I Got No Roots: Fantasy Language Methods

How do you come up with fantasy languages?

A Facebook discussion earlier this week led to a request to describe my method for coming up with fantasy (i.e. invented) language. My reply was that I don’t come up with a whole language, although I try to invent a method that produces a consistent-sounding set of words. I improvise and then edit, after using a model language that’s consistent with the setting. Since it really ought to be heard, I decided video was the best way to get this across.

Continue reading “I Got No Roots: Fantasy Language Methods”

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The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest (Goodreads Review)

The Iron Flower (The Black Witch Chronicles, #2)The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I am a colleague and friend of Laurie Forest as well as a devoted fan. If I didn’t love the book, I wouldn’t have read it, and I wouldn’t leave this review. I paid full price for my hardback copy.

Laurie Forest’s sequel to her 2017 debut The Black Witch extends the primary storyline and invokes new points of view to add to the epic scale of the conflict. Elloren Gardner is now firmly ensconced in the Verpacian resistance to encroaching Gardnerian rule. Her aunt has kept up the pressure for her to marry (wandfast) and the harassment of non-Gardnerians increases. Her small cadre of teen revolutionaries is secure and expanding, but Elloren finds herself caught between feelings for a boy she can’t be with, and her duty to the resistance. If she fasts to Lukas Grey, she might be able to turn him to the resistance, and make him a powerful ally. But her true feelings lie with Yvan, a Kelt whose secrets become harder to hide.

The action really heats up when the Gardnerian military cadets refuse to hide their prejudice, start riots, and attack members of the other races. Everyone makes an escape plan, and Elloren plans to stay behind to help whoever she can.

This book is an incredibly complex epic fantasy with an original take on fantasy races. There are so many reasons I wouldn’t like the Black Witch Chronicles: it’s YA; it uses stereotypical fantasy races like elves, dragons, selkies, amazons and so on; it’s overtly political, possibly even allegorical. But dig beneath the surface and you’ll find a well-written story with a compelling character and a compelling conflict at its heart. Thanks to Elloren’s hazy memories, we know she’s powerful, but she cannot access her power, leaving her at a disadvantage and feeling useless. The Iron Flower traces Elloren’s rise into her own power over the course of the Spring following the events of The Black Witch.

As for conflict, this is again, on the surface, the same conflict brought up by so many Tolkien-derived fantasy books of the nineteen-seventies and eighties, but Forest puts a twist on everything by introducing new races and giving unique qualities to the ones we’ve already heard of. At least two of the races, the icarals and the Gardnerians, are her own creations, and they are the most crucial. The final third of The Iron Flower reveals just how unique Forest’s creation is, and how far she has come in introducing and maintaining tension.

Laurie Forest knows how to build suspense, specifically tension, and Elloren’s growth to power is just one of the ways she does it. Other examples: what’s going to happen with Lukas Grey? What is the deal with Yvan? You’re going to find out. You may have your suspicions, but you’ll be surprised. And you’ll find all of that amid one of the most turbulent and troubling third acts I’ve read in a long time. Not predictable, not gentle. INTENSE.

The impression I had at the end of The Iron Flower (other than “WOW”) was this is an intense, complex epic masquerading as a YA fantasy drama. The choice of point of view gives an impression of the emotional intensity we expect for a teenage girl character (and yes, it verges on melodrama sometimes), but the conflict she’s embroiled in is huge, and she won’t be able to solve all these problems herself. At the end, we’re left with a character who’s embroiled further in the conflict, and further torn by the necessity of doing what’s right.

Read the book. It’s excellent.

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Getting into Lovecraft

Reading H.P. Lovecraft requires, ironically, going beneath the surface.

h-_p-_lovecraft2c_june_1934
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937)

The stories of H.P. Lovecraft have a dedicated following in the Fantasy and Science Fiction community, and are canonical in Horror, along with Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Algernon Blackwood. Lovecraft’s corpus enjoys a certain unity, which some might call repetition, unparalleled except in more recent authors who aren’t afraid to cite Lovecraft as an influence, or even hail him as a genius. The works of Stephen King and Clive Barker, for instance, have so many crossovers that readers often conclude each work is part of a larger whole, an entire fictional universe. Just like Stephen King’s fictional analogue of the state of Maine, Lovecraft’s work takes place in a New England of his own creation, with its own universities, towns, and publications.

These repetitions and allusions build up to a world that is haunting and creepy, but not because of what you might expect. We have to take a look at Lovecraft’s style of narration and the psychology of those narrators to really figure out why Lovecraft’s stories are indeed weird, enduring, and influential. Lovecraft’s stories get under your skin but not for anything on their surface. I have been reading At The Mountains of Madness for the past few days, and while I’m reading I don’t sit there thinking “oh God, I’m terrified,” or even “that’s sick!”

But I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, terrified that lurking in the corner is something whose terrible presence so chills me that I cannot sleep. To keep typing this blog post is so deeply against my nature that it may result in a complete nervous breakdown, terrifying my very soul and giving rise to the persistent thought that I should stop typing, delete my WordPress account, and drift into anonymity…but it’s a warning you all must have before you make the same regretful choices I have made. Oh, how I wish I had never opened the 2014 publication of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger with an introduction by Alan Moore, and published by W.W. Norton. Oh, the regret… Continue reading “Getting into Lovecraft”

Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman (Goodreads Review)

Black Sun Rising (The Coldfire Trilogy, #1)Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short version: richly-imagined world, historically important in modern fantasy, and mostly skilled prose, though mixed and sometimes hard to follow.

