Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grandpa and Daily Kos

I don't want to blog about politics here, but I thought I'd at least post a link to a diary I wrote on Daily Kos about my grandpa and the values I learned from him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Recently, a friend passed a bunch of books to me. (Thanks, Sean!) Among them were some military science fiction novels by David Weber which feature his popular character Honor Harrington. Knowing I was going to write a science fiction novel, and generally liking books with female protags, I set these aside. Not long ago, I finished the first in the series, On Basilisk Station, which introduces Honor and her milieu.

It was great. I was a bit put off at first by the jumps from one point of view to another without breaks, but I got over it. This helped me realize that the modern emphasis on single points of view is not the only way to tell a story. The setting was well done and believable, with consistent scifi science and a believable political world. The best thing about this novel is the heroine and the way her relationship with her new crew develops. Some of the politics reflected contemporary struggles and ideologies that almost got annoying, but never got quite there. Weber manages to present the situation from the characters' points of view without making you feel dissed whether you are a conservative or a progressive. Politics is definitely a background issue.

The plot manages to be big and bold without shattering the setting entirely. Honor Harrington is the new captain of an old battle-ax of a warship. Somehow she and her crew manage a strong showing during a wargame at the beginning of the novel. However, in doing this they manage to piss off the wrong people and get themselves sent to Basilisk Station, the watchtower of a backwater world. Meanwhile, an enemy government based in a different part of the galaxy has its sights set on Basilisk Station for strategic reasons. Unfortunately for them, the most dedicated, brilliant officer in the Royal Navy is on a collision course with the planned invasion. =) The last part of this novel features an edge-of-the-seat, omg, wtf, kick-ass space battle that stands up easily to the classics of the genre in film or print.

Honor Harrington is a great character, way more real and interesting than Voyager's Janeway. In fact I hesitate to even make that comparison, but if you think Star Trek had untapped potential and would like to check out some science fiction that kicks ass and lives up to the hype, check out On Basilisk Station.

Bottom line: An inspiring protagonist, interesting supporting cast, hair-raising battles, intrigue and scifi goodness.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

National Novel Writing Month 2008

Yes, that's right, Demons of the Neverwoods is on hiatus for the time being while I devote myself to National Novel Writing Month 2008. My intention is to show this blog some love as well. I want to broaden the scope a bit to talk about the music that inspires me.

The year for nanowrimo, I'm writing a science fiction novel called Birthright. It is inspired by the song of the same name by the band Celldweller. It will have elements of cyberpunk and space opera, I think. In preparation I've been reading a couple of science fiction novels by Tanya Huff, David Weber, and Frank Herbert. I recently got the audiobook of Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams, and I'd like to check that out again. Currently I'm listening to the Deathstalker
by Simon R Green. 

Again, this one deals with some dark stuff. The protagonist lives on the streets, a hardcore addict and more. But the action begins when people start to take an interest in him for no reason he can understand, kidnapping him and hurling into a deadly intergalactic power struggle. Lucky for him, he's the bastard son of a technology guru and has a super computer buried in his brain. =) I know there's going to be a surly captain of a spaceliner called Black Rose who has an interesting relationship with the ship's AI.

I should re-read some  Gibson maybe. Definitely want to go for the glitz of mega-interactive-advertizing over the festering ooze of Blade Runner.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Seventy-thousand words

This may get boring, but right now I am focusing on some real basic goals. My weight is one. That's going good. As of this week, the other goal, writing, is going well, too. Tonight I made it to 70k. There are two sections for a total of just over 30 scenes left to write.  The good news is all that is plotted out. I always leave room to riff and embellish, but I've known where the story was headed for a long time.

If the writing gods smile upon me, the "prologue" to the novel will be in the November issue of Flashing Swords magazine. Since Lords of Justice is "delayed", the Neverwoods story will be my first published tale. Keep your fingers crossed.

More to come. I'm just getting warmed up again.

Monday, September 08, 2008

It's life, Jim, but not as we know it...

Ok, so if nothing else, I am nearing the 70k mark. That should happen tomorrow night. I will celebrate a little then. For now, it's just another night's work.

Today I finished On Basilisk Station by David Weber. It was a fun and interesting book. The tone was similar to the Temeraire novels of Naomi Novik, in as much as they both draw inspiration from the Horatio Hornblower novels. The Honor Harrington novels, of which Basilisk Station is the first, are military science fiction, with a female protagonist. She's great, stronger and more interesting to me than Janeway on Star Trek. The plot and setting were well detailed.

The most interesting thing about Basilisk Station from a writing standpoint was the POV. It skipped from paragraph to paragraph sometimes, even between people in different places. But it all flowed quite nicely and gave the impression of an action film cutting between all the different pieces of the story mosaic. I'll be reading some Herbert soon, and I am interested to see if this omniscient POV is something that is more accepted in scifi writing, as it is very much poopooed in my usual writing hangouts.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More words...

Two days and three thousand words or so more on the Neverwoods novel. 

So what distracts your humble wannabe writer? I mean, besides working for a living.

Well, recently I had an extreme bout of video game addiction as I played through Mass Effect. Its an amazing game, like playing through a great season of Star Trek, with a bit of Rainbow Six for the action.

Lots of excuses, not a lot of words.

But here is the new goal: Finish the Neverwoods in September. Read some science fiction in October and spend November writing a scifi book for NaNoWriMo. That makes 2009 the year of the edits! It sucks to miss my original goals for the year, but it's time to just move on and keep writing.

More to come.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Where the Hell have you been?

Good question. I fell of the reading/writing wagon there for a while. I have quirky interests and basically between being a political junkie and a video game freak, I kinda got into those interests hard core for a while. Now I need to take a break from politics and the games. My wife is a she-geek and so it is really easy to get into the teamwork and fun of playing vids together, as opposed to the solitary life of the writer.

Anyway, I have managed to put a couple more thousand words on Demons of the Neverwoods. That's good. Now I want to keep working on that, finish up my reviews of Return of the Sword, and get back into reading.

Oh, and I worked on a little website for Flashing Swords Press. =)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"The Hand that Holds the Crown" by Nathan Meyer from Return of the Sword

This is the story of a battle to the death between two armored warriors for the right to rule their land. More than just a duel or some sort noble spectacle out of Ivanhoe, the setup is clever and the point of view twists with the story, until the brutal clash of arms.

Meyer has written an awesome fight scene, pulling off the neat literary feat of giving us the fight from both men's perspectives in a battle that crackles with visceral force. HIs ease with the details of armor and sensory descriptions really bring the scene to life.

There's not a great deal of characterization or backstory here, but there were some tantalizing details that spelled out interesting motivations and history between the two combatants. "The Hand that Holds the Crown" is a rocking tale with much more to it than I can give away here. Check it out.

There were a couple of printing errors. One part seemed like it needed a section break, but it may be I was just catching on to the way the PoV would shift. It was hardly a distraction at all from the action, though. This is a story I will read again, and one of the best in an excellent volume of action stories. I hesitate to call this one fantasy, because it could very easily be historical fiction. The only magic is at the end, but it is of an entirely human nature. ;)

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
EE Knight's Announcement
A Review

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Guardian of Rage" by Thomas M. MacKay from Return of the Sword

The next story in Return of the Sword is the prologue to a novel, though it tells a complete tale. It's a good action piece that brings us back to the Elder Darkness themes of swords and sorcery fiction. Jack, the hero of this tale is well drawn, a fighter as well as mystic, though I was so caught up in the chase and vivid setting (a dark ancient sewer) that I never quite got what exactly Jack was doing, the bigger picture. I'm sure the novel will help flesh that out.

Jack's situation has two major complications. First he's being hunted by a group of wicked cultists with freaky monsters at their command, who want the relic he possesses. Second, he has a six year old girl in tow, who's family were killed by the cult. The girl could have been more fleshed out, she was more of a complication than another human being, but that is an afterthought. As I said, the adventure and the gruesome details really held my attention. The story built effective tension with the chase through the dark sewers and the... creature .... thing. heh

The magic was well done, exotic, yet clearly presented. And it was essential to the story, which is in large part about Jack's meditative resolve being eaten away by his frustration and rage. Could be a very interesting character to follow.

