Sunday, June 29, 2014

An Ancient Beverage

     Orth’gung plunged his proboscis into a hummingbird.  Plant fluid flooded his mouth.  He shook with delight.
     A man-beast, bound by an electroweb, asked, “Why drink the blood of such a small animal, Great Gung?”
     Orth’gung whispered to Clor’gung, his translator.  “It’s not the blood I cherish, sapien.  It is the plant juice.”
     The man-beast’s face contorted.  “Oh, we call that ‘nectar’.”
     “Clor’gung, define this ‘nectar’.”
     “In ancient Earth mythology, nectar was the drink of the gods.  In modern—”
     “The gods,” Orth’gong exclaimed.  “The Ancestors who scouted Earth must have drunk it first.  How cultural trends repeat over the millennia.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

I Hadn't Forgotten in Quite a While

It's been months since I've forgotten to post on a regularly scheduled day.  I kept telling myself I had a writing post to write, but I never actually did it.  I didn't have a strong idea for a post anyway.  Last week's post was about duel-length, so I can only offer that as compensation.  I'll be back Sunday for my usual flash fic post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Promise of Blood

"THE AGE OF KINGS IS DEAD...AND I HAVE KILLED IT." - Cover blurb for Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

What would happen if there were powder mages involved in the French Revolution?  Oh, and there may or may not be resurfacing deities too.  In a nutshell, that's the speculative question being asked by McClellan's Promise of Blood.  While it's definitely epic (flintlock) fantasy and not historical fiction, it has deep roots in the "familiar" with parallels between its basic situation and that of the French Revolution.  I may not have noticed normally, but my history class started a fairly in-depth review of that historical event around the same time I started listening to PoB via audiobook.  (By the way, the narration in the audiobook is excellent.)

McClellan took a risk in his first published novel (third overall, if my memory serves) by including four POV characters (or perhaps five; the Epilogue may have included a "cameo viewpoint").  Three of them rotate regularly.  The fourth only takes charge in a few scenes.  I really enjoyed the three main viewpoints.  The other one was passable.  Each of the main POV characters set up their own story type.  Adamat, a grizzled investigator, pushes the narrative into the mystery genre a bit.  Taniel's POVs mostly deal with war, an epic fantasy staple.  In Tamas' POV, you can get a taste of a little political intrigue and plenty of action.  My favorite of the three is tough to decide, but I'm going to go with Tamas.  His competence and proactive sliders are way up and his sympathy slider builds almost constantly over the course of the novel.  The other two are equally developed, but the fact that they're acting under orders gives them a disadvantage in the "proactive" department.  There are a bunch of great secondary characters, including my two favorites: the savage shaman Ka-poel and the sleepless guard Olem.

Many exciting events occur in Promise of Blood.  The different POVs allow multiple threads to run simultaneously, each one complex and dynamic.  Every tiny resolution is proceeded by a couple new complications.  The tension never drops, yet there's never a risk of melodrama.  There's plenty of magic and fantastical theology to fuel a plot full of wonders, at an epic scope.

The Powder Mage Trilogy's setting is one of my favorites.  It manages to be unique while also showing some influence from legends Robert Jordan and (McClellan's former teacher) Brandon Sanderson.  Close-ups of the various locales featured have minimal details, a trait I prefer in my prose.  The French Revolution comparison can give you a basic impression of what everything looks like, if you choose to fill in the blanks.  For specifics on the world-building, give it a read (or a listen).  You won't be disappointed there.

Promise of Blood is astounding as a debut.  It isn't quite as powerful at key moments as Sanderson's Elantris was, but for overall quality it's just about level.  They may very well tie as the best epic fantasy debuts to date.  PoB didn't win the Morningstar Award for nothing, that's for sure.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Day She Came to Hate the NRA

"The Day She Came to Hate the NRA" is a contemporary horror flash fic that I entered in the 23rd Flash Frenzy contest.  While it did not win, it's probably one of my better attempts to elicit horror in my readers.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Diversity in the Written Word

I'm taking on the behemoth today: diversity in the written word.  Why am I walking this tightrope?  Partially because I'd like to share my thoughts on the subject and partially because I'd like to hear others' thoughts on specific questions.

