Archive for August, 2013

Friendship in Fiction

As you know, Squiders, I am a giant, tribble-carrying Trekkie, and occasionally I get lost on Trek-related tumblrs that then eat half of my morning. (Let us not talk about this morning.) But today I learned something about my very favorite fictional friendship, that of the trio of Kirk, Spock, and Bones.

It was a quote from Gene Roddenberry that basically said that since, unlike a novel where you have access to a character’s internal thoughts, everything on TV has to be visible, he took one perfect person, and split him into three parts: the authoritative, the logical, and the humanistic. So apparently Kirk, Spock, and Bones seem like one whole because they are, which is kind of poetic, really.

I’m a giant sucker for the nakama or found family trope, which is where a group of people basically becomes so close they’re willing to fight for and die for one another. Trek does this all the time, as do a lot of other scifi/fantasy television series. I feel like it’s easy to do it on TV–easy to put characters into situations, stretched out over seasons at a time, where they can grow into such camaraderie.

But here’s the thing. I fell in love with Kirk, Spock, and Bones from the Trek novels, not the show. (Though I do love the show. I just didn’t have a lot of access to it as a kid. Now it is free everywhere.) Part of this was because the novels assumed you already knew the relationship and just jumped right into it. But the fact is that it’s such a strong friendship that a lot of the plots directly flowed from it, proving time and again that these men truly cared for each other and the rest of the command crew.

And that got me thinking. You do see it in books too, though it seems to be more common in older fantasy than more recent novels. (This, I suspect, reflects the changing tide of the genre. Most fantasy used to be high epic fantasy–now we get a lot more urban fantasy where the conflicts are personal instead of world-changing.) Lord of the Rings is an obvious example. Harry Potter. Pretty much any series with a large, ensemble cast. I feel like it’s harder to do in an individual book, because it’s hard to reflect the necessary growth of the characters becoming a cohesive unit, though I’m sure it’s been done.

What’s your favorite fictional friendship, Squiders? Any recommendations for me (books or other media) with good examples of this trope?

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Working With Mythology When No One Agrees On Anything: Angel Mythology

How’s that for a mouthful of a title? I’m rather proud of it.

So, my book Shards, coming out in December, has a lot of mythology mixed into it. The main mythology is Biblical, specifically relating to angels, so I got to do a whole bunch of research before I started my initial draft.

Here’s the thing about mythology. It’s super interesting but nothing is set in stone. You can very rarely make any sort of absolutes, because someone out there has found some version of a myth where what you were thinking is absolutely true is not true. That’s even true if you look at Arthurian legend, which, in the great scheme of mythology, isn’t very old. Morgan le Fay is Arthur’s sister. No, she’s not. She’s a sorceress. She’s not. Etc., etc., et al.

Angel mythology is especially non-cohesive because of the many different types of people who believe in angels. Besides Christians, Jews, and Muslims, you have people who are not religious at all, people who think of them as some sort of nature spirits, even people who see them as some sort of cosmic energy manifest.

And even if you stick within a single belief system, the mythology varies between time periods and subgroups.

I think perhaps the most telling of how insane angel mythology can get is the Archangels vs archangels madness. You see, there’s a hierarchy of angels (well, several, depending on who you’re talking to, which really just proves my point), and one of the tiers is “archangel.” Yet the Archangels–Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, etc. (more on this in a moment)–don’t belong to the archangel choir. Generally, Michael and Gabriel are considered to be Seraphim, which is the highest angelic order. (There’s more leeway with Raphael, but he’s generally portrayed as at least a Throne.) It’s like somewhere along the way whomever was in charge of sticking angels in the hierarchy felt like the angels that actually dealt with humans needed to be bumped up a few notches.

And the Archangels themselves–there seems to be no agreement on how many there are, though it does seem to be split between four and seven. And there’s about 20 different angels that fit into that four/seven depending on who you ask, which names such as Chamuel, Zadkiel, Jophiel, Jeremiel, Salathiel, Phaltiel…you get the point.

And various angels, such as Sammael or Azrael, have positive or negative connotations based on who you talk to as well.

If you try to make everything agree with everything else, you’re going to have a major headache.

So, what do you do when your mythology is all over the place? You pick what works for the story at hand, and you run with it.

