#Smaugust Day 27: RESCUE!

Hey all,

It’s Friday so I’ve written another snippet of fiction inspired by the #Smaugust tag on social media. Not sure what that is? Well it’s essentially a portmanteau of the words Smaug (the dragon from The Hobbit) and the word for the eighth month of the year (my fav month for reasons not related to dragons) August.

Artists all around the internet come up with lists of themes which they then use as prompts for their dragon artwork. I’ve pretty much been fascinated by this for quite a while now, but can’t draw worth a damn, and so I decided to try and write some fiction based off the prompts. I’ve posted the list of prompts I’ve been using just below this text (I’ve completed short piece’s already for LEGEND, FOREST, and HYBRID). Today’s word is RESCUE and it’s the last piece I’ll be doing for this year. Hopefully it’s an awesome one.

Like pretty much every one of these I attempted, I did not really land on a completed piece. I’m hoping each of these snippets will go into a larger short story (or possibly novella) which sat gathering dust on my hard drive for a really long time. Trying to write for this event has really inspired me to get back in this world, but I keep feeling like I never actually get to the dragons. Oh well . . . practice makes perfect.

Lastly, since this is supposed to be a drawing event, I found some fun tips on how to draw dragons. The first was 8 Pro Tips For Drawing Dragons by creativbloq.com. The second was put out by Adobe and called How To Draw a Dragon. Both of these were so inspiring that I actually decided to attempt #Smaugust more properly and create an image for my story and the prompt RESCUE.

It’s not great, but I think for me it’s pretty darn good. Anyway, enjoy the story (and artwork) below.


Rescue

When Galleed finally makes contact, I’m halfway into his Stack, and it’s giving me some weird mix between tingly-itchy-numb and I-just-felt-every-grain-of-this-wooden-table. My limbs feel like they’re jumbled in a heap on the other side of the room, but at the same time I’ve never had more control of them in my life. There’s so much magic sung into the god’s iron that my gauntleted hand could probably catch a fly by its wing without bending the tip.

It makes me want to run and fight and do everything all at once. Instead, I pace with worry, and I don’t know whether I’m worried about Galleed or if I’m worried this feeling might end.

Of course, Galleed has told me about the sensation before – how men spend months wearing a single piece of their armor at a time in order to acclimate themselves – how after a lifetime spent wearing the suits, he still feels a bit of a rush when attaching the final piece.

It’s hard to focus on the words writing themselves on the parchment I have spread across the worktable. They might as well be written in a foreign language for all I can make of their meaning. Galleed’s handwriting is abysmal when using Crotania’s finest implements, and now it’s clear to me he’s forming the glyphs with a badly broken stick and mud.

But by the will of some god neither of us have ever prayed to, but who must want our little drama to continue for another act, the words resolve into sentences.

Caught. Prison on north cliff. Beast coming. Now or never. Use the suit.

I run my hand through my hair and feel a sharp pain on my scalp as I accidently rip free a lock of my curling hair. The suit’s magic regenerates the brown coil within an instant and I curse, chiding myself for a fool and for wasting some healing. 

I sigh and shape my response in glyphs with my finger atop the parchment:

On my way . . .

But it’s a lie.

I can’t save Galleed.

I don’t know how. I’ve run through every strategy we talked through during our plans, simulated every outcome. There are half-finished notes covering every surface of the shop, but none of them are a formula which balances on both ends. Not one contains a solution.

And of course, the reason for it is simple. Galleed. He’s on the wrong side of the equal sign.

My job was to build the weapons and the suit. A Full Stack with custom magic abilities, and an easily used keyword interface.

His job was to use the suit and slay a god damned dragon.

But now all of that has changed. After failing to fight off all the hybrid dragonkin in Failmor Forest, we each triggered our portal which only led to two destinations. Home to the shop, and to the base of our quarry’s hoard, The Secluded Mountain.

My portal didn’t work, and so Galleed pushed me through his. But they were only designed to transfer one person and so it closed after I came through leaving him in the Hybrid’s clutches. Miraculously, Galleed managed to trigger the portal to Secluded Mountain instead, jumping quite literally from the boiling kettle into the crackling fire.

But its only fate deferred.

Even if we’re generous, and I claim a tenth of the ability Galleed possesses, it is not enough to battle the dragon. Not enough to do so and win.

