By its cover? Nix that. Now that I read most novels on my iPad, I rarely look at a book’s cover. And now that we’ve gotten that cliché out-of-the-way… I want to know, I really do want to know…
How do you judge a book?
I started thinking about this question last night/early this morning (3 a.m. to be precise). Propped up against my pillows, iPad perched in front of me, I couldn’t stop reading the chick lit novel I had downloaded based on a review in my Yoga Journal. (That’s right, Yoga Journal. Hey, I’ve even gotten some great literary tips from my car mechanic. In addition to oil change coupons, he includes a book review section in his monthly newsletter.) Anyway, I didn’t have one or two chapters left to read, I had more like six or seven. And I finished them. I couldn’t stop turning the pages…
Swiping the pages? The screen. Whatever!
As I was saying, I finished the book. I closed my kindle app, clicked the home button and thought, that definitely wasn’t what I’d call a well-written book. Not even close. You name it… annoying characters, with lots of money and very little common sense. Oh, and everyone had a great body. Give me a break! Plus, there were typos. Yet, I couldn’t put it down. I just couldn’t unplug.
So, was it a success?
As a writer, I would love it if someone told me they’d been up reading my book at 3 a.m. Swipe, swipe… unable to turn off their screen. Yet, also as a writer, it bothers me how compelled I was to keep reading a book that was so far from stellar, so downright provincial, and frankly, tabloidish at best. (Tabloidish: literature that is in many ways comparable to a train wreck. i.e. you can’t look away.)
You might wonder why I bother worrying about this. It was just a book, right? Enjoy!
I worry because of all those other books. Those well-written books…books that have won major awards and high praise for literary critics…the ones that I haven’t been able to finish. The truth is, beautiful prose doesn’t always equal compelling story.
I’m not saying all stories that win awards are boring. Far from it. (Case in point, Neil Gaiman’s Newbury award-winning children’s novel, The Graveyard Book. An awesome read. Or, The Poisonwood Bible, written by Barbara Kingsolver and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Stellar in every way—except the ending, I didn’t care for that.) Nor am I suggesting that all tabloidish-type stories, such as the one that kept me up last night, should win awards.
What am I saying?
Right. Perhaps, all I’m saying is that a well-written story should be defined not simply by the words on the page, but by the intent of the author and how much that translates into the enjoyment or engagement it produces in the reader.
Given that definition, the book that kept me up last night was…good. Not great. But pretty darn good. And if the author’s intent was to entertain, then I’d have to say it was well-written.
Recently, I realized that some of my most memorable moments have centered around coffee (coffee, that is, in one of its many forms…i.e. black, w/cream, espresso, cappuccino, latte, and even instant). It’s been more than thirty years, but I can still imagine the smooth, rich, creamy flavor of the cups of coffee with cream I enjoyed while studying abroad in Austria. To this day, Austrian coffee remains the gold standard by which I judge all other cups of coffee.
In that same study abroad period, I visited Germany and am proud to recall ordering coffee (not beer) at the Hofbräuhaus in Münch. (I also remember dancing on tables and a few other decisions that had little to do with coffee.)
Perhaps one of my fondest memories occurred while traveling from Naples to Rome, when a young and (obviously) handsome Italian boy produced an espresso maker from his backpack and proceeded to make me a steaming cup of espresso right there on the train. (I was so impressed that he carried an espresso maker in his backpack!)
The pinnacle of my coffee experience was in Rome where, if memory serves, after touring the Colosseum I was delighted to find an espresso stand tucked away in one of its antiquated nooks. I don’t remember the taste of the espresso, but the view of the Colosseum while holding a demitasse full of espresso will be forever seared in my memory.
My next adventure with coffee occurred approximately a decade later while visiting Sydney, Australia. This was in the years before cappuccino had became a regular item on every McDonald’s menu. So, I was surprised, intrigued—and considering my dislike of fast food in general—appalled to see cappuccinos and lattes on the McDonald’s menu in the heart of Sydney. I will admit, however, despite the unappealing smell of coffee and fries, I ordered one. (My first and last McDonald’s cappuccino.)
