28 December 2011

Doorstop Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K. Höst

The Touchstone Trilogy

by Andrea K. Höst

Giveaway ends January 21, 2012.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win
I seriously mean it about the doorstop. This thing is ridiculous. [At least I've fixed the cover, which showed a distinct tendency to bend the title around the edges in the first copies I received.] Still working on GE, but it will def. be out before the end of the year.

26 December 2011

Tintin (no spoilers)

I was having an interesting discussion the other day as to whether it was a bad thing that Tintin (the movie) had no female main characters.  Having read and re-read Tintin the comics a great deal when I was young (though not for years), I knew that there was very little room in the existing story for a main female role.  The entire series of books only has one memorable female character and, like most characters in Tintin books, she's a broadly drawn exaggeration of a creature.  For a female to go adventuring with Tintin, she would need to be wholly created and given some role in a plotline which never considered her.  I particularly would have hated a female character added purely to be the love interest.

Having seen the movie, I still don't think that it would have been a good idea to add a main female character (unless they gender-switched everyone, which would have been AWESOME), but the absence of females does underline what a strange, sexless creature Tintin is, running around with his pet, interested only in chasing whatever story has caught his curiosity.  The comparisons to Indiana Jones particularly underlines a certain lack of emotional resonance.  The growing friendship with Haddock works, and lets us see Haddock's development, but also gives us a particularly unconvincing scene where Tintin reacts to a set-back which reminded me so clearly that Tintin has little motive in this story.  He's only in this for the curiosity (and nice-chap-ness), and despite all the cool action, that starts to tell.

On the whole it was a fun movie, but it will never get anywhere near re-watch material for me.

25 December 2011

Stowaway

The people behind my sister in line at McDonalds told her she had a stowaway under her car...


Apparently this is a diamond python.  And, fortunately, the spare type it's curled around can be lowered without actually getting up close to test your snake identification skills.

20 December 2011

My l33t drawing skills

You've seen the cover of Caszandra - powerfully realistic, in a gorgeous burnt-Autumn world.



Now is revealed the incredible concept art I provided to the artist, Simon Dominic, to explain just what it was I wanted in the picture:

Amazing, no?

I am actually capable of a basic level of drawing, so long as it's on paper with a pencil, but I cannot for the life of me draw on the screen.  It is an entirely different skill set.

I draw a great deal less than I once did, and no longer draw character sketches of my characters.  Here's a sketch of my very first novel protagonist, from the never-again-to-see-the-light-of-day Talismans of Godshelm.

Hm, and one of the interesting people she knows...

Add caption
Me, procrastinating when I should be working on Gratuitous Epilogue?  Well, yeah. ;)

10 December 2011

A question of exclusivity

Like many other self-publishers, I've had to make a decision over the past day whether to take up Amazon's KDP Select offer.  Amazon's offer is basically this:
  • If you opt in, your ebook(s) will be included in the Kindle Lending Library (where Amazon Prime members can borrow an ebook a month for free).
  • During the opt-in time (a minimum of three months) those ebooks must be exclusive to Amazon.
In return Amazon is offering:
  • Money for each time one of your books is borrowed from the library (the amount depends on how many KDP books are borrowed overall, so potentially you could receive $1 a borrow, or 1c a borrow).
  • The ability to set your ebook as a free ebook for 5 days during those three months.
  • The possibility of having your book announced as one of the most-borrowed.
For self-publishers who already only publish through Amazon, this is a no-brainer of a decision.  For self-publishers who earn a sizeable percentage of their royalties outside of Amazon, this is also a no-brainer.  For self-publishers like me, who earn 90% of their royalties through Amazon, but also have their books available elsewhere, it's a decision which requires some thought.

The Gain

I doubt that anyone except the most popular self-publishers will earn any significant money through the Lending Library.  It is, however, like all libraries, a valuable promotional opportunity.  I discovered the vast majority of my favourite authors through libraries (which is why libraries are wonderful and good).  Additionally, many publishing houses have chosen not to opt in to the Lending Library (those publishing houses are not required to be exclusive - they just don't want their books there at the moment).  This means self-published books have a greater chance of standing out in the Lending Library than they do through the standard Kindle store.

The bigger advantage is probably the ability to briefly set your books to free.  As I've discussed previously, riding the free train is without doubt the most powerful promotional tool available to a self-publisher.  I gained the vast majority of my readers because I set Stray to free during October: I received a great deal of feedback which made clear that many of my new readers would likely not have checked out the book otherwise - readers who don't usually try fantasy or science fiction, but found that this particular series worked for them.  Since setting a book for free on Amazon currently involves jumping through a number of hoops, control of this function is a very nice carrot.

The Loss

During the past year I've sold maybe 150 ebooks through Smashwords, and 150 through the various other channels Smashwords distributes to.  I've sold over 3000 via Amazon.  That's not only because Amazon got into the ebook market early and drove it hard - it's because Amazon simply treats self-publishers better.

Amazon's algorithms will suggest a book to a potential reader because it matches buyer's trends (people who liked this, liked that) irregardless of whether the book is self-published.  Amazon has multiple methods for readers to discover books they'll probably like, from bestseller lists to those also-boughts.  And, unlike certain other ebook distributers, they don't separate self-publishers out of the best-seller lists, or artificially lower their rankings.  While Amazon doesn't give self-publishers all the advantages of publishing houses, they've apparently recognised that self-published authors can provide their customers with something they want.

Which is great!  But Amazon offering incentives to self-publishers to ONLY publish through them is a far from simple step.

In the discussions which have been raging about this issue, it was quickly pointed out that an ebook could be bought from Amazon and then converted to other formats, or even emailed directly from author to reader following a purchase.  And that you didn't need to put ALL your books in.  And that three months isn't forever.

After you opt into the Lending Library, you have a couple of days to change your mind and then you can't opt out for three months.  Once the three months is over, you'll either be renewed, or can opt out.  So exclusivity is not necessarily permanent.  And so many self-publishers have been taking up the exclusivity option - whether for one book or all their books.

The Rub

Most of my book reading comes either from carefully-considered SFF purchases, or 'popcorn reading' cozy mysteries.  I buy almost all my books as ebooks these days - particularly those popcorn reads.  If the book isn't available to me as an ebook (whether through issues of regionality, or because there are only physical books), I do one of three things:
  • Buy the physical book.
  • Mark it on Goodreads to check later for an ebook.
  • Forget about it.
"Forget about it" is by far my most common response.  Added to this is this new extra complexity of the book only being available if I purchase it through a particular vendor.  While I happen to own a Kindle and buy most of my ebooks through Amazon, I took the time when making this decision to put myself in the shoes of someone who didn't, to decide what my response might be.  This covered the range of:
  • Never knowing the book exists because it's not listed at a store I use.
  • Knowing the book exists, but missing the "purchase window" because it's currently being a three-month exclusive somewhere else when I go to buy it.  Forget about the book.
  • Wanting the book, but being unable/not wanting to buy it from Amazon (for whatever reason, but most likely because there are still large parts of the world where Amazon charges an extra $2 for its Whispernet delivery).
  • Resenting the hell out of any author trying to force me to buy through Amazon (which some readers dislike for various reasons) and refusing to buy ANY more books by that author.
I don't particularly think Amazon is evil for doing this - Amazon is simply being smart.  It sells a lot of self-published books and some of those self-published authors have big followings - and this massively bolsters the number of books in their Lending Library.

