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History for Fantasy Writers: Pirates

Everyone knows about the pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s talk about other pirates. Since I’m a medieval historian, I’ll stay firmly in the European world.

Before we get started, a general comment: the lines between pirate, merchant, and rebel were blurry and ever-shifting. If you had a ship, it was sort of like having a pickup truck—you could use it for any number of enterprises.

Few pirates were exclusively that. The real interest lies in the variations on our standard idea of piracy.

Who were pirates? Given the comment above, pretty much anyone with a ship and a few followers could engage in piracy at one time or another, but there were a few places notorious for the practice of robbing other ships.

Frisian Pirates

Frisians were one. They lived along the coast of northeastern Netherlands; the region is still called Friesland. The Frisians were their own people, with their own language. Their land is made up of a complex of islands and marshlands that were rarely the object of ambition from other peoples, so they rarely were under the foot of invading armies.

The Frisians were constant raiders, not all that dissimilar to the Vikings, save that they did not try to invade and conquer. They were content to loot and go home. It just so happened that they were as content to do their looting at sea as on land.

Frisians are a fine example of the muddy lines between pirate, merchant and rebel. Under the Carolingians, their ports flourished and Frisian ships traded as far as England, France, Denmark and into the Baltic Sea. This trade was largely ruined by the Vikings, who hit this part of Europe hard. By the 14th century, we encounter them as pirates preying on ships from Hamburg and Bruges, calling the Vitalienbrüdern. Eventually, they annoyed the neighboring Germans and Danes enough that they were conquered and their sailing skills were put to use by others.

Cilician Pirates

Pirates were a constant problem in the ancient world as well. The pirates of Cilicia (southern coast of modern Turkey) once captured Julius Caesar. They later regretted that. The Great Pompey was given the task of clearing what Romans called Our Sea (the Mediterranean). He did so with Roman efficiency. He deployed a fleet and an army. Working in tandem, they moved along the coast from one end of Cilicia to the other. The navy destroyed their ships and the army destroyed their ports. Few kingdoms in later centuries had the resources to pull off an expedition of that scale.

The Sea Beggars

These fellows fall at the rebel end of the pirate spectrum. When the Spanish waged war in the Netherlands in the later 1500s, a number of ship owners decided to use their ships to harass the Spanish. They were sometimes effective, sometimes not, but they fairly consistently pocketed their prizes, arguing that they needed to cover expenses.

Whenever peace broke out, the brave, patriotic rebels became pirates. When war returned, they were once again patriots. Their most famous exploit was the raising of a Spanish siege of the town of Leiden in 1574.

River Pirates

River pirates could be found on the Thames in England, the Ganges in India, and the Yangtze in China (the Yangtze Patrol was made famous in the book and movie, The Sand Pebbles).  There were even Cossack pirates, such as Stepan Razin.

Once, Razin was surrounded by a Persian fleet in the Black Sea. The Persian commander put his ships in a circle, chained together, to keep Razin from escaping. The pirate ships were smaller and lower, completely vulnerable to the Persian cannon fire. But Razin attacked anyway. A lucky shot set off the powder magazine in the Persian flagship, sinking it almost instantly. When it sank, it dragged the other ships down with it and only three Persian ships survived. Razin sailed away unscathed.

He rained terror and death along the Volga, the Don and into the Caspian Sea. He sacked Astrakhan and Samarra. At the height of his career he commanded several thousand followers and whole fleets of ships.

Other Cossacks also took to rivers. The most famous of these were the Ushkuiniks, who operated in northern Russia, around Novgorod. Their ships were remarkably slim and light (uisk in Russian means snake). Although they could hold as many as thirty men, the ship could be carried overland between rivers. Ushkuinik ships were frighteningly swift.

There was Alfhild, the pirate princess. Daughter of Siward, King of the Goths. Beautiful, of course, but she went about hooded and cloaked so men would not be provoked to passion. She was to be married to the handsome Viking Alf, who himself was a great hero at sea. But she refused to marry. She and some friends dressed as men and commandeered a ship, then embarked on a career as pirates. According to legend, all her crew were women.

