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Inspirational Reads

Geekery Ahead: My Top Five Universes

July 17, 2008

Remember when I was slapping the Arte y Pico award around the other day, and I saddled awarded What Does it Mean? Nothing! with it? And remember in my description how I said that Jidai's blog is a lot like what I want mine to be, if I didn't have so many anecdotes about Notre Dame, Leelee Sobieski and Winston-Salem, NC (or something to that effect)? Right, well, it's getting a whole lot more Jidai-esque around here.

The other day, Monsieur Jidai posted a lovely entry wherein he described his five favorite fictional universes. Not one to let a good idea go un-plagiarized, I stole his idea and ran with it. I did give him fair warning, so that makes it less like plagiarism and more like homage, right? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Right. Let's move on.

5) Osten Ard:
Sure, I had been writing stories and such since I was in the third grade, but if there was any one place in all the different worlds crafted by different authors, Tad Williams' creation, Osten Ard, is the one that made me get serious about writing. Since then I've tried and tried again to craft a world based modestly on the model of Osten Ard: a realistic world in which realistic characters undertake semi-realistic endeavors surrounding magic and magical artifacts. The peoples of Osten Ard are easily identifiable as various archetypes from Europe (Scandinavians, Britons, and Roman Imperials), but the way in which Williams meshes his characters with the world has always made me hold Osten Ard and Tad himself in such high regard. While some may dismiss Memory, Sorrow and Thorn as being no Wheel of Time, this is the series/trilogy that I hold my own works against time and again when comparing to see if my books are "good enough". Granted, that's like holding up my kindergarten self-portrait to artwork of the Renaissance Masters and saying "Yeah, passable likeness", but still, this is how I view it all.

4) Star Wars:
The Star Wars universe is sort of a double-edged sword. One one side, you have a fantastic universe littered with countless interesting worlds, characters, creatures, technologies and concepts; on the other side, you've got a creator who cares more about designs and computer technology than character development and dialogue. Fortunately, there's a myriad of authors, artists and comic book writers who are willing to pick up the slack. Here is a universe with 3000 years of history to tinker with (and you still wonder..."what happened before?" and "what comes next?"). While parts of the Star Wars universe not directly under George's control are supposed to get Lucas' stamp of approval, the other various medias in which the Star Wars Universe has been depicted were given carte blanche to work, and it shows. Perhaps greatest among these are the novels by Timothy Zahn. If you're a fan of Star Wars and you haven't yet read the Thrawn trilogy, you definitely need to. Yeah, they're big and yeah, they don't have pictures, but the books themselves are very well-written and help give a peek inside the mind of an evil genius warlord.

3) The View Askewniverse:
This holds perhaps the most unbelievable place in all the universes: A strange land called New Jersey. While most of the stories are, indeed, Jersey-centric (I don't know if Zak and Miri is also), this doesn't detract from the overall vibe of the universe Kevin Smith has crafted. Sure, most of the characters are modeled on real people Smith either has known or--better yet--cast in his movies, but the characters themselves are almost parodies of themselves. You'll never find more incredible--or believable--douchebags on the screen, but at the same time there are moments so flowing with tenderness and emotion it makes you want to get a love mop and clean that shit up. Not only that, but I have to love any universe where saying "fuck" is perfectly acceptable, phrases like "Bunch of savages in this town" crop up over and over, and Selma Hayek rips her shirt off and thrusts her breasts into the camera. Mercy. Where was I? Oh, fuck it, who cares. Snootch to the booch, my bitches.

2) Middle Earth:
As much as I love Osten Ard and publically fellate Tad Williams whenever I get the chance, Tad would be just another guy writing just another book if it wasn't for J.R.R. Tolkien's creation of Middle Earth, because he not only helped define a genre, he effing created it. Since then, there have been thousands of Tolkien clones and then, even when someone tries to break the Tolkien-mold, they get raked over the coals. Case in point, J.K. Rowling's House Elves did not fit the Tolkien High Elf description (instead, they were more like traditional elves from fairy tale literature), and she was gutted, roasted and served with a lemon wedge for it by the "fantasy purists". While I, too, struggle with breaking the Tolkien-mold, I realize that without him, I'd just be another hack struggling to put together a book and hoping like hell that one of Oprah's assistants picked it up and said, "not bad." *shudders at the thought* Whereas Lucas' Star Wars Universe is outfitted with characters that are often underdeveloped, Tolkien's characters are fully rounded--sometimes too much so. The man clearly loved his world, enough so that he continually scrawled new stories and "backfill" on napkins at bars, in the margins of papers he was reading, and probably on the unused rolls whilst sitting on the john. All of these have been summarily cobbled together and published in various forms, thanks to son Christopher's work, the most recent of which was titled "The Children of Húrin". Again, like the Thrawn novels for Star Wars, if you're a Tolkien fan, you should read Húrin.

1) My Universe:
I've never shied away from the fact that I'm a total homer when it comes to Notre Dame or Indiana, so why the hell should I back down from my own creation? Does it compare to the other universes I've listed? That's for others to decide. Unfortunately, I don't have a name for my world; if you really want one, I'll call it the Jenksatorium. Happy? Good. As it compares to some of the other universes I've listed, I can promise you the reader that I've toiled over it almost obsessively, thinking up the backstories and writing and rewriting the characters until it makes sense that they are doing what they're doing. Once the characters were set, then the story began to unfold. Now, I'm mired in at least four books with many more in sight along with a second series of stories that I'm just as eager to write, but I have to get my priorities set and finish the first set of stories first (the second set of stories totally ruins the first set, if I were to write them at the same time). Speaking of priorities, let me get back to finishing this game of Civ III. What? No, you didn't see that. I meant to say "get back to finishing this chapter in book III". Right.
Honorable mentions: Springfield from the Simpsons, Ivalice et. al. from the Final Fantasy games, the X-Universe from Marvel Comics, and Upside Down Alaska from Robin Hobb's books, and the Wizarding World from Harry Potter.


Jidai said...

New Jersey doesn't exist. It's a myth. Like Atlantis, except no one wants to find it.

I suggest playing the Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars games for xbox and PC. Lotsa story and you can be dark or light. :D

Falwless said...

Wow. All of your street cred just went down the tubes, geekboy.

Having said that, I now have a new favorite phrase: Snootch to the booch, my bitches.

I'm not making this up: my word ver is "grashjpr," which with the wonky letters totally looks like "grasshopper," which is totally awesome. I'll give you a little bit of your street cred back just for pulling that off.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

I think New Jersey might be like Brigadoon: it appears once a year and flushes a bunch of greasy, obnoxious guys down I-95 to North Carolina.

I'm familiar with KotoR, I just haven't gotten my hands on a copy. But, in KotoR, I probably can't kill Jar-Jar over and over and over again.

Falwless: Street cred? Me? Yeah right.

minijonb said...

I vote for The View Askewniverse as being the best.