Soul Of The World – An Interview With David Mealing

51vgtpwurcl-_sx322_bo1204203200_I have been really lucky recently, getting the chance to talk to multiple of this year’s debut authors. This week I got to talk with David Mealing about his massive new book, Soul of the World. It was a huge debut novel that impressed me with its numerous magic systems, giant scope, and interesting world: you can find the review here. Due to how big an undertaking the book seemed to be, I had a lot more questions about Mealing’s writing style compared to past interviews I have done, but there is still some great teasers for book two if you are looking for hints as to what is going to happen! Enjoy:

How would you elevator pitch Soul of the World? When I talk to other people and recommend it I find myself just gushing endlessly as I try to explain all the cool things in it. How would you sell it in one breath?

Fantasy is *so* hard to pitch. I’m terrible at it. That said, my go-to is: “French revolution with magic, set in an alternate-world colonial America. Think Marie Antoinette alongside a magic-infused Iroquois Confederacy.”

There’s a lot more going on in the book (and thank you for any gushing over it!), but I think that’s a fine starting point.

What is your writing process in general? What is the anchor or starting point for your story and how much of it do you map out in advance and how much is made up as you go?

I’m very strict on process. Three sessions per day, with a spreadsheet to track the output from each session against an overall daily/weekly/monthly goal. I’ve always found it hard to work for long periods on any given day – I need at least a few hours in between each writing session to let the scene and story arcs soak before I continue. Usually I’ll do 700-900 words right after I wake up, another 400-600 after lunch, then 500-1000 in the evening.

On the story side, I’m almost a pure discovery writer. I always know what to expect in the scene I’m writing now, the scene I’m writing next, and where the current ‘chunk’ fits in the overall arc of the book & series, but I’m also willing to let the story surprise me and take me in a different direction than I expected it to go. I’ve killed off characters and destroyed entire story arcs because an unexpected death fit the scene I was working on. And I’ve gone back and re-written 40,000+ word chunks because I had a better idea during editing. I find my discipline with daily output gives me the freedom to explore while also meeting deadlines – the best of both worlds, as it were.

Why so much magic? Did anyone tell you having so many magic systems was a bad idea? Did people think it was a good idea? Please tell me more about what your writing process for your magic was like.

Hah! Yes. This is one of the more common fights between me and my editor. Not that she doesn’t love the magic, she just wants to be sure I’ve fleshed each idea out enough and made it grokkable so it has the impact I want it to. (And incidentally, a light book 2 spoiler – let’s just say my editor and I have quite a bit more fighting to do about the number of new systems and powers introduced in the next volume in the trilogy!)

As for where the magic comes from – I write what fits the scene in my head. If it calls for a new magic system, I make one on the spot and polish it during revisions and editing. Very little to no planning beforehand; all the details, rules, powers, etc come about because a particular scene wants to showcase something new.

If you could only have one of your magic systems, which would it be?

No fair! I need them all to tell the story. And which one is my favorite depends on whichever scene I wrote last, most of the time. So right now, that would be a magic system you haven’t seen yet, from one of the epilogues in book 2… 🙂

All three magic systems were amazing, but I enjoyed Arak’Jur’s totem-esk magic the most. Do you have any magical beasts and powers that you rejected or removed from your novel because they didn’t work? If so, why?

Well thank you. I enjoyed writing those scenes immensely. Arak’Jur’s magic had almost no changes from the first draft, as far as how it worked mechanically. There was one power I gave him in an early scene that I cut and replaced with him using mareh’et instead, strictly to consolidate the number of powers and keep it grokkable. Otherwise it’s all as-originally-written.

One of the most interesting aspects of you magic was the effects of combining the various schools into new powers. Have you mapped out what all these combined effects will do already or are you playing it more by ear?

This was originally *much* more prevalent in the book, for Order magic (the leylines) especially. Originally every binding had different effects when paired with other bindings; at one point I’d mapped out a big matrix of combinations in a spreadsheet trying to keep them all straight. In the final draft though, we opted to streamline this and keep it much simpler – one of my editor’s better ideas, I think. She struggles to rein me in, and most of the time she succeeds, to the book’s benefit.

Where do we go next? The ending of your first novel was fantastic, but I don’t even know where we go next. What is the next stage/arc of your story (if you can share it)?

Again thank you! My goal for the series has always been to peel the onion one book at a time. In book one I introduce a core plot that’s mostly resolved by the end, with a metaplot revealed around the edges of the main story. Book two will fully reveal and resolve the metaplot from book one, but also reveal an even deeper layer, which will then be the focus of book three.