My first thought was that perhaps we did not need to. The suit has wings and uses magic to fly. All I need do was swoop in, grab Galleed and fly off, savior to a Crotanian prince.  

This is still my current strategy, but of course, we’ve run into the same problem that got us into this mess. The suit is only designed for one person. Galleed. It won’t fly with two, not enough magic.

I continue pacing but the giddiness I felt before is wearing off – oh I still want to leap tall buildings but there’s something else too – replaced by a kind of resignation.

Fate deferred.

I can still save Galleed, but it will require me to get the variables back on the right side of the equation. Galleed back in the suit making his escape, me left behind rent by tooth and claw . . .


Welp. That’s it . . . That’s all I wrote. Hope you enjoyed the snippet (sorry it ended on a bit of a downer but obvi it’s gonna turn around I just haven’t written that part yet).

If you liked anything about what you saw here, I have more fiction to read, and a newsletter which you can subscribe to. It basically lets you know more about what I’m up to, and how different projects are going.

Anywho, this has been a wild ride. See you next week!

Should ‘Open House on Haunted Hill’ win a Hugo?

This piece is currently my front runner for the short story category. Granted, I’ve only read one other nominee so far (also take a look at the full list of my reviews of Hugo nominated works), but I’m feeling like I generally enjoyed this piece more.

My initial thoughts are that the piece is fun, with a good twist baked right into the premise. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it’s about a haunted house, and not much of a spoiler to reveal that it’s from the house’s POV that we see the story. What makes this story unique, is that the house is a lonely thing, and just wants to HELP a family recover from the death of a loved one.

I’ve been seeing some comments around that say the kid’s characterization is inconsistent, alternating between too childish in some moments, and too adult in others. I didn’t notice this. Kids are surprisingly mature in the moments you least expect them to be so perhaps Wiswell’s characterization is spot on. Regardless, I felt seen by her stomping around the house pretending to be a dinosaur. According to my parents, this was my true-form at four years old as well. It’s nice to see myself represented in fiction.

My only disappointment in the story, is that even though the story uses a haunted house as its subject, it seems strangely disconnected from the long lineage of haunted house stories it purports to be a part of.

The author references Haunting of Hill House in the piece’s author’s note, and the title seems to allude to a 1959 film named House on Haunted Hill (I believe also a kind of parody), but Wiswell’s story seems to have little to do with either. Aside from some rather standard ‘haunted house’ things like creaking floor boards, rooms that shouldn’t exist, and doors slamming shut when no one is around to do so, there isn’t much of the usual tropes and motives we’re used to.

In that same author’s note, Wiswell says:

“I tend to put Horror-y things back out as humorous stories or heartwarming stories. Off the top of my head I gave them the example that if I wrote a haunted house story, it wouldn’t be like Haunting of Hill House

https://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-64a-open-house-on-haunted-hill-by-john-wiswell/

So perhaps, by the author’s own admission, this piece doesn’t purport to be a haunted house story despite the title and the POV.

In which case, Wiswell nails it in the execution. This house is not a repository for unexpiated sin, or the waning relevance of aristocracy, or even a mirror into the horror we find within ourselves. It’s a friend and comforter instead.

The realtor in this story doesn’t really play a large role even though the title seems to connotate the action of a realtor. But just because of the fact that they are there at all, I couldn’t help thinking of Surreal Estate, a TV show in which a group of realtor’s try to prove or disprove hauntings (often solving whatever causes the haunting in the first place) in order to up the sale price of the home. It looks like Wiswell’s story was released just before the show was announced, but it still makes me wonder how our views on haunted houses have changed that we’ve shaped them into these most recent forms which (to my mind) bear a likeness. Perhaps that’s an essay for another day . . .

So . . . Hugo?

Yep! Right now, this is the one to beat. If you haven’t given it a read, I highly recommend.

If you have read it, what are your thoughts? On the the story? On the name? On any of the other properties I mentioned during this review. What really makes a Haunted House in 2021?

See you next time!

#Smaugust Day 20: HYBRID

It’s a Friday in August so I guess that means I have another #Smaugust post for y’all. What’s a Smaugust? Well, apparently it’s the word you get when you combine the words August and Smaug, the main antagonist in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

I got a little curious about the history of this event and was able to find that the Brush Warriors have done some sleuthing in their post: Smaugust — Drawing Challenge. Apparently it was started in 2016 by and artist named Katie Croonenberghs, aka Kamakru and Oh My Gawd, her artwork is absolutely beautiful.

