Some Random Articles I read in June!

I read loads of articles on the Internet. Some are good, some are bad but those below are either the best, or the most useful, or the most random I could be bothered to write a line or two about!

RockPaperShotgun explains it all: Getting Warframes in Warframe, a Guide to end all Guides!

I’ve been dabbling in Warframe again lately. What a game! It’s basically a PvE where you collect character classes, called Warframes, which have abilities, and you shoot things while traveling our very own Solar System! All day, every day, it’s one hell of a good time whenever you’re looking for some fun but not terribly demanding game to play! Put on a podcast, a tv show, or audiobook and a good time is to be had; or alternatively, play with a friend, like I sometimes do. We’re the worst but the game makes us just a tiny bit better.

Sam Sykes announced a new book trilogy, which he dubbed a ‘love letter to Final Fantasy,’ and though I’ve never read anything by him, this sounds right up my alley!

I’m excited about Dying Light 2. Chris Avallone is in charge of its narrative design, of course I’m excited about it! Anyway, RPS wrote up some impressions from E3. Sound promises, everyone. Sound promises indeed.

Blogger Mitriel Faywood wrote an interesting post about literary fiction, aptly titled, “On Defining Literary Fiction”. I quite enjoyed reading through her reasoning and was happy to follow another lovely book blog. I ought to read more of her posts!

I was surprised to find that RPS’s 50 best strategy games list was topped off by none other than procedurally generated grid-em-up, Into the Breach. I heard it was good but I never thought it would be this good; now I have to go ahead and purchase it! Woe is me.

As you can tell, I read a lot of RockPaperShotgun.

I actually read many more interesting articles, some of which have to do with the public discourse around Article 13 of the European Union. It’s a complex topic with a lot possibly (but not 100% certainly) at stake. I’m interested to see how this change in author and publishing right will affect content creators such as myself, if it will at all, as well as how it’ll generally play out. I did try to spread the word against it, to very little effect.  Oh well.

Anyway, this is a bit of non-content on randomness. I can be random sometimes, right?

Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

While I’ve been much engaged in Norse mythology in recent years, the Greek myths and legends have always had a special place in my heart, owed to the fact that I grew up with them. Before the thick volumes of high fantasy, before the Lord of the Rings, my parents and grandparents would tell me of the Olympians, their mighty heroes and monsters. These stories are almost a part of my DNA and so I’m picky about modern retellings of these timeless stories.

Plot:

Circe by Madeline Miller is a spellbinding read, a novel that humanises the sorceress of Aiaia in ways I could’ve only hoped for. A story which will sweep you off your feet, this follows the lifespan of the goddess and Oceanid nymph Circe, the strangest of all the Titan Helios’ children, his first with the nymph Perse. Her life’s journey is one that begins in parental neglect, all too common a motive for the gods and their children. (One could make the case that being neglected is better than your father eating you whole along with all your siblings, but that’s beside the point.)

Circe is, at first, much like a child — desperate in love, and without knowledge of her witchcraft, she turns a mortal into a god. When he does not respond to her feelings, Circe, in jealousy, turns the selfish nymph Scylla into the terrible, many-headed monstrosity; a morally reprehensible act, which leaves a deep stain on her conscience.

Once banished to Aiaia, Circe begins to grow in earnest, and hers is a spectacular change, helped along by a small but impressive cast of supporting characters — Hermes and Daedalus, Ariadne and the Minotaur and, of course, cunning Odysseus. I’d say spoilers to that last name, but that particular bit of trivia is a few millenia past the expiry date.

Themes and Characters:

This book will scrutinise what it means to be immortal, what it is to be broken time and time again, only to rise stronger than the time before. It is not an easy road — my heart tightened at the cruelty Circe endured at the hands of both gods and men more than once. She learns bitter lessons from both, but her own exercises in cruelty are rarely callous and undeserved.

Acting as foil to Circe will be every Olympian and Titan, every Oceanid nymph — self-centered, unchangable and unconcerned with anything besides themselves and their hedonistic pleasures, power-struggles and small betrayals. All but one, that is, although who that one is, I won’t reveal…though if you’re knowledgeable enough in matters mythological, you might already have a shortlist. A very short…list.

Mortals, too, are different from Circe. But where they run counter to the gods is, each is different. No one trait, good or foul, is shared between them. Odysseus could be no more different from Telemachus, for good or ill.

So many gods and heroes appear, whether washed up on the shores of Aiaia or before. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed Circe’s interactions with Hermes and Ariadne, with Odysseus and…many others. To mention their names would be to take from the surprises you’ll find within the novel, and I just can’t do that. I don’t want to!

Very Subjective Thoughts

I love, love, love this novel! I stayed up until 4 in the morning reading the bloody thing! I ignored my poor sweet wee girlfriend to finish it! I couldn’t function, I couldn’t put it down until I finished the whole damn thing!… Which happens to me a lot more commonly than I’d like to admit.

