Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Elven Vision In The World Of Sleeping Dragon

“Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.” – M. John Harrison

When writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, authors generally find themselves engaging in quite a lot of world building in an effort to create a world of depth and detail sufficient that the resulting story will appear to readers to have both authenticity and consistency. The general consensus is that having performed that world-building, authors should then leave 95% of it the cutting room floor. (Nobody cares about the complete set of custom rules you developed for how heraldry works in your world. Just describe the design your bad guy has on his shield, and move on.)

Full disclosure: what you’re about to read is the product of my metaphorical cutting room floor, and does not make an appearance in the Sleeping Dragon. But I think it gives an insight into the approach I’ve taken when creating the world of Sleeping Dragon, and I just thought people might find it interesting in itself. I should also say that it also takes a certain liberty in that it describes how the Elven vision of Sleeping Dragon works in the context of our world’s physics, even though Sleeping Dragon’s Manaverse setting runs according to its own form of magic-based physics. But I felt this reasonable in order to avoid the article sinking under multiple layers of recursive meta-references.

Oh, and if you like it, feel free to rip it off for your homebrew D&D campaign!

* * * * *

A recurring trope in fantasy has been that of Elven senses, and in particular vision, being more highly attuned than the senses possessed by “men” (a.k.a. human beings). Tolkien’s elves, back when this trope was birthed, merely had “keener” vision, but by the time First Edition AD&D rolled along, this ability had been dialled up to a full, Spinal Tap-esque eleven, with Elves that could quite literally see in pitch darkness through “infravision” – an ability that functioned in pretty much the same way as the thermal camera on a police helicopter. (You know, the ones that allow Channel 5 documentaries to show you grainy, black-white-and-alien footage of a scroat-shaped blob abandoning a stolen scooter and sprinting through a housing estate while a bored household name dials in a mock-shocked, censorious narration).

I hated it. (Infravision, not Channel 5 documentaries).

It seemed to me to be crude, unimaginative, unbalanced, and narratively-flawed. Crude, in that it seemed both artificial and shoehorned in, arising not from the setting but from the game-mechanics. Unimaginative, in that instead of thinking of how Elven vision might differ subtly, but significantly from human vision, they’d simply copied our world’s thermal imaging cameras. Unbalanced, in that Elven vision was simply better, with no trade-offs, and life just shouldn’t work that way, even in magical realms. And narratively-flawed, because the ability to see heat is potentially hugely over-powered, giving as it does not only the ability to see in the dark, but to see footprints, to see items that have been touched, sense whether an individual is warm (and thus strong), or hypothermic (and thus week), and even see if machinery has recently been operated.

Essentially, we’d gone from “keen vision” to Star Trek medial/engineering tri-corder.

(Over the years, infravision has dropped out of D&D, replaced with Third Edition’s darkvision, only to then return in Fifth Edition, leading to posts attempting to explain how the hell it all works, and posts that just plain damn (in their own words) rant about how daft it is.

For Sleeping Dragon’s elves, I wanted to take a different tack, one that still respected the trope of broadly superior vision, but was more internally consistent, less ambiguous, more balanced (vision that was better than human in some ways, but worse in others), and most importantly, more interesting from a storytelling point of view.

So here’s where it gets sciency. (Until an actual biologist turns up of course, and points out that I’m talking some degree of bollocks, in which case I’ll immediately point out that when I say sciency, I do of course mean pseudo-science with a shitload of magical frosting).

Sleeping Dragon’s Elves obtain their broadly superior vision from two separate and distinct abilities:

  1. An ability to see in lower light levels.
  2. An abiity to see in the very near infra-red (not to be confused with “thermal” vision).

Low Light Vision

Like canine and felines eyes, Elven eyes incorporate a layer of tissue called a tapetum lucidum, which lies immediately behind the retina and acts as a retroflector, reflecting visible light back through retina. This has the effect of increasing the light available to the photoreceptors at the cost of producing a slightly blurred image.

One side effect of the presence of the tapetum lucidum is that when a bright light is shone into Elven eyes (such as a flashlight), they can glow with an iridescent shade of green.

Essentially, Elves have far superior night vision to human beings at the cost of their ability to resolve detail during the day being slightly reduced. (For reasons that human researchers would love to establish but which the Elves are disinclined to discover, this reduction is believed to be much less than that experienced by cats and dogs, possibly due to the compensatory effect of greater functionality in the “image processing” areas of the brain, or possibly some beneficial side-effect arising from Elves’ supposedly inherently magical nature).

Ability To See In The Very Near Infra-red

In both human beings and Elves, vision is produced by the presence in the eye of photoreceptor cells, of which there are two types, rods and cones. Rods are essentially monochrome but more sensitive, allowing them to function in lower light levels than cones (which is why both humans and Elves see in “black and white” when light levels are low).

Human beings have three types of cones (which is known as Trichromacy), allowing them to see a range of colours across what we term the visual spectrum, with the sensitivity peaks of the three cones being blue, green, and red. (i.e. humans have one type of cone for each of the three primary colours). By contrast, Elves have four types of cones (which is known as Tetrachromacy), with sensitivity peaks for blue, green, red, and the very near infra-red.

A few humans with a rare mutation, various mammals, and birds, also have four types of cones. However, unlike Sleeping Dragon’s Elves, the additional cones don’t cover the very near infra-red. In birds, it extends the visible spectrum into the ultraviolet, while in humans it merely divides the same visible spectrum into four “primary colours” (which means that they see colours in a more nuanced way, but don’t necessarily obtain more visual data).

