19 Jun 2012, 8:09am
making books personal reading:

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The Twin Swords of Zordain, a comic fantasy, part 2

As promised, here is the comic fantasy “novel” that my son wrote as a home-school project. I’ve decided to split it in half because cliffhangers are fun and ten thousand words in a single blog post is a bit much. The first half went online yesterday.

Here’s a brief post about the project, in case you’re aching for some background. For the record, this is his work, only lightly edited by me.

The Twin Swords of Zordain

Chapter 5

I ran to the fire and threw the contents of my canteen over the raging flames, extinguishing them.

Cass ducked into the cabin and started casting spells through the door while Garth grabbed a shield and blocked the next blast of flames, melting the shield completely in the process.

I ran back next to Garth and drew my sword. Cass suddenly stopped casting spells. I almost turned and asked her why, but I saw the dragon land in front of us on the ship, crushing various boxes. Without the blinding sunlight in my eyes, I was able to take a look at it. It was a dark red dragon, not much bigger than me, with small red eyes that seemed to carefully inspect the environment around us. From the minute I saw it I knew it wasn’t a common dragon from Casanopala that evolved with more brute force than smarts to survive against various wars going through the area, but a clever dragon that came from far away, where you had to scare off a single knight a year to preserve your treasure and stay alive. It must have come through a portal made by one of the swords. It growled at me. Then I noticed it had an emerald green sash over its shoulder. The sash was as oversized as Garth’s helmet (which, at the moment was lying face-down in the cabin) and had a badge that said: reserved for elite team.

That told me that this dragon was very clever.

”Why do you fight for those Invastigan fools?” I asked it.

“Because they have archers locked onto me every second!” the dragon replied in a different voice than I had expected that suited a stand-up-comedian more than a dragon.

“Okaaaaaay,” I replied. “And are dragons afraid of archers?”


“Are you a dragon?”


Everyone was silent for a moment then the dragon ripped the sash off his shoulder and tore it to shreds with his claws. more »

18 Jun 2012, 8:03am
making books personal reading:

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The Twin Swords of Zordain, a comic fantasy, part 1 (by my son)

As promised, here is the comic fantasy “novel” that my son wrote as a home-school project. I’ve decided to split it in half because cliffhangers are fun and ten thousand words in a single blog post is a bit much. Look for the second half tomorrow.

Here’s a brief post about the project, in case you’re aching for some background. For the record, this is his work, only lightly edited by me.

The Twin Swords of Zordain

Chapter 1

Nack Town, a small village. Not a lot of interesting things happen. This seemed to be one of those very un-interesting days. more »

5 Jun 2012, 2:57pm

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“… anyone who wants to talk about Wheel of Time and doesn’t get that it’s metafiction isn’t really worth listening to.”

Here’s an idea I didn’t really consider when I read and reviewed The Eye of the World: that it’s a meta-fictional take on the fantasy genre.

Aidan Moher linked to my writeup on Reddit and let’s just say the reception wasn’t warm. That’s cool by me; I’m not all that concerned with having everyone agree with me. And while some of the reactions were dumb…

[It's meta-fiction, which is] why you have in-world main characters (ta’veren,) an in-world mechanism that drives plot contrivances (the pattern,) and characters who are savvy enough to manipulate the inherent illogicality of their world (Mat abusing his luck, people being able to find Rand by his trail of improbable events). It’s a fantasy series that deals with the implications of living in a fantasy world, but does it subtly without being an outright parody. I’m tempted to say that after Terry Pratchett, Robert Jordan is probably the second most genre-savvy author in fantasy

Meta-fiction? Or is that being a savvy munchkin about the rules of your own setting? Or something else?

Obviously I haven’t read the whole series but I’m sure some of you have. What do you think? Comments on the blog are turned off due to spam, but you can reply by tweet, on Facebook, or join the conversations on LiveJournal.

4 Jun 2012, 7:50am

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Components of a popular book: An examination of THE EYE OF THE WORLD

I started The Eye of the World weeks ago, but only just finished it this weekend. A lot of people love it, I know, but to be honest I found it a bit of a slog. However! I am keenly aware that it was incredibly popular at the time of its original release (1990) and continues to be so today after the author’s death.

