Sunday, March 31, 2013

Discriminating Taste

In yesterday's post about not being a literary snob, I made the comment that I've become more discriminating as I've gotten older.  I said I would explain what I meant by that today, and I will.

When I was in school, I was one of those students who would finish early and use the extra class time to read.  I discovered many of the major sf writers through the anthologies of Robert Silverberg.  The library at the junior high I attended in 7th grade had a number of them.  These were the reprint anthologies he edited in the 60s, not the New Dimensions series.  I doubt those would have been deemed acceptable, or as we would say today, age appropriate.

On the weekends (provided I could talk my father into taking me) I would also go to the mall, where there was a Waldenbooks, or the flea market, which had a couple of used book stalls.  One of them sold paperbacks with the covers torn off for a quarter.  I didn't realize at the time that these were stolen books, reported to the publisher as having been pulped.

It was through these venues that I discovered the works of Jack Williamson, James H. Schmitz, L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, Isaac Asimov, Eric Frank Russell, Poul Anderson, and Silverberg himself, not to mention the juveniles of Robert Heinlein. Fantasy was just entering a boom phase, and before long I was reading that as well.  When I joined the Science Fiction Book Club in 9th grade, I first encountered the writers who made the greatest impression on me:  C. L. Moore, Edmond Hamilton, Fredric Brown, Frederik Pohl, C. M. Kornbluth, Leigh Brackett, and the writer who had the greatest impact on me, Henry Kuttner.  (I'd been reading Ray Bradbury since 5th grade, and Robert E. Howard was still a few years in my future.)  Outside the genre, some of the biggest influences I encountered during high school were Raymond Chandler, Rafael Sabatini, and Humphrey Bogart.

As I got into college and then graduate school, I continued to read widely in the field.  Until I got married, there was usually plenty of time to read a book or two a week plus a variety of short stories and comics.

It was during this phase that I developed some of the attitudes I discussed in yesterday's post.  I began taking my reading seriously, at times too seriously.  I followed the award nominations and tried to read the titles that got the most buzz. 

After marriage and then parenthood came along, time began to be more and more at a premium.  Books began to pile up faster than previously.  And I realized something.  Reading wasn't as fun as it used to be.  Or rather, make that what I was reading wasn't as fun as what I had read when I was younger.

Over the last decade, I've reached a decision.  It is very likely I've passed the halfway point in my life.  If I haven't I'm approaching it.  My father's side of the family tends to live into their 90s and beyond on a regular basis if they take care of themselves.  I may not be at the halfway point yet, but time is slipping away.

Life is too short to read things because You Should or Everyone Is Reading This or It's Going to be on All the Award Ballots or This Book Has Something Important to Say.  Especially that last one.  There are more good books out there that I haven't read than I'll ever be able to.  Unless I get locked into solitary confinement for twenty years with access to the world's libraries, I've come to see the need to be more discriminating.

Not discriminating on  the basis of prejudiced against because of the publisher or the franchise, but discriminating on the basis of is this something I'm going to enjoy as much as I would that pulp over there?  In other words, more selective.  I'm trying to read more to my established tastes than to what certain voices in the field say I need to read.

So what am I trying to focus on?  Well, if you've read much of this blog, you know sword and sorcery is a major part of that.  So is epic fantasy, at least during periods when I have plenty of time to block out for reading, i.e., when classes aren't in session.  As far as science fiction goes, space opera, especially space opera with a hard science bent, but also hard science in general, followed by time travel.  Historical adventure has been growing as a percentage of my reading over the last few years.  Horror is still there, but I'm pretty discriminating about it.  In the mystery field, PIs tend to be what I gravitate to, with police procedurals coming in second.  Cozies I can do without.  I consider noir and crime to be different from mystery, but they also get a lot of my attention.  And of course, I love short fiction of almost any genre. 

You can see the trend here, can't you?  Adventure in some form.  Sense of wonder.  An exhilaration at being alive.  Optimism coupled with a thread of darkness.  Anyway, those are the things I look for in fiction.  You can keep the books written to promote your agenda or expand my consciousness.  I've got a villain to fight, a princess to save, and a monster to slay.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Overcoming Literary Snobbery

When I was a lad, just discovering how vast the field of science fiction and fantasy was, I was firmly in what David Hartwell has referred to as the omnivore stage.  To put that in plain English, I read everything I could get my hands on with no regard to author, publisher, or to a limited extent, quality.  If it had anything to do with spaceships, other planets, or aliens, then I was interested in it.  (This was shortly after a certain fantasy movie in science fiction drag hit it big.)  I soon branched out to other subgenres.

As I grew older and more discerning, I also grew more discriminating.  As in discriminate against.  I became interested in only reading works of originality.  My definition of originality was pretty rigid.  The work had to be something created by an author on spec that had been published by an established publishing house or the continuation of such a work.  Franchise work, by its very nature, had to be substandard.

At least that was my thinking at the time.  This years before electronic publishing leveled the playing field.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Blogging Northwest Smith: Juhli

With "Juhli", C. L. Moore returned to the formula that had been successful in her first few Northwest Smith stories.  The previous installment, "Dust of Gods", was mostly a straight-forward adventure tale, with little of the weird science fantasy elements in prior stories, and certainly none of the erotic imagery. 

