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Food wasn’t high on the list of
difficulties to tackle for a series of books about people from the sea,
with at least half the action taking place deep underwater. If I divided
up my world-building time for the Seaborn books more than half of it
would go to undersea combat and the kinds of powers, “bleeds”, magic,
breathing, as well as sorting out their limitations, how they are passed
to children, and other details. Most of the other half was in cultural
development, cities, history, interaction with the surface, social
structure, why a people who are apparently successful have such a low
population—in the millions.
But food proved to be more difficult than combat. Even if there’s magic involved in making things work in a fight, it can be applied to the weapon once. Everyone in battle-space doesn’t need to perform something crazy three times a day in order to sustain their strength and stop their tummies rumbling. Right off the bat I imagined—given their technology and powers—you could reduce friction and drag in the water for edged weapons and bolts from crossbows, and spearguns, so that battles didn’t look like thousands of free-falling astronauts spinning and fumbling in slow motion, taking mad swings at each other. And everyone looking stupid rather than dangerous or fierce.
Food wasn’t as easy to figure out. On the surface, Kassandra—the main character—can go to Starbucks or stop in for sushi and sashimi at Shizuko’s in Hampton. She was raised on the surface, but when she gets underwater and sees what the seaborn have out for what appears to be an edible arrangement, she’s disgusted by it. No potato chips, no bagels, no coffee. Just these little lumps or wrapped packages of something she has no need to try.
Raw fish, sliced and presented neatly, was an obvious choice because it didn’t require cooking and you could eat it with fingers—it worked underwater. But it was too obvious, too simple, and they can’t live on raw fish alone. In a typical surface kitchen you turn on the stove, you heat water, you make some pasta. In another pot you’re making a sauce. You serve it onto plates and you eat with forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks, sporks, fingers. Easy. In the deep ocean where the seaborn live I was looking at extreme temperatures, complete darkness, with most of the abyss cold, and water around hydrothermal vents reaching 800 F/426 C and NOT boiling because of the immense pressure. I had plumbing in seaborn cities to pipe this water and heat anywhere I wanted, but how do you cook with it? Food wrapped in ceramic containers, leaves? Where do those come from? Firing and glazing clay sounds difficult underwater. The seaborn have light—can make it—and so they can grow seaweeds, hundred-foot tall macrocystis—the large kelp forests you always see in video off the coast of California. Leaves were in, and they’re entirely plausible because that’s a common enough method for cooking on the surface, with food wrapped and steamed inside cabbage leaves, grape leaves, and others. Fish was clearly a center course—cooked or not, with many options for vegetable-like dishes.
I didn’t take eating much further than this in the three books because food didn’t play enough of a role in the plot, but it surprised me how much trouble it caused—more than breathing underwater, pressure, darkness, and combat, all of which could be handled with sufficient technology—or magic. Looking back, I wish I had given eating—especially the social aspect of gathering around food and drink—more thought. My logic went something like dolphins don’t know thirst and they don’t drink anything their entire lives, so why would the seaborn? I went with a limited approach to developing their eating conventions and left it at that—with some jabs by Kassandra and others about how unappealing their food was.
Overall it was the complexity around something as simple as what do you eat underwater that got me. The ocean’s a complex environment made up of many layered environments, and many are radically different meters apart. And stories set there have to deal with the environment. Even with something as complex as underwater acoustics, with negative thermoclines and capacity for changing over long distances I just had to do my research and let it play. Sound travels almost five times faster underwater than it does through the air, but apparently there’s no fast food in the deep. At least I didn’t find any.
Did some drawing this afternoon, a couple more panels for chapter 13. Done and posted. Check it all out here: https://www.saltwaterwitch.com
Sketched out the two panels for page three this morning, lined and colored them this afternoon, and just finished the lettering, balloons, and other details. It's posted. Check out page 3 here: https://www.saltwaterwitch.com/switch
Here's the linework for the two panels:
Sorry, I've been writing like a demon over the last two months--finishing up the first book in an all new Seaborn series, and haven't even picked up a pencil to do more than a couple quick sketches. Here's a look at today's progress, from sketching, coloring, to the link to chapter 13. Hope you like!
Sketch of the second panel:
Both panels with colors:
Zombie Road – promo piece for Saltwater Witch. Click the image for the full view. https://www.SaltwaterWitch.com
October's fantasy round table post was on fantasy/horror crossover, or how horror has influenced the genre of fantasy. Good stuff from Deborah J. Ross, Warren Rochelle, Valjeanne Jeffers, Theresa Crater, Andrea K Höst, Carole McDonnell, Sylvia Kelso, and me. Check it out here: https://the0phrastus.typepad.com/the0phrastus/2012/10/the-great-traveling-round-table-fantasy-guest-blog.html
If this looks like I'm creating a new post to point to the last one, well, you're right. GoodReads pulls my posts and puts them on my profile--which I love, but there's a bunch of css at the top of the round table post and it's showing up as text on GoodReads. This one won't!
