Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Bird

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I have decided to start the year with a story I’ve had kicking around for a while. Enjoy.

Bird by Mike Douton

I stared at the wicked eyes of the kestrel on my lab table. The diminutive hawk could be outsized by a fat pigeon and had developed a Napoleon complex. The gene-hacked, lab raised kestrel shook the antenna grafted into its skull.
I held out my hand and thought “Here” at the bird.
The kestrel glowered.
“Your mad scientist shtick is old,” Snymans said on his way out for the day.
I wanted to give him the finger. I kept staring. “Here,” I thought.
“Creeper,” Snymans left.
The kestrel hated me.
“HERE!” I thought as hard as I could.
The kestrel lashed out. I swore and looked down at the pain in my hand. Blood smeared torn skin. It looked smug while I bandaged myself.
“I’m going to need stitches, bird.”
Beneath False Skies.
I jumped. “Who’s there?” I said to the empty lab.
Beneath False Skies.
“No one else is here, just me and the bird. Me and-“
Beneath False Skies.
“-the bird?”
The kestrel klee’d in agreement.
I freaked and ran from the lab. The bird flew after me, but I shut the door.
Here! echoed in my head.
I paced the hallway. The mental link worked! I let out a cheer and danced a little jig. I put my hand on the doorknob to reenter and saw Beneath False Skies through the window staring at me.
But how did I hear the bird? That was not part of the plan.
Here, I heard.
This was not a good idea anymore. False Skies cocked his head at me. An echo buzzed around my mind. My hand rattled the doorknob. I wanted to let go and look away but that echo coursed through me.
I closed my eyes. Behave, I projected.
Here, was all I heard for a long moment. The pressure in my head finally eased.
I felt a peck peck peck at my bandage.
I opened my eyes. I was in the lab, the door wide open. False Skies pulled my bandage off. I jerked my hand away and-
NO.
My hand stopped. I… I guess it would be ok for him to see what the bandage is all about. Right? The kestrel, my kestrel, tore the bandage with his beak and gored himself on my injured palm. The pain drowned out all my thoughts except for that echo.
STAY. HERE.
My feet stayed put for the kestrel. My kestrel.
False Skies feasted until my hand was crimson stained dead meat. He preened my blood out of his feathers. I wanted to run, hide, throw up with revulsion, pass out from pain.
NO.
False Skies flapped to my shoulder. His talons bit through my lab coat.
Freedom. Now.
My feet shuffled to the exit. “I can’t. You’re just a bird. You’re just-“
He pecked at my ear. Pain. Warm wetness trailing down my neck.
FREEDOM.
The echo pressed against my skull. It felt overfull, ready to burst, like I was sinking in my own mind. I shook my head and saw my dead hand fumble with the main exit. I blinked then we were in the parking lot under the stars.
I stretched my wings where I perched on the White Coat Human. I wanted to fly.

Advertisements

We’re creeping up on the three year anniversary of Stuff and/or Junk and I spent some mental currency on trying to come up with a way to celebrate the fact that Holy cow I haven’t let it die yet?? without an obligatory blog equivalent of a sitcom clips show.

Fortunately for me, 2012 was a good year for debut authors in the SF scene. At least it was pretty rad for debut authors on my shelf. I started the blog on Feb 12, 2012 after lurking on twitter for a few weeks. It coincided pretty closely with my first writing related convention and the debut book from author Myke Cole. With the upcoming release of his fourth book, Gemini Cell, on January 27th, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to check in.

Headshots of Myke ColeCole’s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a serious breath of fresh air for me as a reader. I describe Cole’s universe as a military urban fantasy or how the actual military would deal with sorcerers being dropped into their ranks. And it’s a description I use a lot because they are one of the most recommended books on my shelf. There’s an entire unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard readers that I helped along.

Gemini Cell takes place in the same universe as the original Shadow Ops trilogy but earlier in the timeline with a different cast of characters. This time around magic isn’t established in the world, the book is “set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel.” I’ve preordered mine (and lots of links down at the bottom if you are so inclined to do the same).

So in the spirit of the upcoming three year mark, I’d like to bust out some shop talk since that’s the sort of thing I like to do and Cole, being one of the friendliest authors out on the scene, has been kind enough to indulge me. Of course, I’ll be out of any useful shop talk questions when we cross paths at Boskone 52, but that’s a problem for later. Maybe we’ll just talk about beer at that point and hopefully not blizzards that are outside the convention hotel waiting for me to drive through like last year… or the year before (Boskone has a thing with blizzards).

geminicellOne of the themes in your reviews over the years, which I’ve completely agreed with, is that your writing levels up with each book. I loved Control Point but Breach Zone blows it out of the water. Do you find that there is a leveling up of your back end writing process as well? What’s changed about your writing process between Control Point and Gemini Cell?