This was your first novel and a huge undertaking, What lessons have you learned from working on Soul of the World that you want to apply to writing book 2?

SOUL OF THE WORLD was my first attempt at writing creative fiction of any kind. I grew an enormous amount as a writer while writing & revising it – with full credit to my editor, my agent, the agency president, and all of my other advance readers (especially my wife!) for helping me get there. As a result, book two’s first draft was a much tighter manuscript than the first drafts of SOUL. I had to rewrite over a hundred thousand words of SOUL before it was ready to shop to potential agents; book two should hopefully see us spending more time on polish and less on fixing rookie mistakes. Otherwise, book two is already turned in and I’m currently waiting for first reactions from my editor. So let’s hope it goes smoothly from here!

In Soul of the World we saw that most of the action in the story is happening in the colonies, but that there is an entire second continent with it’s own countries and people. Since so much of your magic is tied to location, do you plan on visiting other lands in the story or focusing just on the current surroundings?

As the series progresses we’re going to travel a *lot*. Book two will take us west across the New World, across the sea to the Old World, even to undiscovered continents (plural!) that wouldn’t have appeared on any maps in book one. The story gets bigger in a hurry, though I still try to keep things focused on the characters as they respond to the challenges in front of them.

Are you a big reader of fantasy yourself? What are some of your favorite books? What is the last book that you read (of any genre) that you would recommend?

Very much so. Jacqueline Carey’s KUSHIEL’S DART is my favorite book of all time. I grew up devouring and re-devouring Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series whenever a new book came out. I adore Robert E. Howard’s CONAN stories and other classic swords & sorcery stuff like Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. N.K. Jemisin continues to amaze me with everything she writes. Additional plugs for Brandon Sanderson, Pat Rothfuss, Juliet Marillier, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

The last book I read was READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline. I loved the audiobook so much I went and bought a physical copy to read too. Can’t recommend it enough, both the audio version and the printed edition. Some of the most compelling storytelling I’ve consumed in years.

What in Soul of the World are you most proud of? Which character, magic, part of the world, or element were you most excited to share with other people?

This answer could change on any given day, but today I’ll say Sarine and Zi. I’ve been the lonely kid watching the world from a distance, and I would have given anything for a magical companion to share it with. These days I have my amazing wife & daughters, but I hope Sarine and Zi’s story connects with people and inspires them to want to be as creative and fearless as she is.

Thank you David for talking with me, and I am super pumped for book two. If you haven’t checked out Soul of the World yet, I implore you to go give it a shot!

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Observations About LotR – The Return Of The King

071tfThe Quill to Live team is currently doing a reread of Lord of the Rings because for many of us, it has been awhile since we read it (on average about a decade). I initially thought about doing a review piece, but no one needs to hear another review about LotR to know it is amazing. We all know it is amazing. Instead, I thought I would instead do a compilation of some of the more amusing observations people had about the book, usually having to do with things not being as we remember. This is the third and final entry on The Return of the King, our thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers can be found here:

1) RotK is 50% epilogue – Literally. I never realized as a child how early in the book they destroy the ring (spoilers). Frodo casts the ring into the volcano at around 55% in my version of the book, and the rest of the story is showing the happily ever after. It suddenly makes a lot more sense as to why the movie seemed to have so many endings – because there are so many little vignettes that Peter Jackson was trying to cover.

2) I see what Tolkien meant about his series in the prologue – At the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien states that his series was meant actually as one book but they had to break it up for publication due to size. When reading the first two novels I didn’t think much of this note, but upon reaching Return of the King it becomes a lot more obvious. While the first two books in the trilogy feel like full novels, Return of the King doesn’t really stand on its own. The book breaks down into three sections: the first part is one long protracted battle with the larger party, the middle and smallest section involves Sam finding Frodo and them quickly tossing the ring into the mountain, and the back half of the book is cleanup for the entire series. It very much feels like a continuation of The Two Towers and The Fellowship as opposed to its own entity to me.

3) The book drags a little bit more than its predecessors – This was not a unanimous feeling in our reading group, but a good number of people felt that the middle of Return of the King dragged a lot. There is a section of about 40 pages (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it sure felt like it to me) where Sam and Frodo are trying to locate the right mountain – and they do this by walking up to about 5 different ones and going “is this it? Nope”. I initially really enjoyed Tolkien spending some time elaborating on Orc culture and fleshing them out as a race more, but I don’t need to be told more than one time that Orc clothing is incredibly uncomfortable and I did not find myself enlightened when Tolkien talked about it the seventh or eighth time.

