Thinking of Things at the Start of Something New (28/6/11)

Posted in News

I should mention Alt.Fiction in passing. Plenty of other blogs are already singing its praises, so I’ll not go on at length. As a first-timer, I was impressed by the venue, the programme, the organisation and the number of authors in attendance. Thanks to those who put in their time and effort to make this happen, and yet another huge sorry for those who showed up to the reading that got cancelled at short notice. I blame, well, me, mostly. Roll on Fantasycon.

To business then. Kingdom X has conquered kingdom N. Protagonist is an X but settles among people N. Kingdom X develops a bad attitude towards its conquered minions. Protagonist stands up for the N people around him and becomes a reluctant leader within an uprising. It’s not exactly a story you haven’t heard before, although I already changed to X and N from A and B to avoid upsetting anyone who might think that the use of A and B was intended to imply that B is somehow inferior <sigh>.

So here’s a little thought-experiment going: If this was a traditional medieval Europe fantasy setting, then Kingdom A would look like (say) Denmark and Kingdom B would look like (say) some bit of Germany, and everyone would be racially and culturally much the same and pretty familiar. Which would be safe and probably the most commercial thing to do, but perpetuates the whiteness of fantasy and isn’t remotely progressive.

I’m interested in alternatives. Is there a version of this story that’s both progressive and commercially viable? Or has there been?

Diamond Cascade: The End (Part One)

Posted in DC

And so Diamond Cascade took from the ancient emperor’s tomb the arcane bells of summoning to call the mighty dragon-orb from its hiding place across the places, and with his companions, he did traipse all the way back through many a crumbling room and corridor, littered with the bones of the vile undead he had slaughtered. And lo, they did reach the terrible Chamber Of Summoning, and did ring the ancient bells, and with a mighty thunderclap, the Dragon Orb was claimed, and the task of ending the terrible rule of the dragons was begun!

Yes, another perfectly normal summoning-an-ancient-artefact-from-another-plane ritual done and dusted. Just another day in the crazy life of a bard with a thing for a half-dragon. It is, I’m perfectly sure, quite normal to have a wizard and a priest who are working for the other side watching in . . . no, wait, that implies we know what side we’re working for. It’s perfectly normal for half the group to be reading the minds of the other half, waiting for whichever one of them is going to try and make off with said artefact for themselves first. It’s quite usual for at least two of the summoning parties to have, in fact, made a previous deal with said wizard and priest to exchange said artefact for a large sum of money.

I understand it to be quite normal for this sort of thing to be done with no plan whatsoever as to what will be done with said artefact after it’s been acquired. I mean, it’s normal, right, to go get something like this for the sake of getting it and having it and drooling about the imaginary piles of gold that we’ll get for selling it. That’s normal right. Right?

I guess we’ll find out when we get outside. If I’m not the one carrying the orb, that’s me showing my trust and faith in my companions, that is. It’s not that carrying the orb feels like having cross-hairs painted all over me at all. No no . . .


Don’t Kick the Puppy (21/6/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

It’s the middle of June. Must mean it’s time for the Gemmells and for all its detractors to, well, detract I suppose. It all strikes me as very disingenuous, but I’m sure to those who think the Gemmells are A Bad Thing, there is some sort of deeply important underlying issue at stake, well worth risking the ire of all those who work to make it happen, usually out of their own time and pocket.

Trouble is, three years in, I’m still trying to see what it is. None of you have convinced me that it is A Bad Thing. Flawed, yes, but that fantasy literature would be better off without it? No. What I do think I see, is meanness of spirit and the use of the Gemmells as a pawn in some rather larger and more important debates within the genre. So I challenge you, detractors, to convince me that you’re right, that these awards are, somehow, harmful to our genre, or indeed to anything at all.

No, wait, that’s not going to fly, because then all I’m going to hear are the same things I’ve already heard, and since those arguments haven’t convinced me yet, we’d all be wasting our time. So I’ll trot out the arguments I’ve already heard and tell you why I think they’re either plain wrong or simply irrelevant and disingenuous, and then you can come back to me with how I’ve misunderstood or somehow missed the point, or with some argument that I’ve never heard before. I’m easy to convince of almost anything, provided you can back it up with evidence and don’t talk in absolutes that are easily shown to be false by reductio ad absurdum.