The opening paragraph discusses Smith's myriad scars, focusing on one particular scar over his heart.  The next paragraph finds Smith waking up in a dark room with no idea where he is or how he got there.  He manages to find a wall and put his back to it.  This is a good thing because there's something else there with him.  Whatever is there touches him, delivering a strong electric shock.  When he wakes up, the thing is still there somewhere, but there's a young girl as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Writing Fantasy Heroes Giveaway

Writing Fantasy Heroes
Jason M. Waltz, edl
Rogue Blades Entertainment

I recently wrote a post about my copy of Writing Fantasy Heroes arriving and how eager I was to dive into it.  That post got more traffic, and certainly more comments, than most of the posts I've done in the last couple of months. 

Since then, two things have happened.  First, I've read about 1/3 of the book, and it's every bit as good as I hoped.  I'll review the book once I've finished, so I won't go into details here.

The second thing that  happened, and the one that has a direct bearing on readers of this blog, is that I received an email a few days ago from Jason M. Waltz, the publisher of Rogue Blades Entertainment and the editor of the aforementioned book.

It seems a couple of years ago, I took advantage of a special RBE was running and prebought several titles.  Writing Fantasy Heroes wasn't one of them, probably because it wasn't conceived of at the time.  That's a guess on my part.  What isn't a guess is that this is the book Jason had intended to make a part of the prepurchase deal, subbing this book for another one.  But then I went and bought the book before he had a chance to send me my copy.  He asked what I wanted to do about it, and I quickly decided to do a giveaway.  Since Jason is the person who has the copy of Writing Fantasy Heroes in his possession and will be handling the mailing, this is a joint giveaway between Adventures Fantastic and Rogue Blades Entertainment.

So, here's the deal.  Between now and when I post the review, which will probably be just after Easter if I can keep the schedule I've sketched out, anyone who posts a comment here answering the following question will be entered.  The question is:  What one characteristic above all others is essential for a fantasy hero and why?  Your answer could be long or short, but you have to say why that characteristic is the one you think is the most essential.  Hopefully, this will generate some thought provoking discussion as well as a little buzz for RBE.

Once the review of Writing Fantasy Heroes goes live, I'll put all the names in a hat and draw one at random.  Actually, I probably have my son draw the name.  He'd enjoy my involving him like that.  I'll announce that person's name the day after I post the review.  I'll also contact that individual directly and/or pass that person's name directly on to Jason.  He will be mailing the book.  This is an unread copy, not the copy I've got.

There is one other thing.  The winner will be requested, but not required, to post a review of the book once they've read it, either on their own blog, Goodreads, Amazon, or some combination of the above.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Writing Report, 3/20/13

I only got 378 new words tonight, and I'm pushing it to write this post.  I'm that exhausted.  The only reason I am writing this is I changed directions tonight.  I didn't scrap the two previous night's work so much as set it aside. I realized that the story I was writing was too complex to be told in the amount of time and within the word count limitation I'm dealing with.  I started another story, same characters, same series, but this one should be short and more straight forward.  I fully intend to finish the one I started two nights ago, but as it's going to have elements of mystery in it, I'll need some time to make sure all the details and clues are where they need to be in order to play fair with the reader.  The one I started on this evening is more pure sword and sorcery with a straightforward plot, emphasis on action rather than intrigue and suspense.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Writing Report, 3/19/13

I only managed 525 words tonight.  I've hit that point of fatigue where it's time to call it quits.  Tomorrow night is looking iffy, but I'm going to try to get something written.  I need to keep the momentum going.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Writing Report, 3/18/13

I've updated the writing report up at the top of the page, if anyone is paying attention.  I started a new story tonight and completed 629 words.  I've got a market in mind for this one that closes at the end of the month.  Not really sure where this one is going.  It's an installment in my Prince Balthar and Rodrik series.  I've got three of them already in various stages of completion.  The logical thing would have been to finish one of those, except I'm not sure what to do with two of them, and the third I want to submit somewhere else.  So I decided to start this one.  I hope to have it finished within the week.  It's part of the things I didn't manage to get done over spring break.  My intention is to work on it every day until I type the last word.  I'll update the writing report as I go along.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Writng Fantasy Heroes Arrives

Writing Fantasy Heroes
Jason M. Waltz, ed.
Rogue Blades Entertainment
trade paper, 202 pages, $14.99

This isn't a review.  That will come later, after I've read the book.  I don't normally profile books until I've read them, but in this case I'm making an exception.  I think you'll understand.

This volume contains 13 essays (plus an introduction by Steven Erikson) on how to write heroes in fantasy.  The contributors include (in no particular order) Glen Cook, Brandon Sanderson, C. L. Werner, Howard Andrew Jones, Ian C. Esslemont, Ari Marmell, Paul Kearney, Orson Scott Card.  I could go on.  But I won't.  You can discover the rest for yourself.

I've reviewed works by several of the above here at Adventures Fantastic, and there are others on that list I haven't gotten to yet, at least as far as reviews are concerned. There will be some great writing advice in there.  (I know, I've already peeked.)

