Podcast

306 – Transportation in Spec Fic

The Mythcreant Podcast

Before your hero can clock in for a space 9 to 5, they first have to commute to work. To do that, they’ll need a rocket, space elevator, steam train, or maybe just a horse. That’s right, this episode is all about moving people, but not emotionally. Physically moving people. We’re talking all forms of transport, from the most overpowered teleportation to the hard-working city bus. Also, walking. Sometimes, if you want to get somewhere, you have to do it yourself.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Transporters

The Subtle Knife

Mulefa

Land Travel Before Engines

Thomas the Tank Engine Car

Stargate

The Floo Network

Great Eagles

Thestrals

Appa

Saphira

Kilgharrah

Temeraire

Interview With The Vampire

Captain Marvel

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Darian. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Wes: Hello. You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast. I’m your host Wes, and with me today is…

Chris: Chris…

Wes: And…

Oren: Oren.

Wes: So, we tend to focus a lot on settings and themes in speculative fiction, which kind of makes sense. You want to talk about what kind of fantasy world you have, or just exactly how grimdark your robot detective noir should be. And when we talk about settings and themes, we often talk about things like cities, deserts, farms, oceans, skyscrapers: spaces, in general. And then we talk about characters just… being in those places. Houses, and bars, and doing their thing.

But let’s not forget that how people get around is just as important, if not more so. The experience of moving things and doing stuff is great! And I mean, I was thinking about this. Like [in the] opening shots of a new city in the Marvel cinematic universe, or just any other TV show, there’s always stuff in motion. There’s always some kind of transit happening, whether it’s a cool monorail, or an airship, or something like that. And that’s just something important, because it really informs a lot about your world. How people get around is important to your story. To your characters. And so, that’s what we’re talking about today, covering magical, mundane, [and] science-fictionological forms of transit. And I really don’t like the word mundane—I mean, that is appropriate, but if you call a horse or a train mundane, that’s a problem. They are MAGICAL.

Oren: Don’t call a train mundane where I can hear it. Trains are my theme! People read my story, and it’s just like… are you not into trains?

Wes: How dare you! [laughs]

Chris: Well, a horse may feel mundane until you put it in a science fiction setting, and then it’s not so mundane. In Firefly, they’re not so mundane anymore, right? Because we’ve got that Western sci-fi going. But yeah, I would say transportation is where your magitech meets your landscape and your physicality. There are a lot of things about transport that also have implications for your technology level, and how much magic there is. And it can be quite plot-breaking.

Wes: Yeah. Especially when you conceive of a science fiction tech in a Trek amongst the stars…

Oren: [groans]

Wes: We’ll get into this, obviously, but you think about it as just a simple form of transportation and you realize you’ve created the most powerful thing to have ever existed.

[laughter]

Chris: Yeah. So I had a character once, in a really early novel I was writing, that… he opened portals by just, like, ripping open the fabric of reality, and then I realized that—I made it so it was dangerous. They had a hard edge and you could just easily… slice yourself open, going through them. And then I realized, hey! He could just use this to slice open anybody. Slice open, like… destroy anything by opening a portal. And then it basically morphed into a… a weapon. [laughs]

Oren: Now you’re thinking with PORTALS.

Wes: Philip Pullman must have seen your draft, ‘cause he ripped you off with The Subtle Knife.

Chris: Although that one, actually, you use a weapon. You actually use a knife in that one.

Wes: Yeah, that’s true. And that one, at least has… he tries to incorporate some repercussions, right? Because every time they use the subtle knife, it creates, like, a shade or something that eventually comes and attacks them?

Oren: Although that’s not really a repercussion in the story, that’s an excuse for why they can’t see each other later. Because the big ending—SPOILERS— is that: Will, I think is his name? The boy. The boy and Lyra have to go back to their original worlds, because if one of them stays in a world they’re not from, they’ll get sick and die. And they can’t leave a door open for… dust reasons. And if they create another one to go through, then a specter will appear. So they have to stay on opposite sides. It’s very sad. I bet you think it’s tragic that this prepubescent love story is not going to entirely come to fruition.

Chris: That sounds like a lot of contrived reasons for…

Wes: Yes, it does.

Chris: Like if there was ONE reason, it wouldn’t feel so contrived. But okay. Now let me list ALL the number of reasons, each one of which we need, to explain why they can’t be together.

[laughter]

Oren: Look, this is also a book where we take a side trip to hell for literally no reason. There’s a lot of weird shit happening by the end of the third book.

Chris: Yeah. Amber Spyglass is… a mess.

Oren: The best part about Amber Spyglass is also transportation-related. It’s the weird motorcycle aliens!

Wes: Oh, my gosh. YES!

Chris: Oh, those are SO COOL! Although, I didn’t think of them as motorcycles. I thought they were cute. They sounded cute to me.

Oren: Well, they are cute. They’re like… they have little trunks, um, and they ride around on seed pods, but they are described as being kind of… motorcycle-shaped. Like, the characters can ride them. And they’re very unrelated to the plot. They have nothing to do with anything else that’s happening in the story.

