Saturday, June 5, 2021

Story Sheets: "Golden Echoes"

It's been a while!

I've wanted to put a new one of these out for awhile now, but I've had so many things on the backburner that I just haven't had the opportunity. I realize putting this up when I've just started a new blog series might be odd timing, I also think offering alternative material for readers during this would go a long way. We're going to need some break during this series. Trust me.

Now, Golden Echoes is a weird beast. I had an idea for an interplanetary adventure about a space cop that ends up in the deeper folds of reality between Here and There for quite some time. Oddly enough, what inspired me writing it was the constant arguments over genre and how over time they were getting far too separate. As hinted at in part one of the current series, I've had plenty of online arguments, and seen them, where certain folks would argue Fandom's point that stories need to be folded into neat little boxes that didn't exist before.

The issue with doing this is that you end up forcing stagnation by making writers need to avoid doing certain things lest they risk their material getting lost in the shuffle. This is a good way to create artificial tropes that sap the creativity out of any piece of writing and leave the audience with having to lean on clichés to understand what they are reading.

However, the audience isn't dumb. They want stories where they feel like anything can happen, and they want to be presented worlds where that can occur. This is where you get that sense of wonder--not from checkboxes for an elite of self-appointed experts.

Golden Echoes is a story that can be described as Futuristic, Mythic, and Horror, all in the same breath, but at its core it is an adventure story about the Unknown. It's weird fiction where reality is flipped on its head, and the fight to turn it around morphs into all-out action.

In other words, it's everything at once.

The story is definitely not unfocused, though. Most pieces I write start with a general idea of what is going to happen and how to get there, and Golden Echoes was no different. What I wanted to do was present a reality that was as strange and wonderful as the incoming weird, creating a contrast where the reader would have to use their imagination to fully grasp the threat in context with the alien setting. I did this a bit with Inside the Demon's Eye, but went all out for this one.

It also helped that I had inspirations I could look back on for examples--the pulps. I make no bones about how C.L. Moore inspired me in how she expertly combined the Futuristic with the Mythic with her own Gothic Horror stories. However, unlike her stories, mine lean closer to full-on action whether it be with elements of swords and sorcery, space opera, or westerns, (or all three) where the contrast between the hero and the villain is the main conflict.

In Golden Echoes, the main character is a Galactic Enforcer named Ronan Renfield, a man who constantly finds himself on the border between Here and There. This is the first story I've written with the character, though I have others in various stages of production, so who he is won't really be fleshed out until later entries, but you can already tell his desire for a vacation isn't just based on overwork. He is a man that survives solely on skill and faith, leaning on tradition to keep him grounded, and a far more complicated view of the past than can be gleamed here. It is nonetheless his job as an Enforcer to deal with problems like this on a regular basis. What exactly he is "enforcing" will probably become more obvious in later stories.

The villain's plot is difficult to go into without spoilers, so I will just discuss exactly who Renfield goes up against in these stories. As an Enforcer, it is clear he is meant to protect the world from something, though what that something is really be be seen instead of shown.

The enemies Renfield goes up against are those that wish to smash the boundaries between Here and There, to create the ultimate man that achieves godhood. By lifting man's status in the universe they also inadvertently end up degrading and debasing themselves to reach heights we were never meant to hit. Their drive to pillage the world around them as a sacrificial lamb as a means to an end is what causes most of what Renfield ends up having to put right. Steel Raven in this story is the perfect example of that.

The Future will save humanity by killing us. Only then can we be broken up and reassembled with our best parts to reach a new form. Ironically enough, that form requires the rejection of humanity to attain. And that's where we begin.

As for what a "Golden Echo" is, I think the story adequately explains it, but the concept came to me after reading someone else. This is going to seem very out of character for me, but the title actually comes from a poem. The title is The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo by Gerard Manly Hopkins, which was crafted to be more musical than his other works.

The poem is split into two halves, each based on the title. My story might be named after the latter half, however I did take inspiration from the whole thing as I attempted to narrow down the threat.

Though my intent is a bit different, perhaps to better reflect the backwards motivation of the antagonist, you might be able to see what I mean from this excerpt:

From the Leaden Echo:

How to keep–is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere
    known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch
    or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, . . . from vanishing

You can read the full poem here.

