Archive for the 'Style' Category

*Best Served Cold* *2009). Orbit

September 10th, 2009

It seems that the first day of autumn rolled in this morning. Since summer didn’t show up until August it does seem too soon. But then, we are going to be on a real campus this weekend (Yale– how classic is that?), so that I feel invigorated by the sense of snap in the air today is appropriately seasonal. A sharp contrast with yesterday, which was pillowed in the humidity pushed up from the south by another tropical storm.

 Among yesterday’s many tasks, I had to return a book to the library, where I scored a winner — Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night on cd. Since finishing Donaghue’s late 18th C historical novel, Life Mask I had failed to find any audio book that worked for my work-outs. When I find one, I settle in for several hours for often several weeks — Life Mask was 19 discs that played for about 70 minutes each. It’s hard to transition out of the world that one’s workout has signaled entry into after so long. Finding the right workout book is not easy.

 In any case, I followed Donaghue’s Life Mask on cd, with a print book, Joe Abercrombie’s 15th-century Italian flavored fantasy, Best Served Cold. Along with Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (also experienced via cd) and Treason’s Shore by Sherwood Smith, these were the novels that held my interest this summer.

Best Served Cold is signally composed with more originality and sharply limned characters than many Fantasies. This isn’t easy to do, since thousands of Fantasy works have been published, and published in ever more numbers every month since LOTR created this new publishing genre — and demographic audience.

 What I liked most about Best Served Cold is the picture it provides of the terrible harm private mercenary armies are to everyone. They are fighting a war for their own profit. They collude with each other to drive up prices, throw battles and wars, betray each other and their employers, create wars where there are none. You have to think about Blackwater and, at last accounting, nearly 200 other private militias that are getting U.S. military contracts. If you ever thought  privatizing a national military is a good idea, you should read this novel of Abercrombie’s, particularly p. 239. But surely there’s no one in these current real world militias who is a classic likeable rogue like the former merc General, Nicomo Cosca, in Best Served Cold.

 Like Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Mercy (2008), and Sherwood Smith’s conclusion to her Inda series, Treason’s Shore (2009), Best Served Cold is a Fantasy novel that feels infused with current political events and catastrophes.  But readers who read to escape the real world, never fear!  Though this deep connection to contemporary events and conditions is successfully accomplished, none of these works will lose anything in depth or effectiveness as all these events disappear from our national attention deficit disordered mind.

 This may be the first Fantasy novel that has a character of agency who is an autistic, just on the edge of functioning. Friendly has no bonds with other humans, or booty, or power. He’s not likely to commit betrayal. He counts things, anything. His dice are his comfort objects. He is happy and content in prison, where the rigid routine allows him to feel safe. He’s a splendid addition to any group of thugs or soldiers because he loves the dice, and he never miscounts. He’s a methodical killer in a fight or battle, counting, counting, counting. He’s a sudden savage killer when the numbers are wrong or someone has broken his comfort routines. Friendly provokes the reader into thinking about what the chances were back in such times and conditions of autistic persons surviving at all.

Morveer is the chemist/alchemist/master of poisons-for-hire. Morveer reminds one of certain portraits of Merlin, including TNH’s description of the “unreliable magician” in her current “Re-reading Sandmanhere, and which others like Kit Kerr have also discussed at different times — Kit has also employed this specifically in her Deverry works. Most of all it is Morveer’s relationship with his apprentice that recall a twisted Merlin, a penetrating reading of that odd end of Merlin’s life with the entry of Viviene, she who wished to learn all his magic and secrets. The Merlin parallel feels most strong around p. 195. However, you will be surprised how this narrative strand plays out.