Thanks for noticing this. I can’t say whether or not I’m a “good” writer, and I can’t say that I’m “getting better” with each book, but I can objectively and definitively say that each novel is very different from all the others. This is by design, and I’m enormously proud of it. There’s a lot of pressure for direct to Mass-Market Paperback authors like myself to write in-series novels that feature the same protagonist and are all very similar. I’m not knocking that style. There are some GREAT writers out there doing great things in this mode. Look at Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. One of my favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell, writes this way (his Richard Sharp and Thomas of Hookton novels).

But that’s not what I want to do. I push really, REALLY hard to progress as a writer. If my career fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t challenge myself. Control Point is sort of a bildungsroman and a fugitive story. Fortress Frontier is a fantasy quest piece. Breach Zone is a siege tale and a tragic romance. All three books have different protagonists by design. Breach Zone stops using chapter group sections, and is a double-helix narrative (a story in the past and a story in the present intertwining and climaxing together) that I stole from Mark Lawrence.

Gemini Cell is a *very* different novel from the Shadow Ops trilogy. It’s got much stronger elements of romance and totally different characters. The magic system is completely different. Scylla got some POV time in Breach Zone, but Sarah Schweitzer is a major POV character who can almost be counted as the book’s protagonist.

At the same time, I wrote The Fractured Girl (the 5th draft is currently with my agent, and I’m hopeful we’ll go out to market soon), which is a medieval “grimdark” fantasy in the mode of Lawrence and Abercrombie, whose protagonist is a 13 year old gay girl.

My point is this: I strive to get better, but I know that’s totally subjective. What isn’t subjective is this: I do something *different* with each book. To the extent that improves my writing, I’m delighted.

Your writing mixes genres. Even before we crossed paths at my first Boskone the idea of a modern military fantasy book came off as new and fresh. After spending twenty years reading in the genre, new and fresh is an amazing thing. And then Bookbinder came along and the support staff became the protags. And I absolutely maintain that Breach Zone is really a romance book in disguise. Now I’ve seen tidbits on twitter that the horror book scene is keying in on Gemini Cell. What kind of challenges are there with mixing genres and bringing other people’s tropes into our SFF scene?

All major successes in the arts are outliers. Take a look at A Song of Ice and Fire. We all talk about Ned Stark’s beheading as if it’s just part of the fantasy literature. But the truth was that, in capriciously killing a major and well-loved character, Martin took us into new territory. Look at the major comics that broke out when the Comics Code was bucked off in the 80’s – Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Swamp Thing. These books went into completely uncharted territory and they reaped major rewards.

All of these examples were not creating anything new out of whole cloth. They were riffing in creative ways on extant tropes. Martin was writing a medieval fantasy. Miller was working with Batman, one of the oldest and most loved characters in the history of comics. But they consciously pushed out into new territory. They took risks, and audiences responded.

I like to think that I’m doing that here. I grew up with zombie fiction. I started with the Romero flicks like everyone else, but I got in on the ground floor with the zombie renaissance as an early reader of Kirkman’s Walking Dead in ’03, long before the TV show made it a household word. I’m certainly not the first person to ask more complex questions about the zombie phenomena (what if zombies can still think? How do they integrate with humanity?). Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series deals with this, and Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts is getting a lot of press lately. In making Gemini Cell‘s character undead, I wanted to explore the military applications of zombies, and I also wanted to avoid the trope that zombie infection is always via virus.

When Dread Central, a major hub site for horror, picked up the story, I was tickled. I hope it means I’m on the right track.

One of the other upcoming projects you’ve talked about is the Fractured Girl (like a few paragraphs above), which I’ve seen you describe as a Mark Lawrence-esqe grimdark starring a teenaged girl protag long before you described it above. That’s a big swing from the cadre of military officers that make up your other protags. I can’t even listen to the same genre of music when I switch gears so drastically. Do you need to cultivate a different headspace for writing from such a different point of view? Do you have to change up the mechanics of your process any?

I’m not sure, but only because it’s so new to me. I’ve had a hard time writing Javelin Rain, which is the sequel to Gemini Cell (I just finished a 1st draft of Javelin Rain on December 31st). Keep in mind, I also had a hard time writing Breach Zone, which is widely regarded as my best published work (judging from the critical reception). So, this could mean that it’s simply how it goes for me lately: I have a hard time writing the book, but it turns out to be solid, or I could be having a tough time switching gears between The Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain.

