Winter Reading

by Mike Shea on 29 December 2004

I just finished Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. I loved Rendezvous with Rama when I read it about a month or so ago. Both are short reads but packed with some of the best science fiction ever put down in print. I highly enjoyed Rama except for the end which seemed to be a bit anti-climactic. I had no such problem with Childhood's End. We're lucky to have a guy like Clarke. There are few people in the world who have as much impact on both science and entertainment as he. Though he lives in Sri Lanka, he was not harmed by the catastrophe that hit there last week.

I am back to reading Robert Howard's original Conan stories. Howard had such a great writing style. He doesn't care that his main character throws women around like old coffee cups. He doesn't have a problem with stereotypical creamy skinned damsels in distress dressed in little strips of cloth falling to their knees in front of the Cimmerian. It's a raw style of story and writing that seems as far from Hobbiton as you can get.

Speaking of the Shire, the final Lord of the Rings extended cut came out, the Return of the King Extended Edition. It's worth it for the Sarumon thread closure and the Mouth of Sauron scenes alone. This ends the best three fantasy movies ever done. The detail in these three movies is so deep that every viewing you give it will show you a new layer. I've only watched it twice now and I still feel like I haven't seen it at all.

I was thinking last night about the power of writing. The three Lord of the Rings movies cost about $300 million to make. The books themselves, the source for nearly all of the material in the movie, cost next to nothing; just the costs of pen, ink, and paper. Reading books like Childhood's End and Call of Cthulhu and the Dark Tower shows me just how much freedom writers have. It doesn't cost another $100 million to have a spaceship the size of the moon flying outside of Mars. You don't need six months to prepare an army of huge elephants roaring over two thousand horseriders. You can describe it with as much detail as it needs and let the minds of the reader build the scene. And its nearly entirely free.

I used to be a huge movie buff, and I still am. There is a visual power of movies that you cannot match in books. Movies like Royal Tennenbaums and Kill Bill have a style so unique that a book alone cannot do it full justice. Unfortunately, with the rolling spiked behemoth of technology and media rolling over our society, more people would prefer to watch a movie than read a book any day. There just isn't the same market for books and stories that there was 100 years ago. But the cost of production is so low, that fiction will always march on. Every one of you reading this has the power to build worlds far greater than anything Peter Jackson could build in film. You have an unlimited special effects budget. All you need is a pen, paper, skills, luck, and time.

I've been tinkering with three new stories recently. One of them, "The Demon Knight", I wrote in pieces over the last year. The first draft is done and typed up, but I need to add a couple of scenes and then start murdering my darlings to get it down to somewhere around 6000 words.

The second story, "Loyalty", I wrote based on a story seed I came up with about four months ago. It's a fun fantasy story set in a 1800s like environment of swords and muskets and tricorn hats along with a nasty secret society of telepaths known as the Eye. That story is done and also ready for its first big edit.

The third is a story based on a conceptual character who is half Conan and half Aeon Flux. She's a nasty piece of work called Vrenna who has few morals and even fewer clothing. I wrote a short 1200 word story to start her off but now I'm working on a longer story called "Vrenna and the Red Stone". The key to a character like Vrenna is that I can never let the reader get into her head. People like Boba Fett and Aeon Flux because we don't know anything about them. Vrenna's entertainment will come from her strange actions. If I write it from her point of view, the mystery of her motivation is lost. So far, half of Red Stone is written from the point of view of a 13 year old beggar on the streets of a desert city. Other parts will come from Vrenna's enemy, a city guard, and back to the beggar again. I'm not sure how it will turn out yet.

I have two fantasy worlds for these stories; well really three if you include the Demon Knight story; but I'm trying to collapse them or consolidate them into a single big fantasy world called Faigon. Unfortunately I find myself enjoying both the higher-tech fantasy of the 1800s muskets, sabers, and pistols and the low-tech worlds of Conan. Somehow they have to meet up in the middle, but I'm not sure how yet. Once the world is created, however, one that I really like, than I can use it to stage a lot of different stories without having to constantly reinvent systems like magic, society, technology, and religion. It's not quite there yet, however.

I've been sending my stories out to a few different magazines now. I received two rejections so far and one got returned unopened. Shock is due for review on in late January so we'll see what the Critters think of it. I have about a dozen short stories in various stages of writing, editing, or submission. It's great fun.