RIP Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, probably best known as Princess Leia, passed away today after suffering a heart attack days ago at the age of 60. It’s interesting, our relationships with strangers, and how the death of someone you might never have met and who you certainly didn’t know personally can still move you. I found myself deeply, deeply saddened this morning. Hearing the news was literally the first thing that happened after waking up and checking my phone.

The talented and versatile actress, the immensely honest and hilarious writer, the troubled and iconic artist meant a lot to me. I distinctly remember my dad popping in the old VHS tapes of the original Star Wars trilogy when I was four or five. I remember the very room I was in when I was introduced to Princess Leia for the first time. I remember how she stood stalwart in the face of evil, how she still didn’t break after her home planet was destroyed because the Rebellion was more important than that, how she mocked her enemies and called out shaky convictions, shot stormtroopers, strangled the life out of a mob boss with the very chain she was attached to, and led her people with poise.

Princess Leia could very well have been a first crush for me, but she was so much more: she was the strongest introduction into sci-fi and fantasy – something that has shaped my entire focus on fiction writing and escape through reading throughout my whole life – and, more importantly, my first introduction to a strong woman protagonist (a role that Ellen Ripley, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, and Ellie from “The Last of Us”, among others, would go on to expand for me over the years). She showed me that you could be a damsel occasionally in distress and still be a kick-ass warrior, a canny tactician and politician, a romantic, and hilariously sarcastic. When I was writing the Convergence trilogy and creating characters like Alanna Ebere and Delia Bloom, Carrie would pop into my mind often, and served as tremendous inspiration towards creating characters I hoped were half as nuanced as Leia.

Beyond that, she was a fantastic writer, punching up screenplays, poking fun at herself, and through interviews and autobiographies, being unflinchingly honest about her issues with mental illness and substance abuse. She affirmed my belief that it’s unproductive, disingenuous, and actively harmful to lie or shy away from your past or your problems. She continued to convince me to always be open and honest in my own writing, even when it concerns myself. Especially then.

She was in other films, of course, and has done so much more. I could spend all day writing about my favorite interviews and stories about Carrie Fisher. I could write an entirely separate long post about When Harry Met Sally, another one of my favorite films of all time, or her hilarious turn in 30 Rock, but I’ve already written a lot, and it still doesn’t seem to be enough.

For some, Star Wars doesn’t make sense to enjoy. It’s fantasy in space. It’s ridiculous, the writing isn’t always great, there are plot holes large enough to fly a Star Destroyer through, and it largely centers around the same troubled family.

For me, it was the first avenue to a type of escapism that would literally save my life several times over the years, and the first inkling of the kind of storytelling I’d want to try and build a career on. A huge chunk of that was because of the strongest member of the Skywalker family, the princess who told Grand Moff Tarkin to his face that she could recognize his foul stench, the broken hearted but never broken willed woman who mocked a stormtrooper’s height after watching her entire planet explode along with everyone she loved.

You were my first heroine, Carrie Fisher, and have become an immortal icon. You were very, very much to me. Rest in peace.

How to Make a Convincing Fantasy Film

I came out of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies a little bit ago and wrote a post nerd-gushing over that and Lord of the Rings because I love them, I love the lore, I love the books, and I’ll watch the extended editions of the DVDs repeatedly, and if you don’t like them, I’m sad for you. You poor thing.

The process of watching that film and then writing about all six films made me consider once again something that has bothered me for quite some time: the lack of quality fantasy films on the big screen. I’m not talking fantasy films like Pan’s Labyrinth or Pirates of the Caribbean, which are well done and quite enjoyable. I’m not talking about adaptations of existing books/comics, although there are several and most aren’t very good. I’m talking about epic fantasy, magic spells, dragons, liches, and a party of diverse professions and races to stop them.

Lord of the Rings was a resounding success, but the Dragonlance series made TSR publishing a powerhouse in the 80s and 90s and the Chronicles trilogy (Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, Dragons of Spring Dawning) would make for excellent screen material. The closest we got was a direct-to-DVD cartoon with less than savory art.

There are elements of predictability and the characters are a little stiff, but the action is taut with suspense and spectacle, and dialogue can be re-written. There are a greater variety of monsters, races we’ve never seen before (like the kender), stunning characters like Lord Soth the death knight, not just one dragon, but dragon riders and dragon battles, incredible displays of sorcery, betrayals, deaths. This is exciting stuff.

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Art by Matt Stawicki

Or you could do an original story, but you have to be careful not to fall into the same trap as the Dungeons and Dragons film, a film that failed because no one understood the property to the degree necessary to make a story that made sense and because no one had faith in it enough to cast stronger writers, stronger leads and a stronger direction.

