Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Relevancy of Fantasy and Science Fiction: A Defense of Geekiness

There's been some kerfuffle recently floating around the Internet about the relevancy of fantasy fiction and how science fiction and fantasy is going mainstream.  This has been a topic that has been analyzed endlessly on the Web (sometimes we geeks outdo academics when it comes to navel-gazing--I say that with love), but whenever there's a new trend or addition to the canon, it crops up again. An ongoing trend has been about the debate of the fake geek girl, a rather prickly and heated topic, and a few others that come to mind are the resurgence of popularity of superheroes and the advent of the grimdark movement in fantasy literature. I personally love these sort of meta-debates and the parallels to academia are again striking: intelligent, well-read people defining their study of interest and why it matters. In academia, a primary debate would be about what works comprise the canon (and the occasional critique of the canon's existence) and an example would be of the movements of literary going away from old white guys to writers like Chinua Achebe or Toni Morrison. As with any movement that gains momentum, there's a lot of debate about the change itself.

For geeks, the debates becomes more nebulous, and I chalk it up the variety of mediums we enjoy. Literature, films, and video games attract a diverse crowd, and everyone has an opinion on not only which medium is superior, but which works within the categories qualifies as "the best." For me, instead of dismissing opinions like that, I take it as a challenge. I seek out the work in question, because I want to see why Bioshock is such an awesome game or why I should be interested in N.K. Jemisin. My reasoning is pretty simple: this could be the next great work that I love, and if I don't seek it out, I'll never know. I think geeks are fueled by that kind of curiosity, coupled with how much time and energy a person wants to devote to finding new material. Being a geek is a lot about consumption, and luckily for us, sf/f books, games, and movies are created at an incredible rate to catch our eyes and our dollars.

The question of geeky canon does seem to boil down to the success of certain works, particularly because now the market is expanding to include non-genre works as well. Five years ago, stories like Sherlock Holmes and The Hunger Games wouldn't have necessarily been considered geeky. (Although I will acknowledge that THG has always existed in the lovely sci fi/literary fiction sweet spot of dystopian stories.) Now that these works have an enthusiastic fandom, I think we take their success in the geeky world for granted. Their successes have also brought in more people who self-identify as geeks, and those new inaugurated geeks bring in new things to geek over, love, and crossover (looking at you, Disney princess crossovers). Maybe the question of geeky canon has already been answered: it will expand as necessary to celebrate new fandoms and welcome new people. I have never had any truck with the people who say you have to be "this geeky" to ride.

Another point that's being made is that it means a lot more to be a geek now than it did five years ago. They highlight the popularity of cons, the trends that bring in waves of new people (*cough* Marvel movies *cough*), and how geeks are more relevant than ever in this era of technology. I agree, and I would add to that: science fiction and fantasy is more relevant than ever because the doors are open. The Internet is ubiquitous and so is the opportunity to get into geeky fandoms (and admit, the Sherlockians of Tumblr are having way more fun than any of us ever did just surfing Facebook). The only bar to entry is about interest and if someone is willing to give a geekdom a chance. Not every geekdom will stick, but as Cristea pointed out in "The Doors Are Open--SFF Goes Mainstream" on Fantasy Faction, there has been a trickling effect where people may play a game and then perhaps check out a fantasy book, and then five more (my addiction started with Harry Potter, but I think that just makes me old school).

The arguments that fantasy and science fiction are irrelevant and merely about unrealistic stories is becoming outmoded, I think, because the sf/f being produced today is reflective of a global mood. The old chesnut that sf/f is pure escapism is also fading, although that one is bit stickier. One big appeal of sf/f is the escapism--to imagine something unreal and revel in the magic--but the majority is about exploring stories that are similar to the best dramas of today, but are not unencumbered by the limits of reality. The few boundaries of the genre don't put a limit on what's possible, and when the story is written well, it transcends time better than any straight fiction. I know that's one thing I definitively celebrate as a proud geek.

