Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Magic Noir

Many, many moons ago, there was an article in Dragon Magazine (back in the ancient, "print" days) that talked about alternate types of worlds to set your D&D game in.  The one idea that caught my attention was having a typical "fantasy" world, such as Greyhawk, go through an industrial revolution.  The idea totally intrigued me, and I immediately thought of the idea as a means of creating a unique setting for fiction.  So, I set about putting my old, generic fantasy world of Ameron through the paces of industrialization.

I first decided that, in order to truly experience an industrial revolution, a world largely fueled by magic would have to lose that magic.  So, I decided that in ancient times, the world was dominated by mages, with Elves being at the apex due to their magical heritage.  Then, during a great war between arch-wizards, a mass-destruction spell was used to dire effect.

When the spell went off, a large portion of the main continent was laid waste.  But, more than that, magic seemed to be "sucked dry" for lack of a better term.  Now, wizards couldn't even summon enough power for a simple cantrip.  Additionally, the Elves had disappeared.  When the masses realized that their oppressors were either gone or powerless, they stormed the towers and castles.  And a new Dark Age of the Sword was born.

Jump forward about 1500 years, and Ameron has developed to a point in technology, economics and politics roughly analogous of the early 21st century, but with the politics of the 80's (Cold War era).  However, about fifty years prior, it was discovered that secret sects of magic-users had been using magic in the shadows.  It seemed that magic had not disappeared, but had been weakened to the point of dormancy.  Since magic was generated by the very planet itself, for the past centuries, the power had been slowly regenerating.

There are many other details involved, such as the Elivann, descendants of Half-elves, who did not disappear due to their mixed heritage; Dwarves, who retreated to their underground kingdoms and developed the first technologies that would eventually spark the industrialization; the various races of Orcs, Goblins and Ogres who were herded into a large expanse of land, where they interbred and created their own nation.

So, at the present time, magic and technology co-exist.  However, in order to prevent the catastrophe that came before, magic-use is highly regulated and restricted.  Certain practices are outright forbidden, such as demon-summoning.  And this is where the "Noir" angle comes in.

My first story involved an illegal summoning, and the detectives who are trying to solve it.  However, my first attempt was kind of dry in flavor, though rich in detail.  Then yesterday, out of the blue, I had the idea of tackling that story from a first person perspective, with the narrative being like that of a Noir Detective story.

My problem is, I haven't read any Noir fiction, and have only seen a few films and shows in the genre.  In my head, my main character seems very much like The Spectre's human alter-ego, Jim Corrigan from the DC Showcase short film, voiced by Gary Cole (by the way, I highly recommend seeing that if you get the chance).

So, if I decide to pursue this, I will probably start with seeing some Noir films, and reading some pulp detective fiction.  Anyone have any good suggestions?  I'm primarily looking for stories in first person narrative, or films with the main character doing voiceover during the story.


Keith said...

Tom, as your photo suggests, Humphrey Bogart is a great place to start. I recommend High Sierra, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not as good starting points. Of course Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are classics. Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series is top notch, although it's best read in order. Then there are a number of anhthologies. A good survey would be The Best American Noir of the Century edited by Otto Penzler and James Ellroy. For that matter, if you like your noir especially dark, try Ellroy.

Charles Gramlich said...

I know a couple of fantasy series that have done the industrial revolution thing with fantasy worlds. The great rally cry series, and a series I'm reading now called the Destroyermen. I've done a little bit of this with the Talera series, though just the beginning hints.