Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 45 -- De Bello Lemures, Or The Roman War Against the Zombies of Armorica

by Thomas Brookside

Started: August 27
Finished: August 28

Notes: I've been putting off reading this e-book for a good long while now. Why? Delaying gratification, I suppose. See, this novel contains two of my favorite things, ancient Romans and zombies, so what could go wrong? Also, apparently the author meant this book to be an homage of sorts of modern (as in the last century or so) translations and publications of ancient, classical writings by historical Romans. As someone who has read more than his share of such works, I should find it interesting how a modern author goes about this. Even the cover to this e-book is designed to look something like Penguin Classics I've perused over the last few decades, especially during my college days.

Mini review: This was actually a pretty good story. I liked the way it unfolded, and the prose. I also appreciated all the footnotes, some of which did not actually need explaining to me but some that did. My biggest complaint was that the story didn't really end. I'm reading along just fine, really into the tail, and then it's all over in a matter of a page or two. There could have been so much more, and I would have definitely been interested in reading more. But it is what it is. What's there is fine, bordering on excellent, but I wish there'd been more of it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 44 -- A Land of Ash

edited by David Dalglish

Started: August 26
Finished: August 27

Notes: Imagine Yellowstone exploded, spreading lava and ash across nearly all of North America. It would be an apocalypse of sorts. A few years ago a group of fairly well known indie writers got together and came up with this anthology which considers such a terrible event. Here are 11 stories. I've read a number of these authors, so it'll be nice to kind of meet up with the familiar, but it will also be fun to read others for a first time.

Mini review: These were quite the fine tales. Nothing supernatural or speculative here, just 11 tales of people surviving (or not) an apocalyptic situation. The variety of characters and locales was quite interesting, never boring. And all the authors had solid writing voices and solid prose.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 43 -- Make Money Online: Become a Virtual Assistant

by Andrea Walters

Started: August 24
Finished: August 26

Notes: Mark this one down as research. I have an idea for a horror short story that might involve a virtual assistant, so I thought I'd learn a little about that world. Also, I used to own a personal concierge business, which isn't the same thing but has some overlap with the virtual assistant business.

Mini review: Mostly basic but solid advice to anyone starting an online business. It wouldn't hurt for many indie writers and editors to studying such. As for helping me with my short story, maybe, maybe not, but definitely helped me get back into the business mindset, one I've not been much in for a long while.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 42 -- Altered States

by Paul J. Newell

Started: August 20
Finished: August 24

Notes: Sometimes you pick up a book or e-book but don't get to it until much later, and then you can't even remember why you purchased it in the first place. That is my situation here. However, the blurb sounds interesting, about a man apparently with a talent to tell when others are lying, and some skills at manipulating people. He fakes his own death when troubles build, but then has to come back to his old life.

Mini review: Though I felt this one started a bit rough, it turned into a damned good book. It did a couple of things I personally don't enjoy, using some flashback storytelling and switching between first and third person a handful of times, but it more than made up for it. This one even kept me up reading all night to finish it, and a novel hasn't done that to me in a long, long time. The base plot isn't overly complicated, but the main character has a somewhat complicated past, and it all comes together in the end. The author also did something a little tricky with his ending, though I won't give away the details here. Let's just say it was an interesting technical twist on the e-book format.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 41 -- The Somali Doctrine

by James Grenton

Started: August 14
Finished: August 20

Notes: Early last year I appeared as a guest blogger over at this author's site, and ever since then I've been interested in trying out some of his writing. This particular novel is a thriller that's supposed to include a quest, a massacre, adventure, guns blazing ... stuff I can get behind ... uh, but only from a reading or writing point of view. I'm looking forward to it.

Mini review: Not bad. I have some quibbles about characterization, but this book was plotted well and held plenty of surprises, especially in the last fourth of the story. Also, while a novel, this book takes a serious look at the potential corruption of non-governmental organizations, specifically relief groups, and privatized military forces, specifically so-called security firms that operate on a wide scale on the international scene.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 40 -- Romance

by Ed McBain

Started: August 11
Finished: August 14

Notes: It seems I've been doing a lot of heavy reading this year, so I wanted to give my mind a break by jumping into something that's just fun. For me, McBain's 87th Precinct novels are just fun. In this one, the detectives of the 87th are investigating the stabbing of an actress outside a theater.

