Strange Wordings

Thoughts on fantasy, science fiction and genre writing in general . . . stuff that's strange.

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Location: Fredericksburg, Virginia

These Blogs are largely about the process of coercing words out of my head (at times I convince myself that I am a novelist). Thoughts about current reading and/or fantasy literature and writing in general may disgorge at random.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Shark God

Here is the flash story that was published in FlashSpec Anthology: Volume One, edited by Neil Cladingboel. (Posted here with Neil's knowledge and consent)


The pain was how Ka-Ti knew that he still lived. Sun ravaged, a thousand cuts screaming whenever the salt-sea washed over him, his body shivered with thirst, fever, and pain. Three days he had clung, with the others, to the wreckage of the outrigger. Then the sharks came. A day later only he and Go-Adi lived, but with each spasm blood gurgled from the gash in Ka-Ti's leg, staining the water. The sharks would return. Until then he welcomed the pain.

* * *

The voyage began badly. The elders held a rite of peaceful passage on the beach, as was the tradition. Ka-Ti, Go-Adi and the other young men knelt in the sand, their brothers and fathers standing, glaring down at them, the acrid smell of smouldering bubua leaves mingled with the sweet smell of flower garlands. Stinging sparks danced on skin as the elders brushed the bubua over the young mens' backs and shoulders. The pulse of the drums pounding, the feet of the dancers beating, the rhythm of the waves, made the music of Mother Ocean.

Ti-Pa-Pa, their shaman, leapt with a scream onto the sand. He shambled about, a pathetic man under a shark mask and mantle, rattles tied to his wrists and ankles. He shouted, gestured, implored the sea and threatened the sky. He invoked the Shark God. But the god did not come. The god did not possess him; the elders grumbled and shook their heads in fear for the voyage.

Ka-Ti descended from true shamans, the elders said--his father, sailing alone on a spirit quest, had been taken by the Shark God itself--but as a child Ka-Ti could not take his father's place. So the elders chose Ti-Pa-Pa, who swore that he also had power. A fraud the elders later said, but he would not give up the mask, not even now that Ka-Ti was old enough.

Ti-Pa-Pa shook the shark-tooth club as he called on the god to protect the voyagers. Each boy-man went into the surf with him to sacrifice their blood to the sea, and he scratched the club against the backs of their fists. Crimson drops stained the water. When Ka-Ti came forward, the shaman ripped the teeth through his flesh. Ka-Ti bit his lip to swallow a cry, but his eyes never left Ti-Pa-Pa's through the mask.

* * *

The storm scattered the little fleet during the fourth night of the voyage. By morning Ka-Ti, Go-Adi and nine others floated on the remains of their canoe, knowing nothing of the other five craft. Then the sharks came.

Greys, the ghosts of the sea, and Bluebacks circled until, one by one, the men were pulled away from the wreckage--or, giving up all hope, let go. The tails of the sharks beat the sea into red foam. Seabirds came and dove for the bits of flesh that fell from the sharks' mouths. Within a day only Ka-Ti and Go-Adi lived, left with a choice of death under the sun, or under the sea.

* * *

Ka-Ti heard the shark break the surface when it was still far away. He raised his head, cracking open his burning eyes. Its blunt nose was an island, breaking the swell with a roar, its fin a mountain, and its wake a tidal wave. The shark was greater than even the great air-breathing fish his people hunted in summer. It came for Go-Adi.

He did not decide to slip into the water, or to try to distract the shark. He simply acted to protect his cousin. Ka-Ti swam hard, with as much noise as he could, away from the wreck. He took a breath, saw the great head turn toward him, and in the next moment sensed the jaws opening. Ka-Ti cried out.


* * *

When he returned to consciousness, Ka-Ti knew every current in the ocean, and every fleck of sand that rose above the waves. He knew the taste of the sea before the Fire God raised his mountains of flaming stone under it. How presumptuous to seek to cage the ocean! He sensed all movement on the water, and under it, and he knew, without knowing how, where the broken remains of each outrigger now floated. Ageless and boundless was the Shark God, and with a flick of his body he whipped back toward the tiny bundle of wood, rope and flesh drifting on the sea.

* * *

The Shark God did not devour the man called Go-Adi. Instead, it took a length of rope in its jaws and began to tow the wreck, and the man, back to their island.