The other huge appeal of geekiness is being able to share passion and a love of learning. Even the most closed geeks still have a lot to offer in terms of appreciating their fandoms. The passion is what makes geekiness so much fun and worth the time, effort, and money. Last week I did a search for fantasy publishers, expecting to find very few, and I found dozens linking dozens of others. The passion unites geeks and what makes finding new fandoms/works fun. The enthusiasm is palpable and a lot of bloody fun, and so I hope that we can continue to own the term "geek".

To celebrate the diversity of geeks, you might be interested in checking out this website:

Monday, September 2, 2013

When You Follow the Magic: An Unfinished Collection of Writer's Advice (Part Two)

For this post I will be linking to articles of writing advice, which applies especially to science fiction and fantasy writing. In my previous post, I discussed the best books of writing advice on sf/f, and those works have been canonical to my experience as a writer. What I love about the websites I'll be linking to in this post is that my knowledge and experience is constantly expanding to accommodate new advice. Thanks to the fantasy sub-Reddit, Tor, Mythic Scribes, and Blackgate, I can find words of wisdom from published writers who are successful in today's fickle publishing world. These articles are all recent, and usually tackle an angle of an issue that pertains to sf/f writing. This will probably end up as an ongoing feature (I'm constantly on these sites).

  1. "The Only Advice A Writer Needs" by Tony Cliff. I relate to Cliff because I get the desire to find the magical advice to solve my writer--hell, even my life--problems. What Cliff offers is a solid, practical advice about how to get it done. The frippery about inspiration will only get a writer so far, and Cliff gives reader the push to want to produce. The magnum opus will not write itself.
  2. "Writing Secondary Characters--Interview with Scott Lynch" by Katherine [sic]. Scott Lynch is a fun writer, one who knows how to make readers gasp, cry, and laugh. I had the chance of seeing him in a seminar about genre blending at Gen Con, and after that, I wanted to have everything to do with any advice Lynch could offer. In this interview, he's funny and crisp, and goes beyond merely discussing secondary characters. This interview is most helpful for creating an entertaining, well-rounded story.
  3. "Writing Fantasy Battles--A Look at Strategy" by Aaron Miles. This was a fun read for considering what went into tactics when the world use to have fights where two armies fought to the bloody end. Miles discusses early army organization (cavalry, archers, and infantry) and how they would be positioned for different conflicts/settings, what weapons they'd be using, and interesting details like why it's most important to show up the battleground first. This was my first time running into Fantasy Faction, and it's well worth regular visits.
  4. "Gallowglas, Hester, Wagner & Coe: Four Authors Sound Off on the Writing Life of a Midlister" by Garrett Calcaterra. Sometimes I get caught up in the vision of what it would be like to be as famous as J.K. Rowling, and because this article exists, I know I'm not alone. The reality is that "making it" as a writer is today as much as about selling your published book as it is getting it written and published. This article covers how uncertain the writing life can be, and also how thrilling and satisfying. The uncertainty stems from things that plague ordinary life: when your next paycheck will be rolling in and for how much, what projects you have going on and how successful they will be, etc. The satisfaction seems to come from using this implacable desire to create stories and managing to survive on your own talent. This article does have a pragmatic tone, so don't expect any overly optimistic advice. My recommendation to cheer you up is to watch an episode of Gravity Falls and think: if this crazy story can make it, so can mine, and maybe so can I.
  5. "Self Promotion for Horrible People" by Sam Sykes. This blog post is self promotion for introverts 101. While some writer's (including me) propensity is to be rather quiet, modest, and selfish about our stories, that's not going to get your story noticed or read. Putting it that way sounds callous, but Sykes discusses promotion in a positive, cheerful light--how to make promotion of your story fun. Sykes is funny and blunt, and this blog post was an interesting look into how writers can share their stories.
    1. Equally as fun and significant was Sykes' "The Importance of Being a Bastard". I love reading about fantasy that approaches the topic in an unconventional and interesting way, and Sykes covers that subject well with Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. The most important takeaway point of this blog piece by Sykes is writers need to love their stories and enjoy creating them, particularly because that creates better and more gripping fiction.
I love sharing the advice of these writers as much as I enjoyed reading about them in the first place. The real kernel of these articles is that the desire to write and the impetus to create is a wonderful thing, and to make sure that writers are enjoying that ride. This is why we got into science fiction and fantasy--to create something that transcends the ordinary and opens up new worlds in our imagination. I can't wait for more interesting pieces of writing advice to share!

