Storytelling is not defined. Yes, we all know how to structure a sentence. When to use a comma instead of a period. The difference between quotation marks and apostrophes. We learn grammar in school classes, listening to someone stand at the front of the room and lecture about how important it is to know when to use “it’s” as opposed to “its.” All of those are components to storytelling, but they are not stories. You may have heard somewhere, half-remembered, that a story needs a beginning and a middle and an end. That holds true, until you read something non-linearly. Sometimes the best stories take all the rules, throw them out the window, and craft something truly special.
The best fantasy novels do not tell stories, they build worlds. Worlds that draw you in, make you believe that the empires and elves inhabiting the pages before you are real. Dragons dwell on top of the highest peaks, avoiding the peoples living in the valleys below. There is real drama, intrigue, racial and religious tension, defined magic. Behind everything, the classic battle between good and evil. There will be twists, and the most interesting heroes possess major flaws which inform their character, but all great fantasy stories share one thing. They force you to stop seeing words on a page and start seeing the worlds in your head.
For anyone who read my last review, “Solve for Fate,” I originally announced the next review will be about The Body Library, by Jeff Noon. That was before I randomly came across The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. A 700-page fantasy tome, this novel drew me in immediately and has not let me go since. I am setting aside The Body Library for now, but I will come back to it after tomorrow’s review!
This is a full spoiler review! Read at your own peril!
Math is the universal language. No matter what corner of the planet you hail from or which language you speak, pi will always be represented by 3.14. The speed of light is always written as 3.00 x 108 m/s, commonly shown as c. E = mc2 is taught in classrooms across the globe, in multiple disciplines. The history of mathematics is the history of the world, of invention. Math is all around us, hidden in our daily lives. Predictive algorithms are used in finance, marketing, healthcare, retail, and just about any other industry one could imagine. Equations are used in nearly every technology today, and more math goes into ensuring your smart phone functions than sent the first astronauts into orbit.
Tomorrow morning I’ll be posting my review of The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, by Nova Jacobs. This is a little unusual for me in that it’s neither science-fiction nor fantasy. There’s some elements of thriller, a touch of romance, a brief murder-mystery, and a lot of family drama. Most of all this, this is literary mathematical fiction.
I am lucky to have seen Nova read portions of the story at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena last month at a launch event, and am happy to share her first novel with you all.
Check back in the morning for the complete review!
Romance literature can easily seem like a stale genre. There are certain beats and plot points which we know most romance novels will follow. We know the characters long before we open the first page or even learn their names. There is an entire industry based around this, and authors take full advantage of our desire to experience love vicariously. The male and female protagonists—and there are nearly always white—may fall in love at first sight. The entire world may try to get in there way. There will be a sex scene, or multiple, described in such circumstantial language so as to not appear pornographic. The Shape of Water novel is not like this. These are characters you have never met, experiencing life and love in different ways. Even the sex is new and strange and different.
Magic is a fascinating concept. An invisible, unknowable force that will somehow allow normal people to accomplish extraordinary things. The wizards in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series can conjure creatures, fly, teleport, and more. Going back to the middle ages we can find stories of alchemists attempting to create homunculi through arcane spells. Even farther back, ancient Greece had the oracles, young women who could commune directly with the gods. There are still those today who believe in magic, but the magic they believe in is very different from what came before. Instead of wizened crones serving the village, we have the internet. Instead of elderly wizards studying in towers, we have teenagers holed up in their bedrooms.
Review copy of Aaru provided by David Meredith
Death is a fact of life. We obsess over it. We avoid it. We embrace it. We have never stopped searching for ways to put it off, to stop it, to cure it. For as long as stories and fiction have been things in human culture, we have been dreaming up ways around death. Characters in some stories live unnaturally long lives. Some are cursed with undeath, the ability to die and die again and never stay dead. Since the advent of science-fiction, our tales have turned towards technology instead of magic for answers. Cyborgs, transcendent states of being, and complex virtual worlds dominate the fictional landscape.
Just a small announcement for City on the Moon going forward. I’ve received a few requests for solicited reviews, and have now been sent a couple review copies as well. In fact, this next one, David Meredith’s Aaru is one such. In the interest of full disclosure, at the beginning of any review where I have received the book for free, I’ll add a little PSA to that effect. If you don’t see that, then I either bought the book myself or was gifted it by a friend or family member.
Exciting times are ahead for City on the Moon!
Over one hundred years later and the Victorian era has never quite left us. There is an innate fascination in the West with the fashion, the language, the dichotomy between upper and lower class, and the general scientific aesthetic. This is the era which brought us Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein’s monster. This is also the period which launched the alien invasion literary craze with an extraordinarily well-known serialization. The War of the Worlds was written and published by H.G. Wells in 1897, and later made even more famous by Orson Welles in 1938, believed to have caused a panic in the United States for it’s realistic portrayal of an alien invasion. All this to say, The War of the Worlds is timeless.