Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

The Finnbranch Readalong: Yearwood

Hey hey, Squiders! Only one day late, which, considering how this week has gone, is a freaking miracle.

So, Yearwood, book one of the Finnbranch trilogy. Did you guys read this? It’s so very ’80s fantasy it almost hurts.

We’ve discussed previously how you can see very obvious trends in epic fantasy from the “classic” fantasy of the ’50s and ’60s ala Tolkien to the modern character-driven fantasy of today. The ’80s fall somewhere in the middle, where the characters have begun to be more important than the plot, but generally not to the extent you find today.

Yearwood follows Finn, a teenage boy growing up in an isolated mountain community. His mother is married to the lord, but the lord is not his father, and, indeed, he’s never been given a real name, so his sisters have each made up their own for him. There are no other men in the community aside from his mother’s servant, the lord’s obsession on trying to figure out his father’s name having driven the community into decline.

If that sounds like a convoluted mess, you’re not wrong. The prose here is pretty dense, though it is in first person. Yet Finn is not actively telling his story, but telling it in retrospect, an adult telling the story of when he was young. Yearwood seems to be half of an origin story, with the other half continuing into the second book, Undersea.

Finn’s kind of a hard person to ride along with. He’s egotistical and sometimes cruel in that way that most teenagers get. He’s angry at his mother, who has never shown him any affection, and at his absent, unknown father. Even when he begins to learn how he was begat and who his father is, the anger stays with him.

There’s a weird mix up of mythology here. There are two crows which Finn arguably owns which he gives names meaning Thought and Memory, a clear connection to Odin, who likewise has crows named the same, but that seems to be the only Norse mythology here. The rest feels more Celtic, especially with several references to Dagda and the fact the Finn’s community is called Morrigan. There are also references to Selchie, which is another spelling of selkie, though the mythology doesn’t translate directly here. Still, it seems like the setting is supposed to be its own world rather than a version of our own. Not sure if that was the intention, however.

This is fantasy in the way legends and myths are—nothing is distinctly fantastical, merely accepted as how the world works, whether it’s giant death crows or walking stone kings.

So, tl;dr—this feels like a modern retelling of a legend, with the same sort of story structure and dense language. Yet it was oddly readable despite that. But I can see why more modern readers on Goodreads aren’t terribly fond of it.

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think?

We’ll read Undersea for next month and do a discussion on July 18.

Language Barriers in Speculative Fiction

Hey hey, so apparently I was going to write this post two years ago, got as far as “WOO” and never went back to it. Good job on focusing, me.

Language barriers are something common that you find in science fiction and fantasy stories. It makes sense, especially if you’ve got cultures that have never met before, and it can make for interesting conflict if characters can’t understand each other. Especially when dealing with alien races, you can even make up new ways of communication that may be impossible for other species to learn.

On the other hand, sometimes you need characters to be able to communicate, even if you’ve set things up so they shouldn’t be able to because of whatever reason.

Let’s go over some of the most common ways to get around language barriers. And feel free to let me know your favorite and least favorite examples of overcoming barriers and what worked (or didn’t) in the comments.

Common Language

The idea here is that there’s a common language that different species all learn so they can communicate with each other, even if they have their own language otherwise. This is your “Galactic Standard,” as it were. Of course, for this to work, your various species need to similar enough that it makes sense that they’d all be able to make the same linguistic sounds, etc.

One Person Understands

This is where you have a character that speaks its own language which is incomprehensible to the reader/viewer, but luckily there’s that one other character who knows that language and can translate or have one-sided conversations that essentially get the meaning across. Han Solo with Chewbacca, for example, or Rocket with Groot.

Universal Translator

These are magic devices that automatically translate any language it comes in contact with, as long as said language has been encountered before (to add some leeway for when you want a plot that hinges on miscommunication). A lot of the time, these can also pick up new languages after a few minutes of listening. A LOT of science fiction uses this idea, though you do occasionally come across the fantasy equivalent (such as a spell of understanding).

Telepathy

Maybe characters can’t understand each other, but hey, using telepathy can help even the most disparate of species communicate! (Assuming, of course, that their patterns of thought are at all similar.) This mode can often rely a lot on visuals and emotions rather than words.

