JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

The Color of Kings — 3LineTales

Dec
23
tltweek99

photo by Emily Morter

The dark lord just did not appreciate good aesthetics–color and light in particular–no matter how hard Ur-Benu tried to convince her. Why must the sky always be a gloomy shade of gray or black, when purple was the color of kings? The orc concluded that his services would be better used elsewhere, and one day, left the dark tower for good.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 99 photo prompt.

Author’s Note: I’ve been playing a lot of Middle-earth: Shadow of War these days. It’s a game where you recruit orc followers into your army. Here’s one of the warriors I captured, the inspiration for the tale:

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There’s something about his name, and the way the deep-voiced, melodramatic narrator says “UR-BENU!” every time I click on him. Sure, he looks scary with his size, and all the fire, but he’s just a softy at heart. A fiery machine destroyer…of expectations. He is terrified of Ghuls because they threaten his kittens. Lots of kittens. He is an EPIC kitten-cuddler, his little precious-es. You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you know.

Hope you enjoyed the story. Happy Holidays!

~J.M.

Audiostory on Tall Tale TV

Dec
19

Chris Herron of Tall Tale TV did an awesome job reading one of my Iric stories. The production quality is the some of the best I have come across for short stories and indie podcasts. His pacing, tone, voices and accents, everything about this production is just great. I cannot offer enough praise. I have been invited to submit more work and I certainly will.

Without further fuss, here is the story:

Wasn’t that great? If I were a rich man, I’d pay this guy to do the whole collection for Audible!

Thanks for listening!

~J.M.

Speaking of the collection, you can get your copy below. Both kindle and ebook versions are available for purchase.

Colonialism in SF/F

Oct
13
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Photo by Tongik Saejeam

I generally don’t like to get into politics or heavy topics, which is likely why I lean towards fantasy more than science fiction. However, I recently read something that irked me quite a bit. It’s an issue that has been pinching my nerves for some time.

It came about when I read what is a mostly amazing ARTICLE by Cecilia Tan entitled “Let Me Tell You,” where she defends the use of telling in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F). She argues that the absolute rule of “show, don’t tell” is a part of big Lit culture, and that SF/F authors should not bind themselves to it. SF/F as a genre, and particularly those sub-genres that feature alternate-world settings, require a lot of telling in order for the story to work. While there are many ways of world-building through showing or through action, such as dialogue, it is in no way practical to do that all the time. There’s not enough space, nor reader patience, for it.

Despite having a compelling general argument, Tan reveals some liberal naivete when she describes the “fantasy newcomer” trope as colonialist. These days a lot of folks, particularly college-educated folks (Tan has a BA in Linguistics and Cognitive Science from Brown), like to throw around complicated academic terms without have a full understanding or appreciation for them. I remember when I was an undergraduate majoring in English and was expected to discuss things like colonialism and post-modernism, which even the experts have trouble understanding, let alone explaining (I still think many of the graduate students who taught these classes were confused). It wasn’t until graduate school that I finally started to wrap my head around just how much I didn’t know. This came after my advisor told me to stop using the term “post-colonialist” until I figured out what it meant.

In her article, Tan suggests that the use of the naive newcomer in “stories that center the naive reader will always be about the impact that stranger has on the world that is new to them”–and that this is colonialism. But it’s not. It is simply the nature of cultural interaction. Two people or groups of different cultures who meet and interact cannot but impact each other. If our definition of colonialism is simply impact, then the Indians would be just as guilty of it as the British–which is, of course, an absurd notion.

The idea of colonialism we are discussing here is not the dictionary definition of having colonies, but rather the philosophical definition of cultural domination (a good explanation of which can be found HERE). Imperialism is the use of political, economic, or military power to control another group but not necessarily to change that group. Colonialism is imperialism with the goal of changing the dominated culture or location to be in line with the colonizers. Colonialism is a mix of power and coercion to compel assimilation to the culture of those in power. Thus, the British made the Indians speak English and don western clothes, and the Japanese made Koreans speak Japanese and adhere to Japanese cultural mannerisms.

Any fantasy story about a naive foreigner travelling to another land is not inherently colonialist. What matters is that character’s use of power and their relationship to the native culture. Let’s look at some examples:

The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien — This is one Tan cites as an example for her colonialism argument. However, it is far from the case. While Frodo does travel to foreign lands and interact with many new cultures, he does not feel superior nor try to change them. In fact, he seems to adore these cultures and takes on some of their characteristics, such as elven clothing and weapons.

The Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind — In this set of books, typical country bumpkin Richard Rahl learns he is the blood relative of a great wizard of an exotic, magical land to the east and later becomes ruler of his adopted kingdom. This story is textbook colonialism because Richard knows better than the natives about almost everything and seeks to change their behavior (i.e. culture) to match his superior ways. There is also a very overt anti-communist thread in the later books. The series is very clear in its judgments of one culture being superior to another and often equates this to the typical fantasy good vs evil battle. Despite these obvious flaw though, I did enjoy the series, though I was a lot younger (and dumber) then.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain — Like the Sword of Truth Seriesthis novel finds an intelligent man in a foreign place who uses his superior culture to dominate the natives. Everything about the American is superior, and the character cannot stand the native culture or habits at all. Blatant colonialism.

