A Christmas story reprinted

It’s Christmas again! If you’re looking for a bit of an antidote to saccharin seasonal fare, my science fiction-fantasy-police procedural-CanLit-CliFi-Christmas-flash story, “To the Havens,” has been reprinted in Little Blue Marble this week. Sadly, it only seems to get more topical every year.

I note that, since it was first published, one part of the story is no longer science fiction. A permanent road between Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik opened just last month. Before that, the two communities were connected only by a winter ice road. ETA, December 28: However, the latest news reports say that the Mackenzie Valley pipeline will remain fantasy for the foreseeable future.

Advertisements

Reviews for “Gæscligcrymblingas”

My poem “Gæscligcrymblingas” has received two good reviews in recent days, one from Fletcher Vredenburgh at Black Gate Magazine, and the other from Charles Payseur at Quick Sip reviews. Check them out!

I haven’t been writing or submitting much fiction in 2017, as I spent the last year and a half going back to school, but now  I’m about to graduate. 2018 is looking like a much better year for stories.

Gæscligcrymblingas

It’s November! I’m back to brighten your blahs with a poem in the November  issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

“Gæscligcymblingas” is my tribute to Edward Gorey’s “Gashleycrumb Tinies,” mashed up with Old English literature. Because, as we all know, the only class of characters more prone to ghastly death than Victorian children are Anglo-Saxon heroes. All the names in my poem are references to Old English literature. Since some of them are pretty obscure, I thought I’d make a cheat sheet and put it here. Continue reading

More stories from the mountains

Georgian Folk PoetryWriters usually dread questions about where they get their ideas. How can anyone remember the thought processes that generated hundreds of decisions about plot points, character traits, macguffins and more?

However, in the case of “A Pebble in the Mountains,” I remember quite clearly how the story began to form in my mind. I was in the university library, looking for an entirely different book, when my eye fell on a volume titled An Anthology of Georgian Folk Poetry by Kevin Tuite. On a whim, I picked it up and began to leaf through it, expecting to find poems from the American state, or else the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Instead, it proved to be poetry from the republic in the Caucasus. All at once, I was pulled into a world of high mountains, fierce shepherds, and gods old and new. It was love at first reading.

Kurtsikidze-ChikovaniWhen I had read all parts of that book several times over, I began seeking out more examples of Georgian folklore. The poems proved to be just a fraction of a much larger corpus of legends, fairy tales, ballads and historical epics shared by the peoples who inhabit the border between Georgia and the territories of the Northern Caucasus. If you liked the tropes in “Pebble,” their original source material is well worth tracking down. Most of it isn’t translated into English, but there are a few titles available.

Ethnography and Folklore of the Georgia-Chechnya Border by Shorena Kurtsikidze and Vakhtang Chikovani translates legends and fairy tales. Here you can find hunters, princesses, and a great many heroic horses, but the flavour of the stories is quite distinct from similar European tales. The book also includes ethnographic information and black and white photographs of the Khevsurs and the Kists, two ethnicities that inhabit that harsh corner of Georgia. There’s a sample of the material here.

Legends of the CaucasusLegends of the Caucasus by David Hunt is another terrific source. This is where the cyclops legends, epics of resistance to foreign invaders, and the occasional tale of a woman warrior are collected. Of the three three books, this one probably generated the most tropes for my story. It gave me so many ideas, I could write several more tales written in fantasy analogs of the Greater Caucasus range.

Myriad Lands, the anthology in which “A Pebble in the Mountains” appears, launched this evening at Readercon. If you’re in the Boston area this weekend I recommend going to take a look at it.

Myriad Lands is now for sale

Myriad Lands, the anthology in which my story “A Pebble in the Mountains” appears, is now available on Amazon. Look at this gorgeous cover by the artist Likhain. I think it really captures the spirit of the book.

Myriad Lands

Beautiful!

The idea for this anthology was to showcase fantasy stories set in places outside the genre’s usual European milieu. The description on Amazon says we can look forward to the following tales:

  • A Chinese ex-soldier is confronted by the ghost of a young man he killed in battle.
  • African gods roam modern Britain following an immigrant family.
  •  A blind Japanese girl journeys through the woods to tend her grandparents’ grave and encounters a nefarious fox spirit.
  •  How does an Indian noble girl learn to cope after becoming untouchable?
  • A Nigerian boy catches a magical fish the local magicians would love to eat. But is it worth more to him alive?

