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Showing posts from 2012

Elves of Earth

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Review of The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
High fantasy fans may never stop arguing over whether or not Brooks's Shannara series is a shameless, opportunistic ripoff of Tolkien. Regardless, it is clear that the second Shannara novel is far better than Brook's first effort. The Elfstones of Shannara takes ownership of conventions of high fantasy in a way that The Sword of Shannara did not. Despite having long-winded with infodumps and shallow worldbuilding, Elfstones is worth reading and contemplating where its predecessor is not. Fortunately, the self-contained structure of the original Shannara trilogy makes it easy to skip The Sword of Shannara.
The wonder and the ancient beauty of the self-renewing natural world is the most important fantastic element. Other high fantasy conventions revolve around the element of natural wonder; for instance, the element of ancient glory that has since been lost is tied to a pre-historic state of complete innocence when the unmarred n…

Causes Behind Closed Doors

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The inspiring vision contained in epic stories has to be real, or else appreciating those stories is meaningless.  Is it worth rallying around movements or causes to try to bring to life inspired vision?

Great stories in all genres of fiction and across all forms of storytelling are inspiring, but they are also frustrating.  The frustration comes from the fact that the adventure is not real.  The sense of solemn honor -- of personal meaningfulness or of wonderful awe -- is confined to the pages of the novel or the frame of the screen or the little simulated game world.  I want the story to come true, both for me personally and for the world.  I want the vision to spring out of story and into reality.  And I know that I can do absolutely nothing to make it so.

Of course, I don't believe that life is ultimately meaningless.  I am not a nihilist.  However, I do feel that real life is bland and boring -- more than that -- is hollow and empty.  I know that the fantastic should be real,…

Codex Alera Binds Fate and Duty

Review of Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher, part 1 of the Codex Alera series

Among the ranks of modern high fantasy novels that have broken through the saturated market to the bookstore, there are some ambitious masterpieces that redeem their use of clichéd stereotypes by succeeding at an epic scope, using literary devices that inspire and awe their readers.  Then, there are other fantasies that are less ambitious, attempting to give the reader an enjoyable excursion into a new take on the standard fantasy conventions.  Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher, published by Ace in 2004, first book of the Codex Alera series, is one of these.
The plot of Furies of Calderon follows one of fantasy’s most cherished traditions in the archetype of the reluctant hero.  The protagonist is a fifteen-year-old boy named Tavi, who apparently possesses no special power or skill to set him apart as a savior, nor does he acquire a magical object or mysterious talisman  This is a refreshing break with the c…

Interact with a 17-year-old tradition of interactivity

The 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition begins in a week.

The 17 years that have passed since the beginning of the annual Interactive Fiction Competition is a long era in terms of the Internet.  This tradition is older than Firefox, older than Mac OS X, older than the longest-running graphical MMORPGs, and very nearly as old as Windows 95.  The Interactive Fiction Competition still acts as a strong catalyst toward the development of interactive narratives, forming one of the pillars of the IF community.

There have been some changes in the Comp over the years, such as last year's new policy allowing authors to update their entries during the judging period.  But in the seven years that I have participated in the Comp as a judge, an author, a prize donor, or a betatester, much more has remained the same.  Authors work frantically on their entries throughout the summer, minds numb from the challenge of coordinating their prose with an intricate set of rules and the correspond…

Daughters of Dragons

Review of the short story "Victoria Dragon" by Jacob Lindaman, published in two parts in Issue 11 and 12 of The Cross and the Cosmos

The Cross and the Cosmos has sown several exciting timelines and story-worlds, canvases that the authors paint in more detail with each new story. Serialized in two parts, appearing in the 11th and 12th issues of The Cross and the Cosmos, “Victoria Dragon” establishes Jacob Lindaman's post-apocalyptic world as one of the e-zine's most well developed and intriguing settings, alongside Frank Luke's medieval fantasy world and the two shared worlds that have been developed by G.L. Francis. Lindaman's world had been glimpsed at an earlier point in its timeline with the story “Citra” from Issue 10, which ties in to “Victoria Dragon” in a way that would probably be pleasantly surprising to those who had read “Citra” a long time before reading “Victoria Dragon.” (I read “Citra” the day before reading “Victoria Dragon” in preparation fo…

A Light-Hearted Pilgrimage

Review of the play Jonah, from the Sight & Sound Theatres company


Recently, I joined my family on an American Evangelical pilgrimage.  I went to see a production at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which runs only one of its several plays based on Bible stories per year.


The tone and style seems characteristic of Evangelical works.  It is humorous, gentle, and somewhat upbeat.  It is not at all subtle about its themes, and there is some preaching.  The way in which the preaching is introduced near the end seems appropriate in light of the theme and spiritual meaning of the story. It is positive in its portrayal of individuals; in fact, the rebellious protagonist of the book of the Bible on which the play is based is really the most villainous character.


