How would King Arthur’s knights cope with a climate-changed world?

King Arthur painting

James Archer painted The Death of Arthur in 1861. King Arthur lays mortally wounded after his final battle. He waits for a ship to take him to the Isle of Avalon.

My wife and I drove from Seattle to Powell’s Books in Portland a couple of weeks ago to satisfy an itch. At this point, I’ve written three novels and eight shorts in the world of Carbon Run, but the project has run its course. Is there another way to explore the idea of a post-global warming world in which protecting the environment is the society’s single most important value?

For a variety of reasons, my mind turned to fantasy, which is odd, because I’ve never been attracted to epic fantasy, or high fantasy. I found Tolkien too dense and I shrugged at most other dragons-and-magic stories. Having said that, I enjoyed the early novels in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). He plays down the wand-waving and flying lizards shtick in favor of character development and relationships.

This led to a realization: I do enjoy at least one fantasy tradition: the Arthurian legends. It’s easy to forget that these romances were the literary fiction of the High Middle Ages, and they’re full of magic objects, fabulous beasts, and so on. The stories of King Arthur are as much about greed, lust, pride, loyalty, bravery, and family drama as they are about enchantments and floating castles. Merlin, as an archetype, gets a lot of play in modern fantasy, but his role is relatively limited, though important, in the Arthurian stories. I like that. Continue reading

Five Questions: Kevin D. Aslan, author of Encore

Encore cover image

Author Kevin D. Aslan is serializing his first novel, Encore.

I’d like to introduce Kevin D. Aslan, a debut author who is self-publishing his fantasy novel Encore as a serial. Encore follows Leo Melikian, a smart but naïve 25-year old in the south of France who discovers he’s suddenly living each day twice: Monday followed by Monday, Tuesday by Tuesday, and so on. Kevin agreed to participate in my occasional series of posts under the heading “Five Questions.” Thank you, Kevin! If you have any extra questions for Kevin, post them in the comments section below.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.

It was a dueling squirrel called Keil, who was leading a rag-tag group defending their land against an army of beetles. I was 10 and heavily influenced by the Redwall series. I never did finish that book, although I wrote over a hundred (mostly unreadable) pages. But I ended up connecting with him so much that I used his name as my online handle for years afterwards. Continue reading

Five Questions: Elizabeth Guizzetti, author of The Grove

Elizabeth Guizzetti author photo

Elizabeth Guizzetti is author of three sci-fi and fantasy novels, including Other Systems and The Grove.

I’m starting a new occasional feature on my blog called Five Questions. I’ll ask an author five interesting questions and post their answers. Check out the answer for the bonus question! My inaugural guest is Elizabeth Guizzetti, a personal friend whom I met through a sci-fi and fantasy writers group in Seattle. Elizabeth loves to write science fiction, horror and fantasy with a bit of social commentary mixed in, not always intentionally. Her 2012 debut novel, Other Systems, was a finalist for the 2016 Canopus Award. Her most recent novel, The Grove, is on sale now.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.

This wasn’t my first character, but the first character I remember was a ten or eleven-year-old girl trying to survive a werewolf apocalypse. I tried to write her tough, my mother said she was kind of rude to the two young men who she was with. (I think they were high schoolers, because at that age, high schoolers are super cool.)

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?

My first published work was Faminelands: The Carp’s Eye which is a self-published graphic novel. It came out in print first and then we started the webcomic. It was (and always is) a roller coaster. It felt wonderful the first time I flipped through it, as well as terrifying. We were making changes up until it had been printing and I had a table at Emerald City Comicon 2008. It was crazy. Those feelings have been just as intense for every book that has gone through the publication process.

I made a video about I feel when holding my book for the first time if anyone wants to check it out on my YouTube Channel. Continue reading

Criminy! What do you think of the header image on my blog?

Header image

I’ve been doing some rethinking about content for my blog, especially in light of the chance that it might become the main platform for promoting my upcoming Carbon Run books. Frankly, I need to make the blog more, um, sexy, and what’s better than an attractive woman that suggests one of the characters in my novels? (I’m not saying who.) I needed an image of a reclining figure that would span the blog horizontally, and I came across one by Toxic Wolf.

What do you think?

Reading: Living In Infamy, a Carbon Run story

skullAs I mentioned in a previous post, I wrote two Carbon Run short stories, Zillah Harmonia, and Living in Infamy. I’ve recorded the second story and posted it on SoundCloud. In a future when fossil fuels are banned, the captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative.

Let me know what you think.

Reading: A War Beyond War, And I Am the Only Soldier

I’ve been inspired by fellow writers, particularly my friend Ramona Ridgewell, to experiment with making my short stories available online as audio readings. It’s sort of a no-brainer, given my background in radio and skills in audio production, and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time as a way to promote myself and (hopefully) upcoming novels. I’m using the SoundCloud audio distribution service.

My first audio story (the word “audiobook” doesn’t seem to fit) is called “A War Beyond War, And I Am the Only Soldier.” You can download a free PDF version of the story here. Dominic de la Traversée is a young monk in a 13th century French monastery who undergoes a frightening transformation as he fights for the existence of our perceived universe. I wrote the original story in 2007, and it was published in an anthology called Satirica. The music is by Cory Gray, and it’s available at the Free Music Archive.

I’d love to know what you think of this project. I’ve got a couple more stories in my queue. Do you think I should record those as well?

Review: The appropriated world of The Guild of Saint Cooper

The Guild of Saint Cooper cover

The Guild of Saint Cooper, a novel by Shya Scanlon

Good artists copy. Great artists steal. — attributed to Pablo Picasso, among others

Discussion of cultural appropriation has surged in the last few years in the context of race relations. White culture has borrowed and stolen from black culture for decades, particularly in entertainment, usually without enough credit to the origins of a style of music, dance, poetry, or performance. What happens then, when a writer creates a fictional world wholesale out of another fictional world? Is he borrowing in order to comment on that world, or stealing from it because he can’t come up with a better idea?

