Sunday, December 14, 2008

Um, yeah...

So, yeah, I haven't written a recent post in, well, forever. The books are still moving on, but I'm having a crisis of "which book do I write first"? I'm currently playing with a couple ideas.

The first involves a country that was going to appear towards the end of the 1st book. They're a nation of mercenaries. Sort of. Well, basically their entire "foreign trade" is down to hiring their armies to the highest bidder. This idea was come to through the fact that the United States actually made a profit after the first Gulf war - those nations that were either unable or unwilling to provide personnel to help with the war effort, provided remuneration to the United States. It turned out that the US got more money than they actually needed. This made me wonder what it would be like to have a nation whose business was mercenaries.

The other idea is all about the trade war. I'm still interested in making the large, all-powerful Amderlin declare war on the [as-yet-unnamed-smaller-nation-in-the-frigid-south], which would also introduce the above mercenary state. This would allow me to introduce the major players in the world, without having to rely on excessive exposition.

It's a pickle, but I shall figure things out.

Hopefully, I'll find some free time in the near future. The past 5 months have been all about getting 1st drafts of my PhD thesis in.

When will I have the time, nobody knows, but I shall make this happen.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Still working on these!

Just a quick note to say that I am still working on these, and that I'm not dead yet!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Paraplegic Monkeys

Apparently, I'm prone to including too much obvious exposition in my writing. Admittedly, the draft that was reviewed was written in 20mins at work, so it is far from finished or developed.
But, the reviewer had a point. It didn't fit. And her advice was most helpful. Even though it was suggested that a roomful of paraplegic monkeys might just have more writing talent than me...*
What I've noticed recently is that despite reading more books than is possibly healthy (mainly because I should be spending the time working on both my own novels as well as my PhD thesis), I don't always learn from the examples of my favourite authors, who are adept at putting narrative into their characters' voices.
The passage in question involved one of Amderlin's wealthiest inhabitants gazing out of his window at the city spread out below him (he lives in the elevated rich quarter, in one of the tallest palazzos) and instead of writing the description from his point of view, I threw in a paragraph that sounded very much like an excerpt from "Lonely Planet Amderlin" or "Rough Guide to Amderlin". It was, in a word, dull. So, I have re-written the section, in the words of a rich, vain and bigotted man of privilege. Hm. It's a first draft... (that's my excuse for everything, these days)
*Although, in the spirit of full disclosure - I was the one to inject the phrase "paraplegic monkeys" into the conversation, and have decided to never let her forget it! I'm a bit of a bastard...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wardens & City Watch Houses

The peace in Amderlin is kept by two forces. There are the Wardens, who are city-wide investigators (similar to the Bow Street Runners in Victorian London, and the FBI in the US, only on a city scale). Selected form veteran military or mercenary units, the Wardens are the toughest of the bunch, and have carte blanche to deal with civil unrest as they see fit (fines, imprisonment, execution). Few in number, they answer directly to the Chief Warden, who is responsible only to the city. The Senate appropriates the funds for the office, but the Wardens operate independently of them. Sometimes, obviously, there are conflicts of interest, but generally speaking the Wardens have no qualms of investigating Senators, too. Only the Mayor and Merchants General are able to dictate to the Wardens, though this is more an issue of patronage than law, as Amderlin's Constitution makes the Wardens completely autonomous. They're a bit like America's Judiciary, only with knives and the desire to use them... Their budget is near limitless and they have access to the best weapons (including wyrd-powered ones), and live in apartments dotted all over the city. Some have HQs in warehouses or abandoned factories.
The City Watch is split into district offices, or "Houses", that are only concerned with their small slices of the city, known either as Districts or Neighbourhoods. The Watch Houses are small, usually staffed by only 5-10 watchmen, and often reflect the affluence of the district through the fabric of their building(s). The more affluent the district, the nicer the watch house - this is because they are partly financed/funded by the district they are situated in. The Rich Quarter (need a name for it!) has the nicest, of course - it's a palatial fort, straddling the canal entrance, with lavish quarters for the watchmen and plenty of servants, armourers and so forth. The poorer areas of the city have pitiful examples of watch houses, often with them located in ramshackle houses or purpose-built premises that are considerably worse for ware. Industrial districts have their own watch houses, and while they tend to be well appointed, they are more functional than pretty to look at, as they are paid for by the owners of businesses and warehouse owners and landlords, all of whom have considerable interest in keeping the plebs from ransacking their livelihoods. City Watch are usually recruited at a young age (16-18) and trained in every aspect of watchery - cooking, cleaning, weapon maintenance (limitted to sword sharpening and crossbow maintenance), and drinking vast quantities of beer. Few have respect, fewer have fear for the Watchmen. As a result, they're only effective against petty thieves and miscreants troubling their neighbourhoods.
The Wardens have the authority to control City Watch divisions, and their priorities and needs always trump those of the watchmen. Understandably, there is a palpable resentment between the two forces, though never too overt, as Wardens also have the authority to promote watchmen to warden training school, located on the edges of the city, near the agricultural district, called The Farm. (Wonder where I got that name...)