I'm a month shy of seventeen years of age, have very pale skin, red hair, the majority of a beard, and both of my parents (still married to each other).  I'm a fairly traditional Protestant who firmly believes in Matthew 5:28 (which basically boils down to "asexual until marriage").

In the world of SFF, I'm fairly standard.  However, my hair color makes me a sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really minority.  The amount of characters specifically described as having red hair is probably a tiny bit lower than the number of red-haired people in the world.  Do I feel that that's a problem?  No.  Can I relate to Rand Al'Thor better because we share a hair color?  Not at all.  Then again, not many people are complaining about diversity of hair color.

Many are complaining about diversity of skin color.  I have mixed opinions on this.  I don't think, unless there's a story reason, the skin color of the characters matters.  Most of the characters I write can be any color you want them to be.  I almost never specify.  Should there be more characters who specifically have skin tones reminiscent of Africans, Asians, South Americans, Aboriginals, etc?  I'm going to ask you that question rather than trying to answer it myself.

Culture is a tough point.  It's extremely easy to do it wrong, so my inclination is to tell people that if they are of a non-American culture, if they wish to read fiction of their culture they ought to read fiction written in their ancestral homeland.  This, of course, may lead them to have to learn a completely new language.  I hope that if those readers are fully interested in their ancestral culture that they would be okay with that, but I'm sure that's not always true.  I write mostly northern European culture in my stories.  Should I expand the cultures that I explore through my writing?  A little bit wouldn't hurt, although I'd like to do a good bit of research if I'm going to try to "do it right."  If you can't find any books featuring the culture that you feel most attached to or at home with, encourage others with similar feelings to write.  My guess is that you'll enjoy those books more than the ones that I would end up writing after reading up on foreign cultures.

Now for gender diversity.  As far as I can tell, women in SFF tend to write more YA than adult.  While the number of SFF writers of either gender appears to me to be about the same, men write a decent majority of adult.  However, male protagonists dominate across the board.  My guess is that this is because men tend to write mostly males and women tend to write both males and females.  My proceeding guess is that this is because women take offense to female characters who they feel are written poorly, whereas men don't mention it often.  It would take a while for me to figure out what the exact percentage is, but I estimate that about 25% of my stories have a female protagonist.  Do I feel compelled to write more female characters in light of recent discussion?  A little bit.  I would appreciate if when I write female characters "wrong" that females would then tell me, straight to me, so that I could improve them.  Still, I encourage writers to write characters based upon their stories.  If for some reason a character of a certain gender wouldn't allow you to write the story you want to right, don't feel bad.

Regarding all of this, please don't gut someone because you feel they misrepresented a culture, gender, etc. if they made a reasonable effort to not do so.  If you tell them what you felt they did wrong, politely, I'm sure many of them would be happy to do better next time, especially if it meant a more happy reader-base.

As far as the real-world portion of this concept goes, I'm a little leery of it.  Some magazines are giving priority to minorities.  Should they not do this?  They can publish whatever stories they want, I'm not going to argue with that at all.  Will I ever play the "only 1-2% of the world's population has red hair" card.  Personally, no, I don't feel that that's right.  I want to be judged by the strength of my prose, not the color of my hair.  However, hair color, as I mentioned, isn't a huge deal from the story side of things.  Should affirmative action extend to authors being published?  You tell me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight is a classic for good reason.  It starts off a little slow and the delivery is a tad rumbly in the first chapter or two, but a lot of SFF does just the same.  By the fourth part (it's broken down into four parts) it's a massively entertaining ride.

The protagonist, a young lady named Lessa, is captivating.  She has a strength, vitality, and stubbornness to her that makes you want to loan her an army.  This story is head-hopping omniscient, so it has other characters reiterating the fact that Lessa has all of these qualities, but it doesn't even need to do so.  She is written well enough that they ooze out of her like an aura.  F'lar is great as a foil to her, especially because both his and her thoughts can be displayed on the same page.  My favorite secondary characters are F'nor and Ramoth.  Mnementh (F'lar's dragon) is pretty cool as well, although we don't get to see him developed as much as some of the others.  Not a lot of stories work well in head-hopping, but this tale uses it every bit as well as the legendary Dune.

