Fantasy … a rambling Chat about genre and Story Types

This is by way of a rambling  chat – it isn’t an introduction.  This is more the kind of thing you’d chat about with a mate who likes reading Fantasy novels, or one who  might be interested…. I can’t give you a definitive answer asdungeoncloseup to what Fantasy fiction is, I think it’s too broad for that. If you want an proper answer go check the Encyclopedia of fantasy⁠1 on your phone, or even better the book version. What this is –  is what I feel Fantasy fiction is. It’ll be very biased, I’m gonna miss out loads of worthy stuff that you ought to read (emphasis on Ought) and instead tell you about all the cool stuff you are going to love to read instead. I think so anyway, feel free to disagree..

When I grew up, loads of people told me about great books to read, I guess I want to pass that on, not just the old stuff , the new stuff too. I went for a drink with a pal who’d never heard of Fafhrd or the Gray Mouser and it got me thinking, what if there’s other people missing out on these great stories, and what if there are great stories that I’m  missing out on too?  I’m going to upset publishers now by saying I don’t like the words Urban fantasy and Epic fantasy, on the back of book,s because they seem a bit narrow. So these are how I think stories ought to be described, more by the type of story they are, than by an attempt to market them.

These are the old ways….

Urban Fantasy / Our world fantasy e.g.Neverwhere

Epic Fantasy / Other world fantasy e.g. Lord of the Rings

 

But what about Traveller Fantasy

This is the stuff where you get to go back and forward between the real world and the fantasy one.  Some examples? Chronicles of Narnia, Lord Foul’s Bane,  even Harry Potter,  because if you think about it Hogwarts has very little to do with our world (especially in the early novels.)

But that doesn’t help me choose a story to read, one I’ll love,vampire tapestry

So what about stories where there isn’t one hero, there’s a real sense of politics and power. What about Steampunk,  or fantasy horror, like Unicorn Tapestry or the Interview with the Vampire. Anne Rice isn’t really Horror, it’s brilliant stuff but apart from the word Vampire, is it scary? Does it make you shudder like HP Lovecraft or Steven King?

What about tales where you follow a few characters throughout the story, where you know who the heroes are and follow them through the story?

James Barclay and George R Martin, and Stella Gemmell write great stories but they aren’t the same as Thieves’ world or Waylander or Broken Sword.  Maybe they don’t need a separate genre but I’d like to know that one set of stories were Epic, and one were Adventure/Heroic. Maybe this isn’t genre, maybe this is  story type. Elric of Melnibone and  Dakeyras have more in common with Richard Mayhew (from Neverwhere)  than they do with Tyrion from Game Of Thrones.  Because they are quest/hero stories,

Story Types (not Genre)

Epic

  • James Barclay
  • George R Martin
  • Stella Gemmell

Adventure/Heroic  (character fantasy)

  • Dragonbone chair
  • Broken Sword (Northern Fantasy)
  • Wizard of Earthsea
  • Daggerspell
  • The Way of Wyrd

 

and this isn’t perfect, because what about   Tigana, Flatland or  Seventh Son

 

 

Styles of fantasy

Here then are my fave styles of Fantasy and this cuts it up differently

  • Magic  and Magicians: (Rhialto the Marvellous, Harry Potter, Books of Magic
  • Elves and Goblins: (Dragonlance, Lord of the Rings)
  • Swords and Demons: ( Gemmell, Moorcock, Robert E Howard, Poul Anderson)
  • Tales of Fear and Wonder: (Lovecraft and MR James)
  • Thieves and Rogues: (Lankmar, Thieve’s World, The Gentleman Bastard)
  • People:  (Daggerspell, Anything by Anne McCaffrey)

 

So that’s my take on it, what do you think?

