Posted in Reviews

My thoughts on The Fifth Season by N.K.Jemisin

First things first: I’m going to SPOIL the hell out of this. If you don’t want to have the book spoiled, read no further.

Still here? Well here we are then, all ready for what I took from my reading of The Fifth Season, Jemisin’s Hugo winning, Nebula considered fantasy work. I put this on Twitter straight after finishing it:

Jemison

Four days later I still feel the same way. Well, no matter how I look at it Jemisin is one hell of a talented writer. We have a blending (kinda sorta) of fantasy and science-fiction, action, world building and powerful description. There is magic, lost science, obelisks that fly through the sky and genuinely alien aliens that I think Stanley Weinbaum would have tipped his hat at. This is full-on imagination at work here and technically there is one hell of a lot to admire.
What it doesn’t have, at least in my opinion is a single likable character. The protagonist isn’t likeable in any of her three incarnations (yes, that was a spoiler), the people that she encounters are for the most part despicable, and the big bads are no better or worse than anyone else. There is literally no one to root for. I really don’t give a monkeys about someone’s gender, sleeping arrangements or skin color, what I do care about is there being something about them that makes me want to care about them. There was nothing, and in the few fleeting moments that it was an option Jemisin was at pains to take that away from me.
If that was all I wouldn’t have a problem with reading other books by Jemisin. Not so good with characterization? Well hello there Mr Asimov, nice to see you again. No, what really got me about the book was the sheer unpleasantness of the tale. It begins with a man killing a child. Actually, it begins with a father battering his son to death with his own hands. This alone was almost enough to get me to stop reading. The mothers’ response? Two days of sitting by the corpse. While her daughter and said husband were out there somewhere.
Just like any mother would. *eye roll*
This again nearly threw me right out of the tale. I persevered, nay, I persisted and carried on, hoping that the stupidity would cease. But it didn’t, again and again, I was faced with more people doing horrible things in a world where it seems that no-one is capable of being nice. NO-ONE. Somewhere around the middle of the book (it’s not a linear story, by the way, the narrative jumps around like a cricket on Ritalin), she is forced to attend a Hogwarts variant, to learn to control her power. There then follows a lot of nastiness involving abuse and bullying.
I sped through the rest of it, feeling dirtier with each page I turned. I read Thomas Covenant years ago and this makes that seem like a comedy by comparison. There is nothing of real beauty in this book, despite the quality of the writing. I can see why it won, and Jemisin continues to win awards, its appeal to a certain demographic is clear due to the ticks next to the checklists.
That’s okay, but it’s not for me.

A final word on today’s news that Jemisin is going to write books set in Lovecraft’s cosmology.
It doesn’t matter, it really is of no importance, despite the inevitable cries of triumph that will come from some quarters. Jemisin writes that

“This is deliberately a chance for me to kind of mess with the Lovecraft legacy. He was a notorious racist and horrible human being. So this is a chance for me to have the “chattering” hordes—that’s what he called the horrifying brown people of New York that terrified him. This is a chance for me to basically have them kick the ass of his creation. So I’m looking forward to having some fun with that.”

which is to completely miss the point about Cthulhu really.
What do I mean by that? Well, Cthulhu isn’t there to be beaten, none of Lovecraft’s works are really about that. Cthulhu isn’t a proto-Godzilla, despite what later writers have tried to do. Cthulhu is a force like Death, unstoppable, undefeatable. His worshippers…not so much. Anyone is obviously free to write whatever they like in Lovecrafts sandbox, he’s been dead a long time now. I’ve read a lot of tales set in his cosmos though and the only ones that stick in my mind are the ones that acknowledge the basic premise. The truth is that no matter what Jemisin writes I won’t be reading it, but I wish her the best of luck. Killing Cthulhu, and with it, Lovecrafts legacy is going to require a whole lot of it, and the only ones who’ll know will be future generations. I reckon my great-grandkids will still be enjoying At the Mountains of Madness long after I’ve gone.

Take care guys

Dean

 

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Posted in Appendix N Challenge

Appendix N Challenge: Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson.

