Nightspore

Reflections on fantasy, SF, writing, music, technology, life…

Gender bias in fantasy characters

A couple of months ago, I highlighted a list of “the best fantasy series”. As always, such lists are personal opinions. However, a writer friend from the SFF Online Writers Workshop, Kathryn Jankowski, wrote a comment on how ” very male-protagonist oriented” the list was and offered another list to balance this.

I have to be honest here that I had not noticed how skewed the original list was when I wrote the post (but then I am an elderly while male which does not excuse me but perhaps explains the omission!). However, it set me thinking and I have kept my eye open for more on this topic.

I have just come across a blog post that explores this bias by Freda Warrington, an excellent British fantasy writer I have admired since I read her first novel, “A Blackbird in Silver” in the mid-’80s.

If you are interested in this topic, check out the rest of Sarah Ash’s blog on Women Who Write Excellent SFF under the heading of Nobody Knew She Was There.

Solitude, coffee, music: Ian Rankin on how he writes

As mentioned before a while ago, I am a big fan of Ian Rankin, the Scottish crime fiction writer. Therefore I was fascinated to read this article by him in The Guardian about how he writes:
Ian Rankin: ‘Solitude, coffee, music: 27 days later I have a first draft’

I found particularly interesting his different approaches to the first, second and third drafts of his novels and that he does not research too much early on.

Incidentally, his taste in writing music matches mine pretty well, as does his need for solitude and coffee… I live in hope of emulating some of his success!

Which are the best fantasy series?

My daughter, Holly, who is a fellow fantasy fan, has just pointed me at Paste Magazine‘s list of “The 30 Best Fantasy Book Series of All Time”.

I am currently reading Holly’s Christmas present to me: Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law” trilogy. I am on the final book and thoroughly enjoying the characterisation and each PoV’s distinctive “voice” so am pleased to see this is deservedly on the list. If you have not read it yet – it is strongly recommended.

Looking at the rest of the list, it is good to see Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea cycle” on there, as well as Anne McCaffery’s “Dragonriders of Pern” (long a personal favourite) and Robin Hobb’s “Realm of the Elderlings” (which I discovered and enjoyed last year) alongside the expected entries such as LOTR, Harry Potter and Discworld.

I am more ambiguous about George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” now. I really enjoyed the first three books but by the fifth never found the energy to finish it as it seemed too sprawling and, by leaving out half the parallel story lines, I missed some of the more interesting characters.

There were some series I would not have included (such as “Narnia” and “Thomas Covenant” in particular) but these lists are always about personal choices and not everyone’s taste is the same.

The really good thing about such a list is that it also showed a number of series I have thought about reading but have yet to delve into (Stephen King’s “Dark Tower”, Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn”, Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time”, Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files”) and it is difficult to decide where to start!

Then there are those I have no sense of yet… “The Gentleman Bastard Sequence” by Scott Lynch caught my eye, as did “The Kingkiller Chronicle” by Patrick Rothfuss, “Malazan Book of the Fallen” by Steven Erikson and “The Night Angel Trilogy” by Brent Weeks.

Then there’s a decision as to whether I try yet another Arthurian cycle with Stephen R. Lawhead’s “The Pendragon Cycle”. I really enjoyed Arthurian works when I was much younger but felt I had overdosed on them and have not sought them out for many a year yet this series gets a good recommendation.

Help! Any advice on priorities? Any opinions on what you think are best?

Refuting Lee Child’s take on Amazon’s book-selling

My thanks to Kathryn Jankowski for pointing out Joe Konrath’s refutation of Lee Child’s opinion piece on Amazon that I posted about recently.

Rather than leave the link in a comment, I am posting it separately as Konrath’s article, titled Fisking Lee Child, makes some excellent points. I particularly liked how he highlights the differences between the few bestseller category authors like Child and the thousands of other writers.

Well worth reading for a balance to Child’s arguments.

An author’s perspective on Amazon’s book stores

Since my previous post on the implications of Amazon opening physical book shops, the Guardian has published an opinion piece by thriller writer Lee Child on why he thinks this is a bad idea: Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried.

Apart from the implications for publishers and print books, he also weighs in on the terms and conditions Amazon imposes (and subsequently adversely changes) for writers following the indie publishing route.

Some good and interesting arguments against an Amazon monopoly.

Many advantages to Amazon opening physical book stores

Anyone interested in Amazon’s approach to book retailing (and most writers will fall into this category!) will be interested in this analysis in Computerworld of Amazon’s approach to physical stores and its strategy to leverage “bricks and mortar”:

This is why Amazon will open physical bookstores

The point here is not so much competition with other book shops as positioning its overall placement of products, delivery and how Amazon’s publishing business competes with other publishers.

Emotional truths in the history-based novel’s characters

This article on the challenges of writing a historical novel that has characters true to their time caught my eye. While it is not directly SF or fantasy related, it has some useful insights in developing characters that reflect the culture and society in which they live. This not only applies to historical fiction but also fantasy and SF set in thee past but also is relevant whenever the story is set, be it present day, near or distant future, on Earth or out in space.

Emotional Truths and Historical Lies in the Shadow of the Great War

WordPress versus Joomla!

This blog is based upon a WordPress template. Overall, I would say I have been very happy with it. However, the time came to rewrite my wife’s art website (which had been somewhat cumbersome to update in an HTML editor). A website designer friend suggested that rather than rewrite it in WordPress I try out Joomla!

We tried it for a while but the experience was never satisfying and Joomla, to me, seemed to lack some of the flexibility and ease of use that WordPress has. So, having abandoned HTML editing for Joomla!, we have since been through another complete restyle and rewrite of her site using a commercial WordPress template from Themezilla.

Despite the odd hiccup from time to time, even Karina – who is definitely not a techie! – has been able to edit and update her site using a set of notes I prepared. All in all, it is a relief to have both her site and this one both on WordPress.

Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers

The previous post, about Susan Sontag, came from an initial reference to a very useful web site called Brain Pickings. Since then I have been exploring the site and found some very useful posts on writing advice. These are summarised as Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers.

Read, learn and enjoy!

Susan Sontag on Storytelling

Another article on writing and reading. This time Susan Sontag on Storytelling which has some very useful insights from one of her last public appearances — a lecture on South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer delivered shortly before Sontag’s death in 2004.

As well as looking at the difference between telling a story and imparting information or the writer’s role in deciding whhich of many stories to tell, the part of the article that really spoke to me was a quote of Sontag’s definition of what a writer does and is:

Every writer of fiction wants to tell many stories, but we know that we can’t tell all the stories — certainly not simultaneously. We know we must pick one story, well, one central story; we have to be selective. The art of the writer is to find as much as one can in that story, in that sequence … in that time (the timeline of the story), in that space (the concrete geography of the story).
[…]
A novelist, then, is someone who takes you on a journey. Through space. Through time. A novelist leads the reader over a gap, makes something go where it was not.
[…]
Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once … and space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.
[…]
The work of the novelist is to enliven time, as it is to animate space.

Thought-provoking and well worth taking the time to read and absorb.

Hat-tip to Jan Whitaker on OWW SFF Writing Forum for drawing my attention to it.

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