James Tallett's Blog
April 11, 2013
Yes, it’s almost here. After more than a year in the making, Ancient New is going to appear very shortly, complete with fifteen brilliant stories by authors from around the globe. But I’d like to give a particular thanks to Sarina Dorie, whose tale Lady Chatterly’s Computer inspired the cover art.
And so, without further gilding the lily, and with no more ado, I give you Ancient New.
April 8, 2013
The seventh and last installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Once Ellgis had healed sufficiently to use an axe, he set about building a raft, while Fryca organized their notes and belongings. Once both tasks were complete, they set out in the skiff, towing the raft north and hoping to find a village where they might stay.
Their trip was long and arduous, for both Ellgis and Fryca grew ill at various points along the way. Only the supreme luck that sickness did not affect both of them at the same time allowed the technologists to continue their journey. Many days they made little more than a mile’s distance in the swamp, for they had to navigate around fallen timber and the deadly animals that dwelt in the pools of open water.
Meals were few and far between, only what little food could be hunted or scavenged. Water they boiled when they could, and strained through layers of cloth when they could not.
When at last the skiff bumped against the shore, they sighed with relief, staggering to their feet with the strange gait of one who has spent too much time upon the waters. From there, the technologists scouted the area, stealing a horse from a farmer in order to carry their belongings to the nearest village.
Instead, Ellgis and Fryca found Abboddóm, the seat of Baron Inswán, and a place that accepted them without compunction. They were given an empty hovel, a remnant from when the town had been populous. Now it was but a shadow of its former size and glory, and weeds grew upon the streets.
The first task the partners undertook was to restore the horse to its owner, for they could not deprive a man of his livelihood. They left it staked outside his house one night, none the worse for the use it had seen.
Ill news circled the town when the experimenters returned. A vulture from the north, a bastard by the name of Iudas, had come south, bandits and soldiers at his command. The townsfolk of Abboddóm had been ordered to pack their things, for if Baron Inswán was unable to halt the foe, he would at least buy his people enough time to flee.
The worst came to happen, and Ellgis and Fryca fled with the rest of the town, into the swamp.
April 1, 2013
The sixth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Weeks passed as Ellgis and Fryca hid in their hut, nursing their wounds. Ellgis had been struck in the meat of the shoulder as he lay on the skiff, and the impact had cracked the bone. His was the better of the two, for after a week he was all but his old self, although his left arm was close to useless for the time being.
Fryca writhed in her bed as the red heat of infection clawed at her wound. Dipping in and out of fever dreams, she ate little more than thin vegetable broth, for Ellgis would not leave her to hunt meat.
One night Ellgis was forced to carry her into the water of the swamp, holding her beneath the cooling water for hours as marsh creatures circled near, and insects stung at their hands and faces. Fryca shivered in his arms, and Ellgis wept, for she moved not.
A shudder rippled through her, and Fryca turned in his arms, seemingly in a deep sleep and not a faint. Relieved, the technologist carried his partner back to their small hut, washing her and laying her in the bed.
The next morning saw Fryca wan but smiling. “Food? I’m ravenous!”
Ellgis wept as he pulled her into his arms, and the two stayed like that for a time. He then headed into the swamp, lines trailing from the skiff while he hunted with a spear. That night they roasted fish over a small flame, and had their first meat since Fryca had gone to rescue her partner.
“The Knights know we’re in here, and they’re going to come after us.”
“Of course. So we go after them instead.”
Ellgis blinked. “We do what?”
“We go after them.” Fryca gestured at the marsh about them. “You want to live in here for the rest of your days? Our experiments fail because of the damp, we have little more than a rotted hut and some paper, and we eat swamp grass and small animals.”
“Fryca, they’re an organization and an army. We’re two jumped up peasants with some smarts.”
“And that organization and army is on another continent with plenty of troubles of its own. You think they sent twelve Knights here because they thought it was enough, or because that was all they could spare? I’m going to bet on the second.”
“And the townsfolk? Whose side will they be on? They’re afraid of the Knights, and have tried to turn us in multiple times.”
