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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Wardrobes and warriors

 One of the key themes in my YA book is the idea of alternate worlds, namely worlds that exist in parallel to our own. For a writer this is a perfect device, as it is remarkably versatile in the way it covers all magnitude of possibilities. For me, at least in the first book, it is alternate history and the hint of a world where mythical creatures and magic exist (as biological and physics variants).

The use of alternate worlds is so rife in literature, film and television that it has become overly familiar to us as readers. My son, who I am hot-housing into a comic-loving, fantasy-reading, wargame-playing geek (like his dad) glibly speaks of other dimensions and parallel universes, not least because of the innumerable reboots of superhero franchises.

I loved the idea of alternate worlds as a kid, and it was Dr Who and Star Trek that really introduced them to me. But the idea really grew in my brain through the fantasy books I loved as a child, and the idea of normal folk entering a magical world that existed ‘alongside our own.’

If I had to pick a few that have stayed with me the first would have to be Alan Garner’s book, Elidor. Garner grew up not far from where I live now, and set many of his tales in the Manchester and Cheshire areas. Elidor tells the tale of four teenagers from Manchester who pass through a portal in a ruined church and into the fantasy land of Elidor. There they acquire three magical items – a cauldron, a stone and a sword- for the besieged king. They then take these back to our world, where they become mundane items. The evil forces from Elidor pursue them across the portal and into our world.

It was a superb example of fantasy read by kids, but of the quality and maturity that you expect from adult fantasy fiction. The tension of the work was superb, built by the curious effect of the magical items on electrical technology in our world. I loved the concept of a magical world, accessible from our own, and so it was no surprise that I moved onto CS Lewis from there.

Lewis’s books never really grabbed me as a kid. It may be that I was changing and was after something that felt less dated, or more mature, but the fifties style just didn’t hold my interest. Nonetheless the iconic nature of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is unquestionable, and I can’t have been the only kid rooting around amongst my parent’s cupboards looking for a psychotic dwarf and some Turkish delight.

The parallel fantasy world is replete in children’s literature—Peter Pan’s Neverland, Alice’s Wonderland are famous classic examples—and the idea continues to pop up all over the place. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series develops the idea in The Subtle Knife, as one of the main characters literally cuts his way between worlds; Neil Gaiman’s awesome Coraline has the heroine crawling through a rather creepy tunnel into a sinister ‘mirror’ world, full of button eyes.

As my tastes matured into more adult work, I found the theme still popular in ‘grown up’ fantasy. I finally got around to reading Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant last year (tried when younger and just got bored), which is the most notable example of modern man in fantasy world, and similarly Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions which again has a modern protagonist thrown into an Arthurian fantasy world. Even my last huge-read, Zelazney’s Amber decology, uses the idea at least in part, although the main characters are residents of Amber living within our world.
The popularity of the modern man/teen/child thrown into an imaginary world continues. It’s an appealing concept—how any of us would employ our modern knowledge and concepts in a land of magic and mysticism. In almost every example of the books the fantasy world acts to show the main characters that knowledge will only take them so far, and that the virtues of courage and bravery are the ones that are required to win the day.

And with the modern world the way it is at the moment, who wouldn’t want a parallel fantasy world to go and visit?


Monday, 30 September 2013

Sixty Shades of Sorcery

One of the coolest things about fantasy (and there’s a sentence that before HBO’s gore and shag-a-thon, Game of Thrones, would have never been written) is the wide variety of how magic is perceived in the genre. There’s a deluge of articles about designing magic systems and ensuring logic and coherency, but I won’t reiterate those here. Suffice it to say that magic is one of those things that if you write badly, and use as a continual ‘deux e machina’ (or, I suppose, pulling a rabbit out of the hat) then it’ll bugger your book in the manner of a horny troll with a tub of Vaseline +2.

I enjoy magic in fantasy books, I think it gives it a texture and a richness that no other genre can match, and I also enjoy the different styles of incorporating it, in the same way that I love Dark Fantasy as much as epic or heroic. Before you think this is an Aldi advert, let’s start delving around different ways of writing sorcery.....

 For me, as a kid, I began reading fantasy mainly due to my interest in DnD. The magic system in DnD is obviously designed around the wargaming origins of the game, having your magic users learning spells from their list, being allowed to cast so many before they become dagger wielding softies. The concept was that the magic had a verbal part, a material part, and a learned way of wiggling your hips as you did it. Gary Gygax, former master of my universe, drew much of his inspiration from Jack Vance, and the Dying World series. Certainly in the first book—The Dying Earth—which is a collection of short stories, that style of magic is apparent. In those works spells are learned, and then once cast are erased from the ‘working memory’ until relearned. There is a wonderful concept in ‘Turjan of Mir’ wherein the words themselves seem to carry the power:

‘He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book. Turjan closed the book, forcing the spell back into oblivion.’