Anyway, you may have noticed that I’m not an artist. I can’t draw to save my life, but I still think this is a fun and cool event, so I’ve decided to adapt it to my own purposes . . . writing fiction. I don’t have the bandwidth right now to write new fiction everyday, but every Friday has been pleasantly doable. You can see the list of prompts I’m using in the image below, and check out my two previous entries for the prompts LEGEND, and FOREST.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about that. Let’s get to the fiction. Today’s prompt is HYBRID. Enjoy!


High Breed

After Galleed had finished drying out, and I’d finished writing up my notes from our encounter with the Gorgusa, we decided we must continue testing the Full Stack’s features – after all, the test had revealed valuable flaws in both our methods and assumptions – though we both agreed that perhaps another look at those assumptions was needed before we reached Failmor’s southern edge, and the home of the Blensdcale.

Several long and expensive afternoons spent in The Capital’s premier library, The Anathenaeum, had given us nearly a thousand reports of encounters with our next quarry, some benign, but most disastrous. We poured through those accounts all over again while ambling down the slowest route to the southern edge, hoping to find some sliver of information we’d missed in our original search.  

Neither Galleed nor I had admitted it to each other yet, but we’d both been shaken among those ancient ruins and roving tupelo. Our first test, and we’d nearly failed. Our first bet, and we’d nearly lost it all.

We were determined not to make the same mistake twice, and so we worked.

But as the wind grew colder, and the hills began to climb, Galleed and I were no closer to the certainty of our next victory.

Most of the encounters we’d read which involved the Blensdcale had been taken from a single source – a chronicle so-to-speak – of a nomadic people who’d travelled to every corner of Failmor’s wood, and beyond.

They seemed to be a curious and detail-oriented people, which naturally I appreciated, and their runes and speech had been adopted as keywords for one the King’s infantry units to trigger the offensive magic sung into their armor and weaponry. The unit had guarded young Galleed for nearly a quarter of his life before being sent to the front to fight Severants.

He knew the runes almost better than I did. It had been the most logical account to base our hypotheses.

But in light of our last failure, the texted seemed bungling and amateur. It was seemingly filled with discrepancies and contradictions. Even within the same account, written by the same author, one stanza would describe the terror of beholding the dragonkin’s breath as it set its prey aflame. While in the next stanza it would describe the same breath as freezing a second man where he stood.

Having just been turned to stone by our last challenge, Galleed did not seem very keen on any interpretation of the runes involving the words freeze, frozen, or frost. I could not say that I blamed him, but I also could not ignore the meaning either, for perhaps the very same reason Galleed wanted to pass it by.

Whatever the truth of the account was, neither of us could divine it. It simply made no sense.

This was not the only mystery that our newly found caution had revealed to us. One grouping of runes stood out to us now as particularly strange and we spent nearly our entire journey trying to puzzle it out. Back in the Anathenaeum, the words seemed to translate literally to ‘High’ and ‘Breed’, which we had taken as simply a descriptor of the dragon’s status as an apex predator.

But Galleed pointed out the way in which the accounts expressed awe at the dragonkin’s majesty and nobility, as well as fear of their cruelty. Many of the accounts might have sold back in Crotania’s capital as romances in which star-crossed lovers were exiled to the far reaches of Failmor for their forbidden coupling.

And through it all, the High Breed, the High Breed, as if referring to some kind of lineage.

Of course, it was only when we finally reached the foot of the Blensdcale’s territory and saw the charred remains of a great pine encased in slick but never melting ice that we realized how we’d missed the forest for the trees. It was only after we were deep with the creature’s clutches that the meaning of those strange runes became clear.

Not ‘High Breed’ as we’d though but one simpler and more accurate concept.

Hybrid . . .


This prompt actually turned out to be way more fun than I anticipated. When I first looked at it, I hadn’t even the slightest clue what to write for it, nor how it would fit with the other pieces I’ve done so far, and the larger story I have planned for these snippets. But I’m happy to say I persevered and am pretty happy with what eventually came through.