4) I get it now – My first three thoughts might seem very harsh, because I think LotR has a bunch of writing issues when compared to today’s modern style. However, while I had a bunch of small issues with Return of the King, I also can finally see what everyone sees in it. As you read this series, in particular the finale, you can see a map of thousands of books that it inspired. The landscape of the fantasy genre starts to make more sense, and you can see the source of tons of tropes and philosophies that permeate it. You can see why so many people have tried to emulate these aspects of this trilogy. Lord of the Rings is fun and whimsical, but also serious and philosophical. It is a timeless masterpiece, as I am sure everyone already knew, that is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. If you haven’t given it a read recently, I recommend you check it out again.

Kings Of The Wyld – An Interview With Nicholas Eames

30841984If you haven’t gotten your hands on Kings of the Wyld yet, by Nick Eames, then you are missing out (review here). It is definitely going to be one of my top books of 2017 and every other reviewer and blogger I know is talking about how much they love it. On top of Kings being an amazing book, Nick is a great guy who kindly agreed to answer a slew of interview questions we sent him. Some of the questions and responses are mildly spoilery – so I would skip this and come back if you have not read the book yet (which you should, immediately. Seriously go read it). The questions and responses are below!

Compared with those belonging to Clay Cooper, how does your arsenal of shrugs measure up?

Not even close! Clay tends to underestimate his own intelligence, and so relies on shrugs to avoid saying something foolish. I, on the other hand, sound foolish all the time.

The Rot is a major part of the world, and character development in your story. Are you drawing from personal experience or was it more of a thought experiment for you?

The latter, for sure. The Rot—and the arbitrary menace it represents to the mercenaries of Grandual—is vaguely representative of the STD’s (including HIV) that afflicted many ‘Golden Era’ rock stars. It’s not something you are guaranteed to get when you venture into the Heartwyld, but it’s always a risk.

It actually played a lesser role in the original draft of KINGS. Thankfully, I was asked to flesh out the story a bit during revisions. The result was a few very poignant scenes that it’s hard to imagine the book without.

Can dragons swim?

Great question! The answer is yes—about as well as dogs can swim. They cannot, however, breath underwater…

How many band names were inspired by real bands?

Most of them were inspired by songs, since using direct band names (outside of a few exceptions like Neil the ‘Young’) is a little on the nose. Some cool (in my opinion) examples are the Wheat Kings (A Tragically Hip song) and Courtney and the Sparks (named for the Joni Mitchell album The Court and the Spark).

A lot of people think Saga is a reference to the Canadian band of the same name. In fact, it was the name of a sword that belonged to the main character in an unpublished book I worked on for almost a decade. Saga is an homage to that.

Were there any monsters you wanted to include but didn’t? If so can you give us a peek?

Ha! I think I got them all. I can tell you, however, that a major plot point in book two revolved around fighting a dragon. But then I thought: “Nope. The dragon’s been done.” So it’s going to be something quite different—but just as deadly.

You admirably managed the difficult combination of emotional and comedic throughout the book. How did you manage to have such a humorous book still resonate so strongly?

Firstly, thanks for saying so. I think two things contributed to this. One is that I’m a hopeless sap, so even though I tried to make the book humorous and lighthearted the whole way through, I can’t help but try and add poignancy here and there. It’s in my nature—and I think life can be funny and sad and scary all at once, so I’d hoped this book would reflect that.

Ultimately, I owe a great deal to my agent and editor, who suggested which scenes were perhaps so ridiculous that they undermined the more serious aspects of the book. To their credit, they let me keep a few of them anyway (Moog tripping over his robe on the hillside, Moog throwing honeyed hams at his enemies, etc). Alas, because of them you’ll never see Moog eating a urine-soaked carrot from a vegan cannibal’s vegetable garden. It’s all about balance…

Who is your favorite band member?

Clay, for sure. Moog is a very close second. But honestly, I love each of them so much.

Will we ever visit Clay’s inn in future books?

*nods enthusiastically* I’m not at liberty to say, sorry. Another great question, by the way. I really appreciate the interest in the lives of these characters beyond the book.

Did you write Kings simply in order to make a really bad portal reference?