Now, at this point I need to explain what the very near infra-red is, which means I need to reach back some thirty years to the remote sending module I did as part of my BTEC National Diploma in Cartography and Surveying. (The module was basically about how you can make various kinds of maps using the pictures produced by remote sensing satellites such as Landsat, in case you were wondering).

In my experience, people get very confused when they talk about “infra-red”, and that’s because as a term it covers a huge range of the electromagnetic spectrum. And under that spectrum’s conceptual umbrella are gathered a number of things that we people-in-the-street think of as totally separate, distinct concepts, but which are merely the manifestations of electromagnetic radiation at different frequencies (a.k.a. wavelengths). Going from the shortest frequencies to the longest, we have: gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, terahertz waves, microwaves, and finally radio waves.

(I always found it hard to wrap my head around the idea that visible light and radio waves are simply different manifestations of the same core thing at different frequencies, but the good thing is that once you just decide to accept that, the fact that astronomers use radio telescopes to study stars doesn’t seem quite so bizarre).

The key point here is that the very near infra-red is not the thermal of D&D’s infravision that I so hated, but is instead the next colour beyond red. But let’s dig a bit deeper, because there’s more to it.

Science!

Ish.

Both planets and stars emit electromagnetic radiation, and their behaviour in this regard can be modelled according to what physicists call a “black body”, which is a hypothetical body that emits electromagnetic radiation in a “shape” determined by its temperature alone, with its size or structure playing no part. The physics behind this is described by Planck’s Law, which states that as the temperature of a black body decreases, its intensity decreases and the frequency at which it emits electromagnetic radiation moves to longer wavelengths.

In practical terms, this means that:

  1. The Sun emits a lot more electromagnetic radiation in total than the Earth, because it’s a lot hotter.
  2. The frequency at which the Sun emits the most electromagnetic radiation is at a much shorter wavelength than the Earth’s equivalent peak.

The diagram below shows this in graphical form.

Credit: David Babb / Dept of Meteo & Atmos Sci / Penn State University. Used with permission. Thanks David!

The orange line shows the Sun’s output, as dictated by its 6000 degree Kelvin temperature, with the peak wavelength at around 0.5 microns, or as we humans call it, “green”.

Yes, that portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that we humans refer to as light is nothing more than the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is the peak output for the star under whose light we evolved.

The bluest colour we can see has a wavelength of about 400 nanometers and the reddest about 700, meaning our visual spectrum is nicely balanced around the Sun’s output. (I think the visual spectrum in the above diagram is for broad effect and not necessarily to scale with the X axis). Had we evolved under a cooler star, with a peak output that lay beyond red in what the above diagram refers to as the “Near IR”, then I suspect that our eyes would have involved to be sensitive to those longer wavelengths.

Meanwhile, the black line shows that the Earth’s peak is at around 10 microns, deep into the infrared, and not surprisingly at the portion of the spectrum sometimes termed “thermal”.

I should point out that the Earth’s line is at a completely different Y scale, being measured against the right rather than left axis. The Sun’s output is so massive that it out-emits the Earth at all potions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

So the very near infrared has nothing whatsoever to do with thermal imaging cameras, or an ability to see in the dark. It’s simply the next colour beyond red, a colour that for various reasons our eyes failed to evolve to see. Whereas “thermal” energy is at the other end of the “infrared” range, where you’ll find the frequencies that newly laid asphalt, people, and hard-revved motor-scooter engines emit as radiated heat energy when hot.

But what would this mean for Sleeping Dragon’s Elves? Well simply that to them, we’re colour-blind. Items that with our three cones might appear to be the same colour might be distinctly different colours to them. For example, to us, trees are green. But in the very near infrared, coniferous and deciduous trees are a totally different shade.

Back in the days where aerial photography used actual film cameras, photographic film was developed that was sensitive to the very near infrared, enabling aerial surveys to map different types of trees, simply by their “colour”. Back in college, when our remote sensing lecturer told us this, it just sounded really, really cool. (It’s what got me thinking about this, way back when).

Now you might be thinking that the fact that an Elf could look at forest from a distance, and know what kind of trees it contains, merely by what colour he or she seems them as, is cute, but no particularly big deal. But consider a human Robin Hood type, who wraps himself in a green cloak, thinking that he’ll be invisible among the green trees? Yeah. That ain’t going to work so well, is it?

You can imagine how human vision would appear to Elves by comparing how dog vision (two cones, one blue, one red-green, which is known as dichromatic vision) appears to humans. (At least to non-colour blind humans. Apologies to the many, many people who are to some degree colour blind, and please be assured that it’s not my intention to imply that you are in some way less than human!)

I once bought my dog a set of balls, one green, one red. Here they are below (for the benefit of those readers who suffer from colour blindness, the red is on the left and the green is on the right):

The first evening, I took the green ball out. Even when it got pretty dark, she was still able to pick the green ball out from the grass upon which it lay. The next lunchtime, in bright sunlight, I took the red ball out.

And she just couldn’t see it when it was lying on the grass. At all.

