Tag Archives: fantasy

Book Reviews: Eragon and Eldest

For the work of a 15-year-old writer, Eragon is an amazing story – I enjoyed it as much on the second read as I did on the first, perhaps even moreso. The book tells the story of a young farmboy who stumbled across a dragon egg and becomes an unlikely hero. He is forced to flee his home in order to save the people he cares about and thus begins the quest of a boy-turned-man and his dragon to find their new places in the world.

Eldest picks up the story immediately where _Eragon_ leaves off and is, in my opinion, an even better story than the first volume in this trilogy. Eragon makes his way to the forest of Du Weldenvarden to complete his training with the elves and become a Dragon Rider, one who will hopefully be powerful enough to face and overthrow the evil Galbatorix. In the process, young Eragon faces numerous philosophical and intellectual challenges, in addition to his physical and magickal training. He experiences heartache, betrayal, and loss before leaving us with a cliffhanger ending. The evolution of Paolini’s writing style shines through in this second volume.

These two novels may be classified as Young Adult fiction, but they are well-crafted and strong enough for anyone to enjoy. Paolini tackles some difficult topics and, in so doing, weaves together a world that is fascinatingly complex. Lovers of fantasy fiction will enjoy these two books and eagerly await the arrival of the third. It only remains to be seen, then, whether Paolini will extend this universe beyond this initial trilogy into an epic series to rival the likes of Middle Earth and the land of Shannara.

Reviving Flashes

I really _would_ like to get “Flashes of Speculation”:http://open-dialogue.com/fs into a much more active status – more submissions coming in, more interaction from readers (both on the site itself and on the “discussion board”:http://open-dialogue.com/bbpress/forum/3 I’ve created for it), more of everything that will launch it more into the public eye. Unfortunately, though, marketing has never been a skill of mine, and I’m just plain out of ideas of things to do to advance its visibility.

So, here’s where I’d like some help and suggestions from my readers. What could I do to advertise FS a bit more broadly and make it more well-known? Where are places I could go and sites that might be interested in doing link exchanges? And are there any graphicly-minded folks out there who might be willing to donate a couple of banners and buttons that FS could put into circulation for folks to post on their sites? Any other ideas that I’m sure I missed?



I’ve just quite a bit of material to write about, all of it stacking up in the queue. Most of it right now has to do with theology and philosophy and the like, some of it has to do with writing, and some to do with gaming. All of it requires a clear head to mull over and think through coherently enough to formulate something worthwhile from the rabble, and so I’ve pushed it off for a few days now. My heart may be into writing, but my mind simply can’t keep up right now.

To give you a little idea of what I have on the table right now, here’s a list of entries I’m hoping to draft in the somewhat near future:

* A response to statements that the Bible may not actually be inerrant
* A response to the charge that C.S. Lewis himself may not have considered the Bible to be inerrant
* Musings on the use (or lack thereof) of classical logic in today’s culture
* The disappearance of antithetical logic
* The social nuances of avid bloggers
* An objection to bookstores that are beginning to place science fiction and fantasy novels in separate categories
* A little blurb on eschatology
* Video games in politics – again
* Storytelling in video games – just how important is it?
* The relationship and similarities of statistics and psychology

I’ll even give you folks a choice – which of the above topics sounds most interesting to you? What would you like me to write about first?

Appendices in Novels

Things I do not like to see in novels – Kalbzayn’s World

This is a bit of old news, but sometimes I keep things in my writing queue for longer than I should.

In the article cited above, Kalbzayn complains about supplemental material in speculative fiction novels.

Right away, before the story begins, Holly includes a guide giving rules on how to pronounce the names in the story…

…I absolutely hate stuff like this. I was an Arabic linguist for a while and truly have an appreciation for languages that sound quite a bit differently than English. When I read a book, I don’t want to think about these kind of rules.

I am not a fan of detailed maps for the same reason either […] I can normally get a good enough picture of the location in my head if the author has done their job. Us readers should never have to rely on a map to make sense of what is going on.

Now, maybe I’m just a geek or whatever, but I actually prefer having those kinds of things included in a book. I’ve always loved maps – in fifth grade (back when PCs were primitive and no one had ever heard of color monitors) I’d spend hours playing with a game that quizzed you on the locations of various countries. I’ve always had a good sense about geography, and having maps of a fantasy or science fiction world helps me visualize better how the author pictures his own universe. It gives me a better sense of where things are located in relation to one another and better understand why, for example, it might take weeks (rather than days) to travel from Point A to Point B.

Similarly, when character names are exotic or unusual, I appreciate it when authors include a pronunciation guide. For example, “Tobias Buckell”:http://www.tobiasbuckell.com includes a pronunciation guide in “Crystal Rain”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html%3FASIN=0765312271%26tag=writersblog05-20%26lcode=xm2%26cID=2025%26ccmID=165953%26location=/o/ASIN/0765312271%253FSubscriptionId=1N9AHEAQ2F6SVD97BE02. Personally, I don’t mind looking these things up as they help me enjoy the universe this author has created. I would rather know how the _author_ pronounces the names rather than try to figure them out for myself and risk botching the job.

