In the Alters’ World (and the series of books found here), creatures of legend reveal themselves to the world. Born through genetic abnormalities, defects and mutations, the Alters have lived for centuries as outcasts of human society, hiding their true nature from the world while colorful stories have been written by many to describe what they’ve seen. How are these creatures different from what was described in the stories? What relationship do they have with humanity? Every entry of the Alterpedia will delve into a new creature from around the world. This week we cover:
Going by many names but always sharing similar traits, North Europe is covered in stories of tiny people living in attics and crawlspaces, emerging at night to do minor tasks in exchange for food. Though they are known as Hobs, Hobgoblins, and many other names, the term Brownie takes the forefront in no small part due to the fact it makes them sound like a delicious baked good.
But despite these many names and confusion for fudge, there are details that are almost universal. First, they are always incredibly small in stature but still good with menial labor. Second, they avoid human contact as much as possible and tend to move only in the dead of night. Third, they tend to live in the homes of humans and will accept compensation for their work under strict rules. If these rules are broken, however, they will disappear and never return again.
As of late there’s a general consensus that zombie films, shows, books, and games are becoming over-saturated. You don’t even have to look far to find something zombie related almost everywhere. There’s even zombies under the Disney banner if you remember Pirates of the Caribbean beyond Johnny Depp hamming it up the whole time.
But I think the line from silly to ridiculous was really crossed recently during the promotion of CW’s new show iZombie. During the promotion, and a lot of reviews, we’d successfully jumped beyond the “fast zombie” and “slow zombie” debate and right into the “sexy zombie” debate. No, seriously, look it up and you won’t have a hard time finding someone referring to the fact the show has sexy zombies. That’s where we are now, we’ve mined the grounds so much that we’ve gone to looking at them as fetish objects.
But it’s not that we’re obsessed with zombies in particular as we go exploring the various incarnations of the Zombie Apocalypse, we’re obsessed with the Apocalypse part. At the same time that Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are talking about the oncoming doom of the undead, Mad Max is about to make a return to warn us of the impending doom of peak oil – something we hadn’t worried about since the 80s. Back in the 90s we found a whole variety of ways to drop a giant rock on the planet (unless we could throw a Bruce Willis at it). And six years ago, Roland Emmerich finally got to climax after working it for 13 years. Turns out he just needed a little hand from the Mayans.
Let’s face it, we’re not just afraid the world is coming to the end, some of us are excited about it. We’re looking to make enough different flavors of the Apocalypse that we can finally open that morbid Baskin Robbins parody called “31 Flavors of Woe”. Worse, with doomsday preppers, crazy evangelicals, and zombie survival guides- we’re not just anticipating the end times, we want to watch this bitch burn down around us and have a front row seat.
Over the last couple of months, as Marvel’s next big movie geared up its hype train, one moment caught my attention more than any other. You see, I am a comic fan, but most specifically I am an Iron Man fan and have been collecting his titles for… 20 years.
Wow, I feel really old all of a sudden!
But that meant I’ve followed the Iron Man movies really closely in hope of seeing a lot of my favorite details brought to life in a new medium. And, frankly, one I’ve been waiting for since the Avengers itself was announced all those years ago was the Hulkbuster.
Look at that thing! It’s beautiful! Several tons of Hulk-punching ceramic and metal. First seen in the 90s as one of the modular upgrades to the modular armor most famous for being in a cartoon and multiple Capcom fighting games, the Hulkbuster was the first real effort by Iron Man to create a countermeasure for any of his friends being brainwashed, converted, or having their powers stolen. Many other “busters” followed, but the Hulkbuster was the first, the best, and probably the one that gives me the most joy. Because not only am I an Iron Man fan, I’m a Mecha fan to boot.
Good sci-fi is often a metaphor for something in our lives. Star Trek was dealing with a future where we came out of the other side of the civil rights movement and the cold war intact and better for it. George Orwell made a police state so convincing that the modern day governments apparently took it as a how-to manual. Philip K Dick often wrote about worlds where people were often convicted before they had done any wrong and where your identity was up for question – after one hell of a drug problem left a mark on him (seriously, A Scanner Darkly was based on his drug trips).
