Abaddon, a SF Poem

Poetry

Earlier this week, the Winter 2019 issue of Illumen magazine was published and made available for purchase. In this issue is my first poetry sale (!). The poem in question is titled Abaddon. My poem is published alongside fellow writer and poet, Jasmine Arch, who is also a friend and in my critique group, INK-ubator.

Illumen is a SFF poetry magazine published by Alban Lake Publishing, an indie publishing company.

Back to the poem. What is it about, why the title, and why would you read it?

Abaddon explores the final moments before a star implodes and a human on the planet orbiting it, one of those few who have survived until that point, before inevitable demise. Along with her are the last of the plant life, slowly withering. They only have a few minutes and it’s spent in silent reflection.

The poem was the result of poetry challenge given by Damian Jay Clay, a friend and fellow member of INK-ubator. His challenge was to decide on a consonant and find 50 words ending on the same phonetic letter. With those words, construct a poem where each line ends on one of the words, never repeating. And as an extra challenge, prevent any lines from rhyming. I chose the letter “N” as phonetic in “sun”. And “abaddon”. The title needed to be the same as the last words of the lines.

So why “Abaddon“? It means “destroyer” and I found it fitting to write about. What’s more destructive than a star? And the dichotomy of its nature was what made the concept of a dying star more tantalising. The idea struck from inspiration due to Unleash The Archers‘ song titled Time Stands Still, specifically the chorus. Further influence for the poem came from the character Abaddon the Despoiler from Warhammer 40k and his Black Crusades (which I find relevant to today’s socio-political climate, though the poem is removed from this).

What to know more? The issue can be found right here: Illumen Winter 2019 print and Illumen Winter 2019 ebook.

But why should you check it out? Hey, I’m not going to tell you why you should or should not, I’m highly in favour of leaving decisions to the individual to make. Though, I will make an argument for it. Illumen is indie backed, and Alban Lake does a lot for emerging writers and established authors in a market otherwise difficult to break into. Illumen is also focused on the SFF in poetry, which is relatively new and as yet has little support on the overall. Not to mention the importance and significance of speculative fiction in our history and our future, which your support will help keep relevant and thriving. Your support would also support me, as well as other writers in SFF.


Image created with Canva

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Types of Science Fiction: An Overview of the Literary Genre

Articles

From 1818 with the publishing of the first modern science fiction novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, science fiction (SF) as a literary genre has blossomed and captured the imagination of readers. SF flourished during the 50’s to 70’s, branching into various sub-genres. In the 2010’s, approaching the 2020’s, SF has seen as boost in reader and writer interest once again.

As we step into a new era of science fiction, let’s have a look at the established sub-genres and those starting to develop in their own niches.

The Sub-Genres

I will not name all the sub-genres as there are many, and several overlap with those I’ll be looking into as well. In this list, you may find you know many of these sub-genres and discover new ones to escape into. I will also include examples of literary works in each sub-genre as reading recommendations to test the waters with, so to speak.

Cyberpunk

Perhaps one of the favoured of science fiction sub-genres, cyberpunk stays strong in various works of literature such as in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. This sub-genre shows alternative means of human development and evolution using technology to achieve a higher standard of life and living. From cybernetic implants to virtual realities and futuristic technologies, such as robots and androids along with sophisticated artificial intelligence, cyberpunk caters to the uptopian and dystopian possibilities of advancing technology.

Biopunk

From genetic engineering to organic technologies, biopunk appeals to the natural in advancing technology and the improvement of life and lifestyle. Biopunk can be considered the opposite of cyberpunk in the matter of artificial versus natural, though the means to achieve both technologies are acquired through human (or sentient) intervention. Technically, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is a work of biopunk, focusing on the element of biological manipulation as the science element. Neuromancer by William Gibson, while cyberpunk, has elements of biopunk and the sub-genre’s influences stemmed from this novel.

Space Opera

Space Opera is a sub-genre of science fiction popularly known by the Star Wars franchise created by George Lucas and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. This sub-genre is iconic for voyages through space and the adventures that follow, often between landing on planets or space stations. The stories of the space opera sub-genre tend to be large and as vast as space itself. Drama is also a key element in the stories of space opera, sometimes leading to chivalry between characters. Notably, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series employs space opera to a major extent, with several other science fiction sub-genres blended into the books.

Hard SF

In hard science fiction, the sub-genre places focus and importance on the plausibility of the natural sciences within the story, to an extent where most — if not all — of the science is plausible. Works such as The Martian by Andy Weir and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton showcase plausible science within complete stories. While a small niche enjoyed by few readers, the sub-genre of hard science fiction yet thrives, marking a return to interest in the 21st century, which arose during the 60’s and 70’s as an established type of science fiction.

Social SF

Also called soft science fiction, social SF places focus on the social sciences rather than the natural sciences. Works in the social science fiction sub-genre analyse and critique issues and matters within society from various points of view of subjects in the social sciences. Novels such as 1984 by George Orwell and the Earthseed series by Octavia E. Butler take a look at the implications of social discourse. This sub-genre flourished in the 60’s and 70’s as well, alongside hard SF, and is marking a return within young-adult dystopian science fiction.

Post- or Neo-Apocalyptic

The settings that mark apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic science fiction involve great catastrophes that affect most or all of the world, often showing the collapse of modern civilisation and a fight for survival. This sub-genre is icon with works such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke where the destruction of the world is imminent. Whether due to social matters of from natural science influence, post- and neo-apocalyptic works display the end of the world as it is known, in a utopian or dystopian manner.

Steampunk

While often shown in fantasy works, steampunk is very much a type of science fiction where the world follows an alternate timeline to use steam-powered or analogue technology instead of electricity as the main form of technology. Another sub-genre of science fiction was born from steampunk and is known as dieselpunk — using diesel-fueled technology instead of steam. Known through works such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book series by Alan Moore as well as The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, steampunk brings a 19th Century Victorian atmosphere to the setting.

Military SF

Works of military science fiction showcase military rank, rule, and structure as the prime setting for adventures within the plot. Works such as Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein show how civilisation has turned to military leadership above other forms of government. On the other side of the political spectrum, The War of the Worlds by H.G Wells focuses on the military — under civilian government — and their efforts. Military science fiction explores present day warfare or futuristic battles as key elements to the story.

Dystopian

Mostly used as a setting in science fiction, dystopian fiction is also a sub-genre of its own. In contemporary science fiction, dystopian SF is popular within young-adult fiction and often blends with social science fiction to show a speculative future that criticises current social matters. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and The Maze Runner by James Dashner are works of literature that combine the natural sciences with social sciences to show a dystopian future marking this sub-genre.

Emerging Sub-Genres

As technology evolves and advances, bringing both fascinating and terrifying concepts, new sub-genres of science fiction rise with it to speculate and critique on the future or alternative present of these technologies. Blockchain technology, while being around for approximately a decade already, is only recently beginning to surface within works of fiction.

Sub-genres of blockchain SF include Steempunk — where the focus of science lies in the Steem blockchain, such as with the Hard Fork Series produced through the literature and efforts of users on the Steem blockchain. A new form of cryptopunk is another emerging sub-genre that focuses on cryptocurrency and the blockchain and its consequences as with (ID)entity by P.J Manney.


What sub-genres do you enjoy and what about them appeals to you? Perhaps a fascination with evolution and genetics, or the fantasy that appears to live in advancing technology? I’d love to know, along with any recommendations for books and stories on your favourite science fiction.

Review: The Storm, by David Drake

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here be No Spoilers

Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative

The Storm follows the adventures of Lord Pal of Beune, a Champion of Mankind. Much like Lancelot’s humble beginnings but a better version of him. A much better version of him. Lord Pal navigates the world, between pockets of what is known as Here and the waste where the Not Here manifests at times. A bizarre world, for certain, but it fits so well.

I’m not quite sure how to explain the book without revealing everything, it’s just one of those books you have to read yourself and come to your own conclusion on what the story is like, how it makes you feel. This is the second book of the series, however it is written in such a way that not reading the first book doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re missing out on something vital. Drake has written this story to make it complete within this book as a stand-alone.

That said, I’ll give my review based on mulling over my thoughts for a couple of weeks. Yes, it’s that complicated. But the story isn’t, which is interesting. David Drake has a way of evoking a certain feel with his writing that has me reeling trying to figure out and analyse it. Drake’s writing is, frankly, beautiful. It’s smooth, if it had a physical texture, and easy to follow. But the voice of the story, the way I hear it in my head, is something I cannot explain.

