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Reviews of “Dune”

I guess I might see this, although I didn’t know the movie existed until poof! suddenly I’m seeing reviews here and there. Oh, I see it came out last Friday. Well, yes, I am almost completely disconnected from social media this year.

Anyway! Sounds good, but I would really rather watch it after the second half is made.

Although apparently there’s some question about whether the second half will get made? Depending on how the first half does at the box office? So maybe I should go see the first half now. I can always read the book again after seeing the movie, to help with the Aargh, where’s the other half? feeling.

Here’s the review that makes me want to go watch the movie. This is Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. His review particularly focuses on worldbuilding.

There can be a habit in some movies or books to tell some of the background worldbuilding in a display of grand exposition — a voiceover, an encyclopedic chapter, a speech by a character Haughtily Explaining Things In A History Lesson. The story becomes a temporarily mouthpiece for Exposition Delivery. Now, the writing advice of Show Don’t Tell is well-meaning but not universally applicable, because sometimes it’s far more direct and empathetic to the audience to just tell them a thing rather than go through the shadow puppet play in order to demonstrate it. Just the same, it can also be true that Capital-T Telling can become very boring, very quickly. Nobody wants a story to be a lecture, even if that lecture is just trying to teach a class about its own history, culture, science, food, religion, what-have-you. This is especially true in film, where you need to be particularly judicious with your time. A minute of movie can be $100k or more in cost.

In Dune, Villeneuve is glad mostly to expect that the characters of this world know what’s happening, and to just move through it, and past it….

Yes, I personally detested the voiceover history lesson at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings.

When context clues aren’t enough, the worldbuilding is delivered in merciless, in-narrative experiences. When it’s time to know what a Stillsuit is, the narrative is allowed do double-duty in the story — it’s about the suit being fitted to the Duke and to Paul, and in that we get a host of vital narrative bits: we meet Liet Kynes; we see how fiercely protective Gurney is over Leto; we see that Paul is able to intuit things about Fremen life and culture, and also that Kynes recognizes it and is aware of the prophecy. It’s a lot of juiciness while simultaneously telling us what a Stillsuit is. Later, we learn of a “sand compactor,” and Villeneuve doesn’t stop to explain it — he’s just like, “Fuck you, it is what is says it is, and you’ll see it later, it’s fine.” Then he just ushers you past it.

This sounds like a really well-done movie! Or very well done in this respect, anyway.

Have any of you seen it? What did you think?

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Talent

A post from Ilona Andrews’ blog.

Talent, what is it, why is it, how much does it matter in writing?

Short answer: I don’t know.

Longer answer: I think talent exists. The exact definition of it is harder to nail down.

Yep, that sounds about right. They go on, later in the post:

Some of us naturally read a little more actively than the others. We note how the words are put together. We instinctively identify natural sounding dialogue and then remember it. We tend to think more about what the characters experience. We think about our feelings, we think about other people’s feelings, we construct elaborate scenarios in our heads where we triumph over everyday evil that wronged us and so on. We collect witty comebacks. This is talent. …

Can someone without this vague talent write a good book? Absolutely. They will just have to work harder and it will take longer.

I think all this is correct. At least, I think it matches my experience. I think I have always, or as good as always, noticed how words are put together and paused over particularly beautiful sentences. I think I have always, or as good as always, thought about the experience of characters and written (in my head) additional scenes for characters. I have no idea what other grade-school students do in boring classes. That stuff about constructing elaborate scenarios is dead on for what I did in boring classes for many years before I ever actually wrote anything.

All of that constitutes practice. If you’ve done that kind of practice for many years before you ever write anything down, then yeah, I expect the first thing you write down is likely to be pretty good in at least some ways. Then people will call that talent. It makes sense that someone who doesn’t do that kind of practice for years and years as a kid will probably have to do more on-paper practice when she starts writing stuff down.

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Enemies to Lovers

From Book Riot — 20 OF THE BEST ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS FANTASY BOOKS

My first reaction: well, there’s a common trope. Nothing could be more clichéd.

Of course, tropes only become clichés if they’re compelling in the hands of a skilled author. I’m bored by this trope if it’s too blatant. There are many times when I roll my eyes and think, Oh, here’s the eventual love interest, and kind of wish that really, they’d just stay enemies, just to be different.

