Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Upcoming Storyblogging Carnival

The next Storyblogging Carnival will go up on Monday, December 6th. If you use your blog to share your fiction, then the Storyblogging Carnival is your opportunity. Here we host any and all forms of storytelling in blog format. If you're curious about what this looks like, have a look at some examples of previous storyblogging carnivals.

If you'd like to participate, please e-mail your story submissions to me at dscrank-at-alum-dot-mit-dot-edu (or post in my comments), including the following information:
  • Name of your blog
  • URL of your blog
  • Title of the story
  • URL for the blog entry where the story is posted
  • (OPTIONAL) Author's name
  • (OPTIONAL) A suggested rating for adult content (G, PG, PG-13, R)
  • A word count
  • A short blurb describing the story
The post may be of any age, from a week old to years old. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, December 4th. More detailed information follows (same as always):
  1. The story or excerpt submitted must be posted on-line as a blog entry, and while fiction is preferred, non-fiction storytelling is acceptable.
  2. The story can be any length, but the Carnival will list them in order of length, from shortest to longest, and include a word count for each one.
  3. You may either send a complete story, a story in progress, or a lengthy excerpt. You should indicate the word count for both the excerpt and the complete story in the submission, and you should say how the reader can find more of the story in the post itself.
  4. If the story spans multiple posts, each post should contain a link to the beginning of the story, and a link to the next post. You may submit the whole story, the first post, or, if you've previously submitted earlier posts to the Carnival, the next post which you have not submitted. Please indicate the length of the entire story, as well as the portion which you are submitting.
  5. The host has sole discretion to decide whether the story will be included or not, or whether to indicate that the story has pornographic or graphically violent content. The ratings for the story will be decided by the host. I expect I'll be pretty lenient on that sort of thing, but I have some limits, and others may draw the line elsewhere. Aside from noting potentially offensive content, while I may say nice things about stories I like, I won't be panning anyone's work. I expect other hosts to be similarly polite.
  6. The story may be the blogger's own or posted with permission, but if it is not his own work he should gain permission from the author before submitting to the Carnival.
If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list, please let me know. Finally, I appreciate folks promoting the carnival on their own blogs, and I'm always looking for bloggers willing to host future carnivals.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Storyblogging Carnival CXIV

Welcome to the 114th Storyblogging Carnival. It's a bit late, partly due to me being overloaded at worked, but also due to the fact that I was fishing for more entries.  In the end we have six total.  Enjoy!

First Christmas in a Queen Sized Bed
by Tash of Love Santa
A 99 word brief story rated G.

A child's short story about a special Christmas memory

Pigheaded Limerick
by Madelein Begun Kane of Mad Kane's Humor Blog
An under 100 word word brief story rated PG.

The tale of a stubborn man whose car is towed, told in a three verse limerick.

Introducing the Venkman Brothers
by Mark A. Rayner of The Skwib
A 150 word short story rated PG-13.

The epic tale of Herbetron and Merculia Venkman, brothers from a proud tradition of Norwegian clowns.

The Amaranthine: Part III of The History of the Domini
by Donald S. Crankshaw of Back of the Envelope
The next 750 words of a 2,200 word story in progress rated PG.

Randall continues the story of the Domini by recounting their relations with the Amaranthine.

How to Keep Good Time with Rare Cogs and Orphan Springs
by Klara Bow Piechocki of Violet Hustle
The first 3,148 words of an ongoing story rated R.

"Kumiko had only had her baby four hours ago and her body felt exhausted. She had let herself into Rheam’s quarters and turned down the corners of the fresh bed sheets for him, before she sat on the edge of the bed and waited for his return. She knew that it was a job for his courtesan, but she had been eager to see him.

Wizards Don't Have to be Smart
by CJ Burch of Divas for Geeks
A 5,500 word short story rated PG.

A Weird Western.

This concludes the one hundred and fourteenth Storyblogging Carnival.

If you'd like to take part in a future carnival, please contact me. I am also looking for hosts. Other carnivals can be found here.

The Storyblogging Carnival can be found at The Truth Laid Bear's √úberCarnival.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The History of the Domini: Part III

Old Post: Part II can be found here, while the beginning is here.

Being a further account of the history of the Domini, as recorded by Randall Aurelius.