Chris: But they ARE cool.

Wes: They are cool!

Oren: Yeah, but they are the best part of that book. Which tells you something about the quality of the series by the time we get to the end.

[laughter]

Chris: But yeah, the seed pods are like… the wheels. But you need a flat ground for that to work. You need… your landscape would have to be very flat.

Oren: He thought about this, okay. So he has a whole thing. A whole ecosystem revolves around the motorcycle aliens. So you have the seed pods, right, which are circular, and they put their claws in them and use them as wheels, and doing this eventually cracks the seed pods open, which spreads the seeds further. And there are basically—if I recall correctly—natural highways on this world, because of a bunch of old volcanic activity, I think was the explanation? That created a bunch of stone paths, essentially? I may be misremembering exactly how that happened—but there were stone paths. So it was a situation where first there were these stone paths, and there were these seed pods that were, like, vaguely wheel-shaped, and some of the—mulefa, they were called, started using them as wheels for funsies. And they weren’t really effective, but they were fun enough. And that spread the seeds around. So that introduced genetic pressure. And it’s more thought than most people put into their form of transportation, okay? I’m not saying it was perfect, but it was clearly thought out. It was clearly something he cared about and it has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

[laughter]

Chris: Why didn’t he write a separate story that was just about these, like… cute motorcycle creatures?

Oren: Why is that not the Golden Compass sequel? Why did he write a weird prequel story that no one bought?

[laughter]

Oren: I mean, presumably someone bought it. I don’t actually know what his sales figures are.

Chris: You know, just speaking of these natural highways, an important thing I learned when I was doing a bunch of research on how you travel over land before engines—I have a whole post on it—is: we take roads for granted, but it really takes a lot of work to maintain a road. Generally in any kind of fantasy setting you need a powerful empire or you don’t have roads. And if you don’t have roads, you can’t use any kind of wheels, like any wagons or anything like that.

Oren: I remember there’s a Thomas the Tank Engine movie, where Thomas meets a car. And they’re trying to do, like, a car/train comparison? And the car is like, I can go anywhere. I don’t need rails. And it’s like… you’re a goddamn liar, car. [laughter] You need roads. Those don’t make themselves. You try to drive over to someone’s house if you’re not connected by a road, see where that gets you.

Wes: I know. We really need a motorcycle alien to show up and be like, “Oh! I can go between things!”

[laughter]

Wes: So that’s a type of transportation that requires roads and wheels, and contact with the ground. [laughter] Great start you guys. How do we get there? Oh, right. Chris’s portals that made sharp edges.

Oren: Any kind of teleportation, any kind of direct point to point transit that doesn’t have travel times and ignores barriers… anything like that is going to be a problem. And I generally recommend against it.

Wes: What about, though—Because I DO agree with you—but I feel like Gates are more popular for the reason that ‘hey, you can’t just jump anywhere.’ Right? Like, ‘This Stargate only works THIS way,’ you know? And that’s kind of nice, because they’re more open to… sabotage, or just breaking down or something like that.

Chris: Also, gateways are fixed in their placement. Whereas, a lot of teleportation is anywhere-to-anywhere, as opposed to a gateway where you have to travel to the gateway first.

Oren: Right. I mean, you can’t use a Stargate to, like, break into the enemy headquarters and take their stuff and then leave, right? Unless they happen to be sleeping next to a Stargate. Although even in Stargate—the TV show—they do run into some pretty serious contrivances with these things. ‘Cause, apparently, Earth is the only planet that guards its Stargate?

[laughter]

Oren: You know, every other Stargate is just out in the middle of a field, even on technologically advanced worlds that they visit, and Earth is the only one that ever thought of putting, like, a door on their gate, so that people can’t just walk through whenever they like, and… okay, there are some contrivances there too.

Wes: I think one of the most ridiculous—I mean, fun and ridiculous—ones, that probably was invented by, like, a wizard chinchilla, was the Floo Network in Harry Potter. Because it’s all dusty? This is like, “oh yeah, this is great, you guys! Let’s just go through the chimneys!”

Chris: That’s definitely one of the more creative ones.

Wes: I think so.

Chris: I wonder if she was inspired by all of the… strange vents… that we see in every TV show and movie that somehow can hold a whole human?

[laughter]

Wes: But yeah, everybody has these… magisterial fireplace hearths, so you can stand up in them. And you have to be registered. On the Floo Network. Right? Like, you can’t just walk up to a random one. It might not be… connected. Does the Ministry have to send out a tech to hook up your Floo?

Chris: Yeah, because they make a point in one book how Harry Potter’s Muggle home has been connected to the Floo Network by the Ministry for a specific event.

Wes: That’s right! Yeah, yeah. Temporarily set up.

Oren: So, just a note on this—on any kind of fast teleportation grid system. Those are cool. You will, I think, find that they are of limited use for any kind of adventuring story, because for adventuring stories, the form of transit you need needs to be somewhat independent. It’s hard to, for example, take a bus to the dragon’s cave.