Now, to change the subject a little bit, the original Star Wars trilogy is often considered a space fantasy. It’s obviously science fiction, what with the space ships, aliens, blasters… and space. You have bacta tanks that heal and a mechanical suit that helps sustain life. Giant mechanical walkers carrying troops, and droids who aren’t allowed into bars. However, the elements of fantasy are still there. You’ve got your basic hero’s journey, with the prodigal son realising he comes from powerful stock and is destined for great things. You have a mysterious force that allows air choking, laser deflecting and lightning bolts to shoot from your hand. There are even sword fights all the way through it. And your traveling party? A wizened old mystic, a princess turned rebel, a farm boy with his father’s sword, two droids, a scoundrel and a Wookie. That’s classic Dungeons and Dragons-style diversity, my friends. Space. Fantasy.

I mean, look at this:

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The tropes work in a science fiction setting, and science fiction is EVERYWHERE. Man, there are so many good science fiction films with broad scopes, huge ideas, incredible concepts and memorable characters. We don’t laugh at aliens (unless they’re meant to be laughed at), we embrace them. We’re scared of them. We want to meet them. We want to kill them. There are so many kinds.

So it bothered me that there weren’t more fantasy films on screen. Why wasn’t it working? Jupiter Ascending is coming out, and it looks gorgeous, but it looks like more than a science fiction film, despite corporations seeding worlds and massive spaceships and rocket boots. But then you have returning/reincarnated royalty, beautiful coronation ceremonies, an elf guy and a dragon man. I mean, come on.

But I think I figured it out. People can rationalize technology and alien life but not monsters and magic, and so they don’t consider that the same basic steps go into building a solid, visual world for the latter that goes into the former. So here they are, some tips to make a decent fantasy film. If any of you are bigwigs in the film industry or know someone who is, feel free to thank me in your academy award speech, or whatever.

Note: I’m probably going to compare to Star Wars a lot. Sue me.

1. Make compelling characters. I’ve said this time and time again, and I stand by it. My boss, at my day job, looks over our metrics several times a month. Of the ten, he insists that the customer service related metric is the most important. Make sure the customers are satisfied and feel taken care of. They’ll feel safe, they will trust you, and the rest of the metrics will come from that.

In much the same way, I believe that at the core of every great story are great characters. These are people you aspire to be, aspire to meet, that you root for, cry for, yell at, rail against. For whatever reason, you are invested in that character. Maybe they have the best lines. Maybe their relationship is tragic. Maybe it’s their personality flaws that you want them to overcome or that make you sad because they’re breaking him/her down.

Characters are important, and their relationships with each other are important. Do they trust each other? Has that trust been injured? Do they love each other? Did they once and no longer? Is there a secret language between two of them?

Think about your relationships with the people in your life, and not just the positive ones, and not just your friends or family. Was there a teacher you hated? Someone who didn’t believe in you? A person who broke your heart, or someone whose heart you’ve broken? A friend you’ve grown distant from, or a family member you consider a best friend?

Just because this is a fantasy film doesn’t mean the characters and their relationships should be anything less than authentic. Read their dialogue out loud. Does it sound like something a real person would say? Does one character have a certain cadence of speaking or prefer to be proper instead of using more casual lingo? Do they have an accent?

The audience is going to spend the story with these characters. If they feel fake, if they’re not interesting, if they’re not likeable or hateable, then you’ve created a disconnect right out of the gate. This will always be my first step.

2. Magic is your technology substitute.

Think about holograms and displays. Think about all the gadgets, from the Predator’s shoulder-mounted cannon to floating mapping devices in Prometheus, from the regular ol’ cool-looking flamethrower in Alien to hover boots and laser weapons and robots. These technological advancements are eye-catching. Things like mech suits and glowing nets arrest the attention and draw you in to all the neat little advancements of the future.

In a fantasy setting, for those who don’t use magic themselves (sorcerers, wizards), there are magic items. A ring that might slow your fall, a wand that fires missiles, a bracelet that increases your musculature when activated, or gives you rock skin. For those who actually cast spells, there are fireballs and lightning bolts, people can be transformed into animals or objects. Beasts can be summoned, demons trapped, enemies bound, weapons melted.

Magic can be as explosive and brilliant as any piece of cutting-edge technology, and it can be as versatile and creative as you want it to be.

In the same way that the sleek look or the gritty integration of your technology can define your science fiction world, the magic you use sets your fantasy world apart just as much, giving it its own life and catching the imagination of the viewers. Sure, you could make a call to someone and talk to their three dimensional hologram, but you could also mix some ingredients in a goblet and have a glowing spectral image appear.

3. There is virtually no difference between science fiction and fantasy when creating creatures or races.

In galaxy-spanning science fiction, humans find themselves mingling with a multitude of alien races, often in any street or business you find. Star Wars has their humans, Mon Calamari, Hutts, Trandoshans, Wookiees, Rodians and many more. In a fantasy film, you have your humans, elves and dwarves, sure, but then there are halflings, or kender, or gnomes, orcs, gnolls, tieflings, dragonborn, or any number of other races.

