When They Point the Canon at You

Since the fairly cringe-worthy Hugo Awards ceremony a few days back, there’s been a big argument in the SFF world going on about the Science Fiction Canon, such as it is. What is it? How much is it worth? Do you have to read it? So on, so forth.

I waded into this debate and, admittedly, stepped in it a bit when I was having a discussion with a friend of mine regarding whether writers need to read the classics of the genre in order to write good work today. My response was this:

“Yup! My thing about the classics is that you should read them if you want to, but they aren’t strictly relevant to what is happening now. In fact, I would ascribe *zero* relevance to anything published before 1980/1982 or so. Then it incrementally increases as you go.”

Now, this was interpreted (and understandably so, if taken out of context) to mean that no work prior to 1980 has relevance for readers or worth as literature prior to 1980, which is not my point at all. My point is, rather, that the current milieu of science fiction and fantasy as it exists in the market today begins in the early 1980s and if your intention is to publish inside of that milieu, reading stuff published prior to that time is not essential. You, as a writer, need to know what is going on now in the field, not what was going on in the field in 1965.

I had a number of productive discussions about this online with a couple intelligent people. I had a lot of retweets accusing me of ignoring history or suggesting works like 1984 and Brave New World aren’t relevant for modern readers.

How much homage must we pay to the past, exactly? And why?

Now, I would insist that many (in fact the majority) of pre-contemporary works (defined broadly as the early 1980s, where we moved away from cold war paranoia and into a more cyberpunk/environmental catastrophe/corporate capitalist villain era) do not really resonate as well with a modern audience. The sexism of Bester and Asimov and Niven and Pournelle really shows their works’ age. The writers from the 30s and 40s still hope to find canals on Mars and wonder about the jungles of Venus. Everybody thinks atomic power is the cat’s pajamas. The amount of racism and Orientalism and colonialist underpinnings is overwhelming when examined with a modern sensibility. We can learn a lot about what people thought then about the world, but how it affects our world now is less clear.

Furthermore, much of what was done back in those days had begun a trend that has carried along to this very day! If somebody asked me whether they should read Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigades, it’s a no-brainer that I’d suggest Hurley. Why? Well, because it’s still military scifi and it’s still got the first person perspective and thrilling fights and cool tech, but Hurley’s book is about now and Heinlein’s book is firmly rooted in the mid-20th century Cold War (and this is above and beyond the latent fascism contained in that specific book, but that’s a topic I’ve explored before and don’t care to repeat here). You don’t have to read 1984 to understand dystopia – the modern authors who have written about it, at length and with great skill, are numerous. Can you read it? Can a modern reader still glean important and interesting lessons from reading it? Yes, of course. Go ahead and read both!

That, though, not the question I’m seeking to answer. The question I’m trying to tackle is to what extent do modern authors owe fealty to the writers of the distant past to the point where those distant works are essential for their ability to tell compelling stories in the present day. I would argue that once you go past 40 years ago, there really isn’t any requirement because the publishing universe of that era bears no similarity to the one today. They were not writing to the same kind of audience, they were not dealing with the same kind of editors, and they were not facing the same kind of marketplace. Even the ideas they pioneered have been re-imagined and re-imagined again, so that you are entering a dialogue among authors that is a half-century old by now. You don’t need to read that original foray to join that conversation, but you must read the latest entry or you won’t make any sense.

The thing about lionizing the traditional canon (in any genre) is that you are centering the voices of people who lived in worlds alien to our own and then demanding that they be paid homage, when really what they have to say can be taken or left depending on our own interests. None of it is required. It can certainly have value for the right person at the right time, but we ought not ascribe these works more importance than the ones that have followed and, most especially, by those being produced today.

Now, as is the case with all list-building and hard lines in the sand, there are plenty of works from the 70s and earlier that still stand up just as well today as they did then – people like Le Guin and Philip K Dick and so on. But those folks are the exception, not the rule.