And finally…

  •  A girl from the Caucasus mountains is set to marry a young man from the valley, when an invasion of Cyclopses interrupts the wedding.

That’s “Pebble”!

Volume Two sounds like it’s going to be fun as well. The stories in that one are set in worlds that never existed. I particularly want to read the one that’s blurbed as “An investigator tries to decipher the message from assassins who use very aggressive flower arranging.”

On the western side of the Atlantic, the official launch party for both volumes will be on Friday night at Readercon in Boston. If you’re in the neighbourhood, you should check it out.

A Pebble in the Mountains

My short story “A Pebble in the Mountains” has been accepted to the anthology Myriad Lands, edited by David Stokes. I’m really excited about this book. It’s a collection of fantasy stories based in settings beyond medieval Europe.

The release date will be in mid-July, and I’ll keep everyone posted when there’s a web page for pre-orders. In the meantime, here’s a travel ad from the Republic of Georgia. The first half is very much of the same flavour as my story. It could almost be a book trailer.

 

 

 

Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

I dearly love Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and I heard some rave reviews of this book from folks who read the ARC, but in the end it left me cold. At best, it’s a charming extended coda that ties up one of the Vorkosigan Saga’s loose threads.

I can see why many fans are happy to have a story about coming out. The much quieter, character-driven plot is also an interesting experiment, but not entirely a successful one, in my opinion. There’s a discombobulating revelation around pages 15 and 16 that makes you see certain parts of all the previous novels in a different light, which is fun, but that’s the only real highlight.

The problem for me is that the stakes are set very low. The plot is about adults in positions of great power and the life decisions they make, particularly regarding sex and relationships. Since these people are the most powerful leaders on their planet, nothing really impedes their romance. What little tension the plot has is supplied by such mundane questions as Will Admiral Jole Accept the Unappetizing-Sounding Promotion he Clearly Doesn’t Need? and How Will Cosmopolitan, Galactic-Raised Miles React to the Discovery that Consenting Adults Have Had Sex? The answers are never in doubt.

In recent Vorkosigan novels, the caper plot arcs have felt more and more forced, and in this book the author simply declines to put her characters in physical or emotional danger at all. Time and again, the merest hint of suspense is squelched within one or two sentences. Bujold writes well enough to make individual scenes moderately entertaining, but frankly the book felt more like self-indulgent fan fiction than a novel in its own right.

And that’s probably why my attention started to go sideways. I began asking myself questions like Do I respect these people as political leaders? and peering around corners, trying to see what this story looks like from other characters’ points of view. Continue reading

Can-Con 2015

I’m getting to this post a week late, but I had a terrific time at a convention over the Halloween weekend. Can Con is a small-ish gathering in Ottawa geared primarily towards people who like their speculative fiction in written form. This year, I had my first opportunity to participate as a writer. I spoke on three panels and went to many more. Here are some of the highlights.

The Basics of the Sword

I’ve been practicing Historical European Martial Arts for a little over ten years now. For this panel, I teamed up with Geoff Gander, Kris Ramsey and Raeanne Roy to talk about swordplay. Two of us were HEMA-ists and the other two practiced the Japanese sword arts of Kendo and Iaido respectively.

We talked a little bit about where our arts came from and how they have evolved over time. For example, the Japanese sword arts evolved in a region where there are no deposits of iron ore, which is why traditional Japanese armour has so few metal parts. The traditional method of making katanas, by folding the steel many times, arose because Japanese sword smiths had poor raw material to work with and the folding process distributes the uneven deposits of carbon more uniformly in the blade so that it doesn’t develop stress points and break.

Then we got into the kinds of things that movies and books get wrong. Armour, even steel plate armour, isn’t as much of a burden as you would think. It’s also pretty unlikely that you could make a clean cut through someone’s cranium like in the movie Kill Bill. Furthermore, swords in medieval Europe weren’t always beyond the means of ordinary people. The standard price in thirteenth-century England seems to have been twelve pence.

There was some discussion about whether it was practical to wield two swords at once. While the historical examples are limited, there are some European renaissance treatises that discuss how to use a pair, or “case”, of rapiers. This video, which extrapolates from that material but uses swords of a more medieval type, shows what it could look like.