On Matters Spiritual & Ethereal

I'm going to tackle the idea of religion in Amderlin, today. Another area that will be the specific topic of a later novel (either the third or fourth, depending on the reception of the first), I thought I'd jot some ideas down here to get the imaginative juices flowing.
The religious elements in Amderlin are in a state of perpetual war with each other. Rivalries and dogmatic differences exist between every denomination and creed. There are also bucket loads of religions; a bonanza crop.
There are the obligatory nature-worshipping druid-like fellows, who also believe that the Wyrd is the essence of nature, and they particularly believe that it has its own personality. There are various small sects within this group, all with their individual quirks, garbs and rituals.
Then there are the more sinister religions. Think the Catholic Church, taken over by the most extreme, unfriendly, zealous and bigotted branch of the Inquisition, mixing in a bit of fanatical marty-complex to really give it a bit of spice. It's this bunch where things start to get more interesting in terms of story-telling. One of the denominations, called simple The Temple (tentatively), is on crusade, attempting to muscle out the other religions.
This is particularly evident in Amderlin, where every religion has a presence in the city. On many occasions the skyline of Amderlin is lit by burning temples as the Temple's agents take out another competitor's property. Obviously this is not sanctioned by the Amderlin government or the Merchants General, but because it's a religious matter, things get a bit tricky. Many of the city elite and politicians are "religious" (remind anyone of a certain real-life nation?), so official governmental condemnation is difficult to come by. Because of this, it's usually up to either the wardens and the city watch offices to disperse rabble rousers and/or hunting down the various assassination cults that are used by the religious factions to do their wet work. (More on Wardens and City Watch in next post.)
Ok, that's all I have for the moment.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Of Angles & Demons

First of all, that title is spelled correctly - I am not talking about angels. Angles (obtuse, acute, right-, geometry, etc.) will be relevant in a little bit.
Demons, though, are more interesting, so we shall start with them. As mentioned in the previous post, demons exist in this world I am creating. But here again, I hope to distinguish my work from others by creating a slightly different demon. Here are some of my initial thoughts:
  • Firstly, they are not all uniformly evil or good. Most of them enjoy a rather grey moral domain. Their characters are not all the same, either. Some like to trick and manipulate humans, while others like to help them, and yet others couldn't be more apathetic towards the world of humans. This latter group are actually the most common, and are the cause of great frustration when they are accidentally summoned by wyrdsmiths.
  • Second, they inhabit a separate world. This is not some nebulous world of gases and creatures with many tenticular appendages. It's similar to ours, but at the same time different in many, many ways (small and significant). Time works differently, for example. Colours might be different, and there are also colours that humans can't see or, in some instances, experience. They don't look too weird, on the whole, all depending on how old they are, and what they do, basically. When they come to our world, they have some control over their appearance, but because they don't always understand our ways, this can often lead to embarrassing instances of a male, butch-looking demon arriving in a circle dressed in a pink tutu, because he happens to like watching ballet.
  • Oh, that reminds me - they can watch our world, whenever they feel like it, using various means such as mirrors, glass and various other means that I have yet to decide. We can't see them back.
  • Third, they can be summoned. Otherwise, they wouldn't be in the world at all, and therefore this would be a pointless posting. It is very complicated and dangerous to summon a demon - partly because of the consequences of doing it wrong, but also because you won't always get the demon you're after, and the one you get might not care about helping you (best case), or might want to eat you (worst case). This is also where the angles come in, as there are plenty of occult triangle and other geometric designs that need to be daubed (not drawn, "daubed" - very important) to form binding circles and whatnot, all in aid of not being eaten.
  • The wyrd is visible in the demon realm, but it is not as prevalent as in the human world. It gives demons their abilities in the human realm. Their abilities are prodigious in the human realm, and especially so in cities where the wyrd tends to congregate due to both humans (that it finds interesting) and technology (as discussed in the previous post). They have a lot of the traditional, fantasy-staple abilities such as various destructive tricks as well as certain wish-fulfillment abilities (though these are usually through being sneaky, using often literal interpretations of the wishes, and often involve simply getting someone killed to make way for the summoner).
  • Possession is possible. It's rare, but possible, depending on how wrong the ritual goes. Often possession happens in place of catastrophic failures, though this isn't widely known. Some people think they've just been lucky, but really they need to start keeping an eye on one of their companions, who appears to be displaying some rather deviant predilections... (Demons experience things very diffently, so they rather enjoy the physical pleasure of the human world.)