When You Follow the Magic: An Unfinished Collection of Writer's Advice (Part One)

I realized I still have much to say about fantasy and science fiction writing. It has long been a passion of mine to mimic the magic I read in stories, experienced in games, or watched in movies. What I really enjoy is studying what goes into creating the magic: what kind of props are working behind the curtain? What elements are at play and how are they working to create such a wonderful way to use my time? I have found that fantasy and science fiction writing (what I think about these two being lumped together is another post...) is a marriage between the writing craft and the elements of genre. Most of the writing advice books I have read that are geared towards sf/f address both of these topics, with a sly wink that when they come together, you have a great story.

I do have a bit of penchant for writing advice books of all shapes and sizes. One of my favorite activities is to visit my favorite Barnes & Noble every month to see what new book Writer's Digest has released. Books written specifically about sf/f are few and far between, so I intend to list the ones I have read here for a handy reference! I have a couple of a caveats: first, that I don't really like the writing of Orson Scott Card and therefore could not get through the "canonical" How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and two, this is a distillation of many years of research. I have personally read each of these books, and can give them a good recommendation.

Fantasy and Science Fiction Writing Books

  1. The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke. This book may not openly look like a sf/f writing advice book, but trust me, it is. Gerke covers the technical aspects of writing--what should go on the page down to how to create a shiny and interesting first line--but delves much deeper into the heart of the story. My favorite part was his discussion of the protagonist, about knowing who the hero is and what kind of predicament they'll end up in. Gerke really highlights how, in fiction, writers have the ability to create the story that fits the protagonist, from their problematic beginnings (re: that the main character is living some way that is true to themselves, which the plot will bring to the surface) to the heart-rending endings (where the main character decides to whether to correct their personal imbalance or fail to do so). The language of the hero's journey is something very familiar to every genre of writing, but particularly sf/f. Gerke also uses examples familiar to geeks everywhere: LotR, Star Wars, Mulan, and various novels. Gerke has an immense talent with language, and I'm getting ready to reread the book for a third time (twice was not enough to absorb all of the important advice!).
  2. Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons From a Writing Life by Terry Brooks. I am personally not a fan of the Shannara books, for a reason that Brooks identifies in this book: it is really a Tolkien imitation. For me, it did not transcend the imitation enough to hold me (but I will try again one day). Sometimes is written in a conversational manner as Brooks discusses his personal success story and the habits he cultivates for creating stellar fiction. Brooks is very encouraging and accessible, and the fun was in seeing how he did it. While he may not go into technical details, I'm including this book on this list because it gives sf/f a vision for what their success could be like.
  3. Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold. Back when I first started wanting to write fantasy, wayyyy
    back 10 years, this book caught my eye. I consumed it in much the same way I'm doing with Gerke's book. It was my first encounter with advice geared towards sf/f, and the cover captured my imagination. I believe the book is now out of print, but still available on the Internet. This book is great for beginners to the genre and to writing: a solid grounding for constructing a story and using the inspiration of sf/f to create a killer story. Gerrold is a seasoned veteran of writing and sf/f, and the sense I got from him then was that he is a little "old school" (clearer good/evil alignments, lavish descriptions, typical gender division). He is definitely a dyed-in-the-wool geek, though, and his passion is unabated for good sf/f stories. His most familiar work is The Martian Child.
  4. Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy by Crawford Kilian. I think this book is useful because it helps writers lay a solid foundation for their stories in knowing about their genre and utilizing research to produce an excellent story. I liked how he handled science fiction and fantasy separately and then explores their subgenres, more than usual treatment of just epic fantasy! I wish he had expanded that section more, but it's a great starting point. Kilian also explains what goes into publishing a book beyond merely writing the story--hopefully soon I'll have cause to use that advice! My copy of the book also included a disc that had character creation software on it, but I have not tried it out yet.
  5. Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper. I believe this book may be fairly well known among aspiring sf/f writers, because of the eye-catching spooky cover and its relatively recent
    publication date. This book has the same engrossing hold as The First 50 Pages with some of the magic that Worlds of Wonder employs. Harper is blunt in the fact that his book is about the paranormal, necessitating that the story is set in our world that has a bit (or a lot) of magic added to it. Out of the books listed, Harper does the best job of helping writers create an idea for a story, by utilizing the familiar and then taking off with it in the most fantastical kind of way. Harper also gives good advice about how to flesh out the technical aspects, and there's a great anecdote about how he conducted research once for a story (sorry--no spoilers here!). The book also goes into advice about creating realistic dialects, and then later, to finding an agent and a publisher for your story. Harper also draws quite a bit from popular sf/f--think Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton, Raymond Feist, and Mercedes Lackey--to illustrate technical aspects (such as the lives and politics of werewolves). 