You mean a REALLY AWESOME portal reference? That joke just materialized out of nowhere as I was writing the scene and I am so very grateful it did. I know some of these references take readers out of the book—but a lot of things (waiters, stop lights, falling asleep) take you out of a book. It was important to me that fellow gamers could read this book and think, “This Nick Eames guy…he’s one of us.”

I stayed up unreasonably late on a work night in order to finish the last 30% of your book. What’s the most ill-advised thing you’ve done due to the fact you couldn’t put a book down?

That’s amazing to hear! Thank you for saying so. And an easy question to answer! I was working in a restaurant while reading THE VIRTUES OF WAR by Steven Pressfield, and was starting my shift just as Alexander the Great was pulling off his brilliant ruse at Guagemela. Instead of putting the book away, however, I STOOD THERE READING IT in the middle of the restaurant—which was, in my defense, mostly empty! Boy, did I ever get in in trouble. Totally worth it.

So it seems Clay has a lot of difficulty keeping his weapons for more than a chapter or two. Was this a commentary on an aspect of his character (a rough man who deep down doesn’t really want to fight, and just wants to protect) or was this more of a running gag a la Jain and her band of oddly dressed thieves?

The former. Clay’s whole deal is protecting people, although he does hurt a lot of people with that shield, come to think of it. It was definitely a risk writing a huge final battle in which the protagonist can’t actually use a weapon, but I think it works wonderfully, since you get to see each member of the band—Clay included—do that they do best.

If Saga came out with an album, what do you think the album art would be?

Probably the cover of the book. The artist (Richard Anderson, who is amazing) was given the mandate of making it look like one of those old album photographs where the band is standing around looking as if they didn’t stage the shot at all, and I think he nailed it.

That, or just Blackheart’s scarred and weathered face. That might be cool, too.

Sticking with the band analogy that was ever-so-subtly peppered throughout the book, if Gabe is the frontman/lead singer, what instruments would the rest of the bandmates play?

Subtly? Were we reading the same book!? I kid, I kid! Again: awesome question! It goes like this: Gabriel on vocals/guitar, Ganelon on lead guitar, Clay (the forgettable one) on bass, Matrick on drums, and Moog on keyboards/triangle/cow bell.

Scenes involving certain characters were often influenced by the instrument they represent. While writing Matrick’s fight against Larkspur’s thralls, I listened to Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick (essentially a 20+ minute drum solo) on repeat. The same goes for Ganelon. There is a very specific live version of the Stairway to Heaven guitar solo that I’ve probably listened to a thousand times and had in mind whenever Ganelon was destroying people.

Kings of the Wyld has an interesting structure as a series. I noticed that the sequel no longer follows the cast from the first book, but their children instead. Was it hard writing a book knowing you would have to say goodbye to the original cast at the end? Do you wish you had more time with them?

Not really. In fact, some people interested in publishing it asked that all three books feature Clay and his bandmates, so I was glad when Orbit didn’t insist on it. The truth is, KINGS OF THE WYLD is about that ‘one last, great adventure’, and to drag it out would seem disingenuous to both the characters and the story I was trying to tell.

A few characters from the first book will show up in the second (and also the third) but in a setting where mercenaries are representative of rock bands…Well, sticking to one band would kind of be like listening to, say, Black Sabbath all the time. In book two, it’s time to meet Guns’n’Roses…

Are there any other music genres you would want to make a fantasy novel around? Country? Smooth Jazz? EDM? Would you consider adding in bands from other music tropes into the current world?

As insinuated above, the second book explores a world where new bands wander into the house after old band kicked the door in. Whereas my writing soundtrack to book one consisted largely of 60’s folk and 70’s rock, book two draws influence from 80’s punk, rock, and pop. So goodbye Floyd, Zeppelin, and Dylan (I’ll miss you, truly) and hello Queen, Van Halen, and Pat Benatar!

Any notable pet peeves? Overstuffed napkin holders? Dogs that act like cats? Smart cars?

Commercials that market cleaning supplies to women and BBQ’s to men. Fuck that noise!

Do you read fantasy yourself? Do you have favorite books or authors you recommend? Was there any other book that inspired you to write Kings of the Wyld?

I read all the time, almost every day. My favourite author—hands down—is Guy Gavriel Kay, and I would start with TIGANA or THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN if you haven’t read him before. His books are slow burns, but impossibly beautiful, and I’ve never, ever read anyone near as good. Also Scott Lynch, Pat Rothfuss, and Joe Abercrombie—in case you’ve been trapped under a rock and haven’t read everything by each of them yet. Also Lila Bowen’s WAKE OF VULTURES and Seth Dickenson’s THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT are recent favourites.

