T.N. Tobias

Friday Free for All for March 11th, 2011

Videos

A spectacular doodling exercise.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK5Z709J2eo[/youtube]

Jeff VanderMeer’s interpretive dance.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhCM3oskVb8[/youtube]

Books & Writing

Breaking the Rules of the narrative arc. @ Alan Rinzler

5 unforgettable story introductions. @ Write it Sideways

James Reasoner on freelancing. @ Booklife

On publisher’s price scales. @ The Shatzkin Files

Brave new whatever. @ Writer Unboxed

Novel building. @ Tor.com

An extract from Embassytown. @ PanMacmillan

An appreciation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. @ Tor.com

A radiant new love for literature. @ Recently on This Recording

Lies writers tell. @ Terribleminds

Around the Web

History of Science Fiction infographic.

Fantasy Magazine relaunches.

The superstition of creativity.


I Got Nothin’

The inevitable crush of existence is pressing in on me more urgently than at most times, meaning I have fewer extra cycles to commit to populating this space with interesting things for me to pretend people are reading. I have, however, had chance to realize that Oceansize slipped an album into their discography last year without my noticing. This egregious oversight has been corrected. Listen to the song “Oscar Acceptance Speech” below. You’re welcome.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzDNPVGVBXw[/youtube]

A Game of Thrones Read-Along: Chapters 4-7

Spoiler Alert: I am under the impression that I am the only person in the civilized world who has not read this book and therefore heavy spoilers follow. Proceed at your own risk.

So far we haven’t encountered what could be considered a major plot point. One would think that the Stark children adopting orphaned Direwolves may play a role down the line but it’s impossible to see yet how that will play out. We know the King is on his way to Winterfell and that Ned doesn’t have much time to prepare for his arrival.

Chapter 4: Eddard

The King arrives. Robert is pleased to see Ned, remarking on how little he’s changed over the years. Ned is unable to return the compliment to his friend as he’s grown fat and complacent. Robert immediately wishes to pay his respects to the fallen leaders of Winterfell, much to the Queen’s chagrin, and he and Ned descend into the crypt. We learn that Robert was once meant to marry Ned’s sister but she died in an awful way before the wedding could take place. Now Robert is wed to a lady of the House Lannister, a family to which Ned has no love lost. The two talk awkwardly in the crypt before Robert reveals the reason why he has come. With Jon Arryn, Robert wants Ned to replace him as the Hand of the King. Ned doesn’t tell his friend but he has no desire to serve in this capacity.

Some of the first real plot motivation seems to be coming out in this chapter. Besides getting some insight into Ned and Robert’s shared past, we get a sense of who is who in the world, which alliances are strong and which are tenuous.

Chapter 5: Jon

Jon sits away from the rest of his family for the royal reception. His status as a bastard keeps him from enjoying the status of his brothers and sisters, a fact he admits has its ups and downs. On the one hand, he is able to drink himself silly with the rabble at the back of the room. On the other, he isn’t able to interface with the royal family and they actively shun him. His uncle Ben treats him well, however, and approaches the lad while Jon is feeding his direwolf, Ghost, some table scraps. They talk about the Night Guard and Jon’s wish to join that order. Ben will hear nothing of it, though, as Jon is not yet of age and the Night Guard is almost a monk-like profession, swearing off pleasures of the flesh. Eventually, Ben says something foolish and Jon flees the hall and encounters Tyrion Lannister outside. Tyrion is a dwarf and, while accepted as a true born son of the house, he is marginalized in much the same way Jon is. The two talk, Tyrion advising Jon to make the most of his supposed weakness and make it his strength.

To this point, Jon is my favorite of the characters. He strives to keep his honor intact despite his circumstances and is keen and clever by measures. I’m curious to see how this relationship with Tyrion develops as the two could be interesting allies.

Chapter 6: Catelyn

Sometime after the feast, Catelyn and Robert retire to her bedchambers. The chapter begins with Ned rolling off of her after what is described as “urgent” lovemaking. Ned is considering turning down the King’s offer and Catelyn is not sure that is the best idea. She pleads with him not to burn bridges for the sake of his children. A knock at the door provides and unwanted inturruption. Maester Luwin has an urgent and secret message for Catelyn’s eyes only. It turns out to be from her sister, widow of Jon Arryn, with new that Jon was murdered rather than dying from sickness. Not only that, but she names the Queen as the source of the assassination. As a result, the couple plan for Ned’s departure, taking up the post of Hand of the King. The children will be split up, Bran and the girls going with Ned, the eldest girl, Sansa,  to be betrothed to the crown prince. Catelyn will stay behind to rule Winterfell. Here we learn some more about Jon’s lineage. Apparently he was concieved while Ned was campaigning for the throne along with Robert. Who Jon’s mother might be is a secret only Ned knows and he guards it solemnly. Catelyn, however, is not a loving step mother and while it wouldn’t be possible for Jon to go with Ned, she doesn’t want him to remain at Winterfell either. It is resolved that he will go in care of his uncle to join the Night Guard.

