Meet Annalie Krieger

This article is the first in a series introducing the characters in my forthcoming novel, Tomorrow’s ShepherdBook 2 of The Verdant Revival trilogy. The main characters from the first book, Yesterday’s Demons, are back, but we also meet some new faces.

Felicia-Day4
If Tomorrow’s Shepherd were a movie, I’d cast Felicia Day as Annalie.

Allow me to introduce you to Annalie Krieger. Annalie had the misfortune to be born in Verde’s ancient capital, Mondorf, which is now controlled by the white demons. Every human who lives there is either a slave or a collaborator, and Annalie is no collaborator. Six years ago, when she was 18 years old, the demons killed her parents, leaving her to raise her five younger siblings alone.

But you’d never know she’s lived such a hard life because she’s so pleasant, bright, bubbly and talkative, especially if you get her on the subject of chipware. Working in the demons’ Maintenance Duty, she’s spent her entire life cataloging and preserving the demons’ extensive stores of broken, blacked-out chipware. And if you read Yesterday’s Demons, you know the demons now can repair it all, thanks to descramblers they forced Fritz Reinhardt to make for them. Thus, the previous two months have been some of Annalie’s busiest ever.

As one of the demons’ slaves, her clothes aren’t exactly fashionable or new. Her jeans are third- or fourth-hand. Her boots have been repaired more than once. The elbows of her shirt sleeves are a little threadbare. But her green eyes still shine behind her spectacles, and her red hair is as bright as her personality.

You’d think Annalie and Fritz would hit it off right away, what with them both being fascinated by ancient chipware. But they don’t, because when they meet, Fritz is in Mondorf as part of an assault against the demons. As interested as she is in restored chipware, Annalie doesn’t want anything to do with revolution. Over her twenty-four years, she’s seen a lot of humans try to rise up against the demons, but they’ve all had more courage than strategy, and they never have any idea about what happens after Mondorf’s humanity is liberated. If Annalie is going to help — if she’s going to risk her life and the well-being of her five siblings — she’s going to need to know what happens after the revolution.

Well, there’s something else that might motivate her. She’ll help if you have cake. And punch. And cobbler. Fried chicken would be nice, too. And bread! Oh, fresh baked, still warm bread. With butter. And jam. And cheese!

table-2777180_640“My dad and I used to read notes left behind by past maintenance duty folks. For two centuries, there’s been a grist of ideas about what happened to chipware and how to fix it, but no one’s ever been able to make that dog hunt. How’d you do it?”

“Splendiferous!”

“My siblings haven’t had anyone but me since our folks died. But my friend Ramona said she’d look after them. As long as they’re taken care of, helping out is as big a no-brainer as mashed potatoes and gravy.”

Read about other Yesterday’s Demons characters back for Tomorrow’s Shepherd:
Fritz Reinhardt | Cassie Reinhardt | Siv McCaig

Whatever happened to the future?

You know what the future used to be? Back when there were still areas of the map filled with question marks and shruggies, it was all about new frontiers. New places. The future, in other words, was somewhere else. After we eliminated the blank spots on the map and turned our maps into globes (sorry, flat-earthers), we still felt the future was somewhere else. Space. The final frontier.

Tomorrowland
Disneyland Tomorrowland circa 1965

When I was a child, the future looked like rocket ships. The Jetsons. Star Trek. Gadgets for everything. Vacations on the moon. So much chrome. (You have to admit, mid-century futurists did accurately predict the early 21st Century stainless steel appliances craze.)

Walt Disney — a genius, a visionary, a futurist — even went and built the future as part of Disneyland. He called it Tomorrowland. Check out what it looked like back when Walt was alive. Rockets flying through the air! Transport cars zipping along a motorized track! There were missions to Mars. There were adventures through inner space, exploring the sub-atomic world. There were houses of the future filled with fabulous new technology. There was a great big beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away!

Have you seen Tomorrowland lately? Oh, there are still rocket ships, and Space Mountain is still awesome. But there’s also Star Tours — fictional rocket ships in a galaxy far, far away. There are adventures with Buzz Lightyear. There’s Autopia (a go-kart ride) and the Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure. And all of those attractions are fantastic and fun, and I love them to death, but… go-karts and submarines don’t really scream tomorrow, do they?