Pern is a fairly basic setting, but it has a richness in places that make it solid as a rock.  It's completely unobtrusive and extremely complimentary.  Certain aspects of the setting at first seem cosmetic, when they're later found to be essential in the development of the characters, world-building, and plot.

I love a certain plot thread that starts around halfway through Dragonflight.  It follows the rule "for something to become an important plot point late in a story it should be foreshadowed at least three times" brilliantly.  There are aspects of mystery and heist plots mixed into the "big problem" plot that make it deliciously layered and intriguing.

While this book is marketed as and considered by the late author to be sci-fi, lovers of both sci-fi and fantasy are sure to enjoy Dragonflight, especially if they like tight (not to be confused with short) narratives like Herbert's Dune and Sanderson's Elantris.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Don't Mix Magics

"Don't Mix Magics" is a fantasy flash fic filled with faulty spellcasting, a bit of humor, and a speculative theme.  It did not win the 49th Finish That Thought contest, but it's still a decent tale.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Word Wars

I'm signed up to war, a heated battle of words.  Or, at least, word counts.  This is a live-blogging event, so from now until the end of Friday I will be updating this post.  (This post is doubling as my Thursday writing post.)

This blog event is hosted by Katie Doyle of Writing, Reading, and Life and Sarah Chafin of Simply Sarah.

June 11th, 2014

10:18 A.M. - My troops are preparing for war, albeit slowly.  Come 3 P.M. they should be ready to tackle some sci-fi.

12:57 P.M. - Preparations are in line.  Once the troops finish their face-painting, they will be running some last minute drills before the 3 P.M. charge.

2:56 P.M. - My soldiers are lining up in formation.  The call to march shall come momentarily.

4:32 P.M. - 577 words have been delivered to the Word Count Pool in the sky.  I took minor casualties in this first push.  Graciously, the enemies are mostly of the "military sci-fi" variety, and not the "space opera" variety.

6:30 P.M. - A band of my spies returned from a covert research mission to the library of Lockstep, by the river Karl Shroeder.  They have returned with excellent intel.  I shall use some of that knowledge and inspiration in my next assault, to begin in just a few minutes.

8:05 P.M. - The number of words in the enemy horde is steadily increasing.  As soon as I send one to the WCP, another fills in behind it.  The total casualty count stands at 1,204 after two waves and around 150 total minutes of combat.  There may be as many as nine times that many words yet breathing on the battlefield.

11:11 P.M. - The enemy ambushed me under the guard of full darkness about an hour ago.  When the fighting ceased and I set up the necessary lamplight, the death toll for the words was increased to 1,691 total.  I will post some guards and let the rest of my soldiers rest for another day of warring on the morrow.

June 12th, 2014

11:53 A.M. - A temporary ceasefire is in place until somewhere around 2 P.M.

5:00 P.M. - The enemy has retreated to higher ground.  I am beginning flanking maneuvers, but the time of assault will likely be 8:00 P.M. or later.

9:07 P.M. - I've been fending off bands of mercenary allthethings since 8 A.M. this morning.  They weren't bad until they started to keep me from striking at the words.  This day has been lost, I fear.  My men have requested the night off in order to triumph tomorrow.

June 13th, 2014

9:03 P.M. - The allthethings have finally been eradicated after two days of brutal combat.  In a couple minutes I shall start a final effort in Word Wars.

10:22 P.M. - Final count: 1,954 words.  My troops are too exhausted from the last 70 hours to continue the fight for the day.  The campaign shall continue (unofficially) over the next week or two, if not longer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


This is not a review of the publication Shimmer; this is a review of the fantasy short story "Shimmer," written by Amanda C. Davis, published by Daily Science Fiction (and soon to be podcast by Cast of Wonders).  I don't know about Shimmer, but "Shimmer" is pretty amazing.  It's median rating on DSF is a perfect 7/7 and I find that fitting.

There are several characters in this story, but two take up the majority of the limelight.  That pair, including an unnamed first-person narrator/protagonist and a teenage boy named Benjie, work brilliantly in their roles.  Unlike in most stories of this length, they actually have arcs that drive the story.  They could be deeper in some places, but they have plenty of depth where depth was needed by the story.

