So, everyone: welcome to 2010. (A week late, I know, but it's the thought that counts, right?) I hope you enjoy it, and that it delivers at the very least a respectable portion of all that you hope for.
Starting a new year with a new experience can't be a bad thing, I reckon, so you won't hear any complaints from me about the wintry onslaught that has subjugated the British Isles. There's been no sign of the grass on the lawn outside my window for over three weeks now, buried as it is beneath a gleaming white blanket of snow. Nothing remarkable for many of you, of course, including those living at the same latitude as Edinburgh (approaching 56 deg N, for the record - roughly the same as Moscow and the Aleutian Islands), but it's exceptionally unusual round here, where the peculiarities of climates both macro- and micro- mean most winters are all but snow-free. In fact, I don't remember seeing anything quite like it in my life.
I'm a big fan of the big freeze. Everything looks just that little bit unfamiliar and exotic. It feels like we've all travelled to some other place - one quieter, more beautiful and imbued with a faint, cold magic - without having to move. The sound of deep snow crunching underfoot seems to me vaguely romantic and wild and fantastical.
A new computer arrived in my house. I didn't really want one, but the old one was accumulating software glitches and idiosyncracies that nothing seemed to rid it of, and to be fair it was a few years old, so I bit the bullet and went shopping. Turns out PCs have got a whole lot better since I last bought one. Who knew? I mean, have you seen these flat screen things? They're all ... flat and stuff. Amazing.
Anyway, one consequence has been a big clean out and reorganising of my feeds, which gives me an excuse to flag up some new, newish or not new at all podcasts that might be of interest:
1. Tor.com has added a new podcast - the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy - to complement their existing audio fiction one. Both can be found here. The G's G to the G promises to cover a wide spectrum of geeky interests, so should be worth following. (First episode doesn't do much for me, since it's mostly about Left 4 Dead 2, and my gaming days are more or less behind me, sadly, but I'm not letting that put me off).
2. The iFanboy Pick of the Week podcast is my graphic novels and comics-related listening of choice. For any of you out there with a liking for that medium, it gets a great big thumbs up from me. (As does their video podcast, if you're a visually oriented sort).
3.Naked Archaeologyoffers monthly news and views on archaeological research and discoveries. Quite interesting, if you're into that sort of thing. It's a spin-off from the very well known and jolly good Naked Scientistspodcast, as is the newer and potentially interesting (but I haven't actually listened to it yet, so don't blame me if it's rubbish) Naked Astronomy.
And lo, the new year brings a new look for Fall of Thanes. This is the cover for the US mass market paperback edition, due out very soon. And it is, IMHO, a thing of beauty. Possibly my favourite 'look' for any of the trilogy so far. And that's saying something, since all the way through, I've really been jolly well taken care of by the Orbit folks responsible for prettying up my books.
The new year also brings free pdfs of books. Free pdfs of 11,000 books to be precise, including quite a lot of famous ones (and a great many not very famous at all ones, I suspect). They're available at The Book Depository. Now, personally I can't read novel-length stuff in pdf form. Can just about manage a short story, but that's about my limit in that format (and even then, I'll be hoping it's a short short story). But you might be different, so go knock yourself out. It doesn't look that easy to actually find some of the freebies, admittedly, but even right there on the front page, there's links to free Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and others.
Some minor stuff about me, me, me - specifically my recent adventures in short fiction - that's shown up on the web.
First off, I answer some questions over at the Rogue Blades Entertainment site, partly relating to the story - 'Beyond the Reach of His Gods' - I've contributed to their Rage of the Behemoth anthology. Imminently available, I believe.
Second off, Pat of Fantasy Hotlist fame provided a brief update on progress regarding the anthology he's editing for Subterranean Press, titled Speculative Horizons. As reported there, I sent in my story for the anthology - 'Flint' - a little while ago. Some minor tweaking is currently underway, but Pat's basically given it a thumbs up. No confirmed publication date for this one yet, as far as I know, but it shouldn't be too long.
(And since I've been poking around Pat's site to find that news update, I might as well indulge myself by pointing out his jolly nice review of Fall of Thanes, too.)
