Archives: fantasy


The wife and I watched “This is 40” the other night. I’m glad we’ve several years of marriage under our belts, a solid relationship, and an appreciation of coarse humor. I wonder if anyone saw that on a first or second date. If so, was there a follow up date or did the flick provide too much fodder for speculation and second-guessing?

Picking the right movie for the occasion is more art than science. I can’t claim I’ve made the right call across the board. I once took a first date to a Sick and Twisted Animation Festival. What the hell was I thinking?

Choice is a mixed blessing, though the mix is overwhelmingly weighted positive. I remember a s a kid getting dropped off at the mall with a ten-dollar bill in my wallet. I’d head straight to the Walden’s or the B. Dalton’s and browse the science-fiction and fantasy paperbacks, searching for the title and cover that most captured my imagination. $2.75 or $2.95 would leave me with enough for a meal at the food court and a few bucks in quarters for the arcade. Choices and more choices, all of the good.

I find that selecting a new book to read now requires more consideration than it used to. My reading time is more constrained by the demands of life, and I am more aware now of the finite limits of my existence. The moments spent reading one book can never be recovered, selecting one book has eliminated another somewhere down the chronological road.

That makes book reviews important. Even more valuable, I think, is knowing the sort of think you like. Know what authors appeal to you. What general type of story pushes your particular buttons. A blurb indicating that author A writes in a style reminiscent of author B can help. A recommendation from a favored author can help. Check out the book store’s Staff Picks.

There are no guarantees but you can try to stack the odds in your favor.

I know that I have in the past advocated reading widely. I hold to that. I don’t see a contradiction. A well-rounded interior life provides plenty of room for multiple interests and preferences. You can read widely AND choose wisely.

Consolation – you can always learn from your mistakes.


Our cat has been feeling her oats recently, testing boundaries. I’ve received numerous, somewhat distraught calls from my wife over the last few weeks informing me of the cat’s current escapades. Leaped from the deck into the yard. Scrambled up on the roof and refused to come down.

She’s exploring, seeing what lies beyond her usual confines. I can understand that. There can be a great deal of comfort in the familiar. Enjoyment, even. Familiar is not synonymous with dull. You have your usual because you like it.

But sometimes you want to step beyond the bounds of the familiar, see what is out there, same as the cat does.

Speculative fiction speaks to that. It opens up vistas far from the ordinary. That is part of the appeal of fantastic literature. But even the extraordinary can become commonplace given enough exposure. Science fiction and fantasy can grow stale, overly familiar and that can drive the urge to explore something new.

It is important, I think, to read widely. Do not confine yourself to a single genre. Pick up a mystery novel, a historical account, a biography. Hop down from the deck and have a sniff around at the wider world. It works for the cat.


The thing to bear in mind is that it is science FICTION. If you were describing actual scientific advances you’d be an inventor and the world would be a truly fabulous place, complete with jet packs, flying cars, and anti-matter engines. Or a smoldering cinder, slowing cooling in the deep freeze of space. Depending. The aim, therefor, is not viability but verisimilitude. Not necessarily plausibility, though that’s a bonus. Your gadgets need to pass without raising an eyebrow within the context of the world you’ve created, not of this one.

Technical jargon, or technical sounding jargon, is the primary tool in your verisimilitude chest. Engage in a bit of research, absorb the language of scientific journals. But keep the research wide rather than deep. It is easy to drown in the topic you’re investigating. You forget the aim – verisimilitude – and begin to despair because your essential piece of sci-fi hardware – the hook upon which your story hangs – appears implausible. Take a step back, breathe. Remember the goal. Look, if we science fiction consumers were that insistent upon rigid, peer-reviewed science backing the fiction then the shelves would be empty and television would consist of nothing but police procedurals and reality programming.

So learn your technobabble. And set the stage for your plot-necessary tech with throwaway descriptions of other context-appropriate future gadgetry. If such other wonders are commonplace then this key breakthrough shouldn’t threaten suspension of disbelief.

Castles: the Fantasy and the Reality.

The author at Castle Grimaud

The author at Castle Grimaud

Picture in your mind the fortresses of fantasy. Barad-dûr. Gormenghast. Revelstone. Hell, Castle Greyhawk. Impressive structures, right? Massive, lofty. Roomy. Well, it’s fantasy. The writers didn’t need to deal with the costs of materials, transportation, or labor. Or with architectural concerns: no worries about load bearing limits, stresses, and all those other engineering realities that I barely comprehend and that even now builders are only able to overcome by employing newly developed materials and novel construction techniques. Real castles tended toward what most of us not living in shoe-box sized apartments in Hong Kong would consider cramped.

For instance, Blarney Castle, just north of Cork, Ireland. Approaching it on foot it looms. You marvel at how formidable it appears, wondering how an attacker could assault those walls. But inside it is a doll house. Sure, the narrow halls and stairways are an obvious defensive advantage, but imagine actually living in those minuscule chambers day after day. Of course what you’re used to seems normal. And it beat the contemporary alternatives. It must have seemed homey with plastered walls, tapestries, furniture, and blazing fires. As a gutted shell it doesn’t scream four-star accommodation.

Neuschwanstein is a comfy place, but Sleeping Beauty’s castle isn’t exactly the paragon of medieval upscale living, not being built until the later half of the 19th century. Now some fortifications, basically walled cities, like Mont Saint-Michel (which I hope to visit some day) and Monte Carlo are quite spectacular, but the living space is spread over many structures. (Other fortified hilltop villages are remarkably cramped, like the picturesque Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.)

I suppose the smaller keeps make the more ambitious, palatial real-world castles that much more impressive. What is the most awe-inspiring castle you have visited? Which would you hold up in comparison to great fortresses of fantasy? Which secondary-world castle would you most like to see?