Event: WotF 2014 1/4

So if a month after the bells, turkey-silence and ball-dropping has not been reminder enough, it is in fact a new year. That means the Writers and Illustrators of the Future is back, starting with a fresh new quarter. As of this post, the current quarter runs from the January 1st to March 30th … nice three months, as the word quarter might imply.

Yes, I’m aware I’m writing this at the end of January.

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Those of you familiar with WotF, feel free to skip this paragraph.

So to those of you unfamiliar with Writers of the Future, we’re talking about an annual event that consists of a four-part contest, one held each quarter of the year, where “new and amateur” writers and artists submit their work. What makes this different from other contests is that entries are free, the submissions are international, and winning the contest is really quite a big deal. An entrant can enter for each quarter, and award ceremonies are held in Los Angeles, where one has an opportunity to meet leading fantasy artists and writers of the day. Got some pieces laying around but nowhere to send ’em? You may as well check this out.

Triva: You may find it amusing that the individual who founded the contest, L. Ron Hubbard (deceased), a prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy, was also responsible for the foundations of Scientology.

Thankfully the contest itself doesn’t have anything to do with them, but there is a little bit of controversy.

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As for me, a story is coming along, placeholder-named “The Telescope,” and I’ll be refining it for entry shortly after this very post. To date, I’ve only entered this contest once, but as part of a New Year’s resolution, I intend to submit an entry every quarter. Three months is ample time to invent and write a short story of 17,000 words or less, and besides, they accept novel portions.

This is going to be a good year. Whether or not I actually win, this is a healthy goal, and according to Wikipedia:

Often writers will repeatedly enter the contest, quarter after quarter, until they either win or become ineligible due to publications elsewhere.

I find this encouraging. In a later post, I might talk a little about my own story, but in the meantime, what of you, dear readers? Are you familiar with WotF? How was your experience, and, do you have ideas for what you’ll have ready for this – or next – quarter?

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Inspire: On Magitek and Steampunk

I wonder if it was common, throughout the ages, for people to have the thought: “Man, technology today is so boring. I wish was born in the past, or further in the future.”

I rather doubt it. Though I’ve read that it is sort of a common human condition-type thing to believe that one’s current era is the worst time ever – as though the apocalypse loomed just ahead of us. It is not unusual to hear someone, an elder or otherwise, muse on “the good old days,” or, conversely, about how “the kids these days have it so easy.” I’ve always found conversations like that interesting, having suffered from both kinds of thoughts at one time or another.

I feel that the same might also be applied to this notion of Steampunk, a genre of fiction (and fashion, apparently) that I do not claim to be an expert on, but find interesting nonetheless. While I confess no particular love for Victorian dress, I rather dig the concepts and mechanics of steam power. Electronics and all manner of Cyber Things belong to the realm of magic as far as I’m concerned. Discussions regarding alternating currents and electrons being conducted through closed/open circuits happen at about the time when I start to feel like it’s time to go lay down and rest my head.

But steam I can get, with enough time to observe the clockwork, and that’s part of what attracts me to the idea. Similarly, we have a word for something I even more attractive: Magitek. Now, this is something I’m on board with, because as far as this humble caveman is concerned, the foundational basics of how it works are just as mysterious. It terms of a story, this is usually accepted, whether there are hints of an explanation, such as Howl’s Moving Castle – or not explained at all, such as the magitek armor of Final Fantasy 6.

At any rate, there is some discrepancy between Steampunk and Magitek, but in other cases they tend to overlap. I suppose at this point, it is up to the individual story to decide, and personally I intend to consume more fiction in both of these genres.

What of you, dear readers? Are there any favored works of Steampunk/Magitek variety you enjoyed, or would recommend to anyone?

##Edit## : I actually backed a Kickstarter project for a Steampunk anthology, which can be found here. They’re funding period has already ended, but I’m rather excited to see what it’s all about.

Inspire: Gaming Trivia

So I’m something of a self-described lore-whore, if you’ll pardon the term. It’s crude but catchy, yea? A definition, as provided by our friends over at Urban Dictionary:

Someone who is obsessed with background lore about something, usually video games or movies.

I was the guy who played games like World of Warcraft and Dragon Age: Origins, and would halt the advance of a dungeon crawl to read a book or letter some enemy had conveniently left open on the floor. I hate to miss cutscenes and, so long as time is not an issue, I love hearing the banter between NPCs.

Wikis are pretty awesome too, I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve lost doing “research” on the backgrounds of Evangelion, Dune, Mass Effect, Skyrim, Warcaft, Final Fantasy … the list goes on, as they say.

But aside from lots of reads, and lots of podcasts, I also regularly consume lore via youtube. One of which I’m quite fond of is Did You Know Gaming.

