Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Beginning of Erratic Blogging

At least for a little while, I will be blogging without a set schedule.  Having certain days upon which I post certain things isn't easy with how erratic my personal schedule is.  So, if I have a flash fic I want to post, I shall do so.  If I read something I really like or dislike for very structured reasons, I'll post a review.  When writing subjects come to mind that I'd like to delve into in written form, I shall post my thoughts.  Hopefully I shall be able to improve the quality of my posts through this fluidity, although I foresee a decrease in total postings.  We'll see.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Game Room

(Note: Check out the "Under Stars" tab on the right sidebar for other articles directly related to this one.)

I'll admit, it's been almost a year since I read "The Game Room," a reprint fantasy story (originally published in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) in KJ Kabza's upcoming (releasing the 27th) SFF collection Under Stars.  However, it's a memorable enough story that I still remember the gist of it.  Now, I have a good memory, but that only happens with very strong stories.

The voice coming from this story's first-person narrator is of top-notch quality.  It maintains the mystery that the story's concept requires without seeming really odd.  All of the characters in "The Game Room" are cool, whether they're the minimalist inhabitants of the narrator's home or of the diverse cast of "visitors."  They will especially excite you if you understand basic French and/or Chinese (yes, there is some foreign language dialogue).

A story with a title like "The Game Room" ought to have an awesome setting.  It does.  The setting is crazy and weird, yet not far from home, so to speak.  It utilizes a perfect proportion of familiar-to-strange.  I'll allow you to discover the specific details.

If there's any problem with this story it's plot-based.  I've seen a lot worse in otherwise good stories though.  This particular story only needs as much plot as Kabza included and I assure you, you will not be bored as you read "The Game Room."

"The Game Room" is one of several stories in Under Stars that make it worth its $3.99 cost.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Five of the Shortest Stories From Under Stars

Under Stars is an upcoming (releasing the 27th) SFF collection of KJ Kabza's work.  Click the "Under Stars" tab for other posts involving this collection, which you should pre-order/purchase right now.

(Note: Do not base your interest in this collection exclusively on the reviews to follow.  These are individual blurbs for some of the least significant stories in Under Stars.  The stories reviewed do not represent the mean quality of the writing in this collection.)

"...In the Machine" is the story of a possessed self-checkout machine.  It has an interesting voice to it (though there is a bit of language).  The story's creative, I'll give it that.

"Light Years" is a fine drabble.  It takes a great idea and runs with it as far as a story can in exactly 100 words.  The poetic quality of drabble-length stories is exploited to great effect.  Read it.

"The Expurgated Version" is cool in concept, but is a bit crude and jarring.  Feel free to skip it.

"The Separatists" takes a common sci-fi short fic trope and manages to not wear it out.  Predictable, but still recommended.

"Like Old People Do" has a very legitimate spec fic basis.  It's an attempt to project the loss of verbal communication due to cell phones a few decades ahead.  That I can respect.  The actual content of the story is sketchy.  It contains two levels of crudeness, both of which fit the story, but neither of which are necessary for the basic purpose of the story to be fulfilled.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The First of Several Posts Relating to KJ Kabza's SFF Collection Under Stars

I'm changing things up in the ravenous maw for the next eleven days or so.  Instead of my typical post schedule, I will be posting exclusively literary criticisms and/or blurbs of the stories in KJ Kabza's upcoming SFF short story collection Under Stars, which launches October 27th.  I will likely not write about every story in the collection, but I'll try to hit the highlights.

While I would recommend picking up Under Stars when it comes out, I will put a content warning on some of its material.  The story "The Terms of Our Alliance" contains some mildly explicit content and is not recommended.  There are also several dozen dirty limericks included, which I have not read and am not planning on reading.  They're at least at the end of the collection, so they should be fairly easy to avoid if one does not wish to read them.

Several of the stories in the collection are available to read online right now for free.  If you'd like to take a sneak peek into what you might find in Under Stars, take a few minutes to read Kabza's 1,000ish-word dark fantasy story "The Flight Stone" from Daily Science Fiction.  It features both excellent world-building and groan-worthy horror.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Sum of All Men (First Quarter Analysis)

I've listened to about the first quarter of The Sum of All Men by David Farland in audiobook and I'm loving it.  It isn't as dense as the older epic fantasy series, which cuts down on the world-building a bit, but it manages to replace the usual bulk with better character development and plenty of mystery.  The learning curve is very well-developed for the subgenre.  This novel is showing a lot of promise so far.

