By Django Wexler
I am, I have to admit, a war buff. I read military histories for fun, the kind with fold-out maps covered in little colored arrows and notations like “Kollowrath (40,000)”. As I am also a fantasy novelist, the nature of war in fantasy fiction has always been fascinating to me.
And there is a lot of war in fantasy. Starting with Tolkien, it’s become practically obligatory that the epic fantasy saga, somewhere around the middle of book three, feature an Epic Confrontation Between Good and Evil with a Cast of Thousands. Various allies, painfully recruited over the course of the hero’s journey, turn up to lend a hand at the Final Battle. Various villains are dispatched, hapless orcs or equivalent humanoids are mowed down by the score, and just when things seem bleakest Evil is defeated forever. A beloved secondary character or two bites the dust, and someone gets to make a Heroic Sacrifice. Afterward, we may be treated to a scene where the hero roams a battlefield strewn with corpses, or visits the injured to bring home the horrors of combat. You know, war, right?
Back before I wrote fantasy myself, my wargamer friends and I used to snicker a bit at this. Most of the fantasy authors wouldn’t know a halberd from a half-pike, and their descriptions of battles were usually heavy on bold strokes and dramatic confrontations and light on tactics and the important of proper reconnaissance. I wouldn’t want to be a poor foot-slogger in either army, given the rate at which they tend to be chewed up by either the hero and his friends or some villain demonstrating the full extent of his power.
(To get roughly the same effect, find some friends who are computer professionals and take them to see any Hollywood movie featuring “hacking” and explosions.)
Now that I’ve taken up the pen myself, I have a better understanding of how strict realism sometimes has to give way to dramatic necessity, and that the reading public probably isn’t interested in the details of orc logistical and latrine arrangements. But I still found that a lot of the fantasy wars were still … well … bad. Bad from a realism point of view, certainly, but also from a dramatic or a story point of view. I found myself flipping past battle scenes to get back to the good stuff. But this wasn’t always true — some authors can write a battle that will knock your socks (or padded leather greaves) off — so I sat down to think about why.
Read the full article at A Dribble of Ink.
Hey there! Did you know I’m doing livestreamed readings of my Toy Soldier Saga novella Homefront for my Patreon crew? Here’s the first episode to give you an idea of what to expect:
I’m doing this every night (except Thursday, and when there’s unexpected interruptions) for all Patrons at the Ordinary Seaman or higher level (just $2+!) I’m also archiving the videos to be available for watching later, and recording an audio track of the readings, which are available to you on the unique audio RSS feed provided on the right hand side of the page!
Have you seen my new Patreon video yet?
I’m about halfway through, but it won’t take you long to catch up if you sign aboard now! Homefront is also available as a pdf for all my Patreon crew. Support the Toy Soldier Saga!
I took a class yesterday with Django Wexler on writing flintlock fantasy (thank you, Cat Rambo, for providing these excellent classes!), and I realized that about 70 percent of what I write is flintlock fantasy. So I’ll do a post on that sometime. In the meantime, this article was recommended as a fascinating study in how the British Navy discovered the cure for scurvy, and due to technological developments, lost it again — and why.
Recently I have been re-reading one of my favorite books, The Worst Journey in the World, an account of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911 expedition to the South Pole. I can’t do the book justice in a summary, other than recommend that you drop everything and read it, but there is one detail that particularly baffled me the first time through, and that I resolved to understand better once I could stand to put the book down long enough.
Writing about the first winter the men spent on the ice, Cherry-Garrard casually mentions an astonishing lecture on scurvy by one of the expedition’s doctors:
Atkinson inclined to Almroth Wright’s theory that scurvy is due to an acid intoxication of the blood caused by bacteria…
There was little scurvy in Nelson’s days; but the reason is not clear, since, according to modern research, lime-juice only helps to prevent it. We had, at Cape Evans, a salt of sodium to be used to alkalize the blood as an experiment, if necessity arose. Darkness, cold, and hard work are in Atkinson’s opinion important causes of scurvy.
Now, I had been taught in school that scurvy had been conquered in 1747, when the Scottish physician James Lind proved in one of the first controlled medical experiments that citrus fruits were an effective cure for the disease. From that point on, we were told, the Royal Navy had required a daily dose of lime juice to be mixed in with sailors’ grog, and scurvy ceased to be a problem on long ocean voyages.
But here was a Royal Navy surgeon in 1911 apparently ignorant of what caused the disease, or how to cure it. Somehow a highly-trained group of scientists at the start of the 20th century knew less about scurvy than the average sea captain in Napoleonic times. Scott left a base abundantly stocked with fresh meat, fruits, apples, and lime juice, and headed out on the ice for five months with no protection against scurvy, all the while confident he was not at risk. What happened?
Welcome to another Friday Author Spotlight! This week Diane Morrison is here to tell us about her novel, Homefront, which is part of the On the Horizon Bundle. She’ll also be sharing an excerpt from her book, so keep reading!
Diane Morrison lives with her partners in Vernon, BC, where she was born and raised. She likes pickles and bluegrass, and hates talking about herself. An avid National Novel Writing Month participant and gaming geek, she is proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. She is currently managing the official SFWA YouTube channel, where she gets to interview some of her favourite authors and other interesting people in the SFF field. Under her pen name “Sable Aradia” she is a successful Pagan author, a musician, and a professional blogger. After a lifetime of putting the needs of her family first, she is striking out to become what she always wanted to be; a speculative fiction writer.
