#WyrdAndWonder Kickoff post!

IMAGE CREDIT: pegasus images by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

Hey all, so there’s this thing that happens in May called Wyrd & Wonder, in which fans of Fantasy Lit from across the internet get together and celebrate this awesome genre. I’ve watched from the sidelines in years past, enjoying all of these wonderful blog posts and twitter threads, but this year, since I’m blogging again, I thought it might be cool to participate.

I typically post reviews on Wednesdays, so I’ll continue to do that, but I’ll try to keep them as Fantasy genre related as possible. For anybody following my long list of Hugo contenders, you’ll notice that most of them are on that list too (double duty!) and some are even Hugo Finalists (triple duty!).

I will also try to post a response to one of their challenge posts. Mostly this will be on Mondays, but there will be a couple other random days as well, if I have time, or because I thought the challenge prompt was cool.

Finally, if for whatever reason, you actually come to this blog to read my fiction, I’ll continue to post new fiction on Fridays. I cannot promise that these stories are considered ‘fantasy’, but most of them so far have involved made-up animals so . . . that seems pretty fantastical to me.

Below is my plan as it currently stands. I’ll revise the titles and provide links here as I do the writing for this. We’ll see how this goes . . . Very excited to be a part of it all. Thank you @deargeekplace, @imyril & @joriestory for putting this together! Can’t wait to see how this goes . . .

Here’s the list:
May 3rd – #MapMonday: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps
May 5th – Should ‘Black Sun’ get a Hugo?
May 9th – Spine Poetry for Mother’s Day*Failed this one as alas, I spent the entire weekend at the beach with mom. Plus my book shelf is not suited for this challenge AT ALL. Gotta work on buying some Titles that aren’t so ‘in world’. Oh well.
May 10th – Mixed feelings: The Truth About Dinosaur Lords
May 12th – Review: Song of Achilles
May 17th – Can’t Wait to read
May 19th – Review: Silver in the Wood
May 24th – TBR? books you really should have read by now
May 26th – Review: Empire of Gold
May 31st – What did you enjoy the most abt May weird and wonder?

Enjoy! and feel free to leave comments on what you’re most looking forward to this May for Wyrd and Wonder.

Song of Achilles: Still a Song Worth Singing #WyrdAndWonder

My Preconceived Notions

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t have some conception of Achilles’ legend. It’s the kind of story that you feel you’ve always known, even though you can hardly remember the first time you’ve heard it. Certainly it has influenced tons of media (a personal favorite of mine being Led Zeppelin’s Achilles’ Last Stand which apparently is more about tax evasion than Greek warriors), and will continue to do so for eternities to come.

But for me, I think my first look at the Iliad was probably in the sixth grade although I’m not certain how much of it we actually read, or whether or not it was just summary. At some point I had a paperback of it on my shelf, but which edition or when I actually read it, is as shrouded in my mind as the facts surrounding the ancient city of Troy itself.

In college, I read more pieces of it for a Western Literature class. The thing I remember most is that according to whichever translation we were reading, the very first line of the poem is simply the exclamation to rage! I was newly accepted into a fraternity that semester, and it seemed a very “Greek” thing to yell. Especially when listening to the speaker busting dial-up modem that is (was?) Dub-Step.

It was probably during that course that I was starting to put together my first inklings that Patroclus and Achilles may have had something more going on than friendship, but I can’t say that I really gave it much thought.

But even with all of that floating around in my mind, the movie Troy, with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom — and I feel like I should hate to admit this, because in general everyone hates the movie Troy (especially Roger Ebert), but I absolutely love it — is probably the strongest image thus far in my mind, of who Achilles was and how his story went.

My only other entry into this comparison is Jesse Beeson-Tate’s Achilles vs Mecha-Hector which I will continue to talk about fondly on this blog, but will probably never re-read to do an actual post about. That it exists at all is half of what makes it so wonderful . . . I digress.

All of this to say, by 2021, I did not think there would be much I could glean from another retelling of the Trojan Myth. Surely I’ve heard every telling conceivable, or if not, the nuance between the next retelling and what I already knew would be so similar as to be nearly imperceptible. In fact, I need no longer waste my time with tired old Achilles and his stupid pride. I had wrung every last drop from that myth, and could better use the time elsewhere, with newer, more modern stories.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Enter Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles . . .

Told from the perspective of Achilles’ best friend and lover, Patroclus, Miller sings a song that sounds familiar, but feels completely new. It’s as if I know the notes, but not in which order they will come, or how fast they will go.

Each moment I was reading this book, I could feel myself checking the scenes before me against the story as I believed it should go, but instead of Patroclus’ beautiful catchphrase when describing Achilles – This and this and this – I found myself asking: What’s this? And what’s this and this and this?

Somehow, this book manages to buck so many assumptions at once, that there is a temptation while reading to become hung up, to want to stop and check whether or not the legend of Hercules really included him going mad, and killing his wife and children (because the Disney version did not; and now I’m also wondering if this core element of our beloved Greek God slayer Kratos, was ripped from Hercules’ myth who in-game is supposed to be his brother but again I digress. Yeesh!)

Resist this temptation! And also resist the urge to try and figure out how and when the parts that you know are gonna happen, will happen, and how. Because it’s a Greek Tragedy, those parts will come. They will get that same effect from you they always have, but you’ll be so busy worrying about it, that you will not enjoy the parts you weren’t expecting.

Like Achilles playing the lute, and Patroclus being awkward, bony, and terrible at fighting (although he does pretty well for himself a few times). Or the two of them being happy together and not caring what others thought about them, for these things truly are what make the book so enjoyable to read.

Final thoughts

To put it shortly, this book is a beautiful, if somewhat (expectedly) sad love story. It is well told and engaging through and through. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially those whose conception of the Achilles, Troy, and the Trojan War matched anything I talked about at the beginning of my post.

Anyway, thanks for reading this, and give Song of Achilles a shot!

The Sand Seal

I think it’s only been about two weeks since I posted any fiction, but somehow it feels like much longer. Anyway, this week, Max is starting a new job at Port Monster Aquarium, after leaving Ms. Pine’s employment (you can read all about why in Teamwork Part 1 and Teamwork Part 2). I’ve got a couple stories planned for this setting so hopefully it’s an enjoyable one.

For those counting (so . . . me only), this story is 250 ish words longer than the last, weighing in at 1794. (I was aiming for 1750!)

The Sand Seal

Apparently, Jerry Quixotic hadn’t always been the type of man who would crouch waist deep in an Amazonian river, hand scooped just under a Shaiger’s dorsal fin – to calm it obviously – and take a selfie. He’d once been the type of person who would tuck in his T-shirt, and push his thick-lens glasses up onto his nose before using the rubber of an eraser to punch numbers into a calculator.  

But now? Max had seen the images of Jerry plastered all over Port Monster Aquarium. The man was fearless, posing with nearly every mysterious and dangerous creature Max had ever heard of, and many he’d not.

