Infinity and one…

Freelance writing for the role playing industry is a funny thing in my limited experience. Flurries of activity, followed by periods of waiting. I have loved it though, and have loved being a small part of the Modiphius Entertainment team; supportive, geeky, gamerly beasts that they are.

The quiet of the Christmas period has in turn given way to the busy season again. I managed to get a novelette written in the downtime (and begin a short story), as well as blog a bit, but now the clarion call to action has me looking carefully at my schedule and blocking out time to get my freelance obligations completed.

Infinity RPG Core-Book

The next two months are going to be busy, I have three projects queued up, with the prospect of more at the end. I will be receiving sections already drafted back from Corvus Belli and my editors with notes on what needs changing, fixing or removing, and I have also had to turn down a project or two for lack of time.

Last year, around September, I tested myself by writing as much as I felt I could manage over the period of around a month. I wrote somewhere close to 50,000 words that I was happy to submit. It’s not a huge amount for those who are experienced, but it pushed me, and pushed me hard. I wanted to test myself, to see what I could put out, what I was comfortable with, what sort of word rate I could manage in a day, a night, an hour. All told I worked out I can typically manage between 1000 and 2000 words a night. Not a huge amount for many, but comfortable for me. I have a job to go to during the day, and a family I’d like to see, so I need to be careful not to burn too much time, or put myself under too much pressure.

The deadlines, though, are closing, and over the next month and a half I will need to get somewhere close to 50,000 words written to meet them. It could have been more, it could have been much more. But thanks to the month I spent pushing myself I have a better grasp of what I am capable to achieving. There was a time when I would have said ‘yes’ to every opportunity, and even now responding with the occasional ‘no’ hurts. But it’s something I need to do, I recognise that. The one thing I do not want to do is to put myself in a position where I can’t hit a deadline.

Now the challenge is to get my routine up and running again. Last year it was writing at least 1000 words a night, every night. After my schedule throttled back over the Christmas period, and has been slowly ramping since, I need to get that back. Getting my routine going again means only one thing: putting my backside into the seat and typing…

 

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a science fiction novella about a young Himba woman, the eponymous Binti, seeking to travel off-world to study at a prestigious university. First and foremost, this is a cracking story; imaginative and fascinating. The cultures presented, the Himba, Khoush and the alien Meduse, are wonderfully outlined and believably constructed (in the case of the fictional), or artfully related (in the case of the futuristic version of the Himba). I found myself drawn into this story, fascinated by the deep cultures presented throughout, the rich setting, and especially by the character of Binti.

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Being a novella, the story itself is short and easy to read, it is also wonderfully written with every word pushing the story and relating the characters and emotion. Much time is well spent on expanding the cultures represented, often by juxtaposing expectations of those cultures against the consequences of choices; the action/inaction of the characters. It is an engrossing read, well constructed and executed, full of feeling and emotion.

The theme I loved the most, I think (‘I think’ because I am still digesting), is the role of communication in the breakdown and formation of connections between peoples. I won’t say too much more, because I don’t like revealing too much of the story, but the capacity to communicate with reason seems a fundamental theme in the story, that coupled with a willingness to listen.

Binti is strong and vulnerable, emotional and reasonable all at the same time, and makes for a wonderful character that is easy to relate to. Her strong sense of identity and culture, and the significance of having that removed, changed or even just of leaving it, are also key themes explored intelligently in only a small number of words. There is emotion packed in here, thought and feeling that far outweighs the page count.

As seems more and more the norm for me these days, I came across Nnedi Okorafor on twitter, reading through her commentary on her journey and experiences as a writer, I was inspired to get Binti and Akata Witch, and I’m very glad I did. There is just one thing I am furious about: I didn’t order the two sequels to Binti. Now I have to wait on the post before I get to read more.

 

 

Rowan of Rin, by Emily Rodda

Rowan of Rin is a children’s fantasy novel by author Emily Rodda (Jennifer Rowe), I just finished reading this book both to my grade 5 class, and at home to my son (grade 3). Rowan of Rin is, in many ways, a simple story, it’s plot progression, series of challenges and climax all pull from fantasy tropes, from prophesy to quest completion. It is a rags to riches tale; the story of a boy broadly rejected for his weakness and cowardice, who discovers on the quest he is forced to undertake that he has bravery and strength aplenty.

