WIR #34: Poetics

Aristotle
Aristotle. The Pocket Aristotle. New York: Pocket Books Classic. Translated under the Editorship of W. D. Ross. Translation copyright © 1942 by Oxford University Press.


I finished this several days ago, but didn't bother to blog about it. Sorry. Good stuff. Very analytical, obviously. But that's what Aristotle was all about, wasn't he? If you've not read Aristotle's Poetics, I recommend that you do.

WIR #34: Poetics

Aristotle
Aristotle. The Pocket Aristotle. New York: Pocket Books Classic. Translated under the Editorship of W. D. Ross. Translation copyright © 1942 by Oxford University Press.


I am not reading this entire book, which contains selected chapters from several of Aristotle's works. Namely, Physics, Psychology, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, and Poetics. Rather, I intend to read only Poetics. I've read Poetics before, but I am wanting to read it again. It shouldn't take too long, I think, given that it's only 38 pages in this particular volume.

I rather like the Will Durant quote found on the back cover:

"Aristotle's creation of a new discipline of thought remains among the lasting achievements of the human mind. Every later age has drawn upon Aristotle and stood upon his shoulders to see the truth."

Saith the Blurb:

In this extraordinary volume of selections from Aristotle — culled from the monumental Oxford translation by authorities including W. D. Ross, Benjamin Jowett, and Ingram Bywater — editor Justin D. Kaplan has included the most widely read, studied, and quoted works of the great philosopher. Informative notes give the reader a convenient and concise review of each work, illuminating the main ideas. Thoughtfully assembled, The Pocket Aristotle is the essential guide to the man who has often been called the world's most important thinker.

WIR #33: The Magicians

The Magicians
Grossman, Lev. The Magicians. New York: Plume. Copyright © 2009 by Lev Grossman.

Lev Grossman on the web:


The blurb:


Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he's secretly fascinated with a series of children's fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams may have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined....

The Magicians is one of the most daring and inventive works of literary fantasy in years. No one who has escaped into the worlds of Narnia and Harry Potter should miss this breathtaking return to the landscape of the imagination.

WIR #31: Elantris

ElantrisSanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. Copyright © 2005 Brandon Sanderson.
Brandon Sanderson on the web:


Elantris, a city of gods that fell 10 years prior, is now dirty, grimy, covered in muck, and its inhabitants, who cannot die, feel the pain of every wound they have endured since the city's fall. Prince Raoden, son of the King of Kae, engaged to Sarene, daughter of the King of Teod, is overcome by the Shaod, a process that turns a person into an Elantrian. He is therefore banished to Elantris before he and Sarene even meet for the first time.

The story evolves around several characters, Raoden, Sarene, and Hrathen, a Fjorden priest. Raoden, now in Elantris, looks to transform the city in an attempt to give it some of its lustre back, even if it is a faded glory. Sarene, because of her marital contract, is bound as Raoden's wife, although he is now considered dead. She suspects something is wrong, however, and desires to know what really happened to the man she never married. Hrathen is on a religious quest to conquer Kae and Elantris through evangelism.

An otherwise decent fantasy novel, I couldn't honestly give Elantris 5-stars for several reasons:

First, Part One of the novel, which takes up little more than half of the book, develops steadily, but rather slowly, trying the reader's patience. The pace picks up measurably beginning in Part Two, and then turns into a mad rush in Part Three (more on this in a moment).

Second, Hrathen's quest is to convert the city/nation of Kae to his faith, and his goal is to accomplish this within three months. Simply put, the idea of converting an entire nation (or even an entire city) from one faith to another in only three months is laughable. The Protestant Reformation, to use just one historical example, took fifty years! While I can understand the idea of telescoping the time-frame, three months is ridiculous.

Third, the love story between Raoden and Sarene, when the games between them finally end, becomes grotesquely mawkish. I've seen this happen in more than one fantasy novel. Although Sanderson didn't stoop quite this low, the last thing I want to read in a novel is two lovers spewing "I love you" endlessly. It's adolescent.

Fourth, although I thought the "rune" rooted magical system of the novel rather inventive, I have a major beef with just about every novel in the fantasy genre. In the real world, there are different countries with different cultures and different religions. Most fantastic novels (I include SF in this criticism) fail to capture this. Jack Vance's novels do a laudable job of it, as does Tolkien's LOTR, and more could stand to learn from their examples. Now, my point: While I can understand a novel focusing on the one particular magic system of a given culture, why must every novel that comes out of the fantasy publishing mill assume a world with only one magical system? That's hardly what I'd call verisimilar.

Fifth, Part Three of the novel accomplishes its pace and tension with quick cut scenes. While that can be extremely effective, it can also be bloody annoying. This technique involves a skill that I'm sure is not easily mastered. While Sanderson accomplishes his goal, he does so with the clinking of plot machinery quite visible.

In sum, for a debut novel, I think Elantris is a solid read, if you can manage to weather Part One.

WIR #32: Dragon's Tooth

Dragon's Tooth
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn. Dragon's Tooth. WMG Publishing. Copyright © 2008 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch on the web:
www.kristinekathrynrusch.com


This is an ebook I purchase through Sony's ebook store. It's billed as a short novel and was originally published in Baen's Universe. I bought it to read during my trip to Ocean City, Maryland. Well, that's where I am and that's where I read it. Excellent story. Absolutely drew me in and kept me captured until I read every last word of it. Don't know how much higher praise that I could give to a story.

You can also buy a copy of Dragon's Tooth at Amazon's Kindle store. In fact, that's where the previous link will take you, if you're so inclined.

WIR #31: Elantris

ElantrisSanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. Copyright © 2005 Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon Sanderson on the web:


I'm now reading Brandon Sanderson's Elantris. I've already read the first two chapters. Although this is a first novel, it's off to a good beginning. I've noticed recently that I'm reading fiction with "renewed vision," so to speak. I'm taking note of things that I didn't used to take note of. I think this is a good sign, a sign, I think, that I've started to read as a writer. Typos/misprints still catch my eye, as do what I think are awkward phrasings, but, more importantly, I'm paying more attention to the structure of what Sanderson and others are doing as I'm reading.

This has to be the result of a goal I set earlier this year. You recall the goal, yes? I'd drawn up a list of six novels that I'd read through quickly, for enjoyment, and then I'd read through them again, slowly, and outline them scene by scene, chapter by chapter, and finish up with a one paragraph summary of each book. I think this whole process has started to morph into my being able to read for entertainment and to read critically at the same time. I seem to recall that Dorothea Brande, in her book, Becoming a Writer, spoke of the same sort of exercise (or something similar) that was recommended by Lawrence Block in his book, Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print. This exercise I've been doing was prompted by my having reread Block's book. Brande, too, though, speaks of reading like a writer and recommends reading twice. Brande, however, says that as time passes you're able to accomplish both in one reading as you become more proficient at it.

WIR #30: Now is the Time

Now is the TimeLindsay, Patrick. Now is the Time: 170 Ways to Seize the Moment. New York: MJF Books. Copyright © 2009 Patrick Lindsay.