‘He then sat down and from a journal chose the spells he would take with him. What dangers he might meet he could no know, so he selected three spells of general application: The Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandal’s Mantle of Stealth, and the Spell of the Slow Hour.’

 Many works (including mine) have drawn their influence from DnD and hence from the ‘Vancian’ system. The obvious ones are those like Dragonlance, which was originated in an awesome DnD campaign, and so has Raistlin (at least in the original trilogy) learning spells and being knackered every time he casts... Featherfall...(Ok, so he got a bit harder when he hit level 12 in the finale). Other authors, such as the excellent Gary Vanucci, emulates the fast paced combat style of DnD magic in the Ashenclaw series—where the magic compliments the sword-craft perfectly. Gary’s work has been compared to RA Salvatore, although I haven’t read what style of magic Salvatore uses.

The throwaway style of sorcery lends itself perfectly to gaming, and one book I read recently that was influenced by on-line/RPG gaming was Connie Jasperson’s two books, The Tower of Bones, and the Forbidden Road. Connie takes the concepts in a different direction. The magic in her world is fuelled by Chi, like a life-force, and the sorcerers/priests who wield it, use it for either healing or for manipulating elements. Their approach is utterly scientific, and they study it as a science rather than an art—rationalising how to improve it, and manipulate it in unique ways. The healing in the book reads like a medical manual (which naturally, I loved!!!). And why not? Why wouldn’t magic in a fantasy world become like a science, in a strange parody of how in history events now rationalised by science were probably regarded as witchcraft.

There’s so many cool systems! Moorcock’s books have a magic wherein its practitioners constantly bargain with demons and gods of chaos/order to manipulate reality. Le Guin’s Earthsea books have a tried and tested formula of objects in the world having ‘true names,’ which carry power when utilised. I suspect she was the first to utilise this in popular fantasy, although Paolini used a duplicate system in Eragon and those other dragon books.

Then there’s the idea of channelling other world’s energies, or using some other ‘place’ to fuel your sorcery. The Amber series by Zelazney is kind of like this: after walking the Pattern, those of appropriate birth can manipulate the reality of all things in the shadows of Amber. Another great example is Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Here we have a pocket universe, or Warrens, which are accessed and opened by the mage to desired effect. This is a great concept, and it works really well in the books. Oddly what it reminded me of was the rationalisation of superpowers in the Marvel Universe’s Guides—so, when Cyclops fires his optic blasts his eyes are tapping into another dimension and acting as a conduit.

Which neatly brings me to my own style—which is unashamedly super-heroic in origin. In Nurolia, there is elemental magic, which comes naturally to the elemental races’ mages, and via use of Gems of Power and lots of lessons in humans; and there is Wild-magic, which is psychic in origin (so telekinesis, telepathy, pyromancy, but used in quite creative ways). The ‘evil’ magic, although clearly the other magics may be used by selfish or unscrupulous individuals, is Dark-magic, which is portrayed in the books as the fifth element.

When I designed Wild-magic I had a concept in my head similar to mutants in the Marvel X-men series. I liked the idea that the ability could occur at random, and what impact that would have on normal folk in a fantasy world. In the same vein as mutants being feared and despised, Wild-mages are ostracised and persecuted by the Elemental Orders, and this alienation is compounded by the fact that Wild-magic produces problems with the mind, either psychological (Jem’s OCD, Emelia’s bipolar disorder, Lemonbite’s schizophrenia) or neurological (I don’t want to spoil who, for readers of the series). I also liked the fast-paced angle of superpowers in the comics, and wanted that recreated in my rather televisual style of writing. The finale to book three, in the temple in Ssinthor, where the heroes scrap with the zealot, has a very fast-paced use of magic which I hope works.

I still couldn’t get away from some magic tropes, though. Elemental magic still needs a source (the Gems), words and gestures. Hence mages are held captive with special masks and manacles, or via an elixir that suppresses their sorcery (Pure Water, from Goldoria). The idea of items acting as conduits, or power sources, is another well established magic system. Brooks’ Shannara series uses items and artefacts to great effect; games such as Final Fantasy and Skyrim use soul gems etc; the One Ring in LOTR; RA Salvatore’s Demon Apostle, and the gemstone magic; Joshua Bigger’s hard-hitting fantasy, Dark’s Daughter, Hope with its gems and extension of eastern chakra mysticism. Even good old Harry Potter has magical items galore—the Philosopher’s Stones, the Deadly Hallows, the thingies that He With No Nose sticks part of his soul in....

