Random Fact Friday: What links Terry Pratchett with Saturn?

I don’t need to tell you Terry Pratchett was a comic genius and a campaigner for many things that matter. I’ve got a feeling you know that already.

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Terry Pratchett (Photo: Robin Zebrowski)
I also don’t need to tell you that he created Discworld, a flat planet carried through space by four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle; a turtle who is swimming through space towards, it’s widely believed, a rendezvous with another turtle of romantic inclination.

But perhaps I do need to tell you that we have our very own Discworld in our solar system!

Okay, to be fair, Saturn isn’t as flat as the Discworld is portrayed to be. If Saturn did had water, it wouldn’t be flowing off the edge of the planet as it does on Discworld.

But Discworld is the flattest planet (that we know of) in Terry’s imaginary universe, and while Saturn may not be the flattest planet in our universe, it is the flattest planet in our solar system. Its polar diameter is just 90% of its equatorial diameter, due to its low density and fast rotation (it turns on its axis once every 10 hours and 34 minutes. That’s pretty fast). So it’s not so much flat as… squashed.

Saturn is also the most distant planet that can be seen with the naked eye and it has the most extensive rings of any planet in our system too. It isn’t full of wizards, dwarves, reformed vampires and cantankerous witches – in fact, it’s not capable of supporting life (or not as we know it, Jim).  But its largest moon, Titan, is the only moon in the Solar System to have a substantial atmosphere – and could potentially support life.

 

U is for Underrated: The Disney Film Nobody Knows

Underrated: rated or evaluated too low; underestimated.

A-ha! I remembered! Here we are at last on ‘underrated’, as promised in my E is for Enthralling: The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books that Got Me Hooked post:

Lloyd Alexander: The Chronicles of Prydain 

They’re brilliant, and based on Welsh mythology. Never heard of them? Er… ever heard of the Disney film, The Black Cauldron? That’s not that surprising either. Taking its title from the 2nd book, yet loosely based on books 1 and 2, it was “the first Disney animated theatrical feature to receive a PG rating. It even had to be edited twice to avoid being released with a PG-13 or R rating” (IMDB).  It’s popularly known as ‘the film that nearly finished Disney’. I’ll explain why in my ‘U for Underrated’ blog post. 

See?

So let’s look at the film.

First, according to Wikipedia, ‘The Black Cauldron is notable for being the world’s first full-length animated feature film to incorporate the use of computer generated imagery in its animation.’ Well that sounds ok. 

Second, Lloyd Alexander, the author of the books on which the film was based, had an interesting complex reaction to the film in an interview with Scholastic about his books: 

“First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable. I had fun watching it. What I would hope is that anyone who sees the movie would certainly enjoy it, but I’d also hope that they’d actually read the book. The book is quite different. It’s a very powerful, very moving story, and I think people would find a lot more depth in the book.”

I have to agree there. But I think there are two reasons why the film wasn’t popular: the characters and story were too complex for the audience, and the story was too dark.

Because third: the story is very dark and this horrified just about everyone.

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According to IMDb’s notes, after changes in Disney management during production, ‘new studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg screened the mostly-completed film and was appalled by its darkness’ and asked the producer, Joe Hale,  to cut 10 minute of it. Joe and Roy Disney managed to cut 6 minutes that they thought would have little impact, But Katzenberg wasn’t happy. Despite their protests he ‘brought the film into an editing bay and began cutting it himself’. Joe Hale said that eventually [Katzenberg] cut out about 12 minutes, which really hurt the picture.” The cuts were very clumsy and the Horned King wasn’t much of a villain once his habit of zombie-making was glossed over.

It was supposedly Disney’s attempt to gather teen fans, but it backfired.