It was bizarre. She was hunting round for it in circles, repeatedly running past it, while I pointed at it, shouting, “It’s there! There!” After each throw, it would take her twenty to thirty seconds of “quartering the area” to find it. Which was when I figured out that dogs are red-green colour blind, something which a quick Google search on my phone confirmed. (As an aside, this is why dog trainers use blue toys, because that colour’s visible to dogs against everything in nature).

What I think was happening was that to Pebbles, both balls were the same colour, red-green, as was the grass. But the green one was a slightly lighter shade of red-green than the grass, while the red one was the exact same shade of red-green as the grass. If I’d come back later in the year when the grass had faded, we might have found the opposite occurring, with the green ball being the one she couldn’t see.

As an aside to the aside, my wife might point out that if we ignore biological reality, Pebbles is very much her father’s daughter because we (my wife and I) experience many occasions where I desperately quarter an area in search of something that I just can’t see while she screams, “It’s there! There!”, which suggests that were a human woman to find herself married to a male Sleeping Dragon Elf, she’d still find herself having to find things for him, four cones to three be damned!

But to get back to the point, that’s how it would be if a human sharpshooter and his Elven companion found themselves being shot at by our Robin Hood type bandit. You’d have the Elf, to whom the bandit was as visible as he would be to us were he wearing a bright red cloak, pointing, and screaming, “There! There!” while the human desperately scanned across what was to him, a sea of green.

Beyond rendering human camouflage outfits embarrassingly inefficient, the wider visual spectrum of Elven vision and the resulting different, and perhaps richer, way in which they could perceive the world would have psychological and cultural effects. Things which appeared beautiful to humans might appear less so to an Elf, and vice versa. An Elf might rhapsodise about the multi-coloured plumage of a pigeon’s wings, for example, much to the confusion of humans who see only grey feathers. A human would look at a forest and see only green where an Elf would see an array of colours, which might explain why Elves really, really like trees. The Elven equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting might appear to human eyes to be more akin to the monochromatic paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, while human art might, to elves, appear fundamentally broken.

Why?

Imagine a human painter who finds a combination of chemicals that, when mixed, produce a blue colour that matches the blue of the sky. For us, that’s all good. But it’s highly likely that in the frequencies of the very near infra red, this substance will emit a completely different level of energy, with the result that to Elven eyes, the resulting sky in the human artist’s painting would be totally the wrong colour. (Imagine a human artist who’s completely red / green colour blind finding some dirt that to his eyes, is exactly the same shade of red / green as grass, making some paint out of that, and then painting a picture that depicts rolling hills of scarlet grass).

And this is more than merely a difference in art: it feeds both into the belief of Sleeping Dragon’s humans that Elves are essentially alien, and into the specieist belief of Sleeping Dragon’s Elves that humans are cruder, less sophisticated beings. The ability of Sleeping Dragon’s Elves and humans to view the same world in such different ways is yet one more factor keeping their societies apart.

Which ultimately I think’s a lot more interesting than the ability to see glowing blobs in the dark.

* * * * *

So that’s how Elven vision works in the world of Sleeping Dragon. The Sleeping Dragon will be published on the 24th February 2019. It’s a story set in a realistic fantasy world with a twist, which I’ve described in a series of blog posts of which this is the latest. If you’re a Kindle reader and what I’ve written about my world here interests you, I’d be hugely grateful if you’d consider pre-ordering it at the links below. (If you’re not a Kindle reader, it will be available in paperback at cost of UK £6.99 / US $9.99).

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

* * * * *

The Cast of Sleeping Dragon: Presto

The cast of the Sleeping Dragon is an ensemble one, featuring five misfits bought together by circumstances beyond their understanding, who swiftly realise that only by working together can they work out just what the hell’s going on and, more importantly, just how the hell they can get out of it.

In this post we look at the man who is arguably the most talented and skilled of the group.

* * * * *

Born the child of two high-flying wizarding professors, Presto Tannarton was destined for greatness. From an early age he demonstrated a potent mixture of magical aptitude and keen intelligence, and having graduated with honours from the famed Magical Studies department of Empire City’s Imperial University he embarked on what all predicted would be a glittering academic career. Then it all came crashing down.

“That’s where I’ve seen you!” exclaimed the Storm. “There was some kind of shit storm a few years back at the Imperial University. You said something dodgy that got a load of ink in the press, and the University, like, sacked you.”

Presto said nothing for several long seconds, then delivered a tight-lipped reply. “Yes.”

A long, but expectant silence greeted that reply, a silence that eventually compelled him to elaborate. “I was teaching an archaic but still useful branch of magical theory relating to the discernment of inner nature and morality.”

“Which means?” asked Dani.

“Spells that detect the presence of inherently evil people or things.”

“And that got you sacked?”

“Strictly speaking, no. Saying that men exhibit a significantly higher tendency to possess such markers of inherent evil compared with women was what got me sacked.”

“But isn’t that a bit, well, sexist?” asked Darick.

Presto shrugged. “Well in my defence the statistics I quoted were correct, and I thought it raised some interesting philosophical questions. But with hindsight I could perhaps have raised the question in a different way.”

“And that got your license taken away as well?” asked Dani.

“Let’s just say that I didn’t handle my sacking in as mature a fashion as I could have done.”

We meet Presto more than ten years later, with him scratching something that barely qualifies as an existence, let alone a life.