And I submit to you this is not because Disneyland’s Imagineers are lazy, and it’s not because Disney’s sharp pencil boys think a park loaded with intellectual properties makes more cents. I think the problem is bigger than that.

The problem is: we don’t know what the future looks like anymore.

4f2dcca05c9f2ee5829c7306a7df8f18We used to, of course, but then we made that future come true. The future is now! We have self-driving cars, and you can summon them with the push of an Uber button. We can cook food in a fraction of the time it used to take, thanks to microwave ovens. Captain Kirk’s communicator? We have that now. Actually, we’re past that now. Flip phones like Kirk’s are already anachronistic.

Sure, there are a few big-ticket items we’re still waiting on, like warp drive, teleportation, and that vacation on Mars. But we’re not exactly eager for any of that anymore, are we? NASA has seen budget cuts, and I haven’t heard any politicians channeling JFK and challenging us to go past the moon. (No, the “Space Force” doesn’t count. Just stop.)

We dreamed it, we did it, and then we stopped dreaming.

Tomorrowland_poster

I’m not the only one who feels this way. This was basically the premise of Brad Bird’s thought-provoking, fun, and highly underrated film Tomorrowland. (No relation to the area of Disneyland. Well, not really much of one, anyway.) Produced by Damon Lindelof, Bird said, “When Damon and I were first talking about the project, we were wondering why people’s once-bright notions about the future gradually seemed to disappear.”

“When [Damon and I] were little, people had a very positive idea about the future, even though there were bad things going on in the world. Even the 1964 World’s Fair happened during the Cold War. But there was a sense we could overcome them. And yet now we act like we’re passengers on a bus with no say in where it’s going, with no realization that we collectively write the future every day and can make it so much better than it otherwise would be.” –Brad Bird

eBook Cover
Tomorrow’s Shepherd

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future ever since I started writing my fantasy trilogy, The Verdant Revival. The first book in the trilogy, Yesterday’s Demons, focuses on how the past shapes us into the people we are today. The second book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, is about building a better future. But what does that look like for us here on Earth in 2018?

It can’t be a dystopia. No, we need to dream again. It’s time for a new great, big beautiful tomorrow. But let’s not start dreaming about where we can go next or about the next new gadget. I don’t think that’s the kind of future we need. We need to think bigger.

But maybe we should start with some old ideas about the future that still haven’t been fully realized. Thinking about Star Trek again, it’s true we don’t yet have photon torpedoes and phasers. But we don’t have that whole “human hunger is a relic of the past” thing either, do we?

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared with us a pretty darn good dream of a future, a dream that “one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

How about a future without war? A future in which we build bridges instead of barriers. How about a future in which we seek to heal, not to harm? What would the world look like if no one was naked, no one was homeless, and no one was uneducated?

What if, in the future, we showed mercy, not malice? What if we replaced hate with peace? What if we chose to include instead of to divide? What if we chose to be generous with forgiveness instead of grasping onto grudges?

By definition, the future will never be now, but it can be something that happens here, and not on some distant frontier. And by here I mean inside our hearts. Let’s reclaim the future. Let’s dream again. And let’s do it together.

Hi-Tech and Lo-Tech in Peaceful Coexistence

JRPG Tropes I Love

(Theme song — sung to the tune of “The Daves I Know” by Kids in the Hall):
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love

Welcome to the debut installment of The JRPG Tropes I Love, a series in which I celebrate my favorite recurring themes, elements, and outright cliches from Japanese role-playing games. Today’s trope:

Hi-Tech and Lo-Tech in Peaceful Coexistence

Before there even were Japanese role-playing video games, there was Dungeons and Dragons, and its worlds were decidedly lo-tech. Like the works of Tolkien which inspired it, the development level of D&D’s worlds was medieval at best. In the early days of computer adventure games, you had lo-tech King’s Quest and hi-tech Space Quest, but the two tech levels remained strictly segregated.

phantasy_star_boxAnd then Sega released Phantasy Star. An 8-bit masterpiece — soon to be re-released on the Nintendo Switch — the American box art made it seem the game was pure sword-and-sorcery. It sported heroes clad in medieval armor, brandishing swords, and fighting bats and skeletons and wizards. But turn the box over and read a little more about the game:

  • The story takes place across all three planets of a distant star system
  • Spaceships will take you between those worlds, and you’ll cruise over them in a futuristic SUV
  • You’ll be fighting robots and aliens along the way
  • And if you’d prefer to put down your ax, you can pick up a laser gun

Phantasy Star wasn’t the first story in the world to combine medieval fantasy and science fiction — see the John Carter stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs for a much earlier example — but it was one of the first JRPGs to do it. And after it paved the way, the floodgates were opened.

