Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dragon Age

I was wondering how many of you have seen this article about the videogame Dragon Age II, and what you think of it.

It basically tells the story of Bioware's response to a male gamer who didn't like having homosexual content in Dragon Age II. I personally love Bioware's response and support them in trying to make games that appeal to as many people as possible. I often include homosexual characters in my science fiction and fantasy, often trying to not make such characters red-flagged, as it were. I like fantasy or sci fi novels in which being gay is no big deal. They make me happy. ^_^

How about you? Is it something you look for in fiction?

Monday, March 28, 2011

In The Future There Will Be No Chicken Pox

(Edited for total incoherence -- apparently I was more tired than I realized!)

I just spent the past two days in various walk-in clinics, the Wal-Mart Pharmacy (because the pharmacy we use, where Everybody Knows Our Name, is closed Sundays), dental clinics and dental surgeries, all to deal with an abscess that suddenly ballooned up on Herr Dr. Delagar's jaw Saturday night -- Friday he was fine, Saturday it started hurting, Saturday night he was in agony.

In the Kafkaesque labyrinth that is America's useless modern medical system, I had plenty of time to speculate what medical systems might look like in the future.

I would love it if these future worlds and their health care systems were as pretty as they appeared in some of the SF books I read in my adolescence: where bright children asked their daddies what cavities were, and it is revealed that cavities were things children used to get before the vaccine was invented against them.

Or Octavia Butler's Xenogensis series -- just don't create kids that will have problems; and then if anything happens to go wrong afterwards, the Ooloi fix it!

Or her other series, the Patternist series, where those who have the talent can reach in and teach the body to heal itself.  Very cool.

Or on Star Trek: McCoy and his tricorder, just a few passes of the remote control, and ipso facto, Dr. McCoy knew what was wrong.  (Unless for plot reasons he did not.  Actually, I never did figure out how medicine worked on Star Trek.  There was that episode where Whorf had a spinal cord injury, which apparently no one could fix.  But WTF?  Aren't we like hundreds of years in the future?  I guess that ban on stem-cell research really worked.)

Or Iain Banks' Culture Worlds, which are post-scarcity, and also have the ability to manipulate human biology so completely that -- so far as I can tell -- almost nothing is fatal.  (A mixed blessing, surely, given what happens to some characters because they can be kept alive so endlessly.)  

Or John Varley's early novels, where no surgeon need her hands before cutting into people, because no harmful bacteria made it off earth -- and also where surgery is so simple any ten year old can replace his own liver with a kit, and people pop in for cancer cures like we pop in to have our oil changed.  Full-body sex changes take longer!  And are also so common everyone has them dozens of times throughout their lives.  But the point is, medical care is available to everyone, very high quality, and very low cost. 

But even if none of these bright futures await us, surely we can dream of a nice future like Sweden or Denmark, where medical needs are met sensibly, rather than being a for-profit industry -- where those without a six figure income aren't forced to decide between staying alive and having a life.

True story:  as I'm waiting in line at my friendly neighborhood pharmacy last year, the one where Everybody Knows My Name, where sometimes when my insurance company is being a Butt, as it often is, my pharmacist will work with me: on this one spring day, this guy in front of me, his kid has some horrible bacterial infection, apparently, resistant to most antibiotics.  So he needs an uncommon antibiotic.  Only his insurance company won't cover it, because, get this, it costs $3000 for ten pills.  Luckily, dude is from Fianna Hills, the rich bit of Pork Smith, and he just whips out his debit card and pays $3000.  

In my broody dark days I suspect future medicine will be like that:  drugs and life for those who can whip out a debit card and pay.  Suffering and misery for those who cannot.

Kind of like now, yes.

That's the future I speculate about when I write SF, for obvious reasons (obvious, because, as I frequently tell my students, no one actually is writing about the future when they write science fiction).  

When I write about medicine or medical situations in my SF stories, almost invariably I find myself writing about that two tier system -- or, well, really, as I know, it's actually more complicated than that.  (Everything always is!)  The two tier system is really four or five or more tiers.

