Monthly Archives: July 2013

Against the Fall of Night

Usually, if I have a favorite book I can count on someone else having heard of it. If I mention The Chronicles of Amber, or Swords Against Death (failing that, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser), Robert E. Howard, or even Harold Lamb, most of my reader friends will have heard of the book, author, or series. Most of us fantasy and science fiction readers of a certain age have been exposed to these works.

But no one ever seems to have heard of Michael Arnold’s Against the Fall of Night. I looked it up on Goodreads this morning and found one lone reviewer had given it five stars. Everyone else (but me, now) had only checked it off as something they wanted to read.

Published in 1975, Against the Fall of Night is (mostly) set during the time of the last gasp of the Byzantine Empire, during the reign of the Comnenus dynasty. And its main figure is Andronikus, the one man who might have saved the empire from the horrible mismanagement of his cousin Manuel if he’d had just a little more time and a little better luck. Manuel inherits the throne when he and Andronikus are both young men and then gradually, choice after disastrous choice, fritters away resources and opportunities.

Andronikus is a complex figure — charismatic, rash, daring, and brilliant. He’s torn by loyalty to his cousin and his sense that he could do far better, and eventually rebels. He’s the closest  literary figure I’ve ever seen to Zelazny’s Corwin of Amber. Minus the ability to ride through shadow, I mean.

The novel opens with the sacking of Constantinople by the Franks during the 4th Crusade, after which Constantinople and the empire endured only as a shadow of its former glory. Arnold postulates that if Andronikus had succeeded, the sacking would never have happened, and once you get to know Andronikus over the course of the novel you’re pretty certain he’s right.

Sword-and-Sorcery Gaming

Even though I have a vast assortment of old role-playing modules staring down at me from my bookshelves, and even though it’s been a few years since I played, I’m still tempted sometimes to buy more. I can’t help it — I’ve been a gamer since junior high. Ever since I was 12 or so I don’t think I’ve gone more than 2 years at any stretch without playing (or, usually, running) an adventure or campaign, and one of the things I love most is reading through adventure supplements. It’s the storyteller in me, I suppose.

Right now I’m tempted by a pretty nifty setting on Kickstarter titled Primeval Thule. If you’re a sword-and-sorcery fan you should really go take a look. It sounds cool enough that it might be a good read even if you’re not interested in playing a game. As of the moment I’m typing this note, there’s only about 50 hours to pledge money to the project, so I thought I’d  help spread the word.

Writing Star Trek Pastiche

It’s not as though I have a whole lot of free time. And it’s not as though I don’t already have enough projects. For instance, I’m working on a new trilogy and I intend on having at least one and a half written before book one goes to press. I’m brainstorming some new Paizo Pathfinder books as well, and at some point I’m likely to be working on both series at the same time.

Yet after that extended look at the original Star Trek the other week I had a doh! moment and wondered why I’ve never considered writing a Star Trek novel.

I suppose I should rephrase… since becoming a professional writer, why have I never considered writing a Star Trek novel? I used to write Star Trek fiction all the time and I know the original series like the back of my hand. If I could talk to the series editors (a little simpler now that I have a proven track record) I bet writing Star Trek could be a lot of fun and earn me some money.

Oranges, Smoranges

I love oranges. Hands-down, an orange is my favorite fruit. The problem is that for the last twenty years or so I’ve rarely been able to find a good one. I used to eat them all the time when I was a child — just regular grocery store oranges that were sweet but had a hint of tartness. Something changed, though, and for years now every time I try to buy a grocery store orange it’s tasteless and chewy, or dry and chewy, or juicy but bland. Faced with such oranges, my children didn’t even understand why I wanted to eat one.

I was beginning to think that my tastes had simply changed (I used to love some pretty godawful breakfast cereals and candy, after all) until I had an orange in Hawaii and, oddly enough, a really good one in a hospital cafeteria.  I then knew that good oranges hadn’t been a figment of my imagination and the challenge was to find how to get ahold of the good ones.

Anyway, a few months back I finally discovered a brand named Earthbound Farms Organic that consistently gives me the taste I desire. It costs a dollar more a bag for them than the other oranges carried by the local grocers, but they’re completely worth it. I may sound like an infomercial, but the product pleases me mightily, and I will continue to give them my money so long as their oranges taste so very, very fine.

To celebrate, here’s a wonderful song about oranges.

Oh, in case anyone’s curious, my new writing project is really catching fire. Very happy with the fireworks that are happening now with Hearthstones.


