Snippets

Having no other content to put up here lately, I thought I’d post a snippet of a story I’m working on and see what you 3 think of it. This is actually quite terrifying, putting it out there like this. I don’t even have a title for it yet. Oh what the hell, here it is.

******

“Not many women choose this life,” he said, watching her clean the blade of her sword. The steel was smooth as glass, not a ripple in the metal. He’d never seen such a beautifully crafted blade.

She knelt on one knee in the mud by the body of the man she had just cut down in battle. “I’d hardly call it a choice.”

He dismounted from the enormous black horse. “Ah. Like so many of us. Sometimes the gods choose for us.”

“The gods and a bastard of a father who beat his children. He was my first kill.” She stood up, taller than he’d expected, broad-shouldered for a woman.

His mouth curved up on one side in a sardonic smile. “Self-defense is a basic skill for a warrior. The gods started training you early.”

“What is it with you and the gods, old man?”

“They’ve brought me victorious through many a battle.”

“And you don’t think that was any credit to your own skill?”

“Oh assuredly. But they set me on the path to learn what I’d need.”

She snorted. “All right, old man, if it gives you comfort at night.”

It was his turn to smile. “Old man? My hair may show many winters, but my arm will match yours in battle yet.”

She looked him up and down. His arms were as thick as oak branches, taut and strong, hardly flagging into old age. And then she saw the rank insignia riveted to his armor. He was the highest ranking general she’d come across since the war began. “No disrespect intended, General…?”

“Vercingetor.”

Her smile faded. He was more than a general, Vercingetor was the legendary commander of all the armies. And here she was sassing him. She laughed self-consciously. How could she not have recognized him? One didn’t expect to see the prime commander wandering around a battlefield unescorted. She saluted, wondering if it was already too late to salvage her career in the army. “My deepest apologies, General. Your presence here is a surprise. How may I serve you?”

“Apology accepted, Captain Lassuni. Since our work here is done,” he said, sweeping his glance over the battlefield where the crows were already arriving to scavenge the dead, “join me for some food, and we can talk.”

“Sir, I need to check on my troops.” Gainsaying the top Commander was probably error number two that day, but her duty to her own troops weighed on her. She couldn’t just go off for food and wine and leave them.

“Of course. I’ll join you,” he said, and mounted his horse once again. He sat and waited for her to retrieve her own mount that had wandered off during the battle. Once in the saddle she kicked the horse’s flanks, urging the animal to a canter.

“This way, General,” she said, and rode up the hill that hid their encampment.

They reached the top side by side, and reined their horses to a stop. Smoke from cooking fires and the smell of blood of the wounded scorched their nostrils. The wind was picking up as dark clouds moved in from the north. Just what they needed, Lassuni thought darkly. The wounded were suffering enough without cold rain and snow coming down on them. She urged her horse down the hill, nearly forgetting the presence of the army chief. She wasn’t too worried about him, though. He could figure out on his own what to do. All she could do now was her duty to her troops.

They rode down the line of tents, many of which had become camp hospitals, stopping now and then to have a word with some of the field doctors. None of the soldiers in the camp seemed to notice Vercingetor any more than she had, which made her smile inwardly. She didn’t know why this pleased her so much, only that it did. She suspected he was as arrogant and full of himself as most high-ranking officers were, probably moreso. Not that he hadn’t earned his fame the hard way, but most of them forgot the hardships suffered by the field troops once they got so high and mighty. And she hated them for it. She watched him out of the corner of her eye to see how he reacted to his anonymity. Annoyingly, he seemed to take no notice and said nothing as she spoke with some of the soldiers, simply observing from his saddle, not even offering an opinion. Finally she gave up worrying about him. Dismounting, she handed her horse off to her aide. She ran a hand absently through her chin-length, rough cut hair. She entered her tent where fatigue stole up and embraced her, and for the first time she felt the strain of the last few weeks. Forgetting the presence of the Supreme Commander, she lowered herself into her chair and called for wine, and two cups.

“My compliments, Captain. You have an excellent unit,” Vercingetor said. He had followed her in, but remained standing as if waiting for an invitation to sit.