 The two ‘primary’ characters are the peasant turned mercenary general, the ruthless and brilliant strategist-swordswoman, Monza Murcatto, and Caul Shivers, a Viking sort, who has foolishly followed advice proferred at home and come south to become a better man, rather than a killer and seeker after ephemeral booty. It’s seldom I see actors in the role of fictional characters, but I couldn’t get rid of the image of Shivers as Sex and the City’s Aiden:  hunky, competent, unsizzling personality, dull of expression, and twice jilted by Carrie Bradshaw. There are many more characters than these, but these are the most successful, with the most page time. All of them betray each other and re-align frequently.

 The structure of the novel includes a variety of time periods, a variety of charcters and multi-threaded narrative lines.  These are written with an admirable deftness.  Nor does the prose plod.  The opening section is some brilliant satiric repartee by deeply knowing, profoundly cynical characters who know each other better than they want to, and have loyalty to nothing or anyone. At first you can’t believe what you are reading — you think this author is maybe an untalented sap and you’re going to close the book. But that’s not what is going on. It’s a brilliant bit.  And something that’s included in this bit, is there, at the very end of the novel.

 What was problematical for this reader concerning the novel was the name Abercrombie gave the featured region of his world-building — Styria. My eyes and brain insisted on seeing Syria every damned time, which threw me out of where we are. Nor did it feel like a name that would be found on the 15th Century latinum peninsula, of which this tale of warring city states is so reminiscent — as well as of Mario Puzo’s The Family (2001), featuring the Borgias, with historical characters including Niccolò Machiavelli.

This novel was just about perfect for this reader — see, in ‘my interests’: betrayal. It feels  significantly superior to Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy. This may be because the world is so emphatically modeled upon a historical time and place, and historical characters. There was more than one very strong female warrior in that period of the warring papal and city states.

 Hopefully, Best Served Cold is the stand-alone work it appears to be.

Lord Ooky Hellwrought’s Sixteen Unspeakable Utterances

March 25th, 2009

Lord Ooky Hellwrought’s Sixteen Unspeakable Utterances
(a Supplementary Lexicon for Lady Pixie Moondrip’s Random Craft Name Generator)

In her well-famed essay, to which I refer you for reference, the great loremistress lists the following thirty-one words as being the components of eighty percent of all craft names:

  • Wolf     Raven Silver     Moon     Star
  • Water     Snow  Sea     Tree     Wind
  • Cloud     Witch     Thorn     Leaf      White
  • Black     Green     Fire     Rowan Swan
  • Night     Red     Mist     Hawk     Feather
  • Eagle     Song     Sky     Storm     Sun
  • Wood

Aside from modern witches, Wiccans and neo-pagans, this list also holds true with the majority of witches and wizards in fantasy fiction, especially popular roleplaying games, and is thus of use and interest to the writers and readers thereof.  But with all due deference to the esteemed lexicographer, her rule breaks down in one crucial area: evil overlords and wicked enchantresses.

With the exception of the always serviceable “Black” and “Night,” few evil overlords or wicked enchantresses use more than one word from the above list in their craft names, seldom two, and never three.  The same holds true for the titles of books chronicling their black deeds.  However, this is not to say that the practitioners of the black arts are any more original than their white and off-white colleagues.  They simply draw from a second, but even more limited, word list.

After perusing my vast library of blasphemous texts and eldritch tomes (mostly the aforementioned fantasy novels and gaming supplements), I, Lord Ooky Hellwrought, have found the same sixteen soul-searing words repeated again and again.  Herewith, my addenda:

  • Bane     Blood     Bone    Curse    Dark
  • Death    Dire    Doom    Dread     Fell
  • Foul    Grim    Hell    Hex    Nether
  • Shadow

These words may be combined with those from Lady Pixie Moondrip’s original list in the same manner, or, for added effect, may be added to professional titles.  Dread pirates and blood ninjas can charge more than mere ninjas and pirates.  And while no one is much impressed by a merchant or thief, the same cannot be said of death merchants and shadow thieves.  (Lord Ooky Hellwrought notes that a few professions, such as hairdressers and proctologists, are beyond help.  Aspiring evil overlords and wicked enchantresses would do best to not list these on their resumes.)

