At the beginning of 2018 I did my initial planning for the 5 book series – The Icor Tales. I envisioned three types of icor;
Crimson Icor: I loved the idea of a blood-red mist forming in the hands of a wizard. The reader would know ‘it’ was about to go down. The Crimson icor would derive it’s power from pain. The crimson clad wizards would descend upon a town and the screams of their victims would sound like they came from the depths of hell.
Blue Icor: Was supposed to be like a drug that filled people with so much joy they immediately became addicts doing whatever the blue wizards required of them in order to get their next hit.
White Icor: Is the icor we first meet in book 1 “They Came By Night”. It has balance. It believes that a life without pain has no meaning but neither does a life without joy, so it tries to balance the world with a karma like system.
First a little note on why I am qualified to write about technology singularities. I wrote my first neural net in 1987. It was part of my thesis “Natural Language Parsing using Neural Net written in C”. I then wrote an expert system for understanding natural language using MOPS, Meta-MOPS and TAUS. This won me a government grant from the Admiralty Research Establishment who employed me to write an AI based strategy algorithm for an anti-missile-missile. I then got side tracked when British Military Intelligence trained me in Computer Counter Espionage which led to a career as a “Ethical Hacker”, which is how I earn my crust to this day.
I have always kept my eye on AI. I’ve used multi layer back propagating neural nets, Q-Learning, Markov’s decision making process, so I see the flaws with AI. AI developers spend a lot of their time trying to understand the strange behaviors their systems produce. Sometimes these strange behaviors are complete stupidity and sometimes they are hidden genius.
For example a bot was made to study accidents in the home to find ways to make homes safer. It came to the conclusion that most accidents were human error, so its advice was to remove the humans. Imagine if they had the power to do it.
On the surface it sounds like the program was stupid, but it just was operating with the assumptions given to it. There was famous quote from an American Colonel “In order to defend the town, it became necessary to destroy it.” The computer was using human level logic.
My point is that these types of misunderstandings are inevitable and the singulartarian in my books has struggled for many years to bring the AI in line with human needs. The AI has a mind of its own… which leads to big problems.
Imagine what the effect of a wizard would be in a large scale battle of swords and spears. The result depends on what that wizard can do, so here are the rules for my world and the battles of the Ceniac Island.
Battle Wizards are rare, so at most you have 1 or 2 per side.
Their power (think of it as mana) is limited, so the most senior wizards can throw fire maybe twice
The extent of the flame varies a lot. The generals will assume a senior fire wizard can throw a flame a hundred strides long (100 yards), and a couple of strides wide, and it lasts two to three seconds.
So, given those rules, how much of advantage is a fire wizard? What kind of defenses would generals use to counter a fire wizard?
A wizard is a valuable resource, so he/she/they need to be protected. In one the battles in “They Came By Night” (TCBN), the wizard Amsten is only brought into battle when victory is almost complete. He is hidden behind a wall of shields until the last moment when he throws his fire to destroy the last remnants of the defenders.
Once the wizard’s position is revealed then every archer will try to take it out, so after the wizard’s power is spent for the day, they are prone and are quickly ushered away.
Imagine the effect on moral if a wizard is killed. It could be enough to cause a rout.
If a fire wizard is present then fire resistant shields would be brought forward. These shields will be large thick and insulated with layers of leather. Every archer will be aiming for the wizard while the fire is pouring against the fire shields.
How many people could die from the fire. Worst case, it could be hundreds. But on a battlefield with tens of thousands, would it be a deciding factor?
In my battles the generals are used to wizards being a distraction rather than a deciding factor, but they know there are situations where the wizard can be critical. When the battle is confined to a small area, and the wizard is unexpected then the effect could be devastating.
The Ceniac island is also home to wizards that do not sling fire. Not much is mentioned of these other wizards in book 1, but they are a big factor in book 2… but no spoilers.
Evolution is lean. Species do not waste energy on traits that are not helpful to reproduction. Story telling is a common gene in all cultures, so it must serve a purpose.
Several reliable, peer-reviewed studies show that people who read fantasy fiction are better problem-solvers, more empathetic, more creative, and more adaptable than those who don’t. Reading fantasy equips you to respond to real life.
When I was a toddler my older brother used to like collecting the prizes from a cereal box called “Sugar Puffs”. The only problem was that it took a long time to finish the box, so he persuaded me that the more I ate the more magic power I would get. He said that our pet bird, KiKi, had a magic land and that if we ate enough Sugar puffs we would be able to find it. So, of course, I gorged myself. Years later we moved to Scotland and my brother wanted me to accompany him for a long trek down the glen. To get me to go he said we might find KiKi’s magic land. We walked for miles beside a winding stream until we turned a corner and we found KiKi’s magic land. It was such an unexpected scene: a massive waterfall with a permanent rainbow, and flocks of birds and a deer on the other side of the stream. My sense of wonder and awe filled my soul. When I write I want to recreate that sensation. I want the reader to turn the page and have their jaw drop.
