dendarii.com is a great source for Miles and Chalion fans, with maps for the Chalion series, links to related sites, and news and updates from Lois McMaster Bujold.
Another great short story idea came to me last night--medieval Europe this time. I put down two and half pages and plotted out the rest. It'll have to wait for the weekend for me to really get into it.
I re-read Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, a nice romanticized telling of the battle of Thermopylae. I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t like the glorification of the Spartan state and way of life. Sparta really was a backward, utterly non-intellectual state. They killed and enslaved every surrounding polis whether friendly to the Spartan way of life or not. (Not to entirely excuse Athens on this point, but at least at certain times the Athenians showed themselves to be compassionate and humane, as opposed to the extremely superstitious, anti-rational, slaughter-hungry Spartans. The Athenian Themistokles really broke the back of the Xerxes' assault by defeating his navy at Salamis. It was Athens and allies that destroyed Darius' army at Marathon. The Spartans didn't even participate--the story goes--because they were afraid to mobilize before a full moon).
The line, "the opposite of fear is love" could have been profound with an elaboration of the concept of love, but instead comes across as banal—I assume this is what ties in the women in one way and the men in another? This fear-love sub-theme ran throughout the story, with Dienekes as the pseudo-philosophical Spartan pursuing the roots and causes of fear along with his battle practice, culminating in the "opposite of fear is love" line. This is the single biggest failure in the whole book. Without an explicit definition of what Pressfield means by love you are forced to accept the trite and vague modern "definition" of love, which is not based on any rational means of cognition, but which is somehow opposed to reason. Pressfield should have driven home the point that to the ancient Greeks, even the irrational ones like the Spartans, love was deeper but analyzable (unlike the modern conception).
Themes? Freedom as opposed to state controlled subjects--statism? The alleged freedom of the Spartans--as opposed to the slave empire of Persia? Sparta was a slave state. Courage is different in men and woman but both posses it? Diomache and Xeones--the Spartan men and women--the selection of the 300 based on the strength of the women. Of the Greek states Sparta was the most like Persia. The portrayal of courageous men and women. Courage?
Absolute adherence to values even to death? The part on selflessness was distasteful and contradictory--the ideal was their way of life (Spartan)--and death was preferable to living under the Persian--that death was preferable to surrender, compromise, to the loss of Greek civilization--this is not selflessness, but absolutely selfish. This is the ideal each of these Spartans wanted--and preceded in order your loved ones, every other value. It was the highest value. (Whether it was right to hold this way of life as a value is another matter). Even the other reasons given in the story--threat of dishonor, pursuit of glory (Polynikes), fear, end up being stripped away, and only their core training--their way of life--remained to see them through to the end.
The method Pressfield employs to tell the story--first person--the Persian historian transcribing the story told by Xeones--is interesting and it works. Definitely recommend this for anyone interested in ancient Greek warfare and history.
I have two more short stories nearly ready. One's a fantasy, same series, set in and around Virodun, and needs a bit of editing. The other's an Aristotle, in Pella, a dinner side chat with the Proxenos of Atarneos. Hermeias makes a couple appearances, but this is early, while he's still a slave of Eubulos. (Hermeias eventually becomes the tyrant of Atarneos, and Aristotle, twenty-something years after this story takes place, will marry his neice--adopted daughter--Pythias).
I'm thinking of sending the first to Realms of Fantasy. It'll be a first. The second is another one for Paradox, although I already have one submitted there. It's pure historical, and I don't know another market for it.
Here's a link to excerpts from an interview with Neal Stephenson. As far as I know he doesn't give them often.
The full interview is published in the August 2004 Locus.
More plotting and writing last night. Have a new short story going, the first couple pages. After some research that involved several hours searching at Science's site, I have some great ammo for a technical piece of the story.
I submitted a dark fantasy short told in an archaic style to The Harrow. This was early-January. Got a reject over the weekend. First off, I'm very impressed by The Harrow's manuscript sub process. (I think I said this in a previous post). The system allows the author to track the work's progress through review and acceptance/rejection.
I'm assuming the efficiency of the system is so high that it allowed the editor to post a staggeringly long, detailed and encouraging critique for my story. (wordcount in Word tells me 1083!) This was my first sub to The Harrow, but I'll be back. I typically don't like mainstream horror, but I do like dark fantasy and SF with a dark element. I read the online content before submission, and I liked what I read. The storytelling's strong. (I also like the clean look of the site).
Looking at this experience with a broader perspective, I wonder if this is what publishing in the future will be like. I hope it's more like this. I'm not sure how large an operation The Harrow is. From the outside it looks like something a large publisher has put together, but one that's managed to pull itself out of the five-hundred year tradition of
crushing hopes, stilling hearts, and in general sucking the blood out of authors working at much too slow a pace for impatient writers, offering very little feedback, and nothing that approaches the real-time progress of submitted works offered by The Harrow.