According to animation artist Michael Peraza Jr., when Disney started having screenings for the public at the studio theater to gather their reactions to the rough cut of this film, he knew that the “un-dead” section would most likely be revolting to some in the audience who would not expect to see a bunch of rotted corpses slowly fermenting. When the film reached the “un-dead” sections close to the end of the film, the doors opened and a mother was angrily leaving with her two wailing children. She was followed by another, and soon there was a sizeable exodus of crying kids and upset parents fleeing from the theater. The un-dead sections were quickly cut from the film. IMDb

With its dodgy editing, changes in animators and producers,  5 torturous years in production and the loss of the grittier and more compelling scenes, it was a massive flop financially and critical reviews were mixed but often negative. It took years of nagging to get a VHS release (1998), then a DVD release (2000). Finally in September 2010, Disney released a 25th Anniversary Edition DVD, which we own, with one of the deleted sections featuring The Fairfolk. Wkipedia

And we own it because it is underrated. Yes, it could be a lot better, but you do get a sense of the story and it’s refreshing not to be confronted by the  nauseating, weak ‘judge-me-by my-looks-because-I-don’t-have-any-brains, kiss-me-without-my-permission (or even my consciousness), save me, save me, I’ll-sacrifice-anything-for-you, marry-me-oh-my-hero’ Disney Princesses. It was a great book and the film does have a dark charm.

So should you get the chance, I recommend a watch.

 

G is for Goofy: Because Fantasy Can Be Funny

Don’t worry, we will get to the goofy part. Yes, it was a bit tenuous. But I wanted to finish off the whole fantasy books thing, ok? Just settle down…

I know a lot of the time scales have overlapped, because from around age 12 -25 I read a lot of these series simultaneously. Sorry; of course if I’d looked into the future, I would have bought all the books and then started on them as each series was complete – just to make it easier.

So we’re back around age 13 again, and I start on:
Raymond Feist: The Riftwar Saga, The Empire Trilogy, Krondor’s Sons, The Serpentwar Saga, The Riftwar Legacy, Legends of the Riftwar, Conclave of Shadows, The Darkwar Saga, The Demonwar Saga, The Chaoswar Saga

File:Riftwar.JPGFor a long time I’d have named Raymond Feist as my favourite fantasy author, and I’m still following this never-ending, spin-off producing series of series which all started with Magician. 
But he should have stopped around two series ago. There are still mysteries to be solved and it’s enjoyable enough, but it’s getting repetitive. There aren’t enough new characters or twists, and it feels thin. Also the writing is getting sloppy. In the last one I read, a paragraph of description (of a specific demon, if you’re curious) sounded far too familiar. I went back a chapter or two and found the identical paragraph. Identical! Ouch.

Tad Williams: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn seriesThe Dragonbone Chair, first novel in the epic saga of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.
I think I must have read these in my mid-twenties. Just like Raymond Feist’s series, this starts with a young boy who’s apprenticed to a magician. The rules aren’t as complex, but the action is compelling, the characters are likeable (where appropriate!) and well-drawn, and unlike Feist he knew where to stop – with a trilogy (although the last book often appears as two volumes, as it’s a bit weighty). No insights into the meaning of life here – just a darn good trio of fantasy books: The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower. Thanks Tad. And thanks to the editors of the Legends anthologies (short stories that are spin-offs from major fantasy series by various authors), because you introduced me to Tad and Robert Silverberg, jsut down the page there. Although I may never forgive you for starting me off on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Oh, those wasted years…

Robert Silverberg: The Majipoor Series
Love, love, love Robert Silverberg. I think we’ve reached my mid to late twenties now. I love all the different races, a huge world that’s so similar to ours in some ways and so different in others.  Some intriguing ideas (having your morals tweaked in your dreams?) and the sense that he’s making subtle statements about real life (something I enjoy in TV sci-fi and fantasy as well. I’m often surprised the USA aired the Canadian produced Stargate – some of the criticism wasn’t that well-hidden!).
He’s written dozens of other novels and short stories under dozens of pen names and is still writing, although unfortunately he seems to have pretty much finished with Majipoor (although I notice he’s recently produced a ‘Tales’ book I don’t have – *reaches for birthday list*).