“So we start small. We help out a village, and begin slowly picking off Knights.”
Ellgis shook his head. “That won’t work. If we pick them off slowly, they can report. We’ll need to get them all in the same day.”
“Now you’re getting ambitious. I like that.” Fryca chuckled. “We’ll need time, tools, and quiet. I think we move north for a time, find a village beyond the range of this set of Knights. They won’t have heard of us, and if we’re smart, we can prepare.”
Her partner stared upwards for a moment, thoughts racing. “You know… if we do this right, we keep the Knights out, we might be able to found a technologist republic. The Knights are far enough away we can do it without information slipping out for a while.”
“You really are getting ambitious. Now we have work to do.” Fryca struggled to her feet, hand on Ellgis’ shoulder.
Together they walked into the hut, to heal and to plan.
March 25, 2013
The fifth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Fryca slipped past the inn, stepping around peasants forced to sleep outside as she made her way to the stable. There, she looked for a Knight’s warhorse, for she would rather steal from them than a villager. Finding none, she saddled a draft horse and muffled its hooves.
There should have been guards at the town gate, but with the Knights in town, the few sentries slept in their homes. No bandit lord would risk the wrath of the Knights of the Broken Wheel for a few petty trinkets.
The horse protested mildly as it was lead away from town, more from being asked to work at night than any true tiredness. Scrub farms slipped past on either side, and soon Fryca was searching the edge of the swamp for the skiff she had tucked away.
Good, it was still there. Smiling, she lifted the heavy crate onto the pommel, then strapped it down tightly. She swivelled it about a few times, seeing that it moved smoothly, before stepping into the stirrups and onto the horse’s back.
Seated there, she slotted two crank handles into the case, one on either side, and let her knees guide the horse at a gentle amble back to town. Fryca chuckled and shook her head. Not her first rescue, and likely not the last. Ellgis was always getting himself in trouble.
The Knights guarding Ellgis looked up as the horse clopped into the square. One grabbed at the sword next to him, the other raising his lantern to see the rider’s face. Fryca waited a moment as they came towards her, shields at their sides. The tool in the crate worked better at close range.
She turned the crank handles, taking up tension on a spring inside the box. The motion set the Knights running, their armour slowing them just enough. A dull thud sounded as Fryca finished the rotation, and a bolt appeared in the chest of the closer Knight. He died with surprise on his face. The second Knight shouted, his lungs good and strong. He dodged and rolled, and the next two bolts missed. The third took him in the leg, the fourth the head.
Fryca jumped down from the horse, grabbed a dropped sword, and slashed at the bonds holding Ellgis to the stake. Pulling him into her arms, she tossed him over the saddle before climbing aboard herself. A quick cut sent the bolt-thrower tumbling away. A painful loss, but they needed speed more than anything else.
Shouts echoed through the town as Fryca kicked the horse into a gallop, holding onto Ellgis with one hand and the reins with another. The horse snorted and took off, thundering down the dirt street. Their only chance was a head start, for although this was a healthy horse, it would be no match in speed for the chargers of the Knights.
Urging the animal on, Fryca bent low over its neck as they raced from the city gates. The shouts behind them grew more frantic.
In the scrub farms, she looked back to see four Knights pounding after her. No armour on, for they had been roused quickly, but she no longer had a weapon, and to fight four without surprise would be a fool’s task.
There! The edge of the swamp! Fryca prodded the horse into a final dash. They should make it. Maybe.
Shoving Ellgis to the ground, she dove from the horse, dragging her stumbling partner to the skiff, kicking him into it as she pushed the boat off the shore. He lay in the bottom groaning as she jumped in, grabbing at the oars and pulling.
Thunk. A scream of pain had Ellgis writhing on the floor, and as Fryca bent to look, she felt a searing anguish in her thigh. An arrow wound was already staining her clothes red.
The archer stood on the bank, taking aim for a third shot. He let fly, but only hit the gunwale. Another strong pull and Fryca disappeared into the mists and tangled woods. Then she slumped over the oars.
