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Science Fiction Sequels

One of the hardest things to do after filming a good movie is to do it again. All too often, filming a good movie is like catching lightning in a bottle, and the sequel doesn’t live up to the standards set by the original. However, there are a couple of science fiction films that I think get it right.

Terminator 2

In my opinion, this might be the greatest science fiction sequel of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. The movie is one of the best action movies of all time, and it builds on the success of the original Terminator by adopting a different approach. In particular, the first movie emphasised the inhuman, robotic nature of the terminator. It wasn’t a person. It was a machine, a force of nature that existed solely to accomplish its objectives. It did not know fear. It did not know doubt. It was concerned only with accomplishing its goals.

The second movie turns this on its head by making the terminator one of the good guys. All of a sudden, the terminator’s qualities are no longer negatives but positives. When confronted by a foe as menacing as the T-1000, it is only fitting that the protagonist have a protector of equal determination and resolve. Moreover, the terminator’s ability to learn allows the film to gradually humanise him by showing how his experiences with John and later Sarah allow him to grow beyond a simple instrument of death into a father-like figure who sacrifices himself not only because it is his mission but because he would gladly put John above himself.

Other aspects of the film that allow it to surpass its predecessors include its humour, which is never over the top and often dry. This isn’t a comedy, so inserting too much humour would ruin the atmosphere, but the occasional quip can definitely add a bit extra. And let’s not forget that Terminator 2 comes from an era where one liners were part and parcel of every action movie.

The nature of the villain is another positive. The first movie demonstrated how threatening a terminator was. Having a terminator be one of the good guys in the second movie meant that an even more threatening antagonist had to be present. And the T-1000 more than fit the bill. The T-1000 was relentless in a way that even the original terminator couldn’t match and its use of liquid metal made it even more inhuman than the original terminator too. Consider, for example, the scene where the T-1000 falls into the molten steel. Even to the end, the original terminator at least had a humanoid form. There was nothing even remotely human about the T-1000 in its death throes.

Overall, Terminator 2 is a fantastic science fiction and action film that exceeds its predecessor, which is no mean feat given how good the original Terminator was. It’s a pity, however, that the wheels basically fell off the franchise afterwards, with each successive movie becoming a more and more obvious cash grab. Oh well. We can always pretend that the franchise ended with Terminator 2.

Aliens

The sequel to the magnificently creepy Alien isn’t necessarily better, but it is nevertheless an outstanding film in its own right, and one that I did end up enjoying more than the original. As with Terminator 2, Aliens adopts a different approach from its predecessor. This is perhaps not a surprise considering that Terminator 2 and Aliens were both directed by James Cameron whose work on these two movies alone would be the envy of almost any other director. Indeed, despite my issues with his later work (e.g., Avatar’s final battle making my brain implode due to how little sense it made), I’ll always have a soft spot for him because these two films are just magnificent (and I loved True Lies as well).

Where Alien was isolationist horror, Aliens is closer to a true action movie. There is nothing particular innovative about the set up: a bunch of space marines and associated personnel being dumped into a horrific situation that they are very much not prepared for. However, the pacing, the cast, and the aliens themselves all combine to make the whole more than the sum of its parts.

First and foremost, Ripley goes from a survivor to an icon of badassery in this film. She really does. If there was a pantheon of female action heroes, Ripley would probably be at the top. She doesn’t start fights, and she just wants to live a life of peace without murderous aliens in it, but if worse comes to worst, she will absolutely throw down and do what needs to be done. The rest of the cast is,  in many ways, a stereotypical bunch from the level-headed Hicks to the blustery Hudson and the slimy Burke. But each of the cast member gets just enough development for you to either like them or hope they get eaten by aliens. It’s a lot like the cast of Predator. Sure, they’re stereotypes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It makes them easily accessible, and it allows the movie to accelerate without getting bogged down in too much backstory coverage.

And speaking of the pacing, the movie is wonderfully paced. It starts slow, but that’s very clearly a choice, and once it gets going, it never looks back. The last half an hour of the film is a marvel in that it’s basically unrelenting action and suspense, but it never feels like it gets out of hand or goes over the top.

But, of course, the aliens are the stars of the movie, and they show how important imagination is when it comes to science fiction. The xenomorphs are monstrous creatures, and expanding on their life cycle and biology allows for the film to really scratch that science fiction itch while at the same time increasing their threat level and general creepiness. Yeah, one alien was freaky in the first movie. How about a whole bunch of them coming out of the walls with an alien queen laying eggs? Yeah. That’s a lot more disturbing, and it makes it easy to root for the marines because their foes are just so utterly inhuman.

