Tag Archives: fantasy

Mirages and Speculations

Setting is a crucial part of storytelling. Setting affects the story in many ways. What challenges do the protagonists face from nature and their environment? How has the landscape shaped the culture of the people who live there?

There are some common tropes for fantasy and sci-fi stories. Fantasy stories are often set in a parallel version of medieval Europe, with small villages, walled towns and thick forests to traverse. Sci-fi stories are often set on gleaming high-tech space stations. There’s nothing wrong with these settings, of course. Sometimes they suit the story perfectly.

But an unexpected setting can result in an unexpected kind of story.

Mirages and Speculations is a fantasy and sci-fi story set in a different kind of landscape: the desert. Think wind-swept plateaus, scorching sands, and arroyos. Come discover if that glimmer on the desert horizon is a lake, or the gleam of light off the side of a flying saucer. If those swirling clouds are dust devils–or djinn.

Seventeen authors of science fiction and fantasy take you into worlds both futuristic and fantastic under the desert skies.

You can order it as print or e-book from Amazon here.

Ungrateful God – Launch Day!

I’m really excited to share my latest book, Ungrateful God, with our Fictorians readers! AND I lucked out. March’s Fictorians theme is friendships in fiction, and the timing couldn’t have been better. When I set out to write a sequel to Unwilling Souls, one of my specific goals for the book was to have Ses Lucani, fresh from both stinging betrayal and soaring triumph at the end of the first book, assemble a ragtag band to help her stand against the entrenched cults of the imprisoned gods and their continued attempts to free their masters.

I felt this was an important step for Ses. Seemingly abandoned by her parents as an infant and mostly ignored by her guardian, she’s spent most of her youth a loner, never able to get close to others lest they discover either the truth about her parentage or the deformity of her mismatched eyes. Forced to flee her home and then to accept help wherever she can find it, she finds herself beginning to trust only to be utterly betrayed. As such, the start of Ungrateful God finds her understandably wary about ever trusting too much again.

After Ses finds herself alone in a city built into the husk of an immense crab where no one can remember what happens at night, she’ll discover that when the stakes are high enough, you can’t choose your friends any more than you can your family. Whether they be the secretive offspring of hellship pilots, a proven liar, or an actual demon-servant of one of the gods, fate (or me, rather) could not have handed her a group more perfectly attuned to her well-earned paranoia.

Fictional friendships that begin in conflict are often the most entertaining to read. I’ve only scratched the surface of this group’s potential. And much to Ses’s dismay, I will make no promises for their trustworthiness…

You can find Ungrateful God at the links below beginning TODAY, Friday the 24th of March.

ALSO, in celebration of the new book, Unwilling Souls will be on sale for just $0.99. How long will the sale last? Through launch day, certainly. After that, who knows? So don’t delay on the chance to get two great books for less than $6.00!

Amazon (Kindle) or Amazon (Paperback) separate links until Amazon links them up

Kobo

iBooks

Nook

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleheadshotRocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

The Silent Majority that is Science Fantasy

When we talk about genre-blending, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the Mûmakil in the room (or the black hole if you prefer). After all, when we speak of “SFF” in our genre shorthand, we’re really describing two separate genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy. And the truth is that many, if not most SFF stories are actually a combination of the two.

Even a casual glance will yield many, many examples where the two genres are blended together to great effect. Though almost always referred to as one or the other, properties as diverse and popular as Star Wars (called Space Fantasy by George Lucas himself), The Dark Tower, Lost, and Doctor Who all exhibit some degree of shading between the two ostensibly separate genres.

Does your science fiction story contain technology that, while plausible, also skirts the edge of Clarke’s Third Law? Does your fantasy magic system or worldbuilding adhere to a well-established set of internal rules in the vein of Robert Jordan or Brandon Sanderson? While you can certainly cite examples of stories existing purely in one camp or the other, the reality is that Science Fiction and Fantasy are generally grouped together for good reason.