What I found the most in writing advice books is that their worth is entirely subjective. Many writers love to discuss their topic and give advice for what worked for them or how to avoid mistakes they made. At large, the books I have included have been the most accessible, and for me, the most useful for my writing aspirations. Writers like Harper and Gerke teach as a "real job" (Gerke as a speaker at writing conventions, Harper as a high school English teacher) and they seem to have the books that are the most engaging. I'm excited for discovering new and old books on writing and sf/f, and sometimes it's easiest to handle the topics separately.

For the next part in this series, I will be posting recent links to writing advice articles I have found that pertain to sf/f, and then maybe I'll have the proselytizing itch out of my system.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Links O' Interest: August 30

The "Links" feature has been on a brief hiatus, but I'm posting this as a stop gap until I can find more great geeky things to share. These were found on the Mary Sue and they are just generally awesome.

  1. Mock up Disney princess as covers of magazines. Way amusing because the artist really nailed the impressions!
  2. A master lady swordsman of today. The interview is a lot of fun to watch, particularly if you love medieval combat as I do.
  3. Retro Pokemon posters. It reminded me of a Bioshock crossover. Gotta love old school advertising (which has only changed slightly from the era it was inspired by).
There will be more links soon! There's a lot of video game news stirring, so my next post will probably include some of that.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Spell of Female Fantasists: Pamela Freeman's The Castings

The common wisdom in books is that genres were created by publishers for marketing purposes, to decide what part of the bookstore a book should be placed following publication. I like the simplicity of the theory in that it helps aspiring writers to decide what genre to categorize their story into. As a reader, however, I love books that don't fall definitively into any genre. In "The Dos and Don'ts of Combining Genres" by Joanna Volpe (Writer's Digest Yearbook: Novel Writing 2013), it is recommended for writers to choose a dominant genre, but to feel free to experiment with one or two others. Today I had the realization that this is exactly what my favorite lady fantasy writers do, much to the strength of their stories. Although I love "straight" genre pieces, the stories of the lady fantasy writers have stuck with me longer for their genre blending and balancing.

The stories of these writers combine fantasy, young adult fiction, mystery, and romance. It sounds like an overseasoned dish. However, through skilled writing and good editing, the stories are an excellent and savory meal. The queen of these writers for me is Tamora Pierce. I'm a fan of the Alanna (The Song of the Lioness) series, where the high adventure and adult themes appealed to me as a kid, and the Circle universe books. In the Circle universe in particular, each novel is centered around solving a mystery, and the series follows the protagonists as they grow into adults. The trials and tribulations of the characters gives grounding the wonderful flavors of Pierce's Circle world, where magic, mystery, and friendship are the ingredients to a great young adult story. Even as an adult, the Circle world still lingers in my imagination and I have enjoyed the rereads.