There are some who warn that this move by Amazon is dangerous for self-publishers, putting all their eggs into one basket and stifling the competition.  There are others who think this will be good for self-publishers because the various other vendors will have to step up and improve their approach to self-publishers if they want to retain their books.

Me, I just don't want to make it harder for that ten percent of my readers who don't buy my books through Amazon.  If a particular vendor offered me ridiculous amounts of money to be exclusive, I'd probably agonise over the decision more, but on the whole I just don't like exclusivity.

08 December 2011

Gratuitous ETA

This is looking like not being finished till/after Christmas (can't resist adding a bit more to the end).

Thrilling shopping trips. ;)

30 November 2011

Touchstone - the Jenny Edition

By request of Jenny, a 796 page block of rambling teen adventure.  [It started out over 900 pages, but since Lulu only does hardcovers up to 800 pages I had to reduce the font and prune the margins.]

I'm only going to add it to Lulu for the moment - purchasing the extended distribution package would mean raising the price and it's already hefty enough.  [$3 of the price goes to me - the rest to Lulu.]

[You won't have trouble spotting this one in the mail, Jennies - it's liable to be bigger than your mailbox.]

27 November 2011

351,000 Words

The compiled The Touchstone Trilogy is now live on Amazon (US) and will filter through to the other Amazons.  [Will be doing the Smashwords version tomorrow.]

It will be interesting to see if it picks up sales - the cover gives off such a different vibe to the covers of the individual books (which are far more accurate to the tone of the story), and I've no doubt it's more marketable toward its target audience, but the price point ($8.99) is certainly less 'impulse buy'.  I might use it for Goodreads ads.

Caszandra has been going well for its first couple of days - over 200 sales between the US and UK stores (and one in France ;).

24 November 2011

Caszandra Release

A while ago I mentioned in a post that I'd noticed search terms leading to this blog about the Caszandra release date.  Since then:

Very funny, mystery UK person!  You'll be happy to know the answer is TODAY!

Available now from Smashwords, Amazon US and Amazon UK.  Other vendor sites (and the TPB version) take longer to process through.

Congrats to the ebook competition winners (ChrisL, JulieH, Jyak, DianaW, smarywcerb2, Gonzalo & Carin): the book should be in your inbox.

Today I have:

- Decided to never, ever set a fixed release date again.
- Uploaded the WRONG version of the cover to Amazon (can't fix this till tomorrow).
- Cried all through editing the final entry.  Probably from relief at being at the end.
- Discovered a new typo every time I went to finalise the ebook.
- Stressed constantly about whether this bit or that bit or the other bit is boring.
- Read my favourite bits over and over with a big grin on my face.

It's been a big boost for me to have readers looking forward to one of my books, so I'd like to add a big THANKS for all your comments and reviews.  I hope you all have fun with it!

14 November 2011

"Caszandra" Ebook Competition - Plus Important Note for Nook Readers

For this release, instead of a Smashwords coupon, I'll be running a competition to give away an ebook copy of Caszandra, plus your choice of any of my other books.  There'll be seven winners, and the ebooks will be emailed out before I even load the copies up on Smashwords and Amazon.

To enter, simply email giveaway@andreakhost.com.  [Competition closed now.]  Your email should include:

- Which Setari squad would you most like to join/hang out with and why?
- The email address you want me to send the ebook to.
- Your preferred ebook format (Kindle's mobi/Epub (Nook)/PDF).

Winners will be chosen by random number generator and the competition closes when the book is done! [The 24th, most likely.]

Feel free to include your squad selection in comments on this post as well.

Important Note to Nook (ie. non-Amazon) Readers

Stores such as Barnes & Noble do not allow non-US authors to upload books.  To place the book on B&N, I upload it to Smashwords and Smashwords vets it (can take days/weeks) and then distributes it (can take days/weeks).  Which means that Caszandra will show up on B&N _eventually_ but I have no way of knowing when.  You can still purchase the book at release from www.smashwords.com - Smashwords will have the book in both Nook and Kindle format.

If there's some reason you cannot use Smashwords, but you can't bear to wait for distribution vagaries, email me on release day and I'll see if I can work something out.

05 November 2011

Touchstone Wordclouds

And on an only very mildly spoiler-ific note, here are the Wordclouds for each book of the Trilogy.

Stray

Lab Rat One

Caszandra
Wordclouds are an excellent way to spot your writing tics.  I use quite a few weasel words, such as 'like' and 'sort of' and I add 'really' to almost everything and then go back and edit most of them out.  'Just' is also very common.

Interesting to see the progression of importance of certain people through Cass' year away from home.

31 October 2011

View from the Free Train

A month ago Amazon price-matched Stray as a freebie.  Today I've unhitched from the free train, setting the price to $0.99 on Smashwords.  This will filter to B&N, Kobo, and Apple and eventually Amazon will price-match again - a process which can take between two days and several weeks - so if you were thinking of suggesting someone check out Stray, warn them the price will go up soon (and then again after Caszandra has been released, when I intend to set Stray back to its 'normal' price of $2.99).

For those interested in the value of the free train, here are the results of my free month.

In September (before free) I sold 35 books total on Amazon US (and some unknown small number on other sites where I can't view sales immediately).

In October (and the last day of September post-free) I gave away 14885 copies of Stray on Amazon US.  Many of these will have been to people who will never read the book, or who are not the ideal audience for my genre, but just sensibly collecting the freebies while they're there.

However, some obviously read the book, since I sold at Amazon US:
  • 638 copies of Lab Rat One
  • 48 copies of the Medair duology
  • 36 copies of Champion of the Rose
  • 12 copies of The Silence of Medair
  • 11 copies of Stained Glass Monsters
  • 9 copies of Voice of the Lost
The majority of the freebies went in the first week or so, and then the giveaway rate slowed down.  It's still going at a 100 or so a day.  Sales of Lab Rat averaged at over 20 a day for quite some time, but now have slowed to a little over 10 a day.  The cross-overs to my other books were a nice bonus, particularly since my fantasy is rather different from the Touchstone Trilogy, and won't necessarily work for the same readers.

Stray also went free on various other sites and (though I can't say exactly how many), I seem to have sold a few books on those as well.  I also picked up over 20 reviews on Amazon, and maybe a dozen reviews on other sales sites, book blogs, Goodreads, etc.  Reviews are valuable, both in explaining the book to potential readers and by sheer weight of numbers showing that the book has been considered worth reading.  I'd read that the free train does attract negative reviews and found this to be true - I picked up two more one star reviews (from people reading only the opening of the book), but this was more than balanced out by positive reviews.

