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Vick's Vultures

Monday, October 2, 2017

Guest Post on SFF World, Three Tiered World Building

We're 2 days out from release, and SFF World has been kind enough to host me for a blog post. Here you can read my latest rant on the topic of worldbuilding. Check it out!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

July 2017 Update

It's been some time since I've made a blog post. The primary reason for this is that every time I sit down to write a blog, the feeling nags me that the time would be better spent writing actual books. Go figure. The spring and summer have been busy with activity, and in the interim since my last rant I've made significant progress towards my writing goals.

The sequel to Vick's Vultures is nearly complete, only a few final edits are left before it goes to Layout, and then to reviewers and the general public. To Fall Among Vultures will be released later this year and if you were a fan of Vick's Vultures, the second book continues on with more of Victoria's interstellar adventures. If you have not yet read Vick's Vultures, please consider checking it out. In the mean time, I am already hard at work on book 3. Parvus Press has been extremely good to me in their handling of the Union Earth Privateers series.

If Fantasy is more your jam, the second book of the Sorcerous Crimes Division has been completed for some time, but I have held off on self-publishing until I can secure an editor to do it the justice I believe it deserves. If you are a freelance editor, feel free to contact me to discuss rates. I am also working on an as-yet undisclosed Fantasy title that I think is sure to excite fans of unconventional Fantasy.

Until next time,

-Scott Warren


Monday, February 6, 2017

Vick's Vultures: Post Mortem



Vick's Vultures has been out for some time, and it has to date sold over 4000 copies and generated extremely positive review scores on both Amazon and Goodreads. For multiple days it was in the top 10 Science Fiction sales on Amazon. To those who read and enjoyed it, and those who left those positive reviews I have this to say: Thank you for taking a chance on Vick's Vultures. Thank you for investing the (admittedly modest) time it took to read. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate the kind words.

To those that left a 1-2 star review I have only this to say: Thank you for taking a chance on Vick's Vultures, and for investing the time to read something you ultimately did not enjoy.

Readers have a right to know that they might not enjoy a book or its content, and so negative reviews are important too. I think it's easy for an author to lose sight of that.


With that said, generous Vick's Vultures spoilers lay ahead as I discuss the book, the characters, and what worked and what maybe didn't. For fans that are looking for a little more before VV 2 is finished, this may scratch your itch. For those that have not read it, go ahead and pick up a copy before going any further. Don't worry, I'll wait. In the following paragraphs I'll talk about my intentions as well as the reader perceptions, and the areas where my attempt to communicate an idea or personality trait were unsuccessful and some of the challenges in tackling science fiction. As an author, it's important to remember that I cannot fault a reader for misunderstanding my intent. All a writer has is the written word, and it's my duty to communicate effectively with it.


Laying the Groundwork


I've discussed it in interviews and internet radio several times, and the answer to the question "What was the idea you wanted to explore with Vick's Vultures?" always seems to change a bit. Memory is a fluid thing, and I don't always remember the reasoning behind every decision. One thing remained certain though, I knew that VV was above all else a story of adventure, and before the labels started flying (military sci-fi, mad max in space, space opera, space marines,) I had described it as an interstellar age of sail, with powerful nations trading, conquering, marauding, and trying to scrape by. I had a character, Vick, and her purpose for the next two hundred odd pages was to butt into a millennia old conflict. When I begin outlining a novel, I start with the inciting action and the eventual resolution, and decide what message I want the two to say. That pesky bit in the middle is best left to worry about later (As my publishers at Parvus Press are no doubt tired of hearing).

Characterization


By far the biggest complaint in the work, even among the positive reviews, was the lack of characterization for the more minor characters. By its nature, a ship like the Condor is a cog of many pieces and the crew is no less crucial to that ship than the micro reactor or the horizon drive. Not only that, but it is a well-oiled machine of professional starfarers, entrusted with the future of humanity. My intent was to present a crew that had long moved past the early stages of group development and were already an efficient, functioning team headed by a capable leader. In that aspect, I think I succeeded. Victoria leads, but respects and considers the advice of her subordinates, and in turn is respected by them. For all her faults (and boy does she have a lot), she makes decisions that minimize risk to her crew in her inherently risky situation. If not for the opportunistic interjection of a certain six-foot bug, it's entirely possible that she would have completed her mission free from pursuit. But because the scope of the story is so narrow, taking place in only a few days, you don't have enough time to see complex relationships develop between crewmembers. This is simply because the humans in Vick's Vultures are as close to, well, human as I can make them and a few days isn't enough time for such complex relationships to develop. I expect this will be a continuing complaint about individual books in the series, though perhaps not the series as a whole. The pulpy, serialized format which I have adopted for the Union Earth Privateers trilogy means that I have accepted this fault and decided to focus effort in improving other aspects.