They might still share the same world (not that they necessarily have to), but they each have different cultures, home regions, customs, beliefs and appearances. You can have multiple races of elves or dwarves or orcs, with different appearances, temperaments and stigmas. You can subvert the classic tropes of well-known races. You can create races no one has ever heard of before. This adds the same kind of exotic flavor that your Star Wars and Star Treks and your Guardians of the Galaxies do.

As far as creatures? You can look at the flying serpent creatures and cat-like predators on a planet like Avatar’s Pandora and marvel at the fauna on a planet so far away. You can long to ride a tauntaun or a bantha, or quail in fear at the monstrous wampas.

But a fantasy world is the same as an alien world. There are going to be monsters you might have seen before and others you might not have heard of. You can have your dragons, but are they scaled or smooth? Four legs, or two? Winged, or not?

Then toss in some bugbears!

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Or a displacer beast!

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Or if you really want to ruin someone’s day, a mind flayer.

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Now, granted these are all Wizards of the Coast creatures, but you can see the sheer amount of imagination and originality that went into it. Sci-fi does it and fantasy has the same capabilities because it also takes place somewhere besides the Earth that we know.

4. Make your locations stand out.
I honestly can’t tell you this better than I can show it, so I’m going to show how scenery and locations can make your fictional world come alive by comparing science fiction locales to Peter Jackson’s successful and thriving Lord of the Rings locations.

Here is a picture of Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium, a paradise on a space station:

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And here are pictures of the elven outpost Rivendell:

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Here is a picture of Mos Eisley:

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And Lake-Town.

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Finally, here are Bright Tree Village on the moon of Endor…

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And Minas Tirith, in the kingdom of Gondor.

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The very sight of these places is evocative and stunning. Just because a fantasy setting is low-tech does not mean that the world is any less beautiful, jaw-dropping or transportive. And more than anything, it shows that fantasy and science fiction are two sides of the same coin, especially when the same level of care is given to the former as is much more often given to the latter.

I would love to see epic fantasy films as often as I see incredibly realised science fiction films. The stories are there, you just need to understand what the fundamental differences and similarities are and how to adapt them into the world you’re building. It’s all right there. Peter Jackson did it six goddamn times. Now let’s see more of that kind of love and attention to the story, to the genre.

I mean, Jesus, story-telling by its very nature is magical, isn’t it?

The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Short Films Of 2014

I had a dream a couple nights ago that I owned a baby hippopotamus and we affectionately played with each other the way a man would a puppy. That alone was really weird, but toss in the fact that it murders more people in Africa than I think any other animal on a yearly basis, and I think my subconscious fancies me some kind of stressful Dr. Doolittle.

Still, how could anyone resist this face:

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D’awww.

Anyway, I haven’t updated my blog lately because I’m in the final stages of wrapping up my novel, As the Earth Trembled Part Two, and it has been taking up a lot of my focus because I’m trying to get it out by March. You can buy the first five parts of the Convergence story here or by looking up the titles for the Nook (the series, in order, goes Waypoint, Death Worth Living For Part One, Death Worth Living For Part Two, and As the Earth Trembles Part One. ArTE, which finishes it all up is due March 1st).

That being said, I have a list of posts I want to write, and I’ll be making some time soon to knock out a handful so I can release them periodically.

I didn’t want to leave you with nothing! So I’m sharing another link from io9 below, which is a compilation of some of the best science-fiction and fantasy films from the last year. They range from funny to sad to scary to inspiring, but they are all well worth your time. Some are only a couple minutes long while others are 15-20 minutes, so set some time aside tonight or over the next few days, but treat yourself to some cool stuff.

Thanks for sticking around! I promise I’ll get back on schedule soon.

http://io9.com/the-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-short-films-of-201-1674600632

There and Back Again

The Hobbit was one of the first books I read as a kid and probably the first one I re-read. The version I had contained illustrations as well, and my mind filled with the daring of dwarves, the majestic terror of the dragon Smaug, and the relief that came from the last minute save by giant eagles. As a kid, it was difficult for me to make friends, so I devoured books like the Hobbit instead, escaping into fantasy worlds and imagining myself fighting off hordes of goblins. When I lost that initial copy of the Hobbit, I replaced it as soon as I could with the 50th anniversary edition despite how badly the cover wanted me to put it back on the shelf. You know which one I’m talking about. You know.

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Yep. The closest thing that is to a burglar is the Hamburglar, and if by “game of riddles with Gollum” you mean “a horrid demon is about to thumb my rear in a damp cave despite my brandishing of a knife I clearly don’t know how to use”, you’d be right. Still, I broke the spine and wore the pages down and it had it’s own special spot in the center of my bookcase.

When I got a little older, I decided it was far past time to return to Middle Earth. I was skeptical of The Lord of the Rings at first. I wanted clumsy homebody Bilbo back. Who was this Frodo kid? How could he possibly live up to the adventures his uncle had embarked on. But soon I was captivated by the mysterious Strider and the trash-talking between Legolas and Gimli as they each tried to outdo the others in orc murder. I was tense while I read about Frodo’s growing corruption, and I was saddened by Boromir’s sacrifice.

