Narrative Geography

February 21st, 2020

First things first. I’m having an amazon countdown sale on Send Us Your Armies until 26 Feb 20. You can grab it for 0.99. Please leave a review if you like it. It would be really appreciated.

Second things second. I’m making good progress on Book 2 titled A Desert of Vast Eternities. I’m aiming for a May-ish release but there is a lot still to do. No promises but things are going well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how intricately geography and stage/scene settings are tied into a story. It seems pretty obvious when you think about it, but I also find it surprising just how simple the trip tik can be.

Take for example Star Wars. Not all the junk ones but the real one, the first one. No, not Jar Jar’s great adventure. The one that I went and saw 13 times as a twelve year old. It always astounds me that the geography goes something like this:

Tatooine>Falcon in space>Death Star>Yavin

Sure there are some sub locations and you get the Death Star strategy session meetings with lack of faith demonstrations but it’s all one straight line from point A to point B. There is a very minor split up in the death star escape but that’s about it. And they are all on the Death Star together.

Take a look at something like the Lord of the Rings. (Note: I’m not an aficionado and this is from mostly memory so I might not get this completely right. Please do not harm me for this attempt if you belong to some secret Tolkien society.) It goes Shire>Old Forest>Bree>Open Country Flight From Nazgul>Rivendell>Moria>Galadriel>Ambush> split up> etc.

If you draw it out it’s a line on the map and it branches off into some separate tracks after the orc ambush where the fellowship is scattered but they all keep pressing on in various ways to Mt. Doom or the gates of Mordor. It’s all very linear in direction. No loop backs or hubs or nodes.

Contrast that with something that stays mostly in one location and makes minor excursions out and back. I call it the hub. Dresden Files comes to mind (Peace Talks out soon Yes!) Chicago is the hub and Harry ventures out to different POI’s within Chicago (or its suburbs) and maybe occasionally goes on a road trip to the Nevernever or Arctis Tor or a Red Court pyramid or a God’s treasure vault. Usually this happens at the end when all the plot lines come together. But geographically Chicago is the hub.

I’ve started trying to break my favorite books down just by geographical setting and the patterns that are formed. It’s fun sometimes to just graph them out and see the lines, loops and branches. It gives you a different perspective on the narrative. None of this is ground breaking stuff of course but I just thought I would point it out because it’s fun to think about.

Book 2 has a symmetric branch map that follows Xodd on one path and Pilgrim on the other. I won’t spoil anything more though.

The Scourge of God

January 26th, 2020

The phrase is most closely associated with Attila the Hun but Ghengis Khan and his Mongol hordes were called something similar to that. Many in Khwarezmia thought he was a form of divine punishment on a corrupt Shah. I am reading this book Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn. I have to say that I have learned a lot. My knowledge of Mongol history was fragmented. This book put a lot of the pieces into place and did it with a very enjoyable narrative style. There is some attempt to analyze, theorize and compare and make some judgments that even the author acknowledges are up for debate or unverifiable short of time travel.

It was very interesting though to see once again just how illusionary what we think “The Truth” is about anything in the past or for that matter the present. The primary sources for much of the “facts” that we “know” about Mongol history come from The Secret Histories compiled by multiple unidentifiable Mongols with axes to grind and narratives to nurture and contemporary (broadly interpreted) accounts by such writers as Rashid Al Din, a Persian, and somebody who might have a very different perspective given the events. But even Rashid Al Din has some interesting preferences and grudges on display that don’t always correlate with expectations. This is what I have read and not the actually primary sources from Al Din.

But I only mention this because when I read non-fiction I try and look for interesting ideas, thoughts and scenes that I can use to fire my imagination or somehow reflect into my fiction. There was a scene that McLynn described during the final stages of the Mongol invasion of the Jin Empire in what is now Northern China that left me in a strange stupor. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The situation is in so many ways alien to my existence on this earth. I’ve led a semi sheltered and fortunate life so that’s not saying much I guess. But intellectually I thought the incident was striking.

