Feb 14

Worldbuilding Wednesday 2/14/18: Great Romances

Guinevere’s getting ideas

 

Sometimes, when writing fantasy SF, or some mixture of both skewed sideways and viewed through a mirror, a writer likes to be clever and insert some obviously intentional fictional replacement for a real-world person, place, or thing. For example, Poppy Z. Brite’s novella Plastic Jesus was about a 1960s rock band called the Kyddz, the name a clear stand-in for The Beatles, which didn’t exist in the novella’s world, right down to the intentional misspelling.

Since it’s Valentine’s Day. I played around with the titles of some well-renowned love stories that fiction writers or game designers can use for local color, or perhaps a story inside a story.

Imaginary Romances


Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Blackfellows

Love and Gristle

Harmony and Librarianship

Vigilance and Defense

Youth and Pachouli

Pride and the Hairbrush

Purity and Pretense

Peace and Prejudice

Loneliness and Jaundice

Logic and Stability

Clarity and Justice

Doom and Prestidigitation

Villainy and Pratfalls

Romeo and Juliet

Romaeo and Charmiet

Rapáe and Phea

Romey and Julie

Rolei and Signe

Ramoo and Aila

Moyee and Neviah

Ruqueo and Fariet

Wuthering Heights

Foraging Heifers

Thieving Highs

Weathering Hells

Stalking Kirtles

Blustering Quoits

Lady Chatterly’s Lover

Lacy Bradderly’s Villain

Dame Chasttelin’s Gamekeeper

Lady Chappesty’s Gypsy

Lady Tytterly’s Ouevre

Lanie Drattesny’s Lovely

Anna Karenina

Annie Karabethina

Ashlee Karenssa

Strella Kadryxna

Gretta Kekyvaina

Salda Karenina

Anna Karenobel

Trista Karylvania

Sara Sarenina

Inga Katherina

Feb 12

Her Ritual

bizarre face mask

The ritual was about to begin. She masked herself accordingly.

 

Feb 10

New story in Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II anthology

My short fantasy story “The Unchosen” is featured in this anthology from Left Hand Publishers, under my other writing name of Trece Angulo.

You can buy it here from Amazon.com.

“The Unchosen” was a story I had been planning to write for ages. Like many writers of my generation, I’d been entranced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (until I saw through the obvious sexism, that is) but I had always wondered about the boys and girls who weren’t chosen by one of the dragon hatchlings. What happened to their lives? Did they forever resent the ones who were? And what if being chosen wasn’t all it was cracked up to be?

These were the ideas I played with in my story.

It also follows one of my favorite themes, the gulf between illusion and reality, and how human beings reconcile the two.

 

Feb 09

The Dinosaur Lords [Review]

The Dinosaur Lords

by Victor Milán
Tor Fantasy, New York, 2016

 

I bought this book for my cousin, thinking it was grimdark fantasy by the cover, perhaps set in some He-man barbarian milieu like Robert Adams’s Horseclans novels, but with dinos as the mounts. Before I sent to her, I thought I’d read it first. I wound up being pleasantly surprised.

The book is a sort of alternate world skewed sideways fantasy: a world where dinosaurs have not gone extinct, human culture is based on 14th century Spain, and the world is lush, tropical and fruitful. Disease is rare. Humans, however they came to this world (and it’s implied that they did) brought with them dogs, cats, ferrets, horses and goats — the “Five Friends” — and depend on dinosaurs for the rest of their needs. Small ceratopsians serve as cattle, hadrosaurs and some carnosaurs as beasts of war, struthiomimids as courier steeds, and small theropods as poultry. These brightly colored feathered beasts also give humans reptile leather and feathers for decoration. It’s a hot, humid world, so humans wear little else, and the religion they follow is Catholicism turned inside out — pleasure is celebrated, not forbidden. It’s all quite exotic. In some ways I was reminded of an Aztec empire that absorbed the conquistadors and made them over, rather than being conquered by them. The world building is dense and chewy, and that’s not including all the descriptions of armor and battle tactics.

