Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

635. That Many?

It’s hard for me to believe that I am two months into the fifth year of this site. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that I’ve done this much writing in only four plus years.

According to WordPress, this will make 1289 posts. Some were longer, some shorter, a few quite short like this one, and others were quite long. They probably average roughly 700 words. I’ve made a few repeats, so by a rough estimate that’s about 800,000 words.

To be fair, about half of that was material in the form of old stories from my long and checkered past, mostly presented in Serial. Let’s call the rest a bit more than 400,000 new words.

No, I didn’t believe it either, so I checked my figures twice.

That’s the equivalent of three or four modern novels, or about seven novels the length they were when I started writing. Truthfully, it’s easier to write a post than the equivalent number of words from a novel, but still . . .

Oh, by the way, during that time I also spent a lot of effort playing editorial ping-pong getting Cyan into print, and wrote two new novels, The Cost of Empire and Like Clockwork, and to date about twenty percent of the novel Dreamsinger.

Retirement from teaching middle school has been fun, but not relaxing.

All this cogitation came about as I was considering a novel I didn’t write (yet) which I plan to tell you something about on Wednesday.

629. Lord Darcy

First a note for those who got here following the tag steampunk
this isn’t exactly steampunk, but it tastes a lot like it.

It was in the Jokake room, Westercon 70, in Tempe, Arizona. Science and Technology vs. Magic was the name of the panel, and it seemed to falter from the beginning. Some panels are like that. They look good on paper, but in real life they are too cute to live.

I was a panelist, and I was puzzled by what I wasn’t hearing, so I asked, “Doesn’t anybody remember Lord Darcy?”

Some did, and said, “Oh, yeah, I read those.” Most of the audience had never heard of him.

Although the Lord Darcy series was somewhat successful — it got a Hugo nomination — it was too unique, too “in-between”, and it fell into the crack between the sub-genres. It was exactly what the panel planners had in mind, a set of stories based on magic as something that was studied, understood, and put to work by magicians who were trained in its laws — laws which had been meticulously discovered by scientific study.

The Darcy stories were also gloriously filled with in-jokes, with references to popular literature, and most of all they were great fun.

The series is set in modern times (the 60s and 70s, actually) in an alternate universe where King Richard did not die, John did not gain the throne of England, and magic took the place of science. I could say more, but I’m trying to avoid running this up to novella length.

Randall Garrett, the author, was a supreme practitioner of the punster’s art. If he had been writing about a magical object lost at a circus, he would certainly have called it The Adventure of the Rube’s Cube. He didn’t (sadly) write that, but I will dissect one of his real titles below.

Lord Darcy and his colleague Master Sean O’Lochlainn are often described as a kind of Holmes and Watson. That’s relatively fair, but it only scratches the surface. Darcy was of the aristocracy, tall, lean but strong, able with sword and pistol, brilliant of mind, lovely of body — the pluperfect hero. If that sound like Superman in need of a little kryptonite, forget it. You can be that heroic if the stories have an strong undercurrent of humor. Call him James Bond with a brain.

Master Sean, on the other hand, is no Watson. He is as competent in his own realm as Darcy is in his.

Darcy is chief investigator for Normandy, although he is sometimes called to England itself; he finds things out if they depend on actions, motives, and deception. Master Sean is a forensic sorcerer; he finds things out if they depend on magic. They work together seamlessly to solve murders and political crises for (modern day) Prince Richard and occasionally, King John IV.

There is a pattern to the stories. Typically, everybody is running around, wringing their hands and calling the latest crime an act of black magic. Darcy and Sean arrive on the scene; Sean investigates the magic at hand and passes the actual facts on to Darcy; Darcy sees the connections that no one else saw and shows how the murder was committed by purely physical means.

Master Sean explains Darcy’s technique like this:

“Like all great detectives, my lord, you have the ability to leap from an unjustified assumption to a foregone conclusion without passing through the distance between. Then you back up and fill in.”
                    from A Matter of Gravity,
                   but also repeated in several other stories

The only novel, Too Many Magicians, is particularly full of pop culture references of the day, including appearances by Nero Wolfe and Archie disguised as the Marquis de London and his assistant Lord Bontriomphe.

My favorite story title is The Muddle of the Woad. If it doesn’t strike you funny at first, say it fast three times. Woad is the blue dye used by the Picts when they went into battle. A double agent for the King, investigating a cult seemingly devoted to regicide, is found dead in another man’s coffin, stark naked and dyed blue. A warning from the cult? Everybody thinks so but Darcy.

