Friday, 25 January 2013

For blakd and archia

Sorry to anyone else, if you're able to comment telling me how to hide the bulk of this post behind a 'cut' so you don't need to see its massive bulk in your news feed, let me know! This follows a discussion about the webcomic Enthrall (NSFW).


@blankd: I highly recommend reading about / playing some classic Vampire: the Masquerade :D That's a slightly different affair, because the vast, government-controlling vampire bastard-aristocracy work in secret (you're still a slave, you just don't know it), but some things roll over. You control a vast outright of human vassals, directly and indirectly; they can be made to do many things for you, but you don't send them looking for sensitive information that could be used against you by your enemies / sold on, etc. These people are in your service, but as 'a unit' - you don't personally oversee every individual, certainly not closely enough to be confident absolutely none of them would be overwhelmed by guilt, or lust for power, to hand a copy of the dossier to the rebels, or be bought off with promises of immortality by an ignored-and-sidelined younger vampure to set up what looks like a leak to undermine your position in vampire society so he can usurp you, or...

There's reasons to keep certain things out of the hands of cattle :)

Looking over your comments, I can see where you're coming from in places, but it seems that you're applying the rules of hard science fiction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_science_fiction) to Enthrall - what you are talking about is a much higher level of scientific detail than most books, comics, movies or TV shows apply.

Don't get me wrong, even in non-hard SF and fantasy, there are lines. For instance, did you see the movie 30 Days of Night? I couldn't help it, the fact that the whole plot is based around the idea that if you go north enoughin Alaska you get a solid month of night, and they portray 'the last day' as a normal, full 8 hour day where everyone's super-busy getting ready for the month of night, and then everyone comes out to watch The Last Sunset for a month. And at the end of the month, there's a big, grand First Sunrise. That, had me smacking my head on my desk and wailing. What made it worse was that the person I was watching it with didn't see to understand anything was wrong ("Things are different when you get that far north-" "NO! No no NO! The rules of the axial tilt of our planet is not fucking well DIFFERENT in Alaska!"). So yeah, I'm no stranger to a thing being so implausible to ruins a story for you.

However... flip side. I'm a literature editor for my day job, and I've edited both hard sci-fi and more average (in terms of scientific rigor) genre work, and the important point, what I hunt for, is internal consistency. In a character-driven narrative, your sci-fi or fantasy/magical elements need to be unintrusive, and where they make direct reference to things science has a definite answer to, they need to not be undermined by that without redefining boarders (AKA I'm dealing with a sci-fi tale at the moment where I've thrown out a bunch of issues with radiation, because its 'suns' aren't really suns, rather (comparatively) tiny floating fusion furnaces, because the 'planet' isn't a planet, etc. The characters, however, react with the same 'wtf?' awed confusion as the reader might, so it's internally consistent).

In short? So long as a sci-fi or fantasy concept is not undermined by ITSELF (e.g. a sun-bomb being seen as seriously dangerous, but as part of the spying effort, Fidus is seen going out in daylight with nothing more difficult or inconvenient than a hat, some sunblock and some shades) or massively obviously impossible (not conjecture and 'maybe this, maybe this, fill in this black with this and it wouldn't work' but something outrightly stated thing being just glaringly wrong/impossible, like the 30 Days Of Night thing), then having a technology that acts as a plot device being fleshed out enough to do its job without explaining away every nuance of its workings and background within the world etc is perfectly valid. Often, even if the author knows exactly how it works and why, explaining it in enough detail to give the required background would massively bog down and detract from the story. Example 'backstory' for Enthrall, off the top of my head, follows. Reading it, thinking about how much would be needed to explain exactly why they don't research their weaknesses more deeply, I wonder how many pages of comic would this take to flesh out? Would all of them be interesting? How much would need to be explosion, and how much would be dry and a bit dull? Right now, we have Matriarch as a powerful, background figure. We're not, at this point, meant to care about her or her motivations, she's an omnipresent voice of command, which I would guess is how she is for most of vampire society! Anyhow, example back story (please don't be too harsh, it was a 45 minute job):

The Matriarch was the first vampire, and her vampirism was a curse (ALA classic Caine-based origin stories). I'm going to make her one of six virgin daughters of Alexios IV Angelos, sold to Satan in return for the crown of Constantinople, which he got via the rather poisoned chalice of delivering to him the now-impoverished-and-desperate Venetian army and the instigating of the 4th Crusade. Because that guy got shivved a few years later, and it seems like poetic justice.

