Category Archives: Viable Paradise

Viable Paradise summary

I have returned from Viable Paradise! I’m not going to try to describe it in detail, at least not anytime soon. I’m still in a stage of overwhelmedness (real word!), and I hardly know where to start. But in brief: I learned vast amounts of writing theory, practice, and tricks; I met two dozen fellow young authors, all of whom deserve to become the Next Big Thing; I got fantastic feedback on three of my pieces; I was fed and shepherded by the most wonderful staff imaginable; I learned and sung and hung out with masters of SFF; I received a very sweet gift from our predecessors; I drank lots of whiskey and all kinds of other troublesome beverages. I swore a most portentious oath, and also a least portentious oath. And, of course, I survived the Horror That Is Thursday.

Honestly, we more than survived the Horror. We mastered it, all twenty-four of us. And now we wield the dread power of the Lord of Jellyfish, Rider of the Steam Duck of the Apocalypse. Ia, ia.

I think KJ Kabza said it best when he tweeted, “They say workshop = transformative. Not sure that’s true, especially b/c I’m now a space brontosaurus that can see thru time.”

And now I have 30+ more people to miss. But oh, what I have gained in return! As the saying goes: it was a bittersweet tapestry of life itself.

Viable Paradise prep #3 – Reviews, Part Two

Continuing from last week’s post, here are more reviews from my Viable Paradise reading list!

Lovely writing, with lots of implied world-building in the city and history and theology surrounding the Wizards of Messaline. An enjoyable read, though very short. My only real problem came in the ending, when one of the three perspective characters (Emeraude) ends up being totally irrelevant to the resolution of the story.

I liked this a lot. Wonderful language and metaphor, and a cosmology with clear layers of myth and meaning beyond the explicit stuff. I found both of the main characters, Temur and Samarkar, very compelling and engaging. Temur may be the grandson of the Great Khagan, but the things he actually wants are very straightforward and ordinary, he’s only pushed into great deeds by enemies who expect him to be a rival. For Samarkar, the best thing about her is her challenges and weakness (in potency, not personality): she is a Wizard of Tsarepeth, yes, but being a weak one is so much more interesting than being a strong one. It gives us so much more to root for. And with the way the Wizards were set up, her initiation was fascinatingly tense: they can have successful careers without any magical talent, so when it’s time to find out if Samarkar has any talent, I felt like the story really could’ve gone in either direction (as opposed to a “heroes will succeed somehow” situation).

Again, though for different reasons, the ending left me a bit disappointed. Some of the plotlines end well (Edene’s epilogue is awesome), but there’ a big climactic battle that feels a bit random. Why did the villains attack there, inside a fortress containing hundreds of soldiers to back up the heroes? I’m not sure if it’s “stupid on demand” or “lucky break”, but both are a let-down from an otherwise great book.

At first I liked this; a very interesting and well-realized setting, and some good characters. But over time my interest really waned, and I had to force myself to not just set the book aside and skip the last quarter. The book felt too episodic to me, largely because of the main character’s uninteresting and late-breaking motive. When the main character’s adventures are driven by the motive “hates crimes”, I just don’t care that much about each new assignment he receives. There were little hints about a story arc resolving the mysteries of the setting, but unfortunately that ended up secondary to Kimble dismantling with the criminal organization of the week.

I am currently reading Elizabeth Bear’s Shattered Pillars, and have M.J. Locke’s Up Against It and Steven Brust’s The Book of Jhereg to go. Unlikely I’ll get through them all by VP, but that’s what airplanes are for!

Viable Paradise prep #2 – Reviews, Part One

Lately I’ve been trying to learn how to read a novel more critically, to really figure out what I liked or didn’t like about them. So this is an exercise for me, on top of whatever meager value it may have for my readers! It’s a little weird to do this when I’ll be meeting all these authors, but I figure I’ll be the target of plenty critiques of my own.

Books are listed in the order I read them. Minor spoilers only.

I definitely enjoyed reading this, but I’d say it was my least favorite of the three Gentleman Bastard books. The dialogue was still great, witty and funny, with the characters to back it. I know some people didn’t like Sabetha, but I had zero problems there. She came across to me as a character of hidden depths, of density: we only get the barest hints of her recent years, but those hints certainly sufficed for me. Some people didn’t like the ending, but I was… torn. It wasn’t entirely believable, given how easily he accomplishes things that ought to have been impossible; but it was propulsive and exciting and I loved reading it.