This is the first clumsy chapter in the novel. There is more than a hint of misogyny, though it may just be a side affect of the historical worldbuilding Martin is trying to achieve. The revelation that Jon was murdered and the identification of the culprit is dealt with matter of factly, no emotion from Ned or his wife as to this other than to force their hand into accepting the King’s offer.

Chapter 7: Arya

Young Arya is a girl in the shadow of her slightly older sister. Whereas Sansa is skilled in the “womanly arts,” Arya is said to have the “hands of a blacksmith,” the admonishment from Septa Mordane. She is practicing needlework with her sister and the Princess Myrcella and doing poorly. The septa makes a point of denigrating her work before Arya storms out, leaving behind a few choice words for her teacher. She instead seeks out the boys who are practicing fencing outside. She finds her direwolf, Nymeria, and then Jon who is watching the practice as well. We find the crown Prince Joffrey acting out against the more rugged Stark boys, calling them out with derision for not using live steels. The master at arms will not allow the young men to engage so violently and eventually the gang breaks up. Upon returning to her rooms, she find both Septa Mordane and her mother waiting for her.

We get a glimpse into the life of yet another Stark child. Arya seems destined for warfare more than needlepoint and I hope Martin continues to develop her in this way.

Friday Free for All for February 25th, 2011

Videos

Understanding time dilation.
[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/19768968[/vimeo]

Excellent documentary on the atom.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80dS-xZ5-MQ[/youtube]

Books & Writing

6 reasons you will never be a writer. @ Story A Day

A million dollar novel with a silly premise. @ Io9

10 resources for writing short stories. @ Write it Sideways

On outlining and worldbuilding. @ SF Novelists

Coping with rejection. @ Fuel Your Writing

Writing multiple storylines. @ Advanced Fiction Writing Blog

Writing everyday vs. binge writing. @ The Creative Penn

Monstrous Creatures translation fund drive. @ Ecstatic Days

Ian McEwan has cojones. @ Mark Charan Newton

Around the Web

I’m offended != It’s offensive.

The navigational “magic” of sea turtles.

The end of dark matter?

A Drink at the Edge

This story was written in response to Chuck Wendig’s Shackleton’s Scotch challenge. Though in my research, I couldn’t find any record of Shackleton actually carrying scotch so I’ve changed it to brandy.

"Pendleton’s fucking dead," Remer said to no one in particular. The radio stopped working an hour before, whether from the cold or just the batteries gone dead, he didn’t know. He stomped over land, through shards of ice sometimes as high as his waist. The sounds of them scattering everywhere in his wake made him think of a silent cocktail party, glasses clinking in a muted room.

The hut was up ahead. He known it would be there. It been there for a hundred years or more. The last outpost of a perilous journey. But back then, everyone had got out alive. As far as Remer knew, he was the only one left. With the amount of blood he’d seen on the ice, steaming and pooling and soaking into the porous ground, he was sure everyone else was dead.

He slid most of the way down an embankment, leading to the invisible shore. The sea was encrusted with as much ice as the land and a hint of darkness on the horizon was the only indication that it was even there. He finally reached the hut but it didn’t offer much shelter. The beating winds came in flurries, whipping through decrepit boards and blowing century old canvas till it beat against the air like a waving flag. Remer hunched down and inspected his dwindling supplies.

Pendleton had not outfitted the expedition with any kind of defensive weaponry. Unlike the arctic, they’d thought there were no apex predators prowling the antarctic plain. No governments at war like they’d found in the Karakorams when they led the first winter expedition up K2. Then they’d come prepared with hand guns, rifles, flares. Here it just would’ve been dead weight for someone to carry around. Remer grunted a bitter laugh at this miscalculation.

The hut did offer a good vantage over land. If they’d followed him off the trail, he’d be able to see them coming. Downwind from the ridge, he should even be able to smell them coming. He concentrated on find some way to weaponize the various ropes and buckles he had at his disposal. He risked building a small fire in the old stove to keep his aching joints spry. He warmed himself slowly on the shore in Shackleton’s hut, waiting for rescue or death.

***

Night was short, thankfully, at the edge of the antarctic continent in the summer. The sun performed its looping wave, dipped just beyond the horizon before popping up again. The hut cast a long shadow to the west and Remer sat inside it watching. By this point he’d exhausted any usefulness left in his own supplies and started pillaging the cast away booty from Shackleton’s settlement. He found cracked tins full of pickled meats that had become rock hard jerky in the preceding century along with the fermented remains of fruits and vegetables. Under the pile of foodstuffs he came across a pair of spiked ski boots. The leather had wilted but he was able to strap the metal soles across his fist to create a makeshift weapon.