I love this story's world-building.  It features a contemporary setting, but the inclusion of a few (unique) fantasy elements turns the world into something completely new and exciting.  The whole dynamic of socialization is made strange in the most wonderful way.

Character-driven fits the plot of "Shimmer" better than in a lot of stories.  While the plot points would have been hit regardless of the characters' arcs, what actually occurred at those points was determined by the arcs.  Each scene furthered both character and plot arcs simultaneously.  That's a tough yet very valid way to plot.

If you have a spare fifteen minutes, please check this story out.  Even if you're not a fan of fantasy, I think you'll like it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Baptized in Steam

I was Special Challenge Champion of the Finish That Thought #48 contest with my Catholicism-infused steampunk flash fic "Baptized in Steam."  You can read it here.

The judge noted, "You created a remarkable blend of piety and stubborn independence in the family.  The concept of 'steamist' was brilliantly conveyed, and walking past the smoldering stake was chilling."

Oh, and I forgot an apostrophe in the 19th paragraph.  Oops.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Three Types of Epic Fantasy Plots

I struggled with finding the proper title for this post.  I'm not going to talk today about the hero's journey, or relationship plots, or time bomb plots, or anything like that.  This post is about plot in a "less mechanical" sense, so to speak.  While there are probably several epic fantasy plot types I'm overlooking in this post, today I shall be covering briefly: heist plots, political intrigue plots, and war plots.

Heist plots involve thieves, a common staple in fantasy.  Often the way the plot unfolds is that the reader learns more and more about the plan the characters have to pull off their big ransacking spree over time as the characters work toward putting that plan into place.  You can use points-on-a-map plotting, a romance plot, or a bunch of other types of plots in order to make the story more complex and really move it forward.  Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy is a great example of the heist plot.

Political intrigue plots involve social factors and politics to the extreme.  They are very reliant on the strength of the characters in order to intrigue readers as much as the characters are intrigued.  When done right, political intrigue plots can be enthralling.  The Sarene chapters in Sanderson's Elantris utilize the political intrigue plot type.

War plots involve...drum roll please...war!  This is one of the most open plot types in all of epic fantasy, so you'll probably need to use travelogue, monomyth, or time bomb plotting methods as well.  Sanderson's The Way of Kings features a war plot.

Again, these are three general types of epic fantasy plots.  They can (and probably should) run concurrent with some of the "more mechanical" plots, as mentioned throughout this post.  If I missed any major epic fantasy plot types, please leave a comment and I may dedicate next week's writing post to those.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Vivisection of Sgt. Shane Eastwood

In just about 650 words, Matt Mikalatos managed to write an interesting and complete sci-fi flash fic titled "The Vivisection of Sgt. Shane Eastwood."  The extent to which managed to do so is rather impressive.

There are two characters in this story: an alien and a sergeant.  The POV is 3rd-limited from the sergeant's eyes.  I really like both characters' personality.  The sergeant acts as a protagonist very well, as he garners sympathy, is competent, and acts proactively.  Besides having all three boxes checked, he's a genuinely cool character.  If I were old enough to drink, I would say that I would enjoy sitting next to him at the bar.  The alien is threatening, competent, taunting, and also proactive.  These traits together make him a very good villain.

The plot in this story is basic, but it is definitely there, and it follows a fairly traditional pattern.  It ties into the characters splendidly.  I (and the story) would have been fine with a few hundred words extra to develop things more, although as a fan of stories in the 400 to 800-word range I'm not disappointed.

It's a futuristic story with aliens; standard SF setting, right?  Not exactly.  While there are probably several stories out there with very similar settings and world-building elements, this story manages to include a few unique elements that help the idea of the story (a conversation during a vivisection) work well and afford very intriguing aliens.