Take Alien, the movie, (“In space no one can hear you scream”) and then look at the sequels, which are pure action SF, with multi-mouthed H.R. Giger monsters, bad-asses with exotic guns, cool technology (for the time), a nightmarish dead colony backdrop, and a pure horror ending. Did one of the aliens manage to get on board—planted in Ripley’s stomach—to bring death and destruction back to Earth?
|Nightmare by Abildgaard|
|Nightmare by Gauguin|
File Size: 514 KB
Print Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Kensington Books (May 1, 2006)
Winterdim (print edition) or Dryad (ebook) by Chris Howard
Print Length: 662 pages
Publisher: Lykeion Books (November 9, 2011)
When I think of horror, SF and Fantasy together as genres I tend to see a big bog between two slippery hillsides. You can't get from one hill direct to the other - SF and fantasy usually don't mix: their license to suspend disbelief comes from mutually opposed sources, science and magic. But both genres can slide down into the bog, representing the horror genre, as fast as you can say "demon"—or "alien."
The big difference between hills and bog is that the hill genres have the bog as an option—or in more common terms, they can offer the reader wonder as well as horror. The bog doesn't do wonder. Even if treasure is buried there, the emphasis is on the dead men's bones accompanying it. Comedy there may be, and entertainingly black, too, but wonder, no.
This doesn't mean that the bog is any worse than either hill genre, or that such traffic should be prevented by border guards. Indeed, where would the hill genres be without the darkness option? Someone like Nietzsche once remarked, either of Homer or Greek mythology, that, in paraphrase, the greater the light, the blacker the shadows it casts—you'll excuse the vagueness, I haven't turned up the quote for years, and it's too long to resort to Google, even if I cd. remember it right. Nevertheless, the idea rings true to me. The greater the wonder a fantasy text can evoke, the greater the horror it MAY evoke. And a fantasy text with unrelenting light and wonder wd. be somewhat like a medieval Christian heaven: great if you're immortal, but if you're still under the sun, eventually conducive to eyestrain and headaches rather than alleluias.
This assumes that the writer of such a roller-coaster story is "in control"—well, intentionally sliding up and down the hill, because who of us is ever "in control" of a story as we write? But unintentional slides can produce awkwardness, bathos, and at worst, audience hilarity when you wanted shudders. I recall a local Hamlet where the ghost walked a "battlement" above and behind the stage. Fine, except that ghost shd. be uncanny, inhuman, silent, unconnected to earth. As this one walked, the audience cd. see his feet shuttling below his robe. They cracked up, and the performance never recovered.
Evoking the spookiness of wonder's dark side is not easy, either. It helps to recall the dictum of Old Gothic best-seller Mrs. Radcliffe: "terror and horror are so far opposite that the first . . . awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them . . ." And for Radcliffe, terror's power lies in "obscurity and uncertainty." That is, let the reader imagine horrors and outdo your efforts, rather than present the monster full frontal and fail to raise a shiver.
|Peake’s Sketch of Flay|
Author Tananarive Due, who is dubbed as a horror writer, mixes fantasy quite skillfully in My Soul to Keep. This novel begins with the tale of “Jessica,” a young woman who falls in love, only to discover that the perfect man of her dreams is 400 years old...and the member of an Ethiopian sect of Immortals.This saga spans continues through three more novels (The Living Blood, Blood Colony and My Soul to Take) all are built upon a fantasy setting— spiced with bone-chilling horror and suspense.
D.K. Gaston, author of The Friday House, and Lost Hours, while not described as a horror author has elements of it deftly woven within his plots. Tad Williams does the same, when he inserts a larger than life sociopath in his epic fantasy series, Otherland.The fantasy framework of these novels is in fact necessary in order to construct “the world right beneath our noses,” that is the mainstay of speculative fiction. When horror is present, it adds a delightful bit of scary suspense to the mix—like popcorn and chocolate. And hey, who doesn't enjoy a little sweet with their salty from time to time?
They're not waterproof, but they are official Bicycle Playing Cards. I imagine a game would go pretty well for players who happen to like Kassandra. The real question is what would Kassandra's game be? Poker, blackjack, go fish? A game with extremely high stakes?
This isn’t about whether or not we’re going to have or how often we’re going to be reading eBooks in the next few years, because I assume that’s been thoroughly answered to everyone’s satisfaction.