Phantasy Star II went all-in on hi-tech with a storyline featuring an artificial intelligence Big Bad. Final Fantasy VI broke with that series’s medieval traditions and featured a steampunk environment. The image of Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud Strife armed with a giant Buster Sword and riding a motorcycle is practically an icon for this trope. And back in the analog realm, even the original RPG — Dungeons and Dragons — got in on the lo-tech/hi-tech marriage with 1989’s Spelljammer campaign.

My first fantasy novel, Yesterday’s Demons, is part of a trilogy I’ve often said is my love letter to JRPGs and their epic, unforgettable stories and characters. Yesterday’s Demons is set on the planet Verde, a world with a technology level and society much like that of the American Wild West. However, two hundred years before, it was a hi-tech wonderland only a few decades ahead of where we are now. Verde lost all of its technology in the Blackout, but some relics have been restored and repaired. Siv McCaig will need all of it he can find, plus a healthy dose of magic, to save Verde from destruction.

“Trope” doesn’t have to be a bad word. While there are certainly some that should never again see the light of day (I’m looking at you, women in refrigerators), others are like good friends whose presence never grows wearisome. I like Middle-Earth, and I like the Matrix. But give me both at the same time, and I’m in love.

One-Scene Villains

In some stories the hero and the villain are former friends, like Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Other times they’re enemies from the start, like Batman and the Joker. But regardless of their history, in most stories the hero and the villain meet multiple times, and the hero’s repeated efforts to beat the bad guy can make for an irresistible tale.

But what about those stories in which the chief antagonist appears in just a single scene? There aren’t many of them, but when pulled off successfully, that villain and his or her single scene can be amazing.

This article is a tribute to one-scene villains.

TheHeroAndTheCrown

I started thinking about this subject when I recently read The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. In that Newberry Medal winning book, Aerin reaches the wizard Agsded’s fortress, defeats her uncle in a battle of magic, and causes his fortress to crumble all in a single scene. It’s a great sequence in a great book and (spoilers) it’s not even the story’s climax. Aerin has to get home to Damar for that.

My favorite one-scene villain is Galbatorix, the chief antagonist of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle. What’s that you ask? Doesn’t the Inheritance cycle consist of four books and almost 3000 pages? Yes, it does, and the main villain appears in just a single scene.

But it’s awesome.

When they were perhaps thirty feet from the dais, they halted. Behind the throne hung thick black curtains made of velvety material, which stretched up toward the ceiling. A shadow lay over Galbatorix, concealing his features. Then he leaned forward, into the light, and Eragon saw his face. …

As Galbatorix spoke, the curtains behind his throne shifted and rose toward the ceiling. With a sense of shock, Eragon realized that they were actually Shruikan’s wings.

That moment when Eragon realizes Galbatorix’s throne room curtains are the wings of Galbatorix’s enormous black dragon is my favorite moment in the entire cycle. So, so cool.

As I have documented here often, my favorite video RPG and one of my favorite fantasy stories from any medium is Phantasy Star. The game’s main antagonist is King Lassic, whose troops murdered Alis’s brother Nero. Alis and her friends fight his monsters, his Shadow, and his gold dragon before they finally confront him. The battle is his one and only scene in the entire game. Phantasy Star II’s main antagonist, Mother Brain, is also a one-scene villain.

TheArchitectMatrixThe one-scene villain trick doesn’t always work. In the Matrix films, the Architect is sort of a villain, and he and Neo meet in just a single scene of The Matrix Reloaded. But that scene is infamously confusing. The story never even alludes to the Architect before that time, it just says Neo must reach the Source to save Zion, the last human city. And when the Architect does show up and starts saying “ergo” and “vis-a-vis” and “apropos,” the entire moviegoing audience says, “Huh?”

