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:
Two things are certain in this world: death and taxes. And while taxes are often represented by someone reaching into your pockets, death has long been represented by many faces across all civilizations and time periods. From robed skeletons to men simply in facepaint – death goes by many names and faces, all of which strike fear or admiration into the culture that created it.
But the thing we often see are rarely actually “death” itself, but rather agents of death meant to carry your soul to its next domain. These entities, most famously known as the Grim Reaper, are often complex figures that are both companion and hunter. They strike a fierce image, but often represent a form of mercy that few can truly understand.
So while we may all fear death, should we fear the Reapers? Continue reading Alterpedia: Reapers
Writing an original work can be hard, especially in genres that present not just original characters and themes but entire worlds. Speculative fiction genres like fantasy, scifi, and even urban fantasy to a lesser extent, feature a great deal of legwork to make something feel believable. I recently wrote about how you would write the future in a realistic fashion, and about how you could introduce dragons into a non-magical world, but both of these are just fragments of a much larger concept that could use some attention.
There are many tutorials out there about how to write good characters and how to make situations feel more plausible, but very rarely do we go to the grand scale of building the entire world these characters would live in. This, in part, is because world building isn’t something you have to do in most genres – the world was already built for you. You don’t have to go to great lengths to build the world around a period piece taking place in the Victorian era. Instead, for those genres, you just have the one piece of advice: “research”.
But for us in the more fantastic genres, there’s a lot of work that we have to go through to make things really flow for our audience. Often we are using old tropes presented by our predecessors to try to assemble them like lego blocks to fill in that world. Sometimes, we may even go out of our way to create an alternative to the tropes we’ve already seen, but inevitably we will still fall into a well worn groove despite our efforts. After all, if you’re using parts of a world created before you and then writing a story that fits the human perspective, you’re going to have a high chance of hitting something that someone else has already done. This is a great deal of why so many fantasy and sci-fi stories read the same.
So how do you create something that feels “fresh” without having to completely reinvent the wheel? Solid world building. Continue reading World Building Pt. 1 – The Butterfly Effect
Throughout history and across all folklore there are creatures which are supernaturally powerful and capable of doing great harm to mankind. They may be undead, they may be immortal, or they may be invincible to all mortal injury. But as these stories come to light there is invariably also a weakness that they possess, a personal kryptonite which prevents them from being able to just destroy human civilization entirely. Previously I discussed why silver possesses it’s mythical ability to ward off evil, but there are plenty of elements which can do the same.
One of the most common of these mystical weaknesses is, as the title says, “holy water”. There’s been a long history of water being used as a means of cleansing evil and of purifying darkness. We often see it being used to ward away evil, anoint the living, and wash away someone’s sins – especially when religion is applied. But some creatures have had weaknesses to water even before religion was applied and some of these weaknesses don’t even require that they come in contact with it.
Why is it that some stories of faeries say they can’t cross the sea and stories of vampires insist that they can’t cross running water without the help of another? Clearly these sources of water aren’t sanctified like the water being splashed around by a priest. Yet these bodies of water hold the same sort of sway over these creatures despite this lack of “holy”. Is it really the “holy” part of “holy water” that is doing the work in folklore, or is it the water?
That’s where the fun begins…. Continue reading Mythology Monday: Holy Water?
A few years ago I wrote a post about the fact we were creating new life in the form of machines and that we needed to be careful about how we approach the idea of morality with them. We usually approach the subject in such simplistic forms, with 3 laws that somehow work “perfectly” or with the assumption the machines would either forever serve us or eventually destroy us. We never consider them as another potential lifeform, only as further technology which we will either control or destroy ourselves with.
It wasn’t a bad post, as far as my early posts go, and I think the point I made there is still perfectly valid. But with a new Terminator on the horizon, Age of Ultron being a hot topic last month, and Ex Machina receiving great reviews – the topic has been on my mind again. You see, each of these approaches the concept of Roboethics and Machine Ethics in different ways, but still come to the same general premise: it won’t go smoothly.
“The robots are coming and they’re going to take us out.”
We say it jokingly all the time, but on some level we really believe all of the media we’ve put out. We are, on some level, afraid of the machines we’re currently building. It’s easy to see that we’re going to have something that is stronger and smarter than us in the near future and that scares the crap out of us.
But should it…? Continue reading A.I. Ethics
When not bouncing off the walls, hating the thing we wrote a few days ago, or daydreaming about fictional people, writers like to talk about things. This is no surprise, we’re essentially professional communicators (or bullshitters) and it’s in our DNA to want to chat about every opinion we have. Inevitably, this leads to us talking about reading and writing at some point. Few times do you talk to another reader or writer without the topic turning towards that at some point. But when we do, there are some debates which appear regularly.
What defines literature vs other forms of prose? Are prequels completely lacking tension, or can you create something powerful in the smaller moments? Are genres guidelines or just methods to organize our shelves? If you’re a writer, you’ve argued with someone about at least one of these. But another one that tends to come up a lot is the time honored question:
“Characters or plot – which should drive your story?” Continue reading Character vs Plot
The Fantasy Genre has long been dominated by the religions and customs of countries touched on by the Crusades. While this makes sense, with the familiar image of a knight wandering foreign lands being key to the genre itself, there has been stagnation in recent times. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to look into the cultures of the world and find fascinating details about other mythologies often overlooked by the genre we so love, seeking out Alternative Mythologies.