As for what book inspired me to write mine? READY PLAYER ONE, by Ernest Cline. It was a face-paced, shameless love letter to everything the author loves. So, too, is KINGS OF THE WYLD.

Thanks for the questions!

 

Well I know I am pumped as all hell for book two, Bloody Rose. Thank you Nick for taking the time to talk with us, and for making such a fantastic debut novel.

Series Check-In – Vlad Taltos

Today I am trying something a little different. Awhile back I reviewed the first three books in the Vlad Taltos series, starting with Jhereg, by Steven Brust. I enjoyed the books a bunch, so much so that I have continued and read nine of the sequels. It is difficult and repetitive for me to post reviews of each of those sequels, so when reading large series like this I hardly ever do. On the other hand, I have invested a lot of time and energy into nine books to not say anything about them, and I have some thoughts on my journey so far. As such I thought I should do a series check-in and give you some general spoiler free thoughts as to if Vlad Taltos is worth your time. I will let you know that I just finished the ninth (sorta) book in the series, Dragon, and that all of these thoughts are from those nine books.

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If you missed my first review, Vlad Taltos is planned to be a roughly 17 book series (with 14 of the books out so far). The book follows the stories of a human assassin named Vlad working in the Dragaeran (sorta like elves) empire where he is a constant outsider. The empire is broken down into 17 houses and each book in the series both showcases one of the houses, indicated by the titles, and slowly builds the story of Vlad and his companions. The difficulty with big series like this is that they inherently have slower (but usually better) character development as the stories are almost always about the growth and change of a character over a large number of books. This has both benefits, like that you grow very attached and invested in the cast, and drawbacks, such as the initial books in the series often aren’t that engaging. When I finished Jhereg I was lukewarm on Vlad because while I thought his character was amusing and fun, he had some tendencies that made him seem like he was trying to be a badass all the time and constantly falling short. What felt like awkward character writing at the start of the story has revealed itself to be intentional character flaws and long term character development. Speaking of characters, when I initially started this series (and for the first three books really) I assumed that this was a story solely about Vlad. However, the more that I read the more I realize that it is really about his relationships with the people around him and learning to find companionship and love in a world where both are culturally looked down on and where one is an outsider. It is a wonderful theme, and as I have learned more about Vlad’s friends and family, they have steadily moved from fond acquaintances to close friends.

While the characters are certainly the series’ driving force, the plot becomes surprisingly nuanced and captivating as well. Brust published the books out of chronological order, which results in the timelines of the stories being an absolute mess. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in big series because I feel it prevents a meaningful linear storyline from developing. While I still wish that Vlad Taltos was chronological, Brust is a master of information manipulation and has written his series so that even though the books aren’t in the order they happened you have this sense of a growing body of knowledge. An example of this is I just read the third book chronologically, but the ninth in publishing order. While none of the events that happen in this book can effect what is happening in the current timeline (or rather, the furthest point in time chronologically), I am learning information and twists from the third book that greatly alter my understanding of what is happening in the ninth. You realize quickly that the details matter and that the closer you pay attention to the little things in the book the more you will be rewarded. This keeps you on your toes as you read and does a great deal to keep the books feeling fresh.

Speaking of keeping things fresh, when I finished the first few books I was a little worried that the series might fatigue me as they share a lot of similarities. Brust relieves this by beginning to drastically change the style of his narration and storytelling in each book. Each house in the Dragaeran Empire gets its name from different animals they were genetically altered with, and the qualities of that animal they embody. The translations from animal to behavior to cultural values are not always intuitive (especially when some of the animals are original to Brust), but they are all definitely distinct. As such, the story of each book reflects the house it is about. In the last three books I have read one was on self discovery that was deeply philosophical, one that was a murder mystery, and military adventure about a civil war. Each of these books did a great job of teaching me about their respective houses, adding to the collective plot, and changing up Brusts formula to keep me from being even slightly fatigued.

When I read a series that has 10+ books, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish if I like the books or if I am just mentally trying to justify the amount of time that I have sunk into them. With Vlad Taltos I can safely say it is the former, and I have found myself changing up my reading schedule to read ‘just one more Vlad book’. While I was lukewarm about Jhereg, the more time I have spend with Vlad and his friends, the higher my passion for the series has risen. I have definitely started to see why some consider this one of the best fantasy series of all time, and I recommend you dig in and see for yourself.