I’m particularly proud of The Anathenaeum which is (to me) a sort of funny and ironic portmanteau (please try to guess what words it combines in the comments!). I’m kind of embarrassed by Blensdcale but I’m terrible at coming up with names for things (feel free to bash me in the comments for that one yeesh).

Anyway, I think that’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed High Breed. 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 ‘Little Free Library’ win the Hugo Award

So it’s been a little while since I’ve posted any reviews related to the 2021 Hugo Awards. I’ve been pretty busy (first two weeks back to work full time! and a bunch of birthdays, mine included) and while I don’t feel like I’ve been slacking, I have not had as much time for reading and writing as I had before August hit (also before #smaugust hit lol).

Anyway, I think the perfect way to remedy that is to add some Hugo nominated short story reviews to my ever-growing list of Hugo related reviews. It’s been quite a while since I reviewed any short stories on this blog (the last one being a Robert Sharp number in 2018), so I’m feeling a little unsure how to proceed, but I supposed it’s just the same as any other review I’ve written . . . and who cares if it isn’t. I’m here for the funzies.

So, should Naomi Kritzer’s Little Free Library win a Hugo award in 2021?

Hot take: Probably not?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful short story, expertly crafted with much to love in the moment, but seems to crumble under further scrutiny. It does, perhaps, capture the essence of a portal fantasy, not by the literal use of a Little Free Library as a portal within the text, but in the fact that while you read the story, you are transported away from reality briefly and returned more or less able to continue on, refreshed but not really affected (in the times we’ve been having, perhaps this IS award worthy). I feel, especially since we have books like those in the Wayward Children series such as In and Absent Dream, that as a genre this is too simple a way to look at portal fantasies in general.

But I suppose I should try to break it down a little better.

Stuff I enjoyed:

I think one of the main parts of the story which gives it appeal to a wide audience is all the references to other books. Of course, there is the initial hook, Lord of the Rings, which every reader will recognize and kind of lets the reader know that they’ll be reading a fantasy, or at the very least, something fantasy related (interesting that they didn’t pick anything from The Chronicles of Narnia. I mean why not call it what it is haha).

And then we continue to get bread-crumbed through the mystery of who is on the other side of this portal through the other books which they select. The main character, Meigan, kind of thinks of this mystery as a game, and the reader is encouraged to do so as well, which makes it a fun puzzle. Points to everyone all around for fun puzzles.

Perhaps the second portion that I enjoyed, was simply that it was about libraries, and specifically a Little Free Library. I work for a library, so I’m always excited when one is featured (well) in a story and we have tons of these little book boxes all around (although MY neighborhood just took theirs down hmph) and I’ve always had a great experience swapping books through them. I have wondered where the books came from and who gave them up (although I never imagined something as crazy as this).

It’s just a cool concept, and another aspect of the story which lends itself to wide appeal. Even if people don’t know about Little Free Libraries, they have usually had SOME experience with a library and it’s pretty popular in our culture to romanticize them as gateways to other worlds (which for a lot of people they metaphorically are). I liked that in this case those other worlds were real and the gateway was literal.

Stuff I didn’t like:

Stories that rely heavily on allusion to other works, or references to them, are kind of a double-edged sword. If the reader knows them, or can mostly figure them out from context, the author is in the clear, but if not, the reader will be quite helpless to know what’s going on. It’s hard to imagine — especially reading all the Sci-fi and Fantasy blogs, channels, and books that I do — but there ARE people who haven’t read Lord of the Rings, or seen Starwars.

I haven’t read Ready Player One but I’m told it’s an extreme example of this, where the book is highly referential, and for a niche that actually isn’t all that big. I think this story falls into that a little bit. I’ll admit that I actually didn’t recognize too many of the books Meigan gave away. Some of them had titles that were generic enough that I could kinda get what they were about but, who knows? I don’t think this story did it enough to be ostracizing, but it’s a slippery slope.

Plus the whole thing felt vaguely nostalgic which I sort of have a love/hate relationship with. I’ll work this out someday and look back on these times of loathing and hatred with a fondness as I — Dammit stop that! Anyway, moving on . . .

— SORRY, SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT —

What was most interesting about the story to me:

I’ve been feeling that with a lot of stories these days, other people’s reactions are almost more interesting to me than the actual content of the story. For this book, people seem to feel that it’s very hopeful, and cute (which nothing that is ever called cute wants to be called cute lol) which I would have agreed with, immediately after reading, but actually began to think the opposite of as I pondered further.

