Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mailvox: the mileage, it varies

It has been interesting to see the diversity of reaction to the two stories that make up THE WARDOG'S COIN.  One of the ebook's first reviewers preferred the title story to its accompaniment, and he had some questions, particularly about "Qalabi Dawn", that I think I can address without any spoilers:
The first story was so good that even the debatable defects of the second made the book merit 5 stars. And at least half the defects of the second may simply be in the intrinsic difficulty of creating understanding of something so radically different. Still: are these cat people merely different tribes? Or different species? I was reading some as tiger-people for quite a while, rather than lion-people. My bad reading? But ignore that; it's trivial.

I admit I wondered more... you've got a Sergent who is pretty rough and tumble. And yet he uses the word "insomnia"? Is this Vox's voice leaking through the character? Or are you hinting he's a lot smarter than the average bear? Similarly, the Capitaine is almost too poncily polished. Intended? I assume so, and the diplomatic interaction with the Elven King + battlefield is interesting and beautifully done.
As I suspect many readers are beginning to understand, I'm not inclined to explain or portray things that the perspective characters don't know or simply wouldn't tend to think about.  Just as it is said that fish don't think about water, a Chiu chieftain is not inclined to think about the structure of his society when he has no reason to do so.  That doesn't mean the structure doesn't exist, or that I'm not willing to discuss it, only that there are an amount of worldbuilding details that are never going to appear in any one story or novel.  Selenoth is not as grand and finely detailed a structure as Middle Earth, but it is larger in scope and scale than many fictional universes, including Westeros/Essos.

In answer to the question about the catpeople, the Simba are lion people, the Duma are leopard people, and the Chiu are cheetah people.  (This is confusing for Swahili speakers, as Chiu means leopard, but I figured that English was the primary concern.) All of the Khatuuli are descendants of Baasia; they are quite literally demonspawn.  The three primary varieties of People are further divided into tribes with one dominant male, and they are further divided in that some of them, their elite, tend to be mchawe, or shapechangers, with three different shapes, mwana, mnyama, and the common sehumu form.  Their priestly caste, the Neheb-Kau, are all shapechangers who have abandoned their tribes and given their allegience to the priesthood.  And I'm pleased that the overall sense of the demonspawn is striking at least some readers as radically different; while I am opposed to reinventing wheels, (orcs, elves, dwarves, etc), I hope it is clear that this is not due to any dearth of imagination or creative capacity.

The story of the origins of the demonspawn are told in a novella entitled "The Last Witchking", which will be published in the forthcoming Summa Elvetica hardcover.

 I think it is naturally difficult to write characters of very different intelligence than the author possesses.  Mediocre authors tend to make every perspective character into an idealized version of themselves; one always knows with whom a bad author identifies because there is that one character who is interminably witty and always verbally bests every other character with the perfect quip, obscure citation, or Bible verse. Some authors make me suspect that the dialogue in their books is chiefly a vehicle for retroactively winning every past verbal altercation in which they belatedly thought of a killer riposte long after it was over.

That being said, the sergent is intelligent, he simply isn't educated. I'm not sure "insomnia" qualifies as an overly educated word, but I have no doubt there are numerous such slippages with regards to the sergent's inner monologue.  The capitaine, on the other hand, comes from an aristocratic family that has seen better days; his backstory would make for an interesting novella in its own right. But despite their observable differences, he and the sergent genuinely like and respect each other, which is important because the story revolves around their complicity.  In some ways, The Wardog's Coin is a very dark story, although I don't know how many readers will see it in that light.

Since the events of TWC take place before ATOB, it is unlikely I will bring either of them back in the main series.  However, there is one character who will certainly appear in Book Two, and as a full perspective character, no less.  And don't forget, if you haven't picked up A MAGIC BROKEN yet, it is still free on Amazon today.

UPDATE: TWC debuted in Amazon's Top 10 in the War category, which I have to say was rather unexpected. I consider it to be Epic Fantasy myself, but I can see where it might qualify, especially if one is going to count books like World War Z.  It's also #3 in Hot New War Fiction, behind Neal Stephenson's third book in the Mongoliad, which I very much hope is better than the disappointing first one.

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Anonymous CrisisEraDynamo March 28, 2013 9:33 AM  

Did somebody say Chiu?

Anonymous CrisisEraDynamo March 28, 2013 9:37 AM  

But seriously, I just bought your book.

