Just to let you know. My next book should be out in the next few days - Roar. It's an epic fantasy about a wizard who got transformed into a lion in a magic battle and wants nothing more than to be able to return to his former shape. Of course nothing's ever that simple!
Here's the cover done by Cathy Walker. Looks brilliant!
Wednesday, 3 October 2018
Thursday, 9 August 2018
Been a while since I posted last – what else is new?! But recently I was on Facebook and someone asked a question that prompted me to do some thinking and it occurred to me that it might be good to put my thoughts down in pixels. They might be useful to some of you out there working on your own books.
So the question that was asked is – what makes a good villain? Which is in my view a damned good question.
Often in epic fantasy we concern ourselves with the heroes. Painting them in all sorts of glorious shades of emotion and tragedy, giving them feet of clay and heads in the clouds. We pour our hearts and souls into them – and very often they turn out to be an idealised version of ourselves. The people we would want to be.
There's nothing wrong with that of course. It's probably the heart of heroic fantasy. Though of course a common criticism of epic fantasy writers is that the heroes are just not real. And that's probably true – but my response is pretty much always going to be – it's fantasy mate, get over it!
Having said that a lot of people didn't get over it, and as a result the genre of grimdark was born. So this is the fantasy of Game of Thrones etc where everyone is flawed and even good people do bad things.
Now personally I'm not a lover of grimdark though obviously a lot of people are. But to me the thing that screams most loudly, is the fact that the characters of grimdark are just as unreal as the heroes of heroic fantasy. At the heart of the genre is this idea that everyone is inherently both good and evil – which is probably true to an extent – and that all that is needed are the right conditions to bring the evil to the fore. The problem with this of course is that as I look around at the people I know in whatever capacity, I can't imagine any of them actually rushing out raping and pillaging the moment society breaks down a little. Yes people do contain good and evil, but in nearly all cases the good far outweighs the evil.
Now here's where I come to the question of villains. What makes a good one? And the first thing I can say is that the one thing I don't want in a villain is to identify with him. I don't want to think that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Some people may. I simply don't. I don't want a grimdark villain.
But having said that, one thing I do want in a villain is to be able to understand him.
There are exceptions – Bond villains in my view have mostly been one dimensional characters who really only have a single drive – to take over the world etc – and a few character traits that make them interesting. And they work perfectly in that role, because they become the people you can love to hate. And when they meet their terrible ends as they must, you can cheer. They aren't real so killing them isn't something we have to be bothered by.
I've used this sort of villain myself. In Dragon my villains were giant alien bugs set on conquering the universe and enslaving the human race because our manual dexterity was so much better than theirs as they had pincers. So they could steal our technology and then use us to build their world. Most important of all, my hero could slaughter them in huge numbers and no one would have felt in the least uncomfortable about it!
Having said that in most heroic fantasy, we writers have to walk a careful path between these two extremes. We can't have our villains as unbelievable superhero / Bond cut outs who only work if we don't question anything about them. And making them poor suffering creatures that we feel sorry for as in the grimdark genre, is going too far the other way.
So the key to writing a good villain for me, is to give them a back story that explains them. It may be more fleshed out in your notes than in the actual story, but enough needs to be there that the reader reads them and understands why they do as they do.
My approach is to go into the psychology of the villain. So for example in Fineas and Tusk my villain was a man born with a single gift – the ability to control others – and then I tried to work out what a child raised with such a gift would be like. And the answer is a simple one. He would be completely corrupted. A true sociopath. He would be a child who never learned the meaning of being told no. Who never learned to love – because why would he love something that he could control completely? More importantly, why would he value them? And the answer? He wouldn't.
In the book coming out next – Roar – my villain is instead an immortal. And immortality has two consequences for a person's moral centre. The first is that as the years pass and the people you know and love die and are forgotten, you become divorced from the world. You lose your family and friends and ultimately become a loner. Everyone else just becomes a transient figure in your life. And their value to you, becomes less. In the end they just aren't important. The other thing about immortality is that death becomes a strange sort of bogeyman to you. Everyone else in the world lives with the knowledge that they will die. And so they learn to accept it. But to an immortal for whom death is always a possibility but never a certainty, it becomes something more than that. It becomes an intolerable fear. A terror. So now the question becomes, what would such a man do to avoid ever having to face the spectre of death? And the answer? Pretty much anything!
So anyway, that's my approach to writing villains. Get into their head space. Don't make them someone you would want to identify with. But do make them someone who, when they do horrible things, you can understand why they did them. Unless of course you really do want to write a shoot em up – in which case make them one dimensional with lots of quirks and as unreal as possible! Then have at them!