Aliens is one of my favourite science fiction and action films of all time. It’s a testament to its quality that I can come back to it and watch it over and over again and still enjoy it.

Overall

There are definitely other sequels that improve on the originals (the big one that comes to mind is The Empire Strikes Back), but these are the two that I’ve always thought about first. With books, the same issue often arises. Can an author write not only a good first book but also a good second book… third book… and so on? However, that’s a question I’ll come back to in another post.

If you’re interested in my thoughts on writing and other topics, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find on Amazon here or on Audible here.

Start Small

One of the questions I’ve been asked in the past is about how to write a novel. Now, setting aside the technical and creative aspects of writing a novel, I’ve noticed that this question often comes from people who haven’t done a lot of writing before, which might actually be the biggest hurdle.

Most novels are in the range of 70,000 to 100,000 words. If you haven’t done a lot of writing before, those 70,000 words can feel like 7,000,000. It’s like running a marathon. No matter how hard you try, your odds of completing a marathon without practicing long-distance running first are essentially nil. It’s just not going to happen. If you want to complete a marathon, you don’t jump into the deep end right away. Instead, you work your way up. You start off by running shorter distances, and then you gradually increase the distance you run each day until you’re comfortable running a marathon.

Back when I had two good knees instead of the dodgy pair I currently have, I used to be able to run 10 kms (roughly 6 miles) in rugged terrain fairly easily. However, I didn’t start at that level. Instead, I started off by running laps around the local park. Each lap was roughly 400 metres, and I wasn’t able to do many at first. However, each week, I tried to run a little bit further, and I eventually got the point where I was running 10 to 15 laps, which was when I realised I was ready to run longer distances in tougher conditions.

Writing your first novel is the same. It’s never going to be easy, but you’re going to make your life far more difficult if you don’t practice writing other things first. Before I wrote my first novel, I had already written plenty of short stories and novellas. Admittedly, short stories and novellas don’t have the exact same structure as full length novels, but many of the technical and creative skills do transfer. Perhaps the most important thing, however, was getting experience in writing longer and longer pieces until I was finally confident that I could write a novel-length story. The confidence I built writing these shorter stories was also important because writing a novel can definitely dent your confidence if you run into a rough patch. Likewise, the experiences you acquire (e.g., plotting, writing dialogue, etc.) are useful across different story lengths.

So if you want to write a novel, but you don’t know how to get started, consider starting small. Instead of jumping straight to your 100,000 word magnum opus set in a unique and engaging fantasy world, why not try writing a 500 word vignette set in the same world? Do that a few times. Get your confidence up, practice the technical and creative aspects of storytelling. Build those writing muscles. Then, after you’ve gotten good at that, why not try a 1000 word vignette and then a 2000 word one? If you can do that, it won’t be long before you’re writing 10,000 word short stories, and that puts 30,000 word novellas within reach. And if you write a 30,000 word novella, well, is 70,000 words or a 100,000 words really that much more?

Writing a novel can be tough, but writing one without trying to write shorter stories first can be even tougher. 1000 words might not sound like much, but it’s a start. Likewise, 10,000 words isn’t a novel, but it is a good-sized short story. And 30,000 words is right in novella territory, which means you’re almost all the way to a novel. Writing these shorter stories will help your practice all of the different technical and creative aspects of writing whereas it can be all too easy to get stuck doing the same things over and over again if the only thing you’ve ever tried to write is a novel.

If you’re interested in my thoughts on writing and other topics, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find on Amazon here or on Audible here.

 

Comic Books and Manga

I’ve gotten a few questions about whether or not I read comic books or manga. The short answer is that yes, I do read both comic books and manga, but I think what people are really asking about is context. In other words, which comic books and manga have I read, and how have they influenced me.

I first got into comic books through my best friend when I was in primary (elementary school). He was an avid comic book reader with a preference for Marvel. In particular, he loved the X-Men. I read all the comic books he had, and I took a liking to the X Men as well. From there, I branched out into other parts of the Marvel universe (e.g., the Avengers). At the same time, however, I also started reading DC comics. I’d always been aware of Superman, but mostly through the movies. As a kid, I didn’t exactly have the money to go around buying comic books, but the movies were often on television. The same went for Batman. Even if I didn’t read too many of the comics, there have always been Batman movies and cartoons of some kind on television.