I finished this little volume a couple of hours ago. I could easily have finished it sooner than I did, but I wanted to savour the short but thought provoking entries on each page. It's the sort of book that one can't just read in one sitting if one really wants to get the most out of it. One has to return to it again and again, to give each subject more thoughtful consideration and to implement each of the 170 ways to seize the day. And I intend to do just that, return to it at a later time. In the meanwhile, I made note of several quotations in the book that spoke to me.

WIR #30: Now is the Time

Now is the TimeLindsay, Patrick. Now is the Time: 170 Ways to Seize the Moment. New York: MJF Books. Copyright © 2009 Patrick Lindsay.



I'm now reading Now is the Time: 170 Ways to Seize the Moment, by Patrick Lindsay. I should finish this quickly. The book is a compilation of quotes and brief devotionals on a variety of subjects, all geared towards taking today, now, this moment to change one's life. Here is a brief morsel of what's inside, from the first entry:

Now is the time... to tame your inbox

Stop allowing e-mail to dominate your life.
It interrupts your concentration.
It puts you in a state of constant anticipation.
Break the cycle. Disconnect.
Treat it like snail mail.
Check it once each morning and late afternoon.
Give yourself time to think.

"Information is pretty thin stuff, unless mixed with experience."
Clarence Day (1874-1935)

This is what the entries are like, some more profound than others, but all worthy of consideration and thought.

WIR #29: The Pnume

The PnumeVance, Jack. The Dirdir. New York: Ace Books, Inc. Copyright © 1970 Jack Vance.

Jack Vance Archive:

I have finished the final installment in Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure novels, The Pnume.

I found the ending for this a bit of an anti-climax, although it did satisfy somewhat by way of showing how Adam Reith affected/influenced the Pnume, just as he also affected/influenced all the other alien races on the Planet Tschai.

WIR #29: The Pnume

The PnumeVance, Jack. The Dirdir. New York: Ace Books, Inc. Copyright © 1970 Jack Vance.

Jack Vance Archive:

I am now reading the final installment in Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure novels, The Pnume. The blurb follows:


The Pnume were an ancient race of the planet Tschai, living underground in a vast network of caverns with their human slave-species, the Pnumekin.

The Pnume were the historians of Tschai, collecting its past with scholarly interest. Surface-dwellers never saw the Pnume, if the surface-dwellers were lucky.

Adam Reith was not so fortunate. The Pnume had heard rumors of a strange man, claiming to come from the planet Earth, and they needed him for Foreverness, the museum of Tschai life. Adam Reith was about to become an alien exhibit.

WIR #28: The Dirdir

The DirdirVance, Jack. The Dirdir. New York: Ace Books, Inc. Copyright © 1969 Jack Vance.

Jack Vance Archive:

I have just completed The Dirdir, and I loved the humourous twist at the end.

WIR #28: The Dirdir

The DirdirVance, Jack. The Dirdir. New York: Ace Books, Inc. Copyright © 1969 Jack Vance.

Jack Vance Archive:

I have just finished Servants of the Wankh, and I am now reading the third book in Vance's Planet of Adventure series, The Dirdir. I've a memory of reading this book, along with Tolkien's The Hobbit, when I lived in England. I believe my family was on vacation, that my father's parents had come to visit England for their 40th wedding anniversary (courtesy of my father and his siblings), and we were on a trip up to Scotland. So, yeah, this means that I am reading it again.

That said, the blurb:

Getting back to Earth from the planet Tschai involved only stealing a spaceship or having one built to order — for the Tschai was the abode of several intelligent star-born races and, as such, had spaceyards. But Adam Reith's problem was not so simple.

He'd already been lucky to escape the Chasch and the Wankh, and a dozen different types of human, and now his course led directly to the Great Sivishe Spaceyards in the domains of the Dirdir.

But the Dirdir were quite different from the other aliens who competed for this world. They were quicker, more sinister, and had an unrelenting thirst for hunting victims like Adam Reith. The closer he came to his objective, the keener their hunting instincts would become....

WIR #27: Servants of the Wankh

Servants of the WankhVance, Jack. Servants of the Wankh. New York: Ace Books, Inc. Copyright © 1969 Jack Vance.

Jack Vance Archive:

Having finished City of the Chasch, I am now reading the second book in Vance's Planet of Adventure series, Servants of the Wankh.

Herewith is the blurb for this volume:

Marooned on the strange planet Tschai, Adam Reith agreed to lead an expedition to return the princess Ylin Ylan, the Flower of Cath, to her homeland halfway around the globe.

Monsters of land and sea lay before them, and beings both human and alien who might rob, kill or enslave them. Tschai was a large planet, an ancient planet, where four powerful alien races struggled for mastery while humans were treated as pawns; nothing would be easy for Reith on this journey.

But the girl's father was enormously wealthy, her homeland technically sophisticated. If Reith was ever to obtain human aid in returning to Earth, where better than Cath?

If he could get there....

As mentioned in my previous entry, the title of this book tells which of the four alien races is featured in this volume: the Wankh.

WIR #26: City of the Chasch

City of the ChaschVance, Jack. City of the Chasch. New York: Ace Books, Inc. Copyright © 1968 Jack Vance.

Jack Vance Archive:
I am now finished with City of the Chasch. Each of the four books in this series is named after one of four different alien races (not counting men) who inhabit the planet Tschai. Thus, City of the Chasch is named for the Chasch.

The article on Jack Vance at Wikipedia is, I think, worth reading. Born in 1916 in San Francisco, California, Vance, who is now 93, is still with us. This snippet from the Wikipedia article is telling:

When asked about literary influences, Vance often cites Jeffery Farnol, a writer of adventure books, whose style of 'high' language he mentions (the Farnol title Guyfford of Weare being a typical instance); P. G. Wodehouse, an influence in Vance's taste for overbearing aunts; and L. Frank Baum, fantasy elements in whose work have been directly borrowed by Vance (see 'The Emerald City of Oz').

For a period, while reading City of the Chasch, I wrote down unusual words that either are seen infrequently in modern fiction (in my experience) or words with which I am unfamiliar or which I'd not seen in fiction in many a year. Below is a sample (which I think is an example of the 'high' language referred to above):

  • lambent
  • diffident
  • truculent
  • stalwart
  • slatternly
  • surreptitious
  • obsequious
  • insensate
  • comestible
  • torpid
  • poltroon
  • recalcitrance
  • trice
  • adduce
  • bellicosity

As to the story itself, I quite enjoyed it, although the hero, Adam Reith, sometimes seemed a might too inconstant in his zeal towards his ultimate goal.

WIR #26: City of the Chasch

City of the ChaschVance, Jack. City of the Chasch. New York: Ace Books, Inc. Copyright © 1968 Jack Vance.

Jack Vance Archive:
http://www.jackvance.com/

I remember, many years ago, owning and reading a couple of the books in Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure series. This is the first book in that series, published in 1968, when it cost all of 50¢, as opposed to the $7.99 that mass-market paperbacks cost now.

The blurb from the back cover:

When the Terran starship Explorator IV reached the planet Tschai, its crew didn't know what to expect. Tschai was so far from Earth that the distress signal which had brought them here must have taken centuries to reach them. Whatever cataclysm had threatened this planet was probably long past.