It'll (more than likely) take less than five minutes to read this story (conveniently linked to above).  So, if you like SF, especially SF with aliens, why not read it right now?  I highly recommend it (and most other stories published by Daily Science Fiction).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Indigo the Hynopolic

     Indigo tumbled down the transport ship’s gangplank.  Her head struck the sheet of iron alloy with a resounding “thud”.  Someone chuckled behind her.  Darn Yeopian, she thought.  If he had only one leg he’d have fallen too.
     The grass at the foot of the plank tasted like peppermint on Indigo’s skin.  She opened her pores, drawing in the minute doses of flavor.  Her fellow travelers stepped over her on their way.  A Hynopolic and her sweetgrass were not to be separated.  Still, local Ponsers gave her their signature tilted-unibrow sneer as they strode past.
     Time to get up, thought Indigo.  She tensed the muscles in her back and leg.  One, two, three…hop!  The landing would have lost points in a Hynopol gymnastics competition, but she’d never been one for human sports anyway.
     A metropolis stretched before her.  Small metal crafts zoomed between skyscrapers at dozens of altitudes.  She hopped toward one of the buildings.  It shone with the light of the two Ponser suns.  Neon characters above the massive entryway spelled out “Uplift Facility.”
     The blue-glass door lifted up and away as Indigo approached.  She shuddered.  Nebulas, she thought.  Her pores cemented shut.  She felt her stomachs lurch.
     “Greetings,” said a young Ponser woman in broken Hynopol.  “Meet has you a time, sir?”  Her irises sparkled a sickly shade of green, several shades lighter than her bob-length hair and wax-separated eyebrows.
     Indigo rolled her eyes.  “I am a ‘ma’am,’ miss.  And no, I did not schedule a meeting.  I am here on behalf of your sponsors on Hynopoli.”
     The Ponser stared at her for a few moments, licking her lips.  She pulled a digi-pad from her jacket pocket, hit the expander, and, apparently, opened up a dictionary.  “I see, right this way,” she said, smiling.  “Apology, ma’am.  Given name my is Cla’ira, by the way.”
     “Where did you learn Hynopol?” Indigo asked.  She huffed as she leapt up a flight of stairs to the second floor.  The main laboratory occupied almost every nook of the space, save a cubicle partitioned off in the far corner.
     Many of the lab workers glared.  The redness of their eyes offset the subtle violet of their skin.  They stood in parties of three, two individuals holding down a subject, the third injecting it with its hourly dose of chemicals.  One of the subjects wriggled the gag from its muzzle and began to screech.  The head scientist in its group replaced his empty syringe with a new one, this one filled with a dark, sludgy fluid.  He rammed it directly into the subject’s heart.  It fell silent.
     Cla’ira turned to Indigo, flushing.  “So sorry you had to see fatal.”  She picked up her pace, nearly colliding with a nurse returning her subject to its cage.
     Indigo retched.  Her blood began to heat up as she took the last few hops to the cubicle.
     A short, balding Ponser sat in an office chair at the cubicle’s desk.  He looked up from a mug of what appeared to be some form of hydrated stimulant.  “What you want, sir?”
     Do all Ponsers have this gender problem?  “Ma’am,” Indigo said, pointing at the lump in her neck that validated her femininity.
     “What you want, ma’am?”  He returned his focus to his mug.
     “Your sponsors back on Hynopoli are not pleased with how you are running this facility.  They would like you to treat the uplift candidates as if they were fully uplifted from the door.”
     The Ponser furrowed his unibrow.  “How can a door uplift?”
     “I see you learned your Hynopoli from a free mental download.”
     “I paid well money for learn your language, sir.”  He downed the last half of his mug in a single gulp.  “Oh, sorry,” he said, glancing up.  “Ma’am.”
     Indigo sighed, closed her eyes, and prayed to the god Three-Legs—the most helpful of the four gods of wisdom—for forgiveness should she decide in the next several minutes to kill herself.  “The point is, if you don’t start treating the candidates like your own kind by the time I leave for Hynopoli tomorrow I shall have to shut you down.”
     Cla’ira fidgeted with her digi-pad dictionary.  She said something to her boss in Ponser.  He nodded.
     “They shall be loved as if they were our mothers-in-law,” the male Ponser said.
     Indigo thumbed through a file on Ponser culture stashed in her purse.  “Lovely.  I shall be back tomorrow to confirm your claim.”  What an utterly strange race, she thought.  I can deal with the purple skin, green hair, and unibrows, but loving their mothers-in-law?  She hopped away, face in hands.