The free train is a way to raise a book's profile, and get into Amazon's Also Bought recommendations.  I'm fairly sure that Stray will sell at least a few a week despite no longer being free.  It remains to be seen whether word of mouth will lift the series' sales again, but overall I would unequivocably recommend the free train - at least for the first book in a series.

23 October 2011

Illustrative Strays

When I originally began the Touchstone Trilogy as a fiction blog (which I called "Fallen Out of the World", btw), I wanted Cass to illustrate her diary occasionally.  Problem is, art is HARD!  I did do a few drawings, but eventually let the idea drop when Cass was rescued and drawing any of the Setari proved way beyond me.

But for the curious, here's a couple of pics:

The Tree Fox.  Pippins are smaller, with shorter legs.

The hat Cass tried to make out of sticks.

Cass' original lab rat logo.

All I need is a Lotto win and I can commission a super-luxury illustrated edition of the Touchstone Trilogy, with scads of lovely pictures.

Facebooking

My primary use for Facebook previously has been to play a large amount of Bejewelled and Gardens of Time, but of course it has been remiss of me not to set up some form of author page there.

Thanks to the kind prompting of Brooke, I now have an author page on Facebook:
There's also a "Like" button in the right column of the blog.

[Hopefully this won't make _too_ obvious how much time I spend playing games when I should be writing... O.o ]

18 October 2011

Touchstone Giveaway

Now that I've finally whipped up a blurb which isn't entirely cringe-worthy, I've posted a giveaway for the entire Touchstone trilogy in trade paperback at Goodreads. [It requires being a member of Goodreads to enter, but that's free and pretty good fun - I find I quite enjoy tracking which books I read, and that I read a lot more than I realised!]

 I'll also be running a giveaway of Caszandra (ebook format) on this blog in the last couple of weeks before release. Release is 25/26 November unless I manage to get through it quickly, in which case I will shift everything forward a bit. ;)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Caszandra by Andrea K. Höst

Caszandra

by Andrea K. Höst

Giveaway ends November 25, 2011.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

16 October 2011

The Thing v The Thing


(Not particularly spoilery)


I had never seen John Carpenter's The Thing, so in deciding whether to go see the prequel, not-John-Carpenter's The Thing, I decided not to watch JC's The Thing first, but instead watch it after.  Random thoughts:

- Special effects have come a long, long way.

- JC's The Thing is better than NJC's The Thing (at least at the beginning), but neither of them are movies I'm likely to ever bother watching again.

- The way the dog behaved (before the reveal) in JC's The Thing was incredible - easily the best thing in either movie. 

- The 'intelligent infiltration' aspect fell away in NJC's The Thing, and was the lesser movie because of that, but even in JC's The Thing (given that 'contamination' can apparently be managed with tiny amounts of exposure), our alien creature was far too inclined to flail partially formed limbs and rubber hoses (ah, tentacles) at every opportunity.  In both movies, the alien's behaviour is highly counter-productive to its own survival.

- There was a remarkable contrast in the way that the "infiltration announcement" was treated in the movies.  In JC's The Thing, an older male scientist announces that the alien is able to replicate the appearance of other living creatures.  Response: complete, immediate acceptance.  In NJC's The Thing, a young female scientist (specially flown in apparently for her ability to drawn lines on ice and nothing else) makes the same announcement.  Response: complete, immediate dismissal.

- Damn, people are dumb!  So you cut a huge alien creature out of the ice, and it breaks out and runs off.  And you go looking for it in pairs.  In the dark.  Without weapons.  Did you SEE the size of the claws on that thing?

On the whole JC's The Thing was more powerful (despite some truly bad special effects), but neither movie really made me care about any of these people.

11 October 2011

I Had A Tree



I had a tree.

It was one of the reasons we bought this house.

It shaded the hammock.

In Spring it shed all its bark;

Enough to carpet the entire yard.

And rainbow lorikeets came to ravage its flowers.

The rest of the year it just dropped leaves.

It was a good tree.

But the neighbours built a house.

And said the tree was dangerous.

And broke their concrete.

I had a tree.

08 October 2011

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Ready Player One" is compulsive fun, hooking on to the classic zero-to-hero trope and mashing it together with huge chunks of nerdish nostalgia. Although it's weighed down a little by chunks of exposition, most of this will only appeal more to anyone who has ever played classic video games. This is a book which will have especial resonance to anyone who was alive in the 80s. I've certainly played, or at least seen, large chunks of the games, books, and movies referenced.

Our 'zero' is Wade, an orphan who grew up near-penniless in a stacked "trailer park" raised almost entirely in the massive online world of OASIS. The story is told in retrospect by an older Wade, which does cause a strange dissonance between the subject of the tale and the voice it's told in. He says, for instance, that Art3mis writes with an "endearing, intelligent voice", which just sounded so out of place for the person he was meant to be, until I reminded myself this was a future Wade telling the tale.

Wade is likeable, older or younger, though there is a certain level of "just happens" to his tale. One of the most l33t gamers, Haich, just happens to be his best friend. Art3mis, his crush, writes one of the most popular blogs on the internet, but of course Wade started following it back before it was popular. [And both his close friends, despite all the talk of not knowing who people really are over the internet, are within a year or two of his own age, whatever other differences they might have]

The story wasn't without niggles for me. Some of the chunks of exposition bogged me down a little, but particularly (as with many near-future dystopias) I struggled to _believe_ this world. "Ready Player One"'s world hit the energy crisis hard, and reality became unpalatable to much of the world's population. This coincided with the release of OASIS, which is basically "Second Life" as a 3D experience with better graphics, which then became the Borg, absorbing the intellectual property of existing MMO's and fan-based interests until every classic SFF and 80s obsession became 'planets' within OASIS' environment, and "the whole world" decided they'd rather conduct their lives through the filter of this particular online experience.

While no doubt such a thing would be highly popular, it just doesn't parse with "the whole world" for me. OASIS is an extremely US-based experience (with a side-order of UK and Japanese anime shown in the US). No other cultures are shown to exist in OASIS. There is no hint of a Microsoft to OASIS' Apple (just a soulless corporate takeover merchant), or much sign of different languages except, again, (English-speaking) Japanese.

It also seems that even the Western creative world froze in the early 2000s in "Ready Player One". There's a ton of 80s and 90s references to games, books, movies, but nothing past that. As if the only thing the world has invented between now and forty years into the future, the only new cultural obsession, is OASIS.

[Also slightly annoying was that all the "recommended reading" of SF authors, and favourite film-makers, were male. Not even Tiptree, Norton or the fall-back of Le Guin made that little list.]

But on the whole these are niggles. The zero-to-hero story, and the fun of recognising games played (especially a certain text-based Adventure!) trumped all quibbles and kept me reading late into the night.

View all my reviews

01 October 2011

Guerilla Advertising

You can tell the Kindle has Arrived in Australia when they have demo models sitting at the checkout at Woolies (supermarket).  I certainly blinked to see them there.  And then, of course, I did what no doubt every self-respecting author does when they see a demo model unprotected:



I could only add the sample, but it gave me a laugh, and it fell in nicely with my Touchstone Promotional Month, just begun today in lead-up to me releasing Caszandra some time in November.  This will include a giveaway at Goodreads of the entire trilogy in trade paperback, a limited-run ad, and me hauling out the biggest gun in the self-published author's arsenal, known among Indie circles as "riding the free train".

