Archive for August, 2016

FF: Various, Sundry, Fun!

August 5, 2016

Weather is finally cooling into the mid-nineties, and we have rain.  That means I’ve been outdoors a bit more, but I’m still reading.

Kel Contemplates Wirewalking

Kel Contemplates Wirewalking

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Armada by Ernest Cline.  Audiobook.

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip.  Final book in “Riddle of Stars” series.  I still love this series to pieces.

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond.  I briefly met Ms. Bond at a literary gala in Santa Fe a few weeks ago.  Decided to try one of her novels.  A nicely non-formulaic YA novel, which is saying something because part of the plot riffs off (but doesn’t copy) Romeo and Juliet.

In Progress:

Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond.  New protagonist but it looks as if the fictional Cirque American will provide some continuity.

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett.  Audiobook.  A collection of various talks and essays Pratchett presented over many years.  Fascinating from a SF/F historical perspective in that “givens” change over time (as Pratchett himself comments in notes on older pieces).  Only flaw is that Pratchett is fond of certain phrases or comparisons.  That wasn’t a problem when these pieces were originally presented – often years apart – but jolts me some here.


Pratchett’s affection for Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable made me pull my copy off the shelf and start browsing.  Addictive!

TT: Series on Series (con’t)

August 4, 2016

JANE: Welcome to Part 2 of the Tangent Series “Jane and Alan discuss series…”

When we ended last time, we were discussing the decisions that need to be made when writing an on-going series.  One of these is whether to write each book so that a new readers can pick up in mid-stride or not.

The World's the Thing

The World’s the Thing

To recap slightly, series can be roughly divided into those that are only a series by virtue of featuring some continuing element, and those that are actually One Big Story broken into multiple books.  If you want more details, go here.

I put in the previous paragraph to illustrate what a writer of a series faces with each book – how much transitional material to supply.

ALAN: I think the mistake that Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter made in the five volume novel that is the Long Earth series was their assumption that the books did not need any introductory material to remind the reader about what had gone before. As I mentioned last time, they nearly lost me as a reader for the entire series because I had only very vague memories of the earlier books. Starting with book two, they just threw me in at the deep end, and I sank without a trace.

JANE: How much background to supply can be a huge problem.  I’ve always loved Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” series.   He made the opposite decision to Pratchett and Baxter.  Therefore, near the beginning of each book, there is always a recap.  Being Roger Zelazny, he usually did this very well, often inserting new material as well as reminding the reader of what had come before.

Providing a recap is a choice many authors make and, sadly, many do not do it well at all.

It’s funny but, when reading in print, I hardly notice these recaps because I can skim until I get to the new material.  However, when listening to the books on audio I become very aware of the recap.  I’ve heard similar complaints from some readers of e-books because it’s harder to skim in that format.

ALAN: I rarely listen to audiobooks so I’ve never come across the problem with that medium. But I don’t have any difficulty with e-books – I find it just as easy to skip over the material I want to avoid as I do with ordinary books.

JANE: That’s good to know.

ALAN: But we’ve been talking as if characters or plot situations are the only things that hold a series together.  It seems to me that setting can also be a unifying element. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is probably the best example. He managed to tell so many different stories involving so many different characters, but the Discworld remained a constant element in all of them.

JANE: Discworld is a good example.  Now that I think about it, Pratchett’s experience with Discworld may have erroneously influenced him in believing that readers never needed recaps, because all the Discworld novels are, more or less, stand-alones.

Two other good examples of series that are united by a common setting are Andre Norton’s “Witchworld” and Marion  Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover.”  Both feature not only different characters, but different parts of the world and even different time periods in the world’s history.

ALAN: And let’s not forget Charles de Lint’s urban fantasy city of Newford. Again we have a place providing a unifying element to a lot of different stories.

Outside of SF there is Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin stories which I think are unique in that they use both setting and character to provide continuity. Generally speaking, if you have just a rough knowledge of who Aubrey and Maturin are, and a vague appreciation of how they fit in to the storyline of the Napoleonic Wars, you can read the books in pretty much any order.

O’Brian died with only a few chapters of the next book written. The fragments were published, but nobody has tried to complete the novel or to write any more. A wise decision, I think. Certainly I would have enjoyed having more books to read, but I felt no great sense of incompleteness when O’Brian died. For once, I think this series works incredibly well no matter how you approach it.

JANE: Hmm… “Tried” is not precisely correct.  I know that Walter Jon Williams, who was a huge fan of the series and had written his own stirring sea sagas, tried to get permission to finish any uncompleted books, but O’Brian’s estate did not choose to go that direction.