[laughter]

Oren: Because a bus implies a form of infrastructure. Like, in order to have public transit, you need to have some level of government, or whatever else, control of an area, or you can’t build a bus network or a train network or a teleportation network. So if you’re going to areas that are not under that kind of control, then you’re going to need some other form of transit and you’re gonna want it to be something between ‘a bus’ and ‘teleportation’ because teleportation is TOO free. You can just go too many places. So, you know, a spaceship is generally a good one. Or a horse.

Chris: How about… a Giant Eagle?

[groans and raspberries]

Wes: Fly, you fools!

[laughter]

Oren: Look. Introducing flight into a world that otherwise does not have flight is JUST AS, if not MORE overpowered than teleportation.

Chris: It is surprising how plot-breaking flight can be, as we’ve seen numerous times. One of the most notable ones is the Dark Crystal Netflix show, where it’s like half the Gelfling population can fly, and that wouldn’t be a big deal except for how they really want ‘having to get over cliffs and other obstacles’ to be important in the plot. Especially since their puppets can’t fight very well, right? So they need other obstacles.

Oren: I mean, they’re puppets, so that already limits their movement. Which means that the flight is extra weird, because we’ll see them, for example, struggling with little bugs attacking their feet. And it’s like, ‘well, you should just be able to lift off and not have to deal with these bugs.’ And it only looks like a problem because you’re dealing with puppets that have much more limited range of motion than an actual living being would.

But also, if you’re thinking about the implications at all—which is less likely in a TV show, but it will definitely happen in a novel—people will ask things like, “well, why don’t the lady Gelflings just drop rocks on whoever they don’t like? What are the non-fliers going to do about it? They haven’t invented AA guns yet.” So basically, before the invention of gunpowder, any kind of flier that you introduce is invulnerable to whoever’s on the ground unless you have something that is the equivalent of advanced firearms. The reason why that didn’t happen in real life is that we invented guns before we invented airplanes. Whereas, if we’d invented airplanes first, World War One would have looked very different, I tell you what.

Wes: Just planes flying around throwing rocks.

Oren: Yeah.

Chris: There was a pretty simple fix for The Dark Crystal I should mention, because somebody might find it useful. It’s very different if your creatures or your people can GLIDE instead of actual flight. It’s just much more limited, it’s logistically more challenging… you have to actually find the right place to take off. You can’t just go up into the sky anytime you have danger on the ground. [laughs] And you’re still not gonna be able to just suddenly glide UP a cliff. You can glide DOWN a cliff, but you can’t glide up a cliff.

Wes: Do these problems with flight also apply to having flying mounts?

Oren: Yes.

Chris: Absolutely.

Wes: You know, because personal flight, I kind of get that, but are we maybe led to believe that if I’m on a Pegasus, it’s somehow ‘well, it’s not ME that’s flying this thing. It could go wild.’

Oren: What you’ll find, if you make the flying tied to mounts, is that the author will just keep inventing reasons why you can’t get to your mount. Or, I mean, [they] could just be Tolkien, and not care. Tolkien does not have a reason why the Eagles don’t do all the things the Eagles should have done, and no amount of fan theorizing is going to change that.

[laughter]

Oren: Tolkien just DID NOT CARE, and he can get away with it, because he was writing in what was at the time, effectively, a brand new genre that he’d created, specifically the high fantasy genre. It’s harder to get away with that now.

Wes: Speaking of flying mounts—and we mentioned Harry Potter—I was thinking about this today with the Thestrals. And, it just seems like another big problem with Hogwarts. Like, okay, all these first years show up and there’s… or whoever gets the flying carriages… it looks like the carriages are flying on their own. Surprise! Invisible horses that will only be revealed to you when you’ve lost your innocence.

Oren: Yeah, what happens if someone just walks in front of the carriage?

Wes: Right? They’ll run right into it. But then also… so this new class of Hogwarts students shows up, maybe some of those students have actually… what’s the qualification? You have to see somebody die? Some of them probably will see those horses, insist “There are magical horses.” And the rest, maybe the majority of your classmates, might say, “No, what are you talking about? They’re magic carriages.” And then that kid gets ostracized. Maybe on the other hand, there’s a kid who has never seen somebody die, and goes through their entire time at Hogwarts hearing about these Thestrals, and never seeing one, and feeling like they’re missing out.

[laughter]

Chris: You’ve got to kill somebody.

Wes: I know!

Chris: Murder somebody, so you can see the Thestrals!

Oren: I mean, surprise, surprise. The wizard world is not super well built.

Wes: Yeah. Surprise, surprise.

Oren: Like, the idea that people don’t just know about the Thestrals—and this is a problem in lots of magic school stories, actually; in almost every magical school story I’ve ever read—there is a problem where the author really wants the things that happen in magic school to be super mysterious, but like… NOTHING that happens at a school is mysterious. Schools are basically machines for generating people talking about them. If you’ve ever been to college, every college tradition has its own Wiki page now. And even before the internet was a thing, it wasn’t hard to find out what was happening at Evergreen. I knew where all the weed dealers were, even though I didn’t smoke. [laughter] It wasn’t hard to find that out. And so the idea that “yeah, my magic school is very mysterious and nobody knows what happens!” …clearly you’ve never been to a school before.

