Tag Archives: reading

The Evolution of Fantasy

Fantasy as a genre has its origins in the myths and legends of ancient times.  These myths are often seen as primitive man’s attempts to explain the unexplainable.  Yet in modern times, we have explainations for almost everything… so why the interest in such things?  Personally, I think it is some attempt by us to recreate some of the mystery.  Some people turn to tabloids and conspiracy theories to spin wild tales… and the more mentally stable of us look to spin wild stories in other worlds.  But… I digress.  For this entry, I’ll go into a brief history of the genre of fantasy, talk a bit about some of the current trends of Epic Fantasy I’ve seen as a reader and a writer, and then write a bit about where I see the genre is headed.  I’ll also recommend some authors whose works I think are worthy of checking out.

The first ‘real’ fantasy authors included Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs who pioneered the field.  Tolkien and Robert E Howard’s many stories broadened it and yet opened it out into two very different areas.   Tolkien’s works gained more wide-stream attention, for a number of reasons, but Robert Howard’s various works still maintain a substantial following.  Other authors like C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander also had their parts.  These earlier authors often featured themes of good versus evil and heroes whose journeys and quests caused profound changes upon their worlds.  The overall themes and concepts tended to be heroes doing good things (or in the case of Conan, living by a barbarian code) as well as the tendency to reject technology and industrialism.  This was the general theme for the more popular and lasting epic and high fantasy for a while.  This changed somewhat with authors like Terry Brooks and David Eddings, who wrote less idealized stories, and more morally ambiguous characters.  Terry Goodkind, George RR Martin, Harry Turtledove and Robert Jordan led the way in the 1990’s with a host of epic fantasy series.  Fantasy became mainstream almost overnight, and the current round of epic fantasy began.  These authors virtually cast the mold for the ‘ideal’ Epic Fantasy series, with overnight blockbusters that continue to sell twenty plus years later.

That leads us into the current setting for Epic Fantasy, with my topic being about the current trends.  The changes brought on by the surge in readership in the 1990’s is still seen.  Authors like George RR Martin continue to sell books in the millions, have TV shows or movies, and have a massive fan base.  Their writing often includes morally ambiguous characters, convoluted plots, and severe, often drastic consequences for the characters as a consequence of their actions.  The pioneers of these types of books are often extremely proficient at both storytelling and manipulation of the reader’s emotions.  A disturbing trend, as I see it, is flood of books and authors who are not up to those standards.  The Epic Fantasy surge has led to dozens of series that come across as formulaic or rote.  There are a wide variety that follows the Campbellian Monomyth to the letter.  They have the main character on the Hero’s Journey.  They have the love interest.  They have the morally ambiguous companion/guide.  They have the mentor.  These stories check off all of the boxes, but they lack the passion and creativity of their predecessors.  Some authors have tried to replace that passion with grittiness or realism.  They often use anti-heroes or simply use lesser villains as the heroes (which can work, if done well) who turn the theme still darker and more ponderous.  In the rush to make money, fantasy has become exactly what we seek to avoid in real life: boring.  Other writers have sought to do something new or bold by changing the rules: fantasy worlds without magic or magic systems that work in some new or innovative way.  Yet I think in the roots, Fantasy started as escapism, a rejection of the world, if only for a short time, and a means to explore the imagination.  The trend of books that I’ve seen are book after book churned out by the big publishing houses, each looking for that next Robert Jordan or George RR Martin.  To me, at least as a reader, that gets old.  Fantasy, by its nature, is something that thrives on new and interesting, which is one reason we’ve seen the shift to urban fantasy around the turn of the century and more recently the expansion of steampunk.  Epic Fantasy has become too dark and too boring to be the inspiration to imagination it once was.

So what do I see in the future of epic fantasy?  As a genre, I think it hasn’t changed enough in recent times.  I think that new authors and new ideas will soon force it to change.   Evolution is a natural thing and something that will help that evolution along is the self-publishing market.  The variety of books that have become available means that new ideas and new blood is bound to shake things up.  Traditional publishing has stuck to what worked (which makes sense, they’re in the business of making money), but individuals, if they want to stand out, can’t afford to do that.  As a whole, I think we’ll see a lot of new ideas and concepts and hopefully some big changes overall in the market.