This is a little view into what they may look like in the next few years, focusing on one cool feature: pop-up glossary or footnote data inside your books. Before you run off saying this isn’t for fiction, think about how often you’ve been in the middle of a complex SF or fantasy novel and wished for a f**king character list—especially when half the character names seem to start with the letter K! With science fiction you’re dealing with advanced technology that may require a little optional background info—selectable or ignored at the reader’s choice. Choice is always good, but clarity and one click away from answers is...priceless.
Let me walk you through it and then you decide if this is for you and your books. I’m going to begin with the end and show you what it looks like first, along with a sample chapter you can read and use in iBooks to see what’s going on.
Right after this part, because this is where I spent a good deal of time. And because I think it’s cool:
I built a prototype web app that automates adding the pop-ups to your EPUBs. The app takes an EPUB page (good old HTML with some new bits in it), lets you add descriptions for characters, places, events, and then adds the code, references, and pop-up functions into the page. If all goes well you should be able to drop this into your ePub file and load it up in a reader that supports the type:epub attribute (e.g., iBooks 2.0 and higher). Screenshots and a link to the builder below.
Back to the beginning. Here’s what the pop-up glossary info looks like in iBooks—which currently supports this portion of the EPUB 3 spec:
Click for the full view:
Click for the full view:
Here's the working example of Seaborn I built with the web app I made. Download it and view it in iBooks or other EPUB 3 reader, or just hit this page with your iPad and click the link. You should get an "Open in iBooks" dialog and then you're set.
Download Example: SEABORN EPUB WITH POP-UPs
Here’s the link and—below it—a walk-through of the app that I made to generate the EPUB with pop-ups.
Pop-up Glossary Builder app
You get to the next page, which looks like this:
When you get to the bottom of the page...
Keep in mind that this is pretty experimental right now. The parser for the nouns and phrases is very simple, and the find/replace operations don't take into account words or phrases inside other words and phrases—so a link for "Atlantic" will also be dropped into the link for "Atlantic Ocean".
Another thing: you will probably have to update your XML Namespace to point here: https://www.idpf.org/2007/ops
What this means is that at the top of your EPUB file you'll see something like this:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1//EN"
Change the part that says xmlns: ... to this:
To make pop-up links in your EPUB files here's what you do:
Wrap any words or phrases you want to explain in an anchor tag with epub:type="noteref" with the href pointing to an in-document location, like this:
<a epub:type="noteref" href="#prax">Prax</a>
Then, at the bottom of the page (I put mine right before the end body tag </body>) add an HTML5 <aside> tag, which supporting readers/browsers won't show with the page. This is where you stick your pop-up text and images:
<aside epub:type="footnote" id="prax"><p> <img src="../Images/person.png" /> Praxinos (Prahx-ee-nos) was the third Wreath-wearer, King of the Seaborn, from House Alkimides. Kassandra calls him "Prax" for short.</p></aside>
Okay, that's it for now. Let me know if you find any of this useful, how it can work better, all that stuff. Leave a comment!
Other things I was thinking about: EPUB is broken up into one file per chapter, section, or some kind of logical text break. So, you can have different text for the same word or phrase in different chapters, which allows you to reveal just enough info about a character without revealing too much and spoiling the plot or suspense. Also, wouldn’t it be nice at some point if you could turn links on or off?
If you’re writing short stories or books—and let’s face it, who’s not?—I have a few tools for you, character name generators (contemporary and Seaborn names) and a word pair list generator, all of which I use for my own work. One of the greatest things about fantasy and science fiction as a genre is that so many F&SF readers are also writers. I don't think you'll find that in thrillers, murder mysteries, romance, or anywhere else.
The contemporary name generator lets you create a list of male or
female names. Same goes for the Seaborn Name generators, except that they're all ancient Greek names, male and female.
The word pair list is a way to spark ideas. Sometimes when I'm stuck in a plot I will pull random words out of the dictionary--usually nouns--and play with the ideas, see how the story would change if I introduced poison, or make one of the characters a really good cook, or take a word like "chronograph" and it makes me wonder what would happen to the plot if there was a "ticking clock"--a count-down timer on a bomb, or the bad guys are going to kill someone at a particular time and the protagonist has to do something extraordinary in order to prevent it. The words are there to feed the story with new and unexpected ideas. It's not quite the same, but think of it as something like Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, except for writing instead of music. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblique_Strategies. There was a cool "Oblique Strategies for Authors" panel at the last Readercon led by Glenn Grant with panelists Gavin Grant, Eric Van, Jo Walton, and others).
Check it all out here:
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