I Love a Cliché

January 6th, 2009

A few weeks ago Kate Elliott posted a valuable piece somewhere else about clichés, and in the course of the discussion she recommended I enlarge upon the comments I made there.  One of the hazards of encroaching age is that I no longer remember where the discussion was, only that it was lively and interesting: you woulda loved it.  And now that the holidays are over and I have two brain cells to rub together, I’ve come here to outline what I was trying to say in that post.

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Memo to Hollywood: How to do (and not do) an adaptation

December 31st, 2008

I have just watched The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, a year after it came out (DVR is your friend, except maybe in this case) and I’m gasping in horror at how bad it was, and for no good reason.  You’ve got all the elements that would seem to make a great movie:  Beloved children’s classic as source material?  Check.  Lavish sets?  Check.  Gorgeous costuming?  Check.  Actors ranging from competent to excellent?  Check.  Impressive and appropriate special effects?  Check.  Script by a competent screenwriter?  Um, well, I understand they got the guy who did the adaptation for Trainspotting, which I understand was a decent movie, but….

First off, let me make one thing clear: Departure from the source material is fine.   The Wizard of Oz dumped the scene in the Dainty China Country from the movie adaptation because it was boring, extraneous, and painfully lame.  Glomming the Good Witch of the North and Glinda the Sorceress of the South together makes sense from a dramatic perspective, though making her a bubbly airhead was a bit much (although the MGM version does have her fans).  Having the Wicked Witch of the West be responsible for the poppies is fine for purposes of drama, and having them be foiled by snow as opposed to field mice is likewise fine for purposes of staging.  Mary Norton’s The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks do not contain Nazis, musical numbers, a young Miss Price, or magical football matches with talking animals–though all of these things are very fun in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a movie I adored as a child and had to thank for introducing me to the equally good (if significantly different) book.  And Alfonso Cuaron’s version of A Little Princess took numerous liberties with the original novel, including but not limited to moving the setting from London to New York, making Becky black instead of Cockney, and most significantly, having Sarah’s dad not be dead of bad investments in India but instead poisoned by mustard gas and MIA in WWI.

The difference here is that The Wizard of Oz, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Cuaron’s A Little Princess are all great movies.   The reason The Seeker isn’t is not because elements were changed, but because elements were changed for the wrong reasons and the wrong way. Continue Reading »

Publication basking: Busted Flush here, latest Wild Cards novel

December 9th, 2008

I got my author’s copies of Busted Flush yesterday, the latest Wild Cards novel which I wrote part of. I’d seen bits and bobs of the other author’s sections during the writing phase, for character approval and to see that we were on the same page, but this is my first chance to read the whole thing together and I’m enjoying it. So far I’ve read Melinda and Caroline’s sections at the beginning, then skipped ahead to reread parts of what I wrote (since there’s no plot surprises there, but there’s the fun of seeing your words in actual print).
Busted Flush cover shot
I’m not certain how many other authors do this, setting aside a day for enjoying the book when it comes out. Lots of times I know it hasn’t worked out, due to life, deadlines and other realities (and today not so much either, since I’m having a friend over to help install a new hard drive in the new computer and attempt to transfer what files were saved from the dead one), but when it happens, it’s nice to be able to just sit back and bask.

P.S. As a small update, there’s now an interview with me and the rest of the Busted Flush authors up at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for anyone who’d like to read it.

“MultiReal”: The First Drafts

August 4th, 2008

One of the fun little promotional things I did for Infoquake was to post all the first drafts of chapter 1. You got to see the journey of the book from something I doodled on in 1997 or 1998 to the finished product that hit the shelves in July of 2006.