Max struggled to reconcile the man he saw now – muscles straining his too-short khaki shorts and ‘safari’ shirt, wavy straw colored hair, thick leather boots and no glasses – with the man Jerry reportedly had been.

“But because of these animals?” Jerry said, showing Max how to grab a rattle snake behind the head with an extra-long trash grabber. ”Their friendship? Well I’m changed! And I just know it’ll change things for you too.”

Jerry tossed the snake into the Sand Seal habitat. It looked a bit like a hockey rink, if the ice had been dropped into the floor about a foot, and filled in with sand. Plastic bleachers surrounded the pit where spectators could watch the seal as it frolicked, played, or hunted the snakes which it ate. A hard and clear material surrounded the pit, raising up almost to the ceiling. Jerry had said it was plexiglass, and that it managed to keep the Sand Seals inside the habitat when wood, metal, and solid rock wouldn’t.

Max wasn’t sure about it all, not yet. The strangeness of the animals was no problem, he’d seen strange animals when he worked for Ms. Pine. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to be ‘changed’ as Jerry had said. Just coming here to work was enough of a change for him.

Friendship sounded nice though. The one friend he’d made working for Ms. Pine, Trevor, had been pretty distant since he’d left. This would be a good chance for him to clean the slate.

Max watched as a fairly normal looking Harbor Seal with whitish grey fur, snoozed lazily on a patio on the other side of the pit. Its snout could have belonged to a puppy, with only the tiniest whiskers protruding forth to sense for predators, or prey.

When it heard the snake’s rattle, it sat up and looked over at the newcomer. Max saw its eyes go wide with excitement and it immediately rolled onto its ample stomach, sort of bouncing over to the nearest edge of the platform.

It slipped from the patio, and the once placid sand began to ripple and rock as if the seal had skipped a rock across a lake rather than touched it with a paw. The seal slipped below its surface effortlessly and reemerged eating the snake and then swimming towards Jerry and Max, its round black eyes expectant for more.

“Your turn!” Jerry said, turning to grab a bucket full of Sand Seal food. Max noticed the man’s shirt was not only tucked into his shorts, but his undershorts as well.

So maybe Jerry hadn’t completely changed then.

Jerry handed the trash grabber to Max along with the bucket of snakes. Max held one of the snakes out to the seal – which Jerry called Bartholomew – and the seal had immediately come up and snatched it away; simple as a stroll down easy street.

Good. Max needed something easy right now. He’d loved all the creatures he’d met at Ms. Pine’s, but none of them had been easy.

“Look at that!” Jerry said. “Fast friends indeed!”

* * *

Max smiled as Bartholomew caught the first snake in its jaws, and Jerry made a cheering sound as if a horde of rabid hockey fans really did sit around the pit. Not that there were any bleachers for them to sit in anymore. Indeed the Sand Seal Habitat hardly looked anything like when Max had arrived a week ago.

Bartholomew returned to his patio to finish enjoying the treat.

As Max looked around, it seemed almost everything had already been stripped away for the renovation, though some plexiglass bordered the pit. A large construction cat sat unused while a crane was similarly vacant nearby. Sheets of plastic lay suspended in the air, in the process of being moved, while the cat’s shovel appeared to have been stopped mid action.

When Max had scoffed at the worker’s untidy departure, Jerry said “Their automated Max. They start or quit on a timer like the sprinkler system. It’s hard to find help around here that’s as good as you.”

That had been nice to hear. Max had to admit, everything was going so much better here than it had at Ms. Pine’s house. In a week Jerry had trained Max on everything he would need to look after Bartholomew and they’d started working on tricks with the volley ball and some other props.

But Max felt his shining moment had come after Jerry moved Bartholomew to a new location within the park.   

The other Keepers and Trainees had started reporting that Bartholomew seemed troubled. He’d lay lazily atop the sand in the new enclosure, not even bothering to use the ability which gave his kind their name. Max had eventually witnessed it himself. Bartholomew would let out these noises which Max could only interpret as a sigh, and then shift his head from one place to another.

Apparently, Sand Seals were quite territorial and rarely ever left the dunes they inhabited in the wild. Was Bartholomew homesick? Max could understand that. As nice as things were here, he still often thought of his old job at Ms. Pine’s.

That was when Max got an idea. What would be the harm in taking him back to the old pit for a little while? Maybe Max could wean Bartholomew off his old environment slowly.

When Max had tried, Bartholomew’s eyes went wide and he bounced towards Max as quickly as his tubby body would allow. Max need only waive his hand to follow and Bartholomew did, all the way into the old building.

And now, here they were. The two had played together for several hours – most of Max’s shift – and Bartholomew was energetic and bright the entire time. Jerry looked down to his watch.

”It’s time to get him back,” Jerry said. He seemed pleased.

Max motioned with his hand, calling Bartholomew to follow him. This time the seal wouldn’t budge. Apparently, easy street had also been closed for renovation.

Perhaps more food would get Bartholomew going. Max made to scoop another snake out with the trash grabber but stopped at Jerry’s urgent voice.

“C’mon Max. Let’s go!” He was not pleased anymore.

Suddenly, there was a loud sound of an enormous engine coming to life. Max looked to the construction cat in time to see it raising its massive arm up and down, the sensor on its shovel attempting to detect the level of the sand, but there was no sensor at the top of the arm to detect the plexiglass sheeting that hung suspended from the still motionless crane.

Max cringed and there was a harsh clang of metal. One sheet of the plexiglass slid free of its constraints and fell into the sand, wedging itself upright like some kind of flat, plastic obelisk. Bartholomew panicked, racing back to his patio. 

The construction cat began scooping out the sand, oblivious to the fact that with each shovel it removed, the sheet became less stable and was already looming precariously over the patio. Eventually its weight would bring it crashing to the ground. Max’s heart stopped when he thought of what would happen to Bartholomew.

The seal was not lying idle though. He’d turned the concrete patio to the same liquid-like consistency as he did the sand, and was diving and darting trying to get away from the threat. But he was heading in the wrong direction.

Bartholomew fled away from the danger but was blocked by the remaining plexiglass that bordered the patio. He needed to come towards the falling plexiglass, for there was still space there to escape.

Max turned to Jerry, just as another piece of plexiglass fell from the crane, this one shattering into shards atop the sand. Bartholomew redoubled his efforts but Jerry’s skin had simply gone white as if no blood remained in his entire body. His eyes moved to Max thought the rest of him stood stock still.

“Go on. Do something!” he whispered, as though anything louder would alert the gaze of some terrifying predator.

Max couldn’t believe it. This was the man who – Nevermind.

Max dove into the remaining sand — an odd sensation he didn’t dwell on — swimming through it as if it was water. Calling Bartholomew’s name Max waived his hand as he had done to bring him over here.

Bartholomew stopped his frantic attempts at escape and looked over at Max. He nearly went for it on reflex alone but then remembered the looming threat, which had just dropped another few feet, and looked suspiciously at Max. He resumed his flight in the other direction.