As with any literary technique, there are good and bad ways to employ this genre-blending. But rather than pretend I’m an expert on the subject, I’m going to highlight the work of a couple of lesser-known authors who have mashed Science Fiction and Fantasy to good effect*.

*Note: One of my examples is technically more a blend of Horror and Science Fiction. Now, I know Horror is its own genre, but for the purposes of showcasing a fascinating bit of worldbuilding, I’m paraphrasing Daniel Abraham and considering Paranormal Horror to be a form of Fantasy set in a malefic universe. *ducks*

For starters we have R. Scott Bakker’s The Second Apocalypse meta-series, consisting of two sub-series: the trilogy named The Prince of Nothing and the tetralogy named The Aspect-Emperor. These are grimdark epic fantasy at its grimmest and darkest (think George R.R. Martin dialed up several notches), and Bakker creates a fascinating world with a history nearly as detailed as Tolkien’s Middle Earth. His philosophy-based magic system is more powerful the more pure a sorceror’s ability to grasp the Meaning (capital “M” intended), and those sorcerous schools that have to rely upon Analogies rather than Abstratctions produce sorcery of inferior power.

But it’s the two SF elements I want to discuss. In the first, an Übermensch-like group of warrior monks have hidden themselves away for 2000 years, practicing eugenics (and terrible neurological experiments) upon themselves over all that time in order to become beings of perfect logic, utterly devoid of passion (and thus, they believe, utterly in control of their own actions in a way no other humans are). The end result is almost a separate species, so attuned to subconscious cues that they are able to essentially read the thoughts and emotions of normal humans better than the humans themselves are.

Every epic fantasy needs a Big Bad, and instead of a fallen angel-type character in the vein of Sauron, Bakker gives us the Inchoroi, an alien race whose ship (called the Ark-of-the-Skies by the inhabitants of Bakker’s world) crash-landed on his world several thousand years prior to the start of the series. Their overriding goal? They’ve been traveling from world to world in their vessel, exterminating the inhabitants of each in order to sever the living world’s connection to the Outside, Bakker’s equivalent of an afterlife. It turns out that morality in the world of The Second Apocalypse is black and white and absolute, and the actions of the Inchoroi have guaranteed their damnation by the gods after death. Only by severing the connection between the living world and the dead can that fate be avoided.

Given its uncompromising view into humanity’s ugliest sides, The Second Apocalypse can be a rough read, But given its willingness to tackle issues of free will and the self, issues that modern neuroscience (a major influence of Bakker’s) are tackling currently, there is no other epic fantasy like it.

For my Science Fiction-based example of genre-blending, I present you Peter Watts’ brilliant (and Hugo nominated) book Blindsight. It’s an alien first-contact hard-ish Science Fiction that I’m not sure will ever be topped for me. His take on truly inhuman aliens is both believable and massively unsettling (and Watts himself spent time as a research biologist), but it is his science-based vampires that I want to talk about today. In Peter Watts’ Earth, the legend of vampires sprang up from a human subspecies that went extinct thousands of years ago. While they lived, the vampires evolved to hunt humans (and thus developed significantly more strength and brain power than us) as well as the ability to hibernate for long stretches to allow time for human populations to bounce back and forget the vampires existed.

But all that brain power came with a cost. The vampires would fall into a lethal seizure at the sight of any true right angles (like, say, a cross). Right angles are not something often encountered in nature, but as soon as baseline humans began constructing habitats and cities filled with right angles, the vampires went extinct. But the lure of all that brain power proved too great to resist, so in the near-future world of Blindsight, advanced genetic engineering has been used to resurrect the vampire subspecies. One of their number is deemed the perfect leader of the expedition to investigate the alien presence that has recently arrived at the edge of our solar system.

Reading Watts’ book, you’ll find yourself half-convinced that the vampire subspecies really did exist, so convincing is his biological background work. And much like Bakker’s works, Blindsight deals with issues of consciousness and self and what those concepts even mean (if you can’t tell, these issues are a pet interest of mine).