Understanding the geography of a speculative universe and knowing how to pronounce names make the universe more authentic and, for me at least, more enjoyable all around. Authors can’t please everyone, of course. Those of us who enjoy these kinds of appendices thank the authors. And those who don’t – well, you’re allowed to just skip them.

Escapism and Imagination

I stumbled across a debate yesterday on the topic of escapism, worldbuilding, and speculative fiction. I had initially intended to contribute my own thoughts to this discussion, but after having perused a number of _other_ opinions on various websites and blogs, I doubt very highly that there is anything I could add that hasn’t already been said a dozen different ways already. So, allow me a moment to rabbit trail from that discussion and go in a slightly different, but related, direction.

One of the claims often made about speculative fiction is that people immerse themselves in it as a way to escape from the realities of life for a little while. I’m comfortable with the notion that at least _some_ people who read speculative fiction do, indeed, read it for this exact purpose. But I’d like to explore the question of why _do_ people read this genre. Surely not everyone who enjoys speculative fiction seeks to escape real life, right? Because wouldn’t that mean that people were so ill-adjusted to real life that they can’t cope with reality?

An anecdote to provide a counter-example:

I’ve always enjoyed speculative fiction. I remember that some of my first real writing assignments in grade school were typically science fictional in nature. I also remember that most of my peers really enjoyed those stories, so I would often read them aloud in front of the whole class.

In writing those stories, I wasn’t trying to escape real life – I simply had a very active imagination. I spent hours with some of my best friends re-enacting episodes from the cartoons _Silverhawks_ and _Thundercats_. I loved anything that involved advanced technology and travel through space, new worlds, alien races. I even had, for a while, an imaginary world of mice and cats, where the mice had very fast vehicles that raced through tunnels and where the cats constantly tried to capture the mice when and where they periodically emerged from one tunnel section to speed toward the next. I would tear through the neighborhood on my bike, imagining myself as one of these mice who was continually able to outwit the cats, albeit always by a slim margin. It wasn’t escapism – it was merely an imaginative kid having fun.

As I’ve grown up, though, my imagination has gotten no less active. I still find advanced technologies and magic to be endlessly fascinating. I think it revolves around natural human curiosity and ambition to see new things and do even more than we can currently. To some extent, I almost think that a fascination with speculative fiction encompasses the hopes and dreams of a better, more productive future. Could be I’m all wet, too, but I think I’m at least partially right.

Sure, I suppose there’s a bit of escapism involved in even _my_ interest in speculative fiction, but it’s certainly not my primary attraction to the genre (I don’t even think it’s particularly high on the list). Mostly, for me, it’s just fun and enjoyable and brings the kid in me out to the surface – and I suspect I’m not alone in this.

So, what is it about speculative fiction that most attracts _you_ to the genre? What do you love about it? And is there anything you hate about it?

In Which We See Whether Harry Lives or Dies

The final installment of the Harry Potter series, _Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows_, is “set to be released on July 21st”:http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/Movies/02/01/new.potter.date.ap/index.html. This is music to my ears, especially considering that I wasn’t expecting it until next summer. Rowling says that two more characters will die in this one. You won’t find any predictions from here as to which ones, though. Rowling has been deliberately tight-lipped about it, refusing even to provide hints as to whether Harry himself will survive his trial with Voldemort. But the cast of characters she has created is broad, so there is hope yet that not only Harry, but Ron and Hermione, as well, may yet live to tell the tale.

And now we wait. The end is near. Who will die? And who will triumph?

The Genius of Joss Whedon

Earlier this week, my wife and I were finally able to get through the last few episodes of the final season of _Angel_. I’ve been a big fan of _Buffy, the Vampire Slayer_ for years now and have been systematically collecting each season on DVD. I was never able to catch the shows on their original air dates, so I forbade anyone from spoiling any details of seasons I hadn’t seen yet. Fortunately, I was able to get my wife hooked on the shows, as well, so together we’ve gone through all seven seasons of _Buffy_ and all five seasons of _Angel_.

I’ve always loved Joss’s conceptions of the Buffyverse. The shows were dark and forbidding, but Joss could always take you from this end-of-the-world moment of doom and gloom and slip something funny in that would take viewers completely by surprise. It was interesting to me the way he built the world of vampires and demons, of witches, warlocks, and metaphysical beings. He had with him an incredible staff of writers, all with a great sense of wit and humor. It was a lot of fun to watch through the shows and see what would happen next to these characters that viewers have so come to love.

I was incredibly happy with the way _Buffy_ ended. It couldn’t have been a more poetic ending that opened up a world of possibilities to her. I knew _Angel_ would have a less than satisfactory ending. After all, the show _did_ get canceled before Joss was ready for it to do so. I can respect Joss’s choice of endings, though – I might have done much the same, leaving things open-ended in the event that a return could be made to this universe.