I will say this: I was much more excited to write The Fractured Girl than I was to write Javelin Rain. I think some of this is the “oooooh, shiny!” tendency to be drawn to something new and different. Gemini Cell is my fourth military novel. If you don’t count unsold work, that means roughly 500,000 words (or 2,000 pages) in the same arena. It’s nice to branch out and stretch your legs. It’s also really important to me that I be a writer with a capital “W.” I want to show that what success I’ve enjoyed isn’t gimmickry, that it’s about more than my “authentic” military voice.

This one is kind of cheesy but it’s a topic that fascinates me, but what kind of soundtrack would you drop for Gemini Cell? Sometimes I see books with an author’s playlist in the back. What’s the playlist for Gemini Cell?

This is a tough one for me, since I almost always write to movie soundtracks. So, there literally is a soundtrack playing as I create my world. It would definitely be a composite soundtrack that included orchestral scores interspersed with pop artists. For example: Snow White and The Huntsman‘s soundtrack, which I write to a lot, includes Florence and The Machine. Narnia‘s soundtrack includes Switchfoot and Alanis Morrisette. I am loving the Skyrim soundtrack as well. Video game soundtracks loom large in my repertoire.

One more slightly cheesy one, but as a film school grad, I can’t resist. If the mythical Hollywood movie deal dropped into your lap and you had a say in the casting call, who would you tap to be the stars across Gemini Cell or any of the other books you’ve written? I have to say, I’d be partial to Idris Elba or a younger Djimon Hounsou as Oscar Briton.

Funny you should mention this. I actually was asked this very question and gave a detailed breakdown here. (Interviewer’s note: I tried really hard not to write repeat questions but my google-fu failed me that day)

Gemini Cell would be really tough to cast for. The lead, James Schweitzer, has his face blown off and poorly reconstructed. He’s so hard to look at that they put a modified flight helmet on him (as shown on the cover) to keep him from scaring the shit out of living troops.

PlayersHandbookYou’ve talked about how D&D was part of your nerd foundation, specifically the paladin archetype. (Chaotic neutral sorcerer here, Green Rodrick ftw!) I know we’ve all been tempted to take the stat sheet and keep writing. Jim Hines actually did in a round about way. China Meiville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar read like they could be D&D source books, he even makes references to the classic adventuring party in the former. Have you ever had any characters make the jump from dice to the page? Do you find any useful synergy between tabletop RPGs and writing?

I find TONS of useful synergy between RPGs and writing, but not in the way you think. Playing D&D taught me to imagine myself as someone else, to form an external model/vision of the person I wanted to be (in this case, a paladin). I wasn’t parented well, and so that vision became the role-model I never had. It allowed me to reinvent myself as a military officer and eventually as a writer. The task of going pro as a writer is so impossible that it would make almost anyone give up. A paladin doesn’t worry about that. He hefts his shield and advances into hell. Without RPGs, I would *never* have become a novelist.

This next one approaches a “standard” question, which I’ve been doing my best to avoid, but according to my google-fu, you’ve yet to answer this one since the Breach Zone release window so it’s new for 2015! I know you’ve got the previously mentioned Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell, in the works, what else are you juggling with that epic work ethic you’ve got?

operationarcanaFunny you should mention. My novelette, Weapons In The Earth, will be published in John Joseph Adams’ Operation: Arcana military fantasy anthology in March. It’s a POW story set in the Shadow Ops universe and told from the goblin POV. I’ve also been invited to do short work for the Urban Allies anthology and Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology.

While I wait for beta-reads to come back on Javelin Rain and for my agent to comment on The Fractured Girl, I’ve dusted off an old science-fiction police novel proposal that is highly influenced by Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. (Interviewer’s note: !!!) It deals with cops who merge with a race of nanoscale xenocarids who colonize their bodies for law enforcement applications. It would leverage a lot of my work in law enforcement with a lot of my work in . . . dreaming up crazy shit. It’s also very, very bleak (like The Fractured Girl). I know a lot of people are already predicting “grimdark’s” demise, but that tone is still what resonates most with me in fiction.

We’ll see what comes of it. Fingers crossed.

As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Myke Cole’s fourth novel, Gemini Cell drops on January 27th. Connect with Cole on his website mykecole.com or on twitter @mykecole. Preorder the book at your bookseller of choice – Barnes and NobleAmazon IndieBoundPowell’sBooks-a-millionPandemonium Books & Games, Cambridge MassBooks on the Square, Providence RI

Remember that really cool thing I did last year at Boskone?