Presto took a look around his apartment, and wiped a finger along the arm of his chair. Dust. An opened bottle of beer sat beside him. It was already a quarter empty and it wasn’t yet ten. Was this what his life had come to? Destined for glory, now rotting in the slums? He grabbed a cigarette from the pack that stood beside the bottle, shoved it into his mouth, and brought his finger to its tip.

Flame, he thought.

A small jet of fire erupted from his fingertip. He sucked gently on the cigarette, until the tip glowed. The smooth smoke in his lungs merged with the ecstasy of magic cast and a universe tamed. But then the bitter sting of realities remembered came crashing back in. I once commanded the forces of creation, he thought. Now I light my cigarette.

Presto initially resists cooperating with those that fate has bought him together with; he was a natural loner to begin with, and a decade of poverty and social isolation has done nothing to help with that. But as the quest to uncover the mystery of the Sleeping Dragon progresses, and his skills and talents become ever more indispensable, he begins to not only accept the role that destiny has dealt him, but to enjoy it.

This was highly illegal, but Presto didn’t care. Sure, they’d shamed him, taken his license away, taken his life away, told everyone that he was no longer a wizard and that the magic was no longer his. But he still knew how to punch a hole in the universe and make it scream, and no one could ever take that away. For ten years he’d cast nothing save minor cantrips too small to register on the Kellen-Rettner scale, and too trivial to raise an alert on a spell-cop’s monitor. For ten years he’d denied himself the ecstasy that came from grabbing hold of reality and making it dance. For ten years he’d rotted like a fallen leaf.

No more.

Breaking through to the ethereal plane was a force five casting or more, but it was a cast he was damn well going to make. The words of magic erupted from him, power words, syllables that turned locks built into existence itself and threw open the doors of space and time. Power flowed through his body, his waving arms directing it like a conductor directs his orchestra. It built to a crescendo, paused, reality itself laid out before him, and then–

He was somewhere else.

* * * * *

Just for fun, I created some mocked up RPG-style character sheets for Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists. Here’s Presto’s:

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

The Cast of Sleeping Dragon: Blade

The cast of the Sleeping Dragon is an ensemble one, featuring five misfits bought together by circumstances beyond their understanding, who swiftly realise that only by working together can they work out just what the hell’s going on and, more importantly, just how the hell they can get out of it.

In this post we look at the man who among them comes closest to the definition of an “old-style hero” and yet who, in his own ways, is as flawed and full of doubts as any of them.

* * * * *

Lothar “Blade” Petros is an AdventureSport warrior. Voted Prime League Player of the Year on a record seven occasions and Prime League Warrior of the Year for a record ten straight years, winner of five Prime League team titles, and the winner of ESB Sports Personality of the Year three times, he is perhaps the greatest AdventureSport player the game has ever seen.

Blade was raised for the game from an early age; his father had been a player himself, but having achieved only a moderately successful career saw his son as a project through which he could achieve proxy success. In that, cold, abusive, and bitter as his father was, the older man achieved clear success. Starting as a junior warrior in a second-tier team, the then Lothar quickly proved that he was more than just his father’s son, his prowess with the sword leaving a trail of shattered magically-animated constructs in his wake and earning him the moniker, “Blade”, that would follow him through his career.

Commentators, journalists, and other astute followers of the game often said of Blade that it wasn’t his combat skills, impressive though they were, that had turned him into an arena legend. He was a master swordsman, that much was true. But there were others who were equally adept with either weapon or fist. Nor was it, they said, his strength or his size or his agility that marked his greatness. He did indeed have an imposing frame that combined great strength with incredible agility, but there were many near-superhuman athletes in the arena, of whom he was just one. No, what set Blade apart, the astute observers said, what marked him out as perhaps the greatest AdventureSportsman who’d ever lived, was his speed, and not simply the speed of his body, nor even his reactions, but the speed of his thoughts.

Blade could think faster than perhaps any man alive, could think faster than might ever seem possible, could think so fast that it sometimes seemed as though he was bending either time or space, such was his ability to begin his evasion of an attack before it had even been launched, and to launch his counter-attack only instants later. Thinking at the speed of instinct, fired by reactive patterns formed by thousands of hours of practice, Blade was already diving into a roll as the longbolts fired, evading the beams, and moving so fast that he was upon the three troops before they had even the merest chance to respond.

But fifteen years after his debut, his once glittering career has started to lose its lustre. Injuries have taken their toll, results have gone against his once all conquering team, and Blade has embarked down a path he once would have considered unthinkable: illegal, performance-enhancing potions:

Blade checked his wrist-dial. Quido was late, as he’d already been when Blade had last checked the time some five minutes earlier.

Hanging around the locker room like this made him very nervous. Anyone might enter, at any time. What would they think? One of the most famous AdventureSport warriors of all time hanging around the changing rooms of a dodgy back-street gym? If he was lucky, then maybe they’d figure he was hoping to indulge in what the news-slates still euphemistically termed “Elvish practices”.

Or if he was unlucky they might just guess the truth.

On the wall opposite, a yellowing and torn poster stuck to a notice board taunted him with its message. “Taking illegal, performance-enhancing potions is cheating and may endanger your health. Just say no!”

A man entered the changing room. It wasn’t Quido. In fact, it wasn’t anyone Blade had ever seen, and that made him even more nervous, because from the way the bloke was looking at him, he’d sure as hell seen Blade before. But then again, who hadn’t? The man stopped in front of him. “Quido sent me.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plain grey plastic vial. He held it palm up for Blade to take and smiled. “Never figured you for something like this.”