In short, if you intend to study the field of science fiction or are just a huge fan of classic books, by all means read the classic fiction of the mid to early 20th century – you will enjoy a lot of it, for sure. However, if you plan to write science fiction or fantasy novels, you don’t owe those old novels your time if you don’t want to give it. You can do it without them, just by reading on your own without any pre-set requirements. The canon is not a law, it’s simply a recommendation list. Feel free to ignore it. Read something else. There are a lot of good books out there, and you’ll never have time to read all of them, anyway.

But hey, that’s just one white dude’s opinion.

Writing Updates!

Hi, everyone!

Well, Graphic Audio keeps rolling along, releasing further books in The Saga of the Redeemed! Right now you can get your hands on both No Good Deed and Dead But Once (books 2 and 3) and I have on good authority that the final book in the series – The Far Far Better Thing – will be releasing soon (in two parts).

Check them both out!

ALSO:

Zombies Need Brains has asked me to be an “anchor author” for their new and upcoming anthology, When Worlds Collide. Here’s the skinny on that one:

Throughout history, different cultures have collided in different ways, whether it be the peaceful contact between Rome and Han China in the second century that established the Silk Road, or the more violent interactions between Europe and the Americas thirteen hundred years later. Such first contact stories have long been a staple of speculative fiction. The stories featured in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE will continue this long tradition as the authors explore the myriad ways in which two cultures—alien or fae, machine or human—can clash. Will the colliding societies manage to peacefully coexist after they finally meet? Or will they embark instead on a path of mutual self-destruction? Find out—WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE.
Edited by S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of 6,000 words each.  Anchor authors include:
  • S.C. Butler,
  • Esther Friesner,
  • Auston Habershaw,
  • Steven Harper,
  • Nancy Holzner,
  • Howard Andrew Jones,
  • Stephen Leigh,
  • Violette Malan, and
  • Alan Smale

They will be running a Kickstarter soon to fund the project – I’ll of course be promoting it here. In the meantime, you writers out there should start sharpening your short fiction game and submit to this and the other anthologies that ZNB has coming up. I’d love to share a table of contents with you all!

Thanks, and I’ll be posting again soon!

Productivity in a Time of Madness

People have wondered how my writing is going. So, here it is:

I’ve been stuck inside my house since mid-March.

I’ve got three kids, two cats, and a dog, all trapped in said house with me.

I’ve been teaching a 7yo to read, potty training a 2yo, soothing a 10yo’s anxieties about missing a Zoom meeting and getting in trouble. There has been a lot of crying.

I’ve been making lunch for everybody, especially for my wife, who has spent about 9-10 hours a day, every day trying to make sure my state’s transportation systems are safe, funded, and provided with all the PPE necessary to save lives.

The president is a fascist traitor. No, that’s not a political opinion.

Cops are tear-gassing and beating people protesting police violence all over my homeland.

The fireworks – always prevalent – have been going off all night, every night since early May.

A global pandemic has killed 115,000 of my countrymen at this point, with only more on the way.

And during all of this, I have managed to write two short stories, a rough draft of a novel, and a textbook chapter.

So, the question is: HOW?

Let’s first recognize my privilege: I am still employed and I don’t need to worry about food or paying my mortgage or anything. My family is supportive of my writing – especially my wife. My 10yo daughter has been crucially helpful in wrangling my toddler, allowing me to spend about 4 hours any given day (in 2-hour spurts) at “work” up in my office. Oh, yeah – I live in a house large enough to have a room to myself I can call an office. I also do not suffer from any particular mental illness I am aware of – I do not battle depression or anxiety, I am not a victim of trauma. I am extremely fortunate.

Beyond this, though, I find that the global catastrophes are motivating me to write rather than preventing it. For one thing, writing is an escape for me – I crawl inside my book or my stories and live there for a while and forget about everything in the world. It isn’t that I’m not worried about the world outside, but I have found that pretty much the only thing I can do is to sit down and write through it all. I sort of need to, in order to feel normal.