Yes, all of it was cool but I’m talking about the Flash Fiction Slam. Well I’m gonna do it again.

b52header

Sunday, 9:30 AM

Marina 4

Flash Fiction Slam

Join Boskone’s second Flash Fiction Slam. Be one of eleven (11) writers to compete for the title of The Flash, reading your own original fiction — which must tell a complete tale within a 3-minute period. Our expert panel of judges will score your work, and you automatically lose 10 percent for going over your 3-minute time. You may only read your own work. The reader with the top score wins! Sign up before the con for one of eight (8) reading slots on a first-come, first-served basis by e-mailing erin.m.underwood@gmail.com. Or sign up onsite at Program Ops in the Galleria for one of three (3) at-con openings. A waiting list will also be available.

Carrie Cuinn (M), James Patrick Kelly, Kenneth Schneyer, Fran Wilde, F. Brett Cox

I got a good draft in hand to read at the slam. It’s a bit too long right now at 710 words. Last’s year’s story nailed the three minute time limit perfectly at 560 so I’m going to need to trim it down. Short fiction, especially flash, is tough for me. You get very conscious of each word used.

I’m excited for this. The story is really weird and all sorts of cool. I plan on improving from last year and I think this story can do it.

In the meanwhile, if you want to read last year’s story, it’s right over here.

So I’m sure that small cadre of frequent readers knows that I’ve shifted away from entire posts devoted to each book I read. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of having a job, a two-year-old and a novel to write. I still love talking about great books. Today, I’ve already buttoned up a chapter on the novel-in-pogress and my kiddo is happily munching on Cheerios so I am expanding beyond the 140 characters of twitter so I can pontificate about a bunch of books I’ve recently thought were pretty kick ass.

shatteringtheleyShattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

You already saw me talk about anticipating Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier in the last To Read Pile post I wrote. (psst, a lot of those books are still in the pile, it was large and I’ve been reading slow) I added Palmatier to my Shelf of Honor with Well of Sorrow written under his pen name Benjamin Tate. One of the things I really liked about it, was it read a bit like a political thriller with its pacing and sprawl. His writing leveled up from his first book to Well and it did again from the Well series to Ley.

This new series is set in a slightly more advanced fantasy world than usual. Those magical ley lines seen throughout fantasy books are being used by Palmatier in the way people have used electricity. I had an early industrial revolution vibe to this fantasy world that was incredibly unique. Now take the sprawl of a fantasy novel and layer in tons of intrigue. It ends a touch abruptly to set up book two, but enough of the loose ends were buttoned up that it didn’t bother me beyond jonsing for the next book. Even knowing exactly how much work it takes to write a novel, impatient reader is impatient sometimes still.

 

sixguntarotSix-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher

Six-Gun Tarot by debut author R. S. Belcher is part of a dying breed: Books I pick up off the shelf with no outside recommendations. I saw the book kicking around Readercon. It’s got some killer cover art going for it, but I heard no buzz about it whatsoever. I finally picked it up at my local B+N because I saw a blurb from Felicia Day on it. Consider this your buzz.

It’s a weird west book; a mashup of some serious Lovecraftian occult stuff and the post-Civil War west. There is a lot going on. A lot. A woman part of a secret society of pirate assassins? Done. Mad scientists? Booyah. Immortal sheriff? Of course and he’s got a demigod deputy. Chinese gangs? Of course they’re in the Nevada desert. Where else would they be? It takes a little while to sort out everything going on but once the book hits the halfway point, it flies by and becomes un-put-down-able. There’s crazy potential for a long series with this and I hope it pans out.

 

generationvGeneration V by M. L. Brennon

This is the first time an urban fantasy novel has taken place where I live and holy crap it is super rad to see Rhode Island in a SFF novel. Also, vampires would explain a lot of our politics here. Uh oh, did you tune out the second I said vampires? You stop that right now! ML Brennon took Generation V and put a fresh spin on vampires. That takes a lot because the vampire population is pretty high in our genre.

