The Ring of Gyges

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could make yourself invisible at will? Do you wish you could just disappear and reappear when you wanted to? If you had the Ring of Gyges, you could.

The philosopher Plato discusses the Ring of Gyges in The Republic. He uses the ring as an allegory, similar to his use of Atlantis and his famous allegory of the cave.

In Plato’s ring allegory, Gyges is a shepherd in the country of Lydia. An earthquake uncovers the opening of a cave, which Gyges discovers while tending his flock of sheep. He goes into the cave and finds a bronze horse statue with its torso opened up. Within it is a man’s corpse with a golden ring on one of its fingers. Gyges takes the ring. He finds that if he turns the ring’s collet (the part that secures the stone in place) so its stone points toward the base of his finger, he disappears. If he turns the collet 180 degrees so the stone points to his fingertip, he reappears. He goes to the palace of Lydia, seduces the Queen, kills the King, and becomes King himself.

Why am I telling you about the Ring of Gyges? It’s because I make use of that ring in my upcoming story, RippersRing72dpi“Ripper’s Ring,” which will be launched in early May. In my story, a troubled character in East London comes across the ring in the summer of 1888, and starts killing prostitutes. He becomes the murderer we know as Jack the Ripper. Now you understand why they never caught the Ripper. When you read “Ripper’s Ring” you’ll also learn how the Ring of Gyges works, and why Gyges found it on a corpse inside a horse statue in a cave.

Some of you are thinking, “A magic ring? Hasn’t that been overdone? Does the literary world really need another magic ring?” You’re recalling Aladdin’s ring in Arabian Nights, the Ring of Solomon, J.R.R. Tolkien’s One Ring, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the rings in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and Marvolo Gaunt’s Ring in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling.

Enough with the magic rings already, you’re saying. Well, my ring is different. Not only does it turn its bearer invisible, but it also provides the bearer some mental visions of all the ring’s previous owners. When my troubled character comes across the Ring of Gyges, he learns its history and what it can do.

Now back to Plato. What was that ancient Greek philosopher doing discussing a ring of invisibility? He stated that the ring separated actions from consequences; that is, an invisible man could commit an immoral act (as Gyges did by killing the King) without fear of retribution, since no one could connect him with the crime. Further, Plato believed that if a person had such a ring, his eventual commission of immoral acts was inevitable. In other words, no one can resist the temptation of invisibility and the power it conveys.

No one? Well, in The Republic, Socrates doubts the temptation is as inevitable as Plato thinks.

My scientifically minded readers are laughing at the whole idea of human invisibility. After all, the human eye only works because light interacts with the rod and cone cells in the retina at the back of the eyeball. If the eyeball is invisible, light passes through without interacting. In other words, an invisible person is also blind. You could get around that with partial invisibility, allowing only the retinas to remain opaque. It would be a bit creepy—two partial eyeballs seeming to float around, but at least you could see.

How did I resolve that problem in my story? I didn’t. Sorry. I chose the course most writers do and ignored the problem. At least I’m admitting that here.

If you come into possession of the Ring of Gyges, just keep it. Better yet, destroy it. Whatever you do, don’t bring it to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Author Interview — Steve Cook

Once again Poseidon’s Scribe has landed a fascinating interview with a fellow author, who has a story appearing in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today’s interview is with Steve Cook.

Steven CookSteve Cook is a part-time writer, part-time teacher, currently dialing down on the latter so he can focus on the former. He’s married and lives with his wife and cat in London, England.

At last, the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Steve Cook: I began writing fiction in 2010. It was my first year working as a primary school teacher and I had prepared as much as I possibly could during the Christmas holiday. Then, the first week back in January, we had a record snowfall for the area and the school was closed. We happened to live opposite a Starbucks, which meant we were basically in there every evening. I just grabbed my netbook and took it over there and started to write, funneling all the readiness and energy into that instead. I rattled along writing chapters of a pretty terrible book idea, and then got into NaNoWriMo in a big way. That’s been responsible for most of my output over the last six years.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

S.C.: The easiest aspect of writing for me is world-building. I probably spend too long on it, but it pays off when you can write something in that suggests a deeper, richer world beyond it. Short stories and flash fiction that flesh out the world are something I really enjoy doing. The most difficult aspect of writing is editing, without a doubt, and I get round it by showing my stuff to different people. Everyone has a different thing they look for: my wife is a designer and illustrator, for example, and she really focuses on the visual design of what I write.