The combination of Science Fiction and Fantasy has produced some of our most enduring works of literature and popular culture. So if you are a purist who prefers one genre to the total exclusion of the other, think again about some of the works you have read and enjoyed. You may find the line dividing the genres is a lot blurrier than you realized.

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and the upcoming Dragon Writers Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

 

Be Messy and Explore New Ideas: A Guest Post by Hamilton Perez

A guest post by Hamilton Perez.

 

There’s one piece of writer’s advice that is, I think, as misguided as it is persistent. The reason it does so well, of course, is because it’s not actually bad advice, it’s just often misapplied. That advice is the old adage: Write what you know.

In life, this translates to something like, “Find what you’re good at and do that.” It’s great advice for when you’re first starting out, either as a writer or in a new career; it helps you discover parts of who you are, what skills you have, unlocks your potential or at the very least points you in that direction.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure that the more seasoned writers who recommended “write what you know” were politely telling me that some part of my writing didn’t ring true. Maybe I described a place I’d never been to, or what it’s like to jump out of a plane, or travel through Europe–whatever it was, I did it wrong. I needed to go back to the beginning and start with something simpler and closer to my own experience.

I took their advice and focused on stories with more familiar settings and characters, and I immediately hit a brick wall. Should I take actual experiences and fictionalize them? Should I write about themes of friendship, love, and loss? What does that look like on page 1? The experiences I’ve had that seemed most suitable for adaptation resisted being written the most.

Trying to tell a story based on an actual experience, even with deviations and embellishments to make them properly fictional, resulted in something constraining and strangely hollow. What I learned from years focused on writing “literary fiction” (a pretentious way to say there are no dragons), was it’s not the memories of heartache or longing that most inspire me, it’s the dreams and fears of what I haven’t yet experienced. Those are the thoughts that get my heart pounding and give a pulse to the page.

For me, “Write what you know” hindered growth by encouraging me to lean on what I already knew or was already good at, instead of pushing me into unknown waters where I could really find what I’m capable of. Ultimately, what I know was just getting in the way. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

Through classes, workshops, and slush reading for magazines, I’ve come across a lot of boring characters and stories surrounded by beautiful writing. And I think this “write what you know” advice is partly to blame. We have a whole generation of budding writers trying to “write what they know” by pulling from homogeneous experiences, and as a result we have literary journals full of mediocre literature. That isn’t to say there aren’t gems out there, or that literary journals aren’t a worthy pursuit, but good writing should take us to unexpected places, not simply look under the fabric of suburban life or failing relationships ad nauseam.

Eventually, I gave up on that and switched to speculative fiction. I have nothing in common (as far as I know) with pillow golems, changelings, or warrior mountain tribes of Martian sand people. But in turning to them, my writing has flourished, and has even allowed me to get back into non-genre fiction by opening up my imagination, rather than shutting it in.

Maybe writing about your past experiences does that for you, in which case, have at it. The ultimate point here is not to dump on that classic advice–it’s don’t pigeon hole your inspiration. Develop whatever interesting idea comes to you and turn it as far off the beaten trail as you can. Sure, 90% of what we create is probably garbage. Glorious garbage! But the rest might just be weird and scary enough to work. At the very least, you’ll grow.

So be messy. Explore new ideas. Go directions that feel alien to you. Poke your fingers into strange holes, ideologically speaking. In the end, you’ll find that what you know seeps through anyway, except it will do so naturally and with more honesty than if you just recounted the string of events that led to a broken heart.

They say life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I believe that’s where good writing begins as well. Because success or failure in the unknown are far more rewarding and exciting than building empires of sand along the familiar shores of home.

 

Hamilton Perez bio:

Hamilton Perez started writing at age twelve because there weren’t any crossovers between Terminator, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park, and he really thought there ought to be. Alas, after several cease and desist letters from everyone who read those stories, Hamilton moved on to other subjects. He is a slush reader for Fantasy Scroll Magazine and his work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction.