Monday, March 23, 2015

Key to the Treasure (1966)

The Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish was one of those childhood books that I greatly enjoyed, and beyond belief, my parents still had floating around. Published in 1966, with a bright yelow cover, the story is that of three nice white children who have a nice white adventure at their grandparent's house. In the past, their white ancestor went off to fight in the civil war, but he left behind clues for his children to follow. Alas, the children never got the proper clues. With a little luck and a little pluck, it falls to these three kids to discover and decode those clues.

To be honest, as I read this book, which sometimes flowed easily and other times sounded stilted, I found that excitement in my belly and knew why I came to this book again and again. The books picks up an energy by the middle. I once again wanted to reach the end and see how everything turned out. To my surprise, I still remembered a few plot points all these years later when the rest of the story had turned to mush.

Of note, Peggy Parish is also the author of the Amelia Bedia series.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

An Acceptable Time (1989)

I wrap up my reading of L'Engle with An Acceptable Time, published in 1989. This book had moved beyond the topics of its day, worrying less about the big events of the world and more about the little. From where comes love, and what do you do with that love? We follow the story of Polly, the daughter of Meg, off onto her own strange adventure. She travels to and from 3,000 years ago, there meeting strange Celts who came to the new world, and the People of the Wind, and the People Across the Water.

Of the L'Engle books that I've read, this strikes me as the most coherent of them all, the story holding together as a story from one end to another. As expect, L'Engle avoids violence and extreme emotion, for she writes a family drama disguised as a fantasy novel. The world does not circle around wizards and demons, but upon affection and fears. No one is evil and no one is good. Almost entirely absent are supernatural beings, strange planets, and stranger magics. Instead, there is a house, and rock, and a lake long gone. These are enough. I found this a welcome relief from the previous book that I read, the one about Noah.

Strangely, L'Engle gets her time markers all wrong, or perhaps, she does not. Three thousand years ago, she asserts that with the ice age new over, the Appalachians were still craggy mountains, larger than now. The people were still much different and more primitive. This strikes me a purposeful young-earthism. How could she get time that wrong? Three thousand years ago, the nation of Israel was led by King David, the Old Kingdom of Egypt and the Sumerians were now but memories, and the Fertile Crescent has a thousand years of written history. The world was not at all new even if you take the Bible literally. But rather than take continuous offense at the oddly mangled information, I just accepted it and moved on. There are more than enough things to accept in this book, time travel being the biggie.

Although I cannot say that I am wild about this book, I can say that I respect it. Fantasy is a form well steeped in blood, and any work that can entertain you while avoiding the easy writing of violence has earned its own praises.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Wind Before the Storm" goes to my Editor

I've sent the Wind Before The Storm off to my editor. Now I get to putter away on the next book while she works on it. I won't set a release day yet, but we're on the final glide path to the next Endhaven book.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Dragonflight Screenplay Thought Experiment

Having just reread Dragonflight after decades, I've decided to play around with turning it into a screenplay. The good news is that there's material here, the bad news, up front, is that it's not plug-and-play. Here's why.

The novel Dragonflight is a fix-up. It's actually a combination of four novellas. That's four stories for one movie. You could film that, I guess, but you wouldn't get a proper feature film which hangs together as a single story. If there's any crux to the problem, the idea of having a single story is that crux. At the price tag of a PERN film, you can't just wave your hands and hope for the best. Like it or not, writing a script for Dragonflight requires that you rip that entire story apart, choose a beginning, choose and ending, and create a coherent arc that makes for a compelling story. That's more easily said than done and sure to annoy the most strident fans. (Sorry, fans, just calling it as I see it.)

So what needs to be there:

  • Dragons
  • Thread
  • Dragons fighting thread
  • Victory with dragons fighting thread
  • Robinton, F'lar, Lessa, and Fax
  • Just about everything else is optional.

The story is one like our current global warming story, where Pern's world government refuses to see that their world is under threat. Dragons are now a pariah. Only a core of people remain who truly believe that thread will fall again. Meanwhile, Lessa plots her revenge on Fax, but when the time comes, will she choose her planet or her ambitions?

Now, for some grubby, wholly unnecessary changes to the setting. (Or stomping on canon without apology.)