So they went into orbit around Tschai, and sent a man named Adam Reith down to explore in a scout-boat.

Suddenly a gray projectile darted up from the planet, and Explorator IV was blown to bits. Reith's scout-boat hurtled out of control to crash-land on the planet below.

Injured and alone on this alien world, Reith faced dangers he could not even imagine. But Reith was not a man to give up — and he had a deadly score to settle with someone . . . or something . . . on the planet Tschai.

Now that's how you write a blurb. I've read the opening scenes of the book and most of that blurb reveals those scenes and little else.

WIR #25: Julius Caesar

Julius CaesarShakespeare, William. Julius Caesar.



I am now done with Julius Caesar.

I've always found the actions of Marc Antony in this play to be the most intriguing. Shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar, he makes to show himself kind to the murderers, but not necessarily in support of what they've done. In fact, he wants to know the justification for their act. Understandable, I think. Later, he swears that all the assassins will die, which they do (and the ghost of Caesar makes a couple of appearances to Brutus), but the hand of Antony appears to be guiltless of shedding any of the blood that is spilt. Several of the assassins, including Brutus, commit suicide. Is it, as Brutus speculated, a supernatural act brought about by the death of Caesar? Or are they all killing themselves out of guilt? That's a point, I'm sure, that one could debate forever. I quite enjoyed Julius Caesar, but it is far from being my favourite of Shakespeare's plays.

Beta Readers

I've managed to find me another Beta Reader. This makes two. I'd like to find me at least one more.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I went to Balticon over the Memorial Day weekend earlier this year. While there I picked up some information on Maryland Writers' Association. I'd like to look at getting into a writing group, if I can manage the time.

WIR #25: Julius Caesar

Julius CaesarShakespeare, William. Julius Caesar.



I finished Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus just a few minutes ago. Definitely shows signs of being an early work, but I liked it nonetheless.

Since all my reading this year, as well as all my television/movie watching, has been geared towards learning more about story structure, I've been gaining a greater appreciation for everything that I read or watch on television or at the movies. I've learned more about conflict in the process, as well as how to turn some unexpected tricks on my readers. Good stuff!

WIR #24: Titus Andronicus

TitusShakespeare, William. Titus Andronicus.



I finished Neil Gaiman's The Barbed Coil probably a week ago. Loved it. I think it's one of his best. I now want to set about the task of outlining it, as it's one of those six books I noted in my goals that I would outline this year.

I'm now reading Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. It's not known to be one of his better plays, but I've always had something of a fondness for it (despite the fact that it's one of Shakespeare's most violent plays). Probably because my introduction to it was the movie Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, and the imagery in the movie is, I think, just absolutely stunning. Titus is one of Shakespeare's early works, and also numbers among his tragedies.

WIR #23: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard BookGaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. Copyright © 2008 Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman's web site:
http://www.neilgaiman.com/

Neil Gaiman's blog:
http://journal.neilgaiman.com/


I finished J. V. Jones's The Barbed Coil just a few moments ago. Not a bad book, despite my taking such a long time to read it. The length of time spent reading it, though, had little bearing on the book itself. I was, well, for lack of a better way of putting it, distracted. I think I liked her earlier books better, though.

I've now moved on to Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. The blurb is fairly short:

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy.

He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy — an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.

But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack — who has already killed Bod's family....

Moon-Shadow

I received an email today that Clarkesworld had rejected Moon-Shadow. They have a very fast response time. They say that they typically respond within two days, but can take as long as a week. I'll be mailing this to Fantasy and Science Fiction tomorrow.

Moon-Shadow

I received mail on May 10th that Zoetrope: All-Story had rejected Moon-Shadow. It's now been sent to Clarkesworld, an online science fiction and fantasy magazine.

The Alchemist

Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show has rejected "The Alchemist." They wrote:

Thank you for offering your story to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. We're sorry to tell you that we will not be using it; you are free to submit it elsewhere.

Ah well. I have already sent this out to the next market on the list I drew up. It's now been submitted to Heliotrope Magazine. They say their response time is about 30 days.

George H. Scithers, 1929-2010

I learned just a few moments ago that George H. Scithers, the man from whom I received my very first handwritten rejections, died on April 19. Per the web site for Weird Tales, where he was Editor Emeritus:

George passed away today at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, from complications following a heart attack suffered the morning of April 17. He was 80. He had been in declining health for the last few years, due to complications from diabetes and a heart condition.

He will be greatly missed in the world of speculative fiction.

WIR #19: Under the Dome

Under the DomeKing, Stephen. Under the Dome. New York: Scribner. Copyright © 2009 Stephen King.

Stephen King's Under the Dome web site:
http://promo.simonandschuster.com/underthedome/

Stephen King's web site:
http://www.stephenking.com/


And this book I finished probably 10 minutes ago. Let's see. How long did it take me? I started it on February 27 and a quick calculation tells me that it took 27 days. If I didn't have other things taking up my time, I'm sure I could've read it faster. I know I could've. I read Tolstoy's War and Peace, a 1,500 page monster, in 30 days, after all. Does that really matter, though? Not a whit!

What about the story? What did I think? It was entertaining, but it was political, too. The characterizations of certain story people were, for lack of a better way of putting it, heavy-handed enough to recognize who they were modeled after in the real world, but sufficiently different enough that I don't think King will suffer any legal ramifications. Events at the end, now that I think about them more, appear to have similarities to, well, 9/11, to be blunt. But I'm not bothered by what I think are the obvious politics of the book. Furthermore, it's as stupid to think that such things are necessarily reflective of King's own politics or beliefs as it was for others to think that when, in a previous book, King had a character kicking a dog to death he was giving a whole-hearted endorsement of animal cruelty.

The story is as entertaining as any King story ever is. It's a driving story, one that never lets up until the very last pages, which certainly isn't an easy task over the space of 1000+ pages. I will say, however, that I don't think it's one of his better stories. Many think that The Stand is his masterpiece, his magnum opus. Personally, I'm more fond of 'Salem's Lot, but I'm also a fan of vampire stories anyway. Since just about everything King has written has been turned into a movie, I've no doubt that in a couple of years we'll see advertisements promoting the movie based on this book. Meanwhile, if you're not interested in shelling out $35 for the hardcover, you can always wait for the paperback.

On a slightly different note, I'm not going to rush into starting on a new book just yet. I'm still outlining C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, but that's only because I went weeks before starting to read it a second time to draw up the outline — it's the second of six books that I plan to read and outline, remember? — and I'm now getting into J. V. Jones's The Barbed Coil (I've only read the first two chapters so far, and I'd like to devote time to just one book at the moment).

WIR #20: Games People Play

Games People PlayBerne, Eric, M.D. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. New York: Ballantine Books. Copyright © 1964 by Eric Berne. Copyright renewed 1992 by Ellen Berne, Eric Berne, Peter Berne, and Terence Berne

Eric Berne's web site:
http://www.ericberne.com/


I finished this a couple of hours ago. It's rich. It's difficult and it's easy. It's not the sort of thing that can be mastered, let alone understood, after just one reading. If I might quote again Kurt Vonnegut Jr's summation of this book:

An important book . . . a brilliant, amusing, and clear catalogue of the psychological theatricals that human beings play over and over again. The good Doctor has provided story lines that hacks will not exhaust in the next 10,000 years.