(Yes, the Architect appears in another scene at the end of the trilogy, but it’s an epilogue occurring after the trilogy’s main narrative has been resolved, so it doesn’t count. Actually, some would argue that The Matrix Revolutions as a whole doesn’t count.)

The key to a successful one-scene villain is in the journey to him. The story has to be more about the quest to get there than about the villain. That’s why the technique is so fraught with peril: the payoff of that journey must be a great villain! Otherwise, the reader or player or viewer is left saying, “I invested all my time for that?”

But when it works like in Inheritance or Phantasy Star or The Hero and the Crown, it makes for one fantastic story.

Tell me in the comments about any other one-scene villains you like.

Society and Monsters and Introverts

Simcha Fisher wrote a great article titled “Who’s Your Monster?”

Want to learn something about a society? Then take a look at what sort of fictional monsters are currently in vogue. What we fear tells us what kind of people we are.

Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein (subtitled The Modern Prometheus) expressed, among other things, the early 19th-century concern over how far man should go in trying to tame and manipulate the natural world. …

The first Godzilla film, featuring a grotesque monster accidentally resurrected by nuclear experimentation, is a walking, smashing embodiment of the anxiety of a nation who had just been flattened by nuclear war. No secret decoder ring needed there. …

Vampires? I’m tired of talking about vampires, so I’ll just say: Inverted Eucharist. AIDS epidemic. Glamour of evil. And so on.

ZombieWhat’s the current monster in vogue? At this point, I’d like to hand this article over to Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries to sing, “Zombie! Zombie!”

Fisher goes on to describe a conversation with one of my favorite writers, Mark Shea, on why zombies represent modern society’s fears:

The guy who beats the zombies, says Mark, is very often the rugged individualist type — the kind of guy who ignores government directives and relies on his own wits and strength. Most tellingly, the enemy to be feared is not so much the individual zombies themselves, as the contagiousness of the virus or disease or whatever it is that’s causing zombification. There is no one you can run to for help, because the bigger the crowd, the greater the chance there is of contamination. When there are ghosts or vampires or werewolves or sea monsters after you, you seek out allies, and make yourself stronger by banding together with anyone who can fight. But when it’s zombies? You can’t trust anyone; you may be required to turn against your own friends and family in order to save yourself. The only hope, really, is to wall yourself up safe inside some fortress. The worst possible thing that can happen is for people to spend time together, travel, encounter people they haven’t encountered before.

The monster is, in short, community itself — and the solution is to hide, survive, and wait for everyone else to eat each other.

I thought this was spot-on and very true. I definitely think there is a portion of today’s society that fears zombies for just this reason. But I don’t believe it’s universal. In fact, I think there is one part of society to whom this most definitely does not apply. And ironically, it is a segment of society that many probably think it applies to the most.

Introverts.

Susan Cain’s book Quiet launched the Quiet Revolution, an ongoing discussion about introversion and what it means to be an introvert and/or a highly sensitive person (HSP). The fruits of that discussion have been life changing for many people. And I don’t mean that as hyperbole because I’m one of them. I have a better quality of life armed with better knowledge of who I am and how I best function. But the discussion has also led to less desirable fruits.

This article from the Onion — “Report: Only 20 Minutes Until Introverted Man Gets To Leave Party” — is hilarious. But it also reinforces the stereotype that introverts don’t like people.

introvertsUnitePictures like the one on the left have a lot of truth to them and make me smile, but they also make introverts look like misanthropes.

And then there was the time that a newspaper featured a blog about highly sensitive people (Hi, Kelly, keep up the great work!) under the headline “In Other Words, Leave Me Alone.”

Community does look like the ultimate monster for introverts, but only for the stereotypical introverts that don’t exist anywhere except in funny meme pictures.

Real life introverts crave human interaction.

Yes, when we’ve had too much of it, we need alone time, though for many of us “alone time” doesn’t mean solitary confinement. It means either solitary confinement or quiet time with our spouse or partner. (I often tell my beloved Rose that I do need to be alone often, but time spent with just her counts as time alone.)