Wes: Also, do something more practical. Like, make a magical tramway. Like, ‘these things can operate… [they can] fly effectively, but only on a pre-described course. You’ll learn about that in your fifth year.’

Chris: Well, I think with the Thestrals it was pretty clear that Rowling just didn’t know. She… that was not planned in advance. But going back to flying mounts, I think the best, most practical flying mount I’ve seen is Appa.

Wes: YES. Appa’s the best.

Chris: Appa from The Last Airbender. And Appa does allow pretty easy transportation. In this story, it’s very necessary because they’re flying all over the world. They do have an episode where they make a point of the fact that Appa does have to sleep on the ground, and they’re constantly pursued, which eventually becomes a problem because Appa is just too tired to fly after a while, and so they have to camp on the ground, which gives them some exposure.

But, most of all, Appa also is really shy about fighting and will not fight, which is… I think one of the worst mounts you could have is a dragon. Because, not only is a dragon super fast, supposedly—usually—and really big, but also can fight, sometimes can breathe fire… And some stories, like Eragon, it feels like they’re spending time finding a lot of excuses for why this dragon isn’t around. BBC Merlin—SPOILERS—has an ending issue that’s pretty similar to the Giant Eagles, where Merlin is trying to get King Arthur to Avalon, so that he doesn’t die. And it’s just like… why is it he doesn’t summon the dragon until Arthur’s basically already dead? It’s like, why didn’t you just summon your dragon earlier? Because he has a dragon he can summon whenever he wants.

Oren: Yeah, it’s almost like giving your character the ability to summon a giant flying fire-breathing monster on command is a bad idea. [laughter] Who would’ve thought! Okay. I want to point out a few things about Appa. First, we have the situation [where] Appa is one bison, and we’re told that there really aren’t any more, though there must be some at some point because of what happens in Korra. So it’s not like Appa is going to affect the tide of a war the way it would if there were lots of them. Two, Appa—this part doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it’s established in the show—can’t actually fly high enough to get them out of danger from most enemy forces. The Fire Nation can shoot high enough to threaten Appa—which they shouldn’t be able to do based on how high we see him flying—but that is a thing that they establish, and that’s good, because otherwise the characters could just go wherever they want, and that would be bad for the story. So they specifically make a point of that. That Appa is not just a ‘get out of jail free’ card. They’re like, he’s useful, and he’s an explanation for how they’re able to travel so quickly, but he still can’t get them past really heavily defended areas and what have you.

And that also works as a decent example for if, for example, you wanted to, say, run an Avatar RPG or whatever, and you wanted to explain why people don’t just hire a bunch of air bison to bombard a fortress or something. I mean, you could do that, but air bison are actually not very good in battle, because they’re huge, and they can’t fly that high, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So that’s a good thing for us. If you tried to make a consistent, cohesive world, as opposed to something like the Temeraire books, which I love but they do have a problem of ‘why does anyone have big fortresses? Dragons could just drop rocks on them.’ And that’s exactly what happens in one of the books. And it’s like a big “Oh, who could have seen this coming? The dragons dropped rocks on our fortress!” It’s like, well, me. From literally the first page.

[laughter]

Wes: We’re developing, like, a transportation broken scale of: how easily does this type of transportation allow you to drop rocks on your enemies?

Oren: That’s an important thing to consider!

Wes: It is!

Oren: Because combat is all about releasing energy on your enemy. And if you can fly up really high, that’s a lot of stored energy, which you can then release by dropping a rock. And, you know, you have to think about that a little bit.

Wes: You drop space rocks on people.

Oren: Ah, well. I mean, yes, that’s also a problem.

[laughter]

Chris: Conversely, it’s also possible to make transportation and traveling MORE dangerous. Which can be useful. I’m reading Interview With the Vampire right now, which is altogether not what I would call a great book, but one thing that’s interesting about it is how big of a deal Anne Rice makes about how the sun is very dangerous, and that the vampires have to be wary of being caught in the open close to dawn. Which, you know, these days it feels like most vampire fiction is really eager to just gloss over how dangerous the sun is to vampires, whereas that makes it so that traveling is actually kind of dangerous. And whenever they are not in their normal home location, they’re always thinking about: where are they going to find shelter? And when they shelter for the day, it’s like, ‘okay, I need to be able to bolt and lock the doors, make sure that humans don’t come in, and I need to be able to make all of the windows have curtains, completely [dark with] no light coming in,’ and everything. So that’s an interesting thing that makes traveling more interesting, just because it’s more dangerous, inherently.

Oren: Although, we mentioned spaceships, that’s actually another one where authors don’t often understand what exactly a spaceship allows you to do. And you see this a lot in Star Trek or other sci-fi shows where they kind of want to treat spaceships like water ships. And if you’re on a water ship, then you get to the shore, and that’s it. Like, that’s as far as your ship can go. And if it’s an advanced ship with guns, it might be able to shoot a little ways inland, but once you leave the ship, you’re basically not going to get help from it, right? But a spaceship doesn’t work that way. The spaceship is always above you, wherever you are, and can very easily interact with the ground. So that’s an issue. And again, Star Trek can get away with it, but your sci-fi novel probably can’t.

