Suldrun’s Garden By Jack Vance

Garden

 

This book is the first of trilogy set in that magical time of medieval anachronistic romance when knights charged about in the Dark Ages in a manner more befitting several centuries later. Vance has plonked several legendary realms (for example Ys, Avalon, and Lyonesse) on an archipelago in the Atlantic, the Elder Isles, which sinks without trace (or record) centuries later.

The book has a low key start  in the palace of Casimir the King of Lyonesse. However, it quickly becomes clear that the garden is merely the starting point of the story and it quickly expands to include other warring kingdoms, mages, and magical creatures.

Vance’s world is a brutal one. People die a lot and sometimes randomly. Bad things happen. There is one brutal twist which really shakes up the story. However, the omnipresent narration distances the reader from events to some degree so it never tips into the realm of grimdark. The mood is often more akin to that of a classical fairy tale.

The world building is detailed but in some ways random to create kind of a ‘springy’ effect.

There are a couple distinct threads in this story most of which branch out from Suldrun. The mages’ subplot on the other hand starts out separate but eventually intersects with the others.  However, perhaps thanks to an embargo on mages on intervening in political matters, it feels as their struggle and the kings’ rivalry often just glance off each other. The book is full of digressions and tangents, but the imaginative scope of the book cannot be denied.

There are loose threads at the end but you would expect that given it was obviously envisaged as part of a trilogy. One thing I did have a problem with was the epilogue which I suppose was meant to wet the reader’s appetite for the next volume but, to me, felt very much like somebody just hit the fast forward button, speeding events by without context.

 

The Night Land By William Hope Hodgson

The Night Land

 

The book begins in the 17th century. The narrator recounts his wooing of his love, the Lady Mirdath and her death after she gives birth to a child. He experiences a vision of the far future when their future incarnations will meet again.

His future self lives in the Last Redoubt, a gigantic pyramidal structure which houses the last remnants of humanity on an Earth plunged into eternal night. The Last Redoubt is encircled by monstrous horrors waiting through millennia for its power source (the Earth Current) to fail. These nightmarish creatures and forces map out the surrounding landscape with names that really capture their power and horror: the House of Silence, the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk, the Watching Thing of the South-East, the Valley of the Hounds are so on. I had not really expected the geography to be so busy or so poetic.

The hero makes mental contact with a woman from a lesser redoubt, a reincarnation of Mirdath. When the earth current protecting her people fails, he dons armor like a knight of old, and sets out to find her.

Sounds pretty compelling, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the book itself is much less so.

Firstly, there is the language barrier. Because the book is written from the perspective of a 17th century gentleman, Hodgson employs a lot of archaic terms and spelling which might put people off. Having said that, I got used to these stock words pretty early on and they were worn into my memory by repeated use.

Everything is repeated repeatedly. The most egregious example is the focus on food and sleeping. Let’s take a few examples of the former for a moment.

I did ope my scrip, and take thereform three tablets, the which I chewed and did eat.

And I sat me down in a little clear place among the bushes, and did eat three of the tablets.

And I eat my three tablets, and drank the water that I did get from the powder.

I eat two tablets, the while my belly did cry out for an wholesome and proper filling

I should now eat four of the tablets

I eat two of the tablets and drank some of the water

And here I eat four of the tablets; for truly so many were my due

I had eat three of the tablets, and drunk some of the water.

And it goes on and on, a dreary, lulling beat between digressions and places where nothing happened, other places where something almost happened. and the occasional place where something actually did. It became so numbing that when some crisis occurred it took a surprising length of time for its import to seep through my oppressing ennui and my emotions to properly engage with the narrative once again.

This improves somewhat once he finds his beloved. There are some frenetic scenes and powerful images. However, they are islands on a sea of gloppy sentimentality out of place with the supposed omnipresent danger the hero and his companion face. It’s as if the lights go on for  vast sections of the book, the birds begin to sing, and flowers blossom.

Worse, this syrup is tainted with poison. In the midst of all the repetitious talk of love and devotion and the daintiness of the girl’s feet, the main character considers whipping his ‘Baby-Slave’ for an act of ‘naughtiness’, considers it again and again, before finally acting on his impulse. The first mention of whipping her killed any sympathy I had for him, and the later incidents confirmed my initial reaction.

The Night Land is often described as a flawed masterwork. In some ways, the deliberately aged language inadvertently works to excuse its glaring faults. It fools the reader into placing it into the 17th century instead of the year it was published (1912). War of the Worlds was already over a decade old for example.

I think it would be more accurate to say that this work contains elements of imaginary brilliance combined with baser and more toxic substances to form an ore that glitters at a distance but is dull up close. It is up to you to decide for yourself if it is worth the effort to extract the value from it.

Sing Me To Sleep By Chris Simms

singmetosleep

 

Okay, first of all, the title of this ghost story is a bit misleading since the main character, Laura, is having sleepless nights due to mysterious bird song in the old house she and her husband Owen recently bought. Perhaps, it refers to something that happens near the end of the book. Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers.

Laura is a retired ballet dancer and her husband, Owen, is a conductor. They are both really well drawn characters, but Laura is the focus of the reader’s sympathy.  Her story is so immersive that a couple of times, I actually thought the story moved from first person to third person, when in fact it had been third person the whole time.

