Sunday, December 4, 2016

Q&A with Storm Constantine - on the release of Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose

Regulars to my blog will know that Storm Constantine's name crops up regularly. I am a huge fan of her Wraeththu Mythos – a world to which I've had the privilege of contributing stories. This past week she's seen the release of her next offering in the setting: Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose.

Nerine Dorman (ND): One thing that can be said about your Wraeththu mythos is its longevity – the first book came out in 1987 and it’s now on the cusp of 30 years later. What makes the Mythos so vital, in your mind?

Storm Constantine (SC): Plenty of authors invent thorough histories and geographies for their imagined worlds, and populate them with detailed flora and fauna, and established sentient races. They might write several novels set in these worlds, but there has to be something different about a mythos for it to endure – to captivate. This includes when readers are so into a fictional world, they’ll be inspired to write within it themselves, producing what’s known as fan fiction. As to what exactly makes a mythos endure (and expand) this way I’m not sure. I think part of it has to be down to the authors’ ability to create characters that readers love and who feel real. If an author creates a fabulous new world, rich in detail and imagery, but can’t give it a beating heart through the people and creatures who live in it, it won’t capture the interest and loyalty of readers in the same way that a vivid, living mythos will. When I’m writing my characters they do feel real to me, as if I know them in reality. I know the facets of their personalities, their weaknesses, their strengths. Some of them I’m a little in love with! I’m sure these feelings permeate the work and rub off on certain readers – like a kind of psychic communication through the written word. So I suppose, in a nutshell, what makes a mythos endure is integrity and love. The Wraeththu mythos isn’t anywhere near as big as those of Harry Potter, Star Wars, LOTR and so on, but is part of the same phenomenon.

ND: From what I can see, part of why the Mythos has endured so long is because it has a core small but incredibly loyal following of fans. I often find myself foisting the first of the books on unsuspecting individuals, and because this interview itself will no doubt be reaching many such potential readers, how would you (briefly) explain to a new reader what your milieu is all about?

SC: Wraeththu are simply how the human race would be if I could design it myself: androgynous, beautiful (mostly), magical and housed in a more efficient vehicle of flesh and blood. Yet Wraeththu hara are not stainless; they are flawed. What makes them different from humanity – apart from their androgyny and improved physical/psychic being – is that they have a clean slate to start anew. Longevity helps them; humans, being frail creatures, become infirm and die just as they reach the threshold to real wisdom. Hara might have risen from a brutal start, but have a greater capacity to rise above it, to reach their potential. A world without villains and conflict, from a fictional point of view, would be pretty dull, so the mythos has to include those aspects. Wraeththu aren’t perfect, but to me they are better than what came before.

ND: This month you’re celebrating the release of Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose: An Alchymical Triptych – which you describe as a trio of interconnected novellas. Now I’ve yet to plunge into this one, can you share how (and if) this one ties in with the previous tales? From what I can gather of what you’ve mentioned online, the creation of this work took a few unexpected turns.

SC: I have around a dozen Wraeththu stories that I began writing but never finished. These are mostly short pieces. Recently, I decided I should complete them all and release them as a collection, and began work on that early in 2016. I didn’t get further than one story – ‘Song of the Cannibals’. After I’d finished writing it, I wanted to carry on with its characters, because there was so much more to say, not just about what happened afterwards, but what happened before. So one story became three. The novellas are layered tales, folding upon one another. They are told by three narrators, who bring their own viewpoint and biases to their stories. The novellas aren’t the same tale told three times over – they expand upon the first story both forward and backward in time – but they do overlap. A couple of scenes are described more than once, simply to show how a witness influences what is ‘truth’.

