Back in Black

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

Thursday February 11, 2009 -- 9:33 a.m.

Or pink. Whatever.

Anyway, I'm finally back from my excessive vacation and am kicking off by blogging the BYU Life The Universe And Everything conference/seminar/thingy. Anyway, it's directed to those of us who are aspiring science fiction writers.

We'll start the morning off with "Fantasies without Magic." The panelists are: Larry Correia (Monsters Hunter International) Robert Defendi (game designer, works for people, Death by Cliche), Paul Genesse (Moderater--The Golden Cord --Iron Dragon series) and Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn and Gathering Storm, Elantris, etc.)

Forgive the typos, no time to clean up and I'm typing perched on my purse. Not the stablest of positions! Brandon's a little late. The other panelists joke about how we're all here for Brandon...but he'll be here in ten minutes.

They do their intros. Buy these guys books! They're awesome! [Note on my style--direct quotes are marked by "quote marks" and everything else is paraphrase. Parenthesis are my own comments.]

Q: Is it really fantasy if it doesn't have magic?
LC: Sure. Mine has monsters. My magic is in the background. "The real question is 'Can you have fantasy without ninjas?'" (Apparently Brandon Sanderson is going to buy the 300-people crowd doughnuts...or at least so LC promises on his behalf.)
BD: The line between fantasy and sci-fi is so blurred anyway. When it comes right down to it, what is magic? Gods? Fantastic elements versus traditional magic.
RD: George R.R. MArtin--very little magic. Apparently none. (He asks the crowd who's read GRRM and there's surprisingly little. Shame on you! SHAME!) As long as the world is different...
LC: Anne McCafferey--fantasy (kindof) without magic. Bioengerneered dragons are still dragons!

(I'm surprised no one's brought up Guy Gavriel Kay.) Description of GRRM-- "It's like getting punched in the face for 700 pages" (--LC?)

RD mentions that he was inspired to write a child-torture scene because of GRRM. Without dragons or magic, books become less escapist.

Q: How do you create a sense of wonder in the reader w/o magic?

BD: Character still confronting the impossible, overcoming that obsticle can create the sense of wonder.

Brandon Sanderson walks in and comments on Bob Defendi's beard.

"This is what ten a.m. looks like" says BS. "This is the only time of the year that I get up this early." He brags about his A parking pass.

This is Brandon's first panel ever as a guest of honor. Says he's on the wrong panel because he doesn't do this.

BS: Looking at the history of fantasy, fantasy started without magic. Conan/Tarzan are the earliest predecessors of fantasy. Gemmell, GRRM are the spiritual successors. "It's gritty, it's dirty and if there's magic, it's not understood." Setting can be sense of wonder. Tarzan had the dark continent. Conan had pre-history. John Carter of Mars, Disney's doing a film of...even though they don't have clothes on. Mars is like that.

LC: I got bashed on, compared to Conan's writer.
BS: Notes that guys in loinclothes hitting people with big swords were actually pretty eloquent.
etc., etc., etc., eloquence and nudity! Woohoo! Recommends reading it because it's better than it's expecting. "If you're going to use magic, use the place to give a sense of mystery." The far east may seem normal to us, but it can be very exotic to the characters, making it exotic to us.

LC: Doing an alternate history series coming out next year. Magic isn't wonder for the main character because she's used to it. Indoor Plumbing causes wonder. Skyscrapers become wonder.
Magic is not.

Q: At what point does magic become science?
BD: When you're Brandon Sanderson!

BS: Admits he's built his career on this. Time travel turns science into magic. Bring science back from the past and it becomes magic. Joel Rosenburg, Dragon and the George sort of thing. The same thing works in reverse--wizards can be scientists.

BD: Anytime your magic is so well understood, like the laws of physics, I think you blur the line.

(I disagree on this point. A well-defined magic system is still magic. No way it'll ever be science. Approaching something scientifically doesn't mean that the object approached is science.)

Argued with Dave Wolverton/Farland about speed runes versus endurance runes for horses, loves the nuts and bolts. The more you give me that, the more you enjoy it.

BS: Making magic a science sacrifices the wonder but gives more credance to plot. Gandalf and the vagueness of magic is okay. I have to find my sense of wonder somewhere else...usually settings. "That's one of the core ideas of fantasy: immersion." Realism, even with magic.

BD: Says he's now going to put a 'theoretical magician' in his book.

Q: When does science become magic.

PG: Speaks about an Egypt series, first book is 'Warlock' and everything he does seems like magic, but it's really not. (Sounds like a cool series! I wish I'd heard the name).

BS: Talks about GRRM. (That's what you get for coming in late, Brandon.) Calls it "proof you can do great, epic fantasy without this." His history is his strength. Brutal, but genius. Admits he couldn't read past the first book. Martin barely uses any.

