Posts that have been categorized as: "Elitist University"
A timeless classic is a term that should be uttered rarely. Timeless implies you could pick it up today, read it in ten years, and still come away with a new perspective, a new rage at a book that challenges you politically, socially, and spiritually. DUNE, the grandfather of modern science-fantasy, in my opinion, of course, is the black sheep of the pulp Science Fiction family that ran away from a raygun shooting, fish bowl shaped, space helmet wearing universe of tomorrow. Instead, it is a morality play in line with Shakespeare, a political examination of tyranny, prophecy, good intentions, and how a tiny, insignificant planet holds the real-politik resource to create or destroy galactic dynasties with a simple drop of an atomic bomb. Even if its vision of the future is a wrong-way mirror compared to the projections of today, it cannot be overstated how vital, how genre-changing it was to the language, the imagery, and the soul of Science Fiction. DUNE deserves all its accolades both in terms of story, theme, character, and its sprawling, fully realized false future that never came to be.
DUNE, the first in a long series of novels by Frank Herbert, tells the story of humanity millennia in the future. Certain technology is suspect, due to dark atrocities brought about by atomics (atomic bombs and other atomic-powered technology) and robotic uprisings, in the vein of contemporaries like Arthur C. Clarke. The universe is ruled by a galactic emperor who divides planets into the stewardship of noble houses. Within this viper’s nest of nobles clashing against each other, there are monastic orders like the Bene Gesserit, an all female order of psionically gifted matrons manipulating a genetic conspiracy for millennia, who vie for influence and control within the Galactic Padishah Empire.
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Vanessa’s Top Ten
Posting my Top Ten cuz people have asked and, yes, they are listed in a particular order (however they’re subject to change should something better come along)–my favorite is listed first, because I’m not mean. I’m also not going to claim that any of these are The Best Books Anyone Should Read, but if you agree with my reviews, you would probably enjoy these, too.
#1. PALADIN of SOULS by Lois McMaster Bujold (2005)
Dowager Queen Ista’s life’s purpose has changed: she’s now a widow, her daughter is married, and her invalid mother is gone. At the start of the book she’s a wrung-out and heartbroken woman who wants to escape a painful past. In a desire to leave her family’s estate and find a new purpose, she cooks up a pilgrimage and takes to the road with a female courier as her handmaiden, the priest of a half-demon god, and a small escort. Now finally–finally!–Ista’s true personality can emerge from a woman who’s lived in the shadow of her family to someone with confidence and presence who must lead her entourage through difficult circumstances. There’s magic, gods, demons, fascinating characters, scenery pertinent to the story, and a big problem only Ista can solve. It helps that Bujold’s prose is crisp and she provides a steady stream of revelations. I read this book about once a year to help me remember that just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you can’t have adventures or learn something new about yourself.Read the rest of this review »
Blog-Off Entry Commentary: Defining Character
Character is the third-most important aspect of a story. Hah! Bet you never expected to hear something like that come out of my mouth. Great character is not the most important piece of a story? Blasphemy! The fact of the matter is that the ability to string words together in a manner coherent enough that someone will actually want to pick up the result and read it is arguably the most important piece of the storybook puzzle. Fortunately, it is also one of those things that you can get better at with practice at reading and writing. So, not difficult, just time consuming. Second on that list of importance is likely the hook: that piece of “zing” (as John Brown says) that grabs a reader’s attention and gives you a little temporal real estate to work with. Those are pretty much one-offs, though. You find ’em, you stick ’em into the beginning of your story, and then you’re done with ’em. What is it then that comes next, if not for character? What else will capture a reader’s mind or heart in such a way that they will not only keep reading that particular story, but will also keep them coming back to you for more story again and again? There is no other answer. It can only be character. And yet, for how vitally important character is to a story, it seems I find stories time and again that fail to get it right. So I thought I’d make a few notes and write a thing or two about it in connection with the SPFBO in hopes that it might help someone along their path to being a great author. (We’re all just charitable like that here at EBR, and this has nothing to do with the fact that we only want to spend our time reading amazing stories. Okay. Maybe that last part, just a teensy bit.)
