#WyrdAndWonder Wrap Up Post

Feels like the last day #WyrdAndWonder is an appropriate time to post something about what I was able to accomplish during this month long Fantasy Blog Party.

Here’s what I wrote (and didn’t write):

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
May 10th – Mixed feelings: The Truth About Dinosaur Lords
May 12th – Review: Song of Achilles
May 17th – Can’t Wait to read! (twitter post) and Desert Island Reads (catching up from last Wednesday)
May 19th – Review: Silver in the Wood
May 24th – TBR: 11 Fantasy Books I should have read by now
May 26th – Review: Empire of Gold

My fav posts that #WyrdAndWonder people shared:

There were tons of great posts from all kinds of places during this event, but these are a couple and what I liked about them:

If I didn’t include your post here, that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I did! It’s just that I’m too lazy to hunt down more than five of these things, and “Top Five” kinda has a nice ring to it.

Farewell and Thank You:

Since it’s the end of the event, it also feels appropriate to say ‘farewell’. I’m not going anywhere, but I might not try to post as often (maybe back to twice a week, or even once since I don’t have a lot of fiction ready at the moment).

And of course, Thank you! to all the #WyrdAndWonder people who visited me, and inspired me to keep writing these posts. Thank you to Imyril, Lisa and Jorie for hosting this event. It’s badass.

And thanks to everyone who came by and interacted with my posts, it was great to hear from you!

That’s all for now folks. Hopefully I’ll still be doing this bloggo thing next year and can participate in a second year (5th! for the event! wow. Awesome).

Feel free to tell me your fav part of #WyrdAndWonder in the comments!

11 Fantasy Books I Should Have Read By Now #WyrdAndWonder

For today’s #WyrdAndWonder prompt, in no particular order, a list of fantasy titles I really should have read by now:

Kindred by Octavia Butler:

Simply put, I’ve yet to read ANY Butler yet. I chose this one for the list because it’s reportedly “Fantasy” (in Butler’s own words: “a kind of grim fantasy”), but the reality is, I should have read something from her by now. I picked up Dawn and Imago at a used books sale and they have just been gathering dust ever since. I need to change that!

Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks:

The first book in the Shannara Chronicles. This is one of those books that I feel like I should read just to understand the history of one of my favorite genres. After The Lord of the Rings, Fantasy (with a capital F) was on the map and people were scrounging for similar kinds of stories. Apparently Sword of Shannara was what they found . . .

Problem is, I’ve heard it isn’t great for modern readers. I don’t know. The MTV show has been a guilty pleasure of mine, but I think it’s been updated substantially. I suppose I’ll get to it some day.

Gardens of the Moon by Stevin Erikson:

This is the first book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It seems to be one of those series that is just EPIC. In scope, complexity, anything. I’ve never read any of it, but it always shows up on fantasy page count lists. Apparently you can buy the complete thing at just over 10,000 pages.

Regardless of whether or not it’s any good, it seems to be something of a notch on the old fantasy reader belt. Not a right of passage necessarily, but definitely a show of commitment to the genre . . . One of which I apparently haven’t completed yet. Some day . . .

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin:

Apparently I even ate GoT inspired Oreos.

I don’t have a good excuse for not having read this yet. I LOVED the show, and would certainly consider myself a fan of all things GoT. I’ve reviewed a precursor to GoT on this blog, cooked a meat pie from the GoT cookbook, and even waited in a super long line to meet the author and get my copy of this book signed (which I embarrassingly picked up at Target on my way to the signing, and even more embarrassingly, blinked during my photo with GRRM).

But for some reason haven’t read the book . . . Ok. Actually I know the reason. When I first bought the paperback, I wanted to get abs and so I started planking. I could read about two pages in the amount of time I could hold a plank. There are A LOT of pages. Over time I think I’ve developed a bit of a pavlovian response. Whenever I even look at the book, my abs hurt.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman:

Simply put, Neverwhere kind ruined Gaiman for me. All the good things I enjoyed about Good Omens I’ve started just attributing to Terry Pratchett’s influence. This one gets rave reviews from everyone I talk to, and the show seems pretty popular. But alas I’m not very motivated on this one. I know I should be . . . but I’m not.