  • The topmost tier, which we never see.  They own hospitals, in the sense that they are major donors, major lobbyists, have funded chairs, so on.  Do they make appointments, wait in line, fetch scripts from pharmacies?  Sit in waiting rooms outside MRI machines?
  • The upper tier, the really rich (but not that 1% who own the country): rich enough to jet across the country to get to the best doctor.  They'll never do without an abortion or a specialist. Plus they have the money to buy the treatment.
  • The middle tier.  We can treat abscessed teeth, and broken legs, but we better hope nothing really serious goes wrong.  
  • The lower middle tier.  They drive five or six hours to get to free clinics.  These are my students, some of them.  I keep tablets of cold medicine in my desk drawer to hand out to them, winters, and Tylenol.  They're mortified, but they take it.
  • The lowest tier.  They never see doctors.  Like the upper tier, they're invisible. They look twenty years older than they are, usually, and are usually dead before they're sixty. 

One of the clinics I visited was filled with the middle tier.  The other was filled with the lower middle tier.  And here's the thing:  I want to believe in a bright future.  It's why I do what I do, why I teach and keep teaching.  Why I write science fiction.  I want to believe the world can change.  But watching the receptionist haranguing the suffering poor of Fort Smith, Arkansas -- people clutching their aching jaws -- demanding 1/3 of the price of having their teeth removed up front before the surgeon would  even think about relieving their pain, and these were people with insurance, well, yikes.

Did I mention Christian music was playing in the background?

What other future could I write, living in this land?


Friday, March 25, 2011

I Didn't Plan Ahead

OK, I thought I did. A little, sort of, almost. I thought, "You know what would be fun? Sharing Megacon pictures with everyone."

I know Orlando is a two hour drive away. We left at 10am for a convention that opened at 1 -- we thought we'd have lunch after the drive and before the con. My glaring error is that I did not think about the two hour drive after we left. Or that Friday night traffic might be ... heavy.

But it's only a little after 10pm and we're finally, exhaustedly, home.

And as (not-quite) promised, pictures.

Ti helps us plan. (Really that's a map of Ireland, but it was cute that the moment we spread it out on the floor she curled up one it and seemed to be studying all the cities.)

Then, as we drove, Little Boy looked out the window and exclaimed, "Look, look, a chicken wall!"

Little Girl's eyes glow evilly next to R2D2.

Little Boy recovers, with laughter, after the Dalek turns and extends the plunger arm toward him.

Husband poses with PimpVader.

I cannot explain the gunsword. Swordgun? It's probably a video game thing. It seems to have a complete lack of ... practicality? Guns, distance weapons. Swords, melee weapons. Would this be combining the most limiting features of both? And if it is supposed to shoot swords, can you imagine carrying all the reloads? And only magic could make the thing fly straight.

But this is a low picture of an amazing Lego reproduction of the trench. Husband took an above picture...

It was fun. I'd recommend cons to everyone. This one, I liked better than DragonCon, at least for taking children. We did go the short day, so there were fewer people there. That might have been part of it, but DragonCon was so AMAZINGLY, VERY, FULL of people that moving through it with children was difficult, time-consuming. Occasionally painful. DragonCon would be fine for adults, but babies seemed to be viewed as purposeful obstructions by many of the officials and a good half the guests.

Here, my children weren't quite so small so were less obstructionary, but everyone was pleasant. People talked to them and us and didn't seem to be annoyed at their shortness -- except the one guy with the hentai art book out on the table. (Little girl had wandered a few feet away from us and was flipping through some pictures -- the guy snatched it out of her hands as I got close enough to see detailed ...uhmm... ladyparts over her shoulder.)

Anyway, other than that, we had great fun. And the costumes.... at least half the guests were wearing costumes. And amazing ones at that.

Next time I will get a top hat. Maybe a bowler. I think I like the top hats better though.

Which cons have you been to? And which ones would you recommend? (I want to go to WorldCon some day, but the next one is in Chicago and I think I'd rather go other new places in my travel before I start revisiting where I've already been.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I see your zipper

In your alien costume, that is. Watching an old episode of Star Trek the other day got me thinking. How much written science fiction has been biased by science fiction television or movies, more specifically, the budgets of those shows. Actors are cheaper (and have been more available over the years) than CGI or special effects. Hence, the aliens you see are usually people with make-up and the occasional prosthetic.

Everyone in the future listens to classical music or the occasional written-on-the-fly tune because the rights to music are very expensive. And you can't usually showcase brand names in a TV show or movie, and when you do buy the right to do so, the brand name you're showcasing wants to be front and center, so much so that it becomes annoying to the viewer.

