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New eBook Release: When Ai Met Yu

After being published in five parts on my own blog, it's time for this story to come to a wider audience. My first attempts at both a re...

Monday, 28 November 2016

...indistinguishable from magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur C. Clarke

The concept of gods is something that's been with humans for thousands upon thousands of years, and the concept of magic has been around just as long if not longer. With the true advent of science fiction in the last few centuries, it's become more than tempting to combine elements of the fantastic with this. These can range from expounding on speculative or experimental science, to going into full pseudo-science or combining the tamer edges of fantasy elements. These are done for a number of reasons: they can be for just simple can't-think-of-anything-else reasons, or a deliberate push towards creating something incomprehensible for normal humans within the story. There are examples of this in books, live-action, animation and interactive media. Their usage differs depending on the circumstances, and the will of the writer.

In books, there are several instances of aliens being portrayed as akin to deities. David Brin's entire Uplift saga had the mysterious Precursors, who perpetuated the tradition of the "uplifting" of other species barring a few including humans, and are treated as a divine race due to their advanced technology and seemingly benevolent behaviour. Carl Sagen's original novel Contact relies on the conflict between faith and science for its central plot, with the aliens hiding and discovering messages within concepts in a way that can be associated with magic. Arthur C. Clarke used this several times, as can be inferred from the above quote, one of his three rules. In Clarke's Childhood's End, the Overseers are analogous to demons, and the Overmind is comparable to an Almighty God, although in this case it's a hive mind formed from countless races who have transcended physical existence. That concept of transcendence is a recurring part of this trope,

In films and television, such beings are often visually impressive, and it's often accompanied as with books with some religious undertone. Prometheus, the prequel to the Alien franchise, used religious undertones about creator and creation, and portrayed the alien beings as god-like in both technological ability and their in-their-own-image humanoid form. They also fell into the category of being god-like to the point that their attitude to humans was nothing like our own perceptions. Star Trek used the god-like alien story quite regularly, from the mysterious imprisoned being at the end of The Final Frontier to individual episodes that had non-corporeal aliens with mysterious powers crossing paths with the various crews: one of the most notorious is the hypocritical Q. Many other films use this with varying degrees of success, including The Dark Crystal (god-like in the purest sense, including a classical duality between light and dark), The Fifth Element (which goes right over into the realms of mysticism) and the entire Stargate franchise (that uses the advanced tech get-out clause for aliens posing as Egyptian deities). Doctor Who has increasingly gone for this, and even dabbled during its original run with aliens posing as gods (Pyramids of Mars), being mistaken for or treated as gods (The Daemons), or being on a level where they could be classified as gods in a fantasy setting (Guardians from The Key to Time cycle).

The concept of god-like beings is the most common these days in video games, where the need for spectacular battles is a necessity for any game worth its salt. The entire Xeno metaseries plays with this, from extra-dimensional existences equivalent to deities to super-advanced technologies and even to the concept of surviving a universal rebirth (no major spoilers here, I think). The Mass Effect series treads similar ground to the Uplift books, with the most ancient races possessing abilities comparable with divine beings in mythology and fiction. The Halo universe is also touched by this, even though many aspects are comparable or can be linked to theoretical science, so its intrusion into the concepts of the divine is less prominent. One of the most shameless versions of this scenario is the First Civilisation from the Assassin's Creed franchise; a race who predated humanity who transcended time, physical existence, even the concept of human death through genetic survival. Their abilities are so out there that it's little wonder they were called after human deities. Some less memorable examples include the original version of the Atlans from Tomb Raider, almost everything from the StarCraft series, several elements from the as-of-now aborted Half-Life series, the main cast of Asura's Wrath, and (cheating a little here) the Bionicle franchise.

Now why does this happen? I can't speak for everyone, but I can see several reasons. The most obvious is that it's a way of creating tension without the need to explain in any coherent way. The thrill of the totally unknown can be used, but when embellished with the right trimmings it won't be called out as magical by any but real scientists or scientifically-minded readers/viewers/players. Another common reason is the need to create something quickly, ala a sequel or a new episode in a series, and it provides a tried-and-tested formula for the writers. The other reason is more to do with the kind of story a writer is trying to create: by having god-like beings, you bring into question things like faith, the existence of the divine, the place of mankind in the greater scheme of things, ect. It makes a nice little tribute to humanity's want for the divine, and its ability to turn anything that may have a rational explanation into a mystical other such as St Elmo's fire.

I try to steer clear of it myself, but I won't stop anyone else from using this tactic. Or from enjoying this particular take on the unknowable facets of the universe.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Sometimes, it's the strangest things...

Inspiration for new books strike at the strangest times, sometimes when you never, ever might expect it to strike. It's nothing new that writers can sometimes find inspiration from random and casual activities, from washing up to skipping through TV channels, from watching the weather to swimming in the sea. Visions and unexpected thoughts fly through your mind, creating images across your consciousness that can coalesce into a bigger picture. I certainly can't speak for other authors, and you could always try looking through any autobiographies they've written: but I will speak for myself in this post.

