Monday, June 29, 2015

Welcome to the Dragon Show

Beware the dragons for you are crunchy
and taste good with ketchup!
In every anthology there is something for everyone—some solid stories and real gems.  That is definitely the case with the diverse “Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters” edited by Janet Morris.  The stories, which all center on dragons, range from classic myths from England, Greece and Egypt to wide-eyed futures.

Most of the stories take a gritty, grimy approach to the business of dragons and dragon slaying.  Huge, mythical creatures whose mass alone make them impressive, have added bonuses of breathing fire and, in some cases, super-intelligence.  Walter Rhein’s “Aquila of Oyos” was such a gem, a short story in the truest sense, a reader can finish it easily in a single sitting, but will consider the implications for days after.  I greatly enjoyed “Of Blood and Scales,” by AL Butcher and “The Wyght Wyrm” by Cas Peace.

Dragons inspire our imagination in the most basic sense of all that is fantasy.  These authors have taken their task to focus on dragons, the world they inhabit and the warriors to fight them.  They’ve captured very well that essence of fantasy and the fantastic.  “Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters” edited by Janet Morris is definitely worth the price of admission.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Names, Naming and Namers

Behold, the Land of Clichea!
Almost everywhere that’s anywhere was once inhabited by someone else. A lot of writers seem to have an issue with names and naming conventions.  This is why readers end up with a lot of rivers named the Great River and places called The Badlands and The Northern Wastes.

Let’s solve that today.  First, understand that unless your world is very, very young and your main races only just arrived, Hero Land has likely changed ownership a few times over the past few hundred years.  A lot of place names come from indigenous, or a close facsimile, language that may not be in current use, or is in the process of dying out.

Check out the etymology of London's River Thames, for example. It comes from the Celtic name for the river, Tamesas, was recorded in Latin as Tamesis and came into Middle English as Temese from which some said, “Screw it, we’ll call it Thames!”  The spelling has varied wildly and widely, depending on how it was being pronounced and with what thickness of access (not all men are as thick as others), which results in the following list:


In the Magna Carta it’s called Tamisiam.

It comes from a proto-Celtic meaning "dark" which could mean anything as applied to a river.  Maybe it was night when the first folk were thinking up names. It's a simple enough term, but the transformation yielded a name that no one (other than proto-Celts) would associate with "dark".

Criminently, now I know why your mama
called you "Nutsy."
If you think that’s bad, just look up the potential ways in which London received its name.  No one is certain but it might have been a proto-Celtic term for "hill fort" that was then corrupted into Latin and then corrupted further into, well, what we have today.

The point is that when writers name something, it’s fine and dandy to have a running theme, like the town of Feldspar in the Black Coal Mountains near the Adamant River.  But most places and navigable features (rivers, hills, mountains, forests, etc.) already have a history and a name.  If you’re going for a measure of reality, you’ll want to consider that when selecting your names and not fall back on calling your forest the Dark Forest.

Also, let’s not forget the impact of language on naming conventions.  Sticking with our English theme, you’ll note a lot of “shires” all over the countryside.  Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, West Worcestershireshireshire.  The list goes on.  Shire comes from an Old English term scir which actually derives from Old High German scira meaning “official care”.  It was a designation of a specific area usually placed under the administration of a “reeve” who reported to a local lord or sometimes the crown.  The position of “shire reeve” gave us the term sheriff, with similar duties.

All this is to say that the names should go with the region in which you’re writing.  If you’re working from an English Medieval parallel, then the names for towns, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc. should reflect a similar tone.  Likewise, if you’re drawing from a Danish or German culture, the geographic names should reflect that similarity.

Frozen North Wastes might be a somewhat accurate description, but it’s probably not what people living there would call it.  At least, not the people currently living there.  Some proto-Frozen North Wastes language would be applied that original meant "You'll freeze yer knickers off!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hell is Coming

And you thought Del was angry before!
Angels should be a human’s worst nightmare embodied.

Del didn’t think there was anything worse than angels, or their fallen kin, demons.  She and her partner Marrin Del, helped to keep the world safe from the horrors of escaped demons for generations.  But when her adopted daughter is kidnapped by a shadowy group, Del will find that the world is even more dangerous than she suspected.

There are worse things than angels and demons.