Another fine story.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Thomas M. MacKay
EE Knight's Announcement
A Review

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"To Destroy All Flesh" by Michael Ehart from Return of the Sword

This story has a lot of humanity in it. That's the best word for it. From the agonizing deaths to the moral question at its core, this story looks at the human costs of the magic, mayhem and pure human malice that make up heroic fiction. The hero, Ninshi, is Ehart's titular hero from the novel Servant of the Manthycore. In this tale, a group of mountain bandits stand between her and the herb she must have to free herself from the Manthycore's arcane shackles.

As complicated as that would suggest, Ehart handles it all skillfully. His choice for the point-of-view character works perfectly. We get the back story with just enough detail to set the stage, without burdening us with boring memories. And instead of two dimensional bandits, we get real human beings with circumstances that make this more than just a hack-em-up tale. I love those, but when a story delivers with theme, a textured world, and characters that seem alive, well that's a kick-ass story. This is one of them.

Ehart goes for the throat with a gripping, desperate fight right at the opening. From the stark clarity of that scene, the situation gets murkier and more complex, in all the right ways. I recently read Ken Follet's masterpiece Pillars of the Earth and though "To Destroy All Flesh" is orders of magnitude shorter, it manages to hit on some of the same historical and emotional revelations I felt during that novel.

The previous Servant story, "Stand, Stand, Shall they Cry" was good, but did not move me the way this one did. From his posts on the SFReader forum, I get the impression Ehart takes historical research very seriously. That's a strong selling point for me. Now that I have seen more of the sense of humanity in this character, I'm sold. I've ordered his novel Servant of the Manthycore.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Michael Ehart's blog
EE Knight's Announcement
A Review

Monday, April 14, 2008

"The Red Worm's Way" by James Enge from Return of the Sword

I'm already a fan of James Enge's stories about Morlock Ambrosius, a gnarled sorcerer whose magic seems largely to be the art of giving the semblance of life to golems... and their parts, though his knowledge of the world and its mysteries is also vast. In this tale, Morlock is down on his luck, and winds up sitting watch over a corpse to protect it from flesh eating creatures, some of whom might be the very townspeople who hired him to sit watch.

It's impossible to be impartial here, as a new Morlock tale was one of my chief points of interest in the book. See, I'm partial to the sorcerers. Even given the dark fates most sword and sorcery mages meet, I'd still go with the sorcerers if I were ever sucked down the magic vortex. Even as a skeptic, I've always quested for a sign of the supernatural. Maybe that's why fantasy has so much appeal. Enge's Morlock stories provide an excellent foil to the warrior tales so far in this volume. Where it's refreshing to have a hero who thinks his way out of trouble, like Sigurd from Jeff Stewart's "Mountain Scarab, with Morlock, all he has is his mind.

Any time magic is involved, the rules become an issue. James does a great job of establishing the kinds of things Morlock can do, just a twist of magic, without making Morlock a demigod. The world also benefits from the deft writing, plumbing historical periods and myths a bit off the beaten path. This particular story has a bit of italian flavor, and I get the sense in general that Morlock's world is roughly European, after the fall of the roman empire. It's a fantasy world, but this story has a rustic, old-world feel. The magic provides an extra layer of surprise, and as with other Morlock stories there are some pleasant switchbacks at the end of this one, particularly the crow coin. ;)

One great thing James does in this story, is deliver elements of Morlock's history, without telling us all the details. This let's us see into Morlock's motivations, while still giving him an aura of mystery, keeping the reader wondering about the "rest" of the story. I'm really hoping to see a Morlock collection or novel someday. I already see that knowing more of Morlock's past won't spoil these stories, it will enhance them.

For my money, Morlock the Maker is one of the truly iconic characters to emerge from the current struggling renaissance of swords and sorcery fiction. This story is another strong reason to pick up Return of the Sword.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
James Enge's site, full of Morlockian goodnessEE Knight's Announcement
A Review

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Storytelling" by E.E. Knight from Return of the Sword

I was a bit skeptical of an essay on storytelling in the middle of this anthology of swords and sorcery stories that is just cooking along. But as usual with Return of the Sword, I was in for a surprise. Knight strikes a mentor's tone, but leavens it with a ton of humor. My wife was giving me annoyed looks I was chuckling so much during the reading.

The best thing is that the humor highlights an excellent perspective on writing fiction, and the writer's life. I read an embarrassing amount of process books. Knight echoes and distills a great deal of advice I've read in other sources, while laying out the basic building blocks of storytelling in a clear, concise manner. It's an excellent essay, and I can't wait to discuss it and use the ideas there for our discussions at SFReader.

"Dump truck of despair..." what a hoot!

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
EE Knight's Announcement
A Review

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"To Be A Man" by Robert Rhodes from Return of the Sword

Wow. Return of the Sword hits another high point with this tale of a red-maned warrior woman. As summaries go, I can't do better than this one from E.E. Knight's blog.

“To Be A Man” - The thief Vasili has enjoyed a rich and ribald life with his partner, the notorious Titania Brashnova. But when Titania finally goes too far, Vasili must attempt his greatest con yet: ending their partnership ... without ending himself.

So, I've been keeping up with Red Sonja through Dynamite's comics line and frankly I'm pretty disappointed with the stories, mainly because Sonja is so two dimensional. In this story we are treated to a lusty tale that recalls the passion and intensity of Howard's Swordswoman. Titania is way larger than life, but it's such a refreshing take. You see, instead of being a chaste ice-princess, Titania is an insatiable love-tiger.

This is the first story in the collection to use first person narration. I haven't been so keen on this style for a while now, but it works so well here. I just glanced at the first few sentences and I was caught up. Vasili's personality is so vivid, the narration confident and playful. In fact the humor in the story camouflages a strong theme and dramatic development of character as Vasili wrestles with his conscience. This story has a moral core that caught me off guard and lifts it from the realm of pure entertainment. It's sexy and mature, and that is part of the artfulness of the tale. What could possibly go wrong with being the partner to a beautiful, ass-kicking, sexually insatiable amazon? The answer may surprise you.


Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Robert Rhodes
EE Knight's Announcement
A Review

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"Lair of the Cherufe" by Angeline Hawkes from Return of the Sword

If I didn't know better, I would say this is a story from the classic age of pulps. It has a fun style that reminded me of Fritz Leiber. Our hero, in this case, is Kabar of el Hazzar and the setting is a mythic middle east. The tale really cooks along, establishing character and setting while Kabar is being summoned by the local king, an old fighting buddy of Kabar's, whose daughter has been kidnapped. She is to be sacrificed to some gigantic monster in a volcano, unless Kabar can save her.

If there is one thing that puzzles me, its the presence of two other characters, Kabar's brother and a friend. They don't accomplish much and I think the story would be shorter and sweeter without them. However, looking at Ms. Hawkes website, it seems this is one of many stories featuring these characters, and in this case, her fans would probably like to know what's going on with these two. That's understandable, especially from an established author. It's an interesting group, and I could certainly read more of their stories.

There's another magic blade in this tale, the Singing Sword. That's pretty familiar territory, and in fact there are few surprises here. The hero is very confident and it comes as no shock when things go his way... mostly. =) But overall it is an entertaining yarn that stands out for its unique and fully-formed voice and its classic pulp feel.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Angeline Hawkes
EE Knight's Announcement
A Review

Monday, April 07, 2008

"Mountain Scarab" by Jeff Stewart from Return of the Sword

This is an excellent tale with the feel of the old Conan stories. It starts off in the midst of a caravan raid:
The first guard died with an arrow in his throat.

Bam! That got my attention.

We soon meet the northern sailor Sigurd, who is embroiled with a group of raiders. When a young woman is captured during the raid, he finds himself torn between his personal honor and the need to keep his skin. The plot moves along effortlessly. Each step makes sense, without giving itself away. The two leads, Sigurd and the girl Simone are fully realized, as well as a couple of supporting characters. The setting is concise and vivid. I could see the yellow firelight on the faces of the encamped raiders as they watch events unfold.