As a reference, here’s some authors and their books, both old and new, that are worth looking into for Epic Fantasy:

Robert Howard’s Conan series

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

David Eddings’ Belgariad

Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara

Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time

Lloyd Alexander’s Prydan series

David Weber’s Oath of Swords

Books and Authors I Recommend

I’m an avid reader, and something that I’ll freely admit is that I’m always looking for a new author or three to try out.   I have rather eclectic tastes, but I thought I’d write a bit about what authors I’m currently reading and what authors I recommend.  I’ll break it down by genre, because otherwise this would just become a long list, and who wants that?  This is just a broad overview and by no means covers everything off my shelves. 

Fantasy:

The obvious here is Tolkien.  The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are well known.  Less well known are some of his shorter fiction.  Farmer Giles of Ham is an excellent short novel, and often overlooked.  I’d also recommend David Eddings with two of his series: The Belgariad and the Elenium.  Both series are long enough to provide plenty of entertainment.  Raymond Feist’s Midkemia series (starting with Magician) is another good read, though it can be difficult to discern what order to read some of the books.  Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising is a more recent entry, and one of the few recently published fantasy stories that I could really get into.  Excellent characterization, amazing setting, tough decisions and good fighting evil are all blended together into an excellent story.

Urban Fantasy:

There’s a variety of urban fantasy, some of it very violent, some not so much.  Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series combines race cars with elves and some more classic fantasy elements as well as renn faires and dragons.  It’s highly entertaining and mostly PG, so a good read for kids.  Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles and his Monster Hunter series are both brilliant.  Both series contain lots of humor, over the top action, and an excellent knowledge of firearms and combat techniques.  John Ringo’s Princess of Wands is another excellent urban fantasy, with the twist that it’s a church-going soccer mom who’s fighting demons and necromancers.  Wen Spencer writes an excellent series of elves and parallel dimensions with Tinker and the rest of her Elfhome series.

Science Fiction:

The general area of science fiction is hard for me to nail down.  I’m drawn to the classics, if I’m recommending to a new reader.  Robert Heinlein’s works: Citizen of the Galaxy, The Moon is A Harsh Mistress, Orphans of the Sky, and The Menace from Earth are all excellent.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is definitely worth a read, though so popular in media that most readers of SF have already read it.  Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is a good read.    More recently, Eric Flint and Ryk Spoor’s Boundary is excellent science fiction.    Sarah Hoyt writes some very good science fiction with the Darkship Renegades, with a lot of excellent social and political commentary.

Military Science Fiction

This is my main area of interest at the moment, and unlikely to change any time soon.  Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, of course, takes pride of precedence.   David Weber has written a host of amazing science fiction books, especially his Honor Harrington series, but also his Imperium of Man series which starts with Mutineer’s Moon.  He’s also written several standalone books such as The Apocalypse Troll and Out of the Dark which are very good.  John Ringo is massively prolific, with a number of excellent series.  A Hymn Before Battle is an excellent near-future novel that starts a great series.   A bit of warning, the series currently ends in a cliff hanger with no final books to close it out in sight.  John Ringo’s team up with Travis Taylor in the Voyages of the Space Bubble series starts with Into the Looking Glass.  The series is excellent with lots of humor, great science, and tons of action.  Mike Shephard’s Kris Longknife series is another fun read, with a main character that has grown and developed over time.  David Drake has a number of excellent series, with Hammers Slammers being his most well known.  Another excellent new author is Leo Champion, whose Legion series has some serious combat and excellent overall story arc.

General Fiction

I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot of general fiction, and most of what I do read tends to edge towards the ‘techie’ or military spectrum anyway.   Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October is excellent, as is Without Remorse, Executive Orders, and Patriot Games.  Also good is Larry Correia and Mike Kupari’s Dead Six and Swords of Exodus, both military genre, though with elements of what I consider fantasy.  Tom Kratman’s Countdown series is excellent in that regard as well, though rather grim at times.

Classics

I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for some of the classics of literature.  Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson are all excellent reads, especially for children.  Mark Twain has a host of good stuff.  Almost everything by Jules Verne is absolutely excellent.

Conclusion:

I’m certain I’m missing an author or two here or there, and I know I’ve left out some books by different authors.  Still, if you’re anything like me, I highly recommend these authors and series.  Next week I’ll try to cover each genre, what I like and what I don’t, what themes I’m seeing as a reader and what I want to work on as a writer.