There are so many and so little space before the reader dozes off. Magic can be present in a fantasy world, but not be especially in your face like my lightning tossing, Wild-magic shielding characters use. The obvious examples are ‘realistic’ fantasy, such as George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (or is it Fire and Ice...?). In George’s world, the magic is more subtle—the shadow monster thingy that bumped Renly off after popping out of Melisandre’s foo; the worgs and their animal body skipping (skinchanging?); resurrection, with poor old Beric Dondarrion held together with masking tape; those dudes with the blue lipstick, who pop up in the market despite being toasted by dragons. For his realistic setting, it works very well, and this subtle use of magic fits dark fantasy perfectly (such as the awesome Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora), as well as lighter fantasy such as the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb (the Wit and the Word—lots of mind influencing, animal possession, and so on).

The final quote on magic in fantasy—let’s stick with Georgie...

“Sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.”

So what’s your favourite magic system in fantasy? I haven’t read WOT by Robert Jordan, or Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, but by all accounts they rock big-style on the magic front. For me, I think the cleverest was Erikson’s—it had a maturity and originality that fitted perfectly with the intricate tone of his books.

But I still like the idea of two mages zapping the crap out of each other like medieval superheroes... I can’t help it!!!!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

I am rather an expert on that....

Much in the way I never now watch any film rated more than 12 at the
cinema, and indeed actively seek out Pixar productions to watch (‘Up’
and ‘Finding Nemo’ are incredible films), my TV watching home has
regressed markedly over the last few years.

Now part of that is due to the fact that I enjoy reading, writing and
squinting at tiny Warhammer models whilst controlling my tremor with
gin. Another part is my wife’s predilection for soaps and housing
programmes (Property Porn as it is often referred to). And a
significant other part is that I got gloomed out by what was on offer.
After the Wire finished, Game of Thrones killed all the characters
off, and BSG re-runs disappeared I found that all me and the wife were
watching was gloom-vision. Specifically it was variants on forensic
murder programmes (CSI: Llandudno an so on) and now a range of
psychological thriller stuff (Hannibal, Criminal Minds, and now I hear
there’s a Psycho re-boot) that makes me want to go suck exhaust
through a hose-pipe. We escaped into fluff-cop shows like NCIS: LA and
Hawaii 5-0 with their pretty people and feel good banter, but now even
they’ve finished (both with a dollop of drama=torture=misery). So
what’s left to enjoy?

Well, kids TV as it turns out. As child #3 enjoys the new found
freedom of bed vs. cot (read open prison vs. maximum security) and our
new puppy Cockerpoo whimpers the house down from 0500h each morning, I
find myself OD-ing on Nick Jr’s Peppa Pig. Now I’ve been a PP fan for
a long while, in fact since it first aired on Terrestial TV on Ch5’s
Milkshake when Charlie was a toddler. But only in the last year can I
say that I’ve watched almost every episode to the degree that I have
my favourite scenes and can talk about character development.

 It’s so bloody good. Not only is the animation perfect—a combination
of simple childish line-style, with tiny intelligent touches—but the
characters and stories are a mirror of family life with kids. Rather,
family life with kids how it should be. Someone called it the
Simpson’s for under-5s, but I think that does it a disservice as the
acidic cynicism that pervades the Simpsons (and I do like that show)
is absent, and the patriarch of the Pig family, Daddy Pig, is no idle
selfish Homer. No, my friends, Daddy Pig is the model of fatherhood...
patient, yet not perfect, family-friendly, yet flawed.

He’s marvellous! They revolve entire episodes around mocking his big
round belly, which he takes almost graciously. He considers himself
‘rather an expert’ at many things, yet in practice his DIY is crap,
and he can’t speak fluent French. He strives at School sports day’s
Dad’s events, but his only great achievement is jumping in muddy
puddles which he approaches with a Taoist demeanour. He always loses
his glasses (as do I), enjoys a hearty meal, would give his last bit
of cake to the ducks, and runs very fast when chased by wasps... all
for charity. And he plays the drums and the accordion.

I could really go on about the other great characters in the show—the
workaholic Ms Rabbit; the guitar hero nursery teacher; Polly the
parrot; Mr Bull and his love of fine china; Grandpa Rabbit, voiced by
Brian Blessed; the useless Dr Hamster and her tortoise. But that’d be
a little tragic for a 41 year old to harp on about all the things he
genuinely enjoys in a show for toddlers. Yet, it’s so well observed!
Peppa can be really gobby, cheeky, mean to George Pig, but lovely and
curious and happy like all children. The toddlers in PP shower
fountains of tears at the drop of a hat—the episode where the ‘older’
kids run the toddler party is pure brilliance—it brings to mind taking
Charlie and Evelyn to some of the parties Henry has been invited to.
There’s Mr Potato and his strange Spanish accent, with his fruit
awareness day, and a theme park. And the trip to the museum to see the
space exhibit, with its tacky gift shop and £5 per ‘fun-photo’ is so
accurate it’s scary.

