Archive for Guest Posts
The wonderful James A. Moore has written an exclusive short story for all you fans of the Fellein Empire. Did you love Seven Forges and can’t wait until The Blasted Lands is released? Immerse yourself in the mountainous world, and count the days down until The Blasted Lands is published, which is currently 38 days, 8 hours, 23 minutes, and 32, 31, 30, 29, 28…. seconds.
When Korwa Fell
By James A. Moore
Captain Merros Dulver glanced over at the rider closest to him as they headed for Fellein from the Seven Forges. The journey was a long one and he was tired of staring at the barren landscape. It was time for a distraction. The Sa’ba Taalor were mysteries, even after a few weeks of riding together, they spoke and they answered questions, but as often as not they asked questions and then rode away to contemplate what they had learned.
The one closest was a brute named Tusk. Under their armor and furs most of the people from the valley of the Seven Forges seemed large, but Tusk dwarfed the majority. He sported a great helmet like the skull of a beast and the mouth of that skull was decorated with teeth of all kinds. Real teeth, actually. A variety that boggled the mind. He didn’t much want to know what had happened to the donors of those decorations.
The man cast eyes his way, his face hidden behind both his helmet and the veil covering the lower half. The veils were there for protection from the weather and also because, according to Drask Silver Hand—the first of the people Merros and his fellow explorers had run across—neither Merros nor any of his people were ready to see the faces of the Sa’ba Taalor. That last was according to their gods. The Sa’ba Taalor seemed to have a very open relationship with their deities. Merros had never followed any of the gods very closely and to the best of his knowledge none of them had ever paid him the least bit of attention. He failed to see any sort of problem with that.
Tusk’s eyes gave of a faint silvery glow in the perpetual twilight of the Blasted Lands. “Yes, Merros Dulver?”
“Just call me Merros, if you prefer. I wanted to ask what your people believe happened here, in the Blasted Lands, to make them this way.”
Tusk looked at him for a moment and the monstrous mount he rode let out a sound that was suspiciously like a chuckle. The only reason that Merros could understand the strangers riding with him was because he had been “gifted” with the ability to understand them. He might have preferred that someone ask him if he wanted the gift before it was given, but that was hardly the issue. What puzzled him was the near-certainty that the predatory monster Tusk was riding on seemed to understand his words. Even the animals of the Sa’ba Taalor seemed to know more than they wanted to admit.
Sure enough, the eyes of the animal were looking directly at him and glowing under the masking helmet that hid half of its face. He suppressed the desire to shudder.
Tusk scratched at the map of scars across his hand and shrugged his massive shoulders.
“We are told that there was a war between two great countries. The war ended with the creation of these lands.”
Merros looked the man up and down. “That’s all?”
“I can tell you the full story if you’d like.” Tusk sounded rather amused by the notion as if he might be preparing to tell a bedtime story to a child.
Merros replied, “Well, I know what my people say happened. I want to hear what your people have to say.” He paused a moment as the warrior considered his words and because he feared he might not get the answer he wanted he added, “Or we can stare at the wastes around us and listen to the sound of the wind. I thought an exchange of stories might be more interesting.”
Tusk nodded. “I agree.” He called out in his language—Merros understood the words sometimes, and just then did not; he suspected they were speaking different languages, only some of which understood. He was not mistaken—and three other riders came closer, moving to nearly surround Merros. They did not come with harmful intent. They merely came because they had been commanded.
“Our friend Merros would like to hear how the Blasted Lands came to be. Which of you will tell him?” He looked to Merros and shrugged. “I do not tell stories well. I am not patient enough to tell them properly.”
Drask Silver Hands was riding on the other side of Merros and he roared laughter at that. “Do you hear? Great Tusk even bores himself!” They all laughed, even Tusk. That was a good thing in Merros’s eyes as he was currently stuck between the two men and had no desire to become the battlefield upon which they settled their differences. Tusk was a giant and Drask not much smaller. Worse, he had seen Drask fight and kill with terrifying efficiency.
“Swech!” Drask called to the rider at the front of them, a female with a thick mane of gray hair pulled into a tight knot at the top of her head. The resulting tail swayed with every move her mount made. She looked over her shoulder. Her eyes, like the eyes of all of Sa’ba Taalor, glowed. Still, Merros found the shape of her eyes enchanting. Too long without companionship, perhaps, but he liked the woman.
She gripped the saddle of her mount and spun herself around so that she faced Merros and the other riders. Most of the soldiers he knew would have promptly fallen flat on their asses had they tried that from the back of a horse, but she managed it with seemingly no effort, despite her armor and furs.
“Yes?” Her voice was higher than he expected.
“You have a way with stories,” Drask answered. “You should tell Merros how the Blasted Lands came to be.”
She nodded her head and leaned toward him across the back of her saddle. For that moment in time her eyes seemed only to see him.
“It was a long time ago,” she started….
It was a long time ago, before the Seven Forges rose from the ground and before your Fellein Empire existed. It was because of the Cataclysm that your empire exists at all.
Everything changed when the Blasted Lands were shaped. That is always the way with great events. When they happen the world is never quite the same.
Back then all that you see around you was alive. There were great plains of green grass and there were farms and herds of animals, but more than that, there was the sea and there was Korwa. Korwa was a mighty city. According to some of the gods it was the greatest city that ever was.
What? No, not all of the gods say that. The Daxar Taalor do not agree on all things at all times. If they did there would only be one god, yes? Why would there be seven gods if they all thought alike? But some of them say Korwa was the greatest city there ever was.
All the gods agree upon is this: Korwa was magnificent. Towers of steel and stone and crystal rose high into the sky, as high as the tops of the Seven Forges themselves. The city rested on a sea of blue waters and vast bridges ran across the waters to let visitors in.
Korwa was the heart of the first empire, you see. The home of most peoples.
But sometimes the best of things become the most treasured. And what is treasured most is often coveted. Who can say what makes a people jealous? A man or a woman might desire the love of one who is already spoken for. Or perhaps a piece of land, or a trinket is all that is required. In the case of a people there must surely be better reasons but those are lost now, as lost as great Korwa. Whatever the reasons, the people from outside the empire became jealous of the power and beauty that Korwa offered and so they decided to take it.
We do not know all of the details. We only know what we have been told. But I will tell you what I can. The soldiers of Korwa were very skilled, but they were outnumbered, for the people who sought to take the city came from many directions. It might be that there was more than one group, or that the group was very large. We know that the leaders were called the Overlords and they were very hungry. They came from the north and the east, and sailed across the sea in mighty ships. When they arrived, the ships let out thousands of soldiers and the weapons the Overlords created to either take Korwa as their own or to destroy the city.
Yes, that is correct. They planned to own Korwa or make sure that no one else would ever own it. No it does not make sense. On this we agree.
There were more threats. Korwa was home to the empire, yes, the seat of power, but the empire itself was vast and from within it came another threat. A country that was small and wanted to be bigger began conquering neighboring lands and then grew greedy. The people of that country were hungry, you see. They wanted all that they could have and they would not stop until even great Korwa was theirs.
The king of that land was related to the Empress of Korwa. That much is known. Beyond that, the gods do not agree. The country was called Felleis. Yes, much like your own empire, which rose from the ashes of Korwa. I suspect you already know this. But this is the story you wanted to hear. Now stop asking so many questions.
The old empire and the new empire. Together they might have stopped the Overlords. They did not fight together. They fought as enemies on the battlefield. It was while they were already engaged that the Overlords came to attack. Korwa looked to the south and did not cast their gaze far enough to the north to notice until it was too late.
