Category Archives: Genre Delving

Basic Types of Magic

 by Andy Peloquin


One of the most common elements in fantasy novels is magic. Just as technology is what drives many sci-fi novel plots, so too magic is the driving force behind many fantasy stories. But the truth is that there are SO MANY different types of magic to use.

Below is a rough “guide to magic types”, based on my experience reading and writing stories involving magic. Each universe/novel can have their own rules to follow, but this is a general outline of some of the more popular types of magic to use:

Mage – Mages tend to fall into the category of “scholars”. Most mages belong to an order or scholastic organization that trains them to use magic. The sort of magic used by magic may be innate (within them), or they could use magic that comes from the world around them. They may also be able to use talismans and other magic-imbued items. Mages usually use spells, cantrips, and incantations to access magic.

Wizard – Wizards also tend to belong the “scholar” category, but their magic is often far less academic. Some wizards will use books to learn their wizardry, but many will have access to it innately or instinctively. They tend to have an inner wisdom that grants them access to magic, and often are talented in wizardry. Study and practice can hone the talents, but wizards often inherit or acquire magic from outside sources.

Sorcerer – Sorcerers almost exclusively use innate/inner magic, which comes from within them. Sorcery tends to be more “soul magic”, meaning sorcerers control the magic using their internal power. Sorcery is also more instinctive. It can be honed, but the power is usually connected to the power of their soul. Some sorcerers also have instinctive access to the magic in the world.

Cleric – Clerics are given access to divine powers, which come from their particular god or goddess. They may rely on religious talismans, or they may access the divine powers using a spell or ritual. Clerics belong to a religious order or sect, and they are almost always priests (or paladins).

Druid – Druids, like the druids of ancient England, tend to rely on the powers of earth, stone, wood, wind, fire, and other forces/objects of nature. They may have knowledge of lore, herbal medicines, and the hidden properties of plants and herbs. However, their magic is almost always connected to nature.

Alchemist – Alchemists are like “magical scientists”. They may use magic to transmute liquids and solids, or they can create new substances with magical-like properties. A great deal of alchemy is based on modern science, though with a distinct “fantastical” twist to it.

Remember, there are exceptions to every rule. These are the “broad strokes” categories of magic, but the rules aren’t hard and fast. Every fantasy author will use their own take on magic, including the means of accessing it, the cost of using it, and the origin of the magic used.


You can check out Andy’s books here.

Inspiration for Alien Characters in Science Fiction

by Aurora Springer


Science fiction readers and writers love aliens. In order to create alien characters, a writer must describe the physical appearance, behavior, method of communication, and possibly the society of the aliens. We must extrapolate from what we know about humans and other living organisms on Earth. Here, I aim to inspire writers with ideas from the perspective of a scientist with a life-long interest in the diversity of life on our planet.

First, what are aliens? In science fiction, aliens are the inhabitants of other planets. They may, or may not, be intelligent. I believe life exists on other planets. In my opinion, the majority of alien lifeforms is likely to be microbial like bacteria on Earth. Microbes are robust and versatile. Different types can survive in a variety of extreme environments, including deep sea hydrothermal vents, Antarctica, underground and inside humans. Bacteria can exchange genetic material and communicate with chemicals. Has anybody used microbes as “characters” in their stories?

Little green men”, or human-like aliens are common in science fiction. Humanoid characters have a head, two arms and two legs. Humanoids predominate in video media, partly because they are easier to describe. Consider Dr. Who: even the exterminating Daleks are mutant humans in a robotic shell. I have mutated or genetically engineered humans in my stories.

Animal-like aliens are also common. Felines are popular, such as the lion-like Hani of C.J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey’s Hrubbans, and the Kzinti of Larry Niven.

Mythological Dragons are clearly related to reptiles and fall into the category of animal-like aliens. I have dragons and other alien reptiles inhabiting the Planet Sythos in my series, Grand Masters’ Galaxy.

