The Big Picture, Part 4: The World of Tomorrow

Foreword:

This post is part of an ongoing series laying out essential elements for understanding both the complex plot of my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men, and the byzantine plans of its protagonist, the wizard Damon Roth.

Here are links to earlier posts in this series.

The World of Today

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I see Gods Among Men as being set on earth in the very distant future.  At some point where Arthur C. Clarke’s adage, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” has finally come true.  

In my last post, I explained how in my mythology the faerie world exists, but broke off most contact with humans in our early pre-history.

Adopting this mythology lets me both claim that supernatural entities—and hence supernatural or magical powers—exist, and explain why mankind at our current moment in history would be largely unaware of that fact.

It also, however, begs the following question: From this point, meaning our present, how does our modern society twist and turn to become my fantasy world of the future?  A world that draws heavily on Medieval and Renaissance imagery with Gothic overtones.  A place where Greek mythology and Shakespearean tragedies are plot elements in a battle of wills between the protagonist, Damon Roth, and the antagonist Demiurge.  The kind of world where spacecraft coexist with spellcraft.

Where Do We Go From Here

It is my belief that certain trends in mankind’s past will continue into the future.  First and foremost, there will be scientific and technological progress.  Mankind will learn more about biology, genetics, physics, and a host of other subjects.  Computer technology will advance, as will space travel, engineering, and the like.

Take these assumptions forward an indefinite period of time; a thousand years or more, tens of thousands if need be.  What might be possible at the furthest reaches of these broad trends?

In my mythology, in the far future there will be practical space travel within the solar system.  There will be many colonies on asteroids, moons, and planets that are functionally self-sustaining. 

Nanotechnology is perfected and able to operate down at the atomic and possibly sub-atomic level. 

Genetic engineering has reached the point where building custom life forms from scratch is possible if one has the right tools. 

The differences between quantum mechanics and relativity theory have been resolved, and we have discovered how to draw vast amounts of energy from the universe itself.  (Or from alternate universes or parallel dimensions or the space between universes or some other techno-babble explanation.  The details here are not important. What matters is that there is nearly unlimited energy that can be tapped and converted to a myriad of uses.)

The Daemons in these Details

But I do not have a utopian view of the future.  There are now, and will continue to be, those who oppose progress of the nature I describe.  We have terrorist and dictators now who seek to disrupt the stability and peace of our world.  Who, if given a chance, would cast us into a dark age. 

I doubt the current batch of thugs have much chance of success, but suppose that desire continues to burn in one form or another for generation after generation.  Suppose evil itself has a form, perhaps intangible, that will return over and over, searching for a way to break the foundations of civilization. 

In my mythology, at the very height of our technological prowess, those who would do great harm found a way to do so.  A way beyond their imaginations or ability to control.  These evil men and women destroyed themselves, and unleashed forces that sent earth spiraling into a new dark age. One which isolates people on earth from their brethren in the space colonies. 

In the process, the destroyers of civilization unleashed Daemons on the world of tomorrow.

Daemons are hybrid humans whose descendants will be called Wizards because of the powers they command which appear to be magical.  Powers rooted in the merger of quantum mechanics, relativity theory, computer science, nanotechnology, biology, and genetic engineering.

I shall go into further details about daemons in a later post.  One point worth noting is that my antagonist, Demiurge, is the last and most powerful of the original daemons.  At the height of his power his name became synonymous with the honorific people hailed him by: God Among Men.

What Is Important To Damon Roth?

The events leading up to the fall of the scientific and technological civilization give rise to the magic that permeates my story.  In a later post I will detail the scientific nature of magic in my mythology, and how its creation resulted in the new dark age.  The key point right now is that Damon Roth and Demiurge are the only characters who have knowledge about the true nature of magic.  This knowledge allows both of them to control people and events in ways impossible for anyone else.

Damon also has detailed information about how the societies on earth and in the space colonies developed.  He knows the strengths and weaknesses in both, understands their history and goals, and is prepared to bend both to his will.

Damon’s plan to confront the future threat he knows of requires those on earth and those in space to unite with elves and other races.  Both humans on earth and those in space must agree to abandon their existing governments and social structures and adopt new ones of his creation.  Damon gives each side the chance to do so willingly, knowing their leaders will refuse.  After their refusal, Damon violently destroys those who oppose him, saving those who are more amendable to his plans.