About time we had something a bit different around here, I figure.Couple of weeks ago, someone got in touch with me via Facebook (the Winterbirth fan page, to be precise), and I thought the story they had to tell was so interesting that ... well, here it comes. Meet Richard Alvarez, a real live knight in shining armour. Some of you, it turns out, know exactly what he looks like already. He'll introduce himself, and then I'll pitch him a few questions. Hope at least some folks find this as interesting as I did!
(Note, the photos appearing are, in order of appearance, by and copyright Cat Connor, Ron Koberer and Linda Alvarez. No use without permission, please).
RA: I've always been fascinated by the renaissance and medieval eras. In college I studied fencing, and went on to pursue teaching as a Classical Fencing Master. Simultaneously, I've pursued my interests in media production, theatre and film. This parallel track led me to performing at the first Renaissance Festival I ever attended in Houston Texas, back in the early seventies. A friend and I formed a Dueling Team we called "Triomphe".
We performed as "Triomphe" for eleven years at the Texas Renaissance Festival. In the early eighties, I met four young men who had been hired to perform the joust. A few years later, they invited me to joust with them at a show in Chicago that summer. 'I can't ride,' I told them. 'That's okay, we'll teach you.' So in the summer of 1984 I started my career as a professional jouster. A few years later, I was asked to take over the managing duties of the company, and I formed "International Action Theatre". We had three companies of men, with four to six horses each - touring the country all year long. In addition to renaissance festivals, we did Wild West shows and stunt work for films and theme parks.
In 1994, I officially retired from the renaissance festival circuit. I have focused on my filmmaking and screenwriting endeavors for the most part since then, though I did manage to merge my two interests in 2005, when I produced my award winning documentary American Jouster.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home when I got a text from a friend. It was a jpg, and I couldn't quite make out the image. I handed my phone to my son, and he squinted at it saying, 'It looks like YOU! Yeah, I think it is you, on a poster or maybe a book cover ... Fall of Thrones? No, the Fall of THANES?'
I downloaded a larger image from your website, and couldn't for the life of me remember where the photo came from. I know I didn't pose specifically FOR the cover, so the photo had to be an old one. I began to scour my hard drives, trying to match the shot on the cover with something I might have on hand.
Bingo! In 2005, I responded to a call from a student filmmaker, John Joynert, who was working on his senior thesis film. It was called Pro Meus Rex - and the story centered on two live chess pieces who meet in a fantasy forest setting to battle it out. I played The Black Knight and another actor played The White Pawn. During that shoot, unit photographer Ron Koeberer took a number of still photos (Ron does amazing work, and you can view some of his shots at www.koberfoto.com). It turns out that Ron had listed a few shots from Pro Meus Rex with stock photo companies online. Apparently whoever did the layout for the cover of Fall of Thanes licensed the image through one of the stock agencies.
And that is how I wound up on the cover of Fall of Thanes.
BR: Given that you started out as a classically trained fencer, to an outsider like me it looks like a pretty radical shift in weaponry and fighting style when you get into the medieval end of things: possibly in my ignorance, I imagine much less finesse and much more brute force being involved. To what extent are skills or instincts or techniques transferable between the fencing and the medieval side of things?
RA: "Mixed Martial Arts" is a very popular form of sport entertainment right now. You see fighters combining different skill sets from different martial arts training against competitors with other skill sets. This is possible, primarily because the main component is the same for all martial arts - The Human Body.
In terms of using a blade - the target is the same regardless of era - the weapon has a point and/or edge. The human body moves the same regardless of era. What changes are the tactical applications of point and edge - especially in response to terrain and armor. So it really was just a matter of understanding what the weapon was designed for, and what the target area was supposed to be. Probably the most difficult of the medieval weapons to master (for me personally) was the flail - damned unpredictable rebound. And of course, getting used to wearing armor and the limited visibility of a helm.
BR:I'm fascinated by the practicalities of this whole business. The horses in the jousts, for instance. How much specialised training is needed to get a horse to do what you need it to do? Can any horse be suitable, or only those with particular physical or mental attributes?
RA: We have always selected horses primarily for their temperment. They have to be sound of course, and capable of supporting the armored rider. (Rule of thumb - a sound working horse can carry/work with one third of it's own body weight ... this is a 'rule of thumb' - not a hard and fast law). Breed was not as important as temperment. We 'auditioned' horses by asking them to do a specific set of drills. Such things as passing another horse, riding with flags, riding close to/at a man on the ground. The horse didn't have to perform well, it just had to show an aptitiude to be trainable. We didn't always have the luxury of time in training horses.