The siege of Korwa was violent and very sudden. While the two armies fought the Overlords brought in their soldiers and attacker with great siege engines designed to knock down walls and warriors alike. They did not make demands. They merely attacked. Perhaps their plan was to injure and then demand surrender. Perhaps they merely wished to cause death. No one can know any longer.
The rulers of Korwa fought back. Though they were already in a war, they prepared for more battles. They had supplies and they had ships of their own. The great fleet of Korwa rode into the sea and fleets met and fought, and burned and died. “The sea was red with blood and fire,” that is what the god Wheklam said. Sailors died and no one had a chance to find their bodies. The war was too violent and the creatures of the sea feasted well.
I see the look on your face. Ask your question, Merros Dulver. Of course I know what ships are. Of course I know of navies and combat on the sea. Wheklam is the god of the sea. We have to travel to find the waters, but we know of them. Did you cross an ocean to get here? Yet you know of ships? And is this because you travel on them constantly? No? Good. Now let me go back to my story.
The war raged for almost a full year. The armies of the empires fought along the bridges leading to Korwa as the new forced the old back to the city. And even as they retreated to the city, the same empire had to fight against the attackers from the north. They tried their military methods and they were failing.
And as is often the case, the Empress turned to sorcery for her salvation. She called upon the greatest wizards of her empire to come to her and assist and they came, because the Empress was well loved by her people and because they wanted to live. They all wanted to live.
The spellcasters did what it is that they do. We do not have sorcerers in Taalor. We have gods. They react differently to these things, I suppose. Whatever the case, the mages gathered their powers and fought against the enemies of the Empress. The warships of the Overlords were pushed aside by waves that sank them and then swallowed the crews whole. The sea grew redder and the creatures of the sea grew fatter.
And while the wizards cast their spells they turned to the new empire and sought to destroy the armies of the usurpers. When soldiers fell they did not stay fallen. The dead rose from the pits where they were buried and they attacked the living, and for each that fell before them another soldier was born, lifted from death and forced to fight for the sorcerers of Korwa.
Once a weapon has been used, it cannot be unused. That is what Truska-Pren says. And he is a god, he should know. The Overlords were powerful magicians as well, and they set aside their navies and their soldiers and they began casting mighty sorceries of their own. They brought forth storms to shatter the ground. Fingers of air raked the earth bare, and lightning dazzled the eyes of all who lived within Korwa, until the sun seemed but a faint glimmer in comparison. The war machines of the Overlords were frightening things, but their wizardry was far greater.
Through it all, Korwa stood, the walls damaged but not destroyed, the people wounded but not driven down. The Empress waited in her tower and spoke to the wizards and made demands of them and they in turn obeyed her, for they loved her and wished to serve her until the very end.
It is not certain what happened next. Three gods have spoken of this and I will tell you what each has said, because each is a part of the greater truth. Even gods cannot see everything, or if they can, they cannot see with the same eyes.
Paedle, who only ever whispers, tells us that the Empress was driven mad. All that she had worked for was taken from her. Her husband and consorts killed, her children burned and broken by the lightning. Paedle says that the Empress demanded the greatest vengeance ever, a fire so vast that it would destroy all of the empire’s enemies. Perhaps that is so. Perhaps the wizards managed their feat.
Durhallem the Wounder says that the Overlords carried out their promise. If they could not have the jewel of Korwa, then no one could. And so they summoned the elements to shatter the island where Korwa rested and watched as the city that everyone wanted was felled like a tree. It is his claim that the new empire was so angry at the Overlords that they then sought to destroy them and in time they succeeded.
All I can say for certain is that the Overlords are no more.
Wrommish, who many say watches best of all the Daxar Taalor, said that both stories have some truth, but are merely singular sides to a jewel of many facets. There were enchantments on all sides and they came together as wind and fire can merge to become something greater and more destructive.
Here is what we know. Great Korwa fell and the oceans burned away. Vast armies were joined in combat across the land where we now walk and they were destroyed in one day. From time to time we still find pieces of the Old Empire and I have heard from your own people that some have come here in the past seeking treasures lost in the Cataclysm.
Where once there were fields and pastures of green there is now dust. The animals raised here are ashes and the orchards are ice. The people of Korwa are gone and when the winds are soft enough you can look down into the ground beneath us, through the glass that once was dirt and buildings, and you can see their bodies, broken and forgotten.
The war machines are lost. They are buried with Korwa, though from time to time you can hear the sounds of the great engines. That is what Wrommish says. Those vast devices and the remains of Korwa are locked together now, and they have become something we cannot know, we must not know. They have become the Mounds.
From life we have been given death. From peace we have been given war. From water we have been given ashes and disease. That is the legacy of Great Korwa and the peoples who coveted her beauty.
Merros took a deep breath and shook his head. At the end he had lost himself in Swech’s words and the meter of her voice. She was a gifted storyteller.
He looked to the west and saw the vast shapes of the Mounds and heard from deep within them the sounds of things that should not be.
“Have your people ever been to the Mounds?”
Swech shook her head. “That is forbidden by the gods.”
“Can you tell me about the Overlords?”
It was Tusk who answered, his voice gruff and his tone commanding. “No.” Merros turned to look at the man and found him staring back with narrowed eyes. Perhaps it was the wind that caused the sullen look. Perhaps it was something else. Either way Tusk made sure that everyone knew his position. “That is enough stories for one day. Later perhaps we will tell more. Tales and fables should be rationed, like all supplies.”
When he looked around Drask and Tusk were both moving away, calling out to each other in a tongue he could not understand.
Swech stayed where she was a moment longer before once more turning herself in the saddle of her mount and then riding away.
When Tor.com reviewed Peacemaker, apart from praising its pacing, themes, narrative, and characters, it also started a conversation on the origins of Nate’s surname, Sixkiller. Over to Marianne, for more on the origins of Sixkiller:
It’s always fascinating to hear how authors conceive the names in their stories, and I wrote a lengthy piece about my process over at Sons of Corax. In PEACEMAKER, one of the main characters is called Nate Sixkiller. His name, in particular, has prompted some discussion, so Caroline (Angry Robot’s divine publicist) invited me to share the background on it.
When I was researching the book, I came upon the biography of a Native American lawman by the name of Sam Sixkiller. He was, according to what I read, a famous, respected, and slightly feared gentleman whose name is attributed to his great grandfather having killed six men.
In Chris Enss’s book Sam Sixkiller, he quotes secondary sources that give an idea of the man’s legacy:
The Indian Journal editor noted “the Captain [Sixkiller] has done probably more than any one person to free the railroad towns of this Territory of their dangerous and reckless elements, and to him the country owes a great degree the comparative security to life and property that it now enjoys.” In a report made to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, Indian agent Robert L. Owen commended Captain Sixkiller noting that “he died a martyr to the cause of law and order and had the respect and confidence of all the decent people in the country particularly of men like Honorable Isaac C. Parker, U.S. Judge of this district….”
When I was in the early days of planning the series, I’d blogged about the project, and a relative of Sam Sixkiller’s contacted me and offered biographical help. This was a wonderful gesture on their part, but, ultimately, my stories are fiction, and I didn’t wish to make any inappropriate connection with the real man.
However, Sixkiller is such an evocative and truly Western surname, I felt compelled to borrow it!
On April 30th, 2013, The Lives of Tao was released upon the world. Today is officially my one year anniversary of being a published author. To be honest, this date crept up on me when I sat down to write this post. So much has happened. How could it have only been a year?
Not gonna lie;I feel like I’ve been playing this writing game for a long time now, as if I was living dog years or maybe fruit fly lives or what not. I couldn’t quite figure out how the past year felt so different from the ones before. I asked Twitter why, when looking back at the past year, that it felt like four lifetimes ago? Here were my responses:
Start working on my one year anniversary blog post about being a pubbed author. Why does it feel like 4 lifetimes ago?