What I didn’t like was the main (present-day) plot. It had no tension and no stakes; nobody cared if Locke and Jean won or lost. They barely even cared themselves. Furthermore, there was no big interesting scheme, only a bunch of trivial back-and-forths between them and Sabetha. The actual election got only cursory attention most of the time (“Dot all the i’s, cross all the t’s, leave no bribe unbribed!”), aside from a clever but brief con at the end, which only made it clearer how unimportant the election was. The backstory plot from their younger years, which I didn’t like in Book 1, had all the fun tension missing from the election plot: there was danger, there was reward, there was a big con that took many tense scenes to pull off.

  • Sherwood Smith: Inda

This book helped me articulate one of the reasons why I usually don’t enjoy YA novels. The stakes were plenty high, but the motivations were all childish. The primary motivations of the princes and warrior-kings were things like old crushes, schoolyard jealousies. Affairs of state took back seat to these teenage-level personalities. There was also a distinct, literal “cleaned-up” nature to the society, which seemed to tie into the history/cosmology/plot for future books, but it wasn’t to my taste as a reader.

I had some more specific problems in the front half of the book. Tons of characters, each with a surname and a given name and a nickname. There were whole scenes that I simply could not follow because I could not tell who was who. (For example, I knew the nicknames of the main 6ish characters, but then a teacher rattled off 20 surnames and I had no idea which group contained which names-I-knew.) Those sorts of problems disappeared in the second half, though.

This story had a wonderful prologue: the MC gets a mission, which relies on the existence of her internal conflict, and hands her the external conflict. Bam, goals and stakes are go! Overall, this book was very fast-plotted and fun, and I enjoyed it much more than I expected.  The book played in fun ways with identity, acting, cover identities, though I kept expecting even more. There was no antagonist, which was not as big a problem as you might think. I may try to track down the sequels.

So, I made a strategic error. I was in the library, looking for a Brust book. They didn’t have anything on my list of good starting points, so I had to choose on the fly. “Hey, this one says it’s the first book of a set (The Viscount of Adrilankha), so it should be a good place to start.”  Alas, not so much. If I had checked the internet, I would’ve learned it’s also #3 of another set (The Khraaven Romances, I think). The plot truly did stand on its own, but the characters did not; there were many references to past places and actions, including explicit stuff like “The reader should be familiar with this character!”, which made me feel like I was listening to someone else’s inside joke.

As for the book itself: A fun read, plot that kept me going, very distinct characters. The players and stakes of the series conflict are very clear, even though many threads remain hanging at the end of this book. It was also quite funny, but some of that came from the weird courtly speaking style. Which unfortunately really started to grate on me after a while, because everyone used it, even servants. Effectively, the author voice was so strong that it muffled a lot of the character voice in dialogue. The Omnipresent Style was also very fluffy and roundabout, which meant you spend way too much time reading exchanges like this:

“There is something important!”

“What is that thing?”

“Why, I will tell you that thing this instant.”

“Please continue, I am waiting for you tell me that thing.”

It’s much funnier in Brust’s words, of course. But after a few dozen times it really wore thin on me.

More book reviews to come!

Viable Paradise prep #1 – Reading List

So in anticipation for Viable Paradise XVIII in mid-October, I’ve been trying to read a good sample of books by all of the workshop’s instructors. I figured that tnowing more about their writing should help me appreciate and contextualize their awesomeness!

As background: I was so excited to apply to VP because I already loved Scott Lynch’s work from Lies of Lock Lamora and Red Seas under Red Skies, and Elizabeth Bear’s short work from 30th Annual Year’s Best Science Fiction (which included her In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns and The Wreck of the “Charles Dexter Ward”). I also read some of Stephen Brust’s Taltos novels a looong time ago, details fully faded from my memory.

So here’s what I have read thus far as my VP “homework”. I chose these books via a mix of what I wanted and what was available in my local library. Listed in order I read ’em.

  1. Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves
  2. Sherwood Smith: Inda
  3. Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald: The Price of the Stars
  4. Steven Brust: The Paths of the Dead
  5. Elizabeth Bear: Bone and Jewel Creatures
  6. Elizabeth Bear: Range of Ghosts

And yet to read:

  1. Steven Gould: Jumper
  2. Steven Brust: The Book of Jhereg (Taltos #1-3)
  3. Steven Gould: 7th Sigma

Next post: reviews!

Workshop time!

It looks like I will be attending Viable Paradise XVIII this October! I am super-thrilled for this opportunity. It already looks like I’ll be joining a crew of weird and excellent and much-more-accomplished-than-I folks. My hope for the week is to get bitten by a radioactive author and gain his/her proportionate strength and speed.