Writing update

29 12 2008

So, I’ve been writing a lot, finally.

In the week and a half before Christmas, I wrote a story currently titled “The Master Clock,” about 6500 words. It’s in editing stages. I sent it to a couple people to read and I hope they like it. (I already know where some of the problems are. Eeek. I wish I’d proofread it before I gave it to them, but I needed it out the door to feel good about myself.)

Since Christmas eve, I’ve laid down 7500 words of a story “The Crystal Face of God,” and it’s almost drafted. I think I have a fair amount more editing to do on this one though, and at least another 1000 words to add or more, because I just filled in some details so I could get to the end and have it all down.

Both are entering the editing stages. I have a few more stories in the brain pipeline that I might start working on while editing, but that will require me to pay special attention to time management, making sure I can finish everything.

Woo, productivity! Sadly, I have real work tomorrow morning, and I am up past my bedtime.

Review: Iron Council by China Miéville

19 08 2008

China Miéville is a brilliant writer. This was not a difficult conclusion after reading Perdido Street Station.

Miéville visualizes and commits to paper ideas that could never occur to mere mortals. His world of Bas Lag is so rich and full of amazing scenery — an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ place, yet strangely compelling. Everything bizarre disjointed and imperfect, yet meshes to create a layered and interesting world in which nothing is ever simple or black-and-white. In fact, there are few moral judgments made at all. Everything is shades of grey. It’s magic steampunk to the max. For the best description possible, read the Science, technology and magic section on wikipedia:

“New Crobuzon’s technological capabilities are decidedly steampunk: difference engines, advanced clockwork “constructs”, helium-balloon airships, firearms, primitive photography and coal-powered trains and ships all abound in the three Bas-Lag novels.

Where science fails… magic steps in. New Crobuzon harbors a large population of magic-users — broadly referred to as “thaumaturges” — who are capable of earning a substantial living from their craft.”

I’m one of those people who runs around imagining a fantasy world unfolding over mundane scenery. Anything to add richness or feed me with ideas is welcome, even sought out. I can not get enough of Miéville. Perdido Street Station was amazing, and then I read The Scar which was not quite as good, but still filled with amazing imagery. Iron Council, the latest book set in this world of Bas Lag, was a veritable travel journal across the continent and back. The ideas and images were amazing and terrifying and new.

Despite this glowing recommendation of Miéville’s writing, I don’t actually recommend Iron Council. If you’re a casual reader of fantasy the beautiful and alien images in his writing won’t be enough to string you along for very long. When I said it read like a travel journal, I mean it. If I actually told you the plot of the book it would spoil the first two hundred pages of people running around to find it. It picks up around the last fifth, as actual life-threatening motivation is introduced to the characters.

The book is also plagued by one of Miéville’s major flaws — the inclusion of what are essentially gamesmaster controlled NPCs. These overpowered deus ex machinas characters drive the plot forward when the protagonist can’t because he’d be flattened by some terrifying slug monster from beyond reality or the army of terrifying fish-men. It’s a problem in The Scar and a worse problem in Iron Council. When these characters step in, it seems almost like the author is rolling dice to figure out what happens next, because their actions are sometimes so random and unexplained or overpowered compared to the more mundane elements of the world. It rarely makes much sense.

If you haven’t read any Miéville, I recommend starting with Perdido Street Station, though folks who read The Scar first seem to recommend that. If you desperately need more, I suppose you could read Iron Council but don’t say I didn’t warn you. There are times where you’ll have to force yourself forward through the beautiful-described plodding non-plot. At this point, I don’t expect any brilliant stories from Miéville, but if he wrote a Bas Lag codex or encyclopedia, or other supplement to a role playing game, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Zombie Apocalypse: Choose Your Own Final Stand

30 07 2008

On facebook there is a current group titled If 1,000,000 People Join This Group, We Get Heath Ledger Back. Sidestepping the Humor vs. Tasteless argument entirely, I would like to move on to a more pressing problem that this group, ahem, raises.

Zombies. If 1,000,000 people join, and the group succeeds in doing what it promises, it has been pointed out that Heath Ledger could possibly come back as a zombie. Might that be the catalyst for the Zombie Apocalypse?