You can't set the price of self-published books as less than $0.99 on Amazon, so to get it listed free you have to spark Amazon's competitive edge by listing it free on Smashwords (and thus on Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc) until Amazon price matches.  Stray went free at US Amazon around 3.00pm yesterday and just under 24 hours later I believe a picture will tell a few thousand words...



Of course, vast numbers of free ebooks are downloaded without being read, but if even five percent of those downloads translate into someone reading the book, it's still more success in a single day than the whole of the 7 months Stray has been out.  [And about half of those sales of Lab Rat came in the last few hours - which I guess means there's some astonishingly fast readers out there.]  It's all about visibility, about results like this:



Stray will remain free for approximately a month (I say approximately because all this secondary price-matching stuff makes it very difficult to be exact - it hasn't been matched on the UK or German stores, for instance).  It will be very rare that I'll ride the free train, so it's a good time for the e-curious to check out Stray!  [Pity it's so atypical of the rest of my work, but heck, I might get a few cross-overs.]

25 September 2011

Doctor Who: Closing Time (mild spoilers)

Overall this was a solidly-paced, fun episode. 

Good points:

- The old cybermat to the throat.
- Funny.
- Great odd couple dynamic.  Craig makes a fun companion, and it's a pity we didn't get to see him take a regular stint in the TARDIS.
- Craig making the straightforward point that the Doctor doesn't so much BRING danger, as save people from danger which already exists.

Bad points:

- The power of love saves the day.  Again.  I need some more "the power of science and ingenuity saves the day" episodes or "bravery and determination saves the day".  [And not the power of the magic sonic screwdriver that can do anything.]
- The Doctor visiting his companions before he dies.  Again.
- The audience totally knowing that there's no way the Doctor is going to really die.

I was a bit 50/50 on the advertisement with Amy.  It certainly echoed Amy's waiting theme.  But it's also a perfume ad, linking her back to "the goal of the girl is to find her man and get married".

Then, of course, we move on to River Song - a youngish River Song who has lost all her ability and chutzpah in the process of obtaining an archeological degree.  And then on to next episode, and it finally occurs to the Doctor to have a look into who these people who are trying to kill him are, and why they're doing so.

Why he didn't do this in the two hundred years he's apparently been travelling, I couldn't guess.

I am presuming this will be a timey wimey cyclical episode where the Doctor's investigation into why these people are trying to kill him will actually be the primal spark which causes these people to try and kill him (because otherwise we haven't really seen the Doctor do anything nearly epic enough to justify all this).  Not even the moon landing hypnotism to kill the Silents can be the explanation, since their kidnapping of baby Melody predates that.

There's no doubt that the Doctor will find some way to not die for real this time for sure, even though this is supposed to be one of those fixed moments in time (just one he happened to be ignorant of).  There's no tension in that part of the story, so what we are waiting for is the how and the why.  Why do these people want to kill the Doctor, and how will he stop them?  Will he make a big speech about how scary he is, causing his enemies to hesitate at a critical moment?  Gather all his allies to make a big distraction while he sneaks in the back?  Get his flesh copy to die in his stead?

My biggest problem with this season is without doubt the fact that Amy, Rory and the Doctor are no longer desperately searching for infant Melody, that they're okay with her living a torturous infancy being brainwashed by the Silents in an orphanage, and then living on the streets before inserting herself into her parents' childhood, simply because that leads her to grow up to be River (after, mind you, a life of crime and defiance which can no doubt be linked directly to how she's been raised).

My one hope for this season is that the Doctor will actually regain some of his competence and recover baby Melody.  Which will mean that River, the River sewn through the last three-four seasons, will cease to exist.

And, you know, I'm good with that.

22 September 2011

Interview at Adarna SF

My first ever interview!  Frida at Adarna SF took me into the nuts and bolts behind what I write and why.  A very interesting process which left me with a question of my own - WHY are there so few fantasy novels with egalitarian societies?  It's not uncommon to see it in SF, but rarer in fantasy.

Can anyone recommend to me some good fantasy novels set in egalitarian worlds?

And on a related note, anyone interested in Indie SFF (or, indeed, just SFF) should definitely add Adarna SF (formerly Frida Fantastic) to their blogroll.  I've been really enjoying the level of analysis in the reviews!

18 September 2011

Status Report - September

At current rate, Caszandra should be out by mid to end November.

Cass gets to be a good deal less action-y in this last volume - much to her frustration.  On the flip side, she gets to pull off a very cool stunt which makes me chortle because it's so...gratuitous.  She has a very flexible power set: the problem is the price she pays when using it - and, more important, how people can use her.

On a spoiler-ific note, it will be interesting to see how people take to the way the relationship which developed in Book 2 plays out in Book 3.  It's rare that I'm in the mood for unnecessary relationship angst, so I'm not generally inclined to manufacture some bizarre reason to split people up.  It's far more interesting to me to see how the characters cope with staying together.  With making little compromises for each other.  Avoiding arguments.  Dealing with things the other suddenly wants to do.  The huge decisions and the little things, and how you become different people because you're committed to each other.  [A theme I'm also working through in The Sleeping Life.]

I'm now getting "search terms leading to this site" of "When will Andrea Host finish Caszandra" which is certainly motivation to get my rear in gear!

After Caszandra is out, I'll be on to Hunting, which is a "girl vigilante" book I wrote ages ago (in a hissy fit after a problematic Georgette Heyer novel).  It's one of my "the gods are real" books, and I'll be underlining that a little more clearly in the edit.

Pyramids keeps trying to steal my attention.  The main character has two rather overwhelming nieces, one of whom wants to be a Lady Adventurer, and the other who has decided to marry Heliotropus' princess.  I suspect I'm going to have to consider a sequel to cover all that.

Doctor Who: The God Complex (Spoilers)

Very atmospheric and creepy with an unexpected tie-in to larger themes revolving around Amy's faith in the Doctor.

Good points:

- Creepy!
- Rita.  Great character.
- The link to the Nymon - nicely done.
- The suggestion that the TARDIS/loss of the TARDIS was what was in the Doctor's room.

Bad points:

- A policewoman who shrieks.
- Rita.  She was so good it was inevitable she would die.
- Putting the untrustworthy character in a position of trust.  It would have made infinitely more sense to leave the guy tied up there alone.
- "Amy Williams" used as an affirmation that Amy's faith in the Doctor is now broken.  As if Amy wouldn't have stayed Amy Pond even if the Doctor wasn't a factor in her life and that without a "second man" to confuse their loyalties all women would automatically change their names to that of their husband.
- Rory's jokes about Amy hitting him.  Not funny.  If she is seriously hitting him, then he should leave her.
- THE BABY THE BABY THE BABY THE BABY!!!!!!

