Archive for the 'Fantasy' Category

Interview for Savage Mojo’s Dungeonlands Kickstarter

October 13th, 2012

A brief update. I’ve been brought on to write the Ur legend for Savage Mojo’s Dungeonlands Kickstarter project: “Legend of the Lich Queen,” which kicks off their “Tomb of the Lich Queen” trilogy which is now in its final 25 hours:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/723840670/dungeonlands-tomb-of-the-lich-queen

Tommy at Savage Mojo has also just published an interview with me:

http://savagemojo.com/home/?p=3206

Here, also, is the teaser video for “The Legend of the Lich Queen” which I’m currently writing:

Sherwood Smith *Banner of the Damned* (April 2012)

March 28th, 2012

 

 

Sherwood Smith. Banner of the Damned. DAW, April 3, 2012. 695 pages. Banner of the Damned is set in the secondary fantasy world of Sartorias-deles; the events take place four centuries after the close of the previous Sartorians-deles epic series: Inda, The Fox, King’s Shield, Treason’s Shore, commonly called the Inda series. It is not necessary to have read these books before reading Banner of the Damned. All these titles are available from DAW.

My complete post on Smith’s Banner of the Damned can be found at the SF Signal site, here.

 

*Apocalypse to Go* by Katherine Kerr

February 1st, 2012

 

The Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher DAW has been publishing quite a few  of the best writers with which the field currently is blessed, including, but  not limited to, this year’s World Fantasy Award winner, Nnedi Okorafor, Tanya  Huff and Patrick Rothfuss. Katharine Kerr, creator of the great Deverry Fantasy series, is another DAW writer giving us  consistently highly entertaining, smart and very well written books.

Katharine Kerr’s latest series, the Nola O’Grady Novels, are, in order of  publication — License to Enscorcell, Water to Burn, and the  most recent, published 02/17/12, Apocalypse to Go. The series is  urban fantasy, located in an alternate San Francisco. Among these novels’  strengths is the strong sense of real place, despite it being an alternate San  Francisco, situated in a universe different from ours in many respects. This  palpable sense of reality helps the reader to effortlessly suspend disbelief and  submerge in the story.

One of the urban fantasy conventions is the protagonist generally is paired  with an equal but different companion. This would be Israeli Interpol agent  Ari Nathan, Irish Nola’s partner in the super-secret supernatural government  agency that is secret even from the (many) other government secret agencies. The  conflict of potential divided loyalties is equal to the conflict at times as to  who is giving orders, who is in charge and who makes the decisions. This makes  for an interesting relationship, which becomes even more interesting as Nola’s  close-knit, if difficult, Irish family becomes a part of the mix of diverse  worlds, supernatural creatures, murders, kidnappings and missions to save the  world.

While Kerr’s Nola O’Grady novels do conform to the conventions of urban
fantasy, she puts a stamp of originality on each of them. The originality partly rises out of her fine grasp of how novels are plotted and structured, and partly through Kerr’s splendid command of language. You hear it in the way the characters talk to us the readers, talk to and about each other. The interchanges and observations are conventionally genre ‘smart,’ yet on Kerr’s pages they come through as naturally hip, not self-consciously wise-cracking attempts to talk the supernatural noir talk. But then the author lives in the state where noir and its language on the page and on the screen were invented to large degree.

Because of the unexpected actions of Nola’s family, and also because the language in this world of Kerr’s balances tension and lightness, this reader has often been put in mind of the first and best novels of Roger Zelazny’s wonderful Amber series. I vividly recall reading non-stop Nine Princes in Amber the first time, hardly able to stop and take a breath.  This is high praise. Go Kerr! Go Nola!

X-posted Fox Home and Fox Valley

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

December 22nd, 2011

Harkness, Deborah. (2011) A Discovery of Witches. Vol. 1, All Souls Trilogy. Penguin, USA, NY.

Trade publication December 27th. The All Souls Trilogy’s second volume, Shadow of Night, comes out this summer of 2012. A Discovery has been optioned by Warner Bros. for a film treatment.