Anonymous Daniel March 28, 2013 9:57 AM  

In 1937, Middle Earth was not as grand and finely detailed as Middle Earth of 1978. My problem initially with Qalabi Dawn was not with the social structure, but with the fact that I couldn't tell if they were kobolds or lizard men or what. I was in the animal kingdom, but that was about it. References to "canine" teeth, for example, unintentionally planted the seeds of "dog" at first. I'm the same sort of reader who took the similar names of SE as a hassle of verisimilitude I was willing to endure, but one that I wondered if there wasn't a workaround of some sort.

Cheetahs can purr, after all. An early purr would have identified them as cats in a desert that sounds like kalahari, and as cheetahs to those who know something about large felines and how cheetahs are different from true big cats. A purr also would have been something even a Chiu chieftan could have casually noted.

And now I've written on a blog about cats.

Sic Semper Scalzitis

Blogger Flannel Avenger March 28, 2013 9:59 AM  

Why am I not surprised that the race of cat people are all literally demonspawn? LOL.

Have bought it but not started on it yet.

Anonymous scoobius dubious March 28, 2013 10:01 AM  

"the Simba are lion people,"

Then aren't you going to have to start making some rather hefty royalty payments to a passel of Japanese cartoonists?

What's next, Xpeed Racer?

OpenID Kuzenskif March 28, 2013 10:02 AM  

I recognize the plot as Xenophon's Anabasis, but if it's about cat-people... now I'm interested.

Anonymous VD March 28, 2013 10:04 AM  

Hmmm... I suppose I assumed that using terms like Simba and other African terms, to say nothing of doing things like hunting gazelles in the vicinity of a desert made it more than obvious. Especially since no one is likely to confuse them for the Aalvarg.

Anonymous scoobius dubious March 28, 2013 10:12 AM  

Oh pshaw, keep on doin' what you gotta do. I'm just having a friendly poke.

Anonymous Sigyn March 28, 2013 10:24 AM  

Vox, do you keep all your built-world details in a single location, like a codex-notebook or a private wiki, or do you carry them around in your head? It sounds like Selenoth is getting really big, so I'm kind of curious.

Anonymous VryeDenker March 28, 2013 10:40 AM  

What would have been cool would be a tiny 3d landscape of Selenoth.

Anonymous Emperor of Icecream March 28, 2013 10:42 AM  

I gave up on the second story because I just couldn't figure out enough of the structure of the setting to make reading pleasant. But with this background, I'll give it another shot.

Anonymous scoobius dubious March 28, 2013 10:51 AM  

Heh. Draw blood. Ah-whooooooooo!
Werewolves of London.

Blogger Gray Falcon March 28, 2013 11:02 AM  

I devoured TWC in a single sitting, but left Qalabi Dawn for another, figuring (correctly, I see) that they were two different dishes, though set on the same table.

Curious, though: will the SE hardcover be the only way to procure "The Last Wichking"? Also, wasn't there another Selenoth story mentioned, and if so, where/when will that be published?

Anonymous Tom March 28, 2013 11:03 AM  

I didn't catch that the cat people were from different cats at all. I thought they were just different sizes of the same creatures.

I saw Shaka Zulu meets The Lion King all over that one though. Was "The Last Witchking" ever available some place else? For some reason, I thought it was.

Left my Amazon review.

Anonymous Peter Garstig March 28, 2013 11:10 AM  

Seems I'm of the few who heavily prefers Qalabi Dawn to TWC.

I rarely can stand stupid-speak and if it's in a perspective character the story needs to be either short or very compelling for me to read on. But that's maybe because English is not my native language. In German, I can bear stupid-speak somewhat better, still don't like it. Also, it's an element rarely needed to convey the common/uneducated/stupid. Not to say that many authors like it, including Vox.

Anyhow, they strokes to describe the characters in Qalabi Dawn weren't without power.

Anonymous Peter Garstig March 28, 2013 11:11 AM  

That should have been: Many authors like it.

Anonymous Daniel March 28, 2013 11:28 AM  

Hmmm... I suppose I assumed that using terms like Simba and other African terms, to say nothing of doing things like hunting gazelles in the vicinity of a desert made it more than obvious. Especially since no one is likely to confuse them for the Aalvarg.

That should be sufficient for your smarter readers. I cannot speak for them. A gazelle kill would have been as helpful as a purr to me, had the gazelle been referenced explicitly by that name. Keep in mind that I'm referring mostly to the opening page or two, and that the African terms were evident and helpful for the setting, it was simply the creatures that I thought might be lizardmen, impure dogmen, or some other outcast society at first.

