Drizzt in an X-Wing
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Do I have your attention yet? I thought so. That's one nice thing about nerd culture (a term I use in the most affectionate way)—we've got some easily recognizable triggers. For better or for worse, there are certain touchstones that all of us in a given nerd subgroup are familiar with (and no, I don't mean lolcats). I'm talking about the big stuff—the media that shaped our favorite genres so irreversibly that there's really no extricating the two. Sure, you can theorize about how modern fantasy might have evolved if Tolkien had left those manuscripts in his bottom drawer, but really, it's something of a moot point.
Which is why I'm so excited about Worlds of Their Own.
Still following? I mean, let's just look at the author list here for a second. In the same book, we've got Monte Cook, Elaine Cunningham, Richard E. Dansky, Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, Gary Gygax, Paul S. Kemp, J. Robert King, William King, James Lowder, Will McDermott, R. A. Salvatore, Steven Savile, Lisa Smedman, Michael A. Stackpole, Greg Stafford, Greg Stolze, and Nancy Virginia Varian. That's huge. These are folks who have, through their shared-world fiction and gaming accomplishments, left an indelible mark on our subculture. And in Worlds of Their Own, editor Jim Lowder (who's done some pretty seminal work himself, with his bestselling Ravenloft novels, among others) turns these authors loose to write in worlds of completely their own design, where their word is final and not subject to an intellectual property's owner. Needless to say, the work is stunning—I mean, we've got half a dozen New York Times bestsellers, Nebula award winners, and more here—and often surprising to those only familiar with an authors' shared-world stories.
As it would be a huge task to try and explain each of these authors' impact, I decided to just pick two today and show off chunks from their stories. But who to choose? William King? Richard Dansky? Some of the authors I was able to set aside for future blog posts—after all, this is not the first time Planet Stories or Pathfinder has worked with folks like Gary Gygax, Elaine Cunningham, or Ed Greenwood, nor will it be the last. In the end, though, I had to go with the two who inspired the title of this post: R. A. Salvatore and Michael A. Stackpole.
R. A. Salvatore is probably the biggest success story in shared-world fiction. With his creation of the dark elf hero Drizzt Do'Urden for the Forgotten Realms, he blew the doors off the shared-world industry and went on to write numerous popular creator-owned series, from his Spearwielder's Tales to the Crimson Shadow stories. His piece in Worlds of Their Own, "Mather's Blood," is set in the world of Corona, home of his DemonWars saga. Check it out:
On one of those gusts came a cry of anguish that sliced the heart of Mather Wyndon, a scream of pain and fear from a voice that he knew well.
He drew out his sword and used it to lead the way through the tangle of branch and snow, pushing out into the frigid air, trying to orient himself and determine the direction of Bradwarden's howl. The wind was from the northeast still, and it had carried Bradwarden's cry, so Mather set out that way, circumventing Dundalis, the smoke of the many chimneys thick in the air. Soon he found a path cut through the drifts—by goblins, he knew, though he could hardly see on this dark night. He didn't dare light a torch, fearing to make himself a target, but he understood his disadvantage here. Goblins were creatures of caves and deep tunnels. They could see much better in the dark than even an elven-trained ranger.
Mather was not surprised when he came through one large drift and caught a flicker of movement to the side, a missile flying straight for him.
He sent his energy into Tempest, and the sword flared with angry light. He brought the blade whipping about, intercepting the hurled spear and knocking it harmlessly aside, and then slashed back, deflecting a second.
The third got through...
Michael A. Stackpole is probably best known for his wildly popular X-Wing: Rogue Squadron series, which breathed new life into the most famous pilots of the Star Wars universe. He's also done work for Battletech, has numerous creator-owned projects such as the DragonCrown War and the Age of Discovery series, and in 2008 had an asteroid named after him. This story, "Keeping Score," is set in his Purgatory Station universe:
The ambush seared scarlet light through the mauve jungle. Sara had felt it coming a heartbeat before beams flicked out—things had gotten too quiet for a second. The enemy fire manifested as full shafts of light instantly linking shooter and target, then snapping off, since light traveled far too fast for even the most augmented eyes to see it as tiny bolts. Ruby spears stabbed down from high branches, or slanted in from around the boles of trees, here and there, as the Zsytzii warriors shifted impossibly fast through the jungle.
Sara cut left and spun, slamming her back against the trunk of a tree. Her body armor absorbed most of the impact and she continued to spin, then dropped to a knee on the far side of the tree and brought her LNT-87 carbine up. The green crosshairs on her combat glasses tracked along with the weapon's muzzle, showing her where it was pointed. The top barrel stabbed red back at the ambushers, burning little holes through broad leaves and striping trunks with carbonized scars. Fire gouted from the lower barrel as chemical explosives launched clouds of little flechettes at the unseen attackers.
To her right Captain Patrick Kelloch, the fire team's leader, laid down a pattern of raking fire that covered their right flank while she concentrated on the left. Flechettes shredded leaves and vaporized plump, purple lotla fruit. She thought she saw a black shadow splashed with green, and hoped one fewer laser was targeted back at her, but the Zsytzii were harder to hit than she'd ever found in virtsims.
Bragb Bissik, the team's heavy-weapons specialist, stepped into the gap between the two human warriors. Underslung on his massive right forearm were the eight spinning rotary-barrels of the Gatling-style Bouganshi laser cannon. Into each barrel was fed a small lasing cell, consisting of a chemical reagent that released a lot of energy really fast. The cell converted that energy into coherent light of great power and intensity that blazed for almost a second once the reaction had been started. The cannon whined as the barrels spun. The red beams slashed in an arc, nipping branches from trees and burning fire into the jungle's upper reaches.
The weapon spat the smoking lasing cells out into a pile at the hulking Bouganshi's feet. The brilliant red beams bathed him in bloody highlight. Hulking and broad-shouldered, the Bouganshi could have been a demon from any number of human pantheons, and Sara hoped the Zeez would find him purely terrifying.
As Bragb's fire raked the higher branches, two beams stabbed out from the ground to hit the Bouganshi's broad chest...
Planet Stories Editor