A copy of A Discovery of Witches paperback is available from Penguin.  Just comment below, I’ll organize a drawing of the commentators’ names, announce the winner here, and forward your contact info to the Penguin publicity department.

There are no spoilers in the following thoughts about A Discovery of Witches, or at least no more than what a reader finds in cover and jacket copy.

Cross-posted to Fox Home and Fox Hall.

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A Discovery of Witches is an engrossing science fiction & fantasy novel, as opposed to an engrossing science fiction or fantasy novel, because it is both science fiction and fantasy. Its only contemporary rival for excellence in this small science fiction and fantasy crossbreed is this year’s World Fantasy Award winner, Who Fears Death (2010, DAW) by Nnedi Okorafor.

Within A Discovery’s pages the reader will engage with the history of science, philosophical and alchemical treatises, Darwin and DNA, political and material history, medieval Romances and their nexis with fantastic literature, and the great Elizabethan playwrights.  The author’s day job is as professor of history at the University of Southern California. Her scholarly work includes The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (2007, Yale University Press), which was the winner of the Pfizer Prize for Best Book in the History of Science from 2005-2007, presented by the History of Science Society. The reader doesn’t have to know this about the author, however, for A Discovery to emit all the allure of old jewels and the enticement of bright chemicals in combination with precious metals.

Diana Bishop is our protagonist, a young woman with whom an ancient vampire falls in love, in one of the reading rooms of Oxford’s Bodelian Library. So, it’s hard then, not to have Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight come to mind.

Sarah Seltzer at Alternet recently tried to get at aspects of Twilight that some adult readers find troubling:

“Violent Vampire Sex, Demon-Babies and Overwhelming Female Desire. Twilight is saturated with sexist tropes–to the point of being disturbing. But that disturbing element is compelling, too . . . . “

 . . . . But as for the substance of her wants, therein lies the perversely haunting twist. I’d argue that Bella’s desires are direct responses to the patriarchy we actually live in. In fact, Meyer has created for her heroine an inverted version of our unjust society. In this invented, inverted world, Bella is allowed to want sex, and vocalize it, and initiate it, while her partner is the gatekeeper who makes sure she is safe and married before she gets “hurt.” In her world, the men around her urge her to abort her fetus for her own safety, but she gets to “choose” to deliver it even though it kills her. In her world, her boyfriend can urge her to attend college and better herself while she can push for an early marriage–and be right! In her world, she can reject her body and trade it in for a new one that is agile, strong, lithe. Her choices are consistently to fall into the arms of the patriarchy and trust that it will catch her, and her faith is validated: she gets a perfect husband, angelic child, new body.

What if we could do this, the fantasy suggests? What if we could just will ourselves to accept the prescribed roles society gives us (damsel in distress, object of protection, vessel for childbearing) and make it okay through the power of our wills? And what if the men in our society were horrified by their power: physical, social, sexual, and curbed it themselves and we didn’t constantly have to be on our guard?

Some critics dismissed A Discovery of Witches when the ARCs and other promotion for the novel appeared, as more of the paranormal / urban fantasy / romance generic tropes: the special cipher a la Bella, helpless as can be but firming her feisty chin as her gorgeous vampire boyfriend indulges and protects her. Most of all the romantic male primary loves Bella because he can’t help himself — the smell of her special blood is just so enticing! His love object lacks any other qualities that tend to attract love, such as character and personality, curiosity, intelligence, education, knowledge of the world, interests or achievements, even a sense of humor. Bella is special because — other exceptional figures such as vampires and werewolves love her, and they love her because of how she smells. A Discovery’s romantic male lead is Matthew, a 1500 year old vampire of vast wealth, intellectual brilliance and military prowess. He adores how Diana smells, he protects her. All his family loves Diana. Not the least of his attractions, Matthew owns his own jet and helicopters — yes helicopters, plural. So, in the initial pages Ms. Harkness seems to have broken out the parts of the Twilightiad that are compelling wish fulfillment for the female adolescent reader.  Diana’s a witch who is special even among other witches, though in childhood, Diana chose to secede from her witch heritage, refusing even the minimum training in spells that all witches, however powerful or weak, are obligated to receive.

