Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Oh, <em>that's</em> why no one sticks the ending of a Robin Hood retelling.

So, I was listening to a podcast of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff on a long drive recently, and someone asked a question something like this: Why do all long-running tv shows have terrible final seasons? It probably wasn’t quite that, but something close.

I don’t watch much tv these days, but of course that is the general pattern, isn’t it? No one liked the way Game of Thrones ended, did they? I wasn’t watching it and even I know that much. A lot of people considered the last season of Lost was famously bad. The last season of Buffy wasn’t anybody’s favorite. The list goes on and on.

Well, Ken and Robin have a suggestion about why it’s impossible to end a tv show like that properly, and I think it applies to Robin Hood retellings too.

It’s an episodic story, where the characters are doing the same kind of thing in episode after episode, and the pleasure the viewer derives from the show consists of watching the character act like themselves as they face and solve problems in a characteristic way. When the director tries to come up with a way to do something else, then inevitably that involves:

a) the ensemble cast breaks up, with everyone going off to pursue different lives.

b) a lot of people die.

c) the situation is jerked violently sideways, so that the finale involves characters doing stuff that is completely unlike the stuff they used to normally do.

No matter how the director handles it, the ending will feel unsatisfying to most viewers because it is too great a departure from the typical episode that has been enjoyed in all the previous seasons.

All the above is from memory, but I think it’s a close approximation of the discussion.

Obviously Robin Hood fits perfectly into this idea. It’s not a smooth story with a single arc. It’s an episodic story with an ensemble cast, just like a tv series. There’s Little John and the bridge over the river, there’s the thing with the golden arrow, there are all the episodes we’re familiar with. Lots of writers can do a great story that incorporates those elements. But then how do you end the story? You can’t. The ending, whatever you do, in intrinsically impossible to construct in a satisfying way.

Ken and Robin suggest that honestly, the best you can do is stop cold without trying to do a final arc or any kind of finale. Just cancel the show abruptly and leave James T Kirk and his crew to go off and continue their five-year mission without taking the viewer along. That way the viewer can derive some kind of satisfaction in the idea that the adventures are continuing just as always, only out of sight.

That, unfortunately, is probably not possible with The Adventures of Robin Hood. We all know how the story ended in the . . . I hesitate to say “original” . . . the version we read in grade school. That ending failed exactly as all other endings fail, but it’s probably not going to work to try to step away while The Adventures of Robin Hood are in full swing because everyone already does have that ending in their minds.

I do have a retelling or two of Robin Hood sitting around on my Kindle. But when I go into the stories, I’ll doing it expecting the books to wind up in a bit of a mess at the ending.

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Sticking the landing

Here’s a post at Book View Cafe by Brenda Clough: Flying by the seat of your pants: sticking the landing.

The big pitfall of planless writing is that the story will go nowhere.The questing party will wander around the mines of Moria in the dark and never get out. The hobbits forget about the One Ring and become involved in the court politics of Gondor. Aragorn and Arwen hop into bed and suddenly the novel becomes 50 Shades of Grey. Saruman gets involved with flamewars on 4-chan and doesn’t imprison Gandalf in Orthanc.

Okay, so that thing about 4-chan is funny.

Anyway, sure, I guess. I don’t think I’ve ever really found the ending that difficult . . . okay, maybe once or twice . . . all right, fine, I do have a difficult WIP right now that’s a real bear about the ending. But usually it’s the middle that’s the problem, not the ending. The denouement is my favorite part, generally. I guess I often do have a scene or two from close to the end in mind; it’s how to get there that’s sometimes the problem.

However, this is a really good point: Figure out what the theme of the work is, what it’s really about, and start driving everything towards that theme. 

Maybe this advice about figuring out the theme and driving to it will finally give me the epiphany I need to get my own WIP moving properly toward the end.

In the meantime, what are some novels where the owner just nailed the ending? That is difficult to do and many, many otherwise excellent stories suffer from a not-great ending. Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood comes to mind, and also Spindle’s End. Oh, hey, Stephen King’s It is a really famous example of this exact problem.

Other stories don’t feel complete; they don’t feel like they have ended at all. GGK’s Under Heaven has that long epilogue because it basically doesn’t have a proper ending at the right place, imo. Patricia McKillip’s Cygnet duology would probably be much, much better if it were a trilogy.

But who’s done it right? Let me see . . .

Okay —

a) Martha Wells in The Fall of Ile-Rien. This is the one of hers that I think has the best ending.

b) Endings are not always McKillip’s strong point, but she absolutely nailed it with The Book of Atrix Wolfe.

c) LMB’s The Curse of Chalion has an excellent ending.

d) MWT’s The Queen of Attolia has a great ending.

What are some others?

I think I do pretty decent endings, by and large. I especially like the ending of Land of Burning Sands. I think that’s a happy ending without seeming pat. Oh, and yes, I really like the ending of Door Into Light — that ending is why I wrote the whole thing.

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Are you Murderbot?

Okay, this is a fun and unexpected idea for one of those internet quizzes: Which Murderbot character are you?