But one thing I want to underline — this is a story worth experiencing. There is pain here, but also love and kindness and so much more that words escape me. I cannot recommend this book enough. (And I’ve obviously tried!)

Circe is such a strong, likable heroine. Her journey will long burn bright in my mind.

Score and Totally Arbitrary Awards

I gave Circe a 5-star review on Goodreads! More importantly, it is now a permanent part of my Greek mythology headcannon!

/r/fantasy Bingo

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

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I’ve had some trouble putting my thoughts in order where Senlin Ascends, the first book in Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series of four, is concerned. This book is an excellent read, the kind whose characters live with you well after you’ve put it down for good. Perhaps Senlin Ascends is one of those rare novels which excel so completely at surprising and thrilling many of its readers that words all of a sudden elude you.

Then again, maybe it’s the sort of read you need a few days to process. And process I have. What did I come up with during those few days?

Senlin Ascends is an excellent novel that doesn’t fall into any one genre checkbox. We can spend all day discussing its Victorian influences and steampunk elements, but at its core, this is (the beginning of) a story of a husband doing everything in his power to find his wife.

Senlin is the headmaster of the only school in the small town of Isaugh, a man ‘at the edge of things,’ a man of reserved judgement who looks on his fellow residents as uneducated and treats them somewhat like children, to their mild disdain. He only recently married the beautiful, talented and lively Marya, described as:

Marya was a good match. She was good-tempered and well-read; thoughtful, though not brooding; and mannered without being aloof. She tolerated his long hours of study and his general quiet, which others often mistook for stoicism. He imagined she had married him because he was kind, even-tempered and securely employed. He made fifteen shekels a week, for an annual salary of thirteen minas; it wasn’t a fortune by any means, but it was sufficient for a comfortable life. She certainly hadn’t married him for his looks. While his features were separately handsome enough, taken altogether they seemed a little stretched and misplaced.

She played the piano beautifully but also brutally. She’d sing like a mad mermaid while banging out ballads and reels, leaving detuned pianos in her wake. And even still, her oddness inspired admiration in most. The townsfolk thought she was charming and her playing was often requested at the local public houses. Not even the bitter gray of Isaugh’s winters could temper her vivacity. Everyone was a little baffled by her marriage to the Sturgeon.

Not much time at all passes before Marya and Senlin lose track of one another, in the very foundation of the massive structure that is the Tower of Babbel, the setting — and, in a way, the prime antagonist — of this fantastic story. Senlin has had a deep fascination with the Tower for most of his life, having bought into all those books proclaiming the Tower of Babel the greatest accomplishment of humanity. Senlin’s trusted Everyman’s Guide to the Tower even describes it so:

The Tower of Babel is most famous for the silk fineries and marvelous airships it produces, but visitors will discover other intangible exports. Whimsy, adventure, and romance are the Tower’s real trade.
Ah, how wonderful it sounds, how exciting! If only reality were so…
Senlin’s obsession with the Tower will cost him, as its true guise is much different from what he’s imagined and read about throughout his life. His wife lost, Senlin is forced, after a period of dumbfounding shock, to begin his ascension of this great structure.
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Along the way, questions will pile up. Who built the Tower, and just what is its purpose? These lay on the wayside, however. More central are the myriad questions, which shove and prod Senlin at every corner, forcing the well-meaning but cowardly teacher to grow and change in order to survive and follow Marya’s trail. Despite the trials and tribulations in his path, what Senlin retains is a core of decency, compassion and the belief that the Tower’s destructive influence doesn’t necessarily erode everything good and decent in people. It’s this belief in men and women that forces them to do better, to meet him half-way.
Senlin’s growth, in fact, is one of the main reasons this novel pulled me in so thoroughly. It’s no small feat, making a likeable person look completely unprepared and incapable of dealing with a situation, to have all his positives turn into flaws to disastrous effect, only to see him realize all this and, step by step, rebel against it, becoming something of a charming rogue by the end. (Bit long-winded, that sentence.)
Mysteries abound in the form of indebted slaves called ‘hods,’ a terrifying gentleman monster playing at Dr Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde called Red Hand, four ringdoms, levels of the Tower, each under different authorities, built for different purposes, and so on.
Plenty of side-characters are to be found, all of them excellent. My favourites have to be Edith and Tarrou, the latter’s description:
A two-pointed black beard accentuated his iron gray mane of hair. He seemed hale and athletic for a man his age. Senlin was a little intimidated by the width of his chest and shoulders, though his smile seemed amiable enough. “And that is the dazed look of a man fresh from the monkey pen.” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “The Parlor is an awful place.”
The prose is nothing short of exceptional. Bancroft’s sentences flow easily and present a clear view into another world, a world that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes unspeakably ugly and nearly always bizarre. It will set your imagination on fire, both with its adventurous streaks and with the darker undertones Senlin Ascends is rich in.
In short, Senlin Ascends is excellent and well worth your time and hard-earned cash. It’s even worth your tiny sum of pocket money, if you make no cash what-so-ever.
I can see why it has as much hype as it got; I’m almost sad to have found it only now that a big publisher has republished the first two books and will soon publish the third (in September). Now that I’ve started, I can’t wait for the last two books of the series to hit the shelves!
The simplest way to make the world mysterious and terrifying to a man is to chase him through it.
In this, Josiah Bancroft certainly succeeds…even if Senlin Ascends doesn’t always feel like a chase, it’s one hell of a ride. There I go, mixing my metaphors again.
Thank you for reading this review! I’ll be back with a review of the second book in the Tower of Babel series as soon as I finish reading it! Now I’m off to read it!
P.S. Action scenes! Excellent bloody action scenes!
P.P.S. Six seasons and a movie!