Max sighed, and began swimming towards Bartholomew, unsure if there was some way he might be able to grab on to the creature and drag him. He had to try.

There was another creaking sound as the plexiglass sheet began to buckle under its weight. Bartholomew poked his head up above the sand, and seeing that Max was now also in danger, began swimming straight for Max.

Bartholomew was like a bullet in the sand. Max had never seen anything move so fast. But the glass had given way and there was a weightless quiet as it fell. Involuntarily, Max closed his eyes.

Max felt something hit him in the chest hard. He bounced along the sand realizing he’d expected to feel the blow atop his head. When Max opened his eyes, he was on his back, the sand firmly supporting his weight. Bartholomew lie in his open arms, embracing him with his paws as much as his tubby little body would allow.

Bartholomew opened his round black eyes, and Max could swear he was smiling. The two separated and Max stood up and looked around.

The construction cat had stopped shoveling and all of the suspended plexiglass seemed to have already fallen free of the crane. Jerry Quixotic was nowhere to be found. Apparently, he wasn’t the type of man who would dive into danger to save a friend. Max waived to Bartholomew and the two left for the temporary sand pit together . . .

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed The Sand Seal. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Should ‘Black Sun’ Get A Hugo? #WyrdAndWonder

For new viewers from the #WyrdAndWonder crowd (also check out my previous Wyrd And Wonder Posts), I’ve been working my way through a really long list of Hugo contenders and asking the question: “Should [book title] get a Hugo?”

Obviously, my priorities changed slightly once the Hugo Finalists were announced, but I’m still going to be blogging as many of the original list as I can until the award is given sometime in December.

Luckily for me, this book fits squarely into the Fantasy genre, and I’m not going to have any qualms reviewing it as part of Wyrd And Wonder.

Now, this is only the second book on the finalist list that I’ve finished, and for me, it is the front runner for the award right now. I reviewed Network Effect by Martha Wells, a while back, and concluded that while it was a great book (and I love me some Murderbot!), it was not the right choice for the Hugo this year, as I decided it wasn’t ‘new’ enough to really reflect the genre at this moment.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is the first entry in (what I assume) will be a trilogy (or maybe a series), and there is very little here that I would not consider ‘new’, at least to me.

The first thing I noticed about the book (other than its harrowing first chapter), was the depth of the world in which the story takes place. In an interview with Roanhorse on NPR, the author says she’d been:

“. . . reading about Pre-Columbian cultures for decades. But for this book I really dug into everything from Polynesian sailing methods to what we know of the Maritime Maya to the habits of corvids. I also read a lot about crows.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/10/17/924734316/i-longed-to-see-something-different-so-i-wrote-it-questions-for-rebecca-roanhors

All of that is used to awe inspiring effect in Black Sun, whether it be out in the sea, sailing the mother waters under a Teek captain, or crossing the Holy City of Tova’s suspension bridges to be closer to the sky. And after 464 pages (well almost 13 hrs for me on audio), there is still so much more of this world I would like to see.

I also really enjoyed the role that crows played in this story. Our black feathery friends (or maybe enemies) are never skimped upon when it comes to depictions in literature – renown as tricksters, harbingers (of fate or death), and companions to the gods of many cultures – the crows in Black Sun felt fresh and different, and I’m anxiously awaiting more stories like it.

Also important, I learned a new (to me) pronoun. Shey/shem/sheir/shemselves. It’s no secret that people learn from the books we read, it is perhaps one of the most important reasons to read in the first place, to expand our horizons. I’m thankful to Rebecca Roanhorse for including this detail in her work.

Finally, the book felt like it had a story to tell that was more than just the events that happened in the plot (I suppose in English classes they call that theme). In particular, the book deals with prejudice in many varieties, but I felt that despite the darkness of the events that were taking place, I still held hope that perhaps those prejudices could be overcome.

So Hugo?

Yup! This one is the one for me so far (and actually a bit of a surprise since I did not much enjoy Roanhoarse’s other Hugo contender Trail of Lightning). I think what sold it for me (say over Network Effect I mentioned earlier), was the themes which seem so prescient, and of this moment, as to be a worthy representation of what the genre is considering during 2021 (well 2020 I guess but these lines are fuzzy).

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about Black Sun. Please let me know what you thought of the book in the comments! Thanks for reading!

#WrydAndWonder #MapMonday Post: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps

Alright, so that’s probably the longest blog title I’ve ever done, and this is by FAR the longest post I’ve ever written, but please bear with me, I think there’s some pretty great stuff here. Anywho, we’re here now. Where exactly? I’m not sure, if only we had a map which could tell us . . . Ok. Enough of that, it’s time to start.

So apparently, it’s #MapMonday for the Wyrd and Wonder thing I mentioned last post, which means we’re going to go on a bit of a thought exercise (because actual exercise is gross), and consider the state of Maps in the Fantasy genre and (what I see as) some possible future developments. Here we go!

We are here:

So most of us are probably used to reading Fantasy books which have maps that look something like this:

Map of Iraden from Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower

We probably first encountered something like this while reading Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit and have been chasing that high ever since.

Why? Because it makes the world feel real. It helps us immerse ourselves in the Fantasy. Suddenly, ‘The Silent Forest’ (from the image above) isn’t just some random creepy forest, indistinguishable from the countless other creepy forests we’ve read about in other books, it’s THAT one, which we can see, kinda touch (in as much as we can touch the paper), and maybe taste, though I would not recommend it . . . think of your poor book!

Anyway, some books have bigger maps, or multiple maps, or maps with more colors, or interesting patterns. Maps of planets and galaxies, as well as the continents on which our characters experience their stories. This map of Brandon Sanderson’s Roshar, actually kinda looks like a storm cloud, which if you’ve read those books, you’ll know how significant storms are to the people living on this made up continent. In this case, the continent’s shape adds a bit of mystery and meaning to the story.

Map of Roshar from Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive

*Of course The 17th Shard (a Brandon Sanderson Fan community), has already jumped the gun on where I’m going with all this by making this interactive map of Roshar (if you’re a Stormlight fan this is soo cool), but I’m just going to ignore that and give you my ideas too.

Where it might be cool to go . . .

Simply put, 3D maps for authors and interactive fictional maps for readers.

Now, most of what I’ve discussed so far has been from a reader perspective, although the 2D maps undoubtedly help the authors write better worlds and stories, I really think quick, and easy to make 3D map prototypes could really allow authors to visualize their world, and push their creativity even further. So I’ll start there.

3D printing for Map Prototypes and World Visualizations

This stroke of inspiration, comes from a tweet by the author Julie Czerneda (who if you haven’t read, stop now and go read), when she was kind enough to join us in a twitter chat that takes place on Fridays under the tag #scifichat. She writes:

In proper order incase the image doesn’t load:

#SciFiChat my aha moment from the model? There were a few, but the big one was when I was digging at a cliff on one side, to make ravines as one does, and realized the marks looked like claws . . . Ooooh the shivers.

