Unmade Fantastic Fiction videos

Hey everybody. For those of you who remember my Youtube channel, you know that I used to make Fantastic Fiction videos, which were review/analysis pieces on various fantasy works. I don’t make those anymore, but I need to test out how the site deals with pictures. So for this article I’m gonna tell you about all the Fantastic Fiction videos that were planned but never made.

The Discworld books
I had the scripts for The Thief of Time and The Last Hero complete, and had started on the script for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. But then things happened. Here’s what I can tell you.

I found The Thief of Time another good book, but also another instance of Sir Terry phoning things in. It felt like he was spinning his wheels and he’d said everything he had to say with Death and Susan in previous books. It also didn’t help that this is the book with the worst Asian jokes in the whole Discworld series.

The Last Hero is elevated by the presence of Paul Kidby, to the point where it feels like a tryout for his art. In my opinion, he passed with flying colors, but Pterry’s writing, again, feels like it’s going through the motions at this point.

The Amazing Maurice though was a shock to the system, and the start of what I like to call the Renaissance Era of Discworld. I get the feeling that Terry Pratchett was in that position where you’ve been doing a thing for so long that you start to forget why you used to like doing it. And in those cases, some massive paradigm shift in things helps you remember. With Discworld, I think that shift came from being asked to write a children’s book, as opposed to Pterry’s usual fare. And after Maurice, Sir Terry started to explore newer, more exciting corners of the disc, even putting out his single best work during this time.

Deryni Rising
This was a book that I’d been told to read for a long time, but ended up not enjoying, to the point where I couldn’t even finish it. And right when I started Fantastic Fiction, it was slotted to be a video. I really don’t know why I never made a Deryni video, but for whatever reason I never even wrote a script.

My main issues with the book were its portrayal of prejudice and its protagonists. The Deryni are an oppressed group, and we’re supposed to sympathize with them, but they’re prejudiced against because they have psychic and magical powers. So the fact that they’re more powerful than normal humans and that these powers are of the psychic variety raises the question of why the Deryni don’t just use their powers to make people stop being mean to them. Like, if I had the ability to influence people, I know that’s the first thing I would do. More than that though, given how having magic powers is exactly the sort of thing real-life oppressed groups have been accused of, having a whole race that really does have powers beyond the ken of mortal men creates some unfortunate implications that I don’t think Katherine Kurtz intended.

While Kurtz is hailed as someone who brought realism to the fantasy genre, I found that most of this realism simply consisted of her inserting random trivia on royal titles and such into the narrative. And despite Kurtz’s devotion to realism, she fails to take into account the very realistic fact that if some low-ranking nobleman who was exiled by the former monarch is suddenly granted special privileges and power by the new monarch (and immediately after the former monarch’s mysterious assassination to boot), people are going to get reasonably suspicious. Kurtz treats any suspicion of said nobleman, or anything less than total devotion and loyalty to him, as the result of being deceived or PURE EVIL. There is no other possible reason that you wouldn’t want to kiss this man’s boots, for he is a great man whose wisdom we peons can barely grasp. Thank you, but no.

Lirael and Abhorsen
I never wrote any scripts for these, but I definitely had them planned. I even had a White Australia policy joke in my Sabriel video just so that I could bring it up in the Lirael and Abhorsen videos as an “Uh-oh spaghetti-o, more fool me.” moment. So, I’m really not sure why I never made these into videos. Ah well.

Lirael was a mixed bag. It was a lot more introspective and less action-packed than Sabriel, to the point where the ending felt like a good ending despite there still being a lot of loose plot threads, because the characters’ internal journeys had concluded. However, the subplot with the refugees essentially boiled down to a message of “My goodness, it’s shameful, simply shameful for that other kingdom to turn away refugees. But, I mean, uh, it we were to take them it would be the end of the world! We want the refugees to find a home, just not with us.” And Garth Nix doubles down on the Midichlorians/Special Blood trope that I hate so much, by having Lirael not wanting to be an Abhorsen, but being forced into the role because she has Abhorsen blood, and as Mogget says, “The blood will win out eventually.” I’m not accusing Nix of racism, but god-damn if that isn’t a borderline racist message.