There are certain aspects of the Wraeththu mythos, or historic episodes within it, that I’m drawn back to, like probing a sore tooth with your tongue! One of these is the Varr tribe, their archon Ponclast and the fortress city of Fulminir. This dark citadel hid many secrets, most of which haven’t yet been revealed. The Varrs were created by fear and ignorance – hara who didn’t like, or couldn’t accept, what it meant to be Wraeththu. They – or rather the leaders of this tribe – wanted to remain human and to impose this condition on others. They feared the change, refused to adapt to it, and became vicious in protecting their beliefs. These novellas take the reader right into Fulminir, and from a Varr’s point of view. Previously, only more ‘virtuous’ narrators have described what they found in this place. They never had to live there. Going back to Fulminir has allowed me to explore through fiction flaws within our own world; bigotry, intolerance, terror, oppression. And it’s been interesting to examine how when a faction is opposed to such brutality, and wishes to install what they perceive as a more ‘correct’ way to live and think, they in some ways become what they resist. The imposition of their world views can be almost as oppressive as the tyrannical regime they seek to overthrow.

ND: I do want to touch on The Moonshawl which to my utter shame is still on my virtual bedside TBR pile – it’s a standalone novel set within your Mythos, and also one that at a glance appears to be a combination of coming-of-age and the laying to rest of a great evil. What were some of the story seeds that came to fruit with this story?

SC: I wanted to write a ghost story, because I love them – those old-fashioned ghost stories set in crumbling mansions, where more is implied than shown. In a film, sound and light and shadow do much to conjure the atmosphere. I wanted to do this in a book, in the same vein as some classic novels I love, such as The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and the equally captivating, yet far lesser known, The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle, which happily has just been re-released after many years of being out of print. Both of these novels became wonderfully atmospheric films. (By The Uninvited I don’t mean the couple of more recent movies. The original was black and white and – I believe – made in the 50s.) I also wanted to finish the sequence of Wraeththu novels I set in Alba Sulh (once the British Isles), in particular Wales, which I find to be a wonderfully mystical landscape. The Moonshawl is a stand-alone novel, even though its protagonist, Ysobi, features in the previous two books set in that country. Ysobi is estranged from his tribe because of past misdemeanours, and takes work in an isolated spot to – I suppose – ‘find himself’. He finds rather more than himself. The book did grow from its original simple premise, and I ended up showing more than I originally intended, but that was just the way the novel developed. It needed a few frights, not just implications or mild inexplicable events.

ND: Unlike some authors who hold tightly onto their ideas and worlds, you’ve done the opposite, which has been to open the Mythos to other writers to not only contribute shorter-form fiction to anthologies but novels as well. Certainly there must be some sort of biofeedback or alchemy that takes place. Can you offer a little more on this?

SC: Around twenty years ago, it was brought to my attention that a small community had arisen devoted to writing Wraeththu fanfic. The main reason these writers had turned to my Mythos was because they’d been hounded out of another one by a famous writer who strongly objected to their activities, and in short, regarded the tales as criminal infringement of their intellectual property. A fanfic writer mailed me about this and asked for my opinion, and what I felt about fan fiction set in a world I’d invented and about which I still continued to write. I thought about it for some time, and realised that I didn’t feel offended at all. Should I be? As far as I could see, it was similar to a time in my childhood when I’d also invented make-believe worlds – avidly – and the more friends I could get to share in that make-believe and play in my world, the better. This to me was the same. People were coming to play in my garden with me. Why should that be offensive? Could I ever stop people imagining these stories? No. Hadn’t I myself begun my writing life as a fanfic author – albeit writing ‘sequels’ to Greek and Roman myths as a child rather than an established author’s work? I understood the impulse to add to an invented world, to want to play in it when the author had closed the gates for the night.

I could only suppose the offended author was concerned more about copyright and threats to their work and their income. If I recall correctly the trouble started when a fanfic writer claimed that a story this writer published was actually based on one of their fanfics and complained about it. I can imagine how that could be provocative to say the least. So I did have some sympathy with that writer. But as long as fanfic writers play by the rules and accept the intellectual property of the Wraeththu mythos is mine, and I own everything within it, that’s fine. Once I learned about the fanfic, I read some of it and realised several stories – and authors – were good enough to be published professionally. Once I set up Immanion Press in 2003, I had the means to publish these authors. So the Mythos opened up officially for people to come and play, and also end up with a published book in their hands. There are some among my readers who’d like more fiction from me than I have the time to write, so the mythos writers help me in that respect!

