How To Write a Good Fight Scene

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Marshall Versus the Assassins-small

…my fight scenes trigger your mirror neurons (apparently).

You can’t. Not a generically good fight scene. Just like a good love scene, “good” for a fight scene depends on the literary purpose and the audience.

Let’s assume, though, that you are writing some kind of action adventure yarn — I’m qualified to advise on this because this is what I write professionally, and my fight scenes trigger your mirror neurons (apparently) – here’s what I’d tell you over a beer.

Have a Model of How the Relevant Martial Art Works

By “model” I mean that you can describe to yourself how this kind of fighting works. E.g. is it all “cut parry cut”, or about crossing blades then working on the blade, or wrestling or what?

It helps if your model is based on reality or at least experimental reconstructions — if you’re using any European weapons, check out Youtube using the search term “HEMA”. You can of course make everything up, however more and more people are becoming HEMA-literate, so there is a good chance your book will date horribly.

The model should account for all the equipment used by your combatants, e.g. What is a shield for? What weapons break the armour? This ties the combat scene into the rest of the world story and brings to life the military culture and technology. For example, if combat requires a shield, then losing a shield can drive part of the plot. Oh, and, whatever you do, don’t treat armour as set dressing or costume. If it doesn’t stop weapons, nobody would wear it.

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Ancient Worlds: Caenis, Caeneus, and the Aftermath of Rape

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

Poseidon_Penteskouphia_Louvre_CA452Sometimes a planned topic and the news intersect in unexpected ways. I had planned for some time to cover this particular episode in Ovid, but this week’s decision by The Mary Sue to discontinue active promotion of Game of Thrones gives it a relevance that we in the Classics don’t usually get to experience. I’ll link to The Mary Sue’s explanation of their decision here, but the short version is that they were no longer interested in promoting a show that made such regular use of rape as a storytelling device. A heated debate has ensued in several quarters, over The Mary Sue’s decision, the show in question, and over the portrayal of sexual assault in fiction.

This is by no means a new debate. Rape has been, sadly, part of human experience for as long as we have had storytelling. Its presence in the earliest works we have in the canon attests this fact. What has varied is how it is portrayed, both in terms of the act itself and its lasting effect on both its victims and society at large. The myth of the Rape of Persephone is used to explain the seasons; the Roman Historian Livy tells us that the expulsion of the kings of Rome was triggered by the devastating aftermath of the rape of Lucretia.

But no artist spent as much time investigating the lingering effects of rape like Ovid. The Metamorphoses is filled with stories of rape and familial sexual abuse, and the author doesn’t shy away from any of it. But that doesn’t mean he lingers over it, either: he depictions of assaults are vivid but never graphic. And unlike many modern depictions he doesn’t spend much time on the assaults themselves. What Ovid chooses to focus on is the long term ramifications of sexual violence, the way it shapes lives, families, destinies, and the landscape itself (remember Apollo and the Laurel tree?).

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Fletcher Vredenburgh’s Simakpalooza!

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

SimakpaloozaI don’t have time to read many other blogs. I barely have time to read this one, what with all the time I spend reading, and writing, and telling my wife how awesome Mad Max: Fury Road is. Seriously honey, sooo awesome. I wish I got to ride  in the desert, and take a giant chain elevator to work every day. Is there a word for when you envy the baddass folks who live in an apocalyptic dystopia? There should be such a word. And I bet that word would be awesome.

Anyway, I appreciate those moments when I get to read blogs written by other folks. Especially when they’re folks like Fletcher Vredenburgh, and especially especially when they look at one of my favorite writers, as Fletcher did this week with his Simakpalooza! (Is there a word for when you envy a writer who makes up a word? There should be such a word.) Here’s a sample:

I’m not sure what the first story I read by Clifford Simak was, but the first I remember is “Desertion.” It’s part of the book he’s probably most famous for, City. The novel is a mournful farewell to humanity and Earth and stars robot butlers and talking dogs… There’s a tremendous sense of wonder in the tale as the nature of what’s going on is revealed. I think of it as the story that showed me the true potential of sci-fi…

Sadly, Clifford Simak seems to have slipped into the ranks of the unjustly forgotten sci-fi writers of the past. Growing up, he was just part of the general fabric of sci-fi [for me], and most fellow sci-fi fans I knew had read at least something by him…

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Simak. John O’Neill’s post about The Goblin Reservation and the comments reminded me how much I loved his work. There’s a warmth and comfortableness to his stories that I love.