Book Recommendation: Sun Wolf and Starhawk Book 1, The Ladies of Mandrygin

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Ah, 80’s era fantasy. An era much beloved by many and fairly disliked by some. To me, it’s a by-gone age with some great books that hold up really well, and some that…well, don’t. Either way, I’ve been going out of my way to explore this decade’s worth of fantasy trends, and–surprise, surprise– sword’n’sorcery is indeed a thing. And a wonderful thing it can be, but also a terrible one.

Where does Sun Wolf and Starhawk fall on that spectrum?… It’s mostly good. Bit anti-climatic to just come out and say so, I know, but it’s true!

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might recall how much I enjoyed Barbara Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy. She’s penned several trilogies and I intend to explore all of them, year by year until I’m all done with them, and The Ladies of Mandrigyn is the beginning of Sun Wolf and Starhawk’s adventures. It’s a good start, which nevertheless does a few things I didn’t enjoy. It doesn’t necessarily do them badly, mind you.

Sun Wolf is a mercenary captain, Starhawk — his loyal lieutenant. Sun Wolf is first described as an exceptional commander, a skilled fighter that has the ability to see demons. Starhawk is a cold and brutal commander in her own right, following in the footsteps of Gil (Time of the Dark main heroine) in terms of badassery, among other traits.

I was overjoyed to be reading about yet another mercenary squad — the enjoyment on this front soon disappeared, what with Sun Wolf getting himself kidnapped by a number of willful women who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The question? “Will you help us fight the immortal wizard Altiokis, who took over Madrigyn, our pretty seaside city, and also enslaved our men, and put them to work. We’d really appreciate it if you could give us a bit of a hand for a bit of coin!”

Sun Wolf, whose two rules of conduct are, “Don’t mess with magic, don’t fall in love,” says no to that and gets poisoned for his troubles. I’d hate to say ‘no’ to those ladies.

Starhawk, being secretly in love with the Wolf, goes after him, though she really has no clue where he went off to, what with his surprise disappearance. Her companion is Fawn, the Wolf’s pretty, young concubine, whose role isn’t all too important in this book. Wonder if she’ll reappear later on or if we’ll steer clear of the lass.

My problem with this book is that although the Wolf is supposed to be this highly skilled mercenary general — which translates to a cut-throat sunuvabiscuit who has more than a single vicious bone, he takes a lot of punishment and abuse from the ladies with a very…Zen Buddhist bearing, if you will. He’s such a stoicist — and he shows his disobedience for the leaders of the Mandrigyn resistance in the most stupid, tantrum-throwing way! It’s not that his character feels unnatural, it’s that the descriptions we get of him early on really have little to do with what he is, in reality. It bugs me.

Starhawk is fantastic, though. Sadly, she plays a less prominent part than does the Wolf. Nevertheless, the chapters with her as our PoV character caught and held my attention from beginning to end.

It’s a good book, with a few good mysteries and one of those moments where a lightbulb in your mind will turn on and you’ll say “Ah!” or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll laugh with sinister delight!

It made for a mostly enjoyable read. Not what I’d recommend if you wanted something to grab you by the throat and transport you to another world as forcefully as possible — if you want that, read Malazan or The First Law, or even Hambly’s Time of the Dark trilogy.

As to how the trilogy itself holds up, I cannot yet say. I’ll get back to it in due time, but I think I need something a bit more captivating first. Luckily, March has been rich on good fantasy. I’ve started working on Senlin Ascends, the first book in the Tower of Babel trilogy.

Working on? Pfft, reading is wot I meant! More’s to come, at any rate, in the following weeks. We are, at this point, back to our regularly scheduled programming, what with at least three posts per week — hopefully more, if I manage to squeeze in the time to write a bunch of stuff about graphic novels you might want to know more about! 

Thank you for following me!

I recently hit an important milestone — 50 followers!