In regards to Victoria herself, I could likely write an entire post. Part of my intent for her was to be something of a black mirror to the stereotypical vulgar, heavy-drinking, womanizing, Colt 1911 slinging do-no-wrong maverick space captains prevalent in science fiction. Her heavy drinking is seen negatively by a majority of the crew, her vulgarity is purposefully over the top (and unique to her). she can't effectively use her favored sidearm, she marginalizes the opposite sex in a negative way, and sometimes she makes decisions that don't save the day but instead lead to the very real consequence of losing crew members. Her sexuality is quite possibly where I saw the biggest break in terms of what I intended vs what was perceived. More than a few people saw her as simply promiscuous, and I failed to convey that her attitude towards men was in fact harmful and toxic because she saw most men only for the ways they could be used to validate herself. In fact, it is only in spite of these faults that she succeeds as a captain, not because of them, and in fact each of them has caused damage to her both personally and professionally in ways that the tightness of the narrative did not allow me the opportunity to explore without sacrificing the carefully maintained pace of Vick's Vultures.

One last thing about Victoria. Of the negative reviews mentioned earlier, her appetites and her vulgarity are mentioned more than once. The strangest aspect is that I agree with them. Excessive profanity is one of my bigger pet peeves when reading sci-fi and fantasy, and graphic sex scenes are another. More often than not I find that they take me out of the narrative, but I also knew that I wanted to challenge myself with Vick's Vultures and that sometimes the things I enjoy creating do not exactly align with the things I enjoy.  

Set Sail, at the Speed of Plot!

Having previously written Fantasy and knowing that my meager knowledge of cosmic geometry, real-world chemistry, and advanced rocketry were severely lacking I knew I was in over my head the moment I decided to move into Science Fiction. Plainly put, the realism to inject even a modicum of believably makes sci-fi much more difficult for me to write. Having completed my last math class in 10th grade of high school, researching stellar dynamics first required researching how to understand the information I was seeing. Concepts of acceleration, chase mechanics, relativistic delay, and combat at appreciable fractions of light speed had my head spinning. It took me some time to realize that none of it mattered at all. No matter how fast a ship supposedly was, they all moved the same speed: exactly as fast as the narrative demanded. It didn't matter exactly how fast characters were moving, only whether they were closing, escaping, evading, or engaging. It's much more important to know that a Grayling cutter is catching up to your hero than it is to know that cutter is moving at 11,000 meters per second in relation to the local star.

Once I realized this, it was easy to apply my real world experience as part of a tactical ship-board tracking party to making the encounters between these ships as intense as possible, with just enough touch of small group communications to shift the focus from realistic space combat to the realistic team dynamics that make naval combat possible in the first place. The interactions between Victoria and her crew became the highlight, and the way the Condor could be wielded as a single deadly weapon by many small moving parts became the driving aspect of what many have declared to be the best part of Vick's Vultures. I'm glad that I succeeded in this, because a similar approach is rarely seen outside of hard military fiction.

Onward and So Forth

For now, the future of the Union Earth Privateers is secure. Parvus Press has extended me the opportunity to continue my unique take on science fiction and the crowded galaxy of Vick's Vultures. Some of the reader considerations I will take into account, others conflict with my vision for the story and so I will have to disappoint. I hope that future volumes meet with a similar response from sci-fi fans as Vick's Vultures has, but now and for always I write for the challenge and the drive to create. See you around the Orion Spur!

-Scott Warren







Sunday, August 28, 2016

Yo, the Marines! A Review of Mary Gentle's Grunts

When it comes down to it, books about orcs are anything but gentle, and Grunts is no exception.

I make no secret of loving the monstrous races. orcs, goblins, troggs, trolls, and my own grenndrakes. So when I see an orc on the cover of a book, and come to learn that he's the main character I'm pretty predisposed to reading it.

Grunts is the story of Ashnak, the leader of the Man-Smart Agaku in the days leading up to the last battle. On orders from his master, the Nameless Necromancer, he infiltrates a long-dead dragon's horde to find a cache of weapons and equipment kept in the the dragon's collection of artifacts from across time and space.

The contents of this cache will be immediately familiar to fans of Vietnam era movies. M16s, M60s, humvees, Hueys, and an assortment of odds and ends from the 1960's era US army. Capable of shrugging off magical defenses, the Nameless Necromancer's hope is that these weapons will give Ashnak and the orcs the edge against the forces of Light in the coming apocalypse.

But things aren't quite so simple. The weapons carry the dragon's curse, that only those steeped in the training and attitude of the gear's origin are capable of employing it. And so very quickly, the orcs begin to take on the qualities of cinematized Vietnam Era Marines.

