Sunday, September 30, 2012

Plasma Frequency and Mythocraft Now Out!

Plasma Frequency has just released its second issue, containing Mythocraft - best described as a (loosely) steampunk take on Greek mythology.  Check it out here:

Plasma Frequency Issue 2

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Me and Cooking

So here's a confession:  I enjoy cooking.

I get a similar sort of satisfaction from it as I do working on a story or harp arrangement.  (I have a cooking blog over at Evil Overlady Cooks.)  On the face of it, though, this doesn't make much sense.  Sure, it's creation in the broadest sense - I'm making something out of raw materials - but it's not all that different from putting together an Ikea desk, and I'm sure most people wouldn't consider that a creative outlet.  At present, my substitutions, omissions and additions to recipes are fairly minimal.  I'm still a fairly by-the-book cook.

So I'm not sure what it is, precisely, that satisfies that creative urge.  Maybe it's the combination of recipes - I tend to throw together some fairly oddball menus.  Maybe it's the fact that (let's be honest) my ambition outstrips my skill, so I often find myself improvising to get back on track.

Or maybe it's less to do with the creative instinct as the emotions at the core of it.  I have a very Italian mother:  food is love.  And it's that sense of acceptance and contentment that I get every time I cook ... even when something ends up all over the floor.

Anyone else feel creative in the kitchen?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

I'm baaaack!

Since we're on the countdown to the World Fantasy Convention (with its dual themes of urban and gothic fantasy) and since Flow has now been out for six months, I'd like to talk a little bit about what makes a setting work for me in contemporary fantasy.  (I do consider Flow contemporary fantasy rather than urban fantasy.  I'm aware this is largely a matter of nomenclature, but I have specific reasons for it - more in another post, probably.)

For me, the best reason to use our modern-day world in a story is the wealth of background available in the history - and the present! - of the occult, mythology and religion.  Strong contemporary fantasy takes these elements and builds the backdrop from them ... or if it starts from another concept, incorporates them in the development.  To me, to simply slap some magic invented wholecloth onto a private detective or ballet dancer or accountant misses the point.

As in any other fantasy, the magical element needs to be an integral part of the setting; it needs to feel organic to the history and beliefs of the people practicing it.  If the magic is divorced from the rest of the world, it becomes unconvincing.  Now, I've focused on real world "magic" here because it seems the most obvious and easiest source, and to me it's also the richest, but it's not the only option:  it's also possible to build modern-day supernatural on scientific concepts.  (It's why I was so fascinated by Rachel Caine's Ill Wind and her very climatically sound weather wardens, though I was less interested in the other concepts she introduced.  Those felt less organic, to me.)

Another nice benefit is that a reference to history makes the magic feel suddenly authentic.  I handle the arcane elements of an online roleplaying game where the Great Depression was the creation of a group of dark mages intent on feeding off the despair and emotional pain of the victims.  History often seems so random - providing an occult explanation can be very satisfying.

On the other hand, contemporary fantasy doesn't need to select a mythological beast, divination method, historical legend and use it one hundred percent by the book.  A twist, interpretation change or new direction can give a writer new options ... and offer a pleasant surprise for those readers versed in the base mythos.  Of course, these changes can't throw the baby out with the bathwater - there had better be an explanation for why the bulk of folklore says something different.

So that's my take on the best way to incorporate the supernatural in a modern setting.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

GoodReads Review: A Coalition of Lions

A Coalition of Lions (The Lion Hunters, #2)A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The quasi-historical story of the daughter of King Arthur, A Coalition of Lions sends its heroine, Goewin, to Africa and Aksum to face a perilous political situation and a hostile would-be bridegroom. My initial impression of this novel was negative for a reason that was only partly the fault of the writing: nowhere on the book does it clearly indicate that this is the second novel of a series, so when the first several pages were consumed by a rapidfire, rather dry summary of what had gone before, I was irritated and felt the author had started the book in the wrong place. Finding out that this was a sequel, I let go of my indignation - but I still feel that the recap was hamhandedly handled for new readers.

As a personal aside, I was further disconcerted by the initial names. In Welsh mythology (which meets / intersects with Arthurian) Goewin is the foot-holder (and later, the wife) of high king Math, and Lleu is the son of the king's subsequent foot-holder ... anyhow, this tangent to explain why, among the mythologically-saturated opening, I was dearly confused to find Goewin and Lleu as sibling children of Artos.

Once past this rocky start, however, I found myself absorbed in the characters and conflict. The narrative is lyrical yet in many ways, minimalist - the descriptions are evocative yet sparse, prompting the reader to fill in the blanks without noticing that the gaps exist. And despite the fact that almost the entire novel is a series of conversations, often political and sometimes stiltedly formal by the necessity of the venue ... it was never dull, always absorbing. Telemakos flashes through here as an absolutely superb portrait of brilliant childhood.

This is a rich and distinct narrative, a striking read ... but not without its flaws. The love story implied within leaves me unconvinced. While I am the first person to bang my head against the wall over romances too-obviously wrought, this one goes in the other direction: it was so subtle and poorly supported that I didn't believe it. Similarly, Goewin's later change of opinion towards Constantine didn't seem supported by actions in the narrative - and since that very much affected the outcome of the book, I found it weakened the plot.

Overall, this was an absorbing read despite its flaws. I don't feel completely satisfied by the novel and its resolutions, but it was an enjoyable visit to another time and place.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Now over at Every Day Poets ...

My poem "The Rivers of Nowhere" is now up and available for your reading and voting:


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

GoodReads Review: The Last Alchemist

The Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of ReasonThe Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of Reason by Iain McCalman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this book, the exploration of the fascinating, enigmatic Count Cagliostro - of many other names and just as many roles, from charlatan to spiritual guide. Rather than present a balanced, chronological biography, the book provides a wealth of setting, detail and strategically placed "snapshots" surrounding seven key episodes of Cagliostro's life. The years before and after these episodes are summarized in brief, interwoven when needed for context. Each chapter is about more than Cagliostro, although he is the star: one learns a great deal about his friends, victims, antagonists, kings, queens and luminaries, the social history of the times ...

There is very little dry about this book: it is presented with flourishes that sometimes resemble those of a gifted fiction writer. It is a joy to read, comprehensive without being dense, presenting its subject matter without apology - thoughtfully, but without trying to interpret too much for the reader.

Highly recommended, and not just as a biography of its subject. It does a great job of touching upon the period world and some of its central figures (Casanova, Catherine the Great), as well.

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