There was so much to chew on, in fact, the story took a distant second place. This was fine by me, as I am a dinosaur scholar myself, and in that the story didn’t disappoint. The creatures were always there, reminding us that this is a different world with different rules of battle. More dangerous rules, in that mounted dinosaur knights have a very real chance of being squished by their own mounts.

The fun of the story comes from reading about these battles and the men who wage them. There’s a narrative stringing them along — angels, not beaming, scantily robed messengers of god, but immoral murdering avengers, are returning to the world for reasons unknown, and at the same time the Emperor has his hands full with a rebellious lord and so sends out his finest warrior, Count Jaume Llobregat, to make battle with the opposition’s finest, the mercenary gerneral Voyvod Karyl Bogomirskiy, who was robbed of his hereditary kingdom of Slavia. This battle starts the book and sets the events in motion. The Emperor wins this battle, but a second plot soon hatches in another part of the empire, and the armies must clash again.

The two generals are the heart of the book, the contrast of Karyl, who has a practical, at times unhonorable, way of commanding, self-centered as befits his position as a mercenary, yet also aiming for the highest and best results, with the more high-minded style of Jaume, who beauty and love and the glamor of battle, yet also acknowledges its ugliness and hypocrisy. Two very different commanders, both sympathetic and brilliant in different ways. Their continuing clash is what made the book interesting, though they were only instruments of the plot and did not drive it.

Other plotlines weave in and out. There’s intrigue in the capitol with the Emperor’s daughters Montserrat and Melodia, who is good as betrothed to Jaume, and the infiltration of the court by Count Falk von Hornburg, up to no good under orders from his ambitious mother; there’s also a sect of pacifists who hire Karyl and Rob Kerrigan,  Karyl’s dinosaur keeper, to protect themselves from raiding neighbors. There’s heartbreak in the battles and much gruesomeness, but I can’t call it grimdark because there’s too much hope, color, and sheer exuberance, which caught me up and carried me along with it, even though I have zero knowledge of battle strategies medieval or otherwise. And although the myriad descriptions of armor might have bored me, I found them fascinating it added to the total picture of war.

The parts of the plot aside from the battles were not as strong or compelling, including two of the POV characters. Rob Kerrigan, who narrates Karyl’s story through his own eyes as his second in command, got to be one-note after a while (he likes booze and broads, got it) and though he served the plot as an everyman character, I wish he had more dimension. Princess Melodia had little to do either, serving as a voice of dissent for Jaume’s loyalty, and then getting caught in the gears of Falk’s treachery; she suffers an awful rape for no real reason (and an embarrassing sex scene as well, a little earlier.) Later in the story she shows signs of strength and maturation, and I’m guessing she will become a stronger character in the future. She has the female-written-by-a-male syndrome of admiring her boobies and other ladies-in-waiting’s boobies, which was annoying, but in the greater scheme of the story, I could overlook it because the battle depictions were just that good.

There were little snippets before each chapter about the different kinds of dinosaurs, native gods and goddesses, and so on, and I liked those too, even if they didn’t always relate to the chapter they headed.

Now let’s get to the good stuff. As a writer myself, I suppose I could find deep fault with the idea that 14th century Spaniards somehow made their way to a different planet where real-world dinosaurs never went extinct, and refer to those dinosaurs by the names 20th century people gave them, which had been recorded in their Bible of sorts. Even though this is a fantasy, and the author’s disclaimer at the book’s beginning lets us know what not to expect (“This world—Paradise—isn’t Earth. It wasn’t Earth. It won’t ever be Earth. It is no alternate Earth. All else is possible…”) I found myself wondering just what in the hell was going on with this world’s history. Which could be a plot point for the reader to gradually discover, if not for the characters who already live there. Then again, the author doesn’t necessarily owe it to us. But the world is such a nifty one — pseudo post-Columbian Spanish Aztec Empire with dinosaurs! — that I honestly feel it deserves it.