It wasn't until after I had finished this book, when discussing it with a writer friend, that I remembered that Vonnegut was a humorist, albeit that his humor was black. In light of that, his use of the term "hacks" takes on an entirely different aura, especially in the context of a comment that is inaugurated with "An important book . . . a brilliant, amusing, and clear catalogue . . . ." Just as important, I think, is Jack M. Bickham's endorsement of this psychological theory.

These "games" that people play are a source of many conflicts and, conflict being the central fire that fuels fiction, it would be foolish to hurl epithets such as "psycho-babble" at Berne's work.

A good book, and definitely one worth reading several times, to gain a more thorough understanding of these "games" so that they can be played by characters in the fictional arena.

WIR #22: The Barbed Coil

The Barbed CoilJones, J. V. The Barbed Coil. New York: Warner Books. Copyright © 1997 by J. V. Jones.

J. V. Jones's web site:
http://jvj.com/

J. V. Jones's journal:
http://jvj.com/journal.html


Several years back I read J. V. Jones's Book of Words trilogy, and soon after that I purchased The Barbed Coil. This, however, is the first time I've decided to read it. Jones, according to her bio at the back of the book, is the daughter of a pub owner in Liverpool, although she now lives in San Diego, California.

The blurb:

A ring that seeks blood instantly transports young Tessa McCamfrey to a realm where pictures and patterns hold vast magics; where a sorcerous crown — the Barbed Coil — can reweave destiny; where a mad king is using the crown to conquer an ancient land. And somehow Tessa, aided by two men whose pasts entwine with her own, must master a pattern of ancient powers before the Barbed Coil ravages the fate of a world....

WIR #21: A Fine Night for Dying

A Fine Night For DyingHiggins, Jack. A Fine Night for Dying. New York: Berkley Books. Copyright © 1969 by Martin Fallon.

Jack Higgins at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Higgins


Not too bad a book. Quick read. Well-paced. Higgins's prose is clean, well-pruned, and definitely without affectation. Good stuff.

Dreams of Decadence

I learned today that Tir Na Nog Press, the pulishers of Realms of Fantasy, are putting out a new magazine called Dreams of Decadence: Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. I'm not much into the Paranormal Romance subgenre of fantasy, but I do like Urban Fantasy (think of Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, and Charles de Lint's Newford series). In fact, a good deal of my most recent fantasy stories fall well within that particular subgenre — really weird stuff happening in an otherwise everyday setting in the city.

The Alchemist

Well, it appears that Flash Fiction Online has rejected "The Alchemist." I received the email yesterday. It was a very brief email, too. To wit:

Thank you for your submission to Flash Fiction Online. Unfortunately, I'm going to pass on "The Alchemist."

We appreciate your interest in our magazine.

Regards,

Ah well. Today, I will be sending this out to the next market on the list I drew up for this story weeks ago. It's now been submitted to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Per their web site, they can take upwards of three months to respond.

WIR #21: A Fine Night for Dying

A Fine Night For DyingHiggins, Jack. A Fine Night for Dying. New York: Berkley Books. Copyright © 1969 by Martin Fallon.

Jack Higgins at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Higgins


Out of want for something to read while waiting for some maintenance to be done on my car (oil change, flushing of the brake system, ignition coil recall), because I knew it would take a couple of hours, I pulled this book off of one of my shelves because it looked like a book I could get through rather quickly. I've never read anything by Higgins before, but I've heard much good about his work. This is a book originally purchased by my mother.

The name under which this book is published, Jack Higgins, and the name under which it is copyrighted, Martin Fallon, are both pen-names for writer Harry Patterson. Higgins is undoubtedly best known for his novel The Eagle Has Landed, but he has written many more; more than 60, in fact.

The blurb:

Weighted down by chain, the body of gangland boss Harvey Preston is dragged out of the English Channel in a fisherman's net. British Intelligence suspects a connection with a minor cross-channel smuggling ring, and sends dogged undercover agent Paul Chavasse to find answers.

Chevasse soon discovers that this is no small-time operation — it reaches throughout the world and leads to the doors of some very ruthless and powerful men. Men who aren't about to let Chevasse interfere with the delivery of their precious cargo . . .

The Future of Publishing



This is a video by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books. Very creative and absolutely interesting, probably the most important thing to keep in mind as you watch this is that both perspectives are true.

An Update

Well, this has been a most interesting experience, and as with the old Chinese curse my use of "interesting" doesn't mean "interesting good." Since this blog's scope isn't meant to extend beyond my writing, I've chosen to detail what happened in my personal blog. If you're interested, you can find the post here.

An Apology

Sorry for the lack of blog posts recently. I've been busy in so many ways, not the least of which involves a recent health concern (nothing too serious, I don't think — I'm still waiting on test results — but it was enough to derail me for a couple of days). I hope to get back to blogging regularly soon.

WIR #20: Games People Play

Games People PlayBerne, Eric, M.D. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. New York: Ballantine Books. Copyright © 1964 by Eric Berne. Copyright renewed 1992 by Ellen Berne, Eric Berne, Peter Berne, and Terence Berne

Eric Berne's web site:
http://www.ericberne.com/


In one of Jack M. Bickham's books, he recommends a couple of pscyhology books. Eric Berne's Games People Play is one of them. The full title of the book is Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. I've been wanting to read and to learn more about characterization and this is the first of several such books that I plan to read over the next few weeks: I own the second book recommended by Bickham, as well as three other books whose focus is characters/characterization in fiction, one of which is written by a psychotherapist who also makes use of Berne's famed theory of Transactional Analysis.

Other writers have commented on Berne's book, as well, including the veritable Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, who, in Life Magazine, wrote:

An important book. . . a brilliant, amusing, and clear catalogue of the psychological theatricals that human beings play over and over again. The good Doctor has provided story lines that hacks will not exhaust in the next 10,000 years.

Dr. Berne himself is quoted as saying:

Therapy should be like a poker game. In other words, the result is what counts. . . . You either win or you lose. . . . You've got to know what's happening in each hand. . . . A lot of the game depends on getting to know the other guys and what they are doing. So maybe what I'm saying is that big words are hiding the reality of what's going on between people.

On the back cover of the book, the following question is asked:

HOW MANY OF THESE "SECRET GAMES"
DO YOU PLAY EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE?

IFWY (If it weren't for you) • Sweetheart • Threadbare
• Harried • Alcoholic • Rapo • Debtor • Schlemiel
• Uproar • SWYMD (See what you made me do)
• Corner • The Stocking Game • Wooden Leg • Cavalier

Of Dr. Berne himself, the blurb on the back tells us:

Dr. Eric Berne, as the originator of transactional analysis, attained recognition for developing one of the most innovative approaches to modern psychotherapy. In his writings and teachings, Dr. Berne outlined the principles of his system in such works as Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy, The Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups, Principles of Group Treatment, A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry, and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? Before his death in 1970, he was a practicing psychiatrist in California and held many important posts in psychiatric professional organizations and clinics.