Another coffee experience, and one I’m not terribly proud of, involved a frozen latte which I purchased from a Starbucks located right in the center of the Forbidden City in Beijing. I know, I know…it is the height of commercialism to put a Starbucks in the Forbidden City, but if you only knew how much I was sweating and how HUGE the Forbidden City is and how difficult it is to get a good cup of coffee in China…I really did enjoy that frozen latte. (If makes you feel better, I believe Starbucks is now “forbidden” in the Forbidden City.)
Then there was that single cup of Kopi Luwak coffee my husband and I shared while on vacation in Big Sur California. Why one cup, you ask? Well, because Kopi Luwak coffee is supposedly the world’s best coffee, but more important, it costs $50 a cup! According to Wikipedia: “Kopi luwak or civet coffee, refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and digested by the Asian palm civet.” Yep, we drank coffee made from beans pooped out of an Asian Palm Civet (a creature that looks something between a cat and a monkey). I have to admit, it was wonderful!
My final coffee moment (though surely not my last coffee experience in this lifetime) is the memory I’ll take with me from my current trip to Thailand, where on a rafting trip in Khao Lak, my husband and I enjoyed a steaming cup of instant coffee served in a bamboo mug. What’s more, I have a video to remind me of it. Cheers!
Imagination is fine, but it needs fuel to survive, to grow–to really set it on fire. What is that fuel? Life–the big LIFE–yes, really experiencing it. And to do that, sometimes you’ve just got to Step Away From Your Computer.
Whether it’s a visit to your local coffee shop to catch up on world news via some of your not so always neutral minded chums. Or, whether you hop on a plane and travel half way around the world to visit a temple or two, and then find yourself lost in the back alleys of a foreign city. Think of it this way…a fairy is only a plain old Disney fairy until you jump on a train, travel down to the city and start imagining what that same fairy would be like living among skyscrapers and taxis.
Anyway, as I enter what I consider the second part of my novel, I’ve been lucky to do just that–hop on a plane and end up half way around the world in Thailand. While I won’t be spending much time writing, there will be plenty of adventures and lots of living refueling going on. Below are some pictures from Day 2 in Bangkok.
So, I haven’t posted in a while. As it’s already February, however, I believe it’s about time to take down the Christmas decorations (or post, in this case) and redecorate.
The trouble is, my mind just isn’t on blogging. Lately, it’s all about the novel. Its world, its characters, their lives—not mine. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I couldn’t care less—unless it affects my characters. (Hummm…nope, not in their YA dystopian fantasy world. No Hallmark moments there.) So, that leaves only one thing for me to share, my novel. Happy Valentines Day (early), I’m opening up my imagination and my heart to you and sharing what, these days, is most dearest…a bit, a corner, a chapter of my novel, The Book of Qi.
Keep in mind, Chapter one first draft will probably look nothing like Chapter one final draft. I may even change to the title. The Book of Qi is still very much a work in progress. ONE more thing… I wanted to try something new—something DANGEROUS—so went ahead and taped myself reading chapter one. I’m not a voiceover artist, but I won’t apologize. After all, it’s from my heart, and it’s just for fun. Click the arrow and then read along. Enjoy!
Every morning it is the same. I pretend to be asleep, hoping that by pretending it will become real and I will return to the safe, silent reaches of sleep. It is a hope my grandmother does not share.
Today, however, Grandma Tully does not scold, nor pretend to let me sleep, only to do something sneaky like placing an uzza beetle on the tip of my nose. Today, I feel the breath of her sigh and warmth of her fingers, so thick and crooked, and…so gentle as she brushes them through my hair.
This is nice, I think, as a tear slides down my cheek. More tears threaten to escape, but I squeeze my eyes tight. I fight to hold on to this moment as long as possible.
“Child,” Grandma Tully whispers, “my child,” and I know she does not want this moment to end either.
Tully brushes away my tears, and I open my eyes to her round wrinkled face hovering over me. Her thin, pale lips tilt into a small, reassuring smile, but her crescent-shaped eyes, pitch-black at the center, are shiny with unshed tears.