Another minor issue I had is with the names of the dinosaurs. They do have nicknames like vexers, runners and scratchers but their scientific names are used as well, with their measurements, in meters. I can guess that not referencing them by species would make it extremely confusing for the reader, but then again, where does 20th century paleontology figure into this world? I can see why the author did it, but it’s still a plot hole at the end of the first book. I wonder if he should have been more insouciant about his setting. I am reading The Worm Ouroboros now, and E.R. Eddison certainly made no explanations for setting a story on Mercury in the countries of Demonland, Witchland, and Pixyland, with some warriors having Latinate names and others bizarre monikers like Fax Fay Faz.  The work stands on its own merit. Eddison didn’t have to explain.

Lastly, as a dinosaur fan myself I have to say the author really did his work in researching how these creatures might have acted under domestication and battle training. Some details are fanciful yet not scientifically unsound, such as the outrageous colors and the terremoto attack of the hadrosaurs, an infrasonic roar aimed to discombobulate and confuse enemy troops. Everything did seem well researched using the latest information available at the time the books were written (keep in mind new discoveries are made all the time.) An enjoyable read, and I’ll do the sequels as well.

 

 

Feb 07

Worldbuilding Wednesday 2/7/18: Let’s Talk About Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth I of England

Elizabeth the I: Powerful and regal.

 

Elizabeth remains one of the more popular girls’ name in the USA. The name originated from the Hebrew Elisheva or Elisheba, translated into Greek as Elisabet. In its classic English form, Elizabeth,  is classic, stately, and elegant. Derivations include the popular Isabel, Elise, and Bella; there are also many diminutive forms such as Lisa, Betsy, Beth, Elsa, Ella, Lissette, Liz, Liza, Betty and Bessie, and foreign ones such as Erzsebet (Hungarian) and Elspeth (Scottish.) (For a fuller list check out the Wikipedia entry.) Any of these, with a tweak or two, can provide a solid name, or names, for female characters in a fantasy setting.

Or, you can appropriate one of my variations here.

Variations on Elizabeth


 

Esferalpha

Ilizabeth

Ylizabet

Edoirameth

Ethriza

Elizoria

Ellalossa

Elstilada

Elhanabreth

Alravina

Elizayla

Ímhallera

Elizoline

Elizudra

Elizzeda

Aelizeffa

Elizynette

Elorabeth

Shinabet

Alizabeth

Elzenabeth

Aelizabeth

Elzydris

Evizabeth

Elsananeth

Elizaneth

Ysorialbet

Elizatra

Anizythis

Élizanje

Etrizamet

Elmorielle

Elizothy

Panzibeth

Elizameth

Elizabad

Zanizabet

Saazabet

Elezaben

Elivabeth

Jorizabeth

Thuradabeth

Elmabith

Elizabek

Elizeren

Nyzabeth

Zanisabeth

Elinibeth

Lalizibith

Elzeffabet

Idizabeth

Dalizabeh

Starzabet

Cassimith

Farizabet

Elarabeth

Leelibeth

Elidew

Elizared

Elizhyrine

Edhalobel

Elizarene

Ellukabeth

Ifzandrisat

Elenzabeth

Olimothrin

Feb 05

Sofa

What really lies under the upholstery? Have you checked?

 

(Art by Cao Hui)

 

Feb 03

Why I Hate Smirk

I don’t often post about the craft of writing because there are other writers out there who can say what needs to be said far better than I can; plus, I consider this blog a quirky entertainment, and I feel didactical posts don’t fit in very well with that. Plus, it’s preaching to the choir… surely if you are a fellow writer, you know all this stuff already? And if you are a reader, surely you wouldn’t care?

But today I am going to harp on one of my pet peeves: the overuse of smirk.

