WtF a Fantasy Podcast #28 – Short Stories

On this week’s webcast we chatted about some of our favorite science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories and why they are so near and dear to us. We talked about quite a few  anthologies and some writers that we feel are really great in short form. Hope you enjoy!

As always, feel free to download a copy and listen to our cast on the go!

To download, right click this link and select ‘save link as’.

Panelists:

June Faramore
Lisa Richardson

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Cross-Post: Story 1/52

Here’s a new story just published by one of us. In honor of our upcoming Short Stories Webcast, I’ve decided to plunge back into my project of writing a story a week for at least a year. Please check it out, share it, and let me know what you think.

Story 1/52

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WtF a Fantasy Podcast #27 – Novellas

On last night’s webcast we talked about fantasy and science fiction novellas. Kafka’s The Metamorphosis was mentioned, along with some of King’s work and McCaffrey. We also talked about a lot of novellas collected in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology along with many, many others. Tune in to find out all the details!

As always, feel free to download a copy and listen to our cast on the go!

To download, right click this link and select ‘save link as’.

Panelists:

June Faramore
Lisa Richardson
CJ Casey

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New webcast tonight!

Hey everyone! We know it’s been quiet around here lately, but we’ve not disappeared, we’ve just been busy. Tonight we have an all new webcast broadcasting live from our youtube channel at 9pm ET. We’ll be talking about some of our favorite SFF novellas, so join us if you can!

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WtF a Fantasy Podcast #26 – Stand Alone Fantasy

This week on the webcast we talked about stand alone fantasy novels. Some of the works we discussed:  Little, Big, The Princess Bride, and Elantris. There was also a good bit of talk about Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint. Tune in below to see what all was brought up, leave us a comment and let us know what’s your favorite stand alone fantasy novel.

Next webcast we’ll be talking about novellas. If you have any favorite fantasy novellas, let us know, maybe it will get brought up on the cast!

To download, right click this link and select ‘save link as’.

Panelists:

June Faramore
Lisa Richardson
CJ Casey

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The Walking Dead: Why Do So Many Characters Irritate Me?

As I found myself re-watching The Walking Dead recently, I discovered that I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this show. And what started out as part of a facebook post has now ballooned into what you see below—not an analysis of the show but more of an attempt to organize those thoughts and feelings into some kind of order. Because going back I realized there were quite a few characters that I disliked, and I thought to examine the reasons why I disliked them so much. So this is about those characters, not my favorites.

This will be FULL OF SPOILERS. So if you aren’t current on The Walking Dead and don’t want to be spoiled, please don’t read this and then complain about spoilers. Although I’ll mostly be focusing on stuff that happens in seasons one and two (because I’m on season two in my re-watch) there will be some spoilers up to the current episodes as well. You’ve been warned.

 

Spoilers Below!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I forgot how terrifying the beginning of The Walking Dead was…. In a lot of ways, the beginning of The Walking Dead is much more of a horror story than any other part of it. After the first few episodes (and especially with the beginning of Season 2) it becomes more of a human drama with some horror elements as the show begins to allow the characters to drive the story. The zombies though, while most of the time in the background, are not just incidental. They’re a vital plot device that started the story off and keeps the action moving. And it’s a good one! If ever the plot seems to be losing steam—throw in a wandering zombie horde, let chaos break out for a while, shuffle around the characters, and see what happens. This really is the best type of devise to use for a longer running series, because it keeps things from getting too stagnant.

The thing I love the most about The Walking Dead series is the characters. In the very early episodes almost all the characters are very stereotypical—more caricatures than characters. But as the show goes on they become more fleshed out and developed. It’s interesting going back and seeing everyone when they first got together and realizing how different their characters were at the start. Watching the characters develop over time, how they react and change to this different world where right and wrong aren’t as black and white as they used to be, is really the joy of The Walking Dead. We all make decisions every day. But in the world of The Walking Dead, those decisions that individuals make often have dire consequences for the rest of the group. That drives a lot of the plot and character development in the narrative. A character’s ability to make decisions, and then to take responsibility for those decisions, is what the show is all about.