The details of what happened to those on earth and those in space are important, and beyond the scope of this post.  Later posts in this series will explain what happened to each and how their respective experiences are needed for the survival of humanity and the rest of life on earth.

And On Another Note…

I am approaching the complex hub of my mythology.  The events that foreshadow the tale I am trying to tell in Gods Among Men. Many times in this article I have had to use a phrase like, “In a later post I will explain…”  This is because there is much information that I developed in fits and starts over many long years.  Details which I have never formally expressed in spoken or written words. 

I hope I am clear in my explanations, and the world I describe understandable.  I believe this exercise helps me order my thoughts and answers my own questions about my own work. 

It does take a long time to write these posts, however.  Much longer than it took to write most of my earlier posts.  The amount of time I spend actually writing and editing on Gods Among Men has decreased dramatically in recent weeks. 

I may need to intersperse some smaller, less complicated topics amidst this exploration of my mythology.  But I don’t want to stop writing on this subject out of fear that the clarity I have been blessed with recently will fade if I do.  I am uncertain how to resolve this quandary, so I will have to wait and see where inspiration leads me next.

Until next time, have fun.

The Big Picture, Part 3: The World That Never Was

Foreword:

This post is part of an ongoing series laying out essential elements for understanding both the complex plot of my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men, and the byzantine plans of its protagonist, the wizard Damon Roth.

Here are links to earlier posts in this series.

Starting With the Threat and Working Backwards

In a previous post, I summarized the major plot of Gods Among Men as follows:

Damon Roth sees a threat so far in the future that for him to even talk of it makes people think him insane.  He takes it upon himself to save the world, even if it means destroying a civilization to do so.   The price of failure is his soul.

I will explain the threat Damon perceives in a later post.  For now, accept that the threat is real and that his solution to it will work.  Implementing his solution, however, requires a concerted effort that must be maintained for eons. 

This fact exposes the fundamental problem I faced in Gods Among Men.  I don’t believe any short-lived species (such as humanity) could implement, on their own, a complex plan requiring constant effort for perhaps millions of years. 

It is unreasonable to expect a reader to suspend more disbelief than the writer can.  For me to “believe” that Damon could create a society capable of confronting an eons long task, I had to include an immortal race, or one so long lived they can be considered immortal.  One whose fate is tied to that of the earth’s. 

A Choice of Races

In fantasy and science fiction literature there are numerous ways to create immortal or nearly immortal races.  For a while I toyed with the idea of using robots or some other kind of automated machines to address my story’s needs.  I opted against this approach because it felt hokey, I disliked the symbolism, and because it led to a dénouement that felt false and boring to me.

I decided I wanted an immortal race that has existed since the earliest periods in earth’s history.  A race that once interacted with man frequently, but then retreated behind some mystic veil.   A race which we today either know nothing of, or believe to be the product of fairy tales.

And thus J.R.R. Tolkien inspired a simple solution: Elves, though Faerie Folk might be a better description. 

In The Lord of The Rings, and Tolkien’s other tales, elves were immortal, powerful creatures that left middle-earth at the dawn of the age of man.  The elves he described, and the manner in which they retreated from the world of men, were not perfect for my situation.  But my thoughts on Tolkien’s ideas combined with my knowledge of other mythological concepts surrounding elves and faerie folk until I arrived at my eventual solution.

The Unrecorded Past

In my mythology, elves (and other faerie folk) exist on more dimensions than we can perceive.   They interact with us by “projecting” part of their essence into the dimensions we inhabit, à la Flatland.  This lets them appear to change shape, sometimes appearing much like beautiful humans, and other times looking like animals such as white stags or black cats. 

It is possible for humans to “crossover” into the elven dimensions and interact with them in their native environment.  But the limitations of human perceptions hamper our ability to understand or clearly remember what happened.  And time does not flow at the same rate in these other dimensions as it does in ours.  A person who spends a few weeks living among the elves may return to our world only to discover decades have passed, while they have not aged.

In our pre-history, men interacted with elves regularly.  The graceful–and at times terrible–elves, with knowledge and powers no human possessed, inspired stories that in later generations became the foundations for mythologies and religions. 

