The Greatest Creations of Fantastical Fiction Part 5

(In which we indulge ourselves with warped halflings, perhaps the greatest lesser known post-apocalyptic setting, demonic currency, space opera super-ordinance, and they amongst whom ‘There can be only one’)  

If you haven’t read the earlier entries you can find Part 1 herePart 2 herePart 3 here and Part 4 here.

 

Gollum

Gollum / Smeaghol * Antagonist * The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings * JRR Tolkien

‘Suddenly up came Gollum and whispered and hissed: “Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it’s a choice feast; at least a tasty morsel it’d make us, gollum!” And when he said gollum he made a horrible swallowing in his throat. That is how he got his name, though he always called himself ‘my precious.’’- The Hobbit Gollum 1

Gollum stands alone and apart in both book and film as something truly special, and it would seem unworthy to try and dissemble him here so we’ll mostly let Tolkien’s words speak for themselves. I will just add that (I noticed while putting down these words) that Microsoft Word recognises Gollum as a name – not as a word mind, as the horrible swallowing sound which it capitalises by default.

That’s how deep Gollum has wriggled into our culture, through the genius of Tolkien’s creation in the first place and the wonderfully foul creature brought to life by Andy Serkis, Peter Jackson and co.

Serkis and Gollum

 

Rifts Earth 

Rifts Earth * Setting * Rifts RPG * Kevin Siembieda

Rifts Earth: the first coherent post-apocalyptic landscape that explored both magic and science and the combination thereof.

Yes, by 1990 the nuclear holocaust scenario was hardly new, in politics, popular fear or science fiction. But Kevin Siembieda, a veteran RPG creator, took it somewhere beyond when he created Rifts. In a technologically advanced future the bomb is dropped, but that is only the beginning…

The simultaneous violent death of billions released a vast amount of psychic energy which resulted in reignition of the ley lines that had lain dormant for centuries – at their intersections time and space was torn apart, rifts temporary and permanent. The same energy caused the death of millions more, the seas to leap over the land and the world to shudder, all causing further large scale death and an escalating psychic chain reaction that caused more of the same.

Monsters and demons came through the rifts, magic returned to the land. Hundreds of years on disparate pockets of humanity have formed new civilisations in the violent and terrifying apocalyptic landscape.

And an amazing landscape it was.

Rifts Earth from Space
 Rifts Cover
The Coalition – Rifts’ analogue of Star Wars Empire – are humanities saviours, an anti-magic, human supremacist regime that keeps its citizens ignorant and illiterate. Propaganda is a feature of its society, encouraging, amongst other things, signing up to be a Coalition soldier, flying power armour pilot, technical specialist… They also employ giant walking robots, skeleton bots and dog-human hybrids or Dogboys in the pursuit of dominance… and keeping humanity safe of course. Rifts SAMAS
Rifts Coalition A Rifts Dog Boys

But beyond the Mega-City style Coalition enclaves there are independent civilisations and individuals using pre-Rifts high technology and post-Rifts magic and psychic abilities.

Oh there are more conventional fantastical staples: mercenary Headhunters, Rogue Scholars, criminal City Rats…

But then there are superhuman Juicers, adventurers with nanobots and designer super-drugs in their bloodstream capable of incredible feats but guaranteed to die from their hearts exploding within five years.

Don’t fancy that?

Maybe you’d prefer to submit yourself to brain implants that overcome the bodies limits and become a Crazy: nifty side effects include psychic talents… and the progressive development of a portfolio of insanities. What fun.

There are uber-powerful psychics (Mind Melters), Jedi surrogates (Cyber-Knights who create psychic blades with the power of their minds), and Glitter Boys who pilot giant exoskeletons with EM railguns – “Boom Guns” – so powerful they have to fire pylons into the earth to prevent the recoil from blasting them off their feet.

Rifts Juicer

Juicer

Techno-Wizard

Then there are different flavours of magician. Line Walkers are more general practitioners. Shifters are pretty dodgy whether good or bad, dealing with the energies and entities of the Rifts themselves. Techno-Wizards – well yes, they integrate magic and technology which is pretty damn cool; the nice touch is their affectation for pre-Rifts aviator gear, flight jackets, goggles et al.

Oh and there are baby Dragon Hatchlings, but we’ve already got more than enough to be going on with.

That’s the cast.

As for the geography, well much of America is Mad Max style desert or wilderness only with mutants, aliens, giant demons and monsters roaming, the latter including the not uncommon Xiticix (more or less a Gieger’s alien style race). Mexico is vampire territory, Georgia and Florida is home to dinosaurs, Atlantis has popped up on the east coast of the ravaged US coastline.

Xiticix

That’s just America.

That’s just Earth.

Yep Rifts Earth is an incredible and diverse setting incorporating classic tropes from both science fiction and fantasy, both in the first book and the geographical expansion supplements. Kevin Siembieda’s Palladium Books through which he published Rifts have gone through hard times but retain a small though loyal following. There was talk of a Rifts movie some years back. I’d certainly hope the possibility is not entirely off the table: there’s an incredible world for the film-makers to explore and the general public to experience.

 

Matter Cannons

Matter Cannons * Type: Weapon * From: The Gap Cycle * Creator: Stephen Donaldson

Author’s are warned to watch the information dumping, and it’s a tough one when writing Science Fiction or Fantasy and are establishing the setting and the rules of what’s going on. But Stephen Donaldson does so to great effect in his Gap Cycle in a chapter-long explanation of the matter cannon, one of his various Ancillary Documentation chapters (or info dumps if you prefer) in volume 4, Chaos and Order. Chaos and Order

The nice thing is that the fictional creation of the Matter Cannon comes from a different sci-fi staple, and one that doesn’t or didn’t work in Donaldson’s universe. We read of an experiment in which half the lab disappears – completely disappears – its identifiable remains later being found in orbit.

