Archive for June, 2013

Howl’s Moving Castle Readalong: Castle in the Air

I’m changing the name of the readalong for clarity’s sake. Also, whereas we read Howl’s for a direct comparison to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, we’re basically reading the rest of the Howl series just because they’re fun and we can.

I hope, Squiders, that you didn’t have as many issues as I did trying to track down Castle in the Air. I checked multiple library systems, including the Kindle Lending Library, several used bookstores, and several not-used bookstores (we had that conversation already). I finally had to buy it off of Amazon.

(All the libraries have the third book, The House of Many Ways, but now I am wondering if I should just buy it so I have the whole set.)

Ah, Castle. I think, the first time I read it, I was just reading Diana Wynne Jones books because I never had until Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle came out and I didn’t realize it was related at all until, you know, near the end when you suddenly have Sophie and you’re a bit confused about what just happened. I think it’s more confusing if you don’t know that the books are related before hand. And I suspect it is even more confusing if you haven’t read Howl’s previously.

I have complaints. Whereas Howl‘s plays on the traditional fairy tale tropes, Castle tries to do the same with your Arabian-Night styled tropes, and I feel that instead of twisting the cliches, it just falls prey to them. There’s your typical genies and magic carpets and djinns and sultans, and maybe the twist is supposed to be that a lot of them are enchanted people, but it doesn’t quite work out.

Also, the plot feels kind of hodge-podge. Like she had this idea for the story of Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night but couldn’t quite get it to go by itself, so she mixed in elements from her Howl’s world and kind of stuffed things wherever they would go.

(Also, I could remember from the first reading that the carpet and the genie were Howl and Calcifer, but I couldn’t remember which was which, and I guessed the other way around from how it actually was, because it seemed to me that Howl would like to be flattered with pretty language and that it would just piss Calcifer off.)

(Also, Prince Justin apparently can’t go more than two feet outside of Kingsbury without getting enchanted.)

And I am annoyed that Sophie, despite being an excellent mother as a cat, suddenly is all timid and incompetent when faced with a human baby. Nrrrgh.

There are things I liked, though. I like the end rather a lot, and I like that the princesses are reasonable, useful people instead of just being in the way or being helpless. I like how everyone had to work together to get rid of the djinns. I like Jamal and his dog. And I like the epilogue.

…so apparently I only like the last quarter of the book. Hm.

What did you think, Squiders? Do you feel like the book was successful at its attempt to be a twist on the Arabian Night stories?

We’ll read The House of Many Ways for the end of July. I haven’t gotten around to reading that one yet, so I’m interested to see how it goes. I’m hoping it gives us more of a look at how Howl can cross from our world to Ingary and back again.

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Fantasy Race Series: Vampires

This week in our series, we’re going to explore vampires. Love them or hate them, prefer them sparkly or deadly, they’ve been around for a long time and no doubt will be around for a lot longer. Here to tell us more about the undead blood suckers is Margaret Libby, who has seen more than her fair share of vampires and the havoc they wreak.

Vampires

Blood-drinking creatures are a feature in mythology worldwide, from the Greek vrykolakas to Gaelic faery spirits to Mesopotamian Lilitu. The most famous of these, though, are the vampires, popularized by fantasy and paranormal authors since the days of Bram Stoker and his famous Count Dracula.

Vampires, mostly due to Stoker but also with some help from Byron and some of his fellow Romantics, have a reputation for being a little more cultured than their fellow undead. Where zombies are shambling wrecks and werewolves are instinct-driven beasts, vampires are often intelligent and manipulative, or even romanticized (we might be able to blame Byron for that one). Today, in a world that is post-Interview With a Vampire, not to mention post-Twilight, vampires in the fantasy genre are diverse, but for the most part they have three things in common: they’re undead, they can’t go out in the sun, and they drink blood.

