The Fictorians

Kneeling in the Silver Light

11 November 2014 | 2 Comments » | mary

 

KITSLThis year marks the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. Today, Remembrance Day, was initially chosen to mark the end of hostilities of the First World War (November 11, 1918). In modern times this day honours members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

As a commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of WWI, Alchemy Press has assembled a collection of dark fantasy stories set during the war, entitled Kneeling in the Silver Light: Stories from the Great War. I’m proud to contribute a short story entitled “On the Side of the Angels.”

I’m Canadian by birth and German by ethnicity. I’ll never forget the point in my childhood when I tried to sort out who on my family tree had been “good guys” and who had been “bad guys” during the wars. I remember feeling saddened to learn that preachers on both sides of the First World War used religion as propaganda to convince their congregations that God was on their nation’s side.

My Pletsch grandfather, a devoted Christian and member of the Gideons International, exposed me to a lot of Christian philosophy. My father encouraged me to wrestle with faith and ask hard questions rather than teaching me to parrot dogma. He also told me, very memorably, that the Book of Revelations is really trippy and weird, and that there was some seriously bizarre and scary stuff going on in Bible times.

So when I set out to write a dark fantasy story set in the First World War, my first idea was what it might truly mean to be “On the Side of the Angels.”

Here’s a taste:

***

Our R.E.8 biplane fell from the sky like the morning star from heaven.

The two-seater aircraft’s radial engine streamed tongues of flame as we plummeted to earth. I clung to the observer’s chair, as though if I held on tightly enough I might halt our descent, or at least preserve myself.

I hoped that Sam was alive and working the controls; prayed he was diving on purpose, to put out the flames. At any second, I told myself, he might pull out of the fall. Building g-forces whispered in my ear, warning me it was already too late – we would rip off our wings if we tried to level out.

The jagged lines of the trenches spun in dizzying circles far below, growing larger before my eyes. The side of my face burned from relentless gusts of hot air. I wrenched my gaze away from the rapidly approaching ground and saw fire on the wing beside me, fire on the fuselage.

The fabric covering the R.E.8’s skeleton was treated with dope to stiffen it, and the stuff was highly flammable. We would go up like a torch.

We could be roasted to cinders before we ever hit the earth.

And the pilot’s seat was in front of mine, closer to the engine.

I lifted my head though I did not want to, though I knew my eyes would behold horrors, and I imagined a grinning skeleton in Sam’s chair, or worse yet, a blackened lump of meat.

I looked against my will and there was Sam, looking back over his shoulder and smirking at me, while all around him a corona of flames crackled like hellfire. I could smell my own hair scorching as the forward fuselage blazed, and yet he reclined in his chair with regal majesty.

“Daniel. Do you want to live?” Sam shouted, and somehow I heard him over the shriek of the wind and the guttural roar of the furnace.

Of course, of course I did.

I should have prayed to Jesus for my deliverance, but I sat as one struck dumb. Then Sam held out his hand to me, and I…I reached out and clasped it, in hopes that Sam could save me.

***

Kneeling in the Silver Light is available in both paperback and ebook, and you can order your own copy here.

And to all our veterans…thank you.
.

 

 

The Emperor and the Impostor

9 November 2014 | No Comments » | Kim May

Few things push my happy button faster than reading a story in an Asian inspired setting, especially when it’s done well. Conversely, there are few things that can earn my wrath faster than a misrepresentation of everything my ancestors lived. Let’s start with an example of the good.

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The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson is beautiful story. If you haven’t read it than you need to put it at the top of your reading list. It’s about a forger that has to forge a new soul for the emperor in order to evade execution.

One of the central ideas in The Emperor’s Soul is that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. In the protagonist’s line of work, it’s a necessity. However that very same trait is one that is considered a fault in western cultures but prized in eastern cultures.

Another necessity of the protagonist’s profession is that in order to forge it, she has to know every aspect of it — everything that made it what it is today. It’s an ideal that Sun Tzu talks about in The Art of War. Popularly the concept is referred to as “know your enemy.” I don’t know if Brandon borrowed the notion from Sun Tzu. I do know that he does a fantastic job showing the varied nuances and complications such a study brings.

