Tag Archives: speculative fiction

High Fantasy:What Is It?

Recently I was asked to explain what the high fantasy genre actually encompasses. Not an easy task, given the plethora of sub-genres abounding in speculative fiction these days, but nevertheless I had a crack at trying to make sense of how they all tie together and overlap. There is no real guide on how all the labels fit together, but this is my attempt at explaining what I think all these categories mean.

Click here to read the full explanation.


Worldbuilding: What Goes Wrong If You Don’t Get It Right

Worldbuilding Gone Wrong


In fantasy, we ask a lot of favours of our readers, the key one being suspension of disbelief. We take liberties with reality, and for this to work, the reader needs to accept those departures as fact. If they don’t, the entire plot will fall down. 

This is true across the whole gamut of fantasy sub-genres (and a lot of science-fiction too). If you’re writing an urban fantasy about an underground society of werewolves, or vampires living amongst us, you need a plausible reason why humans haven’t noticed. If they’re running around killing people indiscriminately and leaving a trail of bloody corpses, the reader isn’t going to accept no one’s noticed. 

This is why often these societies in urban fantasy have rules about not killing/feeding on humans, or have particular methods of doing so. Men in Black, while science fiction, has a similar problem – one solved by the neuralyser device. This is all worldbuilding – adding elements to the real world to explain and/or allow the reader to accept the departures from reality that we write about.

In high/epic fantasy, we take it a few steps further and build a world from the ground up. It’s often a completely different planet, with different people, different culture, different laws, ethics and societal values. You can do almost anything within the framework of a high fantasy world.

Provided it’s consistent with and explained by your world. 

You can’t, for example, set up a society in which women have no power or rights, and then have your female protagonist blatantly disregard the rules. In reality, she’d be arrested, stoned, killed, or punished in some other manner. If, in your book, she’s not, then that’s unbelievable (an early mistake of my own). 

You make the rules, but you have to play by the rules you invent. 

Another thing said about fantasy is that it’s even more important to ensure the characters behave true to our understanding of human behaviour than in other genres. The reason for this is because we are already asking the reader for so much suspension of disbelief in relation to the world of the story that the reader is more likely to notice when characters don’t behave true to form. 

Why is this relevant to worldbuilding? Because characters are a product of their world, their time, their culture and society, and their personal experiences.

Am I belabouring the point? Maybe, but I have a reason. 

You may have seen my review on The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty. I formed certain views about the sexual practices in that book amounting to the torture and debasement of humanity for no reason except sexual gratification – and I mean psychopathic torture, not consensual BDSM. A few people have remarked ‘but yes, it’s fantasy’ – and I’d like to make the point that it doesn’t matter. I’ve been reading fantasy for 22 years, and writing it nearly as long. ‘It’s fantasy’ isn’t an excuse for poor writing.  

So let’s look at worldbuilding using that book as a case study. 

The reason the book didn’t work for me isn’t because of the sexual practices depicted, but because of the worldbuilding – or lack thereof. 

So here are a few of the questions I asked that should have been answered by the worldbuilding and weren’t:

  • Why were Princes and Princesses offered up by their parents to this kingdom knowing the physical and sexual abuse and humiliation and degradation their children would be subjected to? I’m a parent, and I can attest to the fact that the maternal instinct to protect is very powerful. Even the notion of someone treating my daughter this way stirs a primal, even feral, violence. It’s very difficult to accept a parent would tolerate this treatment. I assume the reason they do is twofold – one, they underwent the same experiences, and are essentially broken i.e. they were mistreated to the point their will broke and they will now do anything to please their tormentors. A kind of Helsinki syndrome. Two – the threat of political retribution, war, total annihilation and destruction of their kingdom. Unfortunately, neither of these reasons are spelled out – I’m making assumptions;
  • Assuming my assumptions are correct, why should I notbe enraged that these people have been essentially tortured to the point their will is broken? No good reason for my acceptance of this act as anything other than vile torture is offered. Also, in all the hundreds of years this has been going on, I’d think one father would have snapped and marched to war rather than see his daughter or son mistreated, but if so, no mention is made of it.
  • Why does an entire society (not just a few sociopathic individuals) think this behaviour is OK? I got pulled up by an editor because a scene in which a tavern full of men accepted, condoned or participated in a rape was unrealistic. How much more so then a whole society? Terry Goodkind does a good job of this in his Sword of Truth series, offering religious and political ideologies fed down from the Emperor, and condoned and encouraged at his order by soldiers and priests, as the reason an entire culture behaves in a given way (albeit some of this compliance is procured solely by fear and there are still a few non-conformists, as in any society). No explanation is offered by Anne Rice, and we see none of the members of this society fighting against or protesting it’s cruel practices. Historically we have examples of cultures that were fairly brutal, but these are cultures in which essentially ‘might makes right’, and women are treated hardly any better than animals. How do we explain the apparently cultured and educated mistreatment of captives in Sleeping Beauty by a culture where women seem to have relative equality? I can’t.
  • Even if there was a good reason, my god, wouldn’t you get bored? I was bored just reading about all the spankings. Submersion in even the vilest kind of debauchery eventually gets boring. This is why serial killers escalate in violence – they need to engage in more extreme behaviour to get the same high. And I’m expected to believe this culture has existed for hundreds of years without varying the boring old spanking routine? Puh-lease.