Elves are immortal, but are highly susceptible to metal, especially iron and steel.  Weaker elves can die by touching something made of iron or steel. As mankind learned to make items out of metal, elves retreated from the dimensions they shared with us to protect themselves.  Near the dawn of our written history, elves cut off almost all contact with humanity and became just legendary creatures inhabiting fairy tales

How Elves Fit Into Damon Roth’s Plans

There are other faerie creatures, such as unicorns and the like.  But Elves are the ones important to what Damon Roth is planning.   Being immortal they can provide the stable core for the new society he plans to build.  Elves can guarantee that efforts to thwart the long term threat to the planet do not falter. 

But Elves will not ally themselves to a society dominated by wizards, for reasons I will explain in a later post.  At the start of Gods Among Men, wizards control the upper reaches of a world spanning empire called The Guild.  These wizards do not believe elves exist.  They think elves are just  products of Damon’s madness.  Thus the wizards refuse his demands that they relinquish power.  This results in Damon’s decision to destroy The Guild and create a new society that elves will ally themselves with.

Tolkien wrote about a crisis that ends with elves retreating from the world.  I write about a crisis that ends with elves returning to the world in order to ally themselves with mankind.  This is not the totality of Gods Among Men, or even the primary plot thread, but it is a crucial fact that drives much of Damon’s motivations and machinations.

Summary

The following is a list of key points explaining the founding logic of my world, the importance of elves to Damon Roth’s plans, their relationship to mankind at the beginning of Gods Among Men, and how this relationship must change by the end of the story.

  1. The world is our earth in the distant future
  2. Elves have existed since before humanity evolved.
  3. Elves are effectively immortal.
  4. Elves have a well-developed, highly stable, culture and society.
  5. Elves and other faerie creatures cannot tolerate metal, especially iron and steel.
  6. Elves and other fairy creatures retreated from the “human” dimensions when mankind began using iron and steel.
  7. By the start of Gods Among Men, most people have forgotten even the tales and legends of the faerie folk.
  8. Damon Roth is one of the few who know that elves exist.  (I shall explain how he came by this knowledge in a later post.)
  9. The future threat that Damon is aware of is real.
  10. Elves are aware of this threat, and it endangers them as well.
  11. Damon’s solution to the threat will work, but requires a sustained effort for perhaps millions of years.
  12. Elves are aware of Damon’s proposed solution, and accept that it is the best answer to the future threat.
  13. Elves are incapable of addressing the threat by themselves.
  14. Damon believes, with cause, that the world’s only hope is for mankind and elves to form an alliance dedicated to enacting his solution to the threat.
  15. Elves, for good reasons, will not ally themselves with any society dominated by wizards.
  16. The Guild, the dominate power in the future is largely controlled by wizards who do not believe that elves exist.
  17. These wizards refuse to relinquish power and turn control of the government over to non-wizards.
  18. Damon decides to destroy the current society and create one where wizards play a lesser role in world affairs.
  19. Elves will neither interfere with nor aid Damon.  They shall wait to see the outcome of his actions and, if he succeeds, form an alliance with the society that forms after the fall of The Guild.

The final point is crucial.  The elves in my story feel they must remain neutral.  They want Damon to succeed, but they are afraid of interfering lest some factions of mankind come to see them as enemies and not allies.  In fact, part of Damon’s plan is to identify and eliminate any who might react violently to an alliance with elves.  Therefore, while elves are crucial to the finale of Gods Among Men, and are essential to Damon’s motivations, they are little more than spectators to the major events of the story. 

I would not go so far as to call the elves in Gods Among Men some type of MacGuffin.  Some of the elf characters are very important to the scope of the story.  But none of these characters are the primary focus of any central story arcs.  Rather the elves in my story are structural elements, secondary characters that provide depth and meaning to the main characters.  They fill this role because, to me, elves have much better symbolic value than robots, and the dénouement they provide is far more satisfying. 

The Big Picture, Part 2: One Influence to Rule Them All

Foreword:

This post is part of an ongoing series laying out essential elements for understanding both the complex plot of my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men, and the byzantine plans of its protagonist, the wizard Damon Roth.

Here are links to earlier posts in this series.

The Tolkien Effect

In my opinion, it is all but impossible to discuss deeply modern epic fantasy literature without touching first upon J.R.R. Tolkien and his masterpiece, The Lord Of The Rings.