I wish I could qoute it but its on my kindle. I goes something like this. The Mongols had a very solid reputation for killing every living man, women and child in a beseiged city if there was any resistance offered. Sometimes even if the gates were opened and tribute offered immediately, they still sacked the place and murdered all its inhabitants if their blood was up because they had taken losses or a favorite of the Khan had been killed in battle. Often a Peace Faction inside a city would come to power and surrender to the Mongols after “negotiations.” The citizens would be marched out into the fields and then slaughtered. This happened on so many occasions that one has to wonder whether it was hopeless self deception or a lack of good communication between cities. You would think the word would get around. It probably did but humans will deceive themselves I guess. We are all the heroes in our own stories.

The final campaign in Jin was just as brutal as anywhere else, and the population density made it perhaps even more so. There was a city that like many other held out. Many chose to fight to the bitter end. The Mongols had become very good at siege warfare by this time by ironically using Jin engineers. Finally starving and unable to hold out any longer the garrison negotiated their own deaths. What is fascinating is that one rather well known Jin General (I wish I could find his name but I can’t locate the exact passage) went to surrender to the Khan personally. He knew he would be executed but his wish was to behold the famous general Subutai before he died. He wanted to look upon the Mongol legend in person.

This has the makings of a great story of two heroes showing each other mutual respect in a bleak and brutal world. The reality of the encounter was anything but if the “sources” are to be believed. The Jin general was brought before Subutai and the Mongol high command including the Khan and he praised his enemies and Subutai in particular. Subutai was disinterested and yawned throughout the homage and the Jin general was then unceremoniously led out of the tent and beheaded. That pretty much sums up the Mongols though. They weren’t necessarily any more morally deficient than their contemporaries (some even argue less so, but personally I think such debate is pointless) but they were clinically efficient on a level that was exponentially greater than that of their opponents.

The Stars My Destination

January 18th, 2020

I can’t believe that it has taken me over five decades to read this book. It’s really quite a gem and I’m obviously pretty late to the party in recognizing its many merits and a few faults but even those are debatable and maybe just a result of the imperfection of our own existences.

I’ve been doing some research on futurism to lay some ground work for a future writing project I am working on. Alfred Bester wrote this book in 1955. Well it was published then. Think about that when you read it. It dares to give some scientific details which is usually a surefire way to date your work after 50 or more years pass. It still manages to stay pretty relevant especially since we went to the moon in what now seems a freak and almost reckless manner compared to the current very restrained space exploration of today.

Still, Bester imagines a solar system with outer resource gathering colonies rebelling against moneyed and aristocratic production inner planets. The book is filled with tropes, (I love tropes, anybody who says that they can write something non-tropy in this day and age is either lying or fooling themselves) some of them almost unheard of at the time and some not. Here is a list but DO NOT LOOK AT THEM until after you have read the book if that is on your list of books to read. SPOILERS abound.

I’m not doing a review. But I will say that I zoomed through it and enjoyed every word. I’m the kind of guy who enjoys 50’s and 60’s story narration, dialogue and pacing. I suspect that I would not survive a stint as a creative writing major. I think the show don’t tell thing has been overplayed so much that the descriptive telling that these kind of writers did is a rare art today.

There is a lot to mine from this work on futurism: AI, cyberlife, psi, human nature and spirituality. Too many topics to list. I finished it at 1am this morning and I am still thinking about it. It doesn’t hurt that at its core is a good revenge story. That turns out to just be the accidental skeleton but I’m still trying to work things out.

As a side note, I’m making great progress on Book 2 of the Pilgrim’s Path. Just did a chapter that I’m very pleased with. Sometimes I wonder if I am writing this story or if I’m just a conduit for it from another storyteller somewhere in another universe. I never had such strong “muse” moments when I was coding and designing. It’s a new experience to get such good shots of dopamine. Sometimes it’s truly exhilirating.

What Am I Reading?