As I got older, I took a greater interest in comic books. Part of this was simply having more money. After all, a high school student or university student has more disposable income than a primary schooler. I ended up drifting more toward DC in university although I still kept up with Marvel. My favourites were Superman and Batman, and I was especially fond of the comics that explored the differences between them as well as their similarities. They’re two sides of the superhero coin, and they bring out the best in each, as well as showing how two people can disagree on many things yet still have great respect for each other.

Manga (and anime in general) was something I stumbled across in high school, again through friends. I mostly stuck to reading and watching comedy-oriented stuff before branching into more serous things like Evangelion. Of course, as someone who enjoys Western comics like Marvel and DC, it won’t surprise you to know that I read a lot of shonen manga as well (e.g., Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball, etc.) because they are, in many ways, the Japanese equivalents of Marvel and DC in terms of being action oriented fiction in which people have super powers.

In terms of influence, that’s an interesting question. Friendship, camaraderie, and belonging are some of the enduring themes in classical fantasy, but they’re also powerful themes in comics and manga (especially in the shonen genre). What I took away from comics and manga were different ways of approaching these themes. As a visual format, comics and manga naturally gravitate more toward action, so you often get quite an eclectic collection of impressive super powers. Moreover, comics and manga typically deal with large ensemble casts to a greater degree than fantasy fiction (although props to G. R. R. Martin for juggling seven kingdom’s worth of characters with such aplomb). Furthermore, comics and manga have a different approach to dialogue than normal fantasy fiction just because they can’t afford to have too much of it. Humour is often achieved through visual gags or situationally, rather than relying solely on wordplay.

But I think the great impact that reading comics and manga has had on me is simply exposure to more fiction. Think of your imagination and creativity as a tree. Without good, fertile soil and regular watering, even the strongest tree will eventually wither and die. Normal written fiction is one source of soil and water, but comics and manga give you access to more soil and water, which is a good thing. Everything you read, be it a normal novel, a comic, or a manga, adds another tool to your writing arsenal. You might not have a use for the extra tools immediately, and you might take years to work out where they fit best, but it’s always better to have them because one day, you will find a use for them.

If you’re interested in my thoughts on writing and other topics, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find on Amazon here or on Audible here.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Visitor

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the castle, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

Kind of.

Technically, rats weren’t the same as mice, and there were always plenty of ninja rats up and about… along with one hungry dragon.


Spot yawned and ambled toward the kitchens. Like any growing dragon, he was hungry pretty much all the time. Getting up in the middle of the night to indulge in a midnight snack or two was hardly an uncommon occurrence. In fact, it happened at least twice a week. More often than not, Chomp would go with him, but on this occasion the three-headed dog was busy dreaming, his legs moving in a way that made Spot think his friend was chasing after something. Whatever it was, Spot hoped Chomp caught it. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same as catching something in real life, but it would still be annoying for something in his dreams to get away from him.

However, Spot wasn’t alone. One of the ninja rats was feeling a bit peckish too, so the rodent had decided to tag along. Spot didn’t mind. Eating with someone else was more fun than eating alone, and this particular rat liked to talk about all the places he’d seen during his travels before the rats had moved to the castle. There was a whole world out there, and Spot was always eager to learn more about it. One day, he’d see all of it, but he still had a lot of growing to do before he was ready to go adventuring on his own.

On their way to the kitchens, they passed a chimney. Spot was about to walk past it when he heard movement. The ninja rat stopped talking, and the two of them eyed the chimney warily. The castle was supposed to be secure from enemy attack, but it never hurt to be careful. Quietly, Spot crept over to the chimney and waited. If someone was foolish enough to crawl in through the chimney, he’d be more than happy to greet them in true draconic fashion, which meant plenty of fire, teeth, and claws.

There was a brief pause and then a very large man in strange clothing leapt out of the chimney. Spot sprang, and the two of them tumbled to the ground. Flame kindled in his jaws, and Spot raised one claw to strike down the intruder only for the ninja rat to squeak at him. What? The ninja rat wanted him to stop. Why? This person didn’t smell familiar at all, and someone sneaking in through the chimney had to be one of their enemies.

The rat rushed through his explanation, and Spot stilled and examined the person underneath him more closely. A large human in red and white clothing with a strange hat and a large sack. Could it be? Spot’s eyes lit up. It had to be!