I’ve now gone ahead and done the same thing for MultiReal. You can now read online the first drafts of MultiReal’s chapter 1, along with footnotes and commentary about each draft. The big difference between the Infoquake drafts and the MultiReal drafts is this: for the latter book, there were thirty-five of them. Yes, thirty-five drafts of chapter 1. Told you I’m something of a perfectionist. (Keep in mind that most of these first drafts were simply rehashes of prior drafts, and most of them are incomplete.)

Instead of posting all thirty-five drafts up on my website, I’ve chosen to simply post the best or most representative samples of the eight different directions I tried. Along with the final published version, of course.

So among the abandoned concepts you can read about in these drafts are: Magan Kai Lee as ruthless martial arts expert (draft 1), a bureaucratic smackdown between rival governments about the weather (draft 17), Horvil fascinated by advertising (draft 18), and Henry Osterman trekking off to Harper’s Ferry to commit suicide (draft 29).

Quick excerpt from draft 29, my favorite abandoned version of chapter 1:

Henry Osterman was dying.

He stumbled into the provincial town of Harper on his own two feet, a pallid scarecrow of a man, his hair greasy, his clothes tattered, his fingernails curling in on themselves like shriveled worms after the rain.

Nobody could say how he had gotten there. The roads leading to Harper had been pulverized a quarter of a millennium ago by the wrath of thinking machines run amok. Tube trains and hoverbirds were technologies for a theoretical future when the world had learned to live without fossil fuels; multi and teleportation were the pipe dreams of lunatics. To get to Harper these days, you needed either a strong horse or a boat limber enough to steer through the debris clogging the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Osterman had neither.

The city itself was barely worth the effort. A few dozen dilapidated buildings huddled together at the bottom of a hill, that was all. The more prosperous cities nearby had pieced together a fragile shell of trade from the shards of yesterday’s civilization, but so far Harper had little to contribute. Still, you could get three radio stations again in Harper, and sometimes on clear nights you could see the feeble blink of a Chinese satellite. The local music scene was bustling. Drinking water was almost drinkable. Progress.

Hopefully this will prove useful to writers looking for some insight into the process, if not for future scholars at the Edelman Studies departments of major universities worldwide.

(Originally published at David Louis Edelman’s personal blog. Feel free to comment here or there.)

Me, Myself, and I – Part 2

July 14th, 2008

Matthew Milson wrote:

another obstacle that I found to be limiting with the first person perspective was the inability to give the reader information outside of the main character’s knowledge. I grew concerned that I would not be able to adequately hold the reader’s interest or create a sense of worry for the main character by breaking away from their storyline for short periods of time.

Certainly there are limitations to strict first person POV that one has to deal with. You mentioned a number of concerns here, some of which are related and some not.

1. giving the reader information outside the POV character’s knowledge

2. holding the reader’s interest

3. breaking away from that (POV) character’s story

4. creating a sense of worry in the reader

First off, #2 should not be dependent on #1 or #3. If you create an interesting character, and a strong vivid supporting cast, complex relationships, and interesting events surrounding that character, ie. a good story, you can hold the reader’s interest. Your POV character – no matter first or third – should be someone we want to spend time with. Someone with a complex personality, not perfect, with interests, attitudes, likes, dislikes, beliefs, superstitions, whatever makes a person human (or not, as the case may be.) Someone who learns and is capable of change. Sometimes the first person narrator is not the true protagonist, but only the person who is telling the story of the true hero or heroine. (I tried that with Transformation, and it ended up the narrator WAS the heart of the story, but those things can happen…) First person is certainly not appropriate for every story.

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Me, Myself, and I

June 19th, 2008

Question from Valtameren:

When writing a first person short story is it possible to over use the words, “I” and “myself” when actually referring to yourself. Is there anything else you can write in it’s place?

Yes, it is possible to overuse I when writing first person, just as it’s possible to overuse he or she in third person or any other word that gets stuck in the brainpan. Unfortunately I seems to glare in readers’ eyes like undimmed headlights, and ruin their appreciation of my own personal favorite storytelling “person.” It’s certainly something I have to watch. If you can’t see it for yourself, try reading your work aloud (always a good technique anyway) and listen.