Lassuni grinned, just a little, then started to stand again. “Forgive me, General…”

He waved his hand at her. “You’ve earned that seat, Captain,” he said. He turned and looked around the tent, then pulled up a second chair to sit near her. Lassuni shifted ever so slightly.

“Forgive me, General. I’m not accustomed to superior officers doing for themselves,” she said. But even that was half bait to see how he’d take it. What was it about this man that brought out this childish desire to provoke?

Vercingetor gave no indication that he felt in any way slighted or that she was being insubordinate. Peculiar. By now her aides were entering bearing plates of food and flagons of wine. As they refreshed the fire she began to thaw a little from the numbing cold of the gathering night, and started removing her armor. Vercingetor took a mouthful of the roasted meat and a swallow of wine, paying no heed to her. She shrugged and allowed her aide to finish taking the armor off.

“Tomorrow,” Vercingetor started, “we’ll cross the Ringossa Valley, and advance into Segora Province. Your troops will need to rest some before we can finish the push into the capital city.”

“We’ll need reinforcements before we can engage the rebels there. We suffered too many casualties today. I can’t move my forces for at least a week.”

“Precisely. You’ll leave your squadrons here, and take command of the Ninth Division. They’re stationed just beyond that ridge to the north.”

“Sir?” She finished swallowing a mouthful of food. “You want me to lead the Ninth?”

Now Vercingetor smiled. “Did you think I just stumbled on you by accident today, Captain?”

“Surely there are other officers more qualified to command the ninth.”

“More senior, certainly; more qualified – not that I’ve seen.”

For a moment she could hardly speak. The Ninth was a legendary elite unit, undefeated on the battlefield. To be handed command of such a unit was unheard of. Only the most skilled warriors were assigned to serve directly under the military’s highest commander.

“But sir, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to promote one of their own to command?”

He swirled his wine while watching her. “Perhaps. Under normal circumstances. At the moment I need some of them elsewhere, and after what I witnessed on the battlefield today, I believe I can trust you to carry this burden. Your regiment scored a decisive victory, your troops fight fiercely for you. I need officers who can inspire their troops like that.”

“But who will take over my regiment?”

“Captain, are you trying to tell me you’re refusing this promotion?”

She swallowed hard. “No General, not at all.”

He was handing her a position beyond anything she’d hoped for and she was acting like a mother hen. True, she had brought these troops up from nothing, turning them into one of the most feared and best trained units in the empire, but fate it seemed had decided it was time to move on.

“Your devotion to your troops is commendable, Captain, but I need you elsewhere right now. Be ready to leave in the morning, if you please.”

“Yes sir.”

“Now, if you’ll direct me to a tent I can use tonight, I’d be most grateful.”

Once Vercingetor was settled, Adovana Lassuni assembled her officers in a hasty council to pass on the news. Her top lieutenant openly blanched at the news, until she informed him he was receiving a field promotion to captain.

“You’ll assume command immediately,” she told him. “I ride out in the morning with the supreme commander. There’s no time for a formal change of command.”

“It’s been an honor to serve with you, Captain.” Lieutenant Satonos stood at attention as he spoke.

Lassuni nodded. “Thank you. And may I be the first to congratulate you on your promotion, Captain Satonos.” Each placed their left hand on the other’s right shoulder in salute.

*****

More to come…

 

More Bad Book Covers

I had thought the previous crop of tramp-stamped dommes in fetish gear wielding swords on book covers  was bad enough. But these two recently caught my eye, and I’m hoping this isn’t the next trend.

Come on. Who would ever walk around dressed like that, packing that much heat? If you’re going to war, I don’t care if you’re a teenage hooker, you’re going to find something a little less ridiculous to wear.

 

Um, what’s with the flip-flop on her right foot there? Is this appropriate footwear for ANYONE going into battle? I ask you. There’s been a lot of talk lately about ridiculous armor  (really, go check that out, there’s some excellent artwork depicting women in good, useful armor) on women in fantasy novels, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

More to the point, these two Lolitas are clearly adolescents. On top of the sexual fantasy outfits, publishers seem to be depicting younger and younger girls. From what I read, the character in Jay Lake’s Endurance is quite young, trained as a courtesan, so maybe this is intended to be erotica, or erotic fantasy, in which case she is probably dressed to titillate in keeping with the story. Here’s part of the description from Amazon:

Green is back in Copper Downs. Purchased from her father in sunny Selistan when she was four years old, she was harshly raised to be a courtesan, companion, and bedmate of the Immortal Duke of Copper Downs. But Green rebelled. Green killed the Duke, and many others, and won her freedom.

