Fiction

April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday – High Fantasy

By Jason Wong in Fiction

What follows is something that I wrote in high school, I think because I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Christopher Paolini and write a (what I thought at the time was good) fantasy series, get published, get paid, and ignore the realities of life. It’s the prologue of what was I’m sure going to be an incredibly trite fantasy narrative, with literally every single trope ever used in a fantasy setting prominently displayed. Here goes.

A gust of wind whistled through the night air, moving patches of dark cloud across the crescent moon. Shreds of moonlight illuminated the Iron Castle and its grounds intermittently and without pause. The Castle stood as a silent monolith as light flickered across its surface; a symbol of the foolishness of attacking the duchy which it stood for. The area around the castle was ideal from a military point of view. It sat within a hundred meters of a cliff edge that overlooked the city surrounding it. The only means of storming the castle would be to first take the walled city of Ironcrest around it; a difficult task in itself, as defenders from the castle could easily fire upon enemy-controlled portions of the city with their siege equipment. Even if the city was taken, an invading army only had one route up to the castle, which, though not backbreaking, was decidedly uphill. In short, the castle was more or less unassailable, unless the hypothetical enemy had either huge amounts of time and manpower to spare.

On this night, a clearly feminine figure clad in tight fitting dark leather armor vaulted over the cliff edge, landing softly in the dust. She straightened, apparently not at all fatigued by the climb she had just made. The sparse amount of light from the moon was enough for her keen eyes – she drank in the sight of the iron bastion. A worthy challenge for someone of her skill. Her breast rose and fell quickly as she savored the scent of moisture in the air. The wind shifted unexpectedly, and for a moment, moonlight illuminated her figure. The light revealed several things; her armor, obviously well-made, seemed to flow together seamlessly though it consisted of several parts. There were many sheathes sewn into the armor, all filled by knives or other useful items, all difficult to see unless you were looking for them. Her pale alabaster skin seemed to glow despite the rain, and her midnight black hair shone like a chunk of obsidian. She stared at the moon as if transfixed, like a field mouse trapped in a viper’s gaze, yet there was a naked longing in her face, a sense of awe and reverence. Unconsciously, she grasped the hilt of one of the many short blades at her side. Luckily, the moment passed as quickly as it had arrived, and she was once again hidden by the night.

She cursed inwardly at her lack of professionalism – it would not happen again. She could not afford mistakes; this mission was too important. She crossed the hundred meters separating her from the castle walls at a dead sprint, all the while using the shifting shadows caused by the clouds over the moon to remain undetected. Upon reaching the wall, she pressed her body up against it, like she was trying to form a mold of the wall with her flesh. Her sensitive skin could feel the stone pulsing, almost as if the walls were hiding a beating heart. It was a telltale sign of magical protection; and powerful magical protection at that. If the Orb wasn’t here, something quite valuable certainly was. Considering this was a castle, it was likely that the protective enchantments cast on it were meant to protect it from enemy magic-wielders and soldiers, and unlikely to be tailored toward deterring a certain talented thief.

She scaled the stone walls of the outer battlements easily, her limbs finding handholds and footholds as if she had climbed it many times before, though that was not the case. Upon reaching the top, she vaulted silently over the ledge and onto the solid stone floor. There were torch holders spaced evenly around the battlements, though the rain was keeping them unlit. The moment she landed, she heard the sound of approaching footsteps through the patter of raindrops – with impeccable grace, quickly returned to the side of the wall, clutching her handholds tightly as she waited for the guard to pass.

As the guard passed her, she rose silently from her position, and like a wraith, stole up behind him. The hilt of one of her many daggers hit the back of his head with a dull thunk, and the man instantly began to keel over. She swiftly brought her free arm down to catch him before he clattered noisily against the stone floor. Propping him up on her leg, she removed a small bottle from her armor and emptied its foul smelling contents on the limp body. This done, she then dragged him over to the edge of the battlement and threw him over. Normally, this might’ve been even more foolhardy than just leaving his unconscious body where it lay, but since the ground below was so muddy, the thump of the guard’s body hitting the ground could scarcely be heard, even to her sharp ears.

With that pleasantry out of the way, it was time for business. She knew the layout of the castle from memory, and so began striding purposefully but silently toward her intended goal, a tapestry of a pair of angelic looking guards standing before an enormous locked door. She grinned as she looked up at the large canvas; how typically melodramatic of the Ironites. She felt around the edges of the canvas, and felt a hint of empty space against her fingertips. She decisively brushed the canvas aside to reveal a dark stone passageway that ended in a little alcove with a stone pedestal in the center, illuminated by the light of the moon.