There are deep messages in fantasy literature. The arc of the hero is the arc of our lives. The call to adventure is paralleled by every child’s step into adulthood. The trials of the hero are the trials of adulthood, and the final victory is to see our own children make their own adventure.
The name: I have a friend called Sam Butcheart, and I thought wow, that is a great name for a protagonist. It’s strong and simple. When I write I always name the character Sam Butcheart, and sometimes a different name will come along.
Sam’s character: He is innocent in the ways of the world, and yet he is also quite skilled as a peasant famer would need to be. He knows how to track, hunt, and trap because otherwise he would starve. Right from the first chapter he is torn with moral dilemmas. We see him struggling to figure out what is the right thing to do, and never really questioning whether or not he should do the right thing once he has figured out what it is.
I wrote the first chapter last because I felt we needed to know Sam better before we embarked on our journey with him. We had to see him struggle with the ordinary world. When I dreamed his story it began with the sound of hooves in the night, the straw bedding, the warmth of his siblings beside him. The sudden danger heralding the call of adventure.
When I was a child I got stitches a LOT. I remember in the end the casual nature I took to pain and to the destruction of my body. When my knee cartilage was being removed I asked if I could watch as they operated and I was fascinated by it. I give this quality to Sam so he can cope with his extensive injuries. There is a difference between pain and suffering. This is reflected in Sam’s attitude to pain.
Sam is only 13 at the start of the story, and he is malnourished and small for his age. The farm is not a wealthy one and there are a lot of mouths to feed. Sam’s father, Tom, relies on Sam to help him build the farm, so that hungry winters will be just a memory. Tom is a good father. The family all love each other and each express it in their own way.
Icor are nanite robots created by the singulatarian during the fall of the ancients
There are three types of wizard in “They Came By Night”: the selected, those that have icor chambers and those with ancient tech permitted by the icor and sometimes powered by it.
Icor comes in two states:
Ambient Icor is born and powered in radioactive areas called “The Sickenings”. When icor was first created, during the fall of the ancients, it had three primary directives: clean up radiation from the wars, clean up pollution and fix the environment (global warming), and to heal humans sickened by radiation and pollution. 1500 years after the fall of the ancients the ambient icor still looks after the ecology and heals the sick.
Activated Icor has been given additional programming. This can be done through the wizards or through icor chambers.
The singulatarian created the concept of wizards who were supposed to be good people capable of using the icor to keep the peace and help create a natural paradise on Earth. They are able to heal the sick, create a shield, and a few of them are able to throw fire. The icor selects these good people as children, but often the power corrupts them and they become egotistical and evil.
Icor Chambers These are containers within which icor can be re-programmed. These chambers program the icor for specific tasks and are usually treasured artifacts like truth stones which force the holder to tell the truth, or healing rings, or crop idols which help crops grow, or the jars that help the flying boat fly. There are many types of these artifacts.
The Keys are a special type of icor chamber with cryptographic encryption keys which authorize the owner to reprogram icor. The owner of the prime key is like an admin, they have rights to do anything. The owner of the golden key can do anything not forbidden by the prime . There are other keys which are subordinate to the golden key, and then there is the key held by the council. The golden key and the council’s key are required to activate the prime key.
I am well into planning the second book in the Icor Tales series, and today I realized what it should be called “The Ancients Awake”. I have the chapters worked out and I realized they pretty closely match the classic Joseph Campbell’s “Journey of the Hero” …
The call to Adventure Refusal of the call Supernatural Aid The Crossing of the first Threshold The belly of the whale The road of trials Woman as the temptress Atonement with the father Apotheosis The Ultimate boon Refusal of the return The magic flight Freedom to live
These chapters mark the progress of the hero, Sam … but I like to have a similar arc for the antagonist, Bestich. So his chapters are
Ordinary World Call to Adventure Refusal of the call Meeting with Mentor Crossing the threshold Tests, allies, and enemies Approach The Ordeal, death and rebirth
The villains journey will be intermixed with the hero’s journey.
Yuval Noah Harari wrote a fantastic non fiction book called Homo Deus, discussing something which I believe is inevitable, and that is the rise of man to god. Note the little ‘g’. Mankind will soon have god-like powers, like those of ancient Greek gods.
The problem is, mankind does not have Godlike goodness, or Godlike wisdom, so what will he do with such power?