That gives some structure, but fantasy authors can and do play around within that framework very easily, and it makes vampires incredibly versatile. They can be everything from terrifying horror-movie creatures (like in the movie Thirty Days of Night, where the vampire’s inability to go out in daylight is the point the whole concept hinges on) to sympathetic and romantic (many of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires, who are superpowered and stay out of the sunlight because they sparkle, not because they turn to dust as common mythology has it) to just as diverse as regular human, with complex cultures and social structures of their own (the supernatural world in the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris/the TV show True Blood), to soulless but not categorically written off (Spike and Angel in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer). They can even be parodies of their own stereotypes, like Otto Chriek in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (though in all fairness, everything is a parody of its own stereotype on Discworld).

Half the fun of writing about vampires is getting to play around in that sandbox and see exactly where along the spectrum you want to write them, and what you want to do with them. When I ended up writing about vampires, I chose to keep their human personalities after death—the soul, you might say—and kept them sympathetic, if sometimes dark (I figure it’s hard to be cheerful when you’re functionally immortal but weren’t actually born into a species that expects to live forever). It’s all down to personal preference, and down to what part you want them to play in your story and your world. Vampires are useful for their versatility, if a little overused these days, and given their appearance in mythologies all over the place, they make a good addition to a world.

What kind of vampires to you like to read and write about, Squiders?

If you’d like to read (or watch) a little more, these are a few of my favorite things that feature vampires:

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
The Truth, by Terry Pratchett

And if you have a lot of time on your hands, give Buffy the Vampire Slayer a watch.

Margaret Libby tells me that someday she might actually get around to putting a blog together. For now, you can twitterstalk her and encourage her to do more writing, because she rocks.

The Descent of the Brick-and-Mortar Bookstore

Well, Squiders, we’ve all seen it. First the little bookstores died when the big box bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders came in. And then even Borders went under, and the industry generally despairs of there being physical bookstores in as little as twenty, ten, five years.

I’m beginning to think it’s self-perpetuating.

The Terror and I headed over to my local B&N this morning. (I’m not going to lie, Squiders, I’m having the worst time finding a copy of Castle in the Air for our readalong this month. I checked two different library systems–both of which had Howl’s and The House of Many Ways, go figure–the Kindle Lending Library, my local used bookstores. Nothing. I’m going to have to buy it off the Internet, which brings me back to the point of this post.) I have not been in my B&N for probably over a year. (This is, admittedly, because I am trying not to acquire new books until I dequire some of the ones I already own and not because I dislike B&N.)

I didn’t recognize the place.

My first thought was, “Where are the books?”

The whole middle part of the store is now dominated by a Nook display. It was huge, with at least three employees working it, and shelves of who knows what (because I was afraid to go in lest I get a sales pitch). Nooks, maybe. Fake mock-ups of ebooks. I don’t know. The right side of the store is dominated by a very busy Starbucks, and there was stationary and maps and little gifts. When I made my way back to the children’s section, there was not a book to be found. Instead, there was a giant toy section, happily attended by several children playing with the displays.

(I did eventually find the children’s books, now relegated to the back, left corner.)

I know that bookstores are diversifying to stay afloat. I mean, you can’t find one that isn’t also a coffee shop to save your life. (I can’t really fault them that. I love coffee shops.) But it becomes a problem when you have to cut your book supply to the point where people can’t find the books they’re looking for.

If you want a recent best seller, great. They have those. But this isn’t a rare book I’m looking for. It’s a book by a best-selling children’s author, where the third book in the series is only a few years old, and it was nowhere to be found. In fact, they didn’t have a single book by Diana Wynne Jones in the entire store. It’s not like it’s out of print or so old everyone’s forgotten about the series. But alas, my brick-and-mortar store couldn’t accommodate me, and so I will have to go online.

You cut down on the books to make room for diversification, but then you don’t have the books people want, so people buy less books, so you have to get rid of more books to diversify some more…

…you see where I’m going?

