Where do I start? The beginning is probably a good idea. I have always enjoyed writing the odd short story, but what put the idea of attempting something larger in my mind? I’m going to answer that question and hope that doing so is cathartic, and will begin to break down the wall that is stopping me getting on with the damn thing.
Four seems to be my magic number, because like the four ideas I have running about in my mind, there were four authors who left a lasting impression on me and inevitably led me to where I am today. All four not only told / tell amazing stories, but are master world builders – the only part of writing (so far) that I seem to be having any progress in, and a subject I will no doubt post about again regularly as the hamster running in the wheel in my head turns the cogs of my brain.
Let us start with J.R.R. Tolkien. I won’t dwell too long here, as there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t been said by countless people before me. Yes, I enjoyed The Hobbit, and yes, I adored The Lord of the Rings, but it was the biblical Silmarillion that really caught my attention (as you can see by the name of this blog). Sure, it isn’t the easiest read but the information contained within blew my mind. World building on a scale that teenage me could barely comprehend. A mythology to rival the Sagas. No fictional world could ever be more than a candle compared to the sun that was Tolkien’s Middle Earth….right?
If Tolkien’s world is the sun, then Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is a quasar. Robert Jordan deliberately invoked Tolkien in the first half of book 1, The Eye of the World, which initially put me off, but after that it is a different beast entirely. Comprising fourteen books in the main series, a prequel novella, an encyclopedia and a companion book, it’s a long term commitment. The story spans three thousand years (most of it taking place in a two or three year period at the end of it, but still…) and contains hundreds of named characters and cultures, all intertwined and reborn countless times to fight the eternal battle between Light and Dark. Robert Jordan died before he could finish his work, but it was finished by Brandon Sanderson who did a great job.
Yes, some of the later books slowed the pace of the story to a crawl, but the payoff at the end of the series was worth every sniff, braid tug and stupidly detailed description of a curtain. Books one to five are some of the best examples of story telling out there, not just in the fantasy genre, but fiction in general. Amazon working with Sony have confirmed that The Wheel of Time is to make the jump from the page to the screen in the near future, and I cannot wait to see the result. You will see me making a lot of posts about the Wheel of Time in the future, no doubt.
Ian Irvine is different from Tolkien and Jordan. He’s a scientist. A marine biologist, in fact. And his background really shines through in his world building. Where the aforementioned created geographical features etc. with magical origins (leading to some really odd climates and mountain ranges), Ian Irvine created geologically believable worlds in his Three Worlds Cycle. That’s not to say there isn’t magic in his stories, there is, but the world itself is the product of geological process, rather than magic. Hell, the overall theme of his works is one of evolution and the struggle between species for survival, rather than the typical ‘good vs. evil’ (though there are still some gloriously twisted villains). Tolkien and Jordan made me think about world building, Irvine inspired me to actually start to do it. He made me think “Hey! This guy has an environmental science background like me, and he has written best-selling fantasy, what’s stopping me from just putting pen to paper?”
His narrative voice is also wonderfully Australian. You’ll know what I mean if you read his works, which I highly recommend you do. Check him out here.
R. Scott Bakker
Finally, we come to R. Scott Bakker. With The Second Apocalypse series, Bakker has created a world with thousands of years of history, but there is a fundamental difference between his and the others. It’s just so damn bleak. It is what those that way inclined would refer to as grim-dark. A sub-genre of fantasy that seems to be becoming quite popular now, characterised by extreme violence and overall incredibly dark tone. Not that the others don’t have darkness in them, but Bakker has created a fantasy world (with some subtle, and some not so subtle sci-fi references) that is down right disturbing, and also filled with serious philosophical themes and discussion. His world is filled with fleshed out cultures, characters and creatures that are a refreshing break from normal fantasy tropes.
That’s it for now. I will no doubt discuss the above in greater detail over time, but that’s enough for my first proper post. I’m off to get some wine.