#SciFiChat The other aha from the model was when I broke off some mountain and realized you couldn’t see all the way up the road…secret passage for the win!

https://twitter.com/julieczerneda/status/1362868642841587716

Immediately, I was stunned. For two reasons. The first: I was in love with spontaneity of it all. How — to put it in Bob Ross’s terms — these happy little accidents could inspire an avenue for escape, or a new problem for the protagonists. The second: how just looking at your story world in a physical medium could immerse even the author further into the story. Create new ideas that the abstract concept of world building just could not create without a tangible artifact.

She had also mentioned that she had written a post about how she does the models. These images, and brief description were all I could find, but from what I can gather, her method involves carving polystrene for the landscape, paints, and various other materials that you might know about if you’re a model train builder. It takes a serious time commitment (like 240 hours aka a whole month of 8hr work days), and quite a bit of skill to achieve.

While amazing, this was also a bit discouraging. It’s never too late to learn a new skill or take up a new hobby, but to be able to achieve the kind of skill and mastery on display seems far beyond my reach, especially when trying to learn how to write, which already is enough of a hobby for two life times.

But maybe there were some skills I already possessed which might be similar and perhaps even faster . . .

3D printing, and the Pompeii Prototype

***Caveat here, I have not actually used this model to write a story (yet!), and I started with a 2D map already in hand, but I feel like the 3D image came out simple enough that I could have created it from scratch in a similar amount of time.

Anyway, I started with the following map of Pompeii which I shamelessly downloaded from Wikipedia:

Then, I used Adobe illustrator to focus on several important buildings which I thought would really represent Pompeii in my mind. In this case, it was the Amphitheatre, the Large Palaestra, The Small and Large Theatres, House of Julia Felix (I really need to google who that is!), House of the Surgeon and a few other smaller houses and the wall. From there, it was perhaps an hour or so of work to copy this image into a simple 3D modeling software called TinkerCAD, and extrude (‘pull upward’ into 3D) the prominent buildings.

Tiny Pompeii!

The end result looked like this:

I can just see my MC waking up in the House of the Surgeon to a loud boom in the distance. He has a festering wound in his left leg, but he manages to limp to the doorway and look out. The sky is black, and ash rains from the sky as Mount Vesuvius spits molten rock from its gaping maw. Are the gods angry? Oh no! His beloved! She rents an apartment in the House of Julia Felix . . . He must go to her, but as he limps down the avenue in nothing but his dirty robes, the way is blocked. Patrons from both the Small and Large theatres are bursting through the archways, running here and there in terror . . . well you get the idea haha.

The best part about this, is that this technology is relatively simple to use, and also pretty accessible to any writer who puts their mind to it. A lot of public libraries these days have 3D printers, and I would assume a lot of university libraries would too. And even if you are unable to actually proceed with printing out the object, just mapping it within the software can probably reenact a bit of what Czerneda described earlier.

Augmented Reality (AR) Landscapes

I’ve always felt there was tons of potential for Augmented Reality as an enhancement for literature. Both for readers, and authors. The same utility described above which can aid authors, might also be found, literally by playing with sand.

AR For Authors

Why not combine technologies? 3D Printing and AR!

Yup! Create your world from . . . Sand.

Ok, so this tech might be a little harder to get access to, but I still think it has great potential for authors. Essentially the concept here is, a box filled with sand, over which an image is projected. The geniuses over at UC Davis figured out how to gather topography data from the physical position of the grains of sand within the box, and then project a visualization of that data back onto the sand in real time. Change an aspect of the landscape, say by piling up the sand in one area, and you can actually see the projected image change in real time. The software also allows for some fun effects where you can make it rain, and see how the water would run down the hills and pool in the valleys of your world. The water can also be colored read to look like lava . . .

Also, the images are typically just beautiful to look at so why not try it out. In the image on the right, we also added some 3D printed objects to our world. The dam you see there really stops the digital rain from crossing.

AR For Readers

This is where I start getting really excited.

With the ubiquity of smartphones, almost any printed image could be a trigger for an augmented reality experience. Books already come with a plethora of artwork, whether at the front of a chapter, or interspersed throughout. What if you could use that artwork as a trigger for some AR augmentation.

Essentially the top image would trigger the bottom image on your phone . . .

For instance, let’s say we’re reading a book about everyone’s favorite god slaying badass, Kratos, from the God of War series. Him and Atreus adjourn to the Lake of Nine after fighting the dark elves or some such badassery, and as readers we’re like where is that? What does it look like? Immerse me in this world! Rather than having to flip back to the map in the beginning of the book, or worse find some appendix in the back, we just wave our cellphone over a printed symbol on that page, and our phone shows us the location on a 3D map.

If done well, maybe we can scroll around the map that we’ve discovered so far, but not proceed any further to locations still to come in the book because . . . SPOILERS!! yeesh.

Essentially, we’re getting the information we need to know at the moment we need it, without having to flip through a lot of pages. I’m not sure, but perhaps we could do this on kindle as well, because I’m not sure about you all, but I never look at any images or maps on my paperwhite, because they usually turn up terribly. Now, I could view them in 3D on my phone . . .

Sounds pretty dope.

Pushing Further . . .

Alrighty, I’ve got the wheels turning. What other dope technologies should we use in our fictional maps? Please let me know what you thought in the comments, and if you have any other great ideas, post em below! Thanks all for reading this and if anyone tries any of this, please let me know!

Bye for now . . .

Get to Know the Fantasy Reader #BookTag

So this week, instead of new fiction, I’ve decided to try out this whole book tag thing. I ‘ve never done one before so hopefully it’s fun for you all. Feel free to try it out yourselves and tag me so I can read your answers!

Apparently there are some rules. Here they are . . .

Rules:

  • Make sure you give credit to the original creators of this tag – this tag was originally created by Bree Hill
  • If you want to, pingback to the post you first saw this tag – I first saw this at Paperback Tomes, and then read some more of it at Lost In Neverland.
  • Have fun!

What is your Fantasy origin story? (The first Fantasy you read)

Wow. First question and I’m already unsure how to answer. This will go well . . .

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading Fantasy of some kind. I was only two years old when Dinotopia came out so I’m not sure how much reading I was doing at that point, but it was likely one of the first things I read. Probably the first book I read and was consciously aware of it “being fantasy” was the The Hobbit, and then Lord of the Rings. Of course I ate up all the Harry Potter books when they came out (except maybe the first two? I remember being slightly late to the game on HP)

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

I’d want to be in a Terry Pratchett novel. I feel like my life already has enough ridiculous hijinks happening in it anyway, so why not just lean in and let crazy take the wheel. Make it weird.

And maybe to just really up the weird, we could have a multiverse trope, or a time travel trope like Ground Hog’s Day. Maybe both?

What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. Technically, I read The City of Brass, last year, and just finished The Kingdom of Copper (the sequel), and loved it just as much. Started The Empire of Gold yesterday and it’s shaping up to be good as well. This series has been such a breath of fresh air for me. I hope to be seeing a lot more from Chakraborty in the future (put Daevabad in space! Ok I’ll be calm down now).