We can move from vertebrates to invertebrate animals. Giant insects make vicious opponents, although they might be friendly. Adrian Tchaikovsky endows humans with insect characteristics in the Apt series, which is more fantasy than science fiction. I had fun with human colonists on the planet of giant arthropods in A Tale of Two Colonies. Insects resemble us in structure. They have one head with two eyes and a mouth, and three pairs of limbs on their bodies. Can we go beyond animals with this body structure?

One early example of non-humanoid aliens is described in the War of the Worlds (1897) by HG Wells. Piers Anthony in his Cluster series imagined a variety of non-humanoid sentient aliens. He used the unifying theme of aura as a means of communication and exchange of minds into different bodies. In Thousandstar (1980), a humanoid woman falls in love with an alien resembling a giant amoeba (my description).

Consider the myriad varieties of animals living in the sea. Many are spineless invertebrate animals such as jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and squid. Squid and octopuses may be highly intelligent. They can manipulate objects with their arms and exhibit familiar behavior like playing. Their “brains” are distributed throughout their bodies and they communicate by changing color. How would you talk with an octopus?

What about plants? Carnivorous plant-like aliens include the walking plants with lethal stings from John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951). One of the characters in my Grand Masters’ Galaxy is a planetoid shaped like a giant flower with three pink petals, short stem and trailing roots. I named this character, Amarylla, to help readers visualize her. Amarylla communicates by rustling her leaves, folding or opening her petals like an umbrella, and by emitting scents. In fact, plants, fungi and microbes manufacture chemicals for communication and defense. Adding odors in your scenes is a great way to evoke emotional responses in your readers.

If we move beyond life on Earth, aliens might be entities of gas or pure energy. Sir Fred Hoyle, the eminent English astronomer, was a stubborn opponent of the Big Bang theory. His 1957 novel, The Black Cloud, explores the idea of an intelligent interstellar cloud. The key problem for the human characters was discovering the cloud was intelligent and devising a means of communication. Aliens of pure energy may be completely oblivious of us.

I hope some of these weird life forms will inspire you to create unique and believable aliens in your stories.


You can check out Aurora’s books here.

A World of Lawlessness Breeds Crime

by Andy Peloquin


As a fantasy author, I have the joy of being able to create my own worlds, societies, and environments for the characters and stories I write. As a DARK fantasy author, it’s a thrill to delve into the underside of human nature and see just how low people can stoop—as well as how high they can rise.

My latest novel, Child of the Night Guild, follows a girl sold to and raised by a Thieves’ Guild. In researching the novel, I spent hours poring over criminology, the art of thieving, burglary, and more. One fascinating article I came across in Psychology Today looked at the environment that led to crime.

In the article, it talked about a Caribbean island that had a very high crime rate. Not only were there unsanitary and unsafe environments, but the police paid little attention to reports. Some tourists and locals even said that “calling the police is usually a waste of time”. Despite all the “unsavory” elements, the police did little to prevent or deal with the problems.

It seems odd that such a potentially idyllic, “perfect” place could have such a high crime rate. And yet it all comes down to a simple formula: “It is the criminal who commits the crime. It is the responsibility of public officials to deter criminals. Crime flourishes in areas that tolerate it!”

Modern law enforcement organizations have established not only ways to deal with criminals, but even ways to DETER crimes from occurring in the first place. The modern judicial systems are equally equipped to deal with lawbreakers. But the laws that govern a fantasy world are often lacking. Not only are the laws less comprehensive than modern laws, but the organizations that enforce the laws are often less vigilant than modern law enforcement.

A common fantasy trope is a “crooked guard or soldier”, someone who could be easily bribed to look the other way. In a society like that, it’s no surprise that crime flourishes.

But even in fantasy worlds where there are strict laws and law enforcement agencies (city guard, Palace Guard, etc.) to enforce it, the lack of modern technology often makes finding perpetrators more challenging. Crime is able to flourish even in these lawful environments because law enforcement is unable to deter it.