These books meant a lot to me, and though it’s been some years since I’ve had a chance to read them, they mean a lot to me still.

I was thirteen when The Fellowship of the Ring came out and it was everything my young mind could hope for. It was unusual, to me, because I can’t recall there being any genuinely good fantasy films out at that time. I was reading Dragonlance novels and The Sword of Truth, while I found science fiction to be lacking, while in cinema it was the opposite. Alien and Terminator were favorites of mine, but there was a dearth of quality sword and sorcery stories.

Then Fellowship came out of the gates like a cave troll, smashing the competition to pieces. The costumes look worn, the Uruk-hai were terrifying to behold, the action was choreographed brilliantly and the set designs were gorgeous. What better way to illustrate the natural beauty and range of terrain than use the beautiful spots of our own planet? OH MY GOD. A BALROG.

I watched Fellowship multiple times in theaters. I watched The Two Towers and gawked at the Ents and railed at Christopher Lee’s sneering menace as Sarumon revealed his true colors (still white, but…an evil white?). I was transfixed by Andy Serkis’ excellent portrayal of Gollum arguing with himself. I cheered at the flooding of Isengard.

I watched Return of the King multiple times in theaters, and let’s be honest, I didn’t give a shit about Legolas surfing on a titanic elephant because Eowyn declared that she was no man, and I didn’t mind the gazillion endings because I didn’t want the movie to end. I wasn’t ready to leave Middle Earth!

So of course I bought all three extended editions when they came out, and I wish this was a joke, but I watched them my girlfriend at the time over the course of three nights and halfway through Return of the King, I rebuffed her sexual advances because there’s only 90 minutes left, Jesus.

It would be nine years before The Hobbit got the cinematic treatment. If you ask me, it was worth the wait.

Now, let me be clear: The Hobbit films are more CG heavy, which is kind of a bummer, but locations like Rivendell and Erebor and Mirkwood still look absolutely stunning. People complain about the way the dwarves all seem to blend together, with a few notable exceptions (namely Thorin, Kili, Balinese [the old one] and Bombur [the fat one]), but that was the way it went in the books, also, with a handful of character traits being sprinkled amongst them through the course of the book.

Some people also claim that they’re too silly or cartoonish as compared to the Lord of the Rings, which 1. The books are largely considered the same way, and 2. As you get into Desolation of Smaug and Battle of the Five Armies, that’s most definitely not the case. There isn’t anything silly about the deaths of Thorin, Fili and Kili.

Perhaps the biggest complaint, though, is that there films felt unnecessary. Bloated. I thought so, too, at first. But then I thought about the reasons it works.

1. A lot happens in the Hobbit. It’s only a 300 page book, but that’s because it’s designed to be read in brief by younger, more easily distracted minds. Even so, there’s the initial congregation, the troll encounter (which was showcased in the background of the LotR, and added treat for anyone watching the movies chronologically), Rivendell, capture by and escape from the goblins (this Misty Mountain sequence also showcases the stone giants throwing boulders at each other, a nice detail from the book), the Gollum riddle scene, the spiders of Beorn, the spiders of Mirkwood, capture by and escape from the elves of Mirkwood, Bard and Laketown, confronting Smaug, the destruction of Laketown, Thorin’s growing insanity, and of course the climactic final battle of five armies.

Sure, that was all written into 300 pages, but to actually develop them and do them justice takes more time. Oh, so there’s a bowman in Laketown who kills a dragon. Who is he? Why do we care? The time spent in Laketown makes it feel more like a thriving community with real people and real families. In fact, this time and care is shown in the goblin kingdom and Mirkwood, too.

We get movie-stealing sequences with Gollum and Smaug that work because they’re not rushed. They’re paced brilliantly and the performances that go in it are done so with panache. The final battle feels like a war, and it feels desperate. The paired battles feel earned by that point, and while they’re a little over the top, they were fantasy gold and it brought to mind my favorite Dungeons and Dragons sessions.

By taking the time to develop each step of the journey, it made it feel like more than “and then they went here, and then they went there”  but instead like an actual adventure with numerous varied perils.

2. The added stuff develops Middle Earth even more. There are parts of the Silmarillion in the movies. These parts add the extra lore and background into the varying races and conflicts. This is a land with history and blood feuds and fallen kingdoms. And we get just enough of a peek into it as to help us immerse ourselves in this world again. It adds complexity and tragedy to some of our characters.

Tauriel, on the other hand, is a brand-new character. Some purists decry her presence as unnecessary, but without her, the only women in the story would be Galadriel in her brief scenes and random citizenry here and there. Tauriel adds the Eowyn affect, being part of the conflict without disrupting the main story. Her presence excused the appearance of Legolas, but Legolas’ inclusion also added more weight to Thranduil’s involvement and general vindictiveness. We see how far he comes from his absolute racism towards dwarves to his grudging acceptance that banding together can sometimes accomplish a greater good.