What is your favorite fantasy subgenre?

Without a doubt Epic Fantasy. One does not read as much Brando Sando as I do and answer some other subgenre. I would just be lying to myself and everyone around me. I can get behind High Fantasy (honestly this is shades of gray), Sword & Sorcery or even Grimdark, but I’m a real sucker for those EPIC STAKES. Drop me in a secondary world (aka someplace that’s not earth but can be similar), and turn everything up to eleven! Give me your weird mythical creatures (weirder the better), and your less-than-holy gods; give me your warring kingdoms (and political intrigue), your fake history, and made up customs. Dazzle me with your magic . . .

Wow. I think I need to calm down again.

What subgenre have you not read much from?

Steampunk. Really any of the punks, but I think steampunk is the one I’ve been let down the most by. Not sure why, but in my mind, I just want every Steampunk novel I read to be like watching Wild Wild West for the first time, and then when (literally) none of them are, I get disappointed. This is completely my fault as I probably just need to spend some time searching around, and figure out which book is considered the quintessential Steampunk book . . . and then READ THAT BOOK before being judgy, but so far it hasn’t happened. If you have a recommendation, please leave it in the comments.

In a slightly more positive tone, I discovered something called Bronzepunk exists. I would like to search out and find more of that. The fun example that got me hooked is Achilles vs Mecha-Hector, by Jesse-Beeson Tate. Go and read it. It’s a wild ride (I mean how could it not be?). Sadly I’m still waiting for a sequel. Please write more of this!

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors

As mentioned earlier (and many many other times on this blog), Brandon Sanderson is definitely this for me. I’ve read like 30 of his books at this point and I’d probably read 30 more. I think Martha Wells is also achieving this status for me, though I’ve only read her Murderbot Diaries stuff. Hopefully I can visit some of her earlier stuff sometime soon.

So much! So little time!

How do you typically find Fantasy recommendations?(Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram. . .)

Recently? I get a lot of recommendations from my writing group. Like more than anyone can possibly read (which is wonderful). I am also signed up for about a billion newsletters from publishers. I try to keep up with industry awards, so if a book is doing well there, I’ll be more likely to read it. Goodreads also. Then sometimes insta.

What is an upcoming Fantasy release you’re excited for?

This is another tough question as I’m still trying so hard to catch up with last year’s releases that I haven’t payed much attention for what’s on the docket for this year (just look at that TBR).

BUT . . . I recently finished Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (soo good) and while she seems to have plenty of titles I could go back and read (looking at you Gods of Jade and Shadow) I like reading new things too, so Certain Dark Things will probably be my next one. I’m sure there are some genre arguments to be made here, but I’m gonna consider it Fantasy and say that is the one I’m anticipating most at the moment.

What is one misconception about Fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

This is a tough question also, because I think the genre suffers from many misconceptions, but perhaps the most important to me, is that ‘Fantasy’ is just stories about white farm boys slaying dragons. This is just not the case anymore (though it may have been once). In a lot of ways, Fantasy has become something of a platform in which you can tell any story that you want. Want to read a mystery? Well what if it took place in post-Civil War Philadelphia from the point of view of a married couple working as conductors on the Underground Railroad. Well then check out Nicole Glover’s The Conductors.

How about a romance? Perhaps you should read Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand inspired by the Mughal Empire.

Or maybe you WANT to read about dragons. Well there’s still plenty of fresh takes there (look at Johnathan Strahan’s Book of Dragons)

Anyway, there’s something for everyone here in ‘Fantasy land’ so come on down.

**Call back to earlier when I said I didn’t read enough Steampunk . . . Apparently there are STEAMPUNK DRAGONS! I guess I’ll be reading The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swannick soon . . . this has been a fun digression.

If someone had never read a Fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

I’ve seen Harry Potter on a lot of these kinds of posts and I would have to agree, it’s probably the best place to start (as mentioned before, it was one of the places I started). Depending on how old you are, you might be looking for something a little more ‘adult’ (although HP seems very mature by the end of the series), I would recommend Brando Sando’s Mistborn next. I’ve had pretty high success with that one. I’d probably go with The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin next. It’s truly fantastic, and I feel pivotal in a lot of ways for where the genre is (or could be). It’s not a popcorn read though so . . . fair warning.

Who is the most recent Fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I’ve been enjoying reading my friend Mary’s blog, The Inciting Event Blog. Recently, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from her post on maps called How to Build a World Part Two: THE MAP. She also has a super cute dog.

Welp that’s it.

I think that concludes my first foray into book tags. If you’d like to see more of this kind of thing, let me know in the comments. I’ve got a bunch of these lined up that I could do so you’ll probably being seeing more of them in the future. Anywho, thanks for reading this far. I’ll see you next time!

Gideon The Ninth: Fun AND Provoking

I’ll admit, it’s been a little while since I read Gideon the Ninth (November 2020), but since Harrow the Ninth is a Hugo finalist, I thought it might be good to review the first book here, before my eventual review of the sequel. Please forgive any cobwebs that might blow by as I get going . . .

Initial reactions?

I think my initial reactions to this book were a little bit surface level, but definitely positive. Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is a FUN book. This story is equal parts exciting, mysterious, thought provoking . . . and in a lot of instances, just weird. Obviously I loved it!

The main character, Gideon, is probably the main draw for most, and deservedly so. She is — by turns — funny, crass (I think one of the first lines, if not THE first line has to do with her looking at inappropriate magazines), self-serving, heroic, and very likable.

As the story progresses, we get to know her more intimately, and we see that the adjectives I just used are but one facet of Gideon, and that she has many more facets which encourage or contradict our impression of her seemingly at random (although nothing is ever truly random in a novel I suppose). To say it succinctly, Gideon is a mess, and she would probably be the first one to describe herself as such . . . after which she’d probably do pushups.

Now I don’t say that Gideon is a mess because I want imply that this is somehow bad character building, or bad writing. On the contrary I think it is excellent character building and excellent writing because it is super relatable. I guarantee that nobody reading this blog (so like all three of you) has ever found themselves living in a futuristic necromantic society (without having read this book I doubt I would have thought those two words could be used together) in which walking skeletons are quite common, and people routinely raise the dead from their graves. So far as I know, that doesn’t happen, so the fact that Muir is able to get us to relate to a character for which these things are even somewhat normal, is a feat in and of itself.

Then the author boots us into a kind of gothic puzzle-type mystery of which all of Gideon’s comfort with the paranormal, contrives to do her absolutely zero favors.

And then there’s Harrowhawk . . .

She is probably the next thing that people get most excited about when talking about this book. Harrowhawk is Gideon’s — again by turns — nemesis, friend, employer, enemy, lover, peer (she’s the only other person in all of Ninth House even remotely Gideon’s age) . . . and a list of other things that I’m probably too lazy to write here. If Gideon is a mess, Harrowhawk is a complete disaster (again in a good way).

