Monthly Archives: January 2014

Announcement: Upcoming Cover Reveal for The Children of Lubrochius

Goddess Fish Promotions is sponsoring a Cover Reveal for my book, “The Children of Lubrochius” on March 3, 2014. The Cover Reveal will last the entire day and will give a look at the cover for my new book. The blog tour schedule is currently in development. Make sure you check out the sponsor of the Cover Reveal–Goddess Fish Promotions–it wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Also, I will be awarding one randomly chosen commenter on the tour (for those who comment on the tour sites—not atoasttodragons) with a plastic Reaper miniature from the Dark Heaven line. It is of an Eldritch Demon and is excellent for collecting, or to use in gaming, so make sure you comment on all the sites to up your odds of winning on March 3rd.

Hope to hear from you on the tour.

Old Movie Review: Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

The movie Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on the series of books by Cassandra Clare. They are young adult novels and, going by the movie, seem to be in the same sort of genre as the Twilight series. There is a young girl with supernatural powers, a few possible romantic love interests, and a cauldron of supernatural beings surrounding her: angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, witches, and warlocks. It’s set in modern day New York, so you have that element as well.

 

The story revolves around the young girl Clary Fray who witnesses what she believes to be a murder in a night club one night. This brings her to the attention of Jace, a half-angel butt-kicking Shadow Hunter, at around the same time she comes to the attention of the bad guys in the film. The bad guys are rogue Shadow Hunters who are fond of summoning demons and doing pretty much whatever they want. Clary’s home is attacked while she’s not there and her mother mysteriously disappears. Now it’s up to Jace and Clary to figure out who Clary is, where she came from, and why all this supernatural stuff seems to be centered on her while at the same time, locating her mother and putting an end to the forces of darkness. Like I said, it’s got vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, demons, and the hinted presence of angels. Lots of butt-kicking going on.

 

Strengths: the characters were well-rounded, the plot made sense—although there were a couple places where some better explanations were warranted: specifically, I’d like to understand the pentagram at the end better. What was the bit with the column of fire and how did that relate?—the special effects were good, the pacing was good most of the time—there were a few points at which it seemed to drag. And the ending seemed to drag out, in my opinion. Weaknesses: other than the ones I’ve already mentioned, nothing too glaring sticks out except … I have to take issue with the dalliance with incest. I know it’s 2014 and virtually all the old social mores have gone to pot, but are we going to go there? Really? Ick. Ever since Luke and Leia … Ick. Ick. Maybe the author will work it out in some fashion, but honestly, I wish it had never been brought up. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that this film never really gripped me. It was okay, but unexceptional. Maybe the book was better. I don’t know, as I never read it.

 

I’ll give Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (the movie) three stars out of five.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman, 4 *’s)

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a reasonably short novel with fairly short chapters. Although I finished it last night, I can’t remember the protagonist’s name. This is because it was told from First Person point-of-view and they only mention the main character’s name once or twice (I think). Anyway, it took a bit for me to get into this story. I read it primarily for a group I joined on Goodreads. Having finished it, I’m glad I read it. Halfway through, though, I was having a tough time staying focused on the tale. It’s a fantasy tale set in the real world, and the beginning was just too slow for my tastes.

 

Anyway, the story begins with the death of a border at the protagonist’s house (the protagonist is a young boy of seven years). This sets off a series of events beginning with the awakening of a creature called a “flea.” It wasn’t a real flea; it was a mystical creature made of awnings and rotting canvas that assumed a human shape and proceeded to make the protagonist’s life a very troublesome affair. The protagonist’s “young” friend, Lettie Hempstock, is a girl of apparently eleven years of age is … I guess she’s a kind of force of nature. She’s not a witch (at least she claims not to be), but she is far older than her seemingly eleven years. The same holds for her “mother” and “grandmother.” Anyway, the plot revolves around the mystical happenings that plague the protagonist for several days during which Lettie does her best to help him. There are … difficulties, though. You’ll have to read it to learn more.

 

Strengths: the characters were well-developed and the plot clear. The ending was excellent. It had a very surreal feel to it, and I walked away wondering if Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother were all the same person/entity, kind of like the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone of lore. After reflection, I don’t think they were, but I think that would have been really cool if they had been. Regardless, the atmosphere of the Epilogue made the whole book worth reading. It was really quite well done. Weaknesses: well, I’m a fantasy buff and I prefer to see swords swinging and spells flying, chaos and blood. Because there was remarkably little of that in this story, I was bored for the first few chapters. I never fully got into the story, except for the Epilogue … and that does not bode well for the novel as a whole. I’m glad I read it, but I have no intention of reading it ever again.

