Sticking with the cover reveal theme of the past few posts, today I’ve got one for something that hasn’t actually published yet, at least as a solo ebook.
“Natural Order” originally appeared in the 2014 anthology Legends and Lore from Xychler Publishing. Theoretically still available, I haven’t heard anything from the publisher since June 2018, and the publisher’s website hasn’t been updated in even longer, but I’m well outside the original agreement for exclusivity and this is a big enough story to stand on its own.
So, “Natural Order” gets to be its own ebook, and the next one I’m releasing, the final check of the manuscript files is slotted for Sunday. From there, it’s a couple of uploads, and voila!
For reference, it’s a 7200-word story, falling just a little short of novelette length, Contemporary Fantasy, and the cover may give away at least a piece of the myth I’m playing with.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
I don’t know that I’ve really spelled it out, but you may have noticed over the last few months that most of what I’m posting is book reviews and the occasional writing report. I’m trying to broaden things out again, but I thought I might explain something behind the book reviews, at least.
You see, I’m trying to read, or at least attempt to read, every novel-length winner of the major speculative fiction awards. Well, the Science Fiction and Fantasy ones, anyway.
Why, you may ask, and it’s a good question. Sometimes, with how tough a slog some of the books have been, and the DNF books involved, I wonder the same thing.
I suppose, fundamentally, I’m just trying to broaden my horizons. We all get into reading ruts now and then, consuming the same handful of authors and just doing re-reads of things we already like. As I get older (in my late 40s now), I’m less inclined to do re-reads, and some (many) of my favourite authors have left us so that I’ve had fewer opportunities for new works by that group.
That means I have to find new favourites. I thought that the award winners might be an interesting place to start. Many of the names you find in those lists have long careers and lots of work available. Plus, it will expose me to things I never would have thought of trying on my own.
Sure, I can randomly pick things to read that I think look interesting (and I still do a lot of that, with a decent success rate), but it’s not enough. It will never be enough. To borrow a quote from Lemony Snicket that I borrow too often, “It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read.” That pile needs to be bigger, although hopefully having it fall on me won’t be the cause of not finishing it.
But yes, the results are mixed.
The Hugos were first awarded in 1953, the Nebulas in 1966, the World Fantasy Awards in 1975, and the Auroras (Canadian Speculative Fiction awards) in 1985. I’m working my way forward from the first Hugo and I’m currently in 1983 (which means I haven’t read the first Aurora yet).
After 29 Hugo winners (including a tie one year), my average rating there is 3.21 on the Goodreads scale (which I like, but maybe needs a separate post). Seventeen Nebula winners in, we’re at 3.26, a slightly better proposition. At eight WFA winners, it’s 1.75, with exactly one book getting more than a 2.
At the same time, when I started this quest, I elected to attempt the previous year’s winners in each (the 2015 winners in 2016 for example). Those results have been a bit mixed, too.
But I’ve also found six authors whose works I have not sufficiently explored, and I expect to find more. (Alfred Bester, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin, Elizabeth Lynn, Vonda McIntyre, and David Mitchell, in case you’re wondering.)
When I catch up in another 4 or 5 years, I’m considering branching out the quest to cover all of the major English-language awards globally, which would take me to the BSFA (British), Aurealis (Australian), Sir Julius Vogel (New Zealand), and perhaps the Locus Awards (although there’s a lot of crossover with the other NA majors there). The first two of those have books on the list that I’ve previously loved.
I’m also giving serious consideration to voting rights for the Hugos next year so that I get easy access to all of the nominees.
If you want to see what I’m reading right now, click on over to my Currently Reading shelf on Goodreads. It’s likely to be eclectic and have half a dozen books on it.
Happy reading, and be well, everyone.by
by This was a hard review for me to write, and I put it off several times. Okay, more than several.
As a teenager, the Chronicles of Thomas Convenant ranked high on my list of favourite fantasy. I read both trilogies at least a dozen times between the last couple of years of grade school and the end of high school. I expected to love a return visit to the world and have the first book drag me into the second.
Expectations subverted, and not in a good way.
As an adult, the character of Thomas Covenant annoys the hell out of me. He’s pretty much as unlikeable as Mr. Donaldson could make him without him actively being the bad guy in the story. And I understand that was the idea, that this is, in part, a story of attempted redemption, or the first step in it, at least. It just doesn’t work for me anymore.