I won’t say much more about this here, other than to say that my one complaint of the novel is that there is a pivotal change in Gideon’s perspective when it comes to Harrowhawk, and I wondered as I was reading, if someone in Gideon’s circumstances would have actually felt this way given all the trouble Harrowhawk puts her through. I’m unsure, but it definitely made for good drama.

I feel the last part of this book that goes in the ‘fun’ category is the aesthetic. Everything in this book is so unequivocally gothic, that it often rushes right past frightening, stays for a quick lunch in absurd, and then launches right into laughable. Again, I felt this was intentional, and very much ‘in-character’ for Gideon who seems rather fed up with all the doom and gloom that is the Ninth House.

Initial Reactions Implies there were then Secondary Reactions?

Yes, the ‘provoking’ part of the title.

So I did some googling to try to refresh my memory about what happened in the first book, and realized there was actually a bit of controversy regarding Gideon and Harrow’s relationship. It’s a queer romance, which was gathering hype, because representation is important, and their isn’t (to my knowledge) a lot of mainstream Science Fiction which includes this and so people wanted to be happy about it. This should not raise any flags, or be considered a controversy.

But a lot of people are taking issue with the fact that it’s so screwed up. Essentially, Harrowhawk is in a lot of ways abusive, and uses not only her power as head of Ninth House, but also Gideon’s feelings for her to further her own agenda. That abuse of hierarchy, some have condemned as Slavery Romance, and when looked at in such a light, is pretty gross.

But the publisher, Tor Books, argues there is value in depiction of problematic relationships in fiction, so long as they do not Romanticize them. Their argument goes along the lines that books like Dracula, and The Mysteries of Udolpho give readers a safe place to:

. . . encounter monsters, serial killers, and other dangers they might fear, so too they allow readers to look at problematic relationships from a safe distance.

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

They reference Gideon’s Gothic aesthetic and clear influence and then continue on to point out that:

Books that depict problematic relationships can be a crucial tool to help readers who may be navigating their own toxic relationships understand that other people have gone through the same thing and that they don’t have to accept it as normal.

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

Finally they come to:

To queer readers, many aspects of Gideon and Harrow’s relationship feel familiar. Queer people often end up forced to interact with someone they hate, such as if they’re the only two out kids at a small school . . .

https://www.tor.com/2020/12/01/gideon-harrow-and-the-value-of-problematic-relationships-in-fiction/

Now a lot of this, I’m unsure how to talk about. I can see after reading some of this debate that my earlier complaint that someone in Gideon’s circumstances might have chosen differently, was woefully simplistic, and comes from a place of my own privilege and agency in real life.

As for the debate above, all I can say is that I don’t ascribe to a view of literature that must have all the unsavory things removed. Yes people model their behavior after things they learn in stories, but I don’t believe that the only way to model good behavior is to model only good behavior. I believe we are smart enough to distinguish when an author is glorifying something we don’t agree with, and that as long as we’re thinking critically about what we read, we will still walk away without feeling the need to go out and enact whatever atrocity we’ve just seen.

I believe that people can write things that hurt other people, intentionally or unintentionally, and that we should always look at the motivations for why we feel we need to write the stories we write. We need to make sure that we are not writing a story to hurt someone or silence them.

Finally, it seems to me, that despite the moral ambiguity represented in Harrowhawk and Gideon’s relationship, I didn’t feel that the book condoned this behavior in anyway, simply showed it, and allowed readers to do, as we’re doing now, discuss and come to our own conclusions.

So it’s a good book?

In my opinion, yes! Go and read it. Sorry this post was a bit of a ramble, but I think it’s important to think about these things. Gideon the Ninth won both a Locus Award, and a Crawford Award (unfamiliar with a Crawford), and was a Hugo Finalist which is what put it on my radar. It certainly wraps some difficult themes in a goofy-fun mystery/adventure, and for that, I think it is deserving of all the awards and praise it has garnered.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know in the comments.

Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer

Hi all! Another Friday, another story. In Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer, Max is in trouble with Ms. Pine and has to work with his new coworker, Trevor (god do we hate Trevor), to get out of it. We’ll see how it goes. If your curious about what got him into trouble, check out Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers post last week.

For anyone counting, this story was 1551 words out of a goal of 1500. I’m gonna say it’s good.

Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer

Trevor had been right, Ms. Pine did take 2nd floor access very seriously. Max nodded as she spoke and then, remembering they were on the phone, began inserting “yes” and “understood” at what seemed like appropriate intervals.

Max could barely hear her, instead focused on the numbness he felt inside. He was crushed. She explained, loudly, that some of the monsters kept on this floor were classified, or intellectual property, or dangerous! And Max did not have the proper clearance, signatures, or training to interact with them in any capacity.

Ms. Pine had never shouted at him before. Ms. Pine didn’t shout. She was always smiles and caring and adventure. Yes, he was in a lot of trouble this time.

Trevor stood in the doorway, somewhat hunched, trying to look anywhere but at Max. Sure Max had broken some rules, but he’d handled the situation properly and Ms. Pine never would have been the wiser had Trevor not called and told. Max had thought Trevor rude and curt before, but this had just been mean.

Ms. Pine asked to speak to Trevor. Max apologized one more time and handed over the phone. Trevor did not look pleased and Max felt a little better. Maybe Trevor had got in trouble too.

Still on the phone, Trevor walked down the hall and entered another room, then came back to the threshold with two clipboards in his hand. He finally said goodbye to Ms. Pine, and Max moved to the door to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going? There’s still work to do.” He didn’t move to let Max pass.

“I just assumed that with all the trouble I’m in, Ms. Pine didn’t want me around.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t. But your narrowly avoided catastrophe means Ms. Pine wants us to inventory everything in here to make sure nothing else is amiss. If I gotta work more, you gotta work more.” Trevor slammed a clipboard into Max’s chest. “Take the left side, I’ll start on the right.”

Max did as he was told, examining each of the strange creatures and checking off the items associated with each one. Did it have the proper amount of tails? Wings? Should it have antennae coming from there? Max enjoyed the work. He was seeing creatures that he’d never get to see otherwise, and maybe if he did this well, he could get back into Ms. Pine’s good graces.

But he couldn’t help thinking of Trevor. Why was he being so mean? He didn’t even seem to like this job, while Max adored it. He nearly called out to Trevor to ask but decided instead to refocus on the work.

The next creature on his list was called the Twelve-Eyed Starer. He checked the cube it was supposed to be in, and just like the picture on his clipboard, the orange worm-like creature “looked” up at him through the plastic.

It had five sets of white and blue eyes which swiveled here and there on the creature’s back. One pair focused on Max and he began to grip his clipboard very tightly and felt the desire to run though he found he couldn’t move. The eyes swiveled away, and Max let out a sigh.