The second female fantasist who "genre blends" like a master is Diana Wynne Jones. Most of my exposure to her is through young adult fantasy short stories, Howl's Moving Castle, and more distantly, Witch Week. Jones was, quite happily for me, all over the shelves of my public library as a kid. Unexpected Magic was the first time I had run into what I can only call an ode to the English countryside. Jones's stories were sweet but bizarre, and I was hooked after that. It's one of the few times I have found a story that was fantastical and yet set in the bucolic country. Howl's Moving Castle preceded Jones in popularity for the Miyazaki movie, and the original novel is a great testament to a mixture of steampunk before it was cool, fantasy, and a fun coming of age story. Jones remains a "brick" in the wall of my personal fantasy literature education, and one for transcending the boundaries of genre.

The third woman fantasy writer is a recent addition for me, another gem discovered Half Price Books. The book is a sizable compilation, The Castings by Pamela Freeman. I found it in the "adult" fantasy section of the store, but like Kristin Cashore's books, could easily be in young adult. My basis for that reasoning is the level of detail Freeman included in her writing. Most young adult books keep a clipped pace and spare the details, where in adult fiction and fantasy, some writers will spend many pages lovingly describing the scenery, a character's description, and especially inner monologue. Freeman strikes a balance and adds just the right amount of flavor to appeal to both teens and adults.

I'm currently in the middle of of Blood Ties, the first book, and I feel myself enthralled in another fantasy world that blends fairy tale, medieval history, and magic. The land of the Eleven Domains reminds me of the England described in medieval manuscripts, plagued by invaders much like the Vikings. I have translated a few Old English manuscripts, and appreciate the level of detail in Freeman's writing that adds a touch of fantasy to the "boring" details. (My threshold for "boring" medieval history is very high--at the moment, I'm also reading The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting, and knowing every kind of hunting hound available at the time.)

The Castings is truly a gem among stories. Freeman makes the best use of multiple POVs, deftly intersecting the story lines and trying to discern who is the main character. The genre blending is not as present as in Pierce's story, and the magic is a bit more mature than what I read in Jones. Freeman's genre mixing is less evident than in those two, but there is a strong undercurrent of the action story, mystery noir, and historical fiction. The story resonates easily beyond genre. The main characters are presented with challenging, realistic situations, and with the tweaked historical details, it's a wonderful and engrossing read. The enthusiasm it inspires reminds me every bit of the joy I got from reading Pierce and Jones.

George R.R. Martin once stated to the effect that writing "straight" genre stories undesirable and even boring, and that his background was in gobbling Westerns, mysteries, and other genres in the dime store of his youth. The works of Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, and Pamela Freeman show that when genre blending is done well, the stories remain in the imagination for a long while.

On a personal note, I know I haven't written a post in a while. Let's chalk it up to personal upheaval. I'm also aware that my posts have been a little one-note recently--I promise to get back to geekery soon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Catching up with the Nac Mac Feegles and other rambles

I've had a very interesting realization that I have, in a sense, grown up with a fictional character. I'm not talking about Harry Potter--I'm referring to one of Terry Pratchett's creations, Tiffany Aching. I read The Wee Free Men in my early years of high school, and felt I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Since A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith. Then we did as fictional friends do, and grew apart. Until recently, when I discovered I Shall Wear Midnight. The reason why I bring attention to this is because Tiffany and I have grown together, where The Wee Free Men was less serious, like the light fare of Diana Wynne Jones, and I Shall Wear Midnight is much closer to Catch-22 in absurdity. For me, when I started reading about Tiffany, I was also passed the time playing Horseland (this was circa 2003, pre-cartoon)--and now I regularly read grimdark fantasy with a heady dose of violence. What is so exciting to me is that it's a good example of how interests can have personal influence, if only because our enjoyment is intimately colored of who we are and what we were
doing at the time. And now, how our enjoyment of interests can change in an unexpected way. The clearest explanation I can find in fiction is actually a similar (if more advanced) idea, in Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.

