A Walk To The Edge Of The World

O, spirit, I can feel you watching me.

The voice that speaks from the sky–the Nar Attor–said that one would be sent to watch over me.

I am Thangorr, of the Grey Mountain People.  Have you heard of us? No? I’m not surprised, there are few of us, and we seldom travel past the Iron Hills where the Dark Folk of the caverns live.

This, though, this is kind of a special occasion.  Come, I will explain on the way.

I am pleased that you are here.  I am alone in a strange world and any company–even that of a spirit strange to me–is welcome. The spirits of my people, the Queen of Eagles, the Brothers of the White Wind, they do not leave the mountains. Perhaps that is why you have been sent to me.

There–see that blue line in the distance behind us?  Those are the Iron Hills.  Behind them, lost in the mists at the edge of the world, are the Grey Mountains. Even the Nar Attor, who seems to know all things, will not say if I may ever return there.  I fear I may die without seeing my home again.

But let us look ahead.  The chasm here before us, that is the Royal River.  It is said that as it flows it grows wider until it reaches the sea, in far Dolan, and that it is a gentle river in those parts, well-travelled by the flatboats of traders.

Alas, we must cross it here, where it is still wild. And then…

See how the ground on the opposite bank is dry and cracked?  Nothing grows there–it is the beginning of the Oddun wastes.  Strange things are said to live in that place, unnatural beasts.  I know of no one who has ventured there and returned.

Beyond that are the Fire Hills. And past the Fire Hills…

There.  See how the far horizon grows dark?  There are the lands of the Necromancer.  It is said that his power causes the clouds to always block out the sun, so that dark creatures walk abroad both day and night. In the heart of that land is the Necromancer’s Citadel. Inside that grim tower waits a task that I must do.

What?  You were not told? I will explain, but first, I must save my breath for climbing.  Don’t build the fire before you raise the ax, as my father used to say. Before anything else I must find my way across the river.

Come.  Watch me, and should I fall, take my tale to the other spirits.

Posted in Artists That I Admire, New Wave, On Writing, pulp revival | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Or The Man Who Makes Potions In The Travelling Show

I gave up on yet another audiobook today, and this one I really regretted.  I liked the writing style and it was well narrated. However, I realized the central thesis, although a common one, was something that I can no longer believe.

The idea behind the setting was that some human beings (about 1%) were born with special talents and the normal humans hated and feared the specials and drafted special laws against them.

Like I say, it’s a common trope, practically a sub-genre of SF in itself, but I’ve never cared for it and today I realized that I just wasn’t buying it any more.

I don’t buy it because extraordinary individuals exist now, and they aren’t regarded with fear and hatred and they aren’t discriminated against. On the contrary, they are celebrated. Top athletes, extremely talented musicians, scientific geniuses–they are our superstars.

I am a very intelligent person, myself.  I have a near-perfect memory for verse–I never set out to memorize anything, I just love poetry and the words stick in my mind.

I also have an abnormally clear grasp of mechanics.  My joking explanation is that machines fear and obey me. To me the relationships between moving parts is obvious.  I can nearly always “just see” how something is supposed to work and why it isn’t doing what it was designed to do.

Far from being resented for my talents, I’m admired for them.  People at work like having me around, and I get called in a lot to “take a look” at things, even things for which I have no formal training.

I feel the same way about people who have talents that I do not.  I’ve known prodigies personally.  I used to live two doors down from a musical prodigy–he could hear a song once and play it back flawlessly, on virtually any instrument he picked up. I know, because I saw him do it.  And he was entirely self-taught–he never had a music lesson in his life.  Someone gave him a guitar and that was it.  I love music, but I could never manage to play it–the relationship between doing something with my hands and the sound that is produced is opaque to me–so I thought that this guy was amazing. I could listen to him play for hours.

I enjoy being around people that I admire. I appreciate working with people who are better than I am, people who I can seek out for help when I get stuck. And I think that most of the people that I have known feel the same way.

So why is there this prevalent theme in SF/F that the “normals” would inevitably turn against people with extraordinary talents?

Well… I used to think that people resented me for my intellectual gifts. No one really appreciated just how smart I was.  People expected me to do ordinary, menial work instead of just showering me with praise and money because I was so gosh-darn clever. They were jealous of my great brain, I thought. They felt inadequate in my presence and took their feelings out on me.

