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.