Favourite Character:

Oh, by far my favourite character is Pal. He’s so real, relateable,humble, modest, and human. And yet, his strength is visible, I don’t mean physical strength either. His will power seems to seep out from the text. A character I truly care about.

Favourite Scene:

I don’t have one specific scene I enjoyed above others, though I thoroughly enjoyed every scene where Pal interacts with May, his consort. The wit, the human reactions, and the squabbles between them are so real and very entertaining.

Favourite Line:

“That seemed to be her standard method of breaking tension. It was a good method.”
– Lord Pal’s thoughts, the context of which you’ll have to read to find out. Trust me, it’s brilliant.

Overall:

The Storm is, by far, one of the most intriguing and different stories I’ve read and I’m honestly not sure how to express how I feel about it. The book definitely has an Arthurian feel and vivid, wild world-building that I’m absolutely enamoured with. I’ve never read science fiction, or any speculative fiction, like The Storm before. Suffice to say, I’m speechless.

I love the world, love the characters, and the plot is solid. I can’t find a fault (which I naturally try to without meaning to), and that says a lot. I am mind-blasted, to say the least. And yet, I don’t know if I love the book or not. I do, but at the same time not really. It’s confusing. I can’t stop thinking about it and find several things in daily life that remind me of some aspect of Drake’s world and characters.

I know, I’m rambling but I can’t help it. Writing this is the most difficult review I’ve had to do.

This story will stick with me for my whole life, I’m certain of it. Which is very rare, only a handful follow me in the back of my thoughts. The Storm is nestled in there alongside Asimov’s The Last Question, Lem’s Solaris, Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Okorafor’s Binti; stories that have a profound influence on me.


The Storm, by David Drake, published by Baen Books, is available for pre-order and will be released on 1 January 2019.

Image from Baen.com

30483411-0-Edelweiss-Reviewer-B

Creation of the Universe in Norse Mythology: A Speculative View

Articles

In researching Norse mythology, and being entranced by astrophysics, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between these two subjects. Once I understood the mythology, these parallels became all the more apparent. This is merely my insertion of the knowledge into the mythology but the more I looked at the idea, the more it seemed to make sense.

It is rather far-fetched to believe the Norse had such intimate knowledge of how the universe was created but perhaps there is a possibility they had basic ideas about it much in the same way we had not so long ago — the very ideas that led to our current understanding of the beginnings of the universe.

I’m not saying this is what they believed or that this, is in any way or form, the ideas the Norse had. This is merely my observations regarding the concept of creation in Norse mythology and the parallels gleaned from studying it.

From Energy to Matter

In the beginning, before the Big Bang, there was nothing except energy. This is probably so, though we cannot say for certain just yet. This “void” or singularity can be thought of as the Ginnungagap in Norse mythology.

Muspelheim and Niflheim are suggested to have existed at around the same time of each other, which makes the idea of cosmogony in Norse mythology interesting. From what we currently accept as the “birth” of the universe — the event known also as the “Big Bang” — heat must have occurred first. The early universe was a hot and dense place and this can likely be attributed to Muspelheim.

Niflheim probably only existed milliseconds after this point, as a contrast of Muspelheim, being inflation. In the creation of Norse mythology, rivers flow from both Niflheim and Muspelheim. The rivers from Hvergelmir (a fountain in Niflheim) might be referring to dark energy which has a lower density compared to matter. Dark energy’s density remains pretty much the same across the universe, a likewise constant in the twelve rivers that continue to flow long after the creation of the nine worlds in Norse mythology.

As we know from particle physics, with enough energy and the right fluctuations, particles are created. From Muspelheim flowed rivers as well, ones of fire and poison which might be connected to the rapid creation and annihilation of particles in the first instances of the universe. The poison fire rivers from Muspelheim may have been the first matter created after the singularity — likely quarks. These rivers in the mythology are described as forming a solid mass, perhaps a reference to the forming of hadrons and later neutrons.

When the rivers of Niflheim met with those of Muspelheim, a layer of frost covered over the solid mass. This freezing of the mass may allude to the dramatic decrease of temperature and density after the creation event from the singularity.

From Matter to Galaxies

Norse mythology also mentions that the heat of Muspelheim blew over the frozen poison mass. This heat may be that of the rapid annihilation before the domination of matter over antimatter.

At this point in time, the early universe was essentially a quark-gluon plasma and it can be likened to Ymir, the primordial giant. Audumla, the cosmic cow who also existed at this point, may be associated with the forces — electromagnetic, weak, and strong — which provided the life-sustaining milk for Ymir.

Audumla is said to have nourished herself with the ice mass. Her licking of the ice and the warmth of her breath — possibly radiation from the forces — sculpted Buri in Norse mythology who may be associated with proton-electron recombination. Buri birthed Bor, or rather the neutralising of the universe.

It is said in the mythology that Ymir fell asleep shortly after being created and the heat of Muspelheim made him sweat. This sleep can be likened to the recombination event that made the early universe neutral. The sweat could be the falling density of the universe, and this resulted in the birth of Thrudgelmir and Bestla — helium and hydrogen respectively. Lithium was also created after this and can be likened to Mimir who was created by Ymir’s feet.

The giant Bor married with Bestla and from them were birthed Odin, Vili, and Ve. These three brothers — grandsons of Ymir and Buri — can be seen as quasars, the first stars, and the early galaxies.

From Galaxies to Life

Odin, Vili, and Ve rebelled and killed most of the giants, likely the way these early objects radiated energy that reionised the universe. These early objects in the universe began the process of making heavy elements from the light ones, in a way the sons of Bor killed the giants — hydrogen, helium, and lithium.

The blood of Ymir became the seas and this can be seen as the universe after reionisation which was once again plasma. Ymir’s body was thrown into the Ginnungagap and became Midgard. Midgard is practically referred to as Earth or as the middle of Earth. In this context, however, it can be seen as the universe in the change from the Dark Ages of creation into the next epoch.

Ymir’s skull became the sky that kept Muspelheim’s sparks from escaping, which may be the lessened density and temperature of the universe at that point. The low density allowed for the formation of more galaxies when matter collapsed, along with stars and quasars, and these could be the eyes of Ymir scattered across the universe. After this, the basic ingredients for life were created in the universe, leading to the formation of planets and other objects as well as organic material, which were perhaps Ymir’s teeth, brain, and hair.

Wait, What?

More than probably, Norse mythology described the creation of terrestrial objects as observed by the early civilisation of the time, amended with influences from other cultures through the expansion of the people. My perspective of the creation above is merely a speculative view on how the mythology could possibly be adapted to our current understanding of how the universe came to be.

As with the early universe, the chronology of events within Norse mythology’s creation might have existed only after time did as a result of the singularity.

The views expressed here are not to be taken as any sort of fact or truth regarding Norse mythology, and are simply the result of an active imagination coupled with fascination and some burning desire to make more sense of matters.


The links in this speculative article are for educational purposes only, leading to Wikipedia pages on the subjects. They are not meant as citations to back up arguments made, as this article is purely speculative and for entertainment purposes only.

Review: The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here be Mild Spoilers

Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fantasy

What does it mean to be an exile of your homeland, to have the pressure of expectation that you’ll do great things and save your people, carrying a mark that shows everyone that expectation, the promise you never had a chance to make? This is Isten’s life and story and Darius Hinks takes us through a fantastic world to show Isten’s present predicaments, history, and her future in The Ingenious.

But there’s so much more at play in this story than just Isten. There’s a strong sense of pre-destiny for the characters, each playing a vital role in bringing about the end game, possibly salvation. Very reminiscent of Dune‘s plot arc and I love it.

Hinks takes the reader on a perilous journey, through the grim of the ever-expanding city, to the surreal wonders of the consciousness. And it’s exhilarating.

Favourite Character:

By far, my favourite character is Phrater Alzen. He’s relateable, in a way, with his pursuit for understanding, wanting to know the intricate and majestic wonders of the universe, what makes it work. He’s a misunderstood person and convicted by a limiting system of good versus evil, and what constitutes as either.

Favourite Scene:

As much I enjoyed Alzen and learning more about him, the scene with him and the emerald lion known as Mapourak is, for me, brilliantly executed. The confusion and reality sinking in, the detached horror as a result. Masterful writing right there. Vague, yes, but you need to read it to truly capture what I’m referring to.

Favourite Line:

“No one is above death, they cried, not even the Elect. The living walked on, oblivious, and the dead fell back in despair, forgetting what they had learned, sinking into darkness.” – Beginning of Chapter 11.