Ultimately that’s the essence of good kids TV and film these days.
Suitably fun stories with enough ‘in jokes’ to keep Mum and Dad
chuckling—hence why ‘Despicable Me’ rocks big-style, and I’d rather
watch ‘Up’ than another Tarrantino variant.

Embrace your inner immaturity! I am ‘rather an expert’ on that.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Darkness is Rising again

The latest installment in my six-part epic fantasy Darkness Rising hits the virtual bookshelves today, on the Mryddin Publishing Group label. It picks up the story with Emelia, Jem, Hunor and companions in the arid deserts of Pyrios. They're racing against the dwindling sanity of Emelia and the approaching terror that is Vildor, with a pair of demons and an insane Fire-mage thrown in for good measure.

Further north we have Aldred 'circling the drain' (as they say on ER) with the dark Ekris and the noble Unhert trying to work out how to save him. The key may reside with Inkas-Tarr and Torm who finally move to centre stage in this book.

All the plot-lines are coming together in time for book five, where it all goes totally bonkers.

if you fancy a sample read on...

if you fancy the book then click here for UK kindle and here for the US of A (and everwhere else in the world).

Excerpt from Darkness Rising 4 - Loss

[Lady Orla Farvous adresses the disprited Incandian tribes known as the kerindara]

Orla glanced at Jem’s despair-wracked face. Her insides knotted at the injustice of the comment.

“Save your breath, Master Ten,” she said, striding forward. “These Incandians can not call themselves warriors.”

A clamour of anger erupted from the cavern. It thundered off the dark walls. Orla clambered onto the raised area that the five leaders sat upon. Several warriors moved to restrain her, but Myrek waved them back.

“This is not a slur on your good names,” Orla said. Her voice sliced through the ruckus like a sword. “Who am I to come to your ancestral home and cast aspersions on your valour? A foreign knight, from a far off land, that up until this day had not a jot of interest in the workings of your world.

“Yet I stand before you today willing to lay down my life and the lives of my friends for your cause. I look at the power that you face, the insurmountable walls that you crash against like the distant sea, the evil that lies within the dark rock—and I understand your reticence. I understand, with my head, why this day you would choose to lick your wounds, to regroup, to plan, to debate…”

The cavern was silent and Orla looked at Kolm as she said this.

“Yes, my head understands why this day you would not choose to be warriors. But my heart? My heart cannot.

“My heart cannot comprehend how you can skulk in the bowels of this rock like frightened children. My heart cannot appreciate how you can rest whilst your sisters, your brothers and your children chip away at the seams of iron in the catacombs of the mountain. My heart cannot fathom how you can tolerate this Fire Lord taking another unholy breath whilst your kin are in servitude. My heart cannot call you warriors.”

Myrssta raised her sword and cheered. The cavern burst into noise as a hundred Incandians drew their weapons and chanted a war cry.

Kolm leapt to her feet and moved to seize Orla in fury. Curnk stepped in her way and the two women faced each other off. Myrek and the other two leaders called for calm, but the battle cry persisted.

Orla drew her sword and shouted for silence. The cries ebbed as she addressed the crowds.

“Who am I to ask you to come with my friends and me? I am Lady Orla Farvous of the Knights of the Air. I shall ride across that plain though it may be as fierce as the Pale and I shall bring justice and freedom to the dark halls of the Mountain of Ash. I would ask the Paswans to ride with me—we have an opportunity now that may never be repeated. If I ride alone then so be it—I will die for your sisters.”

Curnk shouldered past Kolm and stood by Orla.

“My tribe will ride at your rear and I at your side.”

Cheers rang out and Myrek came to Orla’s left. “And I at your other. The three other tribes must decide their own path. Warriors saddle the herdilla—we shall await the signal on the edge of the plain.”

“First I must take the brand,” Orla said.

“That is not necessary,” Myrek said.

“Not necessary, but nonetheless I shall be honoured to fight as an equal with ones so valiant.”

Myrek nodded and Myrssta seized the flaming brand, moving through the chanting masses towards Orla.


Hope it makes you curious!!!
See you next time...

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Ice-cream and Internet-voids

Just returned from a week away in the wondrous climes of South Devon and, surprisingly for the UK the weather was actually acceptable (for us this means only half the days begin with rain/snow/Tsunamis).  What this meant was the opportunity for what is known as a 'traditional holiday.'

Now clearly traditions vary across the world and indeed country. For some traditional holiday means incinerating upper layer of dermis and drinking until they are incontinent whilst the kids steal their cigs. For others it may involve exclusive hotels with a fabulous view of the poor (preferably within rock range). And for others Scrabble and domestics in a two berth caravan.