Unfortunately the beginning is a little uneven. My major gripe, really, is that the author uses the word "wiry" to describe the Peshmerga raiders at least three times. A little thing, but it cooled my initial excitement at the story's dramatic opening. When the hero first enters, I would almost prefer a more removed description. The word Valkyrion is cool, but it sounds pretty austentatious when the character is introduced, larger than life. When what we get is a believable, down on his luck viking/barbarian who relies on his wits as much as his axe.

But the story gripped my attention and I was eager to find out what would happen to Sigurd and Simone.

On the craft side of things, this story is told in third person omnitient. I was a bit jarred at first when the point of view would move between characters, but it worked. I found myself thinking that my only real problem with it is that so many people tell you not to write that way. It was good enough for Frank Herbert, though. Ultimately, I enjoyed being able to see the story from the different perspectives. I'd be very interested to read what others think of the story and its mode.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
EE Knight's Announcement

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Infected, a novel by Scott Sigler

Back in the fall of 2005, followed an apple email to the new iTunes section with podcasts. A bit like a radio show, podcasts allowed me to catch up on things that my busy life (tm) left little time for. My mainstays are Democracy Now, Escape Pod, and Scott Sigler

Some time soon I will rant on the whole "webscabs" thing, but right now I can say one thing about it. Scott Sigler has given me four free audiobooks in podcast form. The fifth, Nocturnal is in progress. Scott's books simply kick ass and I freakin' love the guy. He's earned a fan for life, who will buy every book he puts out, the day it is released, no questions asked. Scott Sigler books are thriller-scifi-horror stew with gnarly fucking monsters, realistic characters, heroes, villains and lots--AND LOTS-- of violence. But we're not talking one dimensional gorefests here. Scott builds the horror with the bricks of real science and an intense narrative voice. 

Today, Infected hit the store shelves. It's Scott Sigler's first hardcover, so I am celebrating and honoring the future high overlord's demand for photos.

The Borders I got to in Stockton, CA. I know I'm not supposed to like the big chains, but I like this particular store.

What no Sigler?

Okay, Scott. For all the kick ass stories, here is me embarrassing myself in front of the internet and a friendly Borders clerk. Sure glad my wife loves me for my brains. =P

I humbly suggest that the bookstores get big stacks of Infected and display them prominently. The cover image is truly striking, and the book delivers.

Congratulations, Scott. You've been working your ass off to entertain us. The least I can do is buy your book.

Bryan Hitchcock,
Original Junkie

"Deep in the Land of the Ice and Snow" by Ty Johnston from RotS

This story didn't do it for me. The hero Belgad of the Thunder Clan, his opponents and other characters suffer in comparison to the preceding stories. I don't want to belabor the point, because it is a good action piece, and there's some twist to it at the end, but the story didn't bring anything new or deliver the goods with any particular flare. Wolves? That territory's been covered.

I was very intrigued by the witch Belgad is sent to slay. When I think of a witch in a frozen wasteland with an odd hut, I'm thinking Baba Yaga--something twisted and cool. Unfortunately, this witch is no Baba Yaga.

It will be interesting to read what other readers have to say about these stories.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More words! A break for progress.

My major preoccupation these days is my novel Demons of the Neverwoods. Tonight I managed to hammer out another 900 words or so, which is a major achievement for me, lately. It's very rough, what I call zero draft, material, but I am determined to hit the 100k mark with this one. Then begins the major Odyssey of editing, but that's a ways off.

So anyway, I'm just glad to get a bit more of the story written.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Fatefist at Torkas Nahl" by David Pitchford from RotS

A large cast of characters and an epic storyline give this tale grandeur and depth. The world seems so much wider than the city and battleground of the immediate setting. Fans of Steven Erikson will surely enjoy this piece, though it may leave them itching for more. I make that comparison because of the way Pitchford just dunks the reader into the world with its exotic names, as well as the detail he devotes to the varieties of military units within the competing armies.

There is a bit of a curveball, in the tradition of some Conan stories, in that the title character makes his appearance after the story is underway. Arnoux Trav, the Fatefist from the title is an interesting character. Bound by a vow of silence in his first scene, he seems to be undergoing a kind of spiritual and social transformation, from a monk-scholar of war and wisdom, to an outright warrior. Indeed, we first see him shrouded in a robe while later he is outfitted in custom armor. It seems a bit odd at first that an "un-blooded" soldier could be so proficient, but Pitchford serves the battles to us as intellectual puzzles for Trav to solve, and it works. Very interesting to read about a hero whose wits and wisdom are more important than brawn. There are some truly funny moments as the wise monks advise an impetuous young prince more eager for glory than assuring victory.

Again, we are treated to a magic blade in this story, though this time it is in the hands of the piece's biggest villain. This makes for a great battle at the end, but if there is one thing I would have liked to see, its a more vivid introduction to Rajan Vace and the sword Angra Mainyu. There is a report of his body count from the first day, but it is almost too high to be believed. "Fatefist at Torkas Nahl" is one of those short stories that is completely satisfying as a short, but is rife with implications and possibilities for a longer work. There are a few places where the dialog is a bit too cryptic, and even after a re-read I wondered exactly why some things happened, but that kind of fits with the "wiser-than-mere-mortals" mystique of the Mikari.

As a writer, I think this story excels at providing a sense of a much wider world through the exotic names and the writer's fearlessness with diving into the thick of things with people and places that demand we step into that world. The emphasis on combat as a struggle of body AND mind, also makes it stand out. I know of Mr. Pitchford as part of the Pitch-Black team. Now I know to keep an eye out for his writing, as well.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
David Pitchford
EE Knight's Announcement

Monday, March 24, 2008

"What Heroes Leave Behind" by Nicholas Ian Hawkins from RotS

In this story, we meet Tolasun, an aging hero. He's a memorable character and the story conveys the toll of the years on his body as well as the weight of his deeds on the world. Songs are sung for this guy, but he knows the end is coming, so when an old flame comes with tidings of an evil that has taken root in the ruins of a crumbling fortress and endangers a local monastery, he jumps at the chance to go out swinging.

There are excellent scenes with minor characters, the old flame, the monk, that pass information as well as giving us a sense of who these people are. This is a lesson to remember and a story to come back to. Even the "minor" characters have personality.

This story has it all: fast, brutal action and a fully realized characters. Even the captured raider has grit and history. Nice touches. The biggest strength is Tolasun, who has a lot of history which comes out naturally in the story, and his physical struggles. Fighting a horde of raiders seems an easy feat compared to the ten hour march up the mountain! Tolasun's struggle with his age was spot on. Tolasun is like a hero from myth, or from a D&D game, who just does what he does because he is needed. But, the barren results of his nomadic, bachelor ways bring him vividly to life.

Add an epic final battle of mythic scope and blam! That's a kickass story.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Nicholas Ian Hawkins
EE Knight's Announcement

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"The Battle of Raven Kill" by Jeff Draper from RotS

The first "barbarian" hero in Return of the Sword is Oth, a warrior who chooses to make a rear guard stand on a narrow stone bridge over a deadly river as his clan flees. That much becomes clear right away. That could be a hard premise to swallow, but Draper's crafty hero uses a shield to great effect. What follows is a detailed and exciting battle. You know Oth is doomed, but he's such a cool character, you're rooting for him to pull it out somehow.

I love it when characters name their weapons, but it can be overdone. Here, there is no magic apparent in Oth's weapons, but his names for them elevate them beyond generic tools of destruction. The sense of humor and the artful thematic descriptions also make this story more than just a retread of old Conan territory. The premise seems familiar, but the delivery is fresh. The battle is vivid, brutal and exciting.

More than any of the stories so far, this one points to much more going on behind the scenes, and I for one would be interested in reading more tales of Oth and his adopted daughter. The author has a deleted scene and an interesting post about his writing process on his blog.

Pros: Intriguing hero, scarcity of steel is well presented, world building in action, feels like one exciting point in a larger story

Cons: Feel like I missed something in regard to the small amount of magic in the story, could have been clearer. Where were the bows and arrows? Good battle, but at times the enemy seemed cursed by their own stupidity.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Jeff Draper's Blog
E.E. Knight's announcement
SF Reader Forum

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"The Last Scream of Carnage" by Phil Emery from RotS

This was a trippy story, the editor's choice as "the most powerful tale in the anthology."