She stepped gingerly into the passageway, her pale eyes scanning the corridor for signs of a trap. Her experienced eyes found nothing amiss, and so she continued all the way down into the lit chamber. Looking up, she saw that the room was lit through a system of mirrors that reflected the light of the moon down. The light reflected brilliantly off a single object that sat in a little niche carved into the pedestal in the center of the room. She regarded the object apprehensively – it was exactly as had been described to her, a gray sphere covered in blue arcane sigils.

The stone seemed to stare at her, tantalizing her with the promise of wealth and power as it glittered in the pale light. It reached out tendrils of magic, magic that knew her, that saw deep into her soul and plucked from it her desires, her insecurities, her vices, and showed her perfection. She reached for the stone with bare fingers – what mortal being could have done otherwise? She touched it, and in that instant, saw herself naked, bereft of the mental and psychological barriers that protected her mind from seeing her subconscious, from seeing who she truthfully was in the barest, starkest, sense of objectivity. She saw a hand raised to strike soft flesh, a dagger plunging into a man’s neck, and blood gushing from the wound, drenching her in scorching crimson. Eva stumbled backward, clutching the stone with knuckles white, her fingertips throbbing just as much as her forehead, which cried for the relief of restoring its mental homeostasis.

That was when the whole room lurched, and the walls began to shift and grind against each other as they slid in toward the pedestal, which rose from its position, extending up toward the ceiling, blotting out the reflected light of the mirrors, and instantly shrouding her in darkness. This brief reprieve broke the mental horror long enough for her to shove the Orb into one of her many pockets.

The thief was not doomed to death, however. She turned quickly on her heel and ran back the way she came, somersaulting out of the closing passageway just before it shut, and in so doing, tearing the tapestry that had covered the entrance from the wall. Wrapped in the tapestry, she lost her footing and braced herself for impact with the hard stone floor. Instead, she barreled straight into a person, knocking him to the ground. A stream of muffled curses came spilling out from the tapestry covered man she had bowled over.

Given the circumstances, she was loath to remove this potential witness to her crime – after all, there was no way she could make it look like he had died from excessive drink here. She would have to resort to an old trick. She removed the tapestry from the young man’s head. He looked around her age, late teens or early twenties. He had dirty blond hair which, along with his face, was messy with sleep.

“Who are you and what…?” he mumbled sleepily before his gray eyes met her pale blue ones.

“Hush,” she said in a wispy voice. “Close your eyes.” Her hands caressed the sides of his face, and she planted a lingering kiss on his lips. He stiffened in shock, but quickly returned her kiss. Her right hand found his thigh and traced a suggestive pattern. “Perhaps,” she said. “You could show me a secret place, outside the castle? We would not want to wake anyone.”

The man nodded his head vigorously at this suggestion. He led her eagerly to the castle larder. “I do not think this is quite the place,” she said in a breathy, high voice. “It is ever so difficult to be in the right mood when there are dead pigs staring at me.”

The young man smiled and winked at her. “Give me some credit, I’m cleverer than that.” He stepped into a corner of the room and tapped on the floor a few times before lifting away a hidden panel. It opened into a dark and narrow tunnel that looked like it had been dug out by an enormous mole.

She darted forward into the passage, despite a cry of protest from the young man regarding her safety. Please; dark tunnels were second nature to her. She could hear him following her, and surprisingly, at around the same speed. Clearly, he had made use of this tunnel before. At the end, she found that its exit was concealed by a curtain of some slimy plant which she impatiently brushed aside. Shortly after, the young man emerged from the tunnel. “Where are we?” she asked.

“Missed the seaweed? The shoreline, south of the castle,” explained the young man.

“The seashore is a place for romance, is it not?” she placed her hands on his shoulders and pulled him into another kiss, one which he accepted with enthusiasm. “Wait for me,” she instructed him after they broke apart. “Don’t tell anyone – I wouldn’t want to ruin my reputation.”

“Y-yes. Of course. I will wait,” the young man sat down heavily and rubbed his temples. “I will be here.”

The thief smiled and sauntered away. Men were so easily manipulated – although the splash of alsear juice on her lips probably helped. She patted the slight bulge in her armor where she had stowed her hard-earned prize. The first step had been taken. All Escilon would take notice.

As you can plainly see, this needs work. The dialogue is stilted, her internal monologue is just…awful. I think I was really reaching in terms of plausibility towards the end. Luckily, I realized my error about 50 pages in and scrapped the project, as I had literally no idea as to where this was ultimately going, how characters were going to develop, etc. etc.