Now as promised: the goofy side of fantasy. Please welcome the Right Honourable…

Sir Terry Pratchett: the Discworld Series, The Nome Trilogy, The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1.jpg
I was probably around 18 when I read the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic, and met the most-definitely-goofy wizard, Rincewind. I was well and tuly hooked from the start and now of course, Rincewind is an old friend – as are Mort, Death, the Three Witches and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. What can you say? The man’s a genius, whether he’s wandering into out-and-out parody (the classic ‘When shall we three meet again?’  “Well, I can do next Tuesday…” still makes me grin) or weaving in satire so subtle it’s hard to spot (I’m thinking the recent non-Discworld novels here: Nation, The Long Earth). He can handle fantasy and sci-fi with equal ability, and has produced some of the funniest material I’ve ever read. Long may he reign!

I still read Feist and Pratchett, and I don’t plan to leave Williams and Silverberg behind either. I’ve got my eye on them, but so many books, so little time… Alongside these, most of the fantasy and sci-fi I’ve read in the past 10 years or so has been aimed at 10-18 year olds. But I’ll save those for a future post.

F is for Fascinating: My Teenage Fantasy (Novels!) and Beyond

In which we carry on with our trip through the fantasy (novel) loves of my youth 😉

I’m 12 now, and I’ve read The Hobbit, but we’ll get to Tolkien in a bit because I won’t read Lord of the Rings until much later.

David (and Leigh) Eddings: The Belgariad, The Malloreon ( follow-up series) and the 3 ‘Prequels’/Spin-offs
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I think I was 13ish when I started reading these, and 28 when I stopped with the publication of the last one, The Rivan Codex, in 1999. I loved them, particularly the last 3 (I prefer ‘spin-offs’ to prequels, as they also cover events you’ve already read about, just from a different point of view – a bit like Lion King 3!) The characters were well-portrayed and the books were full of humour, although sometimes Eddings did seem to lose his way a little. One day, I’ll read them all again (if I can wrest them from ArtyDaughter). I tried a couple of books from his next series but felt he’d lost it – as though he’d created all the characters he ever could and was just presenting them again, re-jigged and renamed. I was mad with him when he eventually revealed that his wife co-wrote them; she finally got her name on the cover in 1995,  with the first spin-off, Belgarath the Sorcerer.

JRR Tolkien: Lord of the RingsJrrt lotr cover design.jpg
My English teacher gave me her own copy of The Hobbit in 1983, but I didn’t read LOTR until I was 17. I borrowed it from my cousin. I say ‘it’ because he had a huge paperback that had all three books within and a very distressed spine without. Now I know the elves keep bursting into song (ArtyDaughter’s main gripe; she prefers the films), but Tolkien is the king of atmosphere. The sense of threat when Frodo and his friends first flee and are hunted by the Nazgul is overwhelming. I’m sure I held my breath when I read it for the first time. I think everything else has been said many times before…

Julian May: The Saga of the Exiles and the follow-up (kind of…yet also a prequel *taps nose*), Galactic Milieu Series
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Brilliant.  Read right through to the end and I guarantee you many ‘er…what?’ and ‘OMG!’ moments. It starts off a a simple tale of human outcasts from the near future travelling through a time gate to the Pliocene era to start again and live the simple life. Enter early hominids, aliens, funky mind powers, betrayal and enough twists and turns to make your head spin as though you’ve been sleep-walking and accidentally drunk all the Scotch again. These series truly hover on the sci-fi/fantasy border, but her other famous series (yes, ‘she’s’ a girl and Julian is her real name) are a little easier; The Rampart Worlds books are sci-fi and the Boreal Moon trilogy is fantasy. But they’re all…  brilliant! Oh… I already said that. These four series took me from 14 to 35.

Katherine Kerr: The Deverry Cycle
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21 to 27ish. I think these are one of the few sets of fantasy novels I’ve turfed out as some point – or perhaps they’re in the loft. There are fifteen novels but I think I only read the first 10 or 11. They zip back and forth between different incarnations of the characters – similar events happening again and again until things were put right. Fascinating stories, but I think it started to feel a bit long and drawn out – perhaps that’s why I stopped reading them?