Dragon Flight by Anne McKaffery:

Dragon Riders of Pern just seems to be one of those series that has influenced nearly everyone under the sun. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much. Either way, I feel I should have read at least one of these simply because it’s SO pervasive. Time will tell.

Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind:

I feel like I might have been able to lump this one in with the Shannara stuff earlier in the post as this series seems to be one that most people found after reading Tolkien and just wanted more. I put it down here because I think people get the “Terry’s” in fantasy confused enough as it is.

I honestly have no idea what it’s even about, but it seems like one I should have read. Who knows?

Black Company by Glen Cook:

At some point, I feel like I read a short story in the Black Company universe and I remember liking it. It seems pretty popular among people who like Fantasy, and I’ve heard that it is sort of proto Grimdark which . . . could be interesting to read for that aspect alone. It’s on the ever growing TBR.

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny:

This is one that I keep getting told I need to read and a series that I think I might actually enjoy. I’ve read Creatures of Light and Darkness before so Zelazny is on my radar for that reason too. I’ll get there.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman:

I pretty much love everything about the show based off this book that used to be on SYFY channel, and was essentially crushed when it got cancelled (although I suppose it’s probably good that it ended because I personally don’t feel it ever got “bad” as a lot of shows do when they run too long). However, I haven’t approached the books yet. I’ve heard several negative reviews and my love for the show is just soooo much that I don’t want to taint it. But I probably will because I just have to know!

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber:

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and all their assorted adventures, just seem to be the inspiration for so many fantasy things (I think you could argue all of “low” fantasy, and Sword & Sorcery). I’ve read a few of their stories over the years and enjoy the pair immensely, but I’ve never read the original short story collection. One of these days.

End of post thoughts:

This list could have been SOO much longer, but eventually I got tired. Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of these books are older titles. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t think I should be reading newer things, because there is TONS of great new fantasy coming out all the time. The reason those titles are probably not on the list is because I’ve been trying really hard to keep up (although it’s impossible) and I think I’ve read at least some of the newer stuff. Older stuff is harder to will myself to go back to, because of all the great new stuff.

Anyway hope you enjoyed my listicle. Please let me know which titles you think should be on the list in the comments! Thanks for reading!

Dance of the Apdna

Hey all. I decided to take a break from Max (although I’m by no means giving him a rest) and try to see the world of Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo from a new perspective. Hope you enjoy!

For anyone counting (hah! only me), this piece came in at 2,249 out of 2,250. Pretty close!

Dance of the Apdna

Cara’s face blanched as she scrubbed the inside of the Apdna trough.

The amount of grime and muck which had built up over the course of the last year was enough to make her breakfast demand freedom from her stomach. She did not let it go. She wasn’t sure what kind of game she was playing, but somehow that felt like losing.

Why does it smell? she thought as she dipped her scrub brush back into a bucket of soap and water. It was starting to look about as green as the trough.

She’d managed to make one small tile shimmer in the afternoon sun, but most of the trough was still dull and disgusting. She still had a long way to go. Cara took in a deep breath, tried not to gag, and continued to scrub.

She’d nearly finished shining a second panel when she heard Max’s eager voice call from the other side of the enclosure.

“Cara? You gotta get this. Just look how cute these little nuggets are! This one’s hugging my leg. And look another is on my arm! They love me! If this doesn’t get us likes, I don’t know what will.”

Cara looked up from the trough and, as she expected, found Max standing among a small swarm of Apdnas. The little bears were about the size of a raccoon, with pointy ears, and a kind of yellowish fur. The one hugging Max’s leg looked almost green, and Cara could tell that it had already had a small adventure in the trough she was cleaning.

“You know that behavior is actually a kind of hunting method,” she said. “Enough of those pile up on you, and you won’t be able to move to save your life.”

“Ah. Looks like someone read the brochure,” he laughed. “I can’t imagine these little guys causing all that trouble. They’re too precious.”

Cara shrugged and went back to scrubbing the trough. “We’ll see how precious they are when they’ve got you pinned to the floor,” she said under her breath.

Max seemed not to hear, but that didn’t mean he was done with her. “Cara seriously. Come take the pic. Let someone else clean that muck.”

“But Mr. Quixotic said it needed to be done before the shift change. A donor is coming, and everything needs to at least look like it’s in working order, even if it isn’t.”