Mini review: As always, it's nice to go back and meet with old friends. This one was a little more complex than most 87th Precinct novels I've read, but not so much as to be annoying. The title has multiple meanings, for one there being a budding romance between a cop and a doctor/cop within the novel, but also a play in the novel being titled "Romance." As a side note, McBain's 87th Precinct novels have given me an idea for something similar but set in a fantasy world, sort of police procedural novels but instead of modern law enforcement there would be a city watch or something similar. Hmm. Have to think on this one. There are several cities in my fantasy world of Ursia in which this could work.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Are more women being drawn to epic fantasy?

Over the last six months or so, there have been more than a few issues raised within the speculative communities concerning women. There has been the whole SFWA situation, more than a few words written about sexism within the geek communities and specifically at conventions, and there has even been a call by author and former SFWA president John Scalzi for "(mostly) dudes in geek circles" to stop playing the gatekeeper for deciding who is and who is not worthy of geek entertainment. I'm sure there have been other incidents and issues raised of which I am not aware or which do not come to mind at the moment.

But I'm not here today to voice my opinion(s) about any of these specific matters. In some cases I do have an opinion but wish to keep it to myself for the time being. In other cases, I'm somewhat conflicted because I've read and heard varying reports and opinions, most of which seem to counter one another.

I will say this, I am often surprised by the amount of misogyny I see online from time to time. And I am as often surprised by the levels of viciousness that appear to rise from time to time within circles that seem to be proponents of third-wave feminism. I see a lot of juvenile silliness that crosses the borders into crudity and stupidity. I also see a lot of what are obviously personal issues being plastered onto broader, public affairs. I also see a lot of hate and misunderstanding and outright, seemingly intentional stupidity, often with only a goal of verbally and/or emotionally harming someone else, to "get a rise" out of them.

But that seems to be the world today when it comes to just about any issue. Talk is dead. Trying to understand another person is dead. Verbal, emotional and sometimes actual violence seem to be the signs of the times.

Enough about that, at least directly.

More specifically, I'd like to talk about women and epic fantasy from a writer's point of view, specifically my point of view.

Growing up as a boy in Appalachia in the 1970s and early 1980s, comic books and fantasy fiction and role playing games were always seemingly a venue for boys. Nerdy boys. Geeky boys. Girls not only did not show interest in such subjects, but they hardly ever appeared to show interest in boys who were interested in such subjects. I am not suggesting this was a 100-percent rule, but it was how things appeared to the young me.

By the mid-to-late 1980s when I was in high school and entering college, things seemed to change. There were girls and young women who showed interests in not necessarily fantasy fiction, but at least on the borders of the speculative genres and all that went with it.

By my early adult years in the 1990s, I began to see even more changes. More and more women were attending conventions, taking part in renaissance festivals, etc. It was during this time my role playing game groups began to contain more women than the groups with which I was familiar from back in my younger days.

Let me add, I am only offering my own personal experiences here. I am not suggesting that my experience was the same as anyone else's, nor that my experience is necessarily a reflection of the world as a whole during these time periods. For one thing, by the early 1990s I had moved away from my Appalachian world, so I was getting out to see other parts of the country, and some things were new to me. For another thing, the speculative genres were becoming more acceptable by the culture at large, so any perceived growth in speculative fiction interests I thought I saw in females I now realize was probably a broader growth throughout the culture at large.

Which now brings me to today, or to more recent times.

About ten years back I started taking my fiction writing seriously, mainly horror and epic fantasy. A few years back I became lucky enough to make something of a living within my writing. Not a great living, I'm not getting rich, but every little bit helps.

Until about three years ago, the epic fantasy world had mostly seemed to me to be a boys' club, at least from a writer's point of view. Most of the authors who were names within the genre were male, and for the most part they wrote about male characters.

I was well aware of a seeming handful of women writers who worked mainly in epic fantasy, Janet Morris comes to mind, but that did not seem typical to me. My thinking was that women who wrote fantasy tended to write different types of fantasy than that which held my interest.

How wrong I was.

Along comes the e-book and self-publishing revolution, and many things seemed to change (at least to me).

What first opened my eyes was not female authors, but fans. My own readers. The majority of e-mails I receive from readers are from women. The majority of reviews I receive seem to be from women.