Cheers, for now. Greg.
Tuesday, 12 June 2018
Bit of a different post today. Recently as many of you will know, Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, passed away. He was 86. And while that's a sad thing in itself, it's also sad for a second, more profound reason. Twelve men in total have walked on the moon. Eight of them are dead. And the last men to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17, did so in 1972. It's now 2018.
That's forty six years ago!
When I was a kid, looking forwards to the future - say the year 2000 - we should have had moon bases and regular travel by then. Possibly also alien encounters and flying cars, but that's by the by. But really the question for me is, why haven't we at least been back? And will we even go back before the last of the men who walked on the moon passes away? Somehow I don't think we will.
By now we should all be flying around at supersonic speeds. But we did that. Now Concord's gone and there are no plans to replace it. We should be eating dinner on space stations. But guess what - the shuttle's gone and all there are to replace it are plans and drawings.
We talk about going to Mars. But even as we talk, the current president slashes NASA's budget. We're not going to Mars. Not unless one of the billionaires like Musk does it.
It almost seems to me some days, that something has died in us. Our will to achieve greatness. To explore. To risk everything in the name of discovery. What was it that Kennedy said - we to go to the moon not because it's easy but because it's hard? It seems to me that we don't want to do hard any more. We want to do cell phones and computer games. Have a beer and put our feet up. Get a head start on that middle aged spread!
Look, I freely admit it, I am definitely not the right stuff! In fact I am so far into being the wrong stuff that they need a new word for me! (Hell, they'd need a whole new class of rocket just to get me off the ground!) But I'm still someone who can dream and hope, sometimes even type a few words about it. So if I can do that where are all the people out there who are willing to do the rest? To commit their efforts, their hearts and souls to these great goals? Where are the leaders who will take these visions and start trying to make them a reality?
Isn't it about time that we started trying to reclaim our greatness instead of retreating from it?
Sunday, 13 May 2018
As you may know, the eBook version of Fineas and Tusk: The Epic Journey of a Man and His Pig has gone out on Kindle. Now I'm in the process of getting it ready for publication as a paperback edition through CreateSpace. In the meantime here's version 1 of the full cover with the back cover with blurb roughed out. It probably won't change a lot before publication but I'm rewriting the blurb.
Have to say I enjoyed writing this book. It made me laugh in places. And when I got the cover back from Andrew I practically went hog-wild over it! (Pun intended!)
By the way, for those of you who wonder about such things, the lead character isn't named for the hero from Around The World in Eighty Days. That's Phileas Fogg. Fineas is actually a modern version of the Greek name Phineas which means Oracle. As for the other main characters, Tusk was named as he was because - well - he's a wild boar! And Shanniah because I was listening to the singer when I named her! So no advanced naming strategy here!
Anyway, that's my news. Hope you all enjoy the book.
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
So this morning began in an unfortunately familiar way – with the sound of my cat trying to throw up the contents of her stomach on to my face! Naturally being a cat owner I took this as a sign. Cats, as everyone knows, are able to predict the future with incredible accuracy. It's why they're never around when hard work beckons! Unfortunately this remarkable ability is possessed by creatures with the temperaments of … well cats. So instead of using it to give their owners insights into the coming days and even warn them of impending doom, they prefer to use it to predict events that have already happened and then laugh at them!
Which brings me to yesterday. A day which also began in an unfortunate way when the marge in my electric fry-pan as I fried some eggs decided to start spitting at me and caught me perfectly on the tip of my nose. A nose which I might add had already been attacked by my cat three days before and so was particularly sensitive!
After the screaming had died down – and the cat's laughter as she had naturally predicted the event and found herself the perfect position to watch from – the rest of my day proceeded to go from bad to worse.
Bad was when I got to watch the rubbish truck drive straight past my wheelie bin without stopping. I suspect that the Council has started hiring cats as drivers! Worse was when rushing outside to yell and shake my fist at the retreating rubbish truck I somehow managed to tumble on the drive and ended up lying in a puddle of filthy water! Worse still followed when I decided to clean myself up and discovered that the hot water had run out! But the truly terrible and completely unmitigated disaster was when my editor rang me up to say she was making good progress with my latest book and she liked the story!
Damn it! Hasn't she heard of the kiss of death?!
So now as I sit here writing this and waiting for the ceiling to collapse on top of me, I find myself wondering – will it be enough to simply beat myself over the head with my computer? Or will a true blood sacrifice be required?! But it could be worse I suppose. I could be superstitious!