He gave her a flat stare. Another of the bears was attempting to wrap itself around his head, and tuffs of Max’s black hair were sticking out between its limbs.

“And one of the new kids will be by soon to clean the trough, but you were hired to run our social media accounts. Don’t you think you should be doing that? The post about Apdnas on the account last week was great! Everyone loved it.”

“Which means I should snap some photos of the Sand Seal this week. Showcase something different.”

“Cara think! That post nearly doubled our follower count. That’s the kind of results Jerry’s expecting. You need to take this seriously.”

“If I post about the Apdnas again so soon, people will get bored of them. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Another post will saturate the market. Is that serious enough for you?” 

“Look, Cara, I’m just trying to help. It isn’t fair to your brother to be responsible for paying the bills for your mom’s medicine on his own. I just thought –”

He was interrupted by the loud clang of Cara’s brush hitting the metal of the trough where she’d thrown it.

How dare he!

Before she really knew what she was doing, Cara was on her feet, trembling. “You know what Max, I think your right. I shouldn’t be cleaning this trough after all. I’m taking my fifteen.”

The new kid Max had referenced earlier, Peter, nearly dropped the expensive looking speaker he was carrying as he scrambled to move out of Cara’s way. As she stormed out of the Apdna enclosure she felt like an animal herself, stalking the asphalt pathways leading around the other enclosures.

She wanted to kill Max for hurting her – for implying that she wasn’t doing her part to help her brother. She decided to kill an order of fries instead.

Her outrage only seemed to increase as she waited in line for the meal. It was because of her mother that she was cleaning this trough to begin with, so she could show Jerry that she was capable of doing more than taking photos and writing witty captions.

Perhaps if he saw her doing work that the other employees did, he would allow her to work a couple regular shifts. He didn’t have much extra money for ‘advertising’ and was only able to pay for a few hours a week for her to work on the social media accounts.

But of course, Max didn’t understand this. His assimilation into the team at Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo had been nearly painless. A reference from Ms. Pine had got him in the door, and then a fluke accident in the Sand Seal hut had put him in everyone’s good graces right away. Sure he’d endured some minor hazing by the other employees with the Savage Penguins, but they’d all had his back at the end of the day.

Cara’s acceptance into the ‘herd’, as Jerry would say, had been less smooth. Working so few hours had meant that she hardly got to spend any time with the other employees, and the nature of her position meant that whenever she did see them, she was prying into their lives for a ‘Staff of the Week’ post or trying to get them not to pose during a supposedly candid photo.

It sucked.

She pulled out her phone and began swiping through a random app, trying to distract herself. But it wasn’t the same. Image after image swiped by, and nothing seemed to lift her spirits. Eventually, she’d gone through all the new content and found herself looking at the most recent post from Port Monster. It showed one of the other employees holding a bottle up to a baby Apdna’s mouth.

She sighed.

Maybe Max was right and she should have just used another Apdna photo for today’s post. She had enough of them saved up on her phone.  The little bears were incredibly cute and so she’d spent quite a few of her first shifts in their enclosure trying to get just the right shot.

As coworkers went, they were quite accommodating. She’d found them easy to pose as part of their natural instinct was to try to mimic what they saw. She’d read online that because the creatures needed to be so close to their prey in order to overpower them, they thought mimicking the prey’s movements would allow them to pass as part of the prey animal’s herd.

It was really wild. She’d managed to get the little bears to do all sorts of poses and even some small movements like waving.

But she wasn’t taking care of the animals. Not like the girl in the picture she’d captured. It was just as Max had said. She was hired to run the accounts.

But she wanted more

At last, Cara’s small box of fries was empty. She still had a few minutes left before she needed to return from her break, so she put her arm out and lined up a selfie. After a few unsatisfactory attempts – her curly black hair looked too frizzy in that one; the light wasn’t good for her dark skin in this other one – she dropped her phone on the table in disgust.

Normally she loved posting pictures of her day, even if it was just her lunch. But now that she’d started doing it for work, it had lost all its luster. She wondered briefly if that was the real reason she had wanted to take up the tasks she saw the other employees carrying out. She wanted a distraction.