Remer wasn’t sure how long he’d been holed up when he started to think thristy thoughts. He brought in pans full of ice to melt over the little flame but the water had a salty mineral taste, like frozen piss. He ventured warily out to the ice shelves on the higher ridges and came back with the same lot, undrinkable. The flask in his pack was worth nary a swallow. The ultra-dry air sapped the moisture from his mouth and left his tongue swollen. He made an effort to keep his mouth firmly shut and tried to nap on one of the old cots.

***

Sounds from the distance broke the silence and roused Remer from his uneasy rest. Hooting calls from over the ridge. And then from up the shore. And then coming down from the mountain base. Remer searched the skyline for the ragged hairy shapes he’d only caught glimpses of as he fled the camp but nothing moved. The ocean was still as well, no miraculous ships appearing out of the calm. No ice breakers storming up the shore to rescue him. He turned to the radio once more, fidgeting with the controls with his clumsy gloved hands. No lights, no squawks, dead.

The noises ceased after a while but the silence that replaced them felt even more uneasy. Remer strapped on his spiked knuckles and sat facing the continent warped by thirst and fear. He chased spots in his vision, startled by their movement in his peripheral vision. Night fell again.

***

The calls from over the ridge came again in the dawn, closer together now and closer to the hut as well. Remer sat slumped on an crate wrapped in old wool blankets. His eyes had sunk deep into his skull and shrunk to slits against the daylight, ice tipped eyelashes obscuring his vision. The din from the creatures beyond seemed more distant to him now, even though they came from just beyond his line of site. He rose on wobbling legs back and considered the crate underneath him. A glint of glass shone from a hole punched through the side by bulging ice.

Remer punched at the side of the crate weakly, then tugged until they came free to reveal several bottles labeled Cabinet Brandy. He dropped his would be weapons to the ground and plucked out a bottle. Alcohol, he knew, would exacerbate his dehydration issue but the problem seemed remote, frivolous. He tried to coordinate his hands to open the corked bottle but gave up and shattered it’s neck against the beam in the entryway. Honey brown liquid spilled out onto the ice.

There were thumping sounds now from over the ridge. Remer could here hot breath descending, closing in on the hut. He raised the broken bottle to his mouth and took a mouthful.  He shut his eyes and felt the warmth in his chest, in his lungs. He could hear the breath at his back now. One more drink out here on the edge, and it would be over.

10 Literary Books for Genre Readers

Over at SF Signal, I’ve posted a list of literary books for genre readers. I think it’s always a good thing when writers and readers reach outside of their comfort zones and take on challenging works in other genres but there always seems to be a rub between the SF/F and literary establishments. As genre readers, we can put the argument to bed by branching out and these ten books are a great way to start.

10 Literary Books for Genre Readers

Over at SF Signal, I’ve posted a list of literary books for genre readers. I think it’s always a good thing when writers and readers reach outside of their comfort zones and take on challenging works in other genres but there always seems to be a rub between the SF/F and literary establishments. As genre readers, we can put the argument to bed by branching out and these ten books are a great way to start.

Friday Free for All for February 18th, 2011

Videos

How to talk to your kids about Star Wars.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCjMGOvMghY[/youtube]

Minecraft. It’s in your head.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3Ci09GwAmg[/youtube]

Books & Writing

J.K. Rowling’s secret to mainstream fantasy. @ Io9

The writer’s survival guide. @ Terribleminds

V.S. Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain. @ NPR

The mechanics of writing a novel. @ Janet Reid

Ubik the movie? @ Io9

You can’t actually “sell” an ebook. @ The Shatzkin Files

Beating the feast-or-famine cycle. @ Write to Done

Dear Superior Person, Finding a critique partner. @ The Rejectionist

What’s the deal with book trailers? @ Steve Laube

Around the Web

Watson crashes while playing Jeopardy.

Water is weird.

Building a space elevator.

Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One)
The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One)
Joe Abercrombie; Pyr 2007

To anyone uninitiated to the new brand of bloody fantasy typified by Joe Abercrombie, The Blade Itself will be either a breath of fresh air or a horrifying blasphemy.

Far from the high fantasy of old, Abercrombie’s down and dirty sword and sorcery brings a bit of the panache of recent trends in movies and comics. Needless to say, if you are squeamish or averse to bad language, read no further, this is not the book for you.

