Wednesday, November 9, 2016

David B. Coe’s ‘The Outlanders’ and its Wonderful, Timely Message

(Hello, LTP Readers! This blog has moved, but I put a copy of this post here on my old site in case there was any confusion. If you're reading this, then I guess that was smart of me. New blog is at https://timetorambleon.wordpress.com/)
Fantasy readers arthe_outlanders-ebooksite-200x300e lucky to have David B. Coe, because he possesses enough talent to succeed in any genre of writing, and nowhere is that more apparent than in The Outlanders. This book also contains an important theme, which made it a comforting read as a venomous election cycle came to an end.
The tricky part of writing genre fiction is making the same old plots seem fresh and new. Readers are quick to toss aside any book that seems too familiar. Then, of course, we’ll throw the next one away for not being familiar enough. We fantasy readers are a demanding lot, but, fortunately, Coe knows what he’s doing.
The Outlanders  succeeds the outstanding novel The Children of Amarid, and in this sequel the author faces the challenge of writing about a modern world that exists alongside a magical one. Coe is very good at world-building, and this story gives fantasy readers two worlds for the price of one. But the real heart of the tale is found in its people, and, as Coe knows, that is the secret to making any story a good one.
The novel opens with a simple scene: a woman is looking at a piece of paper. Sonel, the leader of a magical order, has received correspondence from the neighboring, modernized society–the first formal communication between their peoples. The contents of the letter are bland, boilerplate,  but Sonel is struck by the paper, which she barely has words to describe:
The paper itself was a message. Immaculately white, its edges were as straight
as sunbeams, its corners so sharp they seemed capable of drawing blood…Yet, despite the distance it had traveled, it came rolled in a precise, narrow cylinder and tied with a shining, golden ribbon of silk.  Indeed, it looked so elegant, so unnatural in its perfection, that Sonel had known before she read the terse response to her own letter of several months before, what the flawless, ornate lettering would say. She pictured her own note, embarrassed at the thought of how it must have appeared to its recipients. She had used the best parchment available to her, had employed the
most skilled scribe in Amarid, and had tied her letter with the fine, blue satin
used for all of the Order’s communications. But compared with this missive
from Lon-Ser, her image of that first letter seemed to wither and fade. In her
memory the parchment looked dingy and rough-edged, the lettering coarse and
uneven, the blue satin crude and inadequate. The letter from Lon-Ser’s leaders
made a mockery of her effort.
Hoping to stop a pending invasion, a mage named Orris ventures into this modernized land, bringing his mystical gift to people who no longer believe in magic. Orris isn’t exactly a diplomat, to say the least, and his struggles to understand an advanced society are evenly matched by his lack of charm. His presence as a mage is seen as a threat by a local ruler, and Orris quickly finds himself hunted by the most dangerous men in the land while looking for a way to save his home from war.
The story of two cultures clashing as their inevitable collision draws near is captivating, but the real story is how this conflict affects the characters back home. Unable to agree on exactly how to deal with this new threat, the mages, sworn to protect their lands, are bitterly divided. You can’t help but feel frustrated as our protagonists’ noble efforts are swallowed up in bureaucracy and prejudice. I wanted to scream at the characters and tell them to just get up and walk away, washing their hands of the nasty affair.
Fortunately, the characters in this book are better people than that. No amount of bullying or mockery will turn our hero, Baden, from his goal of keeping the order of mages together and unified. Baden refuses to demonize his political opponents or return their mockery, and he also insists that the discovery of their technologically advanced neighbors should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. Baden fights the good fight to the end, always steadfast in his belief that these different people, if they will work together, can move forward to something better.
And that’s a lesson we could all stand to learn.
220px-david_coe
Stay gold, Owl-Master
Check out David. B. Coe’s site to read more about The Outlanders, and the anticipated new edit he’s releasing for us. It’s wonderful when a writer has the opportunity to revisit an established work and give it a fresh look.

Monday, October 24, 2016

'The Other Wind' by Ursula K. Le Guin

It can't be said enough: Le Guin's writing is amazing.
 