Alfhild operated in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, not on rivers, so technically she doesn’t belong here. I just like her story.

Many so-called pirates were at least part-time merchants, glad to engage in peaceful trade when that was profitable, and equally happy to engage in piracy when that was the easier course. Stepan Razin’s pirates would enter as merchants and live in a place for weeks or months before turning on the population, stealing everything. In one case, forty of them entered as pilgrims. They went to the shrine, killed the guards, and opened the gates. In another case, the pirates posed as merchants bringing jars of wine. The weapons were hidden in the jars.

River pirates could form whole flotillas. They typically had an island or swamp as refuge. It’s rare to find river pirates operating at sea, and vice versa, mainly because the ships and techniques are quite different.

Pirates in Fantasy

River pirates would make a great target for an expedition of heroes. Ship to ship battles are always colorful, and the climax could be the assault on the pirates’ island fortress. Also, your readers are less likely to know the details of non-seafaring ships.

Since this is fantasy, why not add magic to the mix? River pirates might command currents, summon river monsters, or even be the ripuarian equivalent of mermen.

Even if river pirates are not the focus of your book, they could make a colorful side-quest or could provide a rich secondary character or two.

I don’t know of any fantasy tales that make use of river pirates. If you do, please let me know. I’ll update this article and give you credit!

As for sea pirates, I don’t think anyone needs encouragement there. All I’ll add is that there’s room for a story about the moral ambiguity of a pirate’s career. The pirate could see himself as a defender of his people, while his enemies see him as a … well, as a dread pirate (with apologies to Mr. Goldman).

How about you? Have you used pirates in any of your stories? Read any good fantasy pirate tales? The clear leader in that last category is Tim Powers (On Stranger Tides). How about any others?


E.L. Skip Knox is the creator of the fantasy world called Altearth, a place where magic is real, monsters roam the land, and the Roman Empire never fell.

Source: mythicscribes.com

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How Safe are eBooks From Illegal Copying?


Publishing has enjoyed a far smoother journey into the electronic age than the music business. But that doesn’t mean it can be complacent about piracy.

While the collapse of early file-sharing site Napster did not kill music piracy, it nonetheless highlighted battle lines between legitimate and bogus music resources on the web – developments that are now proving relevant to online book publishing too.

June marked a full decade since Napster filed for bankruptcy, weakened by multiple copyright lawsuits from record labels and their artists. Two months on from that anniversary, the UK branch of online retailer Amazon announced that its sales of Kindle ebooks had finally outstripped those of their print ancestors: 114 digital publications selling for every 100 physical ones. In between those two milestones occurred an incident that neatly linked them together…

Confess – or be shamed

Ebook Publishing Design Edition First Graphic Aggregators Ebooks Publishers Distribution POD Designing Approved Aggregator How Services Academic Distributor Chapter Submission Professional Firsteditiondesignpublishing.com published book marketIt concerned the July release of fantasy author Terry Goodkind’s novel, The First Confessor – a long-awaited prequel to his bestselling Sword of Truth series. Aiming to test his audience’s uptake of electronic reading devices, Goodkind published the tome as an ebook exclusive, with just 300 special limited edition print copies available to diehard collectors. Sales of the ebook soared instantly. But Goodkind was enraged when he became aware of pirate copies that emerged within days of the official publication. For the author, this was particularly galling, as he had prepared the ebook for release himself – unaided by his regular publisher Tor.

His wrath inflamed, Goodkind took to his Facebook page to name and shame one of the pirates – one Josh Press. In a posting that included Press’s photograph, Goodkind accused him of having ‘no respect for a hard-working author’ and asked him: ‘Can’t [you] be bothered to read and consider our note on piracy in the front of the book?’ In a subsequent posting, Goodkind explained that he’d wanted to expose ‘someone that claimed to be a fan, a reader of books, had accessibility to the books, had every incentive to purchase and support them, but instead chose … to disregard the work, [and] the values within it’.