Wendy Darling and I have compiled four anthologies of Wraeththu mythos stories, including pieces from ourselves and other writers. The new one, for which I’ll be announcing a call for submissions soon harks back to my love of ghosts. Stories must have a ghostly theme, and the working title for the anthology is Para Spectral. Potential contributors can contact me at editorial@immanion-press.com. Details of all other anthologies and mythos novels are at the end of this interview.

ND: Magic is the breath of life that runs through your Mythos, but I feel I also need to mention that you’ve compiled the (now two) Grimoire Dehara – systems of magic that are companions to your Mythos. Can you share a little of your process for those who are drawn towards contemporary magical systems?

SC: The Deharan system is Pop Culture magic. This ‘genre’ of magic grew from what originally was termed Chaos Magic, in that practitioners turned to icons and imagery within modern society, literature, film, TV and so on, to use in a magical context. The idea behind it was that just because a system is new doesn’t mean it’s less effective than one that’s existed for centuries. I believe the most popular Pagan belief system, Wicca, grew from a similar idea. It was based on ancient practices but was in fact a reinterpretation. The ‘stage props’ of a belief system – its gods, goddesses and rituals – are simply a means for people to access spirituality. The props might change but the core remains; if not the same, then similar.

People often asked me to expand upon the magical system in the Wraeththu books, as in the first trilogy I didn’t give too much detail of its practices. Eventually I decided to go the whole way and write the manual! The third book in the series, Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri will be started in the new year. As with the second book Grimoire Dehara: Ulani, I’ll be writing it with my Immanion Press colleague, Taylor Ellwood. We hope to release it late next year.

ND: I’ve read some of your blog posts where you’ve been quite reflective about your career and what it means to be a creative, about being true to the kinds of stories you need to tell. Looking back now, what is there that you’d tell those who’re only at the start of their journey? A turn of phrase that often catches me up short, and which has become a bit of a mantra for me is Neil Gaiman’s 2012 keynote speech where he uses the phrase “Make good art” to highlight the kind of care and devotion to integrity that sustains. Do you have any thoughts along this line?

SC: To me, the most important thing is to write with love. I often tell people, who want to be authors, and who ask the best way to begin, that their first novel should be the book they’ve always wanted to read but have never found. They should love their work, because if they do, readers are more likely to love it too. There are many people who are able to write prolifically, simply for money, and who do it very well, but when you read their novels you can feel they’re distanced from their work, no matter how accomplished it is. I’m not one of those people. It sounds pretentious to say ‘my work is art’, so I’d prefer to say ‘my work is my heart.’

USEFUL LINKS

http://www.immanion-press.com
http://www.stormconstantine.co.uk

Storm's Facebook page
Wraeththu mythos page
Immanion Press Facebook page

Storm's blog
Wendy Darling’s Wraeththu fanfic blog
Another of Wendy’s sites she set up for fans

Guest post: Storm on Para Kindred

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Wraeththu Chronicles
The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit
The Bewitchments of Love and Hate
The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire
The Wraeththu Chronicles (omnibus of trilogy)

The Wraeththu Histories
The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure
The Shades of Time and Memory
The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence

The Alba Sulh Sequence (Wraeththu Mythos)
The Hienama
Student of Kyme
The Moonshawl

Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose

Wraeththu Mythos Collections
(co-edited with Wendy Darling, including stories by the editors and other writers)
Paragenesis
Para Imminence
Para Kindred
Para Animalia

Mythos Novels by Other Writers
Breeding Discontent by Wendy Darling & Bridgette Parker
Terzah’s Sons by Victoria Copus
Song of the Sulh by Maria Leel
Whispers of the World That Was by E. S. Wynn




Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Reading from my novel, Inkarna.

I've taken my first, tottering steps into making videos. This is an excerpt from my novel Inkarna, which is still available in print, in limited quantities, but is soon to be rebooted in anticipation of the release of book two, Thanatos.