— Wesley Chu (@wes_chu) April 28, 2014
@wes_chu Because it ages you four years for every year.
— Kameron Hurley (@KameronHurley) April 28, 2014
@wes_chu Because it ages you four years for every year.
— Liz de Jager (@LizUK) April 28, 2014
@wes_chu Because it ages you four years for every year.
— Ilana Teitelbaum (@IlanaCT) April 28, 2014
Then I realized what has happened. Being an author has turned me into a time traveler. Okay, not so much being able to jump into the future or visit the past kind of time travel, but it has allowed me to slow down the days as if I was living my life now in Bullet Time. Yes, my entire life right is Max Payne without the messed-up-but-awesome storyline or that damn crying baby. (Yay to no crying babies.)
Anyway, yes, I am now a time traveler. Before, when I worked at these soul-sucking large financial institutions, my twenties flew by like a blur. One moment I was a fresh-eyed optimist coming out of college ready and willing to do whatever it took to succeed, the next I was a self-loathing corporate drone sitting in a six-by-six cubicle with red-walled shag rugs built during the Fifties. I felt like I was trapped in a giant hamster wheel and I couldn’t figure out how to get off. One day, I woke up and was thirty years old. The next day, I was thirty-five and discovered that I needed to start trimming my bushy eyebrows.
Now I write full time. It’s a huge pay cut from the financial industries but damn it, I remember my days now and I don’t go to bed wondering what the holy hell I am doing with my life. I wake up looking forward to going into the office (fifteen steps from my bed) and am completely happy working overtime. There are still days when I want to smack myself (just not in the face) to make sure I’m not dreaming.
The best part of all this is that it’s only been a year even though it’s felt like four. I get to go to war every day with my manuscripts, dine in Valhalla at night, and then do this all again tomorrow. Forever. And It’s awesome.
In 2013, I published The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao. The Rebirths of Tao is dropping Dec 31st, 2014. My first Tor book, tentatively titled Time Salvager, is coming out July 2015 with the second in 2016.
I’ve been nominated for the 2014 John W. Campbell for Best New Writer. The Lives of Tao won the Alex Award and was a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist for best Science Fiction, and I’ve sold about six times more books than I thought I would. I’ve signed three book deals since I’ve started this journey and have five total books under contract, and it’s all happened in the past 365 days. How batshit crazy is that?
I am hugely grateful to all the people who have helped me along the way: My publishers Angry Robot Books and Tor Books, my agent Russell Galen, my wife Paula and my supportive family, and all the readers who have helped make my fledgling career such a wonderful experience. So THANK YOU all for making my dreams come true and turning me into happy Max Payne. You guys rock!
When I was fifteen, my parents dragged me to a book release party. Not that I knew it was a book release party; I was, like every fifteen-year-old kid, self-centered to the point that I wore my colon as a hat. It was at the Goldsteins’ house, so I assumed it was another party celebrating the fact that brave Mrs. Goldstein had survived yet another round of brain surgery.
But no. Mrs. Goldstein – a clear-eyed woman who walked with the help of a cane – pressed a hardcover book into my hand.
“I wrote this,” she told me. “About my experiences, relearning how to walk and talk and write. It’s a memoir.” And though I’d read so many stories that I had ink permanently dotted on my nose from sticking it in books, it had never occurred to me that actual people wrote them. Authors were Gods who lived in little editorial heavens, flinging down books from clouds up high.
But Mrs. Goldstein had written a book. And taken it to the publishers in New York. And gotten it published. She told me all about how she wrote it, how you had to send it in a manila envelope to people, the letters of rejection you’d get, and slowly I came to understand that books – books! – were written by people like you and me.
When I was fifteen, I vowed to publish a novel.
When I was nineteen, I wrote my first novel: “Schemer and the Magician.” It was about a nerdy college kid (basically me) and a wiseass college kid (also basically me) who got kidnapped by aliens and sucked into a galactic war OF INCONCIEVABLE CONSEQUENCES.
…It wasn’t very good.
I sent it to two agents, who wisely never responded.
When I was twenty-three, I wrote my second novel: “A Cup of Sirusian Coffee.” It was a Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy-style riff on the afterlife, where for all eternity you were forced to do whatever you did in life. Were you a plumber? Look forward to spending the next five Pleistocene epochs fixing pipes.
I wrote the first three chapters, handed them around to my college buddies, who thought it was hysterical. So every day I cranked out another chapter, handing out printed manuscripts to a small group of fans who demanded to know what happened next, until eventually I snowballed a slim plot into a musical Ragnarok that shut the universe down.
This one I sent out to three agents, two of whom dutifully informed me that I was not quite as clever as I thought.
When I was thirty, I wrote my third novel: “The Autonomist Agenda, Part I.” Screw my own muse, I thought: this one would be commercial. So I wrote the first book in a huge and complex fantasy series, complete with smoldering relationships guaranteed to appeal to the ‘shipper crowd, and prophecies that propelled a young boy on the inevitable journey to become a Big Damn Hero, and even a gay warrior because I was Just That Ahead Of The Curve.
(Not that it was revealed he was gay until Part II. I had Plans, you see. I’d sell all three books at once!)
I slipped a copy to my friend Catherynne Valente, who’d had some success at this writing gig. She read part of it, then took me out to a sad lunch at Bob Evans to break the news.
“I guess you could get this published somewhere,” she told me. “But is this really what you want your name on?”
I guess I didn’t.
But damn, I wanted my name on something.
When I was thirty-two, I wrote my fourth novel: “On The Losing Side Of The Dragon.” Sure, the knight eventually kills the dragon, but what about all those poor schmucks who get killed along the way?
I gave it to my wife. She informed me she liked how it ended, really liked it, but the beginning was tedious. She would never have gotten to the good stuff if she hadn’t been, you know, obligated to read my crap on account of our wedding vows consisting of the words “to love, honor, and beta-read.”
I locked myself in my room and cried all evening. Thirteen years of effort, and I had not managed to write one single novel that anyone wanted to read. I had not sold one story.
All I’d ever wanted to do was write novels, and I pretty much sucked at it.
When I was thirty-five, I wrote my fifth novel: “A Cup Of Sirusian Coffee.” Wrote the whole goddamned thing from scratch. It was a funny idea, and my college buddies still asked about it, so clearly I just needed to go back to the drawing board.
This was novel #5 – and that was the toughest one. See, Stephen King, my favorite Unca Stephen, had written five novels before he sold his first one. He’d famously wadded up Carrie and thrown it in the trash, and his wife had rescued it, put his ass back in the seat, told him to keep going. He did. Fame and fortune resulted.
That meant this was my lucky novel. This was the one I was guaranteed to publish. After all, how many novels did you have to write before you got good?
After sending the new manuscript far and wide, I heard back from a publisher two years later. They told me the opening paragraphs were “interesting” but then it “fell apart quickly… if the author could capture the style of those first paragraphs again, it might be worth it.”
But by then, I’d pretty much given up trying.
When I was thirty-eight, Catherynne Valente yelled at me. “Just send in the damn application,” she said.
“I’m not a good writer,” I told her. “The Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop is for serious writers. I’ve sold three stories in twenty years, for $15 total. I’m never going to get in.”
She smiled. “So send it in. Just to shut me up.”
I got accepted.
I got scourged.
I got to learn that over the last twenty years, I’d accreted all kinds of bad habits – lazy dialogue, flabby prose, a reliance on recreating stereotypes instead of actually writing about people I knew. Clarion taught me that I wasn’t a bad writer, I’d just been too overconfident in my raw abilities… and now that I had finally been forced to acknowledge all my weak spots, I could fix those and reinvent myself for the better.
