East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Plans and changes thereof

The old song Nothing Ever Goes as Planned by Styx should become my theme tune.
As I think I mentioned elsewhere, I have been writing like mad and I still am – lots of deadlines, lots of bills to pay.
And last night I finally decided that it’s thumbs down for Counterspinner, my hard-SF novella aimed at Tor.com.
The story is solid, and I like the way it’s shaping up, but quite simply I will not make it in time for the narrow submission window available.
Whichis a damn pity, but it is important to recognize one’s own limits.
I will still write it, but not now.

And on the other hand, renouncing an opportunity like an unagented submission for Tor.com is simply crazy.
But… Continue reading

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A visit to Goblin Tower

Goblin_towerThe Goblin Tower is a 1968 novel by Lyon Sprague de Camp, first in the series known as the Reluctant King.
The novel follows the adventures of the reluctant King Jorian, in fact an engineer and watchmaker, that by chance finds himself in the shoes of the king of Xylar. But tradition has it that the career of the king of Xylar has an expiration date – expiration being the proper word, as it ends on the hangman’s stock.
The frantic activity of our hero to abandon the title, the throne, and the country, before his position becomes too compromising sets the pace of the story. It is not that abroad things are any better, since all the nations of the continent are prey to a political and social eccentricity that slips into the grotesque.
And in the utterly lethal. Continue reading

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A Handful of Men

9781504047128_p0_v1_s192x300Last night I invested 2.99 bucks in an ebook bundle on Amazon. I was celebrating the sale of my pitch for my new monster novel, and felt like splurging.
So I bought myself the complete A Handful of Men by Dave Duncan. Four novels, over 1500 pages.
Born in 1933, Scottish-born Canadian author Duncan started publishing in the mid’80s, a fact that I have also found inspiring and reassuring – he started “old”, but he’s been able to line up over fifty novels, and collect a few awards.
It can be done.
Also, he is a geologist – just like me.
It can be done by geologists. Continue reading


Two good ideas at the same time

Don’t you hate it when it happens?
Here I am, with tons of stuff to do, and two huge ideas that push on my brain to get to my fingers and through my fingers and the keyboard on a page and then get printed, and published, and read.


Two ideas.
Two whole worlds.
Two potential new series.
Heroes, or at least a decent substitute for heroes, already there, ready to have a go at whatever I will throw at them.
So now what? Continue reading

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The 6 Biggest Fantasy Blunders

selection_555Another good one from the Portent Content Idea Generator.
Because let’s be serious – we all have read some very bad fantasy in our day. And I use the term fantasy in its broader sense, from sword & sorcery where mighty-thewed barbarians roam to the shaded forests of high fantasy in which elves of all stripes can be found, to the slithery shadow of horror, to the dusty and sun-baked landscapes of planetary romance.


There’s some excellent stuff out there, but there’s also a fair amount of duds.
And if reading the good stuff is essential to write good stories, reading a fair amount of drivel – as long as we recognise it as drivel – is also useful, because we all learn from mistakes, and when it’s other people’s mistakes it sort of feels good, doesn’t it?

So, having read my more than fair amount of fantasy drivel, here’s my list of blunders, ugly choices and bad ideas behind some of the worse fantasy I ever read. Continue reading

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Magic, art & science in the city: Passing Strange

41jzvod73kl-_sy346_And then something happens that disrupts all your plans and your timetables, and it0s OK like that.
In this case, the something was a quick message from my friend Marina, that suggested I check out a book called Passing Strange, by author Ellen Klages.
The book, Marina said, came with the recommendation of Caitlin R. Kiernan.

If the recommendation and the gorgeous cover weren’t enough, I then checked the blurb on Amazon…

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where magic, science, and art intersect.

Inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy, Passing Strange is a story as unusual and complex as San Francisco itself from World Fantasy Award winning author Ellen Klages.

Yes, inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy.
Could I not invest two bucks and a half in this book?

And a great investment it was, just as it was a good idea spending a few hours in these two nights to read the book and enjoy its mix of class, elegance and ideas.
Part of the (excellent) series of Tor.com novellas, Klages’ book is a historical fantasy1 set in 1940, and touches on a number of subjects, from topology to weird menace pulps, while tracing the lives of six characters in the shadow of the incoming war and in a society i n which they have a hard time fitting.
Elegantly written, with great dialogue and great characterization, Passing Strange reads like a breeze, and is hopefully a sign that 2017 will be an excellent year for fiction, if nothing else.
Highly recommended.

  1. remind me to do a post about why lots of current fantasy fans wouldn’t recognize Klages’ story as a fantasy, and why this is an absolute tragedy.