The events of Sleeping Dragon offer Blade a chance for redemption. He brings to the team not only his obvious physical abilities, but also an old-fashioned blend of courage, determination, and principled leadership.

The orc stepped carelessly over Darick’s prone form, and lumbered towards Blade on unsteady legs. The scent of alcohol and stale meat wafted across Blade’s face. “This is my town, hu-man,” roared the orc. “And you’re surrounded by my people. You think you can just walk into my bar and tell me what to do?”

Blade held up a placatory hand. He’d had trouble over the years. Any high-profile AdventureSport warrior did. But presence, reputation, and a calm, clear head had always seen him through. “I ain’t telling anyone what to do, mate. I’m just saying that the guy down there’s my friend, and I ain’t going to stand by and watch you attack him. Whatever insult you think he made to you, I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

People didn’t understand. The sight of him wielding a sword with the elegance that had bought him a name as well as fame made them assume combat was his joy in life. They were wrong. He loved the game, but it was the challenge that was his love, the thrill of setting himself against unfavourable odds and the exultation of then winning through. No one ever seemed to understand: not his father; not the various idiots in bars who over the years had challenged him to “go outside”; and not Toozie, who’d loved him then left when he chose the game over her.

He’d been an idiot for letting her go. What did it matter if she hadn’t understood what the game meant to him? She’d understood that he’d let it mean more to him than she did, and at day’s end that was pretty much all that counted. He could now have taken the anger this realisation always aroused and channelled it into a confrontation. But he slapped that thought down. He wasn’t his father, and he never would be. This was just another idiot in a bar. Granted, he’d never faced an orc idiot before, nor one who appeared to be wearing a vomit sporran. But this was just a bar, and the orc was just a guy, even if he was the size of a two-seat brick outhouse with a smell to match.

As the events of the story progress, Blade’s companions quickly realise that if you’re facing trouble, with a bunch of strife heading your way, Blade is a man you’ll want standing by your side.

* * * * *

Just for fun, I created some mocked up RPG-style character sheets for Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists. Here’s Blade’s:

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

Adventuring In The World of Sleeping Dragon

The world of Sleeping Dragon is an ancient one. For several tens of millennia, civilisations had risen and fallen, with each new civilisation built upon the foundations of the old. In times of old, adventurers would venture east over the World’s End Mountains and into the wild, untamed wilderness that lay beyond, in search of the abandoned complexes that littered the Eastern territories, filled with the treasures of those earlier ages.

Glory and wealth was the prize that drew Adventurers to the East; but death was often their reward.

Of course, that was then, and in the now-tamed world of the Sleeping Dragon, adventuring is very different.

Adventuring now is both a hobby and a sport; that is, there exists a professional level at which it’s a competitive sport, broadcast to a watching audience of tens of millions; while at amateur level it’s a hobby or pastime.

The professional sport of adventuring, usually referred to as “ASport”, is played in huge indoor arenas. Teams of five – typically comprised of warriors, wizards, scouts, “priests”, and bards – take it in turns to get to the end of a timed and scored “run”, facing on the way physical obstacles, puzzles, and animated constructs.

Meanwhile, at the amateur level, groups of men and women spend time in what passes now for wilderness, camping, hunting, and exploring (where exploring typically consists of hiking, rock climbing, or caving).

A large industry has grown up to support the amateur hobby, of which perhaps the best known is the leading chain of adventuring goods shops, Pete’s Adventure Warehouse, famous for the series of adverts staring grey-haired founder Pete himself. At any branch of Pete’s, adventurers can stock up with camping, climbing, and hiking equipment, dehydrated food, navigational gadgets, potions, swords, bolts[1] (essentially magical laser-guns), wands, and even Pete’s classic own-brand combat cigars.

As they say. “If you can’t get it at Pete’s, you probably don’t need it. And if you could have got it, but didn’t, it’ll probably turn out that you did need it.”

From the Sleeping Dragon…

The commentator shuffled his papers as the production assistant finger-counted down to zero and the little light beside the camera went red.

“And we’re back. I’m Brod Rellend, with me is Kren Krennella, and you’re watching Lastday Night AdventureSport on EBS1, bought to you in association with StayFresh toothpaste, the toothpaste that leaves your breath fresh all day, every day.”

He took a quick glance at the slightly rumpled middle-aged man sitting next to him, received a quick nod in return, and then resumed speaking.

“We’re just moments away from bone-crunching action, with Blade’s Marauders scheduled to be making the first run of the evening in a little over two minutes. Now there have been a lot of rumours swirling around the ageing legend over the last few days, so what should we be looking out for, Kren?”

His middle-aged companion took a last sip from the something-on-ice that sat on the desk in front of him, and then spoke.

“Well Brod, firstly we’ll be looking to see if he comes out at all. We know that after three heavy defeats in their last three outings the rest of his team are unhappy.”

“I think unhappy’s an understatement. Isn’t Denbi Tallfellow suing the league for speciesist discrimination?”

“That’s what the rumour mill says, Brod, but I hope it’s just the news-slates trying to sell copy. It would be a new low for the modern game and a sad, sad day.”

“Not how it worked in your day, eh, Kren?”

“Certainly isn’t. In my day you took your lumps in the arena and then went out and got drunk and perhaps picked up a girl or two. Now they get one scratch and they’re off to see their psychological consultants. The whole game’s gone soft, if you ask me!”