See what you get if you don’t build your world properly? A reader asking very hard to answer questions. If a reader develops this kind of attitude to your book, they won’t be coming back for more. 

Please, build your world properly. Make sure it explains and moulds the behaviour of your characters. Make sure your characters aren’t flagrantly breaking the rules of the world with no consequences. Make sure there are rules, because in the absence of a compelling framework for this new world, we’ll default back to our own.

Getting your worldbuilding wrong can make getting anything else right very difficult.  ‘It’s fantasy’ is not an excuse. 



If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter. 
 
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The Anubis Gates: A Review by Ciara Ballintyne

The Anubis Gates



1802 – the Egyptian gods are a diminished force, and the power of magic fades. Sorcerers, wielding magic only at great expense to their own bodies, attempt to restore the potency of their power by bringing the gods, in all their glory, forward in time. Instead, they succeed only in tearing rents in the fabric of time – the Anubis Gates.

Brendan Doyle, a minor American scholar specialising in a little known poet, William Ashbless, is carried from London, 1983, through the gates of time to 1810, ostensibly to serve as a Coleridge expert. The journey is organised by J Cochran Darrow, a wealthy recluse specialising in odd-ball projects, and funded by the ten guests, each of whom has paid a premium for the privilege of witnessing a lecture by Samuel Coleridge in the flesh. 

The plan consists of a straightforward there and back again journey of only a few hours, but it goes awry when Doyle is kidnapped by an Egyptian sorcerer, intent on learning who is using the gates in time, and how. Having missed his ‘return flight’, as it were, Doyle finds himself stranded in 1810 London, penniless and alone.

While not unlikeable, Doyle is stranded, destitute, and terribly desperate – a desperation which drives him to take ill-considered risks and make less-than-intelligent decisions. But it is his very isolation, his very desperation, that draws me to him – can the reader conceive of many worse situations than to be stranded out of time, in a strange culture, with absolutely no means of support?

I have very little concept of what London was like in 1810, but Powers paints a compelling picture with few words, creating less an image of the physical place, than a sense of the people who populate it; the desperation of its denizens, the danger they exude, and the grinding poverty that drives many of them. That sense, that feeling, creates a more visceral setting than any mere description of buildings could do. 

This is not to imply the book lacks description, for Powers describes events, and many settings, with phrases evocative enough to turn me green with envy. 

London is peopled with a host of characters – who can Doyle trust? Who might he rely on in his time of need? Knowing exactly where the poet, William Ashbless, should be, he hopes to appeal to that man’s generosity, but the poet is mysteriously missing. Has Doyle upset the events of history by returning from the future? 

What of the clown, Horrabin, who offers Doyle a job amongst his beggars? His very name hints at horrible unknowns. Is young Jacky more trustworthy? He warns Doyle away from Horrabin, and suggests a place amongst the rival beggar crew. Can Doyle use the Egyptian sorcerers to return to 1983? What does he have to bargain with, except his own life? What of Dog-Face Joe, a rumoured werewolf-type serial killer, to whom Doyle comes perilously close? 

And who, on the streets of 1810 London, is whistling Yesterday by The Beatles?

Events come dangerously to a head when the poet, Ashbless, reappears in a startling and unexpected way, setting Doyle’s feet on a path that takes him even further into the past, and then eventually to Cairo. Events now follow the course of history Doyle is familiar with, and he begins to anticipate what comes, thinking he knows how events will unfold – or does he?

The book careens from one disaster, to another ill-conceived decision, to bizarre and yet wildly appropriate plot twist after plot twist. The foreshadowing is impeccable – the clues are there if you know to look for them, but you won’t, until events come to pass. Instead, each new revelation, each new horror, each new clever outcome, will keep you turning page after page to find the answers until, before you know it, you’ve finished the book. 

If I were to tell you any more, I’d ruin all the surprises, and they are well worth the wait. They are many, and they are varied, and each new discovery delighted me at its appropriateness, at its suitability, at the way in which each of the puzzle pieces fit neatly together – until the picture, of which Doyle only has a vague outline from 20th century history books, becomes a complete illustration rendered in loving detail. 

I read this book in about two days – it was literally unputdownable. The story is exceptional, and the book well-written. The odd waver in the writing barely caused a hitch in my stride, so desperate was I to resolve each conflict, only to find I had dove headfirst into the next. 

If you didn’t read this book for Club Fantasci, then you must. 5 stars – I give this book 5 stars. Do you know how often I say that? 

Not very often at all. 
~

If you missed October’s Hangout and the discussion of The Anubis Gates, you can find it here.  Also, don’t miss the review of The Anubis Gates by my fellow Club Fantasci co-host, Dionne Lister.


