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.
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.
In case you somehow missed it, comic/book Twitter was ablaze on Friday with the news that Marvel fired Chuck Wendig in a rather unceremonious and contentious fashion. (Wendig recaps the news here.) A lot of readers were justifiably upset and angry. Myself among them.
As a result, I ended up buying Wendig’s book on writing, Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while—especially with a major fiction project coming up as I wrap up “The Rose and Honey Soul” and I move on to devoting writing time fully to The Thousand Shattered Gods—and it seemed as good a time as ever to finally follow through. No surprise, Damn Fine Story is… damn fine. Anyone who reads Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, knows his sublime ability to to provide writing advice with a narrative voice that’s at once funny, cutting, and insightful. He’s got the uncanny ability to turn writing advice into page-turning material. (More on that later, when I post my full impressions of the book.)
I’ve written at great length about my relationship with Terry Brooks’ epic fantasy series, Shannara. After Tolkien, Brooks’ work reinforced my newfound love of elves and adventure, magic, vast landscapes, harrowing escapes, and epic battles between good and evil. One of my main/ongoing criticisms of the Shannara series, however, is that Brooks has a tendency to repeat himself—dipping his pen in the same inkwell too often. Themes, story structure, and characters archetypes repeat themselves in each new Shannara series, which makes reading a new Shannara book sometimes too predictable. He’s shown however, through his other fantasy series, such as Word & Void, a contemporary fantasy, and The Magic Kingdom (a humourous secondary world fantasy) that he has the chops to write original fiction outside of his most famous series, and I’m always curious to see what happens when he turns his eye toward something wholly new.
Street Freaks (Grim Oak Press, 2018) is a major departure for Brooks in a lot of ways. It’s his first pure science fiction novel (if you consider his post-apocalyptic Shannara novels to be a science fiction/fantasy hybrid), and it’s an absolute blast to see him playing in a new playground and worldbuilding from the ground up for the first time since 1997’s Running with the Demon. In many other ways, it’s familiar ground. Thematically, Brooks is sticking with his tried-and-true formula of coming-of-age meets adventure, which has proved immensely successful in the Shannara series. In all, he finds a nice balance between new and familiar, which appeals to the long-time Brooks fan in me.