Archives: Glen Cook

Is it Ever Mother's Day in Secondary Worlds?

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there. This day got me to considering the relative paucity of mothers featured as characters in science fiction and fantasy. Get rather short shrift for page time, don’t they? This is simply an observation, I’m making no judgments, issuing no call to action for greater inclusion and representation of mothers. Screw that noise. Domesticity and child rearing are seldom prominent aspects of space opera or swords-and-sorcery. That’s just the nature of the beast. If writers found more entertainment value from motherhood they’d write in more scenes for our distaff progenitors.

But what examples do we have of dear old Ma in speculative fiction?

Glen Cook's Fantasy Fiction: The Instrumentalities of the Night

I’ve written before about Glen Cook’s fantasy fiction. But with a writer as prolific as Mr. Cook there is always more to say. I’ve not been shy of pointing out that I’m a fan. His – and Steven Brust’s and Roger Zelazny’s – employment of the first-person smart ass school of fiction was influential in the writing of “Reunion.”

I’m currently reading book four of his series “The Instrumentalities of the Night.” It is classic Glen Cook: fast paced, spare in descriptive detail, full of snappy banter between and among characters (often including extensive stretches without identifying the speaker, which can get confusing if you’re reading at speed and not closely tracking the interchange.)

Romance

Romance and marriage are atypical subjects of speculative fiction, usually either consigned to the B-plot or give short-shrift if included at all.  That’s fine: not every book must contain every possible element.  Absence of a wooing, dalliance, or long-term relationship should not be grounds for legitimate criticism of a work.

Tolkien wrote a romance without a great deal of romance.  What romance did reach the page was chaste, the courtly romance of the troubadours.  This is perhaps better exemplified by Gimli’s love for Galadriel than the decades long trials and courtship of Aragorn and Arwen.  That is the story the Good Professor was writing and it worked.

Oregon Brewers Festival

Assembled from the notes taken yesterday.

I’ve been attending the Oregon Brewers Festival since – oh, since before I was of legal drinking age.  I believe my first OBF was the second or third year of the event.  I have a cupboard full of plastic festival mugs to prove it, much to the dismay of the Mrs.  (This year the OBF switched to glass.  We’ll see how that goes.)

My wife does not care for the throng, finding the noise, the press, the dust, etc. oppressive.  Hard to blame her, really, but I find the beer sufficient compensation so long as I arrive early and leave before the crush reaches its peak.  So, this year I attended solo, biking down from home.  In the past this has been an occasion to congregate with friends and usually bump into people I’ve not seen for a few years.  But this year the usual gang of idiots had previous engagements, work-related or otherwise.  A sign of maturity, or aging anyways.  It becomes harder and harder to justify scheduling a day dedicated to sampling craft brews.  I understand that all too well.  Does youth fade or does it simply get buried beneath the ever mounting pile of responsibility?

This year, then, I brought just the one friend.

We’ll see how many chapters I can get through and if the OBF’s notorious and frequent spontaneous yelling that fills the tents will impair my reading more than the alcohol.

Now, time for another taster.

The people watching is, as usual, top-shelf.  Jack Sparrow just strolled by.  Bald, bearded Elvis strummed his guitar outside the fence for awhile before being upstaged by Darth Vader playing the bagpipes while riding a unicycle.

Report: I was terrified that a beer from Ohio – Ohio, of all places – would top my list.  Of course I handicapped the competition, skipping the local Portland beers.  I can get them anytime.  Thankfully my last taster was Bogart IPA from Fire Mountain Brewery of nearby Carlton, Oregon.  That dethroned Ohio Brewing Company’s O’Hoppy Ale IPA.

At about that point of the day the crowd of the OBF surpassed my comfort level.  And 6-plus miles uphill on the bicycle eliminated the (minimal) blood-alcohol level.  I deem this OBF a success.  I sampled some new beers and I’m pretty sure my caloric intake and expenditure was a net positive on the expenditure side of the balance sheet.

And how was your Saturday?

Naming Characters

“What’s in a name? That which we call a  rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Well, sure, Juliet, but books communicate only through words, not smells.  The names chosen often must be capable of more than simply differentiating one character from another, they must be able to convey certain information, whether about the character or about the world the author has created.

And creating worlds is what speculative fiction authors do.  The aliens, elves, planets, or kingdoms invented need names.  There are many approaches to naming conventions.  Glen Cook, in his “Black Company” series employs common English words: “Opal,” “Juniper.”  Or relatively uncommon but still familiar names: “Elmo”, “Otto.”  Some readers, perhaps conditioned to expect that fantasy will adhere to certain conventions, find this hinders suspension of disbelief.  It works for me, however; it helps ground the stories, provides a sense of gritty reality.