 


Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and the Fool #1) by Robin Hobb #review

Title: Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and the Fool #1) 
Author: Robin Hobb

Generally when authors return to their settings after many years' absence (either in writing or in years for the characters themselves) it doesn't often bode well for the quality of the story. I'm happy to say this is not the case with this third trilogy in the saga of FitzChivalry Farseer – The Fitz and the Fool. A big problem authors face is that of what new and (often) shocking revelations to offer, and we end up with a huge, whooping mess of "Too Much Awesome" [yes, I'm looking at you, Anne Rice, and your vampires]

That being said, I would most emphatically *not* recommend Fool's Assassin to those who've not read the preceding two trilogies. You'll be in the dark as to so much of the nuance and the backstories. So, if you've not read these other books, you probably shouldn't read the rest of the review. If you love nuanced, textured fantasy, just go read those books then say thank you. You won't get those hours of your life back but you'll be ever the richer for the experience.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!





Seriously, don't read any further if you don't want spoilers.



[Deep breath]

My feelings about the later Fitz books are complex. There's a part of me that understands that I'll never be able to recapture that same sense of wonder that I had exploring the world through a younger Fitz's eyes as in the first three books. Nor his more measured, somewhat disillusioned self in the catastrophic occurrences that transpire during the second trilogy. And oh, the heartbreak. The feels are...intense.

Nope, the Fitz we encounter in The Fitz and the Fool is an older man who's now coming to grips with the complex role of being a father figure to his extended family. An existence that should be idyllic is tempered with a growing series of annoyances (this is Hobb at her finest, foreshadowing disasters yet to come which Fitz, true to his style, chooses to ignore to his detriment) that eventually all tie up.

Okay. Most of this book is exposition. I'm not afraid to say it. In a sense, this is Hobb taking a huge breath and reframing her world, and two other central themes are change and loss. He has always hoped (at least in the preceding books) to one day have this life, but sadly for him his past has an uncanny way to grasp hold of his present.

Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that outwardly he has not aged, while Molly, the love of his life, is growing older. (This is due to a healing spell that exceeded far beyond expectations in an earlier instalment). Fitz is a man who exists outside of time. He has lost so much – Nighteyes (though our favourite wolf is very much present in spirit) and, of course, The Fool, who in my eyes is Fitz's other great love). Fitz grapples daily with the fact that his world has changed while he himself has grown more insular perhaps, set in his ways. And he excels at self-isolation, as we have already discovered.

This novel doesn't have a huge, earth-shaking plot, but it is certainly gripping in the sense that it sets up events that are important in the future even if the pace crawls along (and I certainly say that you read this novel to have a slice of Fitz's life and to understand what motivates him in what follows). And there is The Thing that happens. It is an awesome Thing. Canny readers will facepalm that Fitz is so blitheringly unaware of The Thing as it comes to fruition, but there's that little bit of wonder that you will feel when you see it unfold, and oh, Molly, she is a joy. Just to have one book devoted to the love between Fitz and Molly is a reward in itself. Fitz might not set out to save the world (just yet) but this bittersweet novel will introduce you to the players who'll be important in what's to come. I missed The Fool's presence terribly with this book #1 but a little anticipation never did anyone any harm.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rift by SteveGarbage #fanfiction #review

Rift by SteveGarbage over on Fanfiction.net is one of the Dragon Age fics that has grabbed me of late, primarily because the story is just so bloody subversive. While storylines that follow the main plot of Inquisition are a dime a dozen, what sets this one apart is that it's told pretty much from the point of view of the two OCs, Vell, an apostate mage and Taesas, a loyalist who supports Vivienne. Central to the plot is the conflict between the rebels and the loyalists within the mage circles, masterminded by Grand Enchanter Fiona and of course the marvellous Viv many love to hate.

OCs are not easy to pull off in fics, mainly because, well, readers tend to stick with the familiar (or at least that is the case in my experience), and the canon characters very much play second fiddle to Vell and Tae, which gives me wriggles of excitement because it's *awesome* to see the events playing out in Inquisition reframed from the perspective of what can be considered secondary characters. They are not essential to the main storyline and yet their actions *do* impact on the greater scheme of things.

Vell and Tae are both elves, but there their similarities end. Both are independent, free thinkers, though the former frames herself as a rebel while the latter is all about control and playing the Grand Game, and SteveGarbage cleverly subverts their goals and motivations within the expected try/fail cycles. While Vell initially appears to be the stronger of the two, her arrogance gets the better of her eventually, as we see. Tae's own arrogance in his superior discipline eventually shows its cracks too, and at the time of writing this review, he has become quite brittle and somewhat damaged.

