Karen Romanko has said some lovely things about my story over on her blog, on the occasion of my story being chosen to represent the collection as the online sample. The upshot of this is that you click through that link, you can read the story online! For free! Though you should still totally buy the book, the link for which is right over there in the sidebar.

(This is kind of a mess. Sorry.)

So there was a really great post about fantasy, power, and magic at the American Scene. This paragraph in particular resonated with me:

By contrast, Steven Erikson, as best I can tell from Gardens of the Moon, does not appear to be interested in anything other than the many varieties of power: physical, psychological, magical, political, spiritual. In his world there is no art, unless you consider as art certain varieties of magic — say, shifting a person’s soul from a human body to a wooden marionette. But this is really just the exertion of a (temporary) power over death. And once I decided that I wasn’t going to read any further in the series, I decided to cross the Rubicon — that is, check the Wikipedia pages of the next few volumes for plot summaries. I turned away from the computer with a great sigh of relief that I didn’t devote any more time to Malazan.

I haven’t read Erikson and so can’t comment on his books in particular, but this complaint is one that I’ve had, too. Furthermore, it puts me in mind of that thread at SF Signals about gods in fantasy. What’s intriguing is that almost all of the discussion of gods in fantasy assumed that the primary thing that gods to is be powerful. So the responses included the typical warning that having an omnipotent god would remove the tension (since s/he could just come in and fix everything) and a discussion of the ways that gods and their followers get or use power.

(Aside: Why do we assume that an omnipotent diety removes tension? I believe in an omnipotent God, but I experience plenty of tension thankyouverymuch.)

Really, is this all that gods are good for? In the actual religious lives of people around the world, I can think of three broad categories of experience that are related to the gods or divinity:

  • Diety as powerful and influential over the world and human lives
  • Diety as a moral judge and source of ethical judgements
  • Diety as sacred, numinous, and beautiful

Now what’s up with this list? In discussions of diety in fantasy, #1 bestrides the discussion like a colossus far disproportionate to the amount of concern that actual worshippers have for power.

#2 is almost completely absent. The problem is that “God as a source of moral reasoning” has become so tightly identified with Christianity (and with a particular political platform) that any writing about it will be perceived as a commentary on that religious/political stance. The only writer that I can think of who seriously addresses this idea is Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials, and he has an explicit agenda to subvert the idea.

That leaves #3: diety as the numinous. My personal favorite! This is much rarer than treatments of diety as power, but at least it does have some serious treatments. I’d put Tolkein in this category, for example–though his dieties are certainly powerful, they’re associated with beauty and sublimity much more than ability. Raw exercise of power is the almost exclusive province of the baddies. Maybe it’s just me, but this approach seems to open up so many more possibilities than the exclusive focus on power. Art, love, majesty, sacrifice, wonder–these are the things of great literature, and they’re only tangentially related to power.

I’m working on revisions for the current novel, the one that I finished last fall for NaNoWriMo. My main character grew up on a generation ship in orbit around a gas giant, which set me looking up information about the atmosphere of Jupiter so that I could describe what the planet looked like from the ship. It looks something like this:

Can you imagine having this as your “moon”? My writing skills are completely inadequate to describe something so profound.

I gave the first chapter of the novel I’m working on to critters today, and most of them say the same thing: too many unexplained terms and concepts introduced in a very small space. But hasn’t Gene Wolfe has made an entire career out of Not Explaining Things? There were things in the Book of the New Sun that are introduced on the first page, but which aren’t explained until the final pages of the fourth book. Why can’t I do that? Are you trying to tell me that I’m not Gene Wolfe?

In all reality, I’ll probably change it (especially since some of the unknowns are gratuitous bits of worldbuilding that aren’t actually necessary to the story). But still, when I’m rich and famous I’ll confound and befuddle my readers whenever I dang well please.

This makes two: Lights on the Horizon will be appearing tomorrow at Everyday Weirdness! I’ll update this post with a link once it appears.

This is a study in contrasts. The first story I sold was written about 24 hours before being submitted, and was submitted exactly once. The second story was written eight years ago, and has been submitted almost everywhere. There is a clear and valuable lesson here, but I’m too lazy to figure out what it is. You’re smart; I’m sure you can put it together.