Anyway, that's how far I've got so far. Comments, thoughts and suggestions more than welcome.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Incrementalist

I've hit a bit of a wall. Again. Writing of the main novel has puttered to a slight halt, as I continue to spend more time designing the world it's set in, rather than designing a plot. Silly, I know.
But, to keep myself from total inactivity, I have decided to write a couple of short stories to help develop the feel of the world and also come of the characters that will crop up.
The current one I'm working on, "The Tragedy of Lord Qimbo" is the most developed, and introduces Lord Qimbo, a character that will probably feature as a b-character throughout the series, or at least in a few of the novels. In an unusual move, I know the themes that will create the basis of the story - greed being the prominent one. Lord Qimbo, one of Amderlin's Merchants General, is obsessed with growing his importance and standing among the Amderlin elite. So, he seeks some help through nefarious, occult means.
The novella is basically a long treatise (fictionalised, of course) on the workings of "magic" in this world. However, because I think magic has been done too much, this is magic with a difference. It's not the magic of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, though there are some handy similarities that will help keep things at least partly familiar to fans of fantasy.
To begin with, pretty much anyone can use it. But, certain people are more adept at its use and manipulation than others (just as in real life, with real skills and talents). Its form, however, is very different. It's a combination of electricity, standard magic and the Force (the Star Wars kind). It's called the "wyrd". So, here are a couple of its characteristics and qualities:
  • It can be drawn on to create electricity-bolts and fire-like explosions and so on (pyrotechnics/pyrokinesis). Rather destructrive in its uncontrolled form, usually with a visual component, too - wasted energy. Very much like reactions in the real world, where heat or light are often given off as a by-product or wasted energy because process/reaction isn't very efficient.
  • It can be made far more potent using various "devices". This is where the Wyrdsmiths come in. They're engineers with an affinity for the wyrd, able to harness it through various contraptions and gubbins that allow it to be used for broader results - it can be harnessed to act like the national electricity grid, for example, which it is in the rich government quarters of the city, and in some select parts of the industrial quarter. It also has some very interesting applications on the weaponry front, which I shall leave for the novels, rather than spoil things here (needless to say, it has the ability to turn very simplistic weapons into very interesting new variants - armour-piercing mini-crossbows, are an example I'm playing around with). Some people believe it has a mind of its own, its own personality as there are certain things it's attracted to. The more intricate the device, the more likely it is to work (assuming no mistakes were made in its construction) - it particularly likes clockwork and other advanced engineering methods. At the same time, elegantly simple devices seem to work well for non-destructive applications (lights, heating, enhanced spyglasses, and so forth).
  • It has some useful qualities that make it indispensible to summoning or controlling demons (at least, as much control as can be exerted over these entities). This is not a recommended use, and is expressly forbidden by the government, as if anything goes wrong, the city will suddenly have a new crater in the middle of it.
  • It is fiercely independent, so controlling it is very difficult and very dangerous. Wyrdsmiths need to have a great deal of skill to harness it with their gadgets, and there is always the possibility that it will leak (and have radioactive-like repurcussions) or result in a catastrophic explosion as it reverts back to its normal, benign, invisible state - though these expolosions are not as impressive as those that result from botched summoning rituals. (More on summoning, demons and other mythical/magical/unlikely creatures in a later post - possibly tomorrow.)
  • It's usually green, when being used. Otherwise it's invisible (obviously, it's everywhere!). A nice emerald shade.

So, yes. That's as far as I've got with it at the moment. No doubt I'll find some more interesting and (likely) dangerous uses for the stuff. Perhaps necromancy... Wyrdsmiths are controlled, or at least watched, through a government division that registers all people able to manipulate the energy. There are rogues (one makes an appearance in this story), though most will get away with whatever they want anyway, as it's a little difficult to say no to someone who can summon green, inextinguishable fire with the snap of his fingers.

