caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
On First Finishing Mira Grant's Newsflesh Trilogy

Seldom I've dabbled in the realms of red,
Or splashed my cricket bat with sanguine stains:
Who once the zombie genre sore disdains
Not lightly is amused by dudes undead.
At whiles attempts most valiant I'd read:
Bill Swears and Alden Bell took noble pains,
Yet none, meseems, did nosh upon my brains
Till Mira Grant scooped mine from out my head.
Then felt I like stout Rudyard Kipling when
Of all the well-worn ways to tribal lays,
He stumbled on that lost Threescore-and-Ten,
That closes hidebound books, and opens eyes
To all they asked - nor craves we read again,
But do, and do! - and cry, "When will we rise?"

*

Keats' original can be found here, for those unfamiliar with it. 

[livejournal.com profile] wswears's Zook Country* and Alden Bell's The Reapers Are The Angels are the other good books reffed above, and indeed are the only other literary zombie-fests I have so far finished.  Not even unmentionable-smashing ninja Bennet sisters have otherwise managed to carry me along with the Brainsss Brigade.  This is probably because I get my RDA of shambly zombie goodness by 5.30 most mornings, courtesy of my trusty shaving mirror - but I digress.

For those unfamiliar with Mira Grant (alias the excellent contemporary fantasist [livejournal.com profile] seanan_mcguire), what more can I say? Go on, get some read on you!


 * ETA:
Which first persuaded me that a zombie apocalypse book could also be a right good read, and in whose absence I might never have tried out the others.

caper_est: Sharpening the quill (writing)
"The SF writer sees not just possibilities but wild possibilities. It's not just 'What if' - it's 'My God; what if' - in frenzy and hysteria. The Martians are always coming."

Philip K Dick, 1980.


SF as the rightful literature not of "What if - ?" but "My God; what if - ?!" is a motto I would willingly blaze in forty-eight point letters of gold upon every ideas folder I ever keep.

And I wonder how much of the spirit of modern fantasy can be well understood in such terms - not so much of "My God; what if this should come?", but of "My God; what if this should have been?"

To get from the idea to a story worthy of it, we then mostly need a protagonist who can answer, "By God, then this...!"  - and to great triumph or tragedy, or occasionally even to great laughter, carry their answer and the reader all the way home.

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
I've found I can't keep re-writing this, because it gets every way worse each time, and there's nothing I really ought to change in it; so here's a few words re-posted from my comment on John Scalzi's tribute thread to the late Anne McCaffrey, one of my great influences from my early teens: -


I was twelve, and in various ways less than happy, when I first encountered Dragonflight: the start of a long literary affection, and an eye-opener in a lot of ways. Lessa was my first bookcrush, and what a crush she was: it wasn’t until much later that I stood far enough back to notice that she just happened to be the first female protagonist I’d ever met who simply pulled me straight into her viewpoint and kept me there to the last gasp of the race. What this particular character identification says about me, who knows?

This was only the start. Anne McCaffrey also introduced me to, among other things: science fantasy; dragons as I’d desired them to be since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and heart-hungry for dinosaurs; the concept and necessity of fanfiction; the powerful domestic (esp. Harper Hall) and romantic (everywhere) strains in a genre I’d always seen overwhelmingly in terms of the heroic, epic, scientific, and high-political… I can’t even go on. Today she has far less direct influence on my style and tastes than almost any of the other writers who captivated me in my personal Golden Age – but her characters still show strongly among my friendly ghosts, and there are images from those books that have scarcely dimmed on me in thirty years remembered.

Oh, aye: there goes one I shall be missing. Wind to her wings.

And here's what I wrote when I caught the bad news on Making Light. It is not as good as I'd have it, but it will have to do in the pinch.