Begin exciting fantasy: The Zombie Apocalypse is in full swing and you are making your final stand against the zombie hoards. One thing’s for sure – you’re going down. You are going to die and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.. But how’s it going to go?

1. Choose your ideal setting

2. Choose one weapon

3. Choose what song you want playing in the background to make your final stand the most awesome moment ever.

Additional Fantasy Fun:

4. Add any exciting details you want (final words, your last meal, who you would call right before your final moment, etc) just remember when it’s all over, you’re dead!

In which it becomes apparent that I love increasingly inaccurately named trilogies.

21 07 2008

A trilogy is defined as “a series of three dramas or literary works or sometimes three musical compositions that are closely related and develop a single theme”.  For whatever reason, a lot of science fiction has a tendency to happen in trilogies – look to “His Dark Materials”, the original Star Wars films, or, my personal favorite, the ‘Back to the Future’ movies. There’s also a great tradition in science fiction to have misnamed trilogies (citing “Lord of the Rings” as an example, here), or extended trilogies, such as what was dubbed “The Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy”, which was the name given to Douglas Adams’ five book Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy.

Now.  The Hitchhiker’s trilogy has long been my alltime favorite five book trilogy, due to its fantastic story content, but also due to its standing as the only five book trilogy I knew of for sure.

Well, Hitchhiker’s, you might have to move over on the shelf.  There’s a new five book trilogy in town, and while it’s got nowhere near the acclaim you’ve got, it’s still a series of really solid sci-fi/fantasy novels.  (Though probably a bit more fantasy than sci/fi.)

I’m referring, of course, to Anne Bishop’s  “Black Jewels Trilogy”.  The original three books in the trilogy were Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, and Queen of the Darkness, and have been followed up by her fourth in the series, Dreams Made Flesh, and, as of March this year, a fifth book, Tangled Webs.

I’ve been a huge fan of this trilogy since 9th grade, when a friend of mine handed me Daughter of the Blood for no particular reason.  It was the first bit of adult fantasy that I had ever read and actually enjoyed.  While some might argue that it’s nothing new or impressive in the fantasy world, I would have to disagree.  The world that Anne Bishop created is unbelievably rich and engrossing.  It’s throughly detailed, vibrant, and real.  As an aspiring writer myself, I have endless respect for real-life writers who are able to create, out of nothing but their imaginations and a computer, these worlds that are so lifelike and detailed that a reader feels he or she can truly see it.  The world in the “Black Jewels Trilogy” is incredibly complicated, and because of it, extremely captivating.  I was extremely sad when I originally finished the trilogy, because I didn’t want to leave that world, those compelling characters whom I felt I knew intimately.

And so imagine my surprise and joy when I discovered she had written a fourth book in the series!  I’d always felt that Queen of Darkness had ended abruptly and unsatisfactorily (impressive, given the book’s 430 page length).  And so I read Dreams Made Flesh happily and eagerly, and mostly while sitting on the floor of a Barnes & Noble.    Dreams Made Flesh did everything I hoped it would; answered questions from her previous books that I still had, invited me to learn even more about the characters I already felt I knew.  The end of the book felt like a true and honest ending, and when I finished reading it, I felt that recognizable sense of sadness.

And then.  Out of nowhere.  And by nowhere, I mean from Wikipedia.  I discovered that Anne Bishop had written a fifth book in the series! Tangled Webs, A Black Jewels Novel.  I lept out of my desk chair, drove to a book store, bought the book, returned home, sat down, opened the book and didn’t look up until I’d finished the book.  That, my friends, is the sign of a compelling trilogy.

I would, and am, recommending this new five book trilogy to anyone who’s looking for a lovely new world to lose him or herself in.  Sure the story’s a little silly, but you’ll be transported to a new place, and that’s what the genre’s all about, isn’t it?  I do feel that it’s worth noting, however, that of all the people I have met who have read this series of books, only one has been male.   I myself have tried to convince a few of my male friends to read it, and they have thusfar been unable to, though I am not sure why.  If anyone might have an idea as to why this is, I’d be happy to hear it.