January 12th, 2020

So, if anyone is interested, I have been reading a lot of Jack Vance over the last year or so. I fell in love with his prose many years ago when I was coding Armageddon Empires. I started with The Demon Princes, Planet of Adventure and The Dying Earth. That took me a couple of years. I just re-read The Demon Princes and some of The Dying Earth (Cugel is a hoot) recently because I have been trying to study his dialogue in more detail. I also basically completed most of the short stories and books that had slipped under the radar over the years. Amazon seems to have added a lot of these recently and that made it easy. The Cadwal Chronicles, Miro Hetzel and Maske: Thaery were all wonderfully enjoyable.

I ordered a very old paperback of The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph but discovered the print was so small my tired old eyes could simply not deal with the strain. I don’t think I will be ordering a print book ever again. What a strange world.

I already have a few chapters written of a space opera/detective noir trilogy that I am going to do once Pilgrim’s Path is finished. But that’s probably a year or more down the road. It’s a way to add some freshness to my world building by stepping out of the Etherflow bubble every once in a while.

I also read some more Wodehouse to see how that had inspired Vance. The PSmith series in particular. It’s not really my cup of tea to be honest although I do enjoy the tempo of the banter in the dialogue. I’m looking for more of these Comedy of Manners type stories. It’s not something that I would want to build an entire story around but it does provide some thought provoking laughs and chuckles.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ve made promises in the past to be a better custodian for this blog but I suspect the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

Vic

Viral Promotion

January 8th, 2020

First of all a big thanks to all the people who have taken the risk and jumped through the portal on a first novel. You can click on the Look Inside to get a good idea but you never know if it’s going to pay off in the end. Hopefully, you all are having a good time.

If anybody finishes it up and feels like it was worth the time, please leave a review unless you are one of my family members of course. I’ve been told that looks a little fishy.

Also, please post about your experience on goodreads, reddit discusions or your favorite forums. I’ve done a lot of reading on how to go about promoting your book but in this self published category it always comes down to readers and how vocal they are about your work. I’ve emailed a bunch of reviewers and unsurprisingly have not heard anything back. It’s completely understandable though. They get hundreds of requests and I’ve got no pedigree.

I remember back to publishing my first game Armageddon Empires and it was guys like Tom Chick, Kieron Gillen, Bill Harris and the Penny Arcade duo that really helped me survive that first effort to find an audience. There were a bunch of others as well. Apologies if I can’t mention them all. But you get the idea.

If you are a legitimate reviewer and want a kindle copy of the book for review please contact me at info(*at*)crypticcomet(*DOT*)com

Through The Gate We Go

January 6th, 2020

The Amazon Kindle store is remarkably easy to use. I got my formatted book back on Sunday night and Amazon had it up by this morning. Here is the link if you wish to travel through the portal and learn about the war that will determine the future of the pocket universe of Etherflow.

If you enjoy the story, please think about writing a review on Amazon. Same goes for good reads. I need to start promoting this book and that’s really always the hard part. I found that out when making computer games.

What’s next? I have 25k words or so done for book II titled A Desert of Vast Eternities and a pretty good idea where the trilogy is going although I’m apparently what they call a pantser in the trade and I don’t outline the entire narrative. It’s been really fun building this world. A big thanks to all the people who have supported me over the years, my family and all the turn based strategy gamers who put up with clunky tech and UI’s. I hope you all find this story enjoyable.

The Geography of a Pocket Universe

December 31st, 2019

Well not going to make it before the new year but that’s not really a problem. It will be a nice way to kick off the next one. Should be out in the first week or so of January once I get the formatting done.

My upcoming novel titled “Send Us Your Armies” takes place in a reality quite different from our own. I don’t want to spoil the physics of this strange world, as it’s much more fun to discover the details while you read and are forced to piece together the new laws and their implications. But one of the most distinctive features is the fact that the fundamental spatial building block is a three dimensional hexagon. These hexagonal prisms form the nodes of the Etherflow or Aern as some of its inhabitants now call it. Here is a map that I made so that the reader can track the movement of the story’s characters and place the major points of interest. Note that the map is not complete. It only shows the major features that help you place everything in the story. You also don’t really need it. It’s not like reading Churchill’s The River War without a map and having no clue where everything is happening.

