Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, August 21, 2020

Origin Stories -- Beneath the Lanterns Part Two


Lantern Avenue in Lantera

In my last post I talked about how I decided to write a fantasy, even though I don’t like fantasies. And how I worked around that issue by writing a speculative fiction story set in my Nine Star Nebula “universe” (Though not in the Nine Star Nebula) after the collapse of the advanced human civilization that was sending colonist to the stars. Going this route had its pluses and minuses. Let’s start out with the use of language.

One of the ways fantasy often sets itself apart from SF and builds its fantasy world is in its use of language. Fantasies may use antique words or speech patterns, may use ornate, ethereal, or evocative language to create a sense of otherworldness. Consider the two examples below;

Sir George, Prince Daring’s squire, dressed in embroidered silks, gleaming chain mail, with an elegant dueling sword at his side, reined his tall stallion to a hault at Lady May’s bower gate. Leaning down to her, he solemnly offered her the single white rose he had carried like a pendant in his calf-gloved hand.

DeArcg Gyorga, the armsman of the Faror of Dartha, garbed in a flowing Sarafeld fabric tunic and cape, a vest of hammered Majah-steel chain mail,and wore the ancient sword of Taroon, bounding at his thigh, drew the reins of this magnificent silver-maned Darth as he came abreast of the manse gate wherein stood the Faroratha Mathia. He bowed to her from his high saddle, and wordlessly offered her a single Flower of Ashia that he had borne as his standard.

With the first example, you don’t need a glossary at the back of the book to picture the scene. But the use of everyday words may make the “fantasy” seem more mundane. A fantasy should carry one to new, strange, and wonderful world. Using the ordinary language of this world may make it harder to carry a reader away.

In the second example, with many made up names, titles, places, and perhaps new creatures, one gets a clear sense that you’re not in Kansas any more. A door has been opened to a new world. However, each new term must be described to, and remembered by the reader, all of which makes it harder for the reader to be carried away, especially if they are constantly tripping over unfamiliar words.

A Lanterna canal scene from the story

I tried for a middle course by using commonplace words, for the most part, but perhaps not used the same way in Kansas. Fro example, I used "poured stone" instead of "concrete." I was originally going to use different names for what I knew to be Earth animals, to suggest how far we were away from today. However, I realized that this would be cheating. The world I had set the story on was a human settled, terraformed world, inhabited by humans descended from our Earth along with Earth flora and fauna. The characters ride horses, and to call them anything but a horse, would be deceptive. And I needed to use Earth plants as well, though genetically modified so that exact names might not apply. Give this mundane backdrop, I felt that I needed to keep things as concrete as possible and create my new world by imagining a world strange enough that would transcend the mundane language I would use to describe it.

To do that, I chose a world with low gravity so that my characters could do things that could not be done on our world. I chose a world where the dawn to the next dawn “day” was a month long, divided into 16 ordinary “days.” I gave it an opaque sky that hid all the stars and obscured the two major lights in the sky – the Yellow Lantern that lit the day, and moved across the sky over the course of 16 days, and the dimmer, Blue Lantern that remained fixed in the sky and came to its own, after the Yellow Lantern had set. And I tried to make the cities and landscape as exotic,yet as logical, and as their location and historic background would allow.

Another Lanterna scene

Logic is a keyword in this case, for it tied my hands in some respect. For example, I had to keep close track on whether it was a bright day, or a dark day for any given scene, which meant plotting the story time wise much more closely that I usually do. I usually just keep the story plot in my head, committing to paper only the sequence of scenes where I need to consider time and distance traveled. In this story I needed to do that for every scene since I needed to know the exact day of the month to determine whether it was a bright, dark, or twilit day. And if I wanted a scene to occur on a specific type of day, I had to account for the time between scenes to get there. Plus, I had to take into account that travel would alter that timetable. The Yellow Lantern would rise several days earlier in Lanterna in the east than it would in Azera in the west. I had to determine distances and travel times to reflect that fact.

In addition, by making it a terraformed world, I had to assume that it would have a very carefully curated environment, that used a limited collection of plants and animals to create a self-sustaining, balanced, and benign environment. Lions and tigers, cobras, and mosquitoes and a million other plants and animals would not be introduced. This was a very artificial world, which meant that I was rather short of dangers, other than humans, that my heroes would have to face. I had to settle for feral dog packs as their greatest danger on the road, after rogue raiders.

I chose to make the setting is a sort of faux China, because of all the fantasies I like “oriental” ones the best. I threw in the Russian steppes, plus some tea gardens, and the various remnants of the Elder Civilization that they are the descendants of. I modeled the military units after those of the British in mid-19th century India. For the story itself, I have no idea where the inspiration came.

Caravan to Mirra

With those limitations and inspirations, I set out writing The Fourth Daughter, the working title of the story, since it is the story of a fourth daughter of a Queen, borne to please her husband who wanted a son. There were, however, other stories with that title, so I had to find another one.

Anyway, I had this daughter, who was unwanted by her mother, and so she was raised as the son by father in his regiment in the field. For the narrator and male lead, I wanted a mild mannered scholar who gets dragged across the world by the strange, devil may care fourth daughter. As usual, it has an episodic structure, with an anti-epic vibe, anti-quest. Though their fate has important consequences, the story focuses on their concerns. And instead of going on a quest, they’re simply fleeing for their freedom, if not their lives.

One of the things that made this story fun for me to write, was that I set it on a very specific “world” whose characteristics I had to respect to the extent of my understanding. There are hints throughout the story, if a reader had read The Bright Black Sea – but I purposely made no effort to highlight them. The narrator is unaware of their significance when he notes them. I didn’t want them to distract from the story, nor did I want to make the story into a puzzle. I just did it as a personal challenge, for fun of it. Another writer might have made the discovery of those clues central to the story, but I choose to keep my narrator in the dark about the Elder (SF) Civilization, at least in this story. Like all my stories, I left it open ended enough that I can always return to it, after I sell tens of thousands of copies. Don’t hold your breath.

The Reed Bank, second version

Because I like old fashioned stories, and use SF motifs mostly for color and exotic locations, I used a similar motif for my next story, Sailing to Redoubt. Though in that story society and the characters were much more knowledgeable about their origins, even if their technology wasn’t all that much more advanced. But I’ll get to that in the next installment of Origin Stories.

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