Cara’s phone lit up and buzzed slightly, showing the alarm she’d set earlier had counted down to zero. Her break was over.

Her walk back to the Apdna enclosure was a slow trudge. She couldn’t help but feel like she should apologize to Max, but she still felt he owed her an apology as well. She knew from fighting with her half-brother Trevor, that this was never a good way to finish an argument, but she couldn’t see any other option.

Cara entered the enclosure with her phone out, ready to snap a photo of Max and the Apdnas if he was still willing. She looked cautiously around the enclosure for him, trying to anticipate the mocking sigh of relief or the cool reprimand he’d no doubt have waiting. But she didn’t see him at all.

She did catch sight of Peter who came rushing over from the other end of the enclosure.

“What do we do?” Peter asked.

“What do you m—”

But then she saw it. Max lay in the trough on his back, covered it Apdnas. He appeared to be trying to say something, but one of the yellow bears had completely covered his mouth with its little body.

Cara did not waste any time thinking of what to do. She stuffed her phone into the new kid’s chest and raced into the enclosure.

The first thing she would need to do was get the Apdna’s attention. If she could get them to focus on her, she might be able coax them away from Max.

She clapped loudly several times and yelled “Hey!”, as she had done a few times when taking pictures of the bears on earlier shifts, but as it had been then, the move was of little use. Only a single bear looked her way, giving her a little wave of its paw, miming Cara’s own frantic movements.

Ughhh! I need to get all of their attention!

She looked around frantically for something – anything! – that might make more noise and noticed the new kid’s speaker lying close to the trough, crooning k-pop softly. She rushed over to it, jabbing and then holding her finger on the little plus sign that controlled the volume. Suddenly, the room got loud.

All of the Apdnas turned to look towards the unexpected sound.

I have their attention now. But what do I do with it?

Without a clue as to why, Cara started dancing. She moved to her left in a kind of galloping motion, then back towards her right. Reflexively, some of the bears which were not already attached to Max began to mimic her. A few others even let go of him to copy her.

She kept going, adding a kind of lasso-type motion with her hands, and then cantering her legs before turning and starting the whole thing again. She kept the dance up, allowing another three rotations to pass before she was rightly facing Max again. About a dozen bears had released him from their grip . . .

It was enough that he could move again, and he began pulling them off of himself. Before long, each Apdna in the enclosure was focused on her. Before starting a second rotation, Cara saw Max flee from the trough and begin picking his way toward the exit.

Cara did not wait to finish the dance completely, but instead began sprinting towards the exit, hoping the bear’s reflexes were slow enough that she could reach it before they gave chase. Max saw her bolt and did the same, both of them reaching the gate of the enclosure at the same time.

Cara slammed the gate shut. The clang echoed, startling a few nearby patrons. She looked at Max.

“Cara. I’m – “ Max ran his hand through the back of his hair, and looked away. “Listen I – Thank you.”

That’s it?

She didn’t know what she had expected him to say, but this seemed too simple. Too small, after what she’d just done for him. 

She should call him a fool. A pompous idiot, who would have deserved to be smothered under the bear’s cuddly bodies. She was about to do so when she caught herself.

What good would it serve? His apology seemed genuine enough if crudely formed. Peter saved her from having to say anything by rushing up and blurting “Look! You’ve got to see this.”

He had Cara’s phone in his hand and basically shoved it at her and Max. The two leaned together so they could both see the screen. It showed her doing her weird dance, and seeing the Apdnas dancing alongside her was about the cutest thing she’d ever seen. Max crept comically back towards the exit and Peter’s hand waved him on.

The whole thing was hilarious.

But more importantly, people were loving it. Likes were flooding in and reposts too. The video could not have been posted for more than a few minutes, and their follower count had nearly doubled, many leaving comments wondering what caused the bears to behave like that, or where had Cara learned to dance like that. Someone from Channel 8, the town’s biggest news station, had messaged them about a feature on the Apdnas and asked if Cara would interview.

She looked up at Max. “Do you think Jerry will let me?”

He grinned like a fool. “After this, he’ll let you do whatever you want . . .”

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Dance of the Apdna. 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 ‘Silver In the Wood’ win Emily Tesh an Astounding Award? (aka best debut) #WyrdAndWonder

A hard question to answer. Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh is a great novella for many reasons.