What Worked For Me:

The world-building is superb! So much familiarity within the story even though it’s a rather unique take on alchemy and fantasy. The nods and hints to, among others, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld concept, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I also loved the slight hints of science wrapped within the narrative that helped make the world seem real.

What Didn’t Work:

I’d have liked if at least half of all the filter sentences were converted into showing and the descriptions of the surroundings lessened to make room for said showing. To give a deeper immersion of what’s happening and how the point of view characters felt, instead of being told how they felt and experienced things. I can understand the choice to tighten the narrative with filters, though seeing Hinks’s writing skill, I suspect he could have easily made it work and kept it as tight as it is.

Overall:

The Ingenious is a wildly fantastic story. Take everything you think you know about fantasy fiction and throw it in the deepest, darkest trash pit, because this story will take you to a new meaning of the genre. Hinks has taken the best of so many favourites and spun them in new ways with his own ideas that just makes the world, characters, and overall story so colourful and inviting.

And the cover art, created by John Coulthart, is spectacular! A fitting depiction of the atmosphere, world, and tone of the story.


 

 

The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks, published by Angry Robot, is available for pre-orders and will be published on 5 February 2019.

 

 

 

Image from Amazon.com

30483411-0-Edelweiss-Reviewer-B

Review: The Fireman, by Joe Hill

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Here Be Spoilers

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Horror.

The Fireman, by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), is set in a dystopian and post-apocalyptic world where the theme is the race for survival of those infected with a fungus called Draco Incendia Trychophyton, or more commonly known as Dragonscale, the ‘scale’, or the ‘spore’. The story is told through the perspective of the main protagonist: Harper Grayson (neé Willowes), a nurse who believes in her work despite her own safety.

Harper works at Portsmouth Hospital, New Hampshire, where she meets the Fireman while treating people who have Dragonscale. Although beautiful, Dragonscale is deadly; causing people to ignite and incinerate from the inside out. Due to a chain reaction of incineration, Portsmouth Hospital burns down. Nurse Harper later discovers that she’s pregnant, and a couple weeks after, sees her first black line on her thigh indicating infection. Harper must survive through many life-threatening scenarios, including the one from within.

Harper, along with the Fireman John Rookwood, Allie and Nick Storey, and Renée Gilmonton, fight off not only the deadly effects of Dragonscale but also firing squads, police, and their once community of infected. All to find a sanctuary where Harper can deliver her baby safely and they can live without the constant threat of death.

A curiously good read, leaving suspense and action throughout the chapters that creates the urge to read just one more page before bed. The Fireman has an original take on a possible apocalypse of the world with the potential of its events going horribly wrong all the time.

Favourite Character:

Definitely John Rookwood with his glum, dark humour yet playful demeanour and view of the current predicament of the world. As the Fireman, an image he has taken upon himself through a jest with his late girlfriend, John sets out to rescue and help others with Dragonscale. In a world burning, looking like a fireman is the best way to stay inconspicuous.

John understands the fungus and is able light himself on fire without burning, throw fireballs, and project himself as a huge fire devil. John also creates a phoenix of flame and spore, which Harper finds is more like John than him in his human body.

Favourite Scene:

The fire devil scene, when John, Allie, Harper and a few others went by row boats to rescue two small-time convicts with Dragonscale, hiding from the police. John creates a distraction for the police and firemen by making himself into a large devil, complete with horns, wings and tail. The fire that was John, created enough chaos and smoke, allowed the trapped men to escape to the boats. John even fire-forged a pitchfork during his showing-off of power.

Favourite Line:

“A better name for Dragonscale would be the Nietzsche virus- if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

What Worked For Me:

The concept of an incineration fungus. Combining spontaneous combustion with infection really tickled my nerd-fancy, as well as the (speculative) scientific takes on the ‘scale’ and its abilities and effects.

What Didn’t Work:

The lack of terror put me off. I kept reading and reading, waiting for horror. The essence of horror was there: the infection that makes you burn yourself alive and the psychosis of the people with and without the infection, but there were very few horror scenes happening to the main characters and, in the little that was, the characters seemed to brush it off as odd but not unnerving.

Overall:

While the book was a great concept and a good, easy read, it lacked so much. The potential was bursting through the words for a truly terrifying experience but the story has no dread. The crippling fear of knowing that you could burst into flames at any second, not to mention the horror of seeing everyone around you burn alive from inside, was barely touched. The Fireman read more like a sci-fi drama than a horror, which I still appreciate and it is still a really good book: a book you could read at night, alone in an abandoned mansion during a thunderstorm and still sleep well. It left me dreaming about firebirds and dragons.


The Fireman, by Joe Hill, published by William Morrow and Company in 2016, is available for purchase here.

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

Review: E, by Kate Wrath

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Kate Wrath has built a wonderfully dreadful world in the first book of her series, simply titled E, and it’s huge. The politics, socio-economics, crime versus legality being blurred. E has a fascinating dystopia, hinted with some strangeness not in our reality and those little things have a huge impact on how the world is perceived.

E is slow to start in the character department but packed with action, mystery, and suspense from the get-go. After a few chapters, the characters get much more interesting and the plot gradually thickens. Wrath’s pacing is well done, giving enough of the slow scenes to let the reader breathe before it can become boring, then leaping into another fast scene.

Eden, the narrator, could have been more developed. I would have liked more characterisation in the opening chapter to get to know her early on. Sure, Eden doesn’t remember anything, but she has internal dialogue and that can reveal plenty about her personality. But she grew on me after a while, somewhere around the middle of the story when she starts to get more personality and come alive.

While I enjoyed the story, there were some gripes that broke me out of the flow. One is the sexual tensions and subtle near-action flirting between her and three characters that feels stretched out beyond its capacity. The cliffhangers at the end of each scene becoming tiring and jarring when the next scene starts and everyone’s okay and alive. This may be why Eden feels distant, why I don’t care about her, because I don’t see any resolution, even how remote, to the major shocks presented as the closing of most scenes.

As someone with aphantasia, the excessive detail on Eden’s surroundings, actually anything she sees, is a put-off. It’s just information I can’t do anything with. This is, of course, not something that will be shared with the majority of readers so it’s a rather personal opinion.

I also wasn’t too keen on Eden suddenly, and especially without some reaction, knowing so much about how the world around her works from the second chapter onward. Some of its workings she discovers by actively trying to figure it out but other times it’s just there with no external source. This wouldn’t be too jolting if there were some reactions from her about her re-emerging memories and perhaps also some further reflection on them and their significance.

The story is otherwise really good, and the world-building is captivating. I think I’d have long abandoned the book if it weren’t for the need to find out what’s happening to the Outpost and the other characters, specifically Matt and Apollon. On that note, I really need to read the next book, Evolution, and discover more. Wrath has this feel in her writing that hooks regardless of anything I mention above, and I couldn’t stop reading.


 

 

E, by Kate Wrath, published in 2014, is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

Image from Amazon.com

Review: Sick Bastards, by Matt Shaw

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: No Spoilers

Genre: Splatterpunk Horror.

Firstly, before I get into this review, I have to say that Matt Shaw has balls. This world he built is highly controversial, and to publish it as well? That takes guts.

Now, be warned, Sick Bastards is not a book for everyone. Mostly, I’m pretty sure only a few people can handle it. The cover even comes with a warning label. With that said, this review won’t go into the details of the story for two reasons:

  1. No spoilers, and
  2. It’s graphic and I’d rather not risk grossing out my followers, and leave it up to you to decide whether to chance the book or not.

To start this review, I need to open with a premise. The content of the story is for the sake of fiction, the character development, and the plot. This is good to remember if you decide to read the book. This is not a story for readers to insert themselves or their moral standards onto the character/s. And, just as a disclaimer, the events and devices used in this book are not condoned or acceptable for real life. Yes, you’re probably getting an idea of this already from just this introduction.

Content aside, the story is great. Shaw has his characters nailed to a T. Well-developed and with proper character arcs we get to see throughout the story. The non-linear approach was an excellent decision in how to tell the story, giving flashbacks of important events to the narrator’s life from the moment he woke up in the house—with no recollection of anything prior.

Shaw also masterfully weaved curiosities in the form of details about the world and the scenario that carries the reader through with the mystery. The planes the sometimes fly overhead, the clear skies and green grass, the birds. How did the characters get there, what are those things in the woods, and what exactly happened to force the characters into such a situation?