Over the next three years, I sold fourteen stories, five of them at professional rates. For which I still thank Catherynne.
But I wasn’t quite ready to write a novel. Not yet.
When I was forty-one, I finally got the courage back to work on my sixth novel: a sweeping science-fiction epic called “The Upterlife.” I spent a year revising it, and – I shit you not – not two hours after I finished the final draft of that damn novel, Mary Robinette Kowal called me up to tell me that my novelette Sauerkraut Station had been nominated for the Nebula Award.
If that wasn’t a signal from God that I was ready to sell a damn novel, what was? I sent that manuscript to all the best agents, with a killer query, telling them by way, I’m up for a Nebula this year and I just happen to have this novel for you.
They all rejected it.
When I was forty-three, I wrote my seventh novel. It was Breaking Bad with magic, a desperate bureaucromancer turned to manufacturing enchanted drugs to save his burned daughter, and it was by far the best thing I’d ever written. I polished that sucker until it shined. It shined.
But I was two novels beyond Stephen King. I’d been struggling to get a novel published for twenty-four years now, clawing at the walls of the Word Mines, and I had no hope of anything but oh God I couldn’t stop and I realized that I wasn’t going to stop, that the breath in my body would run out before I stopped writing tales and who the hell cared if I got published or not I was locked in. I had to create. I had to.
And I sold it.
Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz. The story of Paul Tsabo, bureaucromancer, his daughter Aliyah, and the kinky videogamemancer Valentine DiGriz, who I’m pretty sure you’re gonna love. Published by Angry Robot books – the very publisher of whom I said to my wife, “If I could have any publisher take my first book, it’d be Angry Robot.”
Coming to bookstores on September 30th.
I don’t care what novel you’re on.
Do not give up.
Doctor Who Girl
Last year we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the world’s longest-running SF TV show. We were also treated to a new Doctor in the shape of Peter Capaldi, whose costume and publicity photos owed more than a little to his 70s predecessor, Jon Pertwee. Perhaps because of this, and of course all the nostalgia-laden documentaries shown last year, I found myself looking back fondly at the Doctor Who of my youth.
Of course some of us have been around since the show’s earliest days, even if we were maybe a bit too young to watch it back when William Hartnell made the role his own. I guess I must have become a regular viewer late in Patrick Troughton’s stint, or early in Jon Pertwee’s, because I have vivid memories of hiding behind the sofa (or at least, my granny’s chair) during the opening credits with the rippling tiger-stripe pattern – I was more spooked by the music than by the show itself!
The first episode I actually recall seeing is “The Green Death” (1972), starring Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, but for me the definitive Doctor will always be Number Four, played by the incomparable Tom Baker. He was the longest in the role, and with his immensely long striped scarf remains the iconic image that even non-fans recognise.
However the element of the Fourth Doctor’s reign that stands out for me is his companions. First, of course, there was Sarah Jane Smith. As the companion of Number Three, she had fitted neatly into his predominantly Earth-based episodes in her role as an investigative journalist. The wider-ranging adventures of Number Four finally gave her a chance to venture further afield, but she remained a down-to-earth young woman who stood up to aliens as boldly as she had to rogue scientists. Sarah Jane was a great role model for girls of my generation, and it’s so cool that she eventually went on to have spin-off adventures of her own. Elizabeth Sladen is sorely missed.
Every companion’s time with the Doctor has to come to an end, though. In 1976, he left her in England when he was obliged to return to Gallifrey. He spent one adventure (“The Deadly Assassin”) alone, then in “The Face of Evil” he encountered a savage tribe, survivors of a shipwrecked survey team, and acquired a new companion, Leela.
On the face of it, Leela was clearly designed to appeal to the dads in the tea-time audience, with her skimpy leather tunic and long, long legs, but at the same time she resonated with young female viewers like me. Leela didn’t dress in frills and scream at aliens – she drew a knife and attacked them! She wasn’t just a dumb savage, either. Leela was intelligent and a fast learner, providing a strong foil to the Fourth Doctor’s eccentricities. I confess I was disappointed when the writers chose to end her story by marrying her off to a Gallifreyan guardsman, but at least she got to keep K9!
I’m currently rewatching the Tom Baker episodes from the beginning. Yes, they’re a bit stilted, and the shoestring budget makes for some rather comical moments, but they stand the test of time pretty well. I can only hope that the Doctor’s newest incarnation acquires companions who will serve him as well as Sarah Jane and Leela did.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nine-foot-long scarf to knit…
“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth”
It’s a blazingly hot day, June 1993. I’m nine years old and this memory is the only one I have of that particular summer, although I can certainly fill in the blanks with memories from other years—swimming pools and sprinklers and summer camp enrollment designed to keep TV from melting my brain out through my ears. But those memories are generic. This one’s special.
The whole family’s going to the movies. Me, my mom, my dad, my brother. We pile into the car and drive down to the theater for the first showing at mid-morning, arriving nearly forty minutes early. We’re the only people in the theater for at first. This early-arrival-at-a-morning-show is a scheme of my parents, who frequently go to excessive lengths to avoid “the crowds.” (I won’t see the inside of an amusement park until I’m an adult for this reason.) We settle into the best seats in the theater, Cokes and popcorn at the ready, and wait.
The movie we’re waiting for is Jurassic Park.
There are a handful of movies I remember seeing in the theater, and Jurassic Park is one of the earliest, after The Little Mermaid. At nine years old, I was terrified throughout the entire thing, covering my eyes whenever I thought a dinosaur was about to eat someone, but when I walked out of the theater I was completely enamored. Jurassic Park was now my favorite movie; later, it would be my favorite book as well. I dreamed of becoming a paleontologist and wearing kicky high-waisted shorts like Dr. Sattler, and for the next few years, any trips to the dinosaur exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science were spent ogling up at the big T-Rex skeleton in the entryway, pretending I had a PhD and one of those brushes for dusting dirt away from bones.
Jurassic Park was the first science fiction property to capture attention and earn my love. Like others my age, I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (and putting my headband over my eyes so I could be Geordi), and as a child I caught Star Wars on TBS one dreary Saturday afternoon, although for years afterward I would confuse it with Cocoon. Science fiction novels weren’t really on my radar unless they made their way to the Newbery Medal nominee list. But Jurassic Park changed all that. There is a sense of wonder present in that movie which has stuck with me—remember the scene when Dr. Sattler and Dr. Grant see the dinosaurs for the very first time? I still remember the chill I got when I watched their expressions of shock and delight, and that’s the same feeling I get whenever I experience great science fiction, whether I find it on the page, on the screen, or in my imagination.
I originally intended to write this blog post about Dr. Sattler—how she was given the save-the-day scenes in the movie, and had to face down velociraptors and turn the power back on while Dr. Grant was tasked with the more nurturing role of caring for Hammond’s two grandkids. And that’s worth mentioning, although as a kid I didn’t admire her for being Action Girl and Subverting Gender Expectations. Rather, I admired her because she was smart, and pretty, and a scientist. She was the sort of person I wanted to grow up to be—the sort of woman I wanted to grow up to be.
And no, I never became a scientist. I became a writer instead, a science fiction writer. But I do think in some small way, Jurassic Park—and Dr. Ellie Sattler—helped me find that path. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Continuing our celebration of International Women’s Day, today’s piece comes from one of our newest authors – Ishbelle Bee
In Space Only Men Scream
“That’s the only way. We’ll move in pairs. We’ll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered. And then we’ll blow it the fuck out into space! Is that acceptable to you?”