Covenant is a jerk, an obnoxious prick, an asshole. Yes, he’s gotten the proverbial red hot poker up the backside between a disease that can’t be cured (leprosy) and how he’s treated by the world, and especially his now ex-wife, after the diagnosis, and after a few months/years of misery is thrown into a bizarre fantasy world without any real warning he can understand. So yes, his life sucks pretty large so far, but I’m a firm believer that while you can’t choose what the universe throws at you, you can certainly choose how you react to it.
And he reacts badly.
I’m not saying I’d react better. Except I would. I think most people would. Practically everyone.
Starting with being a societal outcast and then being dragged from the real world into something that only makes sense as a dream or hallucination gives you a certain amount of leeway, but Covenant starts off by being rude to everyone he meets, giving himself the title of Unbeliever, not even attempting to understand his situation and, when he realizes (or seems to) that he’s been healed of his disease, responds by raping the girl (she’s a teenager, not an adult, which is a distinction that needs to be made, I think) who basically rescued him.
Yes, rape is the absolute correct word and I don’t know why I don’t remember understanding that when I was a teenager and loved this book. She found him in the wilderness, helped him down a dangerous path to her village, and convinced her parents to take him in. And so he rewards her.
Had I been reading a paper copy, I might have thrown it across the room the moment I understood what was going on. Fortunately for my long-suffering tablet, I have more self-control.
Covenant continues to be an obstinate jerk as his victim’s mother (at first not knowing what happened to her daughter) leads him on a journey of several weeks walking across The Land. After various misadventures, she abandons him to the character I remember loving most in this book and who still does well for me, the giant Saltheart Foamfollower. And Foamfollower isn’t enough to keep me going. None of the other characters are, even the ones I remember loving and cheering for as a teenager, because it all comes back to Thomas Covenant.
Covenant pends almost the entire book embedded in a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality, events, or his own feelings. Nothing around him is worth his real attention or understanding. When he occasionally loses control of his emotions and reacts, he’s always upset with himself and does everything he can to push people away before, during, and after. His actions seem calculated to cause maximum irritation in the people around him, as much because he doesn’t believe them to be real as because he doesn’t care about anything beyond himself.
Given his “real world” situation, stubborn self-centeredness is probably the only thing that keeps him alive long term, but by half way through the book, it’s old and the refusal of the character to grow or even open his eyes for more than a fraction of a second is, frankly, annoying.
But it continues for a lot of pages yet. It’s actually only near the end of the book that Covenant finally starts to actually care about the events around him, not that he really becomes much less of a passenger in the story, and that’s mostly accidental.
The good guys win, more or less, at least the ones who survive, and the bad guy is defeated. Well, not the big bad guy, but the bad guy being manipulated by the big bad guy. More of a marginally competent sidekick given too much power and magic so the big bad can laugh while he watches what happens.
Covenant, of course, wakes up in the real world, having not been run over by the car from the opening act, or at least not injured by it, and we flavour the last sequence just a little with the it-was-only-a-dream cliché even while knowing it wasn’t.
Overall rating: 2 stars. Meh. And that’s purely on the strength of the writing. With apologies to something that’s supposed to be a modern classic of the Fantasy genre, I actually wish I hadn’t picked this up again. I read the first two trilogies repeatedly as a teenager, loving them. I’m going to let the rest of the books live in my memory and give The Last Chronicles, written long after, a miss.by
by Yesterday, I wrote my first words of new fiction in about three and a half months. 261 of them. It felt so good, I wrote 270 more today.
Now, I have been doing some fiction work, but it’s all been editing, and mostly short stories. I’ve also been writing quite a bit of non-fiction, philosophy, family history, a few book reviews, and the occasional blog post like this one. But nothing like the pace I set for most of last year. In fact, last year, if I total things up, had almost 700,000 words in it and 450,000 of those were fiction.
This year has 117,000 so far, which puts me on pace to brush up against 300,000. Not exactly a good follow up, but probably still a pretty good year, overall.