Review of Through Wolf’s Eyes, by Jane Lindskold

5 04 2008

This is another of the Tor books. You can still sign up and get them for free. I wasn’t planning to read it yesterday, but I clicked, and well… I was hooked. It took about fifteen hours, but I think they were well spent.

Through Wolf’s Eyes by Jane Lindskold is a truly wonderful book. It’s mainly about a young woman who has been raised by intelligent wolves since she was very young. Humans come and bring her back into society, where she gets caught up in a battle of wit and intrigue for succession of the throne. This is no easy setting for someone who believes the proper way to solve conflicts of dominance in a fight.

The book is a rare blend of real earthy sensations and high-minded court intrigue. Lindskold switches between the minds of nobles who are caught up in a conflict that means the world, and the mind of a wolf girl for whom conflicts come at a much higher price—life or death. Somehow, her perspective raises the stakes for every other character. At one point, she has to prove herself to some of the nobles, and at that moment my heart started racing, my adrenaline pumping in no way that I had ever experienced before reading any other book.

I really enjoy authors who are willing to take the risk to explore a character with a completely alien mindset. It reminds me of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep with the sentient packs of dog-creatures. Singularly, each dog is not very remarkable, but as a pack, they have a shared mind, each animal is one limb of a greater consciousness. In Through Wolf’s Eyes, Lindskold manages to balance a human and canine mind in the same character in a way that opens a new set of eyes on what could have been otherwise a well written, but normal political intrigue plot.

There are a few major flaws with Through Wolf’s Eyes that I must call out. It suffers from the same problem that many other epic fantasy series do—that of the extensive family trees and intricate marriage situations that create such delicate political situations. As much of the book is reminders of who secondary and tertiary characters are as it is actual action.

Unlike many other fantasy books I’ve read, Lindskold solves the problem of forgetting who characters are and where their allegiances lie in a very simple manner. All her characters have last names relating to their craft: Forrester, Carter, Archer, Shield. One entire family is named after gemstones. Reading one name easily places the character into the intricate castle of cards that is the political situation. It doesn’t change the fact though that so much of the book is genealogy. This major problem I have with that is there are six books in the series. I don’t know if I can get that invested.

As with much fantasy, some aspects of the story are not entirely believable, but there are not-so-subtle hints that deep forms of magic exist in the world. While they are not explicitly called out until far into the book, they allow a further suspension of disbelief. While the wolf girl is often far wiser than one would expect, I do wish there was more time spent on her, because she is so obviously the main character. Her thoughts are refreshingly honest in explaining the unfamiliar world into which she stumbles.

I will probably read the second book, Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart, and maybe the third. The first story was thoroughly enjoyable.

This post is part of the Science Fiction Book Challenge.

After 3 Years, It’s Still Only 11 Pages…

31 03 2008

My career as a writer peaked in third grade when I wrote a story that my teacher loved so much, she helped me turn it into a class play to be performed in front of the neighboring second grade class. I was in fourth grade the last time I completed a fantasy story.

I am beginning to think it’s about time for me to break back into the business.

I read quite a lot of books (especially from the fantasy genre) and I have come to the realization that I can write just as well as a lot of the published authors I read, and my ideas for stories are just as interesting if not more interesting than some of the published stories I read. Of course, some or all of this thinking could be attributed to personal bias. My dad told me I was a good writer when I was in elementary school and the praise has far outlasted my college professors declaring my writing atrocious.

So here’s my secret thought; I would like to be a published author before I graduate college. I would, at the very least, like to have seriously attempted to become a published author before I graduate college. I have a little over two years left with a story that is only 11 pages long after three years in the works… but hey, I started writing the story over three years ago thinking that it was at least halfway decent, and three years later I still think it’s at least halfway decent.

That has to count for something, right?

Polling the Hive-Mind

2 03 2008

Want to help me in rewriting and editing my first novel? Head over to the Novel section of my corner of the site, where you can comment with answers to some pretty interesting questions. The questions tie into major themes in the novel and they’ve been on my mind a lot lately. Let’s see what you think.

This exercise is intended to mimic brainstorming sessions that might take place in creative writing workshops. Let’s see how it works online!