BR: There must be risks involved, no matter how skilled and practised someone is. Have you ever been injured yourself or - and I suspect this might be even more alarming - inadvertently injured someone else?
RA: Bumps and bruises happen every time you fall off a horse, and we did scheduled falls in every show - so sure, people got bumps, bruises, scrapes and the occasional dislocation or break. In stage combat - you can generally expect to get the odd scraped knuckle and bruise from your partner - but you really do train hard for safety's sake.
I've probably given my share of knicked fingers, and clipped hands - but I don't keep track of those any more than I keep track of the ones I've recieved. It's part of the game. My own worst personal injury came fom a 'knee to knee' collision in a cantering pass with another rider. We were NOT armored - this is the same sort of injury one typically gets in playing polo.
BR: I know you played a specific character during your jousting career - Sir Richard, Early of Greyhame. Is this name just an identifying badge, or did you have personalities (good guys and bad guys!), plots and backstories developed for the characters you all played? I guess I'm interested in how much of this is theatre - complete with fictional narrative - and how much is demonstration, stunt show, sport etc.
RA: The character I portrayed "Sir Richard - The Earl of Greyhame" was usually a bad guy. Tall dark and bearded - yeah, I looked the part. And lets face it, it's more fun to be the bad guy! Our shows were carefully choreographed, and scripted. There was always room to ad-lib lines with the court and each other, but we all knew where we were going, and what was supposed to happen on the field.
In the jousting business you will sometimes hear the distinction made that a particular company does 'Theatrical Jousting' while another company does 'Sport Jousting'. What this usually comes down to is whether or not the hits delivered during the joust passes are choreographed or spontaneous.
In a theatrical joust the hits are planned, usually a specific number of hits, with a 'dismount' at the end. This is a running, full speed fall. The fall is followed with horse to ground combat - and another dismount - followed by ground combat and possibly a bloody 'kill'. (Depending on the philosophy of the company and/or the faire regarding kills and blood).
In a 'full contact' or 'sport joust' show the jousters are trying to unhorse each other. Again, there is usually a prescribed number of passes. They may or may not succeed in unhorsing their opponent. They may hit, or miss. There may or may not be a fall. After which, they will usually give a demonstration of combat that may or may not be choreographed.
Understand, the EXACT SAME SKILLS are needed in either version of the show. You MUST be able to controll your lance to hit a target, and control your horse. You must have an excellent seat to maintain or deliver a hit. THE HORSES DON'T KNOW if the combat is real, or 'choreographed'. They are being asked to perform the same tasks either way.
BR:Given your professional involvement in film and media, have you got any particular favourite movies set in the medieval or renaissance eras, either in terms of entertainment value or the vividness or accuracy with which they capture those eras? How about books, fiction or non-fiction?
RA: My favorite fight choreographer has got to be William Hobbs. (A Brit as it happens). His best films in no particular order - Robin and Marion - the end fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw as the aging Robin and Sherriff is a classic (One of my all time favorite films too). The Three and Four Musketeers - Dick Lester's version - shot as one film but released as two, starring Michael York as D'Artagnan and Oliver Reed as Athos. Still some of the best rapier work on film. The Duellists - Ridley Scott's first feature film - and the film that turned me into a Napoleonic Era buff. Excellent smaill sword and sabre work - and the best film ever for capturing the gut-wrenching terror of personal conflict. All these films are William Hobbs work. (He also did Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet and the latest Count of Monte Christo and Man in the Iron Mask - so yeah, if his name's on it, I'll watch it).
Best written description of the mindset and action of a duel ... for my money, is the final duel between Oscar and The Eater of Souls in R. A. Heinlein's Glory Road. Of course, Heinlein was a sabre fencer - and it shows.
For just plain fun, and insider's reference - The Princess Bride - the book and the film, with their reference to actual period fencing masters and books. The fight in the film is also extremely well done - in the classic Old School Hollywood tradition.
As for recommended reading - one should read the actual period fencing manuals. Many are now available on-line. (Back in my day, you had to got to a real library, and check out the books IF you could find them).
