ll give you the short of it in simple words. An empire. Steampunk. Rediscovery of magic. Genocide for power gain. Madness. A broken world. Family. Friends. Survival. Hope.

FFVI conflicts me. On one hand, I want to see it remade because the current generation of gamers needs to know the powerful story, strong characters and unforgettable world. If there’s such a thing as required reading, then FFVI is like required gaming. But on the other, it’s very likely that Square Enix could not do the original title justice.

I suppose that someone could do the remake properly… but I simply don’t know anyone in this age who could achieve the rights, has the needed capital, and is skilled enough at game design and story telling to pull it off. But bare in mind I would prefer them not to even touch the story. They would have to figure things out like the importance of cinematography in the transition from 2 to 3d, but the script and events? Unless you carefully (and I mean carefully) add more incredibleness to the tale somehow, to change anything would be tantamount to artistic heresy.

So I leave you now with a piece of art by Jimo Hazard, a rendering of a piece by Yoshitaka Amano, for you to think about.

Final Fantasy VI

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The Next Big Thing

I received an invitation from Alec McQuay to answer a selection of questions about my current writing workload. Behold the horror…

What is your working title of your book?
There’s actually a couple of projects I’m working on. I’m just sticking to short stories because it’s easier to finish up. I may start my first novel next year.

But for the time being, I’m working on a short story for Narrativium’s Marching Time anthology, simply titled Ragnarok for now. I am also pitching two new stories to Cruentus Libri Press. I can’t tell you about the new one I’m hacking away at, but the latest submission is a horror piece set in World War I, between the French and Germans.

Where did the idea come from for these stories?
For the Marching Time piece, I really can’t remember. No one had called out vikings, so I decided to do that. But then somewhere, I got this idea about how to make it a hero epic piece. For some reason, I really relished the chance to do the olde tyme thick epic, so I got started.

As for the WWI piece, that took considerable evolution. It originally began as an alternate history horror piece set in WWII. America was invaded by a hodge podge army of zombies. I can’t tell you more, but there was more depth to the tale than endless and pointless fighting. This WWII was started for a different publisher, but I changed my mind towards the end and wrote a mad scientist piece set during the storms of Dustbowl. It was a slow, building story that wasn’t particularly pulpy.

After the mad scientist piece was rejected, I returned to the original idea. During this time, I was getting ready for a trip to England, and was brushing up on my French and German with a girl who knew both. Somehow, this inspired me to try a WWI story, with several twists on the original tale. The zombies were removed, but I added a different foe. It’s called On Ne Passé Pas! but that title is subject to change.

What genre does your book fall under?
For the Marching Time piece, there are elements of sci fi and medieval style war in it. I tie large, important themes of Norse mythology into it, but I must remind the reader that during the Viking age, this was a religion and a few concepts of faith. All of this is very central to the story.

My other stories are primarily horror. Horror has been a great starting niche because it generally gives a lot of freedom, and horror literature lovers by no means expect feel good endings. But horror by itself isn’t a great genre. The best horror tends to blend itself with another genre. Horror fantasy (Berserk), horror crime, so on. A really important thing to remember when writing horror is that the horror elements should be hinted at or introduced early. Readers do not like last minute genre-bending, like Steven Spielberg’s A.I. They hate it, and I’m no fan myself.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’ve given no thought whatsoever to who I’d want to play my character for the Marching Time story. I would be open to no name actors, particularly from Swedish cinema. A few Swedish movies and shows have started making their way to the states, either original or remade. And they’re pretty good!

