The manuscript that I began at the start of the month as part of National Novel Writing Month has pretty much ground to a halt at a touch under 17,000 words. My first week back from China saw me writing every day and producing around 2,000 words a day. But on Friday I reached a bit of a crisis, as I could no longer see where the writing was going. Since then I’ve been going back to the (now legendary) drawing board to lay the foundations that should have been laid earlier. Today I mostly completed a kind of potted history of the world up until the point at which my story starts. In the next few days, I plan to brainstorm more of the details that will go into the story’s background – and which I will then sweep away with the first words of actual story.
What I wrote up until Friday had definite merit. In particular, I created four characters with diverse personalities and personal problems. Unfortunately, the whole work just wasn’t quite what I’d intended to write. It happens sometimes that your imagination takes you on tangents that may or may not work out. Also, I think the first character I made – and therefore the first viewpoint character – was a little too YA for my taste.
I now have a firmer basis to continue writing – or, more properly to start writing again, this time on version 2. I have plenty of ideas about the plot, but they’re all either vague or disconnected at the moment. Setting down a real plot, a series of causes and effects slowly building in intensity to the story’s climax will be another important task I have to undertake soon. It’s vital, because I need to know what I’m writing towards in order to write. It’s also incredibly difficult.
I think that conceiving a short story is like trying to visualise a small group of objects, like five apples, or a moment from a film. Trying to conceive a novel, or, worse, a series of novels, is like trying to visualise a million apples or every moment in a film simultaneously. Caveat scriptor, indeed.
For anyone with the slightest interest in contemporary, non-children’s fantasy, the forthcoming HBO adaptation of George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (or the first volume thereof, at any rate) has has to be the most eagerly anticipated TV series for a long while. Entertainment Weekly has some exclusive pictures.
None of the volumes in this internal trilogy within the long-running Wild Cards series compared well with ealier installments. This third book was probably the best of the three, however. Unlike the first two – which were presented as a series of interlinked short stories threaded together with one longer narrative, this one is a genuine ‘mosaic novel’ – all the narratives of the different characters and writers are set out as one seamless text (disregarding section breaks). In this case, the text is divided into long chapters counting down from Eight to the story’s climax at Zero.
One of the problems with the Card Sharks trilogy has been uneven character choice. In the first book, the main character was a pretty uninspiring arson investigator, a woman who wasn’t even a Wild Card victim. She is still present in the latter two books, but only as a minor character. In the middle book, a new character is introduced, and, in the context of that volume she’s pretty redundant, but in the final book she’s upgraded to main-character-hood. Unfortunately, she’s also quite whiny and her sections take up too much space.
I think maybe one deeper problem with the three books (apart from the fact that the basic premise of the story involves a partial reboot of Wild Cards alternate history) is that they seem to have been envisioned as a way of tying up a bunch of loose ends – in particular, the Jumpers – aces who can swap their consciousness into the body of another person – and Gregg Hartmann, the one-time presidential candidate and secret ace Puppetman. It also leaves a big loose end hanging at the end, with one of the main characters suddenly deciding to be evil. And the covers of the books are crappy; that’s not a major flaw, of course, but a book’s presentation does influence the way you think of it.
So now I’m faced with a quandary. The next book in the series, the sixteenth, is also the rarest, and will set me back about $100 to get hold of a copy. I’m not going to rush to buy it, but at the same time I do want to get up to date with the series, which appears to have found a new lease of life in the past few years.
noun, verb, gyved, gyv·ing. Archaic.
1. Usually, gyves. a shackle, esp. for the leg; fetter.
–verb (used with object)
2. to shackle.
1175–1225; ME give < ?
And he bade his smiths drive great iron staples into the wall, whereon he let hang up the Demons by their wrists and ankles fast to the staples with gyves of iron.
Source: The Worm Ouroboros by E R Eddison.
