Wednesday, April 30, 2014


It is apparent that the intention of "Bloodchild" is to put the reader outside their comfort zone and into a scenario with something completely alien, rather than conforming to the ethnocentric convention of humans depicting alien lifeforms as altered humanoids.  In this bizarre and graphic scenario, humans seem to be kept and handled almost as pets and used in their alien masters' reproductive processes.  Strangely, there appears to be a kind of mutual understanding and symbiosis to this relationship, uneasy though it may be.  There were many elements of the story that were clearly intended to discomfort the reader, and everyone seemed to pick out a different focus for their reaction.  Some found the gory rendering distasteful to imagine while others found the strange male surrogate procedure unsettling.  As much feminist symbolism as there was in the story, I feel as though too much of the class discussion unjustly emphasized it.  When compared to the idea of humanity becoming the inherently subservient, heavily drugged, reproductive slaves to a bizarre alien species, the issue of gender roles becomes less about gender and more about control and the dynamics of hierarchical domestic social structures and the effects thereof.


I really liked Snow Crash.  It was a fast-paced, action-packed conspiratory investigative adventure in a world that I've identified with since my childhood dreams of being a masterful hacker.  I feel like I missed a lot in speeding through it because it was very long, but I enjoyed it regardless. 

Initially I found the world a bit difficult to grasp, and I'm still not entirely sure I understand of many of the details.  Through it's candid descriptions, comical self-awareness, and over-the-top cliches, it is difficult to tell to what extent the author intended the book to be a parody of its own subject-matter.  It seems to strongly demonstrate the challenging art of conveying the very modern punk attitude desensitized, disillusioned sarcasm through text.

Despite the relatively contemporary elements that give Snow Crash its character, in many ways it bares the markings of a mythical tale.  Beyond the humorously obvious factors, like the main character's name being "Hiro Protagonist", the main characters typically have incredible abilities including physical combat and elite powers that would, in other context, be considered supernatural, placing technology in the role of magic and don't a splendid job of it.  Little fiction that I've read in the past has so directly dealt with memetic psychology and the potentials presented by mental programming as we inch ever closer to singularity.

The reality presented by the metaverse of Snow Crash, as a kind of communal info-world in which anything is possible that has circumvented the authority of government, begun radical social trends, and irreversibly changed humanity forever seems entirely too close to home.  Despite all of its absurdities, the speculations made about the impacts of our ever-increasing technology have an air of truth to them.  I believe this book provides a valuable warning to be aware of the subliminal impact of ideas and the psychological vulnerability created by media technology.

The Space Opera

Looking back at my life-long pursuit of dramatic cerebral science fiction, starting with the original black-and-white 'The Twilight Zone', I believe the animated 'Buzz Lightyear of Star Command' was my first space opera. I feel this unique feature film and TV show worth mentioning because of its impact on my taste in scifi early on.  Buzz Lightyear, an interstellar law enforcement officer, leads a small team of two aliens and a robot on missions that feature a broad range of complex topical conflicts that few shows for young children were capable of dealing with such as the moral implications of artificial intelligence and the singularity, inter-species cultural relationships, and the misuse of advanced technology by underground criminal organizations.  This introduction to space opera laid a firm groundwork for me to move into Star Trek Next Gen and more mature speculative fiction.

For this week I completed Shards of Honor.  Though it is the first entry of a long saga, I felt the plot arc for this book was a bit weak, but the characters and situation are pretty compelling.  I am particularly fond of Vorkosigan and the reaction of Cordelia to returning home to her highly socialized and demilitarized society after having come to identify with regime that was supposed to be the enemy to find the ways of her former home suffocating and unjust, an experience to which I can personally relate pretty well.
This setting is designed to deal with a speculative issue which deeply concerns me.  As the prospect of planetary colonization comes closer to realization, It must be acknowledged that a successful colony will inevitably strive for autonomy and that the physical divide of space will certainly create cultural if not evolutionary division between the isolated branches of humanity, and these differences may likely breed serious conflict.  Technology is still far behind giving us the capacity to start an interstellar war with ourselves, but the principles are still applicable when scaled down.

Wrath and Ruin : My Roleplaying Game

While still on the subject of high fantasy world building, I thought you might appreciate my posting my own stab at it.  As my senior thesis project for illustration I wrote, illustrated, designed, and printed a preliminary sample guide to a high fantasy world I intend to use as the canon environment for my own tabletop RPG and graphic novel series.  For this post I will include a compressed pdf of my book and my artist statement for the work.  I know this is work that was done for another class, but given how much of the subject matter is applicable, I thought it was worth sharing.

:: Wrath and Ruin web PDF :: 

PJ Kempen :: Artist's Statement for Wrath and Ruin

I have always found myself deeply concerned with the sociopolitical, cultural, and naturalistic realities and intricacies of fictional fantasy worlds.  I have always had a pension for world-building, inspired by the work of modern-mythologists like JRR Tolkien and George Lucas.  Upon my discovery of tabletop dice-based roleplaying games, I realized the real-world value of high fantasy.  When combined with a set of rules to govern events within it, fantasy roleplaying games allow one to develop a higher understanding of the issues presented by the world around them by giving them a means to view similar issues from a distanced, mechanical perspective in a way few mediums of fiction can achieve.  Issues of politics, class, race, religion, war, and other deeply personal conflicts which one would seldom address in their day to day life, though they effect everything in the broader world around us, can be played out as detailed, multidimensional ‘what if’ scenarios, free of consequence, and be lead to their natural conclusion.