Although I haven't done so, I've read that some writers recommend subscribing to Psychology Today for the insights it can offer into people and why they do the crazy things that they do. I've even known pastors of quite conservative Protestant churches subscribing to this magazine, as well, and not just for the purpose of bashing what many fondly call "pscyho-babble."

I think I'm going to enjoy reading this.

WIR #15: To The Ends of the Earth

Ends of the EarthHarwood, Jeremy. To The Ends of the Earth: 100 Maps That Changed the World. Cincinnati, Ohio: F+W Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Marshall Editions.



It's taken me nearly a month to read this book, which is ridiculous. Nonetheless, I have found it constantly fascinating, from learning about primitive maps made millennia ago (from as late as 600 B.C.E. to as early as 10,000 B.C.E.) to maps made during the height of classical Greece to Mediæval maps, as well as the different purposes to which maps have been put to use, whether religious, political, or propaganda.

As it is a fairly recent book — published in 2006 — I trust that the information in it is reasonably accurate, and for that reason I found something I read in its closing pages to be quite enlightening. In a sub-section titled "Demography," the author writes:

What demography is now indicating, however, is that, contrary to expectations, world population growth is actually slowing and may well eventually come to a virtual standstill. It is now expected to peak at 9 billion by 2070. This contradicts previously held theories, which in part can be traced back to the great British economist Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), who proposed that, rather than the proliferation of weapons, the major threat to global stability was uncontrolled population growth and a consequent outstripping of planetary resources.

It's fascinating that that old idea is at least 175 years old. Wikipedia, in the section titled "Rate of Increase," in their article on "World Population," echoes the idea that world population could reach equilibrium, attributing it to a United Nations statement in 2006, although the date at which equilibrium will occur is different:

In 2006, the United Nations stated that the rate of population growth is diminishing due to the demographic transition. If this trend continues, the rate of growth may diminish to zero, concurrent with a world population plateau of 9.2 billion, in 2050. However, this is only one of many estimates published by the UN.

Excellent book.

WIR #19: Under the Dome

Under the DomeKing, Stephen. Under the Dome. New York: Scribner. Copyright © 2009 Stephen King.

Stephen King's Under the Dome web site:
http://promo.simonandschuster.com/underthedome/

Stephen King's web site:
http://www.stephenking.com/


There is no blurb for this book, neither on the back cover nor on the dust jacket flaps. King's big enough, I guess, that he needs no blurbs. Nevertheless, I found the following description at his publisher's web site:

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as "the dome" comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens -- town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn't just short. It's running out.

At 1072 pages (1069, really, since it begins on p. 3) this is a monster of a book. Paging through it, though, I see the type isn't small (another 'failing' of the last book I read by C. S. Lewis), that there is a generous amount of white space on each page, and that many of the chapters appear to be fairly short. This could very well be a quick read. We shall see.

WIR #18: That Hideous Strength

That Hideous StrengthLewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. New York: Collier Books. Copyright © 1946 C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis web sites:
http://www.cslewis.com/
http://www.cslewis.org/
Into the Wardrobe


I know full well the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover, but when the covers of the first two books in this series are reflective of their content but the cover of this one is not, I could not help but be disappointed. I'd hoped for a similar sort of adventure on the surface of the Moon, but what I got was a book set entirely in an English village. It's true that King Arthur does play a role in this story, but it wasn't a terribly large role, and neither was he really central to the story. (EDIT: Actually, when I think back on it, King Arthur was central to the ending, but he doesn't appear until late in the book and his role seems contrived to me.)

In addition to the disappointment of the cover, Lewis's prose in this volume had monstrous paragraphs that made for heavy, slow reading, despite Time magazine's praise that it was a "well-written, fast-paced satirical fantasy." Further, there were happenings at the end of the book that seemed tacked on instead of integral to the plot; very disappointing. Lewis's point in this novel wasn't lost on me, especially the role King Arthur played, but his role felt very unlike King Arthur. I think the problem is that Lewis was trying to fit a pagan into a Christian hole — as much as many Christians like to hold up Arthur as Christian-like, because of the virtues he is imbued with in the legend, that very legend is about as Christian as Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, in which there is little to no mention made of Christianity (even in this story much is made of it being Christian because Scrooge "repents of his evil," but his repentence is brought about by ghosts and by the fear of not being remembered after death and has nothing to do with Christ or turning to Christ). Context is king.

Generally speaking, I like Lewis's work, both his fiction and his non-fiction, but this one did not impress me. It makes me think that the subject of his book, The Abolition of Man, was probably better left and better handled in a non-fiction format.

Digital Voice Recorder

Olympus VN-6200 PCI like tax-refunds because they allow me to splurge. No extravagant splurging this year, however. Not while I'm still unemployed. I have been wanting to buy myself a digital voice recorder for some time, though, so yesterday I went shopping.

I originally purchased the Sony ICD-PX720 Digital Voice Recorder with PC Link at the local Best Buy. I thought it was cross-platform compatible since it records messages in MP3 format. Not hardly. When I got home and used it, it recorded messages just fine, but I couldn't transfer the files to my laptop. File transfer, I learned, required Sony's proprietary software, which was included, but was not Macintosh compatible (it wasn't even Windows 7 compatible, in fact, until just recently). This was more than annoying and on discovering it, I immediately set about doing more in-depth research than I had done prior to going to Best Buy.

During my earlier trip to Best Buy, I discovered that they carried only two brands of digital voice recorders (which surprised me): Sony and Olympus. In my research, I discovered that the Olympus model pictured here (VN-6200 PC) was, indeed, Mac-compatible. So, today, I returned to Best Buy and exchanged the Sony for the Olympus.

Once home, I removed it from its packaging, installed the batteries, did a quick read of the instructions, recorded a message, plugged it into my Mac, and, lo and behold, it appeared on my desktop just as if it were an external hard drive. The files are recorded in WMA format, a Windows-format, but Apple's QuickTime can easily read WMA files, and, indeed, I was able to play the recorded file quite easily on my wee iBook.

Because it appears as a removable hard disk on my computer I can also store other files on its disk, as well: photos, music, whatever. However, the headphone jack is monaural, which means that it doesn't do stereo. You'll get audio in only the left ear with stereo headphones/earphones. (Adapter plugs allow audio to be heard in both ears with stereo headphones/earphones and are available at places like Radio Shack. Olympus also offers dual monaural earphones as an accessory.) Obviously, this digital voice recorder isn't meant to double as an MP3 player, and I'm fine with that; I've got an iPod. I do, however, like that I can store other things on its 1GB internal disk.

This is meant to replace my old micro-cassette recorder; I'd used it to record thoughts and story ideas while driving. My phone (made by Nokia), I've learned, can record and store voice recordings, but it will store only 1 hour of audio. It's also very inconvenient for in-car use due to the menus that have to be navigated. With this Olympus digital voice recorder, I simply press the record button and start talking. For me, that's perfect.



Specifications — Frequency Response/Recording Time:
HQ Mode — 200-13,000Hz / 70h 55m
SP Mode — 200-7,000Hz / 139h 35m
LP Mode — 200-3,000Hz / 444h

The frequency response in long-play (LP) mode is more than adequate for voice recordings — phone lines have a bandwidth of 4,000Hz.