Rick is not my favorite character. And on the re-watch he was getting on my nerves by the second episode with his ‘been in a coma and doesn’t know what everyone’s been through but shows up on the scene and wants to tell everyone what to do’ attitude. It’s not that he was wrong, but he just had a high-handed way of doing things that I take exception to (I believe this is a pet peeve of mine). In the later seasons at the prison there’s a council that makes the decisions for the group. Democracy! This allows Rick to be free to pursue a new life as a gentleman farmer (ha!). After Lori’s death, and with a new baby to take care of, it’s understandable that Rick wants to step back from being in charge of things for a while. But my main issue with Rick is that I see him as being wishy washy. It’s so frustrating to me that Rick seems to make unpopular decisions over and over again. I hesitate to say ‘wrong’ decisions, because often there is more than one valid way to go about things. For instance, he went the diplomacy route while on Hershel’s land instead of taking charge. It wasn’t ‘wrong’ to do that (they were guests after all), but it also caused the group to perceive themselves to be in danger longer than they needed to be while Rick dragged on negotiations with Hershel about the walkers in the barn. So, when Rick no longer wants to make decisions, to take responsibility, it’s completely understandable. But it’s his hemming and hawing about certain decisions and his snap decisions on other things that gets on my nerves. Especially because he often puts others at risk when he makes what I consider weak decisions. He has no issue eliminating those guys at he bar, they drew on him first so he sees that as justified. And yet a few minutes later he can’t leave the kid stuck on the fence and almost gets himself, Glenn, and Hershel killed because of it (not to mention all the other issues that creates). Even Hershel, Mr. Morality, saw that it was in their best interests to leave the guy instead of trying to save him. In season four, Rick makes the decision on his own (despite there being a council) to kick Carol out of the group and yet when The Governor shows up at the end he defers saying he’s no longer in charge, that there’s a council now. Oh, Rick. Either be in charge or don’t be in charge but make up your damn mind. And when you are in charge please make decisions for the bigger picture of what’s best for the group and not based on your sudden case of morality (because then you just create more problems, argh!).

Lori, Lori, Lori. Sigh. Where do I begin? She had her good moments—like when she told the group that if they were going to let Rick take charge of things without anyone else stepping up, they better stop blaming him when things go wrong (I’m not a member of the group, I’ll blame Rick whenever I feel like it). That’s a fair and valid point. But, the whole thing with her and Shane….ugh. I don’t fault her for hooking up with Shane when she thought Rick was dead. Or even for dropping Shane like a hot potato once Rick is back on scene. But for a while she was unnecessarily harsh with Shane, blaming him for the situation, for leaving Rick to die, for lying to her about Rick’s death, etc. She refuses to hear Shane out and see things from his point of view, perhaps because focusing her anger on Shane makes it easier for her not to blame herself. But then she sends Shane mixed messages, at one moment telling him to stay away from her and her family and then in the next getting on him for not being friendlier with Carl. What? Lori also struggles with the past and the future. She says at one point that the only thing that keeps her going is her memories of how things used to be before the world changed. She doesn’t want to raise her children in a world where they only grow up feeling fear, without any hope for the future. I think that’s a sign more that Lori herself has lost hope in any kind of future and that she refuses to accept that this is the new reality of the world.

While I liked Dale as the moral center of the group, his incessant love/obsession with Andrea made him irritating to me. Dale had a habit (much like Rick and later, The Governor) of deciding things for himself what’s best for others. He did this more with Andrea than with the others but he also manipulated the group.  For instance, in the second season he and T-Dog are back at the RV and Dale is supposed to be fixing the radiator so they can get back on the road while everyone else is looking for Sophia. Dale decides to delay telling the others that the radiator had been fixed the previous day, so that the group wouldn’t have to decide whether or not to stay longer to keep searching for Sophia, or to move on. He denies them this choice by keeping the truth from them because he believes it’s what’s in the group’s best interest—keeping everyone together. In a way I think this, and also Dale’s decision to take Andrea’s gun, shows that he’s accepted the others as his new family and he doesn’t want to lose any more of them. In a lot of ways, Dale’s morality was also self-serving, especially in regards to Andrea. But, he does this time and time again, and I just can’t get past him withholding information from the group, even when he apologizes for it later.