P.S.: What genres have you written in, and do you have a favorite?

S.C.: I’ve written mainly fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy both of them! Most of my fantasy writing in the last year or so has been for the Dungeons and Dragons group I run; they’ve been playing for the best part of three years now. I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Noctis Point, which is the book I’m working on right now. It’s set a couple of hundred years into the future, and it’s really fun to take technology from today, or even theoretical technology, and apply it to that setting.

AvastYeAirshipsP.S.: You wrote “The Clockwork Dragon” for the Avast, Ye Airships! anthology.  Can you tell us a little about that story?

S.C.: “The Clockwork Dragon” is a story about some privateers working under contract to retrieve an artifact; they’re ex-pirates, so it’s not long before treachery and greed overcome the captain, who teams up with the cook and absconds with the loot. It’s up to the first mate to track them down in a chase in the skies of Ireland and Scotland. Like most of the fiction I write, it grew organically from one image, one scene: a giant clockwork dragon, bellows for lungs, canvas wings and so on, hovering over an airship in lashing rain. I actually own a clockwork dragon miniature, and it has made an appearance in our D&D game!Clockwork Dragon

P.S.: You participated in Nanowrimo last November.  Was that your first nano?  What was that experience like?

S.C.: I’ve been taking part in NaNo since 2010. I honestly can’t remember how I came across it, but it’s brilliant. It breaks up the writing into bitesize chunks and even gives me a little chart to let me know how much I’ve written, what my average is, that sort of thing. It also helped me to come across other local authors in the Milton Keynes area; several of us met up towards the end of the 2010 NaNo to write together. I didn’t make it the following year, sadly; a combination of a lack of enthusiasm in my story idea and a crazy work schedule meant that I fell short by a considerable distance. In 2012, I wrote Poisonroot, and built the world that my D&D group plays in, so that’s constantly being worked on. In 2013 I cheated slightly and wrote ten short stories set in the world of Poisonroot; that was even more fun because I got to play with different styles and techniques within the same body of work. I actually completed two NaNo projects in 2014, because I did Camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year. That was the first version of what would eventually become Noctis Point, the bulk of which I wrote in November 2014. Finishing my most recent NaNo was a close run thing; I was working as a teacher still, and we had the inspectors come in. We had four days of twenty-hour work days, and writing just wasn’t a priority any more. I had to write 12,000 words in two days to finish. My NaNo author page is here.

P.S.: From your website, it appears you are into Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs.)  Do you find that helps your fiction writing, or takes time away from it?

S.C.: Definitely it takes time away from it! I’ve played a lot of MMOs, but for the last eighteen months I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV. It’s a real timesink, but it’s also a way to talk with my friends and be social. My wife and flatmate both play it as well, so there’s always something going on. There are some wonderful little bits of writing that are inspirational, but mainly I’m in it for the music, which I listen to when I’m writing.

Murder MatchesP.S.: You recently collaborated on a product called Murder Matches.  It looks like a murder story told from eight different points of view.  Can you tell us more about that?