In a fantasy world where law enforcement is too lazy or unethical to prevent crime, it’s to be understood that crime will flourish. But even if the law enforcement bodies are willing to stop crime, the lack of resources (manpower and technology) is often the main thing that prevents them from being truly efficient. This is the main reason that crime is such a common element in fantasy worlds—for better and for worse.


Check out Andy’s books here.

Save

Gravity: Does Size Matter?


by Robert Scanlon

When you think of epic science-fiction, do your thoughts turn to slow-motion zero-gravity scenes, or fancy space stations with complex mechanisms for simulating gravity?

But what do you think of when you imagine a planet several times the size of Earth? A colossus, right? So the gravity would be unbearable, wouldn’t it? I mean a massive planet must need high gravity just to stay together.

This is not the case. It’s possible to have massive planets with lower gravity than Earth, and planets smaller than Earth with high gravity.

It’s all a question of density and mass. And of course, size matters.

For example, Jupiter, a massive planet and the biggest in our solar system, is 31 times the mass of Earth, and 12 times the diameter. But Jupiter’s gravity is only just two and a half times that of Earth.

Mars, is half the diameter of Earth, and one-tenth of the mass, but has one-third of Earth’s gravity.

Mercury, the smallest and least massive planet in our solar system, is quite dense (only slightly less dense than Earth). Its gravity is about 40% of the Earth’s, and higher than Mars.

So what makes a planet dense? (And therefore more likely to have a higher gravitational attraction.)

For the most part, if the planet is solid, it will be down to the composition and distribution of the heavier elements. Metals such as iron — one of the galaxy’s most common metals — will contribute strongly to the planet’s density, and therefore its gravity.

But some planets are not entirely solid!

For example, Jupiter is a “gas giant,” meaning, although it is huge, it’s not that dense (compared to Earth). But because the outer portion of Jupiter is thought to be gas or liquefied gas, it is hypothesized that below all that gas is a solid core. So if you try to stand on Jupiter’s gaseous surface, you’d fall through the gas (and at two and a half times earth gravity, you’d fall fast!), and probably end up on a solid surface somewhere (note: don’t try this at home. It’s probably fatal).

Back to the sci-fi. Just because the intrepid explorers land on a big planet, it doesn’t mean it will be hard to move due to the high gravity. In actual fact, it’s more likely the g-forces will be less.

Which brings to mind an interesting observation. Given the number of extraterrestrial planets visited in sci-fi history, don’t you think it’s incredibly lucky that most of them seem to have a gravitational pull the same as Earth’s?

Makes it easier (and cheaper) to film, I suppose!

Maybe this is one reason I liked the movie, “Gravity” so much – they took the time to make sure the gravitational science was true-to-life, even though it is science-fiction!


Robert Scanlon is the author of Constellation, the first book in the Blood Empire series and a Space Opera Science-Fiction Epic. In which there are two planets and one moon with completely different gravity to that of the Earth’s. And lots of zero-gee floating!

Save

Save

Why Time Travel Is So Much Fun

by Paul Levinson


Time travel is my favorite kind of science fiction – precisely because it’s almost certainly impossible. And because it’s so likely impossible, seeing how time travel stories can work, can make sense, is a special kind of fun.

Why is time travel impossible?

Well, if you travel to the past to change whatever event, and you succeed, how would you have had knowledge about the event you went back to change in the first place? This is often called the grandfather paradox – if you go back in time and accidentally kill your grandfather, then you wouldn’t have been born, so how could you have gone back in time in the first place – but there’s no need to kill anyone in your family for this paradox to be upon you, the time traveler. Anything you do, when you travel back in time, that invalidates the reasons or necessary ingredients for the trip, would trigger the paradox.