So, is this why the bulk of aliens in written fiction are humans with a few extra bits or a little more height? I understand that they're more relatable that way (hell, I write them myself) but could it also be that we writers are swayed by the images we grew up with? The lack of music or brand names in written fiction is easier explained. We don't use them in books for the same reason they don't use them in movies, except I have no idea how much we'd have to pay. For that reason alone, I simply avoid saying Coca Cola. Whoops. No Coke execs here, right?

What trend do you think carried over from visual fiction to written? Have you noticed anything in your own writing that you picked up from TV or movies?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yo! What Is It Good For?

Nah, this isn't another political post.  (Athough...)

I was at a conference a couple years ago, I can't even remember which one this time.  Might have been the PCA, might have been the CEA.  

But as always, I went to all the panels that had anything to do with science fiction, because that's pretty much all I even mildly care about these days.

This one featured a professor who promised to explain to us what science fiction was for.

Which -- cool! -- because up to that point, I have to admit to you, it hadn't occurred to me that science fiction had to be for anything.  So I got my coffee (the best thing about this conference, as I remember it, was that between sessions there was free coffee and sometimes also tiny packets of shortbread cookies) and cookies and settled into the back row with my notepad.

Sadly, my notes from the session do not survive.  So I can't tell you the professor's name. I do remember it was a good session, and that she did not actually come to conclusions -- so I can't, in fact, tell you what science fiction is good for.

I do remember that she had some general ideas, based on her years of reading and teaching science fiction.

Science fiction, she said, often seems to be for some of the following:

  • introducing new technology (the way-cool effect)
  • increasing hunger for new technology and new ideas 
  • challenging common perceptions of our culture (you thought this was true, but no, look, this is actually the truth)
  • opening the door to new ideas -- either cultural or technological
These last two might look like the same, but (as I recall) they are not: the third is reactionary and the fourth is progressive.  That is, the third takes new aspects of our culture that the writer finds disturbing and shows why these changes in our culture, which many in our culture might find favorable -- gay marriage, for instance, or the use of birth control, or polyamorous relationships -- and writes fiction in which those changes are shown to be destructive or foolish.

The last is progressive.  It takes changes in our culture, or changes that haven't happened, even, yet, to our culture, and shows how those changes might benefit our culture.  I'm thinking now of works like Eleanor Arnason, or Joanna Russ, or the early novels of John Varley.  (His latest stuff, not so much.)

Of course, my students, when I start all of this, like to explain to me that science fiction is just for fun.

Ha! I tell them.  Ha!  We're working for heaven and the future's sakes here, lamb chops, I tell them.

Mortal stakes!

Update: Athena Andreadis points me to her essay on this topic: The Double Helix: Why Science Needs Science Fiction.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Series Starters; The Bastard Princess: Volume One by Claudia J. Edwards

This is another book I've had forever -- back from the days when I had to beg my mother for a book. More than twenty years ago, in fact. (Oh wow, when did I get old?) 1989.

Reading it again, after all this time, has been interesting. There are some technical issues, particularly in the beginning, but I did not finish by banging my head against the wall wondering what I ever saw in it. I almost expected I would when I started, looking at it with a reviewers eye instead of that of a girl. But reading again after all this time, I still like it. It still makes me wish the other stories in this series had been published.

Yes. That's a good thing to mention, isn't it? This is a volume one and only -- as far as I can tell, and I looked for a second. Really, really looked. For years. Also, since it has been out of print for years, it is not easy to find a copy either. I've had mine for 22 years now -- and because I love giveaways, you can have a copy too. (Not mine. I'm not giving that up, I found another.) So comment below to win your very own.

Now, however, I should talk about the story.

Eldrie (Surprise!) is a healer; the daughter of a king and his mistress. She ran away from home when she was sixteen. She had two half-brothers who were sons of the queen and therefor legal heirs and always felt out of place. The background is hit a little hard in the beginning.

It starts with her on the run, showing her using a sword and some magics that she never touches again for the rest of the story, which I did find a bit odd, and then besting a small mountain of a man in a fight who then swears fealty to her to keep her from killing him. (Yes, also a bit coincidental/easy.) They travel together, fight, become friends, and then lovers. I liked this part then and still like it now -- they are both strong people and they're able to enter into a relationship that feels equal for a long time. It doesn't stay that way, but for a good half the book she respects him and his work (he's a hunter) and he respects her and her work as a healer. Both of them get bossy from time to time and the other one stands up or gives in according to their thoughts of the moment.