What makes this story stand out for me is the skilful way that the author illustrates how well characters play the Grand Game. The intrigue is delicious, to put it mildly. Power play is a central theme, and while there are some sexual encounters that may upset sensitive readers, these were entirely plausible within the context.

SteveGarbage is a rare find for me in the fic circles, and it's clear he knows his stuff in the setting. His writing is crisp, precise and detailed, and for lovers of lore, his stories are a treat. And I'm dying to see how Rift will end.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Women in Fantasy

While I will always owe a great debt to JRR Tolkien for Middle-earth, I am also indebted to the women in SFF who captured my imagination and whose works convinced me that it was a good idea to write stories of my own. I'm not one of the people who'll yell PATRIARCHY! at the top of my lungs and become woebegone at the idea that there is some sort of global conspiracy to sideline women SFF authors, but I will quietly add that these are some of the classic fantasy authors who were a great influence on me when I was younger and while I was cutting my sharpening my first quills. You may not find all of them on the shelves at your local store, which is why I am writing about them here. This list is by no means exhaustive, and to my eternal regret, there are still many more women authors I wish to read, but these are the ones (in alphabetical order) who inspired me and are the ones who continue to encourage me.

"The Lady of Shalott" by John William Waterhouse
Beth Bernobich 
A friend of mine, with impeccable reading tastes encouraged me to read Beth's writing, and I've not regretted one instant. I started with her novel, Passion Play, which is the first of her River of Souls trilogy. The reason why I love her writing so much is because her world building is so thoughtful, her characters resonant and reflective. She makes her detailed world appear effortless, borrowing from that which is familiar (in word-usage, naming) only to recast it in what I consider refreshingly non-Eurocentric fantasy. I've gotten to know Beth via social media, and she's also offered me valuable critique and encouragement for my writing when we've had occasion to trade chapters.

Trudi Canavan 
I admit I've not read all Trudi's most recent books, but I really, really enjoyed her Black Magician trilogy, which started out as a coming-of-age story for a young female magician against all odds (and terrible bullying) and quickly grows into an epic. Trudi's writing is easy on the eye, and she sinks you into the story quickly and I'll revisit her writing for certain. I wasn't that enthused by her Age of Five trilogy, purely because I didn't quite buy the world-building, but once again, the writing carries you along even if I kinda figured out what was going on quite soon.

Jacqueline Carey 
Kushiel's Dart was one of those books that struck me hard; now here is an author who is a master of her craft. Jacqueline's magical, alternative history is richly detailed, sensuous without being overly sentimental, and is filled with the kinds of characters you'll want to weep over. Intrigue, betrayal, magic – it's all there. Start with Phèdre's Trilogy. This is a slow-build, gradually unfolding saga that touches on our own histories but spins them out with a magical twist, and I'm long overdue another visit. Her The Sundering duology takes a stab at Tolkien, telling a tale from the perspective of those one would consider the traditional enemies. It's sitting on my Kindle app, glaring at me to be read.

CJ Cherryh 
CJ Cherryh has a formidable oeuvre that spans everything from hard SF through to fantasy. Perhaps the work that has remained the longest with me (and which I'm now overjoyed to own in its entirety) is The Complete Morgaine – a worlds-spanning, gate-jumping SF epic that reads more like straight-up sword-and-sorcery fantasy. I cannot underscore enough what an important contribution this author has made to SFF in general; she is indeed a cornerstone. Her keen perceptions of flawed characters, as well as her solid world building, make reading her tales an unforgettable experience. She is one of the authors I wanted to be like when I was still in high school, dreaming of one day penning my own novels.