I’ll keep this short — thank you! I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my reviews, humorous fantasy stories of villains and necromancers and wizards, and many other creatures besides! Much more is coming your way, and my hope is that I’ll offer you good literature with a smile and even the occasional laugh.

On that note, I should also probably mention, prolonged exposure to words written by me will eat away at and eventually devour your sanity.

Happy reading!

(Tentacles paid for separately. This message has been brought to you by CthulhuForABetterTomorrow.Inc)

Exciting Fantasy Books, March 2018

Note: This isn’t a complete list of all the fantasy novels coming out this month. Below you’ll discover only those titles I’m personally excited about!

Here’s how this post works — you get to see the cover and release date first, then I’ve copied the official synopsis and marked it in Italic so you’ll know when you can stop reading, and in the end, you’ll get my two pence, i.e. why my handsome wee brain reckons the book in question is worth a bit of ogling.

Off we go, then!

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Release Date: March 13th; Weird original publication date which confuses me.
Series: Yes, this is the second entry in The Books of Babel.
Synopsis:
Forced by necessity into a life of piracy, Senlin and his crew struggle to survive aboard their stolen airship. Senlin’s search for his lost wife continues, even as her ghost hounds his every step. But the Tower of Babel proves to be as difficult to reenter as it was to escape.

While searching for an unguarded port, Senlin encounters the camp of Luc Marat, who seems equal parts bandit and humanitarian. One thing is for certain: his asylum for the downtrodden hods is not as peaceful as it appears.

In desperation, Senlin turns to the mysterious and dangerous Sphinx, with whom Edith shares a terrible bond. They discover the Sphinx’s help does not come cheaply. Senlin must choose between his friends, his freedom, and his wife.”

First off: No, I haven’t read the first book in the series. Now that I read this, I have to! If I had to guess what the first book would be about, I’d say…stealing an airship? This Senlin fellow beginning to search for his wife, possibly after losing her in a clockwork restaurant? I have a great many expectations, and I’m not sure that first book will quite manage them!

What got this series on my radar? That’d definitely have to be the part-fantasy, part-steampunk description I read while looking at this month’s upcoming publications. Excellent, excellent, give me more!

Next!

P.S. Damnation, this one is being republished, for whatever reason! What is it doing on my list?!

Well, I’m not very well going to remove it NOW, will I?

NEEEEXT!

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Release Date: March 6, 2018.
Series: Doesn’t say something like ‘Book one of the Ichor of the Blokes,’ so I’ll go with an excited ‘No!’
Synopsis:
In the great kingdom of Quandis, everyone is a slave. Some are slaves to the gods. Most are slaves to everyone else.

Blessed by the gods with lives of comfort and splendor, the royal elite routinely perform their duties, yet some chafe at their role. A young woman of stunning ambition, Princess Phela refuses to allow a few obstacles—including her mother the queen and her brother, the heir apparent—stand in the way of claiming ultimate power and glory for herself.

Far below the royals are the Bajuman. Poor and oppressed, members of this wretched caste have but two paths out of servitude: the priesthood . . . or death.

Because magic has been kept at bay in Quandis, royals and Bajuman have lived together in an uneasy peace for centuries. But Princess Phela’s desire for power will disrupt the realm’s order, setting into motion a series of events that will end with her becoming a goddess in her own right . . . or ultimately destroying Quandis and all its inhabitants. “

I’m not familiar with either of these authors. What they, or the publishers, promise is, if I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson or N.K. Jemisin, this here novel will appeal to me! Tell you what I like, authors and/or publisher! Your book isn’t going to make me wait for years or possibly decades to finish the entire story! This, I like.

I also enjoy the power trip–and a literal one it will be–this Princess, Phela, will be going on! And there’re castes, too! A system, we will all agree, far preferable to such lofty notions as freedom and equality.  (Wasn’t it those two ideas that brought on the October Revolution? Boo!)

What I’m trying to say is, I finished listening to October by China Mielville (with an accent on the first e on his family name). What a wonder–hey, I’m getting off-track again, aren’t I?

Move it along!

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Publication Date: March 6th
Series: Phew, yes! For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble, guys’n’gals!  This one is the first entry in The Fire Sacraments.
Summary:
“Kandri Hinjuman was never meant to be a soldier. His brother Mektu was never meant for this world. Rivals since childhood, they are drafted into a horrific war led by a madwoman-Prophet, and survive each day only by hiding their disbelief. Kandri is good at blending in, but Mektu is hopeless: impulsive, erratic—and certain that a demon is stalking him. Is this madness or a second sense? Either way, Kandri knows that Mektu’s antics will land them both in early graves.

But all bets are off when the brothers’ simmering feud explodes into violence, and holy blood is spilled. Kandri and Mektu are taken for contract killers and must flee for their lives—to the one place where they can hope to disappear: the sprawling desert known as the Land that Eats Men. In this eerie wilderness, the terrain is as deadly as the monsters, ghouls, and traffickers in human flesh. Here the brothers find strange allies: an aging warlord, a desert nomad searching for her family, a lethal child-soldier still in her teens. They also find themselves in possession of a secret that could bring peace to the continent of Urrath. Or unthinkable carnage.

