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Perdido Street Station

“The polymorphous four-way wooing became fraught and competitive. Stroking, touching, arousing. Each moth in turn spiralled moonward, drunk on lust. It would split the seal on a gland hidden under its tail and exude a cloud of empathic musk.” China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

The first I’d heard of China Miéville was when I’d found by accident and voraciously devoured King Rat. It was Miéville’s first novel and I was enthralled. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this was before the Nook. I tried to remind myself to read more of his work, but prior to ebooks shopping for books tended to be more chance than planned. I was a faithful used book shopper, so the titles I picked up were limited to what I found. The good thing is, I still have a good paperback copy of King Rat that I will likely re-read soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love real, truly physical books. It just wasn’t as easy to follow up when it required a trip to the bookstore as it is now that I can look it up the moment I finish one.

At any rate, the release of his latest, Railsea, put his name back out into the æther. It tickled some dusty trapdoor buried beneath the old and mildewed cardboard boxes of my memory. So, naturally, I went to Google to solve the problem of my malformed memories.

Almost the moment Google spat out its many and varied responses, the rusted hinges of my locked away memories flew wide and scattered motes of dust and cobweb elsewhere in my sadly misused brainpan. Oh yes. I remember him now.

China Miéville is this sexy, left-wing, British Socialist usually counted among the New Weird. I spent a good few moments with his image search results before getting back to whatever it was I had googled for in the first place.

Rather than go straight for his latest release, I decided to stick with his own patterns of growth and publication. I had already read his first novel, so why not move on to his second. Perdido Street Station was quickly purchased and on hand for my leisure. A leisure that I put all else aside for.

This novel is not for the casual skimmer. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs of descriptive narrative to the next bit of dialogue, this is not for you. If you require that every element of a new and fantastic world be carefully described and explained with context, you can move on. In fact, if you require that a person, beast, or amalgamation of both be described so fully as to paint a picture for you, you need not stop here. Miéville draws Bas-Lag with both fat and fine pointed brushes, but leaves the sentient bits for you to design according to your needs. Most people/creatures are given a fair enough assessment that you can place them in your brain-movie without exacerbating any existing strains or fractures. Some are so indescribably beyond reference that any image of it limited only to the artistry of your own grey matter.

The city. The city-state of New Crobuzon is where the intricate details are laid out. If you’re familiar with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar, you know exactly what I mean. If you aren’t, you probably don’t. I don’t even know that I can explain it without watering it down with insulting low-brow comparisons. Just know that Miéville knows grit and grime and urban sprawl and social dysfunction and architectural discord and decay like no other. I wanted to move into New Crobuzon just so that I could complain about it.

If you are a fan of fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, steampunk, or anything that skirts the mainstream, you will enjoy this book. No, enjoy isn’t even fair. You will eat this book with your fingers and face and suck the juices from its pages.

Next up for me, keeping a narrow eye on his own growth and progression, comes The Scar.

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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Beta Readers, Beta Reading

As is probably common with most writers, I have not had the best success in finding willing and able beta readers. More often, I can find willing people who are not exactly able. Well, able to actually ever offer up feedback anyway. It is a boon to find someone who can or will take the time to read a work in progress. It is, unfortunately, far worse when the best you get from that person is, ‘I liked it’ or, worst case scenario, you never hear from them again.

I am not too proud to mention that my mother (yes, my mother) has been my most effective beta reader for the purpose of pure editing over content editing. She is my mother, so I tend to fear that her lack of plot or story input is based in uterine muscle memory rather than a critical eye. Even so, she has the keenest eye for grammar and sentence structure that I could ask for. So good, in fact, that I don’t look for other beta readers in that area. What I hope for is a reader that can give me feedback about character development, plot momentum, setting, background, and all of the other various and sundry elements that are far less clinical and far more esoteric.

Jami Gold offered a pretty clear illustration on beta readers in her blog. The point she made that resounded most with me is this: If I want quality beta readers, I’d probably better start offering myself up for some beta reading as well. I had a dear friend who is an accomplished short story author ask me to beta read for her first full length, YA novel. Within two chapters, I confessed that it was getting in the way of my writing and I wouldn’t be dependable. Well, that is no longer an excuse. With three completed manuscripts in the editing process, I can safely allow myself to read now.

So, here it is: Writers, I am willing and able to be your beta reader. I confess, my tastes are limited to Steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, essays, and various YA genres. Anything else may find a hard time maintaining my attention, but I am willing to offer up brutal and constructive criticism if it means I might be able to call on you later. Feel free to contact me here and we can work out something based on your timeline.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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What’s in a Name?

I recently added a @tobiaswrites account on Twitter and an interesting tweet by Jonathan D. Beer got me thinking about naming characters in a manuscript. He tweeted “I hate inventing names!” and I got on the Google machine to bring up some name generators as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for him. I’ve come across these things nearly since online billboards and 2400 baud modems were the norm. For the most part, they have always provided awful concoctions like Lily Night and Enoch Trueblood (courtesy of the Vampire Name Generator) or Alfmir Matmar the White and Wyraryradas (thank you, Random Name Generator). Quite by accident, I found this Random Name Generator that managed to spit out quite a few reasonable and generally usable names providing you aren’t looking for otherworldly names.

In writing up my Steampunk manuscript, I worked a lot with websites that list popular 19th century baby names such as babynamesgarden.com as well as sites that provide the names of historical figures from the same era such as famouspoetsandpoems.com. From there, it’s really a matter of flavor.

In writing my fantasy manuscripts, the effort was considerably less reliant on existing websites. Some names belong to characters that share specific traits with people I know in real life. When these characters were inspired by people I actually know, I tended to pay some vague homage to that person without it seeming contrived. So, for instance, a key character in Blood of a Godkiller was written to display the same social ease and indefatigable good nature that a friend has. Beyond that, they don’t share too entirely much, so I didn’t want to make an obvious reference. Instead, the character and the actual person share the first and last letters of their name and everything in between was determined by what sounded good, fit with other names I had created, and read easily in the mind without too many possible variations by reader.

As a reader, fantasy names can help to develop the world I am experiencing or they can be an enormous lodestone. If I have to wrap my brain-mouth around ‘Wyraryradas’, I am likely to nickname the character something like Wormhat or Wordy-Word-Ass because I can’t for the life of me imagine what the author intended. If Wordy-Word-Ass is supposed to be a strong, silent barbarian from some mythic wasteland, the essence of the character loses a lot because of his ridiculous name. Although not absent in fantasy, the damnable apostrophe tends to make a mess of so much science fiction in the same way. I’m sorry if I can’t feel for the poor alien orphan named A’gli’zzt’tig’tig, but she reads like the coffee maker just blew a fuse.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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