“I am not a child,” I murmur, even as I long to throw myself into her arms and beg her to save me.
At the sweet scent of twig tea and the sound of someone entering our room, Grandma Tully brushes my hair one last time and steps aside.
Something tickles my ear. I reach over and wrap my fingers around it. A long furry body stretches and squirms, making itself thinner beneath my hand, fighting to be free. “What are you doing?” I whisper. My pet wiggum has never slept beside my head. I stretch my toes expecting—hoping—to feel a small, soft lump beneath them, but he is not there. No…
Halo is saying goodbye.
I grab Halo’s body tighter, but not too tight. I don’t want to hurt him. But I don’t want to let go. Wiggums are jealous, needy creatures, content to serve only one master. I have tried not to think about it: as soon as I marry, Halo will leave.
Halo’s tiny wiggum nose nuzzles my neck. Even though the soft puff of his breath tickles, I do not move. I do not breathe. If these are our last moments together, I want to remember them.
“Breakfast is almost ready.” Grandma Tully’s tone is unusually gentle. A reminder my life has already begun to change.
I sigh and begin to pull Halo away. As if he cannot bear to leave my side, he twists and jerks, surprisingly strong—and oddly determined. With one last valiant effort, Halo thrusts his cold, wet nose against my ear and I hear, “Starzzzz, starzzzzz,” sounds that are almost human—almost words—uttered from his tiny wiggum mouth. I am so surprised I barely notice when Halo slips through my fingers and escapes through a hole in my hammock.
Rubbing my eyes, I swing my legs over the edge and sit up. Halo has slithered over by Grandma Tully and wrapped himself around her ankle. His sweet, stupid face peers up at me; a perfect mirror of how I feel. My wiggum speaks. Of course, he speaks! Why not? I almost laugh. And tomorrow I will not have to marry Alagar. Prince Alagar, I remind myself, trying to push the image of him from my mind. And a year from now I will not be expected to bear his—
A sick, queasy sensation fills my stomach. I close my eyes and will it to subside. Alagar is not unpleasant to look at. He is spoiled, but he is not mean. I hope he is not mean. He is my future, however, and I do not wish to think of him today.
Not my last free day.
Grandma Tully has crouched down and is petting Halo. I look at them and make a wish. I wish Halo would not leave. I wish he would stay with Grandma Tully, and then neither would be alone. Tully looks up and gives one of her brief, crooked smiles. I wish…today would never end.
A king’s guard stands just inside our room, here to make sure I don’t slip away again, no doubt. I wonder if he has been here all nightfall. As if in answer, he twists his neck and back, stretching his arms and shoulders, and I feel a twinge of guilt—but only a twinge. I agreed to the marriage. I did not agree to all the days before.
“Ouch!” Tully’s smile changes into a startled, slightly comical expression as she stares at the tip of her finger. My own fingers and toes have experienced similar attacks. Halo is simply reminding Tully it is he, not me, she should be paying attention too. I would laugh but I am still thinking about my grandmother’s face.
I have never thought of my grandmother as old, yet overnight, it seems, she is ancient. My guilt swells from a mere twinge to a full-blown revelation. Not because of the guard’s discomfort, but because of Tully who, I realize, must have endured the King’s wrath each time they sent for me and I was not here. Grandma Tully, who has endured so much for me already, yet loves me…despite all my failings.
I hang my head and stare at the thin, bare feet swinging beneath me. My toenails, cracked and brown, are not a pretty sight, and my heart grows heavy as I remember I promised Tully I would allow one of the servants to clean them before the wedding. A promise I could have kept yesterday, had I not chosen to spend one last day roaming free.
When I look up, Tully is still petting my wayward wiggum. I take a deep breath, hold it and make this silent vow: I will honor my promise, marry Prince Alagar and produce a new deathseer. If only for you, Tully, I will. And I will name her after my mother—after your daughter—for both of us.
An oot servant enters carrying a tray filled with berries and manna. My stomach growls and I’m grateful for the food, but also for the interruption.
