Harlan Ellison, Diablo, and Insomnia

    Someday I’ll learn: no more Harlan Ellison stories right before going to bed. It isn’t that they are poor stories; indeed, I wish I could write like Ellison. Unfortunately, they’re just too good. I read a story or essay by this wonder of modern SF, and my mind starts to go, spinning like some demonic Ferris wheel. Great for coming up with stories, but lousy if I actually have intentions of getting any sleep. And, as I toss and turn, telling my brain to shut up for crying out loud, my mind turns to Diablo.

    Somehow, especially now that I’ve written Demonsbane, writing and Diablo have become linked in my mind. After waiting for almost three years to generate that magic acceptance letter from a publisher, how was I to know that my professional fiction career would start with some phone calls and an emailed short story? If somebody had told me three months ago that I would be writing Diablo professional fiction, I would have laughed them off of whatever street they traveled (although I would try not to laugh them into traffic).

    Still, Diablo has been good to me, in more ways than one. It was through Diablo that I met one of my best friends, a fellow named Gordon Brown. Gord is a great friend, the sort of man you can count on to help you through that crushing real-life problem, or to stand by your side and actually share the gold as the party goes deeper into the dungeon, noticing for the first time that these goat men happen to be better armed than you are.

    Ah, yes, those halcyon comic-book shop days of Diablo back in the summer of 1997. I remember them so well. From the start, I had linked the game and literature; my character was named Sigifrith, from the Stephen Grundy novel Rhinegold. Later, when I finally made my way onto Battle.net, Sigifrith became Garwulf, a character from the novel I’m currently working on.

    (Note, for all those who have a love of meaningless trivia: Garwulf is a mythical character, properly known as “Garwulf the Slayer.” He’s the sort of warrior that makes Conan the Barbarian appear to be a weakling, a character capable of defeating an entire army using only a bread knife and a loaf of whole wheat. Hell, if you’re going to name a Diablo character after one of your own, you may as well be ambitious…)

    Gord was Sarnakyle, a wizard with a knack for getting me out of those situations where I had heedlessly charged into a room filled with monsters, one of whom invariably had the Medieval equivalent of a machine gun. Sometimes, he even managed to do it without both of us dying as well. When we did die, though, we were assured of spending half an hour working out who owned what, as we picked up the arms and armor that had fallen in enough quantity to fill in a castle moat. We fought together, we died together. It was true comradery.

    As we played, I learned, and stopped charging into rooms, attracting the attention of every single monster in the dungeon at once. We still occasionally ran into the Diablo equal of the bazooka and Gatling gun, but we stood a better chance of survival. By the time we took on the big, horn-studded demon of Hell himself, we were a well oiled team, and our arch-nemesis didn’t stand a change.

    (Okay; we actually still bore a remarkable resemblance to thugs with swords, but deep down inside, we were a well-oiled team. Really.)

    Still, nothing is forever, and eventually Diablo went the way of the wind. We waited for a while, spending our time painting miniatures and penning up our need to inflict acts of incredible and brutal violence on monsters. Finally, the new game came out, and we flocked to the comic shop to begin anew.

    Garwulf rose again, this time as a terrifying barbarian, capable of sending monsters scrambling away in fear at the very sound of his voice (although Garwulf secretly believes that it might actually be his bad breath). Sarnakyle was transmuted into Sarnaka, a fetching sorceress with a knack for knocking demons about the head with a big stick (and who Gord insists is Sarnakyle’s daughter).

    You know what? Diablo II was a better game than its predecessor. There was much more to do, and a better in-game story. We were able to save some time when one of us managed to attract the attention of every monster in the area (remember, we were now going through deserts and jungles, rather than caves and catacombs), as our rotting corpse would survive our demise. We would wander back to where the monsters had been screaming obscenities at our fallen forms, and having driven them off, Garwulf would stare at his body and remark, “So that explains the agonizing back pain a moment ago.”

    And then, while Garwulf the Slayer from my yet-to-be-finished novel was living an active life slaughtering demons, came the contract offer from Pocket Books. Gord was kind enough to let me use Sarnakyle as a character in the novella, and our adventures in the jungles of the Diablo world continued unabated during what little free time I had as I worked day and night on my word processor.

    Except now, the original Sigifrith-Sarnakyle team, due to a neat little inside joke in the book referring to the Norse Volsunga Saga, is enshrined for all eternity in that new, wondrous thing called “Diablo literature.” And thus the link is complete. Diablo and writing, all bundled up into one neat little package, specifically designed to keep me up at nights after reading yet another Harlan Ellison story.

    There is a Mel Brooks film with the line: “It’s good to be the king.” The line is wrong; it’s even better to be an author.

    Disclaimer: Garwulf’s Corner was written by Robert B. Marks and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.

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