At first, this boggled my mind. Wait a second, here I am writing about big guys with big swords laying waste to their enemies, but women are reading this stuff? And some of them are liking it?

I could hardly fathom such.

Then I began to notice more and more women writers penning and publishing their own epic fantasy stories.

It was all a surprise to me. A pleasant surprise.

I've never intentionally meant to exclude women from my writings, nor from any of my geeky pastimes. In fact, when it comes to table top role playing games, I prefer to play with women because in my experience they are generally more interested in character and story development while men tend to be more focused on the character stats and how many monsters they can smash (though this is not always the case).

Have I seen things wrong all these years? Or has the culture changed enough over the last few decades that more and more women feel comfortable stepping into speculative worlds? Or has something else been going on?

I'm not sure. Probably a mix of all of the above, and then some.

I can say I'm glad to have women readers, but then I'm also glad to have men readers. Any readers at all, in fact. I never set out to exclude anyone, and I hope I have not. My epic fantasy fiction tends to focus on men, I realize, but I do have important female characters and I hope their roles come off as at least as important as those of my male characters. Adara Corvus, for instance, is more than just a possible love interest for Kron Darkbow. Frex Nodana is more than an antagonist-turned-sometime-companion for Kron. Heldra is far, far more than just the mother of Belgad the Liar. Each of these characters is female, but they have histories and roles I hope are beyond those often traditionally associated with women.

I'm a guy. And I'm a writer. I'm not perfect. But I hope I do all my characters right. I hope I do service to them. I hope they come alive for my readers of all genders.

And I hope to keep entertaining my fans, men and women alike.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Aldous Huxley quotes from the novel 'Island'

"You're assuming," said Dr. Robert, "that the brain produces consciousness. I'm assuming that it transmits consciousness. And my explanation is no more farfetched than yours."

"Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalyzed words much too seriously. Paul's words, Mohammed's words, Marx's words, Hilter's words -- people take them too seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history -- sadism vs. duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending the victims of their own church's inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For Faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are ..."

"... family ... It's freedom, if you like -- but freedom in a telephone booth."

"If your children take the idiocy seriously, they grow up to be miserable sinners. And if they don't take it seriously, they grow up to be miserable cynics. And if they react from miserable cynicism, they're apt to go Papist or Marxist. No wonder you have to have all those thousands of jails and churches ..."

"Perfect faith is defined as something that produces perfect peace of mind. But perfect peace of mind is something that practically nobody possesses. Therefore practically nobody possesses perfect faith. Therefore practically everybody is predestined to eternal punishment."

"A tale told by an idiot or a tale told by a Calvinist? Give me the idiot every time."

"People ... are at once the beneficiaries and the victims of their culture."

"We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is to learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way."

"The suffering of the stupid is as real as any other suffering."

"What's so funny?" she asked.
"Eternity," he answered. "Believe it or not, it's as real as shit."

"The awareness that one existed was an awareness that one was always alone."

"The work of a hundred years destroyed in a single night."

Books read in 2013: No. 39 -- Island

by Aldous Huxley

Started: August 3
Finished: August 11

Notes: This novel is apparently a sort-of-but-not-quite thematic sequel to Huxley's most famous work, Brave New World. The plot concerns an island that is a utopia. Unfortunately for those on the island, the rest of the world has gone to hell, and those in the rest of the world have decided they want the island for themselves. I've been drawn to this one not only because of its themes, the fact it's written by Huxley, and the fact it's a sort-of follow up novel to Brave New World, but also because Huxley considered it the most important of his works and because it was yet another influence on the television program "Lost," which I mostly enjoyed.

Mini review: I can see why Huxley thought this the most important of his works, but I do feel it has its feelings. The writing style is easy enough, as Huxley generally is, but I found the structure of the novel somewhat disappointing. Admittedly, it's a utopian novel, but still, most of the novel is just people sitting around talking, explaining the utopian island of Pala to a newcomer. I felt the idea for this novel might have worked better as non-fiction, with Huxley providing his views and arguments for a utopian society. As is, not a lot happens concerning a plot until the very last few pages of the book, and then the events are quite tragic. That tragic ending might be enough to discourage some, but it felt appropriate to me, the darkness coming upon this utopian land. Part of the point, in my opinion, was the ability to cope with suffering and tragedy. I'd like to add, this novel delved too far into Eastern mysticism for my liking; I have nothing against Eastern mysticism itself, but it's just not my thing, so to speak. After all my grousing, one might think I didn't like this book; while I can't claim it as a favorite, I did find it quite interesting and could recommend it to those I think are interested in the subject matter.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 38 -- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Started: August 2
Finished: August 3