Anyway! Skip the middle, she buys her way out of Hell but is marked by her stay, burned by the day that doesn't shine in Hell, crippled by fear of holy symbols, needing to 'buy' her time on earth with the life (read: blood) of true mortals, but her ordeal has given her strength of will and physical power. She walks the world alone for 200 years, but in loneliness, makes another. He inherits her curse, eternal life, strengths, but hasn't suffered her ordeals so will never understand as she does what it really means. He is overwhelmed by the power and potential, makes a daughter in secret. Matriarch is angry, but understands the reason.

Over the years, the 'younger generation' push for the creation of more vampires. They feel vulnerable being so few, with such exploitable weaknesses, and like their potential is being wasted. They are arrogant and proud, and their voices change the Matriarch's mind. Somewhere around 1500, they start of expand. Only the best can be taken - kings, lords, men and women of power and influence and talent. They take the leaders - easy done with offers of immortality and power. They install their own in seats of power. The number of vampires grows, although they're still only a tiny proportion – part to keep enough prey for everyone, part because men (and women) of power rarely want to share it beyond that delegation is useful to them.

Roll on to 1900. The vampires are still behind the scenes, pulling the strings, but things are changing. Increased bureaucracy and freedom of information is making it harder to keep any kind of presence without it being noticed that you're the same, unaging individual from decades ago. Also, the strict feudal system isn't as strong as it once was – talent and drive can put someone with a great idea or great conviction in a position to do something about it. There have been no new vampires made in about 200 years – their power base is solid, they don't see why they should share power when they have no real need of anyone else. They're all getting old, out of touch, stuck in their ways, but enough 'kickbacks' of projects going wrong and minions getting uppity, even the stoic vampires must act. The electric bulb is invented in 1880 and send brief waves of fear through vampire society before it's confirmed that, whatever makes this light, it doesn't possess whatever it is about sunlight that hurts them. It's the straw on the camel – humanity is becoming too strong.

So, in 1900, the next great expansion happens. Medieval  kings sire protégés from politics and big business, disgraced crusaders take from the modern military, courtiers from media, while ancient philosophers and alchemists embrace within the scientific community. With 2/3 old guard and 1/3 these bright young things, the vampires use key assassinations and puppet politicians to instigate both world wars, before rising publically in the aftermath to seize overt power. All at once, already weakened by fighting each other for three decades, humanity finds their water system laced with poisons whose antidote can only be bought from corporations that have been under vampire control all along, who now only sell to people marked with the brand of fealty. Governments and armies are crippled, by a combination of vampire influence, mutual bankruptcy, and paranoia that anyone and everyone in a position of power could be either a vampire or under their direct control. The coup is a sweeping success, leaving humanity beaten, scared and paranoid. The new generation of vampires act as a bridge between the old guard they swore to serve (and who they know physically outmatch them by miles, thanks to age) and humanity's mores and expectations. There is resistance. A lot of it. Knowing the government can't help them, militia spring up left right and centre, but the vampire controlled military slaughter them, and the vampire controlled media paint the massacres into tragic pictures of whole colonies killed by ignorant, anti-vampire splinter groups attacking the faithful.

Scientific research is locked down by now-openly-vampire-controlled funding bodies, and any work by private enterprise requires a license. They take extra care overseeing any technology involving light, solar power, repurposing of moonlight or lightning – they know well after years living through less advances eons that their only weaknesses are holy relics, and sunlight. Holy was easier – burn, melt, trash every relic, and saturate the public consciousness with the reminder that God failed to save them from this new era. There is no God, only strength and knowledge. Without belief, there is no sanctity in remade relics – two unblessed sticks, held in the shape of a cross in the hands of an unbeliever, is no crucifix.

