Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Varmints

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Just a quick post today. I recently stumbled (I was googling "lizard men" for no discernable reason, if you must know) upon Creaturespot, a blog full of pictures of creatures, contributed by a large and (I believe) shifting cast of fantasy concept artists. There are computer generated images, scanned artwork, and photographs of sculptures. Some artists post works in progress as well. Here and there are even images you might recognize from video games and the covers of books.

I just finished reading the back-posts, and it's great fun. I can recommend the site without reservation, and it might even appear on our blogroll soon.

Until next time, watch out for the rare Zeppelinsaurus.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Viva Las Zeppelin

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So, if you're wondering why I fell off the grid this weekend, this is why. Recently (as referenced previously), I completed the PACT, an extremely big deal teacher assessment that determines my fate as a teacher forever. The Abigail was incredibly supportive throughout this process. Friday, however, was her crowning achievement. I rushed home, believing that I was going to take the Abigail to a doctor's appointment (since the untimely death of her car, we've had to do that a lot). Almost as soon as I arrived, the Abigail gave me this:

Once upon a time there was a young wizard. And this young wizard wanted very badly to teach children how to be wizards too. He knew that very often, the children of the gnomes, the dwarves and other unpopular races weren’t taught how to use magic very well, or sometimes not at all. He was passionate about making sure that everyone got to learn magic. 
The young wizard spent nearly two years teaching children how to use magic. He inspired them daily with the wonder of it. But perhaps the most important wonder of all was how much the young wizard loved the children he taught. Whether they were humans, gnomes, or even elves, the magic of the young wizard’s love made them greater than they had been before.
But one day the young wizard was confronted by an old, grouchy wizard.

“What are you doing teaching those children? You don’t have a permit!” said the old wizard. The old wizard went on to tell him that he thought there should be a law against wizards without permits teaching magic to children. 
The young wizard had known that a permit was required, but such was his passion and his love that he had not cared. He wanted to teach right now. But he understood that people like the old wizard cared about things like permits, and that it might someday affect his ability to teach magic to children. So, he decided to get a permit. 
The young wizard spent months trying to get his permit. It was an absurd process. He was forced to demonstrate how he could use his magic to jump through a series of flaming hoops in the sky. 
“What does this have to do with teaching magic to children?” asked the young wizard. 
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” the old wizard replied.
Next, the young wizard had to write in great detail about how he had jumped through these hoops. He had to cite his sources in enormous, yellowing books of ancient magic theory that had nothing to do with what he was teaching the children.

“What does this have to do with teaching magic to children?” asked the young wizard.

“Be quiet if you want to pass the test,” the old wizard replied.

Finally, the young wizard had to teach the children how to do a special magic task, determining what was inside a chicken with their powers. Then, he showed the other wizards how he did it.

“But I’ve been doing this for two years!” the young wizard complained.

“They shouldn’t let young wizards teach until they know how to write about it!” the old wizard replied.

Finally, after months and months of work, the young wizard sent his work off to be graded by the magic examiners. And he was able to rest.

But now the young wizard was tired. He had no energy to teach the children anymore. While he still loved them very much, his passion was diminished by his difficult, absurd task. The young wizard was afraid that the magic of his love was weakened by his exhaustion, and by all the magic he had used to jump through those burning hoops.

Now, the young wizard had a wife, who was also very wise. His wife knew a different kind of magic. She saw that the young wizard was suffering, and she knew what she had to do. While the young wizard was at work, his wife prepared a special spell. One day when he came home, she was ready.

“I’ve packed you a bag,” she told him. “Make sure I have all the right robes and supplies. We’re flying away tonight, in about half an hour. We’ll be back in plenty of time for you to teach your children on Monday.”

And the young wizard fed his pet dragon, packed his books and papers, and prepared for his mysterious journey. 
When the young wizard and his wife were preparing to fly away, the young wizard asked his wife again: “Where are we going?” 
Then she smiled. “We’re going to a magic land where no matter what you do, nobody but but me will ever find out. We’re going to the magic land of Vegas.”

So, that's where I was this weekend. There was no doctor's appointment; there was, however, a supershuttle. And tickets. To Vegas.