Author Shya Scanlon appropriates shamelessly from a realm created by another artist, director David Lynch, to manufacture a post-apocalyptic Seattle in The Guild of Saint Cooper, published by Dzanc Books in April 2015. Lynch is best known for Twin Peaks, a quirky, strange, and beloved television series that aired just two seasons’ worth of episodes. The first season, the better of the two, focused on a murder investigation by Dale Cooper, an FBI special agent with his own methods and approach to detective work. Cooper’s character combines the calm certainty of a Zen monk with a fascination in the unseen anticipating another fictional FBI agent, Fox Mulder, who appears in a different TV series, The X-Files, which debuted two years after Twin Peaks ended. Continue reading

What Catholic sci-fi writers can learn from Mormon writers.

Mormon gospel art

Mormon gospel art depicts scenes from the Book of Mormon. It reminds me of a mid-20th century style of science fiction cover art.

An unfinished version of this post appeared earlier by mistake. Apologies for my fat fingers.

A couple of days after Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened, Washington Post contributor Matthew Bowman pointed out a long fascination by the Mormon community for science fiction and fantasy. Some of the most well-known and best-selling writers in the genre today, such as Brandon Sanderson and Orson Scott Card, are Mormon, and Bowman shows how the religion’s history and imagery encourages world-building and an appreciation for larger-than-life characters. I’ve never read the Book of Mormon, but the copy that a young, black-and-white clad man gave to me many years ago was full of “gospel art” rendered in a realistic style that highlighted a calm certainty in their beliefs. It seemed so much like the cover art of the science fiction that confirmed my own belief in science and good storytelling.

(I know what you’re thinking: Mormonism is homophobic, misogynistic, and just this side of looney. Just listen for a minute while I talk about our shared capacity for imagination.)

Reading the article reminded me of my upbringing in Yakima, Wash., where I learned a 1960s Catholicism straining to adjust to the historic structural reforms of Vatican II. My first-grade teacher at St. Paul’s School wore a nun’s habit, as all teachers in religious orders did in those days, and her style of discipline was a mixture of the Spanish Inquisition and Attila the Hun. We studied our faith as it if were a parallel government emanating from Heaven, confessed our sins and attended Mass in the diocesan cathedral, and believed that all other religions were a ticket to Hell. (I don’t remember a discussion of Mormonism specifically, but I’d bet that it was considered an express, first-class ticket, without the free liquor.) Continue reading

Review: The Adjacent Is Confusing, Maybe Unfinished

Cover image for The Adjacent

The Adjacent, by Christopher Priest

Cosmologists are embracing the idea of parallel universes or the multiverse, which writers of science fiction and fantasy have portrayed as mirrors or different versions of our own universe, with passageways between them. Other sciences have noticed that the laws of nature often lead to repeat, parallel performances, such as adaptations in unrelated creatures to similar environments. It’s said that eye of the octopus has a complicated structure comparable to the human eye, but the two species could not inhabit more unlike worlds. And we humans in middle-class societies think each of us lives in a world separate from our neighbors, when in fact all are on parallel tracks, with only minor differences among them. When we visit each other across the fence, it’s as if our separate, but parallel universes touch. Christopher Priest’s 2013 novel The Adjacent explores the next-ness of things, taking the reader down paths at once exciting and confusing, and ultimately unsatisfying, even frustrating.

Priest is probably best known for his award-winning 1995 novel The Prestige, adapted as a motion picture in 2006. In The Adjacent, Priest presents three stories in different times but with protagonists whose names all start with the letter “T.” The opening story begins with a photographer who has lost his wife to an attack with a new weapon of terrifying power that has baffled the security forces of a mid-21st century Islamic Republic of Great Britain. One aspect of this world is the shift of hurricane-style storms to higher latitudes as a result of climate change, but the devastating weather is tame compared to the annihilating effects of “the adjacency field.” Priest riffs on the gymnastics of quantum particles, which perform disappearing acts worthy of Las Vegas, without the smoke and mirrors. The characters are often unsure which reality they inhabit, leaving them, and sometimes the reader, disoriented. Continue reading

Review: Homer’s Odyssey As An LGBT Road Trip

Love in the Time of Global Warming cover

Love in the Time of Global Warming, by Francesca Lia Block

Love in the Time of Global Warming, a short novel by Francesa Lia Block, author of the controversial Dangerous Angels (Weetzie Bat) series for teens, has almost nothing to do with global warming. But it has everything to do with a teenage girl whose world has lost its shape and whose idea of love has yet to take shape. The dystopian world in which she lives is in the same jumble as her emotions, and it takes an epic road trip to clarify who she is and what’s important. For the adult reader familiar with the literary references to Homer’s Odyssey, it’s a fun way to pass a weekend. For the young adult reader, it’s a typical fantasy with LGBT overtones that a daring high school lit teacher could use as a companion to the classic story.

The narrative concerns Pen, short for Penelope, a geeky, art-loving, wisp of a girl whose mother, father, and little brother are feared dead after an enormous earthquake and follow-on tsunami that destroys Los Angeles and points inland. Pen likes nothing better than to immerse herself in the fantasies of the classical age, and her life soon mirrors Odysseus’ voyage from shipwreck to Ithaca. Sent on a journey in a VW bus that burns vegetable oil, Pen meets up with the requisite crew of other teenage misfits. They encounter their share of mythical creatures and magical humans, all straight from Homer, including 21st-century versions of Cyclops, Circe the witch, the Sirens, and the drugged-out Lotus Eaters. Continue reading