I’ve got lots of reasons, and some excuses. Family, career, karate, volunteer work at the shelter, busy life. Too many ideas and the inability to settle on one of them. I’ve been trying to figure some things out about the mental and philosophical space I’ve moved into. I’ve been tired, burnt out, need to rest. I get bored easily. I joke about having adult onset ADD (which might be less of a joke than I think, but only in certain neural pathways).
The truth of the matter is, for whatever reason, I haven’t felt like it.
And I have that luxury at the moment, the luxury of letting the stories and characters bounce around my brain and flesh themselves out as long as my subconscious, and conscious, feels like working with them. I don’t have to put them down on paper, tablet, or computer.
After all, I still have all of those other stories I have written that need to find homes (note to self: get on that, will you?) and a couple of novels that might actually be worth reading to someone else (three out of eleven drafted, of course, only those three have been edited and polished).
Except I’ve been getting itchy again.
So I started a new story yesterday, one that’s almost certainly a novel-length story. And it’s scratching that itch, so I’m going to keep doing it.
Secondary world heroic fantasy with tastes of late 17th or early 18th century technology at the end of an ice age.
I’m not sure what kind of pace I’m going to work towards on this, but it doesn’t matter as long as I’m enjoying the story. Wish me luck.
Be well, everyone.by
by This book wasn’t on my original reading list to lightly survey the evolution of SF, but while browsing the free public domain Kindle books on Amazon, I got carried away downloading, picking up Connecticut Yankee and a number of others, adding this one and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World into the reading schedule. A couple of more almost made it into the mix, too, as well as some critical non-fiction by Einstein and Darwin that I’ve never read in their entirety. They’ve all made it into the TRQ (To Read Queue) for the future, a list that only ever seems to grow.
But that’s all beside the point. Putting aside vague recollections of the two different Disney adaptations and obvious inspiration for Army of Darkness, I dove into this one.
To find, once again, the story within a story motif.
A shorter introduction this time to get us into the real story, but again, I could have lived without it. I suppose, if it was good enough for Swift and Shelley, Mr. Twain is in good company.
The whole story does seem to rest on one thing: that the people of the early middle age (the early 6th century) in which the narrator finds himself were simpler, meaning stupider, than a modern man of the early 19th century (noting that the narrator was an old man in the framing story and is writing of his youth). This is something that probably would have been accepted as fact in Mr. Twain’s day, because clearly the human race had advanced and improved itself. Not quite such a given from the early 21st century. Not that we necessarily know any better about ancient and vanished cultures, but we have had an extra century and a quarter of discovery and analysis with ever-improving technology than the archaeologists and anthropologists of the late 19th century.
The attitude, however, is so strong in the narrator, at least after his initial brush with death, that he consistently comes across as arrogant, clearly knowing better about everything than the simpletons of the 6th century, including how pathetic and unsustainable their own society is.
Still, set this aside and I’d like to say you’ve got a fairly fun adventure through the ancient mythical realm of Camelot and its surroundings, as seen by an outsider.
The narrator does have the advantage of knowing something about the modern technology he comes from, or some parts of it anyway. Once he saves his life by the prediction of an eclipse, he sets about making some changes to Camelot and the world around him.
Big changes. World shaking changes.
Though I find it strange that the first thing you want in a new country is a patent office, then a school, then a newspaper, especially considering the likely number of people in Camelot, not to mention the freemen and serfs, who can read.
This starts to lead me in the direction of satire, and there’s plenty of social commentary not so hidden in the text. On the surface of things, the story often reads as a sneer at early medieval society (although a lot of what Mr. Twain uses is far closer to the late middle ages), but explores the roots of what might be seen as the current (in Mr. Twain’s day) system of taxation. Indeed, a lot of the taxes and tithes noted have direct parallels in income taxes, land taxes, transfer taxes, and so on. But at least the church isn’t guaranteed to just take a ten percent of everything you produce anymore.
There are plenty of other things to list, but I’ll just hit some highlights:
- The author’s dislike of monarchy is explicitly apparent through the narrator, and yet that narrator slides into the upper class with no difficulty, and enjoys himself while he’s at it, though he’s constantly working behind the scenes to destroy the aristocracy and everything that surrounds it.
- Along with hatred of taxes, there’s plenty of commentary on the nobility and monarchy, but you don’t see the narrator giving up his position and joining the lives of the so-called freemen. Well, you do, but it’s temporary and to educate King Arthur. He may even profess to be doing everything he can to improve the lot of the common man.