The made-up-as-you-go-along explanation for River Song's origin destroyed this episode.  I'm sorry, but Amy has complete faith in the Doctor because the Doctor has never failed her?  Not only does this come off the back of an episode of the Doctor failing Amy, but making Amy okay with losing her baby because she one day turns into River is...just not on.

The Doctor failed Amy massively.  He failed to stop her kidnapping.  He failed to stop the baby's kidnapping.  He failed to retrieve the baby.  But because the baby one day grows up to be River Song, we're supposed to believe that Amy still maintains complete faith in the Doctor?

No.  Suspension of disbelief has gone SPUNG.

Additionally, the theme of faith in the Doctor is undercut by the Doctor's actual history with his companions.  The Doctor has always been an incredibly arrogant guy, who has a tendency to leave his companions behind when they bore him, and sometimes snaps into self-righteous judgmentalism (of the genocidal level) which is part of the reason he needs his companions "to tell him to stop".  But he now for some reason seems to be genuinely acting on the belief that most of his companions die.  Unless he's had a whole heap of companions "off scene", then this is far from true.  For the most part they have gone on with their lives enriched by a precious experience - sometimes very annoyed with the Doctor, but with an overall net of exciting adventures.  Often they only had lives at all because he came along at an opportune moment and saved them.  And, big picture there, SAVED THEIR WORLDS.  And yet the Doctor is tormented by his endless failure for all those companions whose lives he transformed, enriched, broadened, and kept whole?

I feel like I've been watching "Doctor Who and the Endless Guilt Trip" for two seasons (and several specials) now. 

12 September 2011

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited (Spoilers)

Good points:

- Apart from the hand wavey convenience of the start (why the hell didn't Amy just go back to the Tardis room?), this had something resembling a coherent plot.
- It was very powerful emotionally.
- The garden was lovely.

Bad points:

- This is a plot we have seen before.
- Girl companion being rescued once again.
- It kind of sends a message of "old" = "disposable".
- This meme of "The Doctor lies" is really beginning to disturb me.  I lost respect for the Doctor in this episode.

"The Girl Who Waited" is basically "Turn Left" without the (Donna) nobility.  Alternate version must be sacrificed so that "right" timeline can be resurrected.  But where alternate Donna - horrified, agonised - stepped into the breach, alternate Amy - bitter, betrayed - demands to be saved as well.  And the Doctor agrees, the Doctor lies, then the Doctor shuts the door in her face.

It's one of the worst things I've ever seen the Doctor do.

09 September 2011

Still playing with covers

Just loved this picture.  And I guess it does suggest that there might, just maybe, be some kind of battle in the book somewhere...

06 September 2011

Ebook v TPB Covers

One of the things it took me a few months to realise is that my ebook covers don't have to be the same as my trade paperback book covers.  Indeed, in some cases, it would be far better not, since one is designed to represent the book as a tiny thumbnail and the other is the place to indulge fancy games with fonts and rich, detailed images.

However, I wanted the covers to be visually linked, and have finally gotten around to playing with potential ebook cover versions for a couple which don't work well as tiny thumbnails.



The second version of these are much more readable in thumbnail.  I haven't decided whether to go ahead and change them, but it's definitely something I need to think about when preparing covers.

Unpacking Medair

Frida Fantastic, a blog site which focuses on Indie science fiction and fantasy novels, has posted a really wonderful, in-depth review of The Silence of Medair.   It's a great site for readers looking for Indie SF&F.

04 September 2011

Cover Play Continued

Hm, for the moment going with option 3 for Touchstone.  Now I'm playing with the titling and placement of the stars.

And on an unrelated note, this week's Doctor Who was a return to good, solid story-telling.  Only real glitch was the complete emotional disconnect between this and the previous episode.

02 September 2011

Compilation Covers

Now that I'm moving on to working on Caszandra, one thing I'm turning my mind to is a compilation of the entire Touchstone trilogy - for those who want their rambly SF diaries in one gi-normous block.

Now the covers I have for each of the individual books are painted covers which really match the content of the books - to me.  But I'm well aware that for the market these books are theoretically aimed at (Young Adult) they don't fit the current cover fashions at all (most people think they're aimed at younger readers, because that's where painted covers are being used at the moment).  So (since I'm too cheap to commission another painted cover, and it's going to be ebook only) the compilation is a marketing opportunity to direct the books at the audience which theoretically will most enjoy them (though Stray and Lab Rat appear to work equally well for any gender or age).

Anyone who has gone near Young Adult books lately will no doubt know that the current trend in covers is striking photographs of improbably beautiful girls in gorgeous floaty dresses, looking pensive or anguished (or, well, blank). 

While gorgeous floaty dresses don't quite feel SF to me, Cass does at least frock up a couple of time during her adventures.  Could I combine current trends in Young Adult covers with the book content of Space!  Ninjas!  Bubble worlds!?  I set out on a quest for a photograph of a space ninja in a floaty dress, but they seem a bit thin on the ground.  So I focused on the bubble worlds concept.

Which version works best for you?

The girl in the photo (before I dropped the Blue Eagle nebula on top of her) does in fact appear to be wearing a floaty dress.  So all elements met!

[What do you mean 'no ninjas'?  There's more than enough shadow there for any half-competent ninja to take full advantage of.]

Edit: Fourth option:

01 September 2011

"Voice" Release

Finally hit Go on Voice of the Lost.  It's up already on Smashwords (and Amazon) and will take a couple of days to a few weeks to get to various other venues.

I'm really liking the way the cover turned out.  It's eerie and beautiful.  Not representative of any scene in the book, but symbolic of Medair facing her past - or seeking a future.

As usual for my blog followers here's a first week Smashwords discount coupon - 75% off until 8 Sept.  ZK74L

Heh - and now the fun part where I wait to see what people think of it. :)

28 August 2011

Impacts of Magic: Shelter

The next topic on the cards for my series of posts on the impacts of magic on worldbuilding is one which follows closely on from food on the basic essentials list: Shelter.

You've filled your belly, and now in your magical world you're looking for a place to rest, to get out of the sun, the wind, the rain, the cold.  To keep the monsters out.

Construction of an adequate shelter will have a large impact on your ability to be not eaten, not sunburned, not frozen.  Literally, to not die of exposure.

 Materials

Where would the classic tale of The Three Little Pigs be with the introduction of magic?  The first little pig is a cautionary warning against taking the easy route, and is summarily eaten for choosing a building material which was in plentiful supply and simple to work with.  It just wasn't any use at keeping the local smooth-tongued wolf out.  Yet a quick spell could have transformed that house of spun straw into close-knitted Kevlar.

Unless transport is cheap and easy, buildings are generally constructed from material which is locally available.  Wood, stone, brick, mud and dung.  A little glass, if you've reached that point, but it's rare that we see any attempt to build with other materials, even in worlds of magic.  Ice occasionally shows up as an option, and the sylvan races like to tailor their trees to include living quarters, but other than the occasional mad wizard building their towers out of solid ruby, it's exceptionally rare to see any non-standard materials used in construction.

