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Posts tagged ‘David Gemmell’

Magic In Fantasy

by Chris McMahon

What are some of the choices in creating magic systems in fantasy?

For originality, Steven Erikson’s idea of the Warrens was really something different. I enjoyed his Malazan books of the fallen, but they eventually got a little bogged down in the storyline, or maybe the characters didn’t grab me as much as some of the earlier novels (Gardens of the Moon is a classic). The originality in the magic did not abate though.

As much as I liked David Gemmell, his magic was pretty straightforward and fairly familiar from the SFF spectrum.

I guess as fundamental distinctions go, one of the most basic is Innate Magic Vs Learned Magic. For example in the Earthsea books, or Wheel of Time series, the talent was there from birth, whereas in other books – I think one of the Lawrence Watt-Evans’s books comes to mind – it is a skill that can be learned, a bit like learning what needs to go into a science experiment in our world to make it work according to our physical laws.

I remember a great little scene (not sure what book this was from) – this skinny, white-bearded, yet very fit Mage, pounding away with his feet on some sort of platform to generate the energy for his spell. The idea here was a sort of conservation of energy, where the Mage had to first generate the energy with his own sweat before he did the spell. That was kind of neat. He also got to burn off lots of calories.

You can have a blend as well. In my fantasy novel The Calvanni, there are innate magic-users (Sorcerers) who are quite powerful, yet rare, while most others can be trained in other less powerful forms of magic (Druids, Priests and Priestesses). The premise was that the Sorcerers came to dominate their world and formed a magic-using nobility. The power in the upper classes – feared and hated by many – waned over time and the Druids took control, forcing a purge of the now ‘evil’ Sorcerers and monopolizing magic.

Another fundamental distinction is just how Powerful is Powerful? Is the pinnacle of magic the ability to obtain a vision, or perhaps influence a person’s thoughts – as in shamanism – or can an ‘Adept’ wipe out armies with the wave of a hand (Pug from Fiest comes to mind)?

I think some books take the ultimate power of the Mage way too far. I like it better when the magic-user is limited, and has to pay for the use of his power.

What magic systems from fantasy literature take your fancy?

Building Attractive Characters

by Chris McMahon

It’s strange which characters end up snaring you as a reader. I often wonder why some of the characters I have loved have appealed to me so much. I’m a sucker for the underdog, it hooks me in every time and often drives my own fiction, but lets put that aside for the moment.

It’s no secret I’m a die-hard David Gemmell fan. I think the man was a genius. OK, so he wrote pretty much the same thing every time, but he did it extremely well. His action was great, and good action is always driven by character. He was a writer who knew how to draw a character and how to get out of the reader’s way. His prose is deceptively simple and immediate.

The classic David Gemmell hero is tough and uncompromising. He would think nothing of stepping into the fray and knocking heads if it was the right thing to do and would not give a moment’s thought to the consequences or the bruises and blood – or deaths – that might result. An almost total lack of introspection, except of course for being tortured by guilt over something in their past, which drives them to merciless self-sacrifice.

Reflecting about that sort of character, I would have to admit he (or she – Sigorni in the Hawk Queen books – Gemmell didn’t discriminate) are pretty much poles apart from me. Perhaps we might share a similar sense of right and wrong, but where I would sit wondering whether I should say something the Gemmell hero has already leapt in and moved on. Would I love to be able to act like that and not be tortured by hours of introspective replay? I sure would.

One other character that fascinates me is Dexter from the TV series. Again, here is someone who has a total lack of worry about the consequences; except perhaps only as they might impact on his eventual freedom and lifestyle, but otherwise he feels no remorse or hesitation over how his actions will affect others. If not for his code, he would be an indiscriminate killer. There seems to be no barriers to action in Dexter’s world. I think that is another thing I feel so attracted to. At various times I might feel passionately driven to certain things – at others I will struggle against internal demons or even conflicting passions to get into forward motion. None of this for Dexter. No amount of action or work seems a barrier to him – there are no emotional blocks in the way. There must have been a thousand times I wished I could have waved a magic wand and turned myself into some sort of robot that just got the job done – or at least pop some sort of pill that switched off my emotion. I think this underlies my attraction to characters like Spock.

So do opposites attract? Is it wish-fulfillment that drives our connection to characters? Wanting to live their lives? Or is this connection different for everyone?

The Flight of the Phoenix

by Chris McMahon

I am very chuffed to be able to announce the impending publication of my novella The Flight of the Phoenix (available from this Monday  – 23rd May) from Naked Reader Press. This story has been around a long time, and pre-dates the other Jakirian novels.

In the novella, the aging general Belin is thrown from a comfortable retirement into  conflict with the mysterious Eathal. The cave-dwelling Eathal have conceived a plan to destroy the ancient Bulvuran Empire, striking at the heart of it by assassinating the Emperor Riin and his family.

Belin is beset by visions of the demise of Riin, and sets off across the leagues from the Delta province to the capital Raynor to save Empress Evelyn and her newborn child from death at the hands of the Eathal shapechanger and Sorcerer Geisel (you should be able to see the Delta province and the imperial capital Raynor on the map to the left). The journey is only made possible for Belin by riding his narsiit – a winged steed famous for speed (not that they actually fly – the wings are for mainly for cooling, but do provide some lift). 

The general’s legendary greatscythe skills will be put to the test against overwhelming opposition. He must overcome the treachery of those Suul (nobility) who seek to profit from the fall of the Empire – and confront his own fears of Sorcery as he comes face-to-face with Geisel.

Looking back at the development of this work, it is like a layered chronology of the birth of the world of Yos. The very first drafts were very much in a conventional fantasy setting – with swords and metal armour. The elements of the magic were in place, but the system not nearly as refined as it would be later. The whole piece is (not surprisingly) heavily influenced by David Gemmell.

Then as the drafts continued, the swords and metal armour gave way to the special ceramic weapons of Yos. The premise of the Jakirian – that all metal is present as a magical crystal or glowmetal – was at last in place.

A precept of magic on Yos is that glowmetals can neither by created nor destroyed. Although sometimes useful in magic, their essential raw nature cannot be changed i.e. they cannot be forged or refined. The consequence is that weapons have to be either constructed of natural materials, or in most cases extremely sophisticated composite ceramics of various classes. Lanedd – which can be used for blades, holding a razor-sharp edge, yet avoiding the brittleness of pure ceramics. Mought – incredibly tough material cast into shape as armour or used for the haft of various weapons.

The limit on the effective length of a blade (due to the brittleness of lanedd) has made the long-knife or calv dominant (hence Calvanni = knife-fighter). There are no swords on Yos. Instead the dualist’s weapon of choice is the greatscythe – a staff of cast mought that has retractable lanedd blades at either end.

To celebrate the lauch of The Flight of the Phoenix – first in the Jakirian related books to come out from Naked Reader Press – I am giving away an electronic copy of The Flight of the Phoenix. The copy goes to the first to email me at with the name of the Eathal shapechanger that Belin faces in the story (hint: it’s above:)).

The schedule for the other Jakirian books is:
The Calvanni: June 2011 (electronic & POD)
Scytheman: December 2011 (electronic & POD)
Sorcerer: June 2012 (electronic & POD)