The setting of The Sum of All Men is winning.  It has roots in plenty of fantasy tropes, yet manages to find uncharted lands to explore.  The concept of endowments is fascinating from a character standpoint.  The two distinct layers of the magic system that I have seen so far are both very cool, even if the second one is a bit less original.  As far as scenic locations go, the amount and type of description utilized has been spot on for me.

Character development pacing has been slow so far, but I feel like the characters have been set up in such a way that when specific conflicts start gnawing at each one individually there will be a lot of it at once.  So far, all of the primary characters have seemed quality-made.  There is a great use of the sympathy and pro-activity sliders.  Competency is foggy because of the endowment system.  That will depend upon the circumstances of each individual scene.

Not a huge amount of important plot events have occurred thus far.  I attribute that mostly to the subgenre.  It isn't a big deal to me, though it might be to some people.  I like how things are going.

It's probably safest for me to listen to a bit more before I go recommending this novel.  For now, I encourage you to at least take the time to read a sample of The Sum of All Men and see what you think.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Once and For All

     Darkness swallowed the horizon in one ravenous gulp.  Swathes of firmament submitted to the torrent of premature night.
     Mathos shivered.  His heart was a lump of ice.  Bile rose in his throat, sludgy as the blackness above.
     “Mathos,” cried Elle.  “You see that?”  Her voice quavered.
     A staff appeared in Mathos’ fist.  His eyes burned.  “Yes, my wife.  This time I must vanquish the Dark One once and for all.”
     Elle leapt at him, a silent scream on her lips.  Her fingers sunk in a pool of light.
     Mathos soared, bearing the shape of a dove, and entered the darkness.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stahl's Keys (a.k.a. Tolkien's Keys)

I was watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug yesterday and devised a variant on Chekhov's Gun.  Stahl's Keys (a.k.a. Tolkien's Keys) is the rule that "If a ring of keys is set on a hook, it ought stay there."  Basically, if the narrator observes a character doing something very mundane but still mentions it, there must be some sort of resulting plot point.  You shouldn't note actions that don't matter to the story for one; for two, if you include foreshadowing like this in a story and don't deliver on that foreshadowing, readers are likely to take everything they think is foreshadowing with a grain of salt.  This isn't good, especially for writers who rely on foreshadowed information coming together during the climax and/or resolution of their stories.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Perfect Book

"The Perfect Book" isn't a perfect science fiction short story, but it's definitely good.  Author Alex Shvartsman's stories are often in my ballpark, and this story does not disappoint.

The texture of "The Perfect Book" is the familiar smooth of modern sci-fi shorts.  It flows like honey and makes Orwell's prose look decidedly unlike Orwellian prose (if anyone understands that reference).

I like both main characters in this story, especially because of how deep they are in contrast to the story's length.  The 1st-person narrator is given a competency boost due to the content of the story, which pairs well with high sympathy.  Jacquelyn isn't extremely pro-active, but the other main character's proactivity covers her well enough under the specific circumstances surrounding "The Perfect Book."

There's actually a little bit of plot progression in this story, even though it's only twenty-five paragraphs long.  The plot works in splendid tandem with the character development.

The setting is interesting.  It implies that in that world it is probably impossible to create "the perfect book."  Is it possible in the real world?  We don't know and probably never will.

If you haven't already, click the link above to read "The Perfect Book" by Alex Shvartsman, published in the third issue of Fantasy Scroll Mag.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nine Writing Tips

1.  Try using "Yes, but" / "No, and" format to heighten stories' conflicts.

2.  Have a character think about doing something, yet not do it.  Great character-building strategy.

3.  The closer the resolution to your plot lines are to each other, the greater the effect.

4.  Find what your character wants most and watch his emotions as he tries (and continually fails, typically) to get it.

5.  It can be beneficial to set up medium arcs, larger than subplots but a little aside from the main arc (or even an independently-bound chunk of the main arc), to add periodical high-points triumphantly.

6.  You learn a lot about characters by how their reactions to the same events differ.

7.  For a successful resolution, build a satisfying framework in the early chapters before the conflict gets hot-'n'-heavy.  Once your characters have been through the wringer--pop--resolution.

8.  In most cases, characters were not born yesterday.  They had lives before the story began.  Use background information to your advantage and make sure you have enough so that your characters don't feel born of the plot.

9.  Weapons break.