It’s one of those series people complain about all the time; that’s a sure sign of success. But why was it a success?

I want to talk about what I liked, what I disliked, and what qualities it has that I believe made it popular.

ObDisclaimer: Saying: “These are the qualities that made this book a best-seller” is not the same as saying: “These are the only qualities that make a best-seller.” This may seem obvious, but this is the internet. What interests me here is the way this book is similar to mainstream bestsellers by people like Patterson, Koontz, etc.

Spoilers, obviously. more »

1 Jun 2012, 9:19am
personal reading:

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“Actually, ‘Dhoom’ is Old Elvish for ‘bucolic paradise’”

The column rode out of the city, armor gleaming, lances high, banners snapping in the wind. An old tinker, resting on a stump at the side of the road, called out: “Mean you to ride to the Mountains of Dhoom?”

“We do! We should arrive there just as the leaves turn. We’re going to tap those kegs, do a little fishing… you know, guy time.”

Honest to God, I do not want to see something like “The Mountains of Dhoom” written on a fantasy map unless the protagonist has a time-share there, and they love to ride paddle boats on Lake Dheath and plan to take their toddler to pick wildflowers on Dhestruction Meadow.

Eye of the World is an old book, I know, and I’m sure these jokes have all been told before, but as dull as this thing is, “Dhoom” hit me pretty hard. I took it as a personal insult.

Anyway, I’m nearly finished with it and plan to write up a post about why I suspect it was so popular. Soonish.

In other news, I’m writing this Thursday night and setting it to publish Friday am. I’ll be off the web pretty much all day, this being my wife’s birthday and all. I’ll be making meals, cleaning up, and generally making things easy on her today, and that means I won’t have much time for posting and tweeting. See you Saturday.

2 May 2012, 10:48am
making books reading:

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In which I opine on two TV shows I haven’t seen

Over on Tor.com, Shoshana Kessock compares the portrayal of women in Game of Thrones and Girls and comes down on the side of the genre show, despite its problems.

Me, I haven’t seen either show. I have read Martin’s novels and I listened to an interview with Lena Dunham on NPR. Maybe that limited exposure should disqualify me from commenting on the topic, but this is my blog and I can be wrong if I want to.

Anyway, while listening to Dunham on NPR, she specifically addressed the whole “Voice of my generation” bit, making it clear that the character was ridiculous even when she wasn’t stoned and that she hoped viewers would recognize it wasn’t to be taken seriously. In fact, she made it clear that she was making an effort to portray a character who was not admirable at all–she admitted that others involved in the show had to make her pull back on the amount of humiliation heaped on her.

And my first thought was “She’s writing to literary protocols.”

Years ago when I was studying everything I could find about writing, someone (I’ve forgotten who) said that genre characters always (or nearly always) operated at the best of their ability. Whether it’s Conan fighting a giant snake or a CPA who discovers that her daughter has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang, the characters may not always have skills and competence in a particular situation, but they do the best with what they have. If they do make mistakes, it’s either like Peter Parker letting the crook escape (a lesson that needs to be learned/kick off the story) or it’s the cop who arrests the wrong person (a mistaken action based on a misunderstanding of the evidence at hand).

When a character persists in their error, the way Neo continues to resist the idea that he’s living in a computer simulation, the instinct is to become exasperated with them. The same is true for stories where the audience wants the protagonist to operate at their best but they don’t (or don’t appear to be) such as addiction stories.

But in stories aimed for a literary market (at least the ones I’ve read) the characters rarely operate at their best. They’re feckless, selfish, self-delusional, or flawed in all sorts of ways. They don’t get out when they should. They don’t address their problems in a way that would fix them. It’s like Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd: The movie starts out with him shot to death, and you see the long awful comedy of errors that led him to that fate.

Obviously, there’s overlap here; you can’t make large generalizations about groups of books (or readers) without begging exceptions or edge cases, but to me it looks like a clash of two conflicting artistic impulses.