BR: Thanks, Richard. I'm very grateful to you for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity! And to round things off, a nice clip of Richard talking about his film American Jouster, and the life of a touring knight:
Item 2: According to this review of Fall of Thanes, it appears I might have made someone cry. Good. I mean that in the nicest possible way, obviously.
Item 3: I did an interview at a slightly more unusual venue than my usual online habitat of sf/f book blogs: Grinding to Valhalla, which as far as I can tell is a sort of mass interview site for mmo bloggers/podcasters. As a result, there's a little bit more in there about my gaming habits/history than is usually the case.
Item 4: And finally ... well I'm not really sure what to say about this (found via CBR), other than that I am at once strangely fascinated and strangely repelled:
So, the plan is this: everyone signed up as a fan on the Winterbirth page on Facebookgets entered into a couple of draws - one next Friday, the 8th, the second the following Friday, 15th - and the lucky winners get themselves a free signed, and optionally dedicated etc., hardback copy of Fall of Thanes shipped off in the post to them by my own fair hand. If you like the sound of that, and aren't already hooked up with the rest of the Godless World fans on Facebook, get yourself over there and join up.
Or, if you're allergic to social networking, or just want to short-circuit the system and be 100% certain of getting yourself a signed, personalised copy, get in touch with Transreal Fiction and tell them what you want (click on my name at top right of home page to see how it all works). It won't be free, but nor will your ownership of it be reliant on the whims of the gods of chance!
Oh, and for those who like these things, there's a fairly chunky extract from Fall of Thanes to be found here.
Does it betray some weird psycho-sexual dysfunction (phallic insecurity, perhaps?) that my first reaction upon receiving the huge box containing my author copies of Fall of Thanes was to pile them all up into a tower and take a photo of it? Probably not, though I wouldn't dismiss the possibility entirely. Behold my mighty book tower! See how it ... towers.
Clearly, since these have shown up on my doorstep - and looking very fine at that - publication of the third and final part of the trilogy is now unavoidable. Early May, in a shop near you (or online if there're no shops near you, of course). For those thinking of putting in an order, a reminder: should you be tempted by the thought of a signed, dedicated etc copy of Fall of Thanes all of your own, the place to go is the Transreal website. Click on my name at top right for all the details, but the most important point is that it'll only cost you cover price plus shipping. Bargain!
While on the subject of books, I have been rectifying a shocking gap in my genre reading. Until this last week or two, my sole experience of Conan the barbarian was the long ago and rather dubious movies featuring a certain US politician in the title role. Now, I'm pleased to say, I'm making up for lost time by working my way through this gorgeous book - close to a thousand pages of pulpy, politically incorrect sword and sorcery merriment. I'm enjoying it considerably more than I thought I might, and for all the lack of 'polish' that occasionally crops up in the writing (these stories were being turned out incredibly quickly, after all), I've been struck by what an effective writer Robert E. Howard really is. There's some seriously vivid and atmospheric work going on, alongside all the vigourous hewing and hacking and thumping. Great fun. How come I never read this stuff before? Idiot.
And finally, to the person or persons responsible for ms antispyware 2009, I have only this to say: may your toenails shrivel and crack, and turn yellow and crusty and stinky, flaking off into your socks bit by bit until they are all gone, leaving only a suppurating blisters where once they lay. And if your stupid little malware gets on my PC again, I hope the suppuration spreads up your legs until it reaches areas more vital than toes. So there.
For those who have not seen it yet, here is the cover for Fall of Thanes, in all its beardy and mail-clad glory:
Nice, no? And to answer the single commonest question I get asked these days: the planned publication date for Fall of Thanes is May 2009. It may vary slightly depending on exactly which bit of the planet you call home, but as things currently stand we seem to be on schedule, so it should be in that ballpark for everyone.
And while we're on the subject of books, the hardback of Bloodheir more or less sold out in the UK in a gratifyingly short period (for which many thanks to all those who bought a copy!). That's good, obviously, but it has meant that for a while now the book's not been universally available in these here parts, and those who didn't snap up the hardback early on might have been feeling a bit left out. Change is afoot, however, as trade paperbacks have now been released in the UK, so Bloodheir is once more available from Amazon UK, and should filter into bookshops nicely in time for Chrsitmas. Should you happen to know anyone who's been hankering after a copy, do let them know - the mass market paperback's still 4 or 5 months away, after all.