I really enjoyed the writing. Some of the images are very poetic and really add to the atmosphere. After a careful, incremental build-up, the tension ratchets as Laura’s sanity is questioned and the terrible history of the house is revealed. This isn’t a book for readers looking for lots of gore, but it has plenty of surprises. The psychological depth of the main characters is key to its success for me. This anchors the weird to reality and gives the reader a reason to care.

Kindle Countdown Deal

I’m running two promotions at the moment. I’ll list them in order of time sensitivity.

 

ThePartingGift-Cover

Firstly, the short story The Parting Gift is free on Amazon until 24th June.

 

 

I am also running a Kindle Countdown (99 cent) deal until 28th June for A Bright Power Rising & The Unconquered Sun on the UK and US Amazon stores.

A Bright Power Rising US Link // UK Link.

The Unconquered Sun US Link // UK Link.

 

 

Violence: A Writer’s Guide

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This is an introduction to the world of violence for Writers. It’s not a book on writing technique. It’s really about the mechanics and psychology of violence. The writer has twenty years experience as a correctional professional and worked in Iraq as an adviser. Combined with thirty years of martial arts training, this gives him an insight into the nature of violence which any writer dealing with the subject would find priceless.

I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but I found it eye opening and fascinating. It’s definitely a book I could see myself rereading. Writers, I’m sure, will pick out of it what they want, or rather what their readership will let them. The writer of the foreword said that he didn’t agree with everything that Miller wrote, and I could see others agreeing with that sentiment especially with regard to some of the macro-historical points. However, you can’t disagree with Miller’s experience and knowledge of the subject.

The information is presented in a concise, matter-of-fact fashion. There are links to real word examples of violence which I skipped. I simply have no interest in watching other people’s suffering to further my knowledge. I know some writers like morgues and dead bodies but I’m not one of them.

Hobgoblin Night By Teresa Edgerton

Hobgoblin Night

 

The sequel to Goblin Moon, it was originally published as The Gnome’s Engine. To be frank, I don’t understand the change of name. Personally, I felt the original title is more relevant to the main thrust of the plot.

The story continues where the previous book left off. The sorcerer Thomas Kelly and the Duchess separately hunt Sera, Elsie and Jed. Meanwhile the parchment originally stolen  from the Duchess proves to be the key to unlocking the secrets of the drowned continent of Panterra. Meanwhile, Shelbrooke is busy hunting white slavers.

The world expands a good deal in this second volume. The writing is full of engaging detail and subtle wit.The main plot points are resolved but there are some new questions raised and avenues opened which I suppose adds to the verisimilitude and probably were originally intended for a sequel. Some of the minor characters from the first novel feel kind of underused, perhaps for similar reasons, but overall, the novel was very satisfying.

The novel includes three short stories which either relate to the world of the novel or share the same sensibilities. I particularly enjoyed Titania or The Celestial Bed which was a very clever story setting some of Shakespeare’s characters in the eighteenth century.

June Update

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I haven’t published one of these updates in a couple of months but I’ve been very busy behind the scenes. First of all, I finished the short story I had been working on. After  the rolling pin of Beta Reading and editing had flattened all the bumps, it ended up rolling out to 7k.

I paused work on the novel Diary largely because I found the solution to the problem that dogged the project I had been working on in February, nicknamed Spaghetti. If you remember the February Update, I had parked this project, which involves people being trapped in a massive multiplayer. At the time, while I really enjoyed writing it, I could see it had a lot of issues around how much game mechanics and language to include. I didn’t want to knock a few corners off a square and call it a wheel.

So imagine my delight when I discovered the genre LitRPG. This genre, which began in Korea and Russia and is slowly gaining momentum in the west. Popular series include The Land by Aleron Kong, The Way of the Shaman by Vasily Mahanenko and The Phantom Server by Andrei Livadny.

However, one key factor missing from my story was leveling. The focus was on very advanced players at the top of their game. I needed to go back and build up to the book. So I decided to create a trilogy with Spaghetti as the third volume. To keep things simple, I made it Spaghetti 3 and the first two volumes became Spaghetti 1 and Spaghetti 2.

I started out pantsing Spaghetti 1. Simply put, I built up the story letting myself be led by the words I wrote. This process was helped by a killer beginning that just came to me out of the blue. Everything was going along smoothly until I was about 28k words in. Then I discovered a vast chasm between me and where I wanted to go. I took a deep breath and revised what I had done, but the solution wasn’t forthcoming. I got about sixteen chapters in when I decided enough was enough. I must either map my terra incognita or  I put it aside. I have a dozen projects clamoring to be written. I gave myself two days.

I started to map out the story on Scapple from the point I had reached to the as yet unknown end. Basically, at each stage I asked what would be the most interesting thing that could happen next. I connected these points with arrows and I deleted lines that went nowhere. And very quickly, everything clicked into place. I even had the inciting incident and setting for the next book.

What I didn’t do was break this tapestry of plot threads into chapters. The exercise wasn’t about prescribing to the finest detail what would happen so that writing the book became a form of transcription. It wasn’t about bashing it to fit some preconceived template. No, I left the story space to grow, to surprise me. But I now have a clear idea where I need to finish and a general direction on how to get there. I’m confident I can get the first draft finished in the next couple of weeks.