The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise — This film gets a lot of flak from people who like to throw around terms like “colonialism” without understanding them. Again looking at the story in the context of power and coercion to assimilate, this film is exactly the opposite. Not only does Capt. Nathan Algren not try to change the culture of the people and the samurai he meets, he in fact, abandons his own culture and people in order to assimilate into the samurai village. Moreover, he goes into battle with the samurai, adopting their less-advanced technology and tactics, knowing full well it will likely mean his death. Assimilation into the native culture by those with power is precisely the opposite of colonialism. Most films like this, such as Dances with Wolves or The Forbidden Kingdom, are assimilatory, not colonialist. The hero becomes better by changing himself and adapting the native culture, but the effect on the native culture itself is negligible or non-existent.

Now, this is not to argue against other problems these films have, such as the cultural imperialism of white faces and Hollywood packaging and presenting non-white voices and cultures. But interestingly enough, these films actually do a much better job of presenting the culture accurately, and indeed have a greater desire to do so, that other Hollywood films that simply use the culture or setting for something else. This has everything to do with the naive foreigner point of view that Tan criticizes in her article. It simply makes no sense for two samurai to be in a scene discussing samurai culture, something they clearly would take for granted. The only way to have scenes where culture is taught directly to the audience, is to have a lead character in the same position as them.

I happen to love these sorts of films just for that reason–I feel I am getting a more authentic look of a foreign culture. Even foreign made films, particularly East Asian films, are not wholly authentic to their own cultures because, being under the dark shadow of Hollywood, they now try to hard to westernize their films for global appeal. Thus, Korean cop films play out like LAPD action movies, though that is not at all how cops operate here. Perhaps Bollywood is the only local market with enough power to not have to globalize their work.

I happen to find the naive foreigner protagonist to be one of the best vehicles for making overt telling in your story actually make sense and work for readers.  Forcing world-building into dialogue in a manner that the characters would never actually do is far worse of a crime. Neuromancer is one book that Tan cites as a great example of internal world-building, which is certainly true to some extent, though there were many times when I felt Case was being told things he should already know.

I don’t think the naive foreigner trope is going away anytime soon. In fact, I would argue it’s an entire sub-genre of itself, consisting of journey tales (The Hobbit) and portal fantasies (Neverwhere).

While I do find Tan’s argument for “breaking the status quo” in SF/F compelling, I wish she would not get so hung up on a concept she clearly doesn’t fully understand. Unfortunately, this sort of pseudo-academics is all too common today, and it gets on my nerves.

Do you agree with my analysis? Prefer Tan’s interpretation? Let me know what you think.

~J.M.

A New Story Out in the Uprising Review

Sep
13

My newest story comes to you care of The Uprising Review, whose motto is “Write Fearlessly.”

Well, I did, and this story quickly became one of my favorites. Unfortunately, many editors did not share my opinion. After revising and resubmitting several times, I finally found a reader who shared my sense of humor and adventure.

This story is, after all, a humorous adventure story, a farcical little tale that begins to reveal my Pratchettosis.

I am very proud of this little story–if that is not already apparent–and I think Uprising took great care of it. They even found a wonderful cover image. I hope you will head over and check it out.

You can find the story HERE.

~J.M.

A Few Quotes from Discworld 37

Sep
12

 

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It’s no secret I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan. Ever since I read, er…listened to the first book I was taken in by his whimsical world. I’m sure his influence can be readily seen in my work, either in humor or concept.

 

I just started Discworld book number 37, Unseen Academicals, and have been struck by just how good the prose is.  I  wanted to share a couple gems from the opening pages:

Mr Scattering then got a job in a pet shop in Pellicool Steps, but left after three days because the way the kittens stared at him gave him nightmares.

Classic Pratchet humor to turn mundane things on their head. I have no idea what sort of look from a kitten could cause nightmares, only that I never wish to see it.

There was so much silence you could hear it. Everywhere it went, it stuffed the ears with invisible fluff.  -and- Silence listened with its mouth open.

Silence can be a powerful tool for creating atmosphere or tension, or simply setting a scene. But all too often, the words come out cliche. “Dead silent” or “eerily silent” or countless other variations–many of which I’m sure I’ve used–fall flat. Leave it to Sir Pratchett to find clever new ways to convey an old idea.

From somewhere in the distance came a sound like a large duck being trodden on, followed by a cry of ‘Ho, the Megapode!’ And then all hell eventuated. -and- Then the thing disappeared down another gloomy corridor, incessantly making that flat honking noise of the sort duck hunters make just before they are shot by other duck hunters.