Now, these first two things are necessary under a Peter Jackson direction. Jackson’s LotR trilogy and the Hobbit movies have a scope that feels epic when you watch it. The world is big, their journey is long, the battles are energetic. Guillermo del Toro, who was originally slated to do two Hobbit films, likely could have condensed it. He tells more personal stories, more tightly focused, and between that and his excellent creature designs, I believe they would have been excellent films, but they wouldn’t quite have fit in the same realm as Jackson’s trilogy.

And that works, for the books. The Hobbit is one kind of animal, light in tone and a swift romp for a rainy afternoon where Lord of the Rings is heavier material with deeper consequences and greater stakes. That’s fine.

But on film, we’re talking about two grand adventures, and a legacy that passes from uncle to nephew. When Jackson came back, with his scope and the expansion of the adventures, three films make sense, because…

3. They’re a perfect companion saga to Lord of the Rings. You have Bilbo’s full story and Frodo’s full story and they complement each other well. You see how two little Hobbits each adapted to a large world with very different types of conflicts and experiences. Bilbo is given as much time to grow and endure and adapt as Frodo is, and both films have their perfect beginnings, middles and ends. They bookend nicely. The comparisons are heart-felt while the contrasts set the two apart well enough that you don’t feel bored and you don’t feel like you’re running over the same ground.

At the end of the day, maybe The Hobbit films aren’t a great adaptation, but I don’t think that’s fair or even entirely correct. There is extra material there, but it supplements the Hobbit story which is recreated in pretty stellar detail. I do think that the Hobbit films are top to bottom the best fantasy films I’ve ever seen. The action is tight, the world feels real, the monsters are amazing, the quest feels fun. They’re as well-developed as any science fiction film.

Taken as a whole, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films are full of heart and adventure, and they’re either going to inspire people to read the original books and decide for themselves which they like better, or they’re going to be accessible for people who don’t like the older, drier style of writing Tolkien used. I don’t think that people who read the books should be so purist as to pick the movies apart.

I grew up on the books. They introduced me to fantasy, and fiction like it got me through hard times throughout my life. I was just excited to see these things I love so much translated on film, liberties and all. I was so excited to see these things that as the final credits rolled and Billy Boyd sang The Last Goodbye, I teared up in the theater.

And no matter what you say, this is one of the most perfect music videos ever made.

Things I Love: The Malazan Book Of The Fallen

In the 90s, Canadian writers and archaeologists Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esselmont created the Malaz world to play a role playing game in. Erikson would go on to take the characters and history of the world and craft a novel out if it, Gardens of the Moon, the first in a ten book series collectively known as The Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Since then, Erikson has written a couple novellas also set in the world and Esselmont has joined him as an author by penning some novels of his own detailing other events and characters that help flesh out the world and the thousands of years of lore that define it. But I haven’t read those yet.

The ten giant tomes that Erikson scribed, however, are some of my favorite pieces of prose ever written. Often overshadowed by George R. R. Martin’s hugely popular A Song of Fire and Ice (another grim fantasy epic with a complex and well-defined history), the 3 and a half million words composing TMBotF are every bit as steeped in realism, every bit as filled with legacies and lore and ancestries, has characters every bit as conflicted and nuanced and evolved, and does as great a job of world-building in a fantasy series as any else.

It does also have the advantage, though, of being complete. All ten novels tell one story, starting with a motley soldier crew called the Bridgeburners in the aftermath of a failed siege at the city of Pale and a counter-attack by Moon’s Spawn, the massive floating city that rested above it, and ending with a multi-army battle to prevent the extinction of mankind and redeem the souls of those who fight for it.

I don’t need to tell you about how amazing A Song of Ice and Fire is. It’s the most-watched show on HBO, shattering records every year.

I do need to tell you about Ganoes Paran, the green commander who takes over command of the Bridgeburners from Whiskeyjack and his men, to their chagrin.

I need to tell you about stocky assassin Kalam Mekhar and his shifty mage friend Quick Ben, whose relationship is much more trusting and full of far less bickering than that of sappers (saboteurs) Fiddler and Hedge.

I need to tell you about the tragic stories of expert spear-fighter Trull Sengar the shorn and Toc the Younger who lost an eye when a piece of flaming rock fell from the sky and melted it out of his face.

I have to tell you about Coltaine and his army of tribal horsemen leading thousands of slaves across a desert for an Empire that hates him while being attacked by an army that dwarfs his own, and of Itkovian who brings peace to others by absorbing their souls into his own, and of Anomander Rake, who wields Dragnipur, a sword that collects the souls of those it kills and binds them in another plane to forever drag the carriage they are chained to.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Let’s go over a few things that make the series so great:

1. The World and Its History

Steven Erikson has worked for years as a professional archaeologist and anthropologist and he utilises both of his professions to resounding success here. There is a tremendous difference between the Malaz Empire and the Letherii Kingdom, with the first being an expansionist, disciplined culture and the latter centered around greed and debauchery. Each of the tribes have distinct rituals that they perform, from color-coded armors to masks where the number of black marks showing denotes their prowess as a warrior.