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Blog-Off Entry Commentary: Balanced Storytelling
Okay, so you guys totally had to know that another one of these was coming your direction. It’s been way too long since we’ve been able to pontificate on yet another reason why there is so much crap out there in the self-published world. Or, at least, stories that feel like crap when you read them. Because, let’s be honest, the overwhelmingly large majority of story ideas out there could turn into absolutely amazing novels–heck, entire series for that matter–if they were only dropped into the head of a great author instead of an ignorant noob. That’s why it’s uber important, in our vaulted opinions, that everyone understand a few key concepts when starting out: because everyone starts out as a noob. Yes, even we at EBR were once citizens of noobdom. And yet, no one ever picks up their three-thousand dollar Facebook machine (MacBook) for the first time, says to themselves, “Self? You’re about to sit down and write an amazing novel,” and is then able to sit down and actually deliver. A lot of them make particular mistakes, and it doesn’t take long for readers like us to become painfully aware of what’s holding those stories back from making a reader’s day. So grab your notebooks, sit your own butt in a chair, and get ready for yet another round of goodness from your Friendly Neighborhood Elitists.
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Elitist Classics: The Hero and the Crown
With all the popular YA novels out there sporting wishy-washy teenage ‘heroines’, it’s time to introduce you to a classic that does it right. For the kids of my generation there was Robin McKinley’s THE HERO AND THE CROWN, the winner of the 1985 Newbery Medal Award.
Aerin is the only child of the king. The problem? She’s a girl. Since her deceased mother was a foreigner (and it’s whispered she was a witch), and Aerin has inherited her pale skin and red hair, she’s snubbed and ignored. She discovers a book about the dragons that used to threaten Damar, and on her own learns how to make kenet, an ointment that protects the wearer from the effects of fire, and trains herself to fight dragons. When word comes that a local village is being terrorized by a small dragon, Aerin with the kenet and her father’s old war horse, goes to fight it. Unfortunately, it’s not only the smaller dragons who begin to return.
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Blog-off Entry Commentary: Point of View
Point of view (PoV) is how a story is narrated, usually through the eyes of a main character. If writers are doing PoV right, it shouldn’t even be noticeable, it fades into the background. But when it’s done wrong, it’s a slap in the face. First-time authors don’t give PoV the attention it deserves. They treat it like the short kid when picking basketball teams during P.E. because there are better athletes of storytelling: setting, character, and plot. But we need the short kid to have a full team, and ignoring PoV is like not having a full team. Viewpoint is important because it affects how the story is told and the connections readers feel with the characters.
Let’s define a few terms:
- First-person–Uses “I” to tell the story. Not used as often as third-person because it isn’t as flexible, but when done right is fun to read (prevalent in thrillers, YA, Urban Fantasy, and the ramblings of narcissists).
- Second-person–Uses “you” to tell the story (Choose Your Own Adventure, RPG adventure primers, technical manuals, and lectures from your parents).
- Third-person–Refers to “he” and “she” to tell the story. Most commonly used viewpoint in SF&F (as well as Vulcan mind melds). Styles include “limited” (one head per scene) and “omniscient” (sees and knows everything within a story).
- Alternating viewpoint–When you just have to be in everybody’s business. Switches viewpoints between characters within a story (i.e., first-person for one character, third-person limited for others…seen most recently in RESIDUE! First-person PoV alternating viewpoints appear in books narrated via letters, such as DRACULA).
Blog-off Entry Commentary: Internet Presence
Like all of the other reviewers here at EBR, I have a day job. It’s not one that I tout all that much as it’s a fall-back job that I kind of transitioned into after not being able to find a job in my field (rocket science). I’m a web programmer. So, I kind of feel obligated to say a thing or two about this relatively important part of the self-published author’s job.
My thoughts on the topic can be boiled down to something that is pretty simple (TL;DR):
Have an internet presence.