Storm Constantine 
Storm Constantine very much forms part of what I consider to be the triumvirate of authors who're akin to my literary demigods, sharing the limelight with Tolkien and Neil Gaiman. If anyone had told me way back in 2007 when I first started on this dark, twisted journey of Becoming an Author, that I'd one day be able to say that Storm Constantine is one of my editors, I'd have scoffed. But, here I am, a decade later, having had three stories edited and published by her, with (at time of writing) a novel-length project in the works. Storm is most beloved for her Wraeththu Mythos, a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which magical hermaphrodite beings inherit the earth after humanity has messed up for the last time. I still get chills knowing that I've been privileged enough to write for this intellectual property. Beyond being an utterly bewitching author whose understanding of the esoteric shines, Storm is the editor who knows *exactly* what to do and say to coax a better story out of me, and I have learnt much from her – and still hope to learn much more.

Kate Elliott 
I came to Kate's writing via her Crown of Stars series, which enraptured me for the diversity of the characters and the terrible, awful things they endure. I'm desperate to return and reread these books, not only for the incredible depth and breadth of the writing (I mean, you *need* to see her references texts to understand why I adore this woman) but also because she so effortlessly takes readers into absolute strangeness, and her understanding of what motivates her characters gives them such a ring of authenticity it's staggering. The sheer volume of her work also slays me. I'm so far behind on my reading with her.

Mary Gentle 
An author I often mention in the same breath as CJ Cherryh, Mary Gentle is one whose works don't often easily fall into either SF or fantasy. I first encountered her Ash: A Secret History, but have since dipped into her other works that have dug deeply into my heart with rusty blades and then twisted. She understands misdirection, reversals, betrayals. Her worlds are tactile, complex. Orthe, which tells the tale of an ambassador visiting an alien world, hurt me. I've read the book twice and each time left me breathless with the devious nature of the narrative. There are also so many of Mary's books that I've still not read. Much to my horror.

Cat Hellisen 
If there's one author who's possibly been instrumental in making a better writer, it's Cat, and I'm proud to name her my friend. She's held the mirror up to me often, and while at first it's not been easy looking into the cracked depths, it's been necessary. But holy fuckmonkeys, her writing is phenomenal. Liquid poetry. Even her early versions leave me breathless with the word paintings. If you have to start with her fiction, pick up either When the Sea is Rising Red or her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beastkeeper. She has this uncanny ability of taking the familiar and spinning it out into weird and unexpected ways that leave you breathless. She inspires me to constantly reach deeper within for things of beauty.

Robin Hobb 
Robin's Farseer Trilogy is my go-to for anyone who says that they want to read fantasy but they're not quite sure where to start. Her epic saga (now headed to book nine in the third trilogy) telling of the doings of Fitz the royal bastard and the mysterious Fool, are among my favourite books which I've had the opportunity to revisit. Some fantasy doesn't live up to the re-reading. Not so with Robin's writing. Her world is completely immersive, and every tiny detail has some sort of meaning later on in the story. How she manages to weave this incredibly detailed tapestry while keeping all the facts straight is beyond me. She's also one of the few authors who's made me cry ugly tears. And don't come tell me you've yet to read Assassin's Apprentice. I won't hear of it. Go read this book already. You'll most likely devour the rest too.

Katharine Kerr 
Katharine's Deverry Cycle is a classic, and also highly underrated these days. I've had the occasion to revisit the first four books recently and they were as good to me as they were when I first read them as a teen. What struck me especially was the way Katharine conceptualised her magic system, which knowing what I do now of Western traditions, has a ring of authenticity. I love her envisioning of elves as wandering nomads, ousted by humanity's spread across the land. And I also owe her a huge debt, because her threaded lives of reincarnated characters working out their wyrd most certainly influenced some of the concepts I play with in my own writing. There is a feyness to Katharine's writing and an underlying deeper understanding of history, and how it oft repeats itself.

Ursula K Le Guin 
I must've been about 13 or 14 when I first was able to finish reading A Wizard of Earthsea, the first of the much-vaunted Earthsea Cycle. There's a lot more to Le Guin's stories than meet the eye, and I'm beyond keen to dip into her writing again now that I'm older, to understand what I missed the first time round. She goes deep with her writing and creates a quiet pool for reflection, spanning that chasm that is so often perceived to exist between genre and literary fiction. Le Guin truly stands as a singular beacon in her own right, and deserves far more acclaim than she receives at present. While I don't always mention her as often as I should, I feel compelled to mention her importance here. Her writing matters.