Still the good news is that Fineas and Tusk: The Epic Journey of a Man and His Pig, is approaching publication. The cover art has been done, and it looks glorious. The artist by the way is Andrew Morris – vanmorrisman on Deviant Art – check out his work. (I added the titles by the way, so don't blame him for that!)
So that's been my last day or so. I hope you've all had a better time of things. And as always, be good or don't get caught!
Sunday, 18 March 2018
Bit of a change in topic this time. First up the next book – Fineas and Tusk: The Epic Journey of a Man and His Pig, is with the editor at the moment, but since she's in the process of moving house at the moment, it may be a while before it returns to me. The image above by the way is one that I found on DeviantArt.com while I was searching covers for the book, and while I can't use it since it doesn't really match the story at all, I loved it so I thought I'd share it. I may contact the artist and get him to paint me something similar.
However, this time I thought I'd return to an old chestnut of mine – Relativity and space opera. We all know the basics, Relativity means that faster than light travel is essentially impossible, so most space opera is impossible. In essence if we want to write space opera grounded in any sort of reality we have to resort to cheats like warp drives and hyperspace. Theoretical speculations and mathematical possibilities but still things not observed. Or else write things like The Expanse and Starhunter – sub-light speed space opera contained within the solar system. Alternatively we risk arousing the wrath of hard science fiction fans and being told we're fantasists. (That may actually be true in my case!)
But as some of you may know, I have never been the most ardent believer in Relativity. Yes I know – it's one of the most tested and validated theories in physics, and even suggesting that it may not be right is like standing on sacred ground for many. But I have never been comfortable with the idea that time is mutable. To me it seems that if time can be slowed by motion or gravity, or even stopped, then it can be reversed and time travel becomes possible – and I really do not accept time travel. To me something either is completely mutable or it isn't at all. And if time is actually mutable as Relativity says, than we live in a universe of time travel paradoxes.
Naturally I don't think my speculations are going to end up on the title pages of any physics text books any time soon! In fact quite likely I may end up labelled as a Luddite! But that's life.
However in keeping with my views, I've often found myself wondering over the years, is there a way to explain the observations of Relativity without actually having to claim that time itself is somehow being bent? And the answer is yes – at least in my view. I'll attempt to explain my answer here. (Physicists avert your gazes now – this may be treason!)
So my theory is a simple one. That what is observed, has nothing to do with time being bent or slowed. It is in fact nothing more than an artifact of what I'll term the speed of information. Time is not in any way affected by motion. Only the information about it is.
Now I should say at the outset that this artifact is real. It must logically exist. So any theory of apparent time dilation must include it. I'm not sure however, if it's included in current relativistic calculations. I thought about contacting NASA and asking but could feel the laughter building!
OK, that said lets consider the old twins paradox which is what essentially buggers up a lot of space opera. Now according to Special Relativity we have one twin on Earth and the other on a rocket ship leaving Earth at the speed of light. The twin on the rocket ship has time slow down or stop for him, so that when he returns to Earth, he finds he is in fact younger than the twin he said goodbye to. And we have evidence that objects travelling away from Earth do in fact appear to be experiencing less time. Sounds like a case closed sort of thing doesn't it?!
But what I would ask you, would we expect to see if Relativity wasn't an issue? If the universe operated purely by Newtonian principles? Would we expect to see the rocket ship leaving us at the speed of light and everything as if it was happening right in front of us?
Actually no. If Relativity was not an issue we would expect to see that rocket ship which is heading away from Earth at the speed of light, seemingly only travelling at half the speed of light. And if there were portholes on that ship, we would expect to see the people on board moving and ageing at half speed. It would look like everything was in slow motion.
This has nothing to do with time dilation. Time is not being slowed in any way. This is purely an artifact of the speed with which the information about that rocket ship's travel comes back to us – at the speed of light.
To explain this, consider that the rocket ship has been travelling at the speed of light for a year. Could we sitting on Earth staring at it with our telescopes, expect to see the rocket ship one light year away? No. We would see it at the six month point in its trip. This is because the light from the rocket ship as it travels takes time to get back to us. So at the one year point in its journey, that light will take a second year to get back to us, meaning that we will observe the rocket ship at its one light year point, after two years.
To extend this point a little, if the ship is travelling to Alpha Centauri, four and a half light years away and is travelling at the speed of light, it will arrive in the system in four and a half years. But we on Earth will observe it arrive nine years after it left, without any time dilation being involved. Naturally this fits perfectly with the fact that everything we see of Alpha Centauri is four and a half years out of date.
