Archive for April, 2013

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Talking to Dragons

Well, Squiders, here we are at the end of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The elaborate plan set up at the end of Calling on Dragons has been executed, Mendanbar has been freed, the wizards have been vanquished, and everyone is going to live happily ever after. (Or are they? Duh duh duuuuun…)

(I mean, I assume they are, because this is the last book. I kind of wish Ms. Wrede would revisit them, however. I imagine there’s rather a lot you could do with the next generation. I mean, assuming Daystar and Shiara do get married, what if there’s some sort of incompatibility between fire-witch magic and the Enchanted Forest’s magic? And so forth.)

(Moving on.)

Now, if at any point during this you say to yourself, “What the heck is she talking about?”, I want you to know that there’s two versions of this book. You see, this book was written FIRST. So you can actually think of (and, in retrospect, they kind of read this way) the other three books as prologues to this book. So she wrote the book, then went back and wrote the other three, and then changed this one to line up better with the other three. If, for some reason, you have a pre-1990 version of Talking to Dragons, you have the original and quite honestly I’m not sure what the difference is. So! I apologize if things don’t line up.

I am torn about this particular book. On one hand, I like it better in some regards. I like the story, the idea that the main character has no idea what he’s doing, because if he did it wouldn’t work. I like Daystar and Shiara (and I really like the name Shiara). But on the other hand, it doesn’t flow well from the other three, and I’m sure that’s because it was juryrigged at the end to fit into the rest of the series.

Cimorene seems really out of character at the end and it really, really bothers me. She seems to be pushing marriage on Shiara and Daystar and for someone who fought against her own so much, it rings really false. Morwen and Telemain continue to be awesome, though they don’t get a lot of screen time. (Page time?) Some of Morwen’s cats from Calling on Dragons seem to still be alive as well, even though it’s been 17 years. I mean, cats can live into their twenties. Maybe witches’ cats get added benefits, who knows.

So! Did you enjoy the series? Final thoughts, anyone?

We’ll be reading Howl’s Moving Castle next to see how a different author handles the whole fairy tale satire thing. If you’re highly motivated, you can also watch the movie, and then in the comments we can discuss how the two are nothing like each other but, yet, are both awesome.

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The Allure of a Good Sea Yarn (And Why the High Seas are Like Space Travel)

I think I’ve mentioned before, Squiders, that I don’t really like historical fiction. It’s my least favorite genre. That’s not to say that it can’t be well done, and, indeed, I have read some very good historical fiction in my time (Pillars of the Earth is one of the best books I have ever had the privilege to read), but, in general, it rubs me the wrong way and I tend to avoid it.

That being said, in the last few years I’ve discovered that there is a particular subgenre that does appeal to me, and it is that of high seas adventure. Apparently all I need to float my boat, pun intended, is a well-researched story that takes place on a tall-mast ship, whether the ship is navy or merchant or pirate.

I suspect these stories appeal to me because they have direct correlation to science fiction (or, more likely, science fiction has direct correlation to them. It is probably arguable as to which came first, because some of those early creation stories and mythology have some very interesting and unexpected allusions.).

A lot of military science fiction is directly based off the Navy, after all. Even Star Trek is. It makes sense, after all. When you look at the armed forces, which has the most experience living for months/years at a time in a craft that spends most of its time in an inhospitable environment that could kill you if you stepped outside? I like to think of living on a starship as the space-equivalent of living on a submarine.

Anyway, the books tend to have a lot of tropes that cross over to science fiction, such as exploration, dealing with new cultures/animals/places, battles against dangerous enemies in an unforgiving environment, having to work together to survive, etc. And I suspect part of me appreciates all the technical terms. Sure, a mizzen-mast is a real thing where a flux capacitor is not, but they both trigger the same technobabble part of the brain.

What do you think, Squiders? Am I way off mark?

(Also, do you have any books to recommend? I am slowly making my way through the Hornblower series and I like them rather a lot.)

Writing Communities: Pros and Cons

I can’t help it, Squiders. I love bulleted lists. It is a horrible addiction, and I swear that I am searching for help so that one day, hopefully soon, I can be free of their indented glory.