The first commentator chuckled.

“Well, you’re here to be asked Kren, and you’re certainly never scared to give us answers. Are there any other problems we should be looking out for in the Marauders?”

“Would that be in addition to the fact that their leader’s the wrong side of thirty and looking to be on an inevitable slide to retirement, Brod?”

“Sugar-coating it as always, eh, Kren?”

“Just calling it how I see it, Brod.”

The first commentator threw in another chuckle. “One minute,” said the voice of the producer in his earpiece.

“So, in addition to that, what should we be looking out for, Kren?”

“Well, like I said Brod, it’s not even certain that we’ll be seeing them at all. Some highly placed sources have told me, off the record, that his sponsorship deal with Pete’s Adventure Warehouse is up for renewal and that they’re looking to end it.”

“That would be a blow for him, right Kren? Pete’s have sponsored him since pretty much the start of his career, haven’t they?”

“Fifteen years, at record levels. Landmark deal. But like they say, Brod, everything comes to an end.”

[1] As befits a pseudo-European setting, the Sleeping Dragon is in many ways an analogue of Europe. But like many a roleplaying setting written by American authors, its past history fuses this pseudo-European setting with a very American style concept of a “wild frontier”. Although now gone, the continuing myth of the frontier endures to this day, and this myth highly influences the attitude the citizens of the Empire have to weapons, with the result that when it comes to walking into a shop and purchasing a lethal ranged weapon, it has much more in common with twenty-first century America than twenty-first century Europe.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

Sleeping Dragon: Geography

Like many a fantasy world before it, the Sleeping Dragon is an analogue of our own Europe. I could give some kind of academic style answer to that, involving much talk of metaphor and historic analogue, but the truth is that since the Sleeping Dragon has elements of a comic fantasy novel, one in which I make jokes about standard fantasy settings, it made sense to have a standard fantasy setting.

At the heard of the setting is the Empire, which is what our Europe’s Holy Roman Empire (a.k.a. Germany) might have become had Russia not existed. (In the world of Sleeping Dragon, there was no equivalent of Russia for the very good reason that the territory where it would have existed was instead home to orcs, beastman, and other assorted barriers to human civilisation).

Map produced by Jacob Rodgers

Once the Empire occupied only the territory between the Middle Sea and the World’s End Mountains. But after the development of ranged weapons firing bolts of pure mana, its territory expanded rapidly; within a century it stretched more than a third of the way round the world, to the borders of the Empire of the Sun[1].

To the south of the Empire are the Border Principalities, a patchwork area of notionally sovereign princedoms, some not much larger than the metaphorical postage stamp. Beyond that is merely burning desert, home to hardy nomads and scattered cities.

To the north lies ice, and warriors famed in equal measures for their resourcefulness and savagery.

Around the Middle Sea, which is this world’s ancient cradle of civilisation, lie other human realms, sometimes enemies of the Empire, often rivals, but still bound by common bonds of species[2] and culture.

Dotted across the lands of man are other species: in the forests one often finds halflings; in the canyons and caverns of the World’s End mountains one finds dwarves. Once, relations between these different species were difficult, but now legally protected rights against discrimination and a commitment to multiculturalism ensure that all three species can live and work together peacefully for the common good.

Mostly.

And finally, across the Western Ocean lies the lands of the Elves. Once they lived in the lands that now form the realms of humanity; indeed as a species they predate humans. But humanity’s arrival in this realm displeased them; the energy humans threw into their so short lives changed the world in ways they found unacceptable. After several millennia of increasingly uncomfortable coexistence, the elves built a fleet of wonderful ships and set sail for the then empty lands that lay across the Western Ocean. There they dwell still, locked in a relationship with the lands of humanity that is not war, but not quite peace either.

[1] And yeah, that is a sort of Japan / China mishmash, and yeah I get that when fantasy settings do that, it rides roughshod over huge cultural, ethnic, religious, historical, and linguistic differences in a manner that is a best, Western-centric, and at worst, quite dodgy. But like I said, I deliberately wanted to start with a very typical, standard fantasy setting – and then twist.

[2] Strictly speaking, if I was really wanting to get the standard fantasy feel I’d say “race” rather than “species”. But having thought quite a bit about this, I realised that there is a fundamental difference between race and species. When we talk about race in the context of Homo sapiens (e.g. black people and white people), we are referencing something that is a social concept, and not a biological one. If you ask a biologist about “race”, they will tell you you need to go talk to a sociologist, because race is a social construct, and a bullshit one at that. But if you are say talking about the differences between Chimpanzees and Gorillas (or between Halflings and Dwarves), you’re now talking about the difference between two species, and those are real, genuine, biological differences. In the world of Sleeping Dragon people might once have used the word “race” to describe Humans, Elves, Dwarves and so on. But that would now be regarded as an old-fashioned, and perhaps even offensive, term. Instead they now say “species”, and use the phrase speciesism to describe species based discrimination.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

YouTube Review: Encounter With Tiber and The Return

My review of two books by the science-fiction author John Barnes (who’s not that John Barnes) and Buzz Aldrin (who is that Buzz Aldrin). In it, I compare and contrast them, describing how they start from similar premises (a then near-future accident to the space shuttle Columbia) but then go in very different directions.