It’s a gruesome life.

And an unpredictable story. The build up to the climax and resolution is excellently crafted. While I suspected what the truth was from about part three, I wasn’t exactly confident. Horror has a tendency to either go directly they way you think or not at all. So it was satisfying knowing I suspected right. All the signs were there but the way Shaw weaved them had me suspicious even further that they were only red herrings.

What set me off sometimes from the story was a little bit of authorsplaining (which isn’t so bad, honestly), the repetition of certain facts, and the purple prose. These are, of course, purely my own reader preference and they don’t necessarily detract from the story itself. The big repetitions are clearly used as a device for the atmosphere and tone of the latter parts of the story, though I’d have preferred if they gave new information of the same scenes instead of the word-for-word repeating.

I usually read the Author Notes or Afterword of a story I enjoy to glean some insight into the mind of the writer, and in this book it is definitely recommended to do so. This is the first time I’ve read something from Matt Shaw and, suffice to say, I look forward to reading his other works. It’s such good writing, I devoured the book in under a day. One, non-stop sitting.


 

 

Sick Bastards: A Novel of Extreme Horror, Sex and Gore, by Matt Shaw and published in 2014, is available to purchase here.

 

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

The Illusion of Pacing: A Study of ‘Anne of Green Gables’

Book Reviews, Literature Studies

For purposes of this study, page numbers refer to the placement of text according to this epub with images copy of Anne of Green Gables from Project Gutenberg.

One of the important devices writers use in literature is that of pacing—to deliver the story according to a perceived timing of the sequence of events 1. The pacing of a story affects the tone of the work by suggesting to the reader that a scene is attached to a certain feeling. Whether it progresses quickly to suggest an action-packed event, or slowly to suggest the seriousness of a scene, pacing allows the reader to live the story through various ups and downs, much like real life.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of pacing, I will take a look at ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M Montgomery for how she utilises the device throughout her story. Specifically, I will look at how she delivers the illusion of pacing to keep the story flowing despite its slow progression of the plot.

The Book

The story follows the life and adventures of an orphan girl, Anne, and her new life at an estate called Green Gables. The characters in this book are very well developed and, while it isn’t one I particularly enjoyed reading for personal preference, the plot is solid and complete with character arcs. Nevertheless, a writer can always learn something from other writers.

The pacing Montgomery uses is subtle at first read. Such is the deception of the illusion she uses throughout the narrative. Jumping in to dissect the story, the progression of the plot itself is noticeably slow. Despite the many scenes that occur through the story, the time it takes for the reader to navigate from one scene to the next is stretched out.

Montgomery uses characterisation to fill in the time gaps between scenes. This is the illusion of pacing she works into the story to manipulate the timing perception of the reader. Much like a stage magician distracts with one hand to pull off a trick using his other, Montgomery distracts from the plot by getting the reader invested in the character Anne and her vivid and wild imaginings that take place frequently.

The Illusion

In using a lot of description in her opening chapter, Montgomery establishes the general pacing of the book by mixing action and suspense to keep the reader curious and invested in the story. This established pace right in the opening sets up the perception from the beginning and that perception becomes expectation for the reader.

Once the first sequence of suspense reaches its climax, Montgomery introduces the reader to the whimsy of the character Anne. From the moment Anne meets with Matthew Cuthbert, her adoptive father, the nature of her character is revealed. At first, Montgomery holds back, as fitting with the character, to ease the reader into the persona Anne has. This introduction is done with fears of abandonment and quickly consolidated with the relief to the contrary. The emotion Anne shows through her dialogue on page 11 makes her resonate with most readers, which opens the potential for the reader to attach themselves to her.

“Isn’t that beautiful? What did that tree, leaning out from the bank, all white and lacy, make you think of?” she asked.
          “Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Why, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty veil. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like.

Shortly after, Montgomery introduces the reader to the fleeting imagination of Anna on page 12, wasting no time in establishing the sort of person the character is. The large amount of dialogue showing Anne’s imaginings begins to distract the reader from the plot. By vivid imagery and thoughts, the reader is taken to a fantasy world within the mind of the character. Through this escape from reality of both Anne and the reader, the pacing perceived and established in the beginning is maintained although the plot itself stagnates.

From page 12 through to the end of the chapter on page 18, Montgomery affirms the characters Anna and Matthew along with the development of their interpersonal relationship. From the opening line to page 11, several events occur to progress the plot, but on pages 12 to 18 there is no plot progression aside from the journey toward the setting’s location: Green Gables. This method of distraction is used throughout the book, most prominently in scenes where the characters move through the world.

World-building

In my focus for the study on pacing in Anne of Green Gables, I turn attention to the world-building Montgomery has and how it comes into play with the pacing. With only the imaginings of Anne’s dialogue, the illusion of pace would be far too quick for what was established in the opening and what the reader expects. To remedy this, Montgomery uses world-building in between the dialogue to slow down the pacing. Her technique of using world-building to affect pace further grounds the illusion of a steady pacing of the story as set from the opening chapter.

The manner in which Montgomery presents her world-building is precise. She includes parts of it only when it matches and is relevant to Anne’s dialogue or to give the suggestion of movement of the characters in the world. By including the world-building in this way Montgomery keeps from further distracting the reader, which would break the illusion of pacing that both the dialogue and world-building maintain.

Conclusions

Montgomery only uses the methods of pacing illusion, as described above, for parts where the plot progresses much slower than the rest of the story. This implementation is usually in between action scenes where the plot’s pacing returns to the established and expected speed of the opening. While an excellent device for characterisation, the illusion of pacing as used in Anne of Green Gables ensures two things:

  • the reader is always kept entertained, included, and invested; and
  • the story never loses momentum or becomes dull.

Anne of Green Gables is a story planned around the focus of the reader, using complex characters, character arcs, and precision pacing to fulfil the purpose of entertainment. Without the illusion of pacing Montgomery employs through Anne’s imagination and the world-building, the plot would fall flat and lose the reader’s interest. Montgomery has constructed the scenes in such a way that compensates just enough for the stagnating plot to distract the reader and keep us unaware—at least initially—of the change in pacing.


 

[1] https://literarydevices.net/pacing/

Review: A Star-Wheeled Sky, by Brad R. Torgersen

Book Reviews, Contemporary Books

Be Warned: Mild Spoilers Here

Genre: Military Science Fiction

A Star-Wheeled Sky begins with a full and proper space-opera setting, in the ship called Daffodil. In a couple of pages of the prologue, we quickly get the gist of the factions at play, a rough idea of humanity’s progress in expansion in the galaxy, and the sense of the alien through the Waypoints. A hole lot of of essential world-building that I, for one, thought was executed well.

Shortly after, we’re introduced to the characters Zuri Mikton, Garsina Oswight, Wyodreth Antagean, and Golsubril Vex, and later a few more. And the conflict rises from the worlds, this great mystery of a new Waypoint that just showed up. The narrative shows this isn’t normal and, considering they’re in the midst of a war, not good. Torgersen uses several of his various characters to give another piece of the world and the puzzle through their eyes as the story progresses toward the climax, blending in the information almost seamlessly.

Favourite Character:

By far, the character that I enjoyed reading the most was Elvin Axabrast. He’s complex and well developed. Hard on the outside but soft within. He sees life simply but is also able to acknowledge the various complexities that are attached to daily living and history. The strong silent type here works and it’s because he’s a war veteran with a family attached history he’d rather everyone not say anything about. I was delighted when he got his own chapter from his point of view and got more of a feel for his personality.

Favourite Scene:

The scene I most enjoyed, though there are many I wanted to pick, was the part near the end of Chapter 16 when Captain Loper revealed how Wyodreth used to be as a young adult. This scene resonated as the most relateable and as an important message for people to think about. In the scene, Loper’s reveal gives Wyodreth a new perspective on his preconceptions of the Lady Oswight. The point wasn’t that she’s young and new to adventure, trying to make her own mark in the universe and being bossy in the endeavour, but that people should consider others and reflect on their own behaviour, thoughts, and past in order to see the other person’s perspective and try to understand them.

Favourite Line:

“I’ve forgotten more in my time than you could ever hope to know in yours. And that’s depressing, you understand? Why go through the trouble to teach yourself something, when you’ll have to decide to eventually to let it all fall away again later? Took me at least a couple of centuries to figure that out.” – Lethiah.

What Worked For Me:

I particularly enjoyed that space battles weren’t instantly full-on contact, taking several hours from detection of the enemy to reaching firing range. The feeling of “silence” during the battles is believable and appreciated, and Torgersen’s pacing is wonderful.