Each of the armies are different, from the mercenary and seemingly immortal Crimson Guard to the religiously devout Grey Helms.

Not to mention the varying races. There are humans, yes. But gone are traditional fantasy races like elves and dwarves. The closest things to the elves would be the towering, ebon-skinned Tiste Andii, the honor-hungry and shadowy Tiste Edur, and the righteous-minded, arrogant light-skinned Tiste Liosan. There are the elder races: the ogre-like and powerful Jaghut who have a surprising dry sense of humor; the T’lan Imass, an undead army that can dissolve and reform itself at will; the K’Chain Che’Malle and the K’Chain Nah’ruk, a matriarchal society of lizard creatures with bladed hands; and the terrifying Forkrul Assail.

There are the barbarian Toblakai and the Trell who descended from them into a powerful but more human culture.

And with ALL of these, these races and empires, kingdoms and villages, there is thousands of years of history. Civilizations that have risen and fallen, cities that are patchworks of different times, deserts that were oceans. Rivalries and genocides. And over it all, a complex pantheon of gods (Ascendents) that rule different warrens, each for a different kind of magic and some more unruly than others.

2. The Realism

Like A Song of Ice and Fire or any of Joe Abercrombie’s novels, these books are not for the faint of heart. There is murders borne of passion, and rape, and slaughters, and tortures. There are large-scale battles that dart from character to character as they fight and bleed and die. Victories come at a cost, and losses are felt deeply. There is emotional turmoil and character growth. Karsa Orlong, Ganoes Paran, Onos T’oolan (Tool) and many others are virtually unrecognizable at the end of their journeys from the characters they were when they started.

There is beauty in these books as love is found and friendships are forged. There is anguish in these books as lovers are driven apart or characters are brought to their mortal coil. You will find yourself caring more about a character in scant paragraphs than some characters in an entire novel written by a lesser author.

The humor is real, and the panic. The fear and relief. The jokes cracked in the middle of a desperate situation because what else can you do? The incredulity at the task before them or the miracles that save them.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of quotable lines that capture the human spirit perfectly, and others that echo the uncomfortable sentiments from cynics or zealots or the hopeless.

These books are compelling because though the settings are fictional, and the races are fictional, the world feels real and familiar. And a huge chunk of that is because of…

3. The Characters

There are a LOT of characters throughout the Book of the Fallen. A handy Dramatis Personae in the front of each book, organised by faction, helps keep them familiar and manageable. Each of these characters are unique amongst each other still. Take a look at two trios of brothers: the Beddicts and the Sengars. Hull Beddict is the eldest of his siblings and is a sullen man who feels betrayed by his city. He seeks to turn on his own people in order to make up for the ways he failed the more tribal peoples he had parlayed with. Tehol Beddict is homeless, sort of. He’s a quick-talking, ambivalent soul who seems to have no direction or purpose, which suits him as it masks his brilliant mind. Brys Beddict, the youngest, is firm with discipline and an unparalleled swordsman, but his youth makes him naive. The three brothers love each other.

Instead of just being carbon copies, the Sengars are different. Fear Sengar is proud of his family and holds to tradition. He tries to bring his younger brothers to heel. Trull Sengar, meanwhile, is outspoken and crass, railing against the traditions of his people. Rhulad, meanwhile, holds Trull in contempt. He is brash and impetuous and quick to action before thought.

From familial relationships to differing ideologies, from the changes these characters go through upon meeting the peoples they had long hated or disrespected or held in low regard, from the brash and hilarious commentary amongst the marines in the Bridgeburners, each character is given life. It easy to love and to hate, and thus to invest yourself in these men and women.

You’ll find yourself hurting for ever-loyal Mappo, chortling at fat man of mystery, Kruppe, cheering for jaded mercenary Gruntle, oohing and ahhing at assassin-god Cotillion the Rope, reviling Kallor, the immortal destroyer of empires, and being bewildered by the necromancer and serial killing duo of Korbal and Broach.

4. The ‘Holy Shit’ Moments

I have talked often about those moments that stand out in books and films, the moments that make you gasp and swear and that stick in your mind. The moments you tell your friends about or can’t wait until they get to so you can talk about it together. This series is FULL of them.

From the opening of Gardens of the Moon, surveying the burnt and bloody landscape in the aftermath of the siege of Pale to Coltaine’s labored Chain of Dogs, to massive battles in Letheras, Coral, the blue city of Darujhistan, to Ygahatan, a city that already held a dark military history. There are plenty of awe-inspiring moments, moments of bad-assery and displays of power, shocking deaths and betrayals and sudden routs and pained victories. There are moments that will make you weep for these characters and other moments that will make you pump your fist. I don’t want to go any further into detail. These are moments that should not be spoiled but experienced with fresh eyes.

