Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Assorted Fiction Natterings

     I figure, as long as we’re all going to die of the Kung Flu®, I might as well talk about fiction for a bit. First, be aware:

On Friday March 20, The Warm Lands will be free of charge at Amazon.

     I’ll repeat that announcement on Friday morning, of course. And please, if you like the novel, post a review. Reviews sell books!

     For about the past ten years, every novel I’ve attempted has presented me with more difficulties than any of the previous ones. It’s moderately worrisome, as it could be a sign that I’m “running out of steam,” which I’d prefer not to happen until I’ve scheduled my funeral. For the moment, I prefer to interpret it as an indication that I’m striving to work the themes I cherish into ever more challenging situations, but of course I could be wrong.

     One way or the other, as I ponder the setting and key motifs of my next novel-project, I find myself thinking about a dear departed friend: a brilliant engineer who delighted in solving problems by using components and techniques our young colleagues would regard as antiques. He knew about the state-of-the-art methods available, and could sometimes even point to off-the-shelf solutions. But the challenge was what he valued most. He once phrased his approach this way: “There’s got to be a harder way to do this” – and he was serious.

     For a fictioneer’s role model, I could do a hell of a lot worse.

     On the originality crusade front: There isn’t much going on in urban fantasy that’s particularly new, but two series I’ve recently enjoyed deserve mention.

     First, there’s Lisa Edmonds’ Alice Worth series:

     Series protagonist Alice is a powerful, multi-talented witch with a serious problem: an extremely powerful relative who’s a major crime lord, and who once kept her in bondage as one of his tools. That relative features in each story, whether as a backdrop character to color Alice’s personal moral and practical dilemmas or as a plot participant. Each episode has been gripping; the fifth one, Heart of Shadows, was released just today. Enjoy!

     Second is Amber Lynn Natusch’s Blue-Eyed Bomb series:

     Series protagonist Sapphira – do not call her Sapphire! – is a volatile, not entirely under her own control possessor of immense powers...and a shadowy second identity that delights in unleashing those powers to effect enormous destruction. Her family, the Patronus Ceteri, is responsible for keeping order among the supernaturals of Chicago. That makes ‘Phira something of a dilemma. They want her powers at their disposal, but they struggle to keep her personally out of trouble – and trouble is something Sapphira gets into with great ease. Recommended.

     Every now and then I stop grumbling about the lack of originality in contemporary speculative fiction and muse over the reasons for it. Some things, it seems, are just...hard. Consider space-war SF as an example. How does one distinguish one’s space battles from those of others writing in that sub-genre?

     “Traditional” space-war fiction concerns battles between space fleets. There’s a fairly limited range of things that one set of spacecraft can do to another. Few writers have managed to loosen the restrictions. My one “space war,” depicted in Freedom’s Fury, cannot serve as an example.

     The standout that comes to mind is John Ringo’s Troy Rising series. Ringo’s space battles differ from the norm in several ways. Most notable is his exploitation of asteroids hollowed out and re-engineered into mobile battlemoons. Such stations have both unusual strengths and unusual vulnerabilities, both of which Ringo exploits cleverly. But these tales are definitely an exception to the prevailing pattern, in which armed, more or less conventional spacecraft fire projectiles, lasers, and particle beams at one another. A writer must be be exceedingly imaginative, it seems, to come up with something strikingly new in this sub-genre.

     Where is the fallow ground in magic-based fantasy? We have medieval or “high” fantasy, contemporary or “urban” fantasy, semi-technological and “steampunk” fantasy, and fantasy with special creatures (e.g., vampires and werewolves). What possibilities have not yet been exploited?

     I tried a direction that seemed new to me in The Warm Lands. A few readers have already written to inquire whether I’ll be developing a series based on its key motifs. At this time, the answer is no, but that could change.

     Once, in giving a presentation to a class about libertarianism, I asked the students whether any of them had ever been interested in magic. A few hands went up...all of which belonged to persons who were somewhat abashed about admitting it. I smiled and told them not to be overly embarrassed, for magic, if it worked, would appear to be an easier way of achieving one’s aims – some of them, at least – than the alternatives. That’s its attraction.

     But magic could come at a cost...possibly even a terrible cost. James Blish, in his novels Black Easter and The Day After Judgment, (now only available in the compendium volume The Devil’s Day) posited that the invocation of magical forces is itself deadly to one’s soul. The “price,” being deferred, tempts the aspiring magician to think he can cheat Hell before his life runs out. But a price that cannot be deferred is depicted in Morgan Blayde’s novels of Caine Deathwalker, the “Red Moon Demon.” Caine suffers intense physical pain for calling upon his powers – and he prefers it that way, being the sort who dislikes to accrue an unpaid debt.

     What other prices and / or difficulties are imaginable? Can you conceive of an equilibrium law that penalizes the magician in some as-yet-unexplored way? If so, clutch it to your breast; it might be the most valuable item in all of fantasy fiction. (Maybe you could auction it off on eBay!)

     That’s all for the moment, Gentle Reader. I must return to pondering what on Earth I still have to write about. See you later or more likely tomorrow. Stay warm and safe.


HoundOfDoom said...

Thinks get harder over time because we raise the bar for ourselves. It's a sign of having an intelligent and restless mind. Be glad for this.

Monty said...

I always enjoyed Harry Turtledove's "The Case of the Toxic Spelldump". As I recall, the positive effects of some magic were balanced by negative byproducts which were then dumped in special areas overseen by the Environmental Perfection Agency.

And thank you for yet more books to add to my reading list and for all your work on the blog!