Notes: I have not seen the Brad Pitt movie this tale is based upon, and really all I knew about it was that it concerned a man who was born with the physical body of an old person and who physically grew younger as he aged, an interesting enough speculative topic. Perusing the free classics for ebooks over at a while back, I stumbled across this story, and until then had not realized it had been written by Fitzgerald. At that point, my interest was piqued, so I thought I'd snag it up.

Mini review: Quite the little piece of literature. Very well written. Starts off funny but grows somewhat sad by the end. Glad I discovered this one.

Friday, August 02, 2013

'The Sword of Bayne' trilogy now available in print

A long last, The Sword of Bayne trilogy is now available in book form. This includes the three novels, Bayne's Climb, A Thousand Wounds, and Under the Mountain. These are shorter novels, the first two at approximately 160 pages apiece and the third at about 180 pages, and they are priced at $6.99 each. Below are the covers.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Fan fiction: Yes or no?

With the addition of Kindle Worlds to the lineup of sites Amazon has made available for the use of indie authors, the question of fan fiction, legitimate and legalized or otherwise, raises its head. I'm usually mum on the subject, but my opinion was recently asked and I didn't have much of an answer.

But I've been doing some thinking about fan fiction, and my guess is my opinion would not be a very popular one.

Frankly, I'm not crazy about it.

Now before someone jumps down my throat and informs me of all the great things about fan fiction and about how information should be free, etc., etc., let me add a few things. I do not hate fan fiction. I have no plans to try and stamp out fan fiction, which would be a useless endeavor. I'm not opposed to someone writing fan fiction about my own writings, though I would hope they would ask my permission or at the very least make me aware of it. I do not think less of those who write fan fiction. And I am not making any moral judgments about fan fiction or those who write such.

I simply do not understand fan fiction.

It makes no sense to me.

I'm a writer. I create worlds and characters and events. I do so with various themes, some at the front of my thoughts, some twisting around in the back of my mind. To my way of thinking, trying to write fan fiction would be like hamstringing myself. For me, writing is about creating something new of my own, not building upon the work of others. It seems limiting.

It's not that I can't understand a certain amount of joy in playing in others' worlds or with others' characters. But I have role playing games for that.

And working with other writers for a shared-world anthology or collaborating with another writer on a project doesn't feel like fan fiction to me, because we set out to intentionally work together to build something.

Maybe there's no difference. Maybe writing is writing. But it seems different to me. Maybe it's because I now write fiction for a living and I subconsciously separate my writing from fan fiction.

I don't know.

But I do know I've written three pieces, maybe four, of fan fiction in my life.

The first was a very short James Bond novel. I wrote it in fourth grade. I've still got it around here somewhere. It's absolutely awful, but every few years it's kind of fun to break it out and look at it.

The second piece of fan fiction I wrote was a Mack Bolan (aka The Executioner) novel I wrote when I was in Sixth Grade. It's also pretty bad, but it does show lots of improvement over that James Bond book. It also will never see the light of day.

The third piece of fan fiction I wrote was a Star Trek (original series) short story for a contest back in the 1990s. The writing is awkward, but that's okay since the story didn't win, place, or show in the contest and will never be seen by readers. I'm not even sure if I have a copy of this story. But I do think the plot was pretty good, the tale being a combined sequel to both the "Squire of Gothos" episode and "The City on the Edge of Forever" episode, two of my favorites.

Above I mentioned a possible fourth bit of fan fiction from me, but what I have in mind isn't prose writing. When I was in early grade school, I drew and wrote some of my own comic books. They feature familiar characters, mostly Marvel, but with some of my own creations thrown in. I have none of these now and wish I did. I'm sure they were stinkers.

So, I've done some fan fiction work. Yet I still don't understand the allure. If I'm going to write, I want the creations to be my own, at least for the most part. Maybe it's a control thing, but I'm usually not a controlling person.

What are your opinions of fan fiction?