I am a human, at least until I find a way to upload my brain to the internet and reign immortal as a digital consciousness, grinding the remaining meatbags under my mechanical heel. As such, I am not immune to the influences of other creative works. With Strange Cosmology coming this summer – my second published book and sequel to Weird Theology – I thought it’d be a good time to take a look back at some of the works that have influenced me over the years.
Also, to make it a bit more challenging for myself, I’m skipping influences that are writers I consider “great.” These are not the high literature influences, the fantasy epics – these are the things that grabbed me when I was a kid, to young to understand the bigger stuff. The works that grabbed me at my core when I was a child and never let go.
Honorable Mention – Goosebumps
I can’t exactly call Goosebumps an influence. I don’t write horror, and I tend to prefer long-running narratives to self-contained stories. But Goosebumps is the book series that really hooked me on reading back when I was a child. I recalled numerous hours spent sitting on the floor of the library, not even bothering to go find a chair, just turning page after page of the weird and wonderful words of R.L. Stein. Also, The Scarecrow Stalks at Midnight introduced me to the concept of Chocolate Chip pancakes, and my mom making those for my sister and I on Wednesday mornings became a tradition that endured until college.
Now to the first thing that really feels like a strong influence on me. I remember waiting eagerly for every month to see what new Animorph book came out. If you’re not familiar, Animorphs is a book series aimed at kids about teens that can turn into animals, an ability they rely upon to fight against mind-controlling alien parasites. It’s a brutal series – in the very first book, the comic relief character, Marco, has to physically hold his bowels from spilling in the aftermath of a fight.
It fostered my love of animals, both in reality and fiction, and shapeshifters, which I have constantly adored. It also nurtured my love of body horror, both in the twisted descriptions of the titular Animorph’s shapeshifting and in the description of the Yeerks living inside your head and controlling your every move.
It was the first long-running series I really can recall getting into, fostering my love of watching characters grow and develop. Reading every month when a new book came out gave me a feeling of excitement and dread – I could not wait to see what happened next, and I couldn’t stand to see what K.A. Applegate would do to these kids next.
Oh, and it might explain why my characters tend to get seriously injured and/or maimed throughout my books.
The first long thing I ever wrote, although didn’t finish, was a story that ripped off Animorphs just enough to technically not qualify as fanfic because I replaced all the characters with my friends, the Andalites with my own unique creations the Xelnizari that were frog aliens with scorpion tails and eye stalks, and the shifting into animals with turning into dinosaurs. Oh, and the mind-controlling aliens were energy beings as opposed to slugs. It went for about 15,000 words before I got distracted by something shiny, but it will always hold a special place in my heart at the bottom of a well where no human eyes will ever touch it.
Speaking of long-running fiction…I got into Marvel Comics when a friend of mine let me look through his copy of Spider-Man. I don’t remember what the issue was. What I remember was good old webhead walking around an office complex for a couple of panels, looking back and forth. Then, with almost no warning, Venom burst through the wall, screaming “I’m going to eat your brains!”
Spider-Man’s response? “Why is it always the brains with you? Why never the heart? Or the spleen?”
That started a lifetime love affair with the characters of Marvel. I wouldn’t get into DC until much later, when I watched the DC Animated Universe shows (still the best version of Batman), but Marvel was where I started superheroes. I loved the crazy mad scientists, the struggles of mutants being oppressed by giant killer robots, the evil super-soldier programs that sprung up after Captain America, and the twists and turns these larger than life characters went through.
It also introduced my impressional young mind to Dr. Doom, the greatest comic book villain of all time, and a character that has shaped what I’ve thought of as fun villainy ever since. Watching him chew the scenery was always a joy, and I still love the over-the-top bad guy because of him.
At least one of those elements appears in Strange Cosmology as a direct inspiration from Marvel Comics. No, I won’t tell you which one – you’ll have to read and find out.
Blizzard Video Games
The first video game I ever owned was Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. I didn’t even know what an orc was when I first started playing it – I played Orcs and Humans before I even read Tolkien, meaning Warcraft shaped my view of fantasy more than any other work of fiction. Diablo – the original – was my first taste of that related genre of dark fantasy, with demonic overtones and undertones and just straight tones. Starcraft, meanwhile, came out late enough that I was already introduced to science fiction – but it was the first place I saw my favorite trope, the good person turned to evil by a powerful force beyond their control.
This particular trope I’d encounter again in The Dark Pheonix Saga in Marvel, then twice more in Warcraft III with both Arthas and Sylvanas. Believe me, it’s a trope I intend on trying on my own at some point.
As much as I hate what the company has become – and believe me, the urge to write an entire post ranting about that has been strong since last year’s Blizzcon – their early games were instrumental in shaping how I looked at both fantasy and science fiction. They were big, gonzo affairs, with monsters and other dimensions and psionic powers and alien swarms and undead armies and were just…just so glorious. Warcraft was big and cheesy but also full of stories that had real heart and passion. Diablo was creepy and terrifying but in a way that never made you feel powerless. Starcraft was a damn good story and had an amazing blend of alien tropes I’d never encountered before.
The influences from these games haven’t crept much into Small Worlds yet, but you’ll see more of them in later books. However, I think my love of blending genres that created Small Worlds is a direct result of my love of Blizzard’s early games.
Any of those works inspire you? Have inspirations of your own? Let me know in the comments below! And if you want to get ready for Strange Cosmology’s release, pick up Weird Theology now.