My favorite part was the ship.  Unlike the whale scene later on in the production, the ship scene is fully theatrical.  People in dark costumes stand around the sides of the massive boat model that is somehow mo…

The Cross and the Cosmos Issue 12 -- He Set God's Children Free

The 12th issue of The Cross and the Cosmos concludes with a poem about spiritual warfare and the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice. “He Set God's Children Free” by Warren Harvey, also called “An Ode to Liberty,” has the feel of a serious but lively medieval ballad. The narrative, which contains a frame story, is constructed of quatrains, the lines alternating between eight and six syllables in length. No particular metrical foot is used consistently, which makes the poem and the accompanying story feel natural and spontaneous.

The lyrical narrative sings of a hero, called out of a humble life to fight a tyrannical demon that had enslaved the people. The story is the same story that has a thousand faces, reborn over and over again throughout the ages. The best and strongest expression of this story, we know, is the story of Christ, His birth and sufferings and death and resurrection. The setting of “He Set God's Children Free,” as portrayed by the frame story, has religiou…

The Cross and the Cosmos Issue 12 -- Free Fall

Longtime readers of The Cross and the Cosmos will immediately recognize many of the elements in “Free Fall” by Cathryn Rose, the fourth of five stories in Issue 12. “Free Fall” seems to be set in the same science fiction universe that we saw in the survival tragedy “Wind Farm Annie” by Tony Lavoie, back in the very first issue. “Free Fall” makes some allusions or homages to “Wind Farm Annie,” and it also re-uses some of the same thematic material.
Unlike “Wind Farm Annie,” this story is not written as a standard narrative. Instead, the narrative is framed as the transcribed text of an audio transmission. To that end, most of the story consists of quoted dialog. (I imagine that the quotation marks and indentation of each paragraph are a practical concession; it would have looked more like a transcription if each line were prefixed by the name of the speaker followed by a colon.) The dialog-only narrative style allows the plot to progress quickly and smoothly, since the story doe…

The Cross and the Cosmos Issue 12 - Tears of the Cat

The second story in the upcoming Issue 12 of The Cross and the Cosmos is “Tears of the Cat” by Jarkko Pylväs. Like Pylväs’s previous story, “The Byzantine Apple” in Issue 9, “Tears of the Cat” is written like a folktale, presenting mythic elements with an oral cadence.

“Tears of the Cat” probably seems less bizarre as it opens than “The Byzantine Apple” does. There is a much clearer frame story in “Tears of the Cat,” which not only helps to give a clearer sense of cohesive narrative by clarifying the change in narrators, but also fits perfectly with the folktale format. The narrative contains sections of near repetition that create natural divisions in the story, which are affirmed by section headings. The transitions from section to section are seamless and feel effortless to the reader, perhaps as effortless as listening to the voice of the wise old storyteller.

That storyteller speaks of the gods of ancient Egypt before they became myths. The mythological figures are portrayed rea…

The Cross and The Cosmos Issue 12 - Swords and Plowshares

Review of the short-story "Swords and Plowshares" by Johanan Rakkav, in Issue 12 of The Cross and the Cosmos, scheduled to be published July 1, 2012


The upcoming 12th issue of The Cross and the Cosmos begins by compressing all of the sweet bits of epic space opera in “Swords and Plowshares” by Johanan Rakkav. The story is fun and fast-paced, but it also stands on a great depth of worldbuilding, complete with lots of Biblical allusions and maybe even political themes. Unfortunately, the story's structural awkwardness made it confusing for me on my first read, and I fear its strong points might be inaccessible to some readers. According the the author's blog, the story is related to an earlier story published in Issue 11 (April 2012), but I've been away from the ezine for a while and have not read that issue.

The plot follows a princess from a planet with a pacifist government as she helps a different, non-pacifist race prepare for war. I can't say I complete…

Eons of Apocalypse

Review of the interactive fiction game Andromeda Awakening by Marco Innocenti


Those works of interactive fiction that tackle the deepest themes can only really succeed at leaving the player with a powerful literary experience by embodying the theme in the world model, in the objects and locations.  Although Andromeda Awakening is neither mechanically nor artistically perfect, its use of a very traditional text adventure structure to incarnate deep, myth-laden worldbuilding creates a strong theme that can survive even a bad experience with the game.
Actually, the game weaves many themes.  The sense of apocalyptic doom at the beginning is mingled with what appears to be a conspiracy-theory subplot.  The corrupt government appears to be the agent of apocalypse, as in the television show The X-Files.  However, the plot soon becomes a survival story, abandoning the question of government corruption or conspiracy.  A subtle theme about malevolent, controlling government does creep in during t…

Melissa Turner Lee on The Earth Painter

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The young adult supernatural romance novel The Earth Painter was original published as an ebook in September 2011.  The Earth Painter will be republished in print by Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing on May 1, 2012.  It is coincidence that the interviewer and the interviewee have the same last name.


Paul Lee:  The Earth Painter is both very personal and cosmically deep.  It is an intimate romance connected to a vast mythology.  How are these two elements related to each other?
Melissa Turner Lee:  How are they related? To me, the best stories are personal ones. Gone With the Wind takes place in the south right before, during and right after the Civil War. But it zeroes in on Scarlett O'Hara. My favorite books are like that. You feel like there is a whole big world that if you could climb inside that book and go past the pages, you'd still find life and world beyond the story you get from the book. I've been told to take that out of my writing because of pacing a…