“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
Today our guest is Ryk E. Spoor, author of the upcoming fantasy novel Phoenix Rising. Please give a warm welcome to Ryk, folks!
Phoenix Rising is a story I first started writing in 1991, more than 20 years ago; it takes place on the world of Zarathan, which I created in 1977 – 36 years ago – as both a locale for writing fantasy adventures, and as a setting to run roleplaying games for my friends. As such, both the world and the specific story have been influenced by a huge number of books and other media.
The most obvious influences are the foundations of classic epic fantasy and some elements of horror: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, the Norse and Greek mythologies (and elements of others), H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, and Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague DeCamp’s Incompleat Enchanter series. Even from the beginning, Zarathan incorporated elements of many sources. Tolkien inspired me most clearly with the idea of a depth of history and diversity of species, with different languages, living requirements, origins, and yet enough commonality to interact as equals (when not fighting).
The same concept, however, also came from E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series, which influenced my SF writing (and gaming) aspirations, and so even the very earliest incarnations of Zarathan were connected to Earth itself – SF and Fantasy would overlap. From Robert Howard’s Hyborian Age I took the idea of a world filled with multiple countries, some huge, some tiny, but – if you read the stories – in truth little more than a few cities and defended towns in a wilderness of monsters and ancient, crumbling remnants of civilizations lost in the mists of time.
At the same time I was developing Zarathan, I was also running RPG campaigns in it. The world developed as much around the conflicts and ideas of players, and the questions they raised (“why does this work that way? Does this make sense?”), and the rules from many different games.
For those unaware of it, “Dungeons and Dragons” may have been the first RPG as we know them, and certainly was the first to gain major audience and remains the most well-known of that class of games, but it was very, very far from the only such game. On appearance, it spawned a slew of imitators and of new games that both sought to address what gamers saw as D&D’s shortcomings, or to expand roleplaying into different genres than fantasy – science fiction, superheroes, cyberpunk, etc. In the early days I played, or at least read, almost every RPG published (in the USA, anyway). Some of these, too, influenced me.
Of the game influences, aside from D&D as the initial impetus, it was The Arduin Grimoire and subsequent volumes in the Arduin series of game supplements that most influenced me. Dave Hargrave’s implied and overtly stated world was huge, diverse, and wide-open. It was a world in which there was absolutely no reason an adventuring party couldn’t include a power-armored warrior, a giant insectoid swordmaster, a powerful wizard, and a golem, with a spirit from beyond the grave providing backup; it was entirely up to the players and GM to decide how that would work. I’ve written elsewhere in detail about the Arduin Grimoire and its impact on me and my writing.
The combination of the Arduin series, and my own realization that I wanted my world to make sense, was one of the largest influences on Phoenix Rising. No matter how outre the powers you see, how strange the creatures or peculiar the customs, there’s a reason they work that way, and if you see, for instance, a particular type of magic being used, and think to yourself, “Wow. But if they can do THAT, then they must be able to do THIS!”, then you’ll either be right – they can do “this” – or there is a logical and consistent reason that they can’t in fact do “this”.
Later on, Wizards of the Coast produced their first product, The Primal Order. This supplement on the use of gods as active forces in a real RPG campaign helped extend and solidify many of the concepts I’d been using in my campaign for years, and helped me clarify the foundations of how my world worked.
1977 being the year I really began building Zarathan, there is another obvious media influence that I couldn’t have escaped even if I wanted to, for that year saw the release of Star Wars. The high adventure of the Star Wars universe was one of my great inspirations for, well, pretty much everything. In detail, of course, there are specific influences. The powers that Tobimar Silverun wields certainly had much of their original genesis in the Jedi Knight and the Force, although the final version also derives from many other sources. The grand sweeping vision of Star Wars, and the sense of wonder that it inspired, still remains one of my constant inspirations.
Doc Smith’s Lensman series, while more obviously an inspiration for my space operatic adventures like Grand Central Arena, has had actually significant influence on the world of Phoenix Rising. Perhaps the most obvious is the existence of plans and manipulations that don’t just span decades or centuries or even thousands of years, but hundreds of thousands of years or more, with the manipulators being ultimately benevolent but at the same time cold-heartedly able to allow disastrous events if they will ultimately lead to something better.
The Lensman series also featured the first (as far as I am aware) example of what has since become a common trope, especially in anime: five heroes who can unite their power to become something greater than any one of them, or indeed of all five of them taken separately. This certainly influenced me, and Xavier Uriel Ross and his friends are derived from this… as well as other, later influences (more on that in a moment).
Kyri Vantage herself was inspired by several media sources – both positively, and as a reaction to them. I originally conceived Kyri (as a roleplaying character in a game run by Jeff Getzin) as a sort of fantasy Batman, a paladin of a stern, cold god of justice and vengeance. Part of her point in design, as I developed her into a character for my writing, was also a reaction to many stories, and games, in which the female warrior was weaker than the male. Not lesser, mind you – that would simply have ticked me off – but never quite as physically badass. Kyri was designed to go directly against that stereotype; in her adventures, one thing you can be certain of is that she will never encounter any human or normal humanoid warrior that can out-muscle her. To some extent she was also inspired by Ellen Ripley, Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character from Aliens, as a character who found her inner badass when everything she cared about was lost, or in danger of being taken away from her.