There are lots of ways out of this, such as the multiple words interpretation, which works like this: Time traveler 1 (TT1) from World 1 travels back in time, and accidentally prevents either set of grandparents from meeting. So TT1 is never born. And in that world – call it World 2 – since TT1 doesn’t exist, there may never be any time travel. But that’s ok, because we could day TT1 from W1 went back in time, stopped the grandparents from meeting, which resulted in W2 with no TT1 or TT2. No paradox at all with these multiple worlds.

But if our existence really consisted of an infinite number of multiple worlds or realities, with a new one triggered with every action of the time traveler, that would make for an existence far more insane than just our normal world with time travel, right?

Ok, but what about travel to the future? No grandparent paradoxes there, but we run into other problems. If I travel one day into the future, and I see you wearing a blue hat, what does that mean for you? That you have no choice but to wear a blue hat? Well I don’t know about you, but I think I have a choice about what color hat to wear tomorrow, or not wear any hat at all. We call that free will. Don’t you think you have that ability too, or do you think everything you do from now on is available to the scrutiny of anyone in your vicinity who travels into the future, which would result in your doing just that, and only that, whatever other ideas you might have right now about what to do tomorrow?

Time travel is such an enjoyable exercise for the mind that I get a kick just thinking about it, and writing about those paradoxes and loops. But reading a great novel like Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity, or seeing a movie like 12 Monkeys, or a new television series like Travelers – well, that’s always a rare treat indeed. If you’ve read this far, I’d bet that at least some part of your brain agrees….


Check out Paul Levinson’s books here.

The Science of Magic in Fantasy

by Andy Peloquin

The Flying Carpet (1880)
by Viktor Vasnetsov


We’ve all read books where magic is used as a tool to accomplish the impossible. The hero finds himself in peril or the heroine is confronted with insurmountable odds, and magic saves the day!

What rubbish. That sort of magic is unbelievable, not to mention lazy. To be realistic, magic has to be more of a science.

In truth, magic is sort of a pseudoscience. Well-crafted magic systems have their own very clear rules. For example, take Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic:

  1. An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

  2. The limitations of a magic system are more interesting than its capabilities. What the magic can’t do is more interesting than what it can.

  3. “A brilliant magic system for a book is less often one with a thousand different powers and abilities — and is more often a magic system with relatively few powers that the author has considered in depth.”

Magic varies from book to book. What one fantasy author writes may be disdained by another. But a well-presented magic system is as clearly-defined (at least in the author’s mind) as the laws of gravity. If X happens, Y is always the reaction. Combine X and Y, and Z will always happen. There is a certain raw, elemental force to magic, but just like fire, water, air, and gravity, it must be understood in order for it to be effective.

As readers, we’re being asked by the author to suspend disbelief long enough to believe that magic exists. Fair enough, right? It’s why we love fantasy in the first place. But if the author doesn’t give us a sort of magic we can wrap our head around, it’s TOO unbelievable.

We may not understand how the magic works, but we have to understand how the magic works! Sounds silly, but let me explain:

  1. We don’t understand how the magic works – We don’t know where magic comes from. It could be wild magic from the earth, innate sorcerous abilities, mutant powers, or any number of magical sources. Seeing as we don’t have access to that magic, we don’t really know how the magic works. We just know that it does because the author has told us it does.

  2. We have to understand how the magic works – We have to know that when the mage waggles his fingers just so, it’s channeling magic from his mind, from the earth, from his deity, or from some talisman. We may not understand exactly where the magic comes from or how the person taps into it, but we understand their struggle with it, their limitations, their abilities, and their strengths and weaknesses.

It’s easy for an author to say, “Magic works” and trust that we’ll accept it. But that’s not the case! Magic needs to be as well-defined as the science of the world we’re reading. Just like we know that “what goes up must come down”, so too there have to be constants in the magic systems, something we can wrap our minds around. The more defined, the easier it is to suspend disbelief of what we know to buy into the premise of “magic”.


Check out Andy Peloquin’s books here.