Why you ask?

Well, the story essentially ends with what’s (assumedly) a dragon egg, sent through the portal with a note that says all has been lost, please take care of this baby for us. I don’t think poor Meigan is at all prepared to take care of a child out of nowhere (Who would be?), and this particular one has the added disadvantage of not even being a human. Whatever hatches from this poor egg is going to have a hell of a time living in a strange place, with strange people, and no others even remotely like itself to relieve any of the pressure of being (essentially) “the last of my kind”

Through this lens, the story is actually pretty bleak . . .

And what of it? What is the purpose of such tragedy? Not all stories need to have a message, or moral, or theme. It’s ok to have stories which are the literary equivalent of popcorn. Which is what this story seems to portend itself to be.

But even popcorn stories, which are not intentionally written with a theme, will usually still have one, even if it’s just the author’s outlook on the vast topics that happen through the story.

Little Free Library does not seem to give us any clue as to what that theme might be, and when we think deeper on the story (and assume the rather bleak outlook I described), it seems to need that theme or message badly but I just wasn’t sure what it was.

So . . . Hugo?

I think the lack of discernable theme, whether intentionally hidden or unintentionally left out is what lowered this story in my esteem. It had a wonderful premise and great execution of that premise, but (for me) did not deliver on the higher level which we typically associate with stories which are “award worthy”.

I can recommend this story to read, but not for the award . . .

What are y’all’s thoughts? DID this story have a theme which I just completely missed (this would not be the first nor last time)? Please let me know what you loved or didn’t love about the story in the comments as well as anything I’m missing here. Thanks so much for stopping by.

See you next time.

#Smaugust Day 13: FOREST

Hey all!

I’m back this week with another 500ish words inspired by #Smaugust prompts (you can see last week’s entry: LEGEND). If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, it’s essentially a list of prompts which artists use to inspire their artwork around the dragon theme. It’s in August and Smaug is a dragon so there you go. I don’t draw at all, but decided to still participate in the art form I do perform (hack it up at): writing.

I’ve been using these posts to replace my Friday posts which are sometimes fiction I write, and sometimes other stuff. I’m guessing there will be 4 of these altogether. The list of prompts I’m using is:

I think this week, I hit the prompt a little better. I’m still trying to write text that I could us in a WIP I had shelved for years and years so I think that is making my route to the prompt a little circuitous but I’m not worried. This is supposed to be fun. Anywho, enough of me babbling, let’s get to it!


Failmor Woods

At a certain point, all of the stories and hearsay, the theories and thought experiments; all the lines and ink on parchment are nothing but a pile of animal skin. It’s not a suit of armor. It’s not a sword or a bow, or a phrase in some dead language that will push forth the light when it seems that all is dark.  

It’s a hope and a dream and perhaps even the thing that you’re most proud of in the whole kingdom of Crotania, but it isn’t what you set out to do. It isn’t a Full Stack.

Not yet.

Not until you actually build it.

As much as I would like to credit for the method of our madness, the initial strategy came from Galleed. My employer is the type of person whose entire ideology centers around fucking up fast and often and managing to survive even the dumbest maneuvers by having an excess of time, money, and all the entitled confidence that those things can buy. It wasn’t until the end of all this that I realized that he was rich in two other resources as well:

Bravery and Kindness.

Despite that I had considered him to have more moxie than sense, even Galleed knew that we only had one chance to slay our dragon and that if we failed, no amount of money nor any brilliant procedure from the king’s physicians would get us back together again. We needed to be sure that we could do the things we imagined we could. We needed a proving ground.

So Galleed suggested we test the suit’s different functions – individually and together – before we spent any of his hard-earned allowance singing magic into meteor iron. He suggested we build the pieces fast and cheap so that we’d know the flaws in our system before we found ourselves wedged inside the dragon’s maw. He suggested we hunt smaller prey until the only foe left unchallenged was our nemesis itself. He suggested Failmor Woods.

Failmor was no stranger to men and women looking to make a name or fortune or both. It knew intimately the weaknesses of humanity’s frail existence, and it was said to have an evil for every infirmity.