 

Ultimately, I’ll give Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane three and a half, or maybe even four stars out of five (despite my complaints, it was really quite well written).

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 1-19-14.

Insights into Athron: The Magic System (part III)

Continuing the theme of the magic system in Athron, I’d like to discuss some of the more miscellaneous spellcrafts. Specifically, I’d like to look at soulcraft, seercraft, deathcraft, and hellcraft as these, with the original four elemental spellcrafts, make up the most common spells used throughout Athron (well, woodcraft is pretty common, too, but I’m going to limit myself to just four spellcrafts today).

 

Soulcraft is primarily the art of conjuring, be it spirits or other otherworldly beings. To a certain extent it crosses over with other spellcrafts. For example, a master at spellcraft might be able to summon a demon (like in hellcraft) or a being of elemental fire (like in flamecraft) or a variety of other such entities. Its uses, except in rare cases (like when dealing with demons) are usually benign. Seercraft is another name for divination magic which, simply put, is: getting information. This can be done by casting stones, scrying through a bowl of water, or what-have-you. Like soulcraft, there is a bit of crossover with the elemental magics. Each elemental form of magic has its own limited form of augury that can be used in a pinch, but to get a thorough reading of some sort requires seercraft. Deathcraft is another name for necromancy. The field originally started as a derivative form of both soulcraft and seercraft. The first necromancers simply wanted to explore the art of obtaining information from the dead. But it soon evolved into a darker thing. Reanimating dead became the central goal of study, and from there all manner of undead were born: skeletons, ghosts, and vampires—you name it; they can all trace their origins back to deathcraft. Hellcraft is another name for demonology. It started as a derivative of soulcraft and flamecraft. The original practitioners had a bent towards evil, so, the focus was on demons and how best to harness their power. But demons are not long to be controlled; what was meant to ensnare the powers of Hell, soon came to ensnare those who sought to use it. Evil has a way of twisting back to harm its practitioner, and hellcraft is no exception. There are actually three different aspects to hellcraft for those who are foolish enough to study it: demonic conjuration, working with elemental fire, and a potpourri of other special effects including minor illusions and similar such things.

 

Well, that’s all I have to say about the magic system of Athron—at least, for now.

Insights to Athron: The Magic System: Spellcrafts (part II)

Today I’m going to cover part of my spell system in my world of Athron. I’ll begin with the elemental spellcrafts as those are the most common and probably the easiest to come to grips with. First, a word about spellcrafts in general. All magic is fueled by spell energy. Every spell caster has access to spell energy (in the gaming system the amount was determined by the level of skill the caster had in the appropriate spell energy). This energy can be used for three different types of tasks: 1) casting a spell, 2) inscribing a rune, or 3) making a potion. Each spellcraft has its own assets in each of these tasks. The elemental spellcrafts are flamecraft, seacraft, earthcraft, and windcraft. A character with skill in flamecraft, therefore, may be able to cast a fire-based spell, inscribe a fire-based rune, or make a fire-based potion. In the gaming system, all of these were separate skills, as was the general skill of flamecraft. At one point, I even had separate skills for every type of spell energy. For example, you had orange energy for flamecraft, blue energy for seacraft, etc … but I shortly found that that system was a bit too cumbersome for actual gaming, although I still kind of dig it.

 

Anyway, flamecraft (whether manifested as a spell or rune or potion) involves the manipulation of fire. Although it does not require a pre-existing flame source, it is stronger when one is nearby. A flame wizard with a torch or near a bonfire can be very dangerous. Seacraft is somewhat different. It, too, is more effective when there is a source of water nearby (although it is capable of pulling water right out of the air), but it is not completely inert without it. Seacraft involves the manipulation of water—it need not be salt water or any special kind of water, just water will do. Compared to the other elements, earthcraft and windcraft are almost always guaranteed to have an abundant source of their respective elements nearby. As such, the spells in the retinues of their respective wizards always assume the element to be present. Obviously, earthcraft manipulates earth in all its forms: mud, rock, mineral, and what-have-you. And windcraft permits the manipulation of air, nut just powerful gusts of wind. I have a fair-sized list of spells (I may or may not share these at a later date) for each of these spellcrafts. Likewise runes. And likewise potions. For example, I have spells like Fire Bolt, Continuous Inferno, etc … Readers of my novels may also recognize a few spells that recur with regularity: Earthen Hands, Fire Guardian, Earth Warrior, etc …  All told, the lists give me pretty good variety for the four basic elements.