Tanith Lee 
To say that Tanith was a prolific author is an understatement, and I'm sorrowful to say that I haven't read nearly as many of her stories as I feel I should. If you're looking for fast-moving tales, you're going to go away from hers with a great feeling of dissatisfaction, and perhaps earlier I was uncharitable about her writing until I finally twigged that it was the atmosphere and mood, and the shifting shadows and the distinct sense of unease that I had to tap into. If you're used to contemporary fantasy, I suspect you'll struggle to get into her writing, but I promise it's worth it, even in small doses. Also, she was a huge influence on Storm Constantine, which is why I'll persist in delving into her worlds.

Fiona McIntosh 
Fiona was another author whose kinds words and encouragement got me started way back when, when I first started seriously considering writing fiction. I had reviewed a bunch of her fantasy novels, which were highly accessible, and we chatted a few times via email, and I became excited about fantasy as a genre again (and saw my own potential). At times the endings of Fiona's novels feel a bit rushed, but oh, the characters and the worlds – stunning. She's incredibly gifted in the way she creates a sense of fascination with her people and places, and she's also an author I fully intend to read again one day.

Anne McCaffrey 
I first read The White Dragon when I was in Grade 8, and it was one of the novels that changed everything for me. I'd already set a course with JRR Tolkien but Anne pretty much nailed it – this is what I wanted. I've read all her Dragonriders of Pern books at least three times, and I still love them dearly, even if they'll most likely pale in comparison to some of the heavier fare that features regularly in my reading pile. Anne's writing is incredibly accessible and I'm sorry, what's not to love about telepathic, telekinetic dragons who single out their one-and-only riders? Pern will always have a place in my heart. When I first cut my teeth I wrote two and a bit fics set on Pern that, to my continuing horror, have had tens of thousands of hits a decade later and still garner me queries from hopeful readers wanting more who claim I write *just* like Anne. C'mon, what's not to love about praise like that, hey?

JK Rowling 
I know I don't often mention Rowling when I talk about the women fantasy authors who have inspired me and whom I think are absolutely amazing and deserving of honour, but she makes my list. While the concepts she plays with are certainly not new to the fantasy genre (the underdog is the Chosen One who has to battle the odds through a magical academy of some sort), it's the way that Rowling pulls it all together, with equal amounts of whimsy and grit. Her characterisation is what makes her Potterverse for me. Each person who reads the Harry Potter books will find that one character they resonate with, and it's how she allows her imagination free rein, to borrow and subvert, and put out a tale that is both familiar and at once wholly new. She speaks to us about the matters that are important without making us feel as if we're being beaten about the head with ideology.

I'd love to know who your favourite women in SFF are, and if you are a woman who yearns to write the stories that are important to you, realise that it's never too late for you to take up the pen yourself. This is your call to action as much as it is mine, to be reminded that the stories we choose to tell about ourselves have the power to shape our future.







Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb #review

The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb
(Fool's Errand, The Golden Fool, Fool's Fate)

Where do I even begin? This year I credit my survival as being partially due to good friends and Robin Hobb's books, and The Tawny Man trilogy was key to my emotional and psychological well-being.

FitzChivalry Farseer is by far one of my favourite characters. Life has handed him a raw deal. Every time you think he's at the top of his game, or that things are finally going right for him, the metaphorical rug gets pulled out from beneath his feet.

We learn in this series more about his special relationship with the Fool, and how the two of them are responsible for setting the world to rights. You'd think that Fitz and Nighteyes would slip quietly into history after their high adventure and derring-do to wake dragons and save the Six Duchies from the Red Ship Raiders and a mad king. But no.

This is not the case.

Though Fitz considers himself old, and Nighteyes is even more so a venerable wolf who has long outlived his natural years, the two are dragged into fresh misadventure when they are sent to discover the fate of Queen Kettricken's son. As much as Fitz loathes politics and intrigue, he truly comes alive when he is thrust into the midst of it.

We learn much of how the Wit magic works, as not only do we discover a conspiracy of the Witted to seize power, but there is fresh concern over the fact that the missing Prince Dutiful is betrothed to an Outislander princess.