The only thing wrong with these stories is that there are not enough of them. I first read them in the paperback collections Lord Darcy Investigates (which contains A Matter of Gravity, The Ipswich Phial, The Sixteen Keys, and The Napoli Express) and Murder and Magic (which contains The Eyes Have It, A Case of Identity, The Muddle of the Woad, and A Stretch of the Imagination). I read the only novel Too Many Magicians in the Gregg Press version with the excellent preface by Sandra Meisel.

If I had to replace my copies, I would opt for the 2002 edition of Lord Darcy, edited by Eric Flint, because it also contains the two otherwise uncollected stories The Bitter End and The Spell of War.

All these are out of print, but that is what used bookstores and — dare I say it? — Amazon are for.

As it was with Holmes, there were further adventures after Garrett’s death, written by Michael Kurland. They are on my to-read list.

628. It Isn’t Working

Please note that today’s eyecatcher
is a busted clock. Thanks wikihow.

“Comp,” he said, “if I don’t cancel this order within one del, notify Yorki 00247 of everything that has happened in the last dur.”

Yikes, this isn’t working. I’ve really had fun with the idea of decimal time, and I think it is something that these people would actually use. If someone on Home Station were reading what I’ve written so far, they would understand it completely, but I can’t seem to make it work for readers who live on Earth.

It isn’t for lack of trying. There are a dozen little tricks, like saying “later” or “earlier” or using a vague time like “in a while” to avoid the decimal time terms. I made sure that Antrim spends his off hours reading old Earth novels so he is constantly translating into hours and minutes, even though the people around him don’t use our time terms any more. It still doesn’t work. I never realized until this experiment how many times in one novel a time phrase like “wait a minute” is used. My best guess now is about a million.

The other thing from the example at the top, computer names, is working out fine. The reader, just like the people of Home Station, keys in on the first name and ignores the number completely. I could screw this up for myself by using both Lafel 18273 and Lafel 19581, but I’m not masochistic. I don’t even try to remember the numbers. They have a logic — the lower the number the older the person — but I simply have everybody listed on a separate file. Most of the time I just use the first name, and if I need the number, I cut and paste.

It’s not that easy with time terms. Just five minutes ago I had Antrim checking out the computer records on some people he was about to interact with and I needed to make note of their ages. I couldn’t just say “she was a year younger than Antrim and the other two were about two years older.” I could say —

She was about a third of a kilo-det younger than Antrim and the others were nearly a kilo-det older, which told Antrim that she was a year younger and the other two were about two years older.

Arf, snarf, and boogles! That doesn’t even work once, and I seem to need something like that twice a page.

What I actually said when I got to that point was — “I give up”.

From now on, I’ll do what I do in fantasy fiction. In Menhir, Tidac and Cinnabar speak the language of the Inner Kingdom, but I write it in English.

I might make a note in passing that Home Station uses decimal time, but I’m going to write the novel in English. I’m going back to hours and minutes and years.

Ahhhhhhh! Man, that feels better.

I just went back to the paragraph preceding the age snarl and changed it to read, “It was a five minute walk to his destination.”  It didn’t take me twenty minutes (1.2 durs) to figure out how to say three dins (five minutes, more or less) is a way that a reader on Earth would understand.

Much better — but the experiment was still fun.

626. Lucifer’s Cousin

In post 575. Textbook: The Rolling Stones, I mentioned the two interpretations of the asteroid belt that were current when I started reading science fiction. At that time, many believed that it was the result of the fourth planet being somehow blown up. There were plenty of science fiction stories about that lost planet’s civilization, including several which made it the source of humanity and the origin of the Atlantis myth.

The other interpretation was that the fourth planet was kept from forming by Jupiter’s gravity. A logical and prosaic theory and apparently the correct one. Occasionally, ignorance is bliss when writing science fiction. Does anyone else miss a swampy, dinosaur infested Venus?

Oh well, that’s okay. That’s what steampunk, fantasy, and alternate universes are for.

In Dreamsinger, I’ve managed to retrieve just a tiny touch of the old glory of an asteroid belt from an exploded planet, and it only came to me within the last few weeks. I had already tilted Stormking, way back when I was writing Cyan. The culprit was a rouge body passing through the Sirian system. I didn’t have to invent that; scientists believe that’s the way Uranus got tilted. I recently decided to make further use of it the rogue body by having it do major damage to planet number two.