With Abhorsen meanwhile, everything I liked about Lirael was ignored and everything I disliked was given more focus, and it all just felt like a pale imitation of Sabriel. It’s like everything was meant to be Sabriel, but bigger. But the reason we liked Sabriel was its novelty, its clever, new ideas. Without that advantage, Abhorsen simply became the cliche storm Sabriel could have been. Like, hey kids, you know how Kerrigor wanted to destroy the world? Well Orannis wants to destroy the world, but bigger! How are we supposed to care about this, especially when Orannis is an even LESS detailed character than Kerrigor? I just… I really could not get into things.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
I think Kolchak is in many ways the failed prototype of the Urban Fantasy genre. It failed to even make it past its first season and I failed to make it past episode 7, but there are several genuinely compelling aspects of Kolchak that I think modern Urban Fantasy writers could learn from. Admittedly, one of the more questionable aspects of the show is its adulation of small, independent press outfits that are willing to talk about what THEY don’t want you to know, which, given how many of these press outfits in real life are neo-nazi rags or alt right grifters, makes me unable to fully engage with the premise. However, I love the fact that Kolchak doesn’t have powers or experience in monster hunting. He’s just a middle-aged, not particularly athletic reporter who believes the common people deserve to know about the supernatural. It’s an interesting and unique concept. I just wish the content of the actual episodes were any good. I can see why Darren McGavin grew disillusioned with something what had once been his baby.

So that’s what could have been with my Fantastic Fiction videos. Maybe in the future I’ll review these works on this blog. But in the meantime, I hope folks enjoy the other stuff I’ll be doing here.


What is Project Shenmue?


Update on things


  1. Vivi

    Hi Mark!
    I hope you get notifications for comments on old blog entries like this, because it feels wrong to post this under a review of something completely unrelated…

    I’ve just watched your excellent video review of “El-Hazard” (which I will now use as a reference link whenever I’m trying to recommend that series to anyone, because except for one overlong podcast, most other Youtube reviews about that show were… made by the sort of guys who would automatically scare off my friends) and also the one about “Record of Lodoss War” (which I know I watched at some point as a teenager, but I guess there just wasn’t anything memorable about it?).

    I don’t want to give my phone number to Google, which is apparently mandatory nowadays to create a Youtube account, so I can’t comment directly on the videos. But luckily, you have opted for a blog with a comment system that actually still allows people to comment without going through a bothersome registration process. Thank you! You have no idea how hard it is to communicate with people these days if you don’t want to give your personal data to some social media corporation…

    Anyway, here’s what I came to say:
    I don’t disagree with your point that Lodoss was never gonna work for an audience because the characterizations are so thin. But those thin characterizations are just a sign of *bad* D&D, not necessarily an inherent aspect of the medium. And regarding what you said about tabletop RPGs only being entertaining when you’re actually personally playing them… Well, let me blow your mind:


    A little conversation about tabletop RPGs as live improv-theatre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2klsTCQPFLU&t=774s

    It’s very odd to me that you apparently didn’t come across any of this at some point during the last decade, as a fan of both high fantasy and anime, but I guess you might be a subtitles-only purist or perhaps actually fluent in Japanese. (Most of the creators/players of “Critical Role” are prolific voice-actors and voice-directors in the anime dubbing industry and Taliesin Jaffe wrote the dubbing scripts for several well-regarded early-2000s anime releases in the U.S., e.g. “Hellsing” and “Read Or Die”.)

    Based on your fairly feminist opinions on El-Hazard and Lodoss and your general enjoyment of the Discworld novels that I’m very familiar with (I haven’t watched those videos yet, but I will do so later), I think you would also enjoy “The Legend of Vox Machina”, which is an animated adaptation of Critical Role’s first story campaign. This animated series was initially funded by a massively over-financed Kickstarter, but it’s now financed by Amazon and getting released on Prime Video. Nevertheless, the series is still owned and directly produced by the original creators, who still voice their own characters (or several major villains, in the DM’s case), and quite a lot of the artists involved were already longterm fans of the actual-play webshow, so this is a true labor of love all around.

    And as for the problems you had with those old fantasy anime series… Well, let’s just say that “Record of Lodoss War” is the show I would recommend to those guys (and somehow, it is always guys) who think that “The Legend of Vox Machina” is ‘woke’ and who are resentful that Critical Role and Dimension 20 taught a whole new generation of D&D players that roleplaying games can and should involve playing an actual character role, not just a combat role/function. (Though I suspect what they’re really pissed about is that a lot of the new players drawn into the hobby by the sort of storytelling presented in these actual-play webshows are women, queer people and people of color.)