What next? I think we’ll save that for tomorrow with G 🙂

 

E is for Enthralling: The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books that Got Me Hooked

The inspiration for today’s post comes from the ‘chat’ (i.e. blog comment exchange) I had yesterday with Roland Clarke, fellow writer, A to Zer and 100kin100days member (you could visit his blog next…). I mused about fantasy and sci-fi – about how I’d loved it but then spent a long period avoiding it, because everything I picked up seemed derivative; same old, same old. But it was the genre that inspired a devotion which carried me through to my teens and beyond, long after other genres (school, pony and mystery stories) had been left behind.To discover where this love started, we’re going back, back… no, I mean we’re REALLY going back..

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Plaque near Dulwich library

Enid Blyton: The Far-Away Tree series
Three children climbed a huge tree inhabited by a host of fascinating, vaguely humanoid creatures – Saucepan Man, Moonface and Silky the Fairy. Were there others? There was a helter-skelter that went right down through the middle of the tree, AND different magical lands were on a rota to appear at the top of the tree. Some lands were fun, some were scary (to someone of 6 or 7). What’s not to love?

C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
I get twitchy when people refer to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the ‘first’ Narnia book. It was written first, but please don’t give it to anyone to read first; in the Chronicles it’s book 2. The confusion comes from Lewis’ writing order (2,4,5,6,3,1,7), but if you don’t read the Magician’s Nephew first, you’ll never discover how Narnia came into being – or where the wardrobe came from in the first place.

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  3. The Horse and his Boy
  4. Prince Caspian
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

Despite – or as well as, depending on your leaning – being Christian allegory, the Chronicles are a darn good read. Yes, the language and mannerisms are dated now, but for the time, the girls are portrayed as relatively strong characters who do not stay out of the fighting. Battles, magic, rescues, betrayal, super-villains, loveable animal comrades that  talk, the notion of a different world just round the corner from ours and the heady idea that one day I might be called upon, just as Peter, Edward, Susan and Lucy were, to go and ‘make a difference: marvellous!
The Horse and His Boy is hard-going and a little lacking in Lewis magic. It only really relates to The Last Battle,  and can be left out altogether without much impact. As for The Last Battle – by now I was 8 or 9 and had already lost two of the three grandparents I started with. It made me cry.

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Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander: The Chronicles of Prydain
They’re brilliant, and based on Welsh mythology. Never heard of them? Er… ever heard of the Disney film, The Black Cauldron? That’s not that surprising either. Taking its title from the 2nd book, yet loosely based on books 1 and 2, it was “the first Disney animated theatrical feature to receive a PG rating. It even had to be edited twice to avoid being released with a PG-13 or R rating” (IMDB).  It’s popularly known as ‘the film that nearly finished Disney’. I’ll explain why in my ‘U for Underrated’ blog post. That aside, the books are well worth a read. The character development is great, as are the moral dilemmas; there’s an interesting heroine and a pig-keeper who comes into his own. But as is often the case, the ending is bitter sweet. Here I am in tears again at the end of book 5: 10 years old.

  1. The Book of Three
  2. The Black Cauldron
  3. The Castle of Llyr
  4. Taran Wanderer
  5. The High King

More Fantasy talk on Monday in F is for Fascinating 🙂

Guest Post: Melissa McPhail – My Take On Magic Systems

Officially the blog tour has finished, but to round off the week here is a guest post by Melissa McPhail, talking about magic systems in fantasy and how she devised the one she uses in Cephrael’s Hand. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

My Take on Magic Systems

A guest post by Melissa McPhail

 

One of the most enticing aspects of writing fantasy is developing a magic system. The author’s magic system is inextricably woven into their world and contributes greatly to the reader’s vision of the world overall. The way a system is created either makes the world seem real or unreal, depending on how well the author has grounded the system with laws and limitations.

