Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress

I have now reached the character building stage of my current writing project. Having built up a good head of steam on the world building side, with languages, history, mythology and some cultural/society bits sketched out, I decided to move onto some of the main characters of my book. I know that I will be going back to the world building as inevitably working on characters and plot will bring up questions I hadn’t previously thought about on the world background side of things.

So I started off by using a tool from a great book, Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress. In this book she has included something called a Character Intelligence Dossier. A form that asks you, the writer, questions about your character. Such as what age are they, who’s their father, what people do they hang out with, what speech mannerisms do they have, what do they wear. In fact several pages of questions that one might imagine are not altogether necessary. However, although I am only a couple of pages into the intelligence dossier for my story’s main character, I have already found that one of these seemingly inconsequential questions has given birth to what maybe some great sub-plots and new minor characters that I hope will enrich my story. For me the question was who does the character hang around with after work. This got me thinking and stirred up some interesting ideas about who might latch onto my story’s hero and try to influence him.

I’m looking forward to answering more questions over the next few days and weeks!

Genetic Differences Amongst Nomadic populations

This piece of research about ADHD genes in Kenyan nomads shows that certain genes that might be less suitable in a settled culture are actually beneficial in a nomadic setting. Apparently the behaviour associated with ADHD can lead to nomads being more effective in fighting off raiders and finding food and water.

My current writing research concentrates on a nomadic civilisation so this was of interest to me!

Jack Vance Tribute Songs of the Dying Earth Announced

I heard about this first about a year ago, it’s a great idea, an anthology of stories by top fantasy writers based on Jack Vance’s Dying Earth (an inspiration for Gene Wolfe’s Earth of the New Sun of course!). The book is edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, and there will be special signed editions available. Looks great!

Stories from:

* Robert Silverberg* Terry Dowling* Glen Cook* Tanith Lee* Liz Williams* Kage Baker* Elizabeth Moon

have already been contribued.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a release date yet as stories are still to be contributed from:

* Neil Gaiman* Dan Simmons* Elizabeth Hand* Matt Hughes* Mike Resnick* Phyllis Eisenstein* Paula Volsky* Howard Waldrop* Tad Williams* Walter Jon Williams* John C. Wright* Lucius Shepard

Severian of the Guild review at SF Site

It was with interest that I read the review by Paul Raven of the 2007 Book of the New Sun edition, called Severian Of The Guild – essentially a repackaged version by Gollancz.

Paul, despite acknowledging Wolfe’s genius, also describes the problems he has with the allegory and particularly the Christianity in the book. I, like Paul, am an athiest, but I didn’t really find the allegory a problem – I guess I expect authors to not necessarily share my belief systems and to have their own agendas. Also, because the narrative is so dense and complex, it is actually possible to ignore the allegory – it all depends how much you want to interpret I think. It didn’t spoil the pleasure of reading the book for me.

I was also puzzled that Paul grew impatient with the narrative style of the Book of the New Sun:

“Simply by merit of our unreliable narrator Severian, Wolfe is already subverting the modernist notion of novel-as-literal-truth, and there are a number of moments where Severian draws back from the narrative to pass comment on the nature of narrative itself, straying into metafictional territory.”

Narrative games are an essential part of Wolfe’s work, and to be quite frank it can take a sophisticated reader to appreciate them. However, to say that somehow there is a modernist mainstream that Wolfe is subverting is wrong. Post-modernist questioning of the narrator has been with us for a long time – see my previous blog posting on The Wasp Factory and The Tin Drum for instance. With any text that has a narrator in the first person, the reader should beware. Unfortunately a lot of fantasy and sci-fi can be quite unsophisticated and perhaps its readers are missing out as a result. Which means that unfortunately that great writers like Gene Wolfe don’t get the credit they deserve, even from their own constituency – i.e. SF/F readers.

Having said that, the Book of the New Sun can be heavy going – I would recommend The Fifth Head of Cerberus or Peace as easier introductions.


100 Uncontacted Tribes exist in the World

Apparently according to Survival International there are 100 uncontacted tribes existing still in the world – mostly in the area of Brazil and Peru. I found the story over at TED. It makes you think doesn’t it!? Also I was wondering about the possibilities of this as a story idea? The problem is most people wouldn’t believe it!

But this picture taken from a flyover of one of these tribes is very evocative:

Harry Harrison calls the USA a Fascist State

Spotted at SF Signal, Pravda interviews Harry Harrison, who calls the USA a fascist state.

While he may have a point it’s a bit rich coming from Russians isn’t it?

I wonder if his comments were taken out of context though or maybe they missed out a bit where he also criticized Russian autocracy and undemocratic principles.

Aside from increased militarism, imperialism in the Caucasus and strong-arm tactics over their energy resources, I think the main example of the rise of authoritarianism in Russia has to be the recent Eurovision competition. Are all of Russia’s neighbours so scared of angering the bear that they have to vote for her in a ‘music’ competition as well! See this video from Sir Terry Wogan.

New Elric story from Michael Moorcock

There’s a new Elric story in the current issue of Weird Tales. Looks like a great issue – also features an interview with China Míeville, H.P. Lovecraft and Dune.

I might subscribe!

Elric was one of my favourite fantasy anti-heroes when I was a kid – exactly I think because he was an anti-hero – both good and bad and obviously that appealed to a teenage kid.

Biological explanation for Religion

I found this story from The Economist interesting about a new research project into the biological basis of religion. As part of my world-building exercise this is quite a fascinating subject as I come to grips with the cultural background of my world’s peoples, which includes their religions. In fact I have decided that religious differences will play an important part and mostly leading to violence.

Here’s a quote from the research project’s brochure “Leading experimental psychologists and biologists have suggested that man’s universal religious consciousness results from innate characteristics in the evolved cognitive architecture of the brain. In contrast, the differences stem from variable priming of the cognitive mechanisms through creative thinking, memory and acquired expertise.”

So it seems that humans are biologically predisposed to be religious, or at least believe in something I suppose! I’m an athiest, but must admit that I find religions and their attendant cultural systems very interesting.

Useful World-Building Websites

I am currently working on the creation of a fantasy world for an upcoming fantasy novel. Having surveyed a lot of the literature and websites regarding world creation I found the following most useful:

Creating an Earthlike Planet – this really takes you through most of the process of creating geography, weather and climates. In particular his section on weather is a well explained, simple but invaluable – see his Climate Cookbook.

Also a useful reference for climates are the Koppen classifications, see http://koeppen-geiger.vu-wien.ac.at/

Once you have your climate’s sorted out it’s time to think about how these affect culture. I think this is more difficult, perhaps because there’s no accepted historical interpretation – i.e. it’s quite controversial still – see Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.

Culture creation is probably where you have to read around a lot and figure stuff out for yourself. I found that I had to create language alongside. There are a number of good websites on language creation. I would recommend the following:

The Language Construction Kit – includes all the aspects of language creation you are likely to need. I found that having a core 500 or so words was necessary to cover major nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Ardalambion is a site dedicated to the constructed languages of J.R.R. Tolkien. This is really inspirational and shows what can be done.

I strongly believe creating your own languages for your fantasy world can really enrich them. In my novel I am looking for my characters and cultures to have strong identities that are not based on slightly altered version of medieval earth. We’ll see if I achieve my aim!