It is very artful and that was the most impressive thing to me, that this story exists and it found print here. It plays with line breaks and indents like poetry in places, making a visual interplay with the text. Much of it has the feel and flow of an epic poem. It has a formal beauty that emphasizes, but also transcends the subject matter.

It reminded me, in that way, of a recent story from Every Day Fiction. "The Journey, Archetype in a Pop Song Structure" by Daniel Ausema, in spite of the pretentious title, was a really entertaining story with breaks between the "verses", a bridge, and tiny "choruses" that almost worked as some kind of prog-rock epic. It was highly entertaining and opened my mind to a lot of new possibilities for story structure.

"The Last Scream of Carnage" evokes an older style of epic story, in spite of the angular line breaks that would scream "Ferlenghetti" in any other setting. I'm not going to bother trying to recreate any of the text play, this is a story worth reading for yourself, because I think that is a portal to the larger issue of the plot and theme of the story. This is where I feel the piece is weak. At one point, the hero's torch goes out, and I think the guy is just so mean that it doesn't matter, but it didn't work for me. If it weren't for the beauty of the execution, the story would almost be a flat hack-em-up, though it does have a some spin at the end. I'm willing to debate all that, you just have to read the story first. =) Much to talk about on the forum.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
E.E. Knight's announcement

Monday, March 17, 2008

"The Wyrd of War" by Bill Ward from RotS

I came to this, the second tale in The Return of the Sword, with high expectations because Bill Ward's story in Flashing Swords #9 was so good. I was not disappointed.

"The Wyrd of War" is like turning on the Lord of the Rings just before the battle of Minas Tirith, swooping in on the wings of a carrion bird to find the formations assembling for the humanity's last stand against the twisted necromancies of the Animus. The soldier and sword, for once again the weapon is a crucial part of the story, which take center stage are doomed from the start, but as the story shows with vivid prose, there are fates worse than death.

This story has a perfect blend of epic fantasy and horror for my taste. That monster... you'll know the one after you read it. That's just sick. "The Wyrd of War" nails it, on so many levels.

Now, on the last day, the Animus brought forth its force of beasts and bestial men upon the parched earth of the ancient battle-plain, and there made war for the fate of all.

and later...
As one body the Wyrdkin sprinted into the oncoming line, striking the unmen with a force not seen in the turning of an age.

If that sounds like a lot of hot air, you coudn't be more wrong. Get the book. Read the story, and tell me it does not come through on the epic promise of those words, in spite of being well under ten thousand words. I dare you. It's consistent in its mythic tone and yet it delivers on a visceral level. There is some serious bloodletting here, told with style and clarity so you feel the gritty ashes in your mouth.

Ward delivers a gut punch of an ending and ... damn, that was a good short story.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
"Mightier than the Sword" by Bill Ward
from Flashing Swords #9
E.E. Knight's announcement

"Altar of the Moon" by Stacey Berg from RotS

I received my copy of The Return of the Sword on Saturday. The cover looks even better up close and soon I found myself digging in to the introduction and the first story. In the next few weeks, I plan to post my thoughts on one of these stories each week day, until I have covered them all. There will be no spoilers, but as usual I will be looking mainly for things I can learn as a writer by examining my reactions as a reader. After reading the first few stories it became clear that the hype is well deserved. So let's get to it.

Altar of the Moon by Stacey Berg is the first story in The Return of the Sword. Bam! A magic sword and the blessed/cursed warrior who wields it. This sword had a hint of Arthurian tragedy and a great twist on the magic sword trope, with a tip of the hat to Moorcock. A fun, brief read.

For my taste, the character names in this story were a little plain and it took a little effort to overcome real world associations with the names. If they had been a little more fantastic, I think it would have helped with the 'other-worldly' feel of the piece. And one last nit, the second paragraph is actually the one that grabbed me, I feel like the story should have opened with the sword and dealt with the travel description second.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
Further reading at E.E. Knight's blog

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"The Whited Child" by Mike Canfield from Black Gate #9

Black Gate #9

The White Child is a mind blowing story for the language alone. It's' told in third person, but with a sentence pattern that is striking and easy to understand. Check out the link for a sample of the story and you'll see right away what I mean. Then add a story as stark as the barren mountainside where the story takes place, but with a sense of natural forces and social bonds that transcend the lives of individuals. It's shamanistic and clever and sometimes pretty funny.

It's a great story and pretty much established my respect for the magazine.

"The Thrall" by Mike Schultz from Black Gate #9

Black Gate #9

The Thrall is an example of a story that makes me wonder why fantasy novels need to be so long these days. It sweeps you into this world where certain people are gifted with the ability to Thrall others, bend their minds to the will of the most powerful mind. It's set in a rustic fantasy earth, which is something I really like, I'll admit. Within the space of one short story, major things happen to the main characters, a woman and her child who is especially gifted, and their people. Epic, but on a very personal scale, if that makes any sense.

There were some things to learn from this piece.

First is to just go for it. This story hits you with this one main idea, the Thrall, capitalized and just makes it real. bold and well done. Reminds me of Zelazny or Card in that way.

Since even those who have no Thrall power can still feel it, the story brings a whole other sense into play, created out of our cultural gestalt of mental powers and a compelling logic of power and consequence. In fantasy, you're not limited to just five senses to elicit experiences. Excellent.

The power is developed quickly, as the mother and child are introduced, trying to evade pursuit by guardsmen. Bam! The rules are laid down to provide the premises for the conclusion of the story. Very little info dump, just tight third person perspective through the eyes of a vivid and compelling character.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No Genius: An Update

Okay, so it didn't take a genius to see where Nocturnal was headed. Did I ask for a prize or something? No. Now that things are coming together, I am going to refrain from further potential spoilers and let Sigler work his magic.

I'm a bit behind on my blogging, with a few Escape Pod episodes and a short story or two to go over. Reading-wise, I am knee deep in Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth and really enjoying it. I carry Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon around with me, but I am stalled about a third into it.

The best news is that I made some progress on Demons of the Neverwoods last night. I've been kind of stalled over Laeleh's section, but I had a breakthrough with part of the plot and then the words came tumbling out, about 1800 of them. I feel much better about her section now and that means the book as a whole will work better. I don't want to get too far ahead with any of the characters, and I think I may wait to finish the Gilthani characters until Jaek and Laeleh are done. We'll see. More writing tonight.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

My Guess: Klauser is a Nocturnal

So, Episode 17 of Scott Sigler's Nocturnal was such a freaking tease. Just a little bit with most of the characters. All build-up. But that's what this whole serialized fiction thing is about, right? Keeping us dirty junkies wanting more.

Anyway, I've been suspicious for a while now that the protagonist, Bryan Klauser, is one of the Nocturnals. The evidence:

Supernatural strength and healing. The dude just ain't human.
Who is his mother? I don't remember a lot of details, but she isn't around anymore. Could it be that Papa Klauser was a donor to the Nocturnal Mother?
The dreams. So far in the story, the only other person who has the wet dreams of the killings is little Max, and he's the chosen one or whatever.

At first, the hopeful part of me thought Bryan might be related to Savior, but there is just no connection there. I think his purpose is to kill Savior once and for all. This would not be the first time a Sigler protagonist has descended into madness and become the "bad guy." The fact that we want Bryan to rock and get Robin back and kick Nocturnal butt will make it all the more horrifying when he goes rogue.

Whatever happens, I have the feeling it is about to get very messy.

On another Sigler note, he launched the new version of Infected today. Sounds like there is a lot of new material and some of the characters have been more fleshed out. That is great news. Also, it seems like there is more information about the scale of the infection. In the original version, the battle at the end came out of nowhere. Already in the new version we have more hints about the convergence. "They can walk there themselves!" Classic. I hope gets the full version. Gotta have that director's cut. =)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lords of Justice available for Pre-Order

At long last, Lords of Justice is available for pre-order. Looks like it will ship in the first week of April. It would be great to have a copy to give to Sigler when I go to see him with a handful of his books to get signed. I have an audio ad I need to send out to some podcasts to help promote the book, and I suppose its time to finalize a promotional agreement with Escape Pod.

