Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ah, Poison Ivy..

In case you don't follow me on Twitter, you may have missed that for the past couple weeks, I've been afflicted with poison ivy.

Truly, I don't want to bore you with the details, particularly since I'm still fighting it. Essentially, I've barely had a decent night's sleep in two weeks or so, for the itching and pain. Maybe I'll get some pictures at some point of the vile weed, but apparently what we had in our backyard is some genetic mutation of poison ivy, sumac AND oak, called ... I don't know. But it was a nasty purple thorny vine and the scratch it gave me lay dormant for a week.

Then it evolved into a hole and a huge rash on my left wrist, and left ankle. During which time I felt like amputation might be a reasonable alternative.

Fortunately, even in spite of my own bad ideas, it's begun to heal. 

I'm still not getting much sleep because it itches. And burns. And makes me want to scream. I finally started taking prednisone a few days ago, which has its own side effects, including stomach cramps and short term memory loss. 

But don't you worry about me. I'm fine. Sitting at a desk where I have to brace my left arm up in order to type has been - more trouble than it's been worth.

I've read a few books while this has been happening, and watched a couple things - all of which I'll detail in another post.

I just wanted to share with you my gory pictures... although I suspect, due to the quality of my webcam, they don't look nearly as bad on here as they do in real life. Color yourself fortunate.

Til the next.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Way of Shadows - Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows (The Night Angel Trilogy) - Brent Weeks. (2008) (Fantasy, Male, New Author, Series)

Blurb from author's website:

The perfect killer has no friends. Only targets.
For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.
For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly — and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.
But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics — and cultivate a flair for death.
Back to reading fantasy, and the gritty stuff is like having a beer with an old friend. Despite the size of the book, I burned through it in pretty short time.

Probably by coincidence, my last few reads have all contained rape. I'm beginning to feel a little inundated with what defines "dark fantasy" - while I'm sure that sexual abuses are part and parcel of the more realistic depiction of a medieval setting - I'm not sure it's working as well as it could. But that's a small concern here, overall. Most of what's floating in my head is more tragic storytelling, and so it only makes sense that's what I'm reading and encountering.

Overall, this is an excellent tale. Weeks keeps the action going, taking his characters through hell and then beating them up some more. I particularly liked that the protagonist starts as weak and fearful, and by the end, he's come into his own confidence and power. There was a nice mix of world building, of balanced magic, of strong personalities and character development.

I definitely see myself continuing on with the series, though I find myself, at the moment, craving something lighter.

Any of you read this yet? What did you think?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bio of a Space Tyrant, Volume 1 - Piers Anthony

Bio of a Space Tyrant Vol. 1. Refugee - Piers Anthony (1983) (Science Fiction, Male, New Author, Series)

Some info from Wikipedia:
The series revolves around the character Hope Hubris and his family, and charts Hope's ascent from poor Hispanic refugee to Tyrant of Jupiter, a single person heading the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of the government. It is considerably more adult-themed than many of Anthony's earlier works.
Follows Hope and his family's flight from their home on Callisto to Jupiter. Hope's family sets out in a "space bubble" with many other refugees. The group is attacked multiple times by space pirates, and most of the adults are raped, killed, or kidnapped by the end of the story.
When I saw the premise of the story, the opening pages, about how the lead character starts as a teenager and will some day become known as the Tyrant of Jupiter - boy, was I excited. That's a helluva lot to tell in one story!

But it wasn't all told in one story, I later discovered.

If there was ever a tale with an absolutely tragic beginning - this has to got to be it. Even most of the dark stories I read aren't nearly as tragic as this one was.

Having said all that, Piers Anthony, even back then, was an amazing writer. Fantastic storytelling voice and prose. Maybe a couple sections didn't sit well with me, with too much infodumping and technical specifications. But, then again, I don't read all that much scifi.

This tale is not for the faint of heart whatsoever, and without a doubt, it's absolutely a veneered political statement on the state of immigration, which may or may not sit well with modern readers. As the premise for the start of a series, for the tale of a boy who develops into much more than what he started out as, it holds up well.

For the experience of trying a new author, I'm glad I read it. The reputation and praise generally associated with Anthony is well deserved. For the experience of reading a story about a youth who is changed into something more, something darker, based on his experiences - absolutely. Love it. We'll call it research.

Have any of you read this, or anything else by Piers Anthony? What did you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Writing | Fantasy Tropes Revisited

I am the editing and revising machine lately! Rawr. And I've not been posting much, sorry. Ironically, the blogs I watch have been posting so much more in recent weeks - I've had a hard time keeping up. 


Let's cut to the quik - I like fantasy tropes. No, I LOVE them. I know there's at least two generations of people who grew up with Tolkien and Asimov and T.H. White who have spent the past five or so decades watching their favorite fantastic stories told over and over and over again in books, television and film.

You know why those stories get retold? Because they're good! To this day, people still know about Helen of Troy ("the face that launched a thousand ships") and what a Trojan Horse is. That story is two THOUSAND years old. (Uh, right? Older?)

Anyway, I read this post by forthcoming debut novelist Jeff Salyards over at SF Signal, entitled "Jeff Salyards on Avoiding Tired Tropes When World Building."

Nicely written post, I really enjoyed it. GO READ IT. Here's an excerpt.
What they all have in common is they don’t lazily rely on established motifs or character types. Can you still write about elves? Sure. I guess. But if they are sing-songy, lyrical, tree-dwelling hippies, then you’re missing the grand creative freedom of being a fantasy writer. Make them terrifying cannibals, or disenfranchised revolutionaries. In fact, somebody’s probably done both of those already. Tread carefully. 
And I left a lengthy comment, like so:

This is a good post. Tropes are a tricky topic, you have to admit. On the one hand, there is comfort in familiarity – and it’s that comfort which allows the reader immersion, escape, into the entertainment that is reading. On the other hand, the market and experienced readers demand freshness, creativity, originality.
It’s almost impossible anymore to write something that hasn’t been told. Even traditional fables have tons of variants on the same theme, across different cultures. Yet they persevere throughout the ages, and are retold to each generation, in one form or the other.
I’m comfortable with the tropes, personally, and employ several. Theoretically, I make them my own, but there’s no reinventing the wheel, so why bother – it’s almost an insult to the reader. What I try to focus on is to take that wheel and put it somewhere unexpected, or go further back, and discover why the wheel is the way that it is. (Well, not literally wheels, of course.)
There’s only so many ways that “departing from the classic tropes” can go, before they go too far and THAT becomes the new trope. For instance, ‘gritty’ is the new big thing – but that’s going to wear itself thin. Fantasy wasn’t built upon rape scenes, and readers will get tired of that, just like they grew tired of the peasant boy who becomes a king. After awhile, a good old-fashioned ‘boy becomes King’ yarn will be more popular (again) than Blackie McBlackNight the dirty rotten scoundrel’s tale.
What’s an author to do? Write a good story: cream always rises to the top.

Truly, this is a topic that I could go on and on for days about. But I have revisions to attend! However, if you want to engage the topic with me - revisions can wait, because this is my favoritest topic ever!

Anyway, what about you? Tired of the same ole stories? Do you want a refreshing take on the classic tale? Do you want something more realistic? Both? Neither? How about a re-imagined Middle Earth where the Dwarves aren't comic relief and the Elves aren't entirely feminine? Hmm? Hmmmmmm?