If you've awarded your world a truly galumptious amount of magic, what's to prevent you from building your house out of giant rose petals which retain their texture, but have the strength of titanium?  A must-have for the truly ostentatious mage (or faerie queen).

Construction Methods

A more likely use of magic is in the method of construction.  One of the reasons the pyramids are a wonder of the world is the sheer difficulty of transporting stone of that size and weight – even today it would take quite some doing, let alone when your primary transport is wooden rollers and slaves.  Levitation would certainly increase your ability to produce towering monuments.

Beyond assisting standard construction methodology, magic can add a lot of variety to your home building options.  Straightforward conjuration.  Growing your buildings from seeds.  Taking the Mickey Mouse route and having your broom do all the hard work.  Or enchanting giant arachnids to spin tents with the tensile strength of spider web.

Architecture

When you mix magic with both construction methods and building materials, you can produce buildings which would make a structural engineer sweat bullets.  Gravity-defying spires.  Bridges that cross mile-wide expanses without caring for little matters like pylons.  Huts on chicken legs which permit a nomadic lifestyle with all the luxuries of home.

It's relatively rare to see extravagantly soaring buildings in fantasy literature, even when there's an excess of magic.  The one exception is the floating city, which pops up quite regularly – but oddly enough is usually furnished with relatively ordinary buildings.

It's rare that a world is awarded sufficient magic to make magically-constructed buildings common.  But monuments and palaces would certainly benefit from the best which magic could do.  If you've given your mages enough pep to send half a mountain whizzing through the air, or produced an irritable little man to demonstrate the method of transforming straw into gold, then consider turning that magical ingenuity to the mundane but ever-so-important question of something to keep the rain off.

Doctor Who: Let's Kill Hitler (Spoilers)

There are a few ways you could handle a Doctor Who episode called "Let's Kill Hitler".  You could take the Indiana Jones approach and lightly mix derring-do, deadpan seriousness, witty lines and moments which remind you that the backdrop of the story is something awful (see "The Last Crusade" during the book burning scene) to produce a heart-felt adventure.  Or you could use it as an opportunity to deeply examine why the Doctor hasn't killed Hitler, why all the horror and degradation and heartbreak that pathetic little man caused is somehow necessary to Earth's history (a fixed moment in time) which he cannot change.

Or you could make Hitler completely irrelevant to the plot, shove him in a cupboard and get on with having an overwrought melodrama with yet another the-Doctor-is-dying fake-out.

While I don't consider World War II, and the question of Hitler, something you can never do stories about, it just came across as unnecessary.  Completely unnecessary, "let's give the episode a shocking title to gain attention" unnecessary.  Beyond a mildly sniffy comment, we don't even examine the idea of people from the future coming back in time to torture war criminals but not, you know, save anyone.  It says something for how badly this episode was executed that the ONLY person I felt any kind of sympathy for was the Nazi commander who was killed off by the robot in the opening scenes.  Successfully conveying the horror of meeting a duplicate of yourself, then being transported somewhere inexplicable and hunted down - and wasting it on someone we should hate...why?  If they'd made us hate the guy first, then maybe it could have worked and we would have been happy to see his horror and fear.  But we are merely TOLD he is bad and thus the scene has completely the wrong impact.  [One of the best examples of the problems of show v tell I've seen this week.]

The story is primarily the second part of River Song's origin story, and gives us a transition for Melody Pond from kidnapped baby to brainwashed 'bespoke' assassin (one who wedges herself into her parents' timeline as a childhood friend) to the birth of the identity known as River Song.  The bones of this story is good.  The execution is terrible.  The moments of poignancy and loss involved in the terrible life this child has led, her strange and warped relationship with her parents, are completely deflated and ignored.

The Doctor apparently has been unable to track down Melody-the-baby, and there's a strong implication at the end of this episode that we're no longer hunting for the baby, and that River must grow as an identity on her own.  Can the Doctor (let alone Amy and Rory) really be okay with the result of this story?  Are we really supposed to believe that the guy with the time machine can't get to that baby?

Other problematic issues with the episode:

- Retconning a childhood friend in for Amy and Rory.  This above all else suggests that none of this story was planned.  Because, hell, we met River before Amy.  If she grew up as Amy's childhood best friend PUT HER IN THEN NOT NOW.  "Mels", who is black, steals cars and is in and out of jail but I guess we can shrug that off because after all that's "just River".  [I was actually thinking during her scenes - why are they adding another obnoxious character who behaves just like River?]

- Ouch, the slippery slope of sexism.  The Doctor actually suggests that River is being so insane and contradictory "because she's a woman".  And while River is certainly a woman who is proudly appreciative of herself, and might be expected to enjoy looking and feeling good, her preoccupation during and after regeneration on: (1) her waist size, (2) her weight and (3) finding some sexy clothing, was just...gob-smacking.

I just cannot get over how bad this season has been.  Only a single stand-alone episode has captured the magic of Doctor Who at all.  Fortunately the preview suggests that next week's episode might be viewable.

27 August 2011

Status Report

Finally through the near-last edit of Voice!  That means (unless some great logical inconsistency is uncovered) it's likely to be out mid-September.  I'm currently working on the (rather spoilery!) map, and will be including a glossary (and adding one into Silence), since the titles and countries can be a bit difficult to remember.

Voice is very short!  The shortest thing I'm ever likely to release (though still novel length, closer to the average length for a mystery than a fantasy novel).  I debated adding a whole series of extra adventures, but this is the correct length, I think, for this part of the story.  It's practically a reversal of the traditional fantasy novel (which often build up to a huge battle), and is remarkably emotional at several points (tearing up at my own writing, tch).  I suspect, when the readers get to the last couple of chapters, they will be screaming at me, and sharpening the knives, heh.

Then it's on to finalising Caszandra.  This volume is 150,000 words long, so it's hard to predict how long this will take me to fine-edit.  I'm aiming for early December.

I also plan to 'relax' with writing more of Pyramids in there, but I've forbidden myself from working on that until I've finished all the tasks for Voice.

Sales were fairly bad this month (yet still actual pocket money).  August is apparently the absolute worst month for selling books, so I'm blaming it on that at the moment.  I did a giveaway at LibraryThing, and the general response has been good.  Diary format is still the main thing people dislike about Touchstone, though it bothers fewer people than I expected.

There's a few readers who seem to have gone through every book I've written and liked them all and that means a great deal to me.  :)

21 August 2011

How Long

Say, here's a topic for discussion - what's your rate of production? Not just wordcount, but the whole process. How long does it take for you to get from typing 'Chapter 1' to hitting the send button on the Smashwords/Amazon/whatever page? And what stages take the shortest and longest with you? -- Dave
This is a little like asking how long is a piece of string.  (I swear, I could answer every question put to me with "it depends".)

The main "depends" in writing is what else I'm doing.  I have a full-time job.  I like to play computer games.  Very occasionally gardens, and movies and so forth interfere (Cowboys and Aliens isn't bad, but isn't brilliant either - though there is one thing, one tiny nuanced thing, which was remarkably effective).  It also depends on how determined I am to get things done - when I'm writing at home, if I'm serious I'll turn the TV off and listen to music because it's less distracting.