As we wait for the full-length novel, I decided to create an All Systems Red character quiz. Are you the anti-social Murderbot, brave Dr. Mensah or soft Dr. Ratthi? Take the quiz to find out.

I am actually thinking that I might get Garodin, but nope, I got Dr. Mensah. Really, I think Garodin might be more realistic.

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Astronomy continues to startle us

So, just happened across this post: Water Vapor Was Just Found on Europa, More Evidence There’s Liquid Water Beneath All that Ice

Lots of cool details to this story at the link, ending with this:

Hopefully, scientists—and the rest of us—won’t have to wait too much longer to get some more definitive answers to Europa’s many questions. The Europa Clipper was moved to its final design stage in August 2019, and is due to launch sometime in the mid 2020s. It’ll carry a whole suite of instruments to probe Europa’s mysteries. The most exciting of all might be its ground-penetrating radar. It might see right through the ice and confirm the existence of a subsurface ocean once and for all.

I’m looking forward to the xenobiology to follow, aka A Darkling Sea.

This post made me wonder what other new and interesting things astronomers might have tripped over this year. So I poked around, and found this:

A runaway star ejected from the galactic heart of darkness

Astronomers have spotted an ultrafast star, traveling at a blistering 6 million km/h, that was ejected by the supermassive black hole at the heart at the Milky Way five million years ago.

How do stars get ejected from black holes? I thought stuff that fell into black holes was gone for good?

While we’re on the subject of black holes:

Bizarre worlds orbiting a black hole

[Theoreticians have] proposed the possibility of thousands of planets around a supermassive black hole.

Great Red Spot Isn’t Disappearing, Researchers Say

Did anybody think it was?

Alien Life on Some Extrasolar Planets Could Be More Diverse than on Earth

Sure, if you tweak the software you’re using to model ecological and other factors just right, obviously that could be true! I just get a kick out of what appears to be a fun but completely made-up project like this.

I think it’s safe to say that IF complex extrasolar life exists, then on some planets its more diverse and on some planets it’s less diverse than on Earth. What else could you possibly expect?

Still, I expect the software was fun to play with.

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Merry Christmas!

Most likely you have many things to do today, and in the next few days, besides read. However, at some point you may happen to want to curl up with a fluffy robe, a roaring fire, a mug of hot chocolate, and a beautiful spaniel or two (or ten.) Substitute elements of the above with whatever comfortable Christmasy things appeal to you, and then add one Christmas-themed novel suitable for the occasion.

Christmas-themed mysteries are everywhere, and I like them very much. Teresa Romain has a whole set of Christmas-themed Regencies, for example. But Christmas-themed SFF are perhaps a touch harder to come by.

Fortunately, I don’t have to do the heavy lifting.

Here’s a list from B & N: 10 Holiday-Themed Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels. The list features Connie Willis, a Christmas ghost story by Paul Cornell that I just picked up to read because I really do like a themed story or two at this time of year, The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett — not my favorite of Pratchett’s work — and, good heavens, NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, what is that doing here? Well, it is Christmas themed, in a sense. I guess.

This list also includes a Sarah Addison Allen novel, which I don’t believe actually takes place during Christmas, but whatever, it is a lovely novel.

It doesn’t include, strangely, The Dark is Rising by Susan Collins, a classic, I would have thought. I’m sure you’ve all read that one. If not, well, seize your chance this Christmas and give it a try. Just start with The Dark is Rising; the prequel novel Under Sea Over Stone can certainly be put off till later. The entire story builds up to Christmas; the season is infused through everything that happens.

Now that I’ve thought of it, I might reread The Dark Is Rising myself this Christmas season.

Another very suitable fantasy novel for Christmas, but much larger: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Gorgeous, just gorgeous. Big, epic, beautiful, magical realism. Also, parts of it are kind of like distilled Christmas.

With or without spaniels and Christmas-themed novels, I hope you all have a lovely holiday! If you don’t celebrate Christmas, then I hope you at least find a chance to settle down with a wintry tale and hot chocolate.

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Must-Read Time Travel Books

I’m not actually very keen on time travel, which is a trope that I approach with some reluctance. Once I get into it, though, I sometimes really like a time travel story. So sure, I’m willing to click through to Book Riot’s post:

20 MUST-READ TIME TRAVEL BOOKS

Let’s see whether these choices overlap at all with any of the time travel stories I’ve both read and liked …

Ah, here’s Kindred by Octavia E Butler. Well, I haven’t read it. I will eventually. I’m reluctant because after I read it, I will have read absolutely everything by Butler, there won’t be anything else. I’m sure it is beautifully written and a great novel.

Interestingly, I find I haven’t read a single book on this list. If you are into time travel, maybe you have, you can click through and see.

This one sounds the most interesting, and almost sort of nonfictional: How to Invent Everything: a Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler.

Here’s a laudatory quote from Randall Monroe, whom you may know as the guy who does XKCD and wrote What If:

How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It’s essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly.”