- The Roman Catholic Church is not high on the narrator’s list of liked institutions as he lays at its feet the divine right of kings, invention of the aristocracy, the letter of law being more important than its spirit, and how the common folk should just do as they’re told. Religion is necessary but a church is not. Especially not this church.
- The narrator observes, an interesting, almost offhand comment, that the French Revolution was a tiny and symbolic payback for a thousand years of oppression.
- Nationalism is better and far more reasonable and right than personal loyalty to a king or institution.
- Slavery, which in Mr. Twain’s mind is a far more recent thing than in the minds of those who might read the book today, is a far greater consideration. The narrator is wholeheartedly against it, and it crops up again and again throughout the book, not just in reference to actual slaves, but the freemen of the time who really weren’t.
Of course, as I read the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the narrator was screwing with history in every conceivable way to make life better for himself and to rearrange Camelot to suit his vision of how the world should work. Now, this is likely the tack that many people would take plopped in the same situation, once survival had been assured (handy thing, that made up eclipse early in the book, and the narrator’s convenient knowledge of gunpowder is pretty good, too). Patent offices, coinage, newspapers, training schools, gunpowder and other knowledge, even advertising.
This last is blatantly satirical, showing up on knight’s shields throughout the middle of the book with such things as “Use Peterson’s Prophylactic Tooth-Brush—All The Go.” People have been complaining about advertising for a long time, it seems.
The story relies heavily on what will eventually become known as Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. How else to take over a society singlehandedly?
But the arrogance of “Sir Boss” seems to continually ramp up through the story. You’d think that it peaks when showing off while travelling incognito with the king, in what is technically another small kingdom, gets the pair of them sold into slavery, but it doesn’t. This is a nice twist, but doesn’t do anything for the root cause of the problem: believing he’s smarter and knows better than everyone else because he’s from the future. Admittedly, King Arthur being an idiot helped.
When the rescue comes from slavery, it’s by knights on bicycles, knights which, a few pages later, he has no problems blasting out of the saddle with a pair of revolvers suddenly at hand. But the arrogance and know-it-all-ness of Sir Boss never disappears even when he is a slave, and once he’s back in his position as the king’s chief advisor in Camelot, it’s even worse.
The story picks up speed in the last few chapters, as if Mr. Twain realizes he’s already spent a great deal of text and is coming up against some kind of page limit. We jump three years in the future and have a very quick recap of what happened.
One man can remold society in his own image, at least if that man is from the modern world (19th century) and goes far enough into the past that he’s clearly smarter than everyone. In the three years after he gunned down a dozen knights, there are railways, telegraphs, telephones, photos for the newspapers, and an industrial revolution in progress, never mind that he had all kinds of secret schools, factories, and mines before that. There is also no such thing as slavery anymore, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and England is well on its way to becoming a republic. Of course, it’s not all good: the king also has a homeopath, tobacco has found a home, and so has baseball, and there seems to be a stock market, or at least you can buy a seat at the Round Table, the most important business location in the land.
Of course the greatest evil of that or any age, the Church, assisted by a convenient civil war, came along while he wasn’t looking and tore everything down Sir Boss had built, declaring him persona non grata while they were at it. And maybe the people weren’t all that re-educated after all.
Well, let’s declare the republic anyway, since the entire aristocracy appears to be dead. The narrator, along with fifty-three assistants and a great deal of late 19th century technology, destroys the remains of the knighthood, butchering 25,000 men in armour to stand the victors, conquerors of England.
To end the story, more or less, a disguised Merlin casts a spell to put Sir Boss asleep until his own time and the whole years-long adventure is swallowed by time and history.
We close out the book with a note supposedly from Mr. Twain, and it’s more or less the and-it-was-all-a-dream cliché, which perhaps may not have been such a cliché in the 1880s.
Close the cover.
Overall rating: 2 stars. Translation: it was okay, I guess. Disappointing, but okay. Well, easy to read, anyway.
The faulty history, compressing the entire middle ages into the sixth century, doesn’t offend me too much. I’m fine with artistic license, and telescoping things can serve to generate extra tension (see Macbeth, for example), and the cliché ending was tough to swallow even remembering when the book was written, but I have a single huge problem with the story.