And there is what I call That Thing That Happens that astute readers would have understood implicitly is coming, is unavoidable, but Hobb sneaks it up on readers with such flair, with such awful dignity and precision that I had to put the book down and have a good, ugly cry for a quarter of an hour. Then I reread that scene again and had to go wash my face. The only other authors who've succeed in reducing me to a blubbering wreck are JRR Tolkien (I cry every time the elves return to the West) and of course Richard Adams's Watership Down.

Fitz and the Fool go on to have hectic adventures, travelling far afield on the trail of, yes... Dragons. While I do feel the pace does flag at times, and Hobb certainly (and rightfully so) is in no hurry to tell the tale, those hankering after fast-paced action may whinge a bit. (And yes, how I loathe those types of readers). This is a story where you let go and immerse for individual scenes, for the descriptions for the incredibly detailed cultural heritage she has constructed. Hobb's rich world-building, her well-realised, three-dimensional characters make this an unforgettable experience. And, of course, every exquisite detail. Pay attention when you read, because often it's the smallest, seemingly inconsequential details that later have earth-shattering ramifications.

This is a story about love, and what people are willing to do for the ones who are dear to them. It's about the secrets that turn around and bite them later; the sacrifices people make. Central to this is the triad of Fitz/The Fool/Nighteyes, and how the three are but parts of one complex character, or rather expressions of the same – a composite that has grown together. And yes, there are times when Hobb rips out your heart, just as she does with Fitz, but then she puts it back together again in the most unexpected ways to make you gasp and place a hand on your chest.

If ever there is an author who inspires me to do better as an author, it's Hobb. Sometimes authors don't stand the test of time; sometimes you return to their writing years later only to be disappointed horribly, (um hello, David Eddings). Not so with Hobb.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Legend (1985) #movie

A young man must stop the Lord of Darkness from both destroying daylight and marrying the woman he loves.

Every once in a while I have that one film or book or something or other that I've been meaning to read or watch for simply ages that I've just never gotten round to. Legend, the 1985 film directed by Ridley Scott, was one of them.

I've watched pretty much all the important 1980s fantasy films – Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, Willow, Highlander, Ladyhawke... Just not Legend. And always, my husband said to me, "No, really, it's crap. Don't."

I never listen to him.

I eventually got my way to see the film on Netflix. I regret that I will not be able to get the 125 minutes of my life back. As much as I do attempt to give films the benefit of the doubt, I couldn't help but wonder, the entire time that I was watching, whether Scott and his crew had been taking some really mean hallucinogenics while in production.

Yes, this is a quest – young dude Jack (Tom Cruise in a really, really risqué golden tunic that leaves very little to the imagination) goes to rescue the princess Lily. There are unicorns. Tim Curry, of course, steals the show as what appears to be Hellboy's grandpappy. There are dwarves too. And Tinkerbell. Oh, did I mention unicorns?

In fact, everything hinges on the unicorns that will act as a sacrifice to ring in Eternal Darkness. Muhahahahahahaha.

Nothing makes sense while our intrepid, nattily garbed young hero prances about in his gilded togs waving a sword he clearly has no idea how to use. There was one, weird scene where a dark Lily dances with the Evil Overlord, which I thought was quite pretty and surreal, but as for the rest – I suspect it will make more sense to three-year-olds who've grown up on a fare of The Magic Roundabout and Teletubbies.

And seriously? What the ever-living fuck was with all the glitter? Glitter EVERYWHERE? The cast and production crew must've found glitter in their pubes for weeks after. Glitter is insidious that way. I suspect this film must've resulted global '85-'86 Glitter Shortage.

The blurb sums up this hot mess of a fantasy cinema entirely. I'd rather watch YouTube clips spliced together from the Tim Curry scenes again than ever endure this disjointed, cobbled-together "let's attempt epic fantasy though we don't have the first clue how the hell to make it work".

I guess if you're tripping off your tits, this film will be amazeballs, but alas I'll not be tripping off my tits again anytime soon and life's too short to endure something that left me feeling a whole lot of what the fuck.