Naturally this is not without a great deal of hilarious juxtaposition between the high fantasy and modern military tropes expertly jumbled into a great genre mashup. The book is deliberately and successfully funny, playing off genre stereotypes and expectations to great effect. It's very easy to fall in love with Ashnak and his varied and versatile orc compatriots, but they will very quickly remind you of what they really are. This book is not for the young'ns. Gore, profanity, and even some sexual violence abound in this story about Orcs being the leanest, meanest forces of darkness around. It's all handled in a very cavalier and casual attitude that completely honestly made me a bit uncomfortable at times. But I do not consider that a strike against the book in any way, shape or form. Rather, I feel it was the intent. Despite the light-hearted tone of the book, there is some very dark subject matter to be aware of going into the experience. But it's an experience I wholly recommend. I have never read a book quite like Grunts, and to say I devoured it would be something of an understatement.


Read this book if you like: Rooting for the bad guys, orcs, Apocalypse Now, genre mashups.
Avoid this book if you do not like: Extremely dark subject matter, classic tropes.

And as always, feel free to let me know your thoughts on the novel as well. I greatly enjoyed this book and I think you will to.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Review of Goblins Know Best, by Daniel Beazley

Every so often a book comes along so in-tune with itself that it helps define the very genre that would try to label it. Goblins Know Best is just such a book.

Goblins Know Best: the Trivial Trials of Bogrot and Gorag by Daniel Beazley is a Fantasy novel told from the perspective of a Goblin chef named Bogrot Blistertooth. Raised in Gert’s Kitchen of the city of Kentai (A city so prone to earthquakes that it holds no permanent structures) Bogrot is a budding chef in his own right, driven to become one of the finest cooks in the land. Often drawn away from his kitchen for errands, adventures, and other misfortunes, he travels in the company of his best friends: a ravenous and rambunctious Orc named Gorag and a talking pony with a victim complex, Mona, acquired after he cooked and ate her brother.

The novel is laid out as an anthology. Rather than chapters each section of varying length is a self-contained story set in chronological order that might contain anything from Bogrot sneaking into an orc gathering to cut a double-crossed Gorag loose from his backstabbing brother, to traveling deep into the swamp for rare slugs that have become the mainstay ingredient in a popular curry. Along the way the pair meet and explore the wildly varied and interesting population and landscapes and play host to a collection of bizarre and genuinely endearing and funny encounters. Following the adventures carves out a world that while still having all the trappings of traditional fantasy tropes manages to feel like an incredibly unique experience that not only subverts the Fantasy genre, but is possibly the best example to date of emphatically non-epic fantasy by way of its focus on the humble goals of its protagonists and the intimate natures of the conflicts. Even minor characters are believable, with their own hopes, goals, ambitions, and shortcomings. They’re not allies or enemies of Bogrot, but they share his world and understand his challenges. Goblins Know Best is an excellent example of character study due to being so far removed from the epic struggles that dominate the genre that it allows you to see these characters in their natural state with their usual struggles. The subtitle ‘Trivial Trials’ perfectly encapsulates not only Bogrot and Gorag, but also our look at each individual character in their world just trying their best to get by.

I make no secret of enjoying works with the classic Tolkien races that so many modern authors try to avoid, or even for having a preference  for Orcs and Goblins in general (probably thanks to Warcraft). But with that said I feel comfortable with the claim that Goblins Know Best is by far my clear favorite out of all the books I’ve read this last year, and the entirety of my read-through was an absolute joy.

You should read this book if you enjoy: Collections of shorter works, Greenskins, copious tongue-in-cheek humor, self-aware writing, genre subversion, and first person perspective.

You should avoid this book if you dislike: Pun names, phonetic spelling of accents, traditional fantasy races (elves, orcs, goblins, trolls, gnomes, centaurs and others all make appearances).

Monday, March 28, 2016

On the Importance of Death

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for Malazan and Harry Potter.

Writing in fantasy gives authors a unique opportunity to skirt the effects of death by occasionally bringing a character back from beyond the mortal coil.

But should we?

One thing common theme amongst almost all other genres (unless it's the focus of the work) is that death is permanent, the end, full stop. Death can be used as an inciting action, climax, and resolution. Characters spend entire novels getting over the death of a loved one, or coping with their own impending death, or investigating the death of an innocent. And because of its permanent nature it's used to make a powerful statement. Characters die for a reason, or they die for a cause, or they die to show that sometimes death has no reason or cause which is a statement in and of itself. But the idea is death always makes a point one way or another, and it's the sharpest and most permanent statement that a character will ever make. But when death becomes a gray area, it begins to lose some of that poignancy and begins to lose some of the drama. Let's compare two examples of series that handle death differently and what it does to the narratives.

