Thursday, August 14, 2014

Assorted Fiction Natterings

There are quite enough commentators blathering on about the crises in the Middle East, Obamunist foreign policy madnesses, and the current spate of racial violence in Ferguson, MO for my taste, so I'll divert to one of my other obsessions for the morning. I hope you're not disappointed, but hey, I don't get paid for this, y'know!

1. Some Nice Ink.

Forgive me, Gentle Reader, but I simply must lead off with this:

Some people write books that inspire. Some write books to teach us something or to make us think, while others write books that are rollicking good fun.

Very few writers manage to do all of these things at the same time.

Enter Francis Porretto.

Francis does that and more. He gives you big issues to ponder through the struggles of his characters and he allows you, the reader, to sort out your own answers....

Many of you already read Mr. Porretto at his blog Liberty's Torch and you've seen the right hand column lined with his books (great cover art by the way.)

Now if you're anything like moi, your first thought may be, "I don't like science fiction." However, I have come to learn that I do like science fiction. Many of my favorite books are, in fact, classified as science fiction such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. I've also learned that there is all sorts of sub-genres gathered together under the umbrella of science fiction. Just a quick peek at the Wiki entry on science fiction is enough to completely flummox the most intelligent of people.

What I've discovered is that I want to read a book with characters with which I can identify. I also think most people feel the same way. So let's skip the classifications that pigeonhole books and just say the books Mr. Porretto writes are worth reading.

I started my Porretto journey with Which Art in Hope. Even though the characters are sometimes spinning about in space, I was perfectly capable of relating to them as they struggled with questions regarding morality and ethics. His underlying theme is individual freedom leaning heavily toward libertarianism.

Some people find this to be his best work, but I was much more enthralled with his Realm of Essences trilogy starting with Chosen One, into On Broken Wings, and (so far) my all time favorite, Shadow of a Sword. I highly recommend you read them in order.

In Chosen One we meet Louis Redmond, a man of impeccable character and great brilliance who lives in fictional Onteora, New York. Guided by his mentor, Malcolm Loughlin, we follow the challenges Louis must face and the decisions he must make.

On Broken Wings continues the story of Louis and we meet Christine D'Alessandro, who Louis rescues from a ten-year enslavement by some very nasty people. He helps Christine regain her self-esteem and grooms her to be the next "chosen one" after his untimely death.

Christine and Malcolm continue on in the third book, Shadow of a Sword, with the introduction of American politics, which is probably why it is my favorite. We meet Stephen Sumner, a third party candidate running on a constitutional platform, and we follow his journey on the campaign trail.

I'm getting ready to start The Sledgehammer Concerto by Francis which he describes as:

    Three siblings.
    Children of the dark.
    A mystic reaved of his faith, who holds the power to heal the wounds of the soul and dispel the anguish of the dying;
    A genius warped by abuse, who strove to bring desire itself to heel, and succeeded beyond her wildest hopes;
    And a visionary of freedom hidden in plain sight, whose tales of courage in the face of oppression brought him worldwide fame and a most unpleasant official notice.

Sounds good to me!

...and I hasten to assure you that Miss Adrienne:

  • Is not a relative, and:
  • Does not owe me money.

2. Never, Ever Do This!

George R. R. Martin has been making tidal waves with his A Song of Ice and Fire series, especially since the advent of the excellent and hugely popular HBO production derived from it. But like many writers largely ignored by the mass media for most of their careers, Martin is apparently too fond of the microphone, with the additional fault that he likes to tweak his readers' noses:

During an interview at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Martin revealed that he no longer read Game of Thrones fan message boards because a number of fans had successfully guessed the ending of the epic franchise.

“So many readers were reading the books with so much attention that they were throwing up some theories and while some of those theories were amusing bullshit and creative, some of the theories are right," the 65-year-old author said.

"At least one or two readers had put together the extremely subtle and obscure clues that I’d planted in the books and came to the right solution."

The article compounds the damage by including this:

He's confirmed what many avid readers of the series have suspected for some years.

1) Ned Stark is not Jon Snow's father.

"I've definitely got some unfinished business that needs to be resolved there." Bean told Vulture. "I'm obviously not Jon Snow's dad. And you need that to be revealed at some point, don't you?"

Fans on many forums have prophesied that Jon Snow was the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned's murdered sister, Lyanna.

This would make Jon Snow's claim to the Iron Throne among the strongest in the Seven Kingdoms, the fans suggested.

But perhaps the biggest clue comes in the form of the overarching title of Martin's series. A Song of Ice (Jon Snow) and Fire (Daenerys Stormborn Mother of Dragons), a kingdom in which Snow ruled the north and Daenerys the south, perhaps?

Fellow indie writers, please, please don't emulate this practice. One of the things that keeps a reader plowing forward is his desire to see your mysteries unraveled and your puzzles solved. When you deprive him of that tension, you undermine his willingness to continue. Take heed!