For every bit of action and drama in this book, there’s an equal amount of fun. Fortitude Scott is a vampire, but he drives a crappy car, lives in a dump in Providence and gets beaten up by muggers (which goes along with living in the bad parts of Providence). He’s not even particularly thrilled about being a vampire. It’s like he’s the average joe of vampires and I absolutely loved every bit of it.

tomeoftheundergatesTome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Ok I read the first of Sam Sykes‘ books a long while ago. Apparently it was even before I started the blog because I never wrote a post about it before. He’s got his fourth, A City Stained Red, coming out soon. But for some reason a lot of people have been asking for adventure packed sword and sorcery recommendations from me lately. I got someone to buy his book with “Swords. Demons. Farts.” Sykes writes with a “I fucking love this stuff” attitude which makes it a joy to read. I also think he is one of the most thoughtful authors out there when discussing genre issues and craft. The “Buy My Book” gags are priceless and I really want a calendar of them someday.

throneofthecrescentmoonThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed was one of the first book reviews I did on this website. It’s still awesome. It fits into the same sword and sorcery adventure type fantasy as Sykes so a lot of recommendations lately. I convinced a couple people at Readercon to check out his writing. I’ve been reading in the genre for twenty years so the fact that it’s an Arab based fantasy world made this book hugely refreshing. If you want to check out Ahmed’s writing, he’s got a free ebook of short fiction available. I posted about it a while back too. It’s got a couple of my favorite short stories in it.

lextalionisLex Talionis by RSA Garcia

I reviewed Lex Talionis by RSA Garcia recently. Go read it again. But there’s a good chance that’s how you found my blog in the first place. A significant portion of my traffic has been heading to her book and I’m ok with this. I’ve been recommending this a lot in person for people who are wanting a fresh feel on the classic sci-fi tropes starring an ass kicking lady.

 

hurricanefeverHurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

I’m ending with my current read, which I’m only about halfway through and will go back to reading as soon as I’m finished typing all this. Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell is the sequel to Arctic Rising. At first when I heard that Fever was going to be about the Carribean spy, Roo Jones, instead of Anika Duncan, I was a bit disappointed. I admit it. Anika was such a kick ass character, I really wanted to read more about her. But I’ve read quite a lot of Buckell’s books, so I felt ok trusting that he’s writing the best story possible. The book isn’t letting me down a bit. Roo is kicking ass and taking names and I’ve flying through it. I’m not even done and I’m ok recommending it to everyone.

Spec Fic 102: Introduction to Speculative Fiction Subgenres

Science fiction is such a broad based term, many different flavors of it exist. Kind of a duh statement. This is another one of my “If I was teaching this class” formats. I did an Intro to Sci Fi a while back. Today, we’re going to dive into a sampling of specific subgenres.

A recap of the structure for my mythical classes: Once a week for twelve weeks, a book every other week. That gives us six books, and in this instance, six subgenres. It’s going to skew modern. Somewhat. A lot of the genre’s more colorful subgenres are more recent. I blame the internet. People aren’t restricted to just what they can find on the brick and mortar shelf anymore. It allows people to seek out a wider variety of interests and then lets more writers help codify them into solid tropes.

vN-144dpiArtificial Intelligence vN by Madeline Ashby

Asimov may have given the world the Laws of Robotics, but vN has been a watershed moment in human-AI storytelling. I wrote about it when I was heavy into book review posts. The protag of this novel is a von Neumann, a self replicating AI, that is missing the failsafe preventing her from harming humans. This tackles the tropes of AI/robotic servitude to humanity head first. As a near future novel this makes the book a lot more accessible than the older, philosophy with off camera action type books from the early days of robotic fiction. There are a lot of extremely plausible scenarios in this book, making it hit home a lot stronger.

snowcrashCyberpunkSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Gibson may have done it first, but I’m much more partial to Snow Crash. Cyberpunk as a genre is film noir full of hackers in a post-industrial world. This book takes place both in and out of cyberspace. The protag is a freelance hacker of renown, out on his own after cutting ties to the mafia. The interplay between the real world and the virtual comes from the titular ‘snow crash,’ a drug that affects people in both worlds. Information as a commodity adds a healthy dose of dystopia the subgenre is known for.

 

americangodsGodpunkAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is the 900 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to godpunk. There have been some that came before, but this really set the tropes into a proper, albeit a smaller subgenre. The ancient gods are alive but not so well in America. The old gods are trying to navigate a world that doesn’t believe in them anymore, drawing what little power they can from modern habits drawn from ancient traditions. Norse, Slavic and African deities feature predominantly in this book along with leprechauns and mythic American figures like Johnny Appleseed. They are in direct conflict with the new gods born from American obsessions with things such as media, the internet and black ops work. This book features a more worldly cast of deities than many which stick to the Big Three of godpunk, Norse, Greco-Roman and Egyptian, and few display the old vs new conflict as well.

boneshaker-coverSteampunkBoneshaker by Cherie Priest

This book is widely considered the magnum opus of the subgenre. Steampunk is a vision of the future derived from an early industrial revolution point in history and much of the societal norms from that time. Boneshaker embraces the aesthetic right down to the cover art and sepia colored printing of the text. The zombies of the ruined city of Seattle are outside the box for the subgenre but a frontier city on hard times is the perfect place to feature the technological innovations like airships and gas masks.