23 Apr 2012, 6:19pm
personal reading:

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Going offline

I’m going to turn my computer off for the rest of the evening. It’s World Book Night, supposedly, so no Twitter, Netflix, email, whatever. Just my family and their books.

See you on the far side.

9 Apr 2012, 8:05am
reading The outside world:

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John Carter of China

So, Forbes is reporting that JOHN CARTER has earned back its budget overseas, partly by topping the box office for two weeks in a row in China.

Of course, there’s still the marketing budget, but never mind about that. DVD preorders are strong and I like to imagine that quality will out.

But this does give me an excuse to revisit the film, just a little, in a way I couldn’t before.

After seeing it a few times, I think I might have worked out one of the reasons people didn’t go for it in large numbers. The ending. [Spoilers, obvs] In most movies, the big fight scene/marriage would be the end of the film. It feels like an ending.

Then you cut to Dejah waking alone in bed, and Carter walking around the tower deciding to throw away his amulet (wouldn’t it have been nice to take Dejah to Jasoom at some point to see the sailing ships, assuming she could survive in Earth’s gravity?).

Then he’s back on Earth, and we return to the journal and ERB, and…

Okay, here’s where I make a confession: One of the tropes I completely fucking hate to see in a book or movie is “Death will reunite you with the ones you love the most.” I seriously hate it, because to me it seems to be objectively pro-suicide.

There was a novel–I thought it was written by Dan Simmons but a scan of his bibliography doesn’t show anything familiar–that ended that way. His family died at the start, he traveled around like Kwai Chang Caine until he finally jumps off a bridge and is reunited with his loved ones. God, how I hated that ending! I hated it so much that I felt queasy at the finale of GLADIATOR.

But the ending of JOHN CARTER is pretty similar: the protagonist happily walks into his own tomb and shuts the door, then lies back with the lilies around him. He smiles speaks the words that take him out of the this world and into the one he calls home.

And as much as I love this ending, I think it’s the reason people were soft on the movie. Lawrence Block tells the story of a time he sat on a plane while the man beside him watched the movie BURGLAR, which is based on one of Block’s novels. As he tells it, the man was engaged throughout, laughing often. When the film ended, Block asked him: “What did you think of the movie?”

The reply: “It was okay.”

Block believes it was because the ending was soft. The guy enjoyed the whole thing, but it didn’t have a strong ending so his last experience of it was a let down. And what about the people who see JOHN CARTER, expecting a typical action movie denouement? So many folks complained about the nested flashbacks (always with the tone of “Some other people might find this troubling, but not me) that I think the real source of the objection is that ending, where things feel like they’ve been wrapped up, but there’s a whole frame scene story that everyone’s forgotten about.

Did I mention that I love the way it ends? I love fantasy novels and movies. I love adventure stories. And the end of the movie seems so like the way I enter into a fictional world that it felt like falling into a story all over again. Very powerful. Yeah, the movie is flawed, but for me that ending was quite strong.

And now I’ll stop writing about this movie for a while.

30 Mar 2012, 9:11am
making books reading:

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Martha Wells’s EMERALD SERPENT Snippet

I’ve mentioned the Kickstarter for this anthology before, and I’ve linked to other writers’ snippets of their stories, as well as my own.

Well, now Martha Wells has posted her own snippet. Check it out.

As for the anthology, five bucks into the Kickstarter gets you an electronic copy of the entire book, and there are other benefits at higher levels.

Just sayin’

Ray Lilly is out of the cage match

Kelsier defeated him 3 to 1 in the voting, just about, which is perfectly cool by me. I didn’t expect him to get this far in a popularity contest, so thanks to everyone who voted. Thanks also to David Pomerico and the Suvudu staff for all the work they put into it.

Now that he’s out, I wanted to comment on the attitude of a lot of the cage match commenters… but Pat Rothfuss already did it and he did it better.

One thing I’ll add to his comments about the slaying of dragons: I’m a writer. If you ask me “Who would win in a fight, Cthulhu or Godzilla?” to me the only logical answer is “Whichever makes a better story.”

