New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: “Frodo is Dead: Worldbuilding and The Science of Magic”

I’ve said this before: magic should not be science. Magic can be systematic and internally consistent, but it shouldn’t be reduced to a human tool, like astronomy or chemistry. A lot of writers and worldbuilders don’t seem to understand the difference–didn’t Arthur C. Clarke famously say that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?”

But there is a difference. That’s what my new essay is about.

In this essay, titled “Frodo is Dead” I wanted to show how basing magic off of science, ration, and the Enlightenment philosophies that informed them inevitably leads to a breakdown of its fantasy world by turning it into a mirror of our world.

You can read the essay here on Clarkesworld!

New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: “Frodo is Dead: Worldbuilding and The Science of Magic”

Outer Places, GIFCON, and Clarkesworld Magazine!

Three big pieces of news!

First, I’m taking on the temporary title of Interim Managing Editor for Outer Places, the sci-fi/science site where I work! My official title is Staff Editor, but until a new managing editor is found, I’ll be taking on that role and managing OP’s output and marketing. I’ll probably be heading out to SDCC, WonderCon, and NYCC this coming year to help cover events and speak on new panels too, which is amazing!

Second, Clarkesworld Magazine accepted my new pitch for an essay on magic and worldbuilding! For the past several years I’ve been bugged by magic in different books and games, especially The Elder Scrolls, because it’s often treated like a science where mages can ‘experiment’ and harness ‘magical energy.’ The way I see it, treating magic like science will inevitably create a domino effect within the fantasy world that leads it to turn into a world like ours, one where magic is harnessed like any other natural phenomenon. Magic will stop being magic, and Middle-Earth will become just ‘Earth’.

Third, I submitted a presentation proposal to GIFCON, the Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations convention, outlining a lecture I want to give on ARGs and The Rats in The Walls, my April 2015 project. I got an email last week that my proposal is under consideration, and that I should hear back around mid-January. We’ll see!

Finally, two of my friends got me a new poster:

erosion-revelation

Looking forward to 2017!

Outer Places, GIFCON, and Clarkesworld Magazine!

I Just Published a New Piece in The Portalist!

After sending in a pitch to Open Road Media’s new sci-fi/fantasy site The Portalist back in November, I wrote up a listicle on the 5 Most Elaborate Sci-fi Alternate History Books, including H.P. Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness, PKD’s Man in the High Castle, and William Gibson’s Difference Engine. Now it’s live on the Portalist site! Huzzah!

Today I also sent in my third non-fiction pitch to Clarkesworld Magazine on the topic of magic and worldbuilding in fantasy–we’ll see what they say. My last two essays with Clarkesworld were on “The Candlelit World,” about mythology’s influence on fantasy, then “Paradise Lost,” about the history of the genre. They’re a fantastic publication.

In the meantime, I’m still working on my new short story with Yute, incorporating some of the ideas I picked up from my new book on wabi-sabi and the Japanese tea ceremony.

I Just Published a New Piece in The Portalist!

The Occult Reading List: Zen, Martial Arts, Annie Lennox, and Tickets to the Moon

I have a bad habit of reading, listening, and watching too many things at once, and at the end of every week I end up with a new list of fascinating things to check out. I thought it would be fun to share some of the stuff I’ve read and listened to in the past week, including some of the books and articles I’ve come across. I’ve also included the songs that have been on repeat in my head.

Reading this list is guaranteed to make you fun at parties.

Books

zen buddhism d.t. suzuki occult triangle labNON-FICTION: Zen Buddhism, Selected Writing of D.T. Suzuki, Edited by William Barrett

An interesting look at Zen Buddhism by one of the foremost writers and translators on the topic. So far, the introduction has drawn connections between Zen and Kierkegaard’s Knight of Infinite Resignation, which is really interesting. It’s also got some fun stories about Bodidharma, the founder of Chinese Buddhism, and his shenanigans. I spoke a bit about Bodidharma before, in my post about Terry Pratchett’s Rule One.

burglars guide to the city occult triangle labNON-FICTION: A Burglar’s Guide to The City, by Geoff Manaugh

This book started out with an interesting premise: burglars, by their nature, have an arcane knowledge and a unique mastery of their surroundings. With this knowledge, they can pull off seemingly impossible, or even supernatural, feats. Liminality is a key idea in this book, which mirrors a lot of studies in magic and the occult. However, like a lot of non-fiction topics written by academics, it ends up losing track of its thesis and instead indulges in whatever the author finds kind of neat. DNF

clarkesworld occult triangle labFICTION: Clarkesworld Year Six Anthology, Clarkesworld Magazine

Clarkesworld Magazine, one of my top three favorite short fiction markets. These are the same folks that published both my essays on fantasy (you can read them here and here). I just started reading their Year Six anthology, and I’m excited to see what kind of insane stuff they’ve got in store. I also sponsor these guys on Patreon, along with Menton3. JOIN THE CULT.

 

opus satoshi kon occult triangle labMANGA: Opus, Satoshi Kon

Despite the most disappointing ending of all timeI highly recommend OPUS by Satoshi Kon. It’s the INCEPTION of manga, with a manga artist, Chikara, getting pulled into his own manga, called Resonance. He meets his own main character, Satoko, and ends up breaking the news that her whole life is a manga, and he’s essentially God. At the heart of the meta-story is the quest to resolve the ending of the manga, which is yet unwritten. It’s a great piece of metafiction, and it pulled at my goddamn heartstrings more than I expected.