On their heels are the Prophet’s death squads. Ahead lie warring armies, sandstorms, evil spirits and the deeper evil of human greed. But hope beckons as well—if the “Master Assassins” can expose the lie that has made them the world’s most wanted men.”

Mark Lawrence described this one as “Literary fantasy full of excitement, mystery, and even guys with flaming gauntlets riding huge saber-toothed cats. By literary fantasy I mean that it is deep, very intelligent, and exquisitely written.”

YES PLEASE GIVE IT TO MEEEEEE–cough, I mean, it sounds exciting enough.
I’m not familiar with Robert V.S. Redick’s previous series, but I will familiarize myself with this one! Something about assassins always gets me going, even when they don’t have much personality — and I’m convinced that’s not the case here. Roll along the sixth!

81lSnJJki9LRelease Date: March 20th
Series: This is a novella catching us up with Karen Memory, whoever she is. Unfamiliar with the original novel, Karen Memory.
Synopsis:
“Readers met the irrepressible Karen Memory in Elizabeth Bear’s 2015 novel Karen Memory, and fell in love with her steampunk Victorian Pacific Northwest city, and her down-to-earth story-telling voice.

Now Karen is back with Stone Mad, a new story about spiritualists, magicians, con-men, and an angry lost tommy-knocker—a magical creature who generally lives in the deep gold mines of Alaska, but has been kidnapped and brought to Rapid City.

Karen and Priya are out for a night on the town, celebrating the purchase of their own little ranch and Karen’s retirement from the Hotel Ma Cherie, when they meet the Arcadia Sisters, spiritualists who unexpectedly stir up the tommy-knocker in the basement. The ensuing show could bring down the house, if Karen didn’t rush in to rescue everyone she can.”

This is one of the books I get interested in because of how much I like the cover. It’s also steampunk, and I’ve never read much steampunk but I want to, very, very much. I’d have to read the novel, though.

Probably won’t happen this month.

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Release Date: Another book with two release dates but I reckon it should be released on March 20th with this cover.
Series: The Song of the Shattered Sands #3
Synopsis: I feel like the synopsis is interesting enough to warrant going back to read book 1’s and decide from there, but it’s also spoiler-ific for some of book 1 and 2.

This is another one of those books with eye-catching covers. It’s fifty shades of gold up there, and it’s gorgeous. I have to wonder who the artist responsible is.
Will I look at the series? Yes. Will I buy and read it? …We’ll see.

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Release Date: March 6th
Series: Legacy of Orïsha#1
Synapsis:
“Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. 

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.”

Cool! Few different, very similar versions of this cover are up on the web, which is curious. I dig the promise in the synopsis. This might be interesting to read since the novel I’m writing has certain plot points in common with what this book is going to offer, if we judge by the summary alone.

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Release Date: March 6th
Series: Blood and Gold #1
Synopsis:

“FIVE ROYAL SISTERS. ONE CROWN.

They are the daughters of a king. Though they share the same royal blood, they could not be more different. Bluebell is a proud warrior, stronger than any man and with an ironclad heart to match. Rose’s heart is all too passionate: She is the queen of a neighboring kingdom, who is risking everything for a forbidden love. The twins: vain Ivy, who lives for admiration, and zealous Willow, who lives for the gods. And Ash, who is discovering a dangerous talent for magic that might be a gift–or a curse.

But when their father is stricken by a mysterious ailment, they must come together on a desperate journey to save him and prevent their treacherous stepbrother from seizing the throne. Their mission: find the powerful witch who can cure the king. But to succeed on their quest, they must overcome their differences, and hope that the secrets they hide from one another and the world are never brought to light. Because if this royal family breaks, it could destroy the kingdom.”

Cool! Cool, cool, cool. This series will be in the tradition of Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb, Goodreads tells me. If that’s indeed the case — fantastic, I love Hobb and Novik! If it ain’t…There will be blood!

It’s also going to be Norse-flavoured. I like that flavour.  It tastes like…a noose around my neck and a spear in my chest, a snake’s venom dripping in my eyes, and worse besides!

Bonus Mention: 

Good Guys by Steven Brust It’s a sci-fi book about a cop that dies or almost dies and then is saved by The Foundation which is probably not Asimov’s Foundation, since I see all sorts of continuity issues with that, which is excellent, and Brust is excellent, too! It’s rare that I don’t enjoy the man’s words, and his Twitter feed is a blast.

That’s it for what excites me in March, ladies and gents! Which of these books sound interesting to you? Will you pick any of them up? Will you do it on release date, or further down the line? Let me know in the comments! 

Can’t wait for September!