On the other hand, I often like an enemies-to-lovers plot, as long as the author handles it with a certain degree of subtlety or twists it a bit sideways or something. Let me see …

Ilona Andrews made me enjoy the enemies-to-lovers trope with their Hidden Legacy series. Come to think of it, they also did it with their Hugh d’Ambray novel Iron and Magic. The enemies portion of the plot is rather reduced in both these cases, which I generally prefer.

Sharon Shinn has certainly used the antagonists-to-lovers plot several times, and very nicely too. I’m not sure she’s ever started out with her lovers actually enemies. Opposed isn’t the same as enemies.

Sherwood Smith did this in Crown Duel/Court Duel, but in that case, I had some trouble because Meliara was so obviously and egregiously wrong about Shevraeth, it was just painful.

Naomi Novik also used this trope in Uprooted, though there it was definitely twisted a bit sideways. Enemies isn’t really the correct term for the initial relationship, where neither of them thought of the other as an actual person.

Hmm, come to think of it, I’ve used this trope myself, in The Mountain of Kept Memory. I certainly enjoyed writing the scenes that involved Oressa and Gajdosik. I’m smiling right now, thinking of some of my favorite scenes.

Anyway, sure, let’s take a look at the Book Riot post …

I haven’t read most of these. None of the ones I thought of are on this list.

But here’s a good one:

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell Cover

I re-read Carry On just a little while ago, in fact. I do like Fangirl much better, so I re-read that first, and then re-read Carry On in order to decide whether to go on with the trilogy. You knew there were two more books out, right? I only realized that relatively recently. Here’s a snippet of description about the second book:

That’s how Simon and Penny and Baz end up in a vintage convertible, tearing across the American West. They find trouble, of course. (Dragons, vampires, skunk-headed things with shotguns.) And they get lost. They get so lost, they start to wonder whether they ever knew where they were headed in the first place...

I still haven’t decided. I liked Carry On okay, but I like Rowell’s contemporary YA much better. Maybe I’ll read Eleanor and Park instead. I might even have that on my Kindle already.

It’s certainly a fine example of enemies-to-lovers, though.

If we step away from fantasy, I can think of some other fine examples.

I mean, it’s hard to beat Cordelia and Aral. I’m not sure there’s any enemies-to-lovers story I like better than this one!

If you’ve got a favorite example of enemies-to-lovers in fantasy or SF, by all means drop it in the comments!

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Best Historicals

From Book Riot: 15 OF THE BEST HISTORICAL FICTION SERIES

I love historicals! Not necessarily series as such, but the genre in general. I also have strong opinions about which historicals deserve to be on this list. I really can’t guess whether this Book Riot post is going to include the works or the authors I have in mind. Before I look, here are my picks:

  1. Hild by Nicola Griffith. I know, not finished! I realize that! Even so, unfinished as it is, this is the single work I’d put in the top spot. Griffith did an absolutely marvelous job with this book. She’s such a splendid stylist, and she’s wonderful with description and with bringing an era to life. I’m hoping we’ll see the sequel late next year, or if not that, then sometime in 2023.
  2. The Lymond chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. I don’t think this series is flawless. I do think it’s a masterpiece. I have read it three or four or five times. Her other main series, the Niccolo series, I’ve only read once. It’s also good, but several things about it appeal to me less.
  3. Gillian Bradshaw. I’m putting the author on this list rather than a specific work because so many of her books are fantastic. I’m linking a post where I roughly sort out her titles into Best – Great – Perhaps Not as Good categories.
  4. Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. I haven’t read her other historicals, except the (also amazing) series that starts with an unusual twist on the Arthurian legend and then goes off in its own direction.
  5. Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, though those are historical mysteries rather than historicals straight up. But this is my favorite historical mystery series, and that’s because of the historical setting, not because of the mysteries. Hambly does an amazing job with historical settings. I’m definitely including this series here.

As a significant bonus of writing this post, I see there are two more Benjamin January books out. That’s great! I’m picking them both up now.

That’s my top five. Let’s see if any of them appear on this Book Riot post. … Nope. Well, I’m turning my nose up at their inferior list, that’s for sure. How you can write a list like this and not include Dorothy Dunnett … phooey.

Hmm. Looks like the author of this post is emphasizing historical romances. Well, I like a good many historical romances, but that is not what I had in mind myself. Though all or nearly all of Bradshaw’s books do have a central romance, they are historicals with romance, not historical romances.