I just read The Other Wind, the last Earthsea novel. Le Guin pieces together nearly unremarkable clauses into unforgettable tapestries, writing with every bit of subtle power one would expect from the words of Hemingway.

Observe:

Tehanu was off her horse, had tossed the reins to Yenay, was walking forward down the slight slope to where the dragon hovered, its long wings beating quick and short like a hovering hawk's. But these wings were fifty feet from tip to tip, and as they beat they made a sound like kettledrums or rattles of brass. As she came closer to it, a little curl of fire escaped from the dragon's long, long-toothed, open mouth.

She held up her hand. Not the slender brown hand but the burned one, the claw. The scarring of her arm and shoulder kept her from raising it fully. She could reach barely as high as her head.

I read this scene like a kid watching a scary movie, edging off of the couch and letting food fall out of my mouth as I read on, praying for Tehanu as I turned the page. 

It's a short book, but it has everything. So often I feel like I have to sacrifice my desire for good writing in order to read a good story, but once in a while someone can do both.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Great Old Books: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip

Rachel Neumeier got me thinking with her blog entry about bringing out the best old books into the spotlight, because I love telling people about The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

It's from 1974, and it's a real gem. The writing style has the mythic weightiness similar to Ursula K. Le Guin's prose, with every sentence feeling like a fragment of a dark, ancient legend. The magic in the story is beautiful and fascinating. The scenes are as exciting as they are intimate.

Overall, it's a very thoughtful book, and it features an unforgettable heroin. For a fantasy story, I really think it was ahead of its time in terms of writing style and character complexity. It's hard to find a better book.

The best part is how well The Forgotten Beasts of Eld holds up over time. Whenever I pour myself into those old pages (my copy is older than I am and pretty well-traveled) I get sucked into the mystery and the magic all over again. Not a lot of books can keep giving like that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A True Story About My Wedding

(There might be a few embellishments. My memory isn't perfect.)

As Christine and I prepared for our first dance, we took our place on the makeshift dance floor and waited. She in her wedding dress, and I in my rented tux. But the dramatic pause went on for too long--little did we know that something had gone wrong in our planning--no one was manning the music station. My friend Andrew intrepidly took action, moving like a blur, pushing aside confused guests he got the computer hooked up and ready to play our music.

Christine and I smiled. Our first dance was going to be to The Beatles's Something.

 
With an air of refinement, I announced, "Play...Something."

We waited. I looked over at Andrew with raised eyebrows. Surely he had heard me.

"What do you want me to play?" he asked.

"Something!" I repeated. I lowered my voice and said to my wife of ten minutes, "Sheesh. What's with that guy?"

"He's your friend."

We waited. I looked to Andrew and he was just standing there, wearing a face that you see on kids who can't find their parents in the grocery store.

"I don't know what you want me to play," he said.

"Something. Just click on Something." Then I whispered to my wife, "It's sad when it happens to someone you know."

"Let me get this straight," said Andrew, glaring at us over the computer screen, "you just want me to click on anything? Anything at all?"

"No. No. Not just anything. Something. By the Beatles. Obviously."

At last, understanding dawned on me and my wife and I laughed at our "Who's on First" moment.

"Sorry, Andrew," I said, noticing he wasn't laughing, "just play Something by the Beatles."

"So...any song by the Beatles?"

"No! Not just anything--Something!"

Andrew reached out with both hands and made a choking motion.

Eventually we untangled our rhetorical knot, danced our first dance, and laughed about the trial we had put Andrew through. That was nine years ago; this morning, one of the first things my wife heard was me pulling up Spotify and playing Something.

Which is a song by the Beatles. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Roadtrips and Restrooms

The following things happened when I joined my friend Jared on a trip to Arkansas to help our friend Andrew move the last of his stuff to his new place in Texas.





--During a pit stop, Jared points and says, "Andrew just came out of the women's bathroom!" Andrew blinked in response, but offered no shame or explanation.













--We saw a horse in a boat with a hat on its butt. Thanks, Oklahoma, I never thought I'd get a chance to write that sentence.













--This was in Andrew's trashcan. All of them were labeled "Not Abnormal Enough."