File management is another handy feature of this voice recorder: It has five file folders, and up to 200 files can be stored in each.

The Alchemist

Well, I have redone my short story "The Alchemist." The new and expanded version now stands at 768 words (actual), 820 words (Printer's Rule or white-space). I have submitted it to Flash Fiction Online, which the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has qualified as a professional market (as seen here). The auto-response from Flash Fiction Online's server (I was able to submit the story via e-mail) says that their response time is 2-3 months.

I now have two short stories in the mail and my editing of a third, "The Limnades," continues. I am also giving thought to editing a fourth short story, "Familiar Stranger," which like "Moon-Shadow," also received a handwritten rejection from George Scithers.

WIR #—: Realms of Fantasy

ROF-1004Realms of Fantasy. April 2010, vol. 16, no. 2.
Copyright © 2010 Tir Na Nog Press.

Web site:
http://www.rofmag.com/


I'd renewed my subscription to Realms of Fantasy soon after I learned that they were back in print, but my subscription fell through the cracks somewhere and I had to contact their subscription department to make sure that I received the issues I'd paid for. When they realized their mistake, they corrected the error and said that they'd send me the February issue for free. When it arrived, I discovered that I'd been sent the February issue for last year. I didn't want to miss this year's February issue, however, because I'd learned that it contained the Harlan Ellison story I mentioned in my previous post and Ellison is a damned good writer. So, I hightailed it to Barnes & Noble and bought the February issue. Today, the first issue in my new subscription arrived.

This issue contains the following stories:

  • Just Another Word, by Carrie Vaughn
  • Hanuman's Bridge, by Euan Harvey
  • The Hag Queen's Curse, by M. K. Hobson
  • A Close Personal Relationship, by Thomas Marcinko
  • The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara, by Christopher Kastensmidt

I'll be reading these over the next two or three days.

The Alchemist

"The Alchemist," I may have mentioned before, is a drabble, a story of only 100 words. The market for such a story, from what I've seen, is extremely limited. If I've any hope of selling this story, I think I'll have to expand it to at least 500 words. The nature of the story gives me concern, though, whether it would work at a longer length.

Back when I was reading Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction, I ordered a couple of volumes he recommended in the appendix to his book. One such tome was W. Somerset Maugham's Tellers of Tales: 100 Short Stories from the United States, England, France, Russia, and Germany. As I was browsing Maugham's introduction to this anthology last night, I came across a most interesting passage:

The competent writer can write a story in a couple of thousand words as easily as he can write one in ten thousand. But he chooses a different story or treats it in a different way. Guy de Maupassant wrote one of his most celebrated tales, The Legacy, twice over, once in a few hundred words for a newspaper and the second time in several thousand for a magazine; both are published in the collected edition of his works, and I think no one can read the two versions without admitting that in the first there is not a word too little and in the second not a word too much.

— Tellers of Tales. Maugham, W. Somerset. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. Copyright © 1939. p. xv.

I know that many a writer has taken a short story of theirs published in a magazine and later expanded it into a novel, but this is the first I've ever read of a writer penning the same short story in two different lengths and keeping it still a short story, and, not surprisingly, it was of some consolation to me to learn this. It gives me hope for "The Alchemist" at a longer length.

Also interesting, I thought, was the passage preceding the above as it speaks directly to the notion of whether writers write for love, for money, or for both, and was uttered nearly 70 years ago:

Now I must interrupt myself to tell the reader something about literary composition of which, so far as I know, the critics, whose duty it is doubtless to guide and instruct him, have neglected to apprise him. The writer has in him the desire to create, but he has also the desire to place before readers the result of his labour and the desire (a harmless one with which the reader is not concerned) to earn his bread and butter. On the whole he finds it possible to direct his creative gifts into the channels that will enable him to satisfy these desires. At the risk of shocking the reader who thinks the writer's inspiration should be uninfluenced by practical considerations, I must further tell him that writers quite naturally find themselves impelled to write the sort of things for which there is a demand. When plays in verse might bring an author fame and fortune it would probably have been difficult to find a young man of literary bent who had not among his papers a tragedy in five acts. I think it would occur to few young men to write one now. Today they write plays in prose, novels and short stories. The possibility of publication, the exigencies of editors, that is to say their notion of what their readers want, have a great influence on the kind of work that at a particular time is produced. So, when magazines flourish which have room for stories of considerable length, stories of that length are written; when on the other hand newspapers publish fiction, but can give it no more than a small space, stories to fill that space are supplied. There is nothing disgraceful in this. [here the quote cited above appears] The point I want to make is this: the nature of the vehicle whereby the writer approaches his public is one of the conventions he has to accept, and on the whole he finds that he can do this without any violence to his own inclinations.

— Tellers of Tales. pp. xiv-xv.

In other words, little has changed in the nearly three-quarters of a century that have passed since Maugham wrote these words. He makes no distinction between writers of the literary persuasion or writers of the commercial persuasion. Why do so? All want to write, whether they pen stories for pulp magazines or the hoity-toity literati, and, more importantly, all want to eat. It's important to note that the writers of the day, particularly those anthologized in this volume — Honoré de Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Gustave Flaubert, Thomas Hardy, Guy de Maupassant, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, E. M. Forster, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway among others — were really quite popular in their day and could have been considered just as commercial as their pulp peers. (This is really no different than the observation that classical music was the rock 'n' roll of its day.) The sole difference for those whose pretentious airs have their noses stuck firmly in the stratosphere is that what they would otherwise consider to be crass Maugham has stated with an unmistakable elegance. Elegant or not, however, it all boils down to writers writing for a buck.

Extraordinary Goof

I was just reading a fascinating post at Canadian writer Robert J. Sawyer's blog on self-publishing. Sawyer's argument in response to a writer who chose to go the self-publishing route was spot on . . . until he cited Carl Sagan's oft-quoted quip, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." Pardon me, but BULLSHIT!

The measure of proof for any claim is the same regardless whether the claim is extraordinary or not. EDIT: The fact is, no one knows how much proof is required for any claim and that's where the problem lies with this quote: it makes an unwarranted assumption about the evidence before the investigation has even begun. Sagan's quip is nothing more than grandiloquent hockey-puck, and is about as logical as a screendoor on a submarine.

Now, nautical screendoors aside, I don't doubt that Sawyer's entire argument is waterproof from top to bottom, but proof is proof, period.¹ If I claim to be a wolfman, then the proof of my claim is no more extraordinary than the proof that a caterpillar will turn into a butterfly. I had better show forth the necessary metamorphosis or shut up. This is not extraordinary proof. It is simply the proof required, and grandiloquence be damned.

I hope you'll pardon this outburst, but I've come to loathe that idiotic quip.

¹ Some proofs, when they are first demonstrated, no doubt appear to be extraordinary, as when, for example, Copernicus claimed that the Earth orbited the Sun and not vice versa, simply because of the nature of the previous assumptions. Copernicus' claim would've been as boring as pitting an abacus operator against a super-computer if the discoveries of the ancients hadn't been cloaked in the obscurity of the Dark Ages that followed themPythagoras, in 540 B.C.E., proved that the Earth is a sphere (and there is evidence that other cultures knew this even before the ancient Greeks); Aristarchus of Samos, 310-230 B.C.E., believed that the Earth went around the Sun. The fact is, proof is proof. Logically, there are not different levels or forms of proof. Either something can be proven, or it cannot. Period. There is nothing extraordinary about it. Therefore, to say "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" is not only pretentious, it also implies a double-standard, even if one doesn't mean to do so.