This comes on the heels of a lot of serious thought I've been given to interests, particularly in the context of geekiness. A lot has been said about the "fake geek girl", and one of the more salient points I took from that discussion is that no one holds the keys to the kingdom of geeks, determining who is allowed in. My favorite analysis comes from Under the Masks's Dr. Andrea Letamendi in this piece, because she discusses the insidious effects of prejudice in such a nuanced and interesting way. I feel that the prejudice Letamendi identifies applies to a crazy degree to women and people of color, but to a much a lesser extent, to geeks at broad. I'm referring to "interest prejudice", which I have seen a lot in academia. If you haven't read this book/watched this movie (or for geeks, played this game), then you're a lesser geek and perhaps not worth knowing, so goes the logic. Perhaps this is a feeling unique to me, but it has caused me to feel I can't develop a friendship with someone because I'm not as "worthy". It's a bizarre feeling, and it seems no geeky interest is free of it.

This has caused me to consider what kind of person I really want to be. For years, I've called myself a geek and tried to "prove it" by broadly being interested in many things. I have found many geekdoms to love, like Sherlock (not much of a stretch because I loved the stories), Firefly, and the Left 4 Dead games. There have also been things that haven't stuck: Halo, comics, and anime (with few exceptions, like Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Claymore, and with these, it is an extreme love). Recently, I have come to find it's not worth pursuing the things I don't enjoy or even pretending any longer--and I have no idea why it took me so long to get me to come to that conclusion. I have decided I want to instead pursue the geekdoms I do love that much more, like writing and fantasy of all flavors. I feel willing to give new geekdoms a shot, maybe two or three. For those people I don't have a lot in common with on geekdoms, I don't want to let that be a division between us, and I don't want to feel inferior because I don't share the same passion as another person does (even if they try to make me feel that way!).

Reading I Shall Wear Midnight, I have realized that Tiffany has gone through a similar transformation, albeit on the Chalk and not about geekdom. Instead, she's gradually finding the confidence to be the individual she wants to be, doing the things she loves, and upholding her own beliefs. I Shall Wear Midnight is unique because this seems to be the first time I can remember where Tiffany's witchcraft is treated as an assault, a threat, or an offense to other humans around her. Her "hero's knot" is to figure out which is more important: assimilating to a dominant culture and those who want her to be "normal" and obedient, or following her true calling of witchcraft and doing the things she loves most, namely helping people and hanging out with the Nac Mac Feegles. She has to choose, in essence, between being less of a witch or being less normal. I haven't finished the book yet, but I have a feeling where Tiffany's ending will be. As I understand it, this is the final installment of Tiffany Aching's stories, and in some way, it feels like childhood is ending and Tiffay and I are growing into an adults. I always know where I can find my fictional friend, however, and feel nostalgic about my childhood fantasy.

Links of Interest hasn't disappeared forever! The feature will come back in two weeks (although if I'm lucky, I'll get one in this weekend). Next week, I probably won't post because of Gen Con! *happy jig*

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book review: The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

In an earlier post, I mentioned something about liking The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Well, now I'm going to mention liking a book I think is comparable to a LotR of the twenty first century: Miles Cameron's The Red Knight. I found this gem many months ago in Barnes & Noble, staring face out as one of the new fantasy releases. The cover showed a man grasping a sword resting on the ground, only his hands exposed on the pommel and garde, colored in gold, red, and black. It was very striking, and after reading the synopsis, I did my literary litmus test: flip it open to a random page (or two) and see what I read.

I recall the passage being about a man who had his head gorily crushed by a monster--literary violence is only really sort of my cup of tea, given my affinity for dark fantasy--surrounded by some very beautiful prose. The prose was effused with the reactions of the characters, namely disgust and revulsion, but with a strange humor peeping through. I can't remember where the passage was exactly (it's a whopping 650 pages, but if you find it, let me know). What was immediately evident was that this story was in the hands of a literary master, somebody who loved language and whose skill reminded me of Angela Carter. I bought it and unfortunately, had to shelve it until I finished reading a few "practical" books.

When I did get around to starting it, I realized I was in for a mighty ride. From Cameron's familiarity with medieval culture and armory, I knew I was in good company. This is a man who rivals every medieval scholar out there in terms of love of topic and an excellent working knowledge (I would say expertise, but medievalists specialize too much for that). There's nothing boring or slow about the intense layering of details, and I loved the feeling that as the reader, I too was being marched around the battlefield.