Fletcher created an impressive tapestry of images from 17 Simak paperbacks to accompany his article (a tiny snippet is at right). Read the whole thing here.

Apex Magazine #72 Now on Sale

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Apex Magazine Issue 72-smallI’m finally getting caught up on Apex Magazine. As I said last month, it’s tough been an obsessive magazine fan; there’s never enough hours in the day.

In his editorial, Jason Sizemore has a few gracious words for his competition, the magazines on the Hugo ballot this year for Best Semiprozine:

My first order of business is to congratulate this year’s Hugo Award nominees in the category of Best Semiprozine: Abyss & Apex, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed Magazine, and Strange Horizons. While other Hugo Award categories have been unfortunate victims of slate block voting, Best Semiprozine is one that has maintained its dignity. All five publications are worthy nominees and I wish them the best of luck at Sasquan.

He’s certainly right that it’s a solid slate of nominees. As editor-in-chief of Apex, Jason has been nominated for the Hugo three times himself, in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The May issue of Apex contains original fiction by Sarah Pinsker, David Bowles, JY Yang, and Suzette Mayr — plus poetry, an interview with Sarah Pinsker, an article on “Eye-Based Paternity Testing and Other Human Genetics Myths” by Dan Koboldt, short fiction reviews, two novel excerpts (The Buried Life by Carrie Patel, and The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu), a podcast, and more.

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The Omnibus Volumes of Jack Vance, Part III: The Demon Princes

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Demon Princes Volume 1-small The Demon Princes Volume 2-small

The first novel in Jack Vance’s Demon Princes saga, The Star King, was published as a two-part serial in Galaxy Magazine, in December 1963 and February 1964.

It took Vance eighteen years to complete the series — the fifth and final novel, The Book of Dreams, appeared in 1981 — and during that time he wrote all four novels in of Planet of Adventure, the Durdane trilogy, one novel in The Dying Earth, three books in his Alastor Cluster series, and at least four standalone novels. This is not a man who liked to focus on one thing at a time.

The Demon Princes is essentially a revenge fantasy. The central character is Kirth Gersen, whose entire village was enslaved while he was a child by five notorious criminals, collectively known as the Demon Princes. Each novel deals with an elaborate revenge scheme masterminded by Gersen on one of the five Princes, each of whom has achieved significant power — and embodies at least one major vice.

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New Treasures: Jack Cloudie by Stephen Hunt

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Jack Cloudie-smallI think perhaps the most unusual thing about Stephen Hunt is that he claims to have virtually invented steampunk, with the publication of the first novel in his Jackelian series, The Court of the Air, in 2009. Here’s a snippet from his Amazon bio:

Hunt is arguably best known for his best-selling Jackelian series of novels… the success of the first of which, The Court of the Air, gave rise to a genre called steampunk.

The Jackelian world is a fantasy adventure set in a far-future Earth where the passage of time has erased almost all memory of our current world from history. Electricity is now unreliable and classed as a dark power, with many of the nations of the world existing at a Victorian level of development and relying on steam-power, mechanical nanotechnology and biotechnology to survive and prosper.

It is an age of strange creatures, flashing blades, steammen servants, airship battles and high adventure.

That’s a pretty gutsy claim, especially since the term steampunk was coined by K. W. Jeter in a letter to Locus in 1987, and there have been steampunk bestsellers as far back as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine in 1990 (and the seminal steampunk RPG Space 1889 came out in 1988).

Nonetheless, Hunt has been one of the more popular practitioners of the form. His Jackelian series now totals six novels.

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Medieval Arms and Armor at the Wallace Collection, London

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

South German armor, c. 1480. By this period, the finest armor was being made with low-to-medium carbon steel, which was lighter and more comfortable than earlier steel suits of armor.

South German armor, c. 1480. By this period, the finest armor was being made with low-to-medium carbon steel, which was lighter and more comfortable than earlier steel suits of armor. The barding (horse armor) is extremely rare. Only three complete suits from before 1500 are known to exist and this is perhaps the best preserved of the three. The barding and knight’s armor was quite light. This horse would have carried about 140 kilos (308 lbs), which included the weight of the rider, his armor, and the horse’s armor. This is not an unreasonable load for a warhorse.

