Another Progress Update or Hey Where Have I Been?

Been quiet around here hasn’t it and luckily a simple reason for that. I’ve just been busy with work and writing.

The Word is up to 48,000 words, total book length going to be between 90-110k I think. Later chapters are shaping up to be longer than earlier ones. I’m very happy with the progress I’m making especially as I took a week and half to go back and revise what I already had when I hot 30k to reflect some changes to the setting I’d thought about.

It’s certainly shifting more away from the story that was told in Oranje and was intended for the rest of the September series. The Commonwealth of Earth, the great nation behind humanities golden age – is no longer something that receded into the annals of history and then re-emerges to become the antagonist in the books. Now it is there as a lasting influence after the Collapse – the fall of the Commonwealth which happens a few centuries before the start of The Word – reduced, but a vital part of how the nations of the galaxy act and feel.

The setting is now much closer to the fall of the Roman empire in terms of the lasting influence it had after it was gone. Many nations that came afterwards tried to take up the mantle of the empire or keep its institutions running.

In the United novels the same is true at first. A lot of nations will seek legitimacy from being the appointed protectors of a region of the galaxy by the Commonwealth, and all aim to replicate its old success. But not everyone is happy with that, with the veneration and lifting up of the old days.

This results in a setting where the past has a firm grip on how people and nations act but new identities divorced from the path of following in the footsteps of the Commonwealth begin to emerge. That’s the story of the United, the nation that becomes the second golden age of humanity. The United series is all about how it starts, its conflicts with the Commonwealth, and how it comes to be the nation of humanity in the milky way.

I think this all allows for much richer storytelling so I’m really happy with it all. I hope these changes come through in the final book and the others in the United series. Now I need to just finish the first draft. End of June/mid-July seem feasible. Only time will tell. Until next time.

A Progress Update on The Word

A quick post with a progress update for The Word. I’m now 30,000 words through the first draft, around a 1/3rd of the way through it if my guess at it’s final length of 90,000-100,000 words is correct. At the pace I’m going the first draft should be done sometime in June or early July. Not bad at all.

I think there is a definite improvement in my writing when compared to the first draft of Oranje though I’m noticing a lot of the same problems with it. Lack of description, too much dialog, characters showing their emotions in the same few ways (nodding, shrugging etc.). Not going to worry about that for now, 2nd draft is for fixing those.

Talking of the 2nd draft there are also other changes I know I want to do. I’ve been working more on the overall back story and setting for the United novels, changes that will give The Word and other stories a lot more depth and feeling of being part of a consistent universe.

The whole idea of the United novels is now to chart the changing situation in this galaxy a thousand years in the future, from the golden age of the Commonwealth of Earth to the new dream of the United. Each novel will tell a different part of this story, The Word telling the tale of how the United begin. Hopefully the United novels will end up feeling part of this grand sweeping story, and that people can get invested in it.

That’s all for now, next progress update probably sometime after I’ve passed the half way point.

The #KTBookChallenge and What I’m Going to be Reading This Year

Last month K Tempest Bradford (@tinytempest) posted this great article: I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors For One Year. The internet’s reaction was of course as you’d expect, accusing her of reverse sexism and racism and completely missing the point. A lot of them rounded on her use of Neil Gaiman as an example, though he himself thinks the article is great. It certainly got me thinking about the authors I’ve read over the past few years.

Asimov. Niven. Vonnegut. Reynolds. Iain M Banks. China Mieville. John Green. Neil Gaiman. Jeff VanderMeer. The only non white male I can think of having read recently is JK Rowling via a re-read of the Harry Potter series. Even thinking back to Star Wars and Star Trek novels I’ve read they’ve all been written by men. Not the most diverse list of authors. Even when considering the ones that are my favourite – Rowling, Asmiov, Iain M Banks, Gaiman, Pratchett – there is only one woman.

So I’m going to do better this year. From this point on – with one exception I’m going to get to – I’m only going to read books by non-white, straight cis male authors. Already read one so far this year – The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – but I’m now reading more. So I’ve bought Ancillary Justice by Ann Lecki (finished that though it was really good and promptly brought the 2nd book in the trilogy), The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, and The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemsin.

After those are done I think I’m going to go with some of K Tempest Bradford’s recommendations which she’s posting on her website linked at the start of this post.

Why aren’t I doing the whole challenge? The answer is simple. The tragic news of Terry Pratchett’s untimely death mean that I have to re-read some of my favourite Discworld books this year. His writing meant too much to me not to do that.

But who knows, maybe after this year of reading I’ll have a more diverse list of favourite authors that I do currently.

On Terry Pratchett and What His Writing Meant to Me

It’s taken me a few days to organise my thoughts since the tragic news of his death broke on Thursday. My first reaction was very simple. I cried.

I didn’t know him personally, never met him, never emailed him a fan letter or anything like that. All I knew him through were the Discworld books.

I got into them when I was a teenager and I’ve worked my way through most of them since then. Think I need to do a re-read soon in the light of his passing. It’s hard for me to describe how much those books mean to me. I’m going to try, but by describing something I hate.

I hate – no LOATHE – that in obituaries and headlines he is so often described as a fantasy author. A weird complaint given the fact he did write fantasy. Discworld is fantasy. But describing him as a fantasy author does a disservice to his work, to the worlds he created.

He was a writer about people. About our lives and the world around us. About good and evil. Bad men and good men and the very thin line between them at times. About right and wrong. About discrimination and religion and DEATH. Oh how I love DEATH in Discworld. What a perfect character they are.