It’s a teleportation device that you wouldn’t want to use to be beamed up or down for that matter because you’d end up in rather small bits, and dead in any event. On the other hand you might be pleased to hear that your death would not be entirely in vain, causing no small amount of destruction as your subatomic particles collapse back into a solid state on lightspeed impact.

On the other hand when you militarise such a discovery – using non-you solid matter – you get a pretty damn nifty ship-to-ship offensive system.

Let’s just run over it again – matter impacting at the speed of light.

That’ll hurt you.

Going back to rules and writers, being mindful of lengthy exposition is good advice. But it’s less a case of learning the rules to break them and rather more a case of natural selection: the successful writer is the one that keeps the reader, regardless of the rules they’re breaking. Mind this wasn’t Donaldson’s first published work, something the aspiring writer needs to be rather more conscious of. That aside the Matter Cannon is pretty damn cool and rather more physics-savvy than photon torpedoes. I know which I’d rather have on my space fighter anyway.

Mind I’d be terribly prone to whimsy: the only thing more appealing than eviscerating the ship of the dark lord and / or his starfighting minions by launching lightspeed matter at them would be doing the same with a prawn biriyani or something. I wouldn’t be able to help myself.

 

The Denarians

The Denarians * Antagonists * The Dresden Files * Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher, like any good writer of fantasy, has plumbed and scoured the realms of myth and folklore and religion for guidance and inspiration, for choice morsels to develop and throw into his world against Harry Dresden, or possibly to support him. So far we can count four whole courts of vampires and four different types of werewolf along with a host of other supernatural beasties and baddies from Earth the fae realms and elsewhere. But the Denarians are entirely his own creation and a cunning creation they are too.

These are fallen angels, thirty in number and each vastly powerful, though each entrapped in a silver coin, a Denarii. These nasty pieces of work revel in the corruption and suffering of humans but need a host to pursue their goals and pleasures – the Order of the Blackened Denarius are those diabolic humans who would possess a coin and be possessed and gain access to their frightful power. A Denarian is such a union.

Oh they can also tempt those who have touched a Blackened Denarii, but you’ll have to read the books to see how that kind of thing plays out (and if you haven’t read them you really should).Yep the Denarians are serious players and fantastic villains but the credit here goes to Butcher’s very fresh idea for how and in what they are entrapped.

Death Masks (Dresden Files)

There’s thirty of them right? That means thirty silver coins. Wait – wasn’t that how many pieces of silver were paid to Judas Iscariot?

Quite what that means isn’t entirely clear and doesn’t matter: it’s a damn cool idea.

 

The Immortals

The Immortals * Race * Highlander * Gregory Widen / Russell Mulcahy

Perhaps the first thing to say here is that there can be only one. And there only was one – Highlander film that is. Anything that followed was just ill conceived fan-fic, regardless of whether or not it made it to the big screen. Nuff said on that.

Highlander The Immortals have been around since the dawn of man, born to mortals (with no explanation necessary) and discovering their longevity and functional immortality after their first death. One way or another they’re inducted into the world of their fellow Immortals, a world that is essentially a secret gladiatorial contest in which they will fight until only one remains who will receive the mysterious ‘Prize’.

There isn’t the room here, and neither is it the place, to discuss the virtues of Director Russell Mulcahy’s vision, based on the script and ideas of Gregory Widen when he was still an undergraduate. But the Immortals, benevolent and malefic, are among the most vibrant characters of any film, from the Scottish Connery’s flamboyant Egyptian-cum-Spaniard to the sadistic Kurgen by way of the French Lambert’s titular highland Scotsman.

And where countless novels and films play against, explore and interpret familiar myths and folklore, vampires and werewolves and their kin in legend, in Highlander’s we have an invented mythos so beautifully conceived and realised that it’s as if we’re discovering a hitherto unknown legend for the first time.

Returning to the villain of the piece, as with Jack Nicholson’s and Heath Ledger’s Joker in their respective Batman films and plenty of other TV and films besides, it’s the villain who explodes onto the screen more than the hero.

Ramirez vs the Kurgen

The Kurgen, as brought into gleefully terrifying life by Clancy Brown, really deserves his own place on this list.

The Kurgan in the clan wars We first encounter Brown’s Russian born Kurgan is armoured and his helmet is the skull of some animal, and he’s a damn giant with a sword of similar proportions. Around 400 years later in 80’s New York, he shaves his raven-black locks and – though it would have seemed impossible – he looks even more terrifying, a goth-psycho from hell with neck-pins around the scar where Connery’s Ramirez nearly beheaded him back in the late medieval period.
The Kurgans, as Ramírez noted, were infamous for their cruelty, and were known to “toss children into pits full of starved dogs, and watch them fight for [the] meat” for amusement. So this guy is one of them and he’s immortal. He comes back from being impaled on Ramirez’ sword. His expressed ‘respect’ for men and women of the cloth makes one wonder if Dawkins doesn’t have the scene in question caught in a ‘Basic Instinct blur’ on his old Betamax copy. He terrifies grannies for giggles by driving the streets of New York going the wrong way down the street with the pedal to the metal and he call’s them ‘ma’. The Kurgen is awesome. And he’s just one of these guys. The Kurgan like to show respect for the church

So they’re immortal. They’re larger than life characters. They’ve got their personal preference of sword.

And they come with a Queen soundtrack.

We all wanted to be them – and then behead them to claim the Prize as our own.