Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Writing Fantasies - Alternative Mythologies Part 6b - The Ashanti/Akan Religion

For many of the cultures to come out of West Africa, what we know in the western world is often a derivative of one of their abstracts. Of course, the best example of this is Vodou, the culture we’ve long since associated with the darker aspects of their own superstitions, rather than the more mainstream beliefs. But even outside of Vodou you'll find that the common knowledge of West African cultures is generally limited to things which are the easiest for us to process.

One great example of this is the Ashanti, one of the most commonly known cultures of West Africa. People who are familiar with the word immediately know of the Ashanti folk hero Anansi the spider. But after that point you’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows more about who they are. In fact, most aren’t even aware of the fact that the Ashanti are a subgroup, a single part of a greater whole, and that the majority of their beliefs actually originate from the people who share their language: The Akan.

Akan conceptual symbols, the "Adinkra"
It makes some sense that the Ashanti take the limelight here, they are the largest subgroup of the Akan and thus most Akan that we’ve encountered over the centuries have been Ashanti. But what’s important about it is that details like that lead to us sometimes not understanding the culture as a whole. And so, today, let’s address the larger group’s beliefs (as well as I can in the space I have).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing Fantasies - Alternative Mythologies Part 6a - Introduction to West Africa

When I started the Alternative Mythologies series, I did so with two major reasons in mind. The first was that the fantasy genres, by and large, have stagnated in the recent years. Our novels, games, and movies all fall under similar categories with the differences primarily in presentation and angle rather than source. As a result, some parts of the fantasy genre have been on the decline. The popularity of Urban Fantasy proves that it’s not the genre itself that’s a problem, but rather that people want to see something different from what has been done for so many years. New material can’t hurt.

Dare you to guess which one this is without looking it up
The second is that we’re living in a more global society than ever before. International markets have become more vibrant and viable for creators to work with. People in the domestic markets are becoming more aware of the outside world. We are slowly becoming an open multi-cultural society. There’s always been a vein of people who follow the teachings of another culture and those people have usually been marked as outcasts and weirdoes in the western world.  But today we’re finding those weirdoes are becoming mainstream rapidly.

There won't be true equality until this starts happening
Some may point at the internet, but the fact of the matter is that silly white people getting Chinese tattoos has been a thing for at least a couple decades. Rather, the reason is more fundamental: as people have become more accepting of each other, so too have we become more accepting of our cultures. Some start to complain that it’s “cultural appropriation”, but someone trying to show respect and love for someone else’s culture is not a bad thing, it’s a sign we’re starting to appreciate people and history other than our own. And, the fact is, we really could afford to know more about places like…

Monday, September 8, 2014

Alterpedia Historia: The First Ones

(I hate that I have to say this, but this is a fictional account of the history of a fictional world. I do not believe these things, nor should you, as I made them up. If I receive any comments that I did not do my research into these events, you will be mocked.)

In the Altered World series of books, there is an organization called the Alter Control Task Force. Though ostensibly an organization for policing activities of the Alter race, an attempt to prevent an eventual race war, they are actually representatives of a city-state on the ocean: The Republic of Argyre.

The Republic of Argyre, an artificial island anchored to an oceanic ridge in the pacific, is a city-state established by Alters for the sake of harboring their kind and establishing a relationship with the mainstream human population. Despite being an artificial island and attached to no primary landmass, the city’s structure is capable of potentially supporting all 12 to 15 million active Alters on the planet.

How did a race of people who’ve lived in hiding for centuries manage to construct such a city? Why would they build their city in the middle of the ocean? Where did they get the resources for such a task? In the Alterpedia Historia, we will answer these questions, but before we can, first, we need to start with the beginning. First, we need to start with…

Monday, August 18, 2014

Alternative Mythologies (detour 2): Guanches & The Distilled Essence of Mythology

So far, Alternative Mythologies has been my attempt to show you a glimpse of the world outside of our typically Euro-centric fantasy genre offerings. And along the way it’s easy to notice similarities that abound. People try to explain the animals they encounter in the wilderness, they try to explain the weather, they share a fear of death or of the idea that the dead may remain. Some of them may combine aspects to become things such as a rainbow which is really a massive serpent, or a cobra which holds the earth aloft. Come to think of it, a lot of mythologies involve the general idea of "snakes".

Seen here: all places where people are concerned about snakes
But the similarities make sense: our cultures have intermingled at one time or another throughout history. We not only respond to the world that we know, but the world others have known. Shared fears and shared concepts bleed across borders and vast distances. And, as I spoke of last time, at least one culture is so intermixed with every other culture around them that we hardly know them while still knowing almost everything about them. The Berbers are, for all intents and purposes, the Beatles of Mediterranean mythology.

But what happens when you take a culture and stick it in a place where there’s nothing to really interact with. Put the Berbers on a set of small, tropical islands off the west coast of Africa, away from the empires and constant movements of the Mediterranean seas, and what do you get? Well, you get people who have the most distilled essence of what mythology looks like when there is no need to explain the gods of other people. You get a people who have no Mongols, Hippos or invading drunken barbarians to worry about. In fact, while it remains true that a major driving force behind mythology is what scares or confuses people, only one thing has ever really scared or confused the aboriginal natives of the Canary Islands:

A fucking volcano.

So, of course, the only real story I have from the mythology of the Guanches of Canary Islands is one explaining eruptions. It’ll do.