  • Women as well as men are dragonriders. Otherwise, we get stuck with a mostly male cast. Anne herself reversed herself on this, so we may as well just go there and be done with it.
  • The other weyrs are still there. No need for time travel. That makes the end all the sweeter when all the dragons fight thread in the finale. It's a false unity, for Dragonquest shows us the faults in this alliance.
  • Robinton must be there from the beginning. He's one of the powers behind the throne. Otherwise, he'll show up in other films like he's always been there. If that's the case, let's just have him always be there.
  • Eliminate Lessa's psychic powers (mostly). These powers stop mattering pretty quickly in the books, so better to drop them.
  • Eliminate all time travel.
  • Manora is mother to both F'lar and F'Nor. Family dynamic is good.
  • Create a place in Fort Hold where the government can meet.
  • Include details from both the past and future books that would visually fit in. (For example, one should see fire lizards before they ever become a plot point.) I would go so far as to just include them from the get-go and not worry about it.

So, let's beat this out into a rough sequence, just to get a little thinking done and figure out what we want played out.

  • The Red Star approaches.
  • A queen egg lays ready for hatching.
  • F'lar loses an argument about the Red Star approaching in planetary council. Even his fellow dragonriders do not ally with him.
  • Robinton commiserates with F'lar. "A queen has been born after many years. If you are to save us all, we must have a powerful rider for the queen. Ruatha. With a woman who can speak to any dragon, she can order them out. But without a woman who can talk to any dragon, we are lost."
  • Fandaral, the smith, agrees.
  • "Fax hates us more than anyone." say F'lar.
  • In Ruatha, old looking servant sneaks about. She is Lessa, leader against Fax's cruel rule. She gathers her rebellious compatriots. "If we are to defeat Fax and save our hold against thread, now is the time."
  • Robinton arrives to hunt down the insurgent leader, only to discover a very young woman of the blood.
  • F'lar can't get permission to search. "We have weyr women," he is told.
  • The holders, under Fax, move out an army against any who would ally with the dragon riders. "We must stop these parasites once and for all!"
  • Fort plans war against the holders. "We must crush them. We were honored once. We will be honored again." They prepare to form a military government.
  • F'lar meets with Lessa, but Lessa refuses to become a dragon rider.
  • Benden's queen dies. "This is our chance," said F'lar. "We need our own candidate for queen."
  • An island is discovered entirely dead. All inhabitants and plants. "We missed the first thread fall."
  • Lessa hears the queen's egg's call.
  • Robinton smuggles Lessa out of Ruatha, but are caught.
  • Fax will kill Lessa, but F'lar intervenes. Fax dies.
  • Returning barely in time, Lessa arrives at the egg hatching, impression Ramoth.
  • Lessa choose F'lar as weyrleader.
  • Just in time, F'lar orders out his wings. Thread is extinguished. Thousands saved.
  • Lessa calls out all the weyrs. Disaster averted.

That looks Hollywoodish enough to me. I think that's the sort of film that financiers would actually back.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dragonflight (1968)

Dragonflight was published by Anne McCaffrey way in 1968, too early to make it as a one of the Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970's, but as far as I am concerned, the novel is an honorary member. This was one of the earliest fantasy series that I read, and arguably the most influential. This particular novel is something called a fix-up, where a series of stories are combined by a writer into a single novel. In a way, I should review each of the stories on its own.

"Weyr Search" was published in 1967 by Analog Magazine, then went on to win a Hugo for best novella. (Thank you Wikipedia.) Reading this story, you quickly understand why this novella took an award. McCaffrey took three characters, wrapped them in dynamite, put them into a field of flaming torches, then pitted each against the other. The characters all come across clearly, their ambitions each have an epic quality, and it's only a matter of time before everything blows up.

What strikes me most was how much this story lived in the unsaid. When I was in school, I didn't pick up on all the psychic and sexual undertones, but as an adult, they smack me around like a volleyball. I was absolutely fascinated by the way that Anne showed the psychic powers without any explanation, knowing that the audience would simply follow along. If you are a writer (which I am), this is a grand story to study.

"Dragonflight" follows on "Weyr Search," Benden Weyr doing its best to make itself relevant in a time of impending crisis, with those most affected refusing to recognize their impending doom. And in there, a story of feminism, of how tradition should not dictate what a woman can or should do.

