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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Heroics Cover

The cover image for the short story Heroics


Wanted: Tandrel

A treatise on the defense of the noble class of Mith

The problem of government has long perplexed the race of humans, as the vast majority declare in the positive the necessity of having one, but it has long been one of the heaviest burdens on a populace. Those who administrate the affairs of a nation often find themselves abusing the power given to them. In the nation of Mith, many have criticized the upper class of nobility and believe their place in society no longer serves the greater community, but only serves to forward their own interests. I am here to prove to you today, dear reader, that the nobility serves its own important purpose in the society of Mith and that our system has the necessary balances of power to force imperfect people into effective service of its people.

We will begin at the head of government, the king. Now, it has always been a source of contention as to the necessity of having a monarch. Some say that so much power focused into one individual can easily corrupt. While the veracity of that statement is not in doubt, our system makes allowances for such a scenario.

First, the king is groomed from a young age to be the servant of the people. How much better is this than the desire of many to elect a common man out of the masses to lead the nation, as many insurgents have suggested. Why is that such a bad idea? Because the man elected to govern will have to sway the masses to vote for him instead of another. To make his name known, however, he will have to advertise his credentials, be those what they may, and speak his ideas to assemblies gathered through the nation. Such logistics increases one’s debts, and invariably the candidate will have to pay those debts off or be cast into prison, where the pressures of leadership would not be served properly. Thus, such a candidate would have to have the means to pay off the debts incurred through campaigning. Only the merchants might be able to build up enough capital to support their claims, and they are divorced from the common man, more prone to swindle him than serve him. The campaign would be a contest of popularity that has little to do with the interests of the people but much to do with the interests of money traded. The ruler picked would of necessity be of a higher economic class than those he represents, making his position little different than the nobility so despised.

Second, a king is preferred to an elected official because of the stability he brings. The king rules for a lifetime, with counselors and representatives to stand in his place when he is unfit, as in old age or illness. An elected official’s rule would last a few short years until he is voted out of office and replaced with another whose popularity and money has exceeded that of the first. This ruler would preach and enact laws contrary to those put in place by his predecessor, so with each change in leadership, with new laws in effect, the people would be subject to many disruptions and setbacks, placing an unfair burden on their economic well being as those who are beginning to gain wealth are suddenly stripped of it because of a change in law prohibiting their profit. A king, however, is unlikely to make radical changes to his own laws over his lifetime, and in all probability will make few changes to those of his father, if he inherited the throne. We who have studied history know that the greatest upheavals have been when the kingship is transferred from one house or another, either by failure to produce a male heir, or having the right to rule taken away by the judges, who serve much closer to the people as they judge their problems and act as a balance to the power the king wields. Imagine such upheavals every five or ten years. It would destroy this nation.

Third, a king prevents the stalemate of a government run only by a council. Debate often convinces no one of the superiority of one’s ideas, so councils debating each other will never lead to a true resolution without resentment on the side of those who were outnumbered. When the debate does not lead to any clear victor, then it continues while the issues at hand are left without being dealt with. A strong leader, one who listens to counselors but makes his own decisions, will lead the nation to prosperity, especially in the face of war. Even poorly made decisions usually prevail the act of negating to make one. Because of this, a clear hierarchy of king, lord, duke, governor, earl, count, baron, and knight is ordered. In contrast to them, to avoid any abuse of power, the judges are given power to relieve the status of any noble, including the king. They can also award nobility to those who deserve it, although not among their own or their families, and admittedly this rarely happens.