I’ve tried some of these … Outlander … I couldn’t get into it. Oh, Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series; I did like those a lot. But fundamentally, I think historical romances should be a separate post from historicals. In fact, honestly, I’d break the category up like this:

–Historicals

–Historical mysteries

–Historical romances

–Historical fantasy

–Classics that are also now historicals — I’m thinking of The Count of Monte Cristo, which was written at pretty much the time it was set, but now reads like a historical novel.

–Great biographies, and here I’m thinking of the ones that read more like fiction, not the ones that read like history textbooks.

Any other categories? Those are the ones that leap to mind for me. It’d be perfectly reasonable to address them all separately. There’s lots and lots (and lots) of room in each category.

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Somebody kindly invent magic cloning at once

I have too much to do. Right now I’m feeling pulled in a lot of different directions, and the minute I finish the current project, that will get far worse. I would greatly appreciate a couple of magically-generated clones to help out.

What I’m actually working on right now:

I’m writing Grayson’s story for the Black Dog collection. I think I may have figured out how to make this story work better — by shoving some of the stuff I was putting into the story into backstory instead. In other words, by telling, not showing. If Grayson can explain that stuff to someone else in a paragraph or two, I don’t have to write thirty pages showing it all happening.

Hopefully this will work. I just started revising the forty pages I have with this in mind. This should let me cut most of that and get to the part of the story that’s the real story MUCH faster, with a lot less distraction. I think. The backstory part may then contribute complications to the real story. That might be okay, or even helpful.

What I’m not working on right now:

Tasmakat, which is going to be pulling at me until I actually write it.

— A story or novella from Tano’s pov, which takes place directly after the end of Tarashana.

— A story or novella from the pov of the neat character I cut from Tasmakat, and thank you, Kim, for the suggestion. I now have the basic outline plus the conclusion of that story in mind, so I could write it and might well do so. It couldn’t be published before Tasmakat, as it intrinsically contains spoilers for that book.

— The mostly completed SF novel that is still, sigh, sitting right here, now with notes about the Real Ending That Will Work (Probably). I want very much to get back to that and finish it up.

— The fifth and probably final Black Dog novel, Silver Circle. I have only a few notes on paper, but I’ve been developing ideas about this book for some time, which is why the stories in the upcoming collection mostly include setup for the novel. Lots of dangling threads in those stories. Not with regard to the arc of each story, of course, but still, obvious threads that lead forward to the novel.

— The complicated fantasy in the baroque world, which is still barely started. It’s about eighty pages from three different pov and who knows where it might go. I won’t find out until I have a chance to actually work on it. Heaven knows when that will be. I would consider pursuing traditional publication for this one, but honestly, I’m starting to think I won’t seriously move ahead with it until the year after next. We’ll see.

It’s hard to decide what to prioritize, which is why I would appreciate a couple of magical clones.

I wrote Keraunani this summer to get out of a writing slump. If I have to get out of another writing slump, it’s an easy bet that I’ll use something in the Tuyo world to do that, regardless of what might objectively seem a more sensible project.

But that mostly finished SF novel, my goodness, that is driving me mad.

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Fantasy Novels That Sweep You Into a Strange World

Here’s a website, Beta Shepherd, that declares its goal is to “create an experience that is like wandering around your favorite bookstore.” Certainly a laudable goal! I do miss the bookstore experience, which nearly disappeared for me when I moved an hour and a half from any regular bookstore.

They asked me to write a post for them. I did, and here it is: The Best Fantasy Novels that Sweep You Into a Very Strange World.

I was trying to think of worlds that, like Tuyo, aren’t set on planets with normal geology and so on. It was tricky to come up with five.

If you poke around on the site, you’ll see some amazingly specific lists: The best books about 1939 Hollywood, for example. I wonder what was special about 1939 in Hollywood. I guess something must have been. Here’s one I’m much more likely to click into: The best young adult fairytale retellings. A lot more nonfiction categories than fiction, it looks like, so far; but on the other hand there are A LOT of categories. Tons. Scroll way down to F and you’ll find various fantasy categories, like The best fantasy books you’ve never heard of — there’s a perennially useful topic for blog posts.

Anyway, lots here. Let me see. Suspense Novels with Emotionally Intelligent Characters. Thucydides. Women in War. Zeppelins. Really, this is an entertainingly cluttered site. It’s definitely well worth clicking through and poking around.