Was it weird that the Twelve-Eyed Starer should only have ten eyes? He looked at the picture on the clipboard again to be sure. It showed the creature coming towards the viewer at an angle, – like a train or subway car – its tail trailing back towards the horizon. Only five “eyes” comprised the image, but its entire body wasn’t clear in the photo.

Now it was Max’s turn to roll his eyes. Maybe he should ask Trevor for help? Maybe he should ask him just to see if he’d freeze up like Max had done when looking into the eyes.

“Hey Trevor?” He said half smiling to himself. “Can you come take a look at this?”

Trevor sauntered over. “What?”

“You think this is a mistake?” Max said, trying to watch Trevor from the corner of his eye. So far it seemed he hadn’t looked directly at the worm. He was too busy acting aloof. “Thing’s only got ten eyes.”

That seemed to get his attention, but still, he didn’t look at the worm. “Tap on the side of the cube there would ya? Do it lightly but keep it steady.”

Max complied wondering what the boy was getting at. The Starer focused all its eyes on Max’s finger and Trevor finally bent forward to examine it. “Look here at the left side. It looks like it’s been sliced or something. There’s probably a segment missing. Clipboard says when they reproduce pieces break off and then regenerate like an earthworm can do. Or don’t you read?”

Max grimaced and continued to tap his finger. He really should have caught that. “Shouldn’t there be two Starers then? Shouldn’t there still be 12 eyes in the cube?”

“Who knows? Maybe the other segment is in a different cube somewhere. Maybe Ms. Pine sold it, or is using if for experiments . . .”

That’s when Max noticed that the gate on the cube hadn’t been sealed. In fact just the vibration from his finger tapping had begun to open the gate slightly and the Starer had noticed, floating towards the small opening on yarn like tendrils which made the creature resemble an oddly terrifying scrub brush. Max closed the cube gate. A hydraulic hiss signaled that it had finally been sealed shut.

Trevor rolled his eyes again and Max wondered briefly if they ever got sore, like an overused muscle.

“C’mon. Let’s go look for it.”

The silence that followed as they scanned the room was quite uncomfortable. Finally, Max couldn’t bear it anymore. “What is your deal? Ever since I got here, you’ve be rude and mean. Then you told Ms. Pine on me. And now it’s like your blaming me for this too. This is not my fault.”

Trevor turned to face him. “What? I’m supposed to just let you come in and take my job?”

“Well – ” Max stumbled. Obviously not but . . . “You don’t even like this job. Why do it? Why not work somewhere else where they appreciate – rude people!”

“I can’t! It has to be this job. Alright?!”

“Why? Why does it have to be this job?”

Trevor shook, as if he was fighting to move against the Starer’s gaze, but it was nowhere to be seen and he was looking right at Max. He was angry, struggling to control himself, not fight against the control of something else. Tears rimmed his eyes but didn’t fall.

Max relented. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t pry. Have we checked over here?” Max started towards another group of cubes.

“It’s fine. It’s not like you could know, we just met today, and I don’t talk about it.” Trevor said softly. “My mom is sick. Medicine produced by the creatures here is helping her mend, but we can’t afford it on our own. Ms. Pine lets me work here and knocks my wages off the bill. It’s enough for us to get the pills. And now, because of your catastrophe earlier and your obsession with impressing Ms. Pine, that’s been put in jeopardy.”

For the second time today, Max felt crushed. He’d never even thought . . . what could he say? There wasn’t time to think on it for at that moment, he could see out of the corner of his eye, a tiny orange, blue and white scrub brush gliding across the floor.

Max didn’t move, but this time it was on purpose. “Trevor, do you see it? You should be the one to grab it. Whatever trouble you were in because of me will disappear if you’re the one to fix this.”

“I can’t.” Trevor said through clenched teeth.

“Nonsense. You have to – “

“Max!” Trevor hissed. “It’s looking at me.”

Max tried to maneuver behind it but the creature swiveled its eyes to look at him, freezing him in place, but allowing Trevor to move. Then the creature froze Trevor in place.  It couldn’t look at both of them though, and it was only a matter of time before one of them was able to grab it.

Max counted the turns. Alternating like this, Max would be the one to grab it. But Trevor needed the win.

When it came time for Max to move again, he stayed where he was clapping his hands to distract the creature. It worked! Trevor was nearly on top of it!

Sensing its imminent capture, the Starer shuttered and its swiveling eyes split to look at each of the boys. It looked ridiculous. Max found himself laughing and he saw Trevor smile too. No longer afraid, they came forward together and grabbed the creature, carrying it back to its cube and placing it within.

Ms. Pine called later to check on their progress, and Max could see Trevor tense as he reported what happened with the Starer.

“Well who managed to capture it?” Max heard from the receiver. Trevor looked uncomfortably at Max. What should he say? Max pointed at Trevor. He mouthed “You did.” Trevor rolled his eyes again, but there was a smile on his face. He’d keep his job after all . . .

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Teamwork Pt. 2: The Twelve-Eyed Starer. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Kingdom of Copper: DaevaBrilliant!

Wow. My titles for these reviews keep getting worse, but these books keep getting better. (If you don’t believe me just read my review of City of Brass. I said it was (Daeva)Badass)

But I really meant it. That book was amazing and this one is too! Everything that I loved about City of Brass remained in Kingdom of Copper, but Chakraborty seemed to find a way to eek out just a little more of each element. A little more hatred toward old enemies, a little more welcome from old friends, a little more discovery, and a lot more wonder.

As a sequel should, this book seemed to reveal new territories (sometimes literally) and new characters were introduced, along with new schemes and new mystery. So . . . Just another day in Daevabad I guess then.

Which is exactly what I hoped it would be.

I especially enjoyed Nahri’s development as she fought to gain a foothold (and let’s face it, freedom) in her new life as both a Nahid and wife to Muntadhir, but she never gave up on her passion for healing. When she decides to build the hospital, it really felt like the most Nahri thing ever. That she has to overcome so much to make it happen seems like the most (corrupt) Deavabad thing ever . . . And that Ali pretty much almost ruins everything seems like the most Alizayd thing ever.

But despite all of the (after reading the first book) familiar, there is quite a lot in Kingdom of Copper that is new. For instance, characters that were merely side characters in the first book begin to take on a life of their own. It is not that these characters were not well rounded in City of Brass, they were, but for some reason they just seemed more important in this sequel. Particularly interesting to me were Jamshid, Manizheh, Muntadhir, Zaynab, and Hatset which all became more developed characters in this sequel. I hope we’ll get to see more of them in Empire of Gold, but I also hope that we’ll have a range of new characters to contend with, and I’m definitely excited to see what the finale brings to bear.

Speaking of the finale, it’s my sincerest hope that in Empire of Gold we will finally figure out what is going on with the Marid. I googled around a bit, and it seems that much like in Daevabad, there is not much *ahem* floating around on the internet about the Marid. The Marid Wikipedia page tells us they’re a kind of Shaitan (any Wheel of Time fans are just gonna have to ignore that for now as I am not nearly caught up on my WoT or Islamic folklore to parse this out and say anything intelligent about it).