DYKG (recently paired up with VGFacts.com) has a youtube channel devoted entirely to Easter Eggs and otherwise esoteric knowledge about the development or backstory of videogames – popular titles include Star Fox, Metal Gear Solid, Pokemon, Super Mario, Sonic the Hedhehog, Megaman, and plenty of others.

One of the single most interesting things that I’ve found is the story behind the robot legs of the Star Fox team, which underwent development changes as the characters reappeared in later titles. Check out what I mean here. And I’m not even a fan of Star Fox!

But I loves me some lore. It’s like Stephen King said, something about to be a tremendous writer, you need to read a tremendous amount of books.

I wonder if he would include game manuals and fake science fiction history in that?

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

Concept: Magical Gates in Fantasy

I’m rather a big fan of long-distance travel in most of its forms. Personally, if I’m on a bus or a train, I usually see it as a 2+ hour vacation from life, where I’m left to nothing but my own devices (literally) to keep entertained or relaxed. Whether it’s music, podcasts, a book, or some combination of these, being on some sort of long-distance trip feels like a moment to either catch up or decompress. I rather look forward to the part of my life when I find myself aboard one of them thar newfangled “aeroplanes” as I go from Con to Con.

But, instantaneous travel is just as interesting to me, particularly if we’re talking between worlds. Enter the Magical Gate, an artifact of either precursor make or a state-of-the-art invention put together by the most brilliant scientific minds of the age. In this article, we’ll be focusing on Gates that appear mostly in fantasy, as opposed to science fiction, and we must define a “gate.”

A Gate – a doorway, a gateway – though sometimes a tear/rip in the space-time continuum, and sometimes an archway is constructed around said portal, stabilizing it. An object of artificial construction (whether by god-like beings or wizards or what have you),  but I wouldn’t say the that an object that transports you to another location or state of being on contact – such as the One Ring (arguably) or a Portkey or the Master Sword – counts. Also not to be confused with hyperspace jumps, light speed or wormholes, all of which are generally in the realm of Science Fiction. That’s all well and good, but not the focus of today.

The Gates of which I speak (and possibly their own networks), are more along the lines of unexplained power and origin, rather than scientific ingenuity. So, let’s get to some examples.

The Riftwar Saga books by Raymond E. Faust are centered around the sudden appearance of such a phenomena. As it turns out, there are some things in common with the next example, where the “normal world” is breached by invaders who created the rift and poured through. Faust’s are some of my favorites, since he deals with concepts I find immensely fun and fascinating – like culture clashes and comparisons of magic systems between worlds.

Blizzard’s Warcraft series is also centered entirely around cultural misunderstandings and the opening of a gate – known as the Dark Portal – where your world full of orcs comes swarming and swinging and screaming into the “human world” of Azeroth. I spent a lot of time in this universe, having had four years of my life offered up as a sacrifice to the power that is the MMO. I’ve long since thankfully cut that drug, but the lore – one of the most enjoyable facets of the game for me – remains. The games in the Warcraft universe is full of gates and portals, in fact…

There’s Time Bandits (thanks to that map of the universe), the Neverending Story (a mirror), even Beetlejuice (though the “door” was drawn with a piece of chalk). But a third and slightly different take on this is the portal pool trope – when the the portal sorta takes on the appearance of a pool of liquid, as seen in The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia 1st book).

Gates and portals are a mainstay for quick (and possibly quite risky) travel, making them great plot devices in a fantasy story. What happens if two people pass through and land at once? Telefragging. What if the portal closes before the traveler makes it wholly through? Possibly severance. What does it take to open a portal, maintain a rift, or built a gate around it? These are all elements that could make for some interesting stuff.

Just the very concept of such a thing – interstellar travel when one”s cultural technology level is less than modern! If you got it, I dig it.

But actual “gates” seem much more infrequent in fantasy, compared to science fiction. Therefore, I challenge fantasy writers everywhere to balance this out!

I’ll be there when you do.

Happy writing!

Podcast: Fantasy Fiction

As someone who consumes podcasts on a daily basis, one must scour the internet in search of worthwhile content. Sure I’ve got a list of eagerly-awaited ones and a few that I’m testing out, but almost none of them do I look forward to as much as Fantasy Fiction.

Fantasy Fiction is a podcast by two old friends Dom and Josh who, as fate would have it, I’ve watched on one of my favorite youtube webshows, the Continue? Show. In fact, I first heard about Fantasy Fiction through Continue?’s own podcast, the ContinueCast.