S.C.: Nana Li is a good friend of mine, and incredibly talented. She had been working on an idea inspired by designer matchboxes, and wanted it to be a murder mystery where each matchbox contained a character profile or statement which, when put together, would help a reader solve the mystery. I love things that twist and I’m a real fiend for puzzles, so it was awesome to work with her on this. I can’t give away too much for fear of spoiling the mystery! Writing the characters was fun, as each one had a different voice. It was a real challenge, giving away a couple of clues in each one while at the same time trying to suggest a motive for everyone. We’re working on a sequel for release this year.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.C.: I’ve read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which is pretty much all I write. For fantasy, authors such as Trudi Canavan, Stephen R. Donaldson, Tolkien, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett, Raymond E. Feist and Peter V. Brett have really inspired me. On the science fiction side, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter, Stel Pavlou, Iain M. Banks and Dan Simmons are really high up on the list. I’ve read quite a lot of John Courtenay Grimwood’s cyberpunk books as well. The truth is I’ll read pretty much anything going! I can see little things that have inspired me from all of those authors, flairs or personal touches that strike me as being from that particular style of writing, but I try wherever possible to have my own style.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

S.C.: Noctis Point is a science fiction story set a couple of hundred years in the future. Through war and economic collapse, the Earth has eventually been united into an Empire, which has begun to reach out to the stars for colonization. In the process, it has encountered an alien race living on the moons of Jupiter; imagine spider-centaurs and you’re halfway there. These ‘Spiders’ are initially peaceful, but things quickly turn bad when they ambush a delegation from Earth during peace talks, and battle lines are drawn. Another faction involved in all this is the psychs, living on Mars. They are humans who have evolved psychic powers when they turn sixteen, and more of them are beginning to appear every year. Partly in fear of them, the Empire has ordained that they should live on Mars, in a base known as Noctis Point, where they will be trained in preparation for joining the Empire’s armies as elite soldiers. The story follows two main characters: Alex, a boy who manifests the power and is sent to Noctis Point to train; and Imperial Princess Ariadne Cutter, the daughter of the Emperor, whose role as her father’s spymistress leads her into a terrorist plot that could have grave consequences on the war.

P.S.: Please tell us about your podcasting activities.

S.C.: I run a once-weekly podcast, Pocket Fiction, where I read either a short story or part of a longer piece. Up until just recently it’s been my own work, which has been really useful for me, but I’m looking forward to working with some of my fellow pirates in the anthology. I’m always looking for people to collaborate with, and producing Pocket Fiction is genuinely fun. Having more time recently has allowed me to go for better production values as well. I built a little recording booth and I’ve begun to add sound and vocal effects to deepen the immersion even further. Pocket Fiction is available on the iTunes store, but I also upload each week to Tumblr and to YouTube, where each video is played over a roaring fire. That was one of the initial ideas I had for the podcast; that it was tales told around a campfire, something to make you feel warm and relaxed.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Steve Cook: Tell people who you trust to give you honest feedback that you’re writing; they’ll help you and support you, and hopefully you can persuade them to read your work. Sometimes it’s good to plan stories out, but more often than not I find the characters somehow wrest control of the story away from me halfway through and we diverge. It’s ok for characters to be different on paper than how you initially imagined them. Probably the most useful thing I do is read my stuff out loud; having to read each word finds every mistake, every awkward phrasing, and sometimes you pick up on things that you would otherwise have missed.

 

Thanks, Steve! I’m sure you’ve enticed my readers to visit your blog, follow you on Twitter, and visit you on Tumblr.

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Author Interview — Ogarita

The authors of stories in the upcoming anthology Avast, Ye Airships! continue to be willing to be interviewed by me. I haven’t scared the remaining ones away yet.

Speaking of scaring others, today’s interviewee is author Ogarita, no stranger to the art of terrifying readers, while armed with nothing but her bare words. Think I’m kidding? The opening picture on her website is of a lonely cemetery, in the dead of winter. My internet browser was afraid to open the page the first time, and now refuses to go back.

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Ogarita: I’ve noodled around with writing stories since I was ten years old and conjured a girl, dumped in a boarding school, who is transported (via a mysterious and never explained glowing rectangle) to a world combining elements of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain. I turned to writing daily about three years ago, after retiring from an active-duty career in the U.S. Navy.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

O.: Most difficult? I always, always begin a story in the wrong place. A couple of novels ago I decided this just didn’t matter . . . for first drafts, at least. I save that pain for subsequent revisions, during which I suffer the recurring and depressing realization I will never produce anything as wondrously creative as the beginning of Nabokov’s Lolita. Regardless of one’s opinion of that story, the opening is fabulous writing.