Here is the Golden Echo half. Please excuse the formatting.
There is one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air.
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Óne. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that’s
        fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and
        swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and
        dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets more, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an ever-
        lastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear,
        gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks,
        loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant,
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them
        with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s
        self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind
        what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then whý should we tread? O why are we so
        haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged,
        so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept. Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.–
Yonder.–What high as that! We follow, now we follow.–
        Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

Yes, this fast-paced action story contains some influence from a poem, but don't let you think it's some stuffy think piece or anything. The writer crafted a romantic poem and his spirit inspired me to push forward into a story of my own. The concept is a bit different as I use it.

Feedback on this story has been fantastic so far, including it being accepted for publication in StoryHack. One person I respect a good deal flat out told me it was the best story I'd written so far, which was very encouraging to hear. I can only hope that you will enjoy it as much in order to look forward to future stories in this series. It has been a blast to write.

As for non-literary inspirations, I can't exactly remember what I was listening to when writing this exact story, but I can tell you the sort of music that inspires me write in it now. A sort of mix between retrowave and '90s alternative rock, specifically material like this:

And this:

They might have a different feel, but that is just how music fits in my brain. Unexpected pieces connect together to form full pictures I didn't expect at the beginning.

Creativity can be trained, but only to an extent. Sometimes things just happen in ways you do not expect.

The overarching journey of Galactic Enforcer Ronan Renfield is very different from the one of the Star Wanderer from Cold Heart of Ouranos and Judgement Sun. Whereas the swordsman has four tales to his name (most of which are in the can as of this writing), Renfield's are more standalone. There is no real overarching progression, merely episodic threats he deals with. Renfield is a character I hope to return to many times since he is very flexible and able to embroil himself in just about any type of story that comes along. Don't worry, he's a tough guy. He can handle it.

As for other stories and characters, well, you'll just have to wait and see! Remember that I also am planning to run a serial on this very blog in July, so there is no shortage of fiction on the way. I am going to deliver so much material this year you're going to wonder if I'm really human or not.

But I can assure you that I am. What other being can offer you writings as wild and weird as this? Sorry, we have a monopoly on that. And hey, that's not quite such a bad thing.

See you next time, and remember that adventure is everywhere! You just need to find it.


  1. I just read Golden Echoes, so this blog was really interesting. I was kind of confused by the whole Golden Echo thing? I didn't really understand what was happening with all the plant growth and the weird shadow creature ... and then it all just went away at the end? It was like there was too much story for the word count limit.

    As I'm reading this issue of Storyhack, I'm developing questions about pulps. If this is supposed to be an example of pulp fiction, does that mean all-male protagonists, and women are only for sex? I'm more than halfway through and there's been exactly 1 female character who had a role for something more than sex appeal. I guess this is what men like to read? I'm personally tired of female protagonists in eeeeeeeeverything, but I feel like this anthology swings a little far in the other direction. I just wondered what you thought about it.

    1. Golden Echoes has a lot going on behind thescenes that is more inferred than outright mentioned. The antagonist cracked open a hole in reality between Here and There. Here being our known universe, and There being a reference to Elfland through the old folktales of Elidyr. Elidyr's Sojourn to Elfland is about a boy who spent his life trying to reach the glimpse of Elfland he threw away in his own haste and spent the rest of his life trying to get back.

      This is the same path the villain opened in his quest to defeat reality. He weaponized this unreality and bent it to his own whims, but was unable to control the madness of Elfland. Once the machine was destroyed there was nothing left but for that gate to close, and for reality to reassert itself to the natural order.

      That was the intnet, anyway.

      As for the second question: most short action adventure fiction deals with fast-paced action stories. Therefore there isn't enough time for side characters to get much in the way of focus. If you have a main character and a villain in a short story, there probably won't be much room for female characters outside of love interests. There's just not enough space.

      Not to say there aren't stories in the mold with main female characters (C.L. Moore and Robert E. Howard did it, for instance), but most focus is going to be on the male side of the audience.

    2. Ah, so I was just missing context. The Elfland thing makes sense, now.