GenCon Schedule

My GenCon schedule is now finalized, complete with the times I’ll be joining the friendly folks at the Paizo booth in the Great Hall.

I know I’ve said this in public before, but it bears repeating. GenCon itself is great fun and the Writer’s Symposium is one of its best kept secrets. There are hours and hours worth of panels on great topics that should be of interest to writers (and readers), with guests that range from talented semi-professionals to seasoned and famous industry leaders, like Lou Anders, Patrick Rothfuss, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson… I could go on and on. To top it all off, things are well-run and organized. Last year was my first year to be involved with the symposium and I had such a fine time that I’ve enthusiastically recommended it to many friends, and decided to attend GenCon for all all four days so that I could participate more fully.

If you’re in the neighborhood, I hope you’ll stop by, and if you’re already coming, I hope you’ll swing by the rooms in the convention center where the symposium is under swing.

Here’s my schedule. Some of the names on the panels below may change depending upon the schedules of the other participants, but I think this is mostly accurate.

Link Day

I need to hit the ground running today, so I’m going to hook you up with some nifty and eclectic links.

First, a post from my talented writer friend Alex Bledsoe that ought to be of interest to any fan of heroic fantasy fiction. This one’s all about a more and more dated term: “Heroine.” Drop by and take a look.

Then there’s a pretty neat essay on what pretty much amounts to a thieve’s guild of ancient Baghdad and the peculiar tools they used to work their crimes, including a tortoise!

Have you heard about the new concept super fast train that could get you from New York to LA in under an hour? We have the technology now to make it work! Check it out, here.

Lastly, I ran across some really excellent writing advice from another writer friend, Harry Connolly. All you writers out there ought to drop by and give it a read — it’s good stuff.


Weekend Trek

It was a busy weekend. The family drove to St. Louis Friday night so I could wake up Saturday morning and fly to Minnesota to hear my son’s performance at a music composition camp, then fly back with him to St. Louis and drive home. My son’s composition was brilliant (and so too were those of many of his fellow camp members).

I had a lot of down time, but I also had a lot of really bad sleep. I’m still pretty exhausted, actually. I did have a few observations, though.

1. The security personnel at the Minneapolis airport were some of the best humored I have ever dealt with. Two thumbs up for them for being professional, courteous, and good spirited. The bonhomie actually seemed to permeate the entire staff. (And here’s a mildly curious aside — as my son and I were lining up for the security check I passed a gentleman getting in line to check his bags, and danged if I didn’t do a double-take. He wasn’t some guy who vaguely resembled Al Franken… he was Senator Al Franken. I suppose that it’s not at all remarkable that Al Franken should ride planes, or that he should be in Minneapolis, seeing as how he’s a senator from Minnesota, so perhaps it’s not actually that interesting an aside…)

Trek Week, Part 5

This week, the week of my birthday, I’ve been indulging myself by sharing all my thoughts about how I’d approach my dream job, being story editor on a reboot of the original Star Trek series. Yesterday I wrote about how I’d update the principal characters. Today I’ll talk about the rest of the characters and wrap things up.

Mr. Scott

I think the writing of Mr. Scott is pretty straight forward in some ways. There’s not as much nuance necessary as there is with the principal characters. I love that line from the series bible about Scotty thinking of the ship as his and Kirk as merely the driver. He’s a gifted engineer and is constantly tasked with pulling off the impossible. I like the suggestion I’ve seen in various fan literature that he was there when the ship was being refitted, and that he might have served on the ship under a previous captain as well.

Trek Week, Part 4

As threatened earlier this week, I’m going to keep imagining what I’d do given the chance to fulfill an old dream: reboot the original Star Trek show as a TV series.

Today I’ll be talking about the main characters, but before I get into depth about any of them I want to address two things.

First, it’s true that Kirk and Spock are best friends. A lot of writers seem to think that’s where it ends. They miss something crucial, and that’s McCoy — they don’t seem to know what to do with him aside from having him snark at Spock.

Here’s the thing. All three form a greater hero.

Trek Week, Part 3

I was so inspired by Star Trek Continues that I decided to dedicate the week of my birthday to talking about my first great fictional love, the original Star Trek. Today I’ll start rambling about all the things I’ve always wanted to do if I got to be the executive story editor of a rebooted Star Trek TV show. Yeah, I know, it’s pretty self indulgent, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve spent way too much time over the years thinking about this. But my birthday’s coming up, so you’ll forgive me, right?