The first reason, is its up close-and-personal interpretation of the ‘Green man’ myth. Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the folklore surrounding this figure, so I can’t really comment on Tesh’s interpretation.

The impression I have though, using really only this story as a reference point, is that The Green Man is a kind of tree spirit, similar to a Dryad from classical mythology (indeed there is a dryad that follows our main character around and is very protective of him), which protects the forest and keeps out all the bad stuff that wants to come in. However, a few things set our main character apart:

  • he is male and most dryads are female in the book
  • he lives near a big oak tree which might make him something like a Hamadryad but I’m not sure

This sort of mythic existence puts him in a sort of tenuous relationship with the rest of the wood’s inhabitants. At first, humans see him as wild and scary, but ultimately get over it as the story progresses.

Whatever the folklore textbooks have to say, the interpretation written here feels simultaneously personal, and mythic in a way which is really engaging and is probably the first thing I noticed about the book.

I feel this mythic quality is accomplished by the second awesome part about this novella: Tesh’s prose. They’re lovely, and seem to rely on some seemingly impossible phrases (how exactly does time pass “slow and green”) which don’t hang up the reader, but give us our own freedom to imagine their implications. Throughout the entire work, we’re in a place where things don’t quite make sense but are nevertheless mystical and fantastic.

This novella’s final and perhaps most endearing quality is its romance arc. It seems to try and hide itself behind the thickets of legend and worldbuilding, but the reality is that this story does not start until Tobias meets Harry Silver, and can’t end until . . . well I won’t spoil it. Needless to say, it is the thread that pulls us through.

My only gripe, is that I felt like I was left wondering in a few too many places. The story seems to have complex character relationships based on a complex and long history, but I felt like we never got enough of that history to understand why the action we were taking would bring about the end we desired. Even in a scant 100 pages, there was at least two moments in which I wondered why we where seeing something and ultimately felt the scene could have been pruned away.

Astounding Award?

I suppose the answer to this question will ultimately come down to how it stacks up against the competition.

This title is a great read, and there is much to love within this bite-sized package. There is a clever mythology at play here, a genuinely enjoyable romance, and beautiful prose, but I also felt that some key information was missing, while other sections seemed to provide things which weren’t relevant.

Looking back at my review of The Vanished Birds, I seemed to have similar complaints, although I feel it’s longer page count might give it some more leniency than Silver in the Wood. Short works don’t have as much time for extra material. Every word counts.

Micaiah Johnson’s debut is probably still the story I’ve enjoyed most in my Hugo Contender read-through (though I’m not going to look back through all the posts to make sure I didn’t contradict myself). My review of The Space Between Worlds cites strong characters, and a well-developed setting as it’s strong points, and I believe that in these categories, it simply out-performs Silver in the Wood.

No Astounding Award for Tesh this year (in my rankings at least), though I’m sure she’ll contend for other awards in the future. If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’m hoping you’ll still go read Silver in the Wood as it is a great book!

If you have questions comments or gripes, leave em in the comments. Thanks all!

#WyrdAndWonder Desert Island Reads

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

It would seem today’s #WyrdAndWonder challenge is Books I Can’t Wait to Read, and another photo challenge. I can’t wait to read Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, but that doesn’t really make for a very long blog post, so I’m going to throw back to last Wednesday’s Desert Island reads challenge now that I have the time. You can read all about the criteria on Desert Island Reads by There is Always Room For One More, but essentially, I choose:

  • 8 books (or audiobooks) to take with me on a desert island. They be anything, but if they’re part of a series, each on will count as on of my eight unless they are bound together. No e-readers . . .
  • 1 TV, Movie or Podcast
  • One luxury item that can be anything I want.
  • **It’s supposed to be based around Fantasy titles and things, and I’m realizing that I didn’t quite follow that. Sorry. I still like the list I came up with though so I hope you can forgive me

I’m imagining all these things will get thrown into a kind of trunk which will washup next to me on the beach, a yellow glow leaking from its seams. You know, typical treasure chest stuff. Let’s take a look inside . . .

