Once in a while, advancing technology spawns a fun new style of fiction. This branch grows out of the thriving "virtual diary" phenomenon, which allows people to share their daily thoughts with dozens of friends (and strangers). Although LiveJournal is one of the best known, other services exist, and if you frequent one you should check it for fiction. Several authors have chosen to push the envelope of these journals by writing in character, telling a story in little daily snippets. Two of the best are Sythyry's Journal and Flight of the Godkin Griffin. (If you prefer, you can find both Sythyry and Godkin directly on their LiveJournal sites.)
Sythyry's Journal, by Bard Bloom, chronicles the adventures of a young Zi Ri -- a tiny dragon, immortal though not indestructible -- as zie works zir way through the Vheshrane Academy. (The Zi Ri are hermaphrodites, not divided into male and female sexes, hence the exotic pronouns.) Sythyry must find a place to live, deal with roommates, enroll in classes and try not to flunk out of them, navigate the complicated eddies of interspecies relationships, and figure out what to do with the rest of zir life. If you thought your school days were hectic, think again!
Much of this story's charm derives from its spectacular setting. The World Tree is like the mythic Yggdrasil in that it has people living in it, and different cultures in different places, but there the similarity ends. Each gigantic branch is analogous to a continent, with civilization on the flat upper edge of the branch, bordered by the wild and dangerous "verticals" on either side of the branch. Most inhabitants belong to one of the eight "Prime" races -- the draconic Zi Ri, doglike Cani, insectoid Herethroy, and so on -- favored by one of the seven Verb Gods who created the World Tree. There are also twelve Noun Gods; interaction between their spheres of influence gives the World Tree denizens their magic.
Flight of the Godkin Griffin, by M.C.A. Hogarth, relates the efforts of Angharad Godkin of the Sunblood Cliffs as she attempts to bring peace and order to the restless province of Shraeven. She leads a mixed unit of veteran and inexperienced soldiers, with the help of her captains -- one of whom, Silfia, is Angharad's ex-lover. Along the way, she gains the capable and handsome Magwen, assigned as steward to look after her needs; and the enigmatic Ragna, a local guide. But will they be enough, when the very land of Shraeven rebels against her presence?
Interpersonal and species dynamics provide the tension in this story. The Godkindred believe that breeding across species lines brings people closer to divinity, and their experience indicates that it makes for stronger and smarter offspring. Ten or more bloodlines make someone "Godkin," like Angharad, a griffin whose ancestry includes Crane, Phoenix, Puma, and Ringtail Cat. But in Shraeven, many people believe the opposite, that breeding true will lead to the peaceful innocence of animals. Ragna is pure leopard, a close cross between clouded leopard and snow leopard. The Godson seeks to expand his nation and bring civilization to neighboring lands. Angharad, having helped annex Glendallia and Surviue provinces, seems an ideal tool for this. Since the Godkindred Kingdom conquered Shraeven, the province has resisted assimilation. . . and there is more going on here than simple patriotism. This political and cultural situation constantly puts the honorable, heroic Angharad between a rock and a hard place.
These two stories have many similarities and differences to consider. Both are fantasy, set in worlds quite unlike our own. Both feature characters of diverse races, some combining human and animal features but others far more atavistic than humanoid -- and there are no humans in either world. Both include a strong thread of romance, as the protagonists attempt to manage their love lives and their friendships amidst everyday upheavals. Both benefit from the LiveJournal format, which delivers the story in small frequent chunks, convenient for reading in the midst of a busy workday without needing to leave one's computer.
One interesting difference is the handling of magic. The World Tree is exuberantly magical, to the point that magic comprises most of the local technology. All the characters have some personal magic, though their power and skill varies, and Zi Ri tend to become experts. Conversely, the Godkindred Kingdom considers magic no more than a superstition. Angharad feels acutely uncomfortable in dealing with rumors of magic as they arise -- but worse, hints emerge that Shraeven may harbor something that goes far beyond superstition.
The background connections also vary. The World Tree began as a setting for a fantasy role-playing game, although Sythyry's story is not based on any campaign. The gaming manual World Tree: A Role-Playing Game of Species and Civilization is a delight unto itself, full of fascinating information about the world and its people. If you read Sythyry's Journal, the manual sheds much light on what happens in the story; and if you game in the World Tree, Sythyry's exploits give you a glimpse into everyday life there.
Flight of the Godkin Griffin began not as a game but as a writing experiment, to see if it would be possible to make money from this new form of fiction. So far, it looks promising, and the cliffhangers will definitely hold your interest. The author has provided a supporting website with profiles of the characters and settings, a plot summary, a streamlined "story so far" section, and other goodies. M.C.A. Hogarth is an artist as well as an author, so don't miss the many pictures of Angharad and her friends -- especially the "cover picture" on the supporting site.
One thing driving the popularity of these fictional LiveJournals is the audience interaction factor. Authors thrive on feedback; readers love the chance to comment. Yet each story handles it in a completely different way. Sythyry owns an enchanted journal, given to zir by a grandparent; that book is the manifestation of the LiveJournal as it appears in the World Tree, and Sythyry's writings in it are visible to us on the computer screen. Sometimes Sythyry gets into direct conversations with readers as if they are friends.
Angharad has no journal, and tells her story in an introspective style -- but the exciting interaction in this LiveJournal comes through the polls. Each installment invites readers to vote on what happens next, anything from Angharad's decisions to exterior plot developments. Anyone can read the story, but voting is restricted to patrons. Send the author at least a dollar, and you too can help complicate this griffin's life!
Sythyry's Journal is full of magic and whimsy, a tumultuous coming-of-age tale with a focus on personal drama (or comedy, as the case may be). Flight of the Godkin Griffin blends threads of adventure, intrigue, and military fantasy with a wider scope and some edge-of-the-chair action. Due to the serial nature, I suggest that you start reading from the beginning, although you can figure out what's going on if you prefer to jump into the middle. Both stories hold considerable appeal for fantasy fans in general and anthropomorphic ("furry") fans in particular; most highly recommended.
Copyright © 2004 Elizabeth Barrette
Elizabeth Barrette writes speculative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; most recently "Do Women and Men Really Write Differently?" in the Internet Review of Science Fiction. Her other fields include alternative spirituality and gender studies, and she often does panels at cons. She enjoys suspension-of-disbelief, bungee-jumping, and spelunking in other people's reality tunnels. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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