Immersion/Building Understanding Over Time

For a more realistic approach, if your cultures aren’t meeting for the first time, you can assume they have had interactions for a while and might have started to pick up each other’s language. (Some people show this through some characters/species speaking with an odd grammar, though be aware this can get tedious to read.) Alternately, people can pick up languages through immersion, which is where you’re immersed in another language for a long period of time. This forces you to learn the language through everyday interactions, and also helps you learn how to convey ideas when you don’t have the vocabulary yet.

Of course, both of these methods require time, and if you need two characters to be able to interact to stop the universe from imploding in the next week, well.

Do you have a method I’ve left out, Squiders? Examples, good or bad? Thoughts on storytelling that relies on disparate characters being able to understand each other?

Introducing the Finnbranch Readalong

Howdy, Squiders! Let’s do a readalong, since it’s been a while. I’ve scoured my book shelves for series of the appropriate genres (which also aren’t massive) and have found Paul Hazel’s Finnbranch trilogy (Yearwood, Undersea, and Winterking) from the early ’80s. (I have a omnibus of all three from the later ’80s.)

I’ve never read it, but I’m pretty sure somebody bought this for me off my Amazon wishlist, so I must have had it recommended to me somewhere, or read something about it and thought it sounded like a good time.

Interestingly, it seems like while the trilogy was well-received back in the day, the reviews on Goodreads are all over the place. If nothing else, it should be an interesting look at how storytelling changes through generations, as I’ve previously noted somewhere in the archives that there’s a pretty obvious change in the fantasy genre in the ’80s. I wonder where this trilogy will fall on it?

Let’s do one book a month, since that seems to work the best for everyone who wants to read along being able to do so. So let’s read Yearwood by June 15th. And if you have any thoughts on this or potential future readalongs, please let me know, either in the comments or by contacting me directly.

Happy reading, squiders!

Guest Post: Realms of Edenocht by DS Johnson

Good morning, Squiders! Today I’ve got a guest post from DS Johnson, who currently has a tour going to promote her fantasy novel, Realms of Edenocht.

Realms of Edenocht cover

Shazmpt has been prepared his whole life to complete the prophecy; however until recently, he was unaware of his true identity as a powerful war wizard.

Hidden on an island in a time realm not his own, he must now search for ancient relics in order to stop the growing evil in the world. All he wanted was to hunt in his beloved forest, but is thrown into a world of sea serpents, dungeons, enchanted castles, miniature men, and air buffs.

Driven by duty and hindered by self-doubt, he is sent on a quest to unite the magical realms once more. He must learn to harness his good and evil powers, but will he survive the shadow…?

Bio:

A little about me, first I want to tell you a story, about a young girl who thought she was dumb. Yes, in the first, second, and third grades this little girl, was in the ‘Resource’ program or ‘Chapter 8’ as I have also heard it called. Even though she was then put in the regular class, she knew all too well by then she was not a smart child. All the way through high school this girl struggled. She graduated with a glorious 2.9. Yes, it was heart breaking for those little numbers to reflect the great struggle and all the efforts she had put forth.

She went on to start beauty school, figuring she wasn’t college material. Suddenly, she learned that she wasn’t dumb after all. She was what is called a kinesthetic learner or ‘hands on’ learner. She LOVED it. She went on to do very well, for many years. Until, life got complicated. She had five children, a husband, and a disabled mother who now required constant care. While contemplating how to earn a little bit of extra income, now that doing hair wasn’t an option, a thought came to her, ‘Write a book’ it said.

She replied by looking around and with her finger pointing at herself, she said, “Who me? I graduated high school with a 2.9 remember?”

The little thought came again, “Yes, you. Write a book.”

It so happened, that she had been telling her children nighttime stories for some time, so she did. It took five years to learn from the internet, a few writing classes, some great blogs, a lot of practice, one very good editor and the awesome support of her family. But she did it, and now I bring The Realms of Edenocht Series to you! Yes, that little girl was me, but no longer.