Getting Close

December 17th, 2019

I might get this up on the Amazon Kindle Store before the year is out. Copy edits are done. Final proof reading is in progress.

Send Us Your Armies

October 31st, 2019

So it was pointed out to me that the whole secret project thing is sort of lame and a bad way to go about marketing something. I’m still in a state of mild shock that anybody would care enough to read this forgotten blog. But a big Thank You to those who have expressed interest in what I have been up to creatively. And since I am terrible with this type of stuff I’m just going to come out and say that I wrote a book. It’s called How To Fail Until You Succeed. No. Just joking, although that title hits home.

But I did write a sci fi/fantasy book. Mostly fantasy but it starts with a sci fi premise. I remember one of the reviewers for Occult Chronicles saying that the writing wasn’t half bad and since I had done that myself, it encouraged me to approach the project seriously with the idea that I could actually write something interesting. Consecutive design failures in the card board prototype arena had been a bit discouraging.

The whole idea for the book came from a number sequence that kept repeating in my head from as far back as 2004 when I started work on Armageddon Empires. I used to blurt out this phrase “It’s all about 14’s and 44’s” To this day I still have no idea why. or what it means. Please don’t contact mental health services about me. I’m fine. I know that’s what you would expect me to say but really I’m fine.

So I had that disembodied phrase and I also had this odd idea about travel to other “Universes.” I had been watching a lot of youtube videos about eternal inflation, the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and a bunch of Sir Roger Penrose interviews on CCC (conformal cyclic cosmology) and when thinking about this whole other reality thing, it occurred to me that we just assume that if you could travel there, the physics would be just the same. That is to say you would appear there with your body and your brain and all the information stored in your neural connections. The famous Star Trek episode Mirror Mirror runs on this premise.

But what if travel to another universe ended up translating you there but you ended up in a very different form? What if the physics and laws there were completely different?

Thus was born my idea for my debut (and perhaps last) novel titled “Send Us Your Armies.” Here is the flavor text I’m thinking of using to give you an idea of what it’s all about:

(Cue Impressive Music)

Pursued relentlessly across the multiverse, across countless other realities, The Exiles had finally found a place to make their last stand. It was a pocket universe with laws and rules unlike anything they had ever discovered before during their long flight. Their tormentors, the Old Ones, eventually found them as they always did. They pierced the veil of The Exiles’ haven, and the battle was joined.

The Exiles had a plan to secure their new world once and for all, but they needed help to buy enough time to see it to completion; there were so few of them remaining. An artifact was built to look for and summon potential allies from other realities. Encoded within its operation was a desperate plea: Send Us Your Armies.

So it’s at the copy editor right now. I hope to have it up on Amazon in 6 weeks or so. It would make the perfect gift for the holidays for your favorite sci fi or fantasy geek. Not sure about the price. Something in the range of a latte in a high cost of living city.

I Live Again

October 30th, 2019

Beep.

So things didn’t quite work out as planned as you can deduce by my four year hiatus from this blog. Forgotten Lore indeed.

I did make some board game prototypes; five or six actually. I lose count. In the end I realized that things just were not working out as I had hoped. Part of this I think was due to the nature of designing and play testing a physical game vs. a digital. You would think that they would be similar but they are not. The digital games in my indie experience, which means me doing the design and coding and then relying on others to pitch in for art, music and play testing, were like sculpting. You made choices at chipping away at the marble but your process went forward whether or not you broke off the nose. In that case you added a prosthetic nose or carved a new one.

When designing a board game you have so much more flexibility that it’s almost paralyzing. You can cut the nose off and then decide its not a human but an alien with a smelling orifice, add tentacles and then quickly chip those away just for the heck of it. If you don’t like the sculpt then just throw the whole block away and start again. After all it’s just a bunch of cheap card holders, die and a pdf rule book not a code base.