WIR #—: Realms of Fantasy

ROF-1002Realms of Fantasy. February 2010, vol. 16, no. 1.
Copyright © 2010 Tir Na Nog Press.

Web site:
http://www.rofmag.com/


I recently purchased the Feb 2010 issue. Included in this issue is a short story by the marvelous Harlan Ellison. It's titled "How Interesting: a Tiny Man." Cool story.

There are four other stories in this issue:

  • Mister Oak, by Leah Bobet
  • The Demon of Hochgarten, by Euan Harvey
  • Mélanie, by Aliette de Bodard
  • The Unknown God, by Ann Leckie

I plan to read all these over the next day or two.

Moon-Shadow

"Moon-Shadow" is in the mail. I'd said that I'd have it in the mail no later than Monday, but I'd forgotten that yesterday was a Federal Holiday. No matter. The story is now in the mail. I've sent it to Zoetrope: All-Story.

Conflict Modulation

I promised earlier to write about what I've called 'conflict modulation' and to explain my use of the term 'modulation’ and its application to the concept of conflict in fiction.

I'll start by apologizing for the technical term. When I read about what Jack Heffron, in his Writer's Idea Book, called 'one-note wonders,' internally I compared it to my training in telecommunications. Despite the differences (my understanding of 'modulation' being highly technical versus Heffron's idea of 'one-note wonders') the definition of the word still applies.

Let's start by looking at the definition of 'modulate':

mod•u•late (moj′ ə lāt′, mod′ yə–), v., -lat•ed, -lat•ing.v.t. 1. to regulate by or adjust to a certain measure or proportion; soften; tone down. 2. to adapt (the voice) to the circumstances. 3. Music. a. to attune to a certain pitch or key. b. to vary the volume of (tone). 4. Radio. to cause the amplitude, frequency, phase, or intensity of (a carrier wave) to vary in accordance with a sound wave or other signal. —v.i. 5. Radio. to modulate a carrier wave. 6. Music. to pass from one key to another. [< L modulā(us) measured, regulated (ptp. of modulārī).]
—The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition. New York: Random House. Copyright © 1979 by Random House, Inc. p. 858

My Air Force training speaks to definitions 4 and 5, and definition 4 addresses amplitude modulation (the AM band on your car radio), frequency modulation (the FM band), and phase modulation, all of which I’m familiar with. (I’ve no idea what intensity modulation is.) That, however, is by-the-bye. I’m more concerned with definition 1, although I do take issue with 'soften; tone done,' because modulation can go in the other direction. These speak to the circumstance of calming a person who is all a-dither, who has raised their voice and who is clearly upset, and you tell them either to 'calm down' or to 'tone down your voice' or, if you’re well-spoken and are wont to display your vocabulary, to 'please modulate your voice.' What’s really being requested is that the person re-modulate their voice, as our voices are always being modulated. Someone who, when upset, does not raise their voice, is said to speak in well-modulated tones, which proves my point. We are always modulating our voice, taking it from barely discernible whispers to friendly conversational tones to booming yells to ear-piercing screams. If you'll pardon another technical digression, since this form of modulation doesn't involve what in amplitude or frequency modulation is called 'beating one frequency against another,' but rather involves the constriction or the loosening of one's vocal chords, perhaps this is a form of intensity modulation.

In any event, what happens with modulation with respect to fictional conflict is an increase in intensity or pitch as the story develops.

I'd like here to inject a quick definition of 'conflict' as it applies to fiction. Conflict is not slam-bang action. A barroom brawl is the result of a conflict, not the conflict itself. Fist fights are the basest form of conflict. Conflict in fiction is more a contest of wills: Character Republican wants to be President of the United States; character Democrat wants the same. Character Republican therefore employs tactics to discredit and cast aspersions upon his opponent. Character Democrat does much the same. That's conflict.

Now, let's talk about modulation: We have our basic conflict, character Republican racing against character Democrat for the highest office in the land. Character Republican throws out the charge that character Democrat committed adultery thrice in the two years previous and if a man can't be faithful to his wife, how can we expect him to be faithful to his country? The conflict still exists, but it has changed. It has been modulated: Character Democrat now must defend himself against Republican's charges, which he does, but his defense is feeble.

Let's modulate it again: Character Democrat's feeble defense has caused his standing in the public's eye to be severely damaged. He must now resort to damage control while still launching more attacks against character Republican. His attacks seem lame, however, an attempt to deflect attention away from his infidelity.

Let's modulate it a third time: His wife, learning the truth of the charges (thanks to media dogs) is feverish and is threatening divorce. To her, his defense is no defense at all. Character Democrat must now continue his race for the presidency while dealing with the media dogs who refuse to bury the adultery bone and while dealing with a frantic wife.

Let's modulate it one last time: Without his knowledge, character Democrat's wife not only goes through with her threat to file for divorce, she also takes to the talk show circuit on television, and now character Democrat feels that his chances for election have completely evaporated. Etc, etc, etc.

You'll notice that I chose to focus on just one presidential candidate. Fiction does this. Character Democrat is clearly the main character in this story concocted to demonstrate conflict modulation, and the reader will worry whether or not character Democrat will achieve his goal.

As you can see, 'modulation' is somewhat synonymous with what has long been called 'plot complications.' Complications imply that new problems arise as the story develops, but they are different from what I mean by 'conflict modulation.' Complications give rise to the modulation. In fact, complications are necessary for modulation to exist. In a story where the conflict never changes, you have Jack Heffron's 'one-tone wonders,' stories with no conflict modulation. Basically, we never learn anything new about the nature of the conflict because no new complications arise. The result is the reader also never learns anything new about the characters. When a new complication arises, the basic conflict is still the same, but it changes and because it changes the characters' reactions change. Think of a song you like, or a symphony, where you hear the music (or even the singer) repeating the same refrain, and then the pitch changes and the refrain, although it is still the same, is now sung/played in a different key. That's modulation and that is essentially what happens when a story is well-modulated: new complications raise the conflict to a different key, intensifying the conflict and worrying the reader all the more. The writer is not striking the same note all the time.

Heffron had used an example that struck a chord with me, helping me to relate what he was saying to something I already knew, and my understanding expanded. His example harmonized with my experience. This is why an aspiring writer should read as many books on writing fiction as possible. On one level, the rote learning will eventually drill the lessons deep into the neophyte's skull, and on another level the neophyte will sooner or later encounter a writer whose instruction is in concord with his experience.

