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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

My computer died a couple of days ago.  Well, it didn’t completely die, but the video card did.  I didn’t lose any data; I just can’t see any of it.  Fortunately, my father-in-law owns a computer store and loaned me one until I can replace it.

For the two nights I didn’t have a computer, I felt like I’d lost a limb.  I sort of wandered around the house, not knowing quite what to do with myself.  I didn’t realize that the technology I’d thought of as simply another useful tool had come to play such a huge part in my life. 

I started thinking about technology, then in relation to writing.  Of course, technology plays a huge part in a lot of speculative fiction, whether in the highly advanced technology of futuristic science fiction, or the alternative technologies of secondary-world fantasy.  But technology doesn’t have to be vastly different from what we use now and today for it to be significant in fiction writing.

In what ways do your characters use current technology?  What roles does technology play in their lives?  How much of your plot and setting depends on it?  What happens if the technology they depend on doesn’t work?

If you could tweak one piece of existing technology to better suit your needs or desires, what would you do?  How would it affect other people’s lives?  If you could invent something that doesn’t currently exist, what would you create?  How would it change your life?  Your family’s life?  Your city, or your nation, or the world?

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When most people think about politics, they think of government policy, election campaigns, lobbying, and everything that involves the people who run the government.  Of course, politics encompasses more than just government.  Politics includes competition in the workplace, between family members, between members of any organization, even between friends.

It can be difficult to write about politics, however; it’s one of those touchy subjects that almost everyone has very strong feelings about, and many of us would rather not ruffle feathers.  And it’s hard to write fiction about current political affairs without giving your work a very short shelf-life.  But it’s difficult to write without somehow involving politics, whether in the sense of government, or in the sense of competition between individuals. 

If you write fantasy or science fiction, the issue of politics is particularly salient; writing speculative fiction is one way to write about current affairs while giving your work value that lasts beyond today’s headlines.  Many writers have used imaginary political systems to criticize their own, or to speculate about the long-term effects of the decisions their governments have made.

Think today about how politics touches your writing.  Do your characters have strong feelings about how governent should work?  Do your characters compete with others for the best job, the best seat at the table, the most attention from a mentor? Do their feelings about politics affect their actions?  If you write speculative fiction, is the political system in the world you’ve created similar to the one in which you live today, or based on systems from the past, or is it something entirely new?  What does your fictional political system say about the world you live in?

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1. Endicott Studio : Home of The Journal of Mythic Arts; tons of well-written, thoughtful information about the folklore and fairy tales of many different cultures. Also, poems and stories by the like of Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Jane Yolen and more.

2. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing: An online course in speculative fiction writing from Jeffrey A. Carver

3. Exploring Ancient World Cultures: An introduction to Ancient Greece, Rome, India, China, Egypt, the Near East, early Islam and Medieval Europe.

4. Dave’s Mythical Creatures: A good place to start when populating your fantasy or science fiction worlds.

5. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions: To help writers flesh out fantasy and science fiction worlds and how they work.

6. SpecFic World: Advice to Writers: Lots of articles specifically for fantasy and science fiction writers.

7. The Best of Legends: Information on some of the most famous legends of all time, including Robin Hood, King Arthur, Beowulf and more.

8. Ralan’s Webstravaganza: Extensive market information for F, SF & H writers; includes pay rates, guidelines and more.

9. Storm the Castle: Articles for writers, but that’s not all. Stretch your creativity with dioramas, model rockets and classical guitar as well. A plethora of information, nicely organized.

10. David Walton’s Writing Advice: Mostly links, well-organized, from a wide range of speculative fiction writers

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I’m asked sometimes, particularly by professors at the university where I work, why I choose to write in the fantasy/speculative fiction genre.

It’s not an easy question to answer.  I like to read fantasy; I always have, ever since my sister gave me a full set of  The Chronicles of Narnia when I was in fourth grade.  I wanted so badly to be able to open my closet door and find a world waiting for me there that sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night.  I didn’t have monsters in my closet; I had fauns and centaurs and talking lions.  My love of fantasy and science fiction didn’t go away when I got older, either, as it did for many of my friends.  I discovered Yeats and Shakespeare and Spencer, and since I read them in classes, nobody batted an eye.  When I read Bradbury and LeGuin, a few of my teachers pursed their lips and became very quiet.  When I read Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of my teachers told me, “But you’re so much smarter than that!”

Excuse me?

The best fantasy is not simply escapist; it uses myth and magic as metaphor, as symbols for the kinds of things we really don’t like to talk about in the open.  That’s what fairy tales are, and that’s what myths are: the verbalization of cultural and collective fears and hopes, the dreams that we may not say aloud.  So we talk about them in hushed voices, with symbols that we may not see immediately, but that we feel nonetheless.  The Dark Wood is everything that frightens us in the night, everything we don’t feel strong enough to confront in open daylight.

I write fantasy because it’s where the “meat” of human existence is, from my point of view.  The fears that stir deep inside the belly, that pull the covers over your head at night.  I also write fantasy because there’s a sense of wonder there that I’ve never found in any other kind of literature.  I want to feel that there’s something mysterious left in the world, something that neither science nor religion can properly explain.  Fantasy, while I’m reading or writing, lets me imagine a world where anything is possible, and there’s no one to tell me that the things I fear and the things I hope for are foolish.

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Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip (2007)

Sylvia Lynn has spent most of her adult life avoiding going home, staying away from the dark, tangled woods that surround her family’s estate. But she feels an obligation to return to Lynn Hall for her grandfather’s funeral. While she’s there, she meets the Fiber Guild, a group of women who, with needles and hooks and thread, stitch together things far more mysterious than torn hems and quilt squares. She has something to hide, and so do they, and their secrets form a pattern that could change Sylvia’s life forever.

Patricia McKillip, as always, paints vivid, magical pictures with her lush, lyric language, which is her chief strength as a writer. Instead of a secondary-world or historical fantasy, however, she turns her pen to the modern day, to a sleepy little village and characters who are reluctant to embrace the modern age, but are desperate to escape the stagnation and bonds of the past. She revisits the village that provides the setting for Winter Rose (2002), a couple of centuries after Rois Melior’s story, and Rois figures prominently in this novel as well.

McKillip’s characters in Solstice Wood are well-drawn, and even the tertiary and secondary characters are fully-fleshed. The book is divided into sections told from various characters’ point of view, and while their motivations and personalities are distinct, the tone and the language they use to describe their separate journeys are not; the language of a fourteen-year-old boy sounds suspiciously like that of a mature fantasy writer.

The plot here is nothing a seasoned fantasy reader hasn’t seen before; but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In McKillip’s very capable hands, a plot that might seem cliche from another writer is fresh and absorbing. The ending, however, seems a tad contrived, a bit pat for the intricacy of the rest of the novel.

All in all, Solstice Wood is a very satisfying read, but not an earth-shakingly good one. Grade: B+

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