 

On the other end of the spectrum is a manuscript that will not be named. A friend asked me to read it and I never made it past the first chapter. In fact it took all of my willpower not to throw my laptop across the room. This story made the same mistake that I’ve seen in a lot of movies. They grab hold of the cool elements — Samurai swords, martial arts, ninjas, etc — and throw the rest out the window.

The problem with that is the history, philosophy, sociology, and traditions are so intertwined and influential on the cool elements that you can’t separate the two and do it justice. A Samurai sword is nothing more than an overgrown letter opener without the training, and dedication of Kendo. The man wielding the sword is nothing more than an armed criminal without the code of Bushido.

(Note: This particular manuscript is not the best example of the anonymous author’s work. That’s why I’m not revealing the book’s name or theirs.)

Is it hard to understand a culture that is not your own? It can be. Though I feel the end result makes it worth the effort. For me, it’s not just about getting the details right to show the inspiring society the respect it deserves. We’re in a time when the industry is very aware that we need fiction with more diversity; and we truly do. But what we need more than that is well executed diverse fiction that helps the reader understand the world we live in and cultivates respect.

In Loving Appreciation of the Story Swirl

7 November 2014 | No Comments » | Evan Braun

OtherlandAs a reader, I have a lot of reverence for the cliffhanger. I think I am perhaps in the minority here. I can certainly remember a time when cliffhangers drove me crazy. Back when I was in junior high, I would anxiously (not boldly) go into the various Star Trek season finales, knowing they wouldn’t end well for my heroes and I’d likely suffer months of torment afterward waiting for the inevitable resolution come fall.

Now, an undisclosed number of years later? To put it mildly, I’ve changed my mind. I love cliffhangers. Love them! In movies, in books, in television series, in all their different forms. But we’re mostly talking about books here at the Fictorians, so I’ll continue in that vein. In particular, I love the way multiple storylines come crashing together in a maelstrom of calamity at the end of a book. I love how these storylines may seem unconnected—that is, until the disparate threads careen together like shoelaces tipped with metallic sheathes, all drawn irresistibility to a magnet (one of the strangest and most ineffective metaphors I’ve come up with, granted, but which I’ll fail to edit out only on account of its extreme curiosity). As a writer with a greater understanding of narrative and structure, I don’t often fall for this anymore, but I try to pretend I don’t foresee the adhesive “story swirl” that brings characters and plots together in fun, hopefully unexpected ways.

Nowhere has this been better executed than in Otherland: City of Golden Shadow, the first in Tad Williams’ Otherland trilogy (or rather, one of his patented tetralogies). I can remember exactly where I was when I first raced through the concluding chapters of that book. I was in my first year of university, secreted away in a quiet nook in one of the library’s upper-level alcoves; these alcoves were magnificent places, because you could spy down on people wandering the stacks unawares. Very little spying occurred that day, however, much to the delight, I’m sure, of the unsuspecting library populace (so far as a person ignorant of spying can be delighted that they are not in fact being spied upon), because I was engrossed. Tad Williams had my exclusive attention, and he held it in his unyielding grip of fiction prowess.

My carpool had deposited me at school about an hour before any of my classes started, so I had some time to read. But an hour was not enough time to get through the last 150 pages of the book. To this day, that’s an unprecedented amount of reading for me to accomplish in one day, never mind one sitting, as I typically do not read very quickly. My class’s start time approached, and I could not put the book down. I realize that is an oft-abused cliché in reading circles, and I don’t go to this particular well lightly. That well-worn paperback may as well have been cemented to my hand with skin-ripping crazy glue. My first-year psychology seminar could not compete. I stayed up in that alcove until I got to the last page of the book, and not a moment sooner. In fact, I only left quite a large number of moments later, since I had to sit silently in stunned, mandated appreciation for about half an hour after turning the last page.

That ending is a work of art which never fails to stimulate me, and I’ve subsequently read the story five or six times. It’s the classic “story swirl” effect I mentioned earlier. I fear spoiling this magnificent read with plot specifics, as my zealous desire is that this blog post will inspire you to search it out and experience it for yourself. Suffice to say that there are a large cast of characters, of different ages and ethnicities, in wildly divergent corners of the earth, in circumstances so unrelated that I could not imagine how they might conglomerate in the end. But they did, and it was (is) beautiful. I don’t think there has ever been a reader who got to the end of Otherland Volume One and then didn’t immediately flip into Otherland Volume Two, were it available. (Fortunately I did not have the second book available that day, else I would have missed several classes.) It would be like someone seeing Locutus of Borg declare war on the Federation at the end of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part One” and then say to herself, Meh, I don’t care what happens next. It has been scientifically proven that no such breed of human exists.