For the Kitsons it means something akin to the holidays I had as a child. I had a great upbringing, and part of that evolution was our summer holidays. For me it was Norfolk- a hotel in a small village near Cromer, which several families used to go to every year. It was beaches, and sea, and ice cream, and windbreaks, and imaginary adventures with my brother in the woods around the hotel. The wife's was similar, agreeably between Northern Victorian resorts like Scarborough and southern tranquility of Dorset.

In this day and age of data, electronic gadgets and Internet it feels almost more important to get back to basics. Where we go in Devon has an advantage of Mobile phone dropouts galore and no 3G. It's like an Internet void. And in an effort to capitalise this we had a hefty restriction on all gadgets in the family- no tablets, phones, 3DS etc- for most daylight time. And that extended to me: I left the phone in the cottage most days, and only picked up urgent messages on my return. It trod the fine line between liberating and unnerving ("what if my house is blown away by a tornado to Oz and someone needs to let me know..?")

And the 'tradition' that act honoured was to create some space, some opportunity, wherein my kids and me could find some common-time. Goofy stuff with sand, seaweed, buckets, shells and sea so cold it eliminated the prospect of a fourth child once and for all. Because as I lumber into middle-age I have become acutely aware that time sifts through my bony digits at an accelerating rate. Big Son is hitting High School this autumn, and although his geekiness  ensures we will maintain common interests for a good few years yet, gradually his friends and girlfriends will supplement my place in his life. 

Seems like a moment ago he popped out a worrying shade of blue and wailed baby-tongue for "welcome to the rest of your life, dude."

So I suppose the tradition of spending time with the kids without them tutting about me interrupting Minecraft is what we aspired to achieve. And I think, as I trawl through 500 e-mails and face a Twitter-mountain, that we managed it well. With the added bonus of ice-cream, of course.  And a castle... always a castle...

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Swords, sorcery and...sand

It seems like an age since I last released some work, but its only been seven months. Perhaps its the wealth of stuff I've squeezed in that time, or perhaps its because of other projects and distractions.
Anyhow, Darkness Rising: Loss is due for release at the end of the summer. I got the edits back from my friend, Nik, back in April, I think, but was focusing on some new material for DR6 at that time. I've completed the edited version, and now have the delight of showing off the brand new cover.

As with all my books, and many of the books on Myrddin Publishing, the cover is by the talented Ceri Clark. Ceri has managed to design this one whilst juggling the more than full time role of new mum. Something about exhaustion must work, because it's superb. Here is the front:

The star of the cover is Lady Orla, who will be familiar to those who read the series as the rather prim and ordered Knight of the Air who has ended up travelling with the companions. In this book, Orla really steps up a bit, dealing with a number of issues from her past and giving Hunor a great deal of support as he strives to lead them all.

The book is actually set in two locations. As with the prior two books (DR2 and 3) it follows two parallel plotlines, one with Emelia, Jem and Hunor; the other is with Aldred, Ekris and Unhert. Don't fret, they all link up in the end (well, in book five!!). The characters of Inkas-Tarr and Torm, minor characters in the last few books (to the point of readers commenting why are they here?), get a much bigger part in book 4 as they meet up with Aldred's group.

Aldred's journey takes him out of the Emerald Mountains and into South Artoria, where he travels to the famous city of Keresh and its fabled walls. It was a tough call to decide between an image of Aldred and a walled city, or an image of one of the seven in Emelia's group and a desert. In the end I thought the colours and feel of the desert were better suited for a cover.

In the desert of Pyrios, Emelia is struggling to hold onto her sanity after the events at the end of Book Three. The strains on both Kervin and Jem lead to frission in the group, compounded by the sense that Vildor is closing in on them fast. He has the black crystal, and also the aid of both the Ghasts and the demonic humours, who make a welcome reappearance in books four and five.

I'm hoping to get the book out at the end of summer, after our family jaunt to Devon. if you fancy an advance review copy let me know and I'll whizz one your way. And be sure to check out Ceri and her great website at

Definitely some Warhammer next time. Definitely.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