Though I have lived among oots all my life, I have given them little thought. After major rifts, when new growth forces us to find new homes, oots are often called upon to eat away old growth—their favorite and, as far as I know, only source of food. Tully and I have never had an oot servant. Now, as I watch this one—its thin twig-like face tilted in concentration, its stick-like arms stirring the tea then pouring the tea—it feels as though I am watching a part of Qi that has risen up, no longer content to be simply a planet, and decided to become human. Well, as human as a stick creature can be.
The oot sets the tray on a small table and begins arranging our morning meal. In addition to servants and guards, my new life will include things like tables and stools, and smooth surfaces for walking and sitting; items that must be carried to the surface during a rift or built anew each time. Things only someone who has enough servants to build and carry them would have. The King has many human servants, and many more, as I have come to learn, that are oot.
Grandma Tully looks like herself again, strong and smiling; only her eyes give her away. She wipes them and I take one more swipe at mine, even though I know the guard will not look at me. Like all the others, he believes if he looks into my eyes I will see his future, or rather, his death.
I have heard the rumors.
Suddenly, my heart begins to beat faster, harder, pulsing against my chest, and I want the oot servant and the guard to leave. I want this day and all its moments alone with my grandmother. I stare at the guard, willing him to look back.
As if drawn, his head begins to turn. Quickly, I look away, ashamed. Though the rumors are false—death comes no swifter to those whose eyes I look upon—there is no reason to cause an ignorant, overworked guard to lose more sleep.
How has it come to this? I wonder, sinking back into my hammock. My mother was the greatest deathseer Qi has ever known. Why have my own visions betrayed me? A deathseer who can see death, but not when and where it will happen, is useless. I am tired, I think. Tired of being useless. Tired of being feared. “Tired,” I whisper, “of seeing people die.”
For me, the holidays are a time for visiting with family and friends, baking (in my case) LOTS of cardamom bread, and decorating the house. My hubby and I are really enjoying our new/old little house. While the weather in Indiana might be rainy and gray, inside we’re toasty and warm enjoying the bling of the holidays:twinkling lights, Santa, reindeers, angels & elves. So, before I begin trying to fit in a few solid hours of writing time, I wanted to share some of that warmth with you and wish you a very, very happy holiday season and a prosperous new year! See you in 2014!
(By the way, some of you have been asking me for the recipe for cardamom bread. Click HERE!)
“What makes Kerrion’s writing so compelling is the beautifully flawed characters that find themselves in unexpected relationships…these kind of character level conflicts make Kerrion’s writing so deliciously addictive.”—Noor A Jahangir, Author of The Changeling King
“Everything you want in a great story. Love, intrigue, action, betrayal, and understanding.”—Ch’kara Silverwolf, Author of Daughter of Light and Dark
Alone for a millennium, since a human murdered her beloved consort, Ashra, the immortal icrathari queen, rules over Aeternae Noctis, the domed city of eternal night. Her loneliness appears to be at an end when her consort’s soul is reborn in a human, Jaden Hunter, but their reunion will not be easy.
Icrathari are born, not made. If Ashra infuses Jaden with her immortal blood, he will be a vampire, a lesser creature of the night, a blood-drinker rather than a soul-drinker.
Furthermore, Jaden is sworn to protect his half-sister, five-year-old Khiarra. She is the child of prophecy, destined to end the eternal night and the dominion of the Night Terrors—the icrathari and the vampires.
As Ashra struggles to sustain her crumbling kingdom in the face of enemies without and treachery within, Jaden fights to defend his sister and unravel a greater mystery: what is the city of eternal night, and how did it come to be?
With Tera beside her, Ashra strode forward. A wall of vampires parted to reveal the other two icrathari, Siri and Elsker. A dark-haired human slumped at Elsker’s feet, his wrists cuffed behind his back. Ashra stifled a chuckle. Surely Tera was overreacting; the human was by far the weakest creature in the chamber.
Tera knelt down, wrapped her fingers into the human’s hair, and pulled his head back. The human’s face was handsome enough—the slash of his cheekbones accentuated his perfectly proportioned, sculptured features—but taken as a whole, he was not compelling enough to justify the fuss.