The bad parts? Beating the dead horses.
"I was always reluctant to destroy all hope." Internal thoughts, page 26.
"The girl looked up at my face, 'You don't believe that. You're just trying to give us hope, aren't you? You think he's going to die.'" Page 27.
There's more of this in the beginning. Toward the end the horses have all been sufficiently beaten and we gain a bit of distance. Like many first person stories, there is a lot of "I" in it and there was a sentence on page 34 that bugged me. "He shrank away from the blow, but it marked him anyway, and he squealed and dropped the pike."

Even with all that, I'm glad I reread it. I truly enjoyed rediscovering this story.

This is good old-fashion fantasy. It doesn't dig deep into the heroines head like the newer stories do and the countries are set up a little one-sided, but the positives and negatives of certain ways of life are examined closely. Her life as an itinerant healer, his life as a hunter, the lives of the townsfolk they run across, the different ways of different societies. It is all explored. And it is an interesting world to visit.

This whole book hinges on her healing profession, her goal to learn the magic way of healing, and dances around her princess-ship (princess-hood? princessity? <snicker> I could do this for days, but I won't make you suffer through that.) Her armsman, Huard, keeps bringing up her heritage and she tells him no every time.

So we all know we're going to push our way back around to that before it's all over.

And we do, delving deep into her life as a bastard princess.

But since this is only Volume 1, we're left hanging; never told what she's going to do with it. TVtropes suggests that this is because the author died after writing this book, but I'm not certain about that. It seems to be the only site with a final date on it, but I also can't find anything with any other updated information, so perhaps they're right.


Because now that I've read it again, I really to know what would happen next. (Also, of course, there is sadness for any family she would have left behind.) Still, I'd like to read more.

If you'd like to read about Eldrie, remember to leave a comment by Thursday (March 24) midnight (I'm setting a digital alarm right now to remind me) and I will pick a winner -- as soon as I get back from MegaCon. (Little Girl has off on Friday, so we're doin' a day trip).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's an inn a minute

I've noticed we have a lot of history buffs here. Hell, you all may be history professors for all I know. Still, I decided to ask you first because the Internet can be a minefield of half-truths and sometimes no truths at all.

I want to know what the real deal was with inns, from the Romans to Middle Ages Britain to Renaissance Wherever to ancient China. The inn is such a fantasy staple. Dungeons and Dragons wouldn't exist without it, nor would any of the fantasy universes that spiraled out of the game. The Fellowship of the Ring had one; every traditional or epic fantasy novel that I can recall has had one. Now that I think of it, every contemporary or urban fantasy novel I've ever read has had at least one bar. Anyone want to weigh in on bars in post-apocalyptic fantasy? Or steampunk?

An inn is beyond a bar, though. It's a place where adventures start or at least get kicked into high gear. They often have rooms for travelers who can afford privacy. Those who can't are allowed to sleep in the common room after closing, with the area next to the fireplace being in demand. There's usually a boisterous barkeep (and *sigh* a buxom daughter or two). There can be a stable attached where the very very poor bed down for the night. Well, they're either very poor, or they don't want their horses stolen.

So, did inns like this really exist? I know there were bars. I've seen some very old pubs in England. But what about the rooms, the round tables, the enormous fireplace and the stable? The boisterous keeper? The eye-rolling daughters? Wandering minstrels? C'mon, history lovers, give me a clue.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Degree of Difficulty

So this story of mine just got rejected (again).  I pretty much know why it's getting rejected, and I can't blame the editors.  It's a nice simple story, but I've written it in a tortuous structure.

What possessed me?

This is a question I often ask myself when reading certain SF or Fantasy novels which have styles or structures ranging from middling difficulty to wildly difficult:  what is the deal here, I think.  What does this writer gain by this style or this structure that is worth what he or she is losing -- the patience and the time, and therefore the readers, that he or she might have kept?

By this you can tell I am a fan of the straight-ahead style of narrative and writing.  Butter and bread writing, I label it myself.  If you gotta have jam, make it plain old strawberry.