 

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1 http://sf-encyclopedia.co.uk/fe.php

Confessions

Confessions

starThe blue star turns in the hallway, slowly as you stand  before the  unmarked stone door, she begins to speak slowly as if to herself:

“Theocrates has told me somewhat of the Aes Sidhe. I thought that Kharon was the greater enemy. When he escaped  – aided by his Mistress Sthenno, one of the serpent ones, the Aes Sidhe persuaded our family to seal him in with astral locks upon a Sidhe door. When the seals were loosened my father did send me to reseal them. Now though I am not sure which is worse Kharon or the Aes Sidhe.    The Sidhe seem no better than Kharon and his folk. You need to decide  – should Kharon be released or imprisoned, sealed away from Epirus and the Hellenic Trio of elder folk  trapped beneath Underdark.   Kharon could not have broken my father’s locks if the doors were not already weakened.  There is a change coming and we are here at the turning of the tide. If the Minos, Drake and Gorgones are released they will  bring great danger but the Mana flows will be released and magic will no longer be the half starved force that it has become. This is a time of change, and you are standing in the eye of it all. This is a pivot in the turning of Hellas.”

Episode Three: Strange Meetings

Episode Three: Strange Meetings and Confessions (PDF Version with illustration)

Night had fallen and Theocrates was exhausted. He had been walking for days pondering his next move and trying to put as much distance between himself and trouble as possible. Things had not gone well since he and Atticus had deserted from the army and their relationship had become somewhat strained before Atticus had struck out on his own. His attempt to return to his old trade of Blacksmith had gone badly. His gamble on using a batch of substandard steel had been disastrous and an entire consignment of one hundred sword blades had failed spectacularly. The Aes Sidhe princeling who had ordered them might forget the coin missing from his purse, but would never forgive the embarrassment caused.

Ahead of him loomed a grove of Cyprus trees, at last, shelter for the night. On entering the grove, Theocrates was dismayed to discover the corpses of half a dozen Kobolos. They had been brutally butchered and the ground was strewn with severed heads and limbs, their entrails hung from the tree branches like gory ropes, the grass was slick with blood.  The trees were withered and strangely faded. He made a quick search of the area and managed to retrieve two short bows, with arrows and a dagger. It was while he was examining this that he became aware of a glowing blue light in one of the trees.

Approaching it as close as he dared, he threw a stone at in an attempt to dislodge it. He was answered by a bolt of blue light that burnt his skin.

“Why did you attack me?” asked the blue light.

Theocrates apologised for his actions and the light revealed itself to be Estevar, a star,  who explained that the dead Kobolos had been the guardians of a key. Now the key had been stolen from them a great evil was on the point of being released from the Underworld. “The others who are on a mission to prevent this will need help.”

Offering his services, Theocrates asked Estevar to lead him to the others. She led him, quickly to the pit leading to the underground passage. Before climbing down, Theocrates stripped off his armour and threw it down first. It landed in the passageway with a soft thud.

 * * *

Meanwhile, deeper underground, Logan, Atticus and Yanis were standing in complete darkness in a side tunnel bemoaning the fact that none of them had thought to bring a lantern with them.

“Quiet,” hissed Logan, “I can hear something back down the corridor.”

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, the three travellers retreated further down the corridor and realised that they were now standing in the entrance to a side room. A room from which they could hear the noise of fluttering and a high pitched yapping, like small dogs.

Atticus drew his sword and stepped into the room as Logan illuminated it with a light spell. The dazzling radiance revealed three Kobolds, who Yanis tried to distract by throwing a handful of copper coins into the room, his plan failed and the Kobolds ignored them. Atticus lunged forward swinging his sword, the first Kobold exploded in a mist of blood as its lifeless corpse thudded against the wall. Yanis attacked the second Kobold with his spear and failed to strike it, the creature was all but cut in half by Atticus.

From behind them came the pounding of footsteps and a familiar blue light, “It’s just the glow worm,” muttered Logan.

Theocrates burst into the room and stood shoulder to shoulder with his old comrade in arms. The last creature, realising that it was trapped with its back to a wall tried to run between the two ex-soldiers and was struck down by Theocrates’ flail.

The fight being over, Theocrates and Atticus renewed their acquaintance with friendly cries of “Atticus! Well met!” and “Give me my money back!”

By the blue glow of Estevar, Yanis noticed something glittering in a small niche. This turned out to be a small metallic owl, which started to move as soon as Logan picked it up. Estevar explained that it was an Owl of Athena, worked by clockwork, when activated it could be used to carry simple messages. At the mention of Athena’s name the owl turned into a solid statue. When Logan turned the owl over in his hand he noticed a sigil in the shape of a bull’s head stamped into the metal.