March 22, 2013
Following on from last week’s post, I’m going to wrap up the Creating a Fantasy Race series with a look at the capabilities of a race.
Choice #4: Capabilities – What are the natural characteristics of a given fantasy race, and what can they actually do?
The classic example of this is a dragon, specifically, the type that exists inside the world of Dungeons & Dragons. They can, variously, fly, breathe fire, cast spells, change form, and perform all manner of other unusual abilities inherent in their being dragons. All manner of fantasy races have capabilities somewhere along those lines, but the question to decide when creating one is how powerful should an individual of that race be, and how does that relate to the setting as a whole.
For instance, dragons are exceedingly powerful creatures, regardless of the setting in which they are seen. This is almost always counterbalanced by the fact they are rare, and constantly in a form of limited civil war within their race. Which means that the rest of the setting never entirely has to worry about dragons becoming too powerful. They are a self-policing entity in that regard.
But what happens if all dragons suddenly acquired a hive-mind type ability, where all dragons acted with one mind and one intention? In most settings where they existed, they would be capable of wiping every other civilization from the map. This, then, is the problem of capabilities: There needs to be checks and balances.
Now, as to the actual types of capabilities that a given race might have. Some of these will have been determined by the physical design of the body. Avian races generally fly, and so on. But many of them relate to the nature of magic and religion in the setting. A god might bless every thousandth child, or the race as a whole might possess some form of telepathy or other mental power. Or perhaps they can innately cast spells with the strength of their will. Each of these will increase the power of the race in the setting.
There is no limit as to the type or nature of capabilities that a race can have, provided there exists within the setting a justification such that the reader will believe them. However, if the race with these capabilities contains the protagonist, there is something to remember – the stronger the protagonist is, the stronger the antagonist must be to provide a credible threat. In general, the antagonist is a good deal stronger, meaning that whatever capabilities he has, either personal or racial must be greater than those of the protagonist.
Whatever the capabilities might be, make sure as a writer to enumerate them up front in a story, either through the main character discovering them, or by them being described by a knowledgeable character. This is because first mentioning any capability in the heat of the moment feels very much like a deus ex machina, a saviour created to bail the writer out of a sticky situation, rather than the main character.
In terms of the total number of capabilities, I personally generally assign one or two per race, interlinking them in such a way that they both add flavour and uniqueness to the race in question. For instance, a race that has the physical ability to regrow lost limbs might also have the magical ability to partially or completely shape change, while a race that lives underwater might be telepathic and telekinetic, because the environment and the physical form required for aquatic life makes communication and tool use difficult.
Finally, I would recommend that no two races in a setting share the same capabilities, unless those races are closely related. And even then, I would suggest they be similar, but not the same, allowing each fantasy race to retain its own uniqueness.
This wraps up the series on Creating a Fantasy Race. I hope it proves helpful in your writing endeavours.
March 18, 2013
The fourth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Fryca knew she had a few days before the trial. Well, farce. The Knights would accuse Ellgis of trying to create another cataclysm, and nobody would say a thing. They’d all be too scared of the Knights.
Chuckling to herself, she lifted a heavy crate into the skiff. She’d need a horse to use what was in that box, but she and Ellgis had been stealing the goods they needed for a long time. With luck, she’d sneak a Knight’s warhorse from the stable.
The skiff bumped gently into the harder ground that marked the edge of the bog, and Fryca hopped out, dressed in peasant rags and carrying a sickle she’d taken from the dead villagers. Soon she fell in with the thin stream of peasants heading down the single track of mud that led to the small town that squatted on the outskirts of the swamp.
The lands hereabouts were poor, blessed with little more than scrub farming. Once it had been a lush forest and bounteous plains, but the forest had slipped under the waters and become the salty swamp, while the rich topsoil had faded into a thin dust, stolen away on the winds. From the tales told, this land had been spared the worst of the plague, only to see famine wipe away all but a few of the populace.
The terrain had never recovered, which was why the technologists had chosen it as a place to work. Here, they had thought themselves safe from the prying eyes of the Knights, but in every community a peasant had become frightened of the new villagers and their experiments, and told the nearest protectorate.