My 8 books:

So for this, I’d probably want to take a mix of things. Some stuff I’ve been meaning to read, as well as some stuff that is just comforting to me. I’m kinda thinking I would split this up into some research type reading, and then just-for-fun type books. Of course some will be new to me and some will be well read. Here they are:

  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – Simply put, this is my favorite book. I’ve read it a whole bunch of times, and I’m sure I’ll read it a whole bunch more. It goes in the trunk
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – Same idea as above, I just love this book. It’s going in the trunk.
  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – As mentioned for today’s challenge, I can’t wait to read this book! Better bring it along. (update 6/16/21 – Review of A Deadly Education posted!)
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik – Since it seems we’re on a Novik kick, I figure might as well.
  • David Mogo Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa – I just really want to read this one too. I had a preorder for it, but then Amazon just gave up on trying to distribute it to me and so I’m not even sure how to get a physical copy, but it looks really good and so in this fantasy scenario we’ve concocted, it’s also in the trunk.
  • The Art of Language Invention by David J Peterson – As long as I’m stranded, might as well skill up. I’ve always wanted to invent a conlang so perhaps this might be a good time to get started.
  • Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians Volumes 1-3 by John Gardiner Wilkinson – I’m pretty much fascinated by ancient Egypt. I’ve been meaning to take a crack at this set for a while, but I never seem to have time. Seems like a good use of some forced reading time.
  • Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners by Bill Manely – I’ve made it about half way through this book in the past, but bounced off of it. If I’ve got some free time I’d definitely like to try it again
  • Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland – I’d like to think I’ll have some time for writing on this crazy adventure. Every time I sit down to write something new, whether a short story or a long novel, I always seem to crack this book open as a reference in the beginning. I think I’ll need it along the journey.
  • Why Dinosaurs Matter by Kenneth Lacovara – My understanding of this book is that it’s basically a TED talk . . . About DINOSAURS!! Obviously I’m bringing it!

TV/Movie/Podcast:

Nothing too special here. I’d choose the Imaginary Worlds Podcast. It’s a great podcast which bills itself as a Sci-Fi podcast although they cover lots of Fantasy, and other genres. It’s written (produced?) by Eric Molinsky, and I just love his approach. He always seems to find some new angle on whatever topic he’s casting about, and it has a very journalistic feel which complements his passion for all things SFF really well. Highly recommend.

Luxury Item:

Baltimore BBQ Company Original sauce – The rules post said that food would be taken care of, but I’m still kinda imagining that it will not be food that I would normally eat. I’ll put bbq sauce on pretty much anything so I figure having a bottle of the good stuff along will help ease whatever interesting food choices I’ll have to endure. Even coconuts . . .

The Savage Penguins

Hi again. Sending Max on another adventure. This time I experimented with prologues, epilogues, and I wanted to see if I could squeeze in a POV that wasn’t Max’s. I can see why people mostly think pro/epilogues are useless but I think the ones for this story are kinda goofy and hopefully fun. Let me know what you think.

For anyone counting, I came in at 2,061 out of 2,000. Enjoy!

The Savage Penguins

James Vanguard Beak pretended to preen his black, downy feathers while standing atop a jagged and quite slippery rock. There was a spot just behind his wing which never quite – well it wasn’t really important. What was important was his assignment from the commander, Charles King Beak.

Vanguard Beak – for they weren’t to use the names provided by their captors any longer – was to scout and report all interactions of the monstrous bipeds which were draped in brown cloth and seemed to patrol the area. Two such creatures leaned against a wooden railing barking and squawking to each other just beyond the nearly transparent barrier which held Vanguard Beak and his people captive.

He just knew they must be scheming something, but as usual, the strange vocalizations made no sense to him. The one with curly brownish fur on the top, raised a sickly shaped wing at the newer creature that Vanguard Beak hadn’t seen before.

 “Are you coming on the trip tomorrow?“ Brown-Top yapped.

“No.” The new one barked. Its top-fur was jet black like Vanguard Beak’s own – ah yes there it was – finally straightened feathers. “I’m gonna work. I figure with everyone gone, I can work with some of the other animals I haven’t before.”

“You’ll be up against the penguins all alone.” responded Brown-Top.

Black-Top sort of half raised its wings. Whatever kind of display this was, it did not seem to please Brown-Top for she expelled some air from her flesh-beak and walked away shaking her head from side to side.  