Tolkien is the father of modern epic fantasy and his work influences, directly and indirectly, every novel in the genre.  Almost any epic fantasy writer working today has read The Lord Of The Rings multiple times.  Ask them what they think of the work and they will recite a long list of what they admire and dislike about it. 

Then read those writers own works.  You will see what they liked in The Lord Of The Rings reflected in their stories, albeit in a distorted mirror of their own words.  What they disliked they either avoid or change.  Thus each writer’s visceral reaction to this seminal story influences how they write new ones. 

This is not to say that all novels in the epic fantasy genre are just retellings of The Lord Of The Rings, though I do know some people who have made that dubious claim.  Rather, it is more accurate to claim that many writers want to be the next Tolkien; the originator of a genre, movement, or trend.  To do so they, perhaps subconsciously, try to emulate Tolkien and distinguish themselves from him at the same time.

With regards to my own work. Gods Among Men, there is one quality of The Lord Of The Rings that I definitely want to (partially) emulate.  Tolkien made his world feel real, as if the events were taking place long ago in a forgotten age. 

For myself, I want my work to feel like it is taking place in the far distant future, on an earth where Arthur C. Clarke’s adage “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” has finally come true. 

Note that I specify the world, not the characters or the plot or other aspects of a story.  For now I am focusing strictly on the setting in which my tale unfolds.

The Quest for Realism

Tolkien proved it is possible have fantastic, utterly unrealistic worlds that nonetheless have a sense of realism about them.  The devil is in the logic of the world; in the consistency of the world as perceived by the reader, combined with how characters in that world react to what they perceive as fantastic or mundane. 

The way Tolkien addressed these intertwined criteria for a realistic world is by understanding, in great detail, the culture and history of the world and its inhabitants.  He developed an elaborate history containing events that are only hinted at in The Lord of the Rings.  Much of this history is never discussed in the story itself, only in his appendixes or in works finished by others and published after his death, such as The Silmarillion.

Tolkien detailed history answered questions he had about his own work.  The history he created told him how characters would react to events, and what they might know about places and things and people.  It gave him insight into his character’s worldview, which made it possible to write them in a consistent manner.  This in turn created a sense that his fantasy world was real.  He did not need to include the history directly because it indirectly permeates the entire finished story.

For example, in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has multiple scenes with the hobbits talking about “elven magic”, but the elves are confused by that description.  The elves in his world do not see the items they create as being magical and treat such “magic” items as being quite ordinary.  The hobbits see the same items as remarkable beyond description, and never fully understand how they work. 

Why did the hobbits see elven items as magical and fantastic?  Because of their history and culture.  Hobbits formed agrarian communities and had little contact with those outside their close circle of friends and family.  Their skills and knowledge were those of simple folk, and that shaped how they saw the world.

Why did the elves not see how special the items they created were?  Because of their history and culture.  Elves are immortal, curious, and creative.  They mastered sailing to travel the world and study everything they encountered.  The knowledge they acquired let them make items others found remarkable, but which to them were useful tools that served specific functions. 

To put it into more mundane terms: Imagine someone who grew up isolated from any knowledge of our modern world, then show them a television, or cell phone, or computer.  Assume they are  brilliant in terms of their culture, and learn to operate the devices.  Nonetheless, could they possibly think these items as anything less than magical? 

What Does a History Need to Cover?

I want the world in Gods Among Men to have a sense of realism.  I want the reader to see the magic, and believe there is a technology behind it.  And I want the reader to feel that in some ways they understand the world better than the character’s do.  To do this I must understand its history so that I can paint a consistent picture for the reader. In particular, I must know:

  1. What are the various races.
  2. Where does each race comes from.
  3. What do members of each race know about the other races.
  4. What attitudes might a member of one race have towards a member of another race and why.
  5. How do different societies develop and interact with each other.
  6. How does each society shape the behavior of its individual members.
  7. What are the different societies like at the beginning of Gods Among Men.

As I mentioned earlier, I think of this world as earth at some point in the very far future.  Therefore, our current world is part of the history of my fantasy world.  Any mythology I create must take into account what we know or believe now.

And, most importantly, I must craft a history that when woven into the story as backdrop, the reader believes is in fact a possible future, no matter how impossible it actually is.

I find this to be a daunting challenge.  Perhaps an impossible one, or more accurately perhaps it is a task impossible for me to accomplish.  I feel compelled to try, and so I shall.  Others may be the judge of whether I succeed or fail.