Are you Santa? Spot asked.

The man beneath him nodded. “Why, yes, I am Santa. I was just coming to deliver some presents to the castle when you, ahem, apprehended me.”

Oh. Spot winced. The twerp had told him about Santa. He was supposed to come once a year to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls. Spot had been a very good boy, so he was sure he’d get a present. Then again, he had kind of attacked Santa, but did that make him a bad boy? After all, Santa hadn’t told anyone when he’d be visiting, and sneaking in through the chimney in the middle of the night was very suspicious. Spot had only been doing his duty as the castle’s resident dragon when he’d captured Santa. Am I getting a present?

“Well…” Santa stroked his beard. “I suppose you have been a very good boy so far, and I’d be more than happy to give you one, but you need to get off me first.”

Spot hopped off Santa.

“Ah. That’s much better.” Santa dusted himself off and reached into his sack. He pulled out a large box and handed it to Spot. “That’s for you. Don’t open it until morning, okay?”

Spot nodded. It was tempting to use his astral vision to see through the box, but there was something fun about being surprised by presents. Next, Santa handed the ninja rat a much smaller box.

“Now,” Santa said. “I still have to give everyone else their presents, so don’t tell anyone I’m here…” Santa trailed off as Sam floated through a wall. The protoplasmic horror took one look at Santa and extruded several barbed tentacles along with a handful of appendages capable of shooting deadly beams of energy. “Hmmm… would you mind explaining to your… friend there that I’m not here to cause any trouble.”

Sure. Spot waved at Sam and explained as best he could. The protoplasmic horror eyed Santa warily for a moment before holding out one tentacle. He wants something before he leaves.

“I see.” Santa reached into his sack. “Well, I do have something he might enjoy.” It was a chocolate cake. Spot drooled. It smelled delicious. “How is that?”

Sam accepted the cake and then continued on his way, floating through the wall before Spot could ask for a slice.

“Anyway,” Santa said. “Now that we’ve handled that, I’d best get moving. These presents won’t deliver themselves.”


The next morning, everyone woke up to find a present beside their bed. Some of them were happier about theirs than others.

Timmy got a brand new shovel.

Old Man got a plant he’d been looking for.

Gerald got a charm designed to ward off airsickness.

Amanda got a cask of wine.

Avraniel got a chest full of treasure and a note stating that she and Santa were now even and that she had better keep her promise and not come after him.

Daerin got a new set of tools.

Katie got a book of esoteric lore… and a step stool.

And Spot? Spot’s present was a little peach tree. He could plant it in one of the courtyards and never worry about running out of peaches again.


Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! I hope you’re all doing well, and I hope you all have a wonderful day. Here’s a gift for you.


One Last Delivery

Santa’s gaze swept over the crowd of elves. “You all know what I’m going to say, so I’m not going to mince words. This… this has not been a normal year, which means this isn’t going to be a normal Christmas.” He gestured, and a holographic projection of the world sprang up. “We’ve managed to make the rest of our deliveries, but we still have one last continent to go.”

A low murmur ran through the crowd.

“Yes, Australia. The last frontier. The final frontier. The deadliest frontier. Even during the best of years, it’s a dangerous run, but this year? I won’t lie. If you choose to come with me, there’s a good chance you won’t make it back. This year, we won’t be dealing with just the local wildlife… we’ll be dealing with the plague zombies too. Even so… who’s willing to go with me?”

A great cheer went up, and the crowd of elves pressed forward.

“Death before dishonour!” they cried. “Christmas for all!”


“Santa, we’ve got incoming.”

Santa nodded at the elf keeping a close eye on the sleigh’s advanced sensors. “How many and how far?”

“At least a dozen contacts, maybe more, and they’re closing fast. Distance is one hundred kilometres, but at their present speed, we’ve got less than a minute.”

“At that speed and at this altitude…” Santa’s expression was grim. “Sugar gliders.” He took a deep breath and then raised his voice. “Prepare for boarders! We have sugar gliders inbound. ETA less than a minute.”

All along the length of the sleigh train, elves readied themselves. Lesser elves might have quailed at the thought of facing Australian sugar gliders, but they were the elite. They had fought alongside Santa during the great Holiday Wars and the Polar Conflicts. They were not about to run in the face of some marsupials, even winged harbingers of death like the sugar gliders.

