Monday, April 13, 2015

Environment As Character

I  don't think I can possibly stress the importance of Environment enough. 

Calling the Environment a character? Well, yes, I can see that and agree with it in an instant. 

I'll do you one better, there are cases where the environment of a short story can actually be the main catalyst or even the bad guy. That's how significant it is. 

Let's tale a look, shall we?

The Grindstone: In the case of my SEVEN FORGES series, the Blasted Lands is a punishment and a whetstone by which the people of the Sa'ba Taalor, nominally the bad guys and also the folks pictured on each and every cover, are judged by the gods. 

As a punishment, the race is settled in a valley where they have to work hard, but they can survive well enough in a livable environment. But the foolish or those who disobey their gods are cast out of that safety and throwing into the perpetual ice storm that is the Blasted Lands. 

There is food enough to live on, yes, but most of what you can eat is actively going to hunt you down and try to kill you. And most of the edibles in the Blasted Lands come with claws and teeth and are determined to live. There's a reason for all of this. The Sa'ba Taalor are supposed to be at war constantly. They live, breathe, eat and die in a state of war. The Blasted Lands is the drill instructor that pounds any idea of compassion from their bodies and spirits. Those who survive well enough can earn back the right to come home. Those who don't remain in the Blasted Lands until they die. 

To the people of the neighboring nation Fellein, the Blasted Lands are more than just an obstacle, they are unappeasable and deadly. That's because they have not been training their entire lives for war. They have been living lives of relative ease. Rest assured, the People from Fellein look at the Blasted Lands as an obstacle and an enemy alike.

Home: Environment is not just an enemy or an obstacle, it is also everything good and right in the world, depending on your mentality. In Tolkien's Middle-Earth books the hobbits inevitably dream of the Shire, the home they've been forced to leave behind by quests to protect their homes or by occasional chances fro an adventure. When walking through snow-covered mountains or slipping through the valleys of Mordor, the hobbits long for home as surely as they might long for their one true love. They long for all that they already have, and all that they have set aside. The hearth, the comfort of a comfortable chair and a good  book to read, for settling down to smoke a pipeful of tobacco while chatting with friends. They long for the idea of Home, and everything that means. 

In CITY OF WONDERS, the third book in the Seven Forges series, which I am currently writing, one of the first scenes deals with the Sa'ba Taalor invading an area that has long been considered impossible to attack and breaking through the defenses with surprising ease. In reality they are killing a familiar and comfortable character. They are murdering Home. Hopefully I manage to make that violence as terrifying as it should be. A well-loved character is being tortured and very likely killed, after all. 

The Stranger: The environment should be alive and thriving, or possibly dead and haunted. In both cases the stranger coming to visit should be in for a few surprises. 

One of my favorite parts of writing SEVEN FORGES deals with that aspect of traveling. The caravan that first moves through the Blasted Lands has a miserable time of it and has to be saved. The same group deals with meeting strangers and also with being deeply intimidated by the people another environment alike. And then because I like a little fair play, I also had the folks from that region thrown in for a little culture shock and environmental dismay when they meet new environments they have never experienced before. 

Those environments again include new peoples, new places, different weathers and in a few cases a level of natural wonder never before encountered by folk who have lived their entire lives within the confines of one valley.

Yes, the environment is a character and should be a character. I need to emphasize that said character might not always be a major player, but should be omnipresent in one form or another. Put another way, sometimes rain is just rain and sometimes we're dealing with a flood of biblical proportions. If it's just a little rain, you don't have to dwell on it. 

Just my two cents worth. 

James A. Moore

On a side note: THE BLASTED LANDS has been nominated for the David Gemmell LEGEND Award, named after the writer's first novel and set up in part to honor the impact Mr.Gemmell himself had on the genre he loved and in part to honor those who continue the tradition. So far the award (now in it's seventh year, I believe) is still in the long nomination. that is, a lot of nominees with no solid decisions to who will make the shorter list of nominees. Naturally I would love to win. just as naturally, I would love to see people actively participate in making the awards all that they can be. If you go to the hyperlink above you can see what the awards are all about and how you can add your vote. I hope you'll take the time, regardless of who you vote for, to consider voting and adding to the pool of readers deciding.

I can go on rants about awards. I won't. What I will say is that I'm thrilled to be considered. What I will also say is that I agree with fellow nominee Joe Abernathy: "The David Gemmell Legend Awards are entering their seventh year and have a new and improved website.  I’ve talked about the Gemmells in the past – in essence I’m a strong believer in them.  In the notion of something that celebrates Gemmell’s very considerable contribution to British fantasy.  In the notion of something that aims to involve as wide a range of voters as possible.  In the notion of having an award for full-on, commercial, epic and heroic fantasy which, despite its very great popularity, does tend to get somewhat ignored by a lot of the other SF&F prizes.  I’ve no particular problem with that, incidentally, it’s totally right and proper they should all have their own emphasis, but I see no harm in having one award that aims to celebrate the core, commercial epic fantasy which is, after all, bought, read and beloved by many."


  1. Congrats on the Gemmell nom!

    (And no, no I would never make it in the Blasted Lands, much less make it to said place.)

  2. Best wishes on the Gemmell nomination, very exciting! Re the post, excellent examples and I love the idea of the Blasted Lands as the drill instructor! Very apt metaphor.

  3. Thank you kindly! I think the best way to polish a stone is with rough sand and a proper environment of friction (like a stone polisher) and that seemed like a proper way to work out the flaws in anyone's survival instinct. :)