What Didn’t Work:

It could have been a more immersive story if I didn’t have to break out of the flow every now and then from the authorsplaining or repetitions of information already revealed. Of course, I read the ARC and this might be corrected in the final print version.

Overall:

I experienced disorientation each time I had to pause reading to tend to real life mundanes. It felt like I was ripped from hundreds of lightyears away back to Earth in a few minutes. As much as it has it flaws, I found the story hyper immersive. When I realised I was half-way through, I didn’t want it to end.

A Star-Wheeled Sky is like some mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Battlestar Galactica series (remake). All-in-all a riveting and enjoyable military sci-fi story packed with action, suspense, and mystery. Though I am disappointed with the lack of resolution at the end. If this is the first in a series, it might not be so bad and what I’d expect of a cliffhanger ending. That doesn’t hold in a stand-alone book for me. I do hope there’ll be sequel.

And to top it all off, Alan Pollack’s artwork for the book’s cover is spot-on true to the scene it’s based on and brilliantly made.


 

 

A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad R. Torgersen, publishing under Baen Books, comes out in December 2018 and is currently available for pre-order.

 

 

Image retrieved from Amazon.com

30483411-0-Edelweiss-Reviewer-B

Forgotten Pearls: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Book Reviews, Forgotten Pearls

Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of literature across the globe is that of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, a story reproduced over and over through the past two centuries in all forms of media. Frankenstein is also an integral part of science fiction, being the first sci-fi story to be produced and distributed in the modern age and kicking off a movement that soon after gave birth to all sorts of weird and wonderful sub-genres.

From science fiction to biopunk and strange fiction, Shelley’s Frankenstein has it all.

Of course, with any iconic meme, Frankenstein and his creature have both been portrayed untrue to the story. First being the confusion between who Frankenstein is, and second through how Frankenstein’s creature looks. In the many adaptations, there has been poetic flair inserted and this explains the pop cultural view of the creature and story of Victor Frankenstein.

Speaking of which, the prose in which Shelley wrote her book is highly poetic. Perhaps due to the language norms and literary mannerisms of the late 19th Century.

A Bit About The Book

Frankenstein is a story about a young ambitious man, so enthralled with the natural sciences that he ventured toward the answer of life itself. In his studies, he discovered it then set about working to create his own life. His tedious labours of wiring all the parts of a body together paid off on the night he used his answer to bring his creature to life.

But the young Victor Frankenstein regrets his decision when he succumbs to a fever and his creature appears to him. After recovering from his illness, with the help of his good friend Henry, he receives a letter informing him of the loss of his younger brother. Victor realises, upon arriving, that his creature was real and not a dream, and responsible for the murder. This and the events proceeding initiate Victor’s determination to hunt down his creature.

When he does, we get an account from the creature about his life up until that point, whereafter the creature gives Victor an ultimatum to build him a female companion of his own species. Frankenstein’s creature is no monster save for in appearance, and he’s a richly cultured person with a strong will and developed mind.

This story is too large to sum up in a few paragraphs and still do it justice so I will leave it at this: Frankenstein’s creature resigns to the uninhabited parts of the world in repentance for what he’d done. And Victor? Well, some people just refuse to change.

Review

Shelley’s use of poetic language makes this a difficult read for people of this century, but in no way does it detract from the story. On the contrary, the language pulled me in and I was immersed in 19th Century society. I felt like I had travelled back in time. Her use of letters to characters being the structure of the narrative made immersion challenging at first but soon after, I was trapped in the story. And this was a re-read. It says something about a story if, despite having read it a couple of times before and knowing the story like the back of your hand, you still get so enthralled with it and plunge head-first into imagination from the first sentence.

Frankenstein’s story is full of emotion and the characters are continuously developing, right up to the last line. Not only the main characters, but all of them. From Elizabeth to Safir, each character is fully fleshed out with a rich story of their own. What captures me the most about the story is the dichotomy between Victor and his creation. There’s no clear “good” or “bad” guy, and interestingly, the protagonist is neither.

There’s just so much readers can take away from the story and something in it for everyone and almost every circumstance, from the personal to the political.

Versus Contemporary

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a stark contrast to the literature, of any genre, of today. The formal English and poetic structure of the prose speaks to the era it was written in and, subsequently, dates the book. Although the prose is very clearly to the point, the messages inside the narrative are subtle in comparison to the literature of the 70s and 80s, for instance, where social critique was blatantly delivered.

Continuing on the mention of dated language, it may make Frankenstein feel distanced and inaccessible to readers of the 21st Century, especially with language constantly evolving.

Nevertheless, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, is by far an essential read for everything it provides to the reader and the messages within being applicable still through today and probably into the future.


 

Have you read Frankenstein? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Did I miss something or have you perceived things differently? It would be interesting to read and discuss the different experiences people get from the book.

Read More in the Forgotten Pearls Series.

Fates be Damned

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction

The swan lay down its head on Tam’s lap. A tear streamed from its eye and began to glow. Light surrounded it, transforming it into a man.

What he’d done was unforgivable. But he seemed so innocent like this.

Tam cradled his head. “No more, Zeus.”

She twisted his neck.


For all Zeus did for humanity, according to Greek myth, he did less for women. Manipulating and tricking them into sleeping with him—even raping them—Zeus did women a great injustice. Not only from his actions but from the consequences resulting. It set the idea that women were easily seduced, objects for sexual measures, and untrustworthy to be loyal.

Of course, the myth of Zeus was created by humans, and therefore only a reflection of humanity at the time, but the stories still had a life of their own. In a sense, Zeus did  exist, as a metaphor for society in Ancient Greece. To treat Zeus as merely a fictional character underplays the effect he had on humans and society and, in turn, further disservices women.

While the myth has ceased being believed as reality, the effects and similar situations have lived on through society. These have infected fiction.

Starting with the early fairy tales and fables and branching into the various genres that have emerged over the centuries, it was always the men who saved the women—that poor, helpless, hapless damsel in distress—never the other way around. Only recently have we seen fiction and fairy tale retellings that reverse the roles and have women saving the men.

But still there is the unbalanced nature of the sexes in fiction. One saving the other perpetually.

Not only does this encourage inequality, either for women or for men or otherwise, it is not relatable, realistic, or achievable. It breaks suspension of disbelief—a vital aspect of storytelling. The characters lack agency, seeming to only follow their apparent destiny or fate, stripped of will and therefore of character. They end up being little more than cardboard cut-outs for all their usefulness to the reader.

Back to Zeus, known for transforming into a swam and seducing or raping women, what if his victims had agency—a will. That, for once, the Fates weaved in no-one’s favour and each person had to be accountable for themselves and their actions. Why, they’d bring Zeus down like the fowl beast he was, like they would any fowl they planned to prepare for dinner.

As Damian Jay Clay points out in his article, Enough Agency for the Agency (which inspired this story), agency is not only the action a character takes but also the choices they make.

In this scenario, no one saves anyone. Vengeance was had. The victim turned her attacker into her victim, and the hunter became the prey. That anger, the thirst for vengeance, hate, and bloodlust are emotions readers can relate to. Chivalry (as in the actual chivalry: battle manners, not men being courteous to women), fearless courage, total faith in the metaphysical, and two-dimensional heroism are not what the average person experiences and probably never will.

And in the situation the woman was placed, the former emotions would come as naturally to the reader as it would the character.

Zeus deserved it. No sympathy was shared on his behalf. And we end up with a natural villain. She saved herself. Took agency. Became a real person. And the story’s end, subsequently, can be satisfying in its resolution. Not because of the plot but from the choices of the character.

Pillars of the Sky

Fiction

Humans must be terrified of Lord Etin of Ire, at least according to the witch. That damned witch. She’s one of them.

A storm follows as Etin races toward the castle. His feet leave craters in the hard ground. The two fake heads on either shoulder bob around. He holds them in place. All this effort to turn the humans into stone seems unnecessary. Loathsome pests. The witch more so than others. But the pillars must be built if there is any hope of saving the world.

The witch said there’d be a storm before the Sky God falls. Etin looks up to the blue-black sky. Dark grey clouds swallow the stars. Almost time. The top branch of a tree scrapes his temple. He stumbles but the momentum keeps him upright. The straps holding the fake heads threaten to tear.

He looks up again. The storm won’t hold off for much longer. Time is running out. He picks up his pace. One greedy shepherd just had to talk about a raisetoday of all days. That shepherd can count his fortune that his work has produced results or he’d be used as a pillar. Just one more human to keep the Sky up.

