Updated: Apr 10
Springtide Harvest: a novel in a low fantasy setting with a high fantasy past. It's been my life for the last two years, because I can't seem to stop writing it. There's something inside me that wants out, like an Alien Chest-Burster pushing at the walls of my skull. The only way to stop its scrabbling is to type furiously. I don't know, maybe I need a C.T. scan.
I wrote this story for young’uns venturing into the world, for old’uns afraid to venture out at all, and for fantasy fanatics who want a good ol' venture. It might be an old story—a boy flees privilege in search of meaning, a girl must lie, cheat, and steal to survive; both struggle to live, albeit for different ends by different means—but like all speculative fiction, it's actually about the real world.
In the case before us (Your Honour), it's really about the fantasy genre and the world that was.
I wrote this story because I was there (Gandalf). I was there 3,000 years ago (or was it 30), when fantasy was a wondrous, safe space for male weirdos. Only, those eccentric misfits delved too greedily and too deep, fashioning a place so large and glorious that other people wanted in. To be fair, there was plenty of room. And so the walls of chauvinism strained against the tide of inclusion.
I saw fantasy roleplaying evolve from its Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition roots (yes, yes, I know: Chainmail and OD&D came first—I’m telling a story here). It grew by degrees to become less restrictive and more inclusive. No penalties for sex and race, more playable races, and broader, more accessible content, decade after decade. It was great. Then it happened: D&D went mainstream. That Bubble of Safety (+3) burst.
Honestly, it was about time. Fantasy can and should be anything for everyone. It is fantasy, after all.
"But what about the world that was?" I hear you not asking. Hang on, this is going somewhere.
When I was young, I was told tales of the Good Wars: conflicts between the righteous and the wicked, when times were simpler, and only bad guys did drugs. Those times were simpler, alright: by design. The stories of past glory gave way to bitter reality, but I was still fed a steady diet of hope by a generation living in the now, confident the gains handed to them would lead to a bright future. Only, the peace and goodwill of a simpler time was really a comforting illusion to disguise racism, recession, and resource war—a heady mix.
The cleaner, just, and inclusive promised land turned to smoke, burned in the name of convenience. I witnessed older children devour your-day-will-come-ism while their futures were mortgaged by their parents. Maybe those parents believed the lie, I don't know. Their children certainly did. But their day came and went, and the world moved on.
Watching this taught me one thing: there is only the present, informed by the past, leading to the future. So simple yet so hard to see in real time. Put another way, and to continue my analogy: we are all Frodo and Sam, and The One Ring is in our hands all the time. It is heavy with responsibility and possibility, yet always whispering, appealing to our slothful self-interest. Drop it, or put it on. Give in to gratification, forget about tomorrow.
Doing the right thing is hard. Always. And that brighter future will only come if we go get it. No one is going to hand it to us. More imporantly, the world doesn't care or owe us a thing. That idea in the context of fantasy—original, flawed fantasy—became my story.
Change is necessary and healthy in the same way a forest fire is necessary and healthy: the forest must burn so something new can grow. If it doesn't, the fire will still come, only later and with more destruction. It's true for fantasy and for our world. The problem for me is that my very being is tied up in that old forest. Its decades-old trees are my history, the familiar paths among its gnarled roots my story. That makes it the one I should write, on fire or not. New stories in new growth are for new people to tell—and those tales will and must be told. There is, after all, enough room for everyone.
But where does that leave me and my story?
Well, let me tell you. My main character is old fantasy as metaphor: tall, brash, strong, and male. He lives for the old tales and would like to live in them, thank you very much. Only, it turns out the old world is not the one he was sold, nor is he the man he thought he would be. The old ways are dead and the old world a lie. He loses faith and pride but clings to hope: the one thing we all need to survive.
Armed with hope, he must face the world that is. But he isn’t alone, not if he can get around his own selfish desire. There’s a diverse band of misfits around him and enough loss and disillusionment to go around. Together, they must navigate lies to survive a place designed to exploit them, and fight the old monstrous enemy that has a surprising amount of humanity. Or is that the other way around?
See, all that rambling went somewhere.
That's why I wrote this story. For me and everyone else. For the fantasy genre that was and will be. It's the story I'm living, the story I know, and my story to tell. Will anyone read it or care? Who knows—I sure as hell don't.
But that Xenomorph is scratching away again, so I'd better get back to it.
April 1, 2021