Epic Fantasy and … Evolution??

What? You mean, like, where the genre will go next?
Nope.
Okay, you mean where the genre came from, how we got from Tolkien to Martin?
Interesting. Maybe that’ll be a future post. But for now – negatory.

Give up?

What I mean is, why do some of our favorite fantasy genre races look the way they do?
Bear with me.
If we toss aside any magical elements to fantasy creatures, we could apply the theories of natural selection and evolutionary pressure to them. (Don’t believe in evolution? Don’t flame. I mean, we’re talking hypothetical situations and make believe creatures here. Go with the flow.)

So, let’s start with something easy – dwarves. I think of dwarves in the Tolkien sense. Short, muscular. They’re extremely hairy, flesh and blood little earth borers. In order to get in a proper frame of mind we need to imagine where they live and how they live, factors that would influence whether they live or die.

A successful dwarf would be able to do three things well: fight, tunnel through earth, and find whatever in the ground that would get him the girl – rare ore, jewels, etc. Ever tried to make a tunnel in stone without heavy machines? Yeah, me either. But I can imagine how difficult it would be. So, a dwarf would need that heavy linebacker musculature to tunnel. And, since there’s no point making a tunnel six feet tall when you could make it only four feet tall, short would be a plus. To find the desired ores, you’d need a strong core of determination to want to get through all that stone to get to it. You’d need incredible night vision, otherwise you’d need so many torches to see by you’d die of smoke inhalation. And, since it’s cold down there so far from the sun, you’d need very warm clothes or a thick mat of hair. Course, thick hair would also save the dwarf from flying bits of stone and metal. I mean, we are talking about realms without antibiotics; a small cut that features could be life threatening.

Now, let’s talk about goblins. Same environmental pressures as the dwarves, yet so different in appearance. I think of them as short, with lean limbs, green skin, and long ears and noses. Even if we think of them as reptilian competitors in the same niche as the mammalian dwarves, there should be significant similarities.

Aside from height, there isn’t much alike. Lean limbed creatures? Not suited for tunneling. Long ears are good for echolocation, for gathering sound and telling what direction it came from. When you live in a tunnel, sound only comes from two possible directions – forward and back. Elves living in large forests need big ears, not goblins. Long noses could be beneficial if they were in dry tunnels. People developed long noses in arid environments to help with water conservation; the long nose enables the body to reclaim a higher percentage of exhaled humidity than a short one.

Goblins are mostly hairless, not helpful for warmth. I think of them as being drab shades of green. If you live in dim environments, there isn’t much point in having a tint to your flesh. It’s wasted resources and energy, which is why most animals living in the dark are very pale. And lastly, they have sharp pointed teeth, the teeth of a carnivore. Now, I haven’t been to too many caves, but I haven’t seen a lot of critters running around that would require a mouthful of teeth designed to tear.

I think that goblins are opportunists. They migrated under the earth’s surface from the forests. They’re traits are suited to an ambush predator of the deep forests, or even the tropics. They moved underground and haven’t been there long enough to adapt, I think. Which would then beg the question, are there still goblins in the forest?

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Thoughts on Epic Fantasy

Before I get started with this blog post in earnest, I’d just like to point out something. I’ve seen no less than three reports of nebulous ‘someones’ working on the type of monthly buffet reading scenario I outlined. I think it’s around the corner.

Anyway, on to more interesting things.

George RR Martin had an interview just a day or two ago. The interviewer asked how long it would be before the next one in his series. He gave the witty, totally unexpected answer of “When it’s done, it’s done.”. I believe this is code for ‘Years from now, though I better get it out before the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones gets underway.’

I’m starting to think about reading the Wheel of Time series. Or rereading…in the case, of some of them. I got caught up on the series about a decade ago, then found out Robert Jordan had planned at least another 5 or 6 books. He, like GRRM, wrote a tale so intricate and following so many characters that it’s hard to just pick up the next book in the series without a major primer, a book of cliff notes, a drawn tree of characters and how they relate, and an open Google browser to answer the rest of my continuity questions as they arise.