Location, Location, Location – Ideal Fantasy Homes and Vacations

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So I decided that the useless group of layabouts who help make this site great, weren’t doing enough to help me create content. So I have forced them all at quill point to sit down and talk about where each of us would prefer to live if we were to reside in one of the many books we read, and which locations we would enjoy a short vacation to. Everyone gave some pretty good answers, take a read and see who you think had the best reasoning.

Andrew:

Live – Natural History of Dragons: Look I was going through a list of all the amazing places I have read about and things I could do, and I eventually realized it didn’t matter so long as I was around dragons. In which case, what better place to live than a world with endless different environments, filled with different kinds of dragons, with most of the accoutrements of modern day society (like not having to poop in the woods). Marie Brennen’s Memoirs of Lady Trent are where I would live, so I could embrace my inner child and become a dragon anthropologist.

Vacation – Discworld: I mean I feel like this one is self explanatory. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is a place that I think would be hazardous to live in, but I think visiting could bring some real insight. Much like my short occasional foray into his books, events that happen in his world tend to bring wisdom and insight into the human condition, something I love to have every so often. In addition, the world has tons of sights to see – who doesn’t want to lay eyes on a solar system sized turtle?

Sean:

Live – Lord of the Rings: Since our book club has been re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and also because I am becoming an old man, I have come to really appreciate the idea of The Shire. I can easily imagine spending my days reading under oak trees, hosting and attending feasts, surrounded by friendly folks singing all the time, all while living in a nice home under a hill. I’d probably prefer to stay human sized if possible, even if that means a few bumps on my head now and then. I’ll make some mead and smoke some pipe weed with a bunch of cool folks, and if I ever decide I need a little bit more in my life, well I hear adventures are just down the road.

Vacation – The Gentleman Bastards: I’d love to spend some time in the world of Locke Lamora. More specifically, I’d love to have a week of insane antics with Locke and his crew of misfits. I can’t imagine a vacation that would lead to more stories I could tell for the rest of my life. I’d learn all sorts of new insults, come back with more smile lines than I left with, and they’d probably teach me a life lesson or two. In the meantime I’d get to see ancient glass architecture the likes of which would never be found on Earth, probably have more fun than anyone can have in Vegas, and probably learn a thing or two about brawling. Sounds like a hell of a vacation to me!

Will:

Live – Lord of the Rings (Lothlorien): As Sean mentioned above, the staff here at The Quill to Live has been doing a re-read of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While pretty much anywhere in Middle Earth that is described in detail by Tolkien (barring Mordor for obvious reasons) would be a pleasant place to spend a life, Lothlorien takes the cake. The beauty of elf architecture, magical trees that never lose their leaves, a pretty bitchin river, and the combination of Galadriel’s ring and the Elf Stone which both act to slow the passage of time? Count me in for a life amidst beauty with elves frollicking and singing weird shit for the rest of my greatly expanded lifespan.

Vacation – The LightBringer: As long as I can specify at what point in the series I take my vacation, I would absolutely visit Big and Little Jasper, the islands on which the Chromeria from the Lightbringer series was built. Preferably a few years before the series begins, actually, in a time of little import to the world. Simply being able to see the Chromeria, a multi-building university campus sprawled next to steep cliffs with beautiful views of the surrounding ocean would be amazing. Oh, did I mention that it’s entirely built from luxin, the glass-like physical embodiment of color which is the product of magic in the world? In addition, due to the Chromeria being the seat of power in the world at that point, the communities on Big and Little Jasper thrived as a lively and bustling medieval city-state, which would be a very pleasant place to spend a week, in my opinion.

Alex:

Live – Jackelian World: Who wouldn’t want to live in a world filled with spirit infested automatons, underwater kingdoms, and a city built inside a volcano populated by wait for it… humanoid Bears. There is something magical about the variety of life that fills Stephen Hunt’s novels, that in a time of peace (which is never) would be a fantastic place to live and travel in. Growing up in Middlesteel, becoming a Jack Cloudie and traveling the world on an airship would be an opportunity hard to pass up. From the ancient city of Camlantis (yes, it’s basically Atlantis, but real), to the city states of Catosia, populated by magic fueled Amazons, the Jackelian world offers a little bit for everyone, and a whole bunch more for me.