I haven’t been writing much lately – the demands of travel in China and of simply being in China (Charlie told me that the pollution makes you tired) have drained my energy and taken up my time. I had a day of rest today and wrote about 1,800 words, which is my average daily target – but that does nothing to make up for lost time. I finished the first chapter and now need to think about the second, and my second viewpoint character.
Target word count: 12,600. Actual word count: 5,000.
Yesterday, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, I only wrote 600 words of my 1,800 target. Today, however, I made up some ground by writing 2,000 words – 700 in the morning, 1300 in the evening, after dinner and sightseeing in the Forbidden City in Beijing. What I’ve been writing has flowed quite smoothly. My first character has turned out to be a resentful, but spirited coward. The story has a natural opening, although I’m not too sure of exactly what’s going to happen next. I think I’ve made a good start.
Target word count: 3,600. Actual word count: 2,600.
I’ve only just got round to reading last year’s offering by the world’s greatest teller of tall tales, and, to be honest, it was a bit disappointing. All the basic components of a Robert Rankin novel are there – one gormless hero taking on the forces of evil to save the world, a heady mix of science fiction and the supernatural, and much talking of toot.
This novel is a direct sequel to The Brightonomicon and sees Hugo Rune’s assistant Rizla (whose identity was revealed at the end of this novel’s predecessor) travelling back in time to prevent the Germans winning the war. Along the way Rune and Rizla must solve twelve mysteries, each one related to a tarot card (and each of these has a full page illustration created by Rankin), which see them dealing with ghosts and werewolves, the now-legendary Minstry of Serendipity, the spirit of King Arthur resurrected in a Bletchley Park computer, the technology behind the Philadelphia Experiment, and so on and so forth.
A lot of this book seemed like joining the dots. The characters had an arbitrary series of cases to crack before the inevitable show-down with the villain of the piece, Count Otto Black. The story lacked the usual verve – and even the narrator comments on a lack of the usual running gags (although there is a superabundance of devices powered by the transperambulation of pseudo cosmic antimatter). The fact that the narrator’s true identity is also known took away from force of the books, for me.
On the other hand, there are some interesting developments regarding Rune himself – we learn more about his relationship to Black, and there is a suggestion that he might retire himself.
All in all, this was not an outstanding Rankin book, so I look forward to this year’s effort, The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions, with a mixture of trepidation and hope.
I think the last time I tried to read 18th century literature was when I did (or was supposed to do) Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders at university. I found that book hard going, and nowhere near finished it. Gulliver’s Travels is a much more accessible and engaging book.
In it, Lemuel Gulliver, inveterate traveller (he keeps leaving his wife and family to go on hazardous voyages half-way around the world) journeys separately to four previously unknown civilisations: Lilliput, where all the inhabitants are a few inches tall, Brobdingnag, where the people are sixty feet tall, Laputa, where the men (not so much the women) are obsessed with science and philosophy, and the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent and noble horses.
The book was intended as a satire on society at the time and people in general. So, for instance, in Lilliput, human pettiness is highlighted: official Lilliputian doctrine states that eggs should be broken at the narrow end; the contrary ‘Big Endian’ practice is punishable by death. In Laputa (or one of the associated islands – I forget), scientists are paid to work on such projects as reconstituting food from excrement. In Brobdingnag, Gulliver offers to show the king the secret of gunpowder; when he explains what can be achieved with the black powder – muskets that fire lethal bullets, explosions that tear men to pieces etc – the king is horrified, just as a young child would be; Gulliver, however, can’t believe why the king would pass up a chance to gain dominance over neighbouring lands.
The land of the Houyhnhnms is populated not only with the sentient horses, but with the reprehensible Yahoos, creatures that are physiologically identical to humans, but without civilisation or anything but the basest rudiments of intelligence. Over the course of his stay in this land, Gulliver comes to despise and fear the Yahoos – probably more than the Houyhnhnms do – even though the only difference between him and them is his upbringing. Consequently, when he is forced to return home, he sees his fellow humans as similarly base and disgusting. After some years back home he is able to spend time with his wife in the same room, but not for very long and certainly not while she is eating.
