Posts tagged ‘fantasy’

Jun
1
2009

Worth the paper

The library continues to provide us with a rotating stack of very solid fantasy hardcovers. Doorstops, the lot of them. Huge books, and heavy — just ask poor Jak, who decided to get some exercise by making the last library trek on foot, and had to lug five of the buggers home.

And then there’s this one shabby trade paperback, pages bent and battered, cover barely attached. Poor thing won’t make it through another three pairs of hands before falling utterly to shreds. The one series out of dozens thus far that didn’t rate the more expensive hardcover treatment from its publisher, which turns out to be the newcomer Pyr, rather than one of the usual suspects.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going, because we all enjoy irony here, yes? That trade paperback series is the only one thus far that I’d consider worthy of a hardcover printing.

Like GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law series eschews absolute good and evil for a cast of complex, morally grey characters. It’s fantasy-of-the-trenches, eased along by wry humor, with nary a cliché in sight.

I am at present only halfway through the second book of three, so there’s always the possibility that the author’s talents don’t extend to crafting a satisfactory conclusion … but I’d be surprised. The Blade Itself is the first book, if you’re inclined to chance it. I’ll let you know when I get to the end.

May
28
2009

Masquerade

Those of you reading this are about to learn a secret that I doubt the eventual readers of our eventual book(s) will ever imagine:

Our epic fantasy is science fiction in disguise. Really, really deep disguise.

I am often able to lose myself in someone else’s fantasy novel without questioning, for example, the provenance of human beings on a planet that is very obviously not Earth. When constructing my own, however, I want an explanation, if only so my brain will stop complaining about convergent evolution and crap like that.

So our planet’s humans are descendants of colonists that originated on Earth. Our magic systems are examples of Clarke’s third law; they are technological in origin, even if the wielders don’t know it and the readers never guess. And so on.

(It occurs to me that I do this for much the same reason that I slaved over villanelles and sestinas but rarely bothered with free verse. I don’t work well in a loose system; it feels … sloppy. Give me a tight framework, please, and let me weave something intricate around it.)

By the time we got a trilogy’s worth of plots and characters roughed out, we had four major countries, each with a distinct culture. Each of these peoples has its own language, but again — the secret is that they’re all descended from a future English, which was the shared language of the colonists over a thousand years before. They are all cousins, like French to Spanish.

Jak and I are both getting tired of the lack of names for our major characters; we’ve been making do with placeholders like ‘mountain king’ and ‘red herring dude.’

So late last week I began the complex process of creating four separate versions of ‘far future English’, learning the necessary linguistics as I go. I spent almost all of Saturday and Sunday on it, on little sleep, and nearly burned myself out. Now I’m progressing a bit more slowly. Language One is at the phoneme stage, Three is into morphemes and basic vocabulary, and Two, where I’ve spent the most time so far, is all the way into early grammar. (Language Four I haven’t even started; none of Book One’s major characters are named in it, so it can wait.)

I’m enjoying the linguistic geekery quite a bit, despite occasionally feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Plus it was totally worth it to read off a pair of sentences in Language Two, with translation, and watch Jak’s eyes go wide and his mouth fall open. Heh.

May
22
2009

Fantasy novel marathon

Jak brought five more fantasy novels home from the library today, as part of our ‘survey every reasonably successful fantasy book/series from the last decade’ project.

From this you may correctly gather that I’ve not been doing so previously. It’s an odd reversal for me, as I was insatiable for fiction as a child and young adult. I was the kid who’d bring a book to gym class. In my twenties I’d regularly devour three or four books a week.

In recent years, however, my patience for less-than-perfect fiction writing has steadily diminished and now approaches zero. My standards are just too high, hardly anything can touch them. (Like I said: crotchety and hard to please.)

Despite what I thought were appropriately low expectations, I have been disappointed by most of what I’ve seen so far. In a few cases I was actually appalled.

I considered posting short reviews here, but on reflection decided that would do far more harm than good. Some of these authors are people I know (and even like); it’s probable that I will cross paths with many others if Jak and I stay on this road. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I am awkward enough making small talk with strangers at conventions without worrying about whether they secretly hate me for publicly scorning their magnum opus.

So I may grouse about the quality of published fantasy in general, but I will only mention something by name if I can bring myself to recommend it without adding caveats and qualifications.

Thus far that list has a single entry: Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon is … well, ‘charming’ is the word that comes to mind. It’s too different from the type of thing we’re trying to write to be any sort of useful model, but it’s the one thing I’ve read this month that I’ve been able to actually enjoy.

And the marathon continues …