Wes: Unless you, yourself, are basically a spaceship in which case those other spaceships can get out of here.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, you could just do the Justice League version. Where in Justice League, half the characters can fly in space, and they just fly to another planet.

Wes: I was also thinking about Captain Marvel. Isn’t her power that she’s basically, like, a space engine?

Oren: That’s literally her power, is that she’s an entire spaceship in a person-size package.

Wes: It’s awesome.

[laughter]

Oren: I guess she must be able to activate the Marvel Universe’s, like, FTL network, which they seem to have? I don’t know how else she gets from place to place. Who knows? I don’t know. I don’t ask these questions.

[laughter]

Chris: Speaking of sci-fi transport, the show Dark Matter has an interesting form, where technically they’re not traveling, but what they do is: instead of actually moving themselves, they hook up to a clone body at their destination. So there are these pods that will just… make them a clone body. And they travel around as their clone. And then they have to get back in their pod and send the memories back. And so then if their clone gets murdered, they just don’t know what happened during their trip, which makes for some interesting plot hooks.

Oren: Yeah, that kind of transportation is a big exercise in “please don’t ask questions.”

Chris: [laughs] Yeah. So many implications!

Oren: Because it’s really hard to justify why you can do something like that and not, just, any other kind of mind copying, because in that situation the mind is clearly just data, and you’re copying it and then transmitting that data somewhere else and then installing that mind in a new body, and the implications for that, if followed to their natural conclusion, reach Eclipse Phase. Which is an interesting setting, and also very bad for storytelling. It’s really hard to create meaningful stakes over a long period of time in Eclipse Phase, because you effectively can’t die. And violence doesn’t really matter, except for the amount of trauma that it induces. It has no permanent effects. And so it’s just hard. Like, I’m not saying you can’t do it, it’s just very difficult.

And most authors don’t want to deal with that, so they try to come up with reasons why you can only do a little bit of mind transfer, and I think your best solution there is to just not put the audience in a situation, in a position where they start to ask questions, like… gosh, what was that book? That series that was on Netflix, the really grimdark cyberpunk… Altered Carbon. Like, Altered Carbon tries to do this, but it raises too many questions. They want to have SOME mind transfer, but not TOO much. And so they arbitrarily create these weird limits, like ‘it would be impossible to store your mind on anything other than these weird disks we found, except for, you know, the backup satellite that we gave this rich guy. He has one. Who knows.’ Why does that work? So that’s just something you have to be careful of when you’re writing this sort of story. I do like consciousness travels though. It is cool. It’s a cool idea.

Wes: What about fuel? When we talk about transport. Because I’m thinking of The Last Jedi…

Oren: [laughs]

Wes: …and how it’s the only one of those movies to bring up fuel as actually important for those spaceships.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, look, fuel can be fun, right? Like you can make a story where “your ship’s running out of gas” is actually an interesting problem. It’s called Fury Road. Go watch it. But certainly if most of your universe treats fuel as an infinite resource and then suddenly you have one story where it’s a big deal, that’s going to be weird, right? That’s going to feel out of place.

Wes: There’s a Firefly episode called ‘Out of Gas.’

Chris: Yes. That’s exactly what I was thinking about.

Wes: It doesn’t come out of nowhere, because they’re constantly scraping by, and they know that they need to buy fuel, and basic resources too. So when that episode finally happens, you’re like, Oh yeah, this makes sense. We know that they don’t make a ton of money with their job, and they often lose money. And so when finally a part fails and they don’t have their stuff, then it’s like, ‘okay, like we’re here now.’ And it’s nice to see it just… cohesively build up around that, ‘cause they’re basically driving a junky spaceship in cowboy land.

Chris: And definitely the series also emphasizes that kind of gritty, you know, resources and basic mundane needs. As opposed to Star Wars, which completely glosses over, like, what are people eating except for when it’s… blue, or green? [laughs]

Wes: Yes. Blue everything.

Chris: Right, it usually glosses over those types of basic necessities. Except for The Mandalorian actually gets into those kinds of things. Not fuel though.

Oren: So fuel is basically like any other resource. And if your story is about resource management, which a lot of stories are, it can be a lot of fun. Go for it. And that means that you can do it in Star Wars, in The Mandalorian. Because he has to try to get food and other stuff that he needs, and he has to repair his ship and all that, it would not be out of place for him to also have a fuel problem. The reason it’s weird in Last Jedi is that there’s nothing really to indicate that they are in an unusual circumstance. And from what we’ve seen up until this point, Rebel and Imperial fleets effectively have unlimited fuel. Certainly not fuel that’s going to run out in a couple days, right? They’ve always been able to drive basically forever. Like the Millennium Falcon seems to be fine for… who knows how long they were running around in Empire Strikes Back? Long enough for Luke to learn how to be a Jedi.