The portrayal of human imperfection is probably not as amusing or as cutting as it was in Swift’s time, but it still works. Some of the ideas are pretty funny – and also thought-provoking. Is it right that humans should take pride in our military might? Or pleasure in our lumpy, blotchy flesh?
As a work of fantasy, Gulliver’s Travels doesn’t work as a story – because it isn’t a story: it’s four stories. And even then, none of these four have much in the way of plot other than Gulliver arriving, learning about the culture and leaving. For me, fantasy is the use of story to explore issues about power and morality. In this book, though, this exploration happens more through the agency of setting. World-building is a vital part of any fantasy book and Swift’s – predating by a long time any of the early modern fantasies like William Morris’s novels (let alone Tolkien) – is pretty solid; except from a scientific standpoint, the various lands visited all make sense (kind of) and support the satirical purpose of the book (although how the Houyhnhnms hold things between their hoof and pastern is rather far-fetched). It’s also refreshing to read a fantasy that doesn’t focus on the stock, quasi-Medieval Europe of many, many novels.
Gulliver’s Travels seems to be seen as a children’s book, but, while there’s a lot in here that would certainly amuse children, the political content of the stories would go way over most children’s heads. The grammar, too, while not at all that difficult an adult to get to grips with, would prove heavy going for younger readers; it’s full of long sentences broken up with colons and semi-colons. I think the orginal text would prove to trying and dry for most children. And then there’s the scene where Gulliver becomes a plaything of some Brobdingnagian maids-in-waiting who naked in front of him; at one point he is sat on one of the girls’ nipples.
All in all, a surprisingly entertaining book – or maybe not that surprising when you take into account that it’s been in print for nearly three hundred years.
This is book one of Chronicles of The Raven, and it has a distinctive two-tone cover, purple and black, with the edges of the pages coloured purple. The Raven is a mercenary band whose members are the main characters of the book; Dawnthief is an incredibly powerful spell that they must recover the components to and employ.
Dawnthief, the novel, is what you would call heroic fantasy. It also seems very inspired by roleplaying. I got the strong impression (not least from a brief foreword which credits a list of people for giving birth to The Raven) that it is a novelisation of a campaign. It has the small band of heroes, the epic quest plot, character deaths, swords and sorcery, elves …
It’s also very solidly written – not brilliantly, but good enough to keep me engaged throughout. The story is filled with fights and anguish, desperation and hope, as the protagonists fend off failure, and the end of their world as they know it. It won’t go down as great fantasy, but it’s a decent read, it moves at just the right pace and does what it sets out to do.
The characters and their problems didn’t really move me much, but I certainly didn’t dislike them either. The main character, Hirad (he’s just about the main character – the viewpoint is often a little vague and moves from person to person in the same scene), is a barbarian. So says the text. Apart the occasional ‘the barbarian’ there’s really not much barbarism about him.
There’s a romance between a driven male mage and sorceress who’s husband and children have just been killed. She falls for him when he agrees to impregnate her and sire more magical children. This doesn’t work well – in literary terms, I mean. Their sex scene is full of rainbow-coloured mana.
I’m not keen on some of the terminology – elves, mana – that are too stock, and surely wouldn’t be difficult to think of more original replacements for. The threat to Balaia (the continent where the action takes place) is a resurrection of an evil from hundreds of years ago. Something about this doesn’t add up – if it is so terrible now, how was it defeated back then? (This is explained, but I’ve forgotten.) And the western half of Balaia is full of bloodthirsty tribes just waiting for the evil to return so they can flood into the east in a tide of destruction. It seemed very much a plot device rather than a coherent piece of world-building.
Although the simplicity of the writing and plot was beginning to grate a tiny bit by the end, I’d be happy to read more in the series – on the whole it’s easygoing and it holds the interest, and reminds me of one of my favourite pastimes.