Today, I’m excited to welcome James A. Moore, author of the Seven Forges series, back to Bookwraiths.
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THE EVOLUTION OF A FANTASY RACE: THE SA’BA TAALOR
FROM CONCEPT TO REALITY
by JAMES A. MOORE
The fine folk here at Bookwraiths asked me to write an essay, and here it is. It’s an interesting question and not as easy to answer for me as it might be for some, because, honestly I don’t really plot things out much except for in my head. What I mean to say is that I seldom take the time to write myself notes. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.
I do most of my writing in my office, but from time to time I use a laptop and the other day when I was puttering around on the laptop (used when I go to conventions and optimistically believe that I will, somehow, find time to write) and ran across a file called “The War People.”
The following is the entirely of that file:
The War People
Once, long enough ago that most people have long since accepted it as mere legend, the people of Kaluria drove their greatest enemies from the land. Though the stories vary greatly, one fact has long since been accepted: The enemy of the Empire was destroyed completely.
Somebody got their facts wrong.
The Empire has stood the test of time, and has flourished. Though there are occasional skirmishes with their neighbors to the south, there is little that can threaten the rule of the greatest nation the world has ever known.
To the north there is only the scarred, pitted wasteland created in the last great war, a lifeless area where nothing lives for very long. The savage winds and bitter cold have proven the end to numerous expeditions sent to find out what, if anything, dwells beyond the land of perpetual winter. The promise of a king’s ransom has sent more than one group in search of that truth.
Dartan Bourd is no different from any of the other explorers who’ve tried in the past, with two exceptions: He comes back alive, and he comes back with unexpected company.
Not all that much to it, really.
Since then a few things have changed, obviously. First, as I wrote this and then set it aside, I had to come up with new names when I went back to working on my office computer. “Kaluria” was renamed Fellein, simply because I did not have the file in front of me. The same is true of our first character, “Dartan Bourd,” who became Merros Dulver.
That’s it. That’s all I had to work with when I started writing. I suppose at one point I was planning on making a proper outline, and I did, eventually, but none of those words were used in that order because I had long since moved on before I finally got to writing. Why? Because I usually have a lot of deadlines and I never know whether or not what I am coming up with on a whim is going to sell. I can pretty much guarantee you that I thought “The War People” was a waste of time, because mostly I write horror.
Let me clarify, again. I write whatever I please, actually, but for a very long time most of what came to my mind was of a horror bend, to at the very least would qualify as dark urban fantasy. As I have said before, I’d pretty pretty much washed my hands of the fantasy genre for a long time, having convinced myself that it was all repetitive. And maybe that was true for a while, but then people like David Gemmell and Joe Abercrombie and Tim Lebbon came along and reminded me that fantasy was my first love when it came to the written word. Sometimes we all need to be reminded.
They had help, by the way. When I mentioned in passing to my friend and coauthor Charles R. Rutledge that I hadn’t read any fantasy in a long time, he promptly handed me Gemmell and Glen Cook and a few others that were worth the reading. He’s really responsible on several levels for me trying my hand with the book that became SEVEN FORGES. He was also the very first person to read the first few chapters and tell me that I was on to something.
But I digress.
Back to the subject at hand. When I decided I was going to try my luck with “The War People,” I decided that they had to be culturally as different as possible from what would be considered the norm by most of the people in my new fantasy world. I wanted them to be human, but I wanted them to be human only in the physiological point of view. I wanted them to be as hard as humans could be, as savage and unrelenting as possible without making them into caricatures.
The Spartans, for instance, had a belief that physical perfection was a part of being a proper warrior. If a child was deformed, that child was killed as a sort of mercy killing.
My warrior race would have none of that. They had to be as different from the Spartans as they were from anyone else historically.
They also had to have a reason for being different. Want to know what one of the biggest motivations in history has been for as long as there has been history? If you guessed Religion you are correct. Either as an alibi for committing atrocities, an excuse for the same or as an actual motivating force, religion has been around for a long time doing its work to shape human history.
Let me throw a few examples. The Aztecs sacrificed tens of thousands of their enemies to their gods every year at the pinnacle of their empire. Enough to build walls of the skulls that were discovered by the Spanish when they came along. Adolf Hitler used religion (and the practice of the wrong faiths) as a motivational point in genocide. The Crusades were fought in an effort to spread Christianity, or at least that was the excuse at the time. Those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In the course of human history I suspect that the total deaths in the name of various and sundry gods would probably rise into the mega deaths well before we reached the 20th century.
So, what if instead of saying “Thou Shalt Offer Sacrifices To Me” (in whatever form) the gods in question said, “Thou Shalt Kill All Enemies In My Name?” And what if, as is often the case in a fantasy setting, the gods actually interacted with the people they were watching over.
That was the start of the War People evolving into something different. One notion that has always fascinated me is the idea that people are not born and raised, but rather they are made by their environments. They are not tortured, they are hardened and toughened by the lives they lead.
I wanted to show that. I wanted to play with that notion. So rather than merely having warriors who fight for the sake of fighting, or who learn to fight in an effort to become the very best fighters ever, I decided to experiment with a slightly more Zen approach to fighting.