Now, Fantasy Fiction is exactly what it sounds like; weekly reading of short stories set in realms of high fantasy. Keep in mind this is not listening for children, unless you want your kids to grow up totally fucking rad. The worlds invented by the hosts are whimsical and free, borrowing familiar ingredients of fantasy that most of us would recognize, yet the setting and characters – my favorites being Throm and Flyman – are refreshingly unique. Elements of heavy metal can be found and heard left and right, along with an overdose of ridiculous humor, over-the-top-violence, and hysterical one-liners as might be seen in some of the greatest fantasy movies of the 80’s.

Each week, Josh and Dom choose a theme based on listener suggestions and write up a story; an admirable practice. There have been numerous times yours truly had to stifle the laughter lest I draw everyone’s attention at Where They Think I Work. They write their stories and jokes for each other, and it shows – and one can’t help but be drawn into their humor and laugh along with them. Much like the folks over at Continue?, this podcast has come to feel like a couple of good old buddies. That I keep in a tiny box. And listen to with my ear holes.

Fantasy Fiction does exactly what I had been searching for in a podcast for some time – stories written by folks who simply love fantasy arguably as much as I do. They aren’t snobby reviewers, hoity-toity authors, or holier-than-thou literary critics. These are guys who’re out to have some fun, and from what I’ve heard and read, that is how some of the best comedy is created. Perhaps most importantly, for myself anyway, I’ve found inspiration and a sort of “clean slate” state of mind after listening to their wacky antics. It’s been remarkably helpful with my own writing.

You can find Fantasy Fiction at iTunes and Youtube, though my podcast app of choice is Podkicker.

What of you, dear readers? Are there any fantasy-related podcasts you’d recommend?

Inspire: Human Origins

If there’s one thing I find fascinating in works of fiction – fantasy or otherwise – it’s the origin stories of humanity. After all, lets face it, very little out there consists of solely non-humans (what with that whole we need something to relate to thing), so there’ll be humans or human-like beings in most stories, even if  they go by a different name. Here are a couple of fun origin stories that I’ve come across over the years.

By the way, this post is full of spoilers.

SciFi – Earth Lost

Starting off the list with some sci-fi, with one of the most influential books I’ve come to read – you’ve guessed it – Dune ! I had to get it out of the way early. But, alongside it there is Isaac Asimov’s Foundations series, and what these two works have in common is that the origin of humanity, as they know it, is sort of lost. In these universes, it isn’t a question of whether humankind was created by a deity versus evolved from a long string of successful ancestors, no! Rather, Foundations and Dune are so far-flung into the future that the very knowledge of Earth is lost. It isn’t about finding the missing link, it’s about finding the missing planet. It is absent from the public consciousness as humans are no longer “earthlings” at this point, but a race of people spread throughout the cosmos. There are hints and mentions in the serieseseses, but really not much more than that, shrouding human origin in mystery.

SciFi – Earth Not Home

In the Halo games, where there is quite a plethora of alien races with which humanity must contend, it turns out the Earth is not in fact the homeworld of humanity. Apparently the human race was extremely advanced and, after fighting off the Flood in a war that caused some conflict with a race known as the Forerunners (Hyper Advanced Beings, as seen below). The result? Humanity as a race was nearly obliterated, stripped of its power and reduced to a pre-technological state, and the remnants of the race exiled to Earth where, you know, they would evolve to create snuggies and diet water.

Children Of Advanced Beings

No, not Scientology. Do not get me started. I’m talking more about what we’ve seen in films such as Prometheus and Mission to Mars. Basically, life was “seeded” via artificial means in stories like this, where highly advanced beings left remnants of their DNA structure – somehow – which either started all life, or at least started the long journey that lead to human life. While neither of these movies is exactly reputed for being, well, great movies, I rather enjoy the concept. A similar scenario can be seen in the anime/manga series Neon Genesis Evangelion, where in a nutshell, all life spawned from the blood (“primordial soup”) of a single, hyper advanced being (what I call a HAB), though in that canon they’re called F.A.R. (First Ancestral Race). Story and plot aside in these various stories, the concept of humanity simply being a descendant – maybe even a microbial after-effect – of the doings of creatures vastly, vastly beyond our scope has always held a special place in my creative’s heart.

The same could be said for the origin of humanity in Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo mythos, a series of games revolving around a single world where humans are caught between the considerably more fantasy-oriented struggle between the forces of Heaven and the forces of Hell. In the Diablo canon, humans are the spawn of the nephilum, creatures born of angel and demon union. In other words, humans are both part demon and part angel, and as the story goes the very existence of humanity threatens the balance of the Great Conflict – the cosmic battle between good and evil. Talk about ethnocentric (it is based on popular religions, after all), but really fun all the same.