We knew even the bravest man would stop dead in his tracks, quivering in fear from little more than a drowsy glance from our dragon’s sleepy gaze. We had our defense well in hand, but why take the risk? The statued ruins of the ancient Gorgusa, hidden among the swimming tupelo of eastern Failmor were said to be inhabited by a race of dragonkin which sinks its prey below the depths the instant its quarry comes beneath their gaze.

Should our defense fail, it’s a touch easier to survive drowning than instant death.

Galleed assured me he’s an excellent swimmer, even under the most terrifying circumstances, but still I rigged bladders of air to his cuirass which – though a trace uncomfortable – would keep him afloat no matter the state of his courage.   

Now our dragon’s fiery breath was another matter altogether, one for which we hoped Failmor might provide us a solution instead of another test for our ingenuity . . .


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Failmor Woods. 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!

Jade City: A Rare Gem of a Novel

This could probably be a pretty short review. I’m half tempted to simply write ‘go read this book’ and call it a day. But I suppose I should work a little harder than that, and actually explain why I feel this way about the book. After all, it is clear while reading Jade City that it was a project of passion and painstaking craft; the end result deserves more than a sentence in review.

I think it makes sense to start with the premise. As described by the author, Fonda Lee, Jade City is essentially The Godfather with magic and kung fu” and honestly, that description hits the nail pretty well on the head (and for me basically sells the whole thing right from the start).

Add in a sort of post World War II modern, vaguely Asian setting, and you pretty much have all the ingredients for the novel’s success listed and defined. Each of these ingredients serve as excellent hooks, and any one of them draw the reader in, but as with all good recipes, I think it’s how these things are mixed together, which really causes the book to shine.

The two main things that immediately stood out to me upon reading Jade City was just how tightly plotted the novel is, and how deep the world building goes. From the very first scene, we’re exposed to the undercurrents of political unrest which will shape the main intrigue plot, a systematic but not overly (faux) scientific magic system, and some pretty exciting and harrowing action from the point of view of a seemingly minor character (who just keeps happening bumble into more and more important plot points). This could have been an absolute disaster of a first chapter in its ambition, but remarkably gets everything across to the reader in a way that draws us in, sets up the basic information that we need to continue forward, and leaves us with enough (and the right) questions to encourage us to continue reading. It really sets the tone perfectly for the novel, as the scenes which follow may not be as action packed, but they rely on the building blocks laid out here to keep the tension building throughout in a way that (to me) never felt slow or dragging.

I mentioned the worldbuilding before, and I’d like to circle back to it as it was certainly a main component of the book which really stood out. In a lot of fantasy novels, I feel like “Worldbuilding” with a capital W is often actually myth building. The author builds the setting and explains current conflicts through legends and history of the world. In a lot of fantasy, these histories are ancient, and there is often a remove of hundreds or even thousands of years between the events of the myths/legends, and the plot we experience. They are related, but there is something of a remove.

I think in a lot of stories that feature this kind of worldbuilding, the remove is (more or less) necessary in order to establish the magnitude of the stakes being set up. The epics we know in the real world are set thousands of years in our past, and so that kind of remove in a fantasy story will naturally give a kind of epic quality to the events we see in the story.

By comparison, the events of Jade City feel very young. We get a few interludes which give three parts of an old myth, but most of the history makers in this world are still alive, aging badly, and worse, are failing to live up to the myth and legend which has come up around them. To me, this was a nice contrast from more traditional fantasy, and I think only served to bring the drama of the story closer to its main actors, the No Peak clan, and specifically the Kaul family.

The next thing that stood out to me about the worldbuilding, I said in a tweet so I’ll just post that here:

“I’m not sure what I was expecting but I’m pretty much digging it. For such a deep setting it’s pretty quickly paced and (at least to me) there doesn’t seem to be much filler. I also really think the setting would make a fun board game or RTS. There so many definitions of winning.”@jamesweber16

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I got about 75% of the way through this book and realized: “If so-and-so does this, that would be a satisfying ending to the story, but also if so-and-so does this, so would that.”

And of course, the ending was completely different from either of those things and still (to me) completely satisfying.

I attribute this to Lee’s story telling, but also must acknowledge that it was the depth of the world which provided the scaffolding for her to accomplish this. Each of the main characters seemed to have their own aspect of the world in which they were striving to create change, but all interlocked, and no one plot seemed to take the backseat to any other.