I will readily admit that GRRM has forever changed my view of epic fantasy. These days if I see the description of ‘evil’ in a back cover blurb, I put the book down. Few people ev view their actions as truly evil. They’re doing what’s best for a certain demographic, even if it’s just a demographic of one. Complex read-world motivations are key. (That’s real world motivations, not MTV’s Real World motivations,which are to be drunk and stupid while filmed.)

What’s Next After EBooks?

Who knew that ebooks were going to turn publishing on it’s ear? Or that Amazon, Smashwords, B&N would result in a self-publishing boom? Authors with languishing backlists are making a mint through savvy self publishing, breathing new life into titles that haven’t seen daylight in years to decades.

And things aren’t done changing yet. Big name authors are starting to turn down deals in order to self pub. As I put in a previous post, I imagine the traditional publishers will come out in lean fighting form at some point. It’ll take some time, but I think it’ll happen.

So, what’s next?

We had a system, where there were traditionally two tiers of pricing:  one for releases that are pretty new, and one for older titles.  (Sometimes retailers would provide discounts for the higher tier, but their still more expensive than older titles.)  Then, digital content came into the picture.  Most people still got their titles through the old way, but a growing subsection of the public obtained some of their content through digital means, as pioneered by one ground breaking company.  Others eventually joined in, but mostly it was the one company.

As things progressed, the number of people getting at least some of their entertainment digitally grew significantly, and a smaller subset utilized nothing but digital means.  Soon, the traditional purveyors experienced declines in revenue.  Within a few short years stores started to close, entire national chains had to restructure or liquidate, and their brick and mortar presences became scarce.  All the while those who led the way with electronic means prospered.

Not content to rest on their laurels, the pioneering company who started it all branched out into two innovative new ways.  First of all, they started creating their own content, utilizing professional means with a high standard of quality.  Secondly, they started providing the older content for a set monthly fee as long as it was delivered solely through electronic means.  A backlist digital buffet, if you will.

If you think I’m talking about Amazon, you’re WRONG.

I’m talking about NETFLIX, and the changes they created in the business of DVD entertainment.

They started out with a set fee to have three movies out at a time, whether they were blockbusters or older movies.  The attraction was that you could mail back as many movies you wanted to during the monthly, for a possible smorgasbord of movie goodness.  I don’t know about you, but I found that as time went on we generally watched less than three movies a month (I know – sounds boring.  But when the kids go to bed at 8, and the wife’s eyelids slam shut at 9:30, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for movie watching.)  Still, the monthly fee was less than our late fees generally were at the brick and mortar stores, so it was economical for us.

Then Netflix added streaming digital content to their service.  You can get older movies and TV shows streamed through your computer, XBox, Playstation, Wii, iPad, tablet, or phone.  They’ve now announced their separating the services, so you can just have the older content through streaming, or you can add that to a plan where you can also get blockbusters delivered to you.

As Netflix has grown, others have suffered declining revenue streams.  Hollywood Video, Blockbuster, etc.  If you still have one of these near you, I’m amazed.  There isn’t a physical video rental place within at least 40 miles of me, where there used to be several right here in town.  And, Netflix announced last fall (I think) that they were producing a series strictly for broadcast through their services.

So, what’s the point of this example?  I think it’s a pretty good analogy for where books might be headed, though it isn’t a perfect one.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the traditional publishers, especially if any merges occur, come out with a similar service through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Imagine an app or device where, for a flat monthly fee, you could read as many titles out in mass market paperback as you wanted to.  Stop paying the fee?  Titles get erased from your device.  It would require a certain degree of internet connectivity to these devices.  How they determine how much to pay the publishers as part of this arrangement would keep the lawyers busy for awhile, but it could be done.  The percentages going to the particular publishers would vary depending on usage of their titles, for example.

But what about hardbacks?  Well, that could be left out of the equation, or there could be a similar Netflix model for that.  Imagine having access to only a couple or three titles at a time for a certain amount.  If it were, say, $15 per month that would make economic sense for the consumer.  I might not read more than one a month, but having the opportunity to read more would be worth it.