If you’re a writer and on the internet, you’ve probably come across a writing community. They do tend to be everywhere, from social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter, to individual websites, to special “invite-only” communities where you have to meet some criteria to get in. You could have a different one for every day of the week–or month–if you really wanted.

It’s hard to know which one is right for you, and it’s entirely possible that you could belong to one forever and then realize, over time, that it’s not providing what you need anymore. So, is it worth it?

To the bulleted list!

Pros

  • Other people who understand you and what you’re going through
  • People who can offer advice and are willing to work through issues with you
  • Support system
  • May offer challenges and contests to help you practice and try new things

Cons

  • Can be highly distracting and a time drain
  • Like all organizations, there will probably inevitably be drama
  • May not get the support you need or may be at a different stage than everyone else
  • May find it hard to break into established groups

How do you feel about writing communities, Squiders? Are they essential or a distraction? Any that you’ve found useful over the years?

Anthologies: Pros and Cons

Ah, anthologies. I love to write for them. I am usually disappointed when I read them. It boggles the mind.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, an anthology is a collection of stories from different authors that all center around a theme. I just finished one where the theme was “fantasy tropes turned on their heads,” for example, though they called it something else. Basically, someone says “I want to put together an anthology about strong women with swords,” people submit stories that fit the theme, the editor(s) picks the ones they like, and then they publish the anthology.

(Themes can be any number of things, from clear cut things like “pirates” to completely arbitrary things like “I think this famous person may have been influenced by these stories” or “the best whatever of the year.”)

I love to write for them because I like the exercise of writing to a prompt, especially if it’s a little out of my comfort zone. I tend to not like reading them because by the time I get used to a story/character/voice/whatever, that particular story is over and it’s on to the next. It makes me grumpy.

The exception, for me, seems to be Shared World anthologies. Shared Worlds still are multi-author works, but the world, and in some cases the characters, are the same from story to story. Sometimes one story directly flows into the next. (Examples of this include the Thieves’ World anthology series, the Star Trek Corps of Engineers series, and Turtleduck Press’ Seasons Eternal.) Since I’m left with something to hold on to, I don’t find these as jarring.

Anyway, I promised Pros and Cons.

Pros

  • Show many different authors’ interpretation of a theme
  • Stories tend to be short, allowing for easy breaks in reading
  • Can find new authors to try out

Cons

  • No commonality between stories makes it hard to transition
  • Open interpretation means stories can seem completely unrelated
  • Story quality may vary and you might not find any voices you like

How do you feel about anthologies, Squiders? Love them, loathe them (either from a reading or writing point of view)? Any to recommend?

Los Alamos: Kind of Creepy

I try to keep this blog mostly on topic, as you know, Squiders, but sometimes I wander. Today is one of those days.

My family and I went down to New Mexico for a long weekend this past weekend. We set up headquarters in Santa Fe, and on Sunday we headed out into the desert to go see Bandelier National Monument (still trying to make that National Parks pass pay–we’re up to $71 out of $80) because apparently every seven years or so I like to climb around in cliff dwellings, and we thought we’d swing by Los Alamos on the way back.

Now, because we’ve worked in defense, Los Alamos is kind of a household name around these parts. But if you’re unfamiliar, Los Alamos National Laboratory is where we created the atomic bomb. To this day, it still does research on nuclear energy/weapons, energy in general, and assorted other things. It is also massive and, for the most part, classified. There’s actually a road that goes through a bit of the lab that we took from Bandelier to the town and there was a guard house and they checked our IDs and everything.

Los Alamos the town was founded for the scientists during WWII. It was top secret and its existence wasn’t revealed until after the war. All mail for the town went to a PO Box in Santa Fe, and scientists traveled under false names and referred to Los Alamos as “The Hill” or “Site Y.” That part’s all very cool, actually. And all the streets in town are atomic bomb-related: Trinity, Oppenheimer, Atomic.

So why was it creepy? Because there was no one there. Los Alamos itself is very clean and has a lot of new-looking buildings, including a giant library and a science museum. It has great parks and lots of shops and…there was no one out walking. This was a beautiful, sunny Sunday. It was 70 degrees out.