Ha ha ha! Well, hopefully I will never be in that position, because I’m sure I wouldn’t remember nearly enough about how to re-invent everything. But doesn’t that sound like a fun book?

[T]ime-travel enthusiast Ryan North shows you how to invent all the modern conveniences we take for granted–from first principles. This illustrated manual contains all the science, engineering, art, philosophy, facts, and figures required for even the most clueless time traveler to build a civilization from the ground up. 

I bet there are a lot of pictures. I’m not sure I want this one in ebook format. Paper would probably be better.

Moving back to fiction, though, what are a handful of time travel stories I have in fact both read and liked?

1)Well, first, obviously, Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis. “Enjoyed is a strong term. I admired this duology very much, but I did give it away because I knew I would never read it again. But wow, the research that went into it. It’s an ambitious work that I think succeeded very well at what it was trying to do.

2) Second, and one I liked a lot, Lightning by Dean Koontz. this one tends to get overlooked, partly because it’s getting older by this time but probably mostly because Dean Koontz wrote it. Horror fans know about it, but time travel fans may tend not to notice it. Clever use of time travel all through this novel, though. Koontz’ writing is catchy and very readable.

3) The Extracted trilogy, which is to say, the first two books, which I actually suggest reading as a duology because that provides a better ending point. The link goes to my review. Great page-turner. I liked it a lot, though as I say, I do suggest stopping after the first two books because of problems with loose threads and so on in the ending of the third book.

4) I mentioned I was not that keen on time travel as a thing, but I will end by saying that “Groundhog Day” is one heck of a movie.

5) Your choice here.

Really, not that familiar with the vast literature of time travel out there. If you’ve got a time travel story you especially admire, drop it in the comments!

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Swordheart by T Kingfisher

I am getting a serious kick out of reading Swordheart almost back to back with The Twisted Ones. The books are so different, almost as different as any author has ever written. The only author I know of who has written stories more different than these is Seanan McGuire, with her Newsflesh trilogy and tben that completely farcical UF series.

So, The Twisted Ones. Horror.

Swordheart. Light, even somewhat silly fantasy romance.

Halla has inherited a minor fortune and a magic sword. Sarkis is the guy condemned to live in the sword and serve whoever wields it. You immediately understand where that’s heading.

Well put together, charming, predictable because hey, light romance, it is going to hit all the typical plot points with pretty standard timing. Good writing. Nice details. No dog. I enjoyed it despite that lack.

Who else would like this novel: if you liked Lindsay Boruker’s Emperor’s Edge series, I bet you like Swordheart.

Best detail: the bird. Surely … *surely* … we will find out more about the bird in a later book, because yes, this is the first book in a series.

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What do superheroes eat for breakfast?

Here’s a funny Book Riot Post: SUPERHEROES AND THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY

Bruce: As all of us who watched, and loved, the Batman: Brave and The Bold animated series know, Batman does not eat nachos unless his id, ego, and superego get zapped into three different bodies by a nuclear blast (I don’t make the “science”).

So what does the Caped Crusader have for breakfast? I’m seeing a protein bar/shake thing he grabs on the way out the door after an hour or two of sleep. Quick, efficient, and much to Alfred’s chagrin. No real enjoyment but it will keep him going.

Frankly, I completely agree. I definitely cannot see Bruce Wayne relaxing over crepes or waffles or whatever. I can’t even picture him grimly downing an omelet. A protein shake sounds like exactly his kind of breakfast.

Click through and amuse yourself considering what every member of the extended Bat family ought to choose for breakfast.

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A TV miniseries I would almost certainly watch

The Sandman adaptation. If Neil Gaiman is involved, surely it will be pretty good.

  • Although the original comics are set in the ’80s, the show won’t be a period piece. Instead, it will be set in the present. “In Sandman [issue] number one, there is a sleeping sickness that occurs because Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is captured … in 1916, and in 1988 he escapes,” Gaiman said in the interview. “Instead of him being a captive for about 80 years, he’s going to be a captive for about 110 years and that will change things.” (Good Omens took a similar bent and really all that happened is a few jokes got added.)
  • Otherwise, the show will “stay faithful” to the original comics.

Fans have been sorting out what they think will, or should, happen in the first eleven-episode season:

With “The Sound of Her Wings” being such perfect season finale material, we can’t really imagine them ending season one any other way. (Any cliffhangers could be saved for the end of the episode, or for after the credits.) That means that any of the non-Preludes & Nocturnes stuff that Gaiman was talking about would probably be sprinkled in beforehand, and have to draw from material that either takes place concurrently to the story, or before, in the form of flashbacks.

I agree. Surely it’s impossible to do better than make “The Sound of her Wings” the season finale.

Great project. Can’t wait.

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Illusions

I greatly enjoyed the white-and-gold-or-blue-and-black dress. (It was blue and black.) If you never checked out the Amazon reviews for that dress, you really ought to take a moment and do that.

However, this post is really about a different illusion.

Can anybody see red and green dots moving downward?

I see only yellowish or greenish dots moving left to right. The red and green ones would be more seasonal, but … nope, can’t manage it.

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