I say all this not as a kind of humblebrag, mind you. If anything, doing this has made me feel strange and almost disconnected. The vast majority of people I know are having trouble staying motivated, distracted too much by the outside world to focus. It sort of makes me wonder if my capacity for empathy is broken or if I’m being unusually selfish by locking myself away as I am (to the extent that I am). But…I can’t help it. I have to write to feel normal. I have to tell stories.

And furthermore: remember that this isn’t a race. I am writing well right now, fine, but soon enough you’ll be writing better than I am. And what does better/worse even mean in this context? We are all doing what we can.  Me? I’m huddled up with my laptop in my office writing as much as I can – that’s how I’m coping. You? You might be coping some other way. Regardless of how, though, we are going to make it through this. We are all going to have stories to tell. And we are all going to have the time to tell them one day.

So, don’t measure how you’re writing against how anybody else is. As somebody who can’t write at any other time than the summer months (because of my day job), I keenly feel that sensation of falling behind, of not being able to keep up, of losing your focus. That’s me, eight months of the year. How do I deal with it then? I do a little work here, a little work there. I plug along at a snail’s pace. I focus on short fiction and editing and keep my expectations low. It’s frustrating, but I get there. You will too.

Good luck, my writing friends. It’s nuts out there. Keep dealing as best you can. You have my admiration and my support, always.

You Say You Want a Revolution…

I come downstairs to find a stranger in my house. He is uninvited. He stands in the kitchen, poking through my cabinets.

“Information wants to be free, you know,” he says. He picks up my wallet, weighs it in one hand.

“This is a service,” he says, slipping a crisp dollar bill from inside and sliding it in his pocket. “For the poor. You understand.”

He takes another dollar. And then one more. But only that much. “What’s unfortunate,” he says, opening the fridge, “is that we have a system that makes this necessary.”

He selects a beer. I, of course, do not drink, but I say, “that’s for guests.”

“So you’re going to take their side?” He says. “You’re only helping the corporations.” He opens my beer. He drinks it.

“Who are you?”

“You know what your problem is,” he says. “You’re selfish. Greedy, even.” He opens a box of cereal from the cabinet, pours some in a mug.

“Do you ever ask for things?” I say. It’s all I can muster at the moment. I’m confused. Angry.

“Oh, you’re angry now?” He dumps the cereal in the trash. “I’ve been doing this for years, and you’re angry only now, when you’ve noticed? Typical.”

“Get out!” I open the door for him.

He shakes his head. “This could have been a revolution. Now see what you’ve done.”

As he leaves, he slides his hand into my pocket and pulls out a fresh, new ballpoint pen. “Thanks for nothing, asshole.”

Within the Crumbling Imperium

There’s a kind of surrealism in the US these days. Our president is a fascist monster and hopeless incompetent, half our government are complicit toadies, the other half are arguing over the rulebook after the table has been flipped over. Then, in the fringes, you’ve got the revolutionaries who offer stirring visions of the future but no plan to achieve them that much of anybody really believes. Gangs of government-supported paramilitary groups shoot and gas unarmed civilians. Gangs of independent paramilitary groups parade around with assault weapons, threatening violence. Innocents are killed. Buildings burn. And then there’s the Plague: invisible, insidious, it sickens and kills tens of thousands all while the regional governments struggle to contain the damage and implore the ignorant and the selfish to stay home.

We’ve even got stormtroopers!

For those of us lucky enough to still have a job and to have thus-far avoided the violence and the disease, we sit at home and grip our coffee mugs a bit too hard as we listen to the news each day. “Damage Report, Mr. Scott” is the mood. One friend of mine observes: “I feel like I’m standing on a trap door every day, just waiting for it to open.”

Folks, we’re living inside a storybook. Maybe it’s a technothriller, maybe it’s a fantasy or a scifi epic, but it shouldn’t be lost on us that what is happening is the stuff epics are made of. Star WarsDuneGame of Thrones and a dozen other properties have imagined similar worlds, all of them based, at least loosely, off of reality.