One of the most influential female characters for me is that of Ellen Ripley from the Alien films franchise. Female power and Queenship are explored through Ripley and her demonic counterpart, the Alien Queen. Male power is usurped, weak and in some cases artificial (androids); their role reduced to ‘food’ for the alien. These themes have inspired my own work and Ripley remains to me, one of the most powerful and iconic female roles I have come across.
‘The alien is more than phallus; it is also coded as toothed vagina, the monstrous feminine as cannibalistic mother.’ (Creed, 1986, p. 69 ‘Horror and the monstrous-feminine: an imaginary abjection’ Screen 27)
Giger’s Alien Queen as a divine devourer; where humans are edible offerings, is both beautiful and terrifying. Any thought of a degrading stereotypical female role, which entertains the masculine voyeur is squashed underfoot.
It is a shame, therefore, that we are still subjected to female protagonists who resemble little more than blow up sex dolls: gormless, restricted to minimal dialogue, and liable to puncture easily.
Here is the first of our posts celebrating International Women’s Day!
Female Protagonists in Traditional Fantasy.
Like many fantasy readers, I have grown up reading “The Lord of the Rings”. I adored these books and found myself deeply submerged into the worlds they opened to my imagination. For the longest time I took it for granted that many classical fantasies did not have any major female characters, definitely not among those who drove the events. True, there is Galadriel, and Arwen, and Eowyn, all of them memorable and powerful. But lead characters? Hardly.
Some of the newer fantasy books started successfully introducing women as lead characters and slowly expanding on their role. Many attributed this change to the emergence of major female authors, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley with her Darkover series and her all-time bestseller “Mists of Avalon”. Others said that, at least in fantasy, this had to do with the growing audience of female readers. I am not certain what the real reasons are. I have seen authors of both genders use males or females as protagonists, and I know for a fact that female readers enjoy both men and women in leading roles. In my view, this change has more to do with common sense, a realization that the world, even in books, is more complex than we used to believe. I tend to compare it to the change in painting technique, when, in 15th century, artists realized how to use perspective to show dimension. This happened in the society, especially in respect to women. It took longer in fantasy, but came as a natural step in the development of the genre.
These days we expect strong female leads in fantasy, and would feel unnatural reading a book prominently devoid of women. It is very interesting to observe how female point of view has enriched traditional fantasy, bringing a whole new angle into the story and enabling character development in a number of different ways. On a very basic level, leading female characters greatly expand the range of possibilities of what the main character should be all about. In the old days we got used to warriors, or dark mysterious strangers, or regular guys who are unexpectedly landed with the necessity of saving the world. All of these parts can easily be played by females. But more than that, female leads provide the previously missing second half, enabling the complexity of the interaction between sexes—romance, domination, or competition—with no rules in place. As an author, I find all these angles irresistible to explore.
The leading character in “Blades of the Old Empire”—an elite Majat warrior, Kara—seems fairly traditional on the outside. She is a fighter only a few can stand up to, and thus can easily fill the shoes of a traditional warrior type. She is also a beautiful woman many desire, and she can handle unwanted attention without a problem. But, unlike a typical attractive warrior in traditional fantasy, she is not competitive or aggressive. Instead, she has an inner strain that has to do with having to live with the combination of beauty and skill. This makes her enigmatic, an angle that emerged on its own and was so fun to build upon.
Initially I worked off a simple reversal of roles. Instead of the traditional pair, helpless but gifted girl protected by a strong male warrior, I have a gifted young man, not helpless but definitely a regular guy when it comes to fighting, protected by a strong female warrior. Building on this reversal, I found several aspects that enabled new levels of depth in the story. First, to enhance the enigma around Kara, I removed her point of view, showing her entirely through the eyes of a young man who is in love with her. Second, I gave her a nearly impossible problem to work with. And then it was literally down to sitting back and watching how everything about this woman I created feeds the major conflicts in the story. And yes, her point of view is coming, in the second book in the series. This reversal, getting into her head after I already learned so much about her, was even more fun.
As an author I feel fortunate to have entered the scene at the time when women characters are established an expected. I will probably never cease to feel amazed how female perspective in fantasy brings in a unique angle, a new dimension that both authors and readers can appreciate.
But first the back story: So I was looking for a top-notch literary festival or workshop to go to, to put a bit of a recharge into the writing batteries.
Number one on my list was one of the Clarion workshops – but I just couldn’t get the timing to work out for me.
My first reaction was, ‘Where is Key West?’ Google Maps showed me a looooong, loooong chain of islands stretching from Miami towards Cuba, all linked by a series on long bridges. (Remember that scene in the Arnie movie True Lies, with Jamie Lee Curtis trying to get out of the roof of the limo as it careened all over the place on this looooong, loooooong bridge?)Over 100 miles long, the Overseas Highway ends at Key West.
As Cat advised me – if the workshops you enroll in don’t really work out for you, they also run seminars with world-leading authors – and if the seminars don’t work out for you, well Key West is about the coolest place on the planet.
As it turned out – the workshops were pretty good, the seminars were great and the Key West was in fact the least cool place in the USA (at least in terms of the Arctic front that swept down over all of the USA during January, stopping just short of Miami and the keys. Otherwise Key West is about as cool as it can get: gorgeous white wooden houses, roosters and cats walking freely like they own the place, bands and musicians in all the bars and bars everywhere, and most everything just a walk or bike ride away. Key West also has an annual Fantasy Festival that has to be seen to be believed. Google Fantasy Fest, but be warned to have your content filters either on or off depending on your preferences.
It wasn’t hard to see why the likes of William Gibson, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, John Banville, Lisa Unger and Michael Connelly fly south for the seminars.
Interestingly, although this year’s seminars had the theme of the Dark Side, concentrating on crime and thriller writing, much of the discussions and advice to authors applied across genres.
Some of the worlds of wisdom worth sharing include:
- Hemingway’s adage of write what you know can be supplemented with make up what you don’t know (Elizabeth George)
- Imagination is the most powerful tool we have as human beings and we must use it as much as possible (John Banville)
- I thought, what am I if not this? (Lisa Unger on striving to make it as a writer)
- And one of my favourite, a thought raised by Booker Prize winner John Banville in a panel discussion that wouldn’t be out of place in any Angry Robot publication:
I have this feeling that we weren’t meant for this world we live in. We are somehow living on a beautiful world not meant for us. We are the most effective virus ever released on this planet. So, the people who were meant to live on this planet, how would they have coped – these gentle earthlings – living on a world that was meant for us? – Surely they’d be extinct.
David Tallerman‘s Easie Damasco tales came to a close with the October publication of Prince Thief, and to mark the occasion, he has written a wonderful reflective piece on his site, Writing On The Moon. David has kindly allowed me to reproduce it for you now. Over to you, David! Read More→
What a busy few weeks it’s been here at Robot HQ; so busy in fact, that I’ve been shamefully slow since my last Round-Up! But what better to cheer up a rainy Friday (in Nottingham, at least) than a good look back over our recent highlights:
Let’s start with yesterday’s exciting news that Michael Boatman has become the latest AR author! If you missed the release, check out Lee’s announcement here. Click through for all the info on Michael, his titles Last God Standing and Who Wants to be the Prince of Darkness?
This month we’ve released two titles: Madeline Ashby‘s superb sequel to vN, iD, and also Paul S. Kemp‘s second outing with Egil and Nix, A Discourse in Steel. Here’s the big splash from launch day; since then, they’ve both been kept
in a dungeon, slaves to their computers busy with blog posts, interviews, and also kept happy with rave reviews. To wit:
• Bibliotropic Review on Madeline’s iD: “Ashby has a wonderful imagination, an eye for detail, and characters that I don’t want to part from. From the beginning of the first book to the end of the second, I was hooked, and I’m eagerly looking forward to anything that Ashby does in the future.”