Vacation – The Divine Cities (The City of Bulikov): Most of my vacations involve history, and what better place to experience it alive. In the shadow of it’s former glory, it would be littered with miraculous relics, some dangerous, some beautiful, but all driving an insatiable curiosity. Walking through the streets with window walls, or stairs that disappear into the heavens would fill anyone with wonder. Imagine Rome except the Gods, instead of people, had created everything as a testament to their glory. Modern areas built by humans, brimming with activity and the odd automobile contrasted with the abandoned areas that were once cherished by the gods. Nowhere else could really capture the feeling of a human future colliding with the ever present supernatural past.

Julia:

Live – Harry Potter: What is wrong with all of you? How do you mess up the easiest fantasy related question ever posed? Was there even ever a chance of the best place to live not being a world with Hogwarts in it? You get everything you have in the modern day for comfort, and you also get to be a witch and go to a magic school. Easiest question ever, enjoy dying in your various orc and dragon infested wastelands.

Vacation – Mistborn (Elend): The high societal flair and awesome metal based powers of Sanderson’s Mistborn is definitely a place I could spend a vacation. Touring beautiful cities, flying through the air at the cost of a coin, and going to galas sounds like my idea of a great time. I would prefer to not visit during any of the world ending events, but manage to avoid those and Elend sounds like a great place to spend a week or a month.

Well there you have it. What are your top picks for a vacation or living space? We would love to know what any of you pick, and you reasoning, in the comments. What are the best locations in fantasy?

Making A Point – Too Like The Lightning Vs. Stranger In A Strange Land

I read two notable books over the last two months, Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein, and Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. They are both science fiction novels, the first is one of the most famous from the last era, and the second is a new entry that is making waves. Both of these great books are built around a similar storytelling objective: using a sci-fi story to argue philosophical points and explore ideas about humanity and society. While both books have interesting and new ideas, they go about very different methods of making their points.

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Let’s start with Too Like the Lightning. Lightning’s plot is a little hard to sum up succinctly, but the general gist is it’s a political drama centered around a few key individuals that are shaking up a neat and ordered society. In Lightning, fast transportation everywhere on Earth has eliminated geographic boundaries, and national identities have dissolved and reformed into ideological identities. This allows the society to run much more smoothly and achieve greatness, or so everyone is led to believe. There is a lot going under the surface, and we slowly discover that things may not be as great as we have led to believe. Add into this mix an individual who has manifested the ability to magically bring the inanimate to life , and you get a confusing and exciting story with a lot of philosophical depth.

Lightning is one of the smartest books I have ever read. It subtly plays with the readers emotions, expectations, and engagement with the narrator to pull off some astounding reveals. At the same time, it makes a lot of interesting and well thought out arguments about humanity, society, the cause of conflict, and solutions for peace. The characters are astoundingly well written, and it introduces some of the best science fiction concepts I have read in awhile. However, my favorite part of the book is that Lightning not only makes really interesting philosophical arguments, but it weaves them into the story to make them more fun and exciting to read. It turns what could feel like a philosophy textbook into clever exciting work of fiction, and I love it.

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Alternatively, Stranger in a Strange Land is a book from the 60’s that tells the story of a human raised by Martians returning to Earth. The idea behind the book is culture clash and observing a new way of looking at the world through the eyes of a man who is not constrained by the social conditioning and taboos that come with growing up in Earth society. It is incredible how good this book still is, but some of the arguments that Heinlein makes do feel a bit dated. However, many of the points that Heinlein tries to make still have a lot of teeth and I found it a compelling read.

You might notice that it took me a lot less time to summarize Stranger in a Strange Land’s plot than it did to summarize Too Like the Lightning’s. Despite this, Stranger is a much longer book than Lightning. This is because, unlike Palmer, Heinlein treated his science fiction setting as window dressing to his arguments. Large swaths of Stranger’s text are taken up by monologues arguing philosophical points and trying to convert you to Heinlein’s way of thinking. This might immediately sound like a negative, but I found a lot of his points to be well argued and compelling. The real issue I had with Stranger is it felt like it dragged compared to Lightning. The fact that Heinlein didn’t weave his points around a better story it just made the book feel slow and boring, despite some very clever points.

So in conclusion, both of these novels are excellent and are worth a read, but I definitely prefer Too Like the Lightning. Submerging your arguments in a great story is a much faster and more fun way to convert me than getting on a soapbox and shouting at me. Additionally, the plot of Lightning was so good that I am definitely going to have to dive into the sequel Seven Surrenders very soon. The Quill to Live recommends both of these brilliant novels, but Too Like the Lightning is definitely going to be on my list of favorite books.