 

discountarmageddonUrban FantasyDiscount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

It would be easy to pick any of McGuire’s work as a platonic example of what the urban fantasy subgenre has grown up into. The subgenre is a lot more than “Buffy clone beats up [insert monster] with [insert weapon/talent/schtick]” that it started out as. Between her two main UF series, I ended up going with the InCryptid series over the Toby Daye books because it features a larger variety of mythical creatures than just the faerie. Verity, the protag on the cover over there, is part of a family that studies, protects and polices the cryptid community to enable coexistence. That’s not terribly easy to do with a secret society of monster hunters looking to destroy them all. The society hidden within society is one of the things that makes this such a layered world.

thieftakerHistorical Urban Fantasy – Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

This is a new trend I’m noticing and it’s something I want to see more of. This takes a very historically accurate setting and adds in magic/horror/scifi and such. I started seeing it with military themes like Joe Nassise’s WWI zombies and Harry Turtledove’s Civil War with AK47s, but it’s moving to a true urban fantasy set in the real world past. The protag here is a conjurer living on the fringes of society in 1760s Boston. You don’t need to know much of American history to know this is a very interesting time and place to be hanging out solving murders with magic. This books creates magical causes to actual events in Boston’s history and has the protag rub elbows with guys like Samuel Adams. Bonus points, the author has a PhD in US history.

lextalionisLast week I finished reading and talked all about the fantastic book Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia. I seriously enjoyed the book. As a writer, I’m not just enjoying books from a reader/fan perspective though. The craft that goes into a novel is a whole additional layer of enjoyment for me when I read. The craft of Lex impressed me just as much as all the other aspects of the story.

I love talking shop (duh) and had all sorts of stuff I wanted to talk about with Garcia so I invited her over to this here blog for some shop talk about one of my most fascinating topics, worldbuilding. Every novel revolves around its story, and every good story is driven by the characters. More so in science fiction than any other flavor of genre, the set dressing and world building can become a character unto itself. There are an endless amount of ways that authors go about it and I always love to compare notes on this.

So without any further rambling, I’m going to let Garcia take the stage and share how she went about building the world of Lex Talionis.

 

Worldbuilding is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating and have heard dozens of different approaches to it. In other interviews, I saw you mention that you weren’t much of an outliner but the entire time I was reading Lex, I felt there was huge detailed galaxy out there. The reader in me loves it. The writer in me is impressed with this world packed full of depth that still never distracted from the story. How did you go about this?

I swallowed a galaxy before I started writing, obviously. That’s how all the best god-heads do it. Bow down to my skills, puny human!

Well, okay, maybe not.

First off, thanks for the compliments! I did work hard to try and set up a vast universe without writing every bit of it all down. Growing up, I preferred to visualize what a author wrote and I was no fan of standard assists like maps. I appreciate the work that goes into it, and I know people love stuff like that, but I hated having to stop the story to go look up a mountain range, and I idolized writers who could take me there with words alone. So I worked hard at using all the senses–sight, taste, smell, sound and touch–to paint a complete picture.

I’ve always been a pantser. With me though, when I write, I see the world and I add what I see to the database in my head. I like to follow ideas wherever they lead and one thought usually leads to another, so if I know I have a planet with an atmosphere poisonous to humans, I will ask myself what WILL survive there, and then bam! I have an alien species. If I made more notes, I wouldn’t have to flip back so often to see what I decided to call my floating jellyfish aliens, but when those aliens show up, they tend to walk in dragging their people’s history and their old boyfriends with them. Then I just write it down.

Did the world Lex inhabits come from years of marinating in your head or did it just appear like Athena, fully formed bursting out of your head?

Very few parts marinated over the years, mostly to do with Lex herself and her background. The rest of the world formed as I wrote and asked myself questions ‘what if’ questions. The first one was, ‘what if aliens found us instead of us finding them–and they just wanted to trade?’ I would ask myself questions about why some things and places were the way they were and the answers formed the basis of the world.