That leaves only sunlight. Controlling all scientific advancement, from a point in history where there was little to no understanding of what MAKES sunlight, the vampires felt safe. Their own scientists were increasingly overseers, rather than researchers, and allowing human researcher to look into the specifics would cause more risks than it averted. They were old, settled. The mere presence of daytime, even locked in dark rooms indoors, made them sluggish and bleary. No, daytime is dead hours, the vestigial cost of their power. The Matriarch never thought to question, old ones accepted it – the young were taught it till they did. You are creatures of night; that is the price.

The next 150 years were good and bad for humanity. Mostly bad. They were in theory a slave race, but to the man on the street, this meant simply staying off the streets after nightfall (and accepting the consequences if you didn't – you own fault, not your murder's), monthly blood bank visits with the threat of incarceration or true slavery if you didn't comply without good medical reasoning, and the risk of true slavery should you be the wrong side of the law, for whatever reason.

We see a collared Scarrow, and a few collared people around the house, and Arin previously collared then freed, and it's easy to feel that (because we only see people directly touching vampire society) everyone's a direct slave. Most people can just get on with their lives, so long as they stay generally in line.

Very few new vampires are made. There's two reason they still are – firstly, sometimes vampires die, either accidents, or aggression from spliter groups. Secondly, part of what keeps a society in chained is hope – the idea that the bright and brilliant could be chosen to be embraced and be part of the ruling classes keep the masses from falling into useless despair. People get angrier at oppression when it feels there is really no way out. Hope of elevation quells dissent. As such, very young, very new vampires DO exist, but they are rare, and kept on a very short leash for a few decades, and are treated as lower classes until they have proved themselves (see – Fidus, 11 years bitten at the time of Enthrall's main plot).

The 1900s wave of scientists are largely occupied signing off research requests, vetting them for anything they think might be dangerous, with varying 'threat' levels, depending on the trustworthiness of the source of the request. They directly oversee anything they judge could touch on any area of vampire weakness. As such, modern understanding among either vampires or humans about light and electromagnetic radiation is very limited – the term UV was never coined, sun bed never made, lighting technology beyond the tungsten bulb never developed, and Johann Wilhelm Ritter's work on oxidizing rays fell largely out of modern understanding as it could no longer be legitimately taught.

In 1989, a company, run by an established old-guard vampire, applies for a research permit for medical treatments for sun-burnt vampires – anything more than 10 seconds is lethal, but vampires have survived with burns from brief flash-exposure, and this company has a very strong standing. The company makes their case to the science board, the board makes their case to the Matriarch, and it was signed off.

The project involved taking vampire tissue, preserving it, subjecting it to various forms of light for varying times, then treating these affected swatches of skin with different treatments. It was a success, in many sense – vampires have known for a long time that clothed area suffer less but do suffer, for instance, but never why. These tests showed the the very highest frequencies of sunlight, UVC, were what caused extreme, instant burns in vampires, even semi-shielded (clothing, for instances, only partially blocks light – as anyone who's woken to a pretty-much-light room from daylight filtering through non-blackout curtains knows). Great strides were made in burn treatments, and research would have continued, had a servant of one of the Matriarch's daughters not smuggled an altered lamp into the daughter's room and burned her to death.

Someone had leaked the results. Funding is pulled instantly, the company disgraced, the entire research team banned from study and either killed or enslaved. The vampire in charge of the company is quietly assassinated by the vampire society's elite, and replaced. The old guard has always felt "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and the backfiring of study into their weaknesses supported their stance. The younger generations kept fighting for research, knowledge, but the old guard were vilified and certain – some things are not meant to be known. Keep the cattle ignorant, keep to the old ways.  They cracked down, hard, on non-sanctioned research projects with death or enslavement as the automatic penalty for "renegade science". Standing out against the edict would be political suicide for any young vampire.

Seems their crackdown might not be doing a brilliant job...

6 comments:

  1. Gosh this is brilliant. And unnervingly accurate to my own thoughts! I suppose we both started from the same place (the setting of the comic) and worked back in the same way.