The elf at the sensors swallowed thickly. “Contact in five… four… three… two… one… contact!”

The first of the sugar gliders swooped in, little more than a streak of motion as the sleigh train’s flak cannons turned the sky around them into a sea of shrapnel. The first few sugar gliders to get caught in the maelstrom went down, but the others scattered, their shock-absorbing fur allowing them to weather the storm as they closed in.

“For the North Pole!” an elf screamed. “Death to the enemies of Christmas!”

The first sugar glider reached the sleigh train and slammed straight into one of the elves. The elf went down screaming, his assault rifle barking a mad, angry cry as the sugar glider put its teeth and claws to work.

“No!” another elf wailed. “They got Billy!”

More sugar gliders closed in, weaving their way through the clouds of devastation unleashed by the flak cannons. The elves opened fire with their rifles, the staccato of their gunfire punctuated by the deep, bass boom of detonating shells.

“We need reinforcements!” an elf cried. “We’re being overrun!”

“The second sleigh is about to go down!” another shouted. “We can’t hold them! There’s too many of them!”

Santa heard all of the pleas for help. His eyes narrowed, and he reached for the sack slung across his back. He turned to one of the elves beside him. “Take the reins,” he ordered.

“But Santa -”

“Take. The. Reins.”


Santa’s magical sack was designed to carry an essentially infinite amount of stuff without ever being too heavy for him to carry. What people didn’t know was that it could also be used as a weapon. By allowing it to exert its full weight at the moment of impact, Santa could turn it into a club with effectively infinite mass.

The first sugar glider never knew what hit it.

“Santa!” One of the downed elves scrambled to his feet. “You’re here!”

“Of course, I am.” Santa handed the elf his rifle. “Now, follow me. We’ll deal with these marsupials.”

As they made their way down the sleigh train, Santa continued to club and pummel sugar gliders with his magical sack. Marsupial after marsupial fell before his righteous fury, and the elves rallied to him, bringing down more of the deadly fliers with barrages of withering gunfire.

“We’re clear,” an elf said. “We’ve searched the rest of the sleigh train. There aren’t anymore sugar gliders.”

A cheer went up, but Santa held up one hand. “Don’t celebrate too early. We’re going to have to descend to make our delivers in the cities, and you know what that means.” His eyes narrowed ominously. “Koalas.”


Santa looked over the burning ruins of Sydney in horror. Koalas wouldn’t have done this. No. Not even those evil marsupials weren’t crazy enough to burn entire cities down. It had to be someone else, and the culprits soon revealed themselves.

Running through the burning city were crazed plague zombies. The Infected shrieked as they lurched after their prey, devouring innocent passersby and laying siege to the few remaining sanctuaries of the Uninfected. A wave of pure, unadulterated fury ran through Santa.

“They’re ruining Christmas.” His jaw clenched. “Land the sleigh,” he ordered.

“But Santa…”

“Land the sleigh and prepare for combat. We’re going to save Christmas… one way or the other.”


Simon had once been a simple office worker. The outbreak of the Plague had changed all of that. Screw office work. The only thing that mattered now was staying one step ahead of the Infected. Alas, his hopes of living to see another day looked to be going the way of the dodo. He was cut off and surrounded by Infected. Gulping, he raised his cricket bat. If he was going to die, he’d at least try to hit a few of them for six before he –

“Merry Christmas!” A towering figure landed in front of him and then swept the horde of Infected aside with a single, brutal swing of a very large and apparently incredibly heavy sack.

“Santa…?” Simon stuttered. For who else could it be in those clothes and with that hat?

“Yes. And You’re Simon Smith. You’ve been a very good boy this year.” Santa’s grin was toothy. “Would you like a present?”

Simon nodded.

“Here.” Santa handed him a shotgun and enough ammunition to take on a small army. “How would you like to do your good deed for the day?”

Simon took the shotgun and started loading it. “Please tell me we’re going to be killing the Infected.”

“Damn straight.” Santa pointed. “And we’re not alone. We’ve got air support.”

Above was a sleigh full of elves with assault rifles.

Simon grinned. “Merry Christmas, Santa.”

Santa hefted his sack over his shoulder with one hand and readied a revolver in his other hand. “Let’s go say hello to all the bad boys and girls.”


Santa crushed another group of Infected beneath his magical sack and then shot another out of the air with his revolver as it leapt toward him. A flash of movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he turned, ready to fire again.

It was a koala.