Insights to Athron: The Magic System (part I)

For those of you who have read my novel, Drasmyr, or my other work set in Athron, to a certain extent, you are already familiar with the magic system I use. Those of you who have not, may still find this information handy and useful. In my world of Athron, I do not set down a precise system of rules with the rigor of, say, mathematics; although I respect other authors who do, like, say, Brandon Sanderson, who is renowned for his magic systems; I don’t provide the same level of detail on its rules. The system is detailed, to a certain extent, over the course of my writing and kind of explained as I go along. One reason for not going into a lengthy discourse on the subject is that it is supposed to be a kind of “parallel science.” As such, the intricacies and complexities are too vast for a handful of pages to delineate. Indeed, it would be too complex for any one individual to handle. I can only realistically discuss the highlights. So, with that in mind, I will discuss a few points about my system here.

 

I use an augmented elemental system. Basically, I start with the four elements of antiquity: earth, air, fire, and water. Then, I added a few crafts which didn’t fit with those. Each one is a spellcraft. At the time of this writing I have: flamecraft, earthcraft, windcraft, seacraft, seercraft (divination), soulcraft (conjuring spirits), hellcraft (demonology), and deathcraft (necromancy). Those are the main ones, all of which (except soulcraft) appear in Drasmyr. I also have floating on the back burner the following: bloodcraft, fleshcraft, bonecraft, and woodcraft. There is also a field called Derivative Magic, which is basically starting with any two spellcrafts and “mixing” them: for example, wind and earth magic make “dustcraft.” That, of course, would be a very lengthy list. That, I think, covers it; I might have a few more in my notes, but if I do, I don’t remember them as I write this. Anyway, each craft allows the spell-caster to cast spells with very specific effects. It is worth pointing out that the spell system, and in fact the entire world of Athron, were partially developed for use in a pen and paper role-playing game. The game is “in development” and as I am the only person working on it, it will likely remain “in development” for many years to come. I’m really too busy writing to work on it much.

 

I will discuss specific spellcrafts in more detail in later posts.

Book Reviews: The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner, 4 *’s)

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is a short novel set in a kind of parallel Greece-like land. The time period is indeterminate, as there are guns of more modern times, and similar anacronysms (is that the right word?). Going by my reading, the culture and characters did not strike me as particularly Greek. They had Greek names, though. The main character is a thief named Gen, or Eugenides. The entire story is told from his point of view.

 

The story begins with Gen in prison. He was imprisoned for foolishly stealing the King of Sounis’ seal and then bragging about it in the local taverns of the king’s city. At that point, he came to the attention of the King’s magus, a learned man who believes he can make use of Gen and his abilities. In particular, he wants to acquire a valuable magical object: Hamiathes’s Gift, a special stone, blessed by the goddess Hephestia to grant immortality and the right to rulership. So, with the blessing of the king, the magus takes Gen, two of his students-in-training, and a bodyguard named Pol on a quest to retrieve the Gift. They must travel into a foreign land, perform a grand heist, and escape without discovery. Can they do it? Is Gen up to the task?

 

Strengths: the book was well-written and focused. By that I mean, there wasn’t a lot of meandering; it was a linear plot, involving just a handful of characters so it was easy to keep everyone straight. I enjoyed Gen, his personality, and his devious antics.  There were also a couple twists and surprises in the book. Some strange events that, initially perplex the reader, but are explained logically by the end of the tale. I like it when books do that. Weaknesses: it’s written in first person point-of-view and I’m not sure if I like that. It wasn’t bad, but maybe third person might have been better. Regardless, although creative the tale may have been too linear. Perhaps a few more unplanned deviations may have made a difference. Also, the lack of human magic-users could count against the book. I just prefer tales where sorcerers and spell-casters abound. Other than that, though, the book was a good read and I’m glad I read it. I also intend to get the continuing adventures of Gen. There are at least two or three more such books.

 

Ultimately, I’ll give Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief four stars out of five.

Fantasy World Building: Game versus Novel

World Building is a concept that is common to both the role-playing game (RPG) and literature. Of particular interest is the fantasy RPG and the work of fantasy literature. RPG’s come in two varieties: computer-based (like World of Warcraft) and pen and paper (like Dungeons and Dragons). Although I have computer skills, I have never designed a computer-based RPG so I can’t really comment on that. But I do have experience designing and running my own pen and paper RPG. It is with that which I will compare writing a fantasy novel.