Part III: The Amaranthine

To humans, a hundred years is three to four generations. Events that happened that far back are no more than legends to people without written histories. To the Malwer, it was just enough time to prepare the means to avenge themselves on their escaped slaves. By that time, the humans who had fled the Malwer had lost all contact with those who remained behind to fight. The communication had slowed to a trickle over the years, stories of a distant war that most of the newly free humans did not believe was worth fighting. When it finally stopped, there was some worry, but a few years passed and the worries ceased.

The free humans were focused on the business of surviving and building farms and communities in the their new lands rather than on the distant, mostly forgotten threat of the Malwer. The Shades among them were likewise occupied with building their cloistered communities and finding recruits among the other humans. Over time, methods of recruiting were developed to take young men with the ability while minimizing the trauma to him or his community, but in the process the Shades became more and more isolated from the rest of humanity. Some preferred reclusiveness, while others used their power to try to force people to serve them. Occasionally, Shade communities of differing philosophies would clash, but these were mere skirmishes compared to the later wars.

The Malwer would have overwhelmed humanity when they finally came upon them in force, if not for the Amaranthine. The Amaranthine are nearly as great a mystery as the Malwer. They lacked the Malwer’s ability with magic (although there were a few among them, called wizards, who had powerful magical abilities), but they were similarly long-lived, and they knew a great deal about the Malwer, whom they held a bitter grudge against for unknown reasons. They looked nearly human, although with odd coloring and strange characteristics. Many today say they were related to the Kawyr, although they regarded humans with more sympathy than the cold Kawyr ever could. When the Amaranthine first came, warning that the Malwer were coming with a large force of creatures which no one had ever heard of, no one knew what to make of them, including the Shades. Just a few messengers came at first, but soon it became clear that there was a mass migration of the Amaranthine, women and children along with men, fleeing from something. Although many took their warnings seriously, a few saw them as interlopers. The Shades themselves were divided, and many of the communities forbade the Amaranthine from entering areas under their control. There were a few skirmishes, but no widespread conflict, and eventually the Amaranthine settled just outside the human areas. They continued to warn of brutish, violent creatures behind them, but the humans saw no reason to take their warnings seriously, until the Orcs came.

There were, in fact, creatures of two types in the initial invasion: Orcs and Goblins. Orcs are roughly as tall as humans, but more muscular. While most of them are not very intelligent, the commanders of their armies are as smart as we are. There were no warlocks or witches among them at this time. Goblins are smaller, uglier, and stupider. The humans had little chance against the invaders. In the hundred years they had been free, there had been no wars more serious than a skirmish, and no human community had formed anything resembling an army. The Shades fared little better. They too had only skirmished, and they had developed little magic capable of facing armies. While the goblins were less an army than an unruly mob, forced to fight by their Orc masters, the Orcs showed a surprising grasp of tactics and strategy, even though their forces were lacking in discipline. And if what the Amaranthine said was true, the Malwer were the ones truly behind the attack. They had recruited the Orcs to carry out their vengeance on the humans.

Fortunately for the humans, the Amaranthine had been fighting Orcs for years, and they lent their aid against them. It was not enough, though, as the Amaranthine were few in number, and their wizards were even fewer. Humanity was forced to retreat from their attackers, driven towards the sea in a narrowing strip of land as the Orcs laid claim to the countryside. In desperation, the Shades and the wizards pooled their abilities, and performed an act of magic unlike any seen before or since. They called the First Legion.

This is a 750 word continuation of a 2,200 word story in progress.

New Post: The next part can be found here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Review of Towers of Midnight by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

In 2007, James Oliver Rigney, who authored the best-selling Wheel of Time series under the pseudonym Robert Jordan, died.  He had not yet completed the series.  His widow selected Brandon Sanderson, the author of the Mistborn series, to finish the work.

The first result of that effort was The Gathering Storm, released last year.  It was a promising effort which, despite some flaws, captured the spirit of the Wheel of Time and moved the plot towards completion.  Now the second book, Towers of Midnight, has come out.  How does it compare?

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed.  As much as I like the Wheel of Time, and Brandon Sanderson's work, this one doesn't feel quite right.  Or maybe, it's because I like them both so much that I was disappointed.  It's not a bad book.  It's about average for a Wheel of Time book, which makes it above average, even good, compared to a lot of fantasy fiction.  But I expected better from the penultimate book of this 14 book series.