The party started to follow the corridor, which was very narrow; the walls decorated with carved friezes depicting the Aes Sidhe. Logan, at the head of the group, felt a flagstone shift beneath his foot and threw himself backwards into Theocrates’ arms. As he did, four darts shot out from holes in the frieze with a soft a ‘phut’ and smashed into the opposite wall.

Yanis edged his way to the front of the party and produced a roll of tools from his pack. From this he took a series of steel spikes, which he deftly wedged into the cracks between the flagstones effectively disabling the trap.

The party now found themselves at the edge of a charnel pit of unknown depth, filled to the brim with a jumble of bones. From the pit came a thin, but menacing hissing sound.

Fearing another trap they decided to proceed with extreme caution. Theocrates took the dagger he had found earlier that night and threw it across the gap. It landed with a clatter on the far side of the pit – nothing happened. He then went back to the side room and returned carrying the carcass of a Kobold which he threw into the pit. For a moment all went dark – even Estevar’s light was extinguished. When the light retuned, the body of the Kobold lay on the pile of bones untouched. They examined the roof above the pit, which appeared to be solid and encrusted with stalactites.

Theocrates then placed one foot onto the bone pile and pressed down – again nothing happened. He placed his second foot on the bones, in the moment before the darkness came they saw the roof begin to drop. Something struck Theocrates, bouncing off of his armour and causing him no harm. He lashed out with his flail and felt it land a solid blow.

Light dawned- and they realised with horror that what they thought was the roof, was in fact a huge tentacled creature clinging to the rock above them. A creature that was now badly injured.

Theocrates leapt the gap, landing safely and shouted a warning to his companions. The bones were alive with snakes. Atticus attempted the jump and was also successful. Yanis stepped up to the edge of the pit, drew his bow and fired upwards. The arrow disappeared into the nightmare body above him and a moment later the creature crashed into the pit, sending bone shards flying and effectively sealing the snakes in beneath its body. Using the creature’s corpse as a bridge, Yanis and Logan joined their companions as they stood before a door….

 

 

 

Episode Two: Danger in the Dark

Logan, Yanis and Atticus found themselves standing in the entrance to a large, dimly lit room. The thin grey light filtering in through an arrow slit to their right revealed a clutter of fallen masonry and detritus which seemed to be concentrated in the far corner. From ahead came a faint noise, which might have been whispering and giggling. The three companions entered the room cautiously.

From behind a barricade of rocks in the corner of the room came a screech of ‘Bugger off’ and a badly aimed javelin, which skidded harmlessly across the floor. They could now make out a couple of Kobolos moving about.Yanis fitted an arrow to his bow and shot at the closest – the arrow struck it in the shoulder, but although it bit deep it was not enough to take the creature down. From behind him Yanis could hear Logan muttering as he prepared a spell. Uttering the war cry of his old mercenary band, Atticus drew his sword and charged forward – the move was misconceived as he had failed to notice a trip snare, the razor sharp wire nearly severed his foot and the war cry turned to a howl of pain. Estevar positioned herself above and behind the travellers giving off a brilliant blue light which blinded the Kobolos whose next javelins also went wide.

Yanis tried another shot with his bow, the arrow flew wide, shattering as it struck the wall of the chamber. With a triumphant shout Logan unleashed his spell – the bolt struck the Kobolos full in the chest hurling it back into the wall and filling the room with the stench of burnt flesh and singed hair. Atticus, overriding the pain in his foot leapt forward swinging his sword and cutting the second Kobolos in half at the waist. Yanis administered a healing potion to Atticus and decided to explore the far doorway – triggering another wire snare, but avoiding injury by a timely duck. The doorway led to the portcullis which proved to be a dead end as it led back to Valtos and the welcoming arms of Featherstone.

From a doorway in the corner of the room the travellers could hear the sounds of movement, a strange clicking sound – skeletons they wondered. In an attempt to lure the occupants of the room out, Logan cast a distraction spell and the sound of something in distress came from the middle of the room. From the doorway came a voice ‘Continue looking’ and a pair of skeletons. Unfortunately there was no trip wire and one skeleton attacked Atticus the other attempted to reach Logan.