I dare you to prove me wrong. I dare you!

The Dreamer

6 November 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Brenda Sawatzky.

When I think of my most memorable dreams, I remember those that had me ruminating for the entire day. Possibly even for days after. They’re the kind of dreams you can’t wait to share with someone and have them respond, open-mouthed, “Wow. That’s fantastical, creepy, outlandish…”

I love waking on those mornings with a story fabricated from my subconscious. At least the stories that don’t have a sharp macabre edge to them, causing me to spend my day vanquishing the monster that lurks even after I’ve subjected my skin to a series of firm pinches.

I love discussing the varied nature of dreams, too. Do we dream in Technicolor or black and white? Are they multisensory? Where do these preposterous expressions of our imagination originate, and do they have some underlying meaning?

One thing I know for certain: if my brain is capable of concocting sensational stories in my sleep, then there is a way to tap into that vein while conscious, too. Some authors seem to be extraordinarily good at that. The truth is, I’m not particularly partial to fantasy novels or sci-fi. That’s not the kind of sensational I’m drawn to. Rather, it’s the prose that creates a dream-like landscape; a vivid, multisensory experience that takes normal to a different level. Like a being on a psychedelic LSD trip at a 3D movie with surround sound.

One such author I’ve recently discovered is Thomas Trofimuk in his novel Waiting for Columbus. It is a tale of a man, discovered lost on the streets of Spain and committed to a mental institution, who believes he is Christopher Columbus. He regales Nurse Consuela with fantastic stories of ships, conquests, and fifteenth-century adventures. The mystery of his true identity and the wonder of his perceived one holds Consuela captive as she’s swept away in his storytelling.

Trofimuk is a dreamscape artist. From the very first page, he attempts to lift the lackluster veil through which we witness the everyday. For a moment you believe that the moon speaks and you wonder if you just haven’t been listening. He writes, “There is only the sound of distant thunder, a barking dog and the sound of the moon behind the clouds reflected in a puddle.”

Inanimate objects come to life. “There’s some sort of Celtic symbol tattooed on her thigh. One of the lines of this tattooed design has come loose and wrapped itself around her entire thigh.”

His world is wrapped in “yellow-cracked clouds,” “a moon inescapably trapped in the branches of a tree,” and ships whose movements are “but a tickle on the skin, a brush of a finger along the lower back of the ocean.”

Another such poetic author, for me, is Ann-Marie MacDonald. In her beautiful and poignant novel Fall on Your Knees, Ann takes her reader willingly into the early nineteenth century’s exotic Empire Theatre:

“…the silver screen flickered, and down in the orchestra pit so did the piano. Trills and triplets seemed a natural counterpart to the frenetic dance of light and shadow above. A man in evening clothes has cornered a young woman in slinky nightgown halfway up a clock tower. No narrative preamble required, the shadows lurk, the tower lists, the music creeps the winding stair, the villain spies a grace-note of silken hem and he’s on the chase in six-eight time up to where our heroine clings to a snatch of girlish melody, teetering on the precipice of high E, overlooking the street eight octaves below. Villain struggles with virgin in a macabre waltz, Straus turned Faust, until, just when it seems she’ll plummet, dash her brains on the bass clef and die entangled in the web of the lower stave, a vision in tenor crescendo on to save the day in resolving chords.”

Trofimuk and MacDonald have a keen grasp on multisensory prose. Like a dream, they make the fantastical normal and lift the reader to a place of wonder and gratitude for introducing us to a world that is so much more interesting than the one in which we walk daily.

I strive to learn from these masters. To weave into my craft the kind of surrealism that would otherwise belong to dreams. To become a dreamer while I’m yet awake.

 

Brenda PicGuest Writer Bio:
Brenda Sawatzky is a relatively new, unpublished writer hailing from the wide-open prairie spaces of southeast Manitoba. She and her husband of thirty-one years are self-employed and parents to five kids (two ushered in by marriage). She is presently working toward fiction and non-fiction writing for magazines and manages a personal blog.

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