3. More on Seanan McGuire.

I cannot recommend Miss McGuire's oeuvre highly enough. Just now, I'm midway through her novels of October Daye, a half-fae private investigator and reluctant heroine, and they're just as gripping as her Incryptid books, if not more so.

McGuire likes to "pile it on," creating large, heavily populated tapestries in which multifarious species and subspecies must live out age-old rivalries, vendettas, and the occasional world-shaking prophecy. Despite the profusion thereof, her characters -- including the larger-than-life ones -- have three dimensions and quite a lot of personal appeal, something notably lacking in the works of many urban fantasists. Additionally, when it comes to romance, she displays an admirable subtlety, the lightest of light touches.

But wait: there's more! McGuire's ebooks are all priced quite reasonably, a refreshing departure from the prevalent practice of pricing the ebook equally to the paperback, such that the buyer merely saves the shipping cost. I could only wish other writers would do likewise; it would do wonders for indie and conventionally published fiction both.

4. Trends In "Tough Chick Lit."

In my little tome An Indie Writer's Odyssey, I wrote:

Any number of writers—mostly women, of course—have established themselves among readers as purveyors of “chick lit:” romantically toned stories, with or without a sexual gloss, intended to appeal to the softer side of the fairer sex. The underlying theme—in the writer’s mind, not the reader’s—is that more women are interested in stories of love and romance than in adventures, speculations, mysteries, or other sorts. Though there are exceptions—I’m married to a murder-mystery addict who disdains “pink and purple books”—enough romance writers have prospered to lend some credence to the notion....

But in recent decades, we’ve seen an explosion of stories about a different sort of heroine: the “tough chick,” capable of going mano a mano with any man and willing to do so for what she (at least) thinks a good cause. Indeed, “tough chicks” seem to dominate adventure and speculative writing today. Though “tough chick” adventures are more likely to issue from female than male writers, they’re more popular with male than female readers—and quite profitably popular at that, if the displays at Barnes & Noble are any indication. The temptation to dip a toe into those waters can overcome even the manliest man, as I should know.

What I seem to have detected in my more recent forays is a mushrooming tendency to combine the two approaches -- again, mostly by women writers -- into a single novel, in which a female hero-protagonist has both death-defying adventures and a healthy bout of romantic entanglement. If there's a strategy behind this approach, it would be to appeal equally to readers of either sex. But how well does it work?

(Mind you, what follows is one reader's opinion. One highly opinionated reader-writer's opinion.)

The quality of the result tends to vary. In part this is because many romance-oriented writers are unable to meld those two emphases in an evenhanded fashion, an undertaking which undoubtedly takes more than a mere desire to do so. However, in equal or greater part it's because so many lady writers are so un-ladylike, in which regard they're reinforced by the equally un-ladylike editors currently dominant in Pub World's ranks.

Not to put too fine a point on it, there are quite a lot of hairy-armpitted bull dykes both writing and editing fiction these days -- and I don't care whom I might have offended by saying so.

Ladies and pretenders to the title: You want to write female heroines? Fine. Do so, by all means. I've done so myself. But it's an old bit of wisdom that people read fiction first and foremost to be entertained, not to be harangued about your political postures or your sexual perversions. But you have a message to deliver? That's fine too. But she who lets her message detract from the entertainment value of her story has written what we old farts used to call a tract: the sort of thing that was once printed on cheap newsprint, collated into staple-bound pamphlets, and pressed upon unwilling passers-by on street corners by hairy-eyed, bullhorn-voiced types who hadn't showered recently enough.

Oh, you'll sell a few. But to whom? The people you most urgently want to enlighten? Or those who already agree with you and don't need your "pot of message?"

Think it over.


Adrienne said...

Conversation with editor (hubby):

"Would you please edit my post"


"Wow, only a few commas." (Not sure if they were added or subtracted.)


"I fixed a few of Fran's things, too"

"Wait. What? You edited Fran?"

"Well, wrong is wrong. He won't even notice."

Adrienne said...

And you're absolutely right about the female characters and pushing an agenda instead of entertaining. I've noticed the same phenomenon.

Like your wife, I love a good mystery. Lately all the detective heroines are butt kicking hard-liners who inevitably get hooked up with one or another detective where they melt into his manly body - or something.

My general practice if I really like a book is to delve into other things the author has written.

Sooooo.....I read a really well written book which had a minor character who was homosexual. I grabbed three of her other books and it became quite clear that homosexuals of some sort or another were in all of her books.

They all went back unread. I wasn't interested in her fixation.

And I won't tolerate graphic sex scenes. I know how it's done and I don't need an author to explain bodily fluids to me. Ugh!

Weetabix said...

A short trip to Philadelphia has given me some time with my Nook again, and I've been reading some of your short stories that I'd squirreled away against the advent of free time.

I'm really enjoying them. Thank you for your work!