Hell Becomes Her.  Coming soon.

Cover art releasing sooner.

“Let’s get this over with,” Del said. 
She pulled one of her SIGs and aimed it at Jane.  She kept her finger off the trigger, resting on the guard. The mortal woman froze where she stood, slightly stooped over and uncomfortable.  The concern on Jane’s face melted into anger and fear.  Del didn’t care if the woman hated her right now.  She gestured with the gun for Jane to stand up straight.
“Tell me,” Del ordered, “and be honest.  Were you in on it?”
Jane tensed.  “Are you serious?”
Del narrowed her eyes.
“Life isn’t a movie where everyone wears white hats and black hats,” Del said.  “Even if we did, they’d be all different shades of the rainbow.  Everyone has an agenda, and it only rarely lines up with mine.  You’re here.  Armed men break into my place.  I’d be a fool not to see a connection.”
“I’m here because of a connection made six months ago,” Jane said through clenched teeth.  “A connection you made.  You agreed to me coming to Detroit.  You gave me safe passage.  Joshua didn’t have to ask.  It’s a free country.  He did it as a courtesy because this is your town and we want to stay in good standing with you.”
Del’s finger curled off the guard and onto the trigger.  She wasn’t completely certain of her aim in her current state, but she focused on Jane’s right shoulder.  A gunshot wound there would cause plenty of pain, immobilize the right-handed woman, but otherwise shouldn’t be deadly.
At the moment, Del didn’t care if Jane did die.  Marrin would be upset, but that was a bridge she’d cross and burn later.  Jordan was all that mattered.
“Answer the rutting question,” Del replied.
Jane changed tactics.  Her face softened and she gave Del a small smile.
“Del, listen—”
Del cocked the SIG’s hammer with an unmistakable click-click of finality.  It was completely unnecessary on the semi-automatic, but the sound was scary to most people.  A scary sound could be better than a litany of threats.
“Jane, listen,” Del repeated Jane’s words back to her.  “I’ve been assaulted, threatened, handcuffed, drugged and my daughter has been kidnapped.  I’m so . . . tired, right now.  I’m tired, I’m angry, and I’m armed.  You know who I am.  You know what I am.  I know you can handle yourself and you like to sleep with Marrin.  That doesn’t make us besties by any stretch.”
Jane put her hands up and took a step toward Del.  It was a good tactic.  If Jane could get close enough, put Del off her guard, she might be able to disarm or draw down on her.  More anger and frustration flooded into Del.
“Do you really want to test me?” she asked and shook the SIG for emphasis.
Jane froze.
“Answer.  The.  Question.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Customer Disservice

We're not satisfied until you're not satisfied.
Really Kaiser? Really!?

I accidentally selected a refill that I didn’t need, and yet cancelling it required three separate phone calls, eight transfers, all of which necessitated me repeating my personal information and need eight times, and then I was told nothing could be done because I hadn’t selected a pharmacy WHEN IT’S AN ONLINE PHARMACY.


Scotch. Double. Neat.

It’s five o’clock somewhere!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Castles and Keeps and Fortresses and Bastions, Oh My!

That's no moon—it's a fortress!
A competent commander knows that all-out battle is a two-edged sword—the thrill of victory and the
brutal sting of defeat are right there for the taking.  A good, or even just a mediocre general won’t engage unless there’s a compelling reason.  That is, no one fights a battle “just because”.  It’s nice for writers to have armies show up on a field and then throw down in a spectacular blood-fest of winner-take-all, but there still needs to be a reason.

This goes double or triple at least for storming a castle.

Castles are designed to keep people out with the heaviest possible cost.  Even a poorly designed castle is still an obstacle that will deter an enemy and protect the defenders.  A hill gives you an advantage.  A dirt ditch and wall more advantage.  A wooden palisade atop your dirt wall atop the hill, even more advantage.  You continue this way, until you’ve got an inhabitable structure designed against current strategy to defend against an armed and determined force.

There has to be a reason to want to take a castle, any castle.  Otherwise you leave them alone and go on your merry.  There’s more to be had controlling the country in general, than the very small pieces of real estate a castle sits on. 