If my dear reader would allow me to delve into a personal aside, I wish to speak briefly on the subject of the judges. Now, it is prohibited a king to use magic, or to even possess the ability. I do believe it is obvious, as a person bearing kingship and magic would have power doubly focused, both in societal and personal influence. Such a person would be difficult to dethrone in the event of abuse of said power. Better to limit the ruler of the land in that way, and let him practice worship of the Judge Lords, who decreed that only their representatives should bear the burdens of magic. Magic exists, although the where it comes from is a source of debate among scholars. My personal belief is that it is unnatural for humans to bear it, that only those races born with magic should use it. The act of borrowing magic from others must, in my mind, fundamentally change the physiology of humans who bear it and leave them lacking in areas of normal interaction, like modesty and humility. One only needs to look to the west to see the effects on the heretics of Mageda and their arrogance. It is hardly necessary to mention that magic use leads to frailty and physical weakness, hardly traits desired for a king, who must rule with health. The judges sacrifice their own haleness for the benefit of their people and act as a buffer between a mad king and his subjects. While able to use magic, they only do so to heal the broken and fend for the kingdom. While I profess ignorance as to their internal training and teachings, I only have to point to history to prove their system is nearly free of corruptions, as they have never held on to power for more than a few transitional years between kings and never have overthrown one who does not deserve it. Yes, there is a high contrast between the judges and the heretics who call themselves magi.

Now, back to the question of the nobility. The complaint I hear the most is why the nobility are given the privilege of living in luxury while the peasantry live in squalor. While this might seem like a fair question from the perspective of one experiencing the hardships of a poor life, from an overreaching perspective, the inequalities are not so pronounced as one would think. It is necessary for people to be trained to rule, and virtually every noble is in a position of government, as either governing on a local, provincial, or national level. If none of the anterior, they at least govern their estates and employ servants. Those who dream of a utopia where everyone has the same amount of money are delusional, because in that world no one would have the money to employ others, and thus no money would be traded. The nobility serve as stewards to distribute the money entrusted to them, and while there are surely injustices, the system has worked sufficiently for years on end. As to the demand that there be fluidity in the nobility, that commoners be allowed to gain titles, there is a path through proving valor through knighthood. If another path is needed, let the critics who complain actually come up with a good solution, instead of only attacking. Getting rid of the nobility would leave a vacuum of power, one that should not be filled only with the judges, as much as I admire their restraint and sacrifice.

While our system may not be perfect, it is functional and has served us for hundreds of years with only minor adjustments. Those insurgents, the anarchists who want to take down our government, should think of the consequences that would follow for the people who they claim to represent. The class system is set up to train people from their childhood for the best ways to serve society. Complaining that we did not choose our parents is irrelevant; we did not choose when we were born or what gender or any number of things, but we can choose to serve in our respective callings and create a functioning society where all can prosper.

Yours humbly,

Duke Vercil Archarimon

Wanted: Yeshal

Brandon Mull's Beyonders Trilogy by Brandon Mull

Brandon Mull’s Beyonders Trilogy: A World Without Heroes; Seeds of Rebellion; Chasing the Prophecy
by Brandon Mull

For what they are, middle school age books, they do a good job of giving a story that is fairly complex and mature. Obviously, compared to adult books, they feel very naive and simple, but they aren’t really meant to be compared. It is a standard boy and girl get transported to another world and have to become its saviors, especially since no one in that world wants to stand up against the evil magical emperor Maldor, who has killed all the other wizards who might stand up to him. The books flow pretty well, although the second one felt kind of forgettable to me. Ironically, despite the first book being called a world without heroes, there are several characters that are heroic, almost too heroic. Prince Galloran feels like an old blind Aragorn who kept all his sword skills. Personally, I don’t really like it when someone, especially some kid, goes to another world and suddenly is declared to be its hero and everyone worships them, even though they don’t actually do much (Narnia, Thomas Covenant, etc). The main characters Jason and Rachel go to Lyria, full of magic and warriors, and immediately get sent on a quest to kill the emperor. It would be like some caveman being sent to our time and being enlisted in special ops with an emphasis in computer hacking. Rachel does eventually learn magic, but Jason proves fairly useless, aside from a few bright ideas. By the end, several characters die, but many of them are filler characters that barely get a eulogy when killed. In fact, many are drinlings, who have like a two year life span, so obviously if they die, its not important. It felt kind of callous, in a way. For some reason as well, I didn’t really connect with the characters and wasn’t that invested in them. And the ending didn’t feel as impossible as it was made out to be. But there were some good ideas, like the displacers who can be fully functional while severed from body parts, or the amar who have a seed on their neck and can get planted once they die, resulting in almost immortality. Anyway, if you like young adult fantasy, it is pretty good. If not, you might not become fully invested.