Imagine there is a first Singulatarian, i.e. the first person to create an intelligence singularity. That person would have god-like power over mankind. Let’s imagine that person is relatively good. What would they do?
World peace: that could be done by destroying all weapons and having nanites fill the air such that when anyone tries anything violent, the nanites intervene to stop them. Think about the lack of freedom entailed in that.
Solve all the things that make people sad either by supplying drugs or by just fulfilling all wants. What a boring life
In my book there is an ancient character who was the Singulatarian and she tried a middle path of removing some of the big obstacles to peace: she made a duplicate of Israel and gave one to the Arabs and one to Jews… but now they had twice as much to fight about.
One of the secrets of my book is that most of humanity used the power of the singularity to enter heaven. Where heaven is a pod where they are filled with a chemical nirvana greater than any pleasure nature could ever provide, and they are maintained eternally by the hyper intelligent singularity with its army of robots.
What is true happiness? If you get rid of magical thinking, then happiness is just a cocktail of neurochemicals. Why not skip the struggles of life and get an intravenous drip of pure happiness.
The singularity then begins to think about the true purpose of Mankind. Isn’t suffering part of our purpose? We are designed to solve problems so our genes can replicate; that is our purpose. Or perhaps there is no purpose and the logical path is neurochemical drip.
My wizards fight. They fight against armies and they fight against other wizards, and they fight against hordes of unnatural critters. But there’s a problem with magic. It is hard for a reader to predict what the characters are capable of. This can be good for getting a weak protagonist out of trouble, but its the ultimate Deus ex machina (i.e. Its a lazy writers way to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending.) Ultimately it is unsatisfying just to have your wizard pluck a hitherto unknown spell out of their grimoire, or to find some inner strength in the nick of time.
I wanted my readers to know the rules before the battle. I don’t want to cheat my way out of a tricky situation. If the good guy is weaker then they better have a damn good plan. My protagonists are the underdogs, but they are smart underdogs.
When my main protagonist, Sam, faces his first battle with the main antagonist, Unmind, he has no time to come up with a cunning plan. Instead, he just throws everything he has against his opponent in a predictably inefficient and ineffective manner. He only has three spells available to him and two of them are basically throwing fire. Once the spells are cast, he is just a farm boy against a seasoned warrior with bulging muscles and a massive sword.
Hit the pause button.
What would you do?
Hopefully you find the resolution satisfying. It is both unpredictable and obvious. Afterwards I hope the reader would say “That’s exactly what I’d do.”
As a child I read Edding’s The Belgariad, and Chocky by Johnathon Wyndham, and then Star Wars came out. I was an adventurous and imaginative boy. I explored tunnels, sewers and mines. I built underground dens and forts and tree houses. I got into so much trouble, and injured myself so often the emergency room knew my name and my mother, a nurse, used to stitch me herself.
Sam Butcheart, the hero of “They Came By Night” yearns for adventure, but he knows his family need him to help build the farm. The pressers come to town recruiting for adventurers to fight the evil Northmen, and Sam is tempted. His father earned his surname fighting for the Militias, and Sam wants to earn respect as a new adult.
Sam’s has survived 13 winters which qualifies him as an Elderstone adult who can legally join the militias and earn his name but he has five younger siblings and knows they will go hungry if he is not around to help prepare the fields and supplement their diet with hunting.
Sam is good. He loves his parents and loves his family. Surely he would not abandon them all.
In every heroes quest there comes an inciting moment that spurs the journey. The hero must overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, and there must be satisfying final confrontation.
Sam’s journey is epic. His is tested. In one scene Sam and his mentor, Red, have captured a young enemy scout. Sam is faced with the dilemma. Can he kill someone so young? Can he release an enemy who can then one day come back and kill his friends? He can’t take a prisoner and complete his mission, so what is he do? The moral dilemma is how to fight an evil without becoming evil. The temptation to go to the “dark side” is strong. Eventually Sam must defeat the Northman Warrior Wizard, Unmind the Scourge
Game of thrones was criticized for the final battle scene with the Night King. People said it was too dark, and I agree with that. We all wanted to witness the spectacle of the army of the dead. When I first wrote my battles scene at the Battle of Demon’s Smile, I tried for realism by restricting the perspective to that of the protagonist, but he is small and can’t see the battle, and he can’t be on the frontline because he lacks the skills to fight hand to hand with a warrior Northman. The sound of battle alone is not enough to immerse a reader. So I made Sam, my protagonist, a messenger, running between the formations, getting updates from the captains.