Smirk is defined “to smile in an affected or smug manner.” In fiction, people most often smirk after they say or do something rude. Often it is used as a tag in place of “said.” It’s not a defensive facial gesture, like an apologetic smile; it goes on the offense, and is intended to show contempt and often rebelliousness in a character.

Problem is, it’s way overused, especially in Romance and YA books. One book I read had at least 40 counts of smirk in about 100,000 words. That’s 39 too many. Actually, 40 too many.

Why do I hate it? It says and does nothing. Picture a smirk in your mind. Can you do it?

Is this a smirk?

Who was the last person who smirked at you or with you? Have you ever seen it outside of a cartoon or graphic novel perhaps?

How about this?

 

Can you simulate one right now that is unequivocally a smirk and not a lopsided grin or grimace?

I bet you can’t.

Outside of the fact that a smirk is visually ambiguous, in good writing we should be able to tell how the characters are feeling without it, through the dialogue. A sarcastic joke told doesn’t need a smirk. Neither does a smug confession, or a sudden revelation intended to humiliate the hero or heroine. We KNOW what’s going on from the context and dialogue. We can picture exactly what expression is on the aggressor’s face. We don’t need that smirk. It’s overkill.

Perhaps I should blame editors for this, and not the writers? Just spreading the blame.

While I am beefing about smirks, let’s start in on “quizzically raised one eyebrow.” That needs to go in the dumpster as well. I’ve seen it everywhere, Mysteries, SF, Fantasy, YA. The reader should know the character is questioning, and perhaps skeptical, by the dialogue and context, and they don’t need this facial tic to drive it home.

Try to raise one eyebrow in a questioning way, like Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series. Can you do it?

Even worse than reading about characters smirking and raising eyebrows are characters who TELL us what facial gestures they’re making. The whole point of reading first person is to listen to the main character telling you their story, as if they are present, and the stage-directing, as if in a script, of specific, usually unconsciously performed, facial expressions throws a reader right out.

I would also like to add grinned and chuckled to the mix (chuckled is more common in mysteries, for some reason) as well as chimed in and simpered, which fortunately are not used as much as it once was.

You may picture me smirking, grinning and raising my eyebrows now, as I make this post.

Feb 01

Teratomas

Teratoma: A tumor consisting of different types of tissue, as of skin, hair, and muscle caused by the development of independent germ cells. Teratomas are most common in the ovaries or testes.

 

Some artists also see these medical anomalies as things of beauty, humor, or social commentary.

 

Teratoma Tumor necklace pendant charm by Netherworldoddities

 

Teratoma by ceramic artist Lauren Gallapsy

 

“Tabitha Teratoma” stuffed toy by Lucylovebiscuit on DeviantArt

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Collection of “Fleshlettes” by artist Jonathan Payne

 

Teratoma fashion on the runway

Jan 31

Worldbuilding Wednesday 1/31/18: Ski Resorts

A climate-controlled ski resort for global warming.

 

From Central Europe we move to winter sports, specifically, ski resorts. (Of course, snowboarding, ice skating, and cross-country skiiing are offered as well.) These, in Canada and the U.S. at least, tend towards a certain blandness when not named after local mountains or Native American tribes. By mixing and matching, possibilities are generated, so when you need a fictional sports resort for a story, here’s a short list.

North American Ski Resorts


 

Northwest Trails

Crystal Slopes

North Moraine

White Creek

Wolf Mountain

Blue Lake

Fox Vale

Eskimo Peak

Bobsled Creek

Elk Ridge

Alpen Vale

Northern Run

Coyote Ridge

Doe River

Rocky Meadows

Squaw River

Black Boulder

Stormy Vale

Snow Goose Pass

Eagle Creek

Wolverine Rock

Goose Meadows

Sunrise Summit

Snow Queen Ridge

White Grove

Stormy Rampart

Maple Peak

Norse Woods

Red Rock

Eagle Plateau

Maple River

Fox Lake

Jan 29

Bibendum

It’s hard to believe. but these nightmarish characters were the first version of the
lovable Michelin Tire Man.

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