Contact Information

Website: www.dsjohnsonbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzanne.johnson.12532

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/44211843-d-s-johnson

Guest Post on Writing Inspiration:

I shared a room with my younger sister growing up and she would make me tell her bed time stories every night until we fell asleep. Everything from pink unicorns to scary witches. When my parents divorced I lost my love for stories because I had to ‘grow up’. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I remembered I loved to tell stories. Now that I was a grown up and lived a long time without the child like imagination, I turned to things I knew about. My husband is a big gamer and he introduced me to the world of MMORPG’s. The vibrance of the characters and races, the fun worlds and story lines started to bring back the love of it all.

It took some time but I learned the craft of storytelling (showing) and now I try to bring in elements of our gaming, old forgotten legends and bits of history. I love watching documentaries and digging up forgotten tales. My writing is character driven so I like to use those close to me to take from their personalities, weakness, flaws and fears to give my characters life. I also like to people watch, so I observe their movements and how they interact with body language to add an extra element of depth to my characters.

I love to listen to soundtrack type music and letting the emotions of the music take me on a journey. I try to imagine my characters inside the same emotion I feel and how they might feel within the same music as it would apply to their situation in the book. Sometimes the scenes flow easily and others not so much but I always seem to have a deeper connection with them. I establish what their likes, dislikes, and such are at the beginning so that when something comes up I already know what they will or won’t do. Little by little my imagination takes shape and I surprise even myself.

~*~*~*~*~

If you’d like to pick up Realms of Edenocht, it’s available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Let’s Talk About Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Afternoon/evening, Squiders. As you guys know, I was a major Potterphile back in the day. Still, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out in July, I didn’t pick it up. There seemed to be a lot of mixed thoughts on both the idea of revisiting Harry Potter years later as well as the plotline itself. There’s also the fact that Cursed Child is a screenplay and not a prose novel, and the fact that it wasn’t even really written by J.K. Rowling.

I could understand those fears and anxieties and so I just…didn’t touch the thing.

But my husband took the small, mobile ones to the library while I was at MileHiCon a few weeks back and picked the book up for me. Still, I resisted. I stared at it for a week before I touched it. And then I was very slow about it, reading maybe ten pages a day, afraid to get too caught up in it, just in case.

And then last night I read the last of it in one go, so here we are.

I liked it, in the end. It feels like it fits. Adult Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Draco read like believable adult versions of the kids from the books. The story mainly revolves around the younger generation, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (♥ Scorpius, poor kid), and deals with them trying to break out of their fathers’ shadows (and shenanigans along those lines). There were some really nice moments.

There was also one key scene where I will swear part of it was missing. I flipped back and re-read it a couple of times, and it still didn’t make sense. And I felt like some of the less major characters were occasionally out of character.

But still, it was nice to revisit that world, to see what had changed over the years. Also, technically, to see the future, because if you recall, the Battle for Hogwarts happened in 1998, and so the story starts 19 years later, in 2017. It was nice to see Harry (even if he is not the greatest parent), to see Ron and Hermione’s relationship, to see the kids as their own characters.

So, if you’ve been holding out–there’s no reason to. It’s not going to destroy the characters you love or the stories you grew up with.

I gotta say, the stage version must be something. Some of the stage directions…plus there’s a section with polyjuice potion, and another with transfiguration–I’d like to see those pulled off. It’s probably awesome. The Internet tells me that there’s talk of moving the show to Broadway, or starting a separate showing on Broadway, or something along those lines, and if we get a Broadway show, maybe we’ll get a traveling show, and then maybe I can go and see it.

Read Cursed Child, Squiders? Like or dislike? Favorite new character? (Mine’s Scorpius, as noted above.) Plus McGonagall, right? You can never go wrong with Professor McGonagall. ♥

The Adventures of Kate Readalong: The Merlin Effect

Well, Squiders, here we are at the end of the “trilogy.” What I find most interesting about The Adventures of Kate is that, aside from Kate, the books are completely unrelated. There are no overlapping characters or locations. I suppose T.A. Barron could have gone on forever in this vein, though Kate would have probably eventually run out of adult relatives to take her exotic places or show her exotic things.