Finally, despite all that I’ve been going on about the worldbuilding and the setting, this story is primarily a family drama. The interpersonal relationships were what really drove so much of the tension in the story, but I was never frustrated by this. In a lot of family conflicts, issues that effect the character’s motivations can sometimes amount to very little more than shallow squabbles which any reasonable person would ‘suck it up’ and move forward from, especially when faced with world defining problems, and it can be very frustrating to see them fail to make these changes.

This was not the case in Jade City. The family conflicts seem deeply rooted in past history, and given the lives these characters have had to lead, seems completely reasonable. But Lee takes it one step further and also shows how they are still a family, and despite everything, seem to have a real familial love (or at least respect) for each other. I pretty much ate these scenes up (as well as all the others if I’m honest) and they were some of the scenes that stuck out to me the most.

TLDR

Anyway, please give this one a shot. There is so much more I could have written about but honestly, it would probably take more words than the book has in it already, so I think any readers still here should just go forth and read it. I’m really looking forward to the sequel, Jade War, and can’t wait to gush more about that here later.

If you’ve read Jade City, please let me know your thoughts in the comments. What did you love? Was there anything you hated? I’m excited to talk about this one.

Thanks again for reading! See you next time.

#smaugust day 5: LEGEND

Ok, so I didn’t have any essays or book tags or anything ready for this Friday, so I decided to wing it (lol).

There’s a challenge going on right now on instagram, in which artists are encouraged to draw or illustrate some kind of dragon based on a series of thirty one-word prompts which change each day. Everyday, they post their work which corresponds to the day’s prompt and then use the hashtag #Smaugust so that it all collects in the feed. I’ve always thought this was a cool idea (and am totally jealous my art form isn’t more visual) and I generally try to write 500 words a day, so I decided to write my 500 words about a dragon, using the prompt.

There are tons and tons of prompt lists out there, but this is the one I used:

Anyway, here’s what I came up with . . .


Surprising literally no one (except maybe my new employer Galleed), there’s a venerable host of people and things you need to consider when attempting to slay a dragon.

With the myriad of different species, and more than two myriad of legends surrounding everything we know about the creatures, you can’t simply leave your house one morning, find yourself in the beast’s lair the day after, and hope to be back home again when the sun sets that third day.

Despite what the stories say, it just doesn’t happen. Long before you start forging swords or enchanting rings, you have a divine mandate to research your target up front and pull free the glimmering truth from the murk of roiling legend.

Or at least that’s what my old boss Romney had come back spouting after a week at the most recent MERLIN convention.

Galleed is obviously not big on mandates, whether they be divine, earthly or hellish – I believe his official position is “They put the archaic in arcane!” which I have not yet had the heart to tell him is the exact opposite of how that etymology works – so convincing him that we should start “hunting our quarry” with a series of interviews in the bucolic countryside was naturally met with some resistance.   

And quite a bit of snark regarding the in-EFF-able Virtues of Cowardice . . . How I should in fact “EFF” those virtues, and how “for Augustine’s sake!” nobody starts a quest with a series interviews!

I reminded him that we weren’t going on a quest like Augustine and all the others which was exactly the reason he’d hired me in the first place. I also told him that if we took twenty percent more time and effort now to do this research correctly, we could avoid mistakes which would cost upwards of eighty percent of those same resources later . . . and likely kill us.

He looked at me then as if balancing some unknowable scale within his mind and said, “Romney brought those figures back from MERLIN too, did he?” and when I nodded affirmation continued with “Fine go and interview torch bearers” – “Stakeholders” I corrected – “Whatever! Just be back in a month. I want anvils ringing and mages chanting in one month!”

I gave him a smile and a slight bob of my head, which he’d always been generous in accepting as a bow, then left him to whatever activities a prince of Crotania might revel in on a warm night in the capital.

I’ll admit that as I walked those streets that same evening, my worn and ugly leather boots seemed as light as the yellow-orange wisps of cloud, moving with a smooth and easy brilliance across the sky, while the sun warmed their bellies with its last brilliant rays.

Galleed was right. The world was full of opportunity and changing every day. We weren’t like our mothers and fathers, practicing the same old crafts of war and politicking, spending hour after hour moving pieces in a chess game that nobody could ever win.

We were onto something new, and bold, and by Josef Augustine, it was going to work!