Read the full article at Renee Scattergood’s Website.
On a Russian tall-ship the crisp command, “Paruznj avral! Paruznj avral!” means one thing only. “All hands on deck!” It doesn’t matter whether crew are off watch and sleeping, or having a meal, in the heads, or peeling spuds. “Paruznj avral!” usually means the wind direction or velocity has changed and all hands are required, immediately, to alter the set of the sails.
Read the full article at OceanNavigator.com.
Hey, check it out! Someone is building an actual space catapult to launch cargo into orbit!
By Josh Constine
What if instead of blasting cargo into space on a rocket, we could fling it into space using a catapult? That’s the big, possibly crazy, possibly genius idea behind SpinLaunch. It was secretly founded in 2014 by Jonathan Yaney, who built solar-powered drone startup Titan Aerospace and sold it to Google. Now TechCrunch has learned from three sources that SpinLaunch is raising a massive $30 million Series A to develop its catapult technology. And we’ve scored an interview with the founder after four years in stealth.
Read the full article at TechCrunch.com.
By Myke Cole
An excellent examination of the cost of killing on killer, victim, and everyone around them.
There’ve been some recent forays into writing combat scenes on some blogs lately. A few fans reached out to me and asked why I didn’t join the conversation. That got me thinking, and not in the way you’d expect.
I’ve said in many interviews that nobody owns the military experience. My being in the military doesn’t make give me any more authority over a military story than anyone else. The same is true for writing combat. One doesn’t have to be a veteran brawler to write a great fight scene.
But I do feel like the end result of fighting, namely, killing, isn’t often treated in a way that resonates with me. I can count on one hand the number of writers who get it right. Joe Abercrombie springs to mind as one of them, a tiny band of authors, and I do not count myself among them, who evoke the consequences of killing in a way that feels authentic.
Read the full article on Myke Cole’s website.
If you’ve been playing along at home, you know that much of my protagonist Shaundar’s character arc is centered around his war experience and PTSD. If you’ve been reading between the lines, you know that I’m examining my own PTSD (though I’m not a war veteran, I’m the daughter of a bipolar mother who was untreated during most of my childhood) through the writing of this story.
Myke Cole is a military fantasy writer and an Iraq War veteran. He’s written a couple of particularly good pieces on the subject that I’ll be sharing over the next couple of days. The thing that struck me the most about this one was his observations about Condition Yellow.
Living under Condition Yellow for extensive periods of time is the big factor that drives PTSD. I spent my whole childhood under Condition Yellow, and school just made it worse because I was bullied extensively. So Condition Yellow was my LIFE. I didn’t know there was any other way to live, and only now am I beginning to unpack that this is not normal, and has affected every relationship I’ve ever had.
Anyway, check it out.
I’ve talked before about genre writers who have been very open about personal trials, particularly the kind of depression/anxiety conditions that I feel are a natural part of the uneven terrain all authors have to walk. I’ve always appreciated their willingness to go public with these issues, as the first (and false) thing that most people suffering from these sorts of things think is a.) that they’re alone and b.) the problem is unique to them. When your literary heroes step into the spotlight and say, “hey, this is more normal than you think and you can figure out how to live with it,” well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than a few folks still pushing air past their teeth because of a blog post they read.
The thought of talking about what goes on in my head in anything but the most general terms in the public square takes me way out of my comfort zone. But I reread the first paragraph of this post, especially that last line. Sometimes, you need to go outside your comfort zone, talk about a thing not because you need to get it off your chest, but because it might help others to hear it.
I was diagnosed with PTSD in August of ’09, just after my third tour in Iraq. Of course my first concern (like everyone in my line of work) was losing my security clearance, and that kept me from going for help for a long time. But DoD did right by me, and I kept working for another 2 years before the book deal got me out of the business.
Read the full article at Myke Cole’s website.
So I’ve finished my major first edits of “Mr. Midshipman Sunfall” and “A Few Good Elves,” and they’re off to my editor. I’m now making my way through what I’ve done so far on “Brothers in Arms.” I haven’t said much in a while, but those who are following will know that I’m not finished my first draft on that one yet, so what I’m doing at the moment is catching it up to speed with the changes that have been made in the first two books.
I have to admit I’m having a lot of fun with it! I missed these characters and their stories. I’m enjoying reacquainting myself with them.
In related news, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s the anniversary of the day that Auschwitz was liberated. I mention this here because in A Few Good Elves, the characters are incarcerated in a concentration camp.
I did extensive research, and everything that happens to the characters comes from the real stories of real survivors (minus the magic stuff, of course.) It was hard to write. It was harder to edit.
Sometimes it’s easier to confront difficult issues in fiction, and that’s part of the reason I’ve written these novels. But we must never forget that this is was NOT fiction, no matter how hard it is to comprehend and accept. The path of “othering” people eventually, inevitably leads there.
I’m here to remind everyone of that. I’m here to try to help make sure that as less and less survivors are left, their stories, and the sheer horror of their experience, is not forgotten.
Never forget, okay?