One thing about _Angel_ that I found interesting, though, was the philosophy behind it. In the end, the team of Angel Investigations determined that evil would never be vanquished, that it would always be around, even long after humanity ceased to exist on the earth. The conclusion, then, was that the only thing to do was to continue to fight the good fight, because even if it only caused evil a minute pause in their wicked plans, then it was surely worth it. A very bleak and depressing outcome, if you ask me, and had it been one that I had come to, I’m not sure that it would ever have been enough to keep me going. In the end, there must be the promise that good _will_ triumph, that all the pain and suffering now will ultimately come to a good end. But I suppose that the philosophy in this show is at least somewhat representative of the world, because I see that same philosophy mirrored in the worldview of many of the people around me.

I’m not quite a Joss Whedon fanboy, but any projects that he has his hands in have my immediate attention. I’m a huge fan of _Firefly_ and _Serenity_ and am mildly bitter with Fox for canceling that show after such a short run. They obviously didn’t know what they had when they had it. I doubt we’ll ever see that universe expanded by Joss himself; I heard rumor that he’s sworn never to work with Fox again. But I _will_ continue to enjoy his work and hope that he will be able to land another TV series soon. There is a wealth of creativity and inspiration trapped in that mind of his, and I look forward to seeing what else he can produce.

Message Behind the Prose

writefantastic – Why Fantasy?

And on the heels of the article “I wrote yesterday”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/12/14/the-literary-sexual-mechanic/, Mark Chadbourn has an interesting article. This one’s actually been in my queue for a while, but the timing is good for me to actually finish writing it.

Mark’s primary argument is that writers of speculative fiction need to make sure that their stories are actually _about_ something. He says that writing works of fiction should about more than the story itself – it should be about saying something. This ties directly into what I said yesterday – the reason that sex shows up so much in fiction and literature is exactly because these writers often believe that the way of life presented in their stories is exactly the way we ought to be able to do things. ((Sorry, I’ll get off this theme soon. I think I’m almost done with it now.)) Essentially, they have a philosophy, a worldview that they are presenting, and they are using their fictional work as a means for communicating that message. This is exactly what Mark suggests that writers ought to be doing more of, instead of shying away from.

I tend to agree with Mark. One of my favorite authors has always been Orson Scott Card, and one of the reasons why I love his writing so much is because he makes me think hard about a wide variety of issues and topics. ((He also does so without using the sexual mechanic.)) That’s the kind of writing I aspire to, the kind I would like to emulate. I would like to write a story in such a way that when my readers are done, they can say, “Huh, I’d never thought about it quite that way before.” My complaint with the sexual mechanic is that I think it actually takes away from this intellectual process, interrupting the flow and the philosophy and replacing it with sensation and titillation.

So, writers who use the sexual mechanic are free to do so as a means for communicating their message, their philosophy, but I am just as free to write _without_ using that mechanic and striving for a different kind of – and hopefully better – story. ((I am also free to not read that author again, as I have opted to do in some cases.))

No Help for Drawing Fantasy Maps

I’ve had a writing project on the back-burner for a while now. Essentially, I’ve been trying to write a fun little fantasy novel for my wife. A major part of this process, though, is in creating the world her story is set in, including the geographic regions. The characters, after all, have to travel from one place to another, and it’s usually a good idea for the author to know ahead of time where things are located and how they relate to one another when writing the events in the story, right?

I’d created a very simplistic map using a less-than-ideal mapping program. I wasn’t very happy with the result, even though it did give me enough of a visual representation of the land to work with. So, I’ve started trying to re-create my map by drawing it. I’ve always enjoyed working with a pencil, so it’s been kind of fun to just spend some time with a sketch pad, an eraser, and a pencil and work for a little bit. Trouble is, I’m not always sure how to represent certain features. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s not a single adequate tutorial online on how to actually _draw_ a fantasy map. Every single one I’ve come across is a tutorial on how to use one software package or another. This is all well and good – if I was going to use software for this project. But I’m not, at least I don’t _want to have to_. But I can’t find anyone who can gives good tips on how to draw decent looking mountain ranges or forests (the latter of which is especially hard for me because trees are not simple geometric images). It’s kind of frustrating, really.

My solution for the time being is to print out a couple of decent fantasy maps that others have created and try to replicate some of the features on those maps. Ultimately, I may resort to software, after all – I just hate the cookie-cutter look that most of these packages are limited to and I don’t really have the spare cash lying around to buy a decent program.

Maybe when I’m all done with this, if I’ve learned enough and created a map that actually looks half-decent, I’ll put together a tutorial geared specifically at hand-drawing fantasy maps, since there seems to be such a dearth of such things out there right now. It’s a shame, really – we’ve almost become _too_ dependent on technology in some ways. Of course, the irony is that I’ve been looking on the Web to find help on how to perform a more ‘primitive’ task.