Friday, August 15, 2014

WTF? Amazon wants MY help?

You don’t know it, but right now there’s a war going on for the soul of the publishing industry. It’s been fought long and hard and there have been casualties: bookstores, newspapers, the hope that any doctor’s office would update their reading selection. All in all, it’s not gone well for anyone. But the war rages on and recently it escalated because two powers decided to mobilize everything they got at each other.

Uncle Amazon Wants You
It started back with that price fixing thing I was pissed off about a while back. Several book publishers had decided among themselves to fix the prices of eBooks so they could try to make sure that none of them had to actually compete to sell a book. They effectively made the rest of us look like assholes and idiots for running our book prices as low as we could while laughing and forcing the consumer to pay more for each copy.

I hated them.

But then they got busted and they started to fold pretty quickly. One of the chief forces behind this was Amazon, who realized that their ebook market was the most successful ebook market out there and that they were making mountains of cash off of it. So someone threatening those mountains of cash by working behind their backs just would not do. Amazon went after them and everyone started to play ball except for one publisher: Hachette.

Hachette huffed and puffed and refused to drop its prices like everyone else. So Amazon decided to just stop pushing Hachette books. They figured that Hachette would fold and that everything would start coming up mountains of cash again. But Hachette had a plan, they had a nuclear option that Amazon didn’t think to contend with: authors who actually make enough money to buy the GOOD ramen.

So Amazon panicked and did something that most people can agree was pretty stupid, they tried to mobilize their Indie Authors from the Kindle Direct Publishing. I mean, they were just standing around in line at the soup kitchen anyway.

"It's a classic American novel, for $2.99"
So, seriously, WTF?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Bittersweet Lessons of Robin Williams

Yesterday, nearly a day before my writing of this and most certainly a full day before you’re reading this, something happened that made me take pause. On August 11th of 2014, shortly before noon, Robin Williams was found dead in his home in Marin County, California. By the time news of his death had reached the media, the cause of death had already been identified as asphyxiation by suicide. We lost someone inspiring in the blink of an eye.

Robin’s family released statements as celebrity families are expected to do. His wife asked for privacy in their time of mourning and asked that we focus on his life rather than how it ended. His friends sent condolences and made statements of how much they would miss him. His daughter posted a quote that said more than anyone could have said in that space.

The media and the public did what they normally do, of course. The media immediately ignored the requests for privacy and began to literally hover helicopters over the family home in some morbid bid to catch something or someone of interest from above. The public split into its usual factions of compassion, morbid curiosity and disgusting behavior. Though most did exactly as Robin’s wife asked and focused on the joy he brought to our lives, many couldn’t stop themselves from looking or theorizing about the details of his end. It’s of little wonder that the people who knew him needed to step away from the buzz of activity so they could have their moment of peace.

But I sit here and I don’t want to know the details of how it happened. I don’t want to hear the stories of who found him. I don’t want to see the report on what sort of asphyxiation it was. Instead I sit here trying to think of how to phrase why this is one of the few stories of this kind that I feel compelled to write about. This is a hard question to answer because it requires I do, tangentially, what others are doing now in a fashion I find far more morbid. Unfortunately, I think I need to focus on the end of his story. It is my only hope my reasons can be understood by anyone who may come across my (infinitesimally) small corner of the internet.

As a writer, I strive to be a storyteller. Above all other things, that is what Robin was. He may have been an actor, a comedian, and a fabulous human being, but he was a story teller most of all. In fact, he was the kind of story teller that I think a lot of us should strive to be - a man who could draw you into what he was saying and make you follow him no matter what detour it may take. And, because he was more than just an actor or comedian, I think many of us in the creative community can say that he was one of us.

So if it could happen to him, it could happen to any of us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

WTF Wednesdays: Live Action Dumbo?!

In the often busy and somewhat noisy world of media news, it’s often easy to overlook stories that don’t necessarily reach your particular interests. A lot of people likely didn’t notice the fact Blade, Ghost Rider and Punisher reverted film rights back to Marvel in the last week. Similarly, while a lot of people were hyped about it, it’s possible someone didn’t hear about the fact Ghostbusters 3 may end up featuring an all female team. But what I know a lot of people missed was that Bill Murray has been signed to a different movie… a live action Jungle Book.

He’ll be voicing Baloo the bear. Yeah, Bill Murray is going to be the bear that sang “Bear Necessities” in the (first) Disney movie. Right now people are hopeful this “live action” business is CG animals surrounding a live child because very few people want to see Bill Murray in a bear suit.

It’s to be expected in today’s environment: we’re doing live action remakes of everything now. Far be it for me to jump onto the anti-remake bandwagon - I actually get excited about some remakes. But what we have here is a trend where we’re taking films that were specifically more interesting as animated features in order to make them more profitable by appealing to a more adult audience. Frankly, a movie with talking animals is rarely a good idea in anything other than animation.

And Bill Murray should know this
Disney knew this too. The last time they took a swing at a live action Jungle Book movie they did it with trained animals and Jason Scott Lee doing most of the translating of body language as a more adult Mowgli.

It’s clear here what’s starting to happen. After the success of projects like Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Maleficent; Disney has become enamored with the idea that CG with live actors cuts down on the pesky task of drawing films. And nothing quite proves it like another project they supposedly have on the burner… Dumbo.

Let your aneurysm pass and click the jump.