Renegades, Psychics, and Aliens, oh my…

The current series that has most of my attention is what I call the Mira universe. I’ve got one completed novel and six novellas as well as five or six short stories set in this universe. This is the universe in which the series Renegades is set. It is also the setting for the book The Fallen Race, coming soon to a Kindle near you. Additionally, I’ve got two more novels outlined and nearing completion in the same universe.

What is so interesting about this universe? I’m glad you asked. The Mira universe is set several hundred years in the future. I’ve set most of my stories in times of either great social upheaval or moments where military combat is common… and sometimes both. These are times where humanity, as a race, is at a cusp, the points where the actions of a few can turn the balance and change the fates of millions.

There’s some other fun things about this universe, both as a writer, and I hope, for those of you who read it. There are boundaries to explore, new worlds, distant space, and of course, the boundaries of the human mind and body. Some humans have developed psychic abilities, and they are a powerful minority. Dealing with the fear and uncertainty that normal people feel for those who can alter their perceptions or read their thoughts adds a layer of social dynamics. In addition, the psychics themselves deal with tough questions as they explore what it really is to be human… and if they really qualify. There are renegades and outcasts of all types: mutants, deserters, pirates and mercenaries. These men and women are often the dregs of society. However, the societal upheavals often put them in positions where they are given opportunities to redeem themselves… or to become scourges who write their names in blood across countless worlds.

And then there are the aliens. There are five highly advanced races that humans have encountered in this future. The Chxor are the emotionless and implacable invaders, who seek to supplant humanity as the reigning power. The Ghornath are friendly if temperamental, eight limbed and three meters tall, generous and honorable, and the most relatable to humans. The Wrethe are violent sociopaths, each a militantly individualistic carnivore that views even their own species as prey. The Iodans are alien and almost incomprehensible. And the Balor are the unknown menace, their advanced weapons and technology sweeps aside human defenses and seems determined to make humanity extinct. Exploring these alien races allows me, as a writer, to explore humans better. When confronted by the unknown and the alien, what responses do the characters have… and what similarities do we see in even the most alien of species?

In both the Renegades series and the upcoming novel The Fallen Race, humanity is pinched between two hostile alien races, both of which will bring about the extinction of our race. Human space is fractured, with the various nations embroiled in wars with one another. Technology is on the decline, as aliens and civil wars have destroyed key infrastructure. Piracy is common, indeed, the most powerful pirates are the Shadow Lords, human psychics whose fleets loot entire worlds and drag away the populations to be their thralls. Civilization is on the decline… the barbarians are at the gates.
The Renegades is a series that explores the efforts of a handful. In feudal Japan, they might be called ronin. In the American West, they would be desperadoes or gunslingers. These are men and women and a few aliens who have no home, no place. They are — with some exceptions — bad people who do bad things. Yet they also have the power to change history. They are people with nothing left to lose… and that makes them very dangerous.

The Fallen Race is similar in concept. It follows the crew of the battleship War Shrike, of the Nova Roma Empire. The ship is cut off after an ambush, heavily damaged and left without support. The ship’s captain is considered little better than a traitor by his own nation, despite numerous heroics, and his family’s history lays over his every accomplishment like a burial shroud. Yet they struggle to take a stand, to halt the steady grind of history before it churns everything they know and care about into the mud.

As a writer, both series allow me to explore the setting. The characters are products of their time, often flawed, sometimes tragically so, they are people, and their emotions and experiences feel as real and raw as those of real people. Everyone has a story; from the Pirate Tommy King, whose every good deed goes wrong, to the psychic Kandergain, whose own mother turned her into a weapon. There is a history here, which I love to explore, one that I hope to share with my readers… and I hope it is as fun to you as it is for me.

So, that’s what I’m working on now. Welcome, and feel free to look around. There will be a short story added to the free fiction section in the near future, something of a prequel to the events of Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy.

Kal’s Writing Worlds

Now that the insanity of Dragon*Con is past, I think it’s time to tell you all a bit about what I’m writing, what I’m working on, and most importantly, what I’ve got in the chute.

Currently, I’m actively writing in four universes. Two are space opera, one is straight military science fiction, and the last is an epic fantasy setting. I currently have four completed novels, six completed novellas, and some indeterminate number of short stories, all in these same four universes. Each of the novels is intended to be the first books of their own series, while the novellas are a series themselves.

I’ll go into more depth on each of the individual books in a later post, but I thought I’d give an overview here, and later on I’ll link the post here to those later posts.