Books that fall into the difficult category (so you can see what I mean):

Joanna Russ, The Female Man.  One of my favorite books of all time, but both the structure and from time to time the style are difficult to deal with.  Four separate points of view, four separate main characters, a plot that entangles and knots back upon itself (as time-travel plots tend to do), this book takes some work to get through.

China Mieville, Perdido Street Station.  Though actually nearly any of Mieville's books could go in this slot. I love (or want to love) Mieville's books.  The worlds are so interesting.  The stories so cool.  But the texts are so difficult I almost never make it all the way through any of his novels.  Usually I can get through a short story.  Once in a great while on the third or fourth try I make it through a novel.  I'm not sure what's difficult about Mieville, since (in so far as I can identify a plot) the plot seems to be straightforward.  I think it's how he crowds his landscape and his page so ferociously.

Tobias Buckell, Ragamuffin.  Another book I like a lot, but which I had a hard time getting through.  Language isn't the problem here.  Or the kipple.  I think, as with Richard Morgan, it's how he jam-crams in his plot.  Though I'm still not sure why, exactly, I have so much trouble with this one.

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale.  I keep thinking I should like this book better.  I blame the style.

Iain Banks, Consider Phlebas.  Again, almost any of Banks' books could go in this slot.  Again, I love Banks' books, his culture, his ideas; but I hardly ever finish reading anything he writes.  Too sprawly?  Too kipply?  I don't know. 


I do actually know why I wrote my short story in the convoluted style I chose -- it's a story about an old woman, reflecting back on her life, while being aware of the present, so we're slipping back and forth through time -- but I can also see why it's making the story such a hard sell.

In any case, here's my point (and I do have one): what do you think?  Is there ever any really good reason to hamper a story with a really difficult style or an insanely difficult structure?

And what books or stories have you failed to be able to read due to limitations in these areas?

Friday, March 11, 2011

My First E-Reader

I finally have one. They've been around so long, it sometimes feels like I'm the last one to buy in. Oh, I know I'm not, but I've certainly heard about them a lot. I ended up with the nookColor. I was planning to buy the plain old nook because I didn't think I needed color, but Little Boy and I sat on the floor at our local Barnes and Nobles with the safety cables stretched down from the display table and we pushed buttons.

We went to look at books, we played on the internet. Then we clicked the read-to-me button on a big colorful kids book and we were lost and nookColor came home with us. Now, I know every type of book reader will have certain differences, but since I'm new to e-readers I thought I'd offer up opinions while my opinions are still rosy and happy.

Why? Because it's new (to me) tech. Because I wanted to understand why people who have them seem to love them so much. Because as a voracious reader, I've come across a number of recommendations for books that are only available in electronic format.

What do I do with my new ereader? More than I should, probably. This version has games as well as books. And internet. And email. As long as it can get to a wifi connection. When not at the gym, I've been playing games with it rather than reading.

Have I killed the battery yet? Yes, several times. I did get the version that has a tiny little lcd screen not the longer lasting e-ink and when I decide to play on it, I play for a long while.

What's the best use for this... thing? At the gym. Putting in on the treadmill stand. This is the first I've been able to read and walk. No curved pages to mess with your focus, no difficult page turns, or trying to convince the book to stay put on the page you want. Tap, read, tap, read. I anticipate that my knitting friend will be able to use it while she knits. As long as it can be propped somewhere it would be ideal for any repetitive task that leaves you plenty of brain power to engage in story.

How does it do at being a book? It's a little heavy. Like the hardcover books I don't read -- or put off until last when I must read them. The weight isn't the best. My wrists hurt after I've been on it a while (except at the gym where the treadmill does the bulk of the holding for me.) Otherwise, it's great -- will be great when my wrists are stronger or I've figured out the best way to hold it.

What is the worst part? Buying books is wayyyy to easy for someone who might someday have to admit to a book addiction. If that ever becomes a recognizable illness. I can buy books through the Barnes and Noble site on my laptop and have them available on my nook the next time I pick it up. On the device itself, I can click shop, search, book, puchase, confirm. And there it is. New book. That fast. Buying books on a whim is so much easier now!

And the best part? Books, of course!

Beyond that? The download sample button. Many of the books you can get in e-book form, you can read a chapter or two before you buy. From anywhere with wifi. From your living room. I LOVE that.

Good purchase? Yes. I would definitely do it again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Throwin' ya out that story

Last week I talked about a short skirt making a fantasy novel stutter. This week, I'd like to talk about swears, namely the f-bomb.