Don’t forget to join us next month for Club Fantasci’s Hangout. November’s Book of the Month is The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice, so the Hangout will be limited to 21+. I expect discussions may get a bit scandalous!

In other news, my short story is now available for purchase as part of the anthology Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, available here at Amazon and Smashwords


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us.

New “Club Fantasci’ Speculative Fiction Video Book Club

I’m co-hosting a video book club. Me. Wow. 
 
The book reviewers are David Lowry, author Dionne Lister, entertainment personality and model Shannon Million, and of course myself! 

Club Fantasci launched August 1, 2012, and is designed to help bring great books and great authors more exposure to the world at large. We are taking the stigma out of speculative fiction!

The book club will select a book each month for review, and the reviewers will then meet via G+ Hangout once a month to discuss the literary merits of the book – and we’ll be doing more than just telling you we liked or didn’t like the book. In an entertaining way, of course. So it’s just like an offline book club… except online… with wine… and stuff.

The first G+ hangout is scheduled for August 31st 7:00pm EST./CST For those of you in the southern hemisphere, that’s 1 September 10am AEST. So if you fancy joining us, go pick up this month’s book, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and we look forward to seeing you there. 

You can learn more about us by:

Joining our group on Goodreads
Liking our Page on Facebook
Checking out our Website

And here’s a little more about Club Fantasci and what we hope to achieve:

We want to expose you to the full gamut of the speculative fiction genre, including science fiction, hard SF, militaristic SF, high/epic fantasy, dark fantasy, dystopian, cyberpunk, steampunk, space opera, paranormal, urban fantasy, SFF romance and erotica, and everything in between.
 

We want to educate readers on good writing in speculative fiction, entertain with witty banter, and above all have a fantastic time. Fiction need not be literary to be well written, and good writing need not be boring or mundane! We promise you we’ll do our best to bring you a good book every month, and if not, we’ll tell you why it’s not! For a bit of light fun, we’ll also be featuring a wine of the month and picking a song that best fits the book.

Club Fantasci will introduce the “Wine of the Month” and each of the reviewers will pick music they feel best represents the current “Book of the Month.” So bring your book, keep that wineglass topped up, and don’t forget your iPod!

The “Wine of the Month” for August is a 2011 “Suited Muscat” from Sort This Out Cellars Winery in Las Vegas, NV.

Alternatively, you can connect with the reviewers
 
The Lowry Agency:
 
Dionne Lister

Shannon Million

Ciara Ballintyne

You can read the official press release for the launch of Club Fantasci here
 

If you missed it, check out my guest post on POV Rules and when it’s OK to break them here

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

New “Club Fantasci” Speculative Fiction Video Book Club

Ender's Game: Review by Club Fantasci

I’m co-hosting a video book club. Me. Wow.
The book reviewers are David Lowry, author Dionne Lister, entertainment personality and model Shannon Million, and of course myself! 

Club Fantasci launched August 1, 2012, and is designed to help bring great books and great authors more exposure to the world at large. We are taking the stigma out of speculative fiction!

The book club will select a book each month for review, and the reviewers will then meet via G+ Hangout once a month to discuss the literary merits of the book – and we’ll be doing more than just telling you we liked or didn’t like the book. In an entertaining way, of course. So it’s just like an offline book club… except online… with wine… and stuff.

The first G+ hangout is scheduled for August 31st 7:00pm EST/CST. For those of you in the southern hemisphere, that’s 1 September 10am AEST. So if you fancy joining us, go pick up this month’s book, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and we look forward to seeing you there. 

You can learn more about us by:

Joining our group on Goodreads
Liking our Page on Facebook
Checking out our Website

And here’s a little more about Club Fantasci and what we hope to achieve:

We want to expose you to the full gamut of the speculative fiction genre, including science fiction, hard SF, militaristic SF, high/epic fantasy, dark fantasy, dystopian, cyberpunk, steampunk, space opera, paranormal, urban fantasy, SFF romance and erotica, and everything in between.
 

We want to educate readers on good writing in speculative fiction, entertain with witty banter, and above all have a fantastic time. Fiction need not be literary to be well written, and good writing need not be boring or mundane! We promise you we’ll do our best to bring you a good book every month, and if not, we’ll tell you why it’s not! For a bit of light fun, we’ll also be featuring a wine of the month and picking a song that best fits the book.

Club Fantasci will introduce the “Wine of the Month” and each of the reviewers will pick music they feel best represents the current “Book of the Month.” So bring your book, keep that wineglass topped up, and don’t forget your iPod!

The “Wine of the Month” for August is a 2011 “Suited Muscat” from Sort This Out Cellars Winery in Las Vegas, NV.

Alternatively, you can connect with the reviewers
 
The Lowry Agency:
 

Dionne Lister

Shannon Million

Ciara Ballintyne

You can read the official press release for the launch of Club Fantasci here
 

If you missed it, check out my guest post on POV Rules and when it’s OK to break them here

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!