As for the WWI piece, this is going to blow your mind. I’d be open to having Sacha Baron Cohen for the lead role. I know, I know. You probably know him for his low brow comedies, like Borat, The Dictator and Brüno. But he’s also done somewhat more serious roles, like Hugo. And he has a part in the upcoming Les Misérables that I’m looking forward too. Sometimes, certain comedians are actually outstanding actors underneath the comedy mask, like John Leguizamo.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ragnarok: When the gods march to their doom, for whom will you fight?
On Ne Passé Pas!: They have surrendered in droves to escape their own country…

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Ragnarok: To be honest, neither really describes it. It is technically self-published, but it was a large, group effort by just under a dozen talented individuals. It’s our first effort together and I really hope we can do it again soon. Just like The Black Wind’s Whispers.

On Ne Passé Pas!: If Cruentus Libri Press accepts it, they will. If not, I may put it on the back burner and figure out what to do with it later.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
For the MT anth, it’s still being worked on. The writing is thick and requires considerable care. For the other story, that is debatable. Its first real draft took only a week, but the idea evolved over several previous iterations over the course of six months. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Beowulf comes to mind for Ragnarok. The plot, I’m trying to think if and where it has been borrowed before. Probably from elements of historical acts involving religion.

For On Ne Passé Pas!, I really wanted to draw inspiration from the movie All Quiet on the Western Front. But there was a lack of trench warfare to it. I’d say more came from The Dirty Dozen.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
For Ragnarok, it might have been Dan Abnett with the 40k book, Prospero Burns. The Space Wolves, a group in the 40k universe, have been stereotyped as barbarians, but there’s more to them than that. Real life vikings, on whom the Space Wolves are based upon, have many similar misconceptions and falsehoods about them. I don’t know how much of an eye opener Ragnarok is going to be, but if I can set the records straight on a few historic facts, I will.

On Ne Passé Pas! was inspired by a woman who has helped me with my French and German, and a dash from my high school history teacher. Who, according to other students, was certifiable.  

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Because I’m not in charge of these books overall, I’m really not sure yet. I’m helping as an editor for Marching Time, so when first drafts start pouring in, I’ll have a better answer.

Here are a few other author’s (and links to their blogs) you should watch carefully.

Alec McQuay

Sarah Cawkwell

James Swallow

Kim Krodel

Job Hunt and Writing Women

A brief update today. My day is not as productive as I hoped. I needed a few moments to write this out as to help me focus.

On the job hunt, I’ve got a really good one tomorrow. It’s a phone interview plus an assessment test I have to take. My Java studying has not been successful as I had hoped. I study but screwed up an assessment test last week that really ruined my Friday.

I’m determined, however, to finish everything on my “to do” list this week. And it is a very long list. Some of it is day-to-day, including working out, writing and studying. I’ve added cooking at home to cut back on expenses and to eat better. Besides this, I also have a number of other chores that need doing, such as getting my passport and doing my taxes.

I made time to do some writing this week. Or rather, I’ve set aside five sections of my list with 1,000 words a piece. What’s made this new piece more difficult is that it is:

1) More political, focused on the issues of a kingdom.
2) Takes place in an Arabian fantasy theme.
3) The main character is a woman warrior.

Now, that last one throws me. Anyone who claims to know what is going on in a woman’s head is absolutely lying, even if they are another woman. They don’t want you to know. And many will tell you they don’t like the thought of someone to have “cracked the code” on the mind of women.

The Yoga Master 5000.

Robo-Ripley, rip!

So I ask, why bother? Don’t get in her head. Let her have her secrets and just look at the action, at what they do. Besides, what people do is what really defines them anyway.

For every awesome strong female lead, there are probably a handful of bad ones. It’s pretty hard to do a great action heroine, but I can still think of a few examples. Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Aliens certainly was. Sometimes, certain actresses do well in that strong support role, like Lena Headey who played Leonidas’ wife in 300.

I can list off bad heroines, but why bother? In scientific theory, one can learn more from mistakes and failed theories than one can from a theory that is proven correct. But in engineering it’s the other way around, as those successful theories are widened and improved upon, expanded and further uses and applications are found.

Considering that I’m drawing inspiration from games like Diablo and stories like Berserk and 1001 Arabian Nights, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not pioneering a new frontier. So I’d rather figure out a character that works drawn from successful and interesting heroine, rather than try to devise a new archetype.