The first problem I noticed is one of chronology.  Much of this book focuses on Mat and Perrin, and follows their character arcs as they are prepared for the Last Battle.  I found both these stories engaging and productive (something which Jordan's books sometimes just aren't).  The problem is that their stories begin well before the end of the last book.   Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that Brandon switches viewpoints much more often than Jordan did, and their chapters were interspersed with Rand's and Egwene's chapters,which start after the end of the last book.  So one chapter you jump ahead in time, and the next you jump backwards.  This leads to some odd moments, such as Tam al'Thor being in two places at once. 

The second problem is one of characterization.  Most of the characters are fine.  Perrin, in particular, I think is handled well, finally growing into his role.  It was a little quick after just wanting to be a blacksmith for the past 12 books, but there really wasn't a lot of time left, and it happened in a way that made sense.  Elayne's a lot nicer than she used to be (since when did she feel affection for Galad?).  But since a lot of people didn't like the old Elayne, we'll just say she's mellowed with pregnancy and move on. Rand.... I'm not sure what to make of Rand.  It's good to see him sane again, but throughout this book he's just a little bit too perfect.  Messianic, in fact.  I know that he's supposed to be taking on a messianic role, but I'd prefer it if he were closer to how he was in earlier books, rather than suddenly being wise and calm and kind of dull.

Mat... ah, Mat.  It's sad to say, but I don't think Brandon really gets Mat.  Mat's supposed to be funny, and he is, but Brandon's Mat is... well, he's kind of dumb.  Now Mat's certainly not an intellectual, and he can be foolish, but Jordan's Mat is clever.  Very clever, in fact.  He has to be, in order to be the best general of this age.  His foolishness is due to the fact that he doesn't think things through.  Not because he can't see the consequences, but because he doesn't bother to consider them. He shines when he's forced to think and plan, such as when he's leading a battle.  It's hard to see how Brandon's Mat could ever be a successful general, even with his luck and the memories in his head.

One particularly egregious scene comes when he's explaining why he doesn't want to be a noble.  It's the boots.  A normal man only needs three pairs of boots, but a nobleman needs dozens.  He doesn't want to deal with that.  Another character asks whether that's a metaphor (doing so with one of those jarringly modern phrases that Brandon sometimes uses), and Mat explains that no, he's talking about boots.  Now, aside from the fact that Mat's shown the most interest in clothes of any male character (though he'll deny it if asked), the simple fact is that it's obvious why Mat dislikes nobles and doesn't want to be one, and that he's fully aware of those reasons. Mat simply values his freedom too much.  Nobles (and Aes Sedai) threaten that by telling him what to do.  Mat doesn't let anyone tell him what to do.  And worse, they try to manipulate, bully, and force him to do what they want, and Mat can't stand that.  As for why he doesn't want to be a noble, he realizes that being one would threaten his freedom even more.  The Pattern has had to drag Mat kicking and screaming into the responsibility he does have.  While he'll do his job as well as he's able (he doesn't like responsibility, but he definitely feels a sense of duty), he'll do his best not to take on any more responsibility than he absolutely has to.  Unfortunately, that really doesn't come through in Brandon's Mat.

Finally, there were a few continuity errors.  This was the book where the characters finally start learning each others' secrets.  The problem was, Brandon lost track of who knew what secrets.  For example, he forgot that Perrin's Asha'man told him about saidin's cleansing right after it happened.  And there were a few places where people suddenly knew things, and we're left to wonder whether Brandon just forgot or the reveal happened off-screen.  There were other places where it looks like Brandon might have forgotten a detail earlier and then hastily tacked it on in the revision.  And at least one reveal that I think should have gotten more attention, and resolution, than it did.