I don’t say this to somehow trivialize our collective experiences, but only to contextualize how we understand these stories. The worlds depicted by these stories are terrifying. They are awful and chaotic and violent, and maybe we don’t notice it so much because of the heroes we follow along with. I mean, Han Solo’s adventures seem pretty romantic, right? Wouldn’t it be cool to live in the Star Wars world?

Well, now we know the answer: no. No, it would not.

Some of us out there – some special, courageous people – are rising to this occasion. They are fighting the disease and trying to fix the government and trying to stop the violence. They are putting their bodies in harm’s way or testing their endurance and their sanity by remaining engaged and active during this traumatic time.

For the rest of us? Well, we…aren’t. We feel useless, sidelined, helpless. We keep looking into the wings, awaiting Luke Skywalker’s entrance or the coming of Daenerys. But, we are reminded, this is the real world and things don’t really work that way, no matter what the storybooks say.

I, personally, feel paralyzed. I have three small children at home who need me, a wife who is working constantly to try and keep regional transportation systems working in a pandemic, and I’ve got a job that requires my constant attention. I can’t contribute in any way that feels meaningful. I donate what I can to the bail funds (which you should do, as well). I teach my students about social justice and ethics and help them hone their ability to express themselves. I share and I like and I read the articles. And yet it all erodes at my sense of equilibrium and undercuts my sense of self worth. I feel miserable and isolated, weak and afraid.

I have known for some time that I’m no hero, at least not in the Skywalker or Solo sense of the word. It’s quite a thing, though, to see the dramatic sweep of history happening and to watch it rumble by and find yourself powerless before it.

So I, and millions like me, sit here and try to stay calm and make lunch for my kids and help them with their homework and try and distract myself from that overwhelming sense that another shoe has yet to fall, and bring the remaining structure of my country down with it.

It’s quite a feeling, let me tell you.

The Elasticity of Time, Part 2

The test of humanity

Paul Atreides kneels before the Reverend Mother.

“Put your hand in the box,” she says.

“What is in there?” Paul asks.

“Pain.”

Dune has been on my mind lately, and not only because Denis Villeneuve’s version of the book is destined for theaters sometime after we are released from our coronavirus isolation. Indeed, my thoughts on this have been circling around Dune because of the virus itself.

In the book, Paul Atreides is tested by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim. She places a poison needle at his neck (the gom jabbar) and Paul is required to keep his hand inside a pain-inducing box until such time as she tells him to remove it. If he removes it before permitted, he dies. The test, she says, is to see whether he is a human. In other words, is he capable of overcoming instinct and impulse (to remove his hand from pain) by being aware of consequences (death). Since permanent death is obviously worse than temporary pain, the rational human being will endure the latter to evade the former.

Which brings me to our present moment:

If you do not have the virus, it can seem like the virus is not real. If Paul is never pricked by the needle, do we really know that the poison is ever there? The discomfort we are experiencing – social isolation, economic uncertainty, lack of haircuts – grows steadily by the day. Are we sure it’s necessary? As it gets worse, our instincts kick in – you’ve been to Baskin Robbins tons of times and lived! Why should this time be any different? For Christ’s sake, it’s only a haircut and the barber isn’t even sneezing! Isn’t this just like the flu? I’ve had the flu before and been fine, thankyouverymuch! LET ME GO TO TARGET!

Left and right and all over, people are failing the gom jabbar. They are proving that their impulses are greater than their reason. I suppose we should not be surprised – even Herbert made it clear that few could conceivably pass the gom jabbar, and that it would be unusual for a male to be able to do so at all (which, honestly, I find a pretty fair assessment: if there’s anyone in our society able to endure discomfort for – hopefully – long-term gain, it’s women. Want proof? Find a mother. Literally any mother.).

