The Legend of Guinevere

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In honor of the release of Tales of the Once and Future King by Superversive Press, I’m doing a background piece on my story in the anthology, “The Knight of Crows.” This is about Guinevere as a girl-queen, and the first encroachments of evil to bedevil her soul. This is just one contribution to a longer work. Look for the full tome available on Amazon.

Camelot is about perfection. The legend came together out of oral tradition, a tale of heroes that devoted their lives to defending Britain against the armies of evil. As Christianity came along, the legend absorbed these doctrines, becoming more and more about purity and the quest for the Holy Grail. This quest is about living your life properly, of course, and about trying to be perfect, but we all know how that goes. Bad things just happen to good people regardless.

In this case, the problem was falling in love. Guinevere the girl-queen is married to the perfect man. She has everything a woman could possibly want, but she falls in love with her husband’s best friend instead, the flawed but heroic Sir Lancelot. It’s uncertain in the tales about how this happens. Maybe it was engineered by the evil Morgan le Fay as a way to get to Arthur, and maybe it’s just the vagaries of the human heart, but whatever, it grows from the first tiny seeds to an obsession that extends through years and eventually grows so heated that it’s visible to everyone. At this point, the affair is a wedge set to crack the golden walls of Camelot into ruin. Arthur condemns Guinevere to death for adultery and goes to fighting his own knights, who see his distraction as a weakness and an opportunity to further their own ambitions. Guinevere escapes to a convent; Lancelot escapes to becomes a monk; Arthur wins his fight for the kingdom with the usurper Mordred, but is mortally wounded. The Lady of the Lake takes back the Sword Excalibur into her safekeeping. Fini. End. But will Arthur return in a different guise?

The interesting thing about the evolution of this legend is the way Guinevere became the central figure over a span of centuries. In the beginning, there was only the hero tales, and not much information about the queen—varying stories of her parentage and background, about how she came to marry the king. Stories of heroes are one thing, but they don’t tell us that much about the human condition. Fully developed, with Guinevere in place, we get to see how the quest for perfection is undermined by human nature and the inability to deal with our failings, our needs and the attractions of our darker side.

Tales of the Once and Future King from Superversive Press.

Contributors:
B Morris Allen
Bokerah Brumley
Lela E Buis
Katharina Daue
Jon Etter
Declan Finn
L Jagi Lamplighter
Anthony Marchetta (editor)
Mariel Marchetta (assistant editor)
K A Masters
R C Mulhare
Mandy Nachampassack-Maloney
Peter Nealen
Morgon Newquist
Victor Rodriguez
Matthew P Schmidt
Jonathan E Shipley
Justin M Tarquin
Joshua M Young
Ben Zwycky

What does “important” mean for lit awards?

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In his 2016 article for the Daily Beast, Tom Leclair indicates he thinks literary awards should be for works that are “the most ambitious and important nominee—a major work, wide-ranging in subject, ingenious in form, and profound in its treatment of…history.” This is an interesting philosophy, as it says nothing about the quality of the writing or the writer’s skill in putting the novel together. Additionally, Leclair suggests that popularity, or even likability, should not be important for choosing a winner.

This, of course, is a philosophy for judging great literature. Examples from the 20th century might include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Flies and The Color Purple. These are all profound works, and everyone pretty much agrees on their landmark status. The question is, should this kind of philosophy apply to judging genre works, too?

Genre works like romance, mystery, science fiction and fantasy are splinters from mainstream literature that originally formed to tell entertaining stories—as popular fiction, in other words, without any ambition to become fine literature. Of course, some genre fiction was bound to become landmark works. The Lord of the Rings, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 come to mind.

Novels like this don’t come along every year, but you never know when one will break through into landmark status in a mainstream literary sense. So, do the SFWA professionals look for these “important” works for the Nebula Award?

Leclair goes on in his article to suggest we’re really better off not knowing what goes on behind the scenes of a literary prize. We’re assuming the SFWA members take their responsibility for the Nebula seriously, read all the works on the ballot (or at least critical reviews), and avoid voting on things like name recognition, friendship or reputation of the publisher.

What about this year’s winners make them important for the SFF genre?

Review of Everfair by Nisi Shawl

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This alternate history novel is a Nebula finalist published by Tor Books. The number of recommendations for the novels is gone from the page now, but the Wayback Machine suggests this one came from behind, with maybe four recommendations.

The story begins in 1889. British Fabian socialists join forces with missionaries to buy land in the Belgian Congo from King Leopold II. They set up the colony Everfair, which takes in refugees from Leopold’s atrocities, escaped slaves and other political undesirables who go on to build a life alongside the native population. Over the period until 1919, they fight three wars and try to bring together the diverse groups that make up the colony’s population.

One the positive side, this book has a lot of charm. It’s written in a style that suggests 19th century prose, and uses a gentle, non-dramatic approach to relate the stories of various characters dealing with the issues of love, family and the challenging social, industrial and political backdrop of the 19th century fin de siècle.

On the other hand, this is another book without a plot. It’s composed of 3-4 page vignettes that spotlight characters along a timeline and reveal some of the environment they are living in. There is no action line, and I ended up without a clear vision of the characters, what the settlement looks like or how the colony works. Characters emerged and disappeared, and I didn’t get much of an idea of the larger politics. There were a number of interesting threads that went nowhere. A move by the African king in Everfair to expel whites provided something of a focus on racism at the end, but the coverage was too brief to really investigate the fallout.