Articles and webpages:

bagua occult triangle labWikipedia: Bagua
The heart of the I-Ching, the same book of Chinese divination that fascinated Phillip K. Dick, is the bagua, or trigram. There are eight trigrams: earth, water, fire, water, thunder, mountain, lake, sky. Combined into 64 pairs, the I-Ching uses them to supposedly provide a map to all creation. In fact, Leibniz, the famous mathematician, thought the I-Ching’s use of binaries in the trigrams (each bagua is made of three broken or unbroken lines) could provide a way to express everything. And he was right: binary became the basis of all computing, with 1’s and 0’s expressing things as insanely complicated as weather patterns or the show Neon Genesis Evangelion. You can read my article about using binary in magic systems here.

five animals occult triangle labThe Five Animals in Martial Arts

I’m trying to figure out the basis of a system of magic that would use movement, rather than written symbols or spoken words, as its main component. Sort of like interpretive dance, or the bending in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Five Animals is what I’m turning to for inspiration, as well as the Shaolin Luohan martial arts.

 

luohan shaolin fist occult triangle labLuohan (Martial Arts)

This is just really fucking cool: a martial arts discipline given by the aforementioned Zen founder, Bodidharma, to the legendary Shaolin monks. The Luohan forms would become the basis for all Shaolin martial arts, and have strong connections to Buddhism and enlightenment–the 18 skills are called the “arhat skills,” with “arhat” being the name for an enlightened person.

Songs:

Every Time We Say Goodbye by Annie Lennox

This is a beautiful, melancholy song. I came across it when I was reading V FOR VENDETTA: during one of the last chapters, when V is giving Evey a final tour of the Shadow Gallery just before his death, Evey plays a couple notes on the piano in the piano room, saying”‘How strange the change…from ma-jor to mi-nor’….no, I still can’t get that part right.” I finally googled those lyrics and found that they came from this song, which is fitting since the whole sequence in the book is essentially an extended goodbye from V.

Ticket to the Moon by ELO

This is another melancholy song. I came across it after listening for “Yours Truly, 2097”, also by ELO. I had an especially weird moment of synchronicity while walking to work one day–I was listening to this song when I came across a piece of graffiti on the sidewalk, saying “TO THE MOON.” This guy is a graffiti artist who tags in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I’d see the tag before, but it was surreal to hear the song and see the marker pointing down the sidewalk. Even more surreal is that the phrase may be a reference to a famous Zen teaching, expressed below pretty succinctly in the picture below (right).

graffiti moon occult triangle lab
graffiti occult triangle lab moon

 

What is Real by Trevor Something

I love Trevor Something. I have two of his albums, including TREVOR SOMETHING DOES NOT EXIST, which has this song as its last track. The song opens with a piece of dialogue from the 1974 comic sci-fi film, DARK STAR: a scientist is speaking to a sentient bomb about the question of “what is real,” which culminates in the problem of  the intellect and Cartesian doubt. Sprinkled in are quotes from The Matrix (“What is real? How do you define real?” etc.), which is actually just a verbatim quote of Alan Watts, the lecturer on Zen Buddhism, and haunting last piece of dialogue from the bomb in which it quotes Genesis. All of this is sandwiched in some really amazing 80’s synths.

 

Link

My New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: Paradise Lost

Yesterday my new essay, Paradise Lost: A History of Fantasy and the Otherworld, was published online in the July Issue of the Hugo Award-winning Clarkesworld Magazine! This marks the culmination of a conversation that started four or five years ago, when I was standing in my driveway at night with my friend Joel Clapp.

We had just finished a game of D&D, and I was telling Joel about “the candlelit world,” a theory I had about what made the fantasy genre unique. I said that fantasy was defined by folktales and myths, which came from a world lit by candlelight. Humans lived within the flickering circle of their lights, and the great, unknown world loomed out in the dark. Looking up at the fifty-foot pine trees in the dark, I said there were two sides to that unknown world: horror and wonder. There were wondrous adventures to be had in the unknown, paradises to be found and treasures beyond imagination, but also nightmares, unspeakable horrors, and death.

I grew up in Washington State, surrounded by forests and the outdoors. There, the immensity of the world seems to hit home a lot harder than here in New York. The sheer vastness of it, the oldness of it, boggles the mind. There’s a sense that you could explore for years and never scratch the surface of it. It evokes Jon Krakaeur’s  Into the Wild, but what I thought of when I looked out into the rolling dark forests were the stories in Time-Life’s Enchanted World series.

The 2013 article I wrote for Clarkesworld was titled The Candlelit World, spoke about myths and the woods, but it only spoke about the horror and darkness–its subtitle was The Dark Roots of Myth and Fantasy. It drew heavily on H.P. Lovecraft and his essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” and It was the first chance I got to speak about my view of fantasy. Now, three years later, I finally get to tell the other half.

Clarkesworld Magazine is one my favorite fantasy short fiction magazines, and I’m so excited to have another piece go out to their readers (as well as you!). If you get a chance, read some of their stories and donate to Neil Clark and his wonderful team on Patreon.

My New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: Paradise Lost