Chris: Yeah. But in Firefly, there’s even foreshadowing about parts, and that parts need to be replaced, before this happens. And it’s definitely that kind of setting where there’s a lot of emphasis on resources, so it really fits in when it happens.

Oren: And, you know, you can do the same thing in a fantasy setting, except with fuel you’re probably going to have food, but, like, you can have food for your mounts too. That’s a thing. If your setting is kind of gritty and on the more realistic side, then yeah, you’re going to have to procure fodder for your animals. And depending on the kind of animal, that could be easier or harder. One of the things that makes a mount better or worse is: how easy is it to feed? And some animals can eat basically anything that was once a plant, and others need a very refined or very high calorie diet. This is one of the reasons why elephants don’t typically make very good mounts. They’re really expensive to feed.

Wes: Unless your fantasy world takes advantage of Oren’s necro-industrial complex.

Oren: Oooh!

Wes: Then suddenly you have undead elephants that never need to eat and can transport everything for you.

Oren: And the only downside is that you are slowly but surely increasing the leak of negative energy into the material plane.

Wes: I’ll take that trade.

Oren: I wouldn’t worry.

[laughter]

Chris: One of my favorite forms of transport I’ve seen some stories is just magical pathways. A lot of times in fantasy it’s like a pathway through the woods that appears or disappears, and it’s hard to find, but once you find it, you can either move quickly or you can move through an area and be protected. Spinning Silver, for instance. The book has a path that the—they go by different names, but they’re basically the Fey—use, and you’re not even supposed to see it unless you’re with the Fey. And that’s how you get to the fairy kingdom, otherwise you can’t get there. And I’ve seen some other places where there’s, you know, a path that goes real fast, but it’s really wild, it has wild magic and it’s kind of dangerous… so there can be some kind of cool things there, where it gives you something magical to discover. And if you don’t want to have your characters traveling for too long, it gives a magical reason why. But then you can also put arbitrary rules on it, because it’s magic. If it fits your setting. Like ‘only the Faeries can see this path,’ or you can have ‘it goes one way, but not the other,’ and all sorts of other things like that.

Wes: Oh! Oren’s probably gonna call time soon. We might pick this back up in the future, but just some quick takeaways. Your transportation is important to your setting, and there’s lots of great opportunities to kind of customize your world through it. But keep in mind that when you add something for transportation, you’re adding something new and novel to the world that might have some kind of ripple effects. See our notes earlier on flight or perhaps fuel or weaponry or any of those fun things that let you drop rocks on people from any dimension you want to be in.

Oren: Yeah. Also, you’re going to have to deal with the transporter question, which… go watch some YouTube videos on that. I don’t have time for that.

[laughter]

Oren: With that, I think we will have to call this episode to a close. Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons who have helped us travel the road to get here. Ooh.

Chris: And is it a long road, Oren?

Oren: Yeah. You know, getting from there to here, it’s been a long time. Anyway, first we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of Political Theory in Star Trek. Next, we have Ayman Jaber. He is an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally, we have Danita Rambo, and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week!

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Comments

  1. A Perspiring Writer

    Those portals you described? It’s weird, because magic just like that appears in The Wheel of Time.

    It’s in one of the later books¹; one of the kinds of magic rediscovered is a type of portal that channelers can open at will. People realize that these portals will slice something in two if it’s opened within that something, and this tactic ends up weaponized².

    Incidentally, the concept of portals being used to cut objects is a rather common trope (TV Tropes calls it ‘Portal Cut’), but it’s usually the portal CLOSING that does this. An opening portal being responsible for cutting isn’t actually that common.

    ¹I haven’t gotten there myself, but I’ve read about it online.

    ²And at least one character uses it as a replacement for knives.

    • A Perspiring Writer

      Weirdly enough, The Wheel of Time also has something like those magical pathways you talked about toward the end…

    • Cay Reet

      I came across a ‘portal cut’ when I finally got around to the tenth Brian Helsing novel a few days ago. There, one of Cthuhlu’s face-tentacles is cut when the portal to Hell closes – luckily before he can pull Brian along.

      I think the portal cut is easy enough to explain, since the portal closing means two different points in space no longer being connected. What’s in between them would logically be cut.

      • A Perspiring Writer

        Thor: Ragnarok had one too; in the opening, the Bifrost sends Thor back to Asgard… along with the severed head of a flying… Helhound? Is that a good name for it?

        (And yes, I’m aware that the opening didn’t take place in Hel.)

        • Gray Hand

          Avengers Infinity War also had it – Doctor Strange’s mate used it to cut the hand off one of Thanos’s henchmen early on.

          Odd that they didn’t try that move again given how useful it would have been to be able to cut off the hand of one enemy in particular at any stage in that movie.

  2. A Perspiring Writer

    About The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance;

    I had always assumed that, although female Gelflings can fly, they require a large space to begin that flight in the first place. I actually remember a moment in an episode¹ where a (female) character needs to get somewhere high up, but they can’t just fly from where they are; they need to jump from somewhere high up, pick up some speed, and only after they move into a glide can they achieve winged flight.