The castle gates rise over the horizon, open and waiting for his return. A fire inside warms up the night. In front of the flames dances the black silhouette of the witch.

He runs up to her, bends at the waist, and whispers in her ear. “Is he here?”

She nods and points to the hole in the wall. Just as planned for her silly ritual. But humans like holes, apparently. Simple creatures, thinking a hole would hide them. It took Etin a whole week to dig it out. Still, it was easier than bribing those human shepherds to direct other humans to the castle. What is it with humans and gold? They always want more but never eat it.

Etin corrects his fake heads and clears his throat. How do the words go again? It’s been so long.

“Sniff there and sniff here, I smell an earthly man. Whether he’s living or dead, his heart will be the spread for my bread.” He looks at the witch who shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Wench.

With a sigh, he bends down and reaches into the hole, grabbing the human. Etin’s red hand covers his entire chest. The human squirms and mumbles something incoherent about his mother and cake. Etin shrugs then lowers him. Typical human nonsense talk.

Please don’t eat me?” The human clasps his hands together. Great, another beggar. “I only wanted to escape the storm. I can’t go anywhere else. Those giants outside… They’re frightening.”

How much more until he quivers? Etin clears his throat and lowers his head, his chin almost touching his neck.

“I myself am a Giant and this is my home. Do you know who I am?”

I-I do.” The human’s head bobs up and down. “Lord Etin, King of the Giants of Ire.”

Etin nods. “Now listen here.” He bares his palms to the human. “Answer me three questions and I will spare your life.” Patience. The anxious brew boiling in the pit of his stomach wants out. There isn’t much time left. The storm still comes.

Anything.” The human’s voice quivers. “I’ll answer anything.”

He clears his throat and winks at the witch. “Was Ire or Scot first inhabited by sentient life?”

The witch rolls her eyes and turns to face the fire again. What sort of messages does the Sky God send her through the flames? He looks at the human.

Knees tremble. “I…” The human licks his lips while scratching his yellow hair. “I don’t know.”

With a suppressed a smile, Etin takes a breath. “Well then, was man made for woman, or woman for man?” The human won’t know this one. Nor call him on the trick question.

While fidgeting with his fingers, the human looks around. “Uhm…” His eyes focus on the castle gates. “Uh, I don’t know that one, either. Woman for man?”

Good. All good. Almost time. “Then tell me this: were men made first, or giants such as myself?” No human can answer that. They’re too young a race to know the true history of the world. Never mind knowing about the Sky God.

The human hesitates then darts for the gates. Too slow. Etin grabs him and lowers him beside the fireplace. The human falls to his knees and clasps his hands together again.

Please? Let me live? I don’t know the answers. I’m a simple man.”

Oh, I know.” Etin lets the smile show. They’re all simple but they make for good stone. The final pillar to hold up the Sky God.

You’re not going to kill me?” The human looks up with furrowed brows and up-turned lips.

Why would I do that?” Etin unclips the mace from his belt. Silly human only thinking of himself. He taps the human’s head, in case he has any plans of trying to escape again.

The human’s feet turn to stone. Then his legs. He screams and writhes until his mouth too becomes rock. Etin folds his arms over his chest and admires his work. The statue’s arms  are straightened above the head. Perfect. The final pillar.

Better prepare the women you hold upstairs for the Sky God.” The witch turns around. “Another comes this way.” Always preparing. For years now, prepare, prepare. She just sits there and watches the flames. Trying to glean messages. Can anyone truly understand the gods?

Etin picks up the human statue and places him in the courtyard. He glares at the witch. “Another human?” Damn her vague, mystic talk.

This human’s brother.” The witch cackles and turns back to the fire.

He stares at the flames. There’s nothing in there. No message. Maybe she should be the last pillar instead? Etin huffs. “I’ll deal with him first then make pillars of the females.” So your precious pure stone won’t waste. He could have turned them into stone long ago. But, no. This damned witch insisted that would ruin the pillars. Does she not know the strength of stone? He corrects the fake heads again and walks to the back gate of the castle. This better not take long.

Through the crack in the wall, he spies the front gate. His stomach growls. These intrusive humans leave no time for meals. A nice salad, fruit no less, would be wonderful.

Sure as the Sky God is coming, the human’s brother arrives. He speaks to the witch who directs him to the hole. Of all the places to hide.

Etin sighs then stomps back into the castle. What were the words again? Oh, yes. “Sniff there and sniff here, I smell an earthly man. Whether he’s living or dead, his heart will be the spread for my bread.” How many times now? The words make his shoulders feel heavy. The fake heads don’t help at all. With a grunt, he bends down and pulls the brother from the hole.

Again, this human squirms and squeals. “I should have taken only half of Mother’s cake!” The brother looks to Etin. “Please? My mother cursed me. Damned woman. Don’t let it come true just because I chose to take the whole cake? Who does that to their son, any way? The curse should have stayed with my brother. Why he had to seek his supposed fortune, I don’t know.”

Etin narrows his eyes, frowns, then shakes his head. More human nonsense. They always talk too much. He puts the human down, gripping his shoulders between his forefinger and thumb. Is it really needed to ask this again?

The witch nods, as though hearing his thoughts.

Answer me three questions and I will spare your life and break your curse. Was Ire or Scot first inhabited by sentient life?”

The brother’s brows furrow and his head cocks back. “How should I know? I wasn’t there.”

Good. This is going faster than expected.

Was man made for woman, or woman for man?” Etin releases his grip.

The brother rubs his shoulders and scoffs. “Woman for man, of course.”

Excellent. At least he isn’t a beggar. Etin unclips the mace. “So who was created first: man or Giant?”

Man.” The brother’s eyes narrow. “Don’t you know your history?”

Etin lets out the laugh boiling from within his belly. “More than you, human.” He taps the brother’s head. He, too, becomes stone—his arms reaching for the sky.

If the Sky God isn’t content with the male, he now has one extra.” Etin chuckles as he picks up the statue and places it in the courtyard, beside his brother. They should do.

It’s not over, yet, Lord Etin. Your Red Giant hide assumes too much. Another yet comes.” The witch cackles once more and turns to the fire. Mad thing, that’s for certain.

His stomach grumbles again. “Is there at least time for something to eat before the other arrives?” The witch cackles again and points to the front gate.

That does it! As soon as the next human becomes a pillar, so will she. The Sky God won’t care. Humans are humans. Her ability to speak with him gains her no favour above anyone else.

He drags his feet to the back gate and takes position by the crack. Another human enters, approaches the witch, then dives into the hole. Does she tell them it’s safe? Simple creatures probably believe her because she’s old.

The pieces for the ceremony are fulfilled. This silly ritual of the witch isn’t necessary any more. Would it matter to make him stone? The witch turns to face the back gate and meets his eye. She nods. How does she know his thoughts?

Sniff there and sniff here, I smell an earthly man. Whether he’s living or dead, his heart will be the spread for my bread.” Etin stomps back into the castle. Partially in tantrum. He casts a glare at the witch. This better be the final time he has to say this. He clenches his jaw. “Come out, I know you’re in there.”

Unlike the others, this one shows no fear. Was he brave or stupid? Not much of a distinction with these creatures. Better ask the questions all at once. Get this over with. The clouds have swallowed the moon already. He’s almost here.

Answer me three questions and I will spare your life. Was Ire or Scot first inhabited by sentient life? Was man made for woman, or woman for man? And who was created first: man or Giant?” His stomach twists in knots. Food. He needs food. Hurry up, human.

Neither, as the definition of sentient life varies from scholar to scholar. What is your definition thereof?” The human holds out his hands then clasps them together. “Both man and woman were made for each other, the Earth God had no preference for one over the other.”

This human is smart. Damn the creature.

And, of course, Giants were created first as the Sky God was the first to be born.” The human pulls out a stick from his boot. A wand? Where did he get a wand?

How do you know all this, human?” Etin fumbles for his mace. Why won’t his fingers work any more? He looks to the wand. Is that a fairy’s? Can’t be. They don’t encourage harm. And yet, that wand is one of theirs. Woodland one, for certain. Dried, crooked, and twisted vines are their signature. This cursed human has numbed his fingers with fairy magic? His knees give out as the numbness crawls through his arms, down his chest, and into his legs.