Imagine my disappointment when I reached the bucolic countryside – in the middle of a rainstorm — to find that there was little if any beauty to be found, and perhaps even less concrete information about our quarry than the stories we’d all learned as children . . .


This . . . didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would. First, I’m realizing that the prompt is for day five while technically the post is live on day six. Second, I originally wanted to focus solely on the dragon, and create a legend surrounding it . . . but then I thought it could fit in with another story I started years ago but never finished and so I started writing that story again. The legend of the dragon is coming, but I didn’t quite get to it which I think means I missed my target. There’s kind of some bits about how dragons ARE legendary . . . Right? Eh oh well. Hopefully it was entertaining to some degree.

Please let me know what you think! Of the story? Of the challenge? Should I try to do more of these? Let me know in the comments and thanks for being here and reading this.

South on Highland (a trunk review)

Small confession. This is a resurrected “trunk” review. Most authors have novels they lock away in a drawer, or hide in the back of their closet . . . assumedly in a trunk . . . which they wrote years ago, but haven’t looked at in a dozen or more years. Perhaps they didn’t think their skill as a writer was good enough, or some plot line just wouldn’t line up in their mind. Maybe the world just wasn’t ready for the type of story they had written. Perhaps they just managed to get distracted at the exact moment they were going to hit publish.

Apparently, I have trunk reviews. This one hasn’t been maturing in my cellar for the previously mentioned dozen years (try sixish). There’s not a special occasion for which I’m revealing it (honestly I only started digging around in old drafts because I ran out of time to write a review of a different book). What I assume happened is that I probably wanted to make some clever point which I wasn’t nearly clever enough to come up with and so I decided to let it marinate for a while to see what else came of it.

Turns out nothing did.

But after six years, a quick read through to discover it was mostly a complete review, and not remembering in the slightest what half formed idea I wanted to let congeal, I decided to go ahead and publish it anyway. Please enjoy this look back at 25 year old me . . .


This was a really intense read. The beginning of this book has a certain vacation like charm. Leila is pretty “cool”. She’s smart, witty, successful and most importantly she’s adventurous in a way that seems easy but certainly is not. We get to live an insane life style vicariously through her binges and we don’t really feel any of the side effects of what is going on. The highs are much clearer and expressive than the lows and so we feel, perhaps as Leila herself feels, that there are no consequences to these actions. And it’s wonderful.

But of course, it can’t last and with the flip of a switch we’re back on our asses wondering what the hell is going on. I had to put this book down several times because it got so “heavy”. It’s a tribute to Maeby’s writing though that I kept picking it back up. I finished the book pretty quickly as I kept putting off obligations and cancelling plans to read. Had to get my fix I guess 😉

I found the portrayal of Los Angeles (or I suppose I mean Hollywood really) extremely interesting as well. So much beauty and wealth and excess and not a single strand to keep it grounded. So many people in search of intense feeling and not a single thing getting felt. Shallow and deep at the same time.

Of course I also enjoyed the point of view. Leila is 23. I will be turning 25 in a week or two so I felt like we were pretty close in age if not actual experience. The larger subtext of the way she feels is one I think most of my generation can feel even if we weren’t doing Adderall in high school. One of the later characters is incredibly nostalgic about the movie Rent which had a special place in my own coming of age. The whole book is pocked with little details like that which place it in time. Place it in my time. I haven’t felt that in anything I’ve read . . . maybe ever.

Definitely give this one a read, especially if you’re a college student or young professional. Just do it.


Thank you 24-going-on-25-year-old-me (this is 30-going-on-31-year-old-you speaking) . . . How insightful. Ahh youth.

I’m having vague flashbacks to this book being called Less than Zero for millennials. I think past me wanted to write something smart about that but never did figure out what to say other than yea . . . it’s got a similar vibe and takes place (I think) in the 80’s. But that was as far as I got. Sadly older wiser me is not closer to that brilliant connection. Sometimes it be like that.

It seems like young me thought this book felt generation defining at the time I read it. I’m curious what’s being written now for 25-year-olds that their feeling seen by. I wonder if I’d feel old an curmudgeonly reading those books now

Anyway, for any readers that have actually managed to read this post, let me know if you’ve given this one a read. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

Also, what are the “generation defining” books of today? Leave em in the comments.