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Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson.
According to Larry Brooks, in his excellent ‘Story Engineering’ a good story needs 4 things. In no particular order, they are; A great concept, character, theme, and structure. After that comes scene execution and writing voice giving you a total of six things you must have in order to create a story worth reading. What does this have to do with Appendix N I hear you ask? It’s a non-fiction work for a start. Bear with me guys, I promise that all will become clear.
The concept behind Appendix N is a great one. It’s so great that I immediately choose to copy it and go on my own journey of discovery before I’d even begun reading the book itself. What is it? Well, it’s right there on the front cover. “The literary history of Dungeons and Dragons.” Of course, you have to turn it into a ‘What if’ such as ‘What if I went and read the books Gary Gygax listed as inspirational to the creation of Dungeons and Dragons and showed how they impacted the game’ to create the concept of the book. I simply thought, what a great idea and promptly started to do likewise. What makes it a great concept? Well, I guess that I can only speak personally here. I loved the game growing up, it got me through a very tough time by being the vehicle that kept my group of friends together. That I knew next to nothing about the books that helped shape it sparked my interest, and once I began reading them I was hooked. Everyone who has ever played the game has their own version of an origin story, and this leads naturally to a desire to know more.
Or maybe that’s just me.
So how does character come into this? Well, the choice of authorial voice, in that Jeffro has kept it friendly, non-authoritarian (at no point does he claim that his view is the only one, or that his beliefs are canon. There’s far too much appealing to authority today, and Johnson sidesteps that particular pothole like a ninja.) The narrator becomes a character, one on a journey, and it’s a real pleasure to share that journey with him.
There is a theme running through the entire book and it’s a powerful one. It’s loss, principally the loss of a number of great writers from the view of the public. Their memory holing is noted and lamented and it stirs echoes throughout the individual entries. It gives the book a poignancy as writer after writer is examined, their impact assessed and their disappearance noted. This, more than anything else I feel has been the undercurrent that has fuelled the need for a return to the storytelling of the past. By creating quality stories in the same vein we can keep these great works alive.
Lastly, we have structure. This is the easiest one to talk about due to its simplicity. Look at a story, examine it, show how it impacted D&D. Rinse and repeat. It’s simple to describe, but hard to execute. When you do it yourself you find that you’re repeating the same things over and over again. The added dimension of the depth of Johnson’s knowledge and ability to link it to key areas within the game give him a distinct advantage here. I reckon I’ve probably been playing the game as long as Johnson, but I’ve never once felt the need to peek under the hood or give it much headroom. That there is the difference.
The last two are pretty much irrelevant here. Jeffro clearly has a decent writing voice and his scene, or chapter execution are both as they needed to be, and that’s just about the highest compliment I can give to a writer of non-fiction. I can only think of a couple of writers who I can say that about and one of those is Tom Holland. (Seriously, if you haven’t read Rubicon and you’re interested in the Roman Empire you’ve missed a treat).
I’ve learned a huge amount about the craft of writing by reading the works of Merritt, Howard, Lovecraft et al over the last 8 months. In a strange way, this book has also brought me into contact with some of the weirdest, funniest, warmest and most decent people I’ve ever come across. I’ve been told again and again that they’re the bad guys and yet as the good book says ‘by their fruit you shall recognize them’. I’m glad that I accepted the implicit challenge of this book and I’m even happier to recommend it to any and everyone. Take the first steps on the journey, you’ll never, ever regret it.

Appendix N is available from Amazon here.

Posted in Blog

Latest News: August 6th 2017

I know, I know, so very quiet as of late.
Well, there’s a reason for that. Not so very long ago my father in law, a thoroughly decent, honest and hard-working man received the kind of news that no man ever wants to hear. “George” his GP told him “your prostate cancer has spread, it’s now present throughout your body. If you’re lucky you have 3 months to live if you’re not lucky it could be as little as a fortnight.”
He wasn’t lucky. He got more than a fortnight, but not much more.
He made it past that fortnight, though not by much and passed away last Monday, at peace his hands held by the two women who loved him most: his daughter and wife. The funeral was on Thursday. There are times in your life when you have to step up and do whatever you can to help those you love. That means that you get less time to do what you want to do, and that’s as it should be.

So, my reading and writing took a big hit over the last few months, my usual two books a week becoming two books in 6 weeks. One of those two books I started yesterday and finished today. That’s right, I read Jeffro’s Appendix N in under 24 hours and a cracking good read it was too. I’m planning a more in depth look at it in the next few days now that life is finally returning to normal.

There are four weeks of the summer holidays left. Four glorious weeks during which we’ll do everything we can to enjoy the wonderful gift of life that we’ve been given. There are places to go to, places to see and a little buddy that is going to have some very special memories at the end of them. When it comes to end school starts and with it the beginning of my career as a professional writer.

I can hardly wait.