 

The first major difference between the two concerns the number of creatures. This occurred to me quite some time ago when I was reading the Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson. It’s an excellent series that I highly recommend. If you like, you can read my reviews for Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of the Ages (the first three books of the Mistborn Series). Anyway, in the series I was struck by the fact that there were only about five different types of creatures that Brandon Sanderson used. However, the more I thought about it, the more clear the reason for that became. There simply is not enough room in a novel to develop large numbers of creatures. This is because each creature requires several pages to properly introduce in a novel. Then it has to be used and applied in the plot. I would say the first time this happens, it takes about five pages or so. And a novel is only five hundred or so pages long. And each of those pages is precious and many contain other things beside creature descriptions. You have dialogue and narrative and scene descriptions. Taken together, these imply that you only have so many pages to dedicate to creature descriptions and use. Also, there is the fact that you as an author do not want to overwhelm the reader. The reader can only handle so many creatures at a time. A novel that featured fifty different types of creatures would probably do poorly because it would just confuse readers and leave them lost.

 

Contrast that to the role-playing game. In the RPG, variety is the spice of life. You need as many creatures as you can make. In any given gaming session, the party will likely only encounter a handful of different creatures, but through the course of their gaming career, they will likely have many different gaming sessions and since each session is and should be unique, they will likely encounter many more different creatures. In a way, it is like each individual session is roughly equivalent to a single novel. And it is the sheer volume of sessions that dictate that the players face dozens, if not hundreds, of different creatures. After all, how many monster manuals and monstrous compendiums does the D&D game put out? I honestly don’t know, I lost track somewhere along the way.

 

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day.

Christmas Vampire Contest: We Have A Winner!

Yes. The names have been gathered. The choice, selected. From the staggering list of one (I really did not publicize my contest very well. There was just too much going on over the holidays. Nevertheless, we have a winner).

 

The winner for the 2013-2014 Christmas Vampire Contest on matthewdryan.com is Alex from https://cirsova.wordpress.com/ . Check out their site and congratulate them. The winning entry is: “Probably the Relic of Saint Januarius.” I don’t know what that is, but I’m sure Lucian val Drasmyr can make use of it. Hmmm … just looked it up on the Net. Apparently, the dried blood of Saint Januarius consistently liquefies into liquid blood on a regular basis. For those interested, here’s the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Januarius. I have to say, that is a pretty cool answer, and probably would have deserved the prize anyway.

 

Happy Trails All!

World-Building: Inheriting Stuff From Earth

One of the first tasks in writing a fantasy novel is world-building. I’ve written several posts on the topic now, but I want to return to a point I have previously made just to emphasize it. Namely, any world you create should be understandable to the reader. That’s basically a no-brainer, and I wouldn’t expect someone to violate that premise, but it is worth discussing. Creativity is great, but there is such a thing as too much creativity.

 

J. R. R. Tolkien invented the Elvish language for his books set in Middle-Earth. Which is very cool, and very fine. But he didn’t write his books in Elvish, or even the dialogue of the books in Elvish. Sure, there were a few poems in Elvish, but he usually provided an English interpretation. He knew that writing substantial parts of a book in a language only he was conversant in was not a good idea. Hence, the modern writer should feel no shame in inheriting certain aspects of Earth for their fantasy world. Although there is a pull in one direction to make your world as unique and as different from Earth as you can, this pull is not absolute. If it were, the best fantasy books would be complete gibberish.

 

Some things that should generally be the same as they are on Earth: language—you can call your language something else like Common or Emarin, but on paper it should be written as English (or some other Earth language with a large population base); and the number system—even if your main species has twelve fingers and twelve toes, the number system they use should be base 10. Those are the only two things I can think of (today) that should essentially remain the same as they are on Earth. Everything else is up for grabs, but there should be a word of caution: a reader can only handle so much new material at a time. You must strive to strike the right balance. You can’t overwhelm the reader, else they will lose interest. That means you must keep things similar enough to Earth that you can tell a coherent story. For example, although it is cool to use the occasional unique plant or animal designed just for your world, developing an entire ecosystem is probably going too far. Most of your flora and fauna should be basically Earth-like with only a handful of exceptions. The world itself should probably be a planet or something equally easy to grasp (a hollow world, etc…). You don’t want the reader to work too hard to understand your novel.

 

All that being said, take my advice with a grain of salt. In the end, it is fantasy literature we are talking about.