So there you have it, this week’s Throwback Thursday. I hope it was everything you hoped for.

April 16, 2014

Storytelling in Video Games

By Jason Wong in Fiction, Uncategorized

I used to hold the opinion that video games couldn’t be considered an art form. This was in part because it resembled nothing close to traditional art, and also because I liked video games, and I figured a teenager with minimal life experience’s opinion on anything was probably wrong. Naturally, I was wrong. Video games are capable of telling intricate, detailed, and engaging stories, and what’s more, the stories are often interactive in a way that even actors at the Globe Theater can’t reproduce. Not all video games are art, but they certainly have the potential to be. Below are some of the video games I’ve played whose stories have impacted me just as significantly as any book I’ve ever read.

1) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR)

Just before one of the greatest reveals in video game history: Darth Revan removes his mask.

Just before one of the greatest reveals in video game history: Darth Revan removes his mask.

This was the video game that got me into gaming in the first place. It’s an RPG, or roleplaying game, meaning that the character you play as in-game makes choices (often through dialogue/action) that influences the outcome of the story. KOTOR had everything: great story, great voice acting, fantastic companions to accompany you as you journeyed across the galaxy. You begin play as a Republic soldier  who has to rescue a Jedi, only to discover soon after that you have the potential to become one yourself. Moreover, you also find a clue that may lead to the downfall of the galaxy’s current Sith Lord. Playing through the game is essentially like watching a Star Wars film where you were the protagonist. Maybe the twist near the end was predictable, but when I first played through it at the tender age of 11ish, it blew me away.

2) Braid

Pictured here: Tim, the game's daring protagonist.

Pictured here: Tim, the game’s daring protagonist.

Braid is a platform/puzzle game, meaning that it’s 2-dimensional and that the player must solve puzzles in order to proceed, rather than simply shooting/slashing at obstacles as is common in other types of games. The story unfolds as Tim, pictured above, navigates through the world to rescue the princess from a monster. Text passages laid throughout the game reveal a multifaceted narrative, giving clues about Tim’s contemplations and motivations. As much as I would like to rave about how cool the game mechanics are, I’ll limit this to the story. Suffice it to say that by the end, the standard “Mario rescues Peach” story is turned on its head, and the passages of text present throughout tell a different story. The game’s ending is purposely ambiguous, but one popular theory is based on the inclusion of a hidden event and the famous quotation stated by Kenneth Bainbridge after the detonation of the first atomic bomb: “Now we are all sons of bitches.” The theory basically states that the princess represents the atomic bomb and Tim is a scientist involved in its development.

3) Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/Frozen Throne

The transformation of Arthas Menethil into the dreaded Lich King. Such character development!

The transformation of Arthas Menethil into the dreaded Lich King. Character development much?

This particular Warcraft game is an RTS, or Real-Time Strategy game, meaning that it is basically played by building/maintaining an economy with which to build an army so as to destroy the enemy. In this game, we see the fall of Prince Arthas Menethil from gallant paladin to commander of the undead legions. We see him betray his mentor, murder his father, and become the very thing that he had hoped to save his people from. The Warcraft lore was so immersive that it spawned the famous World of Warcraft, a game designed so that players could create heroes within the existing story to forge their own legends.

4) Dungeons & Dragons

OK, technically this one isn’t a video game, so I don’t have a good picture to present with it. But Dungeons & Dragons inspired many RPG-style video games because in a way, it was the first. Often dismissed as an incredibly nerdy thing (which it is), Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game, which means that players gather together to essentially craft a story together, one that each of them is personally invested in making spectacular. I have played the game as both a player and as a Dungeon Master (DM, chief storyteller, if you will), and both can be incredibly rewarding. As a player, you can watch your character develop in countless ways you never imagined when it was first born in your head, and as a DM, you can take immense satisfaction from the fact that people have become invested in a world/story that you have poured hours of effort into.

In short, I hope that I’ve made my case sufficiently. Games can be good art, and good story. I hope that like graphic novels and comics, they one day are considered as highly as more traditional fare.

 

April 9, 2014

Writer Crush Wednesday – Ian Doescher

By Jason Wong in Fiction, LRR

I’m the kind of person that doesn’t really have a favorite author or a favorite book because that status is always changing. That being said, my current flavor of the month is Ian Doescher, an only recently published author, known for his bestselling debut novel, “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.”