I saw a handful of cars, a few people at the museum, the guard in the guardhouse…and that was it.

Now, no doubt there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. Wikipedia tells me that White Rock on the other side of the lab is technically the same town as Los Alamos, and there was plenty of people there, so maybe most people live there. It’s a little off-season for tourists. Maybe most of the shops and the library are closed on Sundays so there’s no reason for residents to venture out.

Who knows? I just found the combination of the history of the town, the gigantic secret laboratory, and the lack of people to be fascinating.

Rewatching Favorite Scifi Shows

First off, I want to apologize for being so hung-up on science fiction lately. I can’t help it. I have a bit of an addictive personality, so I get fixated on things and it’s hard to break away to other things. Rest assured, I shall probably get sick of it soon, and then we can do all fantasy all the time instead for a while.

(If it helps, I am reading a fantasy anthology at the moment called Fantasy Gone Wrong. The quality of the stories varies wildly, like all anthologies, unfortunately.)

I’ve been rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine lately. (Hereafter known as DS9.) It’s not really my fault. Literally all my friends are watching it right now, and it’s one of my very favorite TV shows, so I thought I’d watch it too. I’m a few episodes into season 3, so we’re starting to get episodes dedicated to the overall arcing Dominion plot mixed in with the occasional very strange character-based episodes.

(You know, I feel Sisko is a bit forgotten in the whole land of character-based episodes. Hm.)

Anyway.

It’s always interesting re-watching a show. When the show is new to you, everything is a surprise. (Well, hopefully, anyway.) You don’t know where things are going to go, what character twists are going to happen, whether those two characters you ship are ever going to get together.

When you re-watch, you may not remember everything that happened, but there’ll be episodes where you know the ending before you get there, where you know what the twist will be at the end because you know how the overall plot goes, even if you don’t remember the specifics. You anticipate new characters and plot points because you know they’re coming.

The mystery is lost, but it’s sort of like coming home to an old friend.

I admit I’m not much of a re-watcher. There’s so many series I hope to get to eventually. And something like DS9 is a big time commitment. But it is interesting to watch a show go from its inevitably awkward beginning to a well-oiled machine, to remember how subplots unraveled and foreshadowing was mixed in.

Any favorite shows you’re watching at the moment, Squiders? Any that you like to go back to again and again? Or do you prefer to move ever forward, leaving old shows in your dust?

Dealing with Side Characters

You know, Squiders, main characters are bad enough. They don’t do what you want them to do, or they forget the plot in a moment of passion, or you turn your back for a moment and they’ve decided being a bad guy sounds like a pretty good gig. But at least you know they’re important. When a scene goes the wrong way, at least they’re still in the center of it.

Side characters, however, are tougher. They walk a fine line between being important and being in the background. These are your sidekicks, your lackey bad guys, your friends and relations. They’re important to the characters somehow. They contribute to the plot…somehow. But they can’t do too much, or they become main characters. And they can’t do too little, or your reader wonders why they’re there.

It’s a hard line to tread. Each story, each plot, has different character needs. And very few novels can get away with no side characters at all. People, unfortunately, do not exist in a vacuum. And each side character provides their own issues. It might be your character’s mother, whom they obsess about constantly, but, in the end, provides little of use to either plot or characterization. It might be your character’s best friend, who is always around, providing witty banter, but isn’t there when your character needs her most so your reader wonders why you bothered to build her up so much. It might be the professor your character fights with the whole first half of the novel, only to disappear for the second half.

Unfortunately, there’s only one thing to do. You look at a side character, decide what they need to contribute to the plot, and then you either build them up so they fit their goal, or you dial them back (or, sometimes, get rid of them completely).

I’m having to do this right now. I’ve got a side character named Thor (yes, that Thor) that at the moment, sits on the cusp. I’m not quite sure which way he’s going to have to go to fit the story.

(Hopefully I will by the end of the day, though.)

Anything you’ve found helps with side characters, Squiders? Any you’re having issues with at the moment?