In addition to the main cover, there are going to be limited editions of covers with the four heroes individually.

On another note, I get my computer out of the shop today so I can get back to work on all my projects. No more Oblivion for me! Heeya! Time to get back to work.

The Game that Lives: a Eulogy for Gary Gygax

I was stunned by the news yesterday that Gary Gygax, one of the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away. March fourth, the gamer geek holiday known as GMs Day. How appropriate. In years to come it won't be just GMs Day, it will be a day to remember the man who brought this iconic game, along with so much fun and thought, into our lives. Partly I was saddened by how little I knew about the man. Never met him, had no idea he was sick, or that he had a wife or children or anything. No, for me, it was all about the game. I don't think he would have minded a bit. D&D is not made for people who have to be in control of the message or the situation. It's a great big party of a game where laughter is as much a part as strategy, character building and interacting with friends old and new.

So, this is not really about the death of human being, but a life well lived and millions of lives affected, whole genres reinforced with the butresses of games that challenge the mind, in a world that just wants to keep us dumb. I can't be sad for long when I think of all I've gained from this man's work in my life. From the age of about twelve, I was captured by D&D. The drive to read and understand the rules strengthened my critical thinking abilities. Kant and Hume weren't that tough after working through the combat rules of AD&D. And the vocabulary... Sure I was a smart kid, but I'm pretty sure the words I learned from the DM's Guide got me into the "gifted" classes at school. I was gifted all right. Gifted with a cool mom who read The Lord of the Rings to me as a child and let me spend my allowance on gaming books with words like "initiative", "primordial" and "thaumaturgy". The skills I learned as a player helped me in drama classes, in creative writing, feeling confident with math, and gave me a peer group I am still very proud to be part of. As a DM I had to learn how to manage a meeting, prepare an outline and stick to it or roll with the punches when things got whacky, how to deal with obnoxious people in the group, and how to wrangle people with busy schedules into a room for some challenging, humorous times. All these skills have served me well in my working life, particularly by giving me a sense that any problem can be solved if we only think hard enough and work smart enough.

I am not a religious person. As much as sentiments like "He's gone to another adventure" appeal to me, I would be false to myself if I repeated them. No, to me the true magic is language and art and music. Words. Writing is magic. And it is in his words, his thoughts, the game (and all its children) that will be played for generations to come, that Gary Gygax lives on.

Tally ho!

Order of the Stick
Penny Arcade

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Return of the Sword

Return of the Sword is now available for pre-order at the awesome price of only $14 with free shipping! This looks to be an amazing anthology of swords and sorcery fiction.

Give yourself a break from the suburban angst and inexplicable semi-weirdness of today's big name genre magazines with a good dose of classic style adventure fantasy. Like Glen Cook, Stephen Erickson or George RR Martin? I guarantee you these stories will be closer to those writers than anything you will find in Realms of Fantasy or F&SF. Wonder where all the warriors and wizards have gone in fiction? Here's your treasure chest. You may not know these authors by name, but this is your chance to get a dose of the adventure you crave, without having to wait 3 years and wade through 250,000 words to get to a battle.

I've ordered my copy. Help us prove that swords and sorcery is alive and well. Order yours today!

Monday, March 03, 2008


Lords of Justice cover art
I am so excited I can hardly focus on work. It looks like Lords of Justice is going to be a reality. The pre-order page is up here.

A lot has happened since I wrote Cold Snap, and I am sure some of the writing will make me cringe, but I still think it is a great story with a killer ending. Hope the readers agree. In addition to showing off the book to my co-workers and friends, I am really looking forward to sending a copy to Suzanne Swift, the young woman whose story inspired some of Frostwitch's background in the novelette. I have no idea if she will like the story, but I hope the sentiment of it will bring her some hope. The time since I wrote the story has only increased my outrage at the treatment of women in the military.

The other stories look very interesting, and I am looking forward to reading them as a fan of super heroes, too.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sharpe's Triumph

I just finished Sharpe's Triumph by Bernard Cornwell. I've read a dozen books in this series now and really enjoyed all of them. There are only a few left to me, including the climactic Waterloo, but I saw there was a newer book covering events earlier in Sharpe's career, so I took it up before pressing on to the defeat of Napoleon.

Triumph concerns the Maratha War of 1803, a time when the British were still battling in India under the leadership of the newly minted general Arthur Wellesley, whom the world knows better as the Duke of Wellington and the man who defeated Napoleon. Sharpe is a sergeant when the novel opens and the book tells the story, now famous for Sharpe readers, of how this fairly green sgt. saves the general's life and earns himself a rare field commission for bravery, thus becoming an officer.

The novel was spectacularly absorbing. Cornwell uses a third person omnitient viewpoint to great effect. Through this lens we get not only the perspective of Sharpe and his enemy Sgt. Hakeswill, but Wellesley himself, three of the enemy leaders and several other minor characters. The shifts never seem abrupt to me, as Cornwell effortlessly draws the "camera" back between close-ups into the minds of the characters.

No one does battles like Bernard Cornwell, and even after the spectacular descriptions of sieges and skirmishes from other books, his depiction of the Battle of Assaye is exciting and detailed, with great respect shown to the bravery of the Scottish soldiers whose professional performance and ferocity routed an enemy seven times their number. These books are not for the faint of heart (yeah, yeah, what am I doing reading them then? lol) and there were times when the brutality was almost overwhelming. Cornwell delivers war that is both heroic and beastly, a great waste and a great triumph in all its chaos and carnage. As bloody as it gets, Cornwell writes with a a brutal poetry of death.

Like most of the Sharpe books, Triumph does follow the familiar pattern, with a beautiful woman who Sharpe beds, of course, and ending with a battle. But once again the tropes and familiar plot devices are minimized by great storytelling and writing.

Bernard Cornwell's advice for aspiring novelists.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Playing for Keeps

Yesterday I listened to the final episode of Mur Lafferty's podiobook Playing for Keeps. Mur is the inspirational podcaster of I Should be Writing. Some of her short works have been amazing, like the Escape Pod story "I Look Forward to Remembering You". So I eagerly subscribed to this podiobook, her first novel, I believe.

Playing for Keeps is a super hero novel, which is a pretty rare breed. It's set in the fictitious Seventh City and the supers are members of an acclaimed organization called The Academy. The main characters, however, are a group of slightly powered super rejects who hang out at a bar called named after its owner, Laura "Keepsie" Branson. She is called Keepsie because her power is that no one can take anything she owns. They freeze in place, paralyzed. Other humorous powers include a guy who can fire feces out of his hands, a fellow who is super strong for just a few seconds before having to rest, a cook who knows exactly how people like their food, and a waitress who can balance anything on a bar tray.

This motley cast is thrown into a situation where the "heroes" seem pretty ruthless and corrupt and the super-villains don't seem so bad.

I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. It was a fun take on super heroes and it kept up my interest. If it sounds appealing so far, you should definitely check it out. However, there were some problems for me and part of what I am doing with these reviews is trying to learn from the things I read.

Number one, there was just way too much bouncing back and forth from the bar to the academy to the bar to the park to the bar to the academy to an apartment to the academy, etc. All the while the characters are bickering about what to do. Not saying it wasn't realistic, it just wasn't the most entertaining part of the book.

Second, and this is more an issue of presentation, the "Story so Far" segments at the beginning of each episode were not that helpful. I could usually remember what was going on from week to week. Where I needed help was remembering who everyone was. There is a large cast of characters in this book. The supers were easy. What does White Lightning do? Give you one guess. But it took me til the 3/4 mark to be able to remember which of Keepsie's friends was which and who had what powers. Some were easier than others, but this is one area I think the podiobook presentation could have been improved.

Overall, Playing for Keeps was well worth my time and I listened to each episode within a day or so of getting it, usually the same day. For some reason this was one I liked to listen to on the way home, as opposed to Sigler's podcast novels which are always at the top of the list for the drive to work. *shrugs* Still a fun, interesting change of pace, especially for a first novel. Great job, Mur.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Goblin Jumper Cables

Tonight I start writing again. Between battling depression and preparing for the con, I have not written a word on Demons of the Neverwoods in a couple of weeks. Bad writer! Bad! Listening to Scott Sigler today really got me pumped up. Damn, that guy has so much energy. Can't wait to meet him on his book tour. By that time I darn well better have novel #3 done, at least the rough draft.