The quickest I ever wrote a first draft was in about three months.  [Or, I guess you could count the Touchstone trilogy, which I wrote in a single year - 350,000 words.  The editing of that took almost as long again.]  I do a whole bunch of end to end editing runs after I'm finished, but first draft is almost always the longest part, especially since I edit as I go along.  I also try to put the book away after the first draft is done and completely forget it for a few months, because you need the distance to look at it with any measure of perspective.

When I'm writing, or thinking about some cool thing to write, I will get up and pace back and forth - very silly.

I don't expect to have The Pyramids of London finished in first draft until late next year (and that only if I exercise some level of discipline with it) because I have so many other things I'm editing.  I've written about 2000 words this weekend and am pressing on for a bit because I really want to write the scene with the hand.  [When the book is done and you're reading it, you will remember me mentioning the scene with the hand.  And then you will say, OMG, the scene with the hand!  My version of vampires is amusing me immensely - and Egyptian mythology seems just made for vampiric lore.]  The speed with which I write depends on what's being written.  Action is fairly easy and quick for me (and hopefully there'll be a lot of action in TPoL!), while what I consider "transitive passages" - the less fun stuff involving polite conversation - can take much longer because I sit there figuring out how to say it just so.

All the formatting and such for publication doesn't take more than a few days.

17 August 2011

The Fun Bits

People are always going on about how much work writing is.  Oh the agony, oh the slog, blah de blah.

And, yeah, it's rare that you can avoid the slog.

But, dammit, writing is fun!  I write because I love it.  There are far more highs than there are lows. 

My favourite parts are:

- Accidental coolness - when re-reading that paragraph you tossed off in a hurry makes you stop and blink and double-check that you can claim credit for it.

- Plans coming together - all those plot threads dovetailing so neatly you'd think it was deliberate!

- THAT scene - finally reaching the one scene you've been wanting to write for THREE MONTHS now.

- Unreeling the world - by far my favourite part, when you've got one page written and you're galloping through plot and possibility and why and wherefore and you're walking around with a huge grin because wouldn't it be cool to do that!  And what if, and EW!, and that could work and then, but, and if, and oh, damn, I love this story!

By which you might guess that I've had a first page 'musesploding' all over the place.  Wednesday (which will probably end up being called The Pyramids of London) is occupying every spare thought because I've been having way too much fun working out a world which I'm calling my "Didn't Fall" world.  Where the Egyptian Empire didn't fall because its God-Kings were weather-controlling vampires.  And the Roman Empire didn't fall because the technical difficulties of fighting weather-controlling vampires led to them harnessing lightning.  And Britain is just a bit different after being successively invaded by the Romans, the Vikings, the Egyptians, and something which vaguely resembles the Normans, but is now proudly independent with an airship force to be reckoned with, and coronations are held in the Great Grove dedicated to the Tri-Fold Goddess.

So, uh, yeah.  So much to write, so little time...

[I am faithfully working on Voice every morning, though, and making good progress now that I made it past a tricky bit.]

10 August 2011

Novel Inclinations

Voice continues apace.  A very slow pace.  I'm attempting a tonal shift in a few critical chapters, and that's _hard_.  But progress is being made, despite self-sabotaging attempts to drag myself off course.

One of the suggested ways to get your name out as a writer (published or self-published) is to write short stories so people can get a taste for your writing, so I thought over possible short stories I could write this week, and came up with two new novels to add to my list of things I would really like to be writing at the moment.

I'm just a novel writer; it's my natural length.

When I'm seriously distracted by new story ideas, I usually write the first page or two, which gets it enough out of my head that I can go back to whatever I'm trying to _finish_, and gives me enough to pick up the threads if and when I come back to it.

You can see from this opening scene that I was pondering popular sub-genres and wondering what would make them interesting to me. ;)
The windows of the vampire's house were a sneer, a proclamation.  "Come, Sun!" they mocked.  "Find me.  Make me ash."
The sun was not slow to take up the invitation, flooding through countless squares of glass to burnish mellow wood and caress rows of leather-bound books.  But the vampire was in the basement discussing weather control with the Prime Minister, and the sun did not even reach the young man resting his head on one arm at the near end of the library's central table.  The broad sweep of light stopped just short of his other hand as he held it, thumb canted to form a partial frame, toward the window and the scene of controlled near-chaos outside.
A rope had snapped.  The Prime Minister's airship was canted to one side, and then bounced, the black and red ballonet threatening to smash the gondala against Sheerside Manor's sweeping back lawn.  The very problem Lady Buckmeer had come to discuss was likely to strand her in Heliotropus' bedeviled south.
That story, if I ever get around to writing more than an opening for it, will be called Wednesday.  But Voice first.  So many projects, so little time.

03 August 2011

Impacts of Magic: Food

The next topic on the cards for my series of posts on the impacts of magic on worldbuilding is one which is a central concern of any living creature: Food


Without food we die.  Food, the Harvest, is THE driving force of most cultures.  And there is no more obvious use of magic than to make sure the Harvest is bountiful.

Land's Health

Countless harvest-related magical rituals are found in our non-magical world - many of which are discussed in detail in Frazer's The Golden Bough.  Whether "country-wide" or covering a single valley, magic has long been called on to balance an ecosystem.  Water, when and where needed, in the right amounts.  Sunshine, not too harsh.  Insects of the right sort - bees - and not those which scour and devour - locusts.

The timely sacrifice of an animal - or person - to ensure the harvest is no longer common practice.  Nor do we attempt to bind the health of a country up in the body of an individual ruler (to be cosseted or killed as custom dictates).  Since we already had societies built up around the belief that these rituals worked, would it be a tangibly different world if the rituals had a true impact?

Failure to Kill

When sacrifice is not a matter of belief but a necessary component of harvest, then failure to sacrifice will result in an obviously linked failure of harvest.

How hungry is the land?  Does it require the sacrifice of animals, of maidens, of kings?  How would you feel as this year/month/week's designated sacrifice, knowing that if you run, if you escape, the harvest will fail?  The rivers will dry?  The rains will not come?

And if you're the executioner?  The person with the grim, horrible duty to take life in order to preserve it?  Are you the one who chooses who dies?  Do you choose people with family, who will perhaps be more willing to die to ensure others eat?  Or do you opt for the unwanted, in hopes that you're less hated by the living?

The important thing to remember is that these are not optional acts.  There will have been occasions in the past when the chosen sacrifice has not been delivered, and the consequences have been catastrophic.  What kind of society will be built up around the necessity of death?  Will it be one of fear and distrust, dominated by who chooses?  Will it be random choice?  Could it be considered an honour?  Could people actually compete to be the one who dies so others live?

Worse still, will there be pressure to sacrifice more, hoping to bring about a better harvest?  Where lives are being spent not to prevent hunger, but to gain wealth?  The social dynamic of a world tied to a sacrifice harvest are never likely to be pretty.