You’ve said that you are conscious of the problem and work on varying your sentence structure, but here are a few other things to consider. Continue Reading »

From Penguin: A SCIENCE FICTION OMNIBUS ed. by Brian Aldiss

February 3rd, 2008

Penguin paperbacks have long provided readers with authoratative editions of classic literature from all nations and genres, edited by experts in the field.  Peguin regularly updates its classics, with new translations, new citations, new editors and different covers.  Thus Penguin’s Science Fiction Omnibus, published in Britain in November 2007, updates the Aldis edited SF Omnibus of 1973.

You can compare the 1973 edition’s Table of Contents 

here with the Table of Contents for this new 2007 edition here.  A thoughtful consideration of SF sparked by this new edition of Aldis’s Omnibus appears in the current Times Literary Supplement. 

You may not agree with every point Dinah Birch, the writer, makes, but its interesting to read.

[ Loneliness shadows science fiction, and is made more acute by its customary settings amid the emptiness of space, with solitary voyagers or beleaguered bands of adventurers encountering the hostilities of planets that deny the consolations of familiarity. The opening images of Walter M. Miller’s brilliant “I Made You” (1954) are typical:

“It sat on the crag by night. Gaunt, frigid, wounded, it sat under the black sky and listened to the land with its feet, while only its dishlike ear moved in slow patterns that searched the surface of the land and the sky The land was silent, airless. Nothing moved, except the feeble thing that scratched in the cave.”

The “feeble thing” turns out to be a man, about to be destroyed by the suffering robot that he has created. The story is recognizably a reflection of Frankenstein. It serves, like Frankenstein, to caution against the dangers of scientific progress pursued with no thought of moral consequences. This bleakly admonitory tone repels many readers. It is the business of science fiction to alarm, in the sense of providing the excitement of thrilling dangers, and of scaring readers with the prospect of a future in which human values are threatened. Ruthless invasions, apocalyptic plagues, wars and famines, dying stars, mechanized intelligences and predatory civilizations, have been its favourite devices. Fredric Brown’s “Answer” (1964), a piercingly brief story, points to the hazards of the internet, years before it was invented. Scientists link every computer on earth in order to ask a single question – “Is there a God?”. The answer is immediate: “Yes, NOW there is a God”. The warnings of science fiction are endlessly inventive, often witty, and sometimes salutary, but they do not make for comforting reading. ]

When I was a tad, far back in the days when there was little if any SF and even less F on television and in the movies and in the bookstores, these anthologies and omnibuses were among my most prized discoveries for reading, and re-reading, and re-reading even more times than that.  I didn’t realize it, but these kinds of collections were teaching me what was good about SF, and how it worked, through an infinite variety of treatments and approaches, only limited by the number of stories and writers that could be included.

Love, C.

How to Write a Novel (Part 2)

January 21st, 2008

So you decided to write a novel, you committed yourself to the task, and you agonized your way through your first draft — as described in How to Write a Novel (Part 1). Now one of two things will happen:

John Barth writing 1) You’ll print that sucker out and add a title page. You’ll type up a page dedicating the book to your sister Chloë in Venice, whose steadfast support and witty observations helped you get through the tough parts, and who served as the inspiration for the character of Empress Fögelschmëer (the Younger). You’ll add a cover letter, mail the whole package off to Random House, and watch the royalty checks flow in. Or,

2) You’ll look at what you’ve written and realize it ain’t publishable.

Most writers — even the successful ones — fall into that second camp. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Months or even years will have passed since you started, and the world’s not the same place. You’re not the same person. So it’s only natural that the story has wandered onto unforeseen paths. It’s only natural you look back at those early chapters and shake your head and think, How naive that guy was who wrote this stuff.

Don’t despair. Here’s a path (my path) of getting from first draft to final draft. As before, keep in mind that your mileage may vary.

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