However, A Discovery of Witches isn’t what that description leads one to expect. Diana narrates in first person, providing only as much information about herself as we need, when we need it. Mostly she’s asking herself questions of history, of science, of families – all things outside herself, things that are bigger than she is, even though the author does make sure we know those around Diana regard her as special. Still, Diana’s specialness doesn’t overwhelm the narration since the author’s good judgment breaks up Diana’s voice with third person point of view of various other protagonists. There’s sly humor — every time Matthew picks up Diana, or thinks about how she smells, I swear Harkness is winking at Bella and Edward, and at us too. Whereas Bella wants to never grow up, Diana is living an adult’s life, though so far she’s been denying herself much of what she’s earned by her own efforts. Diana’s family and Matthew’s family bond through their mutual love of the two lovers. Merging families of creatures who are unlike and traditionally at odds is purposeful in terms the Great Mysteries we’re delving into. Diana’s specialness is because she’s a hardworking, disciplined scholar who delights in things scientific and historic, things beautiful, who is loyal, courageous, possesses integrity and her own sense of honor. That her smell happens to so appeal to Matthew is langniappe — he smells just as good to her. If you wish to get subtextual, you can say the way they smell to each other signifies that together they possesses the qualities they need for the great quest of the trilogy. They are equally matched lovers, who don’t waste their precious energies engaging in the contrivances of – “I hate you but I love you, O what will I /we do, separations and mis-communications.” That Diana and Matthew are matched agencies who are true lovers is essential to the plot of this novel, and will play an even greater role as the trilogy progresses. They are the Lovers of the Tarot and alchemy, whose conjucio could have a conceptio that might redeem the world. A Disovery of Witches is, among other things, a quest to discover the beginnings of all things in order to continue all things. One of the essential questions is, “Is immortality the same as never dying?” There are many ghosts in A Discovery, most of them Diana’s relatives. They speak to her, and she to them.  Are they persons then?

The four sentient species of A Discovery are called “creatures.” The creatures are divided among vampires, witches, daemons and humans. There is council called the Congregation that governs their dealings with each other, with places for three members each representing vampires, witches and daemons. As there are no human representatives seated with the Congregation there are no humans in A Discovery of Witches (at least in this first volume of the trilogy, other than spear carriers who, generally, are besottted with the individuals of the other creatures who are our protagonists and antagonists. This is the hierarchy of A Discovery’s world, a hierarchy like that of the world view that preceeded and remained in most places contemporaneous with alchemy’s groping toward the scientific method: God, angels, humans, animals. Or in terms of worldly power, the Pope and his Church, King and his warrior nobles, the merchants, finally serfs and peasants. In A Discovery, vampires are the aristocratic military rank of the creatures, witches the material intelligence, daemons the creative intelligence, and humans are the serfs. Humans are relegated to useful servants – or food — though the other three creature species conceal themselves from humans since humans have long outbred the other three divisions of creatures.

Eceptionalism is the potent point of much science fiction and fantasy. Whether YA or adult, the protagonist is part of that imaginary world’s 1%, or if not starting there, will end up in that bracket. Thus, if the science fiction field really is an American conceptio, i.e. U.S. invention, as is often claimed, this exceptionalism reflects our ingrained national self-regard. This can be troublesome when looked at closely. What else that can be disturbing within the context of novels like A Discovery, is that the exceptional achievements in history, the arts and sciences, all, or most, are the production of these supernatural creatures. Within A Discovery humans have nothing to do with even the ending WWII. Entertainments like A Discovery of Witches, or Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, in which significant events of good or evil of our own recorded history are attributed to supernatual agency seem increasingly a given. Humans are not responsible for what, in fact, we know we are responsible, whether the plays of Shakespeare or slavery.

