Monday, April 22, 2019

I Read Stories: Dead Lovers From Each Blade Hung

By Usamashahid433 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By Usamashahid433 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Dead Lovers From Each Blade Hung by Usman Malik

A neat horror novelette, something of the flavour of Lovecraft and the old Weird fiction. Written from the point of view of a Pakistani drug addict, caught up in a world he does not know or understand. He already lives in the dark edges of the world; that there is more (drugs, a magic gem, a pre-human civilisation) is a matter of degree rather than complete change.

It’s an exquisite look into the darkness.

Read This: For old school weird horror updated into the 21st century
Don’t Read This: If degenerate pre-human civilisation is a turn off

Friday, April 19, 2019

Liner Notes For A Voyage Out East

The notes for my story A Voyage Out East

I actually find Robin Button surprisingly hard to write. My usual method is to over-explain things in the early drafts, then pare it back in later versions. Some of the previous stories had entire pages detailing how the war went on, the duties aboard ship, the effect of cannonfire and splinters on bodies and how the wounds were treated. I cut them back to make room for character and plot and to improve the pacing; this isn’t a history after all.

(I may append a bibliography at some stage though as I’ve been reading Age of Sail fiction and non-fiction for more than thirty years I’ve forgotten as much as I can remember).

Button, a common sailor for most purposes, doesn’t understand things deeply, and he doesn’t mind about that. It’s not that he didn’t care why and who they were fighting in the Navy, but that was much less important than the day to day duties aboard ship, the attitude of the officers and the skill and character of the captain.

Button doesn’t have adventures with beginnings middles and ends; he has events and episodes of interest. Originally I was just going to start him on a ship going somewhere, and finish with him on another ship, going somewhere else. When I sat down to write it Maisie May entered from the earlier stories, pushing him to get on the ship, and into the seas where we would find him later; Cat Step Walker jumped in from planned later stories, bringing the elves onto the page, setting him up to be found in their company by other characters.

So I know too much about what’s going on. And I do care. Why would I write it otherwise? Button just accepts what’s going on. Occasionally he questions, but since he doesn’t get answers he just takes it all in his stride.

Mutiny! Mutinies were rarer than fiction would have us believe. Sailors would take poor food, tyrannical captains, harsh punishment and even incompetence in their stride. More likely to wait until they got into port and desert than try and seize the ship.

Lesser mutinies did take place, though they might be better understood as protests or industrial action. Sailors refusing to set sail until their complaints were dealt with or promises kept. This isn’t what happens here. Here we have an organised plot to steal the ship. This happened occasionally; perhaps the most famous such event was the mutiny on the Dutch East Indies ship Batavia. This went extremely wrong, with the ship running aground on the Houtman Abrolhos off Western Australia. There was an orgy of murder, rape and plunder, sensationalised at the time as the ringleaders were followers of the famous heretical painter Torrentus, who were fleeing Europe after his conviction. In other words it was blamed on devil worshippers.

My anthrophagic version of mer-maids are not especially original, for which I can only apologise. Fortunately both Tim and Button, protected by the mysterious power they encountered on the Triumph are resistant to their charms.

I have thoughts on immortality and elves. But they could be the focus of a whole story, or series, or novel, or whatever, so once again I’ve flensed it to the bone. The injured elf, unable to get away, unable to die; the dark side of immortality is something I’ve thought about. But I’m not going quite that grim in this series!

Also grim and really deserving its own story is slavery. I’ve glossed it a bit in earlier tales. Here Cat Step Walker, an instinctive abolitionist (he’s immortal, debts and servitude shouldn’t last forever), demonstrates that stopping violence is not a clean and easy process. The world is better without the slavers in it, but that doesn’t stop things being bloody and cruel either.

Being cast adrift and ending up on a tropical shore was something I had on my list from before this even began to crystallise as a project. It naturally linked up with the lost city idea. The Jungle Coast is perhaps a little too specifically named, though everywhere else on the map are translations of the names of real places in East Africa and they’re a bit on the nose too.

The Jungle Coast is more the fictional (European) idea of Africa, and that’s unfortunately accentuated by Button’s lack of knowledge and incurious nature. Of course there are white sand beaches, mangrove swamps, ruined cities and pirates. The deep history with a necromancer king is a little off the beaten track, but not entirely.

As for the Starling and its crew of mutineers and pirates, we’ll see them again in a later story.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

I Read Stories: The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery by Lavie Tidhar

A characteristically weird and exciting fantasy crime piece from Tidhar. In a (literal) dream-world there’s a train with valuables on board, Western-style characters aboard and flyers who want to hijack it. Yet even with the Titanomachy going on in the background everyone has their own agenda and things are not what they seem.

Read This: For a cool fantasy heist
Don’t Read This: If you want everything explained and wrapped up neatly

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I Watch Films: Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence is a Russian ballerina who is injured and is recruited by her uncle to become a spy. She goes to sex-spy school where she learns to uncover what people desire (mostly to shag Jennifer Lawrence). Then she’s sent into the field to seduce a CIA officer who is the point of contact for a Russian mole. The slow-motion betrayals and turn-abouts accelerate in the final sequence with plot, counter-plot, wheels-in-wheels and a villain getting his comeuppance.

The first section with gritty violence and the sex-school-for-spies has some interesting stuff, but it’s framed so unpleasantly and goes on so slowly that I didn’t really enjoy it. The slightly faster second half of the film where they go out in the field is more fun, but has almost nothing new about it.

Watch This: For a slightly novel and interesting spy film
Don’t Watch This: If you want fast-paced, entertaining action

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

I Read Books: Fairyland

The cover looks better in paper

Paul McAuley’s future Europe, with genetically engineered “Dolls”, blue skinned small human-shaped creatures doing the hard labour after the climatic overturn. Alex Sharkey, a black-market bio-engineer, is caught up in making fairies, free Dolls. He tracks them and their mysterious creator across years and miles of Europe, their innate bio-engineering creating alternate worlds in the minds of those they touch.

It’s a strange, odd, only half-explained story, magnificent in its imagination and description.

Read This: For a clever and not at all pleasant future story of creating alien creatures
Don’t Read This: For a nice easy ride

In addition:
Four stories in McAuley’s collection The Invisible Country are linked to this and help to fill in some of the more loosely sketched ideas.

This is the last book I read in 2018, completing my reading list for the year.

Monday, April 15, 2019

I Read Comics: Cucumber Quest

Cucumber Quest

Cucumber is the latest in a long line of hereditary heroes, but he really wanted to go to magic school. His sister Almond is very keen to go hero-ing, being obsessed with the TV show Pumice Punisher, who is a magical girl who fights evil and tries to stay at school.

They’re all people with rabbit ears.

Anyway this is a cute and fun webcomic about a bunch of kids who go on an adventure. However where it really shines is after Queen Cordelia and her sidekick Peridot summon the Nightmare Knight. He’s a terrifying creature who also bakes and bonds with Peridot (the kid villain who also loves Pumice Punisher).

It’s not over and there’s more going on.

Read This: For nearly a thousand pages of cute but cool fantasy quest comic
Don’t Read This: If a bunch of kids trying to save the world sounds boring

Friday, April 12, 2019

Map for A Voyage Out East

The map for my story A Voyage Out East. For once this may actually help to explain things.
War Island, Green Island and Black Island are literal translations of real East African places.