Fantasy Race Series: Zombies

Starting us off today with both the series and the end of the alphabet are zombies, undead creatures who can infect the living to create more of their own. Zombies are the race to go to, these days, now that we’ve exhausted vampires for the time being. Zombies can be created through magic, through science, through disease, and here to tell us more about the undead menace (do you have your contigency plan ready for when the zombie apocalypse comes?) and how he’s twisted the cliches for his own use is Charles Muir.

Bringing the undead to life

My zombies began as most zombies do, by being dead. And as with most zombies, mine were bad at being dead. And they continued to be bad at being dead. On the plus side, that worked for my ragtag group from O.o.M.f.H. (Organization of Mercenaries for Hire), who needed things to try and kill.

My zombies evolved, devolved, and outright changed from draft one to draft ten. I tried the proper Haitian style zombie control via potions and juju, to the standard “it just happened, deal with it” style zombie, to the latest incarnation for the new age: nanite-controlled, hive-mind zombies.

Infection is via the bloodstream, primarily via a dart gun or syringe, so bites and scratches aren’t too much of a worry. Nanites self-propagate, akin to the Star Trek Borg, but don’t add any implants or unnecessary body mods. Stages start from infection, which effectively kills any living host by consuming the brain and replacing with a computer. Each zombie is then linked to all other zombies, world-wide via a wireless link and managed via a host of controllers in the HQ of E.V.I.L. (Extraordinarily Villainous Individuals League). Full infection takes 48 hours. Up to 12 hours to fully kill the body, then 24 hours to fully convert the brain, and another 12 hours to fully adapt the corpse via nanite-replaced blood.

How does one kill the already dead?

General consensus has been: remove the head and any zombie is effectively no longer a threat. Few writers ever seems to address the necessary clean up afterwards. The bodies still contain infectious materials. Cremation is a viable method of eradicating the infection, although such methods are generally hard to come by in apocalyptic scenarios.

Zombification prevention would logically involve self-defense training, firearms training, and investment in some defensive clothing that allows for movement but will prevent being eaten. If infection is through bodily fluids, generally saliva or blood, then having tear resistant clothing at the least is ideal. You don’t need to be bullet proof (although it wouldn’t hurt), but ballistics nylon-level fabric is your best bet for surviving a hoard of shambling bodies craving your grey matter.

And for those that do become infected, depending on incubation time, your options are either isolation, kamikaze, or acceptance. Isolation prevents infecting more people. Kamikaze is going out with as many infected as possible. And acceptance is biting all your friends so you’re not alone in becoming an undead abomination.

Charles Muir is a writer of sci-fi and fantasy novels infused with excessive sarcasm and author of informational works such as Word Ninja-148 pages of tips, tricks, and testimonials to get your writing written. Word Ninja is available in print and digital at: tinyurl.com/WordNinjaBook

The Fantasy Race Blog Post Series and Miscellaneous

First off, Squiders, an announcement: starting Tuesday, I’m going to be running a series of posts (on subsequent Tuesdays) about fantasy races. I’m really excited about this one, because I’ve got the posts from the people who know the best: the people that choose to write them.

It’s really interesting to see why authors pick which fantasy staples they want to include, and how they change them to twist cliches and fit the story they want to tell. We’ll start with zombies next Tuesday.

Secondly, twitter led me to this post by Chuck Wendig about sexism and misogyny in writing and publishing. (I admittedly don’t regularly read Chuck’s blog, but I have always found it insightful when I do end up there.) The emphasis is sort of science fiction and fantasy in some places, especially the posts Chuck links to.

This is kind of one of those elephant in the middle of the room topics that people like to pretend isn’t there most of the time (along with the fact the covers tend to be “white-washed,” i.e., that even though the main character may be some minority, a white person is put on the cover because marketers apparently think that people only like to read about white people, or something). I admit I don’t think about it very often myself, so I’m interested to see what you guys think about the topic.