Save

Is it Science or is it Fiction?

by Robert Scanlon


What do you prefer in science-fiction? Do you lean toward the science, or do you like the fiction more?

Of course, it’s all fiction. But some people prefer their science-fiction closer to the hard science and to what is hypothetically possible, or just a small stretch from what is possible given our current knowledge.

And then there are some who prefer to have their science-fiction completely imaginative — which some say is merely swords and sorcery, or pure fantasy, but in a space setting.

Take Star Wars, for example. It’s a combination of some science (maybe not much), and a lot of fantasy. I mean, Jedi mind tricks, lightsabers, improbable aliens, and plenty of planets all of which seem to have the same gravity as Earth. So Star Wars is a lot of fun, but certainly not hard science.

Contrast that to Star Trek. Although it appears to be just a low-budget Space Opera TV series from the 60s, the writers did try to get some of the science correct, especially in the modern movie adaptations. Although once again, we do seem to be visiting an awful lot of planets with the same gravity as Earth.

Some of the sci-fi classics have taken a hard science approach to developing an imaginative setting. For example, Larry Niven’s Ringworld. In Ringworld, an entire ring-like structure encircles a star at roughly the distance of Earth’s orbit from the sun. It spins or “orbits,” and generates gravity in this fashion. Niven built an entire spectacle from one premise.

Having said that, Niven was then taken to task by fans, possibly physicists themselves, who pointed out many flaws in the hard science, and Niven was forced to rewrite his premise in the second book, The Ringworld Engineers. Nonetheless the hard science behind Ringworld and its sequel makes it a much more curious read, where much of the conflict is driven by the science.

And perhaps that’s what it comes down to, a question of what generates the conflict. Does the conflict in the story arise because of the science, or does the conflict simply come from the interplay of characters and plot, and it wouldn’t matter whether the setting was science or fantasy, it just happens to be set in “space” or some futuristic setting.

Perhaps you’re like me, and you sit somewhere in between. You don’t mind if some of the science is at present impossible; for example, faster than light drive. Or hyperspace. Or galaxies peppered with multiple types of aliens, all of whom are able to converse with each other. Somehow this tickles my imagination. I enjoy being transported into a future where perhaps this is all possible.

It’s not too much of a stretch to take ourselves back into the medieval world, show the people of that time our cars, planes, computers and iPhones, to have them exclaim that it is simply magic and not provable by science.

Perhaps so, but it does seem as if it would take someone to completely bust Einstein’s theories to get us to faster-than-light drives. One day, I hope.

But I do like some of the science in my science-fiction to be reasonably accurate, particularly where it is portraying something we know to be true today.

For example, if your spaceship does not have artificial gravity (yet another functionality that has yet to be developed without the use of centrifuges or rotational space stations), then it makes sense that people should be floating around the spaceship, using anchor points or magnetic boots or some form of device to allow for easy movement. When a fight breaks out on board, it should be realistic and believable within the zero gravity setting.

We shouldn’t be expecting folks to be running along the ship’s passageways as if they are on Earth. So if they do, it does tend to take me out of the story a little. But if the story has already grabbed me, my mind will somehow switch over to thinking, “well it’s just swords and sorcery in space and that’s okay.” As long as it is consistent I guess!

Equally, acceleration, relative speed, gravity (I seem to be fixated on gravity) and other current-day physical science should be realistic and reasonable, or within reason in a science fiction story. We shouldn’t expect that every planet visited in a science-fiction Space Opera epic would have identical gravity to Earth’s.

Nor should we expect that every alien being is bipedal. (Though I am guilty of this in my stories.)

At the end of the day, whether you prefer hard science or speculative fiction or something in between, it’s all about believability. Any science-fiction is going to require the reader to suspend their disbelief for some period of time, because after all it is science-fiction and it is meant to represent something that isn’t possible today, but only possible in our heads.

And is that the fun of science-fiction?