Lessa's Last Word

"He'll shake me!" she said,
Who shook him into shaking
Their world's mean Alexander from his roost atop High Reaches –
Who shook his heart, and in the aftershock
Their age,
Their ways,
Their me - a small mean singer from an eminence of twelve,
Borne up to be, to love her, in a storm of stone-musk wings –

"He'll shake me!" she protested,
Still shivering from shaking
The wide world's tree for redfruit: new days, new flights of old
Whom she had moved to leave for after times
Their age,
Their ways,
Their selves – that small fierce vision, from a child's height and the sky's –
Spent, shivered, frozen – home, with all the wide world's price on wings!

She shook us, then.

Between our worlds seeps chill.
The breath that bore her flight up's fallen still.


caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)
Following on from Nicola Griffith's Russ Pledge post in June, and the ongoing discussions about the literary invisibility of female authors* -

Since the end of May, guestblogger Anna at Echidne of the Snakes has been posting a Sunday series on A Literary Canon of Women Writers, beginning with Enheduanna of Ur (23rd century BCE).  She's now reached the thirteenth century, featuring the distinctly SF-friendly troubadour Marie de France.  The scope is global, the detail often considerable, and the vast majority of its subjects previously unknown to me.  But not, by any means, unknown to the literary communities of their day.  Highly recommended and a big eye-opener.  I'd be interested to hear other people's responses to it.

Echidne's archiving system is somewhat peculiar, and I can't find any way to link to the latest post directly, but it is easily found by a little scrolling down.  Direct links to all previous posts are provided at the top of the new one - though, because of said archiving system, they may initially appear not to be taking the reader to the post specified, even on broadband.  But a few seconds' wait will hit the target.


* I began to write 'women authors', before realizing that this required me to be cool with the phrase 'men authors', which scrapes fingernails down the slate of my soul. Though not as much as those charmings who freely refer to groups entirely composed of humans as 'males', 'females', 'whites', 'blacks', 'olds', 'youngs', 'clevers', 'stupids', 'sicks', 'healthies', and all those other adjective nouns which they deploy with impartial style and elegance.

caper_est: A cartoon virus. (meme)
From [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll:

Italicize the authors you've heard of before reading this list of authors, bold the ones you've read at least one work by, underline the ones of whose work you own at least one example of. Come up with improvements to flavour your versions.

Marcia J. Bennett
Poppy Z. Brite
Mary Brown
Lois McMaster Bujold
Emma Bull

Pat Cadigan
Isobelle Carmody
Brenda W. Clough
Kara Dalkey
Pamela Dean
Susan Dexter
Carole Nelson Douglas
Claudia J. Edwards
Doris Egan
Ru Emerson
C.S. Friedman
Anne Gay
Sheila Gilluly
Carolyn Ives Gilman
Lisa Goldstein
Nicola Griffith

Karen Haber
Barbara Hambly
Dorothy Heydt (AKA Katherine Blake)
P.C. Hodgell
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Tanya Huff

Kij Johnson
Janet Kagan
Patricia Kennealy-Morrison
Katharine Kerr
Peg Kerr

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Rosemary Kirstein
Ellen Kushner
Mercedes Lackey
Sharon Lee
Megan Lindholm*

R.A. MacAvoy

Laurie J. Marks
Maureen McHugh
Dee Morrison Meaney
Elizabeth Moon
Paula Helm Murray
Rebecca Ore
Tamora Pierce
Alis Rasmussen (AKA Kate Elliott)
Melanie Rawn
Mickey Zucker Reichert
Jennifer Roberson

Michaela Roessner
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Melissa Scott
Eluki Bes Shahar (AKA Rosemary Edghill)
Nisi Shawl
Delia Sherman
Josepha Sherman
Sherwood Smith
Melinda Snodgrass
Midori Snyder
Sara Stamey
Caroline Stevermer
Martha Soukup
Judith Tarr
Sheri S. Tepper
Prof. Mary Turzillo
Paula Volsky
Deborah Wheeler (Deborah J. Ross)
Freda Warrington
K.D. Wentworth
Janny Wurts
Patricia Wrede



caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)

I said I would get back to this.

Let's begin with the assumption that a story's protagonist wants something, and that they have some sort of personal code, constraining what they will do to get it.  If either of these is false, I'm probably not among the intended audience.