I’ve seen posts on the internet about women “ruining scifi,” and I occasionally run into that sort of people at conventions or other nerdy things (to which I say “Bah” because women have totally been into scifi forever), but it seems to be a small, vocal minority consisting mostly of angry older men. Other than that, it hasn’t seemed to affect me much. It may be because I’m just a small fry right now, doing indie and small press stuff. I have full control over things like my cover art. I may find, as I start reaching wider audiences, that this will become more apparent.

Anyway, thoughts, Squiders? Have you had negative sexist experiences, either as a reader or a writer? Do you feel like anything is changing, for good or bad?

Why Don’t Writing Groups Write?

So, back when I lived in California, I had a lovely group of people that I would write with. We’d go to a coffee shop, get a drink, maybe get a pastry (I am partial to chocolate pumpkin bread. Mmm), and we’d catch up for a few minutes, and then we’d write. For two or three hours at a go. And maybe we’d discuss techniques or craft or processes, or help someone with a plot issue, but the main point of the activity was to get something done, whether it was a new short story, editing an old novel, or fighting through a query letter.

We moved back to Colorado almost three years ago now, and I’ve yet to find a group whose point is doing rather than talking. I did have a Wednesday night group going for a bit, but while we sometimes got writing done, mostly we just socialized. And I’ve tried group after group, and they’re all either critique groups–which is good if you’ve got something written, but no good if you haven’t–or are craft groups, which is where people sit around and talk about how to write.

I dislike craft groups a lot. It’s not that I think I know everything about writing and don’t think I have anything left to learn. I don’t think that can ever be true of a writer. I just find that I tend to have a lot more experience than the other participants, and we spend a lot of time going over basics, or whoever’s leading’s trying to push their particular style on everyone, or we spend a lot of time working on activities designed to teach us how to do whatever, and I really really hate spending perfectly good writing time on writing exercises.

I despise writing exercises. I cannot learn through writing exercises and they make me extremely grumpy.

Every now and then I try to round up people who I feel are at a similar level to me, or at least write the same genre, and try to get a writing writing group going, but thus far it’s amounted to nothing.

What’s a girl to do? (Aside from sending the Landsquid to kidnap people, because I understand that’s frowned upon by society.) I have a lovely online group, but it’s very different to sit in a chatroom and write with people instead of doing it in person. (For one thing, your chatroom is not going to catch you if you’re off playing video games instead of what your should be doing.)

I’m going to try out a new group tonight–I found them at DCC, actually, when I stopped to talk to one of the other small presses, and while they alternate craft and critique meetings, I’m hoping I can at least network and maybe find some people up for writing. Also, the craft ones seem like they don’t always have a set topic, or someone presenting necessarily, so maybe they’re more discussion group-y, and I would be okay with that.

What do you look for in a writing group, Squiders? Have you had luck in your area?

I Haven’t Seen the New Star Trek Movie and I’m Starting to Get Upset

Squiders, the Star Trek movie has been out for two weeks. Do you know what the last Trek movie I didn’t see on opening day/night was? Generations. Or possibly the Undiscovered Country. It was some time in the mid-90s.

Now, I understand that I am an adult now and I have responsibilities that must be taken care of instead of watching movies, but this is starting to get ridiculous.

The biggest stumbling block is, of course, our new addition to the family. And despite the fact that all sets of grandparents repeatedly tell us how happy they are to watch him at any point in time, the fact remains that I sit here, on the internet, trying to avoid spoilers.

You’ve been on the internet. You know how impossible that can be, especially when you are friends with fellow nerds, all of whom either don’t have children or have better babysitting set-ups.

Now, I don’t mind people talking about it. I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding spoilers. And I’ve been kind of lukewarm about the movie. But at this point, with the amount of times we’ve tried to go see the movie, it’s starting to feel like a bad comedy.

I’m hoping, fingers crossed, that things finally align and we can go either tomorrow or Saturday, but at this rate the movie will probably be out on video before we can get there. (We still haven’t seen the Hobbit, mixed reviews and all.)

Suggestions, Squiders? Not really a big deal, I know, and yet…