So, The Merlin Effect. Originally published in 1994. Kate states at the beginning that she’s 13 now; I feel like she’s also 13 in Heartlight. I flipped through the beginning of Heartlight again to check but couldn’t find a mention of her age, but if so it’s been a rather eventful year. Traveling through space on the back of a giant butterfly, traveling back in time to protect an ancient forest, and now hanging out with Merlin at the bottom of the ocean.

I place The Merlin Effect between The Ancient One and Heartlight in terms of my own likes. I felt a little more tired of the whole Arthur legend thing this time around, but I think that’s me being burned out on it in general. Still, this is a very different take on the whole thing.

Right, let’s gather our thoughts. In this book, Kate has accompanied her father to Mexico while he searches for the remains of a legendary shipwreck. Her father is a historian with a particular interest in Arthurian legend and Merlin in particular. (T.A. Barron went on to write several novels about Merlin, so I suppose this was a topic of particular interest for him.) He believes that this shipwreck may contain one of Merlin’s treasures, a horn of great, though unknown, power, and that by finding said treasure he can prove that Merlin really existed.

However, there’s a giant whirlpool in the general area of where the ship–if it ever existed–went down, which complicates things, as does strange volcanic activity that another scientist staying at their camp is studying. A third scientist is studying a type of fish believed to be previously extinct, but which seems to be given eternal life here in the region by the whirlpool.

Merlin and Arthurian legend is prevalent throughout, though it is interesting to see it mixed with new elements with the shipwreck and the whirlpool.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the book, though the last few chapters leapt point of views a ton in completely unnecessary ways, in my opinion, and the question as to whether or not Terry is still alive is never answered. I don’t know if we were getting set up for another book which never happened–though even if there had been more Kate books, it seems like they would have been completely unrelated–or that particular subplot was just deemed too unimportant to bother wrapping up. But it feels weird that it was just left hanging.

Have you read along with me, Squiders? What did you think of The Merlin Effect or the Adventures of Kate in general? I feel like the books have held up pretty decently over the past 20 years, which is, of course, always the danger of revisiting something you enjoyed in your youth.

Most of T.A. Barron’s books are middle grade, mythology-based series, so if that sort of thing floats your boat you might want to check out the rest of his stuff. I read the first few books of his Merlin series before I dropped it, though at this point I can’t remember if I got bored or simply aged out of the intended demographic. It looks like he’s moved on to Atlantis as well.

Have We Gone Too Far?

Have you ever had a scene that is in such bad shape that it just makes you want to flail incoherently?

Editing Notes

Yeah, me too.

But, in other news (I totally wrote “noises,” which I credit to my in-laws watching a football game in my general vicinity), we did fantasy conventions and subgenres at storycraft this week, which I was greatly looking forward to, since fantasy is my general cup of tea.

(For the curious, our list of conventions for fantasy includes: 1) includes some fantastical element–which can include setting in some cases where magic or something obviously fantastical is otherwise missing, and 2) isn’t some other genre, which, frankly, is a terrible definition but hey, it tends to be true.)

Unlike horror and scifi, however, we discovered that most of the lists of fantasy subgenres included something around 50 different subgenres. Which is a ridiculous amount of subgenres. An unnecessary amount of subgenres.

As one of the other writers noted when we got to “futuristic fantasy”–now they’re just being greedy.

On one hand, subgenres can be helpful. Fantasy is a large, broad, diverse genre–and someone who reads Tim Lebbon or George R. R. Martin may not like Robin McKinley, and vice versa. Subgenres can help a reader tell if they’re likely to enjoy a book.

But there does seem to be a limit to the usefulness. How deep do most readers–or writers–get when they’re looking at subgenre? Major subgenres like paranormal romance, dark fantasy, or urban fantasy are clear and imply certain themes and tone.

But the smaller or more obscure subgenres–do we need to go that far? Do we need to break everything down to the smallest common denominator and make yet another subgenre for it?

What do you think, Squiders? Is it worth it to break everything down as far as it can be broken down? Or is the whole thing ridiculous?