What could it mean?

Black-Top retreated as well, and Vanguard Beak could return to the pebble stack to report his findings to King Beak. The commander would know what to do. He had an uncanny ability to foresee the creatures’ movements and, if not thwart their machinations, at least slow them. If they came for the pebble stack tomorrow, King Beak would have something in store for them . . .

# # #

Max lay on the wet tile floor, his parka bunched up under his arms allowing the frigid air of the Savage Penguin Den to numb the skin of his back. His feet were sore and bloody from the needle-sized cuts made by the creatures’ whetted beaks. With each wheezing breath Max inhaled the stench of rotting fish, flung at him with tiny trebuchets and miniature siege engines. His vision seemed to be spotting but it could also be that nearly all of his surroundings were a near blinding shade of white.

He was only five minutes into his shift. 

“You’re doing great buddy!”

That was from Lisa up on the second floor. He hadn’t known she was here.  She wasn’t supposed to be. She was supposed to be on that trip with the rest of the Port Monster Aquarium employees. His boss Jerry had said he should go too if he wanted. They’d close for the day and he could join the rest at Wharf Town or wherever.

Max tried not to think about the way her brown curls had fluttered as she’d shook her head and walked away from him yesterday. She’d tried to warn him.

“Remember Max you only need to get up one more time than you fall down!”

Jerry was here too? No one else was could spout off clichéd maxims like he could. Were all of the employees up there watching? Probably. Max rolled his eyes realizing this was the employee’s trip.

Since starting two weeks ago, he’d done great with the animals, even winning the trust of a Sand Seal after saving its life. He hadn’t gotten a big head about it or anything, but it must have stirred up some feelings of inferiority among other employees. He’d done what they couldn’t. They were trying to take him down a peg.

Whatever. They were right. He didn’t need them.

But Max wasn’t going to finish ‘moving the pebble stack’ while lying on the tile floor, so perhaps Jerry wasn’t too off-base after all. But Max would not give him – any of them – the satisfaction of having inspired him.

Max pushed up with his arms and tried to steady himself, feet shimmying back and forth on the half-frozen tiles. A rotted fish fell from his shoulder and hit the floor with a splat. Disgusting.

The Savage Penguins exhibit used to be the Plenty of Fish exhibit before the renovation. Max remembered coming here as a kid and seeing more sea life than his brain could comprehend. From the bottom floor, people could walk up and look through the floor to ceiling glass – the fish bowl is what Jerry called it because well of course he did – and see triggerfish, eels, porcupine fish, and a bunch more that Max would never remember. And then on the second floor, the glass only came up to the waist of an average adult. Up there, manta rays and some of the other crowd favorites would swim near the surface of the water and people could pet them and feel their slimy skin up close.

The whole thing was one large tank though and so from the second floor you could peer in and see everything you’d seen below from a bird’s eye view.

That’s where everyone was watching from.

They must have seen the birds attack him immediately upon his entrance into the fish bowl but they’d just watched.

The penguin’s attack didn’t feel like mere savagery as their name would suggest, but a defense of their most prized accomplishment, the pebble stack. Tyler, one of the other employees, had said that the little creatures where always in some state of construction on the stack. Lisa thought it was proto-religious and Jerry felt that it was a physical representation of the animal’s journey towards fulfillment as a species but Max had to agree with Tyler’s assessment: the stack was a means of escape.

The stack was piled past Max’s shoulder, built from any little thing the birds could get their beaks around. The lowest levels appeared to be actual pebbles which had been placed in the habitat for them deliberately for use in their elaborate courtship rituals. But it seemed that purpose had been abandoned completely.

With the pebbles as a foundation, the pile rose ever higher. Max could see a variety of other materials present in the build. Pieces of chipped tile supported an assortment of fish bones and clumps of down feathers which had been shellacked and then dried into pebble shaped pieces. Max tried not to think about what the shellac had been made from.

Max’s job was to remove the bones and feathers thereby removing the stack which was increasingly looking more and more like a ramp to freedom for the penguins. It seemed a simple enough task, but he hadn’t expected the birds to try to stop him.

“I think he’s working it out.” Max heard from up above. Sounded like Tyler. “I give him five more minutes.”