Another instance of a sort of (questionably) divine influence can be found in the Assassin’s Creed series. In early pre-history, humans were in fact biologically engineered creatures meant to serve as a docile labor force. The First Civilization fell, eventually, when two figures known as Adam and Eve rose up and rebelled, eventually freeing humanity from its role as a race of simpleton workers.

Encouraged Evolution

Now in any story where humanity jumps ahead technologically or evolutionarily by way of unearthing alien technology or perhaps engineering themselves makes for good stuff, but how often does one find this concept in a fantasy setting? Enter Chrono Trigger.

Lavos, an interplanetary parasite and all around nasty looking chestnut, is a creature that careens through the cosmos, slams into planets, and goes into a deep slumber. While asleep, Lavos emits radiation that alters the DNA of early humankind in Chrono Trigger, causing a sect to evolve into a magic-wielding wizard race. The point? Why, when Lavos reawakens, the plan is to harvest and consume the collective energies of the specially-evolved humans, which will provide ample fuel for Lavos to spawn little baby Lavosi. Not terribly unlike the Reapers in Mass Effect.

I frickin’ love this stuff, but I feel as though I’ve gone on long enough about this. What of you, dear readers? Have you come across any interesting ideas or fun concepts for the origin of humanity in your literary travels?

-Chrono Trigger – a primitive race that was hyper-evolved for the purposes of Lavos

Inspire: The Power of Sound, Ep. 2

This is more or less a shout out to one of my all-time favorite sources of music, and by extension, sources of inspiration.

People who know me decently well know that I favor music from theatrical or gaming origins; I find ambiance and “scene setting” sound to be most preferable in my day-to-day life since I spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about things, people and creatures that don’t exist.

Video game music (or VGM as some folks say) covers as wide a spectrum as all other genres; and, much like musicians or artists found around the world, the masters are imitated, with tribute paid to them. Enter the community of Overclocked ReMix, an organization … dedicated to preserving and paying tribute to video game music through arranging and re-interpreting the songs with new technology and software, as well as by various traditional means. The primary focus of OC ReMix is its website which offers thousands of free fan-made video game music arrangements, information on game music and composers, resources for aspiring artists, and a community forum for video game music fans. [Lifted from Wikipedia.]

Couldn’t have said it better myself. If you’re a fan of game music, there’s a chance you already know about this. If not, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

I have been a listener of OC Remixes for oh I don’t know TEN YEARS, but hardly participated in the community, knowing simply the name OCReMix as a sort of fondly, if distantly known, “author” of a small collection of familiar tunes I played over and over. I would visit the website once every blue moon or so, checking up on some games remix lists and then go on my merry way. Recently, however, it came to my attention how vast the community has grown, how immense and rabid the fanbase really is. It was kind of like discovering a convention where tons of people I’d love to have known, but never knew existed, converged.

In my meanderings, I discovered a kickstarter held by OC ReMix, which had launched and completed totally without my knowing. It is a sincere regret of mine to arrive late to that particular party, as the project involved remixing the soundtracks of one of my all time favorite games, Final Fantasy 6. Yes yes, nostalgia is a factor – it was a Super Nintendo game that I played as a young teen, after all – but I’ve come to realize that while the game itself is pretty good, it was the music that always had me returning. Oh Mr. Uematsu, you rogue.

The album is known as Balance and Ruin, and can be found at the OC Remix website as a torrent or for individual track downloadage. The kickstarter was a resounding success, and having gotten the album I realized how out of touch I’ve been. Indeed, OC ReMix has arranged an entire host of albums, some of which you may find familiar. I’ve been spending the last few weeks catching up.

You can bet that I’ll be there when the next kickstarter comes around. Especially. Especially. If we’re talking Secret of Mana.

May your music bring you inspiration, dear readers. What I have for you today are three tracks that honest-to-Zeus moved me, alright. They may not affect you as deeply as they did me (different associations with the sound, no doubt), but I feel like sharing. It is my hope that if these are completely new to you, that perhaps a door has been opened.

3) The first is from a SNES title, Super Metroid. This’d be a remix of Brinstar, Red Soil Swampy Area, entitled “Lonely Petals.” Mood: Somber piano solo.

2) Next is another SNES game, the aforementioned Secret of Mana. This remix is based off of the track Pure Lands, entitled “Pure Lands in Total Darkness.” Mood: Mystical and dreamy. I owe the artist behind this one for unquantifiable inspiration.

1) And lastly, for today, is from the Balance and Ruin album, from Final Fantasy 6 for the Super Nintendo, Setzer’s Theme. The track is entitled “Full Speed Ahead,” one of my favorites picked out of four discs worth of tracks. Mood: Upbeat and electronic.

A little insight into what goes on in and between the ears of Jesse.

Happy writing, dear readers!