Wikipedia also says that it’s derived from the word for “rebel” and that it is used interchangeably with the word ifrit in One Thousand and One Nights (which it is seeming like I really need to read).

In Chakraborty’s Daevabad, Ifrit and Marid seem to be VERY different (and I think opposed? It’s kinda hard to tell which side the Ifrit are on), which would be an interesting twist if somehow the two were related. But I cannot possibly see how they would be.

Anyway, these are things I’m speculating on as I read, but I haven’t actually tried to do any research into anything yet, as I’m afraid of spoiling things . . . Maybe after I’m done with this series, I’ll fall down and Islamic mythology hole . . . We’ll see.

Anywho, Kingdom of Copper was great! If you haven’t started reading the Daevabad trilogy, I highly recommend it. It’s been nominated for a best series Hugo, and based on what I’ve read so far, I’m really hoping it wins.

We’ll see you soon with a review of Empire of God!

Leave me any thoughts in the comments, but hopefully no spoilers! See you next time!

Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers

Hey all. I had fun talking about Ancient Egyptian doggos last week, but I though another Max story was in order. This week he meets a coworker. Read on to see how it goes . . .

Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers

Who was this? Of course, Max had been expecting Ms. Pine. Every time Max had come over to the house – whether it be to feed Jebalix to a Slagorez, or empty the litter of a toxic cat – Ms. Pine had been there to greet him.

She usually left a cryptic note, and then greeted him at the door with a smile which let him know that whatever crazy thing that was about to ensue would be alright.

This boy, standing somewhat hunched in the doorway, did not smile, and he seemed to have no idea why Max was even there at all.

“I’m Max. I’m here to see Ms. Pine.”

“Trevor,” the boy replied. “Ms. Pine left a few hours ago. She said the normal guy flaked so I’m watching the cat for the weekend.” He tilted his head over his shoulder. “You’re welcome to come in and cool off for bit if you’d like. Looks hot out there.”

It had been a rather grueling ride over. He supposed Ms. Pine wouldn’t mind if he got himself a glass of water from the kitchen.

Max watched the boy. He didn’t seem to be doing much. He just sat playing video games. Perhaps Trevor needed help.

“Has Sphinxy had a canary this evening?” Max tried, hoping to prompt the boy to action.

“Ms. Pine gave him one before she left.”

“And she showed you how to change the litter? You have to – “

“I know what I’m doing.” Trevor said curtly. “I don’t need any help.”

Max continued to drink his water and twirl on his stool in the kitchen. Perhaps he should just ride back home. If Trevor, wasn’t going to let him help, then there was really nothing else he could do.

His eyes fell upon the stairwell leading from the living room to the second floor. It’s not that he had never noticed it before, he’d always just been so focused on the tasks Ms. Pine had provided for him that he never took the time to explore.

If she had a cat which required PPE to handle properly sitting in a plastic cube in her living room, just think of all the other strange things she might have hidden away on the second floor.  It had never crossed his mind to head up those stairs, but now it seemed irresistible.

He didn’t consider it snooping. It was . . . professional development. He could take on more jobs if he knew more about the rarities in Ms. Pine’s house.It had nothing to do with being more valuable than Trevor.

Max gulped down the last swallow of his water and hopped off his stool. “Hey Trevor? I’m just gonna head upstairs for a bit. I’ll be back in a second.”

“Are you approved? Ms. Pine is very particular about where her employees go in the house.”

“Of course I’m approved.”

“Whatever.” Trevor said rolling his eyes. “But if anything is out of place when she comes back, I’m not covering for you.”

“Mhmm.”

Max took the first couple stairs quickly and then slowed his pace once he was out of Trevor’s view. He wanted to take this in.

Unfortunately, it looked pretty much the same as the last level. It had the same stylish but muted wallpaper, and the wood laminate was tidy but not sparkling.

The sparkle lay at the end of the hall, a crystal door, slightly ajar. Max felt a cool blue intensity radiating from behind the clear gate. Entering the large room, he was stunned. It held hundreds of the same type of cube in which Shinxy lived, each containing some different creature which Max had never seen.

Some had fins, others tentacles, many had wings, and some had all! Nothing seemed to be where it should, but it all seemed natural for whatever creature he laid eyes on.

Finally, his eyes came to find an unusual looking bird tapping the plastic of its cube and looking quite forlorn. Its wings were red with one gold feather each, then three gold feathers clustered around its tail. It had arms too and sat on crow’s feet with a parrot’s beak. Compared with everything else, it was quite normal.

This would be a good place to start he reasoned.

Approaching the cube, he saw a small plaque identifying the creature as a Phasing Icarie. Looking closer at the bird itself, Max noticed that one of the golden feathers had been broken – snapped off – close to the skin. The animal seemed to be in pain and before Max realized what he was doing, he’d opened up the cube and plucked the broken feather from the bird.

The bird hopped away, and held up its wing to check the wound. There was only a speck of blood. Satisfied it was not a serious injury, the bird puffed up its chest in triumph and chirped its thanks.

Then it disappeared.  

There was a fluttering sound and then a loud thunk as if something had hit the door. Max turned quickly to see the bird fluttering back from the door looking stunned. One of its golden feathers wafted to the floor beneath it. The creature disappeared again only to reappear at the opposite side of the room. It swooped low, in an effort to gain speed for the charge.

It would kill itself if it kept this up.

Max quickly moved in front of the exit and reached to intercept it. The bird disappeared again, just as his fingers were closing upon it. All that remained in his hand was a single golden feather.

The bird now clung to one of the other cubes, using its arms to help hold on, like a climber scaling a cliff. It swiveled its head like an owl to glare at Max with indignation.  Max approached slowly, but as soon as he got close enough to reach the bird, it disappeared and flew into the door.

The bird limped back to the far side of the room, clinging to the cubes only this time too high for Max to reach. He’d be here all day if he didn’t find a way to keep it from disappearing. It was then that Max realized he noticed hardly any gold in the animal’s plumage. Indeed there was only one gold feather remaining on its tail. All the other feathers had fallen to floor. They looked withered and expired.

Max thought of the game Trevor had been playing downstairs. How Trevor only had a limited number of shots to kill his enemy. The bird’s golden feathers were like its shots. It only had one left. 

Max opened the door hoping to coax it into making a move.

The bird let go of the cubes and swooped towards the open door. Max feinted as if he were going to try to grab the bird – it disappeared – and Max quickly turned and shut the door. The bird hit again, and while it was still dazed, Max grabbed it in both hands. It squawked and screeched, beating its wings to try and get away, but it did not disappear. Max held it fast and put it back into its cube.

He breathed a sigh of relief and turned to begin cleaning up the bird’s withered golden feathers. That’s when he noticed Trevor standing on the other side of the crystal door holding his cell phone. “Ms. Pine’s phone,” said the voice on the other end. “Who’s this?

To be continued . . .


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Teamwork Pt. 1: Phase Feathers. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!