My first published book, the novella Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption, is the first story in a serial that takes place in what I call the Mira universe. It’s a series of short stories and novellas that cover the adventures of a band of, well… renegades. The second novella, Renegades: The Gentle One, is set from the perspective of Ariadne, a psychic and all around nice person who just happens to light people on fire when she loses her temper. My novel, The Fallen Race, is also in this universe, and there is some overlap and interaction between the two series, mostly in the big events but sometimes in individual characters as well. The Fallen Race is a hundred and twenty thousand word novel and is set around five years after the Renegades series begins. The Fallen Race is the story of Captain Lucius Giovanni, the captain of a warship whose nation and home have fallen to aliens and who seeks to take a stand and make a difference.

My military science fiction setting is the Star Portal setting. In it, a very distant cluster of colonies has become separated from Earth. Alone, they’ve encountered several hostile alien races. In wars of vast scale they’ve managed to survive, but most worlds suffer as protectorates of the core colonies and the Star Guard. My first novel in this setting is Fenris Unchained which is a hundred thousand word novel. Fenris Unchained follows the story of a sister and brother who get dragooned into helping to stop a berserk automated warship from destroying a planet.

The third setting is what I call the Eden universe, and my first book in that is the Eden Insurrection. This universe is set several thousand years in the future. Technology, society, and humanity itself have stagnated and the power brokers within the Confederation prefer it that way. Several waves of colonization have spread humanity in a vast sprawl across the galaxy. In the Eden Insurrection, various factions of humanity seek to seize power within the Confederation and to forge it into a weapon to seize still more power. It is a complex story, with varied plots and morally ambiguous characters.

The last setting is my take on epic fantasy, with the novel Echo of the High Kings. I’ve personally grown frustrated with the slew of generic epic fantasy novels I’ve seen. Particularly where magic is poorly understood or virtually nonexistent, yet technology is undeveloped. I’m also sick of the characters who seem to be recycled from multiple books: the archetypical hero, the scoundrel, the damsel in distress. Or the writer goes the other way and has characters so morally ambiguous they can’t pull on their boots without stabbing someone in the back. The characters in these books are real people, with complex motivations as well as reasoning and logic to their behavior. I also did my own take on magic, one where I applied scientific method to how wizards develop magic. Here the magic has rules, and follows some fundamental physics. Conservation of energy is a big one… so are the principles of thermodynamics. But I think I kept most of that off scene, so for those of you (like me) who hate the math… well, just set back and enjoy the ride.

So that’s what I’m currently working on. The first novel in the chute is The Fallen Race, which dependent upon real world stuff, I should have out sometime near the end of September or early October. The next novel out after that will be Echo of the High Kings, my epic fantasy. All of this is being self-published, and will be made available on Amazon and Smashwords (and through them, their affiliates: B&N, Sony, and Apple stores). My goal is to publish a novella a month, but as I’m also active duty military, that could be somewhat problematical. Since I’m doing this in my (limited) free time, as well as writing… well, I’m doing what I can to get them out. If you like what you see, please tell others. They can find my stuff on Amazon or Smashwords or just follow the Buy My Books link at the top of the page. Monetary incentive means I’ll work harder at getting things written, edited, and published.

News Update

Just a quick news update and some admin-type stuff to start the day.

First off, my first entry to epublishing is now live.  Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption is now available from Amazon and Smashwords (links below).   Renegades is a serial of novellas that follow a band of misfits on their journey through space.  The series will have multiple stories from different characters, some long, and some quite short.  The overall setting is several hundred years in the future when humanity lies on the verge of catastrophe, attacked by not just one, but two alien races.  To make things worse, the various nations and factions of humanity are at odds.   Deserter’s Redemption is the first of these stories and Mike and his new ‘friends’ will have to struggle to escape a prison station where survival is measured in hours.

http://www.amazon.com/Renegades-Deserters-Redemption-ebook/dp/B00ETTND0C/

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/351853

The other topic I’d like to address are blog posts.  Everyone likes to have a little regularity in their lives.  I’m not talking about dietary fiber; I’m talking about when a reader might want to check in to see if I’ve posted anything.  I plan to post blog entries three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Monday posts will discuss me, as an author, and my writing, and maybe some samples or sections from works in progress.  Wednesday posts I’ll discuss books, authors, movies and other entertainment stuff.  Friday posts I’ll blog about current events, cool things in science, and generally interesting information.

One more thing, I’m headed to Dragon*Con this weekend, so expect a few posts about the event and probably some pictures as well.