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.
It’s been a while since I did any new creative writing and this is my first attempt in a while; something vague and dreamlike, written more to evoke a mood than much else. I feel it could go into some more concrete direction, but that would be another story for another time.
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.
After creating the character of a faceless enforcer of the dystopian state in the previous story in this setting, I thought it would be interesting to characterise them as something other than the usual meathead or killer cyborg.
Thus this came about.
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.
I do not want to give this story the usual lengthy explanation of my inspirations and intentions, because it is intended to be interpreted by the reader. This sounds perverse – usually I relish the opportunity to explain my thought processes in these stories – but in this case, as part of my intent this NaNoWriMo to experiment with my writing, I am leaving the interpretation of events to the reader.
This story came from an idea that was initially something else. I was trying to write a super-robot story that had a professional woman pilot, someone in the mold of Cima Garahau or Haman Karn (both, notably, villains – but both good examples of the mature, skilled and powerful woman I meant – maybe the hero equivalent is Miria Jenius), in the lead. Someone who would pilot in “sensible” clothes rather than whatever the hell the woman pilots of Godannar or Gravion wear. Someone ultimately a bit like Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, a super robot pilot who is a woman rather than the archetypal “woman robot pilot” of anime.
The initial plan was for this story to have a good chunk of robot action in it – I even sketched a robot, with a suitably silly name – 月騎士ダイルーナ (Moon Knight Dailuna) full of stock Masami Obari-inspired robot ideas like shoulder-cannons, a huge sword, missile launchers on its ankles and so on. My hero would be basically the female counterpoint to Klein Sandman, the super-cool operator and pilot from Gravion. She would be on the run from the evil empire, the equivalent to Duke Fleed from Grendizer.
When I began writing, I found it was far more interesting to explore the hero’s backstory; Achelois (pictured above) turned out to be a character who “lost” the political games that define the scheming super-robot villain hierarchy and changes sides – but whether or not this is a wholly humanitarian, Soldier of Justice style move or simply a pragmatic survival move is left vague. I have plans for writing more in this setting; on Earth, Achelois would assume a secret identity to fight her former comrades – that of a professional, competent businesswoman and socialite, someone phenomenally rich, empowered and independent. This almost felt like a satirical move; the scheming alien general who proved not quite good enough to scheme her way to the top of the evil empire instead excels in the world of corporate capitalism. Whether or not this angle remains, should I write more, is up in the air.
This latest short story continues in the science-fiction theme of Episode 48, but rather than being a look at the big-hero antics of super-robots takes a look at the “real robot” – the military-SF subgenre of mecha anime where the technology is less spectacular and more everyday, where the machines are not standins for superheroes and all that associates with them but tools of war.
At the same time it is heavily, heavily inspired by the wargame Infinity, currently in its third edition – a cyberpunk, real-robot wargame about high-technology superpower conflicts. A key part of Infinity is its mechanics for electronic warfare – something immensely useful in pure game-mechanics terms as a way of gaining action advantage and mitigating threat, but something which if considered from a setting perspective is possibly more terrifying a prospect than the firepower carried by most soldiers. This is not, specifically, Infinity fiction. I do not know enough about the setting to write something I would be prepared to claim as such. Instead it is my response to Infinity, and to its inspirations Ghost in the Shell, and Patlabor, and Appleseed and more.
Some of the most entertaining chapters of The Pillow Book are those where Shonagon’s voice and opinions come most strongly through; it is these which inspired my newest writing. Our narrator tries to, with due respect, talk about the sorts of parties a family angling for social status might throw – but is unable to keep their own cynicism about this kind of showing-off out of it.
On the way, there are descriptions of fashion, and manners, and what someone either too cynical or too privileged to play at the usual social games feels are the good things in life. I am getting far more invested in this narrator now – they sit somewhere between Shonagon and Pliny in being perhaps over-cynical about the society they inhabit.