Inspirations for my own work are primarily visual. When I read a book, I impose a visual image on things, but I don't get inspiration from them as I might from watching an incredible moon in the sky, or seeing the amazing special effects from a film or video game. My mind thinks in pictures a lot of the time, which also results in me sometimes falling flat when it comes to the spoken word. But don't fret; the written word is something I'm a lot more careful about, as I know stumbles in that regard are one of the worst things an author can do to themselves.

Story ideas have come from the weirdest places. Crystal and Sin came into my head over a couple of days watching this trailer for a game called Lost Dimension, which was basically made from the opening anime cutscene. But if you want the full story behind the story's creation and how it changed from my initial flash of inspiration, I've put it in my Author's Afterward in the above work's Complete Edition. In fact, trailers and random pieces of music, combined with a strong visual imagination, have triggered the creation of the majority of my works.

Other times, it's been a formula from something visual that I've seen. A discarded early story idea, 'The Tales of Helena', was basically me mashing up science fiction and fantasy in the wake of watching Primeval, Doctor Who and my fascination with the antics of Lara Croft. I was very impressionable back then, sometimes to my shame. I actually rewrote that thing entirely twice, and it still didn't come out right. But then, It was highly derivative and quite tacky in its story beats and character development; I basically used the trick of fusing science fiction and fantasy, in addition to crossing over multiple world mythologes. As this was pre-Megami Tensei exposure, it wasn't nearly as nuanced and entertaining as it could have been. I'll probably be saying that about my earliest published books in a few years time. Isn't that the way with authors.

Another influence that impacted my early work that's rather work off is the Lord of the Rings film series. An unpublished trilogy of books, dubbed by me the "Dragon Trilogy", was initially inspired by the grandeur and quest-driven magnificence of what I saw in those three films. It was also pulled in several directions by my love of the Bionicle film trilogy. Ironically, this was the work that helped me begin to refine my writing style, and realise just what kind of stories I wanted to write. I still didn't have a clue about the darker themes, the true importance of female characters, mixed race issues, LGBT, coping with some emotional or physical handicap, or the sublime mixture of comedy and ugliness that Japanese media excels at. After this, I knew I wanted to write stories with strong characters at their core and a blurring between what people commonly labelled as good and evil.

Nowadays, I'm far more carefully with my inspirations, as I realise that too strong an image can negatively impact the originality of my work. Music is a nice middle ground, as it can generate my own imagination with an easily-absorbed sensual experience while also leaving my head free to create its own images. It's become my main resource during work and for story creation. Trailers for video games and films, when they're not too forceful, are quite good at that. Ideally, they only present images and flavours rather than a complete work. Again, it's mostly the music that really hooks me and creates an image, even when it's in service to the images.

For both, my head receives them, and transmutes them into my own visions. At this stage, they're a bit like placeholders, stored in my head while I write my own narrative and characters around that initial impression. Of course I can also draw from books and they helped me realise where I was going wrong with my writing style, but the sensual input from visual and audio media have a stronger impression when it comes to crafting story ideas. I read books for what they are, not what I can draw from them. I also find that I'm watching fulms for what they are, as my story ideas crafted during watching them either completely disappear or are nothing like my 'first draft'.

My working habit may well change, but to date it's served me relatively well. You readers now, I'll issue a challenge. Watch this video and do this: ignore the branding and what it was intended to be, and just drink in the atmosphere and music to create your own incredible scenario, around which the next blockbuster release may be based... Post your flashes in the comments below, or in the comments of this post's associated post on Google+. Oh, and in case the first video wasn't enough, here's another for you to try. Enjoy!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Returning to writing

I'm not feeling like saying a lot this time, but I will say something. It's been a week since BristolCon, and I'm now going to give you my feelings.

You've just come back from a major event, you're bursting with new ideas, your world's been expanded, and you're very tired at the end of a long journey. More so if you're not used to doing such long journeys on a regular basis. It was exhausting to say the least: a long journey, followed by an event, followed by another long journey with a hotel stay in the middle. To say that parts of me were aching when I came back home would be an understatement, and a second understatement would be that I was feeling even achier the following day.

Thankfully, I didn't get a stoppage of work, so I managed to dive straight into both proofreading The Leviathan Chronicle, and continuing writing my latest work. At the same time, I needed to consider what I'd learnt at BristolCon about small press houses. To be honest, I hadn't known anything about them, but I'd often heard about how they helped launch prospective authors. I've also got to consider what I'll be needing to do when the time comes for my next release, Crystal and Sin: Complete Edition. Where to publish it, how to handle the cover, which means to use for publicity. You know, what plagues every single self-published author ever...

The main thing is not to let anything get you down. You're stuck in a rut with something, or unsure of where to go? Find something else that can enthuse you equally and its equally productive, even if it's some aspect of housework or maintenance. I find that's somewhat therapeutic, and when combined with some music or other entertainment, you can let your mind unwind and allow yourself to be who you are, not what others might want you to be. My particular relaxation was provided by a long rest in bed, some homemade chicken yogurt curry, and watching through the complete season of Blood-C. It was so good that I immediately got its movie conclusion The Last Dark.

Of course, things can't be put off. Of course you mustn't just ignore things. But it's nice to wind down, forget things, allow yourself a break. To everyone who reads this; enjoy your week, weekend, and all the days ahead of you!