Which begs the question: is illegal ebook copying becoming as big a threat to intellectual property (IP) as music piracy?

Wild West gadgets

Publishers and authors have every reason to be wary of ebook piracy, with its grave implications for revenue – and the IP system that is meant to protect them.

Impacts of the practice are felt across IP categories: as well as duplicating the copyrighted content of its source text, a pirated ebook is infringing upon the trademarks of the author and publisher. And as US legislators propose Acts that could enable IP enforcers to seize domains suspected of hosting pirated content, the message to web managers is that stringent housekeeping of their sites would be welcomed sooner rather than later.

But there are differing views on how seriously ebook piracy should be taken. In a June article for the Wall Street Journal, Listen.com founder Rob Reid pointed out that the circumstances in which ebook piracy has emerged are subtly different to those that drove the early years of music-file sharing. For a start, he argued, the popularity of ebook technology – led by Amazon’s patented Kindle device – has grown in tandem with the spread of legitimate content, narrowing the scope of pirates’ operations.

That is in stark contrast to early file sharing, which was driven by the first wave of MP3 devices such as the Rio, released in 1998. Beating Apple’s first iPod model to the market by three years, the Rio operated in a Wild West climate where online music was the preserve of file sharers and had yet to be reined in by legitimate, label-endorsed services such as iTunes or Spotify. Taking advantage of such a lax environment, file sharers ripped and distributed as many tracks as their devices could accommodate, and the record labels quickly began to haemorrhage content – and profits.

DRM: shield or obstacle?

Working through their trade body, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), US-based labels initiated court action against Rio manufacturer Diamond Multimedia to block sales of the player in the year of its release. In the case, the RIAA thought it held an ace in the form of the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA): legislation designed to allay label fears over the spread of digital audio tape (DAT) machines, which could make sound reproductions identical in quality to studio recordings.

The RIAA argued that, under the Act, the Rio should include an early form of digital rights management (DRM) technology called the serial copy management system (SCMS) – software that would prevent consumers from using the Rio to duplicate tracks. It also stressed that Diamond should pay royalties on the song files held by its players. However, in the first stage of the case at the Central District of California and its subsequent Federal replay on the Ninth Circuit, the RIAA was defeated: judges ruled that the Rio fell outside the scope of the Act.

It was inevitable that a DRM debate would emerge in connection with ebooks, and that has been the case this year. In April, Goodkind’s regular publisher Tor announced plans to drop DRM from its entire electronic catalogue, following consumers’ complaints that the software prevented them from reading their ebooks on multiple devices (eg, iPads and other, non-Kindle readers). So, in that case, technological factors urged a content provider to move away from the record-label position of the late 1990’s. But other publishers, including Hachette – which considers DRM a valuable resource – are concerned that abandoning it would harm authors’ rights and royalties.

Another organization that is taking a keen interest in the protection of ebooks is the UK Publishers Association (PA). Despite Reid’s downplaying of ebook piracy in the Wall Street Journal, the PA revealed earlier this year that, in the course of 2011, it issued 115,000 cease-and-desist orders to websites offering pirated titles – an increase of 130% on the previous year. The group takes the problem very seriously, and provides authors and publishers with anti-piracy advice on its website.

In a recent interview with PC Pro, PA chief executive Richard Mollet backed DRM, but argued that authors and publishers required more comprehensive assistance. ‘You need more than just technical measures to prevent infringement,’ he said. ‘You also need strong legal services so people don’t infringe in the first place.’

One author who has remained resolutely unruffled by ebook piracy is Paolo Coelho, the man behind mega-selling, spiritual-quest novel The Alchemist. In February, he called upon internet copycats to ‘pirate everything I’ve ever written’, because he was convinced it would stimulate real sales. Perhaps his remark conveyed some of the originality that has made him a successful writer. But, equally so, perhaps his sentiment is far too Zen for an industry under threat.

Source: http://www.cpaglobal.com By: Matt Packer

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