“It really is a modern I, Robot, but with a lot more grit, moral depth, and more interesting prose. Madeline Ashby ought to be seen as one of the big new names in science fiction.” Hardcover Wonderland
• Madeline’s blog tour featured interviews and blog posts, and she’s a rare beast that always manages to say something fresh and new with each stop:
• Madeline speaks out on the SFWA Scandal on Dark Matter Fanzine in a piece brilliantly entitled, ‘Stalin, Playboy, and Lady Writers’; talks to Civilian Reader about how to make Non-Humans Seem Human;
• John Scalzi featured Madeline on Whatever‘s The Big Idea, and it’s a moving read: on facing fears, on telling the universe “to fuck right off and die”, and about living through the impossible. Read it.
• A Fantastical Librarian and My Bookish Ways have great interviews with Madeline, as does The Qwillery whilst Madeline faced up to Ten Questions About iD with Chuck Wendig, and My Shelf Confessions was lucky enough to nab Javier for a chat!
• Cheryl Morgan recently met up with Madeline and they sat down to discuss iD, and how Madeline uses robots to ask interesting questions about gender.
• SFSignal featured vN for a recent review and had this to say: “Unrelenting and surprising conflict drives a fast-paced read; genuine, human-robot dystopia; powerful character arcs; evokes series addiction.” If you haven’t already read vN, get it and you might as well get iD at the same time…I doubt you’ll want to wait between books!
• Last night Paul took part in an AMA on Reddit and go there to see what kinds of dirt they had him dish up!
• The fantastic cover, by Lee Gibbons, rightly gathered attention pre-launch, such as on Graeme’s SFF
• “Kemp gives us a great fast paced romp packed with action and with enough character and world building to satisfy without slowing anything down.” I agree, Eoghann.com! And check out these other amazing reviews:
• “This is adventure fantasy at its finest…Kemp is a superb writer. If you enjoy sword and sorcery, adventure, and nonstop action, this is the book for you.” Adventures Fantastic
The Founding Fields: “Egil and Nix back once again kicking serious ass in this sequel”
• Silver Pen Scribe: “enjoyable ride of pure fun fantasy.”
• Being A Big Sandwich: It is in the characters, particularly Egil and Nix, that Kemp shines and draws the reader in…The interplay between the two is well-done, and their friendship is the bedrock of the story.”
• Kobold Press: “This book has all the elements that fans of sword and sorcery should enjoy…The characters are deep and fun to get to know, the story is interesting, and the action is top shelf.”
• Odd Engine: “filled with new magic and mayhem that makes it a truly enjoyable read.”
• Mikel Andrews: ”This is the fantasy you’ve been craving.. If you’ve been dying for some real originality in the fantasy realm – with a scene of revenge that would make even Kick-Ass’ Hit Girl do a double-take – then Discourse in Steel is your next stop.”
A forthcoming title that is receiving a lot of attention – and do stay tuned for Jay’s impressive blog tour and a cool tour competition – is Three, the debut by renowned games writer Jay Posey. Take a look at some of these couple of early reviews:
• The Book Plank: “Three is a great start into a new series. The post-apocalyptic world that Jay Posey created in Three is brilliantly constructed, it’s just chock-full of the cool stuff, futuristic gadgets (guns and the like), augmented people and not forget the Weir.”
• Book Realms: “The book has the hard-edged, gritty feel of postapocalyptic fiction. The dialog is terse; the action sequences pound along. But don’t think you’ve escaped into a world without tenderness. It’s there, even if in some cases its encased in armor and eclipsed by the need to survive.”
• If I could only show you the early reviews that haven’t been published yet…but not long now! Three, the first title in the Legends of the Duskwalker series is out in the US & ebook on 30 July and in the UK and RoW on 1 August.
• Book Snobbery: “The Big Reap is the most ambitious of Holm’s Collector stories so far, and the payoff at the end is huge. HUGE”
• Tolerably Smart: “Book Three was a game changer much to my enjoyment”
• Raging Biblioholism: “Smart, funny and unassuming… Our world is a better place with Sam Thornton in it.”
• Every Read Thing: “Sam is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters. While he carries with him the attitude of a blockbuster movie action star, he’s also a tragic character at heart. In my opinion, this is Holm’s finest work yet.”
• A Fantastical Librarian: “I think I loved Any Other Name even more than Between Two Thorns, if that’s possible. [Any Other Name is] engaging, funny, romantic, and imaginative and placed Emma Newman solidly on my must-read list of writers. I can’t wait for the conclusion to this story in October, when All is Fair is released. In the meantime, I think I’ll go and reread some of the short stories set in the Split Worlds.”
Thoughts from the Hearthfire “Emma Newman definitely knows what she is doing…In short, great characters, fabulous settings, complex plots, resolved threads within each book with plenty to arc across titles as well. I wholeheartedly recommend it!”
Kindle-aholic’s Book Pile made me giggle with this one – it’s so true: “You know you are getting into a book when you want to pull characters aside for a little chat. Will, you are an idiot. An idiot with good intentions, but you pissed me the hell off. Max, you need to listen to your gargoyle more. Mr. Sorcerer – there is something so very off about you. I feel some good bits of secrets spilling in book 3. I gave up sleep to finish this book and was very glad I did.”
• And if you want to read more about Emma, check out this SFX interview! Don’t forget that Emma also has some really fun stuff on her website. You can sign up for free Split Worlds short stories. Also, there is her Three Wishes campaign, as well as her new podcasts, Tea and Jeopardy. Emma’s now up to Podcast 6 which is with Karina Cooper; previous
hostages guests have included Chuck Wendig, Sarah Pinborough, Paul Cornell, Jennifer Udden, and Dave Bradley. So, grab yourself a mug of tea and settle down with Emma for some mild peril!
Mike, our fantastic North American Sales & Marketing Manager, and I had a great chat with Wesley Chu this week about all things The Deaths of Tao; for everyone anxiously awaiting the next instalment of Roen and Tao’s adventures… T-minus 4 months! To those who haven’t yet read The Lives of Tao, check out these reviews and prey tell me, how you’ve missed this summer blockbuster?
• Fantasy Book Review: “The Lives of Tao is a fun book with a lot of energy and it really worked for me. Full of action, adventure, martial arts, gunplay, and large quantities of geeky goodness.”
• Sarah Says Read joins the now-squadron-sized army of those who all “want a Prophus alien living in my brain!” She loved it so much, there are bullet points to describe how (which I love!) but the summary says it all: “You guys, this book was just AWESOME. I literally don’t have a single complaint about it. It was an action-packed, fun-filled joy ride and I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for Roen and Tao.”
• Not a Natural Writer is certainly a Natural Reader and has this to say on The Lives of Tao: “The writing style is very easy to get into, and the story moves along at a fair old lick. The actions scenes in particular are very well crafted, with a great sense of motion, excitement and tension.”
My Bookish Ways: “It certainly makes me think that there might something in all of us that can make us great (even if it’s not an alien being), and it’s Roen’s humility, and yes, bravery, in the midst of a very extreme chain of events that makes this book what it is: one of the freshest, most fun debuts I’ve read in quite a while! I can’t wait to find out what’s next for Roen and Tao!”
• Vinx Books: “There’s a dash of romance, plenty of action and the plot carries you along but with nice variations in pace so it isn’t all go go go. It is all combined very well and I really appreciate that the violence is not romanticised or gratuitous. Roen’s reactions to the fighting is very human and I think brings a moment of contemplation.”