Absolutely nothing is really a challenge for Sir Boss after the initial danger of execution (which basically came about by being in the wrong place at the wrong time). Nothing. The whole book was a long string of “I’m so clever” situations that only ended because he stopped to be nice to a dying knight after he’d virtually wiped out all of chivalry in England. He was never in any real danger, never had an opponent or met a character who was even a potential match for his incredible knowledge and intellect, and only ever had any issues when he stopped paying attention to the world around him. That didn’t happen very often because he was so much smarter than everyone in the 6th century. And he was more or less a jerk to everyone around him with only the occasional flash of real feeling for anything, and no remorse for the bad things he did in the name of progress.
Even an unsympathetic main character, and Sir Boss really qualifies for me, needs to have obstacles to overcome, and this one didn’t.by
by Coming soon to an internet accessible bookstore near you, The Dragon’s Hoard, an anthology of 27 stories and a poem that have two things in common, a dragon and a hoard. Other than that, all bets are off. Consider this a cover and table of contents reveal.
As is my custom, I’m reading the anthology, but I won’t review it. At the moment, I’m about half way through and I’m quite willing to say I’m enjoying the book. It’s an eclectic mix of fantasy, with a nice variety of settings and concepts. My own contribution to the volume, “Dragonomics”, originally appeared in audio form a couple of years back on Cast of Wonders, and I believe it’s still available there, but if you’re a fan of the written word, The Dragon’s Hoard is the way to go.
I’ll follow up with an actual release date as soon as I have it. What I’ve got right now is “soon”.
Be well, everyone.
- Musings of a Dragon – Joseph Macolino
- Dragon Treasure – P. Irene Radford
- Life with Smokey – John Lance
- Hoard – Deby Fredericks
- Hosting Happy Hoarders – Sheryl Normandeau
- Meltdown – Chris Barili
- When the Next Wind Blows… – H. Holt
- Mosaic – K.L.J Anderson
- The Problem with Princesses – Sarina Dorie
- Ugly Girl – Lyn McConchie
- The Young Dragon’s Hoard – V. Hartman DiSanto
- Feed the Dragons – Christina Morris
- Time of the Month – Carol Hightshoe
- Dragon’s Tooth – Alexis Glynn Latner
- Tiffin, Taxes and Dragons – Gregg Chamberlain
- A Different Kind of Dark – David J. Fielding
- The Naming of Cats – Rebecca McFarland Kyle
- The Dragon’s Clause – Kelly A. Harmon
- The H-Word – T. J. O’Hare
- Shreddy and the Dancing Dragon – Mary E. Lowd
- Here by Choice – Gerri Leen
- Dragonomics – Lance Schonberg
- The Price of Everything – Shenoa Carroll-Bradd
- Here be Dragons – Violet Addison and David N. Smith
- Smelling Gold – Matthew Harrison
- The Tortoise – Helen Greetham
- These Things Held Most Dear – Harding McFadden
- The Dragon at the End of Time – Kathleen Price
by In general, you should never completely trust the review of an anthology by one of its authors. You can’t know whether they actually liked it or not, regardless of what they write about it. Each author in the book is pretty much obligated to love it or, if nothing else, risk the anthology’s publisher never looking at their work again.
Whatever anyone might think, this is both reasonable and fair. If you can’t support something you’re part of, then you probably shouldn’t have been part of it in the first place.
And even if it sometimes takes me a while, I try to actually read all of the stories in every issue/book I’m lucky enough to be published in. Being familiar with the stories that surround mine gives me a nice feel for where I’m at as a writer, at least for the story at hand, as well as a snapshot of the state the subgenre the story might be part of.
But like I said, you should never completely trust an anthology review written by one of its author. In that light, I’m not going to review Legends and Lore, though I will be just egocentric enough to bold my story in the TOC.
Published in October of 2014 by Xychler Publishing, Legends and Lore was edited by Penny Freeman and Kristina Harris. It’s a Fantasy collection of mostly novelettes (two stories, including mine, fall just below the official 7,500 word threshold). They’re all more or less set in the current day, but borrowing bits of various mythologies for the storytelling. It’s a fun anthology, peeling back some layers on the modern world to things that could have been with just a little bit of magic.