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In many respects this could be described as a by-the-numbers piece of fantasy fiction: everything we expect of the genre is present. I say this not to denigrate the book, but to highlight it’s strength. Rowan of Rin is an excellent book. It is tightly plotted, cleverly evolved and well written. For those who read it carefully, or read it multiple times, the use of foreshadowing is brilliantly executed throughout. There are few books that could be described as more typically fantasy, and yet rise to achieve what Emily Rodda has managed so neatly, succinctly, and evocatively. It is a wonderful book, with no wasted verbiage, that manages to pack both adventure and emotion into a quest story heaped with character growth.

Rowan

The story itself revolves around a small village, Rin, whose water source has dried up with looming consequences. A party of adventures set forth to uncover the source of the problem, guided by the poetic prophesy of the wise-woman/witch Sheba. Rowan, a boy and the least capable of the village, is compelled to join the party, and in so doing is set upon a path of self-discovery and high adventure.

Short, with uncomplicated prose cleverly woven into a tight and emotional package, Rowan of Rin is a wonderful fantasy book. My class highly enjoyed the story, and my son is now reading the second in the series. For anyone with children, Rowan of Rin makes for a fantastic introduction to the genre. For any adults looking for quality exemplars of tight and cleverly plotted stories that use an economy of words to best effect, this is also well worth a read.

 

 

 

Artemis, by Andy Weir

Artemis is a science fiction murder mystery by Andy Weir, author of the Martian. I found The Martian to be an exceptional story. A character I liked in a do-or-die situation, using pure intellect and willpower to bully his way through every one of the multitude of problems he faces. I loved the book, and it ranks as one of my all time favourite reads. Needless to say then, when I read that Andy Weir was working on his next book I was very excited.

The story is set in the eponymous city of Artemis, humanity’s first settlement beyond the fragile shores of Earth. The setting of the story is compelling. Highly detailed and lovingly crafted, Artemis is as scientifically accurate a moon-city as can be found anywhere in literature, it is, I would go so far to say, unrivaled. Like The Martian, Andy Weir shows his understanding of science and technology, which, coupled with a keen imagination, makes for a fascinating backdrop to the story.

The story itself I found to be something of a slow-burn, The Martian I read in a flurry over about a day and a bit, it hooked me from the first scene and didn’t let go. Artemis was a more gradual climb. I found the main character’s internal dialog to be a little abrasive at times, and the while the plotting and action was intelligent, I didn’t find the reasons behind the action in the story thoroughly compelling.

All that changes as the book progresses, which is why I describe it as a slow-burn. As Jazz gets tangled in a mess far greater than she ever imagined, and the setting itself hangs in the balance, the stakes are raised to an all-time high and I was finally pulled fully into the book.

Artemis is an excellent novel, the overarching story, the raison-d’etre for the action and plotting is hidden behind a veil, off to the side of the characters and their concerns. The chief architect of this larger plot is a secondary character, and while the events in the story are important to this larger plan, the story itself, the plot of the novel, deals with a portion. The larger question, about creating an economy for Artemis moving forward and the struggles and implications that holds, are fascinating concepts. The novel though deals with a vitally connected but independent story line, which while fascinating in its own right, really shines when connected to the implications of the bigger picture.

Artemis is an intelligently written and unbelievably well conceived novel. The characters are interesting, even if a little abrasive. The writing is solid and the plot progression is good, but it is a slow-burn, in my opinion, only fully grabbing you by the throat around half-way through. Anyone who is a fan of hard science fiction would be well rewarded by reading Artemis, while I personally didn’t enjoy the book as much as I loved The Martian, it is a solid offering, and I look forward to Andy Weir’s next book.

Furious Fiction

An evening spent poking around various websites related to writing eventually landed me at the Australian Writers’ Centre. There I found they were running a monthly competition called Furious Fiction, a competition for a 500 word story with a number of criteria. This month the criteria were: the first word must be ‘music’, the story must include an invitation of some kind, and the story must include singing in some way.

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Image from the Furious Fiction site, linked above.

I found the site with about an hour and a half remaining in the deadline, and with a lazy Sunday evening stretching before me, decided to give it a shot. I am under no illusions that I’ll place or win, but it was a fun exercise.

500 words was not much to play with, and the various criteria stretch your thinking in novel ways. I quite liked writing my little piece, though as I stated above, I have no expectation of doing particularly well with it.

Given it was rather enjoyable, I signed up, and will be trying to post an entry each month as they come up. Writing under restrictions, or with the requirement to include a set of specific things is a fun and interesting experience, I highly recommend it!