Because of the lack of plot and action line, this book was a slow read, and it’s best enjoyed in small bites. Keep it by the bedside and read a bit every night. I’m not sure what to say about it as a novel, because I think it’s really a collection instead.

Three stars.

What does the idea have to do with story length?

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FeatherPenClipArt
Are some ideas worth a full-length novel and some not? Are some best for a flash fiction piece and some for a fully developed short story? What does it take to flesh out an idea and make it worthy of an 800 page novel?

It’s clear that “What if the moon blew up?” is a popular question right now. I’ve seen it in several places in the last couple of years. One was last year’s short story “Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet, who withdrew it from the 2015 list of Hugo finalists. This is also the question that generated this year’s hard SF blowout Seveneves. It also appears this will become an issue in N.K Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series that The Fifth Season kicked off. It’s a popular idea because it’s a weighty, catastrophic event that opens up a lot of scenarios. You can expand it to different lengths without much trouble, from short-short to an 800 page novel.

Regardless of whether you’ve come up with a weighty, catastrophic idea, though, you have to have the skill to keep the narrative of your story running and interesting enough that the reader will 1) keep reading and 2) enjoy the book enough to buy your next one. Clearly, this gets harder as the story gets longer. The author has to be able to manage the complexity of different characters and their subplots, besides the issues of world-building and technical accuracy, plus keeping a finger on the pacing and how the story develops. Readability is important for customer satisfaction, so the end result needs to be understandable and entertaining. It would also help if people like at least some of your characters.

Is there a most comfortable length for a book? Patricia Briggs, I notice, cuts her best-seller urban fantasy books off at about 350 pages. This is quite a bit shorter than what I’ve been reading for the awards, and it feels like a comfortable length. Normally Briggs had plenty of space to use on the characters and their relationships. It allows for plot development, along with whatever subplots she might have going on. However, it doesn’t require a huge idea and doesn’t drag the story out to the point where she’s having a hard time sustaining it; for example, having to add filler material, or where she’s losing control of the interactions, pacing and theme. I can read a book like that in a couple of evenings. It feels good.

Congrats to the Nebula nominees!

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Nebula_Award_logoNovel

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Novella

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
‘‘The Bone Swans of Amandale’’, C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
‘‘The New Mother’’, Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
‘‘The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn’’, Usman T. Malik (Tor.com 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
“Waters of Versailles’’, Kelly Robson (Tor.com 6/10/15)

Novelette

‘‘Rattlesnakes and Men’’, Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
‘‘And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead’’, Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
‘‘Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds’’, Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
‘‘The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society’’, Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
‘‘The Deepwater Bride’’, Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Short Story

‘‘Madeleine’’, Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
‘‘Cat Pictures Please’’, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
‘‘Damage’’, David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
‘‘When Your Child Strays From God’’, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
‘‘Today I Am Paul’’, Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
‘‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J. J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Examples of Internet Censorship/Bullying: Jenny Trout vs. Fionna Man

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Edward LearSince I’m on the subject of Internet bullying of authors, I should review a few examples of how this works. First example, Jenny Trout and Fionna Free Man.

Fionna Free Man is a writer of fantasy erotica who has published a number of books based on historical characters. One of these is Thomas Jefferson’s Mistress, about Jefferson and his black slave mistress Sally Hemings. The characters in the book are vampires and werewolves, which means it’s clearly not related to reality in any way.

Jenny Trout is a writer of fantasy romance and, without reading the book, apparently took offense at the idea behind using Jefferson and his mistress as subjects of erotica. She launched a campaign against the book, encouraging her fans to pirate the novel and to demand it be taken off bookshelves and out of Internet listings because of depictions of rape and racism. The campaign was successful, and Man’s book was removed. However, it turns out that Fionna Free Man is an activist woman of color; there is no mention of rape in the book, and actual readers report no indications of racism—just vampires and werewolves. Trout and her faction also engaged with other authors who tried to defend Man, including Kevin Weinberg and Ann Rice. After a backlash, Trout was dropped by her publisher.

Note: This should not be taken as support for child rape or racism on my part. I just support Man’s right to freedom of expression.

Review of Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

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reading-clipart-6This novella is fantasy and published by Spectrum Literary.

Young Lord Penric is on the road to his betrothal to Preita, the daughter of a cheese merchant who will bring wealth to his brother’s house. However, Penric never makes it to the ceremony. He and his groom have an encounter on the road where a Learned of the Bastard god dies and her demon possesses Penric. His life falls apart immediately. The betrothal is off, and he is spirited away to the city of Martensbridge where the Bastard’s temple lies. It turns out the elders of the Order aren’t pleased with what’s happened, as there was a suitable vessel, well-educated and prepared for the demon. Apparently it prefers Penric. Because of this, he faces immediate dangers, not only from the elders, but also from ambitious noblemen in the city.

This is a very professional young-adult story from a well-established writer—apparently part of a series. It’s smoothly written, and the characterization, imagery, world-building and theme are well-developed. The message is similar to others I’ve recently reviewed in young-adult, that being kind to others will make you successful against adversity. However, this story stretches the bounds of reality less than some. Drawbacks: Bujold puts me off a little with a tongue-in-cheek treatment for her characters. There’s something to be said for the irony, but it suggests she doesn’t take the stories seriously. I prefer real drama. I’ll give this one 4 stars.

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