• Tiffy Fit: “imaginative, enjoyable, wondrous. ”
Chuck Wendig continues to own the internet, largely because he’s too scary to stop*, but hey, it works out well for our books. Take a look at all of this goodness:
• “Wendig’s filthy dialogue and layered characters mean that it’s never less than raucously entertaining.” SFX, August 2013
• Book Chick City: “The Blue Blazes is one hell of a read, with a complex cast of morally grey characters. It’s a heart-stopping ride from beginning to end. I think it is my stand out book of the year so far.”
• The Tattooed Book: “With superbly vivid characters, ballsy action and a ton of twists and turns Chuck Wendig hits home with another all round enjoyable novel.”
• The Qwillery: “If you are looking for something well written and verging towards horror, then I urge you to read The Blue Blazes. I would advise not to read too close to bedtime, however, without checking under the bed a few times first!”
• Fangs for the Fantasy: “This book is stylistically excellent. It’s thematically excellent. The writing is amazing. The characterisation is awesome. The world is incredible.”
All Things Urban Fantasy: “Think Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere written as a mob book…I’m kicking myself for not checking out Wendig’s work before now. Don’t make the same mistake I did.”
• My Bookish Ways: “The Blue Blazes is something very different, very twisted and very, very good. You’ll have lots of fun-I know I did!”
• With a shout-0ut to the fantastic Joey Hi-Fi cover, CheffoJeffo also says: “A Rollicking, Riotous Rampage…The Blue Blazes is the most fun I have had in years.”
For Chuck’s dulcet tones, here’s some handy interview links:
If you live, or will be, in Brooklyn on July 17, be sure to call to Word and see Chuck with Strange Chemistry author T.L. Costa as they consider the current state of speculative fiction, in both YA and adult. There’ll also be a signing and a Q&A.
You’d think that would be enough of our authors working on taking over the world, but nope, we’ve got all of these who have also been busy…and that’s the way we like them:
Mike Shevdon‘s series, The Courts of the Feyre, comes to a conclusion with The Eighth Court, and the mighty Tim Ward at SFSignal has this to say: “Fascinating magic; powerful and scheming villains; engaging and surprising mystery; epic conflict; dramatic and sympathetic conclusion to character arcs.”
• No More Grumpy Bookseller: “The Courts of the Feyre series is a win in every way in my humble opinion – the world, the characters, the stories, the setting, the history…it’s been a wild and crazy entertaining ride!”
• Lavie Tidhar‘s Omnibus collection of The Bookman Histories was released earlier in the year and Black Gate certainly recommend buying up this trilogy: “this is a guy who is clearly going places. Ignore him at your peril.” The Bookman Histories contains The Bookman, Camera Obscura, and The Great Game and is available in the US and ebook.
We’re fast approaching publication date for Ramez Naam‘s follow-up to Nexus, Crux, and here’s an early review from the IEET: “I advise readers to start with Nexus, but then to pick right up with Crux. Both books are excellent, thoughtful, and fast-paced. They are worth your time, and will leave you thinking hard about some core future questions.”
With the excitement building up towards the release of Crux, we were delighted to announce we’ve signed Ramez up for a third book, which will be released in late 2014, and here’s LitStack reporting on the deal.
If Reggie Lutz had this to say about Empire State: ” He makes the reader feel that we understand and recognize the place we are in the fiction…which makes the plot complications and world-instability issues contained therein all the more effective.” and Fantasy Faction say this about The Age Atomic: “[Since Empire State] Adam Christopher has grown as a writer and the growth shines through here, his prose has become stronger, his characters more real; his ideas, settings and themes bright and full of depth…he’s grown to a stylish and exciting writer, with ideas that are full of adventure and mystery.”, how damn good does that make both Empire State and The Age Atomic!
And on that note, I’m outta here – well as far as the café for lunch, but you know what I mean.
Happy Friday, everyone!
**I’ve never met him – but, so I hear.
To celebrate today’s launch of Any Other Name, the second in the Split Worlds series, Emma Newman gives us an insight into what life as a narrator is like, but specifically what it’s like for an author to narrate his or her own characters. With praise for Between Two Thorns recently coming from The Guardian describing Emma as “J. K. Rowling meets Georgette Heyer”, we’re even more excited than normal for this fantastic release.
Not only that, but Emma is running a competition to win the audio book of Any Other Name, details here:http://www.enewman.co.uk/
Happy book birthday, Emma!
Audio books, authors and readers – oh my!
I’ve been narrating audio books for a few years now and it’s something I enjoy immensely. Narrating a book is like climbing inside it; I feel I’ve really understood and explored a novel I’ve narrated on a much deeper level than one I’ve just enjoyed as a reader.
As a narrator, I feel just as responsible for a listener’s enjoyment of an audio book as the author – which is an odd thing to feel, especially as I’m an author too. If my performance is poor it could be a barrier to someone consuming the story so I do my best to deliver the narrative at the correct pace and in such a way as to stay interesting (i.e. no monotonous drone!) as well as delivering information in the correct way. Sentences can have their meanings altered just by a change in inflection and it’s my role to ensure my own interpretation isn’t contrary to what the author intends – something I, of course, have to guess from what I read.
Audio books don’t just change the medium of story delivery
When a person listens to an audiobook, they’re letting a third person into the relationship: writer, narrator and listener, rather than just writer and reader.
If you think about when you read a book, the character’s voices as well as the narration emerge from your consumption of the text. When a narrator gets involved everything changes; you hear what has emerged from the text for them first. I interpret how I think the characters would speak and deliver their words accordingly, thus having an influence on how a listener may feel about that character. Of course, that isn’t nearly as powerful as watching a film or TV adaptation that’s been through many, many people before reaching the screen, but it’s a factor nonetheless.
The hope is that the narrator enriches the experience, or at the very least, doesn’t get in the way!
Then I signed the Split Worlds deal with Angry Robot
After I’d calmed down a little (and asked Lee if he really had said what I thought he did) one of the first things I asked about was the audio book version. Specifically; would I be able to do it?
Brilliance Audio produces Angry Robot’s audio books and there was no guarantee they’d want me to narrate – they have lots of professional narrators to pick from. However, much to my delight, they listened to samples of my audio work online and offered the narration to me.
It’s different when it’s your own
I’ve narrated a collection of my own short stories before, for Iambik Audio, so it wasn’t the first time I’d narrated my own work, but working on the Split Worlds audio books was a whole new experience. For one thing I was in a studio working with a sound engineer and director. Such a joy! No more hours of editing and re-recording errors in my home office! However, I went from recording in half hour bursts to 5-6 hour stretches a day over a week or so and that demanded some stamina.
The other difference is that in a studio you wear headphones that play your own voice to you as you read. That is weird. You quickly get used to it, but your attention and concentration is split between producing verbal output and analysing aural input at the same time. With each line you’re focused on the best delivery and a beat later thinking “did that sound right?” so you get very tired by the end of the day. I do still love it though. There’s a joy in intense and deep concentration (can you tell I’m an introvert?) that the work provides in spades.
The thing about being the narrator and the author of the work is that the internal editor gets louder. I have many author friends who tell me they sometimes edit on the fly when performing readings at events – well, the urge to do that has to be squashed in the recording studio as your reading has to be text perfect. No matter how many times you edit your book, you’ll always find something to worry about when you next read it – and all the doubts and fears about how it will be received increase tenfold when you’re recording it! However, the good thing is that it catches those tiny typos that might have missed the proof reader’s eye if the book hasn’t gone to press yet.