    I mean, there are errors, but that's totally understandable given that you're working from … hehe, nothing?

    On why Guthlac was the first vampire to bite Scarrow - Scarrow was never bitten before as the vast majority of humans are never bitten. All adults donate blood once a year (at Vestilar, the celebration of the day the first vampire Vestil was turned), but it rarely gets used, as all vampires have at least one slave to drink from. It's actually a social stigma to drink donated blood, but humans have to donate anyway, (some believe it's to subconsciously keep them downtrodden). It's a hidden fact that the blood everyone donates is either stored or thrown away, even though it could sustain all vampires in the country so they wouldn't have to drink from slaves.

    Creation story - Religion isn't involved, so holy relics have no influence. Vestil is the first vampire. She's long dead, though, and probably the closest thing vampires have to a deity!

    Vestil, the first vampire, was born thousands of years ago. She fell for a strange woman who lived a little away from the rest of them. Some said the woman had lived for longer than the village itself. She was called a witch, or a goddess, depending on who you asked.

    Initially the woman wanted nothing to do with Vestil, and cursed her so that the girl could never walk in the sun. When Vestil persisted, the woman made it so that Vestil could only sustain herself from the blood of her own kind. It took years for her to grow to love the increasingly murderous girl back, and by then, the village had been decimated. She then granted the girl eternal youth, and the ability to create more like herself so that they could have 'childr', and a sort of family. The ability to create other vampires still exists today, and is called turning.

    The Matriarch isn't the first vampire, she's the 600 year old leader of the vampires in Angland. Vampire leaders have to be female, as the first vampire was female, and they believe bad luck will come over a clan of vampires if they're ever ruled by a man. Whether that's true or not, no-one knows. The Matriarch (Eliza Thane) has been ruling since she turned Guthlac ~300 years ago. I'm going to go into Guthlac and Eliza later in the comic, so I won't say too much here.

    Although vampire rule is seen as a good thing (as they're long lived and had to be smart to work their way to the top, or so the propaganda says) there has always been, in various strengths, a resistance movement. The vampires don't crush them entirely as they've never been a real threat before, and they like having a steady supply of humans to have hanged, reminding the general populace the price of living outside the law. Now the vampires ARE scared of the rebels, due to a potential threat that they know very little about.

    Slavery is another tricky issue. They're either owned by the government, doing jobs that no-one wants, mostly, or sent somewhere if they have a special talent. These slaves are collectively owned by the vampires as a group. No-one wants to be a government slave. Then there are the private slaves who serve one vampire. The stereotype is that it's a comparatively cushy lifestyle, and a possible gateway to becoming a vampire (although of course, any job where you come more into contact with vampires is seen as a possible gateway to become a vampire).

    I really like your backstory! As I said, I believe we think things through in similar ways. I love that you picked up Fidus's almost-slavery. He's been working in secret for the vampires for almost as long as he's been alive. The prize of living as a vampire in Anglish society is a light at the end of a long tunnel ^_^

    How long have you been reading??

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  2. Alrighty, so finally getting around to this since I promised I would. My tone is a bit of a dry/dark humor, none of this is intended to be malicious, this is simply my internet tone.

    You are absolutely right I am applying higher/harder science than most media would apply, but that is hardly a justifiable or even a "good" reason to do something. Most BL/yaoi is filled with stockholm love but that doesn't mean it's a -good- element. That is not necessarily the point you are trying to convey but this is mostly applying to your "defense" that "well other media isn't accurate!"

    Instead I'll repeat what I have said previously about UV and vampires' control in Enthrall (I am skipping over Archia's reply FYI) in terms of what the comic has conveyed which IS a major point to do with your internal consistency which I'm assuming is your strongest point.

    Vampires are the ruling class, they, for whatever reason abstain from investigating themselves, but this should also mean anyone who investigates should be killed/had that information strangled. Furthermore humans lack the means to make progress since they are the weaker race in this regard (due to the implied control of the Vampires). Technology can only go so far when it's being purposely controlled.

