That one-eyed drake swam up from the ‘glades one stormy night—big as a house, silent as a mouse. Might’ve been the same one that killed my third husband. Who knows? Was watchin’ my stories, mindin’ my own when I saw it through the window. Rose up by the riverside pen, shadow over the moon, wings drippin’ mud, scales blinkin’ star-like, teeth long as a dagger.
“Grandmother Kills Massive River Drake After It Ate Her Goat” is a 630 word flash story about a grandma who rediscovers the thrill of moon magic and embarks on a quest for vengeance after an enormous river drake eats her favourite goat.
The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin Le Guin’s dragons, which Hugo-nominated author and B&N SFF Blog favorite Max Gladstone once described as “the gold standard,” are next to none. They are complex, beautiful, powerful, and melancholy, and they serve many purposes throughout Le Guin’s work, far beyond the standard “gold-hoarding monster” trope. More recently, legendary artist Charles Vess described how it took him years to get Le Guin’s dragons just right. There’s a deeply rooted sense of wisdom in all of Le Guin’s books, but it is perhaps through her dragons that this element of her writing is best embodied. Le Guin redefined what a dragon could be, and we’re still experiencing the rippling effect of her influence over the genre in series like Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire.
It’s no secret at this point that I’m a big Magic: The Gathering fan. I’ve been playing the game since I was a wee one in elementary school (I think my first booster pack was Ice Age), and it still holds a large chunk of my attention. (I’m working on a Selesnya Tokens deck on Arena as we speak.) I’m also a pretty big Brandon Sanderson fan. So, Sanderson’s latest novella, a Magic tie-in called Children of the Nameless, is a huge confluence of my favourites.
As a Magic fan, I loved Children of the Nameless, but the best thing about it is that you don’t have to be familiar with the game or its ongoing story AT ALL to enjoy Sanderson’s work.
An excerpt from my review:
By this point, if you’re familiar with Magic or Brandon Sanderson’s fiction, it’s probably safe to say that you enjoy certain elements of fantasy: lots of magic, big set pieces, huge casts of characters, and epic stories. Children of the Nameless is a great coming together of all the things that make Magic, epic fantasy, and Brandon Sanderson’s fiction so great—all in a concise, energetic, and fun package that will appeal to all sorts of readers.
Let’s get this out of the way: Children of the Nameless is a terrific gothic fantasy story regardless of your familiarity with Magic. In fact, for the first third of the book, you wouldn’t even know it was set in a universe that Sanderson didn’t create himself, and even by the end the connections to the game’s ongoing storyline are light and more portentous than anything. Anybody can read and enjoy Children of the Nameless.
Going into Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I knew the experience might not be for me. I enjoyed the first game in the series—especially its scope, colourful setting, and story—but burned out of in forty hours in after getting stuck on a boss. So, I was excited when the second game was announced, but critical and fan reception was mixed, and for all the wrong reasons. Still, I was able to snag the game on sale, and, in the wake of Breath of the Wild, looking for something sprawling and epic, decided to take the chance.
‘Tis the season to overindulge, and scream against the hurricane of social media about all the awesome stuff you did and read this year. Fun times.
Below, you’ll find some of my award eligible work, and also a long list of the coolest, most awesome, and tubular things I read and experienced this year.
My Eligible Work
Here is a sampling of my work from this year. I have two stories eligible for “Best Short Story,” and my non-fiction work across this site, my Twitter feed, Tor.com, and the Barnes & Noble SFF Blog makes me eligible for “Best Fan Writer.”
“The Dinosaur Graveyard” (Robot Dinosaurs!—Short Story, 1.4k words)
“The Dinosaur Graveyard” is a short, bittersweet story about an engineer, her daughter, and the decaying remains of robot dinosaurs that are fading from relevancy.
When Youngblood’s island is invaded by, she must gather her friends, courage, and wits to survive—and the dinosaurs are the least of her problems.”Youngblood” is LOST meets Jurassic Park fuelled by the Dead Kennedys.
A little over two-and-a-half years ago, I started work on a short story inspired by Dark Souls. It was a dark, baroque, and dense story about a an Asher adrift in a world drenched in eternal dark following her partner and lover’s disappearance. I wrote about 5,000 words, and loved the world and characters, but came to the realization that something wasn’t quite right.
I set it aside, as I often do with projects that aren’t working, and moved onto a few other things (like “On the Phone with Goblins,” my novelette about two geriatric wizards solving crime from their retirement hone, which is quite unlike “The Rose and Honey Soul,” and “The Dinosaur Graveyard,” which is short, bright, and hopeful.) Fast forward to June of this year when I opened up my work on “The Rose and Honey Soul” and realized very quickly what was wrong with the story as I’d been telling it: it wasn’t a short story.