(Martin does this because he has a great world. Note how many books he'd already written! I'd advise beginning authors to not expect themselves to do so well without the magic.)

Joe Abercrombie -- some magic, but heir to GRRM.

PG: Disappointed when GRRM started using more magic.
LC: Did a magic Deus ex Machina halfway through my book just because people told me I couldn't.
PG: Yes, and you swallow it because its built up.

BS: Dark urban. Fantasy gobbled up horror. Dark urban is its revision--low magic elements, like Twilight. Magical talents of vampires. "A lot of Vampire books aren't approaching it at all." Vampirism as science--STDs, blood disease. (I do like it when they talk about the science of vampires/werewolves/zombies. If the science has depth, its pretty cool.) Obviously Dresden files and those involve a lot of magic. Look at it: what do the readers enjoy. If it's not the magic,what is it?

LC: The sparkles?

BS: Wonder can come on events--what weird things would happen next.

Comment: Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell does have the theoretical magician.

BS: Obviously, stole the idea.
LC: Is the epic quest for grant money?
BD: No, I want a magician who's like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. (Audience shows love for Sheldon...I'm a Leonard girl, myself.).

Q: About Slipstream--

PG: Defines it. (Look it up, people.)
BS: Almost hallucinagenic, dreamlike qualities--sense of wonder and "sense of this person is stoned." Not magical, but a sense of stoned.

Other slipstream authors listed, included convention attendee L.E. Modisett.

Q: How do you define magic (Q from magic). (I always wonder why anyone asks this question. Who cares, really? Does it matter? It's like trying to define poetry...)

BS: Hard fight. Between science/magic. Star Wars gets tugged to pieces by both camps. "The line for me is someone breaks the line of physics as we understand them." Science fiction at least gives nod to what could exist.

(Odd, how this puts faster than light travel into the magic category.)

Other panelists agree.

LC: In a business sense, magic is whatever your publisher says it is. Pitched a book as epic fantasy with detailed rules, editor calls it "superheroes."
BS: Genre is a convention for booksellers, publishers and librarians. "It's a necessary evil in most people's eyes." Except the marketers... Familiar and strange balance act. Genre helds with the familiarity.
BD: Video Game marketing. It's an RPG because that's the marketing angle.

Comments: (Not sure where he's going...GRRM is an awesome writer, no duh)...GRRM has good characters, makes sympathy.

BD: Analysis on forums of GRRM...Magic is more ritual/religious than magical. Takes the place of the moral center? Ammoral characters.
BS: He makes my point about how GRRM has been doing this forever. "I think if people COULD figure out how GRRM writes, they would do it." Master of show, master of dialogue, master of characterize someone sharply, quickly, powerfully. Brilliantly brutal to his readers, but if he wasn't so good at characterization doesn't happen. Magic is not his strength. Characters were. Follow your skills! "That doesn't mean you have to do it GRRM or BS or LC or whoever's out there. Do it your own way!"

BD: Gem of wisdom: he's brutal to his readers because his characterization is so good.

(Wow...this is like the GRRM panel.)

Q: Did that Eqyptian dude believe he was a scientist or a magician?

PG: (Wilbur was the author's name). He thought the gods helped him, but he thought of himself as a man of knowledge rather than a man of magic. He thought his knowledge was a connection to the divine.

Q: How far should you take explaining the magic system before it becomes repetitious, obscure, annoying? (Good rule!)

LC: When the reader becomes bored. No hard and fast rule. Look at Mistborn
BD: I was just going to go there!
BS: I love you guys...
LC: Note, he uses the appendixes.
BS: Balance--have more information to give to those who want it, but not so much that they depend on it. BS relates it to a learning curve, how steep a learning curve--all depends on different elements. Erik Stephenson--learning curve punches you in the face. No right answer. Some people want no answers, some people want tables. Brandon tries to cater to both.

(I definitely am a reader who likes less detail in terms of magic, though more in terms of culture and creature evolution.)

BD: I remember how things worked in Mistborn, but not why. BS told us what mattered. The theory versus the practical stuff--practical stuff is more important.
BS: Establish a rule and stick to it. As long you stick to the rule, then you won't need to do why if you're not doing rule-based magic.

Final thoughts. Is it fantasy w/o magic.
LC: Yes. (Talks about signing, workshop.)
BD: It's fantasy if I say it's fantasy. (Shills for next panel).
BS: Fantasy - Alternative. Has his personal assistant tell his schedule. (HA!)
PG: Shills GRRM.

Wow, my back really hurts after that. I doubt I'll keep up that level of detail. Next is a keynote address from an artist in a room with no plugs, so no coverage for you! HAAHAHA


  1. Luisa Perkins said...

    Fantastic! Sorry about your hurting back, but I appreciate your sacrifice.

Post a Comment