Damn that witch and her rituals. The Sky God is almost here and the females still need to be turned into stone. The Earth God will be crushed without the pillars when the Sky falls. Silly humans and their ignorance. Etin shakes his head. “Wait, no!”

The human slips the wand back into his boot then reaches for an axe by the pile of wood and charges at him.

Stop! You will be the end of us all!” Etin tugs his arms but they refuse to move.

Still, the human comes. “I know of you, Lord Etin. You stole the daughter of Scot’s king. You are feared by all but me.” He chops off the fake heads in successive swings.

Etin wriggles his shoulders and shuffles backward into the courtyard. The stars and moon are gone. It’s not too late. He can still save the world. “Are you deaf or dumb?”

Neither, Etin! The Sky will not fall, because of me.” The human lifts the axe again and leaps from a step.

The witch’s cackling fades as the Sky God falls and the axe comes down.


This was my version of a fairy tale retelling of The Red Ettin collected by Joseph Jacobs and included in Andrew Lang’s collection, The Blue Fairy Book, as told from the perspective of the antagonist who may have simply been trying to save the world.


 

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Inception: A Study of Greg Egan’s In The Ruins

Short Story Reviews

INCEPTION


Greg Egan is one of the hard sci-fi authors I always enjoy reading, and picking one of his stories to study was something I intended to do for a while. I believe that taking a good look at the work of authors you love as well as those you aren’t familiar with is beneficial in learning—through reading—to become a better writer.

The short story I chose isn’t something published in the mainstream, but is still a great piece of writing. I’m referring to In The Ruins, which is available to read on Egan’s (weird) website.

I recommend first reading the short story before continuing here so that your mind can be blown and your brain itching like someone got in there (as mine was when I first read it). Reading it will also put a lot of the points I make into context and, in this way, help with understanding this particular writing device of inserting thoughts into the reader’s mind.

Reading it beforehand isn’t compulsory, however, and you’re welcome to follow along without doing so. As I said, I recommend it. If you do wish to read it first, please note that comprehending the science isn’t necessary so don’t worry about it. I didn’t entirely understand some of it, either.

Discussion

In the short story In The Ruins Egan uses knowledge as the focus of the reader’s attention, sending them through a problem that gets solved as it leads the reader along a journey with the main character. And the background of the story is that of a satirical and dystopic look at a future world—one of anti-intellectualism.

“Dance, rap or stand-up?” Emma asked the slender girl in front of her in the queue. It was a joke: dance, obviously.

“Physics,” the girl replied.

“Er—” Emma gestured at the sign on the door. “Obviously. But what mode?”

At first it may seem that the background critique on contemporary society Egan delivers is the inception I’m referring to, but the obvious focus can just as well be used for the incepting thought as anything obscure or subtle.

Was the critique the inception of thought, or was it the knowledge?

“You think this has no applications?” Ghada was amused. “It might strike you that way, but it’s not the case. Describing the figure that these velocities form is one route to a deeper understanding of any inverse-square force — including the electrostatic force in an atom. With a bit more work, this problem offers a short cut to the energy levels of hydrogen…”

Interestingly, Egan uses info-dumping in the dialogue to distract from the obvious focus of the knowledge. Of course, with his choice of knowledge—math and physics—many readers may be immune to the power of suggestion employed in this piece, and probably not follow the story entirely. This will instead make the social critique of the background stronger than it would be if the focus remained with the knowledge. In this case, the inception comes in through the humour Egan uses to deliver the critique of a not-all-that-far-fetched possible future.

Glory days? Emma was indignant. “You do know that twenty million people live-streamed the makeover episode of American Poopy-head?”

“Yeah, that sums it up.” Ghada laughed sadly. “The only way for a scientist to be halfway palatable in your culture now is through a kind of ritual self-abasement…”

Observations

As with Egan’s short story, info-dumps can work if they’re executed well. In The Ruins seems to use them deliberately for the purpose of distraction and inception. The inception in this case is to get the reader to focus on the math as the characters explore it and eventually reach a point in which the main character’s arc develops and resolves.

Through the distraction and immersion, the reader unknowingly learns something new—math and physics—as we follow along to the climax as resolution. The use of visuals for the math also caters to the immersion and allows the reader to follow the incepting device with ease.

Take-Aways

The inception device isn’t exclusive or unique to science fiction and can be found in many genres, and it can be delivered in varying degrees like in Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild. How a writer incepts an idea into someone’s mind is generally their own preference. Some use red herrings while others use intricate sub-plots that tie together—better analysed as the Hansel and Gretel move in leaving breadcrumbs everywhere.

Inception in inception, or just a suggestion? Either works if the writer can get into the heads of readers and tickle their brains while delivering a satisfying and complete story. The point of the inception device is to further ensure the story is memorable.

After all, a reader who remembers is one who will return.


What did you take away from the story? Was the inception effective, and if not, do you think it could have been executed better? If you know of other examples of this device employed well, share it in the comments. I’d love to see more of it and I’m always up for reading great stories.

Forgotten Pearls: A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Book Reviews, Forgotten Pearls

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With a little nudge from my friend Jasmine, I will be getting into more book reviews and studies of literature. She already started the Forgotten Pearls book review series and I will be joining alongside her in exploring great literature of the past. As she says “because good writing transcends time.”

Jasmine covered The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin that ventures into social science fiction, so I will be going over Le Guin’s fantasy side with the first of her Earthsea series, A Wizard of Earthsea.

A Bit About The Book

A Wizard of Earthsea was first published in 1968, and had taken Le Guin around a year or so to write1. The book won the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award in 1969 and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1979, and it has become a staple in fantasy literature since.

The story focuses on the young wizard-in-training Ged and his journey to becoming a full-fledged wizard. Ged faces challenges that have been placed on him at too young an age, partly through his own actions, but he perseveres and overcomes these as he grows.

The book is a coming of age story but it transcends age, and it is just as good a read for a teenager as it is for someone in their 30s or 40s and so on.

Review

As masters of writing are wont to do, Le Guin bends the rules from the get-go by starting the story with a narration style that introduces the protagonist, Ged. She uses this device to hook the reader in and, retrospectively, make us want more of the story by the end of the book. A wonderful tactic for a series. While difficult to achieve, Le Guin nails the effect by giving clues of Ged’s future in the series without spoilers or revealing too much.

She then weaves into the “present” time of young Ged shortly after, without breaking scene, and dives us right into the story to learn about him. Le Guin’s characterisation of not only Ged but all of the characters is something to be in awe of. While reading, I was quickly invested in what happens to everyone shortly after they’re introduced in the story.

Even caring about the antagonist, who is rather otherworldly. Le Guin is able to make me care about the shadow, and not in the sense of hoping for Ged to defeat him. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Using the device of third-person limited, and subtle deep POV, Le Guin lets the readers get into the head of Ged to see his thoughts. This makes for an immersive story that was difficult to break out of (for adulting things like sleeping at a proper time).

I couldn’t put it down until I finished lapping up every word. Including the very short bit after the end of the story.

As someone with visual aphantasia, I find overly descriptive worlds tedious to endure. It is information I can’t do anything with. Le Guin doesn’t do this. She incorporates just enough description of Earthsea to bring the setting to life without going full Tolkien (never go full Tolkien). With the accompanying maps, following Ged’s travels around Earthsea is easy, interactive, and it further grounds the reader into the world.

Action, brotherly love, despair, horror, and victory are in full swing in A Wizard of Earthsea. A rollercoaster of emotions and events that lead closer to Ged’s final victory over the shadow. And what a twist that scene is! I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Le Guin’s pacing in the book is brilliantly executed, mixing the fast scenes with the slow ones seamlessly. And each scene surpasses the peak of the previous, building naturally to the climax after which a slow resolution gently brings the reader down from an adrenaline rush to settle in the completion of the character arc and story-line.

Such a satisfying ending.

One that left me pitying the shadow as well as Ged. It’s a bitter-sweet ending to the first book of the series that further shows Ged’s character. I absolutely love that Le Guin uses the conclusion for more characterisation rather than plot, and it is masterful.

Versus Contemporary

The language Le Guin uses in A Wizard of Earthsea is very easy to read, intended for the Young Adult audience. With this choice in reading level, the book fits nicely with contemporary writing. There are little differences between then and now in writing within this book, mainly the folktale-telling style of the narrative, but they don’t detract from reading in this day and age of what to expect. A Wizard of Earthsea is time-fluid in the writing style and fits well with contemporary fantasy. The themes she incorporates are still being used today, making the story familiar to new readers.

As it was then, it is still an essential read for fantasy, perhaps even more so now. At least, in my opinion.