(I'm toying with the idea of making it a male-only skill, but that's been done by Terry Pratchett, and I'm sure every woman I know would not be impressed with such a chauvinistic move... I might make the best, most cunning wyrdsmiths women... Oh, that's sparked a few more ideas...!)

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Based on a true story..."

I've recently been thinking about using real-life events as inspiration for fictional work. It's a slippery, dangerous path to take. Ok, maybe "dangerous" is far more exaggerated than it really is (everyone likes to make their profession more exotic and exciting), but there are certain pitfalls when using real-world events in works of (science) fiction.
I mention this mainly because I'm rather fond of the idea of using events from 17th-19th century America as jumping off points for my own novels. Those centuries were filled with interesting, sometimes bizarre events that really help fire the imagination when you're designing a world and plot set in a similar-style era. The majority of names in the Amderlin world have been purloined from history books of this ear of American history, and I will no doubt start plundering history for some events that I can warp and twist to my own ends.
The reason real-events should be used carefully, though, is to avoid the situation we have with Battlestar Galactica. I am not the world's biggest fan of this sci-fi series, primarily because I find the story arcs to be ponderously slow (each season is only ever exciting/interesting for the final 2 episodes - perhaps 3, at a stretch), and also the blatant, clunky allusions to the current snafu in Iraq are so simplistic as to be but one step away from having "Like the Iraq War" flashing across the bottom of the screen in garish text.
Perhaps I am speaking from a more informed position (I'm a postgraduate studying International Relations, and previously International Journalism, which means I've looked into the Iraq War perhaps deeper than many others), but I find everyone's praise for the writers' use of real-world events as "excellent" and "intellectual" to be a load of rubbish. They've taken the most base, simplest elements of Iraq War issues and barely cloaked them in events from the BG universe. It's too blatant to be considered clever. Or intelligent. Or interesting.
Apparently, though, I'm the only person who thinks this. Many of my university acquaintances (the majority of whom are studying physics) seem to love it, and find the allegory highly exciting and clever, often chuckling to themselves when they discuss it (at ponderous length) over lunch.
Allusion and allegory don't have to be so subtle that they're lost on everyone except those on the inside. That would be pointless. Some of Terry Pratchett's satire is obvious, but it's done in genuinely clever and original ways that you can't help but fall in love with his intellect and imagination. BG is not clever, and it is certainly not original. In fact, I would offer it as an example of typical complaints about the Iraq War, written in obvious ways. Allegory should be, in some ways, a reward for the well-informed reader (who can deny that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when we read something and it just clicks in our mind). More obscure allegory should otherwise be written in a way that is interesting and enjoyable to read, rather than an obvious stab at intellectual posturing.
I'm not sure if this post still makes sense... So I shall stop rabbitting on about this.
The adventures of Gideon and Bushrod are starting to take shape, and with luck those who read advance chapters and drafts will find them enjoyable enough for me to continue writing them. Then, of course, I'll need a publication deal, which might be harder to come by than friendly sycophants...
Anyway, I know that doesn't really have anything to do with the Amderlin books, and I know it wasn't written very well or particularly persuasively, but it's something I've been stewing over ever since someone handed me BG Season 1 and told me that I'll "love it because I'm interested in international relations" and that I would probably "get it" more than others. Bloody rubbish.
Anyway, back to Amderlin. Nothing has really progressed over the weekend, but I will do something soon. To refer again to the topic of this posting, historical events and the use thereof, Amderlin will largely be informed by some characters from history, rather than specific events. I'm not going to regurgitate battles from the Revolutionary War or anything like that. Though, having said that, one of the colonies owned by Amderlin (Perripett) will at one point try to gain their independence - this was one of the original plots for "The Perripett Garrison", but was shelved after I decided it wasn't the best way to start a series. It will probably be the second or third novel featuring the main character from the opening volume (Gideon, a junior ambassador to Amderlin). This tumultuous time will be peppered with twisted borrowings from 1776, various troubles the British experienced as their Empire crumbled, and perhaps also some elements borrowed from the Chinese Civil War in early 1900s.
(Though this latter might again be saved for another volume, as Amderlin explorers discover more of their world to the East, and there are certainly plenty of opportunities to pay homage to actual events if you know anything about Western Expansion and exploration into Asia in the late 19th century - a period of history that is a particular passion of mine.)
We shall see what happens.