Sound is an important sense and one that is difficult to convey in words without going full-on phonetic, which can be off-putting. Here Pratchett manages to convey a distinct sound clearly, at least to me, and provide a laugh at the same time. Plus I just love the phrase “All hell eventuated.” Though, that might just be due to the fact that we don’t really use “eventuated” in that manner in American English.

Well those are just a couple bits that stood out to me, though the pages as a whole thus far have generally been great. It would take too much space to remark on all the little phrases that lit me up.

~J.M.

SHARE: A Seed in the Ground, by Shannon Fay

Aug
26

I’ve been a fan of Shannon Fay ever since I read her micro story “To Give You the Night Sky.” I’m not sure how to classify her as an author. She has several stories in professional publications but no book release.

(Many of these stories are with Daily Science Fiction, to which I am jealous. I have submitted several stories to them and got a rejection for each. Despite their supposed blind reading, it is growing more evident to me that they have a preference for authors they already know.)

I guess I would rate Fay as a lower-tier pro, the sort I’d like to be in a couple years. Maybe on the same level as Karl Gallagher, another rising author I like. As such, she’s a good role model for me as a new writer.

Anyways, to get back to the main point of this post, I’d like to share another great story by Fay. This one is a tragic fantasy piece with some very strong character and world-building. Really, the only fault I can find with this one is the title, which doesn’t really draw attention or encompass the story and theme of the work very well. As with “To Give You the Night,” this one deals with the emotional tolls of conflict. I really love the concept of the seed and how it is used, both metaphorically and biologically. I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil the story.

Without further ado, here’s the link.


A Seed in the Ground

I was the one who told Rhiz about the Folx bush.

“It flowers in the spring, little pink blossoms that sit on thick, knobby branches,” I said, placing the seed in Rhiz’s hand and folding her fingers over it. “When you try and trim it, it just grows back stronger. Tearing one out of the ground is like trying to rend a full-grown oak. It’s hale and tough and beautiful, just like you.”…READ MORE

“Webs”–read by the Author

Jul
30

One of my flash stories was recently featured on the AntiSF Radio Show. This was one of the first stories I wrote for this blog. The text of the story can still be found on the AntiSF homepage HERE.

I love the AntiSF Radio Show. Not only does it feature some great (and usually humorous) short audio stories, but the host, a guy who calls himself “Nuke,” has a good vibe about him as well. This publication is fully non-profit, so often the stories are read by the authors (like my own). This offers a unique opportunity to hear directly from authors you like.

Well, without further ado, you can find the current episode of the AntiSF Radio Show, entitled “Abstracta,” which features my flash story “Webs” at the link HERE.

Let me know what you think!

~J.M.

New Audio Story Released!

Jul
14

Manawaker Studio has turned one of my stories into an audio production. That’s two stories I’ve so far had redone in audio, with a third coming at the end of the month.

This story is actually the compilation of three shorter flash pieces that were originally featured on this blog. They are the stories featuring the character Sparrow, who was originally a supporting character in my upcoming book, In the Valley of Magic. I was drawn to Sparrow as a character, and found myself writing her a few times. The three stories ended up being a consistent series, so I fused them and submitted to Manawaker, which does a great job on the audio work.

You can find the audio story on the Manawaker Studio homepage with this LINK.

Or on Youtube with this LINK.

I must say I am impressed with the quality of the work. The reading is great and the voice work very professional. So go and listen to the story! If you like the story or the production, please leave a message on the page that you listened from.

My Story is now out in the Bards and Sages Quarterly!

Jul
02

I’m happy to report the July issue of the Bards and Sages Quarterly is out now at multiple retailers. This issue features my Iric flash story “The Tree Sign.”

I’ve been looking over my digital copy and am very satisfied with how the whole thing came out. It’s a decent-sized book–Smashwords says it’s almost 57,000 words! I’m going to have to pick up a print copy.

Speaking of which, you can get a print copy HERE!

Happy reading!

~J.M.

SHARE: DSF – Story Time by Laura Anne Gilman

Jun
20

This is a nice little story with great narrative voice…despite having almost no narration. The dialogue exchange really delivers that childish curiosity. And the revelation at the end is heartbreaking.

That being said, the work is not without its problems. I question the choice of the word “youngling.” Why not simply use “child”?  In this case, the word “youngling” does little to deepen the story or build the world. All it does for me is bring up the Prequels…Bleh. I think a good rule to follow is: if a simpler word is available to use, it is often the best to use it.

Also the POV in the limited bits of narration is inconsistent. In one place it is distant and omniscient, in another it is deep and limited. I’d think if you’re going to only have three lines of narration, that you’d want to make sure they all sync together well. But maybe that’s just me.

All in all, though, its a great little story that deserves a higher rating than it has right now. Head over to the site and give Laura some rockets!

Source: Daily Science Fiction :: Story Time by Laura Anne Gilman