In my last post, I talked briefly about worldbuilding in general. There is so much involved that no one post can cover it all. But I did mention one thing I would like to expound on. I talked about how video games benefitted in the early days because of their limitations, as far as creativity goes. As for me personally, by the way, I was a big gamer when I was younger, but am starting to lose interest now. There could be several reasons for this: I’m getting older, more mature; I can face my problems instead of turning to video games to numb my problems; I don’t have as much free time, etc. But one thing is that they don’t interest me as much. They are all starting to look the same, losing creativity. Not to offend anyone, but first person shooters all appear to have the same game mechanics; sports games seem to be depersonalized, focusing on a team instead of a player; and rpgs, especially online ones, are full of petty quests where you have to defeat a certain monster or fetch a certain object. I want a game with more substance, or at least something I can enjoy playing. But the games I’ve played recently start to blend together, and seem more formulaic than creative. I worry that now with the current graphics, the big teams, the long standing series, the video game industry overall, with some exceptions, has lost the ingenuity that earlier games had, because they can make pretty much whatever game they want.

Limitations make things better, despite the counterintuitive reasoning there. For example, I am a graphic designer. If I have a project that was completely open ended, I would have no idea where to start. But if given strict parameters (I want this logo in this color, to represent this, etc), within reason, I find myself testing the limits, trying to get around something, or taking one of the requirements, fulfilling it, but doing it in an unexpected way. Creativity comes when getting somewhere after funneling through a small opening, not when floating around in the air with no direction. Taking this example further, when someone decorates a cake with frosting, in order to get the intricate designs of flowers or whatever else is wanted, the frosting is squeezed through a narrow tube in a specific way. If it was slopped on, it would never become so pretty. Graphical limitations for early video games forced developers to come up with new ideas. Now, that might not be so true.

Many people complain that a movie based off a book is not as good as the book, especially if they read the book first. Why? A movie is similar to how we experience things in real life, as spectators. We see things, we hear things. We try to read minds, but the closest we get is reading expressions. Books, however, are just a bunch of words printed on a page (or tablet). There is no direct visual representation, nor audio. The scene is broken down into imperfect words and conveyed to the reader through language, a purely abstract form. The reader has the responsibility of reassembling those words into a mental picture and playing it out in the mind, with visuals, audio, even smell, touch, and taste. But none of that is driect, it has to go through brain filters. That’s a lot of work, and there are many limitations to language. So why do people curl up with a good book? While not true of all, there are many great works of art that come from books and words. The bible, Shakespeare, Swift, and many others have changed the world with their writings. Video games, nor even movies, have not yet achieved such a high status.

As far as worldbuilding goes, limitations are important as well. Take fantasy. Magic can be powerful, but it can’t be all powerful. There needs to be limits. If not, either the villain would take over everything, or would be stopped easily by the hero. Limit what magic can do, and be consistent with it, even if the reader doesn’t know exactly what the limits are at first. The limits can inform about the magic. Example: Magic in one world can only be cast in daylight. Why? Because magic comes from the sun. Humans on this world have adapted to use the sunlight to perform tasks humans on other worlds wouldn’t have been able to. What story elements can come from this? A powerful sorcerer becomes just like everyone else at night, easily assassinated. There could be a group of nomads who are trying to travel as fast as their world spins, so they never taste the sunset. Space travel could be a goal, to escape the dark side of the planet and have unlimited magic. Giving a story some limits makes it more interesting.

Science fiction benefits from this too. Pretty much every technology ever created has its tradeoffs. New York streets used to be covered in horse poop until the automobile came out. Now the streets are safe to step on, but there are more people killed by accidents and the air is polluted. Each new technology has a bigger impact on the environment. What would the fuel for a sublightspeed space ship cost? Recently I saw Jurassic Park, and they talk about the unintended consequences of using science that we don’t fully understand. Having a moral issue that makes using a new technology suspect makes for a more interesting story than just having some scientists discover something and congratulate themselves.