Have you read A Wizard of Earthsea? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Did I miss something or have you perceived things differently? It would be interesting to read and discuss the different experiences people get from the book.


1. Le Guin, Ursula K.; Wood, Susan (1980). The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. Pg 29-30. London, UK: Ultramarine publishing.

Forgotten Pearls Book Review Series

Book Reviews, Forgotten Pearls
A series of book reviews on vintage literature, the forgotten pearls of the modern age.
Read the introduction to the project.

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Great Expectations

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


Harry bought a copy of Pop Magazine, as he had for the past six months, and flipped through the pages.

His story wasn’t in there.

He pulled out his phone then paused. They’d only promise next month again.

Half a year, for nothing. He dumped the magazine in a bin.

As a writer pursuing mainstream publication, the frustrations of career stagnation and rejection letters are all too well known by me. Choosing to be a writer as a career is, of course, by default a difficult and frustrating endeavour. I don’t think anyone not in their write mind would willingly go through this torment and subject themselves to intellectual masochism.

Over and over and over…

But, then again, that’s what makes writers… well, writers. And this is probably how it keeps those not serious enough about writing from being writers. Cruel, I know, but it’s just an observation and speculation. The “it” I’m referring to is the figurative being of writing, created by standards and preferences that dictate the norms and trends of writing. I can’t help personifying it—that’s what I do.

And venturing into the mainstream publishing world further weeds out the writers who stick through it from those who don’t. This isn’t anything wrong, exactly. I can’t think of a single skill-set that this doesn’t happen with. That’s life. And when submitting the work you slaved over for months, maybe even years, editing and editing and rewriting and editing, only to receive a letter that thanks you then proceeds to reject that work can be soul-crushing.

More like soul-grinding.

And often we, as writers, take the rejection personally. How could they not love this perfect thing I created?! That, my friends, is the seducer called Ego, tempting you away from reality and emotional stability. And so we take rejection as an attack on our work and therefore on us. But a lot of the time with good writing, a rejection isn’t because of the work or you. Okay, it’s almost never about you. It can be because the editors had a certain theme, tone, voice, or subject matter planned for the magazine/journal and your work just doesn’t fit.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just business, baby.

So what do you do with a rejection when you’re unsure if it’s because of your work or because of the editors’ plans? You take it, pin it against the wall, frame it, and look at it with pride. Why? Because you tried. You did what many writers don’t. You let them see your work and they’ve seen how hard you worked on it.

Or you can toss it in a bin and write something else, or work more on that work, then send it out again. Rinse and repeat.

Intellectual masochism, as I said. Embrace it. Use it. Don’t give up just because Ego said no one liked your magnum opus. Ego can’t read editors’ minds. Remember that.


This little lecture/rant/motivational was inspired by Jayna Locke‘s Fifty Word Challenge where the prompt this week was “pop”. I encourage every writer—starting out or professional—to join in this fun but challenging initiative.

 


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Contact

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


James leaned over the car door. “Where’re you from?”

“Lemon-5.” Her black orb eyes glistened.

“I could drive away and leave you be.” He took a drag off his cigarette. “But where would that leave me in the pursuit of knowledge?”

He chuckled and turned his key in the ignition.

A lot of people wonder, at one time or another, about whether we’re the only sentient life in our cosmic neighbourhood. Whether we’re alone in our little corner of the known universe.

Statistically, there is bound to be other sentient life around us. Physics and math pretty much point to it. Several planets have been found potentially favourable to hosting life. Sure, mostly for basic life—microbial and probably not much more. And these planets are general in what’s called the Goldilocks zone, the area around a star where planets in orbit within are far enough away from the star but not too far, depending on the type of star.

So if there is such a possibility, and not a small one at that, why have we not yet encountered any other life—sentient or basic? Obviously, at this point, our technology is not yet advanced enough to confirm the existence of basic life even in our own solar system. Then what of sentient life? Surely there would be something sent out to space by alien lifeforms trying to communicate, to find out if they’re not alone?

That’s a good point and it’s logical. It’s what we would do, within our thinking conventions. And that, right there, is the snag. It’s what humans would do. Not necessarily what other lifeforms would. But that doesn’t really answer the question, only broadens our ability to consider.

Officially, no one knows why we haven’t made contact or observed life. We can’t know until we actually do. It’s a catch-22 situation. But we can speculate—theorise.

Consider, for a moment, the vast distance between the Earth and the sun—Sol. 149,6 million kilometres. Now, the distance between Sol and the Kuiper Belt surrounding the edge of our solar system, in where Pluto orbits, ends at 50 AU (astronomical units, where 1 AU is the distance from Sol to Earth). For further perspective, Sol’s closest solar neighbour is Proxima Centauri which is 4.24 light-years (LY) away—where 1 LY is about 63 239 AU.

That’s pretty far away.

Consider, then, that perhaps—if a sentient civilisation has been trying to contact us—they’re too far for their signals to reach us. And by the time they do—if they do—they would be long dead. Not to mention that, in this case, any contact to us would be one-way. There probably won’t be anyone around to hear our response by the time it reaches the origin location.

Or perhaps, just maybe, they have made contact already but our human tendency to discard consideration for the Other has been the reason we still wonder if we’re alone and why the universe is so quiet?

This little thought experiment (and not-so-little critique on humanity) was inspired by Jayna Locke‘s Fifty Word Challenge where the prompt this week was “lemon”. I encourage every writer—starting out or professional—to join in this fun but challenging initiative.


 


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For Them

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction

How far would a parent go to ensure their child’s future? Given the resources and tools to secure that future, many would go to the edge of the universe and back. But what if it would cost the lives of millions?


The words ‘danger: biohazard’ illuminated the dark bunker. Another global riot alert popped up on her laptop, and she looked at her sleeping toddler.

Leaning over, she kissed the boy’s forehead. “For you.”

These children deserved a peaceful world. This one was over.

She pressed the button, releasing the virus.

It’s called the maternal instinct but the desire, and sometimes urge, to protect the child is also seen with men. Why this instinct? Biologically, it can be argued as ensuring the survival of our genetic make-up. This would make the most sense as the protection of young is something we can observe nearly consistently with most mammals. It is further evident with the hormones released that secure bonding to our offspring.

Perhaps due to the frequency, variety, and amount of hormones produced in the body from the double X chromosomes that it’s called the maternal instinct as opposed to paternal or even—more accurately—parental instinct.

Or is it a matter of socialisation, of conditioning? Realistically, it’s because of both biology and social construct.

But just how much do other reasons for parental instinct factor into the individual’s reasoning to protect their children, either consciously or subconsciously? Say, for instance, the concept of immortality. Arguably, the need to immortalise oneself is a common feature among people, and it translating into assuring the survival of offspring plays in both the point of ensuring genetics are carried down and the social aspect of lineage.

What if immortalising oneself through reproduction is a stronger need than the two factors the idea stems from? To what length, then, would a parent go to guarantee their child’s survival and future?

This was a short, short science-fiction story that explored the idea of ego misinterpreted as the parental instinct.

 

 


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Practice

Fiction, Micro Flash Fiction


As her brush splashed across the canvas in hard strokes, it smeared the paint into new shades. She stepped back, inspecting her poor re-creation.

Not good enough. Nothing like the original.

Chewing the wooden handle of the brush, she reached for the palette once more.

With practice, it could be.

Any creative knows the process of practice and the striving to (near enough) perfection as we each define it. Some of us have the ideal of perfection placed on a higher scale, while others recognise the flaw of such an ideal and lower that scale. As an artist and a writer, I can say I fall into either at times. There are days when my idea of “good enough” rests in that perfect ideal, and other days when “good is enough” is in itself close to perfection.

Finding the balance between those two extremes is as much a challenge and skill to master as the creative work itself. And frustration comes easy when the balance is fleeting. But the key to both skills—and this is something we know yet often forget—is practice. Like any skill, applying effort to understanding and developing it is necessary. This applies to the skill of balance particularly.

I reached a burn-out not too long ago when I failed to practice the balance of the extremes. And my crafts suffered for it. I dare say the lack of practice has noticeably regressed the progresses I had made in my crafts, and now it’s time to compensate for time and effort lost. To catch up to where I would have been now.

And I believe this practice of balance applies to any aspect of life. Slow down when needed, progress when needed, and re-evaluate where “good enough” and “perfection” meet. But always, and always, practice.

And this is my motivational for the day. It is good enough, for me.

 

 


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