    Maybe I’m wrong on this², but from what I remember, flight in the series isn’t as overpowered as you say. Also, I can’t recall any moments in the series where characters need to get to a higher place, aside from the one I just mentioned³, but I might be misremembering.

    Please inform me if I got anything wrong, or if there’s a misunderstanding.

    ¹ Episode 3, 4, or 5; I can’t quite remember, just that it was in the first half.
    ² I’ve only seen the show up until Episode 7 or 8 (and I really need to finish it).
    ³ And some others that follow the same principle.

  3. A Perspiring Writer

    About the Eagles (sigh):

    It feels like you’re just basing this analysis off the movies (which had no direct involvement from Tolkien, and where many things were changed), but ‘blaming’ Tolkien for that¹. I may be wrong, but that’s sure what it feels like.

    Namely, the reasons for why they can’t just ‘take the Eagles’ are much clearer in the book. For one, the Eagles aren’t as strong as you might think², so they would be at huge risk of being attacked by Sauron’s forces, which leads into my next point: the Fellowship is supposed to be a secret mission.

    The entire goal of the Fellowship is to deliver the Ring into Orodruin as QUIETLY and INCONSPICUOUSLY as possible. The Eagles are not QUIET or INCONSPICUOUS. This actually ties into my earlier point, where the Eagles are weaker in the books; if the Fellowship took the Eagles to Mordor, then what would happen if they were attacked along the way? I don’t know about you, but it would be pretty hard to hold on to a dogfighting Eagle. And about the Ring….

    The Ring itself is my next point; it’s intelligent, and is constantly trying to get back to Sauron. It also corrupts anyone nearby into attempting to take the Ring for themselves, and this is another reason why taking the Eagles would probably be bad: it might not be true in the movies⁴, but in the book, the Eagles are intelligent creatures as well, and would probably be tempted to take the Ring⁵.

    Anyway, there’s my two…. dollars? It’s certainly not two cents; there are too many words in this text box.

    Please feel free to correct me on anything here; I make no pretenses of having all the facts. The statement in the podcast just sent me into Defense Mode⁶.

    ¹ And just to let you know, none of what I’m about to say is a fan theory. Although I got these from fans, all of these are logical inferences from what’s explained in the book.
    ² In the book, when the eagles arrive during the climax, it’s the assembled armies of their entire race, not just five guys³. (The movie had a CGI budget, however, and the book didn’t, so I’m willing to forgive that.
    ³ Burgers and fries?
    ⁴ Which, in my opinion, was the single worst change that could have been made in the films (and to a lesser extent, The Hobbit): the Eagles don’t speak there. Why, Peter Jackson, why’d you have to get rid of the talking Eagles?! (im just salty sry).
    ⁵ This is another reason why the Fellowship is as small and secret as it is; the fewer people there are who know about the Ring, and the fewer individuals in close proximity to it, then the safer their mission will be.
    ⁶ No, not THAT one.

    • Angelo Pardi

      Thanks for this comment, I was too lazy to write it.

      I’ll add a few things:
      1) On Eagle not being inconspicuous.
      I’ve never seen the movies, but in the books either Saruman or Sauron has bird spies looking for the fellowship. They would easily find the Eagles too. Besides Sauron eye would see any flying thing coming from as far as Lorien. And finally the books establish that it’s possible to take down an Eagle from the ground when Legolas shoot down a Nazgul.

      2) The Eagles are an independent faction and serve their own interest first, it’s not like Gandalf can summon them at will.

      3) However I agree that the Eagle option should have been at least discussed in Elrond’s Council. A simple “yeah but you can’t because they would be seen from afar” would have solve any speculation.

      4) The Lord of the Ring is really, really, really great at transportation times. Everything is timed in a realistic way which many authors should take inspiration from…

      5) There is one big plot hole in the Lord of the Ring (meaning a very dumb decision that nobody questions), and this is not the Eagles thing. It’s from the very beginning of the Hobbits’ journey, when they meet a group of Elves who save them from a Black Riders. The Elves know they are in danger of the Black Riders, they are going to Rivendell, they know the Hobbits are going to Rivendell, and they know that the Hobbits’ mission must be important. Yet they somehow don’t even wonder if they could like maybe help them go to Rivendell ?

      • A Perspiring Writer

        So, about your comment:

        1) Yeah, all those reasons are good (the bird spies appear in the films as well, when the Fellowship is trying to cross Caradhras); I’d like to add one more: in The Hobbit, the Eagles mention that they don’t like going where Men are, for fear that they would be attacked. If the Eagles could be held off by Men, then surely the forces of Mordor would have much more of a chance.

        2) I didn’t think about that¹ when I made my comment, but yeah, that’s another good reason.

        3) I agree with this wholeheartedly. While the Eagles ARE mentioned at the Council of Elrond (Gandalf talks about how Gwaihir rescued him from Orthanc²), they aren’t mentioned in any of the preparations, not even to say ‘that wouldn’t work’.