5. The Complexity

These are not books that will spoon-feed everything to you. Steven Erikson has faith in the patience and intelligence of his readers and in his own work. With a world as rich with history and filled with deities and power structures and differing cultures, there is a lot left unsaid or only alluded to, or teased before paying off much further down the line. There are relationships that spur snippets of conversation that might seem strange or out of place until a piece of history is further revealed down the line. There are mysteries in the first book that aren’t solved until the tenth.

There is also a load of symmetry throughout the novels, and a lot of symbolism. The series is rife with details you might only notice on a second or third read. It can feel a little overwhelming.

Also potentially overwhelming is how his books skip around some. The first book introduces you to loads of characters that you become invested in over hundreds of pages. When the second book begins, you’re introduced to an entirely new cast with only a handful of exceptions. Your mind will want to wander, wondering what became of the survivors of Gardens of the Moon, but before long, you will have new favorites and be invested in this new story. As you continue through the series, it all draws together neatly.

Still, that seems like a lot, which is why I always recommend the novels but waited until now to write a blog post about it. Why now?

6. The Read-Through

The lovely people over at Tor publishing house do read-throughs of varying series. They take it a book at a time, one chapter at a time, updating one to three times a week. It’s read by Bill Capossere, who checked the series out for a second time, catching things he missed the first time around; and Amanda Ritter, who read it for the first time with fresh eyes, and whose reactions are as new and genuine as many of yours will be.

They went through all ten of Steven Erikson’s main Malazan novels (and three of Ian Esselmont’s: Night of Knives, Return of the Crimson Guard, and Stonewielder), and you can find the entire archives of their recaps, reviews and discussions here. Now you don’t have to wait until the next update, or feel pressured to catch up immediately. You can read at precisely the pace you want.

I implore you, if you love fantasy, or war, or great characters, or intriguing settings, or history, or reading to pick up these novels, read them a chapter at a time, and then check out those recaps. They’ll help you pick up on things you missed, appreciate the parts that stood out, and keep your head from exploding. Do yourself a favor.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen novels in order are Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice, House of Chains, Midnight Tides, The Bonehunters, Reaper’s Gale, Toll the Hounds, Dust of Dreams, and The Crippled God.

As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders | Tor.com

I haven’t decided yet what I want to write/write about this weekend so I decided to share a short story written by Charlie Jane Anders. Charlie writes regular columns for io9.com (I actually shared a tips and tricks cheat sheet she wrote for creating memorable characters. You can find that original article http://io9.com/10-tips-and-tricks-for-creating-memorable-characters-1616544190″>here), is an award-winning author, and in our few interactions has been an all-around pleasant and insightful person.

Below, I’ve linked to a short story she wrote for publication on Tor.com. If you enjoy humor, genies, and the end of the world, you’ll love this. Go, read, check out her articles on io9, and scope her on Twitter at @charliejane

http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/09/as-good-as-new-charlie-jane-anders

Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy

I was asked by a friend to list ten books that have meant something to me. I wasn’t going to do it because I wasn’t sure I could come up with a full list. Then inspiration hit me (and I needed to update my blog, besides).

1. The Hardy Boys series by the Stratemeyer Syndicate/The Indian In the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks: I don’t remember which came first, but these were the books that really kickstarted my love for reading. When I was young, my grandparents would take me to their home in small town Red Lodge, Montana for a month or so at a time. I would get homesick after a week or so and found myself in the nice old library downtown. It was two stories tall and filled with rows of scratched and faded bookcases easily fifty years old. The building smelled of old books, vanilla left on a sunny lawn for a generation of happy summers.

Whether it was the first of Banks’ five entry series or a random selection from the Hardy Boys’ many mysteries, they transported me from the loneliness that comes from being too far from home to worlds of magic and intrigue.

2. Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. This is the book that kicked off the world of Krynn, one that I visited many times over many years and which has been built upon, expanded, devastatingly changed and rebuilt by dozens of authors. While it doesn’t hold up as well now as it did in my youth (it’s based on their tabletop experiences and it reads in places like a recounting of their session instead of more natural storytelling), it is still one of my fondest series.

Not only that, but my love for that setting eventually led me some text-based role-playing chat rooms set in Krynn. It came during a rough patch in my life, led to a ton of very important friendships, and let me experience a ton of adventurous stories. But that’s a blog post for a different time.

3. Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Obviously my love for the Dragonlance saga led me to find other things that the duo had written. Dragon Wing is the first novel in the seven book Death Gate Cycle. Each of the first four novels explore a different world, each rewriting the rules of magic and societal structure of the three typical fantasy races (dwarves, elves, humans). It also opened my eyes to complex characters. While the protagonists in Dragonlance had distinct personalities, doubts and backgrounds, they each more or less fit an archetype and stuck with it. At their core, they were also all good people (except Raistlin, who really is just a dick).

In the Death Gate Cycle, Haplo is our protagonist and he has an agenda, but he’s not a great guy. He’s racist (he was brought up that way), he’s cruel, he’s petty and he’s self-absorbed. These things all change through the course of the series as he realises nothing is quite the way he was brought up to believe. You learn with him, feel his frustration and his betrayals and his fierce protectiveness. Plus his powers are so fucking cool.