Over the last few months I’ve made it a point to go more into depth about West Africa than I have other parts of the world. I’ve always intended to go back to other parts of the world for more specifics as time goes on, the earlier entries being used as an introduction to things a bit at a time that could then lead into continuing this series indefinitely. And it’s true that there are a lot of variances in other parts of the world that I fully intend to explore. But I felt that, culturally, we owe West Africa a bit more credit than we’ve given it in the past. For a long time the parts of the world that were influenced by European culture have had an impression of what West African culture was like and deemed it to be somewhat inferior more often than not.
So as we reach the last entry for the West African region, I find it appropriate that I end it on the note of a religion most misunderstood from the region. Though we think we know quite a bit about it, the religion we’ve come to know as Vodou has long been represented as some form of dark art with practices that deal with demonic forces. Too often we see the image of the Vodou Witchdoctor who does depraved things to the living and the dead.
But when we look closer, like the rest of the region, it’s easy to see that we got it wrong… Continue reading Writing Fantasies: Alternative Mythologies 6H – Defining Vodoun
(I hate that I have to say this, but this is a fictional account of the history of a fictional world. I do not believe these things, nor should you, as I am making them up. If I receive any comments that I did not do my research into these events, you will be mocked.)
In the Agent of Argyre series of books, there is an organization called the Alter Control Task Force. Though ostensibly an organization for policing activities of the Alter race, an attempt to prevent an eventual race war, they are actually representatives of a city-state on the ocean: The Republic of Argyre.
The Republic of Argyre, an artificial island anchored to an oceanic ridge in the pacific, is a city-state established by Alters for the sake of harboring their kind and establishing a relationship with the mainstream human population. Despite being an artificial island and attached to no primary landmass, the city’s structure is capable of potentially supporting all 12 to 15 million active Alters on the planet.
How did a race of people who’ve lived in hiding for centuries manage to construct such a city? Why would they build their city in the middle of the ocean? Where did they get the resources for such a task? In the Alterpedia Historia, we will answer these questions and discover the history of the Alters. Today we address…
Continue reading Alterpedia Historia – Prometheus
[Updated 6/24/18: A few corrections due to outdated information on Pterosaurs brought to my attention by a reader]
One of the most common ideas across human history has been the idea of the dragon. Their appearance, personality, and origins change wildly from one culture to the next, but they as an entity always seem to exist. There are dragons from Europe, Asia and Central America. People have equated several serpent deities to dragons over time. And sometimes, we end up finding creatures that make us stop and think, “yeah, ok, that could be a dragon.”
But how likely would it be for something like that to actually exist in the world we know? When I was younger I watched several small documentaries about the idea of dragons being able to exist in our world and they all approached it with the general idea of how an exact kind of dragon would be able to get beyond physical limitations. The premise is somewhat sound but it comes at it a bit unscientifically. Too often we fall into the old habits of apologetics where we try to bend science to match our personal vision rather than the other way around.
What would happen to dragons if we approached it the other direction? Continue reading The Realistic Dragon
Congratulations on moving out on your own. The family was getting to be a bit too much to deal with in such limited space, but you’ve finally got some space of your own. Things are looking up. And it’s such a steal too, despite the high price of real estate and the fact you’re living in a major metropolis you managed to get some wonderful space that most people would have to pay thousands of dollars every month for.
But, despite your enthusiasm, you have to admit to yourself that it is still just a little bit cramped. Luckily for you, we live in a world where people have figured out how to live in just about any environment with some planning and space saving techniques.
And your people have been doing it longer than most. After all, your grandfather would consider you spoiled for living in such wonderful conditions now. You have walls, a ceiling, and probably some running water that is easily accessible through the dripping pipe. So really the only question left is: how do you make your choice real estate feel more comfortable? Continue reading Sprucing Up Your Hole In The Wall
When writing fantastic adventures through space, it’s inevitable in most cases that you’re going to have them step out of that ship and encounter something not of this world. They could find the ruins of an ancient civilization. They could find an unknown spacecraft not of any design they’ve ever seen. And, of course, they could just run into some…
Yes, aliens, they’re everywhere in space no matter what you may think about the Fermi Paradox. It’s inevitable that there’s something out there, somewhere, which is at least as advanced as we are. Sure, cosmic filters and all that are a possibility, but they’re a possibility born out of insecurity and assumption of facts without evidence. So don’t worry sci-fi writers, even if we haven’t made contact with anything yet we’re more than sure to make contact with something in the distant future.
But when you get around to making these alien lifeforms there tends to be a problem in how exactly we’re supposed to bring them to life. Sci-fi is full of tropes on just what exactly an alien creature is supposed to look like and almost all of them stem from something we’d find down here on Earth. More than one novel has described their aliens as being “insect-like”, quite a few rubber faces have been glued to actors over the years, and one time there was an Outer Limits where the advanced alien intelligence was a talking Raptor.
There’s just one problem: science says that anything that evolved on an alien world has likely taken a dramatically different turn than anything we’ve seen before. So what exactly should we expect those aliens to look like? How do you go about creating something that isn’t supposed to be like anything you’ve seen before? Well, at that point you’re going to have to make some assumptions… Continue reading Writing Sci-fi: Safe Assumptions of Alien Life