We had all brought our training weapons, and for the last few minutes of the hour we had a little Show and Tell. There was limited space between the panel table and the audience, but Raeanne was able to show us how to start a sword fight at a Japanese tea party. I demonstrated a few things, like the way a European-type sword wants to move around its own centre of balance, and how it’s not actually possible to draw a sword that’s sheathed on your back if the sword is longer than your arm.

All in all, I think the panel was successful. I would really have liked to be able to get a bit beyond the surface of the subject, but with one hour and four panellists who all practiced slightly different arts, we could only cover so much.

Portraying the Past

Later on Saturday, I was on a panel with Evan May, Cenk Gökçe, S.M. Carrière and Jean-Louis Trudel, discussing the relationship between history and SF. The conversation ranged pretty widely. Among other things, we talked about the way that history looks very different from different people’s perspectives. Cenk had been to Italy this summer, and remarked on how the heroes and villains of the Renaissance change dramatically depending on which city is presenting its civic history.

We also touched on the controversy over Wilfrid Laurier University’s decision to erect statues of all the Canadian prime ministers on its campus. In my opinion, representing Canadian history with series of prime ministerial statues is kind of like representing fantasy fiction with statues of an elf, a dwarf and a human thief on a quest to depose the evil overlord. Yes, they are fantasy-themed statues, and yes, there are lots of books like that, but—really? Is there anyone who wasn’t aware of that hoary old trope by now? Is that the best we can come up with?

We discussed the role of women in historical SF and how to negotiate the paradox of not wanting to whitewash historical oppression but also wanting to have female characters that twenty-first century readers can identify with. One writer who has managed to pull this off is Jo Walton. Her Small Change trilogy is set in England in an alternate 1948, where Britain made peace with the Germans in 1941, the entire Continent is controlled by the Third Reich, and the UK is slowly sliding into fascism. In each of the three novels, one of the two point of view characters is female. Women in this world have very limited power, but they do have agency. They don’t get to make the decisions about how their world or their homes work, but they do get to decide how they will move in that world, and their decisions are critical to the plot.

We also talked about a bias that’s characteristic twenty-first century fantasy writers. I call it historical fundamentalism: the idea that if something didn’t happen in real history, it doesn’t belong in fantasy novels. Thinking back to the earlier sword panel and our discussion on the real life cutting capabilities of a sword, I recalled that medieval writers of fantasy didn’t care if their sword fights were unrealistic. The Song of Roland is full of examples. At one point, a hero’s single blow cuts through his enemy’s helmet, slices through his head, cleaves his body lengthwise, splits his saddle and kills his horse. The authors of the chansons de geste knew very well that such a cut is physically impossible, because they moved in aristocratic circles and talked to men at arms all the time. It didn’t matter. They were writing epic and the knights in their audiences appreciated it as such.

Transport and Armament in the Ancient and Medieval World

This panel on Sunday was also with Jean-Louis, Evan and S.M., and also covered broad territory. Jean-Louis turns out to have done graduate studies on medieval and renaissance siege engines under Professor Bert Hall, who is a key authority on the subject. Very cool!

On the subject of armament, someone in the audience wanted to know which fantasy authors portrayed it best. I immediately thought of Miles Cameron, whose book The Red Knight describes late medieval arms and armour in loving, lavish detail—sort of like the way Tom Clancy describes modern military hardware.

Another topic that came up was lodging for travellers. Commercial inns didn’t really develop in Europe until the high Middle Ages, starting in the eleventh century in northern Italy and gradually spreading through the rest of Europe in the ensuing centuries. Before that point (and indeed right up to the end of the twentieth century in some of the remoter corners of Europe) individual hospitality was the more usual form of accommodation. People took travellers into their homes because foreigners brought news and provided the opportunity to network and possibly discover new opportunities for trade. Monasteries and even church porticos also had places for travellers to stay overnight.

The audience also wanted to know where to find more resources on transport and armament. Evan mentioned the book English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages by J.J. Jusserand. That one is still a classic. I also brought up my blog Medieval Worldbuilding Information, where I organize useful links on the subject.

In the end, we realized that we had only discussed European history, although we really could have talked about anywhere else in the world. Maybe next year we should make a point of doing a panel on yaks, llamas, travois, turtle ships, rafts of inflated goat bladders, and other non-European forms of transport you don’t see too often in standard fantasy.

There were many more excellent sessions at Can Con this year. I’m going to save them for my next post, since this one is already becoming quite long.