But instead of leaping at him, the marsupial simply leapt past him and took down one of the Infected in a shower of blood and gore. Dropping the mangled body, the koala tilted its head to one side.

“So… you don’t like them either.” Santa looked past the koala. There were dozens more behind it… an entire army of koalas. “How do you feel about a truce until they’re dealt with?”

The koala said nothing, but it gave a sharp, curt nod and then raised its claws high over its head. At that signal, the other koalas surged into the open, hurling themselves into the oncoming Infected.

“Damn…” Simon wiped some sweat off his brow. The man had been joined by hundreds more men and women, all of them using their presents to lay into the Infected. “Now we’ve got koalas on our side? What is the world coming too?”

“Strange times make for strange allies,” Santa replied. He took a deep breath. “Come on. The fight isn’t over yet!”


There are times when Santa brings cheer to the world via smiles and presents. There are also times when Santa has to personally beat the absolute crap out of sorrow and despair using his magical sack and whatever weaponry he has on hand up to, and including, firearms, explosives, and an entire sleigh train’s worth of angry, homicidal elves.


Author’s Notes

Merry Christmas. May Santa pummel your sorrows and bring you whatever weapons you need to seize happiness… one way or the other.

Attempted Vampirism is Now Available on Audible (Audiobook)

The Attempted Vampirism audiobook is now available from Audible here. Courtesy of the great folks over at Podium Audio and narrated by Joel Froomkin, it combines the first two books of the series into seventeen hours of fun, action, and adventure as everyone’s favourite impoverished vampire noble does his best to get his castle back with the help of his faithful butler and a motley band of adventurers.

And if you’re not familiar with the series, here is the blurb:

Attempted Vampirism (Book One)

It’s not easy being a vampire – just ask Jonathan. As the 32nd lord of Bloodhaven, Jonathan is a vampire noble. Alas, he’s a noble in name only. Forget gold, diamonds, and bountiful estates. All he has to his name are one cozy – some would say dilapidated – castle and a reputation as a fine scholar specializing in ancient lore. Of course, given the horrible ends both his father and grandfather met in pursuit of fame and fortune, it’s probably for the best that he enjoys the quiet life. Sadly, his quiet life is about to meet a horrible end of its own.

Think tax collectors are bad? How about…vampire tax collectors? After a run-in with the Blood Alliance Department of Taxation leaves Jonathan with nothing, he needs a lot of money, and he needs it now. But at least he can rely on his faithful servants for help, right? Wrong. The only servant he’s got left is his old but faithful butler, Miles. To get his castle and his stuff back, Jonathan and Miles have to take some risks, but the gods aren’t going to make it easy for them. After all, these are the same gods who took at least three tries to get the world mostly right, and they have some wonderful surprises up their sleeve.

Attempted Adventuring (Books Two)

A vampire noble’s work is never done – just ask Jonathan. With the help of his faithful servant Miles, their first mission was rather more dangerous than he’d like.

Of course, one mission won’t be enough, and there’s nothing scarier than vampire tax collectors.

If Jonathan wants to get his castle back, he’ll have to go on more missions. Tougher missions. Scarier missions. Missions that make him question the sanity of dwarf architecture. And their newest mission is a doozy. But if he and the others can survive sea monsters, ancient evils, and an unlikely pair of allies, they might just strike it rich. One way or another, Jonathan is getting his castle back.

 

Attempted Vampirism Coming To Audible

Your favourite impoverished vampire noble will be coming to Audible soon! A compilation of Attempted Vampirism and Attempted Adventuring will be releasing on Audible on the 22nd of December. If you want to enjoy 17 hours of fun, humour, and adventure, you can pre-order it from Audible here.

And if you’re not familiar with the series, here is the blurb:

Attempted Vampirism (Book One)

It’s not easy being a vampire – just ask Jonathan. As the 32nd lord of Bloodhaven, Jonathan is a vampire noble. Alas, he’s a noble in name only. Forget gold, diamonds, and bountiful estates. All he has to his name are one cozy – some would say dilapidated – castle and a reputation as a fine scholar specializing in ancient lore. Of course, given the horrible ends both his father and grandfather met in pursuit of fame and fortune, it’s probably for the best that he enjoys the quiet life. Sadly, his quiet life is about to meet a horrible end of its own.