WIR #18: That Hideous Strength

That Hideous StrengthLewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. New York: Collier Books. Copyright © 1946 C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis web sites:
http://www.cslewis.com/
http://www.cslewis.org/
Into the Wardrobe


I am now reading That Hideous Strength. I've read the first two volumes in this trilogy once or twice before, but never this one. Why? I'm not sure. There have been times when I've started to read a book but could not finish it only to find that years later, when I started it again, I was not only able to finished it but came away from it thinking that it was one of the best books I had ever read. That experience has led me to believe that I've not been able to read them the first time around because I was not yet ready for them. Perhaps that is the case with That Hideous Strength, as well. We shall see. I've heard that Lewis makes use of Arthurian mythology in this book, and that alone makes me think that I'll enjoy it as I'm a fan of the King Arthur legend. The title of Chapter 7, "The Pendragon," seems to verify this.

The blurb reads:

In this last book of the Space Trilogy, which begins with Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, the remarkable Dr. Ransom makes his way through a tale of devilry peopled with megalomaniacs, superior beings from other planets, and creators of dangerous scientific experiments. As he wrestles with the battle between science and ethics, Dr. Ransom takes readers on a journey of suspense, mystery, and challenging arguments.

The full title of the book is That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups, and the title is inspired by a quote from Sir David Lyndsay, from Ane Dialog, wherein he is describing the Tower of Babel:

The shadow of that hyddeous strength sax myle and more it is of length.


This be the English of Chaucer and there is much of that I don't understand. In this quote, clearly "sax myle" modifies "shadow," but I've no damned idea what it means. That doesn't preclude my liking this quote, not least because of the marvelous and archaic spelling of "hyddeous."

Lewis, in the introductory paragraph in his preface, gives justification for his calling this a "fairy-tale":

I have called this a fairy-tale in the hope that no one who dislikes fantasy may be misled by the first two chapters into reading further, and then complain of his disappointment. If you ask why — intending to write about magicians, devils, pantomime animals, and planetary angels — I nevertheless begin with such hum-drum scenes and persons, I reply that I am following the traditional fairy-tale. We do not always notice its method, because the cottages, castles, woodcutters, and petty kings with which a fairy-tale opens have become for us as remote as the witches and ogres to which it proceeds. But they were not remote at all to the men who made and first enjoyed the stories. They were, indeed, more realistic and commonplace than Bracton College is to me: for many German peasants had actually met cruel stepmothers, whereas I have never, in any university, come across a college like Bracton. This is a "tall story" about devilry, though it has behind it a serious "point" which I have tried to make in my Abolition of Man. In the story, the outer rim of that devilry had to be shown touching the life of some ordinary and respectable profession. I selected my own profession, not, of course, because I think fellows of colleges more likely to be thus corrupted than anyone else, but because my own is the only profession I know well enough to write about. A very small university is imagined because that has certain conveniences for fiction. Edgestow has no resemblance, save for its smallness, to Durham — a university with which the only connection I have had was entirely pleasant.

And there you have it, and thus I begin.

WIR #17: Perelandra

PerelandraLewis, C. S. Perelandra. New York: Collier Books. Copyright © 1944 C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis web sites:
http://www.cslewis.com/
http://www.cslewis.org/
Into the Wardrobe


I have now finished reading Perelandra and near the end of the book there is what I think is a fascinating passage. The narrator of the book, who happens to be C. S. Lewis himself (yes, he made himself something of a character in his own novel, but only as someone to whom the story was told), is relating to the reader something told him by Elwin Ransom, the book's main character. Each planet in the solar system have Oyarsas. (Oyarsa, in Out of the Silent Planet, is revealed to be not so much an alien-appearing and an alien-sounding name as it is a name that can be seen to have roots in an ancient Tellurian language (Tellurian being another way to say Gaian or Terran or 'of Earth'; Gaia is the Greek goddess of the Earth; Tellus, the Roman goddess, is the word from which we get Tellurian), and, actually, I'd wager that Lewis would say that the Tellurian word has alien roots, or, perhaps, heavenly roots. In brief, an Oyarsa might also be called the archangel of a planet. Ransom is relating to Lewis his perception of Malacandra, which is the planet Mars, as well as the name of the Oyarsa of that planet, and of Perelandra, the planet Venus, and also the name of Venus' Oyarsa. The passage to which I refer is this:

[Ransom] has said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody. He has said that Malacandra affected him like a quantitative, Perelandra like an accentual, metre. He thinks that the first held in his hand something like a spear, but the hands of the other were open, with the palms towards him. But I don't know that any of these attempts has helped me much. At all events what Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender. Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity. All this Ransom saw, as it were, with his own eyes. The two white creatures were sexless. But he of Malacandra was masculine (not male); she of Perelandra was feminine (not female).

Lewis addresses here something that I have always wondered about myself: Why do languages have gender? Some have said that English lacks gender in the same way that it exists in other languages, such as Spanish, French, or Portuguese, yet this is not true. To wit:

bachelor (masc.)/spinster (fem.)
boar (masc.)/sow (fem.)
drake (masc.)/duck (fem.)
lion (masc.)/lioness (fem.)
hero (masc.)/heroine (fem.)
boy (masc.)/girl (fem.)
actor (masc.)/actress (fem.)
administrator (masc.)/administratrix (fem.)
benefactor (masc.)/benefactress (fem.)
executor (masc.)/executrix (fem.)

Now, the real difference is that in English two things can be easily seen: First, the distinction of masculine and feminine seems to apply only to living things. Second, the -ess and -trix and -ine suffixes show forth the influence of French on English (English is a Germanic language, but the Norman invasion of England resulted in more than just war and the compilation of the Domesday Book, in which my family is listed, by the way).

Not all living things, real or imagined, have masculine or feminine forms, either. Boor, clown, satyr, and squire, for example, do not have feminine partners. Similarly, amazon, brunette, dame, dowager, milliner, shrew, virago, all being feminine, have no masculine forms.

Once, not too terribly long ago, editress was a female editor, doctress a female doctor, and mediatrix a female mediator, but these have all fallen out of use. The -ster suffix, as in spinster, once signified the feminine, as, for example, seamster and songster, but it has since come to mean the opposite and often denotes a profession, as in drugster and teamster. Now, however, -stress signifies the feminine: seamstress and songstress; and -ster can be either belittling or have a derogatory connotation: gamester, rimester, trickster.

The -ess, ine, and -trix endings should not be thought to be universally feminine. Clearly, address, mattress, success, doctrine, marine, quarantine, cicatrix, and matrix haven't gender. English, in many ways, is a mishmash of languages: hunter and shepherd are Anglo-Saxon, and so are clearly Germanic, but huntress and shepherdess are words with Anglo-Saxon roots married to French suffixes.

In all of this, though, it is clear that English does not say that chair is feminine and must have a feminine article. And yet . . . do we not think of nature and of earth as feminine? Mother Nature? Mother Earth? Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess, is both Earth and goddess. When it storms, do we not still, sometimes, think of it in male terms, if only because of the influence, also, of Greek mythology (Zeus) and of Norse (Thor)? Do we not also speak of Brother Sun and Sister Moon? So, gender still persists in English, even in the inanimate.

It would seem, then, that Lewis's statement — Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. — contains real pith and insight. His first book, Out of the Silent Planet, takes place on Mars (Malacandra). His second, Perelandra, takes place on Venus. He makes much use of gender and mythology in these two books. The last volume, That Hideous Strength, which I shall be reading next, seems to take place on the Moon, however.