To Yanis the fight was a blur, Atticus failed to hit his attacker and was struck down, Yanis also failed to land a blow. The next thing that he remembered clearly was a couple of piles of steaming bones, the reek of magic and the desperate race to pour another healing draught between Atticus’ lips before he bled out. When they entered and searched the room they discovered a large circular hole in the floor from which was coming the sound of a great wind. Leaning cautiously over the edge of the hole and using Estevar as illumination, Yanis noticed a series of iron staples hammered into the walls of the hole – the party used these to climb down into the Underdark.

Ahead of them they could hear a couple of orcs approaching, rather than start a fight Logan levitated a stone and sent it crashing down behind them. The orcs fell for the trick and turned back to investigate giving the party the chance to duck into a side corridor. A corridor that led to ….

 

 

Episode One: Stars in the Deep

Here’s the first episode in our Story Game: Time of the Gorgons

YANBUS 12TH   1508

Yanis ‘the sly’, a renegade Sorceror Logan and Atticus (a mercenary from the north of Makedonia) meet in Taverna Stefanos, a restaurant bar in the village of Valtos. The three have taken shelter out of the howling winds and torrential rains that seem to have swept in early from the north. The weather is unlike anything that they have seen before. Winter it seems has come early to Valtos.

Atticus has never been this far south before, he left his mercenary band on the Makedonian border with his great friend Theocrates to try and get better luck further south. So far he hasn’t been very successful. Theocrates and Atticus parted ways over an argument about the route. The last Atticus saw of his friend was the old soldier plodding over the horribly flat terrain to the Nekromanteion  of Acheron,  a temple dedicated to the underworld and supposedly a  portal following the great river Acheron many miles underground to Under world. Yanis and Logan met on the road north of Valtos and are sitting at a small table when Atticus enters the bar bearing arms and dressed in military garb. Atticus looks over and sees a scrawny youth in a long travelling coat with a great broad brimmed hat on the  shelf beside him, and an older wretch who keeps looking at the table and then at the front door.

Jereko, a raggedy bartender warns him that the Aes Sidhe garrison are passing through from Preveza and that they will kill any peasant seen carrying weapons. Atticus reluctantly hands over his battered great sword and pretends to be old friends with the two travellers in the corner. As the Bartender walks over with their drinks, they see that he walks with a limp, and covers his legs. They realise that this is no man but a Satyr in disguise.

The garrison guards barge into the taverna and demand food and drink, they are all of them Aes Sidhe, with the pale skin and distinctive eyebrows that mark their kin.  As they take all the remaining chairs, and block all the heat Yanis grumbles under his breath and is horrified to discover that the captain Featherstone has heard him across the wide taverna. The tall sidhe stares at him with cold eyes and Yanis is sure that he is now marked. In an attempt to calm things down the bartender Jeriko plies the garrison with strong Robola wine. Atticus slips out the back recovering his sword from the chicken coop, Yanis and Logan slip out the front door, but Yanis cannot resist the opportunity to bump passed one of the guards as he returns from the bar and steal his purse.

 

THE CYPRESS GROVE

‘Help, you’ve got to help’

In front of you a man in ragged clothing stumbles into the clearing, his clothing is torn  and the air  holds the faint scent of mould. A few moments later, three arrows come shooting out of the tall Cypress grove  striking the man down. A few moments from that four creatures (Kyparissos Kobalas) come running and grunting into the clearing.

They take one look at the ragged man and start screaming in Kobalissos :

– ‘Asuk Klaiif !!’  “give us back  the key!”

One of the Kobolos is braver than the others, his name is Rip and he moves forward as the adventurers search  the dead man’s body.

Inside his pockets are a worn diary in Greek, and a  tarnished silver key about the length of a man’s  forefinger, held on a piece of chewed and stinking leather. The head of the key is shaped like a star. Suddenly there is a murmuring in the trees, and a rattling as if someone is shaking a bag of bones. They  look down to discover that the corpse of the man is beginning to move.  The corpse rolls over onto its stomach, half of its shoulders seem to move, and as he raises his head you can see  a great slab of his face is sliding off to reveal the skull beneath. The skeleton arises and moves swiftly to attack,  desperate to recover the key  that has been stolen from it.  A Fight ensues in which Atiicus misses, Logan jumps up onto a rock,  casts magic and crushes the skeleton with his quarterstaff