    Now, maybe by some miracle they know what UV is because, they simply do for whatever reason, this doesn't mean they have the materials to construct a UV emitting bomb because unlike "simple" bomb materials (which wouldn't be available for humans anyway under strict vampire rule and because there are rebels about), such things are difficult to acquire and then test. A simple bomb is (and I've said this multiple times), threat enough because in-comic we have seen Fidus put into a coma for it. A specifically UV bomb isn't needed and would actually drive the "extremist" angle of the Abolitionists further.

    A sun bomb that only takes out the target is called assassination and is, by and large still painting the Abolitionists in a positive light because (as far as we know) they simply want freedom from vampires. Now, maybe Enthrall aims to have a black and white scenario but having it be that "easy" is, sad to say, boring. If you want an analogy we can pretend a bomb that only kills racists and tyrants is being produced, because for the most part and at this point, that is what it is given what we know about vampires and apply the simplest explanation of a UV bomb in practice.

    [cont]

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    1. We also lack a vampire to sympathize with short of KINDA Fidus who earns sympathy simply because he was briefly nice to Stockholm-Arin and has sex with Scarrow (while spying on him). However I am a black-hearted person and I'm not swayed by these things. Neither of these acts actually make him a nice person as he's not actually doing anything positive, he's simply becoming part of the system (as far as the comic is now) and asking nearly anyone who reads the comic and they will tell you that ~slavery is bad~ so why should someone ultimately joining the system be sympathized with?

      Basically what I'm saying is that there is no actually supplied reason why we should sympathize with the Vampires since they ARE technically the ones suppressing humans and purposely creating a class system that serves no real purpose aside from taking the Vampires at their own word that they are necessary, which isn't a strong argument at all. Same for how their existence is mostly a volunteer one, you aren't born as a vampire, but you can be born as a slave, why the hell should anyone feel sorry for Fidus at this point?

      Anyway, back to the bomb itself, based on how it HAS been applied thus far it simply feels and comes off that it's ONLY UV/sun based simply because that's what everyone else and their mother does for Vampires- but UNLIKE other media that uses it, it's in the midst of a war setting where the humans have somewhat of a fighting chance and the vampires have more than that one of weakness (they also happen to be flat out more action-explosion media, but that is moot).

      My WHOLE beef with it is that the bomb comes off as cheap and to my observations undermines the whole "Vampires rule the country". The humans are already enslaved, the Vampires run the show, they have no real means of getting materials, testing the materials and even implementing the materials. If the rebels can SNEAK the bomb into any vampire meeting (and hope nothing blocks said UVS/light) they may as well just be using a regular bomb to blow off the roof!

      Now as for things that spit in the face of Archia's setting about information control. For vampires who don't let themselves be studied they sure are letting Fidus' body sit in a pretty public location or otherwise "reveal" that yes, vampires can be hurt by regular bombs! I have a good idea -character wise- Fidus is being allowed to be in that hospital but in terms of setting it seems like a massive oversight. Archa once made reference to how Vampires are much like celebrities in her setting, yet Fidus is sitting in a hospital full of humans and their equipment and is nearly allowed to have another vampire visit him, only a doctors ~stern words~ get him to turn back, and that feels weak! Vampires don't need to take shit from humans in this setting, why should this fellow?

      [cont]

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    2. That is simply further objection to how the setting comes off as and why a UV bomb weakens the premise of "a country run by vampires" or at least makes the vampires collectively come off as idiots or otherwise much weaker than they are. If the latter is intended, then it just rustles my jimmies how badly the Abolitionists failed, maybe there's a good reason, but until it's actually SHOWN it doesn't seem fully explained.

      Now if you want to ask me personally how I'd fix this in the least amount of strokes, just make the UV bomb simply a bomb. The fact it's a dangerous weapon in the hands of people clearly not under the control of vampires is what makes them dangerous, there's no need to set foot into "UV" or sun-whatevers. We know the effects, we know the destructive potential, we get a dash of grey in the two opposing sides.