But writing good sci-fi isn’t just about having a metaphor in mind. There’s often a lot of great work that is based simply on an idea with great characters. Conversely, there’s a lot of stuff with a philosophy behind it that falls short of the mark because the actual sci-fi portion of it is so poorly handled. It’s the ones that find a balance between the fantastic and the relatable that endure for years to come.
This is particularly noticeable in writing the future or near future. When writing about something that’s rooted more in theoretical science it’s easy for that work to shift to just simple fantasy over time. The first true “Science Fiction” Novel ever was Frankenstein, but the casual observer today would sit it in the same category as Dracula and other fantasy stories. But when something is working on an idea of the future and sticking to the mundane, it becomes a lot harder to find a place for it. We couldn’t very well call some ideas we had in the past “fantasy”, but it’s hard to ignore how outrageous it now seems in hindsight.
A while ago someone asked if there were any things in mythology which were completely untamed, could not be captured, could not be stopped, just wild and perpetually free. They could think of one themselves, but couldn’t think of many others. And, with some careful consideration, I realized the question appeared simple but was deceptively complex, ultimately answering, “no, not really.”
That’s not to say there aren’t beings of chaos in mythology, there most certainly are. But often you find that those beings of chaos are overcome or controlled by others around them. Loki is bound beneath Jormungandr until Ragnarok. Eris is a minor deity in the Greek pantheon, repeatedly stopped or overcome by those that encounter her, left to make grand impact only by tricking others into doing it for her. And Apep, god of chaos in the Egyptian mythology, was the mortal enemy of Ra – who made it a point to attack him every night upon his return to the underworld.
While mythology often talks about what humanity is afraid of, it doesn’t often leave these forces completely unchecked. In a somewhat optimistic fashion, the mythology of the things that we’re afraid of also tells of how we overcome these things. It’s the kind of thinking that has people make offerings to volcano gods or begin ceremonial dances to call for rain. We like to believe that we can survive whatever nature brings at us and that those with just a bit more power than we have can defeat those forces altogether.
And this optimism comes not just from our desire to survive, but also to overcome the forces that keep us down – both external forces and, often, internal… Continue reading The Enkidu Effect→
Pacing, it’s vital to your stories and it will often determine how well received it’s going to be. Even the worst ideas can be received well if you have the right pacing, while the best will often tank because “it dragged in the middle”. This, of course, is a bit of a problem for people when they’re first starting out. Pacing is actually one of the most covered subjects in the writing world, but often we still don’t get it right. The three act structure, for instance, is taught almost universally – but translates poorly to some fields and often leads newer writers astray by having them mechanically plot out their beats without any real sense of flow.
So, of course, we’ve figured out ways to make it even more complicated in the modern day. Because we’re masochists…
As I write this, it’s May the Fourth, a day when people all over can come together for their love for Star Wars. It used to be a simple joke when people went around saying “May the 4th be with you”, but clearly that joke got out of hand a long time ago. We now see events based around it, people dress up like characters if they have the day off from work. And bloggers? We shoehorn in topics related to Star Wars for shits and giggles.
But not everyone understands the draw of Star Wars. On more than one occasion I’ve had discussions with people about whether or not the movies deserve the furious support that they get from clearly devoted, even zealous, fans. Why is it so pervasive, so lasting and so powerful as to make grown men giddy with excitement over Harrison Ford just saying the line “we’re home”?
And the thing is…you’d be hard pressed to put it into words why Star Wars is so loved. Anyone who even tried to debate the matter would find themselves running into road blocks along the way. The dialogue usually bounces from campy and dated to downright pretentious. The action scenes were usually pretty stilted and once they improved in the prequels we found more people angry that Yoda actually had the moves. And speaking of that, we can use the prequel trilogy to go ahead and say that special effects weren’t the magic bullet.
Eventually you fall back on the idea that the story was good and that the characters were original. But as I’ve pointed out before, George Lucas isn’t the best writer. More over, the characters aren’t really that original – mostly stemming from old archetypes that have existed since the dawn of human civilization. But that last point, right there, may just provide the clue.
You see, I hold that Star Wars is successful because, for all intents and purposes… we’ve seen it before…