According to, the f-bomb dates from around 1500 in one form or another. That was surprising to me when I first found it out. It seems so modern. Maybe that's because we hear it so often nowadays in movies, but our grandparents (and some parents) didn't hear it often at all. When I first read it in a fantasy novel, it stopped me as much as the short skirt did. It didn't seem to fit with the period, no matter what history told me.

When my mom heard the f-bomb in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, she said, "I don't think they used that word back then." Nope, turns out they were about 300 years too early. All epic fantasies seemed too early to use it, too, at least for me.

Now, however, it's no big deal. Having a potty mouth, I use it all the time, so it seeps into whatever I'm writing. The more contemporary my novel, the more I use it. For fantasies that are set in a more medieval or renaissance period, it only comes out on big occasions.

What do you think of swears in your fantasy novels? And do prefer your science fiction to make up its own f-bomb? Frak, anyone?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Rabbi's Cat: Obscure Book Review

I write this post with equal parts difficulty and bemusement.  

The difficulty is due to my own cat -- well, the kid's cat -- which insists on occupying my lap or my keyboard these days whenever I settle in to work.

The bemusement is over how exactly to classify The Rabbi's Cat, a work I have loved since I read its first pages in a bookstore (I do not even remember which bookstore anymore) years ago.  Talking cats, magic snakes, utopian spaces -- I'm guessing this is a fantasy, right?  But it's also a graphic novel.

I'm not that fond of graphic novels (Okay, I hate them), not for any philosophical reason, but because I'm the opposite of a multi-tasker.  My kid calls me Single-Task Bob, if you're aware of that particular internet tradition. In any case, it's difficult for me to do two (or yikes three) things at once.  So reading words and looking at pictures and tracking which panel to follow the story into next?  It's way too much work for me.  Good thing I learned to read so young, I suspect, or reading linear text would also be too much. 

Nevertheless!  For a few graphic novels, and Joann Sfar's are among them, I will make the effort.

The Rabbi's Cat concerns, yes, a cat belonging to a rabbi.  They're in the 1920s, in Algeria.  The cat actually belongs, or is beloved of, the rabbi's daughter.  As the novel opens, there is also a talking parrot in the household, which annoys the cat mightily with its racket, until, driven mad with frustration and some jealousy, he eats the parrot --

-- and gains a voice.  Yes, now he's a talking cat.

That's not even the best moment, though it was a great moment.  The book keeps getting better.  See, now that he can talk, how does he use the power of speech, right away?  To lie.

Yes, he's a lying talking cat.

(Which is, as I always point out to my always shocked students, what speech is primarily for.  We don't need words to tell the truth to each other, after all.  To say what-is, we only have to point.  No, speech was invented so we could say what-is-not -- so we could lie.)

The rabbi does not, however, take this point of view, and separates the cat from his daughter, lest she be corrupted by him.

So the cat asks to be taught Torah, so that he can be returned to his beloved.  And things keep getting better -- the cat's been paying attention all these years, apparently.  Now that he can speak, he's able to argue the Torah with the rabbi. Is he a Jewish cat, or isn't he? If he's not, does he need to keep the commandments? If he is, shouldn't he be bar mitzvahed?  He's only seven...but how old is he in cat years? (This is all especially funny to those of us in the Jewish community, I expect.  My husband and I didn't spend much time teaching our daughter to do what she was told; instead, we taught her to argue; we taught her that the best way to get what she wanted was with a good argument.  As you might guess, this attitude did not serve her well in the local public schools.)

The rabbi and his cat have a number of adventures, here in the volume, and in The Rabbi's Cat 2, which I think I might like even better than the first volume.  Both books are somewhatt episodic in nature -- the first more than the second -- and the first does lose energy toward the end.  But both are beautifully drawn, and beautifully written.  

Oh!  And Ernest Hemingway shows up in the second one.  At least I think it's Ernest.  Not in a good way, either!

Friday, March 4, 2011

What is Fantasy?

Today, I am reading...

The Art And Craft Of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide To Classic Writing TechniquesPicked up primarily for the persiflage on plot and genre in the third chapter (could I have thrown another 'p' or two into this sentence? No. I tried, you can tell by "persiflage". Can you?) with a not-entirely-happy thank you to Borders. Its closing sale convinced me to splurge on three more writing books. (The Anatomy of a Story by John Truby and 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt were the other two).