It helps that I am running a Neverwoods campaign right now, so there is even more incentive to get into the world and immerse myself in their strange culture. No excuses tonight. The bills are paid, the chores are done, I'm recovered from the Con. Yup, its back in the saddle again.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Roger Zelazny

As I mentioned below, I played in a game of Amber the Diceless RPG on Sunday at the con. This game reawakened my love for the Amber books and for Zelazny in general. For most of my teen years, the Amber novels were far and away my favorite series. His story For a Breath I Tarry is my all time favorite short work, and I think it may be partly responsible for my descent into Philosophy during college.

So, in between chapters of Nine Princes in Amber I wrote to Mike Stackpole (just because I know he is a Zelazny fan and might have some pull somewhere), to and to Ann Edenfield at American Publishing Inc. They own the rights to recordings of the first five Amber novels read by Zelazny himself! I think these should be available to Amber fans around the world, and not just as cassette tapes.

I don't know what will come of my activism in this regard, but I will keep bugging people until I see unabridged versions of Amber and other Zelazny classics on Audible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

DunDraCon wrap-up report

After missing the last three years, I finally made it back to DunDraCon (DDC for short) this past weekend. I had a blast. The con is very well run and even after three years away, it was easy to get back in the groove. Having said that, the biggest disappointment was the game masters, though I still had a great time.

Friday I arrived way early and got the room and into my first game choice. I think it was Echoes of the Past, a 5th level D&D 3.5 game. I will now know to avoid "DM may provide characters" games all together. I had made a special version of Renz, my favorite sorceress, for the game, as well as a sheet for Svanhilde, a rogue from WoW. No one else brought a character. I heard several people complain about the time it takes to make characters. Doesn't anyone else own a computer? Gods, it takes like 15 minutes with any one of a number of free online generators, let alone things like Character Gen or Crystal Ball. Anyway, the DM didn't have any characters made either so we spent the first 90 minutes getting characters. Then there was the 13 year old who sat next to me and was a total spaz, in spite of it being a "mature themes" game. The DM took NO steps to keep the kid in line or help him wiht his character. So who is the nice person to help out with that? Me, of course.

Note to DMs: Please please please do not allow the loudest, most obnoxious players to monopolize your time and attention. It's called Everybody gets a Turn! Really easy. I use Social Initiative and let everyone roll using their Charisma bonus, then take turns in that order. Really easy and it actually helps build tension and keep the timing straight.

I almost walked out of this game a couple of times, but I didn't want to be a dick. I had some fun. It was great to play Renz and as usual, kind of get my own story going on the side. There was this cute bard, see... lol And the player had no problem RPing in spite of the fact that I am the polar opposite, physically, of Renz. That was fun.

Saturday I got to run Cauldron of Shadows, the game I ran for my friends and novelized for Nanowrimo. It was a great time. No women players, but the guys I had were great sports about the whole thing. The power gamer from Friday's game even showed up and seemed to have a fun time with the roleplaying. Everyone stayed to the end at 3am, and everyone lived. I will have to do something about that. I think giving the Strega each a level of Witch is a good direction for that. Otherwise the feedback from my home team was very effective in moving the story along and plugging some of the holes. I was very well prepared and surprise surprise! the game was done in under the scheduled time and everyone had fun. Imagine that.

Several games of Magic and a few hours of fitful sleep later I played in a game of Amber for the first time. Amber is a diceless system based on the works of Roger Zelazny, who is one of my all time favorite writers EVAR! This was more of a LARP than and rpg. Two experienced players came in fabulous costumes that made me feel even grungier and lumpier than usual, but they were beautiful, especially the lady, and played the game like true Amberites. It was fun to play with my friend Sean on the other team. However, the GM was less than fully prepared and much of the time was spend sitting around waiting to speak with him. I think another GM would have helped. IT was still a fun experience, but it went 2+ hours past the alloted time and generally felt pretty disorganized. Having said that, I intend to play Amber again, and come in costume next time, if it is appropriate.

As a further boon, the game re-awakened my love for the Amber novels. I am looking forward to reading them again and then learning more about the RPG.

All in all, a great time and another invaluable learning experience as a GM and player. But geez, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, GAME MASTERS! There is just no excuse to not be ready. If life is that rough, cancel your game. I would.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This weekend I will be attending Dundracon in San Ramon, CA. This will be my fifth time, though I have missed the last couple. I am excited to get away for the weekend and immerse myself in gamer culture and play some games. New magic cards, yipeee!

I am also running my scenario "Cauldron of Shadows" on Saturday night. I first ran this a few months ago for my friends. Their feedback was excellent and I am looking forward to running the new and improved version. Can't wait to see what a different batch of people do with the characters. Should be really interesting.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dragon Song by Anne McCaffrey

It's been20 years since I read any of the Dragonriders of Pern novels, but since I have been loving Naomi Novik's books and I am writing "pet fiction" of a sort myself, I figured I would check them out again.

The beginning of this novel was very frustrating, as it seemed so contrived and unfair that "girl's can't be Harpers." Hello, the human voice (especially women's imho) is one of the most expressive and beautiful instruments in the world. It just defies logic, especially in a future setting, to so handicap your society with these kinds of limitations. But there is a twist here. It wasn't until the book was mostly over that I realized Menolee's parents were the villains of the story. Her dad is a big ass, but even her mother is despicable in the way she treats Menolee's hand injury.

By the end, I was truly moved and involved with the great protagonist and the world of Pern. There is a lot to learn here for my Neverwoods novel in terms of the society and the attitude of young people. The huge influx of new characters at the end was a bit mystifying at times, and the details about the drama between the dragon riders did not seem relevant to the story at hand, though I am sure it will make more sense when I have read more of the novels.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sold! To Flashing Swords

Well, since the contract came, I guess it's time to announce that I've made a sale. "Blood, like Roots" the Neverwoods story of Raana the hunter sold to Flashing Swords e-zine and will appear in the November edition.


They have a great crew there and the community of swords and sorcery writers that hang out in the forums are wonderful to chat with and learn from. I will be posting reading summaries of some FS issues in the future. Good stuff!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Escape Pod: Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths

EP143: Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths by Camille Alexa.

This was a really fun story with a great reader. What a thrill to hear a story by an author who posts over at the SF Reader forums!

Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths is the first person story of a girl turning sixteen. In her near future high school, cliques are formed around the Cause of Death that a person can learn, with their parents approval, at age sixteen. A very interesting take on the rite of passage. The language and style of the piece was perfect, as evidenced by the number of people of different age groups posting their praise on the EP forums. Seems high school never really changes much as an experience. =P

The really interesting part, to me, is after school when the narrator's dad shows up to take her out for her birthday. His reluctance about visiting the CoD kiosk was really well done and gave the story a ton of heart, which is something I really like in a story.

Personally, this story has great relevance as part of my WiP deals with a bunch of adolescent warrior/atheletes in the Neverwoods. Every step outside their home territory is a brush with death and a glorious end is revered in their society. So in a way, this story provided an example of a believable culture of death. It sounds morbid, but to the kids in Camille's cliques and to my young Gilthani, it is glorious and a way to find distinction and acceptance in a harsh world. Plus the teenie-bopper tone is just perfect in this story, which reinforces the attitudes I've given my characters. A lot to learn from in this story.

Thursday, January 31, 2008



That's my word count on Demons of the Neverwoods as of a few minutes ago. I almost stopped at 39k, but I still hadn't gotten to some of the core images I wanted to hit. Tonight I wrote about Kirya's Trial of Thorns, where she has to climb down and prove herself to the heartmind of an ancient thorn tree. I am not sure all this stuff will be interesting to a reader, but it sure is cool to finally document the ritual and the experience that I have had in my mind for over a decade.


Flashing Swords Swag!

buy unique gifts at Zazzle

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

Damn this woman! A cliffhanger? A cliffhanger!

heh At least the next book is due out this year.