The Abigail is the best wife ever.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Latin name: Unicornis

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You know what doesn't get enough attention? Unicorns.

Maybe it's just me - I watched The Last Unicorn so many times I'm surprised I can't recite the thing from memory - but I remember when unicorns were all over the place. The wicked and selfish hunted for them, the virtuous basked in their presence. I read short stories about unicorns and books that featured unicorns, and I generally thought they were pretty awesome.

Then, it all seemed to dry up.

The problem seems to be twofold. Firstly, along with talking horses and magical soulmates, unicorns have been relegated to "girl" books. This is silly, because like talking horses and magical soulmates there is nothing inherently gendered about unicorns.

Unless you're talking about a given unicorn's particular gender, or something. I mean, I guess there are boy unicorns and girl unicorns - otherwise where would baby unicorns come from? Unless unicorns reproduce parthenogenetically. Do you think they reproduce through spores? Budding? Ew. Or do they just get pregnant? And if so, do they have to have mock sex, like the so-called lesbian lizards (link is safe, I swear)?

Right. Back on topic.

So half the problem is clearly sexism. If unicorns are girl stuff, and girl stuff is unworthy, then unicorns are unworthy and don't get into mainstream fantasy. This is clearly bullshit, but it explains more than it doesn't.

Before I explain the second thing that seems to me to have driven unicorns out of modern fantasy (and, obviously, into the sea), I need to explain what it is that makes unicorns quite so cool.

In addition to being great big horses with horns (because almost everything is cooler with horns), unicorns represent virtue and purity as active, almost aggressive. This is not virtue that gets despoiled - this is virtue that stabs you in the face if you mess with it. This is virtue as a force of nature. This is why Dan Lacey's paintings of a naked Barack Obama astride a unicorn made perfect sense to me, and were such an internet sensation.

It sometimes seems to me that modern fantasy has lost interest in virtue. We like antiheroes, non-heroes, villains, and complications. We like to watch our heroes suffer, compromise, and fail. We don't want Frodo and Sam, whose love and friendship saved the world while armies clashed needlessly outside the Black Gate. We don't want Thomas Covenant, who laughed god's evil brother to death. Or, at least, we don't want them quite as much as I do. We want things more like the work of Brandon Sanderson (which I like, by the way), in which cleverness, alliance, and skill at arms (or magic, or geometry, or whatever) win the day.

Though, as the Abigail pointed out in conversation, this may also be a gendered issue. The Abigail was able to list several recent fantasy novels marketed for women and girls in which virtue (or love, or some other positive passion) is the defining engine of victory.

Anyway, I want more unicorns, more friendship, and more evil gods laughed to death in my fantasy. I like it when virtue lifts up its head (or lowers its horn) and takes action. If you do, too, let me know in the comments.

And by the way, if you agree that there isn't enough about unicorns out there, then the Abigail tells me to recommend Rampant by Diana Peterfreund and Zombies vs Unicorns, an anthology. I have read neither of these (yet), but the Abigail has and I trust her judgement.

Until next time, the Zeppelin is hoping that if it's careful enough when talking about books it hasn't read yet Diane Duane might someday forgive it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Arise and Go Get McDonalds

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I the comments to this failed creative prompt post, one of my new readers requested something related to the content of earlier editions of D&D. While I'm still failing to think of anything related to 3.5e and earlier D&D, here's something spinning of the D&D franchise as a whole:

Tell me about resurrection.

The rules are (or at least seem to be) exactly the same as D&D. For the right price, a sufficiently powerful spellcaster (and there is no shortage of those) can bring the dead back to life. The dead person must agree to be brought back, which means that good people who lived full lives and have gone on to whatever reward awaits them are usually fine with staying dead, bad people are eager to escape, and heroes usually come back, but might take death as an excuse to retire from the whole painful, messy business. Being brought back to life costs you something, but it's something you can regain with time and rest.

I want to hear about the deeper consequences of this idea. What kinds of cultural and artistic quirks would develop, given this "technology?" Basically, I want to hear what you come up with when you attack the idea of fantasy resurrection with the rigor usually reserved for science fiction. Bonus points for truly original ideas. You get docked points for falling back on tired old standbies, though if the idea has legs it'll still walk.

Go.