I really couldn’t stand Andrea either. Although I did agree with some of her points occasionally, overall she irritated me more than anything. For instance I agreed with her that Dale didn’t have the right to deny her the choice in life or death. Andrea had every right to ‘opt out’ if she wanted to. But then again, Andrea’s insistence on having a gun and derision of other (more useful, in my opinion) weapons gets a little weary after a while. I can see that she has an affinity for it because it was a gift from her father. And I can see that she wants one because it’s one way she can assert control over her situation (and psychologically that’s very powerful). But she also could have just done with another kind of weapon (bladed weapons are a lot better anyway, in my opinion—guns are limited to the amount of bullets you have). When they all left to look for Sophia in the woods and she was complaining to Lori about not having a gun it reached a point of ridiculousness. I was really happy when Lori gave her the gun as if to say ‘here, now shut the hell up’.  And when Andrea finally does get a gun…well she basically proves that she can’t be trusted with one by accidently shooting Daryl. Yeah, it was an accident, but if Andrea weren’t so trigger happy it wouldn’t have happened. Her eagerness made her careless.

Shane is one character that I absolutely hated the first time I watched The Walking Dead. But now, I find myself sympathizing with him. In a way, Shane is very much a victim of circumstances. Shane did what he had to do in order to save Lori and Carl, but then that came back to bite him in the ass. A lot of the time the characters believe they are doing what’s right for the better of the group, that was true of Dale, but it’s also especially true of Shane. Even when Shane shoots Otis so that he can get away to get the medical supplies to help save Carl—it can be argued that he did it for the betterment of the group. Was it right or was it wrong? In a world where survival of the group takes priority over the survival of the individual, perhaps it wasn’t wrong. For the group to have lost Carl, so soon after losing Sophia in the woods (the only two children left among them) could have resulted in the group completely losing any sense of hope for a future. And even though Shane had begun to act erratically in earlier episodes (where he tried to force Lori—the one thing I cannot forgive him for), his killing Otis was a major turning point in his mental stability and his ability to tolerate certain things. Was Shane also partly motivated to kill Otis in retribution for accidentally shooting Carl? Perhaps. Shane is conflicted—I think he logically knows he did the ‘right’ thing, but emotionally and morally he can’t handle it. He speaks the truth at Otis’ funeral—that Otis’ death did have meaning, as it meant survival for both him and for Carl. That’s not a lie. And, despite his increasing instability he also continues to do what he believes is best for the group—even when he loses patience and frees the walkers from the barn. He’s tired of living in danger because Rick is too diplomatic. So Shane takes it upon himself to try and prove to Hershel that walkers are no longer people and eliminate the threat to the group at the same time. In a way, neither Rick nor Shane was wrong. They were guests on Hershel’s land and they should have respected his rules. But on the other hand, their first priority should have been to protect themselves and their people.  (To go off topic for a minute, that moment when Sophia-walker comes stumbling out of the barn may just be one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen on television.) But Shane’s decision to free the walkers from the barn is a huge morale blow to everyone—the group loses its purpose in looking for Sophia and the hope that she’s alive, and Hershel loses hope that one day things will go back to the way they were. Perhaps because Shane already felt like he’d lost everything at that point it didn’t matter as much to him as it did to everyone else—he was already too far gone by then. One thing I can completely agree with Andrea on is when she tells Shane that he’s made the right decisions but that it’s just his presentation ‘that leaves something to be desired’. That pretty much sums up Shane in a nutshell.

I think what I’ve come to realize is that the characters that I dislike isn’t because of a lack of character development, but just that I didn’t empathize with the way they developed. Not everyone is going to handle the apocalypse in the same way. I find myself liking characters that make decisions and stick to them, characters that sometimes make mistakes but learn from them, characters that grow and become stronger people. I don’t like people that are weak, or reckless, or that make decisions in order to manipulate things. It’s not a matter of good or bad—because when you’re dealing with the end of the world, the conditions of what is good or bad goes right out the window.