The easiest part of writing? Everything other than beginnings.

P.S.: On your website, you’re known as Ogarita (not your real name), and the story of how you got that name is fascinating.  Is that family tradition of bestowing strange, secret, family names likely to continue to future generations?

O.: My family’s history is filled with bizarre names, among which Ogarita figures as fairly tame. This custom took a steep dive, however, two generations ago, when my grandfather abandoned the name Yakeley and renamed himself Robert. The love of eccentric names continues, however; throughout my childhood my mother expressed frequent regret she hadn’t named me Hepzibah. It’s possible this close call inspires me to write stories filled with fear.

P.S.: Ogarita it is, then. You’ve said you write stories of “ghosts and banshees, creepy houses and spooky cemeteries, stalkers and extroverts.” How did you become interested in writing tales of that type?

O.: First, discovering the best ghost movie ever filmed: The Uninvited, made in 1944 and based on Dorothy Macardle’s 1941 novel, Uneasy Freehold. When, three-quarters of the way through the movie, the double doors bang open . . . glorious terror! The book isn’t bad, either, although the secondary female characters tend to be a bit soppy. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House kept me awake at night for three days after finishing it, and I’m still not keen on holding hands in the dark. I’m always searching out well-written stories in which sympathetic characters find themselves inadvertently involved with the supernatural . . . and scared nearly to death.

P.S.: You call yourself a middle grade and Young Adult author. In what ways is that different from writing for a more general audience?

O.: A fair number of writers, and I include myself among them, claim there is and should be little difference between writing for MG/YA and adults, other than the former being a bit less overt in depicting violence, sex, and in using profanity/obscenity. These, however, are far from being hard rules. The characters in John Green’s collaborative book (with David Levithan), Will Grayson, Will Grayson, don’t hold back in terms of verbal obscenities. Nor does Stephen King dumb down the dangers faced by nine-year-old Trisha (in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), when she’s lost in the woods. Are Green and King writing for adults or middle-graders?

In my MG/YA ghost story novels I shoot for spinal meltdown moments, hoping to ruin the sleep of all my readers. That’s what I’ve loved since I was a kid and still do today.

P.S.: You have a story, “Captain Wexford’s Dilemma,” in the anthology AvastYeAirshipsAvast Ye Airships! Without spoiling anything, can you tell us a little about the story, and what inspired you to write it?

O.: The superheated steam produced by a ship’s boilers, properly controlled, creates enormous amounts of beneficial power. Controlling the steam, however, requires careful maintenance and the right materials—steel, for example—that can withstand the intense and high heat. In October 1990 the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) docked in Bahrain for repairs to a steam valve. A contractor mistakenly chose metal fasteners of brass, rather than steel, to fasten down the bonnet of a steam valve; when the ship got underway, the fasteners gave way and the ship’s boiler room flooded with superheated steam. Eleven men died because of a small, crucial, mistaken choice. Captain Wexford’s Dilemma allowed me to create and take control of a similar situation, but from that starting place spin a fantasy with a different outcome, one that I found emotionally salvific. And, because I have long worked in the field of religious diversity, humor crept in as the story revealed itself and Captain Wexford struggled to find ways to deal with a far less material challenge to the safety of her airship.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

O.:

  • Terry Pratchett. A genius who made Death one of fantasy’s most believable character.
  • Barbara Hambley. Those Who Hunt the Night (1988) a vampire-filled murder mystery, uses suspense and a sense of place exceptionally well.
  • Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, Stefan Bachmann, and Emma Trevayne. The Cabinet of Curiosities (2014) contains thirty-six inventive and beautifully written short stories. I read these, then decided I needed to explore this form; the result was “Captain Wexford’s Dilemma.”
  • Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. I Remember You (2014; 2012 in the UK) is the best ghost story published in the last five years, hands down. Like Stephen King, Sigurðardóttir isn’t afraid to allow her characters to develop before she turns loose the ghosts.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