Sure all of the things he wrote about he did through highly satirical fantasy novels set in a made up world, but that setting that world let him shine a critical – and often highly philosophical – light on what it is to be human. What it is to live. He was a master of it.

The discworld books speak to me. They lift my mind and make me think. They use fun to poke at things wrong in the world and say ‘hey, isn’t this bad and odd shouldn’t something be done about it?’.

I want those books to be held up like Shakespeare as greats of literature so generation after generation gets introduced to them and experience the joy they’ve already brought to so many. If it makes some of them think as well, that’s a double bonus as far as I’m concerned.

You might be able to categorise Pratchett’s work as comic/satirical fantasy, but that description sells them so short. He wrote about us and about life and did so in such an intelligent way.

His books have helped shape who I am as a person. It’s why I cried at the news of his death.

Thank you Sir Terry for so many wonderful books. You will be missed.

Annihilation and The Goblin Emperor quick reviews

Travelling to work on the train the past week has allowed me to catch up on reading and on two books I’ve seen recommended a lot. Namely Annihilation, the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer; and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I’ll review them in the order I read them.

Annihiliation by Jeff VanderMeer3/5

I’m afraid to say this book just wasn’t for me. It’s well written and I finished the whole thing but it was the story I didn’t enjoy. It’s not the kind I usually read – you could argue why did I read it in the first place but been trying to broaden my horizons and it’s been recommended a lot – and it didn’t grab me. Found it interesting enough, but not enough felt like it had been resolved by the end of the book.

The whole book had a very X-files vibe to it. Secret government agencies, Area-X, strange expeditions and goings-on. The secrets behind the plot were teased overtime, mixed with flashbacks to help flesh out and give depth to the central character. The flashbacks felt like an unnecessary addition at first, but the main character ends up spending a lot of time on their own and they helped illuminate the reasons behind their actions without the usual mirror provided by the reactions of and conversations with another human being.

The plot just didn’t grab me, a few too many odd things happening and conspiracies within conspiracies for me to enjoy. But the book was well enough written that I finished the whole thing over the course of a day.

For someone who enjoys these stories more I’m sure it would be a 4 or 5/5. Just wasn’t for me.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison4/5

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this book from the first few chapters. The story, of the unfavoured 4th son of the old Emperor of the Elf lands who now finds himself replacing his dead father, should be an easy introduction to the world of the book. The main character has to learn how things go on at the Imperial court as much as we do. However the book doesn’t shy away from throwing a bewildering amount of strange terms at you and it took me a good while to settle into enjoying the book.

The plot, centered around the challenges of the new Emperor as he adjusts to the complexities of court and running his empire, I think is well handled. Most of the conflict comes from other characters, and there are plenty of well fleshed out ones each with their own motivations and lots of depth to them. The underlying story threads kept me interested and I was curious to see how each one resolved and I ploughed through the book in a couple of days.

I do wish a bit more had happened in the book. From what I understand there is no sequel planned, which is frustrating as there are a lot of unanswered questions at the book. The ending is satisfying, but perhaps more of the plot threads could have been advanced or resolved. The plot moves along at a graceful pace, and over the course of the 500 pages of it there are two big moments that happen. If the pacing had moved along a bit quicker, and more aspects of the story had been drawn to a conclusion by the end, I think this would easily be a 5/5.

But I can’t overlook the tricky opening, the abundance of terminology for readers to get their heads around – though there is a handy glossary at the back of the book – and the slow pace of the plot and the unresolved aspects of it.

A thoroughly good book which I recommend, especially for the tone of hope and optimism that runs throughout it, that personally I feel falls just shy of true greatness.

Who Am I Writing For?

A silly question perhaps when the answer is myself, but it’s one I’ve been thinking about recently.

When I first got on the path of seriously writing – that eventually led to Oranje and what I’m working on now – I spent a lot of time online researching serious sci-fi. I visited sites like Atomic Rockets, Rocketpunk Manifesto and read a lot of critiques of literary sci-fi that were going on at the time. Jonathan McCalmont’s Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost the Future being by far the best example of that.

They’re all excellent websites, but I think I approached them wrong, especially the first two. I went to them convinced I had to write serious and realistic sci-fi because…well, I’m not sure why. But I’d convinced myself I needed to and that shaped a lot of the world building I did for Oranje. I realise the end product wasn’t the most accurate, but those sites definitely influenced how I approached it a lot.

And I really don’t know how I got into the position of believing there was one correct way to write sci-fi, or at least the one right way for me to do. Perhaps it was a desire, a need maybe, to be taken seriously, and really that’s the wrong approach.

The only person I’m really writing my books for is myself, and I should write them in a way that makes me happy and that I enjoy.

Those websites I linked are all fantastic resources, Jonathan McCalmont’s essay in particular is incredibly thought provoking, and great tools to use in world buildings. But I should’ve used them to shape a setting that came from what I like in sci-fi.

What is that? What constantly draws me to this genre?

The simple answer I think is that the genre contains so many interesting stories about people which are set in universes and worlds that allow the story to tell us about what it means to be human. Whether that be what it is to love, to hope, or to suffer lose and grief.

Those are the kind of stories I want to write, in a setting that allows me to tell those stories as best as I can.

That is what the United novels are meant to be. Even if The Word is going to cover a lot of the same story I had planned for the September series, it will do it differently and in a way that better reflects who I am as a writer.

Who am I writing for? Myself, and that’s all that any writer can really do.