We are all of us sitting there with our hand inside the box, the poison needle poised at our necks. Needle may strike, it may not, but one thing is certain: it has struck down already some 90,000 of us. The great tragedy is, of course, that many of those who have died did keep their hand in the box and did prove themselves more than an animal. They were likely done in by the animals around them – who did not wear their mask, who did not keep their distance, who did not stay home.

Yes, I called these people animals.

Frank Herbert calls these people animals, too. For what is somebody ruled by impulse and crude desire but an animal? They certainly aren’t using their higher reasoning functions, are they?

Time plays funny tricks on you when you are in pain or uncomfortable. The minutes stretch into hours and weirdly also the days run together, until it is hard to tell where you are or when it is or what you had planned to do. The world outside becomes unreal, ephemeral. In the normal world, we act as aggressively as we can to stop the pain or avoid the discomfort – this is instinct. But we’re being tested in a different way, now. We are not being tested for how quick we can move or how decisvely we can act. We are being asked to endure.

I would be remiss, also, if I didn’t make a mention of privilege here, as well. Some of us can stay inside and guard ourselves in relative comfort. There are a lot out there who cannot – first line responders and essential employees, the poor and homeless, those with chronic illnesses or disabilities that require constant care. For them especially should we endure this test. It is also deeply ironic that those who have the most privilege are the ones least able to do as they are asked.

Unlike in Herbert’s story, all of us have the means by which to evade the needle. We only need to keep going. Someday the needle will be removed and we will have passed our test.

Today is not that day.

 

Saga of the Redeemed, Part 2 – Now Available on Graphic Audio!

Hello, all my isolated friends.

Feeling lonely? Want an escape? Well, I’ve got the perfect getaway! The good folks over at Graphic Audio who specialize in creating super cool audio dramas (with a full cast, musical score, sound effects – the works!) have just released part 2 of my Saga of the Redeemed, titled Iron and Blood.

It’s the second half of the first book (The Oldest Trick), which continues the story of Tyvian Reldamar, rogue duelist and dastardly smuggler, in his quest for revenge while saddled with a magic ring that just won’t let him do anything evil. If you missed the first part, you can get that from Graphic Audio here.

There’s swordfights, man-eating gnolls, wizard’s duels, ancient ruins, conspiracies, found families, and so much more! And if you listen to these two and can’t wait for the next one? Well, the whole series is complete and available in book form, on sale everywhere fine e-books are sold.

So, help me help you by getting these excellent fantasy stories into your hands as soon as possible! Click on the links! You won’t regret it!

 

Vrokthar Stands Aghast at Your Pathetic Apocalypse

Hail, weak and irrelevant wetlanders! It is I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, come to taunt you at your darkest hour, just as was foretold by the casting of the bones!

None of Vrokthar’s gloats, long composed and rehearsed, seem relevant now.

I must say that I have been waiting a long time for this. Long has Vrokthar anticipated the collapse of your decadent and corrupt civilization – such a thing was inevitable, just as the sun sets and the coming of the winter frost. And yet, despite this, Vrokthar is…underwhelmed.

Your civilization is on the brink of destruction and all I get is…Tiger King?

Where…where are the hordes of zombies? Where is the rain of fire from your distant adversaries? Where are the howling wolves and the roaming packs of lunatics on dirt bikes? WHERE ARE THEY?

Because that is the apocalypse Vrokthar demands! If I am to descend into the chaos of your doom and chain thee to the wheels of my battle-wagon, I want there to be a decent fight, first. I wish to cast down your meager guardians, clad in their football pads and armed with crude aluminum clubs, with the strength of my mighty weapons and the sight of my invincible immensity! Not…not crash into some losers apartment and slay him in his pajamas while he binges on Picard!

And, for another thing, if you think I’m even going to raid down there this year, you’re nuts.