O.: I’m finishing the first draft of “The Lake Eerie Ghost,” a MG murder mystery/ghost story about a group of kids attending summer camp on a fictitious island in Lake Erie. There’s a haunted lighthouse involved, because I’m crazy about lighthouses. At the same time, I’m revising another MG story that I hope will delight and frighten: “Curse of the Banshee,” in which a young girl and her twin cousins investigate a series of near-fatal accidents and an ancient curse. Murder, mayhem, and spooks make each day of writing pure pleasure.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Ogarita:

  • Don’t let anyone, editors or readers, tell you the semi-colon has no place in fiction; this fabulous bit of punctuation has ably separated closely-related independent clauses since 1494.
  • Write or revise or outline every day. Every. Single. Day. Doing this has been a trial at times, but it has also improved my writing and kept at bay writer’s block.
  • Ignore those who say one’s best writing (or revising and outlining) is done early in the morning. I’m convinced early-morning writers are masochists.
  • Exercise. Walk, lift weights, bike, swim, do yoga, anything that keeps blood pumping and muscles toned!
  • Find or create a support group of other authors. A good group celebrates success, understands rejection, and keeps dreams alive, often with cupcakes.

 

Ogarita, thanks so much for that fascinating interview. My readers can find out more about Ogarita’s spine-chilling tales on Twitter and at her website.

Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 21, 2015Permalink

How to Assemble a Planet

Oh, did you really think you could surf to this blog entry and learn how to design and construct an entire planet?  Well, okay, you were right.  So long as you’re expecting a how-to about fictional planets.

transparent-planetAuthors call this ‘world-building’ and they sometimes use the term ‘world’ in a different sense than the term ‘planet.’  In fiction, the world is not just the physical planet, but its inhabitants, their culture, and their environment too.

In most fiction, it’s not necessary to build a world, since the authors use the present-day (or historical) world we already inhabit.  They can assume readers are familiar with Planet Earth.  Such authors are free to focus on key aspects of Earth that are relevant to their story, to paint a biased picture of our world as seen by the author or one (or more) characters.

But in fantasy fiction or science fiction, it’s often interesting and fun to imagine and create very different worlds from Earth, or a very changed Earth.

Memorable, classic, examples of world-building include (1) Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, (2) the planet Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune and its sequels, and (3) the strangely-shaped structure of Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld.

If you set out to build a world for your fiction story, what things might you consider?  A partial list includes the particular laws of physics, the solar system, the planet’s size and gravity, configuration of solids and liquids internally and on the surface, the atmosphere, geography, climate, plants, animals, and sentient creatures.  If your world has sentient creatures, then you could consider such things as cultures, languages, religion, art, education, economics, government, law, traditions, taboos, and technology.

Although Wikipedia has an interesting article on World-building, there are two other sites that I found more beneficial:  this one, and this one.  The latter site is run by Melanie Simet, who has come up with four cardinal rules of world-building that I really like, starting with zero:

0.  Be Original.

1.  Don’t distract your reader.

2.  Make your world coherent.

3.  Know at least one level of detail deeper than you need to.

She explains these in more depth on her website, so I won’t repeat those details here.  I would like to emphasize Rule 1, though.  It can be a temptation to get so involved with world-building that you forget it’s just a setting.  Stories are about characters dealing with problems, so don’t give your readers a documentary.

I’m sure this world-building is starting to sound like an awful lot of work, when all you set out to do was write a story.  It can be involved, but it needn’t consume you if you keep Simet’s cardinal rules in mind as you go.  If you write short stories, like me, you don’t have as much need for comprehensive world-building as a novelist would, unless you’re planning a long series of stories set on the same world.

That’s a glimpse at the basics of world-building.  Have fun.  Make your world an interesting one to read about.  Enjoy your taste of God-like power.  If this blog entry has inspired you, and you end up selling your story set in a fascinating new world, please let me know.  Your world could well be visited by—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

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February 24, 2013Permalink