Certainly, since O’Brian was already stretching to find things to have Jack and Stephen do that were credible, given their ages and Jack’s rank, not continuing the series was a wise idea.  (Although I’m sure Walter would have done an excellent job.)

ALAN: I’m sure he would. Nevertheless I’m happy with the decision that O’Brian’s estate made.

Have you noticed that there are very few humorous series? I suspect that’s probably because it’s quite hard to sustain a joke across a lot of books. Harry Harrison tried it twice with the Stainless Steel Rat books and also with the Bill the Galactic Hero stories.

The Stainless Steel Rat started off very well, but the later books are nowhere near as strong and nowhere near as funny as the earlier ones.  Bill the Galactic Hero was originally a stand-alone novel. It only turned into a series when Harry Harrison was persuaded to collaborate with several other writers on subsequent volumes. It was not a successful experiment.

JANE: Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series had the same problem. The later books were nowhere near as good as the first one, possibly because the series was built around outrageous situations, and it’s pretty hard to top what he started with.

ALAN: After Douglas Adams died, Eoin Colfer wrote a sixth Hitchhiker novel. Most people disliked it.

JANE: I didn’t even try…

I think that Robert Lynn Asprin’s “Myth Adventure” novels worked well as a humorous series.  The humor was in the outrageous situations, but the characters evolved and grew so that there was a lot more than the capers holding things together.

ALAN: I enjoyed many of the books in that series. The humour got more subtle as the series progressed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I have a question for you. You have written two very successful series (three if you count the two Athanor books) and you are currently working on another. What did you decide to do about the kind of problems we’ve been discussing?

JANE: That’s a very big question. I’ll take a deep breath and let you cross examine me in the next installment of this series.

Kee Kee Mystery

August 3, 2016

“Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!”  The birdcalls came in through the open windows of my office, an evenly-spaced series of five, followed by a pause, then the same five calls again.

Source of Sound

Are You My Mother?

Jim was heading outside to bring some apple core to the guinea pigs.  I stopped him.  “Listen!  I’m not sure what that is, but it reminds me a little of when we had the mother quail in the yard, calling to the chicks.  It’s not quite right, though…”

Jim stood inside the door of the sunporch, trying to narrow down the location.  “It’s in the southeast corner.  I don’t think it’s a quail.  It’s from up in the tree.”

I moved to join him.  “Quail do go up in trees, but this doesn’t sound right.  Let’s go out quietly.  Maybe we can see what it is.”

We did so, shutting the door very slowly, so it only clicked into place.  The “Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!  Kee!” started up again, but from the cadence, I didn’t think the bird had noticed us.  Moving carefully, we came to where we could look up into the tree branches.  Almost immediately, I spotted the source of the calls.

“It’s a hawk!  A young one, I’d guess.  I think it’s lost.”

Jim nodded.  “It does look young.  Smaller. Not as bulky as the hawks we usually see.”

The young hawk heard us talking but, rather than being afraid, he (courtesy pronoun, I have no idea what the young hawk’s sex was) seemed interested.  He sidled up and down the branch, repeating his call.  I spoke to him reassuringly, and he moved closer.  For a moment, I wondered if the young hawk might have been in training with a falconer and would mistake us for his handler.  That would have been interesting, since neither Jim nor I were wearing anything that would have protected us from even a young hawk’s talons.

Once young “Kee Kee” had decided we weren’t his mother, he went back to calling, periodically stopping to listen when any new sound broke the neighborhood’s relative quiet.  He was very excited by the mail truck, calling repeatedly as it rumbled along, its progress punctuated by an occasional squeak as a mail box was opened.

Eventually, Jim moved quietly back inside to get his camera.  While I waited for him, I got a good look at the young hawk’s feet.  There were no signs he was familiar with humans at all, no bands or jesses, so I guessed Kee Kee was just reassured by any company, even if that company was as peculiar as a pair of humans.

Jim had just finished clicking off a series of pictures when I heard the new call, so faint I thought I imagined it at first.  Then I heard it again, the classic, high, piercing call of a soaring hawk.

Young Kee Kee heard it, too.  All at once, he resumed calling with less of a pause between intervals.  Then, without warning, he swept off the branch and glided east, vanishing into the branches of one of the taller trees in our tree-challenged neighborhood.  A few moments later, two matching silhouettes, one slightly smaller than the other, dropped from the tree and soared north.

I heard one more high, shrill call, but no more of the plaintive youngling cry.  Kee Kee was back where he belonged.