In Empire of Ivory, Captain Laurence and Temeraire journey to Africa in search of a cure for a consumptive disease that has struck the dragons of Britain. As you might imagine this brings the issues of slavery and abolition front and center. To paraphrase my wife 'the societal norms that Laurence has always accepted before wither in the face of the simple truths of Temeraire's perspective.'

Love these books so much. Highly recommended. The audio books from are tremendous and the reader gives weight to the story with his beautiful accent and excellent characterizations.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Last week I finished Sabriel by Garth Nix. It was easy to enjoy, as I got the audiobook version from Audible and Tim Curry was the reader. He did an amazing job, especially with Mogget. There is a lot of excellent imagery here and a really well done magic system that manages to draw upon magic systems from history and literature without seeming derivative, especially the bells used in Necromancy.

I felt like the story drug a little bit sometimes, especially at the beginning, but mostly it really moves along. The action ramps up to a terrific and sometimes terrifying degree near the end, with some things that seemed really brutal. The romance elements were perfect and Sabriel is a crystal clear, understandable and very likeable hero. I am not sure I will read the rest of the trilogy, as this novel stands on its own pretty well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Escape Pod 142: Artifice and Intelligence

EP142: Artifice and Intelligence by Tim Pratt
This was an entertaining story which shifted between a small handfull of viewpoint characters. That's no small matter in a story as short as this one. Nevertheless we are introduced to at least three well conceived characters. Each section manages to convey a piece of the larger puzzle and then all the characters come together near the story's conclusion.

Contrary to the consensus at the EP comments, I appreciated the story's brevity and the punch at the end. Of course I could read more of this world and the scenario, but I think it might lose some of its originality in a longer form. As a short, it presented an idea and then twisted it, then twisted some more, in a thoughtful way. I have mixed feelings about the plot, such as it was. It is difficult to pinpoint the central conflict of the story, but there was enough banter between the characters to keep me interested.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Back in the Writing Chair


Gotta celebrate the small victories, right? Well after more than a week of struggling with the same damn demons I am out of the slump and writing again. Tonight I passed the 1/3 mark.

Once I get writing, it's pretty easy. Starting is the hard part. Every time I face the page again, I feel like somehow the words are going to fail me, but they do not. That is a good thing and I should show my gratitude by writing every chance I get.

There is some reading to catch up with tomorrow. For right now, I am just glad to be writing again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Battling Depression

Writing is not happening right now, much to my further dismay. Depression is like a swirling drain, sapping the will to create which leads to greater feelings of worthlessness which continues to sap the will... etc.

There are a million things to blame, but it doesn't to really matter.

Alive or just breathing?

For now, just breathing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Escape Pod 141: The Color of a Brontosaurus

This weeks Escape Pod was The Color of a Brontosaurus by Paul E. Martens.
It was a good EP story. As Steve alludes in his intro, it is a science fiction story in the classic style, with a scientist as the lead character. As the story came to a close it seemed to me a parallel in some ways to a certain amazing time travel novel that is being made into a movie. TO tell which one kind of spoils this story, which I will avoid. The end was surprisingly moving. I always admire story tellers like King and Martens in this case, who can telegraph an ending, but still make it punch. Not quite as moving as "I look forward to remembering you", but more science-y, so that's okay.

Another winning episode of Escape Pod.

Jim Baen's Universe, Dec. 2007

Here is a brief review of the last Universe, though I haven't read all the stories yet.
Laws of Survival by Nancy Kress
This was a great story of a woman struggling to survive in a post holocaust world. She gets picked up by an alien robot with a strange fixation on dogs. I was hooked in right away and then the story just became more and more compelling. There is a lot to learn from here. Spot on first person narration, expert weaving of the woman's personal struggles with her current conflicts. Lots of action with backstory and memories woven in without bogging things down. This was worth the price of my subscription. I wrote to Steve Eley at Escape Pod to suggest this story. It practically reads itself.

The other stories I've read so far from this issue were in the Fantasy Stories section.

Fossilized Gods by J. Simon
This was a fun story with multiple points of view, a neat take on gods and their power, and lots of references to great fantasy writers like Lovecraft and Zelazny. It brought to my attention a novel of Zelazny's that I had never heard of A Night In The Lonesome October. *bonk* Got to find that. Anyway, this was a good read.

Second Banana by Way Jeng
I think Way Jeng is a member of the OWW so that is really cool that s/he got a story in Universe. This is a very quick, flashy science fiction story (in the fantasy section!) about a sabateur and his pilot. They are trying to disable a warship. The action was great and the interaction between the two characters was well done, in so far as it went. I'm all for short stories, but this one felt too short to me. I could have used more information about the setting as well as about the two characters and their relationship. Fun but not entirely satisfying.

The Art of Memory by Barry N. Malzberg and Jack Dann
This was a trippy story about a man who dies in a car wreck and lingers as a ghost. It was poignant, especially when he goes home and sees his wife. The story was very frank in the way it dealt with his sexual feelings for his wife. It reminded me of the film Jacob's Ladder, in a very oblique way. I read it as his dying dreams, but that doesn't really fit all the elements of the story. Wistful, strange, sad.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Escape Pod 140: Astromonkeys!

EP140: Astromonkeys! by Tony Frazier.

Today's Escape Pod was awesome. I was a bit taken aback at first, with the bar setting and the banter between the narrator and the bartender. It was a super hero tale, told first person, after the fact as a bar story. The structure is deceptive. It seems easy, but I know for a fact that these kinds of stories are more complicated than they look. In spite of the first person perspective, the story still built a sense of mystery and anticipation. I realized part of the end very early, but it still held my interest and then just delivered a knockout finally. Humor and humanity, and chili sauce.

F'ing brilliant.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Nocturnal Thoughts

At the behest of the future high overlord himself, I am blogging my thoughts and hunches about Scott Sigler's latest podcast novel, Nocturnal.

I wrote the high overlord a few weeks ago with questions about the urine at the crime scenes. I am very interested to know what kind of urine it is and if there is anything else it will tell us. The overlord punted! Merely pointing out that the case of the missing mob lords is different than the other crime scenes, the people from the school. However, the Ninja went to that at least one of these crime scenes. My feeling is that even if Brian and Pookie are working a different case, if you're going to send them to the crime scene and bring up the urine, we ought to find out a bit more about that investigation. Maybe we will. I am just impatient.

So, we have a few threads going on. The scion of an old crime family using the creatures of the night to take out the competition. Students and faculty of a private school being killed and our star is having dreams about it. We haven't seen the kid recently. Wonder what he's been up to. Then we have the "Savior."

I'm not certain if Savior is helping the freaky Marie's Children to keep things quiet or if he is hunting them. My gut right now is on the latter. I think there is some ancient organization that is fighting them and I think Brian has the genes for it. The dreams he has are meant to help him hunt the beasts. That's my hunch. On the other hand, he could be turning into one of them.

Then there is this whole police cover up and conspiracy. What is the deal there? It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Don't the bad guys know that offing curious cops just never works out? If you have to start killing people to keep your secrets, its a good sign that the secrets are on their way to the light of day. Just saying.

Random notes: Pookie's monotone grates on me. Even people who have annoying voices have some variance. Doesn't this guy ever speak quietly? Ever? Don't get me wrong, I love the character and the way he interacts with everyone. I also like the romance. Hope Robin and Brian see some action before the novel is over. The scene with Brian's dad was classic. I hope it makes the final cuts. The fletchers are very interesting, too. Especially the young guy. Come on, a tattooed multi-degreed rocker who builds custom bows and arrows for a living. That rocks. This guy could be a main character. Hope he gets some more time in the novel. Hell, maybe he is Savior, though I doubt it. Looks like Brian is staking out Savior's house right now.

How will we survive an extra week of waiting for the next episode? Gah!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Escape Pod 139: Acephalous Dreams

EP139: Acephalous Dreams by Neal Asher

Last week's Escape Pod was an unusually graphic story about a criminal in the future who becomes the subject of an experiment by the AI in charge. My biggest problem with the story was structural. The beheading scene basically happens twice and I think that is unnecessary. I think there were better options in terms of narrative structure to tell this tale. It is getting a lot of feedback about how repulsive the story is, but I feel there is a larger picture being missed.