I sense…a disturbance in the Force. As if two extraordinarily nerdy things collided and became one.

 

It’s pretty self-explanatory, but essentially the book (and its sequel, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back, which dropped March 18th) are retellings of the epic and well-loved Star Wars movies, but written in the blank verse style of Shakespeare, iambic pentameter sometimes aside. 

Somewhat surprisingly, Star Wars and Shakespeare go together extremely well. The epic narrative style of Shakespeare suits the similarly grandiose story of Star Wars. The opening scrolling text becomes a Shakespearean chorus, R2′s uncanny shrewdness becomes soliloquy…and let’s be real, Star Wars shares a lot of the same themes that are prevalent in Shakespeare plays. There’s unlikely love, hubris (when Luke challenges Vader without being fully trained), and though it’s not Shakespeare, there’s something vaguely Oedipal about Luke losing his hand after Vader reveals he is his father.

Considering Oedipus’s fate, I’d say Luke got off pretty easy. I mean, he even got his hand back, technically.

 

Anyway, on a more technical note, I’m impressed with how well the lines of the different characters match up with their modern English lines while still maintaining their “Shakespearean authenticity.” Frankly, were I a middle school or high school English teacher, I might consider putting one of these books on the curriculum as a fun end-of-the-year book. The style is approximately Shakespeare’s, and references to Shakespeare’s actual works and tropes abound. It might even be easier for students to understand the verse since they’d probably already be familiar with the story. 

You want to put “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” on the curriculum. You want to give me an “A” for effort.

 

All in all, I don’t really have much to criticize about this series. It reaches at times, but I think the sheer fun of the concept more than makes up for it if you’re as much a nerd about Star Wars and Shakespeare as I am. 

March 24, 2014

Delirium Series (Non Spoiler)

By Nyanka Joseph in Fiction

Delirium Cover photo

Delirium Cover photo

Click here for the Original Book Review

I spent my spring break in Tallahassee, Florida . . . reading books. The books in question are the Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver. I had heard mixed reviews about the book but I couldn’t resist purchasing it when Barnes and Noble sent me an email about a sale on book series. So I found myself cuddled in a hotel room avoiding the blazing sun but absorbing the words of Lauren Olivier. 

The original book review that I will be using as a jump off point brings up a number of things that the series does push, love being a key point. However the use of religion mixed with science to drive this point across is completely ignored.

“Lord
Keep our hearts fixed;
As you fixed the planets in their orbits
And cooled the chaos of emerging–
As the gravity of your will keeps star and star from Collapsing
Keeps oceans from turning to dust and dust from turning to water
Keeps planets from colliding
And suns from exploding–
So, Lord, keep our hearts fixed
In steady orbit
And help them Stay the path.

-Psalm 21
(From “Prayer and Study,” The Book of Shhh) ”

(Delirium)

Olivier’s dystopian society is centered around a society that follows a “biblical science” where religion and science are combined and love is considered a disease that must be cured lest the society fall into utter chaos. By all means the necessity of love is a driving point of the novel. I also believe that it encourages readers to ask questions, feel, and experience but most importantly to challenge the norms. One of its messages is to love hard and feel deeply and fearlessly.

pandemonium

The protagonist is a female, Lena, as is the case in many of the popular dystopian novels today. She transforms from a shy and self conscious wallpaper like girl, into a brave and somewhat reckless leader by the end of the series.  Even her love interests do not make her seem weak or annoying as is the case in a lot of the young adult fiction novels of today. This is probably because the books are set in a society where love is viewed as rebellious/ a disease  instead of cute or normal.

Oliver’s ability to make simple things complex and complex things simple is another thing that made this book a page turner for me:

“Rainstorms are incredible: falling shards of glass, the air full of diamonds. The wind whispers . . . name and the ocean repeats it; the swaying trees make me think of dancing. Everything i see and touch reminds me of him, and so everything i see and touch is perfect.” (Delirium)

The sheer poetry of this is undeniable and it is rare that love scenes/ love declarations do not come off as cheesy but I believe that Oliver does a great job of keeping love from being cheesy or annoying.

requiem-cover

For anyone looking for a new series this is it. If you are into poetic language, non cheesy language, love, and war this one will cover all the bases. I hope you give it a try.

“But forbidden books are so much more. Some of them are webs; you can feel your way along threads, but just barely, into the strange and dark corners. Some of them are balloons bobbing up through the sky: totally self-contained, and unreachable, but beautiful to watch. And some of them – the best ones- are doors.” (Pandemonium).

Score 4.5/5

 

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