She shook her head. Bastards couldn’t see that if Ellgis and she were left alone, they’d create tools that helped people. As it was, much of the time they spent constructing elaborate traps and defences around their homes. And portable devices, like that crate she’d hidden in the skiff.
Fryca was passed through the small gate in the town wall with nary a glance from the Knight at the entrance. He took in her simple attire and farm tools and waved her on by, his attention clearly elsewhere. She pushed her way through the jumbled mass of humanity to the little patch of trampled dirt that called itself the town square.
Ellgis was there, guarded by two Knights in gleaming armour, the Broken Wheel symbol stamped prominently on their shields and helmets. He looked much the worse for wear, staked to the ground, and it was clear the Knights had beaten him, although whether for interrogation or their own amusement she did not know.
A meander about the town showed her three other Knights, making a total of six. Usually, the inquisitors came by twelve, which meant the other six were either rounding up people from the outlying villages, or still hunting for her through the swamp.
As she’d expected, the Knights had stabled their horses at the one inn, and taken it over completely. The thieves probably weren’t even paying the owner. They usually didn’t, self-righteous ingrates.
With the town scouted, Fryca settled down to wait, tucking herself in a dim corner near the inn. Soon, others began to settle down as well, and the town grew silent as twilight cast a blanket upon the populace. When the stars spoke of midnight, she would begin.
March 15, 2013
I realize it’s been a while since this series was updated (if you’re curious, 22 months, give or take a few days here and there). But after the exceedingly long hiatus, I’ve decided to come back and finish the matter, or at least do as best I can in that direction.
This time around, we’ll be tackling culture, and how it relates to a fantasy race.
Choice #3: Culture – How much has the civil society in which the fantasy race lives dictated its behaviour and capabilities, as well as norms of action.
Art and High Society – Every culture, from the very earliest we humans can trace, has in some way had a form of art and high society. Originally, this was cave paintings and oral recitation of ancient tales, and has evolved from that all the way down to the mass media of today. But what’s important about art and high society is not the nature of its delivery, but more the norms that it engenders. For modern examples, the movie Avatar provoked common and wide ranging discussion, such that almost everyone in a given local had either seen it, or heard about it.
And that right there is what a race needs to have – certain subjects or stories that are so common everyone knows them, without ever having actually witnessed them. They are the mental furniture of a culture, be it that every knows a certain city is ‘The City’, or parables and fables that characters can mention or quote to one another.
When writing a fantasy race, these are the sayings and texts that are foreign to a reader’s understanding of the world, but treated as normal and every day within the culture of the setting. They have to be relatable enough the reader can acquire a knowledge of them quickly, but not something that shares more than a passing basis with the society the reader is from.
What they do for a reader is to make the setting seem alive, to hint that there are the myths and legends and every day knowledge that humans take for granted, without overwhelming the reader with so many of them that they become bored or bewildered.
Religion – Culture, as humanity has demonstrated time and again down the ages, is very often dictated by the strictures of the religion which a society practices. Most world religions prohibit the eating of certain types of animals, be it because the animals are holy or unclean. They also state what days are rest days, whether prayer is to be at dawn, high sun, or dusk, how one can be married, and a whole host of other restrictions and proscriptions.
These need to be equally apparent for the fantasy race being constructed. Perhaps they can’t go to war in high summer until they have completed their religious festivals (This is a problem the ancient Spartans dealt with). Perhaps the women of the culture can’t marry until they’ve killed someone in battle (Sarmatians).
In general, the approach that I use to creating religion for a fantasy race is to decide up two sets of items. What is the focus of the religion (a pantheon, spirits, the elements, a living being) and what are the strictures that the religion places upon those members of the race. In general, it is better to focus on four or five (the number can vary, obviously) strictures that distinctly impact the way the race behaves, rather than to have too many. It is better to introduce a reader to a simple system, and let his imagination make it complex, rather than to introduce him to a complex system, and let him become frustrated.