So a victory would seem to consist of more or less getting what they're going for, without becoming hopelessly corrupt in the process.  If the means are true but the end fails, then we have the epic tragedy of the doomed stand.  If the end is won but the means fail, we get the ironic tragedy of the hollow victory.  If the ends fail because the means strayed, we get the classic tragedy of sin bringing forth nemesis; and, finally, if the ends fail and the means were vile but there is no particular connection between these disappointments, we get the literary tragedy of the book hitting the wall.  So far, so clear.

Within a single story, all of these things may occur at multiple levels.  The story itself, though, is one and only one of them as a whole.  I want to look at one of my favourite kinds here - the first one, victory, or protagonist triumphant.  But that covers a lot of territory yet.  It can be uncomplicated and unconditional: Eddore destroyed and the Hell-Hole harrowed.  It can be bittersweet: Sauron defeated, and many fair and wonderful things passing with Frodo into the veiled West forever.  And it can diminish into a minor chord of utter accomplishment and heartbreak: Ged done with doing, all his gifts given, and carried a-dragonback home.

No, there is nothing straightforward or vulgar about victory.

One thing that is not straightforward in the crafting of it, is what the reader most ardently cares about.  Can the reader be sure the author will give them a victory this time?  If so, where is the tension?  And if not, why did the reader just spend their hard-earned bills for yet another unwanted reminder that life sure can suck?

Which brings forth a choice.  One way, for the "tough-minded" reader, is to establish early on that the protagonist's success is in very serious doubt.  They can lose.  They can lose it.  They might not win, or they might go so far off-beam that you couldn't care less if they won that way.  But... but... they're not quite down yet!  And at the climax of the story, if the author doesn't cheat, this version of realism pays its dividends in earned YAY AWESOME THEY WON! - or in OH NO NO NO SHIIIIIT! - power.

There are problems with this approach.  It takes exactly one word to provide a substantial spoiler.  Also, once a reader has got an author's measure, questions like, "Can Plain John Smith defeat an alien god - before it makes of the Universe a hell forever?!?" tend to answer themselves quite independently of their superficial probability.  But presumably we care about the sub-goals along the way too, so each of these can offer its own unpredictable tension.  "Will they win?" is not an easy question, nonetheless, to sustain at greater length than the novella.  Sword-and-sorcery, with its relatively low stakes and frequently dodgy protagonists, is probably the SFnal subgenre best fitted to ask it.

"Will they win?" is not really a good way to describe my approach as a writer.  Nor the approaches of most of the writers I read.

This leads me on to the next approach - which asks arguably the master-question of science fiction as a genre.  This is the question suggested by [info]seawasp's 'Kirking it' preference - How Will They Win?  I defer its delights for a further post.

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)

I eventually broke down, and gave Sriva from The Worm Ouroboros a handful of spare paragraphs to buy some Thramnian wine with.  But as soon as my brain is my own again, who now invades it but the mutant mindchild of Pat Robertson and Sarah Palin, come to a near-future UK to start an impossible and undesirable revolution - with a very high trump concealed carefully up his sleeve.  500 words of an SF short that cannot possibly be short enough.

I think I want my Witch back.

If Sriva and the Marshall and all their cohorts don't pick my brainstem completely clean, I might actually finish my chapter by the end of the week.

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
Got back last night from a thoroughly revivifying week with the Mam in Anglesey.  Heard our first cuckoo, by the feet of Holy Mountain!  Saw our first puffin, clowning around by the great cleft in the rocks of South Stack!  Ate sea bass with banana and tomato chutney at the tiny, unpretentious, but ever-delicious Harbourfront Bistro!    (The chutney is infinitely more scrumptious than it sounds, and complements the bass to a nicety.)  Began my crisp-leaved new copy of Grand Central Arena on the train home! 

The one thing I did not do was add wordcount to the novel.  Instead, I lolled, scribbled, quaffed, and let my mind range over the possibilities for rewriting the current arc into a clean and solid draft.  Still ranging, but back to the writing again now.

Life is good.

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