Don't take these as complaints. Qalabi Dawn is a great story. I'm a fan whose mind tilts a little more toward Quatermass and Lovecraft than Kipling, and I just assumed that a wounded huntress in the desert and the chief considering her could have been one of any number of creatures. A spotted lizard with feather tufts or fur concerned about his tail may seem preposterous for Selenoth, but it isn't beyond my pulpy mind. At first, I thought that would be part of the plot: figure out the beast to understand its nature, or something like that. After I recalibrated 2 pages in, this wasn't an issue.

I agree that most readers will catch the cats and races right away. I just am not one of their number.

Anonymous Daniel March 28, 2013 11:39 AM  

This all overlooks Qalabi Dawn's greatest quality: the ability to identify incredible depth and value in a character, using a single well-placed sentence. I'm thinking of one sentence in particular following the climax, but there are numerous examples.

Anonymous Raggededge March 28, 2013 11:43 AM  

Huh, nice surprise, as a Prime member you can "rent" the book for free. Vox, do prime free rentals hurt you or help you? Does Amazon still pay some fee if I choose that option?

Blogger JaimeInTexas March 28, 2013 11:49 AM  

Bought the book last night and finished reading the first part too. Just started Qalabi Dawn and Vox's explanation helped. Not being a cat person, put me in the category of who's first impression was that these were demons of some kind.

Anonymous VD March 28, 2013 11:49 AM  

Vox, do you keep all your built-world details in a single location, like a codex-notebook or a private wiki, or do you carry them around in your head?

It's mostly in my head. Although a lot of it was written down in the 25-page rulebook for Warleader, the very beginnings of an attempt to design a Fantasy ASL game. So I have a total lack of a lot of obvious societal stuff, and a very specific list of various magical spells and their precise effects.

That may account for the martial feel of the books. Whereas a lot of fantasy, like Midkemia, came from an RPG background, Arts of Dark and Light have their roots in a highly detailed wargame.

Blogger JaimeInTexas March 28, 2013 11:49 AM  

BTW, I bought the kindle version.

Anonymous VD March 28, 2013 11:51 AM  

Huh, nice surprise, as a Prime member you can "rent" the book for free. Vox, do prime free rentals hurt you or help you? Does Amazon still pay some fee if I choose that option?

I don't think it is quite the same, but they definitely pay something. Don't hesitate to rent it; I think it doesn't help my sales ranking, but I'm not concerned about that. I'm working towards the series becoming a bestselling one after Book Two or Three.

It helps to recall that A Game of Thrones was actually remaindered. It was not an immediate success. I'm fairly pleased with how things have gone given that the books aren't on a single shelf anywhere.

Anonymous Daniel March 28, 2013 12:00 PM  

That may account for the martial feel of the books. Whereas a lot of fantasy, like Midkemia, came from an RPG background, Arts of Dark and Light have their roots in a highly detailed wargame.

This is very interesting on numerous levels. Good fantasy, or at least one big stream of good fantasy, is its ability to simulate. Stories with a wargame engine have a structure that is in many ways more comprehensible and realistic than the "just use your imagination" engine. I would argue that Tolkien, for all his rootedness in academia and language, had the "benefit" of first hand knowledge of the wargame engine. Haldeman and Heinlein (okay sci-fi, but same principle) are so different from, say McCaffery. It isn't to say one has social structure where the other has martial structure. It is that the social in the former seems to be tied to the martial, whereas the social in the latter exists for its own sake. In the wrong author's hands, a McCaffery society can become wildly realistic, where as in Haldeman society, a mediocre author is going to railroad the obvious.

It is surprising to me on one hand that we have so few wargame authors anymore (E.E. Knight is a good example of a good one who is left). When Scalzi's teen girl angst society is considered "military" fiction, something's gone awry.

Anonymous Daniel March 28, 2013 12:01 PM  

sorry - "wildly unrealistic"

Blogger LP 999/Eliza March 28, 2013 12:15 PM  

I'm looking forward to reading and the cover is awesome - it looks ultra impressive next to everything else on the right hand side of the page.

This is all good!

Blogger Some dude March 28, 2013 12:48 PM  

They were both great stories. But I had just one real gripe with the second - how the hell did Shabaka have such an in depth understanding of the political situation in Amorr?