The best thing about narrating the Split Worlds novels
When I wrote Between Two Thorns and Any Other Name (the first two novels in the series and the ones I’ve recorded to date), I spent a lot of time with those characters in my head. They’re still there actually, I’ve no idea when they’ll decide to leave. Anyway, I know what they sound like. As a narrator I don’t have to make as best a guess as I can – all I have to do is do my best to convey what is already in my head. The intonation, the inflection, the pause as a character struggles to say the right thing is all there already.
Being the author and the narrator means that relationship goes back from three to two people. It’s just me and you, surviving in the Split Worlds, and I like that. I hope you do too.
We’re delighted to present a brand new short story by recently-signed Angry Robot Author Emma Newman.
Emma has been writing and releasing a series of completely free short stories set in The Split Worlds, as part of the build-up to the release of her Angry Robot debut, Between Two Thorns, which we’re publishing in March 2013.
This is the twenty-seventh tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like Emma to read it to you instead, you can listen to a recorded version at SoundCloud.com. Read More→
We’re very excited indeed to be publishing The Corpse-Rat King in September (although US/CAN print copies and ebook editions will be available from next week). For those who don’t already know all about this terrific piece of work, it’s the debut fantasy novel by Australian writer Lee Battersby, a veteran short fictioneer who’s turned his considerable talents to the longer form with rather fabulous results (check out some of the early reviews on the book’s catalogue page for evidence of that).
By way of a general introduction, we asked Lee to give us a bit of an insight into his background as a writer, what his his most powerful sources of inspiration might be, that sort of thing. Here’s what he told us:
Not the Smashing Pumpkins song, no. The year, the actual I-lived-through-it-coz-I’m-older-than-the-rest-of-you 1979.
1979, I was eight years old. We moved from Narrogin, a wheat-belt town of 18 people and half a dog to a much larger town on the coast, where 26,000 people waited to teach me that I was different and not in a good way; that my English accent made me a target; that using two forms of cutlery in the same meal was foreign and disturbing; and that wearing glasses, being good at sport and maths, and reading without moving your lips constituted an invitation to kick the shit out of me any time they managed to bandage up their knuckles sufficiently for the task.
I’d love to say that 1979 was the year when I discovered that none of that mattered, that it was the year I discovered that being myself, unashamedly and self-sufficiently, was the only journey that counted, that I realised the only way to make myself truly happy was to walk my own individual path with footfalls as loud as I cared to make them and fuck anybody who didn’t fit in with my plan or who didn’t understand the way I saw the world. But hell, I was eight. It mattered. It mattered until it hurt.
But it was also the year my mind bent, irrevocably and for the rest of my life. It was the year when my path was diverted to go the long way round, for long stretches of my life alone, and for many more stretches in the company of people who did not understand but found themselves forced to share the path for short periods. After that year I was never in synch with those around me. Certainly not the ‘peers’ who populated the bogan-sanctuary in which I lived. (Bogan, chav, westie, Okie, call them what you will. You know who they are: the ones who wear the cheapest clothing, who keep the packet of fags under the arm of their t-shirt, who listen to mindless cock rock 24 hours a day, hoon up their moron mobiles and worship at the altar of the V8, who support your team’s greatest rivals and think the mullet never died.)
From that day to this I have never quite fit. Anywhere. Even in places I’m supposed to. University, SF conventions, family. If not for the company of other writers and finding a wife who understands (and who is, perhaps not-surprisingly, a writer herself) I might never fit.
I discovered the Goon Show in 1979, via an LP stashed at the back of my parents’ record collection. A month later, on my 9th birthday, I received my first SF anthology. I still have them both. I rescued the LP from my parents’ when they separated. The book has survived 33 years of house moves, relationship breakups, fire, termites, and children. I’ll never part with them. Because it was those two objects, or more accurately, the texts they contained, that provided the bridge between what I had understood to be the world in which I lived, and the mental plane where all angles of view are acceptable, where all subjects are up for comment, and there is nothing so sacred that it cannot be harpooned and brought to the side of your mind for flensing. Where speed and clarity of thought, and the ability to gene-splice concepts together for maximum effect, are the coin of the nation.
There have been others, since. Other artists who view the world not as it stands to the eye but as a character in a narrative of their own making. Other texts that destroy reality in order to build it up again, but this time with a better colour palette and more laughs. Other voices that prick, tickle, lance, bludgeon, cajole, persuade, entrance, and otherwise daub my eyes in shades of wonder. Douglas Adams. David Bowie. Monty Python. David Hockney. Ridley Scott. Other ‘fuck you’ merchants who watched the status quo turn gray and lifeless and raised a flag of protest against it. Alice Cooper. Rene Magritte. Harlan Ellison. Patrick McGoohan. Over the course of the intervening 33 years I have been exposed to more artists and modes of expression, and divine lunatics than I have space to list. Jackson Pollock. Brian Aldiss. William Blake. Terry Gilliam.
Imagine a world without Richard Dadd. Imagine it without They Might Be Giants. Imagine it without Salvador Dali or Brian Patten or China Miéville or Ian Dury or Howard Waldrop or Henry Moore or Adrian Henri or The Goodies or Bill Hicks or Roger Waters or Chris Foss or Kurt Vonnegut, or Madness, or… well, you understand.
These artists – and there are more than I have named, many more – have been my pathfinders: every one a Virgil leading me down a path away from simple acceptance; every discovery a tiny nudge off the path that others follow. And of course I’m not the only one who has felt this way, and of course I’m not the only one who has experienced all these artists and all these emotions, and in all probability I’m not even the only person involved in getting this little diatribe onto the net for you all to read who has experienced exactly that same level of dislocation and isolation.
But all those artists, all those wonderful, insane, delightful changers of minds, they came after – further down the years, when I was more capable of assimilating their worldviews and artistic processes and measuring them against my own desires and beliefs. It’s always your first love that you remember most fondly, the first broken heart that you come back to again and again to touch like aluminium foil against a filling.
Truth is, I’ve never wanted to be a science fiction writer. It’s not enough, just to sit within one genre, one form of work. It’s not enough to simply stare at the world through one set of eyes. To be a writer, just that: a writer, of whatever comes to me at the time, unfettered by genre or form or medium, is to be something wonderful and all-knowing. To aspire to polymathic heights, to work across media with equal aplomb, to stare out at the world from a minds-eye as fractured as a Dali painting made music and viewed through as many facets as an insect’s eye can hold: that would be something worth pursuing.
I didn’t understand that when I was eight. There are times I wonder if I understand it now, really understand everything that is required, deep down in my weaselly black soul. But I may never have received the opportunity to try, if I hadn’t dislocated my mind.
(Go on, Spike)
It’s all rather confusing, really.
Here are a few sample chapters for starters:
Adam Christopher’s superior superhero adventure Seven Wonders is published later this month (August 28th in the US, September 6th in the UK – the eBook is published worldwide on August 28th). We asked him to tell us about his favourite 4-colour heroes…
See, here’s the thing: I love superheroes. I love the cheese, I love the colours, I love the spandex. I also love the heroism, the optimism, and the ideals. Since the late 1930s, superhero comics have given us some of the most imaginative and wonderful stories in every genre that exists – and I should say that “superhero” to me is a story type, much like horror or steampunk, not a genre in itself, which allows any kind of story to be told within a specific framework – stories like Seven Wonders, my superhero novel.
So here are my five favourite superheroes from the world of comics – five fictional characters that I love possibly more than any other, whether it be in comics or novels or films or TV. People might know I’m a DC fan, and in compiling this top five, they’ve all ended up coming from that publisher – but if I had gone beyond five, then rest assured some Marvel heroes would have made it, including Iron Man and Daredevil. For the purposes of this list, I’m considering these DC characters in their pre-New 52 iterations, simply because they are the characters I fell in love with. Read More→