Archive for June, 2012

Setting a new world record, Bryan Thomas Schmidt is now the first person to have written two guest blog posts here. His first was about creating relatable characters. I’m honored that he wrote another significant post for me and Dionysus in the bar, this time on a perennial question in fantasy and science fiction circles: what is epic? Btw, the second book in Bryan’s Saga of Davi Rhii was released just yesterday. The man writes epic-fun space opera, his work ethic is epic-inspiring, and he is an epic-awesome friend. We hope to see you in the comments!

Before I turn this over to Bryan, here are some other great posts on this subject from the fantasy side. N.K. Jemisin wrote one of the most interesting things I’ve read on What is Epic Fantasy? Chloe Smith at Fantasy-Faction covered good ground in “What Makes Epic Fantasy ‘Epic’?” And Clarkesworld featured what is indeed an epic discussion of epic fantasy (and because there’s always a sequel, part 2) featuring 26 popular authors, one agent, and an editor discussing the heart of Epic Fantasy. I’ll add some quick thoughts to the comments on this post.

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The Returning by Bryan Thomas SchmidtWhat does it mean when a story is described as epic? Epic fantasy comes to mind as do historical epics, and epic romances. These are common associations in which people use the term “epic” to describe stories or genres. But in science fiction, space operas are the typical subgenre with which the term “epic” is most associated. Per the dictionary, epic means “long story; long poems about legendary heroes; sagas or prose epics about famous men and women, especially of medieval times; synonyms: heroic poem, legend, narrative, saga, tale; antonym: short story.

Okay, so now that we’ve clarified that. Yeah, right, doesn’t help much.

When I interview authors and ask them to describe epic fantasy, terms like “high stakes,” “good versus evil,” and “save the world quests” are commonly thrown out. George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire, the basis of HBO’s popular Game Of Thrones TV spectacle is epic fantasy. So is The Lord Of The Rings and stories like Wheel Of Time, Terry Goodkind’s Sword Of Truth, Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance. The list could get quite long, but you probably get the idea. So let’s look at what’s epic on the science fiction side: Star Wars is considered an epic saga, along with Frank Herbert’s Dune series, TV series like Babylon 5FarscapeBattlestar GalacticaStar Trek, and Firefly, even Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Space Odyssey novels.

What makes these stories epic?

Epic stories take place on a large scale. They typically occur on more than one planet or across an entire continent or planet (in epic fantasy and historicals) with large casts of characters and complicated storylines. Political maneuvering tends to play a big role as do romance and battles against incredible odds and very ruthless antagonists. Heroes may work in groups, typically just a few in number, or they may work alone. Usually there is a mentor character of some sort and a sense of coming of age for the protagonist in some way, although exceptions do exist.

Epic stories tend to have large set pieces: scenes with large armies or many ships or vehicles or people involved, most often in battles. They tend to have lots of action and melodrama, although this doesn’t have to be of the exaggerated community theatre-type. Often differences in ideologies play a part such as the Dark and Light sides of the force in Star Wars or the different parties chasing the One Ring in Middle Earth. Quite often large families are involved or at least several generations of a family such as the Skywalkers, the Baggins, the Rahls, etc. Many times a member of the family has betrayed the rest or the family has split into factions. Sometimes there’s a lost prodigal. And sometimes there’s romantic competition.

The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Last but not least, epic stories tend to have many creatures. This can take the form of mystical beings like dwarves, elves, trolls, etc. or aliens from other planets. Usually they are sentient beings and can communicate with each other somehow. Often they conflict over culture, needs and goals. But they all tend to be players in the larger drama in some way. Whether historical or fantastical,  epic stories always project a sense of history, a largeness, as if the world and its populace have existed long before the immediate story and will exist long after. There’s a historical stage on which events take place, whether real or make believe and its implications for the larger world and its inhabitants tend to be high stakes. Overall, the story tends to involve a quest or journey the outcome of which has bearing on a lot more than just one individual’s life.  In adventure fantasy, like sword and sorcery, you might have a lone hero saving damsels or fighting bad guys to win glory or prove his honor, but the outcome is much more about his personal journey than the entire history of the world or planet itself. Epic stories tend to involve earthshaking consequences for the whole world itself.

All of these are common themes one can find in epic stories as we tend to encounter them today. I’m sure you’ll recognize many of the elements from the stories mentioned but I’ll bet you can think of other stories with these elements. Moses’ The Black God’s War and my own Saga of Davi Rhii are epic stories, for example. What are some other elements I didn’t mention which you think should be on the list?  What are some of your favorite epic stories and why do you like them? I look forward to dialoguing with you about that below.

In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

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My good buddy and editor Joshua Essoe has succeeded in pulling me out of guest blog hibernation. The result is this incredibly strange post I wrote over at The Fictorians for those considering going indie. It features some good resources, and even a little advice (warning: the advice comes from me).

