Vintage HOBBIT

Dug up this old copy of THE HOBBIT while cleaning. Bilbo is still kickin’ after all these years.

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“Slay The Beast!” New Microfiction Published

dragon

Hey everyone,

My new piece of microfiction,  “Slay The Beast!”, was published and you can read it here for free on 50-WordStories.com

I’d like to thank Tim from 50-Word Stories for picking it up, and I’d encourage all my readers to check out his site. It’s an awesome project, and if you write micro or flash fiction I’d also encourage you to submit something. It’s a fun craft challenge trying to articulate a story in EXACTLY fifty words.

Writing Fantasy Is Hard

VHS box art for "The Iron Master"

“The Iron Master” VHS box art, aka “Every sword & sorcery cover ever”

Writing fantasy stories is tough work.

I’ve been slowly grinding out a fantasy/horror novel over the past year, and I have a whole new respect for authors of the genre.

I’ve always loved fantasy novels, especially the “sword&sorcery” sub-genre, but they are definitely outside my wheelhouse when it comes to writing. I stick almost exclusively to horror and weird speculative stories, but I wanted to venture outside my comfort-zone and dip my toes in the shimmering magical pool.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned.

World Building Sucks

“Sucks” might be kind of a strong word for it, but I find it frustrating. Sure, it’s really cool stretching your imagination to create all these fantastical places and things, but it’s also REALLY difficult! There are supernatural elements in horror, but they are often limited, and can be put into real world settings, like New Mexico or something. I vastly underestimated the amount of time and effort that goes into fantasy world building. Now I get why so many books rely on variations of time-tested tropes.

Names, Places, Names, and more Names…plus Dragons?

How do fantasy writers keep track of all this stuff? Character names, places, and magic systems. The number of things you need to record is mind-numbing. All novels require some level of research, but the nature of fantasy usually requires deep backstories, complex interactions between entire races, and “systems”. For the most part, other genres can safely assume things like gravity and physics are a given. Even Science fiction (at least the good kind) is grounded against certain rules, that provide a baseline to start against. TL;DR – If you write a fantasy novel, buy extra notebooks and Post-It’s.

Being Original is Difficult

Creating an original idea in 2017 is tough no matter what you write. We all have influences that shape our voice. Fantasy cliches and tropes are especially easy to spot though. As soon as “Orcs” or “Orks” show up, you’re already ripping off Tolkien. Kids who use magic? You might be treading on Harry Potter’s toes. The wide berth of stories and subjects in just the last five decades speak to both the popularity of the genre, along with the extraordinary challenges inherent in coming up with something unique.

 

I’m determined to finish my fantasy book, because I love the characters and the story, but my expectations have certainly been adjusted since I started the first draft. I have a newfound respect for fantasy novels and the people who write them.

 

BOOK REVIEW: “BLACK GOD’S KISS” By C.L. Moore

First published in the pages of Weird Tales in 1934, C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry is the first significant female sword and sorcery protagonist and one of the most exciting and evocative characters the genre has ever known. Published alongside seminal works by H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, the six classic fantasy tales included in this volume easily stand the test of time and often overshadow the storytelling power and emotional impact of stories by Moore’s more famous contemporaries. A seminal work from one of fantasy’s most important authors, Black God’s Kiss is an essential addition to any fantasy library.

I’m continuing my journey down the rabbit hole of “sword & sorcery” fantasy from the early 20th century. While mostly dominated by Conan the Barbarian, I picked up Black God’s Kiss on recommendation from Reddit  listing it as a “must read”. Is it a must for fans of the genre? Absolutely.

paizo_black_gods_kissJirel of Joiry is a fantastic protagonist. Unlike most of the heroes (anti-heroes?) of this grim subgenre, she is well rounded. She’s a fierce warrior, but she displays a variety of emotions the basic trio of rage, arrogance, and lust that her male peers default to. Questioning her own motives and decisions, as well as her own capabilities make her a flawed and relatable heroine. She’s larger-than-life, but far more humanized and less of a “force of nature” than Conan, Kull, or any of the Burroughs archetypes.

Set in a fictionalized version of France, Moore’s writing is grounded in a familiar geography. Jirel’s adventures take her to fantastical lands and alternate dimensions, but she always returns home to her fortress tower.This re-occurring thematic element along with the French setting adds a tangible, central anchor to some otherwise wild stories. It also plays well with the romantic elements that wind through most of the stories.

The tales are fairly consistent, with Jirel facing off against different antagonists and risking her life for conquest, honor, and revenge. Moore’s prose is dense, as was the style of the time, and the word repetition wavers between poetic and redundant. These are not breezy reads. People in the 1930’s clearly read at a higher grade level.

“Quest Of The Starstone” (the 6th and final installment in the book) is the only entry I really didn’t care for. It focuses on Northwest Smith, another of Moore’s heroic creations, as the protagonist and Jirel is a supporting character. It’s what they refer to as a “cross-over” in the comic book industry, and just felt a bit trite, since Moore dis-empowered Jirel to give one of her other characters the limelight. This was a collaboration with Henry Kuttner, and another author’s influence in the mix surely had an impact as well.

Black God’s Kiss gets a strong recommendation for fantasy fans. Jirel is a great character, and was clearly the foundation for numerous other famous female warriors like Red Sonja and Brienne of Tarth. It’s also convenient to have the complete collection of her adventures in one book, since the “sword & sorcery” era is notorious for numerous incomplete collections which can leave a reader wanting.

If you’re searching for some intense fantasy action with a strong female protagonist, check this one out! You can buy a copy below using my affiliate link. While the paperbacks have gorgeous covers, they are currently out of print, and a bit pricey. It’s only about $1 for the Kindle edition, which is well worth it.

Black Gods Kiss (Planet Stories Library)

WHAT I LIKED:

  • Likeable, flawed heroine with more depth than is usual for her genre
  • Beautiful, complex, prose
  • Stories of (mostly) consistent quality

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

  • Some of that beautiful prose had weird stylistic/editorial choices
  • The last story in the book is a little weak

 

“Bloodstone” Review

BloodstoneBloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I count myself as a fan of “dark fantasy”, and Bloodstone was an excellent find in the genre. If you enjoy Conan and other grim worlds, the realm of Wagner’s anti-hero Kane should be right up your alley.

I ran across this book while scouring for older fantasy works, since I have been getting a bit bored with a lot of the modern fantasy I’ve been checking out as of late. Plus I have been playing Dark Souls, and it put me in the mood to read something set in a brutal realm. Kane is an interesting character, enigmatic and self-serving, but he’s the type of guy you love to hate. Wagner’s universe is oppressive and unforgiving; full of demons, vicious sword fights, and dark sorcery. His prose is DENSE, and the vocabulary he uses to build his vision demands full attention. I found myself re-reading pages to ensure I knew what was happening.

If I can level a few criticisms, the middle of the book lags a bit, but it’s not so horrible a slog that I became bored. Also, the authors penchant for “SAT words” (he was also a psychologist) ran a little rampant and he picked a select few to overuse. You can only read the word “coruscant” so many times before it becomes irritating. There was also some verbiage that I can only describe as medical terminology that arrived late in the story and felt a bit out of place.

Outside of those minor faults, it’s an excellent story that pulls no punches in creating an intense atmosphere that blends dark fantasy and science fiction. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a challenging read that is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the “Tolkien-esque” heroic high fantasy.

View all my reviews on Goodreads