I often find myself returning to the themes of the gothic novel; I find their ideas of power abused and stifling social traditions forcing tragedy upon the innocent fascinating. I think those themes offer a far more interesting avenue for dark fantasy than miserablism and sociopathy; arguing from the position that everyone is compromised and base is less interesting than taking the stance that evil can come from within, from the inability to understand the desires and freedoms of others.
Thus I wrote this, a gradual destruction of a past friendship that itself was not what it seemed.
At the start of episode 4 of Eccentric Family 2, there is a straightforward summation of one of its morals; “the transformation… is strongly connected to the idea of freedom.” Tanuki lose their powers in captivity. In its own way this becomes a sort of freedom, a kind of mythic superiority over humans; tanuki play at changing roles even when unable to change shape to make a game of being zoo animals. The idea of zoos in an urban fantasy world is not one that I believe much media in the genre considers; fantastical creatures existing within a modern urban society must contend with modern attitudes of animals in captivity, and ultimately a talking animal is something ordinarily non-sapient granted humanlike sapience.
I wrote this piece for an online writing group I joined, with the prompt of writing about the reunion of two old friends.
At the moment I am reading The Mysteries of Udolpho and its beautiful prose voice and Radcliffe’s ability to write painterly landscapes and pastoral scenes proved a great inspiration for this piece.
Recently I have got very into the wargame Horizon Wars, and as part of this focused on devising background for my army. I tied it into my recent Trails of Cold Steel inspired fiction, about the science-fiction / fantasy Habsburg Empire analogue, the Double Nations of Prenzer.
Now I am beginning to populate Prenzer with named characters, who will take roles in wargames played in the setting – first was Andrew Jackson, the Lawrence of Arabia-esque tanker who featured in a few of my short stories, and now there is Prince Matthias Valon – a fighter-ace, the son of the Archduke of Prenzer and an all-around rogue and playboy.
This story owes much to the excellent novel Winged Victory for giving me a tone to aspire to in writing about the pioneers of air combat, but equally much to the Trails games for their character Olivert…
My relationship with the “grimdark” is troubled; I dislike the conflation of pragmatism and necessary evil with realism, the belief that something gains value in its pessimism about human nature. On the other hand I greatly like explorations of villainy, entrenched evil and indeed the maintenance of an “evil empire” of the sort genre fiction loves. Not, per se, a world where there is no good and goodness is doomed to fail – but a world where there is evil, and people live it by choice or by inability to escape.
I have recently been reading the Locke Lamora novels; they depict a truly grotesque world of the excess of the rich from the perspective of a criminal determined to bring them down. Ordinarily the excesses of, say, the second novel’s Amusement Wars (a gladiatorial games de trop) would have been the thing to turn me away from the novels – but rather than being presented as some logical gritty endpoint giving credibility to the world they are shown as a sick, contemptible display of excess.
Setting this in the context of other “dark” media I have enjoyed far more than I expected to – the lore of the Dark Souls games and the unashamedly trashy steampunk zombie slasher Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress drove me to try and write my own depiction of some hopeless world ruled by a perverse logic. I applied it to super-robot fiction, by means of the “serious” pragmatism of the hardline ace squadron. In my previous story Achelois I covered similar ground in a science-fiction setting, so this is in many ways another take on the idea of a look within the paranoid, unpleasant life of a super-robot villain group.
Four episodes into Kiznaiver it seems a show exceptionally well-pitched for a target audience I am not a part of; it is a series which has a very strongly put across moral message universal in its importance, but expressed in a way that does not satisfy me. The premise is simple and potentially interesting; a group of misfit children, claimed to embody a “new seven deadly sins”, are abducted and given an experimental treatment whereby they all share each others’ pain; whenever one is hurt, they all feel it. From here a conspiracy plot builds, regarding who has done this and why.
This series of stories, about the remote desert fortress and its unwilling new recruits, is unashamedly inspired by the Trails series as I mentioned above. I like, in those stories, the way in which comfortable worlds of the characters, the easy missions and simple folk, are used for rude awakenings.
This story is about that; a situation the characters are coming to believe they understand is undermined as they are faced with the reminder that the world outside their bubble is one where people with influence and without morals will encourage a path of cruel least resistance, and where their integrity will be tested.
This story is a follow-up to A Train to Meravia, detailing the conclusion of its characters’ journey. It is perhaps a smugger, more snarky piece of writing than I would usually write but it seems thematically appropriate to have self-confidence and arrogance pierced by experience in a story about unwilling visitors to a remote place. It is still strongly inspired by Trails of Cold Steel‘s bizarre yet in the end genius practical examinations, but put through a slightly different lens.
This story is a follow-up in setting terms to The Meravian Officer, and is really me accepting that the original piece was unknowingly a kind of hybrid of my take on Valkyria Chronicles and Trails of Cold Steel. It doubles down, in effect, on the industralised central European aesthetic that makes those games so aesthetically interesting while trying to add a more “period” feel to the high-school tropes of Cold Steel‘s military academy.
A group of military cadets are being sent to the border of the Austria-esque Prenzer and the Turkey-inspired Meravia, and none of them want to be there…
I wrote this story, about trains, and unusual local customs and about the different ways the laws of an empire might be understood in its remotest quarters, a long time ago but I never put it on this site.
It came to mind again as I played Trails of Cold Steel, which seems to be very much like this in its strange little towns, its Austro-Hungarian-German-Russian aesthetic, its quirky military postings and so on. Trails has made me return to this fantastical counterpart to Austria to write more, and so I decided to put this story up.