“No bet. At least another ten. They still haven’t done the thing.” said Lisa.

As if on cue, one especially plump looking penguin stepped forward staring at Max.

It squawked a challenge, and the other penguins began to squawk in response, like the crowd at a wrestler’s match. Max looked incredulously at the bird, then up at where he could see his coworkers leaning over the glass barrier. They were grinning down at him.

Before Max’s eyes, the bird began to grow, quickly transforming from a manageable foot tall to three feet, and then four. Suddenly the bird was six feet tall – taller than Max – and beating its flipper-like wings against its ample belly. 

Then it charged.

Max tried to dart to his left and out of the bird’s way but his feet did not find purchase on the tiles. He slipped, throwing out his arms for balance, managing something akin to a turkey vulture spreading its wings, before coming down hard on his knee. It was enough movement to get Max’s head away from the animal’s striking beak, but it meant that when the bird literally gut checked Max, it was his face that bore the brunt of the blow. Apparently, blubber can feel as hard as cement.

The force sent Max spiraling away on the slick tile.

The bird seemed somewhat bewildered that its opponent did not lay slain before it, but quickly recovered, swiveling its head left than right before locating Max. It charged again.

Max reflexively stood back up before thinking that perhaps a lower center of gravity might be advantageous. Just before the bird was on top of him, Max manage to both crouch and push the shovel out in front of him.

The two collided and Max’s shovel was able to keep the penguin far enough away that its beak did not get him. Its repeated attempts pushed Max sliding backward however, his shoes refusing to grip the slick tile. Eventually Max felt his back foot come up against the glass wall of the fish bowl. It steadied him, but also trapped him. Max could feel his strength starting to wane and the distance between him and the beast was beginning to disappear.

In a last, desperate move, Max braced both feet against the wall, tread to glass, completely horizontal, and used his legs to push with everything he had.

The bird went backward, landing on its back while Max managed flop his belly on the tile. He slid a little on the icy floor, but the six foot horror he’d been battling positively shot across it. With so much weight and momentum, the animal crossed the length of the bowl in an instant, crashing into its beloved pebble stack, and collapsing one side.

Everything was still.

Max stood up and brushed some of the ice off his clothes. Not even a chirp came from the other penguins in the bowl, each clearly trying hard to process what had happened. Max looked up at his coworkers. They looked as shocked as the birds.

Good. Let them see he didn’t –

That chorus of squawking began again. Max looked back at his opponent, expecting to see the animal still lying wounded on the tiles. He was surprised to see that it was on its feet and squawking at the other birds as in the same manner it had challenged Max.

To Max’s horror the other birds began to change as well, each calling out its rage as it grew.

Ok. Maybe he did need them.  The ladder that served as both entrance and exit to the bowl was too far away, blocked by the raging birds. But Lisa was pointing towards the pebble stack He sprinted across the bowl, only slipping a little at the start. Up the side of the pebble stack he climbed, leaping for the rim of the bowl.

It was too far. He’d missed the edge. As he descended back into the bowl and the giant angry penguins, he felt something grab hold of his arm.

It was Lisa. She barely held him, threatening to be pulled in herself. But soon Tyler was their pulling him up as well. And Jerry Quixotic. And the rest of the Port Monster Aquarium employees.

They dragged him over the lip of the bowl and collapsed, gasping on the second floor. Tyler was the first to recover, standing up and then over Max with a grin on his face.

“Next time, come with us on the trip. We’re a team you know. Everyone works together.“ Max nodded and closed his eyes feeling Tyler step over him.

At least it was over . . .

# # #

James Vandgaurd Beak stood watch again upon his slippery perch. Black-Top – or as King Beak would say, the one who’d got away – stood chatting with Brown-Top as before.

“Another trip coming up,” she said. “You in?”

“I think I’d better. I would have died without y’all here last time. I guess I still have a lot to learn.”

Brown-Top flashed the white pebbles on the inside of her flesh-beak. “Yea you do. See you tomorrow.” She left him to ponder their scheme as before. Sharks! Their code was still indecipherable. Vanguard did not wait for Black-Top to leave, he went directly to King Beak. Perhaps he could make more out of it. Next time they would be ready.

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed The Savage Penguins. 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!

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 . . .