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Look at this cover! A three-eyed cat! A woman who looks like the Lady! A man that has to be Croaker! A pair of kids, one demonic, the other — sort of nice, if you’re into that sort, and whatnot.

It’s dark, it’s stylish, it’s of great quality! Do the job! Get paid! Survive!

I’m beyond excited. So much beyond excited, I can’t even begin to describe it!

Gah!

Have an excerpt, which I totally didn’t steal from Tor.com:

The chimes turned orchestral as she stepped down from the carpet. A gust tossed her hair in streamers as black as her clothing, but shining. Her hair included several intensely scarlet streaks. A silver and lapis lazuli butterfly clip sat at the root of the boldest red stripe. She was as slim as a maiden but her face suggested past strains beyond those of any maiden’s years.

So, truth absolute. She was Taken. She had gone to the Tower. She had come out of the Tower a bespoke servant of shadow.

Nobody moved to greet her. Nobody doubted what she was, either, though no Taken had visited us in months. The Limper had been the last.

She turned my way, frowned slightly, then smiled just as the sun sneaked out from behind a cloud. Its light kissed her. Her face suddenly seemed coated with white makeup on which thin blue lines had been sketched. The light faded before I got a good look. Then I got distracted by the cat that ambled out of her shadow.

It was a three-eyed cat. You do not see many of those. It was as black as her hair. The rationally placed eyes were yellow, except when they looked straight at you. Then they became a pale lilac rose, and glowed. The third eye, above and between, was a slit visible only from straight ahead. It shone crimson for a moment, then purple.

Excerpted from Port of Shadows, copyright © 2018 by Glen Cook.

Thursday Recommendation: Asimov’s Science Fiction, September/October Issue (Part 1 of 2)

Ah, Asimov’s. Doubtless, one of the best known science fiction magazines in America, perhaps the world. I’ve been subscribed to the e-mag for exactly one year now, and it’s been nothing short of a delight every issue I’ve read. I rarely read all of the magazine before the next one comes out, but I make the effort — hopefully, I’ll get a couple of weeks sometime, enough to read every single issue of the last year of Asimov’s, uninterrupted. That’s pretty close to happiness right there, folks.

At any rate, in this post, I am going to take a few minutes to give you a short synopsis of the four novelettes in the September/October 2017 issue of Asimov’s. They’re really good, and worth your time. Worth mine, as well–or I wouldn’t be going the extra mile to recommend them to y’all!

Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker, is a story about a generation seedship; if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the generation ship is a hypothetical type of arc ship that takes hundreds or even thousands of years to reach its target; its original passengers and crew pass down the knowledge to their children and so on and so forth, until some far-removed descendants reach their ancestors’ dreamlands.

In Wind Will Rove, collective memory and knowledge are put under question after a tragedy led to the ship’s loss of all of Earth’s media databases — books, movies, video games, plays, everything you could imagine. What this led to was a recreation of many great works of art by the generations on the ship — most of the original scientists and artists and engineers from Earth were alive and well, and to lose everything that reminded them of home must’ve been horrifying.

What follows is, then, a recreation from memory. Movies reshot with the usage of the ship’s holo-tech, books written a new from memory, and so on. It’s this recreation that Wind Will Rove digs into in a clever, charming way, while using an old folk song by the same name. It’s about more than collective memory; it’s about humanity’s ability to bounce back up, no matter how lethal the wound on its collective behind!

 

I don’t think I’ve ever read a work of science fiction as vibrant as Universe Box by Michael Swanwick is.

Nightmares beyond human imaginng howled and ravaged at his heels. Nihilism and despair sleeted down on his upturned face. But the thief culdn’t have been happier. His grin was so mad and bright that it would melt granite.

His erection was shocking.

That’s an excerpt of the very beginning of Universe Box; it gets a lot crazier from that point onward. The story is filled with literally allusions; one character, for example, originates from Gilgamesh! It’s as far from hard sci-fi as you can imagine, but the humor Swanwick has infused this with makes this a memorable story that you’ll laugh through.

It reads like fantasy, in truth. Fantasy with sci-fi elements is how I would label it, in fact. The devil may or may not appear as well, in the form of an “attorney at lawlessness.” You know. Normal sci-fi stuff.

It’s a strange story, but funny throughout.

 

Grand Theft Spacecraft was a difficult one to get into, but once you did…R. Garcia y Robertson, author of this novelette, does not easily let go. It’s the closest to the space opera genre of the four, with Space Vikings, a Christian Deacon protagonist, a nine year old genius who’s got an AI by the throat, and a princess that may or may not be in need of saving. I’ll let you figure that one for yourselves; but underneath the swashbuckling, grand theft spacecrafting is a story about love, family and…well, blowing space ships.

“Faint hearts never fucked a flag captain.”

Indeed. Oh, there are also space Mongols, very much into Genghis Khan’s ideological beliefs. This novelette is also filled with historical allusions, which are entertaining in their own right.