Tallying up super-powers and arguing I don’t know this character but [personal fave] is the most awesome-est! entirely misses the point. Sometimes the “weaker” character has to/must win. That’s part of the fun (and it is supposed to be fun).

If the cage matches are a place where the underdogs can never “win” then it isn’t fun. That’s why I had Ray use his ghost knife on GRRM’s readers. That’s why I had Tyrion taunt him for not being lovable enough. Because Tyrion was the underdog and I love underdogs. (People who’ve read my books will know this).

Even worse, how powerful the characters are is orthogonal to the appeal of the work in question, and when people go all munchkin on their favorite characters they turn off potential readers.

Anyway, read Pat’s post. He’s a smart guy.

(BTW, Godzilla would totally kick Cthulhu’s ass. That’s SCIENCE.)

Ray Lilly survives yet again

So, the first round of the Suvudu cage match has ended, and Ray Lilly survived. He’ll face Tyrion Lannister, a character so popular his name is in WordPress’s spell check (j/k). To be frank, I’m a huge Song of Ice and Fire fan, and of Tyrion in particular. I’m looking forward to this, and I have an idea or two that I think will be fun. We’ll see.

As for round one, things got contentious early and stayed that way, but that’s not a big deal. What is a big deal is that I think people might have gotten the wrong idea about R. Scott Bakker’s books.

If you skimmed through the comments looking at his fans’ description of the Kellhus character, you might think Bakker has written a munchkin’s wet dream, but the books are more interesting than that.

Check out this review of The Darkness That Comes Before by Victoria Strauss. Here’s her review of book 2, The Warrior-Prophet. At this point, the trilogy is complete and the second trilogy is nearly finished.

Anyway, these Suvudu cage matches are supposed to be an opportunity for readers to try out new books. Here’s the Prince of Nothing series:

The Darkness That Comes Before: The Prince of Nothing, Book One
The Warrior Prophet: The Prince of Nothing, Book Two
The Thousandfold Thought: The Prince of Nothing, Book Three

Check them out.

In which I am insulted

Commenters on Ray Lilly’s cage match have gotten pretty hot, calling Ray a “mary sue”, saying my writeup was weak, and a couple of other insults.

I don’t link to it because I want people to rush over to my defense (please don’t). I pretty much expected this and at least one of Bakker’s readers has already backed off and expressed regret at letting things get too serious. Besides, much worse has been said in Amazon.com ratings. No big.

Still: interesting human behavior and it’s cool to see that Bakker has such passionate readers.

Added later: I’ve tried twice to post a comment on that thread to say “No blood no foul” but my comments aren’t showing up. What’s more, the page won’t reload with newer comments, even after I clear my cache. I wonder what’s going on?

Read a short Ray Lilly scene at the Suvudu Cage Match

The poll is up. Head over there to read the fight scene featuring Ray Lilly, and see him take damage like never before (and of course he has no idea he’s in a cage match).

If he wins I get to write another one, so why not drop a vote for him?

added later: Hey, be aware that this one gets a little… intense. Don’t click through if you don’t want to read a scene that’s very physical and a little over-the-top.

1 Mar 2012, 7:01am

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Van Eekhout for the Andre Norton Award

Longtime readers of this blog may have noticed that I’m not much interested in awards. I don’t pimp my own stuff and I don’t talk about yours. When the Hugos or Nebulas get handed out, I skim blogs for drama but otherwise ignore it. A few days ago I got a notice from SFWA announcing the Nebula Award nominees for this year and I deleted it unopened (not that I didn’t see all the names plastered all over my window into the web by lunchtime.

I don’t have anything against awards, but I just don’t care.

Well, as I was scrolling past one of the many, many copies of this years Nebula Award nominees, I noticed one particular book up for the “Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy”

“Hey, son. Remember that book The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout? You liked that, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, it was awesome! He should get paid a million dollars to write a million sequels.”

“Well, it’s up for a big award.”

He read over the list, but The Boy… was the only one he’d read. “Cool!”

“Do you want it to win?”

