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”

Advertisements

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.

View all my reviews

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)”

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)”

With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)

With Blood Upon the Sand (The Song of the Shattered Sands #2)

The Song of Shattered Sands continues…

 

With Blood Upon the Sand is the second novel in the Song of The Shattered Sands series. Two novellas have been published, Of Sand and Malice Made and In the Village Where Brightwine Flows: A Shattered Sands Novella, along with the first novel in the series Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The third novel of a projected four, A Veil of Spears is due out next month. This is a deeply-characterized series that focuses on Ceda, a very capable young woman wrapped up in an intense drama. The city of Sharakhai in the heart of the Shangazi desert is filled with magic and haunted by its own past. The influences on this world are primarily near-Eastern or Central Asian, and it makes for an interesting mix of magical elements. There is not just one “magic system” there are Continue reading “With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Goodreads Review)”

Serious kids’ movies

In which I alienate fans of Labyrinth by arguing that an excellent codpiece by itself doesn’t create the reverence and dread of a real drama.

First the news: I had another hen eaten by a fox on Saturday, so I replaced her with four new birds that I know are female (backstory: a year-and-a-half ago when I got chicks, we accidentally got a Wyandotte rooster, who the kids named R.L. Stine). I have a sequel to Firesage outlined, tentatively called Watermark, and a rough idea for a third book in a trilogy. After some thorough beta reading I have almost got Firesage ready to send to my agent, and I think this one will sell. Despite his wariness that epic fantasy is a “cold genre” I think editors will relate to the primary question of what the main character will do to make a good life for her unborn child. I went to the bookstore the other day to look for comps (and I found some good books), but I always walk away with the feeling that my books are so unique people won’t know what to do with them. I don’t think I have ever read or even heard of a fantasy book that deals with the unique anxieties faced by pregnant women, so I’m hoping that will do it for me (if you have heard of one, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter).

Continue reading “Serious kids’ movies”

What makes a good film adaptation? The Dark Tower

In which I alienate fellow Stephen King fans.

elba
Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) faces The Man in Black (Matthew McConnaughey), not the only evil face in the movie

The other day I went to see the film adaptation of The Dark Tower. It was 11:55 AM on a Wednesday and I was the only person in the theater, but I suspected that even if I went at 7:30 PM on Friday, I would be in a small crowd. The movie has gotten plenty of bad reviews, including my favorite kind (sarcasm), the ones who tell you that the movie is already terrible and disappointing, and it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. These were followed by at least one “so what” review, which I read, but I didn’t really care to believe either. The Dark Tower is a majestic, beautiful, grand story, written by one of my favorite authors, and so I wasn’t going to take the word of a few people who might not even care for Stephen King’s writing.

Continue reading “What makes a good film adaptation? The Dark Tower”