I need to add a lot of new bloggers’ reviews of The Black God’s War to my ‘book’ page above, but here’s one I have to share today. This one felt like a soul kiss. Thank you, Nina Post! It’s all good. We’re both married.

p.s. the email notifications haven’t been working on my blog recently. If you got an email about this one, there are three recent posts you may have missed, including a post about where the heck I’ve been for the last five months. EDIT: Those darn notifications still aren’t working. Hmph.

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12
Jun

Best Dragon Quote Ever? From Rilke

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III    in Inspiration, Poetry

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

From Rainer Maria Rilke (context):

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”

I found it in the comments on a Lev Grossman post about “The Best Thing Anybody Ever Said About Fantasy.” Some great stuff there.

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Fahrenheit 451I sat in a movie theater re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for an hour before Prometheus began. Terrible decision. Turrible decision.

Fahrenheit 451 is a masterful clarion call from 1951 warning us about dumbed-down, soulless, unconscious modern life: quick electronic entertainment over real relationships; staying numb rather than asking real questions; doing things the same old way instead of seizing the now.

Bradbury was Socrates asking us to examine our lives, to think rather than follow the herd. Thoreau calling us to live authentically. Jesus raising our vision to much greater things. Buddha reminding us of the suffering of others and calling us to put our feet on the path to enlightenment.

Prometheus is no District 9, a sci-fi movie which understood that speculative fiction can be mindlessly entertaining and possess uplifting social consciousness. Prometheus is the kind of entertainment that could have played the role of antagonist in Fahrenheit. Not that there’s anything wrong with mindless entertainment now and then (for the record, I really enjoyed The Avengers). It’s just going to induce some of the best parts of your nature to snooze more deeply, particularly when the end product is mediocre. Storytellers, we can do better. Audiences and readers deserve better.

Prometheus features gorgeous special effects, it’s nice and subtle in 3-D, but it’s cheap horror in outer space. It’s Hollywood. It’s fine for what it is, which is a spinoff on Alien/Aliens (better movies). If that’s what you’re looking for, then go see Prometheus. Disposable, one-dimensional characters who prevent your suspension of disbelief? Likable characters who turn into invincible killer space gorillas? B-Grade horror movie flashbacks? Action without humor? Prometheus has all of that. Go see it.

Then, when you need to put the pieces of your soul back together (and you will–whether you realize it or not), do yourself a favor and read Fahrenheit 451 afterward.

That will blow your mind. Completely.

p.s. Please check out one of the best tributes to Ray Bradbury I’ve read this week, from Stephen Hubbard at BookReporter.com: Farewell, Ray.

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Sasha Siregar was born in January. Here she is in one of her not-so-secret roles:

The Fairy Queen

Sasha, The Fairy Queen

She joined Athens, our 5-year-old son, and now we have the matching set. Becoming a Dad all over again has made me think hard about who I want to be when I grow up.

This year, while searching his soul, Dad has been spending time with son, coaching T-Ball, playing D&D with friends, and making some money.

Head Coach and Leadoff Hitter for "The Purple Spies"

I’ve been asking myself if I’m still committed to the writing dream. Smarter people than I have said that if you can quit, you probably should. But thanks to the people who have read my first book and gone on this journey with me, I can’t. Not today.

This saga that I’ve started (Splendor and Ruin) has another couple of big books left in it. Outside of being responsible to the people around me there’s nothing I want to do more than to write these books. And after I write these two books, I really want to write more.

One critical thing helped me get back on track. Over the last ten months, I’ve sold over 3,000 copies of my novel and given away roughly 20,000 free copies. In March, Amazon matched iTunes’ free price on my novel for six days, leading to 12,000 free downloads. I waited, expecting to get killed by reviews from so many new readers who downloaded a freebie that “just wasn’t for them.” Instead, I got so many kind reviews and many more kind emails. I shit you not one bit, my readers gave me the boost I needed. You told me that I should keep writing.

When I wrote The Black God’s War over the course of two years (the only book I’ve ever attempted), it looked like Mt. Everest. And before I attended my third Superstars Writing Seminar a month ago, book 2 looked just as difficult to climb. But after the seminar, my perspective changed.

I am going to pour all I’ve got into the next two books in this trilogy, but I’m already looking down the road, seeing that these books aren’t huge mountains in front of me anymore. These are books I’m going to write as if they were the last things I will ever get the chance to write, and then–Universe willing–I’m going to quickly move on and write more.

I want to get back into blogging regularly, but if I don’t, I can almost guarantee you that it’s because I’m writing. Because over the last month, I have been totally recommitted to these books. Do or do not. There is no try. And I love the way books 2 and 3 are coming together.

I’d like to get book 2 out by the end of 2012, but that might be too ambitious. We’ll see. I’m definitely giving it all I’ve got, and I’m shooting for mid-2013 at the latest. I want to thank everyone out there who is looking forward to book 2, THE GODS DIVIDED. I know one little guy who can’t wait to see it (especially the map–he loves the maps):

 

My Biggest Fan

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