“Yeah, Dad. Tell everyone I said they should vote for it.”

“Andre Norton and Me”

I raved about Sherwood Smith’s INDA series recently, and now I want to link to her Tor.com post Andre Norton and Me. Good stuff. You should read it.

6 Feb 2012, 7:42am

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The Fox by Sherwood Smith

In 2007, I had just started reading The Fox by Sherwood Smith (the mmpb will be rereleased in April) when I signed with my agent. I’d enjoyed the hell out of Inda, the first in the series despite the long section set in military school. I’m not a big fan of school stories, but Inda won me over.

The Fox is even better. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but it’s a fantasy set mostly on sailing ships with lots of politics and action. The best thing is that the characters are so very real.

You hear a lot about gritty/realistic fantasy, and it’s always so cynical, as though realism is people behaving really badly. The characters in these books cover a wide range in a way gritty fantasy usually doesn’t–using omniscient POV, which isn’t used often enough.

And the world-building is terrific, yes, and there are so many characters it sometimes is hard to keep track. The hero is one of those super-capable types that make fantasy fun, but he has enough quirks that he rises above the generic hero stereotype. The whole thing is terrific.

There are two more books (which I’ve already bought) and the series is complete. You should totally read it.

2 Feb 2012, 4:08pm
reading The outside world:

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The auction for The Wooden Man and the ghost knife prop has ended but the Worldbuilders fundraiser will continue until February 7th. It’s a lottery system; for every $10 you donate, you get a chance to win any one of hundreds of prizes.

Most are books, signed by the author. Some are ARCs of unreleased novels. Some are graphic novels. Look at this!

An ARC of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust
A “Best of” collection by Caitlin R. Kiernan
A full set of Tad William’s SHADOWMARCH
An ARC of Seanan McGuire’s newest novel

And much, much more stuff.

What’s more 50% of your donations will be matched.

Don’t miss your chance for some terrific books.

28 Jan 2012, 10:37am
making books reading:

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The “Implied” Author

Posited: When a critic says “George R.R. Martin is a conservative authoritarian who believes monarchy is a great system of government,” they’re not referring to the real George R.R. Martin. They’re talking about an imaginary George R.R. Martin they dreamed up while reading one of his books. If you confuse the real GRRM with that imaginary one solely because the critic is referring to the imaginary one with by the real author’s name, that’s only because you’re insufficiently knowledgeable about criticism.

I’m agnostic about whether this is true or not, but if it is, that rule would be just as stupid as if it’s a made up thing.

By the way, if you’re not reading James Nicoll’s LJ and comment section, you’re missing out.

25 Jan 2012, 6:01am

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I’ve read some bad comics in my time, but…

The Dusk Society set a… well, is it a new low? Because I’ve read some genuine shit in my time, and this book, while it was definitely bad, was mostly just dull and anti-dramatic. The villain continually thought up reasons not to kill his enemies, the photo-based art was ugly, and if there was an interesting way to get a plot point across, this book dodged it.

Sure, it’s supposed to be fore kids, so they didn’t want a lot of bloody murder, but you can’t call a villain worse than Satan if all he ever does is collect magic trinkets and tell his henches not to kill people.

The plot covers the recruitment of four modern teens into a monster-fighting society (they each have Speshul Powers Or Skills). I got bored with it less than halfway through, but my son read the whole thing, laughing all the way through.

Then you get to the end of the book, when the sexy teacher in the bad clothes who inducted the students into the Dusk Society offers a contract to the reader. Would YOU like to be a secret monster fighter???

Dusk Society Contract FAIL!

The large size is easier to read. But here’s what the contract says:


I solemnly promise to serve The Dusk Society, with my life* if needed.

I understand that my life will at risk–everyday.

Signature of member

Notice that asterisk? What it refers to is handled in a caption, not even on the contract itself. It reads:


That is one helluva clause, isn’t it? I’m tempted to make a joke about asking kids under 18 to sign contracts, or about the ways cults enrich themselves from their members, but in truth this sort of dopey story choice just makes me depressed.

By the way, that thing beside the couch is a cat.

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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