#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!

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 . . .

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 . . .