Ashra shrugged. “You’re wasting my time, Tera.”
Apparently undeterred, the icrathari warlord shook the human hard. His eyes flashed open. They were brilliant green, the exact color of the emerald ring Ashra wore on the index finger of her right hand. His gaze was unfocused, and the reflexive narrowing of his eyes matched the clenching of his jaw, hinting of wrenching pain.
Tera looked up and met Ashra’s gaze. “Taste his soul.”
Ashra recoiled, her upper lip curling in disgust. She had no desire to taste a human’s soul. Over the centuries, humans had grown weak, their small lives consumed by superstition and fear. It was better to live on the edge of perpetual starvation than fill her hunger with the pitiful excuse humans called a soul.
“Go deep,” Tera said.
But why? Ashra’s brow furrowed. She glanced at Siri and Elsker, but the two icrathari shrugged, apparently no more clued in than she was. She looked back at Tera. The icrathari warlord known as Ashra’s Blade was the epitome of calm understatement. If she was so insistent, she must have had a reason.
Ashra knelt beside the human. Without flinching, she placed her hand against his muscled abdomen. It was bloody, his flesh ripped by a vampire’s talons.
The man tensed at her touch, and his eyes flared wide with agony when her soul-sucking powers leeched into him. His breath came hard and fast, his chest heaving with the effort as he twisted in Tera’s unyielding grip, trying to break free.
Ashra’s eyes narrowed. The human was weakened—tapped into his life source, she waded through his dazed thoughts and shivered from the echo of each spasm of pain that wracked his body—but still, he fought Tera on the physical plane and Ashra on the psychic dimension, denying her access to his memories and to his soul.
She frowned and slammed her will against his, tearing an anguished scream from his throat, but still, his will did not crumble.
Askance, Ashra looked at Tera. “Did you taste him?”
Tera nodded. “It wasn’t hard the first time; he didn’t know what to expect, but apparently, he does now and is doing a fine job of fighting back.”
Was that grudging respect she heard in Tera’s voice? “Does his soul really matter?”
The icrathari nodded again.
Ashra’s shoulders shifted with the motion of a silent sigh. His resistance left her with little choice. She leaned forward and glided her lips over his in a whisper of a kiss.
Human myths spoke of succubi and incubi—demons that, with a touch, could stir lust in their unwilling victims. All myths were based in reality. The maddening beauty and soul-sucking powers of the icrathari had spawned the legends of succubi and incubi. With a touch, the icrathari could lure their victims into a state of sexual ecstasy, bending the will and baring the soul.
The human tensed against Ashra, resisting the intimate contact. She almost recoiled. Had the centuries dulled her innate powers? Surely she had not forgotten how to lure a man.
She closed her eyes and remembered love.
As always, Rohkeus’s fine-featured face—those beautiful gold-flecked green eyes, so unusual for an icrathari, and teasing smile—came to the fore. With a dreamy half-smile, she deepened the kiss, driving the memory of love before her like a sharpened stake.
At last, the man relaxed, succumbing to the kiss. She leaned into him, heedless of his crimson blood staining her white gown. He was warm, feverish even. Just skimming over six feet, he had more than twelve inches on her, but his physical strength, compared to hers, was puny. She was well aged; over four millennia old, she was the oldest of the icrathari and the strongest. She could have broken his neck with as little effort as a human child snapping a twig.
Her hand trailed across his muscled torso. He made it easy for her to be gentle. His body trembled as if he longed for her. His mouth was hungry for her kiss. He arched up against her, as if craving more. His need was like a living creature, wild and aching for her touch.
Eyes closed, Ashra shivered. Only one other person had desired her as much.
And he was dead.
She forced her way through the memories of pale bodies tangled upon cool silk sheets. When her soul-sucking power leeched out, it found no opposition. Images of the human’s life rewound in a blaze of vivid sights, sounds, and sensations.
