Craziness, Quirkiness, and Storytelling

There seems to be a lot more craziness in speculative fiction with the self and independent publishers getting so much more attention. Craziness meaning “everything and the kitchen sink and Cthulhu and steampunk and superheroes and werewolves and…” all crammed into one novel. And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible that writers have new opportunities to break away from the mold and unlatch their stories from genre conventions. It gives them more chances to be original, to entertain readers, and give their creativity free reign. I’m just worried that the focus of speculative fiction will move from “tell great stories and be original when possible” to “take all that is adored by geek culture and mash it together.”

When the story starts to look less like a harrowing tale of fantasy or science fiction and more like a written collage of everything featured in the last five episodes of Felicia Day’s “Flog,” I get a little nervous. Nothing wrong with Felicia Day, though. She’s awesome.

I’m a little wary of these types of fiction because there is a higher danger of the story’s quality and the characters’ depth falling prey to quirkiness and ADHD worldbuilding. That doesn’t always happen, of course. Some masterful craziness has been done, like China Mieville’s incredible 2000 novel Perdido Street Station. And I am confident that there is someone out there who can tell a great story about a ninja zombie pirate and his Victorian-dressed steampunk weapon-wielding girlfriend fighting psychic dragons in an alternate 1945 New York City that has been devastated in the wake of a Martian invasion.

But do you see how exhausting and confusing it is to get through all of those ideas, just to give the setting and larger story conflict? You’ll have a lot on your plate trying to tell a quality story through that Sargasso Sea of adjectives and mishmashed details.

Again, I’m not saying “Don’t write that story. Ever.” Merely asking you to proceed with extreme caution. Be sure you have a captivating story first, one that can uphold the weight of everything you intend to add.

Or maybe I’m just slow to catch up. Heck, the wildest thing I’m doing is putting dinosaurs in a far future fantasy world, and I’m wondering if even that much is a stretch.

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The Joy of Discovering

…especially when it comes to reading.

Hello, everyone. Sorry for the unintended break I took around Thanksgiving, but now I am back.

Don’t we love it when we discover something new? When an astronomer elates at the finding of a new planet; when a zoologist runs across a new species of animal; when readers find a quality author or book overlooked by almost everyone else; when writers trip over a new idea that takes over their thoughts until they get it down on paper, only to see it grow and spread; when a pleasant surprise shows up at your door. These and millions of other moments of discovery help awaken a person to a world that is still full of wonder. Discovery, of course, is a powerful drive, and in many cases is best pursued for its own sake.

In the case of reading, I have discovered a few novels in recent months, through varying circumstances, that have been quickly growing on me. Some have caught the attention of hundreds, or even thousands, of others before I finally got to them. Slow reader that I am, I haven’t finished most of these, but you can bet I will see them through to the end, and keep an eye on the authors for any future books.

China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station is the biggest surprise I’ve had in my recent reading, a quirky and intense novel that deftly blends science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror into a sprawling but self-consistent tapestry. I’ve only gotten through 40% of his long, complex, gritty novel, but Mieville has already blown me away. I don’t want this book to end. Oh well. At least when that final page is regretfully turned, like taking the last bite of a feast for kings, there will be a number of other books he has written that I will soon devour. Soon.

Per the recommendation of several friends, I have finally read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. And I can see why it has picked up so much steam. The book is an awesome hybrid of dystopian sci-fi, Lord of the Flies, and even a dash of Ender’s Game. It’s a fast-paced read, especially given its present-tense prose, and it left me with a thirst for more. As soon as possible, I will have my hands around the second book, and I look forward to the movie coming out in March.

I’ve just crossed the halfway point of Hilari Bell’s The Last Knight, one of three books in a series that I won as door prizes a few weeks ago. It did have a bit of a slow start as I recall, but it is still a quality story. It’s kind of a murder mystery for YA fantasy, about a man taking on the calling of knighthood in a fantasy world that has long abandoned the concept, and his reluctant squire who slowly befriends his “lord” and actually wants to stick around. And I look forward to finishing it, and getting through Bell’s other two books.

In the meantime, I’ve got my own novel to build. Which is especially important since I have missed some personal deadlines I set for it. Time is of the essence. See you soon, friends. Whatever words and worlds you craft in your writing, may they never cease. Thanks for your time.