I also know some of the people who read this blog are writers at various stages of their careers.  In the interest of helping you improve your craft (because I'm selfish and want great books by you to read), I thought I'd announce this book here.  And, yes, gloat, because my copy arrived today.  I'm going to steal time from some other commitments later tonight and start reading it.  I'll post a full review when I'm done.

Writing Fantasy Heroes is from Rogue Blades Entertainment and is available from Amazon and B&N.  I was completely surprised when I heard about it.  Rogue Blades Entertainment hasn't had anything out in a while, and they've been sorely missed.  Jason, it's great to have you back.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Of Giants, and Beanstalks, and Unintended Consequences

Jack the Giant Slayer 
Rated PG-13
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson,  Ewn McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsen, Ewan Bremner, Ian McShane

As a family outing, we went to see Jack the Giant Slayer a little over a week ago.  I was expecting it to be an enjoyable film, but I was surprised at how well done the whole thing was.

The film is, of course, a take on the classic fairy tale, and there was a nice piece at the very end illustrating how the story in the film morphed into the story we're all familiar with today.

The basic premise is that long ago, a group of monks tried to reach Heaven by creating some magic beans.  When they climbed the beanstalk, they discovered a land between Heaven and Earth inhabited by man eating giants.  The king at the time manages to defeat the giants by forging a crown from their blood.  When he wears the crown, the giants have to do his bidding.  He sends them home.

Years pass, and the king is long dead, the giants considered to be legend. 

Cut to the present, where the evil Roderick isn't satisfied with marrying Princess Isobelle.  He wants to control the entire kingdom.  And he's found the crown and the remainder of the beans.  Only there's a priest who knows about Roderick's scheme and steals the beans.  He gives the beans to Jack in exchange for a horse, with the instructions to keep the beans away from water.  (Where have we heard that before?)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Blogging Northwest Smith: Dust of Gods

"Dust of Gods"  was the fourth Northwest Smith story, and it was the last of the series published in 1934.  The picture on the left accompanied the story in its original publication in Weird Tales.  I scanned it from the only reproduction I'm aware of, the anthology Weird Tales:  32 Unearthed Terrors (Dziemianowicz, Weinberg, and Greenberg, ed., Bonanza Books, 1988).  The book was printed on paper not much higher grade than the original pulp, and it's yellowed with lines of text bleeding through from the other side of the page.  But at least you can get a feel for what it would have been like to read the story in its original appearance.  (What, you didn't think I could actually afford copies of Weird Tales from the 30s, did you?)

Anyway, this installment in the series is a departure from the earlier tales.  For one thing, Smith is not off by himself getting into trouble.  His partner Yarol the Venusian is with him.  In other words, Smith has company when he gets into trouble.

Secondly, there isn't any exotic feminine menace in this one, and there certainly isn't any of the sexual imagery that we saw in "Shambleau", "Black Thirst", or "Scarlet Dream". While there isn't any sexual content or theme, there is still an exotic menace. But compared to the earlier ones, it's not that great of a menace.

The menace this time is more of a science fictional nature.  The previous stories were science fantasy.  "Dust of Gods" is essentially science fiction, although not of the hard science, nuts and bolts variety.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Spring Break

Spring Break starts at the end of the day, and it can't come soon enough.

What's that?  No, I'm not going to the beach. 

What I am going to do is try to get caught up on work, and that includes blogging as well the things She Who Must Be Obeyed has decreed be completed.  For one thing, I'll be catching up on grading, writing some reference letters, and trying to get ahead on some course preparation.

But you want to know about what will be happening here.  First, a review of Allen Steele's Apollo's Outcasts for Futures Past and Present and a review for this blog of Jack the Giant Slayer.  I saw the film last weekend, and I finished Apollo's Outcasts a couple of days ago, but I haven't had time to write either review.  I've got another Northwest Smith story, "Dust of Gods", to look at.  Plus, there's the next item for my blog at Amazing Stories (TM) followed up by a review of a novel that I've been looking forward to reading that's had an interesting publishing history over the last few weeks.  The book won't be out for a bit, but I managed to score an  advance copy.

As far as writing goes, I'm going to try to carve out enough time to get a couple of things finished.  Plus, I'm going to try something new and publish some of my own fiction and see if any of it sells.  This will be a completely new venture for me, and I'm not sure how steep the learning curve will be.  I also bought a domain name over the Christmas break, and if time allows, I'll work on getting a web site going.  More on that at a later date. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Spring is in the Air

The weather is turning warmer; the trees are starting to bud; the wind is beginning to blow and bringing lots of dust with it.  I just want to go outside and enjoy with weather.  And a good book, of course.

Unfortunately, it being the time of spring that it is, or rather the point in the semester it is, I'm buried under a mountain of exams, approximately 150 of them, give or take a few.  So I'm not going to be able to read, write, or blog much.  At least not until the end of the week.  To tide you over, head over to Amazing Stories (TM) and check out my review of Under the Ember Star by Charles Gramlich.  If you like Leigh Brackett, this book should appeal to you.

Spring Break starts at the end of the week, and I intend to do some catching up then.  Until then, back to grading.