I honestly believed that for a long time.  Then, eventually, I grew up and realized that people didn’t hate me for being a genius, they hated me for being an asshole. And I couldn’t really blame them.

And that’s the same feeling I get from “super people persecuted by the normals” trope in fiction.  Yes, it is true that certain groups of people have been (and still are, in much of the world) persecuted.  But it isn’t because they are seen as being better or more powerful than everyone else.  It’s because they are seen as weak and bad.  The Soviets didn’t send people to die in Siberia because they had great talents–the people with great talents were lauded and paraded in front of the world.

I see Bryan Singer’s mutants and A E van Vogt’s slan (among many others) as being a kind of collective Mary Sue.  The noble and selfless Specials are persecuted by the Normals who fear what they don’t understand and envy what they cannot do.  And then, of course, some cosmic catastrophe threatens which only the Specials can avert, and so they risk everything to save the Normals that hate them.

“I’ll show you–I’ll just go and die because you don’t appreciate me–and then you’ll be sorry!  You’ll see that I was really super secret extra special the whole time.  You’ll see that I was always the bestest and you didn’t buy my books because you were jealous.  And stupid–you were too stupid to understand my genius.  And so you called me names and never let me sit with the cool kids.  But I’ll show you.  And then you’ll be sorry.”

Nope.  Not buying that any more.

Posted in Artists That I Admire, New Wave, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, pulp revival | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Murder The Tour Guide

“My name is Flint. Flint Norton.  I’m currently clinging to the side of building, five stories above a street that is teeming with undead, all clawing at the bricks and driven by mindless hunger to follow me.  Moving slowly, I shrug out of my backpack and reach inside to the brick of explosive and the detonator that I built using spare parts and diagram from an old book. I’m wondering if the damned thing will work when the the wind starts to kick up. Looks like a storm is rolling in–”

“And if you’ll look to the left you’ll see the headquarters of Evil McNasty Corporation.  Founded by Cecil McNasty in 1941, it houses the world’s largest collection of totally illegal and mechanically impractical biological testing gizmos.  The McNasty Corporation, as it was called originally, developed many of the human/aphid hybrid monsters deployed in some of our nations more inexplicable secret wars.  Now–”

“Hey!  Lady! Who the heck are you?”

“I’m the tour guide.  I’m here to explain the situation to the audience.”

“I think I was doing a pretty good job of that.  You know, the clinging to the building with explosives and surrounded by zombies thing I was doing before you interrupted me?”

“Now, I’m sure that our audience would like to hear whether or not you fall and get eaten, but first, let’s take a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with the history of the McNasty Corporation.  The merger with EvilTech occurred in 1967, and resulted in advances in both the unnecessarily grotesque medical procedure and stomping on kittens divisions.”

“Do you mind?  I’d like to get these charges set before it starts raining.  This is a new leather jacket and I don’t want it water stained.”

“I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be brief. I’d like to direct your attention to the extensive gardens surrounding the main plant building.  Containing a large selection of rare and endangered plant life, these gardens showcase Evil McNasty’s total disregard for the ecological balance of the Earth.”

“You know, screw this.  I’m just going to go ahead and blow the building.”

Sound familiar?  You start a story that has an engaging character and a nice solid hook, and then the tour guide shows up and derails the plot for a few thousand words of exposition. It can happen in any genre, Fantasy, Science Fiction, even “real world” genres like Mystery.  And I can understand the temptation–as a writer I spend a lot of time and effort on background and world building.  It’s natural to want to show that off.

But it’s like inviting guests over for a dinner party and then herding them down to the basement so you can show them the joists and the sub-flooring. And yes, I understand that little niggling voice that tells you that the reader really needs to know these things to understand the context of the story.

But we really don’t.  All we really need to know is that Flint has to set his explosives and then zip-line across the street to where his partner Butch is waiting with a homemade flamethrower to cover their retreat. You got zombies. You got survivors who want to stay that way. The rest is details, and you don’t interrupt the action for details.

Murder the tour guide.

Posted in Artists That I Admire, New Wave, On Writing, pulp revival | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Joe’s Sandwich: A Hook

I’ve recently started a initial trial of Amazon Kindle Unlimited, and have figured out how to use KU to get audiobooks (you have to download the e-book and then add narration to it–not difficult, but a bit counter intuitive.)