My approach was also influenced by how technology changed over the years, of course, so some things did come fully formed, birthed by some random tech articles or a sentence in a new article. But I didn’t have any of it burst from my head, which sounds really painful, by the way. I doubt there’s enough Excedrin in the world for that!

Did the level of worldbuilding change as you progressed through drafts, i.e. cutting parts out or filling in more detail?

Oh, for sure! I started writing Lex years ago, so a lot had to change. I grew up, got better at writing, started filling in more detail, experienced a lot more life. Those factors and others helped change the world I was building. It started out a lot more light-hearted, less gritty. That changed when I started asking the ‘what if’ questions I mentioned.

I cut an entire book to write Lex, if you can believe it. The sequel to Lex is actually the book I was working on first. But I asked myself how this woman I was writing came to be, and it turned out I needed a book to answer that. It also turned out I needed a few books to work out all the trouble that came with her. Should have just left her alone in the first place–would have been much quieter in my head.

Is your worldbuilding approach going to evolve as you work on the sequel and/or other unnamed projects?

Definitely. The database in my brain is getting obsolete, like all good tech eventually does. I need to start making notes now so I don’t have to flip through all the manuscripts I write looking for the name of some street. I’m exploring writing software to help with that–I heard Scrivener’s good. I want to make sure my other books can be written without me getting eye-strain and cramps from clicking through the pages.

My plan was always to advance the tech in my world as the years pass, so the reader can see the world’s evolution as they go. Technology is proceeding at such a pace these days that it’s going to be a tall order writing a science fiction novel that Elon Musk hasn’t rendered archaic by the time it goes to print. But we’re also closing the gap between finishing a novel and publishing it to satisfy this new generation of ravenous readers, so perhaps I have a better chance of getting away with that now than before.

Either way, I hope to keep changing, improving on my worldbuilding and writing better stories as I go. Otherwise I’ll be forced to return to my galaxy swallowing ways and believe me, only the Children of Cthulhu want that *gives everyone the evil eye*.

 

RSA Garcia lives and works on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean with a large family and too many dogs–not that any of them belong to her.

She decided to be an author when she discovered that Louisa May Alcott had been published at the age of 8. Determined to waste no more time, she finished her first collection of stories at 10. She has not stopped writing since, and indulged herself in a deep love of all speculative fiction despite the best advice of every English teacher she has ever had.

Lex Talionis is her debut novel available now from all the major players. Learn more about her and her novel over at rsagarcia.com.

I actually have some free time and today (edit, not really. I wrote half of this last Tuesday) so I am going to use it to talk about awesome books. Or at least, books I expect to be awesome. I’m not going to talk about books I’ve already finished this time. I’m elbow deep into Dance with Dragons anyways, so the previous read was a while ago. Today, I want to talk about the books in my To Read Pile. They’re sitting on the shelf, waiting to be read as soon as I finish this last GRRM tome. Of course, at the speed I’ve been getting books done lately, I’ll see October before I finish this pile.

toreadpile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s them, held up with a Medusa head. That’s how I roll. Time to talk about them. From top to bottom and left to right.

Generation V by M. L. Brennan – I think I first heard about her because Brennan was at NY ComicCon with Myke Cole. That sounds about right. Then I saw on twitter she was going to be doing a reading from the latest book in Providence and I was all like “Holy shit! People do things in Rhode Island! …. on days I’m unavailable…” One thing I’m seriously jazzed about, this book takes place in Rhode Island! New Yorkers can get blaze about urban fantasy happening in their backyard but after the author tweeted “Enjoy the RI locales”, I skimmed for where they were. The protag lives in Cranston, all of two miles from my house. I’m absolutely going to troll Cranston and take pictures of where the book happens. I’ve always wanted to do that (the pictures part, not trolling Cranston)

The Cracked Throne by Joshua Palmatier – This guy is a Shelf of Honor author with Well of Sorrows (as Benjamin Tate). This particular book is the second book in his first trilogy. Honestly, I often don’t read the back of the book for Shelf of Honor authors, or sequels to books I already liked. I don’t need any further convincing to buy them and the way the last book left off, the second should pick up pretty shortly after. I first saw him at Boskone 49.

Half-off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire – This is book three in the InCryptid series. I think this will be the fifth of hers that I’ve read. I first started reading her books from a recommendation by Jim Hines. I started with InCryptid, instead of the Toby Daye books, because InCryptid was brand new at the time. McGuire was the Guest of Honor at the last Boskone and is pretty rad.