Despite my earlier assurance that I would dedicate more time to maintaining this wondrous blog, I find myself yet again with a gaping hole between posts. The obvious excuse is that life has been crazy busy. It’s not a bad one—work has been bonkers since I took on a management role; my workplace has been under Torquemada levels of scrutiny from outside agencies (nothing to do with my practice, honest); my mum’s been ill; got three kids; wife working hard and trying to sell our house (click on link below to buy it on Paypal)... blah, blah.
Yet the truth of the matter is motivation, eroded by weariness. I simply ran out of things to write about. Blogging is something that needs continual inspiration, and what little time I could free up for leisure pursuits not involving the family, were spent editing and writing the latest instalment in my fantasy opus. The longer you leave it the more... meh you get about it. And then you think, does anyone really want to read about my thoughts? Most thrills in my life revolve around work in Intensive Care and Anaesthetics and confidentiality stops me going into too much detail. I could write about my family, but I’m not certain that anyone beyond close friends would really want to read it.
So the inspiration faded, and I’ve taken a hiatus to work on Darkness Rising 4 and 6 (yes, there is a five, but it is on a back-burner). I’ve picked up (or rather rekindled) a new hobby in the interim. And... well, I’m back.
With a fresh approach. As Jack Nick said in Batman 1 (the cheerier 1980s version)- ‘This town needs an enema.’ And indeed, this blog does. So what am I going to do in this re-boot?
Well, first of all I sort of separated out my writing/reviewing interests into another blog- The Roaring Mouse. When I was flush with time that was cool, but if I ain’t got time for one, then I certainly ain’t got time for deux. So from now on this blog will have any book reviews, interviews, book features, cover reveals, blog tours, guest posts that previously went to the little mousey blog.
Secondly, I think its important (as I acknowledged in the Mini-me post I did last year) that I am a geek. Utterly. For many years I skirted around the idea, playing down my love of fantasy role playing games and DnD. The other week I was chatting with the husband of one of my wife’s oldest friends and we discovered a common love of geekdom. And I got to thinking if you can’t shout it from the rooftops at 41 then when else are you going to do it?
So this re-boot is also going to focus on comics (which I did already), fantasy, RPGs, Warhammer, Sci-fi, gaming, Dr Who, nostalgic sci-fi from the 80s, music. Me, in other names. Films, less so, because I never watch them anymore. Television not so much, as I only watch soaps and housing programmes at the moment.
And of course rambles about nostalgia, the kids, what bits of work I can talk about, family life, holidays, middle-life crises... all in a random dissociated manner, with no theme or cohesion whatsoever.
As I see the followers leaving in the manner of the men dressed as women heading for the boats on the Titanic, I might have a quick ponder on re-boots.
What is it with Hollywood? Do they consider the viewing public to have the attention span of Dori in Finding Nemo? Can they not come up with ideas beyond re-invention? Now I say this in the face of not having seen the Superman re-re-boot. My bruv has seen it and says it was a good film, although scanty on the laughs front in the current fashion of dark broody angsty superhero movies (presumably designed to make a flying alien story that bit more believable). It’s on the see when out on DVD list which actually is all the films I see at the moment that aren’t made by Pixar.
But its getting irritating. New Spiderman movie... liked. Liked the skinny kid. Liked the classic hard-luck Spidey story as it fitted with the comic’s style. The Lizard, well, OK... finds Spidey identity... yawn. Can we have a Spiderman film where they don’t find out who he is? Otherwise we’ll have to have a really naff cop out, like they did in Dallas where Pam found Bobby in the shower and it was all a dream. I used to write stories like that as a kid at school.
(What did you do this weekend? (Cue Fineas and Ferb music) I wrestled with alligators, found a lost Inca Temple, designed a nano-bot and gained spider powers... then I realised it was all a dream)
Child Psych referral...
I digress. Oddly in the Spiderman comic, when they wanted to REBOOT, they decided he would make a pact with zee Devil (an extra-dimensional demon called Mephisto, who has crazy hair for Satan) who just altered reality, got rid of his wife, and made his identity secret again.
So, back to Spiderman. I did like the film, and the way they stuck with him been a teenager (although too cool and lacking in round glasses Ditko nerdiness) but, damn it, I liked the first three films. I liked Toby Maguire, and Kristen (stand me beneath a deluge of water and kiss me) Dunst, and Dafoe, and Albert Octopus. They were great, and they followed an arc, and... why not continue that arc? Show him maturing, fresh challenges? Spidey with a kid. All those villains that could be used, without having to spend half a film telling an origin story again, slightly differently.
Do we only get three films this time? And Batman. He’s done his 80s versions (first two great, third starting losing the way, fourth... Mr Freeze... ‘Ice to see you.’), then his hose-pipe in car exhaust trilogy (still need to see number three, loading up on Prozac before hand). What next? Another re-boot? Another reimaging? The Darker Knight? And what will they do with the Justice League film. I read today that they might have a Bats vs. Supes dust-off (as per Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, but presumably without the incontinence pants).
See, re-boots create problems. What do you regard the prior ones as? How do you avoid copying parts, and drawing comparisons?
I like what they’re doing with the X-man Franchise. We have three good movies, then two prequels, plus a solo Wolvie movie. Then we have a way of bringing the prequel set-up and the modern set-up together with a nod to one of the best story-lines in the comic book. Well thought out, and fresh. And Marvel also coming up trumps with the films orbiting around the Avengers franchise—Thor 1-2, Iron Man 1-3, Captain America 1-2—now Guardians of the Galaxy (with Dr Who’s Amy Pond and her shaved head!!!!). It feels fresh, not repetitive. I’ll even forgive them the re-imagining of the Hulk in the Avengers, as he was finally done to perfection, without re-booting.
My honest worry is that they will seek to re-boot films that I hold dearly. I fret with the idea of Star Wars, or Indiana Jones, or Back to the Future 1 being re-done. Because it says, ‘I’ve run out of ideas.’
And the re-boot of this blog was prompted by such a period, of ideas (and time) running thin. But my palate is colourful, and there so much to talk about, even if I’m the only one listening.
Next time... perhaps some Warhammer and models... perhaps some book stuff and covers... or perhaps something about lyrics in songs.
S’good to be back.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Farm Boy Fantasy