Ashra looked up at Tera, her smile little more than a barely perceptible curve of her lips. “He fancies himself the protector of the child of prophecy. Was she among those taken tonight?”
Ashra chuckled, the sound without humor. “It’s a pity her genetic heritage wasn’t sufficiently superior to prevent her from being culled.”
“There’s more. Go deep.”
She pushed past the blackness at the start of his memories, expecting deeper darkness. Instead, the colors shifted into shades of ochre and gray. Memories, older than his body, resided in his soul; memories of an Earth long since lost to them—a planet surrounded and nourished by water; images of tall buildings glistening beneath a benevolent sun, and of thriving cities filled with the bustle of humans; memories of quiet and intimate conversations beneath a silver moon, the same silver moon that now graced Malum Turris with its light, though a thousand years older and viewed only from beneath the protection of the dome.
She saw herself as he must have seen her, a much-younger icrathari, still hopeful for the future, never realizing that the Earth they had all known and loved was irretrievably lost. Had she ever looked that vulnerable? Had her smile ever been so beautiful, so filled with love as she looked upon—
“Rohkeus?” Oh, blessed Creator, was that stricken whisper her voice?
This might surprise some of you (or not…probably not), but I was pretty much a nerd in middle school and high school (as opposed to the super cool person I am now). A few years ago, I showed my daughter, who was then in 8th grade, a page from my 8th grade diary. Written in 19—never mind the year—my diary entry for Feb. 27th began thus:
“If I could have any wish I wanted it would be to go to the land of Narnia. Some days I sit and think of ways I could get there. Now if I were to read this 10 years later I would think to myself what is this land of Narnia?”
Needless to say, I had an aversion to commas. And, truthfully, my future self can still picture Narnia perfectly in her much older head. Anyway…
My daughter’s reaction was not to laugh, but rather to look at me seriously, and with a fair amount of pity say, “Oh, mom, you wouldn’t last a day in my school.” (Honestly, had it not been for the safe haven of the drama department, I wouldn’t have lasted a day in my high school.)
The reason I bring this up is that a month ago I agreed to write a post for Sci-fi month that addressed my fascination with alien languages. (No, not the ones they speak across the border; rather, the ones spoken on the other side of the universe. i.e. Klingon.) A fascination that began post Narnia, but was initiated by its very same author, C.S. Lewis, in his science fiction trilogy known as the Ransom or Cosmic Trilogy series. Long before I realized Klingon was a language (decades before I attended my first production of The Klingon Christmas Carol) I discovered the Malacandrian Language spoken by the Hross in Out of the Silent Planet, the first book of Lewis’ science fiction series. For whatever reason (Who knows what was going on in my 16-year-old mind) I was so fascinated by this made up language, I painstakingly made my own glossary and taped it inside the book.
When I look back and try to analyze my fascination, I realize it has little to do with the language. Rather, when I read a science fiction book in which humans end up communicating with alien creatures, my imaginative, yet highly organized and (though some might argue against this) rational mind needs to understand two things. One, how do creatures from other planets understand each other (i.e. the universal translators of Star Trek) and two, what words, or ideas would not be translatable—and therefore require the use of an alien word?
I also wonder about the bathrooms. Think of it—different planets, different body parts—would human space travelers even be able to use alien bathrooms?
Fast forward several years, and I have now written my own science fiction novel. Much like C.S. Lewis, I am not a linguist, but I have included a glossary because, well, honestly, there were some Circanthian (and Tsendi) words, which to my reasoning, defied translation.
I also included a toilet scene. I couldn’t help myself.
In the electronic edition of WHEELS, the first time each alien word is used, you can simply click on it and link straight to the glossary (and from the glossary back to the page). The paperback edition also includes the glossary, but sad to say, the glossary did not make it into the audible edition. Never fear, however, nerd that I am (I mean, was) I’m prepared to help you with this. Simply click on Kirk and his tribbles to download your own PDF copy of the glossary, free of charge.