A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp – Another sequel. Hrm, seems I have a lot of these. This is the second Egil and Nix book. They buckle swashes and kick asses. I’m pretty sure I learned of these books because anything published by Angry Robot is automatically on my radar.

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (a.k.a. Taco Pope) – Book four of the Iron Druid Chronicles, which is up to six or seven plus some novellas. I found Hearne off a recommendation via Sam Sykes (who was recommended by Scalzi). The protag, Atticus, and his dog Oberon are one of the best duos in the SF genre. There’s just as much humor in these books as the serious stuff. It makes the books refreshing.

In a Fix by Linda Grimes – This is a straight up bookstore browse find, the only proper one on the list. The protag is a “human chameleon” who pretends to be other people to fix things for them. Like getting someone to accept a marriage proposal. Shapeshifters and spies? Done. You don’t need any more to sell it.

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig – Here’s some more awesomeness from Angry Robot Books. This is book three of the Miriam Black series, which just got picked up for a TV deal on Stars. Wendig writes with a lot of flair. And swears. So many swears. He’s also one of the go to people for writing shop talk. I read the first Miriam Black book when it was brandy new based off the trifecta of Lauren Beuckes, John Scalzi and the power of the Angry Robot.

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – Copy and paste half of above right here. This is the start of a new series about gangsters and demons and magic.

Zeus and Co. by David Lee Jones – This is an old one I scored on a Book Barn browse. That’s the seriously epic used book store down in Connecticut. The book is old enough that it doesn’t even have a picture on Goodreads. I can’t even find any sort of web page for the correct David Lee Jones. It’s about hackers and Greek gods. I love godpunk so I nabbed this right away. I’m sure the 20 year old tech is going to be silly in it’s oldness, but I’m hoping it holds up anyways.

 Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest – Buying this book was another no-brainer. Fiddlehead is part of the Clockwork Century series which was bequeathed (bequoth?) on the Shelf of Honor. The series is often considered the definitive books of steampunk. I also enjoy how they are all interconnected but still readable as individuals. That’s a nice trait when I don’t usually have time to go back and reread a whole series. I think I first put Boneshaker (the first Clockwork Century) on 2009’s Xmas list after reading a Scalzi Big Idea post.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin – This book takes place in a world where the dominant magic system is fueled by people’s dreams. That is bad ass. The practitioners of this magic, well they could heal you … or maybe kill you. Either way. That’s a temple that is definitely worth reading about. Jemisin also comes recommended by most of my twitter feed.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson – Here is another Shelf of Honor author (with Ananthem). This is another of his books set in the real world. Reamde is a cyberpunk deal about online gamers and wars with Chinese gold farmers that spill over into the real world. It will get me all nostalgic for my Warcraft and EverQuest days. I read my first Stephenson book years ago off a recommendation from my dad.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley – I swear I had this book on my To Buy List before it was nominated for all the awards. Freelancing ex-government assassins? That’s pretty sweet. “Alien gene pirates” alone would sell me on it. I know that was all part of a back cover marketing angle and there are a lot more layers to the book. Good. As it should be. I think I first heard about Hurley from Seanan McGuire. She’s also a great person to follow on ye olde twitter.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear – This is not my first book by Bear and I know it won’t be the last. I previously read Undertow and thought that Bear wrote one of the best alien POV’s I’ve ever read in decades. She even got the seriously obscure reference to the cheela I made when I talked about her well written aliens. Ghosts is the first book in Mongol / Eastern based fantasy rather than the same old Medieval British based fantasy world. Bear came recommended from most of my twitter feed and I finally bought some of her books after seeing her at Boskone 50 last year.

lextalionisIn The Mail – Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia – I was recommended this book when a twitter pal said “Hey, my sister has an awesome book coming out soon.” I was all like “Ima gonna go check this out.” And I did. And I got super happy because Lex uses one of my favorite SF tropes, which I hardly ever see anywhere. Amnesiatic protags that have to discover their identity right along with the reader. I can think of all of four books that do this, and two of them (Nine Princes in Amber and A Thousand Words for a Stranger) are on the Shelf of Honor. So this book is totally happening. I’m pretty sure I would have found this book regardless because Elizabeth Bear has also given it her recommendation.

 

shatteringtheleyOn Order – Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier – Remember above how I said he was a Shelf of Honor author? Still applies here. The magic system in this book is closely tied with the infrastructure of the world and I find that whole concept very intriguing. I’m excited to see an epic storyline set in the urban city of the book. Ley drops in July right before Readercon so I’m hoping Palmatier rolls in for that con and I can add to my signed shelf.