So I'm reading this great book at the moment, Tower of Bones by Connie Jasperson. The premise is that a young lad is the next in the line for a family of mages who uniquely combine abilities of battle-magic and healing-magic. He's been tucked away in one of the worlds in the book living on a farm until his Dad sends him out on a quest.

It's a great book that tugs the forelock to classic epic fantasy, such as The Belgeriad and the like. What got me pondering as i read it was the premise of the 'farm boy' setting out on an epic journey to save the day. I used a similar device in my own fantasy series, with Emelia being a servant rather than a farm-girl.
And trawling through my secret fantasy cupboard (cunningly disguised as a book-case) it is a popular theme. The aforementioned David Eddings in the Belgeriad tells the story of Garion, raised on Faldor's Farm, who discovers that he is an immortal sorcerer and wielder of the Orb of Aldur. The five Belgeriad books are his journey of discovery as he learns of his heritage, his family, falls in love (kind of) with a princess, and takes on the dark god, Torak. Better than mucking out pigs certainly.

Although Eddings was often criticised for writing very linear fantasy, he is astonishingly popular and I must say his books are very readable.

Around the same time Eddings wrote Belgeriad, Terry Brooks wrote the first Shannara trilogy. Repeatedly hammered for being a LOTR rip-off, it was none-the-less crazy popular. I recall loving these three books (in fact I found them in my garage the other day, original cover and yellowed pages an' all). In the book, Shea Ohmsford is taken on a quest to get ahold of the Sword which, as a half-elf descendant of Jerle Shannara, he's the only one who can wield it. Shea was tucked away in a nice spot called Shady Vale, adopted by the innkeeper, and fulfils my own personal fantasy of living in a pub, with his adopted brother, Flick. So not a farmboy, but a pot-boy.

Even the acclaimed and very very long fantasy Wheel of Time enjoys the humble beginnings characters--Perry the blacksmith's apprentice, and Mat the naughty farm boy. You dig deeper, and they're everywhere--Simon in Tad William's The Dragonbone Chair; Richard the wood-guide in Goodkind's Sword of Truth; Pug the kitchen-hand in Fiest's Magician; Ged/Sparrowhawk the goatherd in Le Guin's Earthsea. In fact we could go crazy and think of Luke Skywalker fiddling with droids in a sandy farm on Tattooine, or Harry Potter's humble beginnings as a resident of the Dursely's cupboard.
Given that it is such a popular plot device, there is clearly something in the idea of a humble beginnings character who goes onto save the day/ fulfil a prophecy/ become generally awesome.

First off is the 'everyman' idea. Here is the concept that authors write these characters because they allow the reader to empathise with the protagonist, that they permit the reader to become more personally involved with an often fantastical plot. The 'everyman' character allows us to transpose much of our own 'normal' identity onto the character and their progress.

Secondly, every decent fantasy character makes a personal and metaphysical journey as well as a physical one. Whether that's learning more about their hidden pasts, or more about life and love and so forth, a story has to involved change otherwise it generally has no purpose. And that holds true for non-fantasy as well as fantasy works.

Finally the character rising from humble farm-boy beginnings to greatness allows us to cast a similar analogous fantasy on our own lives. Who hasn't secretly harboured a desire to achieve greatness, or to find some hidden magic about our lives. And that is never truer than in fantasy works, where the farm-boy is often a covert saviour, a kind of 'messiah.'

So the farm-boy as a fantasy trope is likely to stay, after all... Sam Gamgee was a gardener, and even King Arthur was called Wart and hung around farms turning into animals.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

There and back again, and again, and...

First of all, an apology. It’s been over two months since my last confession, sorry, blog post. You know how it is—xmas, work (the one that pays the bills), some writing/editing/proof reading. And I’ve been a little unfaithful to this blog, seeing another blog or two on the side....