And then you save the rest for other stories later on.

What’s your favorite mythologies, Squiders? What discrepancies have you noticed within them?

The Debate on Genre Separation

My friend Sarah is a librarian at an elementary school. She’s been working on this big project, suggested by the kids, to separate all the books into their respective fiction genres.

She even let the kids pick out what genres they wanted (such as “animal fiction”). Now that’s a good librarian.

I highly approve of said project, because I also prefer my genres to be separated out. As a kid, I used to roam the stacks, looking specifically for the telltale “fantasy” and “science fiction” stickers they use to differentiate genre. It was a bit frustrating.

So count me in. I would live in a science fiction/fantasy section.

But then I got to thinking. One of the biggest complaints against the traditional publishing industry is that if they can’t figure out where it’ll go on a shelf, they won’t buy a story, no matter how good it is. It doesn’t quite work here, because a library wouldn’t reject a book based on a strange genre; they’d just put it in the general literature section.

But a magical realism book might get shelved general literature over science fiction/fantasy, and then a potential reader might never find it if they didn’t venture outside their chosen genre.

And, one could argue, it’s kind of fun to wander the stacks, pulling out books with neat titles or fun covers and seeing which ones catch your fancy. Heck, I got into fantasy that way. Pulled the Sword of Shannara off my elementary school’s library shelf and haven’t looked back since.

So, Squiders, how do you feel about separating genres at the library? Want all your scifi/fantasy, mystery, romance in convenient boxes? Prefer to have everything all mixed together? How does your local library have things set up, and what would you change?

 

Pay no attention to this bit. Just doing some internet bookkeeping. 6K7GGUJQHTWX

What Have We Been Reading Lately?

I love to hear what you guys have been reading and your recommendations for things I should be reading, so let’s get a discussion going, shall we?

I’ve been all over the map lately. Here are the last three books I’ve read:

  • House of Many Ways, Diana Wynne Jones, YA fantasy
  • The Flight of the Falcon, Daphne du Maurier, gothic
  • Sourcery, Terry Pratchett, fantasy

We discussed House here. Sourcery I didn’t like, though in general I do like the Discworld books. It felt rambly, and half the characters never did anything. Falcon was interesting–and I do love a good gothic–but I felt like it was predictable.

And I’m currently reading March by Geraldine Brooks, which is historical fiction and a companion piece to Little Women, following the adventures of the absent father. Both of those reasons should have made me not pick it up, but I did, and I’m actually enjoying it. And then I learned it won the Pulitzer Prize, so yay?

Not sure what I’m going to move onto next. I feel like some science fiction, and I just got this lovely collection of Philip K. Dick shorts, but I also have a ton of other books sitting around, and a friend may start A Great and Terrible Beauty soon, and if so, I shall probably jump into that with her, because there’s nothing quite like having a friend to chat about things with.

How about you, Squiders? What have you read recently, and what are you reading/going to read? Anything you’d recommend?

Howl’s Moving Castle Readalong: House of Many Ways

Did you find this one a tiny bit unsatisfying too, Squiders? I think I’ve finally figured out why both this one and Castle in the Air leave you feeling a little grumpy, and that’s that the main character isn’t the main character.

I’ve lost everyone, haven’t I. Sorry. In general, the main character is the person who has the most impact on the story, and in most cases it’s the viewpoint person. (Not always. For example, in Wuthering Heights, the viewpoint character is just someone who’s arrived in town, and is being told the story himself.) You identify with the main character, and then you want to see them overcome the obstacles to be the hero at the end of the story.

In both Castle and here, we have a viewpoint character who has an issue. (In Castle, Abdullah needs to get Flower-in-the-Night back. Here, it’s less clear. Is it that Charmain wants freedom? That she wants to learn to be on her own? That she wants to work in the Royal Library? I’m not sure, and that’s not a good thing either.) But in both books, there’s a bigger issue that somewhat ties into the viewpoint character’s problem on a world or country-level.

So, in both books, you have a more interesting conflict going on in the background, and the hero(es) of that more interesting conflict is Sophie (and Howl and Calcifer). When we get to the end of the book, while the viewpoint character is important, the actual figuring out and solving and sometimes doing falls to Sophie (and Howl and Calcifer). This leaves the reader with a little bit of a “why did I bother?” feeling. Why not just tell the more interesting conflict from Sophie’s or Howl’s viewpoint, with the new character as a side character?