So I’ve tried a number of audiobooks and since I am not paying per book, I feel very little obligation to finish something just because I’ve downloaded it. (Not that I tend to feel much of that anyway–I am brutal with media. You’ve got a very small window to make me love you.)

It seems to me that there are a lot of authors out there who are writing a publishing fiction who have no clear idea how to begin a story. To give an example of what I mean, let’s talk about Joe and the sandwich.

Joe has been working since very early in the morning, and he gets to lunch late because of a problem with the production line.  But eventually he gets outside into the parking lot with a crisp new ten dollar bill in his hand, just to see the lunch wagon slam down the side window and drive off.

That is a story opening. Joe wants a sandwich.  We want Joe to get his sandwich, because he’s earned it.  He’s been working hard.  He’s got the money to pay for it.  He’s got every reason to expect he can get it, and then something happens–through no fault of his own–that denies him what he wants.

We are now emotionally invested in the story.  We know what it’s like to be hungry.  We want to keep reading because we want a resolution for Joe in the form of a nice cheese and roast beef on marble rye.

Now, that seems really simple, but there are a lot of ways to screw it up.  Suppose Joe has been slacking all morning, hiding from the boss in the back warehouse, and missed the roach coach because he fell asleep on a pallet.  Do we care?  Not so much.  Instead we’re thinking, “ha ha, ya lazy schlub, that’s what ya get for sleeping on the job.”

Or suppose that he doesn’t have any money, and got to the truck on time but they wouldn’t give him credit because he hasn’t yet paid off the credit he got two weeks ago.  Again, it’s harder to be sympathetic to Joe–it’s kind of his own fault he’s going hungry.

Maybe Joe gets to the parking lot and Leo’s Deli On Wheels has left, but Manuel’s Burrito Truck is still idling there.  Sure, Joe’s going to be disappointed that he can’t get the roast beef sandwich he was hoping for, but if he’s really hungry he’ll settle for the burrito.

Then again, suppose that Joe has already had his lunch, and he just wants to talk to Leo because Leo grew up in Ankeny, Iowa and Joe wants to know if that’s a good place to go on his vacation next month.  That is a goal, sure, but it’s not an urgent one and besides there are other ways Joe can find what he wants to know.

Making me care what happens next isn’t rocket science.  Give me somebody to care about, something that I want that person to get, and a logical reason why they might not get it. That’s all.

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Cirsova Ad Giveaway!

EDIT: We have a winner!

I am still giving away a quarter-page ad in Cirsova magazine, even though nobody entered my contest. Yes, it’s not July 1st yet, but I am going to go ahead and close the contest and just give the ad to the first person to reply to this post via my Contact Form.

I am also going to reveal the answers to the questions (none of them are really spoilers for the books.)

  1. Who are the authors of Mankind’s Eternal Odyssey? Michael Chase with Sabrina Ericovitch. (Answer in Gingerbread Wolves.)
  2. What is the title of Jenny Noir’s first solo album? After The Moonlight. (Answer in The Worms Of Heaven.)
  3. What Delapour & Associates employee wrote and published a novel? Chuck Harwood, aka Exquisite, The Apprentices’ Cipher. (Answer in Gingerbread Wolves.)
  4. What was the original name of the riverboat that became known as Scarlett’s Casino? The Missouri Maiden. (Answer in Cannibal Hearts.)
  5. What book does Stuart Dogs read to Nancy Dew while she is convalescing in the mud-bath? Michelle Proulx, Imminent Danger And How To Fly Straight Into It. (Answer in the afterward to Gingerbread Wolves)
  6. What is the name of the magazine that Godiva finds that reveals Dr. Klein’s home address? Natural Glamour. (Answer in Catskinner’s Book.)

Seriously, folks, this is a great opportunity.  Cirsova reaches a lot of readers who are looking for new authors, and since it’s published as an e-book, it will never go out of print.

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It’s Only A Mystery If I Want To Unravel It

So.

I just gave up on a book called Pines by Blake Crouch. It was read by Paul Michael Garcia, who is narrator that I really like–he’s done a number of science fiction novels including several of Heinlein’s that I own.

The writing style was pretty fair, nice description and the language was elegant without getting too flowery. The problem was the story.