The mission statement for the award is up on their website, as are the criteria for eligibility. “Traditional, Epic, Heroic or High Fantasy and/or in the spirit of David Gemmell.” If you want to argue that this isn’t the same as “rewarding excellence in the field [of the fantasy genre]”, that the scope of the award is too narrow, that by both their choice of scope and the way the winners are chosen by open public vote, the Gemmells reward mainstream commercial fantasy and neither encourage or reward diversity or novelty, go for it. I’ll not disagree. The scope is what it is. It’s narrow. My only question when you’re done will be so what?

So there’s no award for fantasy that doesn’t lie within the scope of the Gemmells. So? The world is full of awards and they all have their own scope, some of them broad, some of them narrow. Does that make them all wrong? Are awards fundamentally bad for having a scope and thus excluding some things from eligibility? Where is the right place to draw a line and say ‘this scope is broad enough and that is not’ and why is your opinion on where that line should be better than mine or those who administer the Gemmells? Criticize the DGLA for their choice of scope if you like – everyone’s entitled to an opinion. Maybe there should be an award for ‘fantasy that doesn’t fall within the scope of the Gemmells.’ Great. I agree. Within reason, I’ll even help.

Criticize the choice of winners if you like. Speech is free, and yes, it’s pretty obvious that if you can gather enough of your friends and fans around you to support you, you can skew the vote, it being a public and open one. So? I don’t hear much criticism of Polish or German or Icelandic or French or Black Library fans for voting for their first choice, and I don’t hear much noise de-crying the apathy of people who didn’t vote. Just the outcome. It’s not perfect. Fair enough. Neither are juries, for that matter (cue endless Booker-Prize-doesn’t-like-genre acrimony).

It is what it is. Criticize it for that by all means. Maybe it could be better. It’s certainly not without its flaws. Complain that it’s not as good as it could be. If the kind of book it seeks to applaud isn’t your cup of tea, you might see very little good in the award. If the money it has raised for charity [1] and the potential for a little social networking between fans and authors and editors[2] leaves you cold, you might see it as having no value whatsoever. A complete irrelevance. I could say that about plenty of things that exist in the world in which I have absolutely no interest whatsoever but which seem to make other people happy, and I’m sure you could too. If it does no harm, so what? Any genre fan who chooses to jump up and shout about something like that would benefit, I suggest, from a little more self-awareness. The world does not revolve around any one of us and what we like. It mostly stopped doing that when we were about five.

That’s if it does no harm. If that’s not true, well then shout and jump and make noises all you like and I’ll shout and jump with you, but so far, I haven’t seen a single convincing argument that says the DGLA is any way bad for anything or anyone.

First complaint: The DGLA encourages mediocrity. Tosh. The Gemmells may by default reward commercial mainstream fantasy of a certain type (and the “of a certain type” is defined by their eligibility criteria). Anyone is entitled to think that commercial mainstream fantasy is all mediocre (“middling or average in quality or performance; rather inferior” – Chambers). That’s a subjective opinion on ‘quality’ and almost by definition incorrect as far as performance goes. In the sum of all opinions, ‘mediocre’ and ‘mainstream’ doubtless overlap to some degree, but neither is a subset of the other. It only takes one person to consider one ‘mainstream’ fantasy book to be of excellent quality for the idea that mainstream = mediocre to be provably false. I don’t need to go very far to find such an example. The idea that the DGLA is somehow in any way responsible for dragging fantasy down towards mediocrity strikes me as ludicrous. How? How does such an award achieve this? Even if you accept the argument (and I don’t, and I cite The Name of the Wind and The Lies of Locke Lamora as counter-examples[3]) that publishers control what is successful, then take issue with that (and I’ll be keeping very quiet and listening very hard at that point). Publishers are fairly conservative and will tend to publish what they think will sell based on what has sold before (sad, but they’re businesses that have to make money to survive). Book-buyers are fairly conservative and will tend to buy what they liked before (sad, but that’s basic human nature). The desire for greater diversity in fantasy, in what fantasy is and what it can do, is laudable, but I don’t see the logical link that goes from that desire to the DGLA being in any way bad. Maybe it does nothing whatsoever to further that desire; well neither do any other literary awards. Neither do grass or trees. That doesn’t make them wrong or bad, it just makes them not relevant to that particular aim.