Robert Scanlon is the author of Constellation, a Space Opera Science-Fiction Epic with plenty of debatable science, some hard science, and of course the obligatory bipedal aliens. Constellation is a fast-paced adventurous galactic escapade, featuring a daring female space pirate.

Fantasy Built on the Religions of Our Ancestors: The Historical Context of Mythology

by USA Today Bestselling Author, S.M. Schmitz

Ossian on the Bank of the Lora, Invoking the Gods to the Strains of a Harp by François Gérard

Ossian on the Bank of the Lora, Invoking the Gods to the Strains of a Harp (1801)
by François Gérard


With hugely successful series like Percy Jackson & the Olympians and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Rick Riordan has brought mythological fiction into the mainstream. While his middle grade books might typically find younger audiences, mythological fiction is an exciting fantasy subgenre for adults as well.

I began writing mythological fiction because of my background as a world history instructor. One of my areas of interest is social history, and religion and belief systems are a significant aspect of all cultures throughout history. Those beliefs have shaped gender relations, education, class divisions, politics, foreign policies, and systems of alliances.

What we now label as mythology isn’t just a collection of interesting stories; they are little windows into the pasts of our ancestors, snippets of their lives, their beliefs, their fears, and their hopes.

My first mythological series is The Immortals, which is loosely inspired by The Book of Enoch. This non-canonical text describes the fall of a group of angels after seeing some of the beautiful women on Earth. Pieces of the mythology from this Ethiopian script are found throughout The Immortals series as those humans who have been conscripted by Heaven to fight on its behalf combat demons on Earth.

One of the many things world mythologies can teach us is about gender norms and roles. The story of Lilith is a perfect example. According to some other non-canonical texts (which are also used for The Immortals), she was the original wife of Adam, but “refused to lie beneath him.” The implication is that Lilith refused to be subservient to a man and instead demanded to be regarded as his equal. She was cast out of Eden and in some texts, partnered with a fallen angel (perhaps Azazel or Samael). This union then produced all the demons that would plague mankind forever.

The moral of the story, of course, is that of expected gender roles. Lilith is punished for not fulfilling the role expected of her and is exiled, while her partnership with a fallen angel and the subsequent birth of thousands of demons firmly places her existence as a malevolent one for having failed to behave as a subordinate to man.

The Unbreakable Sword series is a multiverse world in which all pantheons from every civilization coexist. Although it has a contemporary setting, many of the most famous gods and goddesses from the most popular world mythologies are still alive and can be found in this series. The primary focus, however, is on the Tuatha Dé of Ireland.

The stories contained within the early Irish myths not only give us fascinating tales of heroes like Cú Chulainn who must overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to marry Emer, the romantic tragedy of Deirdre and Noísiu, and one of my personal favorites, “The Wooing of Étain,” but can teach us about pre-Christian Ireland’s social and legal structure as well.

Because no written language existed before the Christianization of Ireland, we sometimes have to read these myths with the understanding that they were transcribed by monks and are almost certainly altered and, sometimes, Christianized (for example, I’m almost positive that in the original legend of Caoranach, St. Patrick didn’t spend two days and two nights in Lough Derg battling the mythological serpent). But the original legends still provide insight into early Irish rituals (for example, the concept of the gessa or the celebratory feasts that accompanied traditional changings of the seasons) and laws (inheritance rights, and the responsibilities and duties of a king).

While we fiction writers often leave out the historical context of the myths we’re adapting since we are, after all, crafting entertaining fictional stories inspired by the religions of our ancestors, the historian in me invites readers to explore the legends of our ancestors more fully, to see their worlds through their tales that have survived the millennia and entertain us still.

Whether it’s Magnus Chase or Cameron and Selena from The Unbreakable Sword series, if you find inspiration in their adventures with the gods, then let the gods inspire you to journey with them into the past.

For more information on S.M. Schmitz’s books, please visit smschmitz.com.