Here, Charmain figures out the crown prince is a lubbockin, but it comes out on its own before she can tell anybody. But Howl takes out him and his henchmen (with some help from Waif). And Peter, who’s been a fairly major character otherwise, is missing for the climax. It’s just…odd. Calcifer kills the lubbock. Howl finds the gold and the Elfgift. Really the only thing Charmain manages to contribute in the end is what’s been happening to the tax money.

So you have your “main character” being mostly an observer for the most important part of the plot. And that’s why it doesn’t sit well.

Charmain’s a little hard to swallow anyway. She’s kind of a brat. And so’s Peter at times. And perhaps it’s because I’m an adult, but I just wanted to shake them at various points.

I’m also sad that Howl’s ability to cross over between our world and whatever the fictional world is called is never remotely explained, and now it never shall be.

I did like that we didn’t try to sneak Howl/Sophie/Calcifer in like in Castle. And the house itself was cool, though a bit confusing. I kind of wish that had been explained a little better.

What did you think, Squiders? Did the viewpoint/main character disconnect bother you? What was your favorite part? Feel free to ask questions of your own or talk about whatever you’d like in the comments.

Calm Yourself, Woman

I’m a mess, Squiders. My manuscript–the novel that’s coming out in December–is in my editor’s hands, and it’s the first time I’ve had a novel edited by an actual publication-process editor, and I desperately want her to love it and so I am kind of stalking her all the time to see if she’s talking about it at all on social media.

She’s not. The few times she’s mentioned anything it’s been things like “I started working on Kit’s book today” or “I need to work on Kit’s book tonight” which tells me nothing.

(Or, if my Inner Critic gets involved, it’s that she’s not saying anything else because she doesn’t like it, or it’s a huge mess, or…you get the point.)

Also, I sent my cover artist a copy of the book on the same day, so she can get a feel for the story and work her magic. This is the same artist who did my cover for Hidden Worlds (who coincidentally happens to be my cousin, but I like to think that it’s not nepotism because she does amazing work). And never mind that it hasn’t even been two weeks, but I kind of want to message her all the time to see if she’s done with the book, and whether she liked it.

I am driving myself insane, Squiders.

It’s just…this is my first real novel release, and I want everything to be sparkly and perfect, and right now everything’s out of my hands (aside for working on marketing, which is kind of exciting, but not really) and I’m going a little stircrazy.

So distract me. Offer me fun tidbits to look at or read, or send me platitudes to let me know that I haven’t gone completely insane, or discuss why the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor Roman (nor an empire). Anything!

Robots!

Beach laying apparently does not devote itself to thinking about appropriate posts for one’s scifi/fantasy/writing blog, so I have appealed to the internet at large for a topic, and the internet has asked for robots.

And I realized I have never actually talked about robots here before. We’ve talked about a lot of different scifi topics–aliensinterstellar traveltime travelutopias/dystopias, etc.–but no robots. And robots are a scifi staple. Everything from Lost in Space to the Jetsons to even Data in Star Trek the Next Generation has robots.

So why the omission?

It wasn’t a conscious decision, Squiders. It’s just…I don’t really like robots.

I mean, I like them okay. I love Data. And the Iron Giant. And…um. Those ones that scientists make that look like animals. And the ones that act with group consciousness. There’s a lot of cool real science happening with robots, and I love seeing what we can get them to do now.

But as a scifi trope? Not my favorite. I think it may be because robots in scifi tend to fall into a couple of basic categories: giant mechanical warriors, servants, androids (whether evil or not, often posing as humans). The first? I’ve never been able to get into Mechs. Servants can be done well, especially when looking into deeper questions, such as what constitutes sentience, but a lot of times they’re just cool toys. Androids are neat and all, but tend also to be limited in their portrayals.

Cyborgs? Cyborgs I like. But it does depend on the story and the set-up.

Care to try and change my mind, Squiders? Which robotic portrayals am I missing? Which ones do you like the best? Recommend me books, movies, TV shows, comics, games, etc.