I also felt special reading these because nobody else I knew had ever heard of them.

4. Attack of the Mutant by R.L. Stone. I devoured all of the Goosebumps novels, the Goosebumps 2000 novels (meant for teenagers), and the show. I played the little video games on their old website and bought t-shirts. They were fantastic horror stories for kids with a wide rang of monsters and settings. Above all, though, Attack of the Mutant was my favorite due to its mixture of horror (which I enjoy) and comic books (which I love).

5. The Invasion by K.A. Applegate. This book is picked specifically by sheer virtue of introducing me to the Animorphs series, though it wasn’t my favorite from that series overall. There’s an excellent little piece about the quality of the series over at Tor Publishing House’s site.

6. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Like the book above, this one served as an entry point to the author’s series (Sword of Truth). This was also one of the better entries and while there were more mediocre books and repetitive themes throughout the series than good ones, it ended with three very strong novels. I haven’t read any of his newer books set in the same world as sort of a second-act, but the initial series was pretty awe-inspiring to me.

I was 11 when I read Wizard’s First Rule and, well, I shouldn’t have been reading it. Don’t get me wrong, my dad let me watch R-rated movies and my step dad owned strip clubs and nude magazines, so I was far from some end-user innocent, but this book is a far cry from even the most brutal parts of Dragonlance. This was fantasy for adults and it was awesome. It made me realize just how far the genre could go.

7.The Stand by Stephen King. This book was on my friend’s list also, because he has good taste. I have read quite a bit of Stephen King and enjoyed most of it, but this isn’t just my favorite book of his, it’s one of my all-time favorite books period.

It isn’t just the bleak apocalyptic world. It isn’t only the excellent soundtrack or the many varied characters. It isn’t the overall creepy supernatural battle between good and the corruptive force of evil (the amazing Randall Flagg). It’s that King took his time with this book. I read the ridiculously long restored version of this book, but man… he really develops just about every character in this book in ways he usually doesn’t. Every long stretch of existence leads to a major event or turning point. It was a simmer that led to a series of boiling pops until it finally all explodes.

I fucking love this book. Oh, and if you like it, go read Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon.

8. The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais. I was a huge fan of fantasy and science-fiction growing up. I liked the spectacular, the impossible, the unbelievable. It didn’t occur to me that there was excellent stories told in a grounded, realistic way, too.

This book – and I don’t know who recommended it or how I stumbled across it – was my first foray into crime/thriller fiction. Elvis Cole and his less seen (until later novels) partner Joe Pike are private detectives. Cole’s investigations are interesting, his wit is hilarious and the action is tight. Robert Crais is who got me hooked on writers like John Sandford, Lee Child and especially Michael Connelly.

James Patterson can sit and spin, though.

9. Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Let me be clear: I know this series has a lot of fans and I’m glad you like what you like

I do not like this book. I think it’s dumb, I don’t think it’s particularly inspired, I don’t think Eragon being one letter from “dragon” is more coincidence than sheer laziness, and I own the movie anyway. Everyone was talking about the fucking thing, so I had to read it. Once I read it, I had to see if the movie was any better.

Meh, I say. Meh to both.

I also freely admit that part of my distaste is because of sheer, petty jealousy. Paolini became a best-selling author at 19 years old with a book that I didn’t find particularly compelling. I wanted that success. I wanted people to buy my stuff. I was absolutely frustrated.

Eragon is on this list because it made me absolutely sure that writing was what I wanted to do.

Which leads to…

10. Wired by Skyler Martin and K. Jered Mayer/Waypoint by K. Jered Mayer.

This is absolutely a cop-out, but the request was indeed for books that meant a lot to me.

Wired is a novella that Skaz and I wrote my senior year of high school. I wanted to do something special for my best friend Chelsea, so I thought, hey, why don’t I write a romantic-comedy? Girls like that. I can make people laugh.

Then I thought, hey, I’ve never written a romantic-comedy or anything over ten pages before HAHAHA WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING? So I asked Skaz for help. I don’t know why. He had never tackled the genre before, either. I just knew he was also a writer.

Well, he and I hit it off quick. He’s the best co-writer I’ve ever worked with and our senses of humor and intuition played off each other really well. We ended up cobbling together a 40k+ story that I was able to send off to Chelsea to hopefully enjoy.

That book needs to be polished up some and released for sale at some point, but I haven’t found the time to do it yet because I got inspired to work on Waypoint, a story of my own creation.

I’ve talked about that book at length in other posts, so I’ll leave it at this: I wrote that book at one of the lowest points of my life. It was the longest piece of work I had ever completed. I was terrified when I finally released it for sale. It’s been received exceptionally positively since then and reaffirmed my love for writing. It’s my baby, and I’m a proud mother.

That’s it for me, for now! Feel free to leave your ten books in the comments!