Now lets reverse this a little. What does the man on the Rocket ship staring back at Earth see when he's travelling at the speed of light? And the answer assuming that he sees anything at all, is that he would see the Earth as if it was frozen in time. Someone had hit the pause button on the dvd player. This again is simply an artifact of the speed of information. All the light from Earth telling him what's happening there, is travelling with him at exactly the same speed. So the light that left Earth one second after he did, is still one second behind him for the entire journey.
And again to extend this point a little, when he arrives at his destination and stops, four and a half years later, he suddenly sees the Earth start moving again as someone hit play on the machine. But everything he sees is four and a half years out of date. Naturally once more this fits perfectly with the fact that everything seen of Earth from Alpha Centauri is four and a half years old.
Now lets add a third observer. This time the guy at Alpha Centauri watching the rocket ship come to him. What does he see in a universe without time dilation? Oddly, he sees nothing. The rocket ship takes off, but he won't see that until four and a half years later – at exactly the same time as the rocket ship arrives beside him. So he has the unusual experience four and a half years after the rocket ship leaves Earth, of seeing it take off, travel for four and a half years, and arrive all in the same instant. A sort of photonic boom.
So what does all of this mean for us space opera writers? It means at the very least that there is a simple explanation for why we might observe what seems to be time dilation without it actually existing. It also means there might be a very simple reason that we cannot observe anything travelling faster than the speed of light – all the information about that thing travels to us at the speed of light since it's axiomatic that light cannot travel faster than the speed of light.
Most importantly it means that we can write space opera involving faster than light travel without having to invoke the gods of hyperspace and warp drive etc, and still feel good about it! Hard science fiction be damned!!!
Anyway, must dash. I see the men with the white coats walking up the drive and I suspect they have a new jacket for me – one that straps up at the back!
Enjoy your writing.
Saturday, 27 January 2018
Hope you all had a great Christmas and are enjoying the new year. Here in Rotorua it's been strange – weather wise at least. We had days and days of rain, intermixed with thunderstorms and endless grey skies which kept me locked inside a lot. But just at the moment we seem to have been hit with a heatwave and I can't even step outside without burning my feet off. So go figure!
Anyway all this enforced home detention has been good for my writing, and a new book is now about eighty percent complete. At this stage it has the working title of “Fineas and Tusk – the Epic Journey of a Man and his Pig.” The scary thing is that that may in fact remain the title – I haven't decided.
It's a slightly different twist on my usual epic fantasy of a hero – or more often a reluctant fool – setting out to save the world or at least some of it. In this story it begins with our hero actually plummeting from an airship a league above the ground, to land in a savage, magical land and then wanting to do nothing more than make his way home to his pregnant wife, a thousand leagues away. And once on the ground he encounters Tusk – a two hundred pound wild boar – who travels with him. While Tusk might or might not be a familiar – I've called him a companion which is simply an animal that those with magic are sometimes accompanied by – he doesn't talk, or cast spells or do anything other than what wild boars normally do. If he has a magical gift, it's eating and embarrassing Fineas as he journeys east.
My main struggle in writing Fineas and Tusk, has been in shaping the nature of Fineas. As many of you will know, I normally spend a lot of time trying to get into the head space of my main characters, and Fineas has been particularly difficult for me in this regard. He's so close to the traditional good guy in many ways, but his world view and beliefs are so different that often when he does things that seem to be what a good guy should do – he does them for completely different reasons. So if he steps into a battle where a woman is being attacked it's not because of a sense of justice or fear for her safety – it's because of his inbred need to act honourably. It would be shameful to let a woman be harmed. He will walk into a war even when he's quaking with fear and show not a sign of his terror, simply because he is a Lord and he can never fail in his duty or show such emotions. And when things go wrong as they inevitably do, the true destruction of his life isn't brought about by typical things like bankruptcy or criminality. It is again the code of honour which lays him low as he is shamed by the actions of others even when he has acted with nothing but propriety.
As I say he is close to being the generic good guy / hero, but when you cut to the heart of what makes him tick, he's almost completely alien. Tusk on the other hand is much simpler – it's always about the food!
Anyway, that's been my January. And as I sit here writing and bathing in my own sweat, I hope to have Fineas and Tusk and their epic journey off to the editor in February. After that I suppose, I'll have to start searching out cover art – and strangely there's a large dearth of covers out there depicting Lords walking with wild boars through medieval worlds!