John Guy Collick’s novel, Thumb, takes place on what its characters literally consider the body of God. More specifically on, “A flat singularity (carrying) the unfinished body of God through an empty universe.” The inhabitants of Collick’s universe not only live on this colossal body of God, they are also its architects and builders. The title, Thumb, refers to God’s thumb and is a physical location much like a mountain or a river. For my part, I believe it is one of the most unusual worlds I’ve ever run across. Moreover, as November is Sci-fi month, I wrote to Mr Collick and asked if he’d be willing to write a guest post based on a couple of questions I posed.
Lucky me—lucky you—he graciously agreed. Here then, are his answers…
What inspired you to write your novel, Thumb; and what sources, if any, influenced your creation?
John Guy Collick: The idea for Thumb came to me in a dream many, many years ago. I saw a colossal mannequin lying on its back in the desert, and a man in blue robes standing in front. Millions of people had been making this giant puppet for hundreds of years, the plan was that it would come to life and save them from a dreadful catastrophe. As time went by they forgot the original purpose and ended up in-fighting amongst themselves – Head against Hand, Heart against Shoulder etc. Every time I revisited the idea the body got bigger until, in Thumb, it stretches half a million miles from head to toe, and floats on a flat singularity at the end of the universe, when all the suns and planets are dead.
The basic premise is that all the remaining sentient races in the cosmos are being carried to the next universe by their gods. For whatever reason humanity has no gods left, and is therefore frantically building their own immense Frankenstein’s monster from fragments brought out of the past. Once it’s complete it will come to life and carry the last few people into the new universe. There is a strong Gothic theme to the series. The Gothic novels of 18th century writers like Ann Radcliffe introduced the idea of an unknowable cosmos littered with immense fragments of the past. The wonderful Carceri (Prisons) of Giovanni Battista Piranesi capture this perfectly. When I’m describing the interior of the body of God in the sequel to Thumb, Ragged Claws, I draw heavily on his imagery.
I’ve also always been a big fan of early 20th century absurdist and fantastical writing, particularly authors like Franz Kafka and Mervyn Peake (in fact the city of Metacarpi is based on Kafka’s Prague).The idea behind the universe is fundamentally surreal. Like the characters in Kafka’s books the people in Thumb live in a universe without logic marked by infinite landscapes and layers upon layers of mystery, but very few of them ever question the essential strangeness of their situation. Interestingly, a couple of readers initially assumed that I’d written a religious novel, which is not the case. None of the humans at the end of time worship the God or are in any way religious, it’s just a being they’ve been told they have to make in order to survive.
Modernist writing can be difficult and obscure, especially when the author emphasises the surreal nature of their story through the language itself. I wanted to write about a Kafka-esque universe, but in the form of a straightforward high-octane adventure novel, I like to think of it as Kafka meets Indiana Jones. I’m also a huge fan of British New Wave Science Fiction, especially the baroque fantasies of Michael Moorcock and the urban wildernesses of J. G. Ballard. The universe of Thumb, with its infinite spaces of concrete, rusted machinery, iron and dust, owes a lot to Ballard’s disaster novels – especially The Drought (1964) and The Terminal Beach(1964). In the latter is a short story called ‘The Drowned Giant’ in which an immense corpse is washed up on a beach, and just treated as an interesting curio by the locals before it decays into nothing. No-one questions why it’s there or where it’s come from, its presence is accepted, in the same way that very few people actually wonder about the God they are building in Thumb. Ballard’s stories took their imagery from British urban landscapes in the 1960s and 1970s, where I grew up – post-boom concrete jungles littered with decay set between un-reconstructed bomb sites from the Second World War. I’ve tried to retain a Modernist/Expressionist vibe in the artwork I’m creating for the book.
As an avid science fiction reader, what science fiction or fantasy worlds stand out in your memory as exceptionally unique?
John Guy Collick: The two fantasy landscapes from novels that have stayed with me more than any others are the world of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy, and the future Earth of William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land.