Rating:

Too Like the Lightning – 9.0/10
Stranger in a Strange Land – 7.5/10

Observations About LotR – The Two Towers

9780547928203_p0_v2_s192x300The Quill to Live team is currently doing a reread of Lord of the Rings because for many of us, it has been awhile since we read it (on average about a decade). I initially thought about doing a review piece, but no one needs to hear another review about LotR to know it is amazing. We all know it is amazing. Instead, I thought I would instead do a compilation of some of the more amusing observations people had about the book, usually having to do with things not being as we remember. This is the second entry on The Two Towers, our thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring can be found here:

1) Aragorn has no chill – “When have I been hasty or unwary, who have waited and prepared for so many long years?’ said Aragorn.” Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Two Towers. That is a line that Aragorn says about halfway through The Two Towers, and it caused explosive laughter. Mostly because Gandalf’s reaction to this is “Aragorn you are right, you are so calm” – to which we ask, are you reading a different book Gandalf? Aragorn needs to calm down, a lot. He is constantly surprising hundreds of armed horsemen on edge by jumping out of bushes, telling the entire kingdom of Rohan to fight him 1v1, and generally making choices that would be likely to get a person stabbed repeatedly just because they scared someone holding a sword. He sounds like the most stressful party member ever, and if my co-adventurer told me his plan was to swagger into the king’s hall assuming he didn’t have to give up his sword since he was also a king…WITHOUT EVER HAVING A CORONATION OR, EVEN MORE, NOT EVEN GOING TO GONDOR BEFOREHAND, I would stab him myself.

2) Faramir is a baller – Boromir’s brother who helps guard Gondor is a lot cooler in the book than I remember. In the movies he is portrayed as just Boromir 2.0, trying to steal the ring from Frodo. But in the books, he is just a regular old human who isn’t even slightly tempted by the ring, making 90% of the cast look pretty dumb. He is a really interesting character who adds a lot of depth and realism to the story. He is the first character I saw to question Aragorn’s claim to being the king, and seems like the kinda guy you would want in charge of an army trying to beat back the forces of evil. He has this practicality to him that is extremely lacking across most of Tolkien’s other characters and makes a really good juxtaposition with pretty much anyone else in the books.

3) The book doesn’t drag where we expected, and does drag where we didn’t – Going into The Two Towers I was really excited for the ents and Helm’s Deep, and dreading Frodo and Sam’s frolic through the swamps. I thought it was going to be hard to get through pages of Sam and Frodo whining to Gollum after experiencing the might and majesty of Saruman vs. everyone. Turns out, the opposite is true. The first part of towers involves a lot of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas camping – and talking about camping – and retelling the story of how they camped. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that The Fellowship takes place over multiples years, and Towers takes place over like a week. Because of this, Tolkien gets a lot more granular in his story telling. While this is arguably needed, it does make some scenes feel like they last forever, Meanwhile, in the second half of Towers Tolkien amps up the language and poetry so that Sam and Frodo’s journey becomes magical and filled with awe. I could not put down the second half of the book as Sam narrates the bleak landscape and dwindling hope of their cause.

4) Speaking of the first half dragging, the battles are… not great – First off I did not expect to go into this and have the greatest written action scenes of all time. Tolkien is known for his worldbuilding and prose much more than his fights. However, I was really disappointed with the fight at Helm’s Deep. It had so few descriptives and often broke down to “we fought some orcs and killed them”. Based on the movies you would think the battle lasted weeks, when in actuality it was closer to 24 hours. The scenes are confusing and not very satisfying, and I am hoping the battle of Pelennor Fields will step it up a notch in book three.

5) Treebeard is the best, and Sam is still amazing – I love Treebeard, and have since I first met the ents when I was young. I expected to reread Towers and find that my love for him was a bit overzealous, but I instead found it completely justified. Treebeard is just fun every second he is on a page and makes me genuinely happy as I read about him. His story is both interesting and moving, his personality is just smile inducing to be around, and he is just an all around well written character. He was definitely the highlight of book two for me, although Sam continues to be an all star as well. Most of the second book is narrated by Sam, with Frodo taking a back seat as he deals with the delirious effects of the ring. As mentioned in point three, these sections were a lot more exciting than I expected – and most of that is due to Sam’s great narration.

I liked The Two Towers less than The Fellowship this time around, but it was still a great (albeit sometimes slow) read. I am really excited for The Return of the King sometime this month, as I remember almost nothing about it other than they chuck a ring into a volcano at some point.