They camp overnight in the Cypress grove, and then travel to the abandoned monastery on the coast peninsular where they meet with Jereko and an old fish smuggler called Andros Stefanos. Andros is master of The Rising Sun a battered old ship, that is more than it appears.  Andros pilots them to the southern edge of the peninusla, and lets them off at:

THE FORTRESS

 

They Are Attacked by a Wild Cat, Its roaring shrieks deafen them,  and its hideous visage, as it reveals its skull head causes Yanis to flee. They kill the wild cat,  which they surmise to be a Krenshar an uncover a wealth of coins on the gnawed corpse of a warrior clad in chainmail. They hardly have time to wonder who he might have been before they encounter a strange star creature who calls herself Estevar.

She tells them that the Kyparissos Kobolos are protectors of a key, a key to a portal that keeps something imprisoned. The portal lies deep beneath the abandoned fortress in the lime mines that have been used as a charnel pit, a midden for the corpses of heretics, murderers and thiefs for the last 200 years.

Something in the castle is using the dead to do her bidding, to steal the keys and unlock the portal. Estevar guesses that whatever is beneath the portal is  weakening the bonds of the spell and using it to lend power to the  Liche, the undead sorceress  who the Kobalos Rip called  ‘she, she Glykeria.

 

 

 

Meme stories

Stories are a kind of mutation engine. There are evolving story memes and they change in the night, when you aren’t looking or when you tell your child a fairy story you were told when you were little. This morning I was telling my son about Theseus and the Minotaur. I’m sure I got half the facts wrong but maybe, in a story that can be an evolution thing. . Stories can fill us with joy or frighten the bejeesus out of me. There is a place for great storys, things that entertain and do not feel the need to educate or inform. If they do that by accident then that’s okay. I just don’t want an author to push their soap box theory down my throat. I’m hoping that my stories don’t, if you read one and find it does please feel free to press the ‘big red button’ or let me know.

Dead Walkers

Caught between the two worlds, this one and the next, Dead Walkers are the spirit and sometimes the bodies of those who refuse to stay in the Realm of Death.  Filled with horrible strength and a terrifying thirst for warm tendons and ligaments, Dead Walkers are a horror that most travellers are grateful never to have encountered.

‘The Dead rise up, but more often they descend to the lands of knowledge, the darkness between our feet that knows all. The ones who return to us are caught by a stronger purpose, a stronger mission. They have lost their way, or they have an oath to fulfil before they have finished with this mortal realm.’

A seasoned Arassian explorer

A great read

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

Brilliant fantasy adventure set in a world reminiscent of Venice, the language is strong and fierce, for these ARE Gentleman Bastards in every sense of the word.  Lynch is obviously a fan of historical novels

Cover of

Cover of The Lies of Locke Lamora

this book reads like Oliver Twist, the Count of Monte Cristo and perhaps most of all, the Godfather. Our hero is definitely cast from the same mould as the Gray Mouser, Hanse/Shadowspawn and the artful Dodger  – a rogue of the highest order. He may be useless with a sword (how refreshing is that in fantasy) but he can lie, cheat, steal and swindle with consummate flair. He reminds me of Lestat, so arrogant that you ought to hate him but you can’t help loving him. The rest of the cast are beautifully drawn, in some scenes they feel a little archetypal  but it doesn’t detract at all. By the end of the book  I felt Cliffhanger Fear – I’ve had it before… author fails to tie up all the threads of a novel calling it a cliffhanger so that you have to wait for book two. Lynch, wonderfully doesn’t do that though. It’s a harum scarum dash to the finish with banquet scenes, death defying leaps, plots to destroy the city foiled and deadly duels fought.

I’ve finished a Matthew Reilly recently and it was too high octane, too much rush and no pause, let or rhythm to let the reader recover. I found it frustrating because I wanted to love the book but just couldn’t. Lynch doesn’t make that mistake, he lets the action pause with characters licking their wounds, cuts to other scenes or flashbacks to our Lying Bastard rogue’s childhood. It works because when the action cuts back in you find yourself reeling again. Lynch doesn’t pull his punches, people get hurt here and you find yourself caring.

It’s been a while since a book made me desperate to read book 2, but this one has done it. Roll on  Red Seas under Red Skies….

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