 

Edit: I wanted to add that in no way does my disliking of these characters reflect on how well written and developed they are. The writing of the characters is the best part of The Walking Dead. The fact that I feel so strongly about them, to the point that I’m analyzing why I dislike them so much, just goes to show how much thought went into creating them. Kudos, The Walking Dead. Kudos.

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World Within One Book

I confess that I have a fondness, a weakness for single volume fantasy novels, and it is a fondness that nagged at me all throughout childhood until I finally embraced it in my 20s. Like many other fantasy readers, I first experimented with the ever-popular gateway drug some call The Lord of the Rings, and while Mr Tolkien intended that to be published as a single volume, the fact remains that it led to a surge of fantasy trilogies that is only now starting to die down. Some of these works embrace the form and truly do good things with it (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, for example). Others…

I’m not going to point fingers at a bunch of trilogies that I feel were nothing but long novels bloated and expanded so Ballantine and Del Rey and TOR could publish three titles and not just one, mostly because a lot of these offenders are books that I still like and still think people should read. But anyone, especially anyone who has read trilogies during the boom of the 80s, can pick out a few. These are the trilogies that start with a bang and limp to a close in book one, build characterization and mythology (slowly) in book two before suddenly picking up and hurtling into the beginning of book three, and then slow down again before they finally build to a climax in the third book. Pick up any one of these offending trilogies, perhaps one where you felt you had to struggle through book two but still told yourself that you liked the overall story. Pick one up and go through it like an editor. Better yet, go through it like you’re an editor with a budget and a bottom line that only lets you publish a 600-page novel by this author, no matter how good it is. Can you find stuff to cut? I’ll bet you can.

The sad thing is that one complaint I hear regularly from readers who don’t like fantasy is that they’ve tried and just got bored. And I believe them. It’s sometimes hard to remember the times I powered through three or five chapters in a book or two of a trilogy, progressing solely on faith that the climax would make everything worth it. But I can do this simply because I’ve read enough fantasy to know that this is often the case. Someone who decides to pick up book one of a new trilogy just to see what the fuss is about might not have that ability, and if the book he or she picked up is one of the many bloated volumes, that ability might never be developed, and fantasy just lost another potential reader.

This is something that shouldn’t have to happen. We’re raised on fantasy, but except for a few (mostly written by authors emulating the fairy tale tradition, like Hans Christian Andersen), there are no trilogies or series in the realm of fairy. And literary fiction is brimming with examples of magic realism, pointing to the simple fact that we as a species like to think that there is another world just beyond the one that we know, one just out of touch. Few things make me feel more like a child than slipping into the first chapters of a fantasy novel and finding myself stepping out of reality, and few things slam me back into my reading chair or the subway or my desk at work during my lunch break than long sections of a book that really just don’t need to be there.

I think this is why I most respect authors who can create a new world with every book. This is the realm of writers like Stephen King (yes, yes, I know, The Dark Tower, Doctor Sleep, that book that never should have been written called Black House… but look at the fifty other worlds he created) and Peter Straub and Richard Adams, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. This is the small pantheon of authors who set out to create an entire world every time they write a new book. Writing a trilogy or a series can be compared to taking a different route to work every morning;  you see a few different things, you might hit a different traffic pattern, but it’s the same general geographic area every time. Those writers who write single volume fantasy novels essentially commute to a completely different job every time they set out to create. True, there may be a few similarities, and many authors like giving old characters and locations cameo appearances, but the journey and the destination and the method used to get there are new.

Do yourself a favour and look for one of these novels. I recommend the Mark Helprin novel Winter’s Tale or Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana as good starting points. Then keep digging. It may feel bittersweet to turn the last page and realise that you will never know these characters again, not like you did in the book you just finished, at least. But because of that, the story will stay with you longer, and will have that much more power. I myself would love to know what happens to Peter Lake after the end of Winter’s Tale, or if Thomas Abbey was successful in what he did at the end of The Land of Laughs. And because I’m left with this feeling of wanting, of needing to know what happens, I create my own worlds for others to slip into and enjoy.

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