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.


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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.