    These short clips show the first character introduction scene from “The Legend of Vox Machina”:
    Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2SM5MrvLUs
    Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeiQUsFvYR4&t=39s
    Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWV3xvl4D8c

    The uploader of the second clip had to cut out a bit of nudity, so that’s why there’s an awkward scene transition. The first two episodes as well as the official Amazon trailer were clearly designed to draw in the young male audience that the mainstream TV industry still primarily cares about as potential customers, so unfortunately, the scriptwriter went way too hard on the gross-out humor. I promise that gets toned down a lot after this first episode. And the plot gets much more interesting from episode 3 onwards, when the mainstream TV scriptwriters, most of whom weren’t familiar with the webshow before they were hired for this adaptation, could start working from the storyline as it was collectively improvised in the webshow instead of making everything up from scratch. But this really is a show meant for adult audiences, so there is a bit of nudity and sex early on to make sure the parents in the audience understand that. Because this show gets much darker and more serious later on, in ways that really wouldn’t be appropriate for kids. There’s no sexual assault or anything like that, but the creators are mostly around the age of 40 and they were creating this story primarily for their own entertainment, so despite their often 12-year-old sense of humor, they’re interested in somewhat different themes than what you generally see in Western animation, since most of that is designed for kids/teens or if it’s for adult audiences, it’s usually just sitcom-like stuff, not serious drama. (The closest Western animated series TLoVM might be compared to is “Castlevania” – but with a lot more humor.) And let’s just say that half of the male players in the group are quite open about the fact that they’re in therapy for serious mental health issues and used some of their personal issues to build their characters.

    If you want to get a quick introduction to the players/cast, to get an inkling why their self-created characters are like they are:

    The Critical Role team has published quite a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff about the production of the first season of the animated series, if you’re interested in that sort of thing:

    And they do a Q&A stream whenever a block of new episodes is released, though those are meant to be watched after the actual episodes, since they do talk about spoilers:

    If you want to see how the animated series compares to equivalent in-game scenes from the webshow, there are a few fans who upload helpful fan-edits for the newbies. Search Youtube for phrases like “Vox Machina origin moments” or “Vox Machina table to screen” or “Vox Machina original campaign”. But don’t look this up until after you’ve watched everything that’s been released so far, because even just the video titles contain spoilers for character deaths and other highly emotional plot events that are better experienced without being forewarned.

    By the way, the Japanese dub of this animated series is very good, according to the creator team, and they should know considering that localizing the other way around has been their main profession for the last 20 years. However, as far as I’ve heard, the narrative style and tropes of this show are just too Western to resonate much with the Japanese audience.

    • Mark

      Thank you. I’m glad to hear my videos had a positive impact. I of course am familiar with Critical Role, I simply have not immersed myself in them yet. I appreciate the recommendation though.

  2. Vivi

    “The Legend of Vox Machina” has already been successful enough with mainstream audiences that Amazon has greenlit funding for another animated series based on Critical Role’s second story campaign, which was a lot more queer (the pink hair of your avatar suggests to me that you might care about this aspect) and focused somewhat on themes of racism/nationalism, as well as featuring more complex characterizations and backstories.
    (The Vox Machina characters were originally created for a simple home game among friends, not for public entertainment, and most of the players had never played D&D before when they created these character concepts. So they largely started out as standard archetypes for their character class mixed with some self-actualization fantasy, especially for the female and bisexual male players.)

    Here’s a simple animated clip designed to introduce newbies to the characters of campaign 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUcNq8zd6EI

    (Obviously, that’s not the animation style they’re going with for the actual animated series. That’s probably going to be close to this mid-campaign intro – but unfortunately, this contains a character death spoiler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhFETREAvhc )

    Here’s an early scene from this campaign to give you an impression of how this group of players bounce off each other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxWbAemkhXE
    (They were fully in-character here – none of the annoyance is real. They are all trained actors and the spouses are perfectly okay with the in-character flirting, as well as the occasional out-of-character cuddling, in any combination.)

    And here’s how these characters met, in song form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNhH1o3S-K4
    Half the gang’s deeper characterizations, in song form (mild spoilers): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qUieqpso3Y ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUg4PwfYY4k
    And another one (same character death spoiler as above!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4xFRm6tebI

    By the way, if you like this sort of thing, the same ridiculously talented group of fans created a whole filk musical (based on the music of “Hamilton”), covering the campaign 1 story arc that’s currently being adapted into “The Legend of Vox Machina”. But this includes the plot of the not yet released season 3 of TLoVM, so beware of spoilers.
    (Switch on the subtitles to help identify the many different characters.)

  3. Vivi

    If you’re wondering who the guy with the mutton chops is from the first video I linked, and what he does: That’s Ivan Van Norman and he’s more of a horror RPG GM. He’s the uncrowned king of “Dread”, a somewhat obscure game system where you use a Jenga tower instead of dice to add an element of chance to the players’ success/survival.


    (And now you know why the Critical Role players and therefore the Vox Machina characters associate the word “Chenga” with mortal danger…)

    Sadly, Ivan hasn’t publically GMed anything in years as far as I know. But he does work for Critical Role by now, as the head of their print-publishing wing, so I’m hoping that he’ll eventually take over as the GM of their new and more casual-viewer-friendly Victorian-gothic style horror/mystery anthology webshow “Candela Obscura”.

    Have a nice day!

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