Think tax collectors are bad? How about…vampire tax collectors? After a run-in with the Blood Alliance Department of Taxation leaves Jonathan with nothing, he needs a lot of money, and he needs it now. But at least he can rely on his faithful servants for help, right? Wrong. The only servant he’s got left is his old but faithful butler, Miles. To get his castle and his stuff back, Jonathan and Miles have to take some risks, but the gods aren’t going to make it easy for them. After all, these are the same gods who took at least three tries to get the world mostly right, and they have some wonderful surprises up their sleeve.

Attempted Adventuring (Books Two)

A vampire noble’s work is never done – just ask Jonathan. With the help of his faithful servant Miles, their first mission was rather more dangerous than he’d like.

Of course, one mission won’t be enough, and there’s nothing scarier than vampire tax collectors.

If Jonathan wants to get his castle back, he’ll have to go on more missions. Tougher missions. Scarier missions. Missions that make him question the sanity of dwarf architecture. And their newest mission is a doozy. But if he and the others can survive sea monsters, ancient evils, and an unlikely pair of allies, they might just strike it rich. One way or another, Jonathan is getting his castle back.

How Abrupt Tonal Shifts Can Kill A Story

Every story has a certain tone to it. For some stories, the tone is dark. In other words, the world the characters inhabit is a grim place where bad things can and do happen to good people. Moral ambiguity and tough choices are common, and there are often no winners, so much as there are people who lose less. For other stories, the tone is light. Good things happen to good people. The heroes win, and the villains lose. Good triumphs over evil. I’m not here to argue about which tone is better. There are magnificent stories for either approach. What I am here to talk about, however, is consistency.

Simply put, tonal consistency matters.

There is a story that I have been reading for some time now. I’m not going to say exactly which story it is because it’s currently ongoing, and the author is already facing enough criticism that I don’t think sending any more their way will help. The story is roughly 250,000 words long. To put that into perspective, that’s almost as long as the first three Harry Potter books combined. For almost its entire length, the story has been light-hearted, focusing primarily on humour and slice of life. The main character is a fish out of water, so to speak, and watching them adjust to their new circumstances and new friends has been a wonderful experience.

And then it changed.

In the span of about 5000 words, the story suddenly became extremely dark. The main character was basically subjected to torture by some of their newfound friends while the others all looked the other way. They had a near-death experience and were helped by some of their other friends to recover… only for them to be betrayed by those friends as well. And everyone else somehow thinks this is okay.

You can imagine how the readers reacted.

Now, let me be very clear here. An author can do whatever they want with their story. They are, after all, the ones writing it. Conversely, however, readers do not have to like what an author does with their story.

The author of the story was immediately bombarded by criticism. Setting aside the usual craziness that you get on the internet, the more astute critiques homed in on the sudden change of tone. Their criticism focused on the sudden shift and how they felt it invalidated the preceding 250,000 words. The story had drawn its readers in by creating a light-hearted world full of generally earnest and pleasant characters who were genuinely trying to help the main character adjust to their new life. To suddenly have these decent, morally upright characters suddenly become villains was very jarring. To then have that repeated, again, was even more jarring. They felt it was inconsistent not only with the world that had been created but with how the characters themselves had behaved earlier in the story.

Other readers argued against this critique, saying that the previous 250,000 words were overly rosy, and that the real world wasn’t like that. In the real world, not everyone is good. However, I think this counter-criticism might have missed the point. The story wasn’t set in the real world. It was set in a fictional world, and it had spent more than 95% of its length showing the reader that the world was full of good, decent people. Moreover, the story had very clearly established a light-hearted tone where nothing too bad ever happened. Readers were upset because the ‘rules’ of the game had suddenly been changed. They had gone from a world where people were, for the most part, good, honourable people to one where suddenly everyone is terrible and cares only about themselves and screw everyone else.

I’m not going to argue about whether I think this was a good decision to make (I don’t think it was). Instead, I just want to point out that making decisions like this – abrupt tonal shifts – makes or breaks a story, and all too often, it’s the latter not the former. Readers have reasons for reading a story. If you remove those reasons, then many of them will simply stop reading. In particular, if one of the key selling points of a story is that it’s light-hearted, fun, and easygoing, you cannot be surprised when readers leave if you suddenly turn it into something grim and dark. Readership for the story has plummeted, which is a pity since the author is excellent from a technical perspective.