        4) I agree with this even more wholeheartedly. The Lord of the Rings is one of the few books (The Eye of the World is another strong contender) where I actually get a sense of an EPIC journey across hundreds of miles. LotR is sometimes criticized for being long and slow, with many descriptions of the countryside, but I find that it helps to sell the journey’s realism.

        5) If I remember correctly (I haven’t read LotR in about a year), the Elves that the Hobbits meet are going to the Grey Havens, in the opposite direction of Rivendell (I just looked through my copy, and that would seem to be accurate). Incidentally, those Elves actually appeared in the films as well (at least in the Extended Editions³), although only in a small scene (Frodo and Sam are looking on as the Elves walk in a procession to the Grey Havens).

        Thanks for replying! Feel free to respond to anything I said here.

        ¹ Or rather, I wasn’t thinking about it by the time I finished writing. I wanted to note how J. R. R. Tolkien himself said that the Eagles ‘would never stoop to being Middle-earth’s taxi service’⁴ (I think that’s an accurate quotation).

        ² Incidentally, this is one of the few words I managed to spell right the first time.

        ³ Granted, the Extended Editions ARE the best

        ⁴ He also said that the Eagles could be considered kinda overpowered (probably NOT a direct quotation), which is why he doesn’t use them that often. He also notes that this sort of thing is rather common in mythology, which is what he was trying to emulate (Tolkien’s Legendarium originated as a sort of mythological history of England).

        • Angelo Pardi

          Now reading the related passage again, it seems that the Elves are effectively going to the other direction, and that they send message (how ?) to Rivendell. I was confused by this message (I naturally thought that the Elves Frodo met had gone to Rivendell to deliver it), and by the name similarity between Gildor (whom they meet in the Shire) and Galdor (who takes part in Elrond Council).

          (On a side note some day I’ll write a long rant in a comment section about why the Lord of the Ring is the greatest fantasy book of all time and most of its supposed defects don’t actually exists).

          • A Perspiring Writer

            Why not write it here? I’d certainly like to hear it, and The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books as well.

  4. A Perspiring Writer

    About Appa:

    I actually have a minor complaint about him. Not that he isn’t a great animal companion (he’s one of the show’s best aspects), but I just can’t get past one moment in the finale.

    So, in earlier seasons, Appa couldn’t fly very fast or very far, and it took them a long time to get anywhere. That’s all well and good, right? Well, in the finale, Appa is able to fly from the Earth Kingdom to the Fire Nation MULTIPLE TIMES IN LESS THAN THREE DAYS.

    THREE. DAYS.

    To be honest, the final episodes certainly have a problem with being consistent about distances and travel times¹ (Not enough episodes left to get where you’re going in a logical, consistent manner? JUST IGNORE THAT, YOU’LL GET THERE IN NO TIME AT ALL!), and it all just feels so…. egregious.

    I apologize if this seems ranty, I think I just needed some space to vent.

    ¹ that’s not the only thing they had problems being consistent with

  5. A Perspiring Writer

    This is my comment section. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

    • A Perspiring Writer

      Y’know, I can’t WAIT for the Mythcreants crew to see this.

      I’ve been thinking recently that I haven’t been commenting very much. Well, be careful what you wish for, I guess.

      (It’s also really cool to have an entire comment section to myself.)

  6. Star of Hope

    Does the sudden teleport also count as contrived? If people can distantly warp into something, it makes defending yourself almost impossible.

    Speaking about possibility, will we ever see an Podcast on Star Trek Lower Decks?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I wouldn’t say teleportation is automatically contrived, but it certainly has the problem we were talking about with portals. Possibly worse, since at least portals create a more limited area for people to jump in.

      As for Lower Decks, we’ll see. I dunno if it’s enough for a full episode, but we’ll probably talk about it at least a little in the future.

      • Star of Hope

        I was talking about random transportation, like in the middle, but yeah it doesn’t have to be contrived if it’s already established.

        It has more light than Picard or Discovery, I won’t spoil but it does correct a lot of flaws fro these shows and one from an episode of Enterprise, which was inherently sexist…it’s the episode before Mirroverse Archer’s rise and fall.

  7. Arix

    “…are we maybe led to believe that if I’m on a Pegasus, it’s somehow ‘well, it’s not ME that’s flying this thing. It could go wild.’”

    I think this can work as long as you establish early on (before it becomes relevant, like most things that require pre-establishing something) that it really could go wild. Show the pegasus kicking people, breaking its restraints, ignoring commands, going as fast as it damn well pleases. And, crucially, don’t do the whole “But the protagonist is the one person it likes and obeys” thing. Then, riding it is legitimately dangerous, not something people can just do to easily solve any transport based problem, not something people would want to do if there we were any other option, and leads to a tense moment if they’re forced to do it anyway.

  8. Stuart Mackey

    I found your blog looking for an article on factions, then a saw you have a podcast so I checked and searched and looked and I don’t see anything to click to link me to your podcast, even though your transcript specifically states and asks for iTunes (now know as Apple Podcast, by the way. Has been for several years) reviews. Just trying to be helpful and not a jerk. You have an RSS button, but not links to your podcast in any of the specific directories.

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