I gave it a near miss. I may change my mind about that and give it a bullseye. I may even have my page-people discover that their scientists were wrong; that it wasn’t a near miss but a hit. Or maybe a so-near miss that the rogue was captured and is now part of the Swarm.

Here’s how it fell out in today’s (August 28th) rough draft.

==============

Dreea was assigned to the cargo ship Typhoon. It seemed a silly name for a ship of space, especially one completely without streamlining. If it ever encountered a typhoon, it wouldn’t last thirty seconds.

Sirius was massive, and it’s system reflected the fact. The distance to the Goldilocks region was about five times as far as Sol to Earth, but it wasn’t a blown up model of the old Earth system. Having a second, shrunken star was enough to see to that, but it did have a hot planet close in and a more-or-less Earth sized planet in the third position. The planet which had held Venus’s position had been broken up by the same rogue body that had tilted Stormking.

That was important, and it was the reason that the Swarm was Typhoon‘s first destination.

The fourth planet in orbit of Sol had never coalesced because of perturbations from massive Jupiter. Consequently, all the asteroids in the belt were more or less uniform in composition. The beltmen of Sol had made a living there, but it had not been rich pickings.

The Venus-position planet circling Sirius had fully formed, with a core and tectonic plates. For billions of years gravity and convection has stirred the stuff of the second planet, and accumulated various minerals in their various places. Then the rogue body had passed so close that tidal stresses had shattered number two.

Pebble sized, and rock sized, and boulder sized, and mountain sized and continent sized chunks of the planet had been torn apart. The heat released had been tremendous. The outward force had been tremendous, but so was the combined gravity of all the pieces. Coalescence began at once, but gravity had to fight tidal forces, lateral velocities, and new heat energy when the pieces crashed together again.

After half a billion years, it had still not fully coalesced. It was still a mess, but it was a rich mess. It was as if someone had picked the Earth up, hit it with a giant hammer, and left all it’s mineral riches out in the open for easy exploitation.

Typhoon was to drop in, pick up a cargo of various minerals, and then proceed to Forge, the innermost planet where Sirius’s heat was abundant and open-air factories would turn Typhoon’s cargo into the goods needed throughout the system.

If you can call a factory open-air, on a planet whose atmosphere was long ago boiled away.

620. Wikipedia

I love the Internet. I had access to it for a decade or so at work, but rarely used it. When I retired and returned to full time writing, that all changed.

I don’t do Facebook or Twitter or games or most of that kind of thing, but I couldn’t live without e-mail. It saves me a lot on paper and ink, and even more in time. It used to take a week to get a paper manuscript ready to send by USPS, fifteen dollars at the window, a week for it to get to a publisher, and a year before they replied. Now I can send an e-mail manuscript in a few minutes, it arrives in an hour, and then I only have to wait a year for them to reply. Much better.

For this blog, I do a lot of research. That usually doesn’t including trying to find out things I don’t know about. It typically means finding out details I’ve forgotten about things I already know about.

For example, I would never do a review of Eragon because I haven’t read it, and I wouldn’t repeat someone else’s opinion of something I hadn’t read. I have read A Wizard of Earthsea, and I speak of it often, but it has been years and I might need to find out some things I don’t remember. Perhaps the name of the wizard who was Sparrowhawk’s friend (I actually do remember; it was Vetch), or perhaps the year it was published. I might need to find out how to spell some weird made-up name — or some weird name that isn’t made up. That is the thing I find the internet most helpful for, and when I run a search, the Wikipedia response is usually the most useful.

I have several other go-to spots on the internet, but I couldn’t live without Wikipedia.

Every once in a while, Wikipedia asks for a donation, and I always give them something. They sent me a nice letter a few days ago and I asked for permission to quote part of it. I forgot to ask if I could borrow their logo as an eye-catcher, but I think they’ll forgive me.

The essential story of Wikipedia is the story of individuals giving a little to keep the doors of discovery open.

You probably donated because Wikipedia is useful to you. That’s one of the main reasons people tell me when I ask them why they support Wikipedia. But what may surprise you is that one of the top reasons people don’t give is because they can’t afford to.

At the Wikimedia Foundation, we believe that no one should have to pay to learn. We believe knowledge should always be free. We will never charge anyone to use Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is yours: yours to read, yours to edit, yours in which to get lost. We’re not the destination, we’re the beginning.

No one should have to pay to learn. Knowledge should always be free. Now that’s a notion I can get behind.