Then, la! Characterization is definitely Cameron's other strong point. On an individual level, his characters grapple with personal problems and each other. Most of the characters are as flawed as any grimdark protagonist, yet there are two important differences. One, each character is relatively likable. They may not have the best personalities, but they have realistic motivations and emotions, which is the inherent appeal of flawed heroes. Two, as Jeff Gerke highlighted in The First 50 Pages, every character has some speck of goodness in them, even if it's buried deep. The goodness in them is a redeeming factor, but doesn't compromise the distinct tone of moral ambiguity. 

The goodness is also a significant way to distinguish The Red Knight from the very bastion of dark fantasy (grimdark? I'm not sure it qualifies), George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I love Martin, but I don't like feeling the hatred Arya feels towards the Lannisters (and many more), or the contempt Stannis carries around like a banner. I'm only halfway through A Storm of Swords but there are only a handful of characters I genuinely sympathize with, and they're all fighting each other. And on top of that, none of the characters seem to have any true moral values, like empathy or a sense of justice. Maybe Martin is too subtle for me. The important part about this is that Miles Cameron's characters usually do stand for some sort of goodness, even if they don't want to. 

We initially meet the protagonist because the company of mercs he leads been hired to protect an abbey. It seems simple enough (this is a very pared down version). Initially, he's getting paid to do the "right" thing, but in the end, the payment becomes almost irrelevant. Protecting the abbey becomes about self validation, guarding his fellow man, and besting a cruel and manipulative enemy. Those are all causes that as the reader, I can get behind. It was a relief to have a cause that I know is right, because for me, in real life righteousness comes down to a matter of choices, not personal glory. Not the chain reaction you see in ASoIaF. Don't get me wrong--I love Martin, and his stories have a place. Give me characters like the ones Cameron created, however, and I feel like I know them.

To explore this point a little further, I'll give why caring for the characters and their choice to do right (or what for them is right) is so important: the injuries and deaths in the story actually matter. In Martin's stories, people are maimed or die left and right, with no consequence. In The Red Knight, each injury is described in detail, and you can feel the characters bleed. When one of the more important NPCs dies, I felt a very real sadness for them. Cameron wroughts this effect with subtlety, using the characters' goodness, and as a reader and someone who appreciates literature, I am so grateful to him for that.

The story itself reminded me of LotR from Cameron's love of his characters, and his portrayals of epic battles. That comparison still breaks down a little down characterization lines, funnily enough. I realized last night that another reason how The Red Knight succeeds is that for the most part, the characters are very ordinary. Royalty and aristocracy is mentioned, and it comes and goes for the protagonist. The aristocracy is often portrayed in a comic light, which is a delight to read after we get such a solemn treatment of it in other works. By and large, the characters in The Red Knight are ordinary folk, and they are all too aware of that. It makes them homey, gives them warts, but they are beautiful in their imperfection. I loved that aspect of the story, because they are endearing and yet they act naturally.

The spine on my copy of the book reads "1", so I'm guessing a trilogy is to be born out of this. I will be seeking out more of Miles Cameron's work, if only because as with the same fever I got with Harry Potter, I have to know more! The story left off with a "wheels within wheels" ending, and I want to see the trap unfold. Particularly because the protagonist knows there's a trap, and is choosing to march on in anyways, whistling a tune.

Here's a link to Cameron's website below. If you have any questions or want to leave any feedback, comment away!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Links o' Interest July 27

It was a great week for geek culture, riding on the heels of the SDCC. I live on the East Coast, and until I "make it", I'm pretty far off from attending. However, that doesn't stop me (or you!) from reaping the nerdy benefits. Did anyone see the Tetris cosplays?