Note, in passing, that the winners, up until this year’s Way of Kings, were not the great commercial successes of the year in any country. In a way that’s by the by, but note it anyway.

The DGLA encourages mediocrity? Discourages any other kind of fantasy (presumably any kind outside its scope)? Those who think either of those things, I suggest have stepped off the reality train and been seduced onto a branch-line of some other agenda, because really, the Gemmells simply aren’t that significant. As an author, as someone who’s spoken to a lot of other authors, some successful, some still aspiring, the idea that any kind of award has any kind of influence on what we write seems ludicrous. The award that matters most is a contract. Maybe, just maybe, if the DGLA was an award for arthouse books far removed from the mainstream that would struggle to achieve viable sales figures, then you might have an argument to say that whatever its eligibility criteria were, they could influence what authors choose to write. But it isn’t. It rewards the kind of fantasy that already tends to be rewarded by success because it’s the kind of fantasy that sells; in that context, the DGLA and its selection criteria are irrelevant. Yes, a miniature axe and a pat on the back are nice, but besides selling enough copies to make an independent living, irrelevant.

The DGLA is an award for a certain kind of fantasy, and that’s a kind of fantasy that tends to sell well. If you don’t like that kind of fantasy, good for you. If you do, good for you too. I don’t see a shred of evidence to say it has any affect on what gets published and what doesn’t, what gets written and what doesn’t. I challenge its critics again: prove me wrong. Not with unsubstantiated opinions, but with concrete examples. Otherwise, to claim that the DGLA has some bearing on what the fantasy market looks like, that’s just like kicking a well-natured puppy because you don’t like what its master does for a living.


[1] In previous years. This year’s auction was to fund the award.

[2] Yes, I’m reaching a bit – but the potential is there.

[3] Very commercially successful debut novels that were certainly not pushed extremely hard on their first release. Pushed a bit, as many debuts are, but not like, say The Passage. And yes, publishers do control what is successful by what they choose to publish; still, they will follow trends in what people choose to buy. Maybe we’d all like them to be more adventurous, and they’d probably like it too, if someone could just show them how to do it without going bust.

Diamond Cascade: Irony Does x3 On A Critical, Right?

Posted in DC

So, anyway, if a hypothetical person happened to acquire an ancient crown that’s spent the last five hundred years sitting on the head of an ancient mummy that’s infested with mummy rot, would that hypothetical person maybe also acquire said mummy rot from picking up said crown. Turns out the answer is yes, he the hypothetical person would.

Not that I’d know any such hypothetical person. Or anything about any crown that, after all, vanished into a watery abyss never to be seen again, right. I’m a bard. Bards know these things.

Oh Shittyshittyfuckfuckbugger. How much was it for a Remove Curse spell again?


Poland. New Reviews. Stuff (14/6/2011)

Posted in News

The King of the Crags is to be published in Poland (probably) next year by Dwojka bez sternika, who recently published The Adamantine Palace. The Thief-Taker’s apprentice, meanwhile has been acquired by Proszynski, who also brought out (are bringing out?) Wolfsangel. I think it would amuse my thief-taker to be in the company of a werewolf. Possibly this is an excuse to visit Poland…

There have been some reviews recently.

The Adamantine Palace first: “…fast, furious and action packed…” Vilutheril

And finally, a couple for the Order of the Scales: “Great Stuff” Falcatta Times and “enthusiastic … brilliantly executed … heart-thumping dragon action” from LEC Book reviews.

For the handful of you following the adventures of Diamond Cascade, there will be a large hiatus shortly (we played the last session last week and left everything on a total cliff-hanger – which I guess is what you get when you put the fate of the world into the hands of a bunch of chaotic thieves and wizards, most of whom are carrying negative wisdom modifiers (and believe me, when it comes to party actions, those modifiers do stack).

I had a go at a couple of other projects to replace Diamond Cascade, but they were rubbish. In fact, everything I write at the moment appears to be rubbish, but that’s what rewrites and editors are for, so no worries – yet. There might be some cartoons instead. Which will also be rubbish since I can’t draw. But it’s my blog, so nyer!