My Goodreads Giveaway Is Now Live

For the next ten days, I have a giveaway up on Goodreads that gives 100 people the chance to get a free advance Kindle copy of the Sleeping Dragon. If you fancy a copy, then please go to this link to enter. You will be required to be a Goodreads member, but if you haven’t already joined, I recommend doing so as it’s a pretty cool place – basically a social media network for people who love books.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Sleeping Dragon by Jonny Nexus

The Sleeping Dragon

by Jonny Nexus

Giveaway ends December 18, 2018.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Sleeping Dragon: Gadgets & Items

Sleeping Dragon’s world is a world of magic, not electricity, with the universal laws of magic explaining that universe in much the same way that physics explains ours. The devices that Sleeping Dragon’s civilisation is built upon are powered by magic, having been designed by mage-programmers and mass-produced in factories.

In our world, one word can often serve two meanings, with the correct meaning being obvious through context. For example, a mouse can refer to either a rodent, or a pointing device. Or if I tell you that a tank once crashed through the ceiling of my bedroom I’m referring to a water tank, while if an elderly German man raised in East Prussia tells you that back in 1945, a tank crashed through the wall of his family’s house, he’s referring to a T34[1].

Similar double-meanings exist in the world of Sleeping Dragon, but they are different double-meanings, typically derived from either:

  1. The spell that a wizard would have cast to perform this task back in the days before magic and magical items became mass-produced (e.g. a wizard would once have cast a whisper spell to communicate at a distance, so now people carry mobile-phone like devices that they refer to as “whispers”).
  2. The device originally designed for other tasks that a wizard would once have enchanted to perform a different task, back before the physical item being enchanted was specifically designed for that purpose (e.g. where once a wizard would have grabbed a broomstick / sweeping brush, and cast a levitate spell on it, now engineers design what is essentially a flying motorbike, which then has a levitate spell cast upon it – but which for historical reasons is still referred to as a broomstick).

The point here is that while to our eyes it might seem strange that when the inhabitants of the world of Sleeping Dragon can be referring to either a flying car or a rug when they refer to a “carpet”, but it’s no more strange than us using the word “tank” to refer to an tracked, armoured fighting vehicle[2]. We don’t notice it, because we’re used to it[3].

To make things a little easier for the reader, I’ve put a glossary at the start of the novel. Here’s a sneak peek.

bolt noun

A ranged weapon firing a beam of pure mana. A modern refinement of earlier wands enchanted with lightning bolt spells, bolts are available in small one-handed versions and larger two-handed versions.

broomstick noun

A small personal flying vehicle for one or two passengers. Originally a broom magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal spine equipped with handlebars, seat, and footrests, and propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

buggy noun

A wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically seating two to five persons, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

carpet noun

A personal flying vehicle carrying two to five passengers. Originally a rug magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal monocoque shell propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

crystal noun

A round, flat-screened device used to broadcast entertainment and informational programming via ethereal plane transmissions, originally derived from crystal balls used for communication.

dial noun

A timepiece, either wall-mounted or free-standing, or worn on the wrist (a wrist-dial). Originally passive outdoor devices requiring sunlight to operate, dials now use chronological spells to track the time and a magical face to display it.

guard noun

A law enforcement officer, often a member of a city or town guard.

herb noun

Collective term for plant-derived psychoactive substances. Herb is often ingested in powdered form via the nose and is illegal in most jurisdictions.

mana noun

The fundamental energy force that powers all magical spells and devices.

oracle noun

A mana powered device incorporating thinking spells. Used for data calculation, analysis, and storage. Smaller models typically incorporate a crystal screen for display and a keyboard for input.

pictograph noun

Image of a person, scene, or object, taken by a camera. Originally saved on paper magically sensitive to different wavelengths of light, pictographic images are now usually downloaded to oracles in informational form.

pictographic memory noun

The ability to remember or recall information, particularly visual information, in exact detail.

wagon noun

A larger wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically used for the transportation of cargo, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

whisper noun

A personal communication device used for person to person voice communications. Originally derived from the use of whisper spells for long-distance communications.

whisper verb

To contact someone using a whisper.

worm noun

Colloquial term used for Empire City’s underground rapid transportation system.

So now if I talk about leaning out of a carpet with a hand-and-a-half assault bolt in one hand, and a whisper in the other, while trying to evade the herbed up nutter who’s pursuing you on a souped up broomstick, and thinking maybe you should just have stuck to white-collar crime using oracles or picking pockets on the worm, you’ll know what I mean[4].

[1] That’s a hypothetical example, but back in the mid-nineties, when I was just starting my career in programming, I met a German guy who in 1945, at the age of 15, had been conscripted into the German army. His career ended somewhere in East Prussia when he stumbled across a tank whose turret was already turning towards him. Luckily the shell missed, and he was captured. He ended up in a prisoner of war camp near Stalingrad where he was fed only watery soup and was to hard labour. Pretty soon, he realised he was going to die if he didn’t change something. (Of the four million German soldiers taken prisoner by the Soviets at the end of the war, only one and a half million survived to eventually, some years later, go home, with the other two and a half million being worked / starved to death). Then a guard came around asking for engineers. He wasn’t an engineer; he’d been a schoolboy. But he had been at the German equivalent of a grammar school, so he put up his hand and was taken away to a drawing office. The older men there quickly clicked that he wasn’t an engineer. But they covered for him, and taught him. In 1948 he was released. His family were gone, and the family home was now in communist Poland, so he made his way to West Germany, enrolled in university to study engineering, and ended up becoming a successful businessman. When I asked him how he felt about his experiences he just said, “It was a good training for life.”