It was in this realization that I decided to adopt some of the conventions, style, and rule-systems used by modern fantasy games and franchises to create a new world that I feel is better equipped than other fantasy worlds to deals with some very human and often historical concepts not dealt with by most modern fantasy.  Notably, I intended to broaden the range of cultures and character types to encourage the development of more complex characters and stories, removing the unrealistic dichotomy of absolute “good” and “evil”.  While developing the aesthetic, art, and lore of this world, I have also made efforts to improve upon and adapt a new rule system to make it engaging, and exciting for the players. 

This world was designed from the beginning to be elaborated upon.  I intent to further develop this pilot system to add a detailed and unique magic system as a separate book, a bestiary, and various guides and adventures, some of which will be set in alternate time periods.  I have ideas in the works for computer and tabletop strategy games as well as a graphic novel saga of the mythic story that forced me to begin building this world.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tolkien & Epic Fantasy

I have always been more partial to The Lord of the Rings than The Hobbit, possibly due to my having watched the movies first, but also due to the level of maturity and detail presented in the more adult Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Much of what has always drawn me to Tolkien, and the high fantasy genre in general, has been the conveyed envisioning of an entirely foreign world with its own history, rules, and peoples with entirely different ways of being which beckon the audience to step into the position of something foreign to themselves.  Tolkien was certainly not the first to do this, but he raised the bar and held it there for a long time.  His work with languages and developing the cultural backgrounds of his world are what give his work so much depth.

It was not until my freshman year of high school that a friend of mine got me to watch Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, against the will of my protective parents.  I watched the entire series in succession and was immediately propelled into a fascination with the genre of epic fantasy which would inevitably put me at odds with my family, compelled by a literalist, puritanical interpretation of the bible which lead them to view any fiction portraying magic or “pagan” elements in a positive light as ‘the work of the devil’.  CS Lewis was okay because he was Protestant and used Protestant-approved symbolism, but Tolkien was Catholic, and my family resents the Catholic church.  It wasn’t long before I had discovered Dungeons & Dragons, which provided a whole new level of detail and autonomy relative to the classic Tolkienesq fantasy world and it encouraged me to get involved with world-creation seriously for the first time.  I have not yet read all of Tolkien, but as he is the most renowned world-builder among fantasy writers, it is a priority of mine to do so if I wish to succeed in my own world-building endeavors.

Witchcrat in Fiction

This is a documentary from the year 2001 called Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged.  I don’t expect you to watch it, but I feel it worth siting this particular documentary that I was made to watch after Harry Potter showed up on the Scholastic book catalog.  It is an hour long propaganda film about the evils the occult and how its depiction in media is being used to recruit children to become pagan devil-worshipers.

This is the view I was taught to have of witchcraft and magical fiction and it has taken some doing to overcome many of the presuppositions from my indoctrination.  I feel this worth addressing because I can’t see anything like Kiki’s delivery service without contemplating how deeply my understanding conflicts with what I’ve been told to think. 

Despite their gross misconceptions about the subject, fundamentalist / evangelical Christians who oppose these sorts of books and films about witches are not unjustified in doing so, particularly because they are targeted towards children.  When trying to raise children by the literal doctrine of the Bible, it is clear that films that deal with witches and magic present central themes and ideologies that directly challenge presupposed beliefs and they must be either dealt with rationally, ignored, or demonized.  

As only one such example, Kiki’s deliver service openly deals with supernatural powers not derived from God, subjective morality, female authority and empowerment, and many themes and images important to some pagan practices, all shown in a positive light wherein Kiki is rewarded and loved by the community for being a good witch.  I’m sure all of this may sound horribly innocent and trivial to those of less dogmatic ideologies, but, to a Biblical literalist, its innocent depiction is part of what makes it so insidious.   These concepts sold to children represent a very real threat of teaching their children ideas that conflict with their beliefs, jeopardizing the fate of their eternal souls in the eyes of their parents.  Regardless how wrong their religious assertions might be, I am compelled to present the motives of the misguided intentions of well-meaning parents.  Needless to say, I no longer share these views, but I feel them important to discuss when talking about magic in fiction and its impact in one of the world’s most religious developed nations.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Jumping into the semester late, I attempted the first class's material first and read Frankenstein.  I did not finish it, but I got most of the way through.  Given the countless derivative works that branched from the central idea of this classic novel, I am surprised how little of the original story has survived in modern renditions.  I have no doubt that film adaptations had a greater impact than the book.  I found the writing a bit biblical, dry, and hard to follow, but I have always held a fascination with Pinocchio stories, by which I mean stories in which humans create life from something inanimate and must then deal with the ramifications.  Rather than the older notion of a golem made of clay, wood, or stone, Frankenstein seems to be original in its featuring of a flesh golem made from parts of dead bodies which is brought to life with science rather than magic, which is the primary aspect of the story that is reflected upon most.  This may be simply because it is frightening to think of scientists digging up graves for such a nefarious cause, but I like to think that the idea of a scientifically resurrected flesh golem resonates with us because it seems oddly plausible relative to other golem stories.

I found the part where Frankenstein's monster recanted his upbringing fascinating and deeply thought provoking, putting the reader in the mind of an essentially inhuman creature observing humans without any foreknowledge and trying to learn their ways.  It really goes into great detail and unfolds a very compelling background story behind the family he observes.  I think it may have been interesting if the entire recantation were puled from the novel and modified to be read as an independent short story from the perspective of the monster.  

I found Dr. Frankenstein to be a much less relatable and sensible character than his monster, having succeeded in his mad ambition of creating life only to abandon and condemn it immediately and spend the remainder of his life trying to escape from it, causing tons of problems that would have been easily avoided if he had simply taken professional responsibility for his endeavors from the beginning.  I have a hard time understanding why Dr. Frankenstein behaves the way he does, but at the time this work was written, when high technology and philosophical science fiction had not so deeply permeated the culture, I suppose that fear alone may be a sufficient explanation for his erratic behavior.