 

Books of the Risen Sea is a post-apocalyptic story of a small American coastal town (if I got that correctly) by Suzanne Palmer, who’s been doing quite well for herself. It’s about a man’s attempts to preserve books in the library from the slow but certain spread of mold, toxic rain and just about anything else that Nature can throw at him, while dealing with being a parriah in his city for who he is, and his choices.

It’s another very powerful story that starts off slow, and goes onto unexpected places. Caer–that’s our main character’s name–is content in his loneliness, and hungry for story after story. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t see myself in that hunger.

There’s also a robot with a sawhand. That’s right, you read that correctly. Pretty good reason to check this one out, right?

 

Thank you for reading! If you find this little run-down interesting, let me know and I’ll do more. Would you like spoiler-y discussions, as well? Or would you prefer I be even more vague and non-commital? Say it and I’ll make it so! 

Unintentionally Helpful Villain #14: Karogar, Cursed Be Its Name

Read the previous entry here. Read the first entry in the series here.

Diary Entry #200

Ah, Karogar. The birthplace of mine own greatest failure.

It’s a filthy place, filled with pampered humans, haughty elves and bored, rich dwarves. Artists! Each one will tell you that’s what they are, and they’ll smile and look at you with thinly veiled arrogance, all the while explaining how your art has no merit!

Pish posh. What could possibly have ‘artistic merit’ if not the myriad shades of blood?!

If mine memory serves me right and proper, ’twas five days that  I spent within this accursed city. Here it was that I first lay within a great wide bark — and dreamed the dark dreams that led me to mine great empire. The empire mine wife even now plots to destroy with mine old body, mine own arcane strength!

Bah, I am salivating profusely once again. Mine magical quill begins scribbling away whenever I allow this wrath take over mine better self.

Diary Entry #201

Mine search for the ex-wife hath proven fruitless. What I did find was a small army of Inquisitors, all too ready for mine appearance in the Art Halls of Karogar.

Aye, they hath caught me, and bound mine skin with rope. They remain obsessed with my witch’s magicks, no matter what I offer them. I cannot change in form, for they have enchantments keeping me locked unto this ridiculous body.

And yes, I am dictating unto mine magical quill through magical means. Do not question it.

Diary Entry #202

I have now offered mine captors a number of treasured items and experiences: several painful and gruesome ways to die; crossbow bolts to their knee caps; precious last words with their significant others, children and elder relatives; a mountain of goblin shite.

I hear that goblin shite is much appreciated by humans for the variety of medicinal values that can be found within it.

The Inquisitorial Order still refuses to release me from mine bindings.

Diary Entry #205

The Church of the Holy Blame hath pronounced that there is much to blame about mine feminine wiles. A crier has been crying out crimes, real and imagined, for the past three days now.

I have been tied to a balefire for some time, waiting for the Inquisitor-boy to finish mine list of grievances. Or mine wife’s. There is a surprising amount of overlap.

It is mildly uncomfortable.

Diary Entry #210 

The young man that hath read mine great list of crimes, real or imagined, hath perished due to lack of breath. Another took his place. Might some fiend light the stake already?

Diary Entry #211 

This is torture! Such monotonous voice, such inept usage of words, one coming after the other. I cannot stand it anymore!

Diary Entry #212 

I hath attempted to break my bonds. While not fully successful, I hath managed to grab a torch and set the stake afire. It has burned now for one whole day. I feel the most terrible itch on my calf from the fire.

The monotonous boy-creature will not shut up. Where do they find these fanatics?!

Diary Entry #213

‘Tis enchanted wood. It simply won’t stop burning. The young Inquisitor will not shut up.

I will not die. I will instead laugh at them all! At the fire, at the lad, at their ineptitude in killing witches! What fools, what blithering, magnificent idiots!

But who might that be, in the distance? Doth mine feline eyes deceive me?!

Thank you for reading the latest Unintentional Villain adventure! I needed to take a few weeks easy, to rediscover my awful inner comedian, but now I’m back, and my vision for the series and the blog — restored and stronger than ever! I’m pretty much like Palpatine in that one Revenge of the Sith scene. In order to ensure the security and continuing stability of this blog, Magnus Writes will be reorganized into the *BLANK* to ensure progress and awesome fantastical shenanigans! 

 

 

 

Writing Advice: The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure (Chapter 3 of The Anatomy of Story)

Welcome back to my summary of ‘The Anatomy of Story’ by John Truby. Today we’ll take a look at Chapter 3, which deals with the steps of story structure. Let’s get to it! 

When we talk about the  structure of a story, we talk about how a story develops over time.

A story has a minimum of seven steps in its growth from beginning to end:

  1. Weakness and need.
  2. Desire.
  3. Opponent.
  4. Plan.
  5. Battle.Thgfgfgga
  6. Self-revelation.
  7. New equilibrium.