Quick!  Open the gates!
So unless there is a political advantage, a strategic advantage or just pure financial pillaging to be done, your commander should be loathe to take on a castle.  Even if it stands as some kind of weird rebellious symbol against your queen’s rule, the odds are in your favor of leaving the thing alone, and working out another strategy than direct force.  A siege, for example, is a time-tested path toward submission of a fortified structure.  Of course, you need the time and money to pull off a siege successfully, but that’s a rant for another day.

Also, very few castles, keeps and fortresses were historically taken by sneak attack.  Remember that the enemy is usually as smart as the good guys.  The odd guard nodding off at his post might certainly occur, but if there’s a place so key to maintaining the security of a castle, do you really think they’d leave one semi-reliable guy to guard it?

Above all, have fun stormin’ the castle!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fascism in America?

You know who else liked dogs? Hitler!
A few days ago, I was having a discussion with some friends and did some brushing up on Fascism.
  No, seriously.

For the past few days, I’ve been haunted by this definition by Robert Paxton in his book The Anatomy of Fascism:

[A] form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Perhaps I’m just being overly simplistic.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Are You Religious? Girl, I Am Tonight!

Were you expecting someone with a smaller chest?
Love it or hate it, religion is a part of life and has been ever since Gorg got scared of lightening and
decided to make a deal with Grik-Grik the God of Bright Lights that Might Kill Me.  It doesn’t matter if Gorg made up Grik-Grik, or if Grik-Grik hisownself came down in a shower of fire and hail of rocks surrounded by a company of armored, busty, spearwomen.

The point is, religion was born!

Writers have the chance to right that wrong, or to wrong that right depending on their take.  J.R.R. Tolkien famously conceived of an entire world and mythology that, to a great degree, was informed by his own faith.  That we readers and movie-goers have benefitted from his creativity bespeaks well of how religion can shape writing.

That’s not to say that the incorporation of religion is the first, best and only path to success as a writer.  There are books available that incorporate, almost to the exclusion of plot, character or other fantasy/science fiction tropes, religion and are the worse for it.

That said, religion should be considered one of the potential tools for a writer to use in world building.  It is entirely possible to reject religion outright in genre fiction.  J.K. Rowling doesn’t have much in the way of an organized faith throughout the Harry Potter series, and no one would contend the story is the worse for it.

Religion can be used in so many ways within the mosaic of a creative world.  As Aristotle wrote in Politics:

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious.

What this religion really needs is more shield maidens.
Belief, whether the gods be real or not, can make heroes of monsters and monsters of the otherwise heroic.  It can bring together villains and divide lovers.  It can forge peace, break apart allies and throw society into devastating war.  Correctly woven into the tapestry of a writer’s world, religion can become its own supporting character, and provide unique twists and turns for your readers’ enjoyment.

So don’t forget that old, old, really old religion when generating your characters, your kingdom’s history, or the entire creation of your world.  As Gorg found with Lord Grik-Grik, it’s better to lose your best spear, than your life!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Circling the Sun - Review

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain is a wonderfully paced story about the a woman’s complex journey of self-discovery during the middle days of Kenyan colonization.  When five year old Beryl’s mother leaves her and her father in Kenya to return to England, Beryl finds herself running wild in the African wilds.  She is raised by a loving but distant father and a local native Kipsigis tribe.  Her world is one where she has little and needs less, until she comes of age.  Social pressures conflict with her upbringing, even as her father’s farm starts to fail, and she seems to come unstuck.

The challenges Beryl encounters as she tries to make her way in a world of conflicting ideas and changing ideals, it set against the historical backdrop of colonial Kenya in the 1920s.  Trying to find her own way, she marries an older man she doesn’t love, the first in a string of missteps which will find her tossed around on waves of social hypocrisy.  With the minimal help of good friends, Beryl cuts her own path through the jungles of her life, stumbling, falling, but always rising again.

McLain does a wonderful job in Circling the Sun painting the historical world of her characters while making it seem something of her own creation.  Unlike most historical fiction, events aren’t used to punctuate the novel, but occur in a kind of subtle, natural flow.  Beryl struggles with being a free-spirit while being forced into the conventions of colonial English society.  Readers, both male and female, will find much to love about the character, while being drawn into the beauty, dangers and struggle that was Kenya.  It will make you hunger to explore McLain’s world more deeply.

Five of five stars.