That would, of course, leave the question of what becomes of the self-publisher or the smaller publishing companies.  Well, there are a lot of bright people at Amazon and B&N.  I’m sure someone could come up with a system to handle that.

It would all hinge on the technology being available to ensure people get only what they pay for (which is probably simple to do), and the big publishers agreeing to it.  How would authors get paid?  I’m not sure.  It’d have to be an incentive system strong enough to keep them with the publishers.

It might not happen for awhile, but I have a feeling as more publishers feel the heat from the ebook industry someone somewhere will get a Netflix DVD in the mail and a big light bulb’ll go off over their head.  The music industry is following along the same track with a single monthly fee for a buffet of music.  TV’s getting there too.  Hulu, anyone?

Thoughts?   Comments?

The Power of Three

Ever hear that all good things come in threes? Or bad things? Why is that?

I’ve seen a lot of stories that involve love triangles. Not too many involve other shapes from geometry. (Imagine the back of a book cover, describing the book as Twilight, but with a love dodecahedron instead. Yikes.) Why? Is it too difficult to juggle the romantic involvements of more than three teens? Perhaps the story falls apart when the fourth one gets added; the characters decide that it’s too much of a headache and go their separate ways.

Movie series seem to revolve around trilogies. Add a fourth and odds are it’ll suck. Star Wars – trilogy of original movies, followed by a trilogy of prequels. And think of the movie series where they made three, then rebooted. Spiderman had three movies set in high school through early adulthood. The next movie in the series will be with different actors, and take Peter Parker back to high school again. (Man, would that suck in real life or what?) There were three X-Men movies, and now a prequel. Supposedly there will be three Christian Bale Batman movies, then it’ll reboot yet again.

It carries over into books even more so. In urban – and even epic – fantasy, it’s exceedingly common to pick up a novel and find that it’s part of a trilogy. If the author continues after those three, you could almost group them into sets of three in terms of either main or subplots. How many books have you read where it’s three characters solving a problem? Or three storylines that merge at the end?  It seems most satisfying fantasy stories have that common denominator of three in them somewhere.  Three items that must be obtained, three champions that must be defeated, etc.

I mean, I get the number two; we’re symmetrical creatures, and have two of most things. I get the number five, as in the number of fingers on our hands, and by extension the number ten and its use as a basis for a numbering system. But three? Name something you have three of. Correction. Name something you should have three of (for those of you who’s family tree doesn’t fork).

Goldilocks and the Three Bears – which held an entire story built around threes: three bears, three chairs, three bowls of porridge, three beds. Goldilocks tries three things of each bear: porridge, chair, and bed.

The Three Little Pigs

Three Billy Goats Gruff

Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit

The Three Amigos

The Three Musketeers

Triplicate forms

Hugh Hefner’s attraction to triplets

Where does it end? And where did it start?

What’s Next?

I’ve talked about trends before. I still curious what will come next in the realm of fantasy. It’s true that therre are fantasy staples that won’t go away. Dragons and epic fantasy, vampires and urban fantasy – these aren’t going to disappear overnight. I do think vampire romance might be on the way down, only to be replaced by something else. Question is, what?

I’ve seen a lot of deals for steampunk urban fantasies, and mermaids seem to be making a resurgence. Or maybe just a surgence, since I don’t recall a previous wave of mermaid books. I fail to see the attraction, really. As a writer it must be difficult to write a story about merfolk, with the limitations of their being sea dwellers.

Some other possibilities for future trend setters:
Urban fantasy –
Elves
Harpies, perhaps good for a romance novel?
“I don’t care if she has chicken feet, I love her!”
Gargoyles (maybe an erotica thing there)
“Do I make you hard?”
“I’m made of stone…It’s a package deal.”
“Oooo, you said ‘package'”

Epic fantasy –
There’s a host of mythical beings from other cultures that would make for interesting characters.
Gnomes!

Angels made a wave, briefly. I’d really expected them to be the next vampire replacement. Guess they dont have enough of a bad boy vibe.

Anyone else got a thought as to the next breakout trend?