--Around midnight we played a game about middle-eastern stereotypes that made no sense. I kid you not, Jared's house (in the game) caught on fire and he literally did nothing while it burned down and then the entire city came out and crowned him a hero for doing nothing. For doing nothing. Meanwhile, I got sent to jail for battling an evil warlord. Well, excuse me for living.

Tales Of The Arabian Nights


--We had to spend the night in the now-abandoned house. Strange, loud noises were coming from the ceiling all night. No big deal, right? It's not like there was a squatter living in the attic or something.





 --The next morning I joked about Jared's snoring. Andrew said he heard it too, but thought it was me. Jared was certain he had heard Andrew or me snoring. Basically, during breakfast we realized that someone was snoring and it wasn't one of us. No big deal. It's not like someone in the attic was snoring all night...






--At the moving place, a tiny woman with a pixie cut single-handedly dragged the trailer to the truck hitch in the blink of an eye and fastened everything while giving us directions. She looked at me and said, "You look like someone who's good at getting lids off of pickle jars--make sure I got this tight enough!" I smirked and then reached down to check her work...and found out that she's a lot stronger than yours truly. (Which doesn't say much.) Back home, we required a pulley system and a few professional linebackers to get the darned thing off.




















--You can't stop to pee while you're driving down a mountain carrying a trailer. So Jared and I rode like this:





--At dinner, I wanted to use the single-occupancy bathroom in the restaurant but Jared was in there first. Andrew observed that the women's bathroom was not in use, and then he stared at me as I made a tough decision.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Father's Day Grammer Check

I always do grammar quizzes when I see them for the same reason athletes pick up weights and put them back down: it's the only way I'll get better.

Grammarly has, hands down, the most outstanding Father's Day related grammar quiz ever. (Competition is probably not very steep for that particular hyperbole.)




They have an online grammar checker that you should check out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Anyone Else Sleep Better During Storms?

Thunder feels like home.

I'm from the country, a little place that's only marked by a single sign that you might see going in our out. (It says "Caviness.") As a boy, one of my favorite things was watching the clouds outside my window during storms. And, let me tell you, we had some storms.

I didn't know it at the time, but the storm activity in that area is unusually high. I've failed to find any record of this, but locals will tell you what I learned over the years: there's an abundance of lightning in that tiny area. I remember visiting home a few years ago and asking my dad why there was so much thunder. A crack every two seconds for more than half an hour is unusual, right? My dad laughed and said I'd been away from home for too long.

On my vacation last year, the wife and I stayed in a train car that had been converted into a hotel room. (Sort of. I think it was a work in progress.) A metal train car. And there was a storm of epic proportions that evening that was really loud for those of us sleeping in a big tin can. Rain hit the walls of that train car like a million hammers falling on us, lightning lit up windows on every side, and thunder rattled the walls and shook the ground.

I slept like a baby.

During the recent string of Texas storms I had warm memories of home when I could hear the thunder growling as it approached, knowing it would end in a loud bang. I know it's strange, but it makes me feel relaxed. I've fallen asleep in a hundred big, loud storms. Like a sailor who keeps steady legs during a squall, I've learned to relax to the sounds of rolling thunder and even sleep to it.

Of course, it doesn't work that way for everyone else in my home. When there's a whipcrack of thunder my wife is shocked out of bed, throwing off the covers and looking exactly like this:


 Well, it's probably more like this:


Or, more accurately:


So, together we sort of look like this:


Then there's my wife's cat:


Her cat gets really scared. He sometimes flattens himself out in a corner, trying to get as low to the ground as possible. He won't react to anything we say or do, he only whimpers. I've seen him stay that way, absolutely petrified, for hours after a storm.

Even I feel sorry for him. So would you.


My cat freaks out at the sound of thunder, too, but being a simple minded dullard she quickly forgets why she was scared only to be reminded at the next crack of thunder.

So that's what our place is going to look like this week during the upcoming storms. A bunch of scaredy-cats making synchronized leaps into the air at each sound of the storm...


 ...while I snore away in my bed, finally getting some good rest.