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How Martha Wells came to write Murderbot

Here’s something I fortuitously saw on Twitter: Introduction to the Subterranean edition of The Murderbot Diaries

This particularly caught my eye because I was just wondering whether Murderbot was inspired at all by Breq in Ancillary Justice. Not that authors necessarily know what all got stirred together in their subconscious and resulted in a new writing project of their own, but let’s see what Martha had in mind when she first developed this character and world …

One of the questions I get asked a lot is what inspired the character. I think people want/expect there to be a crystal clear single moment where something tangible and identifiable sparked the idea. But there really wasn’t; or if there was, I don’t remember it. What I remember is a whole lot of things, all coming together at once.

It started when I was working on the ending of The Harbors of the Sun, the last novel in the Books of the Raksura series. It was the conclusion of the series, and I was sweating over it. This was the series that, with great difficulty and many setbacks, dragged my career back from the dead, and I loved it and wanted to do the finale justice.

I was having something like a creative surge, with ideas for new books, fanfiction, redecorating my house, digging up my backyard, all kinds of things. (My brain is what we call non-neurotypical and sometimes it goes very fast.) One day, somewhere in there, the plot idea popped up for an enslaved security person who had destroyed their governor module but would have to reveal that to save an innocent group of scientists. I had an image of a scene which turned into the moment in All Systems Red where Mensah knocks on the wall of Murderbot’s cubicle, an act of transgression which sets off the story.

A few comments:

A) Yes, Martha had recently read Ancillary Justice.

B) She originally planned a sad ending to the first novella! Aaaaah! I feel like we really dodged a bullet there. I’m so glad Martha changed her mind about that!

C) “I was sick of being told that if you’re not completely open and spilling your feelings for the approval of everyone around you then you must not have any feelings.”

YES, THANK YOU. No wonder I fell for Murderbot so fast and hard.

I didn’t really notice this until COVID YEAR FROM HELL, and suddenly all sorts of people were declaring on Facebook, “If you don’t declare your opinion about whatever, I’M JUDGING YOU,” basically in those words. I kept thinking, “Oh, yeah, me too, I definitely judge everyone I know by the moral poses they strike on social media.” Ugh!

D) Martha and I were once on a panel together at some convention or other, and wow, was it obvious that our writing methods are very similar to each other and not at all similar to anyone else on the panel. I thought of that again reading the above selection of the linked post. I also think of complete scenes, embedded in the setting, first, and then write onward or outward from those scenes.

Anyway, interesting post, by all means click through and read the rest.

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A Specific Sort of Disappointment with a Sequel

So, someone recently reminded me of the quite wonderful book by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, A Companion to Wolves. This is a book I read and loved a few years ago. I read the sequel immediately, then waited till the third book was out and grabbed it at once. And was somewhat disappointed in it.

Here, from my comments regarding the first two books, is my feeling about where the third book was probably going to go — and where I wanted it to go:

My personal prediction for the third book is that Otter, after rescuing one of Isolfr’s people from the Rheans and being herself rescued, is going to wind up bonding with a wolf – the first woman ever to do so – thus making the whole question of women’s proper role explicit not just for Isolfr, who is already thinking about this, but for his whole society.

Obviously Monette and Bear might have other ideas of what to do with Otter, but if I were writing the story, Otter would definitely have a wolf pup in her near future. For me, the only question would be whether to give her a konigenwolf pup (a queen) or a lesser bitch pup or a dog pup. The greatest subversion of Iskryner cultural norms would occur if she bonded with a dog pup who grew into a big, dominant, ambitious male, but we’ll see.

None of that happened. Otter was a trivial character in the third book.

Here are my comments about the third book, which is called An Apprentice to Elves.

Here’s the key bit: the third book focuses more on Alfgyfa, Isolfr’s daughter, who has become, as you might have guessed, an apprentice to the elves. She’s interesting, I guess, but stepping away from Otter as an important character means Monette and Bear chose not to set Otter up for a really interesting twist on what they’re doing with sex roles in this culture. That was so disappointing!

In addition, Monette and Bear didn’t do anything much with another character I thought was really interesting and promising, Fargrimr. Here’s what I said about that in my comments about the third book in the series:

Fargrimr is, as I said, a sworn-son. When his brother Randulfr bonded with a wolf and was lost as an heir, Fargrimr became an honorary son (instead of a daughter, see) so that she could be her – his – father’s heir and eventually lord in turn. Fargrimr is an excellent point-of-view character. But we don’t see all that much of him, because we are spending so much time with the other pov characters, which means mainly Alfgyfa and also Tin as well as Otter.