Yes, we don’t like large groups because they can be loud and overwhelming. But a cup of coffee or a meal with a small group of friends at a quiet cafe is the stuff of our daydreams.

Yes, we don’t like “fluff” conversation like small talk or showboating, but a good genuine conversation is immensely satisfying. (I often think Holden Caulfield was an introvert based merely on the way he used the word “phony.” Well, that and the fact that he was created by the most reclusive author ever.)

So have some good-natured fun with introverts’ need to separate from the community from time-to-time often. But don’t mistake it for hatred for that community.

Fantasy video game storytelling for the win!

alis3 oldgrp1 nei2

Brandon Sanderson has a new book out. Shadows of Self is the latest in his Mistborn series. I’m a fan of his Stormlight Archive series (though I think its books are too long) and I’m a huge fan of his Reckoners series (which I think is just about perfect), but I haven’t read any Mistborn yet. I will, though!

Sanderson recently posted an article about his long-term strategy for the series and how it differs from other epic fantasy series:

I pitched Mistborn as a series of trilogies, which many of you probably already know. Each series was to cover a different era in the world (Scadrial), and each was to be about different characters—starting with an epic fantasy trilogy, expanding eventually into a space opera science fiction series. The magic would be the common thread here, rather than specific characters. …

There will be some continuing threads. (A few characters from Mistborn will be weaved through the entire thing.) However, to make this all work, I decided I needed to do something daring—I needed to reboot the Mistborn world periodically with new characters and new settings.

Cool, right? But what fascinated me is that some folks consider this storytelling technique one that will hurt sales:

As a warning to writers out there, this is usually considered a publishing faux pas. Readers like continuing characters, and creating breaks as I have done (and will continue to do) often undermines sales. Readers naturally feel a momentum in finishing a series, and if you give them a break point—with everything wrapped up—the push to get out the door and read the next book isn’t there.

Sanderson adds that while initial reviews and sales for the first reboot have been positive, “I know my publisher is very concerned about this strategy.”

This concern struck me as very odd. I didn’t see what was so crazy or ground-breaking about Sanderson’s Mistborn strategy. And that’s not meant to knock Sanderson and say he’s not imaginative!

But then I realized something. I love fantasy books, but novels are not where my personal love of fantasy was born. My love of fantasy was born in video games. And fantasy video games employ Sanderson’s long-term strategy for Mistborn all the time.

Phantasy_Star_boxI adored the original Phantasy Star when I first played it in the summer of 1989. I was elated when I heard there would be a sequel. When I heard it would take place 1000 years after the original, I said, “Huh?” I wanted to see the continuing adventures of Alis Landale and her friends, and since none of them were immortal, I knew Phantasy Star II wouldn’t feature any of them. Maybe this is the publisher fear that Sanderson mentions.

But I still loved Phantasy Star II, and the rest of the games in the series. They didn’t continue the story of Alis Landale, but they continued the story of the Algo star system. The common thread among them was the place, the magic, the items, and the legends. And despite what I initially thought, some of my beloved characters from the original game did continue to return throughout the series.

Sounds pretty similar to what Sanderson is trying to do with Mistborn, doesn’t it?

Other video game series do the same thing. Each new Wild Arms game focuses on a new era in the history of the planet Filgaia, with all new characters. Heck, each new Final Fantasy game doesn’t even take place on the same world, and that series is undoubtedly the most popular video RPG series of them all. I suspect this technique is necessary for video RPGs to facilitate challenging gameplay. I spent a lot of time in Phantasy Star equipping Alis and her friends with the best weapons and raising them to their maximum experience level. It would be wildly inconsistent and feel like a cheat if the sequel had featured the same characters back at Level 1 wielding knives and wearing leather armor.

Sanderson’s publisher has nothing to fear. So long as the name “Brandon Sanderson” remains on the cover and the same top-notch storytelling is found inside, they’re going to sell books. But I’m grateful Sanderson’s post got me in a reflective mood and made me realize what a debt I owe to video RPGs. Many folks may hear “fantasy” and think Middle-Earth or Pern. Nothing wrong with that! As for me, the first place I think of is the Algo star system.