Ask yourself a question: what’s the first thing you do when you find a new author that you like? I don’t know about you, but I don’t pass go, I don’t collect $200, I go directly to Mr. Google. In that search, I look for a website, a blog, a Facebook page – something that will give me three distinct things:
- A listing of more stories by the author and possibly access to them
- Some kind of idea that they’re an active author
- A timeline looking forward to their writing activities/goals/publications
There are also a couple of things that turn me off rather quickly when I find them:
- No internet presence at all for the author
- An author-oriented site that is several months, or even several years, old
As a fledgling, self-published author what is the one thing that you want to do for someone that has very recently read one of your stories and absolutely LOVED it? You want to keep them coming back. Why is that? Because they are willing to exchange their hard-earned dollars for some more of your particular brand of story magic. And even though you love crafting stories, and having others join in the goodness of those things you create, let’s face it: a guy’s gotta eat, yeah?Read the rest of this post »
Gestures of Humanity
The following editorial is a guest post from Epic Fantasy author Peter Orullian. When he approached me about writing a guest post for EBR, I jumped at the opportunity. It is a rare author that can so clearly share his or her views on various aspects of their craft. I’m so pleased and honored that Peter chose to share his thoughts here with all of us.
Gestures of Humanity
There’s every possibility that I wouldn’t be writing fiction today if it wasn’t for horror. More specifically, Stephen King. Hyperbole? Maybe. In recent years, I’ve mostly written epic fantasy. And it’s also true I’ve had the itch to be a writer ever since I was a boy. But if nothing else, Stephen King catalyzed that desire. How? One way to explain it is the contrast between light and dark. Or, said another way: gestures of humanity.
Stick with me.Read the rest of this post »
Blog-off Entry Commentary: On Beginnings
Beginnings. Always been a heavy topic of discussion here at EBR. A good beginning can make a book awesome. A bad beginning can absolutely ruin a novel. Think about it. How many novels have you put down because the opening was horrendous? We’re talking about books you pick off the shelves at your local bookstore. At EBR, we’ll admit to triple digits. You?
With the The Great Self-published Fantasy Blog-off, the importance of beginnings has become a major focus for us. Many of the authors who submitted their novels have questions. Why isn’t my book selling? Why am I getting poor reviews? What can I do to improve it? Etc, etc. A huge part of the issues these self-pubbed authors are facing stems directly from the writing, but even mediocre writing can be dealt with if the story is good and the hook is set. There are so many published examples of this that it’s ridiculous.
Let’s talk about general stuff to avoid though:
- Slow pacing
- Starting too early in the story
- Description heavy
- History of the cosmos
- Describing your map
- Mysterious babies
- Forwards used to tell the readers that if you don’t like the book, it’s YOUR fault
Okay, maybe some of those were not so general. Still, that is by no means a comprehensive list. Nor does it mean you can’t do any of those things. The better writer you are, the more you can get away with. Current fantasy novelists prove this all the time. But let’s get into the details of some of the things we saw, and why they didn’t work.Read the rest of this post »
Blog-off Entry Commentary: First Impressions
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a tired, old saying that should be put to rest in regards to actual books. It’s a fine sentiment when applied to people but taken literally it’s damaging to the practice of publishing. Call me superficial but I believe it’s only natural to judge a book by its cover. I also believe you should factor in title and plot synopsis (if you get that far). Browsing the aisles of a book store or scrolling through Amazon there are countless titles vying for attention. Great covers get lost in the midst of this sensory overload, it’s true, but bad covers are even more likely to be skimmed over. If your book reaches out to someone through all the clutter it better catch their eye for all the right reasons.
Self-published books carry a stigma for many reasons; but before a critic can even dismiss them for horrible grammar, typos, thin plots, thinner characters, wonky POV, or any number of errors the critic first has to first be enticed to even pick up and open the book. It’s all about first impressions and this is one area where self-published authors have a notoriously hard time. I get requests in my inbox to read and review self-published books frequently.Read the rest of this post »