- “The Brother Sister Fable” by Ayson Grauer
- “Charon’s Obol” by R. M. Ridley
- “Grail Days” by A. F. Stewart
- “Natural Order” by Lance Schonberg
- “Peradventure” by Sarah E. Seeley
- “Downward Mobility” by M. K. Wiseman
- “By Skyfall” by Emma Michaels
- “Faelad” by Sarah Hunter Hyatt
- “Two Spoons” by Danielle Shipley
I won’t put a rating on it, or draw your attention to the book beyond saying I enjoyed the volume, an eclectic variety of tales and myths and voices.
Be well, everyone.by
My current novel project is tentatively titled Draugr Rising.
For those not in the know (and if you haven’t done much reading in Norse mythology, why would you be?) a draugr (or draug or draugar) is the Viking version of a zombie or revenant. They’re usually tied to the grave they’re buried in, often guarding treasure, have superhuman strength, and occasionally eat the flesh of the living or drink their blood. Some of them are shape changers. A few of them even have a variety of magical abilities so that they rival sorcerers: curses, entering dreams, driving their victims mad, and other powers.
Fun, right? And with a slight Viking flavor to an urban fantasy story.
I actually started writing this story long hand during a vacation in 2013 but did it as a discovery story, not having any idea where it was going. That’s been fixed with a bit of character sketching and quite a bit of plotting. First draft of the story looks like it should come in at 60-62k, and may even be complete by the end of the year. I’m not quite maintaining NaNoWriMo writing pace to do it, and I picked up about 11,000 words from the beginning to start from (missing four chapters that I’m still hoping to find hard copies of in the pile of papers in my desk). As of right now, I still have about 28k of those words to write.
It’s a fairly straight forward tale: recently widowed and orphaned man discovers he’s the key to stopping an ancient, mystical foe when the Norse Gods recruit him through his dreams. The objective: save the world from the rise of an ancient necromancer and his zombies draugr while keeping his daughter safe.
Sometimes this draft is like pulling teeth from a conscious alligator and sometimes a whole chapter just falls together at once. It’s averaging out pretty well.
Bu I still desperately need to find editing time.
Be well, everyone.by
by Have I told you about Legends and Lore lately?
Aside from my having a story in it (“Natural Order”), it’s a great anthology.
Wait, that didn’t come out right. Let’s try again.
It’s a great anthology that happens to have a story of mine in it, “Natural Order”.
Nine fantastic tales inspired by a variety of mythologies and mythological beings, Legends and Lore takes reality as we know it and tweaks things a little, in nine different ways. This isn’t a review, so I’m not going to gush about any particular (or every!) story other than to see it’s a great read. There’s a lot of good storytelling in these pages.
We’ll call this announcement number two, but I think I’ve spoiled it long before now.
Legends and Lore is an anthology coming out from Xychler Publishing (or on Facebook) on October 22nd. If it isn’t obvious, I have a story in it. Here’s the particularly awesome cover:
Legends and Lore releases on October 22nd just in time for all that Halloween gift giving you’ve got in mind. No, it isn’t a horror anthology. Very much fantasy, and very much worth the read if you’re a fan of the genre.
My story, “Natural Order”, could, I suppose, be classed as Urban, Modern, or Legendary Fantasy, or all three, if you like. It clocks in at 7,247 words and misses being the shortest story in the book by 15. Yes, this is fantasy you can sink your teeth into. Depth, drama, danger, devotion, and other exciting words that start with other letters of the alphabet.
Table of Contents:
“The Brother-Sister Fable” by Alyson Grauer
“Faelad” by Sarah Hunter Hyatt
“By Skyfall” by Emma Michaels
“Charon’s Obol” by R. M. Ridley
“Peradventure” by Sarah E. Seeley
“Natural Order” by Lance Schonberg
“Two Spoons” by Danielle E. Shipley
“Grail Days” by A. F. Stewart
“Downward Mobility” by M. K. Wiseman
I won’t spoil any of them, even mine, but you’ll probably get some tidbits of each if you come to the release party on Facebook on October 22nd. Yup, the same day the book actually releases. I’ll post details on that as they’re released.
And be well, everyone.