"Crack Dust, Black Dust" follows on, describing the first fall of thread onto the planet. Anne follows the implications of her setup, showing just how merciless and brutal an environmental enemy can be. I adore everything about this story except for the time travel. After rereading this novel as an adult, I find the time travel element disruptive. An otherwise fine SF story gets ruined by taking the characters needlessly into the past. Time travel has too many "gee whiz" elements, and the character get "hey, let's put on a show" style revelations when the characters are not so slow as to need those sorts of revelation.

The novels wraps up with "The Cold Between," an absolutely pat and super gee-whiz story of going into the past to rescue the plot. In what should have been an entire novel on its own, part of the novella sees Lessa travel into the past to bring up the missing weyrs, making the ending feel a little too pat. This section also introduces two iconic characters, Fandarel, the mastersmith, and the super-iconic character Robinton, the master-harper. All this makes me think that this novel section really fits better at the beginning of Dragonquest, which turns on the tension of the old time Weyrleaders against our new-fangled Weyreleaders. In addition, we also see the introduction of the Southern Continent. For the future, it's a good setup.

I know that my dislike of time travel may ruffle a few feathers with other McCaffrey fans, as the ability becomes rather central to later stories, but its existence takes the desperation out of these stories, and that's a tension that Anne avoids, or perhaps opts against. She was before her time, before the late 70's and early 80's where bleak survival came of age. In 1968, SF still contains the optimism of an earlier age.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Cover Reveal

The time has come to reveal my new covers. I think that they are snazzy. Although I liked my last cover, I just couldn't obtain an image that worked well. So, it was back to the drawing board to work out this design.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Many Waters (1988)

Madeleine L'Engle published Many Waters in 1988. Time had changed again. The Baby Boomers had grown up and shacked up together, sometimes married, sometimes not. Divorces were way up. The importance of marriage seemed an all-time low; the sacredness of sacrament well past its peril and nigh unto its doom. How long until God looks down upon us with sorrow? At the same time, wedding themselves were getting more extravagant and overblown, events more to impress the neighbors than to celebrate a union.

Against this backdrop Madeleine wrote Many Waters. The Twins, Sandy and Dennys (whose common enough name had a strange spelling before it was cool), find themselves whisked away on a portal adventure, finding themselves in a strange world filled with people, seraphim, Nephalim, unicorns and miniature mammoths. The strange world itself is our world, Earth, shortly before the flood. Humans are interbreeding with Nephalim, their love enough to make babies, taking women away from the world of men.

This is a desert world, where sand is common, heat is worse, and water is a valuable commodity. How could a place like this ever drown?

As in all of Madeleine's novels, the pacing is remarkably even, like a Bose speaker. Critics of the speaker system say, "No highs, no lows, it must be Bose." Much the same can be said for Madeleine's stories. They move, perking along at a steady pace, developing the story along as a wandering weave, until realizing that an end ought to show up, and so an end shows up. Some sexual tension shows up as the twins may find themselves seduced, but this is never a serious threat, for Madeleine writes with the morays of a different era, one where characters don't bonk each other in a fit of plot fulfillment. Some physical threat shows up in the guise of the Nephalim, but as evil goes, these guys are pretty milk toast. They seem ominous enough, but don't actually get their act together.

Yet, even as the book soft pedals the situation, the books raised uncomfortable questions. Will God really drown everyone? What will happen to Noah's daughters who aren't in the story?  How do you reconcile this of God?

In the end, the book misses the most critical mark, for the twins have lived in the past a long time. We should have been shown what experience has given to them, and how it has shaped the men that they are. Instead, they magically revert to their old selves, older but no wiser, taking no reflection and no instruction from the time that they experienced. In the end, they were not invited onto the ark, being no more favored than those who were drowned.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Writing Update

I'm fooling around with the covers for the Astrea series. I simply haven't found enough good images to build a cover series based on my cover for All The Saints Are Dead, so I'm experiments with completely different designs, ones not based on illustrations. I'm made some cool progress, but I'm not yet sure that the covers will say what I want.

Last month, I was revising my novel set in the 1920s. The ending has fought me tooth and nail, but I finally have one that is sticking, so now I can go back and revise the novel into a coherent whole.

I'm going into the last revision of The Wind Before The Storm. I'll tighten where I can, expand where I need, and make sure that all the sentences read like English.

The third novel in the Astrea series has the working title of Dominia, but I think that focuses the novel incorrectly. So now I'm onto either A Crown Of Silver Stars, or maybe just A Crown Of Stars.