10 Musical Selections for Writing

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952-February 6th, 2011.

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952 to February 6th, 2011.

Okay, so my eye is feeling a bit better but I’m still going to hold off on the review. So instead, here are 10 more music pieces for writing. 10 more, you may ask? If you have not seen it, then allow me to direct you to the original 20 musical pieces post.

However, this post is a bit melancholy because I had just discovered that Gary Moore, a talented guitarist and singer from the UK, died of a heart attack earlier this year. Many people have not heard of the skilled musician and his amazing blues, but I had been listening to his music since before his death in February, 2011. For a lyrical taste of his work, check out Over the Hills and Far Away.

A quick note. This particular set of songs takes more from games than before. It’s easier to pick music from game sound tracks than it is from movies. The downside is that game sound tracks rarely show up on sites like Pandora.

  1. Cloud’s Theme, Final Fantasy VII Orchestral Soundtrack.
    It’s a strange theme that mixes hope with hopeless, and something on the lighter side with darker undertones. This song could work well for a overture of your piece.
  2. Doom 3 Theme, by Tweaker.
    Explosive piece that threatens something menacing until it just bursts into combative guitar and drumming, mixed with eerie vocal sound effects.
  3. Pandora’s Music Box, by Nox Arcana.
    Nox Arcana is an incredibly reliable source of subtle, creepy music sans vocals. Adding this music to any scene instantly turns it into horror material just because of its gentle yet eldritch nature.
  4. Underworld Domain, by Dargaard.
    A piece that is so pure, it was perfectly named. Unfortunately, this piece breaks the no lyrics rule, but given how well the singer blends her voice with the music, I’m making an exception.
  5. Wilderness, Diablo II OST.
    I love the Diablo series, and despite becoming slightly more cartoonish than it’s previous incarnations, I am still looking forward to Diablo III.  Here’s a piece from the second installment. Stay a while and listen!
  6. Arkham Bridge, Mechwarrior 2 OST.
    I used to be a huge, huge Mechwarrior and Battletech fan. As I got older however, I grew out of it. It wasn’t deep enough for me, just a constant mix of politics and warfare. That and I met one of the authors and wasn’t impressed with their attitude. If you don’t care for your fans, they’ll soon not care about you. Still, good music. You may also want to check out Umber Wall.
  7. Bloody Tears, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night OC Remix.
    Okay, I seriously believe that ‘Bloody Tears’ may just be the single most remixed game music of all time. There are dozens of versions, from classical pieces to piano solos, heavy metal jams to DJ dance mixes. The original piece started from the NES game Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and was updated in later titles. Here’s an acoustic guitar version, a violin version and the version from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
  8. Theology/Civilization, by Basil Poledorius.
    Straight from the original (as in, 1982) Conan the Barbarian, this ponderous piece is slow and mixes renaissance touches with classical music.  I admit that this is not one of my favorite pieces of music, but I suspect that others will enjoy this for its lighter notations. It can’t rain all the time.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? Find out yourself.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? I'm not responsible for what will happen to your sanity. Find out yourself.

  9. Murder, by Susumu Hirasawa.
    I honestly don’t watch much anime or read much manga anymore. But there is still one series I go out of my way to read, and that is Berserk by Kentaro Miura. Beautifully animated, beautifully told, I cannot stress how amazing is Berserk. This piece just keeps growing and growing in madness…
  10. The Loner, by Gary Moore.
    A non-lyrical piece by Moore, the original version of The Loner is 6 minutes long and takes a minute to warm up appropriately. However, compared to other versions, the guitar isn’t as distracting, but communicates its sorrowful melody well. To be honest, a chance to apply this to writing would be very difficult because it’s sad but also not slow. It may work well if a character is fondly recalling a person who has passed on. Rest in peace, Mr. Moore. You will be missed.