Yet another choice not to explore this culture from a pov I particularly wanted to see, and a character who had already been set up to give a fascinating perspective on sex roles in this culture.

I never got especially interested in the elves. I didn’t care much about Alfgyfa. The third book, for me, was … not quite a failure. But it was by no means the book I wanted it to be.

And that is a very specific way for a third book, or any sequel, to fail for a reader.

I’m not sure how often this has happened to me. In order for this kind of disappointment to occur:

a) I have to be thoroughly drawn into the first book(s) of the series;

b) There has to be enough of a pause between one book and the next that I have time to sort of start writing the next book in my head;

c) The sequel has to go in a direction I don’t especially care for, so that I’m reluctant to let go of the sequel I had in mind.

The author of course wants readers to be drawn in as much as possible. I’m really not sure how many readers kind of write scenes in their head for what they’d like to happen next, but my guess is, a lot. That’s got to be one of the basic inspirations behind fan fiction, right? That means that the risk of a sequel turning out to be a disappointment is probably significant for a fair number of readers … or that’s my guess. Have any of you had that experience? Of wanting a specific sequel that turns out not to be the sequel the author writes.

Anyway, this is one reason I was also disappointed by the sequel to another book I love by Sarah Monette, The Goblin Emperor.

The sequel, The Witness for the Dead, is not only from a pov other than Maia’s, but that also necessarily means that the story isn’t going the way I specifically planned it out in my head. I wrote quite a few scenes of the sequel I wanted — just in my head, but exactly the same way I’d write scenes in my head for one of my own books. The actual sequel is so far removed from that, it couldn’t begin to compete. Especially as Celehar is such a passive protagonist so much of the time.

I’m sure this happens fairly often, but I’m rarely so deeply engaged by the first book of a series that I get especially disappointed when the author takes the series in a direction I didn’t expect. Sarah Monette is definitely one author who can really pull me into her novels.

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Worldbuilding: Turns of Phrase, Aphorisms, and Slang

Okay, today I have a post over at Book View Cafe. This is my first post over there, and rather than mirroring a post from this blog to that one, I’m leaving it solely on the BVC blog.

So — Worldbuilding: Turns of Phrase, Aphorisms, Slang, and Metaphors

Click through and take a look if you wish, and by all means leave a comment about this aspect of worldbuilding if you feel so inclined.

I haven’t yet decided whether to mostly do posts about writing craft over there, or mix it up with dogs and stuff the way I do here. Regardless, I’ll probably largely write separate posts for BVC, but link back and forth from this blog to that one.

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Really Close Third Person Raises Questions of Personal Style

So, as you know, I’ve been working on Black Dog novellas recently. The one I’ve just finished — mostly finished — I’m going to go back and change a few details that impact the ending — ANYWAY, it’s from Thaddeus’ point of view.

Now, obviously, Thaddeus is not, for example, Grayson. Or Ethan. He doesn’t speak in the same way at all, which extends to his direct thoughts and, in very close third person, also to the overall style of the story.

Take a look at this:

1. Maybe Thaddeus should of expected that.

2. “You’re pretty sure your circle could of kept me out,” he observed.

3. That would of killed practically any black dog.

Now, previously, when I’ve written from Thaddeus’ point of view, I’ve used that should of / could of / would of locution. This is not a mistake. Regardless of how utterly annoying homonyms have become, this is not a mistake I would ever make. Every now and then someone contacts me and points this sort of thing out as a typo. Which is fine! I appreciate readers pointing out typos! But this is a deliberate choice.

But is it a good choice? Show of hands, please. When you see this in Thaddeus’ pov, does it sound right? I’m considering limiting this to solely dialogue and the most direct thoughts. That is, leaving it for the second example above, but not the first and maybe not the third.

Also, Thaddeus has been part of Dimilioc for just about two and a half years now. (How time flies!) I’m not sure how fast, or whether, speech patterns like this might change, but he’s been listening to people with a significantly more formal style for that long.

It would be relatively easy to alter this. Obviously it’s not practical to search for “of” in a document, but if you search for “ld of ” that takes care of that problem. I can therefore say that this “of” locution occurs eleven times in the story. I might take that back to half as many. Or I could not use “of” this way at all. Thoughts?

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