There has been some minor tweaking and polishing of the website, these last few days - so minor, in the main, that no one but me and the webguy is ever likely to notice the differences. One thing I'd quite like people to notice, though, is the addition of a couple of new links on the relevant page. I've mentioned both the websites concerned in this blog before, but will take any opportunity to try and drive a few more eyes their way, so:
Strange Maps is a long-running demonstration of the wisdom of picking a single, original theme for a blog and sticking with it. You never know quite what's going to show up, but it'll often be surprising, interesting and/or pretty to look at it. Especially if you like maps, naturally.
The Abominable Charles Christopheris by some distance my favourite webcomic at the moment - has been for a long time, in fact. Not surely precisely why, but I think it's some combination of: beautifully precise and expressive art, joke strips that I find gently amusing, an over-arching story arc that's dark and mysterious (possibly a bit too mysterious to be honest, since I'm not sure anyone's really figured out exactly what's going on), and Karl Kerschl's obvious affection for the characters he's created.
To be honest, there are already enough short fiction podcasts to make it tough to keep up with them, but the latest addition is far too cool to ignore: TTA Press, the publishers of the UK's major sf/fantasyand horror fiction magazines, as well as a rather good (if excessively infrequent) crime one, have launched Transmissions from Beyond, podcasting selected stories from their huge, multi-genre back catalogue. I'll be listening.
Another new podcast: Reality Breakis putting out interviews with authors, most of them originally done for radio in the 1990s. Some notably big guns have already been deployed: Will Eisner, Cory Doctorow and the late Robert Jordan.
Since Watchmen featured in the last post here, thought I'd mention an interesting transcript of a 1988 round table discussion about the series. But first: BEWARE! This is as SPOILERIFIC a discussion as could possibly be contrived by the wit of Man. If you have not yet read Watchmen, or if you want to see the upcoming movie without actually knowing every last detail of the plot in advance (and, believe me, you really do), FLEE! The imminent link will utterly and completely ruin the whole thing, including all of the many surprises the story has up its sleeves. Seriously. For those who have already read Watchmen, it's a fascinating discussion, because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are involved, and it unpicks in great detail a lot of the story's many layers, influences and concerns. It can be found here.
Thanks to everyone who's e-mailed asking about a release date for Fall of Thanes. It's nice that people care enough to be interested! I wish I had a more definitive answer to offer, but at the moment I don't. It's taken longer than I hoped and intended to finish the thing off, for a mixture of writing and non-writing related reasons, but it is almost done. Should be going to the publisher for consideration in the next few weeks. In the past, it's taken about a year to get from that point to publication. Sorry I can't be any more specific than that yet. More news as and when it's available. It has been raining all day. Raining hard, for a lot of it. Frankly, it's all a bit disappointing, as the weather has been for weeks and weeks. So I thought I'd post a photo, grabbed in one of the few sunny interludes I remember from the last couple of months. It commemorates the chance discovery of a wonderful country lane, thick with wildflowers, bees and butterflies. As I sit here listening to the rain gurgling along the gutters and down the drainpipes, perhaps it will provide a little remembered warmth, and remind me that we do still notionally have things called summers, even if these last couple of years the only possible description of that season has been 'damp squib'.
There's a review of Bloodheir up at the Grasping for The Wind blog that's nice in all kinds of ways. I mention it here, though, mainly because I think it's the first time I've seen anyone specifically praise the way I write about love. I'm a big softie, really. It's a relief when something you've tried quite hard to get right has precisely the desired effect on the reader, even if it's only one reader.
(I'm similarly relieved, incidentally, whenever someone describes my battle scenes as 'cinematic' - which one or two folk have done - because believe me, pretty much from draft 1, page 1 of Winterbirth, whenever I'm writing violence I've been sitting there hunched over the keyboard all but muttering 'make it cinematic, make it cinematic', like some drooling, lunatic hermit who used to be a failed screenwriter and has gone downhill from there.)
In case anyone likes to know these things, the title for book three was agreed a little while ago, and it is: Fall of Thanes. No, it's not quite finished yet; Yes, it will be finished before too long. And yes, one or more Thanes may indeed fall, but Who? How far? And will they bounce?