Anyhow, happy new year. And to kick off this year’s posts where better to start than The Hobbit. I saw it with the kids in the Xmas holidays at our brand new cinema in Halifax, in glorious 2D (as watching films in 3D when you already wear glasses is little better than watching a dodgy bit-torrent version with Arabic subtitles and little silhouettes walking across the bottom of the screen). Now I should declare that there was no way I was not going to like this film. Seriously it could have been just a 180 minute still of Bilbo with Sting and Gollum and a caption saying ‘Eggsies’ and I would have soiled my seat. I’d been awaiting this film since before LOTR, since I was 11 and read the book for the first time (not least because LOTR pre-Jackson had a great film version already in the shape of Ralph Bakshi’s cartoon).

Yet just before I went to see it, the powers of the Necromancer (Sauron for kiddies) had already worked their wicked way on the public. Little mutters of desecration, alteration, new material, ‘untrue to the book’ expanded into ‘milking the fantasy cash cow’ (and what a gargantuan cow it could be in a fantasy world... a 15HD AC2 monstrosity with udders that imitated a Beholder’s twiddly eye stalks). So I was a tiny bit nervous when I watched it—I felt almost protective of the film, like they were insulting my mother in some strange Scorsese type-way (‘Waddya say about my mudder? Huh? Huh?’). After all, Peter Jackson is the Creator in my eyes—he who has brought forth majestic films for all to see (and I include ‘Bad Taste’, ‘Meet the Feebles’ , ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and ‘Brain Dead’ in that statement too).

And I was content. Because he didn’t screw it up. And I know there’ll be dissenters who were probably the same ones who lamented the loss of Tom Bombadil, the barrow wights, and were irritated by that whole Osgiliath diversion in Two Towers, but I loved all the modifications. Well, I could have skipped Sylvester McCoy as Radagast with his Bunnies of Protection +2, but the rest was perfectly pitched. I thought back to the book, which is after all a kids’ book, and wondered how it could have been done differently. Part of the problem is that there are some great scenes in the book that would be a bit naff if directly translated to film—the Trolls, the scene with Golem, even the Spiders. They would be rather twee if left as they were, and I considered Jackson did a good job of making the first two feel far more dramatic and not so silly. The sub-plot with Thorin and Bilbo was perfect—the characters had to make a journey within a journey or the film has no drive: after all, what is a story if nothing evolves, nothing changes?

The extra material with the White Orc gave a great finale, which came just right after the escape from the Goblin caves. The alternate would have been bringing the goblins out onto the mountains, which wouldn’t have seemed as dramatic to me—less personal for Thorin, less opportunity for Bilbo’s bravery.

Similarly the meeting in Rivendell was well done, if a tiny bit slow. The Hobbit is a prequel to LOTR whichever way you look at it. The dialogue was engaging enough, and I also liked the more sympathetic treatment of Saruman before he becomes swayed by Sauron and the Palantir. You do kind of want to slap them and shout, “Duh! How can you not know who’d hiding in Mirkwood?”

So like many I’m eager for the next film, not least to try and predict where they’ll cut it. Will it culminate in Smaug’s death, or will they put that in film 3? Will they focus on the battle of the Five Armies in film 3 or what? Or more linking material?

And it’s that extra material that is really irking folk, as it did to a lesser extent with LOTR. But why? What is so sacred about Tolkien and his work beyond the devotion of fantasy fans? I adore the books, but I’m happy to see the alterations in the same way I was happy with the ‘modernisation’ of the CS Lewis books for film. They’re good films, after all. I see adaptations that are dire, especially of comics—the League of Extraordinary Gentleman is shocking, despite the brilliance of the comic; Wanted is an OK film, but bears a minuscule resemblance to the comic version. There’s a school of thought that considers all art to be adaptable, changeable. When we see the twentieth interpretation of Great Expectations, or Pride and Prejudice, we don’t kick back over the alterations, the omissions, when the key plot points and most memorable dialogue remain. And that’s all that has happened with The Hobbit at the moment—the plot is still the same, the idea of Bilbo Baggins making a journey both physically and meta-physically, with the great quotes and the great songs, a bunch of dwarves (undoubtedly cooler than any Elf softies) and a dude in a grey hat.

For me the thrill of seeing such works on film is second to none, and the same applies to the adaptation of comics such as Thor, Spiderman, Iron Man, X-men and Avengers. I adored the originals, but they could not be replicated panel by panel on the big screen. And the kids these days don’t know how lucky they are to be seeing such awesome stuff at the cinema!

So happy new year, and I promise it won’t be as long until I post again. And I’ll kill the time to Hobbit 2 by playing the fab Lego Lord of the Rings, which has Radagast and Tom Bombadil in it!!!