So, I opened Scrivener, bounced around between outlining it as a novella and a novel (turns out, in the end, it fell right smack in the middle, natch), and quickly filled out all the holes and came out with a multi-chapter outline that not only seemed to work, but excited me in a way that the original draft hadn’t.
The latest instalment of my Art of SFF column on Tor.com is a little different this time around. Instead of focusing on the overall career and work of one of SFF’s wonderful artists, I caught up with Charles Vess, who’s a legend of the field, to chat about Ursula K. Le Guin, her renowned Earthsea stories, and his work as artist and collaborator on Saga Press’s 2018 collection, The Books of Earthsea.
Le Guin had enjoyed previous collaborations with theatre groups and musical artists, but told Vess that every artist she’d worked with previously would say, “Yes! I’d love to collaborate,” and then that was the last she’d hear from them until the book was finished and printed. “So, I don’t think she believed me when I said I wanted to collaborate. But, after four years and lord knows how many emails, she sent me a copy of her latest book, her essay book, and her dedication to me was ‘To Charles, the best collaborator ever.’”
There was perhaps a bittersweet note to Vess’s laugh.
“I felt very gratified. It was a long, and very intimidating project, but it’s the best kind of project to have, because it will bring out the best in you.”
One of the book’s double-page illustrations shows Tenar, Ged, and Tehanu after they have just caught a goat that escaped its pen and fled into a garden. “It’s a very quiet drawing.” Le Guin loved it. “Every once in a while, she’d go, ‘More goats, Charles. Put more goats in there.’”
Charles was absolutely wonderful to speak with. He’s warm and genial, and a natural storyteller. There’s something wonderful about speaking with an artist who’s a legend in their own field, and hearing the love, passion, and reverence they have for another master. It’s clear that Vess’ love to Earthsea and the rest of Le Guin’s work runs deep and long.
From a personal perspective, this interview was a long time coming, and fought through several technical difficulties, so it’s particularly vindicating to come out the other end with what I consider some of my finest work.
You won’t find tips for writing tighter dialogue, cleaner prose, better transitions. There’s nothing inside its pages about how to make your action scenes sing, improve your descriptions, or increase your word count. It’s not a worldbuilding bible.
My genre fiction bread and butter is definitely epic fantasy. So, naturally, my two latest reviews, both on the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, are near-future thrillers that dig deep into current socio-political issues through their action-packed plots.
Street Freaks by Terry Brooks
Street Freaks is Terry Brooks like you’ve never read him before, but it also manages to strike a fine balance between the bold and the familiar. If you’ve finished Red Rising and The Darkest Minds, and are looking for more, this one will satisfy. It’s fun, progressive, relentlessly paced, and full-to-the-brim with interesting people. Unlike epic fantasy in the ’70s, science fiction doesn’t need saving exactly, but Street Freaks shows that Brooks has it, no matter the genre.
Red Moon is another wonderful Kim Stanley Robinson novel, and all that implies. If it lacks the scope of some of his earlier works, it more than makes up for it with the ambitiousness of its themes, its breakneck pace, and its thoughtful examination of the way societies evolve organically during times of upheaval.
If Andy Weir’s Artemis showed us the perils of surviving on the moon. Red Moon takes it one step beyond, showing us the uncertainly that comes from powerful competing interests vying for control of a new resource—even one that’s been staring us in the face for at least as long as we’ve been around to look up at the sky, and wonder.
I’ve recently been talking a lot about my two WIPs—a novella called “The Rose and Honey Soul,” which is nearly complete, and a novel called The Thousand Shattered Gods. The process for writing both of these has been fraught with all the perils that come with working on long-form projects as an unsigned/unpublished writer—including the ever-wavering certainty that you’re balancing on the knife’s edge of brilliance and existential irrelevance. Fun times.
Of course, there’s all the great stuff about writing, too: excitement, possibility, craft, research, discovering your world and characters are so much more than you ever expected or hoped they would be. It’s heady, and I’m constantly reminded why I pursue my writing goals.
Over the years, I’ve written a lot of short fiction, and sold/published a fair bit of it. You can find those stories here. I’ve learned a lot, and though I’m still on a neverending journey of improving my craft and becoming a better storyteller, I feel like I have a good handle on the business side of short fiction. I know when I’ve reached the point where a short story is as good as it’s going to get—when it’ll either sell or it won’t, and further tinkering won’t change that. For me, this is roughly the fourth draft (first draft is the bones of the story, drafts two and three focus on structural/thematic/character issues, draft four focuses on cleaning up language, tightening, copyedit, etc.) I know what to do with my short stories once they’re ready. (Hint: The Submission Grinder is an invaluable tool.) I know how to send a short story out into the world, whether that’s through a publication that’s purchased the rights, or by self-publishing.