Food for thought indeed, and A Discovery of Witches provides us a banquet of ideas to consider. For instance, there are the questions of time. What is the past? Where is it? Perhaps fairyland is the past, the dimension that we can enter, if we know the right things? Diana – and we — have a guide into these unknown historic eras, Matthew, who assures Diana, that in the past she will yearn with a passion she cannot now in present time even imagine — hot water. This has me impatient for the next volume, Shadow of Night, to see where these questions lead Harkness and her characters.

 

*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.

No Visible Means of Support. Please.

August 18th, 2009

In the days when I was reading slush (unsolicited manuscripts to the fortunately uninitiated) we had a rule of thumb: the more “supporting materials” came with a fantasy manuscript, the more likely the MS was to be rotten. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule: some manuscripts that came with this stuff were okay; few were top-notch. A beginner mistake is to assume that, as finished books have these things, it’s necessary for the aspiring writer to provide them.

Really: no it’s not.

First of all: it reads like a newbie mistake (see above). Second of all, the more detailed and lavish the supporting materials are, the more likely the story itself has been shorted, because the writer has gotten so wound up in providing the schematics for the world (and showing you that they’re all, all there!) that she has forgotten things like logic, character, and wordcraft.

This does not mean that the writer should not do her homework, keep charts and research files and maps and whatever else makes it possible for her to construct a world.  But, as I think I’ve said before, 9/10ths of the worldbuilding iceberg should be underwater, unless you want your manuscript to sink like the Titanic.  Even when the work is finished, think carefully about imposing too many maps, etc. on your reader. 

Of course there’s a reason I’m thinking about this.  I just finished reading a quite satisfying fantasy novel, second in a series set in a big, sprawling elsewhere.  The worldbuilding is generally quite satisfactory.  Two problems:

  • In the first book in the series the author included a pronunciation guide so that readers would understand how to say the names of characters and places.  The problem with this is that once I read the arcane rules of this language it meant that every time I met a new character I not only had to remember what she looked like, but that her name was pronounced so that the first H was aspirated but the second H was not*, and that U was always pronounced long, as in you, but A was always short as in aaaa. This means, for me as a reader, that I’m doing the equivalent of walking through a new country with a guidebook in my hand, rather than getting involved in the story. In the second book there is no pronunciation guide, but (sadly) I still remember it, and kept trying to sound out the names in the new book by the same rules, rather than just getting into the story.
  • Both books have maps. The first book takes place entirely on one continent, and it’s pretty easy to follow the peregrinations of Our Heroine and her dauntless companion once they leave her hometown and set out to save her people from invaders.  But in the second book–because there were maps (not only of the continent but of the world itself) I kept referring back to them. In the second book Our Hero and his dauntless band sail off to save some captives and wind up saving the world and…it’s a good story, full of cool worldbuilding and action and angst and stuff.  Only, I kept trying to figure out where they were on the maps, and got hugely frustrated because I couldn’t: the larger map that compassed his travels did not include the names of the places they visited, so I still have no idea where they started from and only a rudimentary one of where they ended up. But every time the author gave me a new place name I leafed back to the front of the book and tried to find it. Once again, having that supporting material available was a distraction, not an aid.

Not everyone reads as I read, I know.  Many people would skip right over this stuff, or wouldn’t be bothered the way I was.  But some people will be, and for us, it’s a drag.  So think carefully about including your supporting materials with your work, either in ms. form or in the final book.  If someone proposes it, ask yourself (and the proposer) what you want the map to accomplish.  If you’ve built your world solidly enough, readers might not need a map.  And if there are specific reasons (you want a visual reminder of how close the enemy city is to Our Heroine’s wee tiny cot in the woods, or to give some visual cue as to why the journey from Hither to Yon takes six years by carrier yak), make sure that the map is set up to be useful. Because human nature is such that some people are going to try to use it, and hold it against you if they cannot.

 

*The real pronunciation rules have been changed to protect the innocent.