Let me again emphasise that this doesn’t make dark stories bad. Game of Thrones is, in many ways, a story with a very dark tone. Awful things happen to good people, betrayal is a constant, and if you can think of some horrible form of torture, the odds are good that it’s happened to at least one of your favourite characters. But people don’t quit reading Game of Thrones when bad stuff happens, nor do they get mad at the author for doing it. Why? Because right from the start when Ned Stark cuts off a deserter’s head, you know what sort of story you’re reading. G. R. R. Martin didn’t start off with My Little Pony and then turn it into Doom. The tone of the story has been consistently dark, and that is the key. The readers know what the rules are, so it doesn’t matter if those rules lead to grim, awful things happening. It’s when the readers feel that the rules have suddenly changed that they get upset.

Every story has a tone, and choosing to abruptly change that tone has consequences. Readers may feel betrayed, and this may prompt them to stop reading. This doesn’t mean that tone can’t vary within a story, but more gradual changes are less likely to lead to the reader feeling betrayed or that the preceding part of the story has been invalidated. The tone of a story is one of the things that draws in readers. Think carefully when changing it.

If you’re interested in my thoughts on writing and other topics, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find on Amazon here or on Audible here.

Progress Report 16-11-2020

Not good news this time, I’m afraid.

Due to various unanticipated reasons, The Sheep Dragon is being delayed. I had originally planned to have it out by the end of November, but that just doesn’t seem possible without massively rushing it, which is not something I am prepared to do. To quote Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario:

A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad

The same can also be said of books. I’d rather delay a bit and get it right than rush it and mess it up. However, don’t worry. I am targeting a late December/early January window for The Sheep Dragon, so the delay isn’t going to be too bad.

I just thought I’d let all of you know. Communication is important, and I’d rather not have people wondering what is going on when I could just be upfront about the fact that there is going to be a delay. There’s nothing worse than being told that everything is going according to schedule when it’s very obviously not going to schedule.

In any case, to whet your appetite a little and to hopefully put a smile on your face after that bit of bad news, here is a teaser for the first story in the collection.


The Convention

(Set Before Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat, and an Elf)

Katie fidgeted and unleashed her frostiest glare at her master. The result was less than impressive, which likely had to do with her being a very short and somewhat scruffy seven-year-old. He chuckled, and she switched her glare from frosty to baleful. Alas, her baleful glare was equally ineffective. Hmph. She wouldn’t be tiny forever. One day, she’d be at least as tall as he was, and then he’d better watch out! “Do I really have to wear all of this? I look like a potato.”

He knelt down, so he could look her right in the eye. He would normally have made a joke about her short stature – she’d once caught him writing down a list of short jokes in what he’d claimed was a notebook of top-secret zombie experiments – but he was being serious.

“Katie, you are a very clever little girl. In fact, you might be the cleverest and the littlest girl I know.” And there was the height joke. “But you are also not particularly durable, and necromancers have an awful reputation for a reason. I might not be the sort of person to stab or otherwise harm a child, but I can’t say the say for all my enemies. Would you rather get stabbed, or would you rather look like a potato?”

Katie huffed. The urge to pout was overwhelming, but she didn’t want to act childish. Given her age and appearance, she had to act as mature as possible if she wanted people to take her seriously although her master was constantly encouraging her to act more her age. As usual, he had a point although she still thought he was being a bit paranoid. They’d gone to other necromancer conventions before, and this was the first time he’d ever gotten her to wear so much protective clothing. She was wearing so much stab- and cut-resistant clothing lathered in protective runes and seals that she looked more like a potato than a girl. He could probably throw her out of one of the castle’s towers and the only thig that would break would be the ground. In the past, some stout clothing with a bit of protective magic woven into it had also been enough.

“A potato.” She ended up pouting anyway, much to her dismay. “I suppose being stabbed would be pretty horrible, but why are you only doing this now?”

“The Quadrennial Grave Convention is one of the largest, most prestigious necromancer conventions in the world. If a Grand Necromancer like me doesn’t attend and bring his apprentice without a good reason, the amount of respect people would lose for me would make working with some our current suppliers and partners far more difficult. At the very least, we’d be charged higher prices and get less favourable deals. However – and this is why you need to look like a potato – this convention was originally started by a bunch of necromancers who hated each other’s guts. As a result, the rules are somewhat laxer when it comes to treachery, scheming, and assassination. Sure, nobody likes to call it assassination, but the number of ‘unfortunate incidents’ and ‘accidental stabbings’ at past conventions is not something to be taken lightly.”