The form of the religion is somewhat less important, although generally it will dictate the nature of the religions hierarchy, and the amount of power that hierarchy wields. The more that priests and shamans are needed to communicate to the holy powers, the more money and strength will be concentrated inside the religious bureaucracy.
I hope this has been helpful to you in creating new races for your fantasy fiction. Next time, we’ll look at the Capabilities of fantasy races.
March 13, 2013
Splintered Lands Volume One is here! Telling the story of Ellgis and Fryca, a pair of technologists designing machinery to help their fellow men, and Baron Inswán, a noble trying to make his land a paradise in a shattered world, Splintered Lands Volume One opens a new world of post-apocalyptic fantasy.
Instead of being allowed to bring relief to those in need, Ellgis and Fryca are attacked by the Knights of the Broken Wheel, a far-reaching organization born in reaction to devastation caused by magic. Seeing any attempt by man to use forces beyond their own limbs as an assault on the sanctity of life, the Knights have dedicated themselves to purging magic and technology from the world.
Baron Inswán has a more prosaic problem – his nearest neighbour wants his barony. Unfortunately, his nearest neighbour is both bigger and stronger than Inswán is. And so he is forced to use every ounce of his skill and fighting ability to defend his lands. But whether he succeeds or fails, he at all costs will save his people.
Kobo and other platforms will arrive shortly.
March 11, 2013
The third installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
The skiff bumped land, and Ellgis crept from it to peer through the tangled brush. Little stood of the hamlet now, with stumps showing where the huts had once perched. The stench of the swamp clawed at his nostrils, but underneath it he caught decay. Some of the inhabitants had not fled the Knights in time.
A tap on his arm spun him round, but it was only Fryca, come to see what had happened. They watched as birds fluttered across the village, and vermin crawled forth from the wreckage with strange prizes in their teeth.
Satisfied the ruins were empty, the inventors clambered from their hiding place. A short stroll brought them to the door of their hut, which stood erect and undamaged, tucked away in a dell some distance from the ruined homes.
Ellgis glanced about, and waved Fryca back. She snorted, and strode into the building only to come out fuming moments later. “They took everything! Everything!”
“They took it? They didn’t burn it this time?”
She gestured irritably at the doorway, and Ellgis stepped inside. The hut was empty, cleaned of anything remotely mechanical. Only the beds remained, those and the small table and chair at which both had worked for hours upon hours.
Ellgis slumped to the ground. “I had hoped…” His head sunk into his hands.
“We knew the Knights would destroy what we built. At least we have our notes, and plenty of supplies.”
“Supplies? Bah! Nothing ever works right in this swamp. The wood’s too wet, it won’t burn, it’s weak, cords rot and fail, and we can barely perform a third of the experiments we can think up. We should be in another kingdom.”
“You mean one where we can’t hide from the Wheelies? Where we end up hanging? No thanks Ellgis, I’ll take the swamp.”
“Go!” Fryca ran for the door, tumbling at the last moment as a mace swung through the air. She rolled to her feet and sprinted toward the skiff. A glance back showed Ellgis on the ground, bleeding slowly. He hadn’t ducked the weapon.
Knights pounded after her, but in their armour they were nowhere near as fleet of foot as she, and she pushed the skiff into the swamp with several feet to spare. A spear sailed past and ploughed into the front of the boat, but she was away, pulling strongly at the oars.
Fryca’s last image of Ellgis was of him bound over a horse, being led away by the Knights of the Broken Wheel. She’d have to see if she could rescue him, the poor fool.
March 7, 2013
“This ends the third book of the Tales of The Four Part Land.” 180,550 words down, and I finally write ‘The End’. Sad, like waving goodbye to well known friends, but good to see Laeccan Waters finished after two and a half years of work.
And a new personal record for the length of a chapter (which I hate using, for whatever reason). 40,485 words. I don’t have any novellas as long as that chapter. Hell, the definition of a novel starts at 50,000.
Current totals for my novel writing is ~475,000 words of first draft material, and only eighteen chapters in use. I guess they just annoy me somehow.