Giving it Away for Free

April 7th, 2009

Witch Way to the Mall

Witch Way to the Mall

This was going to be a small announcement that I’ve got a story coming out in Esther Friesner’s Witch Way to the Mall this next June, and Baen is offering five of the stories early, including mine (you have to click all the way to the end to find it, since it’s not linked in the contents), but, well, it’s sort of morphed into a rumination on copyrights and giving it away for free.

This was prompted by a short letter I got last night from Paizo, a gaming company I’ve bought from before and who has given me some very nice PDFs of their other games as free samples:

Dear Kevin,

Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on paizo.com; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.

We thank you for your patronage of paizo.com. Please check out our other downloads at paizo.com/store/downloads.

Sincerely yours,
The Paizo Customer Service Team

This has prompted a great deal of talk on the Paizo and Wizards boards and elsewhere, with a press announcement from Wizards saying they were shocked shocked! to find that people were violating their copyrights on the internet, and they’re now suing people as far away as Poland and the Philipines — this particularly ironic since a number of years ago, they themselves violated the copyrights of a number of authors, myself included, with the publication of the Dragon Magazine compilation CD.  But the fact that my very first professional sale (if not publication credit), which was reprinted by Wizards without my permission, was then pirated around the globe without Wizards’ permission?  I suppose I could fall into a fit of apoplexy that my words my precious words! were no longer under my control.  But since I’ve been giving that article away for free on my website for years, the mental chain is more: sauce, gander, world’s tiniest violin.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think Wizards has the right to pull those works they do hold copyright to from publication, but giving customers who’ve already paid for the work less than twelve hours notice is rather bad form.  Moreover, I think it’s inane to cut off electronic reprints of out-of-print books, especially when there’s a demand for them and the fans will have to chose between pirate networks and the absurd prices of antiquarian booksellers.  And when I say absurd, I mean absurd: Last night I went on to Half.com to get a book I wanted, and while I was there, the engine (which had remembered my previous searches) told me I could get a copy of  Wild Cards Card Sharks, which has my first professional fiction publication, for only $1.37.  This seemed absurdly reasonable, and since I’d heard they were going for much more (and I only have two copies myself) I decided to snatch it up, only to find that the price had jumped to $53 once I clicked on the link and it was absurd the other way.

I’m not going to pay $53 for a paperback.  Moreover, I don’t expect any fan to.  And it’s not like I’d see any of that money from the antiquarians in any case.  I’d rather the fans download it from Polish pirates, then buy something current (such as, for example, Busted Flush or Witch Way to the Mall).

Which I suppose brings us full circle: There are free stories–regardless of how they got there–and if you like them, you can buy more stories.

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.)

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 »

Don’t You Wish You Lived Then? (Musings on Class and Fantasy)

December 4th, 2008

I used to get asked that question a lot in my Regency-writing days.  The short, simple answer: No.  No painless dentistry, eccentric provision for sewage, no penicillin and no concept of asepsis, and the condition of most women was not one that I aspire to.  But the women who asked the question usually had been complimentary about my writing, and I am weak, and did not want to blurt out the first thing that came to my mind (which would be: Whaddaya, crazy?) and so I’d say something like “Well, they sure knew how to dress, didn’t they?”  Because twenty seconds’ musing on why these readers of mine thought that the Regency might be a swell time to live returned the conclusion that they were talking about a fantasy of the Regency, in which they would be duchesses in pretty clothes, and always say and do the right thing, and they would get to marry a prince, and all their trials would be wrapped up by the end of the last act.

It was easy (particularly when I was younger) to see this as a rather childish wish; with the wisdom of age, give or take, I think that life is hard enough and if the fantasy of living in a magical then-and-there and being beautiful and clever and well dressed helps a reader get through the day, I’m glad to have provided that service.  For me, however, part of what I love about writing about the past, or the future, or fantastic societies, is the chance to play with the fallout from that most human of pastimes: organizing ourselves into castes.  

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