To me, the sodomy scene is as symbolic as everything else that happens. The story is a kind of brutal scifi meditation on power. By the end, I kept thinking of this Tool piece that begins with a preacher praying for the lives of the carrots.

And the angel of the lord came unto me, snatching me up from my place of slumber.
And took me on high, and higher still until we moved to the spaces betwixt the air itself.
And he brought me into a vast farmlands of our own midwest.
And as we descended, cries of impending doom rose from the soil.
One thousand, nay a million voices full of fear.
And terror possesed me then.
And I begged,
"Angel of the Lord, what are these tortured screams?"
And the angel said unto me,
"These are the cries of the carrots, the cries of the carrots!
You see, Reverend Maynard, tomorrow is harvest day and to them it is the holocaust."
And I sprang from my slumber drenched in sweat like the tears of one million terrified brothers and roared,
"Hear me now, I have seen the light!
They have a consciousness, they have a life, they have a soul!
Damn you!
Let the rabbits wear glasses!
Save our brothers!"
Can I get an amen?
Can I get a hallelujah?
Thank you Jesus.

*sheep and farm animal sounds*

This is necessary.
Life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on........

I guess the point of the story, to me, and in its most banal form is that sentient beings screw each other, eat each other, kill each other. That's what we do and the cycle is infinite. I would like to read a print version of this story to analyze it more carefully. Even though this story was not as enjoyable as most, it left me thinking and wondering, and feeling that there is a mystery there I did not quite grasp.

Again, I think the key is power.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Scar by China Mieville

China Mieville is one newish author whose name and work are always mentioned with a kind of awed reverie. Indeed The Scar is an ambitious and very different kind of scifi-fantasy novel. It would be hard for anyone to live up to the hype this guy gets, but I'll admit it came damn close.

I read a bunch of interviews before I read The Scar, which was good, because I realized that the real person is way cooler than just "the next big thing." He's an unabashed fan of the genre. That's always good. I hate writers who write genre and then pooh pooh it. This guy is the real deal. It was also really refreshing to read about someone with up front leftist values, and then read those values at work, informing a novel.

Blah, blah, blah... What about the novel? Well, first off it gave me a new understanding of the term Urban Fantasy. That usually means vampires and other hoodoo creatures on the streets of X modern American city. Not here. Here urban is used in contrast to rural or rustic fantasy, the kind I usually eat up, set in idyllic agrarian feudal societies where some pestilence is about to throw the quiet country folk into turmoil. Think LOTR. Think WoT.

The story centers on a translator named Bellis who is migrating to a colony across an ocean, on the run from the Militia of her home, the monolithic city, New Crobuzon. The ship she contains a few interesting characters, including an ocean biologist and a hold full of "the remade". These are people who have commited crimes in NC and are punished with disfiguring surgeries designed to make them into more efficient workers AND banishment to indenture in the colonies.

The ship is hijacked by pirates from a floating city called Armada and that is when the adventure really begins. This is a huge (200k) sprawling novel with a vivid, memorable setting and characters. One, Uther Douhl, has an incredible item called a Possible Sword. The buildup is slow, but when this guy finally takes action, it is pretty amazing. The same goes for the novel as a whole. There is a lot of buildup and then three (not one, not two) but three, exciting climaxes. Intrigue, betrayal, politics and massive sea battles ensue. And I am not talking about a few sailing vessels lobbing bombs after each other and struggling to turn slowly about in the winds. "All hands on deck!" No. This is an entire floating city v. naval fleet. Bad ass.

After that, I felt like the climax had been reached, but there were still 100 pages to go. Luckily, even when I thought he couldn't top the battle, he did. This novel has an amazing array of special effects. Very visual and extremely powerful. Scary even.

Speaking of scary, there is some gross shit in this book. Not all the time, but when it happens, it is awful. There is a whole theme of ecological disaster here that slowly builds. It is never beating you over the head, but at some point I was just like, "Wow, these people are fucking up their world just like we have."

My biggest gripe with The Scar is that it felt longish, especially in the first half. Now I know David Gemmel is about as far as you can get on the fantasy spectrum, but I just read Ironhand's Daughter not long ago and just in terms of getting the story told, Gemmel is a master. At 100k, that novel was compact and powerful. I realize that Mieville has a lot more going on in terms of world building, but I still think he could handle that more compactly and still get to the same powerful conclusions.

For example, one thing I noticed Mieville do over and over again, is to come at a scene two or even three times. You kind of get these sweeping pans across the city with a slow close up of a meeting or interaction. Then he starts over and comes at it from the PoV character, and then maybe from another character. This works well during the big battles where there is a lot going on. Those were superb. But in other areas, it got old and I wished his editor had told him: One Scene. Make it one scene and make it brilliant. There was no need to make two or three starts at it.

The second stylistic thing that bothered me, and where I believe the novel drug again and again was Mieville's penchant for summarizing the atmosphere of the city. I'm sure his timelines worked out, but the jumping from general to particular often left me out of sorts. For example, an event takes place. Then comes a section with a phrase like "for the next few weeks the atmosphere in the city was _____" and further general description of the kinds of things happening. Then he goes to (paraphrasing) 'two days after [event]' Bellis was reading in the library." I understand why he did this, it helped give a sense of life to Armada as a whole, but the jumping around was a trifle annoying.

Overall, The Scar is beautiful and ugly in many of the right ways. No question China Mieville is an amazingly gifted writer and I will be looking into Perdido Street Station soon.

Friday, January 04, 2008

2008 Writing Goals

Last night I added another 1000 words to my novel Demons of the Neverwoods. It felt great to get back into it and revisit the characters. Working on the story about Raana over December helped keep the Neverwoods in my mind. That story will hopefully make it into Flashing Swords some time this year.

By my birthday at the end of March, I want to have the rough draft of the novel done. I am shooting for 100k on that one. Then I plan to spend the summer revising and expanding my two nanonovels to reach at least 80k on those. I would love to hit November '08 with three completed, revised novels, but I will be happy if I can get one into good enough shape to share with others.

The only short story I have in mind is a swords and sorcery were-story that arose as a kind of challenge on the SF Reader forums.

As far as reading, I have a long list of things to check out, from history on the middle ages and the black plague, to further dark fantasy novels, including Tim Lebbon and Steven Erikson. The fourth Temeraire book is a high priority. I am also looking forward to the print release of Infected by Scott Sigler and meeting up with him and some other fans during his book tour.

Dundracon is in February, so I will need to spend some time prepping for that. I would love to make Dragon Con in Atlanta this year and finally meet some of my podcasting heroes, but its an expensive trip to take as just a fan. However, if I can get one or two novels edited by then, I would feel better about lobbying the wife for the trip to Atlanta.

That's it for now. Here's to a creative new year!

Back in the Saddle

ho ho ho It was a very merry Festivus around my house. New Year's eve is my wife's birthday, too, so that was fun. We had two four-day weekends in a row, filled with video games, movies and great food.

I am nearing the end of The Scar, by China Mieville, though I did not get much reading done over the weekend. Scott Sigler's Nocturnal is still kicking major ass. There were two new episodes of Escape Pod over the holidays.

EP137: Citytalkers by Mur Lafferty
This was a very interesting story. Mur really knows how to get to the emotional core. This one started off a bit strange. I think the opening could have been stronger. I think the details about the bar patron dressed as an elf were a distraction. Why was the MC drinking by herself in a bar? Other than her job as a TV newscaster, I didn't have a strong understanding of the character. Also, when the odd guy shows up and gives her a gun, it felt like some transition was missing. The story just jolted into overdrive. However, Mur really knows how to close a story, and by the end this one totally had me. I love stories of personal transformation.

EP138: In the Late December by By Greg van Eekhout
This was a very cool, slightly disturbing story. It felt almost like a secular allegory. Instead of souls, the story talks about consciousness clusters. I like that. The whole thing was very existential. For me it was about the quest for meaning in a mechanical world. I love the way Santa infused meaning and therefore reality into the universe. Mecha Rudolph was cool, too.