I haven’t read the book, I don’t know how old exactly she’s supposed to be in the story. Maybe it was shelved incorrectly. The ‘horror/erotica’ section was the next aisle over. It does sound like BDSM, I mean, a God of Pain? You can read the reviews for yourself if you’re interested.

The MC in Discount Armageddon is apparently older than the child in the Endurance, but you’d never know it by that cover. She looks maybe sixteen, seventeen?

I understand that authors typically have little to no say over the cover art for their books. I haven’t read either book (nor will I, the subjects do not appeal to me) so this is no slight against the authors or their writing. I just wish publishers would quit with the sexploitation covers.

I think I’ll go write some military sci-fi so at least one woman warrior can have the appropriate armor and footwear.

Bewitched! The Reboot

Ok, people, Variety reports Bewitched is getting a reboot! While I’m all kinds of excited about this, my enthusiasm for this dropped several notches when I read who the producers are.

Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher, the married couple behind the 2005 film version, are onboard to exec produce through their Red Wagon shingle. Marc Lawrence (“Did You Hear About the Morgans?”), who will write the script, is also an exec producer.

But let’s think good thoughts.

I think if they can get the right cast it could succeed. Will Ferrell may not have been the worst choice they could have made for Darren in the movie, but he wasn’t good. There, I said it. So, any suggestions for casting?

These Are the Good Old Days

FAIR WARNING – MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

(If you haven’t read the A Song of Ice andFire books, or are just starting, you may want to skip this post)

Just some observations. As I’ve been reading through George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (now on book 3, A Storm of Swords) one thing keeps stopping me and pulling me out of the story. This is not a criticism, but it’s such a glaring difference between the type of society depicted in the books and our own modern first-world society that it makes me stop and ponder every time I run across mention of someone’s age.

Many of the characters depicted in the books are children, but you really never see any of them acting like children. Frankly I’m astonished at the adult attitudes, thoughts, and ways of behaving of even the youngest children. At the age of sixteen, Robb is a seasoned battle commander and king, and returns home with a spoil of war: a bride. Strategizing battles, grasping political maneuvers and intrigue, even murder, are not beyond the Stark children. The younger daughter, Arya, has to learn how to live on the streets and hunt small animals and birds to keep herself alive. Even before the tide turns against them and the family is shattered, these kids are paying attention to the manners and mores of the adults, studying their father’s conduct and interactions with lords and knights, and visiting nobles who come to see Ned at Winterfell. There seems to be little time for leisure, and games as entertainment apparently don’t exist. Life is hard for these kids, but they’ve never known anything else. It’s a striking contrast to 21st century USA where the vast majority of kids seem to have nothing more to think about than the latest Wii or XBox, or Nintendo games, getting the latest iPhone or grumbling about school. I’m not making any judgments about it, I certainly don’t wish to live in the world of the books and have to learn to hunt pigeons to feed myself, and I realize there are places in the world where life is far harder. I know we’re quite privileged here and believe me I appreciate all my creature comforts.  One of my high school teachers once remarked (I think he was quoting someone, but I don’t know who) “An extended childhood is the sign of an advanced civilization.” That would be us. Childhood for many here now extends well into middle-age.

Every time I run across these issues in the books, where these kids are put into impossible, unconscionable situations and have to face worst-case scenarios, it’s almost too hard to believe pre-teens and teenagers are able to do what they do when I compare them to modern teens. Nobody gets coddled or shielded from the harsh realities. And these are the privileged ones, the nobility who live in the castles and have servants to light the fires and cook their meals for them.

I really have to wonder how many of us could even survive, let alone thrive, under similar circumstances. Very few, I’d guess. And I suppose that’s good and bad. I’m a child of the 20th century, and I know I would have a rough time adjusting to life without hot and cold running water, electricity, and internal combustion engines. Not to mention mail-order. And the internet. Ok fine, I’d probably just die.