 

Black Sun Rising is a book I have looked forward to reading for years, as it’s often found on library shelves and lists of influential or favorite books. The tipping point came when I found the third book of a different trilogy at a local thrift store. C.S. Friedman’s skill was evident from the first word and I found myself stuck, ignoring my kids. Black Sun Rising, likewise, is engaging and drew me in with its inventive and original world. The author is not tentative about revealing the nature of the world: this is a future world colonized by spacefaring humans, and the relationship to earth is clear from the very beginning, in the prologue. You’re clearly dealing with earth cultures and remnants from Earth on a world that works differently, right on page 1. Continue reading “Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman (Goodreads Review)”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: what sets it apart?

What makes the final book of the series so meaningful and complete?

I haven’t posted in a while thanks to numerous life developments and lots of writing done.  If you’re interested in that, see below.

136251Lately I’ve rewatched two Harry Potter films and it’s brought back memories of reading the books, a project I finished in 2015, reading all seven books to my sons. Harry Potter was a known character even before we started the books, and enough of my friends and enough of popular culture centers around Harry and Hogwarts that I thought reading the books would be a good idea.  I am just a few years too old, and was too cynical about fiction at the turn of the century, so I missed the Harry Potter boat until my boys were old enough to hear them aloud.

And it was certainly fun.  Reading books with kids is a completely different experience from reading them as an adult, especially an adult in graduate school.  Prisoner of  Azkaban was incredibly fun, and the prospect of my kids getting excited and staying excited to read books together, especially books over 500 pages, was really exciting.  Finally understanding the jokes and references related to the books was also fun, even if I made sure to tell people right away that I was reading the books to my kids, not just for my own enjoyment.  I finally knew who Tonks was, and that was helpful in my general life. Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: what sets it apart?”

Solar by Ian McEwan (Goodreads Review)

SolarSolar by Ian McEwan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps it’s schadenfreude, or simple voyeurism, but only Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood can make unlikeable characters so engaging. McEwan is also a master at believable immersion in the technical aspects of the characters’ world, in a way that myself, a former scientist, is totally engrossed. McEwan nails how scientists think, interact, and the hypocrisies and benefits, habits and mannerisms, as well as the unique demands on the mind and “real lives” of scientists. Reading this book was like being back as a professional scientists. The conversations were realistic, the thoughts and judgments of the characters were completely like the people I’ve worked with. Continue reading “Solar by Ian McEwan (Goodreads Review)”

Is Solo a Star Wars Story?

Or can we boldly explore some new worlds?

solo_a_star_wars_story_posterI saw Solo: A Star Wars Story on Sunday, and I was impressed.  It was a fun movie, not as dreadfully serious as the other three new films, and had some nice surprises.  Spoilers: you actually get to see Warwick Davis’ face on screen.  There is no Boba Fett, no Jabba the Hutt, and there is little about The Force, the Jedi, the Republic, and I didn’t see many stormtroopers.  Come to think of it, there was an entire fighting force devoid of stormtroopers, something never-before-seen (not counting Clone Wars).  The ships, the droids, the planets, the villains, and the primary conflict are all completely new.

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How not to piss off your readers, or “Have you driven a Ford lately, Terry Goodkind?”

The rise of social media has given many readers new ways to cross authors off the list.

andre-norton
Recognize this author?  Me, neither.

The internet is great, but it’s a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to authors.  When I was a kid, authors lived in far off worlds whose locations were rarely hinted at by About The Author passages.  If I passed Dan Simmons or C.J. Cherryh on the street when I was growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I never would have known it.  Everyone knows Stephen King lived in Maine (and for a while he lived in Boulder, and set one of his books there), but King is not only a superstar, he’s a down-to-earth guy who most readers find accessible (even if his books aren’t; although sales suggest they are).  One can believe he not only lives in a house, but he coaches Little League.  The details of Arthur C. Clarke’s personal life came out pretty well in his later books, but for most authors, they might have been dead and I wouldn’t have known it.

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Aristotle Says “Pitch Your Book”

Western literature’s oldest critic tells us why critique partners help us avoid the idiot plot… .

marathea
Cool fantasy maps make inconsistent stories totally okay, right?

I finished revising The Last Omen last week, and have moved on to trying a new approach to short story writing.  The novel came up in conversation with my wife two nights ago and I discovered, yet again, that telling the events of the story does wonders for ironing out the plot.

My wife is not a fantasy reader, in fact, she reads very little fiction, and since discovering audiobooks has gotten most of her “literature” from Audible.  She does love a good supernatural story, but mostly in contemporary form, and on TV or a movie.  I think fantasy readers are especially forgiving when it comes to certain elements of plot as long as there is cool stuff going on.  As an example of this attitude, Brandon Sanderson’s most important law of magic is “err on the side of awesome.”  We write and read fantasy because it’s fun, and because it satisfies our craving for the stupendous, but someone really into that side of things is not the best critic when it comes to plot. Continue reading “Aristotle Says “Pitch Your Book””

A Veil of Spears by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)


veil-of-spears-front-cover-smA Veil of Spears
by Bradley P. Beaulieu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Veil of Spears is the third full-length novel in the Song of Shattered Sands series by author Bradley P. Beaulieu, which began with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The author has created a setting for the ages, akin to Hogwart’s, Randland, and Middle Earth, but I would argue Sharakhai is even better because at the heart of this series is a central character who is deeper and more complex than Harry, Rand al’Thor, or Frodo. There is a supporting cast of nobles, “gutter wrens,” Blade Maidens, revolutionaries, monsters, and various mentors, but Ceda and her quest to understand her origins remains the central driving force behind this series. If this book disappoints in any way, it’s that there is not enough time with Ceda.

Continue reading “A Veil of Spears by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)”