Sunday, 11 May 2014

Fantastic Cheese

After spending a little time promoting Shy (though probably not enough) I’m starting to force myself back into writing, with The Overcloud Codex being my main focus.

The plot’s protagonist is named Tomas Rask. He is the Allfather, the head of an order named The Vigil. He is an acerbic man in his mid-sixties, who carries the dead weight of a colossal book known as the Overcloud Codex on his back wherever he goes, using its dangerous knowledge to protect himself and others. The Vigil are tasked with keeping the shadowy entities that sit at the edge of reality from overflowing into the lands of the Redsnow Baronies. In the past the order was revered, but such was there success of their actions that the threat of encroachment dwindled, and the people forgot the shadows that used to haunt their nights and instead began to focus on each other, squabbling between themselves over the pastures, forests and jewel-rich mountains. But something is growing in the west, beyond Razor’s Pass, waiting for an opportunity to spread across the land once again. All that stands in its way is one man, and one book.
This is not a story of colleges of wizards and glittering armies of beautifully sculpted elves, this is a low-tech fantasy, more dark ages than medieval. It will be filled with struggle, grime, and enough shades of grey to write a porno with. Tomas’ journey will be arduous, as will my own, as I try to keep cheese from the tale.

I used to read quite a lot of fantasy as a youth, and I won’t name any titles here, simply because there is still a fan base for most of the books that I read, I enjoyed them (for the most part) and there is definitely a place for high fantasy, but as I grew up I found the genre was full of stories that seemed too detached from reality to be believable, even if they are by definition unbelievable, if that makes sense. There was too much that was idealised for me to connect. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me.

Female warriors were slim, curvaceous, and in all cases beautiful. It seemed to matter little that they were swinging large pieces of metal, they still didn’t seem to grow the large muscles in their arms necessary for the task, or develop the scars, disfigurements or broken noses that their male counterparts did. They didn’t stink of sweat from struggling through miles of harsh mountainside. They had long hair, (easy to grab in a melee) and it never got matted or gummed up with dirt and twigs. It was all about being sexy in a chainmail bikini (I mean really, what is that? Gut shot with an arrow, down. Wear some bloody ARMOUR!)

Elves were all beautiful, graceful, and intelligent. Dwarves were all grumpy, greedy and brave. Trolls were all... trollish. All right, maybe I’ll accept that one. And the magic, oh the magic. It was bloody everywhere! Mage guild this, necromancer that. Farmers must get home after a long night of toil, wipe their faces with a cloth and go to light a candle on the house fire, and think “FML, what I wouldn’t give to be able to get a glowing orb on the go like Fizzbang down the road”.

The exception for me was always Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. For all of its farce, which was a joy in itself, it was clearly a mirror of our own world, and showed the ludicrous nature of our own lives by refracting it through a fantasy lens. A great example comes from the very first book, The Colour Of Magic, where insurance is invented, and is shown to be effectively gambling on when your house will burn down. If it does, you win the cash! In another book, Lords and Ladies, Elves are seen as being predators from beyond, playing with humans that fall for their charm. Beautifully simple, and a great way of turning the genre on its head.

There is of course the white elephant in the room (on the page?) with George R.R. Martin, who everyone can agree has created a great medieval-esque world, but despite its genius and faux-realism, still has the dragons. Yes, I know people are excited about them, probably everyone except me, but I enjoyed the books more when it was about intrigue and battles. It’s not that I want to read medieval fiction rather than fantasy, as I love reading about a fictional world, and enjoy the grisly parts of the story that take place beyond The Wall. It’s just that something about the overpowered nature of the dragons seems out of place to me. Plus, some of the scenes in the books seem a little adolescent. Are women really aware of their breasts rubbing against cloth as they walk? I certainly don’t feel my baubles smacking around in my trousers as I’m wandering around.

Where was I?

So, yes, my attempt to give a bit of grounding to my text. Here are my pledges.

1. The fantasy genre has its “rules” as much as any, with plenty of description being one of its main elements. Fantastic lands come alive with details, or drown in them. Keeping my story action packed whilst still containing enough information to create a vivid landscape will be tough, but hopefully I’ll do all right. Martin certainly manages to keep everything going at a breakneck pace, except when it comes to describing food (luscious quail eggs overflowing with the golden nectar of the pya pya pya).

2. I will create warriors as warriors, whether male or female.

3. “Magic” will be a rare and much sought after commodity, able to curse and save, often at the same time.

4. Beasts will be beasts, driven by animalistic urges.

5. There will be no blanket “good” races or “bad” races.

6. Blood will flow.

7. I will try to show the full spectrum of humanity, from the lowest of deeds to the most noble, though they will not necessarily be rewarded, because....

8. There will be no fate.

This last point is the most important for me, as I have always felt that it detracted from any deed. If it was meant to be, where is the achievement?

So, I’m off to the Redsnow Baronies. May the Allfather watch over me, and keep the cheese from my narrative sandwich.

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