From a tactical perspective the battle against the night king was absurd : to put your army and trebuchets outside of your defensive walls, and to simply fail to set traps, and have any form of tactical mastery. For my battles I wanted there to be an ingenious tactical plan so I stole some of history’s greatest battle plans: Agincourt, The Battle of the Nile, Thermopylae, Gaugamela. For my next book I am stealing from Hannibal who is probably the most consistently ingenious general. (You don’t have to be a genius, when you can just be a thief)
However, there are no real world battle plans that involve wizards and flying boats, so … adjustments had to be made
Hint: When you have a stronghold with big thick walls that has stood against armies for centuries, then do NOT place all your armies, catapults and trebuchets outside in the open waiting for your enemy who has overwhelming numerical superiority
I’ve always been a Doctor Who fan, and I want a TARDIS. The flying boat in “They Came by Night” is my version of the TARDIS and in book 2 Sam will discover a room that’s bigger on the inside….
I always loved the scenes where the TARDIS is out of control and things are blowing up and catching fire… that was the inspiration for this excerpt from the 2nd book (not finished yet)
Smoke poured from the windows of the boat as it drifted lower scraping the treetops.
“We’re definitely going to crash!” shouted Sam.
Red ran aft and looked over the edge and his eyes went wide. “There’s thousands of the little critters down there.”
“Throw something overboard!” screamed Rose.
Red looked at Bestich.
“No, not him,” said Sam.
“What’s the heaviest thing we have left?” said Red.
Sam looked at the flamethrower.
“Not the dragon’s breath,” moaned Red, but he was already looking at the fastenings. Sam jumped into the fore area to pull the fastening bolts out.
“The critters are climbing the trees!” screamed Rose. “They’ll be able to jump in the boat any moment.”
Red and Sam pulled the last fastening bolts out and started to lift it off the carriage.
“HELP!” screamed Bestich. One of the critters had jumped onto the ship and was biting his nose. With his hands tied he could not brush it off so he was vigorously shaking his head but the creature stubbornly held on to his nose. It’s furry body was being thrown from side to side and its tale jittered up and down as if it were in an uncontrolled frenzy.
“It’s tasted his blood, and it likes it,” said Rose.
“Well, no accounting for taste,” said Red.
Together Sam and Red tilted and then threw the flamethrower off the front of the ship. The lightening of the load helped lift the ship a few feet higher, but more and more critters were jumping from the trees.
Rose smacked the critter that was latched to Bestich’s nose and then used her net to catch it and throw it overboard. Red swiped at more of the critters with his ax and Sam tried to summon some icor to blow the critters off the deck.
“There’s barely any icor here at all,” said Sam.
Bestich was bawling but between sobs he screamed. “Use your prosthetic you stritzing piece of …”
He never finished his sentence because another critter jumped at his face and latched on to his ear.
“Stritz!” shouted Sam. “We are losing height again. Brace for impact!”
There was an almighty crashing sound and waves splashed over the decking, washing the critters into the sea.
“WE MADE IT TO THE SEA!” shouted Rose.
“I told you we would make it,” said Sam.
“Thank God that’s over,” said Red
“Hmmmpfff,” said Bestich.
Rose, Same and Red looked at Bestich and saw a bedraggled critter clinging to each of his ears and another one latched to his lips.
Sam found the sight funny and giggled. Red burst out laughing. Rose walked over and swatted the critters off.
“Okay, now comes the tricky part,” said Sam. “Whose going to explain all this damage to Violet ?”
Sam Butcheart the 13yo boy who wakes up in the night to the sound of hooves and gets whisked away to be in a battle. The heroes in battles always seem to be able to effortlessly slash and bash their way through the enemy, but this hero does not have that skill set. Sam’s too young to fight and he is small for his age. What could he do with just goodness and courage.
The king who has just inherited a kingdom but is being assailed by an army so huge and so full of hate that he knows his kingdom is doomed.
A warrior who just wants to stop fighting
A woman who thought she could bring world peace
Only when I was forcing myself to choose a dream to write, did I realize I could join all the storylines into one big epic.
127,000 words later: They Came By Night is finished.
Current Status: Being Edited and Formatted for publication… Publisher to be determined…
I have shipped Uther (Book 4 of the Icor Tales) so it should be available before the end of March. There are two new Icor Tale books planned The Fall of the Ancients The Golden Lights In other news! I just saw a trailer for the Dungeons And Dragons movie coming out in March and…
Excerpt from Bestich’s Red Journal… I battle the Beast today. Not the Beast upon the hill foretold in prophecy. Not the Beast beneath the bridge that Ma would pin us to our beds with. Today I battle myself upon the cinder rock the priest calls my soul. For here in the dark cellar of Madame…
The men with no shadow are introduced in the fourth installment of the Icor Tales, although they are hinted at in the third installment. Their history is shrouded in mystery. What is known is that they used to be ardent followers of Uther. They gave their lives to serve as men with no shadow. They…