Okay, now that I've listed all the things that the book did wrong, did it do anything right?  Well, yes, it did quite a bit right.  Even with the Mat characterization off, I think Brandon managed the character arcs of Mat and Perrin very well.  They both grew into the roles they would need to fill in the final book.  Granted, Mat didn't have as far to go as Perrin, who had gotten stuck a while back.  Perrin gets to resolve a few nagging issues, and then make something really, really cool.  Mat, even suffering from a sudden drop in IQ, managed to accomplish some things which we've been waiting a long time for.  I think the cover of the book is enough that it's not a spoiler to say that he finally made it to the Tower of Ghenji.  Not all of that went as I expected, but the final key was very clever.  I didn't see it coming at all, but it made perfect sense once it did.  Other plot threads were resolved at an alarming rate... something I don't think Jordan could have done as well as Brandon, not without giving many of them short shrift.  But don't think that this was just about wrapping up plot threads that have been hanging for a long time.  There were a few surprises that actually, sincerely shocked me.  Pay attention to Aviendha--that was one of those scenes where I was thinking "let's get back to someone interesting" until I realized just how intriguing what was happening was.  And the epilogue... well, let's just say Olver's first POV is a gut-wrencher.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A few links

I've come across a few interesting links recently, and I figured I ought to share:

Jonah Goldberg talks about one consequence of the election: there'll be a lot of infighting in the Republican party. Why? To quote:
It's the nature of politics that when you're out of power, everyone can agree on what the top priority should be: Get back in power. But, the only way to get back in power is to attract people who might not share all of your goals or your passion. Majority coalitions by definition have diverse groups within them. FDR's coalition had everybody from Klansmen to blacks, socialists to industrialists. The new GOP coalition isn't nearly so exotic, but it does have its internal contradictions.
Marcia Morrissey asks "What does God really look like?" Marcia, who has never seen her husband or child, has a unique perspective on this question.

Jason Wire shares twenty untranslatable words from over a dozen languages. He writes:
Thus these words, while standing out due to our inability to find an equivalent word in out own language, should not be appreciated for our own words that we try to use to describe them, but for their own taste and texture. Understanding these words should be like eating the best slab of smoked barbequeued ribs: the enjoyment doesn’t come from knowing what the cook put in the sauce or the seasoning, but from the full experience that can only be created by time and emotion.
Sue Granquist shares what she's learned about the folklore of the Jinn in Morocco:
In Moroccan myth, each time a human is born into our world, a “Jinn” is born into another, adjacent world; more specifically the underworld.

Human beings are created from clay kilned in fire while the Jinn is created from the black smoke produced by the fire; two products of the same creation process.
This genie is evil incarnate and is each human beings’ personalized gift straight from Satan himself, so Happy Birthday!

As the story goes, the Jinn’s entire purpose is to stick close to its human counterpart like a dedicated poltergeist pushing him to wicked deeds, tempting him into acts of damnation and generally being a lifetime nuisance.

The Jinn love excess and whisper in the ears of their humans encouraging them to over-indulge in all things because apparently, if we’re too fat and happy, the Jinn finds it easier to plant nasty notions into our psyches.

This potentially explains a whole lot of unaccounted for chunks of time in college if you ask me.

The Jinn also know our deepest, darkest desires and use these “wishes” to tempt us into wickedness.
Livia Blackburne talks about a study showing that how erotic romance is written can have a measurable effect on condom use, and then asks the question: "What, if any, obligation does an author have to avoid promoting dangerous or self-destructive habits in their fiction?"

All in all, a lot to think about.

Monday, November 01, 2010

World Fantasy Convention Report

I'm currently on my way home from World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio, one of the bigger conventions for speculative fiction professionals, including writers, editors, and agents. It was fun, but exhausting. Most nights, there are parties going on until 3 am or so, and the hotel bar is where most of the networking is going on.

On this convention, I met John O'Neill, the man behind Black Gate. John was fun to talk to, and introduced me to many of the people involved in Black Gate, including Howard Andrew Jones, Ryan Harvey, and James Enge. I also got a chance to participate in my first Con reading with them. I read an excerpt from A Phoenix in Darkness, which will be coming out in Issue 17. I'm not great at readings, but I think it went pretty well. At least, a lot of people remarked that the image of little girls cutting up dead bodies will be sticking with them . . .

I also got an opportunity to chat briefly with Dan Wells, the author of I am not a Serial Killer and Mr. Monster. I complimented him also on the work he does on Writing Excuses, the writing podcast. He did ask me whether it was still helpful when applied to short stories. It is, but as I told him, you have to do more in less time in a short story, and that's often a challenge. In fact, I'd say the hardest thing to do in a short story is wold building. How do you create a unique, secondary world, when you only have six thousand words to do that, while still telling a story with interesting characters? It's an interesting question, and may be worth pursuing.

I met lots of other interesting people, but it's hard to type up long posts on my iPhone, so I'll wrap this up for now.