      Enthrall simply isn't action-intense enough to need specialized weaponry. I am familiar with suspending my disbelief, but Enthrall plainly doesn't require it because most of the conflict is in the CHARACTER interactions, not necessarily the weaponry. And no do not take that as an "okay" to go "well that's why you should ignore it!" because the SETTING is very damn important for emphasizing the inherent conflict in these characters and their relationships! Scarrow with his hands on a bomb that hurts humans AND vampires is enough to show why other humans could possibly silently not be part of the cause he's a part of, it also paints his whole group with much more depth than "well they magically got a bomb that could magically give them freedom" because the topic itself is seriously not that simple or easy! Why undermine a good setting by GOING THIS ROUTE? Because everyone else uses UV/Sun stuff in their vampire fiction?

      As for your backstory, most of it I honestly just skipped through since it looks like a mishmash of random points and a lot of "well just because they're old and oldness doesn't really change, just accept that they're steadfast in old things". Sorry.

      However I'll plainly point out that the poisoning the water plot is ill thought out simply because for a race that hates experimentation on themselves why the hell would they risk killing their food supply over it? Do you think poison just DISAPPEARS or do you think Vampires are magically smart enough to create enough poison to cripple humanity without affecting any of the plants/animals and that the poison magically doesn't hurt vamps or that somehow the vampires could test all this and bullshit together a cure without any of the humans noticing? I know humanity as a whole can be fairly stupid but they're not that stupid given their track record with science.

      [cont]

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    3. I'll also call BS on the creation of a UV lamp simply for testing when the sun is viable. If you want an analogy this is like creating a flesh eating virus to test how an anti-decomposition formula works. The same for how some human scrub could sneak into the Matriarchs home and kill the daughter but not the Matriarch. I'm not going to even delve into the mess that somehow HUMAN scientists were allowed in on a project for a setting that already has a strict "don't trust humans" policy. It's bad and extraneous because these dicks thought it necessary to POISON these people, why the devil should they somehow being trusting them in the ongoing years aside from pure incompetence or a desire for drama. The excuse of generation gaps isnt' even viable because Vampires don't quite suffer that "dying" thing and they aren't keen on allowing new blood in or old rules to be broken, why would they break the rules on one of the most vulnerable parts of them?

      Also I am endlessly amused by how apparently these creatures of the night will never apparently experiment with coffee or similar substances because dammit, humans sure resigned to being creatures of the day, those inferior humans!

      Anyway I think that's enough, if you want me to look at something specifically, simply point it out and I'll give it a gander and my thoughts on it.

      Also apologies for the broken up posts, I type too damn much.

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  3. Additional reply that further breaks down the suspension of disbelief:

    Details brought up in Fidus-14
    (These elements are present in some of Archia's replies or maybe in earlier comic pages however their reintroduction reminded me)

    -Contact lenses
    -Pills/Medicine

    If we are going by the world rules that Vampires really don't like experimenting with their physiology they would not be experimenting with contact lenses (possibility of blindness or other ill effect) or ingesting/testing medicine/pills which is (IMO) far riskier than anti UV clothing or lotion.

    Unlike pills/medicine UV clothing can be removed easily and lotion/balm can be washed off. Pills/medicine would require purging (either through the act of physically regurgitating these things or using even more substances that affect physiology to either counteract or induce purging) in the worst case scenario of trying to save a Vampire from their own pills/medicine.

    Even in the best case scenario pills/medicine would require EVEN MORE testing to correctly be used.

    This is only in relation to the concept you put forth about the lack of anti-UV clothing and external-use items and the contact lenses/pills/medicine are in-comic things that are used and expected to be taken without question.

    Even "funnier" is that these items are used for infiltration or aesthetics, which is what I would imagine to be on a lower priority than "life-ending circumstances" like UV/sunlight and again doesn't paint the vampires in the best of light due to creation and/or application of these objects.

    I still haven't heard your replies otherwise but even if you disregard my mountain of text for the other things, I would like to hear your personal justification for this one in regards to the "suspension of disbelief" since this scenario seems to break it much like the example you just demonstrated in your own post.

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