The Gormenghast Trilogy stands out as one of the most peculiar set of novels ever written in the UK. Mervyn Peake was a war artist who started writing the first book, Titus Groan, as therapy following a nervous breakdown. In the stories a set of outrageously grotesque characters live in the vast sprawling castle of Gormenghast, an infinite chaotic mass that combines just about every conceivable architectural style. The day to day routine of the inhabitants is bound by ancient and meaningless ritual which dictates their every waking moment. There’s very little plot in the first novel – by the end the eponymous hero, Titus, is still an infant – but the evocation of this insanely baroque world is stunning. Peake describes both architecture and people by layering description on description, exaggerating details to the point where they virtually take on a life of their own. It’s like reading Dickens on Acid. In typically grotesque fashion people are often described as if they were things, and objects take on the characteristics of people.
The second book, Gormenghast, is slightly more conventional (only just) in that it describes the rise of evil within the castle in the form of the renegade servant Steerpike. By the time Peake wrote the third book, Titus Alone, he was already suffering from the illness that would eventually claim his life. It’s very sketchy, really more of an outline than a book, but it still captures an utterly strange universe filled with exaggerated characters and meaningless landscapes. Peake was one of the first war artists to enter the concentration camps towards the end of World War Two and the overwhelming image in the book is of a world populated by dispossessed wanderers lost in the shadow of an impersonal factory of evil. Michael Moorcock was also immensely influenced by Peake, directly in his two novels The Golden Barge (1958) and Gloriana or the Unfulfill’d Queen (1978).
The bulk of William Hope Hodgson’s TheNight Land is set in the distant future when the sun has died and the Earth is locked in perpetual night. The last remnants of humanity huddle in a pyramid fortress called the Great Redoubt, while all around them gather strange monsters and beings, most of whom seek to destroy man. The novel tells of the hero’s quest to rescue the lone survivor of the Lesser Redoubt which has been overwhelmed by the creatures of the wilderness, and so he has to journey through a landscape built straight out of a nightmare. Sadly the book is virtually unreadable because Hodgson chose to write it in the style of a 17th century religious tract, and so the language is very archaic, repetitive and overblown. If you stick with it, however, he builds up a wonderfully creepy world populated with sinister, incomprehensible entities. Most of these are merely hinted at – the Country of the Great Laughter, the Thing that Nods, giants glimpsed in clouds of light or engaged in unknown tasks by immense red pits and kilns. Surrounding the Great Redoubt are the Great Watchers, beings that have slowly approached the fortress over centuries and now sit and stare at it with an obviously malignant intent that is never fully explained. TheNight Land stands out as a forgotten classic of Science Fantasy, and if you can wade through the turgid prose and glacial pace it leaves you with images that can haunt you for years.
I’ve just finished the first draft of the second book in the series, Ragged Claws, and I’m hoping to release it early next year. At the moment the plan is for four novels in total. The third is called Antihelix – the title for the fourth is, as yet, undecided.
Two awesome and unexpected things happened to me recently. One, WHEELS was chosen by Amazon’s ACX audible division to be made into an audio book and Two, Ara from the blog, My Book and My Coffeegave WHEELS a 5 Star review.
“Christmas came early for me this year – Wheels is an incredible sci-fi adventure novel! And I enjoyed reading it. A lot! It’s just so amazing! Well done, Lorijo. :)”
So, even though it’s Sci-fi Month, and I already had my blog posts planned, I’m adding a giveaway into the mix to celebrate my good fortune.
In other words, my good fortune could be yours!
To enter, all you have to do is go to my Contact page (or Click Here), enter your email and in the comment section tell me the name of your favorite science fiction or fantasy book. (And don’t forget to click Submit) Do this by midnight (EST) on November 30th and you’ll be entered in the giveaway. I’ll choose four winners (using random.org) and here’s what they’ll get:
1st place: An audible, an ebook (mobi or epub) and a signed paperback edition of WHEELS
2nd & 3rd place: An audible and an ebook (mobi or epub) edition of WHEELS
4th place: An audible edition of WHEELS
On December 3rd I’ll email the winners! Good luck :)
Hmmm so I am the Hungry Reader. The one who reads. The one who is constantly reading or wanting to read constantly. This blog is all about the books I have read, the ones that I am reading and gems that I plan to read in the future or whenever it arrives.