The limits of description

There are four broad categories of text you can write (exposition, narration, description, and dialogue,) and descriptions are what can give more problems to a fiction or genre writer. To sum up, description isn’t even a good kind of text. We tolerate it because it is required, but the least there is, the better, for reasons I hope will become clear in a moment.

Textual versions of visual phenomena are not good conveyors of information, at least not the kind of information most novice writers believe they should convey (raw visual data.)

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Nounfall Adverbborn, or The only type of naming convention in fantasy and nerdom

Although slightly silly and inconsequential, the issue in this post points to a more important (philosophical even!) question about the human mind and its relation to speech and language: why do people speak (and write) the way they do? Are we rational agents who, as if homunculi living inside our own skulls, have an idea, and then have to rationally choose the best way to express it? Or are we more like Skinnerian rats who use the words and expressions we use because these have been socioally reinforced and happen to be more effective to achieve a goal we might not even be completely aware of? My experience doing posts about writing and language, as well as observing how people write in what are heavily Skinnerian domains (social media,) makes me think truth points towards the latter. After all, who has never noticed a new expression that everybody seems to be using all of a sudden?

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Reading the Hugos (2020): A Catalog of Storms

This is the final nominee (Disregard that, I actually forgot not just to review another one, but actually to read it! There’s still one more story left) for this year’s short story Hugo Awards, A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde. If you were expecting a roaring end to this review series, you are going to be disappointed.

Fran Wilde wrote years ago one of the few Hugo stories I actually liked, mostly due to its raw, angry energy and somewhat autobiographical content, but A Catalog of Storms has none of those things as far as I can see. To me, it feels like a by-the-book Hugo finalists: wandering, dreamy, with florid language, oozing with magic realism, and with barely any plot or real tension.

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Reading the Hugos (2020) Ten Excerpts from an Annotated… oh God that’s a long title.

Some particular trends in genre literature have become obvious during the past few years. One of them is the use of Brobdingnagian titles, a compulsion to write paragraph-long titles, some of whom even give away the plot. I suspect this may have started as a quirky, ironic thing to do, but I don’t think it’s funny unless you are lampooning or referencing some stuffy style like academic papers or writing comedy. And, to be fair, that’s to some extent what this story is doing—referencing, not the comedy.

The complete title of this very short piece by Nibedita Sen is Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, which is way less interesting than my alternative title: The lesbian cannibal she-devils of Ratnabar Island. It’s mating season… and they want your blood!

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Reading the Hugos (2020) And Now His Lordship is Laughing

For this short story, you can play a little game. Thanks to the benevolence and foresight of the people at Strange Horizons, this story is preceded by a long list of Content Warnings. You can ignore those, of course, but who could resist the temptation of clicking on that button to see what awful sins it hides. It’s like a flashing red button saying DON’T TOUCH ME.

VOMIT

The game is this: Try to deduce the plot of this story just from those trigger warnings. So what sort of Gomorrah-style type of story do we have here for it to include all that stuff? A surprisingly meh one. Yes, a child dies, and that sets in motion this story of racial revenge, but I don’t even remember half of the things from the list.

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Reading the Hugos (2020) Do Not Look Back, My Lion

I wasn’t sure if this year I would bother writing these analyses of the Hugo short story finalists. Although my experience has usually been that close to 90% of them are bad, at least they are bad in an interesting way. This year they are mostly bad and boring. Besides, to be honest, I don’t care that much about writing anymore. But these reviews of mine are sort of a blog tradition, so here they are once more. I think, however, that this may be the last year I do these. It’s neither worth it nor funny.

If you have stumbled upon this without knowing what I’m talking about: The Hugo Awards is one of the most prestigious literary awards in science fiction and fantasy. Also, they nominate a lot of crap, but it’s from that fact that the hilarity ensues.

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How fiction starts: an analysis of 1200+ sff books

When I make my writing analysis posts, I usually pick random sentences but beginnings may be an even better choice. They are probably the most edited, if not overthought, parts of a book, and it’s also where writers show off their skill or (if they fail at it) their weaknesses. And if you want to see how writing changes through time, the first sentence may actually be all you need to read. And for those who have huge submission piles to plow through, the first two sentences is all you need to read for the first culling.

If you have followed me for some time, you already know my dislike of contemporary writing fads and techniques and my belief that you can see its decline in quality just in the formal aspect of writing. Strange syntax, (too) deep POVs, -ing participles galore, unnecessary descriptions, showing where telling would be perfectly fine and, finally, no personal style and no distinctive narrator—just piles and piles of descriptions, one after the other, like a transcription of a video recording. And, sure, it’s fine and all to talk about these things in the abstract and using a few examples from time to time, but it’s better to have some solid evidence to back you up. So here it is.

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Door stoppers, or how you can probably cut off half of any sff novel.

Despite this blog’s interest in fantasy, there’s actually a lot of “beginners” books in this genre that I never read when I was a kid. The kind you either read young or you never will because as an adult they seem… kinda bad. I ignored almost all the D&D novels aside from a few Drizzt books, and I never touched a single Dragonlance book (more than a hundred already written as of today.) That changed yesterday when, in a whim, I began reading the first Dragonlance book. And, well… it was somewhat better than I had expected. Better than a lot of the stuff being written today, anyway.

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