The story begins with Logen Ninefingers barrelling through the forest fleeing  the Shanka, Abercrombie’s orc stand-in. He’s been separated from his companions and now must face them alone. The action is heavy, Abercrombie directing it and adding an internal monologue that gives us some background on the character as we go. It’s a useful trick that supersedes the dialogue infodumps that typically clog the openings of fantasy novels.

Next we meet Sand dan Glokta, Inquisitor for the, erm, Inquisition, the law enforcement outfit in the city of Adua, as he harshly interrogates a member of the Mercer clan for failing to pay the king’s taxes. Glokta himself was a victim of torture that has left his leg shattered and his teeth useless. He takes perverse pleasure in mirroring that pain back into his subjects, speaking to them a length and with great eloquence about the pain they are about to receive.

Jezal den Luthar is a young nobleman whose ambitions don’t lay far from the card table. Yet his father has press-ganged him into competing for glory in a fencing tournament, a path to eventual greatness in its previous winners. He is beset by the Lord Marshall Varuz who imposes sanctions against his drinking and gambling and enforces a brutal training schedule.

The Blade Itself presents a world of minimal magical influence. When eventually Logen is joined by Bayaz, first of the Magi, he is not convinced of the man’s abilities. Indeed, as they make their way to Adua, many are surprised or dubious of Bayaz’s identity, believing him to be a fraud, preying on those who believe in legends.

As a novel, The Blade Itself is competent but woefully incomplete. Many of the primary plot-lines are only just blooming when the end is reached. And then the end is so abrupt that it seems there was little thought put into making this volume stand on its own at all.

Nevertheless, what is here is compelling. The politics and romance and threats of the world at war seem to be mounting with equal intensity. The characters, while not sympathetic in the least, are interesting and varied. One gets the impression that the cast will grow substantially as the principles move out into the world and encounter forces that are only teased at in this first book of the trilogy.

For those interested in the emerging talents in fantasy, The Blade Itself is a worthwhile time investment. And most of the frustration of the stunted storyline is blunted by the fact that all three volumes of The First Law trilogy are already available. Recommended.

A Game of Thrones Read-Along: Chapters 1-3

Spoiler Alert: I am under the impression that I am the only person in the civilized world who has not read this book and therefore heavy spoilers follow. Proceed at your own risk.

Chapter 1: Bran

Bran is the seven-year-old son of Lord Eddard Stark and we meet him as he rides out on his pony to watch a man be beheaded. It seems this is the way of things at Winterfell, two older brothers, Robb and Jon Snow, know the score and urge young Bran to keep his eyes forward as the deed is done. Jon is a bastard child, we’re told, but he is not shy. There is a brashness to him that comes out in his dialogue. The condemned man is said to be sworn to the King Beyond the Wall, a wildling from the wild north, but Lord Stark makes it clear why he’s to be executed. He’s deserted the Night Guard and is now a desperate man, capable of any crime.

On their way back to the castle, Robb happens upon the body of a direwolf, dead in the snow. We discover there has been no sighting of such a creature south of the wall in centuries. To complicate matters, there are several pups about, eyes still matted shut and sure to die in the wilderness. Jon speaks up to save the creatures and each Stark child takes on for their own.

Chapter 2: Catelyn

Catelyn is wife to Lord Stark and we meet her as she seeks him out in the godswood. We are told that the godswoods of the south have been cleared but this one, complete with a heart tree, face carved in it’s trunk by the children of the forest. She finds him alone, as he always is after taking a life, and delivers terrible news; Jon Arryn is dead. We learn that Ned and Jon have a complicated past, Jon acting as his mentor then brother as they wed the daughters of Lord Hoster Tully. Futhermore, we learn that the king is riding to Winterfell to seek him out. Lord Stark takes this as happy news as his relationship to King Robert is a good one and they make their way back in order to plan a feast to honor him.

Chapter 3: Daenerys

Dany and Viserys are the heirs to an overthrown crown, living in exile with Magister Illyrio. They are penniless and have nothing but their names to save them from obscurity. Illyrio has put them up (for his own purposes, it would seem) in order to help Viserys to recapture his throne from the Usurpers. Dany is a thirteen year old girl and she pines for the days of the house with the red door and the lemon tree that grew outside the window of her own room. She doesn’t share her brother’s ambition but she doesn’t dare “wake the dragon,” Viserys’ way of describing his hot temper.

Dany is to be married off to Khal Drogo, a rich and powerful man whom Illyrio and Viserys hope can lend support to their ambitions. Dany is fearful, telling her brother “Please, please, Viserys, I don’t want to, I want to go home.” Viserys cold reply gives us a clue to his character; ““We go home with an army, sweet sister. With Khal Drogo’s army, that is how we go home. And if you must wed him and bed him for that, you will. I’d let his whole khalasar fuck you if need be, sweet sister, all forty thousand men, and their horses too if that was what it took to get my army.”