There was also a dirty little secret of mine that came in to play (pun intended). I love collecting games, ogling the pieces, inhaling the rule books, setting them up and fiddling around with them but I don’t actually play them with people all that much. Playing with real people for me has been limited to those lame party games at the beach house every summer. Oh, and Ticket To Ride because my mom loves that game. The Train Game she calls it.

So yeah, there are solitaire games; good ones even. And I kept finding myself compelled to try and make game designs that had strong solitaire possibilities. But in the end I kept coming back to computer games as my preferred way of entertaining myself. You can do things in digital that you simply can’t with card board; set up, ai, visuals. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying one is better than the other. There are strong arguments for playing both in different circumstances. But for me and my misanthropic, hermit ways it became obvious that computer games were the best fit. And once I had decompressed from making games for ten years, I started to actually enjoy them again.

But I did make some board games and I’d like to thing they were fun. The problem was that I kept thinking that they really weren’t all that original. If you’ve looked at the board game world lately you can see that it has exploded. Are there new mechanics left to be invented or cleverly juxtaposed inside a spiffy rule system? Perhaps marginally so but it’s to the point where it almost has to be a gimmick to be novel. Theme is king nowadays.

In the end I realized that while my designs were fun, mostly, they weren’t anything special. And seriously how special can you be moving one piece of card board here or flipping one card there or making you go oh, I want to do that but I have to do this or that other thing might happen. In the meantime you surrender yourself to the enchantment of the game’s thematic appeal and wonder of wonders it still isn’t enough. And even if you like elves with pointy ears and shotguns, it’s still not enough despite the cool new mini sculpts. You end up collecting boxes of cool sculpts that you never paint. And then your wife starts yelling at you to clean out your office but I digress.

So what unpublished treasures did I create? One was a multi player assassin game set in a mythical fantasy city. You can see the prototype in previous post. You had to use cards and attribute stats to roll dice to come up with enough “successes” to beat other numbers that represented mission objectives. Your opponents could mess with you or bluff you. You tried to get enough VP to win when the end game condition triggered.

I let that sit for a while but later came back to it and turned it into a game focused on just two players but really tuned well for one player. It had you try and become guild leader by getting prestige points which you spent in the last mission encounter with the evil guild master. You could buy powerups etc to help beat the last mission. You didn’t always know what you were facing unless you had put some effort into discovering the final boss’s secret abilities so it wasn’t always easy to know what to buy.

I made a space exploration game. You had cards that represented your ship and you put little wooden cubes on them to track fuel, supplies and tactics. You rolled dice to get successes to beat encounter cards and survey planets. You could spend the cubes to add dice or play cards to do so or change the rules (rerolls etc.) It was fun but very fiddly.

I made an Armageddon Empires card game. I tried to capture the whole recon, supply, turtle vs aggressive offense strategy choices that the game has. You could build special project with your labs and then nuke your opponents HQ if you could find it. I created a great recon system for that which I was really proud of. You could see your opponents cards of course but you had to tag them with a recon token to actually attack them. It had something like 350 cards so I realized that it just wasn’t going to work. I spent countless hours in photoshop making the mock ups with the AE art. Even got them printed up. They did look sharp.

I started trying to really come up with a good solitaire game in the mold of Dawn of the Zeds. I had wanted to do an asymmetrical computer game like that but in a fantasy setting but I realized though that my coding days were long gone. But I came up with several designs centered around cards where you built up your kingdom and then an AI opponent with special rules attacked you from all points of the compass; The Demon Horde etc.

There was a design based on Chakra colors and symbol matching that I worked on for ages but never really got into a state that was fun. There were a couple of others too that were just printed paper slips in card holders. The cats chewed them up since they were plastic.

So TLDR: Designing board games didn’t turn out like I thought it would. It ground me down in the end. But it led to something else. Part of the fun of playing and making games is the story generation aspect. And that’s what I found that I really enjoyed. So hopefully in a month or so, I will have something to show anybody who is interested. I won’t say anything more until it’s ready. But it’s NOT a game; card board, digital or otherwise.

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