(Magnus Commentary: Sound bit unclear? Don’t worry, we’re gonna breeze through these!)

These seven steps aren’t arbitrarily imposed from without, the way a mechanical story structure such as the three-act structure is. These seven stop are based on human action, and are organic.

1.Weakness and need.

From the very beginning of the story, your hero has one or more great weaknesses that are holding him back. The need is what the hero must fulfill within himself in order to have a better life. It takes change and growth to overcome weaknesses.

Need is a wellspring of the story, and sets up every other step. Keep two important points in mind:

Your hero shouldn’t be aware of his need at the beginning of the story. 

If he’s already cognizant of what he needs, the story is over. The knowledge comes at the end, after the hero’s gone through a great deal of pain or struggle.

Give your hero a moral need as well as a psychological need.

Psychological needs involve overcoming a serious flaw that is hurting nobody but the hero. In better stories, the hero has a moral flaw in need of overcoming; a character with a moral need is always hurting others in some way at the story’s beginning.

(Magnus Commentary: I’m interested to see a character begin without a moral flaw but develop it as the story progresses.)

Giving your hero a moral need also prevents him from being perfect or a victim. Both are the kiss of death, storytelling-wise.

Keep the problem simple and specific.

The problem is also present from page one, but it isn’t as important as the weakness and need. Crisis defines a character very quickly.

Technique: Creating the moral need

Remember the rule of thumb: To have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological need. The character must be hurting at least one other person. The moral need usually comes out of the psychological weakness that leads him to take it out on others.

  1. Begin with the psychological weakness.
  2. Figure out what kind of immoral action might natural come out of that.

A second technique for creating a moral need is to push a strength so far that it becomes a weakness. It goes like this:

  1. Identify a virtue in your character; then make him so passionate about it that it becomes oppressive.
  2. Come up with a value the character believes in. Then find the negative version of this value.

2. Desire

Desire is what your hero wants in the story, his particular goal. A story doesn’t become interesting to the audience until the desire comes into play. It’s the driving force in the story, the line from which everything else hands. It’s intimately connected to need.

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to confuse need and desire or them as a single step.

Need has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character. A hero with a need is paralyzed in some way by his weakness. Desire is a goal outside the character.

Need and desire also have different function in relation to the audience. Need lets the audience see how the hero must change to have a better life. It’s the key to the whole story, but it remains under the surface, whereas desire is on the surface, a thing that the audience wants along with the hero.

Your hero’s true desire is what he wants in this story, not what he wants in life.

Technique: Starting with desire

Careful — you might think to jump past the need and weakness and straight to desire. It’ll start the story off quickly, but it might very well kill the payoff, the ending of the story. Step 1 makes it possible for your hero to change at the end. They’re what makes the story personal and meaningful. And they’ll make the audience care. Don’t start with desire, not ever.

3. Opponent.

See the opponent not as an evil cliché, but structurally, in terms of his function in the story. A true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire, but is competing with the hero for the same goal. The opponent thus links with Step Two: Desire.

It’s this link that forces hero and opponent to come into direct conflict. Two separate goals mean…the two characters can each get what they want without coming directly into conflict.

To find the right opponent, start with your hero’s specific goal — whoever wants to keep him from getting it is an (or The) opponent.

4. Plan.

Action isn’t possible without some plan. The plan is the set of guidelines or strategies, that the hero will use to overcome the opponent and reach the goal. Linked to both the opponent and the desire. The plan should always be specifically focused towards reaching the goal and defeating the opponent.

5. Battle.

The final conflict between hero and opponent; determines which of the two characters wins the goal. The final battle may be a conflict of violence or of words.

6. Self-Revelation.

The battle is an intense, painful experience for the hero. The crucible for battle causes the hero to have a major revelation about who he really is.

Much of the quality of your story is based on the quality of your story. Good self-revelation, like need, comes in two forms — psychological and moral.

In psychological, the hero strips away the façade and sees himself honestly for the first time. The stripping away of the façade isn’t passive or easy. It’s the most active, difficult and courageous act the hero performs in the entire story. As need is the beginning of the hero’s character change, so is self-revelation the end-point.

7. New Equilibrium.

Everything returns to normal, and all desire is gone, except for one difference. The hero has moved to a higher or lower level as a result of going through his crucible. A fundamental and permanent change will have taken place, either positive or negative.

The hero will therefore either move to a higher level, or — if he’s committed a terrible crime that exposes a corrupt personal flaw — will fall and be destroyed.

That’s it for this week! Hope you find my summary of Chapter 3 an interesting one: here’s to next week, which’ll be centered on Chapter 4: Characters! 

There are plenty of interesting examples and exercises in the book, which are also worth a look. As always, I don’t fully agree with the premise of the novel — that this is the best way to write; but it’s an interesting and educational experience, reading this!