I decided to have seven gods. Why? Because I like the number seven. Really, that’s the only reason. Seven gods who were determined to forge people into weapons. Forges require fire and so I decided to have seven volcanoes and what better to call them than the Seven Forges.
Yeah. I rather liked that notion. Of course, there are many trials a warrior must face, and many ways to strengthen a person. A harsh environment came work wonders. If you doubt me, look at any young recruit in the military before they go through basic training and then compare them afterward. The differences are greater than the similarities. Those young bodies and minds are shaped and shaped hard to become better and stronger. Not surprisingly, some of them fail and leave in disgrace. Others thrive. It’s the nature of the human animal. Some are stronger than others.
That was the start of it. I wanted to show that. I wanted to make it clear that the War People were forced to be tough. I wanted to make clear that they acted out of faith and a desire to please their gods because they interacted with their gods regularly. How fanatical would a person be if they had absolute conviction that they were doing their god’s bidding? Instant gratification if you do well. Instant punishment if you do poorly. While thinking about that I decided to make changes to their environment. I made it tougher. Harder. The sort of thing that would prove Darwin right in his theories.
The War People became bigger than most humans, tougher, able to withstand the harshest environments because they would be forced to live in those places. What started as a harsh, frozen wasteland became something a bit worse. A perpetual hurricane of cold and snow and sand and grit. They did not adapt new methods of enduring the Blasted Lands. They learned to overcome the physical trials or they died trying.
For the War People, I decided, their entire lives would be basic training, special forces training and boot camp all rolled into one and the drill sergeants would be the gods themselves.
Darwin’s notion of evolution came to mind again and I included it. Generations of people mating, but only the strong reached an age where procreation was a possibility. Survival of the fittest, pushed to an extreme. The land inside the Seven Forges is tough enough, but to go out and hunt for meat, to hope for survival of the species, required moving into a hurricane and enduring lashing winds, freezing temperatures and, of course, the sort of meal that would gleefully eat you instead.
Culturally those people would be terrors. The high school bullies would only survive if they could kill the other bullies trying to be stronger and tougher.
It was that notion that made me decide on the scars of the War People. Every scar would be a badge of honor, proof that another struggle had been survived. Another enemy bested and possibly killed. Each day would bring new struggles as the families of those who fell might well decide to seek revenge.
So there they were, the War People. But it wasn’t enough for me.
They needed to be different. I allowed for a few adaptations. A second lens over the eye, much like some reptiles develop, to allow them to survive in the harsh winds of the Blasted Lands. The end result? An odd silvery surface that reflects light. It’s not something they think abut. It merely is. A change in the body caused by contact with the gods. I won’t say what, because that’s a part of the story, but it is significant.
Their skin would be different. I thought about making them harder, tougher along those lines and then decided that instead they would be scarred, as I have said. Only to show that difference, I gave them gray skin. The more they have endured, the more contact they have with their gods, the darker the gray of their flesh.
A thousand years of change. A thousand years in a culture completely removed from everyone else. Gender means nothing. If you are a woman and you are weak, you die. If you are a man and you are weak, you die. If you survive it is because you are strong enough. That’s the end of it.
The gods watch and the gods punish. There is no theft. If you want something, you take it, provided you can survive the taking. Because gender means nothing, the rulers are all “Kings.” Male or female does not matter. There are no marriages. People might choose to live together, but there are no contracts and no children are sold off to strengthen political bonds. Politics is barely a consideration. You follow certain gods and as a result, you listen to the kings of those gods. Failure to do so would go poorly. Kings rise to power because they best represent the will of their chosen gods. They do not make agreements to stab each other in the backs. They are the mouthpieces of the gods, but they are not alone in that. Each of the Sa’ba Taalor (People of the Forges) can speak directly to and gain guidance from the Daxar Taalor (Gods of the Forges). Rest assured, no one asks frivolous questions. Or, if they do, they only do it once.
I added one more touch I thought was fun. It was just for making the point about the fact that the Sa’ba Taalor, the War People, are all about combat and winning it. They make their own weapons, forging them, tending to them and designing them. Some only use one or two. Others use dozens. It depends on what they decide best suits them.
There you have the basic evolution. All I had to deal with at first was that they came from a rough environment. The rest came about as I was writing and was cemented into place as needed. The story evolved, much like the Sa’ba Taalor themselves.
Thanks for having me on, Bookwraiths!
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James A Moore is the author of over twenty novels, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under The Overtree, Blood Red, Deeper, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels Alien, Sea of Sorrows as well as Seven Forges series: Seven Forges, The Blasted Lands, City of Wonders and the forthcoming sequel The Silent Army.
He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association, first as Secretary and later as Vice President.
James cut his teeth in the industry writing for Marvel Comics and authoring over twenty role-playing supplements for White Wolf Games, including Berlin by Night, Land of 1,000,000 Dreams and The Get of Fenris tribe. He also penned the White Wolf novels Vampire: House of Secrets and Werewolf: Hellstorm.
Moore’s first short story collection, Slices, sold out before ever seeing print.