[2] The reason why we call tanks “tanks” rather than the more obvious “landships” is because when, in 1915, the British army were developing the first tanks they wanted to keep it secret. So they developed a cover story that they were intended as mobile water tanks for delivering water to the troops in the trenches, and in keeping with this referred to them as “tanks” – and the name stuck.

[3] I should give a hat tip here to Harry Turtledove, because this whole area of language and terminology is a line of thought that occurred to me having read his Great War series (an alternate First World War in a world where the Confederacy won the American Civil War). In this timeline, it was the USA who developed the first tanks, and their cover story was that they were mobile water barrels. So through this entire three book series, and the WWII trilogy that followed it, you have the phrases “barrel” and “anti-barrel gun”. And you know what? It ingrained itself in me. Right now, some ten years later, if were to read the phrase “three barrels appeared over the horizon” I’d be picturing tanks in my mind.

[4] That’s a made up example by the way, any not any kind of scene or plot line from the novel. You’ll have to wait for someone to produce a Sleeping Dragon RPG if you want to see that scene played out.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

Countdown to Sleeping Dragon: An Introduction

The Sleeping Dragon, my third novel, is set in what I call a “post-Tolkienesque” world. Five hundred years previously, it possessed all the standard trappings of a typical fantasy setting – kings, wizards, warriors, magic, dwarves, dragons, and elves who’d been so pissed off at the rise of men that they’d sodded off over a western ocean in a monster sulk.

But that was then, and by the time of my novel’s now, the world has changed beyond all recognition.

After enduring thousands of years of largely unchanging culture and history, the discovery of the means to mass-produce and commoditise magic triggered a tsunami of world-changing events and developments. Adventurers equipped with hand-held weapons shooting beams of pure mana tamed the wild East, broke the power of the once lawless Orc tribes, and looted so many abandoned dungeon complexes that paper money had to be invented as an alternative to wheelbarrows’ worth of not-particularly-valuable gold.

It is now a world encircled by flying ships and linked by a web of instantaneous communication links. Huge metropolises, each home to several millions of people, sprawl across what were once unspoiled landscapes.

And all of this is powered by magic; there is no electricity in this universe.

The once heroic past is apparently over. Where once adventurers wove tales of myth and legend, now they wield their skills and talents in towering arenas against programmed constructs, competing in sporting contests for audiences that number in the millions, their prize not glory or treasure but sponsorship and salaries beyond the dreams of the average Joes who worship them.

The story of the Sleeping Dragon is built around a central question. In a world changed so utterly that heroism itself seems an obsolete concept, will there still be heroes?

From Sleeping Dragon’s prologue…

Five figures sit around a table. In a heroic age, these men are heroes. They have humbled tyrants, slaughtered dragons, and reduced entire tribes of rampaging orcs to tears. Occasional difficulty with taxes aside, no man or beast has bested them, and no challenge have they feared.

Until this day.

For even they feel stunned disbelief at what has just been revealed.

One of them, a priest, clears his throat before breaking the awed silence created by his previous announcement. “And so that, gentlemen, is that. In a little over five hundred years our world as we know it will be destroyed. Civilisation will fall. Starvation and plague will stalk the land. All that we value, all of our learning, all that we hold dear: gone. Nothing left save dust and ashes.”

At the far end of the table sits an armoured warrior, his sword and shield placed on the table before him. The sacred symbol painted on the shield testifies to his faith and piety; the bloodstains and nicks on the sword bear witness to the fury and vengeance with which he has recently expressed that faith and piety. “Are you sure?” he asks.

The priest nods, his face a solemn mask. “The runes do not lie, Sir Ethelded. Nor the stars, nor the cards, nor the numbers. I have consulted them all, and it is certain: in five hundred years the sleeping dragon will wake and bring forth an apocalypse upon our world.”

I hope that’s given you a flavour of both the book’s setting and its themes. I hope you like what you’ve read.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

 

 

Announcing the “Manaverse”

A couple of days ago I wrote a blog about my need to create a name for the fantasy setting of the Sleeping Dragon. Well, a few days later, I have it.

Ladies and gentleman, drumroll please, may I give you… the Manaverse.

What is the Manaverse? Well as the name suggests it’s a universe, but one that runs on mana, where mana is the raw force upon which magic is built. This is not a fantasy world like ours but with magic added in. No, for magic is as fundamental to this universe as physics is to ours.

Our universe runs according to four fundamental forces, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Everything in our entire universe is ultimately derived from these, so much so that the physicist Ernest Rutherford was moved to declare that all science was either physics or stamp-collecting, by which he meant that physics revealed the underlying meaning of everything, reducing all other scientific disciplines to mere description and classification.

In the Manaverse, wizards could say much the same thing about the study of magic, for in this world, it is magic, and the fundamental force of mana that it controls which ultimately underpins every single process, natural or artificial, living or inert.

This is a magical world, but not a random or illogical one. It is a world as internally consistent and ultimately knowable as ours, but one whose forces of nature sit on an entirely different set of foundations.

It’s the Manaverse.

* * * * *

The first book set in the Manaverse, the Sleeping Dragon, will be published in February of next year. It will be followed by the Elven Lands Murders.

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