Weekly Update – 12/21/17

Hello, Internet!

A new week, a new post. Life moves on, and on, and on. Next week I’ll be on vacation for the holiday season, so I may or may not post. I’ll decide sometime next week. In either case, I’m currently planning to do some sort of larger End of 2017/Start of 2018 post in the next few weeks, as we move into the new year.

I think it might be a touch bittersweet, but nonetheless beneficial to take a look at the last year, and to look forward to a new year’s goals.


Reading

I picked it up just because it was in my stack, but I found The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison to be a much more engaging, interesting read than I’d expected. Suppose I should have had higher expectations than I did – considering it did win the Hugo – but the whole premise of writing in 2nd person always feels very sketchy.

Ultimately, Jemison built a fascinating world with a few interesting characters, a few cardboard cutouts. She crafted a deeply diverse cast (and I presume intentionally, given her academic interests stated in the bio and online), but at times it felt like artifice, like “Oh, I should have a gay character” – or white or black or transgender or whatever label fits – “so here’s a character for the sake of representation.” Perhaps it’s just my taste, but as usual, trying to mix social politics and literature felt clumsy to me.

But, to re-emphasize, the worldbuilding is really, really good. The world of the Stillness is probably one of my favorite takes on the post-apocalyptic. Or, perhaps plain ol’ apocalyptic.

The world’s premise is that there is one continent, and the planet is dying. The two continental plates grind together, creating constant tectonic disasters. Some lead to an extended winter, known as a “Fifth Season.” Some people have power to interact with the Stillness, to calm it or exacerbate it. Basically, the planet’s trying to kill everyone, but is doing it very slowly.

The way the Stillness is designed is a very good example of political thought within fantasy (particularly when juxtaposed with Jemisin’s lackluster characterization). It’s clearly meant to be a far, far-distant future Earth, or Earth-facsimile, one in which humans have nearly destroyed their planet. I found this theme to be a subtle, constant undercurrent throughout the novel; present, but not in-your-face. In my opinion, that’s generally the best way to intermix political thought and literature – sneakily.

I think The Fifth Season is worth reading. It would probably make my list of books all fantasy writers should read, even if in the end I’m not convinced it’s a “great book.” It experiments a lot with the genre, and I find that highly commendable. I’m curious, though, why it won the Hugo (and may go look up on that note) since it ends with a massive cliffhanger. The sort that makes me think Jemisin’s trilogy was originally one book, and just clipped off at this point.

In my opinion, that’s a cardinal sin lurking at the end of an otherwise decent novel.


Writing

Most of my writing time has been devoured in fiddling with worldbuilding and prewriting for Jiharel. Currently, I’m working with religions and mythology – and with deciding where the stories shared by the people are true, and where they are false. I’m focusing on one ethnicity, the Jihari (which is the people from which my main characters come) and expanding from there.

At present, I have some rough lines written of an in-world religious piece, The Songs of the Nine. I’m currently conceiving of it as nine cantos, each dedicated to one of the nine gods (who are in turn organized into three thematic groupings). I don’t know if I’ll write a full version of the Songs, or if they’ll just be a structural piece in the background. At the very least, I’d like to have extensive chunks of it written.

The lines written so far are from the first canto, First Dragon’s Song. It feels a bit like a fantasy-flavored blending of Genesis and the Gospel of John, to me. There’s also a lot of Plato undergirding the metaphysics of this world, and I suspect it shows. Ancient Greek culture and religion is going to peek in pretty heavily throughout. The real question is if I’m going to go into full Tolkien mode and create too much world, without ever getting to a solid version of the story.


In Review:

Last Week: Just get things done. I feel like I’ve been successful at this, but in hindsight that’s a terrible goal. Good goals ought to be specific, not just “do things!”

This Week: That being said, I’m not setting a goal this week. I’ll be traveling for the holidays and while I suspect I’ll keep chipping away at notes and such – because I do enjoy working on my world(s) and story(s) – I feel like there’s no great need to plan an obligation for myself.

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