Woe Unto the Self – Publisher! Or Traditionally Published!

You know, I read an awful lot of writer blogs, agent blogs, book industry blogs, and blogs related to fantasy football. Okay, that last one isn’t related. I follow writers, editors, publishing companies, agents, and the occasional comedian on Twitter.

It’s astounding to me the vitriol of the traditional versus self publishing debate. Hatfields-McCoys. Great taste v. less filling. Mac v PC. Red sox fans v Yankees fans. The how-to-publish debate is on a level with these. Famous self pubbed authors are banned from online discussion boards of people wishing for a traditional contract. A blogger at a prominent news organization writes about how people will be sad when traditional publishers are gone, sparking a response from several self pub advocates that gave me mental images of fangs and claws.

In fact, as I post this, a small mob of villagers with pitchforks and torches is assembling in the culdesac outside.

I know that self publishing is still changing and growing, morphing like a butterfly. I hope. It could also be Mothra. Anyway, the next five years are going to be very interesting on this front.

Traditional publishing is changing as well. When you have equipment expenses, long building leases, global presence, and a two to three year lead time on books bring published, it’s hard to turn on s dime. Self publishing is the cigarette boat zooming toward an island in the distance. It’s fast, fleet, and nimble. Traditional pub is also a boat – a cruise ship. It takes longer to turn toward the same goal, but once it gets there it has an awful lot of passengers to compete with those on the self pub boat.

To throw another analogy out there, it seems like everyone is blogging, writing, and screeching about publishing as if it were a hundred yard dash, instead of the marathon it really is. People on both sides hold up shining examples to support their assertions.
Look, here’s Konrath and his success with self pub!

Yeah, but he was traditionally published first, building his brand.

And here’s Hocking, with her great self pub success.

Isn’t that the one who just published with a traditional company?

Yes and no. She’ll have both self published and traditional books.

Hmpf. Look at Rowling’s success with the Big 6 of traditional publishing.

Umm. She just announced she will be self pubbing her books on her own website.

And so on and so forth. I think authors of the future might be more of a mix of the two types of publishing. I myself have a query letter. I haven’t sent it to anyone yet, and I’m not entirely certain I ever will. Maybe I’ll self pub. Or maybe I’ll mail the query letter next week. Perhaps the better idea would be to let the dust settle and see where the industry goes in the next couple of years.

Or, I’ll be slain by the mob gathering outside. Think that’ll get my name in the papers, start some brand recognition?

Being Trendy

Fads come and go. And then come back again. All the cartoons I watched as a kid are getting remade, though some are coming back as movies instead. Smurfs. Transformers. I saw an add the other day for a new Thundercats. And msnbc reported today that the Care Bears are making a return to TV next year.

The same seems to be true in fantasy. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to work in the publishing industry and have to sift through proposals. All it takes is one successful series and everyone starts writing a similar book. The prominence of Harry Potter brought about a host of imitators… And those are only the ones I saw. Remember the Lemony Snicket books? Every other book after that seemed to have main characters who were orphans.

Twilight and True Blood (based on C. Harris’ Sookie Stsckhouse books – which are really great reads, by the way) brought vampires boiling to the surface. Zombies and zombie mashups had their day in the sun the last couple of years. Even the Center for Disease Control got in on the act with a bit of fun on National Zombie Day.

Angels seemed to be making a flight toward the bestseller
lists, but I have to admit I havent seen much of that lately. I would anticipate we’ll see a big leap in epic fantasy submissions and self-pubications this next year or two, what with the huge success of HBO’s Game of Thrones and the upcoming publication of Dance of Dragons in a few days.

With the turn around time of a couple of years for traditional publishers, it’s really impossible to write to be on the leading edge of the next trend. And yet, people seem to try, forcing their story into a YA package, or stuffing a love story into their horror novel to improve marketability. But is that making the story more appealing to buyers, or ensuring a lack of readers for the next novel after they had to give up on a cobbled together debut novel?

What’s the next big trend in fantasy?
I checked my crystal ball. It said to ask again tomorrow.