For example, scientists in our own world have defined laws—inertia, gravity, the periodic table—that describe the physical limitations and properties of energy. We don’t expect a stone to rise upwards when we throw it, but we might believe it could float if it were somehow made of helium. Likewise in a fantasy world, it’s important to codify the system with laws and rules (and to stick to those rules once established), to set boundaries for what the magician can and cannot do with magic, and to establish consequences for and ramifications of magical misuse.

This all shows that magic systems require significant thought and research on the author’s part to develop realistically. Yet for all of this, the manner in which one might design and describe the magical process is potentially limitless—there are as many magical systems as there are fantasy novels, and equally as many readers eager to pontificate on their pros and cons and/or to organize the systems into categories and types.

The one thing most magic systems have in common, however, is that they all handle energy. Whether that energy is spiritual, omnipotent, corporeal, or derives from physical objects or living things, the working of arcane arts surrounds the manipulation of energy.

I designed the magic in Cephrael’s Hand based on scientists’ existing understanding of electrical fields. The process of thought has been scientifically proven to produce energy, and human bodies are known to generate electrical fields. For the magic in Alorin, I proposed that all living things produce a metaphysical energy which is formless but which flows across the world in natural currents. This energy is called elae. This is the energy a magician of Alorin uses to produce arcane workings. How he does this is the creative part.

In Cephrael’s Hand, all things are formed of patterns. A single leaf derives its pattern from the larger pattern of its motherly oak. The snowflake harbors the pattern of a storm. Rivers form patterns that mimic the pattern of the world, and a living man harbors within him the pattern of his immortality. These inherent patterns collect and compel energy (elae) toward a certain purpose—growth, action, states of change.

To compel energy, a magician of Alorin (called a wielder) must learn to first identify and then usurp control over the pattern of a thing in order to command it. This is a laborious process requiring a lifetime of study.

Unlike wielders, the Adepts in Cephrael’s Hand are born with the ability to manipulate certain patterns. Adept Healers can see creation patterns (life patterns) and mend them where they’ve become frayed. Truthreaders can hear certain thoughts and read minds to see what a man saw versus what he says he saw. Nodefinders have the ability to move long distances with a single step by traveling on the pattern of the world. And Wildlings tap into a variant aspect of the lifeforce called elae to shapeshift or even skip through time, among other intriguing talents. The last type of Adept can sense the patterns of nonliving things—stone, air, water, fire, etc.—and use those patterns to compel the elements themselves.

Adepts are limited by nature of their birth—they can only inherently work one category of patterns. They are limited by their training, their inherent intelligence, talent and ability. And of course, like us in real life, they are limited by their own vision of their capabilities.

Above all of these limitations, we find Adepts limited by “Balance.” The concept of Balance draws from my studies of Eastern philosophies. It is the high governing force, the yen and yang, karma, cause and effect, fate. It’s as esoteric and arcane as these concepts imply. How far can the Balance be pushed in one direction without lashing back at the wielder? Which actions stretch it and which ones defy it? Balance is a complex and complicated subject—as difficult to define as our own world’s myriad competing religions. The only real agreement on the subject of Balance is that all magical workings stretch the Balance to some degree. Understanding how far they can be stretched without snapping is central to survival in the arcane arts.

The concept of Balance provides, well, the “balancing” force to all magical workings in Cephrael’s Hand and is central to its plot. You see, the entire realm of Alorin is out of Balance and magic is dying—and the Adept race dies along with it.

 

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About Cephrael’s Hand: Two brothers find themselves on opposite sides of a great battle, neither knowing the other is alive… A traitor works in exile while preparing for the disaster only he knows is coming… A race of beings from beyond the fringe of the universe begin unmaking the world from within… And all across the land, magic is dying. Cephrael’s Hand is the first novel in the award-winning series A Pattern of Shadow and Light. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the author: Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their twin daughters and two very large cats. Visit Melissa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.