Diamond Cascade: Onwards!

Posted in DC

Apparently one of the elf-wizards set fire to the mummy while it was trying to get back into its tomb and it burned and then fell into the water. Apparently the other one got whacked while trying to dash in and steal the crown off its head. Apparently we now need a remove curse spell. See – this is what you get – take the mummy down, then steal its crown, you don’t get mummy rot. Try and nick it’s stuff while everyone else is trying to battle it, you do get mummy rot. Also, turns out that all companions within 30′ have to make a fortitude save not to be helpless with laughter for 1d6+2 rounds.

In the aftermath, as everyone struggled to get back across the water-filled crevasse, no one shifted themselves into an aquatic elf to dive into the murky depths and go stealing the mummy’s crown. Nothing like that happened at all. No one even thought of it. And if they did, it wasn’t me, because I was back inside the tomb looking to see if I’d missed any loot the first time round.


The Last Dragon (6/6/2011)

Posted in News

I’ve been promising the result of the genre-for-japan auction and the short story that came out of it for a little while, so here it is: The Last Dragon

And now back to work :-!

Diamond Cascade: the Scooby Doo Episode

Posted in DC

Finally, Diamond Cascade did step alone within the cursed tomb to face the ancient undead Emperor of Mektropika and his cursed minions, riven by the wrath of Umberlee for their hubris and changed into hideous creatures scarcely discernible now as human. Swathed in dry and flaking bandages, embalmed in arcane unguents, the Emperor and his minions rose to defend the sorcerous bells that would release the Dragon Orb from its hidden place. Mighty was Diamond Cascade’s sword as he faced these vile abominations alone, fearful for the lives of his fragile comrades. Swift and deadly was his bow as he cut the emperor’s minions down; yet even he could not face the deadly monster alone. With every ounce of might, of sword and arrow and spell, Diamond Cascade and his companions fought, and did finally emerge victorious; and thus, the last emperor of this ancient realm finally fell.

Ish. So the tomb was split in two by a gaping chasm filled with water, and there were undead nasties pretty much all over the place, and none of that was much cause for concern for those of us who could fly and shoot arrows into the helpless slobbering morass of monsters below, maybe a little bit more for those who, ah, couldn’t. Let every record of this adventure state that I went ahead alone purely in the knowledge of the advantages at my disposal, and did not in any way shape or form relate to any desire to sneak into the Emperor’s tomb, swipe the magic bells needed to summon back the orb and sneak out again without being seen by either friend or foe…

Sadly, the tomb of the emperor itself was not as large and spacious as hoped for, and the highly successful tactic of fly out of reach and shoot stuff was replaced by the cling-precariously-to-the-ceiling-just-out-of-mummy’s-reach-and-wonder-what-to-do tactic. Still, with a bit of help from a flying, elf, it sort of worked, in that the Emperor’s Tomb had this weird pay-for-entry rotating door thing, and with the two of us flying and spider-climbing out of reach and with judicious use of some rope and a grappling hook lodged in its bandages, we managed to get it to the door and rotate the mummy out of his own tomb.

Possibly into the unsuspecting hands of my brave companions; but that is mere speculation, as I was too busy with the essential work of looting the tomb . . . ah, acquiring the necessary items for the summoning ritual we were to perform. They were all mostly still alive and the mummy was gone by the time I got out, so how bad could it have been?


The Last Dragon

Posted in Excerpts | Short Stories

The Genre for Japan appeal was launched in the Spring of 2011 to raise money for victims of the recent earthquake near Japan. Many people gave generously of their time, their creativity and their money. I offered up two days of my time, Many suggestions were made as to what could be done with it, and I honestly didn’t expect much interest. But there was, and an interest that far exceeded my expectations. This story is the result of that auction, written on request for the winning bidder, Michael Amouyal. Michael, I salute you.

Promotional Artwork for Alt.Fiction (2/6/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

Unstable Authors

Alt.Fiction: 25-26th June. Somewhere in Derby. Beware of deranged writers trying to surf large rocks through the sky.

Yes, yes, lazy I know – next week you can have a short story and some proper blogging.