Vrokthar does not truck with germs. Why else wouldst he dwell here, in the frozen north, well beyond the breeding ground of any tropical plague? Because, well…

Because Vrokthar fears disease, okay? There, it has been spoken. Getting sick is scary, especially when your health plan is just some magic talismans way past their expiration date and some dentist you kidnapped back in 2012 that you’ve been keeping in a cage for just this occasion. And, it is now that Vrokthar learns the awful truth – dentists know NOTHING of plagues! Just plaque! PLAQUE!

WHAT THE FUCK EVEN IS PLAQUE?!

But no matter. What is important here is that you – yonder slackbrained imbeciles and limp-limbed toadies – have managed to find a way to have an apocalypse that is just NO FUN AT ALL! All you idiots need to do to survive is sit on your needlessly over-cushioned settees and watch infinite hours of brainless, juvenile entertainment, and for some reason you can’t even manage it! You miss your friends? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG THE WINTERS ARE UP HERE? I live in a tiny cave that stinks of dead animals and dentist piss for seven fucking months a year, and you assholes can’t give up going to the bar for a few weeks? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

I think this is all a ploy, yes. All of you are just trying to cheat Vrokthar of his long-imagined revenge! You’re going to get yourselves killed in this, the most terrifying and least violent of ways, just so I won’t come down there and force you to build a pyramid in my honor in some post-apocalyptic wasteland. Ah, yes – you thought you had duped the mighty Vrokthar, but no, his keen intellect hath pierced your tattered ruse! HA!

Of course, I am not going to come down there and do anything about it. Not yet. You filthy creeps could all be sick, and Barry and I are not about to get any kind of illness here in our cozy little cave.

(Barry is the dentist, by the way. He bids greetings to his family, who doubtless gave him up for dead long ago and have found a new father to serve, as I remind him of daily.)

But I digress.

The point is, I’m angry with all of you and deeply disappointed. I thought, at the least, you might have managed an entertaining demise. But no matter. I will see you in July or something and oh, then you will pay! You will pay mightily!

 

The Hierarchy of Orcdom

Disclaimer: what follows is some world-building notes from a fantasy setting I’ve been developing for the past year or two, primarily in short fiction.

As my captors will never deign to write their history themselves, let alone read it, I, Yrelliel Dawnsbreath, the last of the the elves, take up my quill and scratch this missive in the diluted blood of my own people. So that people, one day, may know.

The wars were lost. This much is obvious. The kingdoms of humanity were crushed, the dwarven empire ground to dust, and the immortal courts of the elves slaughtered and forgotten. This was over a century ago now, though the pain of it is still keen. Know you the old human proverb, “time heals all wounds?” Not so for the children of the twilit world – we elves remember. We remember as it was yesterday, and for all time. I envy my ancient human friends now, long sent to their rest, leaving scarcely a ghost to haunt me.

But my monitor – a hobgoblin named Fether – grows anxious. He believes me to be writing something I ought not, which indeed I am. How fortunate I am that he cannot read my calligraphy. Oh, how my mother would laugh. She always found my penmanship abysmal. Now, after the world I knew has ended, how funny it is that such terrible handwriting would serve as my primary defense.

But, to business.

All orcs are born goblins. This was not commonly known in the World Before, but now it occupies my thoughts at all times. The species, which we once thought four distinct races, is really one. How arrogant of us to never learn this. How steep the cost of such pride.

Goblins are wretched creatures. Usually discarded by their mothers shortly after birth, they grow quickly into vicious, adaptable little creatures who know nothing but hunger and terror in equal measures. But I will say this: their cruelty is not genetic. Many have been the young goblins set to bring me food or spy upon my rest or run this or that errand of my captors who has looked at me not with revulsion and hatred, but with curiosity and wonderment. I see in their red-rimmed gaze the same innocence and eager energy I remember among human children, though goblins are physically the most superior children ever born. By the age of five summers they can sprint as well as any elf I can recall, and their nimble little fingers are capable of great feats of ingenuity.