Failure to Protect

The inversion of the sacrifice model is the investment of the health of the land in the body of an individual/ruler.  Although these are sometimes also killed (particularly when they age and health begins to break down), the impetus here is to ensure absolute protection.

This, of course, can lead to protecting the invested person from life.  High walls, seclusion, strictures on what can be touched, what can be eaten, what can be done.

In a world where the virtue of the land is invested in an individual, you could starve a kingdom with a single assassination.  But, though this is one of my favourite tropes and I use it in a serious way, I often think of the story which could be written if it was used comedically.

Instead of killing the invested individual, how much more entertaining to mess with their diet?  An invested Queen with a love of super-spicy curry could lead to extra-tasty cheese.  But what about too many prunes?  An excess of stodge?  What would happen to the harvest if the focus of all the land's virtues had chicken pox?  Acne?  Gas?

Assisted Husbandry

Instead of the large amount of magic and risk involved with bonding lives with the land's health, a more practical use for magic is to simply refine agriculture.  Divinations could give understanding of the intricacies of crop rotation, or track down the best way to combat pests.  Special forges could produce high-quality ploughs.  Jobbing magicians would provide wards against wolves or charm goats to eat only the weeds while leaving the crops.  And then there's Shaping.

Shaping is an invention of mine, changing the nature of something "beyond the blood" - in other words, genetic manipulation in a fantasy setting, which is the basis of the Fair in the world of Champion of the Rose.  The Fair trade their genetically modified plants, and gave as a gift a modified form of a grain-crop which was so productive and resistant to diseases and pests that it dramatically increased general quality of life world-wide.

The advantage of Shaping is that the need for magic, for the involvement of mages, is only at the creation.  After that you have a plant or animal which can be spread and reproduced without further input from the mage.

Of course, in the grand tradition of almost every story about genetic manipulation, Shaping has a tendency to Go Wrong.

Preservation

In addition to producing food, one of the largest challenges of the pre-industrial world was preserving that food.  Salt, honey and cloves were valuable not only for their taste benefits, but for their ability to extend the Use By date of the harvest.

An obvious use for magic is refrigeration (and gives me some grand images of icicle-encrusted cargo ships floating down steamy tropical rivers) and just as the village baker's oven was once put to the use of entire villages, it's easy to picture a communal enchanted icehouse where food is preserved.

Preservation leads to a more stable food supply, rather than feast and famine cycles, and portable refrigeration allows for a greater variety of food.  If, that is, your world didn't already have a system of portals making world-wide trade quicker and easier than anything science can currently provide.  Your pleasure-loving ruler might regularly dine on a Meal of the Seasons, starting with Spring Lamb from the valley hidden between the three tallest mountains on the far side of the world.

Fantastical Food

And the Meal of the Seasons leads nicely into Fantastical Food, by which I mean food production or food which is magical.  Apple Pie Trees.  Gingerbread Men that try to escape.  Sweets which are an entire meal in a single all-day sucker.  Cornucopias are a traditional example of FF (with variants such as tablecloths which can be spread once a day for a full meal, or a handkerchief which will always give you lunch).   Fountains of Youth or Love or Genderbending also fall into this area.

I'm occasionally tempted to see sneak these into my seriousmagicworlds to see whether I can maintain the tone of the Deep Moral Issues after discovering the (Lashings of) Ginger Beer Fountain.

How you use magic can completely change the tone of the world you build, and if you've included a generous dash of magic, take the time to consider how this will impact the kind of food your characters will eat, and why it doesn't always have to be Stew.

28 July 2011

Impacts of Magic: Women

When creating my worlds some of the primary questions I start with are:

1. Does magic exist?
2. What can it do?
3. What will it change?

What will it change is the thing which fascinates me.  It's so central to the process of my novel-writing, that I'm embarking on a series of posts about the impacts of magic, exploring magic and worldbuilding.  For the purposes of this exercise, the answer to (1) is Yes and (2) is Lots!

The first topic on the cards is one which is of primary interest to me: Women.



What does the existence of  bountiful, working magic mean to women?

Babies

Using magic to get a baby is at least as old as Rapunzel, but magic's key benefit is the avoidance of babies.  Whether charmed necklaces, potions, or useful cantrips, effective, readily obtainable birth control can bring about a fundamental shift in the world's society, primarily because the threat of an unplanned pregnancy will no longer hang over "non-committed" sex.  Additionally, couples might choose to delay children, to spend more time consolidating wealth or pursuing careers and interests.

And, of course, magic offers the possibility of not only safer childbirth, or safer abortion, but can toss out all those doubts concerning paternity.  Where does that leave that insistence on virgin brides?  A quick divination before the marriage vows to confirm that there's no baby on the way (or if there is, then the groom was involved), then it's time for the ceremony!

Will birth control necessarily bring about a sexually free society?  Of course not.  But the chances are much higher, and when building that high-magic fantasy world, it's worth taking the time to ask "why not?" and follow through which rules and symbols (that hymen veil, for instance) will be absent or altered as a result.

Strength

Women are not measurably less intelligent than men, or less perceptive, or less agile.  They share the same number of limbs, the same senses, the same ability to walk upright, to pick up tools and use them.  Yet women, through broad stretches of history and across multiple cultures, have been reduced to chattel - property passed from father to husband.

Why?

At its most simplified, this power imbalance comes down the fact that men are physically stronger than women.  If you ever see any cartoon about caveman courtship, it will involve a woman being dragged back to the cave by her hair.  While, arguably, women are less aggressive than men due to lower testosterone levels, there's a difference between being less aggressive and accepting without protest no property rights, no voting rights, no ability to say No.

Now add working magic to that caveman courtship.  Back in prehistory days, we'd expect a fairly simplified form of magic, perhaps a matter of will and emotion.  Are you really going to risk dragging sexycavegirl99 around by her hair if, when she's driven and desperate and frightened enough, she can make you burst into flame?  Suddenly gender equality hits the negotiating table.

Of course, it's not just a question of mating rituals.  A woman who can detonate boulders when she's riled would likely have some interesting approaches to hunting mammoths.  If you're having a war, do you send the women to cower in the caverns beneath the fort when they can call lightning down on your enemies?  And not to forget the Buffy Summers Effect - just because you tower over the pint-sized blonde doesn't mean she won't have some inborn ability to kick you down the street when you try to drag her into a convenient alley.

Again, no guarantee.  The society which forms around women who can overcome inferiority of strength with an equalizer such as guardian spirits will not necessarily be any less inclined to call them chattel.  But the odds are better, and when you're putting your world together, and you decide how your magic works, you have to ask: if women can do THIS, why do they allow THAT?

Other

There's a great many more things which will impact on women in a world of actual, working magic, although I think Babies and Strength are the pivotal alterations.  I called this section "Other" because it's common to discuss woman's role as "The Other", and there's always a bunch of people who work from the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" point of view - believing that men and women are too fundamentally different to ever really understand each other, to ever really step into each other's shoes and KNOW what it is to be a man, to be a woman, to be Other.

Add magic.