Let me start out by saying that Malazan Book of the Fallen is arguably my favorite series of all time. The story sprawled over a dozen volumes and followed the adventures of over 100 characters in an epic battle to save or destroy the world depending on which POV you're currently following. These are characters you know and love, and become attached to through battle and mundane activity and you feel their struggles. When they die, you feel that too. Never have I been so attached to a character as I was to a certain Malazan sergeant that met his end somewhere in the middle of the series.

The only problem was, by this point in the saga as many as a half dozen characters had already died and survived the ordeal through magical means. Well ok, so what does that mean for my favorite character's death? Well, it reduced the impact significantly. It blunted the point on the statement his death made, because the finality of death had been reduced to a gamble. Whiskyjack is dead, but would we see him again? Death in Malazan becomes less like the cover slamming shut on someone's story and more like going directly to jail in Monopoly. If they can manage to roll doubles, they're back in the game. And the more you think about it, the more you realize that this uncanny room for posthumous plot armor lessens the inherent risk any character faces when they enter a life-threatening situation. The drama dulls. Instead of life or death, we're presented a third option of 'Death, but then...'.

Now let's look at Harry Potter, and sure we're comparing a young-adult modern urban fantasy to a sprawling quasi-medieval epic fantasy. Why not?

Death is a huge deal in Harry Potter. The entire series is incited by the death of Harry's parents at the hand of Voldemort, and Voldemort also happens to be the only character to successfully come back from the dead. And it takes him 4 whole books of the 7 book series to manage it. This sort of thing is what makes him the dark lord, makes him so feared in the wizarding world, the fact that he's literally the only one that can break the rules. With the exception of Harry Potter himself.

But the rest of the cast? Mortal, pure and plain. When they die, they stay dead or they occasionally return as ghosts, but they never return to the life they had before. And there are a lot of good guys that die in Harry Potter. The big one everyone remembers is Harry's godfather, Sirius Black. Fell through the veil into the realm of death. Sure there was some ambiguity, it's a gateway right? Gateways have two sides.

But ultimately, JK's most powerful decision wasn't killing Sirius, it was letting him stay dead. She could have brought him back. The option was there, the fans wanted him to still be alive, and enough mystery surrounded the circumstances of his demise that even though we knew in our hearts that he was gone there was still some glimmer of hope. But because he stayed dead, the statement he made with his death was powerful. The statement of 'The boy who lived must continue to live, and that goal is worth dying for'. It showed how far the Order of the Phoenix was willing to go in order to keep Harry safe because they knew he was the only hope they had against Voldemort.

And because Sirius Black stayed dead, it made the statement of his death more effective than all of the deaths in Malazan where the character rolled boxcars and found their way back to the fight.

What are your thoughts on death and resurrection in fantasy? Let me know, I'd love to hear your opinions.

Scott Warren

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A review of Brandon Draga's The Summerlark Elf

It’s no secret that I tend to prefer more consumable, serialized works of fantasy when compared to the meganovels we saw as the industry standard for many years. I believe the genre is finally starting to move away from the 400,000 word entries in sprawling 10-book series spanning across decades. Embittered fans of these works that feel spurned by multi-year gaps between entries are starting to look towards smaller, more contained stories to fill their time. My own books trend towards this philosophy and I look to newer authors as siezing opportunities left by giants of Fantasy.

The Summerlark Elf feels like just such a story. At its heart, The Summerlark Elf is a story about the importance of family, whether by blood or circumstance, and it tells it with genuine warmth and a modest cast of characters whose motivations are clearly expressed over the length of the novel. Fans of traditional fantasy or Dungeons and Dragons will feel right at home among the varied and diverse people of the 4 Kingdoms. All the traditional trappings are here: Elves, dwarves, halflings, thieves guilds, and dark plots that tangle and entrap the heroes of the story and force them to change and adapt to overcome each challenge.

The story itself primarily focuses on Enna Summerlark, an orphaned elf adopted as an infant by a merchant and his wife in a kingdom where fey creatures are persecuted by a king living in fear and his oppressive archmage advisor. Enna is unaware of her mystic origins, whose manifestation lands her in trouble and launches the primary conflicts of the story. For reasons unknown, nefarious powers are interested in Enna, and have dispatched agents to collect her. Don’t expect too many details to be revealed, as this plot hook serves to set up the following volumes in the series.

All in all, The Summerlark Elf feels like a great introduction to the 4 Kingdoms Saga, establishing the world, the cast, the political climate and the culture. It’s reminiscent of the first book of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, in that it serves as a launching point for the other entries in the world of Enna Summerlark and her companions.

You should read this book if you enjoy shorter works of fiction, traditional fantasy trappings, books about familial ties, and earnest adventuring.

You should avoid this book if you prefer longer or self-contained works, more esoteric and unfamiliar settings, and fantasy where magic and the supernatural are kept to a minimum.