Goblins survive on their wits and their will alone. Orc society shows them little mercy. They are servants, slaves, and even more wretched things in this world, and it twists them to become their worst selves or, as is often the case, kills them before they can ever amount to anything worthwhile.

The species is always growing, always feeding. The more a goblin eats, the larger they get. Eventually, they grow large enough to depart the title of “goblin” altogether, though when exactly this occurs is subject to some debate, I gather. In any event, food is strictly controlled, strictly rationed. Only those goblins that prove themselves worthy of their masters’ affection are fed, and the rest eat only what they can steal. If they are very lucky, they become hobgoblins.

Hobgoblins are the managers of orc society. Their chief responsibility lies in keeping the labor force (the goblins) in line, by lash or by hook. They are granted greater privileges by their orc masters – regular meals, a degree of protection from other orcs, access to equipment and training. Aboard a leviathan, hobgoblins act as reliable foot soldiers, as only they have a degree of loyalty to their orc masters. Like goblins, they are clever and ingenious, devising the vast bureaucracy that allows Orcdom to function and constructing the huge machines that gave it the capacity to overcome the world of old. If they are met with success, they are permitted to attend the feasting table of their orc master and are showered with food. In time, should they continue to impress their masters, they will soon grow large enough to become an orc themselves.

The orcs, of course, are the warlords, rulers, tyrants, and masters of this society. Huge, bulky, violent, and only occasionally cunning, they live for conquest, whether in the military or civilian arenas. Their hunger is, of course, their defining feature. Whatever civilized traits they once possessed have long since been beaten out of them by their hardscrabble climb to the top of the social pyramid. They are without imagination, as imagination is seen as a threat to their society. There are no artists in this world of theirs. No poets. Scarcely any scholars worth the name.

Just an elf with poor penmanship chained in a tower.

There is, of course, one more evolution beyond that of the orc. It is rarely spoken of in orc society, as the orcs fear what the greatest among them become. Should an orc be unusually successful, whether at war with other tribes or even as a merchant or ruler or otherwise, and should they gorge themselves on feasts that would embarrass even the most gluttonous human king of old, they will, of course, continue to grow. As they grow – and indeed along their whole history of growth, from their birth as a goblin onwards – their hunger becomes more and more part of who they are. The orcs are balanced (barely) between the intelligence of their former self and the barbaric hunger that has gotten them this far. For trolls, they have fallen off the precipice.

Trolls are gigantic creatures, standing ten or even fifteen feet tall and weighing as much as four or five horses. They are nothing but unrestrained appetite, eating everything they come across, regenerating even the most grievous wounds, and leaving behind them a trail of destruction. They are a thing apart in orc society – more beast that being – and bear with them a kind of religious awe. Indeed, I have heard of whole troops of dispossessed goblins, hobgoblins, and even orcs that follow in their wake, worshiping the passing of the troll and feasting upon that which was left behind. These fanatical bands are a scourge upon the order of this society, but one that Orcdom insists is necessary, for some reason. I cannot understand it. In my old life I would not have wished to. But now?

Now, there is little I have to do but to understand this new world in which I live. To marvel at its perversity and its strange vitality. And to write it so that my orcish captors will never truly know what I write of them.

The Oldest Trick (part 1: The Iron Ring) on Audiobook! Boskone Schedule, Too!

Back when my books first got published, a bunch of people told me that they’d love to read them, but that they really only “read” audiobooks and when would the audiobook be coming out. Well, the answer is RIGHT NOW!

Graphic Audio has released the first part of the first book of The Saga of the Redeemed in audiobook as of yesterday. And, what’s even cooler is that this isn’t your regular, average audiobook – this is a full cast audio production, with sound-effects, music, a full cast of voice actors! Like podcasts? Like radio dramas? Man, have I got a treat for you!

They’ve also committed to producing the whole series, too! The second part of The Oldest Trick will be released in the coming months, and the rest of the series will follow after that. Hours and hours and hours of Tyvian, Artus, Hool, Myreon, and the rest of them, coming to life in a movie in your mind!