Now excuse me while I try to track down copies of the Foxfire books so I can learn to spin and weave and make my own crossbows and learn how to butcher a hog.

Picture, if you will…

…This:

Yeee… err….uh….

Yeah. What the hell? you say. As did we all. BUT… this terrifying, inexplicable image just netted me a free book! And that’s always a good thing. Here’s how:

Twitter convert that I am (I’m still eating crow over that), I discovered a Web site dedicated to fantasy literature, conveniently called Fantasy Literature. And, they were running a giveaway. All you had to do was come up with a name for this book cover, affectionately referred to as the Psycho Floating Baby Head cover.  This was too much fun to pass up, even though I never win anything. So I took a stab at it.

My first suggestion was “The Talking Heads: Before They Were Rockstars.” Then I had an epiphany (or as close to one as I’m likely to have) and went back for a second shot because it just seemed too fun to only field one response (really, we could sit and brainstorm this one ALL DAY!).

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane: The Final Chapter.”

And it won! :) I couldn’t be more tickled. I got to choose a book from their stacks, and chose “The Stranger” by Max Frei, mostly because it was originally published in Russia (how much Russian fantasy have you even heard of?) and had some pretty darn good reviews. I am so intrigued.

I thought about going for one of the vampire stories, but I’m boycotting any book with a hot tattooed chick in dominatrix attire on the front cover, and that pretty much sums them up. This is the new cheesey, I think. Mills & Boon would be proud.

SO… I guess I have to quit saying I never win anything! Go check out Fantasy Literature, if you like fantasy. If you’re on Twitter, follow them @FanLit. I thought I’d give them a little shout-out since they were kind enough to send me free book.

SF Editors in Conversation at Clarkesworld Magazine

Eskimo Nebula

Eskimo Nebula


So we bounce from Romance to SF. This month’s Clarkesworld Magazine carries an interview with ten of the top spec fic editors: Patrick Nielsen Hayden from Tor Books and Tor.com, Shawna McCarthy from Realms of Fantasy, John O’Neill from Black Gate magazine, Cat Rambo from Fantasy Magazine, Mike Resnick from Jim Baen’s Universe, Stanley Schmidt from Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Jason Sizemore of Apex Magazine, Gordon Van Gelder of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (my dream would be to be published by them), Sheila Williams from the venerable Asimov’s Science Fiction (I might as well hold out for the winning lottery ticket), and Ann VanderMeer from Weird Tales.

Gordon Van Gelder struck fear in my heart with this comment when asked what he looks for in a short story:

[Freshness] is often the hardest, as I see lots of stories that are skillfully rendered but in the end, they leave me feeling like I’ve read them before (or like they’re too similar to something I’ve read).

WAAAAAAAA!!! This is my nightmare. I feel like I need to read everything out there to avoid this.

This whole interview is a treasure trove of info for writers, whether you write science fiction, fantasy, or anything else. In response to the question for advice to people submitting fiction, McCarthy has this to say:

Don’t include money, candy, condoms, underwear, stamps, four leaf clovers, photos of yourself, photos of your cat or photos of your kids. We have gotten all of these at one time or another. Send it to the right address. Enclose an SASE. Neatness counts. So does spelling. Don’t copy someone else’s work. Sit up straight. Cover your mouth when you cough. Look both ways when you cross the street.

Nielsen Hayden is always amusing, when I’ve read interviews with him (which may only be one other time, but still…). His advice to same question as above:

Read something other than SF. Do something with your life other than struggling to sell SF stories. Sheila Williams, above, rightly recommends that you populate your stories. I’d say you should populate your life. Do some stuff that not all the other striving writers have done. Go out into the world and discover interesting things about how it works. Report back.

Or, alternately, live in a closet and eat cactus. Emily Dickinson barely ever left her room. It really doesn’t matter how you do it. It’s not about writers and editors, it’s about stories and readers.

They discuss what “fit” means for them, why they’d reject a good story, how the business has changed. Anyway, go read the rest of it, great stuff.