Another option is to become a philologist, invent several languages, and provide appropriate names from word roots or compounds of those invented languages.  This option works best if your name is Tolkien.

Other writers seem to peck randomly at the keyboard and then go back and insert an apostrophe.  These writers don’t, apparently, attempt to pronounce the names or quite grasp what an apostrophe within a word is supposed to accomplish.  Vide “the Apostropocalypse” in Neal Stephenson’s “Reamde.”  His takedown of this particular naming convention is quite clever, as one would expect.

In my first novel – that has been consigned to a box in the closet, never to see the light of day – I resorted to the atlas.  Characters from certain invented lands were assigned countries from the atlas and I selected place names from the respective countries (e.g., Estonia) to repurpose as character names, ensuring a consistency, a sense of commonality among characters within the discrete lands.  At least that was the intent.  No one will ever know if I succeeded.

My second novel, “Reunion” (to be released by Twilight Times Books this October) is essentially a contemporary piece, so names presented little difficulty.  However, a couple of characters did require some thought.  For reasons that – I hope – make perfect sense to those who read the book, I modified ancient Babylonian names to tag these two characters with.

I am faced with a different challenge in the novel I am currently writing.  I want the names of the alien race to exemplify their language.  Thus most of the names feature ch, k, or g to indicate that the alien speech consists largely of gutturals and harsh consonants.

Names can help establish a sense of place, of verisimilitude.  They can also, of course, be allegorical or symbolic, if the author wants to go down that path.  Something to consider before assigning a moniker.

What’s in a name?  Maybe quite a bit.

Steven Brust – An Appreciation

Steven Brust – An Appreciation

Steven Brust is one of the three masters of the first person smart-ass style. One of the other two, Glen Cook, was a prior subject of a Web Log appreciation. The third is the late, and lamented, Roger Zelazny.

Brust has written a substantial body of work, but is primarily known for his Dragaera novels. These primarily concern the exploits of Vlad Taltos, a human living amid an elaborately imagined civilization of elf analogues – the Dragaera, tall, immensely long-lived creatures. Other novels deal with certain of the Dragaera themselves. In these novels Brust – rather brilliantly – indulges himself by emulating Alexander Dumas’ “Three Musketeers” literary style, complete with flamboyant oaths and and humorously labyrinthine conversations.

Vlad Taltos is his crowing achievement. An assassin, an organized crime sub-boss, a witch, and a narrator delivering his own story with droll wit. Occasionally Brust explores different styles, employing other points of view to deliver Vlad’s tale. These books – for example “Athyra” – tend to suffer in comparison, lacking some of the spark of Vlad’s tongue-in-cheek delivery.

Another criticism: Brust is unabashed about sharing his political opinions. On occasion – notably “Teckla” – these views can be so intrusive as to dominate the narrative. If one – myself for example – is disinclined to be charitable to a Trotskyite viewpoint, then such heavy-handedness can diminish enjoyment of the book. Thankfully the politics are usually camouflaged well enough not to disrupt the reading experience – there if you looking for it, nigh invisible if you are not, or if you make an effort to ignore it.

With Vlad Taltos, Brust has created a seminal character in fantastic literature. Vlad is worthy of entry to the pantheon of such great scoff-laws as the Gray Mouser, Elric, and Conan, glorious rogues all.

Sadly the publisher, Tor, is no longer releasing the books in mass market paperback. This necessitates that I purchase each new volume in trade paperback. The full chronicle, when finally complete, will doubtless be an aesthetic triumph as a literary work, but it won’t fill a seamless, symmetrically pleasing stretch on my shelf.

It is possible that I demand too much.

Glen Cook – An Appreciation

Glen Cook – An Appreciation

Glen Cook’s footprints are all over the speculative fiction landscape. And they are large footprints. For readers he is a proven draw For writers he is enormously influential. Consider current heavyweights like Steve Erikson and Joe Abercrombie. What would their work resemble without “The Black Company?”

My reading would certainly have been impoverished without “The Black Company.” I remember “The Silver Spike” occupying my time while waiting at Fort Bragg for deployment on a brief training exercise in Honduras. And “Dreams of Steel” was one of many books keeping me entertained while sweating through months in Haiti. Cook is a writer who truly seems to grasp military service and soldiers.

And let’s not forget the ongoing case files of Garrett, Tunfaire’s premiere investigator and troubleshooter, reluctant knight in tarnished armor. Part Archie Goodwin, part Travis McGee, with bits of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade grafted on. Garrett is the closest thing to a fictional hero I can profess. It will be a poorer world once Cook ceases chronicling Garrett’s adventures.

Mention of two series barely scratches the surface of the layers Cook has added to the fantasy and science fiction landscape. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t already, and explore that landscape personally.

If you have read him what is your favorite Glen Cook work?