This is of course one area in which history somewhat caught up with me. I created Kyri originally in 1991, and it was four years later that Xena, Warrior Princess, debuted. Many other examples, ranging from Buffy to Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion to River in Firefly, now exist than did when I was much younger. This is a good thing; I don’t feel terribly torn up by finding more awesome badass heroines beating Kyri to the punch. I’ll note that technically Paksenarrion predates Kyri, but I was unaware of her existence until considerably later.
Khoros, the mysterious sage/wizard who is behind much of the plot, actually derives from three separate media sources. As a tremendous long-term plotter whose plan is to create a weapon to break a particular shield/seal which Khoros himself cannot break, he is a mortal (sort of) echo of Mentor of Arisia, shadowy driver of the plot in the Lensman series. Khoros’ “voice” in my head, his brilliance in planning and deduction, and his original physical appearance, on the other hand, were drawn from Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. His final appearance and a few other details, however, are drawn from the ancient wizard Kaos from the anime Yoroiden Samurai Troopers.
Anime itself was a later arrival in my influences, but became pretty large fairly quickly (since it was something my then-girlfriend, later wife, introduced me to). The Justiciars of Myrionar, with their unique armor and special powers and names, echo multiple anime influences from the aforementioned Samurai Troopers to Saint Seiya, Shurato, and even Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman; in the original manuscript, they were in fact called Saints rather than Justiciars (and the “Adjudicators” of the State of the Dragon King were called Justiciars). Perhaps the biggest influence anime has had on the world, though, is in the area of imagery and dramatics; the combat that climaxes the novel, between Thornfalcon and Kyri, Tobimar, and Poplock, has a very “anime” dramatic feel to it, or at least that was the imagery in my head. Other anime and related videogame influences visible in Phoenix Rising or its projected sequels range from The Vision of Escaflowne to Dragonball Z, the Tohou universe, Final Fantasy, and many more.
In many ways, it would actually be easier to list things that didn’t influence Zarathan’s development than those that did. As will be noted in the extensive “references” document I’m currently working on for Phoenix Rising, there are elements in Zarathan drawn from hundreds of books, TV shows, movies, cartoons, and even songs; as one hopefully-amusing instance of the latter, the old 1980s ZZTop videos, which often featured the band popping up to turn losers into winners in romance and bringing ruin on their tormentors, inspired me to create “The Gods of the Three Beards”, a pantheon of hedonism with a strong element of justice; “three beards” comes from the fact that while only two of the band members have the trademark long beards, the third’s last name is actually Beard!
At the same time, I have sought to impress my own spirit and vision on all of these elements, and integrate them into a whole; while a given source may inspire me, and in a game-setting I may use it close to wholesale (as that’s purely private amusement), in my writing I have to make sense of it – figure out how it fits with the way my universe works, why it would exist, and how it will affect other elements of the world. Nothing becomes a part of Zarathan without this process, because I consider consistency of the world to be one of the most important elements of the story.
Part of that process, however, has been to embrace the many-worlds concept in a very specific way. Zarathan is a nexus and an overlay of multiple universes; all possibilities intersect in the World of Magic. We get a small taste of this during the interlude in which Kyri travels with Khoros – whose “shadestriding” is a deliberate reference to the magnificent Chronicles of Amber by Zelazny. In that sequence, Khoros directly tells Kyri that there are many “Zarathans”, alternative worlds with only a few anchoring details, implying that many of the worlds of fiction are also a part of this multiverse and can, sometimes, even interact with the “central” world.
This means that, in theory, any place ever imagined… or to be imagined… can be found there, by those who know how to seek it. This is a necessary and essential part of my universe, where Zarathan is the source of magic, the heart of the universe, tied to our own world which is its opposite pole, and the two of them together representing the purest essence of possibility, the one, eternal question that is, really, the foundation of all fiction:
… What if…?
About The Book:
Kyri: a highborn young woman whose life is shattered by the murder of her kin. But even as Kyri flees her beloved land Evanwyl, she knows that she is her family’s only hope for justice, and Evanwyl’s only chance to escape a growing shadow of corruption and destruction.
Now Kyri must venture across Zarathan, a world on the brink of a long foretold Chaos War. It is a struggle that will rend the foundations of existence and may usher in a long age of darkness –that is, if Kyri and her companions do not succeed in holding back the tide of evil that is rising. Those companions include valiant swordsman Tobimar Silverun, Prince of Skysand, exiled on the turn of a card and a prophecy, who is now seeking his people’s lost homeland; and Poplock Duckweed, an unlikely hero whose diminutive size is as much weapon as it is a weakness.
Kyri’s quest is as simple as it is profound: find a legendary, ancient weapon smith, take up the sword and armor of a new order of warrior-defenders, and bring the power of justice and vengeance to the evil and corruption that has darkened her native land.
About the Author:
Ryk E. Spoor was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and has lived in South Dakota, Georgia, New York, and Pennsylvania. Severe asthma forced him to spend most of his childhood reading and, by the time he was six, writing. While he began reading fantasy such as Oz and science fiction starting with Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it was his 5th grade teacher that sent him on the course that would make him a science-fiction author, by lending Ryk a battered copy of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Second-Stage Lensmen; this sent him on a reading spree that devoured every science-fiction book he encountered for the next ten years, and instilled in him the conviction that being a science-fiction author was the greatest possible profession anyone could aspire to.
We have ONE copy of Phoenix Rising up for grabs! The contest is open to ALL and will run until Sunday, July 7 at 12:01am. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!