  1. This link is less time/con relevant than just general bad ass-ness: a premise of examining chauvinism in Tolkien. Tolkien and LotR, as you may guess, is my bread and butter. I'm excited for this series of articles to get underway.
  2. I'm a happy lady when animators show how awesome lady warriors can be, and Power Rangers is no excuse. I loved the Yellow and Pink Ranger clips...Particularly as there is a picture of me as the Yellow Ranger from Halloween circa 1995. These clips reminded me of "Shanghai Batman", and that is always a win.
  3. If you haven't read or heard of The Mary Sue yet, get thee to their site! I love Disney crossovers.
  4. Old school-esque pin ups and science is not much of a cognitive dissonance for me.
  5. I just started reading this. I feel out of the loop a little, but I know myself when I find webcomics: they're flipping addictive. Must. Read. The. Entire. Thing. Who needs sleep? I gotta say, I love Mr. Zane's so-called paranoia, because I get that way more than I'd like to admit. Lots of literary twists and turns, very Borges. Bring it on.
  6. I'm kind of crazy about xoJane. As in, I check it at least once a day. My favorite contributor is Claire, but this article by Kate Conway is excellent. It's my only SDCC-related link (I'll share other links as the individual franchise news is released). If you've ever been curious as to what it's like living as a geek girl, here's some honest insight. A little secret: I don't particularly like Michelle Rodriguez as an actress (for one very good reason: Avatar), but I love her call to arms. Vive le geek girl revolution!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Links of interest: July 21

Introductions aside, let's get down to business. I created this blog on this very day because my phone is overloaded with Google Chrome tabs of links I looked at and thought were awesome. The links are a serial distraction; when I want to open a tab from Google Search, my eye is inevitably drawn to another page I have open that I said I'd "come back to" later. I've already read the page, mind, and probably went through all of the interesting content, but it was just too cool to close. My boyfriend is a serial Chrome tabber (I've never counted his tabs, but they crowd his screen and he makes a point of saving them, even through shut downs). I can't live that way. I want to alleviate the pressure of remembering awesome websites but putting them up here, and I'm hoping to do it about once a week. Now they can crowd your tabs!

This week's links:
  1. Bully Pulpit Games. I found this while perusing the "r/fantasywriting" sub-Reddit many weeks ago, and the site is just too cool. These guys are clever and interesting, and I fully plan on buying one of their games. Most of their offerings seem to be card games, but the supplemental materials are available on the site, so you can get a sense of their style. "Carolina Death Crawl" and "Grey Ranks" look like fun games, full of humor, excitement, and murder, the makings of a fun evening.
  2. Stefon Mears' Blog. Okay, perhaps this is self referential to suggest another blog, but it's totally worth it! My favorite post? The one where he discusses A Song of Ice and Fire as the "what comes after" from the fairy tale happy ending. Absolutely fascinating, particularly when it comes from a series that strives to have no heroes.
  3. LitReactor. I just discovered this site last week, when I tripped onto an article by Rob D. Young about how D&D can improve storytelling. Ooh, reading it was magical. The inspiration Young gave was the Internet high five I was talking about in my last post. Excuse me while I go enjoy my fantasy gaming.

New beginnings

I think anyone reading this has heard of Lord of the Rings and its staunch fandom, more recently since Peter Jackson's rendition of the story into movies. The title "Frodo Lives" refers to the "first wave" popularity of LotR in the 60s, when it was chic for college students to tout a button emblazoned with the phrase. The buttons and bumper stickers are now available only obscurely on eBay and Amazon, and Frodo's fictional life hasn't been in true danger since a time long, long ago involving a guy named Sauron. But now the fans of Tolkien aren't letting Frodo die from obscurity, and this blog exists to celebrate that fandom with you. Any fandom, actually. If you're into Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, comics (Marvel vs. DC), the Wheel of Time, tabletop rpgs, video games, board gaming, A Song of Ice and Fire, and many, many other fandoms, I'm here to give you a high five. I want to celebrate how awesome and fun our fandoms are, and to give you an Internet back slap for being casual, hardcore, or somewhere in between.

This blog was created out of contempt, I'll admit, because I happen to know several people who couldn't tell a hobbit from a Valkyrie. I'll leave them to Twilight and The Notebook, without further comment. I'm writing this because I want to share cool ideas, events, links, and geeky enthusiasm. Frodo Lives with us.