New to the Saga of the Redeemed? Well, check this out:

Tyvian Reldamar—criminal mastermind, rogue mage, and smuggler of sorcerous goods—has just been betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. To add insult to injury, his mysterious rescuer took it upon himself to affix Tyvian with an iron ring that prevents the wearer from any evildoing.

Revenge just got complicated.

On his quest to get even, Tyvian navigates dark international conspiracies, dodges midnight assassins, and uncovers the plans of the ruthless warlord Banric Sahand—all while running from a Mage-Defender determined to lock him up. Tyvian will need to use every dirty trick in the book to avoid a painful and ignominious end, even as he discovers that sometimes even the world’s most devious man needs a shoulder to lean on.

It’s got swordfights and magical duels, monsters and wizards, assassins and bounty-hunters, antiheroes and found families – what more could you ask for? Go and check it out right now! There’s even a 7-minute sample of the book for free on their website. (and, as always, if you’d just rather read the books, I know somewhere you can do that, too.)

Okay! You’ve got your mission – go!

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I’m at Boskone this weekend!

I’ll be attending Boskone in downtown Boston this weekend as a guest! This is a great convention, conveniently located, and really really fun. I hope to see you there!

Here’s my schedule:

Are Superheroes Dying?

Format: Panel
14 Feb 2020, Friday 16:00 – 16:50, Harbor I (Westin)

You can’t keep a good (or bad) superhero down for long … because they always seem to come back in the next scene, chapter, or film. That’s their essential nature: They defy death! But is that really a good thing? Should we let superheroes fade gently into that good night? Are we finally tiring of these endlessly buoyant characters?

Josh Dahl (MakeBetterComics.com) (M), Auston Habershaw, Melinda Snodgrass (Stealing Fire Productions Inc.), John Langan, Jim Infantino (Jim’s Big Ego)

Great Gamemasters as Storytellers

Format: Panel
14 Feb 2020, Friday 20:00 – 20:50, Marina 2 (Westin)

A great GM (gamemaster) can make or break the experience. Learn about what makes a good GM, tips for running your own table, and lessons learned along the way. Also, discover how running a game can encourage creativity and lead to ideas that can then be infused into a (written) story!

Trisha J. Wooldridge (M), Christopher Irvin, Melissa Caruso, Auston Habershaw, Gregory Wilson

Reading: Auston Habershaw

Format: Reading
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 12:30 – 12:55, Independence (Westin)

Auston Habershaw

 

A Muster of MFAs and Workshop Writers

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 15:00 – 15:50, Marina 4 (Westin)

Thinking about attending a Master of Fine Arts program or writing workshop? Wondering how to choose between a week-long workshop and a multi-year MFA, or a low-residency versus an onsite program? How do you determine what fits your needs? And once you’re done, how do you measure personal success and deal with the writing highs and lows that are coming? Join us for an in-depth discussion on how to choose what’s “write” for you.

David Anthony Durham (M), John Kessel (North Carolina State University), Auston Habershaw, Teresa Nielsen Hayden (Tor Books), Isabel Yap

 

Building Worlds Within LitRPG and Games

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 17:00 – 17:50, Marina 3 (Westin)

Literature, litRPG, and games all share a common worldbuilding process, but at what point do those processes diverge? How do the specific genres drive the narrative, which in turn drives the worldbuilding template for these different types of stories? What key elements distinguish litRPG and gaming fiction from their speculative fiction peers?

Auston Habershaw (M), Christopher Irvin, Mur Lafferty, M. C. DeMarco, Erin Roberts

 

Game to Fiction/Fiction to Game

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 20:00 – 20:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Game designers have to come up with an interesting world and compelling story in much the same way as authors who write fiction. So, what does it take to adapt a game to fiction or fiction to game? What new opportunities does the process create? What obstacles need to be overcome?

Gregory Wilson, Dan Moren (M), Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency), Auston Habershaw, Mur Lafferty