See, there’s this guy.  We don’t know who he is.  He doesn’t know who he is.  He’s in some place that looks like an ordinary town but is kind of spooky in an indefinable way. And this guy likes coffee, but he doesn’t have a wallet, so he can’t buy any.  And he’s hurt, but he doesn’t want to go to the hospital for some reason that neither he nor us knows. So he wanders around the empty streets of this vaguely creepy town.

And that’s a far as I got. Because I don’t care what happens next.

I’m supposed to.  I can tell that I am supposed to be on the edge of my seat wanting to know who this mysterious stranger is and why he’s in this creepy town and how he got injured and what makes the town so creepy.

But I don’t. Instead I decided to make up my own story.

The guy’s name is Joe Boat. His wife, Margie Boat, drives up and gives him his medicine, which he forgot that morning, and then he remembers who he is and he goes into his work at the craft store (which is where he left his wallet) and his boss chides him for forgetting to take his medicine that morning, but understands and doesn’t fire him for wandering off on his lunch hour.  After work he goes back home to Margie and thanks her for looking for him when his boss called to say he’d wandered off again.  Then the Boats go to bed and have such great sex that their corgi runs and hides under the couch.  The end.

Now, that is probably not the story that Blake Crouch wanted to tell.  But, you know, if he wanted to tell me a different story, he should have done so.  But he didn’t.  Instead of Joe Boat, Craft Store Clerk, I got… some guy.

And I’m sorry, some guy, but I really don’t care what happens to you.  You’re not my problem, dude.

Now, I love mysteries in fiction.  I love the conventional “whodunit” style as well as the more metaphysical “what’s going on here” thing.  But I need some kind of buy-in before I’ll sit down at the table. If I don’t have any skin in the game I get bored.

This book skipped the ante. Heck, this book skipped the deal.  Instead Mr Crouch just shows me a couple of face down cards and I don’t even know what the game is. Am I winning, am I losing, if I win do I get the door with the new car, or am I stuck with the goat? Tell me why I care what happens next. 

It’s really not rocket surgery. But I’ve seen people drop the ball before the game really begins this way a lot, for example in Wool, which I also gave up on before the author got around to telling me what was going on and why it matters. It’s supposed to be some kind of hook, I think, making the reader keep reading in order to find out the truth.

But you have to prime the pump–or, at least, you have to with me.  I need some reason the care about the character, to want Joe to find his way back to Margie and their adorable corgi. (Edmund.  The corgi’s name is Edmund.  They call him Edmund the Chewer. And they let him sleep on the bed when they’re not having great sex.)

But this some guy? Does he have some girl someplace that I want him to find his way back to?  Some dog, maybe? I don’t know.  And I’m not going to take the time to find out.

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Win An Ad In Cirsova Magazine!

I am giving away a quarter-page ad in Cirsova magazine.  Why? Because I believe in Cirsova and I want to support it, and because I believe in the crew of indie authors who follow this blog and I want to support you.  So it’s a win-win.

Please, only enter if you will be using the ad.  Cirsova is a high quality adventure fiction magazine and your ad will be seen by readers who are looking for Independant Science Fiction and Fantasy fiction.  Details on the requirements are available here, and the winner can contact Cirsova for more information.

The deadline for advertisements is August 1st, so let’s get on with it.

The contest is simple. Below are some Book Of Lost Doors trivia questions. Do not, please, post the answers here–instead send me an e-mail via my Contact Form. The first entry I recieve that has all of the answers right wins the prize. If I don’t get anyone who gets them all right by July 1st, the entry with the most right answers will win.

  1. Who are the authors of Mankind’s Eternal Odyssey? (Two names.)
  2. What is the title of Jenny Noir’s first solo album?
  3. What Delapour & Associates employee wrote and published a novel? (Author and title.)
  4. What was the original name of the riverboat that became known as Scarlett’s Casino?
  5. What book does Stuart Dogs read to Nancy Dew while she is convalescing in the mud-bath? (Author and title.)
  6. What is the name of the magazine that Godiva finds that reveals Dr. Klein’s home address?

The answer to each of these questions can be found in one of the four books that make up The Book Of Lost Doors–Catskinner’s Book, Cannibal Hearts, The Worms Of Heaven, or Gingerbread Wolves.

Good luck!

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