The Wallace Collection in London is often overlooked by international visitors in favor of the more famous British Museum and National Gallery, but if you’re looking for a world-class collection of medieval European and Asian arms and armor, this is the place to go.

The Wallace Collection is a national museum that displays works of art collected in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard’s widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897. Located in Hertford House and free to the public, it gives you an insight into a sumptuous home of a leading art collector of that era. The collection is especially strong in paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and antique furniture. The arms and armor section has some 2,500 objects dating from the 10th to the 19th century and is one of the best collections in Europe.

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Vintage Treasures: Clockwork’s Pirates/Ghost Breaker by Ron Goulart

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Clockwork's Pirates Ron Goulart-small Ghost Breaker Ron Goulart-small

We’re back to our survey of Ace Doubles, this time with a surprising pair of adventure books by Ron Goulart.

I’m a fan of Ron Goulart, although I only discovered him recently, when I sampled some stories from his excellent collection What’s Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries in 2012. So I was pleased to spot his 1971 Ace Double, Clockwork’s Pirates and Ghost Breaker, in a collection of 23 old paperback I found on eBay. Twenty-two bucks later, the collection was all mine.

Goulart has a well-deserved reputation for satire and comedy, but with Screwloose I was happy to discover he has a talent for mystery and adventure as well. Mystery and adventure are very much what’s advertised in Clockwork’s Pirates and Ghost Breaker. The former is a novel of robot pirates, the scourge of the spaceways, who steal the planetary governor’s daughter and sell her on the slave markets, and the latter is a collection of short stories featuring a modern supernatural detective, in the mold of John Silence and Carnacki the Ghost Finder.

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Psychical Violence and Beckoning Beauties: The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dead of Night The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions-smallWhile I was at the World Fantasy Convention last November, I sat in on a panel called “Ghost Stories Without Ghosts.” Truth to tell, I was only there because of the delightful Patty Templeton, who was a guest on the panel, talking about her popular debut novel There Is No Lovely End.

However, the other panelists — S. T. Joshi, Jonathan Oliver, and Darrell Schweitzer — had interesting things to say as well, and several times the conversation came around to Oliver Onions, who was held up as an exemplar of the form.

All very interesting, but who the heck is Oliver Onions?

When faced with a situation such as this (an embarrassing lack of knowledge about a revered figure in 19th Century Supernatural Fiction — which happens a lot more often than you might think), I invariably turn to the same resource: the always reliable Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural. Or, as we like to call them, TOMAToS.

Sure enough, the Wordsworth Tales line includes a huge Oliver Onions volume: The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions. 627 pages of creepy fiction featuring werewolves, haunted houses, a dream shared down through history, living ghosts, an obsessed sculptor, characters in a romance novel who come to life, a temptress who’s doomed countless men through the centuries until she falls in love for the first time, a haunted meadow, a cheery Christmas ghost who disobeys the Special Committee on Ethereal Traffic and Right of Way to save lives, and many others.

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Future Treasures: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Liar's Key-smallPrince of Fools,, the first volume in Mark Lawrence’s new fantasy series The Red Queen’s War, was released in June 2013. It is set in the same world as his previous trilogy The Broken Empire (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and the 2014 David Gemmell Legend Award winner Emperor of Thorns).

The Liar’s Key, the second book in the series, will be published this June, and it continues the story of the unusual fellowship between a rogue prince and a weary warrior.

After harrowing adventure and near-death, Prince Jalan Kendeth and the Viking Snorri ver Snagason find themselves in possession of Loki’s Key, an artefact capable of opening any door, and sought by the most dangerous beings in the Broken Empire — including The Dead King.

Jal wants only to return home to his wine, women, and song, but Snorri has his own purpose for the key: to find the very door into death, throw it wide, and bring his family back into the land of the living.

And as Snorri prepares for his quest to find death’s door, Jal’s grandmother, the Red Queen continues to manipulate kings and pawns towards an endgame of her own design…

We published the first chapter of Prince of Thorns, with a brand new introduction by Mark, here, and Howard Andrew Jones’s interview with him is here. Mark’s long article on writing and selling The Prince of Thorns is here.

The Liar’s Key will be published by Ace Books on June 2, 2015. It is 496 pages, priced at $26.95 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.

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