Creating artificial boundaries can improve not only the world, but can be useful in writing exercises or creating a unique writing style. In the end, the boundaries don’t limit a story, but give it more focus.

ImageWorld building
One of the most important parts of any story is the setting. A book set in modern New York should feel a lot different than ancient China. A movie set in South Africa should look a lot different than one set on Coruscant. Middle Earth, while based somewhat on medieval Europe, is still much different than Europe was. Our world helps define us, culturally and individually. Living in freezing Russia will make a different person out of you than sunny Hawaii. Making a work of fiction based in the real world needs to have some accurate details and feel of what the setting it based from, otherwise it will feel fake. This can take a lot of research, which can be hard to make sure there is no mistakes. Fantasy and science fiction writers have a different, but just as hard, challenge, in creating a world for the setting. Making up a world, whether an alternate earth or a different planet, is called world building. There are different levels of world building. Some use settings that haven’t been thought through very well, or a generic setting, like a pseudo-medieval setting so commonly used in fantasy. Others make changes to their worlds, making it something foreign to us. Science fiction often does this, with worlds covered in volcanos or with lower gravity. Unfortunately, many of these don’t follow through. If you make a world significantly different than ours, especially in science fiction, which should be based somewhat in science. One interesting book, What if the Earth had Two Moons? is a good reference for scientifically based worlds. It also makes you realize that little changes in one thing would make big changes on the world’s lifeforms. So the more foreign the world, the more needs to be taken into account. The best worlds built take elements of our world, make some changes, and explore those changes to their logical end. One of the best examples I’ve seen is The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. His world, among other things, has terrible storms that often thrash the world. The plant life there has adapted to these storms, able to retract into the ground when the storms pass by. But in an area where the storms don’t hit, blocked by mountains, grass grows normally. The details of this world are consistent and make sense.
One place where worlds need to be created completely from scratch, even if based on our world, is in video games. The programmers usually can’t rely on vague words to represent their world; it needs to be programmed down to each detail. They need to make it consistent and follow the internal rules. Often, realism isn’t the main objective, so any rules can be applied, as long as they stay consistent. Strange settings are most accepted in video games than any other medium: books, movies, and TV, all are held to a higher standard of realism than video games, which allows developers to be truly creative. Part of this came from the technical limitations of early games. Why could Mario only go around in two dimensions? Why couldn’t he walk around the bottomless pits instead of jumping over them? We all know it was because the graphic capabilities for 3D weren’t available. These limitations influenced the later games that were in 3D, and made them something that wouldn’t have existed without it. Where else can you find an italian plumber, created by Japanese programmers, who runs and jumps in a 2D world, eats mushrooms to grow, shrinks or dies when someone touches him, jumps on walking mushrooms and turtles to flatten them, throws said turtle shells that act like hockey pucks, travels through big green pipes that sometimes are home to giant mandating plants, and can kill enemies by shooting fireballs after eating a flower, always jumping over bottomless pits and breaking bricks with his head, and sometimes calling in his brother to help rescue the princess who was kidnapped by a giant turtle with hair and spikes? You won’t find that in any movie (an attempt was made to bring this world to the big screen, but tried to use other logic, like evolution and dinosaurs and everything. If you haven’t seen it, consider yourself blessed).
Basically, as far as world building goes, the details, well thought out, are the most important. But the world needs to be built up naturally. Infodumping at the beginning of any story is a big turn off, especially if the main characters are citizens of that world, since anything different that happens will seem as natural to them as nature appears to us. Little explanations over the course of the story can build up a world in the audience’s mind better than a big explanation at the beginning. There are many aspects of creating a world, from the physical environment to the cultural divides. It all needs to be thought through, but probably the best part to begin is the physical environment as cultures will be formed in reaction to it. I’ll probably talk more on some of these aspects in later posts. Remember, there’s almost nothing more interesting than a well realized world that affects everything in the story.

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