The reason? Right now I'm twisting the "What IS Urban Fantasy?" question around in my head because it leads directly to my current plot issues. But here, this book is new enough to offer up their definition. "Real-world urban settings transformed by paranormal elements into new "realities" created in the crucible of conflict" (p23). It fits pretty well with what is in my head, though mine is a much simpler three-word definition.

Tech plus magic.

The best of both worlds -- because, really, to many of us, tech might as well be magic. I can chat with people an ocean away! I can write them and get a reply within minutes!

Why is this difficult for me, you might wonder, seeing my very (overly?) simple definition. Taa-daaa, definition achieved. Well, to explain that we have to define the other genres.

Romance - couple meets, finds a way to become a family, HEA (Happily Ever After, for those not following a million book-blogs. Love MUST be found.) Love story.

Mystery - something happens that must be solved (theft, murder, disappearance...) and it gets solved. (HEA, mystery style. It MUST be solved.) Investigation story.

Horror - creature, person, corporation does bad things. It is found and destroyed or at least sent running. (HEA, horror style. Bad guy MUST be stopped... for now.) Creature story.

General - a person notices a lack of joy in their life and decide to fix it. (HEA, General style.... uhmmm Happily Ever After?... until the next crisis comes along? Less 'MUST' here, but something has to make it feel complete.) Life story.

SciFi - .... Well, the tech is futuristic and they gots it. Or if it's on a distant planet, it could be lost tech. Tech was needed to get there. Tech story? No, the tech isn't the main focus. Those are how-to books. Story with tech. Tech could (should?) be used to solve problem? 

Fantasy - Magic! Swords! Quests! (Princess rescuing was lost when the princess gave herself permission to rescue herself and kick the heroes ass for suggesting she couldn't. Oh, sure, he can help, but he can't.... Right. Back to the point.) Magic story? No. Story with magic. Magic could (should?) be used to solve problem?

And this may only be an issue for me. Perhaps your definitions are a little different and that keeps you from stalling here, where I am. But did you notice anything unusual about my definitions?

Perhaps that the first four are plots; the last two are props? Accoutrement. (Say that word five times fast.)

For a while scifi stories took the place of Westerns. Exploration stories. New world stories. And quests are searches for something -- exploration? Still exploration itself isn't enough. Not enough to provide and end, at least so they've got to discover a particular something or fight and win a battle, or learn something that sends them happily back home. There has to be a solution somewhere. Or in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, they already knew the answer -- throw ring in volcano, don't wear it -- so here they implement a solution to keep a monster down. Does that mean it should be considered General Fiction with magic on the side?

All books are either topic-specific education or about a problem being solved. Without a problem or a solution it's all rambling. And rambling I can do. Oh, Baby, can I ramble. But that doesn't make a story.

Most of the Urban Fantasies I've read seem to be mysteries with paranormal. Alternate reality mysteries. So the HEA here would be the same as that for the mystery genre. If they are their own genre rather than a sub-genre in another category, shouldn't they have their own HEA?

After all this rambling... uhmm, discussion, you'd think I would have an answer, but I haven't figured it out yet so I'm off to finish my book -- and possibly another five. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your ideas.

What is Fantasy? 

Or Science Fiction?

Are they really prop-specific genres? Or am I missing something?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fantasy worlds and short skirts

I'm reading a fantasy novel right now, and it's set in "olden times" like so many fantasy novels are. It's a made-up universe, but there are swords and dragons and magic with no guns or plumbing. It really freaked me out, then, when the heroine showed up in a skirt above the knees.

Now, that shouldn't freak me out, right? I mean, it's a made-up world, but it stopped me cold. I had to reread. I waited for the-powers-that-be in the universe to kick up a stink. But she was fashionable and completely acceptable in the world that had been created. I thought it was funny that I'm so colored by history. I can accept magic and dragons, but not a skirt above the knee. It's just so...contrary to what I've seen before and it felt as unrealistic as a chainmail bikini (which will make me stop reading a book, btw).

Has anything ever stopped you cold like that before? It seems "medieval" or at least "Renaissance" but someone shows up in a Hawaiian shirt? Can you keep going with the book, or are you too busy laughing? I think my mind automatically put the heroine in a long skirt, just because I couldn't put short skirt and longsword together.