When the people learned of the disaster they would sacrifice to the Shark God--and it intended to receive this sacrifice, for one human thought remained in its hungry mind: Ti-Pa-Pa.

Hey, if you like that, you might check into the anthology for a lot more stories:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Working on things.

Man, I've really got to get into the hang of this blogging thing. Hmm. Nothing much to say. This ain't good for a guy who is supposed to be a writer . . . well, maybe I'll just link to a bunch of other cool people, how's that?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Review: A Shadow in Summer

I encountered A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham while wandering the internet, happening upon the website seredipitously. Abraham has posted the prologue and by the time I had finished reading it, I was a convert. In fact, I dare you to follow the link in the sidebar, read the prologue and then refrain from running to the nearest bookstore--like I did--to pick up this volume. To put it plainly: brilliant.

Abraham deftly weaves together lucid prose, compelling story telling, and a wonderfully realized setting. By the end of the first chapter you`ll be marvelling that this is a debut effort by Abraham.

This is not to say that A Shadow in Summer is without flaw. A number of reviewers have pointed out an apparent, and rather glaring, problem with the plot development. I say 'apparent' with the knowledge that Abraham intends this to be the opening of a four-book series; as such, he has leeway to resolve the problem in the next volume.

The plot in a nutshell: the city of Saraykeht--sorry if I get the spelling wrong, as I'm doing this from memory--stands at the pinnacle of wealth and power, but it has feet of clay. The city thrives from dominance of the cloth trade, provided entirely by the power of the andat, Seedless. An andat is a concept, given coherence by the word-thoughts of a poet, and the encaptured spirit exercises power commensurate with it's founding concept; therefore, Seedless possesses the power to remove 'the part that continues.' For the cloth trade Seedless removes all of the seeds from all of the harvest of cotton, giving Saraykeht an insurmountable advantage in the trade.

With wealth and power, however, come jealousy and fear. If the poet Heshai should lose control of Seedless, Saraykeht would fall. When a conspiracy rises to free the andat, who will stand up to save the city . . . and should it be saved?

A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham--brilliant.

Review: The Prodigal Troll

Charles Coleman Finlay's debut fantasy novel, The Prodigal Troll, shines in its compelling and powerfully imaginative treatment of dissonant cultures in conflict. Finlay manages to do well in a single piece what so many fantasy authors cannot, even in the multiple-volume sagas currently in vogue: weave a rich tapestry of hitherto unknown cultures and tell a damn good story to boot. Prodigal Troll neither takes on the creation of all the minutiae of an entire world, nor does it expound at excruciating length on the politics and economics of numerous kingdoms and empires with unpronounceable names.

An empire expanding its borders invades a wide and fertile valley, the territory of a tribal people. Technologically and militarily advanced, the empire inevitably pushes the tribes to the fringes of the mountains beyond the valley. However, the conquest completed, the center of the empire now seeks to curb the autonomy of the periphery, in particular the conquering hero Lord Gruethrist. Knowing that he cannot resist directly, Gruethrist plans to take to the hills as a rebel, hoping eventually to force a favorable settlement. There is one problem with this plan; Gruethrist's infant son, Claye.

With imperial forces besieging his castle, Gruethrist entrusts Claye to a knight and a nursemaid. These guardians slip away in the night with the infant, but before they can reach safety, they meet their deaths in the wild hills. A mother troll, grieving over the death of her infant daughter, finds Claye and adopts him as her own child. Claye grows into manhood among the mountain-dwelling trolls. When he desires to take a mate, however, his otherness leads him down from the mountains toward the settlements of men, just as the tribes begin to chafe again at the ascendancy of the invaders.

Jacket blurbs compare Prodigal Troll to LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Burrough's Tarzan stories. Perhaps these are apt comparisons, given some similar themes and plot devices; but Finlay brings his own strong, confident style to bear upon these themes. The fan of LeGuin and the fan of Burroughs should not expect to find a merely concurrent voice in Finlay. The Prodigal Troll works well enough on its own merits.

If there is a serious weakness in Prodigal Troll, it would be found at the ending. Without spoiling the book, it must suffice to say that Finlay concludes the book in an abrupt manner. The actions and motivations of the characters at this point do not entirely make sense. However, the ending works better by remembering that the opening scene of the novel belongs, chronologically, at the conclusion, and by assuming that Finlay sets up a sequel by ending The Prodigal Troll in this way