I'm musing about this because I've been thinking a bit more about the failures of the 2nd Jewish Commonwealth to take advantage of the two great revolts against Rome. It's clear to me that they failed to both understand (and take advantage of) their strategic advantages or the social consequences of each revolt. For example, the first revolt needed only to outlast the will of the Rome to continue the fight, whereas the second was a battle to the death the instant it started. They completely failed to understand the mindset of the Senate and how Rome viewed these wars and consequently their strategy in both wars did not suit the conflict. Which is ironic given how closely connected the two cultures were.

Shabaka understood exactly what was going on, the mindset, the situation, as well as what needed to be done. Which is fine as it is, history has many such people, but the story leaves out the HOW he grasped all this. Did he spend much time among the Amorr, the Church? Did he receive prophecy? Where did his incredible insight and grasp of the situation come from?

Blogger Some dude March 28, 2013 12:55 PM  

I looked over my comment and I realized that the line of "did he receive prophecy" can be seen as sarcasm. It isn't. I genuinely would like to know.

Anonymous MendoScot March 28, 2013 1:25 PM  

I found slumbering more jarring than insomnia. Sleeping and pissing every hour might do.

Anonymous VD March 28, 2013 1:27 PM  

I had just one real gripe with the second - how the hell did Shabaka have such an in depth understanding of the political situation in Amorr?

He didn't have an in-depth understanding of the political situation in Amorr, but rather of the Amorran character. There are Amorrans in many parts of Selenoth, the usual traders and adventurers, and Shabaka learned of Amorr through them. If you look closely, all Shabaka knows in terms of facts is what everyone in Amorr knew; the Senate voted funds for a campaign and the forces were being raised.

It's not unlike Britain before World War II. All the evidence was there for everyone to see, and yet only Churchill read it correctly even though it was, in retrospect, completely obvious.

Anonymous MendoScot March 28, 2013 1:27 PM  

And "insensate" right after.

Blogger Some dude March 28, 2013 3:00 PM  



Anonymous cheddarman March 28, 2013 8:45 PM  

I really enjoyed both stories, though I liked Qalabi Dawn more than the War Dog's Coin. I thought it was more creative, and I was cheering for the people who were being invaded. Q.D. gives you a feel of foreboding that many peoples might have faced historically, knowing that the Romans were marching their way, with the intent to conquer and destroy their way of life.

The title of Qalabi Dawn made me think of the movie "Zulu Dawn," and how imperial hubris caused a defeat of the British at the hands of the Zulus.



Anonymous Daniel March 29, 2013 9:25 AM  

I wonder if it helps to note that Sergent is a 5-year survivor and a recruiter for the dead. Thus, he has a dual nature: on the one hand appearing to be like one of the front-line grunts, on the other hand, having the wits both to survive and to bring on new wardogs, many of whom will not survive more than a campaign or two.

A very interesting character, straddling two worlds, belonging in neither, yet comfortable with the tension.

Anonymous Emperor of Icecream March 29, 2013 11:14 AM  

I read the second story. With just a little more understanding of the background, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Two good things: (1) giving the incompetent Amorran commander a heroic death and a taste for victory. Too often big, corrupt alt-Roman empires in fiction are completely corrupt to the point where its impossible to see how they managed to conquer everything in sight in the first place. Here, by making even a lotus-eating timid place-seeker Amorran be excited about victory and suicidally brave when given the chance, it makes the Amorran empire plausible. (2) Finding out what the protagonist's epithet means at the end. It reminds you whose progeny these people really are and makes you reconsider the Machiavellian maneuvering of the story as something that has moral heft, not just means to an end.

The bad: making the city ruled by the demoness be called Bas-Tiat was just juvenile. I know you don't like free trade economists, but little in-joke stuff like that is detestable and takes you out of the story.

Blogger Latigo3 March 29, 2013 1:38 PM  

I like the first story better that the second.
I found myself laughing out-loud several times during the Wardog story, especially when that kid comes over to the Sargent to confess his sins, that was classic. Vox, you blended both men's dilemmas very well. I knew what that young man was feeling and I thoroughly enjoyed Sargent's thought process.

I did find the origins of the shapechangers to be very illuminating. I wondered about them in ATOB and the Qalabi story fills in some questions that I had. The cannabalism part was one part that made me squirm.

I am enjoying getting to know the world of Selenoth

Anonymous VD March 29, 2013 6:51 PM  

The bad: making the city ruled by the demoness be called Bas-Tiat was just juvenile.

Strangely enough, that was completely unintentional. I didn't even realize it until you pointed it out. The name actually derived from a combination of Baasia and Tiamat. I don't have anything against Frederic Bastiat.

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