It’s been a while since my last post but I can say I have spent the time well and I am feeling refreshed. So what’s new? Well for one I have a short story coming out in Electric Spec at the end of this month, called False Negative. There are some kind words about it from editor Lesley Smith here. Needless to say, I’m pretty happy about that. Also, I’m back to work on The Only City Left parts 31 and up and I’m quite excited about that as well. Besides those (and other) writing projects, I have also been reading a lot of short stories to get into the short story mindset, and I’ve managed to read a few novels and discover a few new-to-me webcomics, too. Here’s a sampling.
Tales of the Emerald Serpent (Shared World Anthology)
I grew up reading a lot of books (surprise!), and some of my favorites were the Thieves’ World books, edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and later him and Lynn Abbey together. Not only were the stories full of swords-and-sorcery fun, the characters that each author brought to the book would sometimes pop up in the other authors’ stories, and there was an overarching plot that all the writers were working to build together. I loved it.
So when I saw a Kickstarter for Tales of the Emerald Serpent that promised to revive the old-school shared world anthology model, it was an easy decision to pledge for an e-book so I could at least check it out. How to judge a new shared world, though, against my glowing memories of books I hadn’t read in years? I would be happy if the book had: 1) an interwoven, overarching plot; 2) fun swords-and-sorcery stories with characters that I found intriguing; and 3) an interesting setting. Tales of the Emerald Serpent met my criteria and managed to surprise and impress me along the way. Here’s why.
Thieves’ World had the city of Sanctuary, an outpost city that contained a dangerous ghetto called the Maze. Emerald Serpent has Taux, a stone-carved city whose previous inhabitants fell prey to some Lovecraftian doom, leaving an empty but cursed city behind which was eventually reinhabited by those willing to risk life in a city whose very stones whisper curses at them. As settings go, it has great story potential and it feels well-realized. While this first volume focuses on the Maze-like Black Gate district, there are hints of other parts of the city that I hope will be fleshed out more in another volume, like the Wizards’ Tower.
The characters are a nice mix of scoundrels, mages, and fighters of various races, and in this universe different races have access to different elemental magic to a greater or lesser degree. I can easily say that I would be happy to read about all the main characters again, which goes along with my opinion that all the stories in this first volume are well-done. Standouts for me include editor Scott Taylor’s story “Charlatan,” for the sheer bravado of its main character, Savino; “Water Remembers” by Julie E. Czerneda, for crafting a story that works well in itself but that also left me wanting to find out what happened before the story began and what happens next; and “The One Thing You Can Never Trust” by Harry Connolly, for creating an unlikely action hero in Emil Lacosta, a mage who specializes in love potions. Talk about the power of love, Emil has it and he’s not afraid to use it, to deadly effect.
Those stories were great, but like I said, all the stories were good. The surprising part for me was how well woven together they were, too. I went into the book expecting the events in each story to follow the events of the one before it, and it took me a while to realize that the stories jump around in time quite a bit. Once I realized that, I also noticed how they fit together like intricate puzzle pieces, and by the end of the book I wanted to re-read the whole thing now that I “got it,” like when you got to the end of the Sixth Sense for the first time and wanted to immediately re-watch it. (I didn’t re-read it, though. Too much to do!)
If you like dueling swordsmen (and -women), magic-filled action and adventure, love both true and enchanted, and stories that work on their own and as part of a shared whole, get thee hence and pick up a copy of Tales of the Emerald Serpent. What Scott and the involved writers have accomplished is not only a solid shared-world book, but stories and characters that call out for a sequel. Here’s to a new era of shared worlds!
Requiem in the Key of Prose (short story)
Here’s your assignment: Write a gripping, touching science-fiction short story that is also a primer on a variety of writing techniques such as first person, present tense, flashback, metaphor, etc. Go ahead. It’s not that easy, is it? But Jake Kerr manages it quite deftly in the July 2012 issue of Lightspeed Magazine with his short story, “Requiem in the Key of Prose.” Kerr manages to speedily set up a world in which the Earth’s atmosphere has become unbreathable, forcing cities to dome themselves off and create their own oxygen. Into that setting enter Adam and Violet, a young couple who become inextricably tied up with ensuring the continued working of one dome city.
I was impressed with the speed and clarity with which Kerr sets up the world, Adam and Violet’s relationship, and the central conflict, and also how each segment of the story is a lesson in a specific writing techniques, without feeling at all pedantic. But don’t take my word for it. At less than 2500 words, this is a quick read I can recommend to even the most casual of readers.
The Adventures of Athena Wheatley (long-form webcomic)
The full title of this reality-skewing, time-traveling, gender-bending webcomic by Sylvan Migdal is The Adventures of Athena Wheatley, or, Warp & Weft; A Graphic Novel. I would describe it as The Time Machine meets Futurama by way of the sexual revolution, but that doesn’t really capture the fun and lunacy of this webcomic.
In the first three panels, a large piece of an Earth-like planet is shaved off from the rest of the planet by some mysterious force. (Maybe it’s the Earth in the future… the landmasses look different and there are two moons, but, well, anything is possible, as we later discover.) Anyway, in the aftermath of this apocalyptic event, we meet super-physicist Athena Wheatley, who is struck in the head by a protester’s rock and wakes up in the year 1841, where she runs a clock shop and, oh yeah, has a time machine in her basement.
So is the vision of the future we saw a true one, or is it all in Athena’s dreams? The answer is unclear because when Athena does travel to the future, it doesn’t look like the one she was dreaming about. The story shifts back and forth between realities as we are introduced to the evil Dr. Moultrie (you know he’s evil because not only does he steal Athena’s journal and claim credit for her work, but he eats some of her cheese and wipes his hands on her curtains, the fiend), an artist named Dave, an edutainment bot with wings named Twan, and a spaceship full of earth cheese, to name a few of the major players so far.
I may not understand what’s going on all the time, but the future world(s?) Athena adventures through are ridiculous and entertaining, and with the evil Dr. Moultrie on her trail and a planet sliced nearly in half, there is definitely an element of danger and tension that keeps the story from being merely a travelogue of future insanity. This is one webcomic that once I found it, I could not stop reading until I had caught up on it, so if you haven’t already, I recommend you go check it out. One caveat: if you’re put off by cartoon nudity and sexually explicit situations, you might want to stay away. The future (or at least one of them) is full of the stuff.