Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

More pitching (scifi.stackexchange.com)

The elevator pitch discussion died down, but I’ve been thinking about this over the last few weeks.  As I noted earlier, I’m not a great pitcher, but perhaps I can get something good enough together that others can then work on.

DVD extras meets user generated content.

I like the idea of starting the pitch with a mashup of something that the pitchee is likely to be familar with (harking back to Donaldson’s thought that all good ideas come from the collision of two separate ideas).  In addition, “user generated content” is fairly buzzword-y, which I generally dislike, but is probably appropriate for a pitch.  I’m referring only to the best DVD extras, of course, but I think that is implied (also the best of user generated content), and “Book extras” if there was such a thing, as well.

Imagine if you could set the questions on the DVD extras for your favourite TV show or movie – or if you had extras for your favourite book.  You get answers about whathow and why things happened both in-universe, and in reality, from people who are intimately familiar with not just that one work, but the entire science fiction and fantasy genres – people that can pull together expert and interesting answers about how this work relates to other genre fiction and to the world. They’ll even explain what stories you should move to next if you loved particular aspects of this one.

This doesn’t include story identification – but the pitch doesn’t need to include every topic, and it doesn’t fit with the “DVD extras” analogy.  It hits some marks that I think are particularly important:

  • It’s not just about focusing in on one universe – it’s about having knowledge across the entire genre/genres.
  • It’s about the in-universe world, but also about how the fiction impacts reality.
  • It punches the question words “what”, “how”, and “why” (“who” is probably better answered by IMDB, “where” probably by Wikipedia, and “which” could cover too many things).  This emphases (subtlety) that this is a Q&A site (as does “answers” later on), but also what sort of questions are most appropriate: especially “why”.
  • DVD extras are generally narrated by experts (cast, crew, authors).  The site isn’t necessarily going to have the foremost expert (e.g. the author) for every question, but it is about getting expert opinion.

It does include recommendations (although I try to make it clear that they need to be very specific).  My opinion follows the original meta discussion: as long as they are specific enough to invite good (subjective) answers, then they’re ok.  Actually, they’re not just ok, but the type of question that users will really love the site for.  I’m sure many people will add books to their reading lists by reading interesting, detailed, answers on the site – not just these ones, but certainly including them.

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Figuring FAQ (scifi.stackexchange.com)

The scifi.stackexchange.com community (or more accurately, the meta.scifi.stackexchange.com community) is still trying to figure out what’s on-topic, even though it doesn’t appear that the meta consensus directly influences the actual reality of the site.

When I last left the search for an elevator pitch, I wondered whether the FAQs of the other (launched) sites would be a fertile ground for inspiration. So, here goes – this is the same list of sites as last time:

Web apps is fairly straightforward (although they interestingly single out “adult content” sites as off-topic).  Gaming is nice and short, with an all-inclusive policy (with two exceptions: recommendations and shopping).  Ubuntu’s FAQ barely says anything about what’s ok – I guess the implication is that anything related to Ubuntu is on-topic.  Webmasters is similarly short, with no exclusions.  Game development has a brief list of sub-topics that are considered acceptable, and an explanation of how to choose between StackOverflow and that site.

The three that I think do the best job (in terms of something that scifi.stackexchange.com can emulate) are photography, cooking, and mathematics.

Photography is an interesting case – they link to a few meta discussions, and they have some off-topic examples that seem obvious (programming, website development, graphic design) but must have caused problems at some point.

Cooking reads very nicely – there are clear examples of what’s on-topic, and some examples of what’s not on topic.  There’s a link to questions tagged “faq” on meta (scifi.stackexchange.com has used “on-topic-discussion” for the same purposes I think).

Mathematics doesn’t just have on-topic and off-topic suggestions, but also suggestions for topics that are on-topic but might get better answers elsewhere.  I think this is a great addition.  The off-topic examples are quite limited, but it’s probably quite obvious what’s ok on the site.

Does this help with figuring things out for scifi.stackexchange.com?  Not as much as I hoped.  The results of the ‘on topic – off-topic’ meta-meta discussion can probably be turned into the on/off topic bullet points that are common; we should try and include a link to an appropriate meta tag as well, and links to other sites (like writers.stackexchange.com) for some examples would be great too.

    Graceling (Kristin Cashore)

    Olyvia purchased this on my behalf – I had been given a voucher for Dymocks, which is a terrible choice, because there are so few Dymocks stores, and they are so far away from anywhere I go.  Time passed, and eventually reached the point where I one day to spend the voucher or lose it – losing it seemed a terrible waste, so Olyvia offered to go to Dymocks and purchase a book – basically she read out names over the phone until finding something I didn’t own.  I had never heard of Kristin Cashore before, and I like finding new authors, so it sounded fine to me.

    I was more skeptical when Olyvia arrived home with the book.  For a start, it was a softcover edition, which I particularly dislike (I like paperback, because it’s comfortable to read, and I like hardback, because it looks nice and ages well, but softcover has none of the advantages and many of the disadvantages).  In addition, the cover is terrible – it has a moderately attractive women in light armour holding a sword – it looks like a bad book trying to attract teen readers.

    However, once I got around to reading it, I was pleasantly surprised.   The ‘magic’ of the world is that some people have extreme talents – rather than just being really good at something, they are ‘magically’ good at it.  In a really nice touch, the talent might be anything, even the mediocre (it reminded me of the heroes with mediocre talents in Lafferty‘s Playing for Keeps).  Although the central characters have talents that are far more impressive, the general way that ‘graces’ were developed was very enjoyable.

    The central characters, Katsa and Po, were both well developed, and enjoyable to read.  The antagonist was a little weak – we never really get to know him, so there’s less at stake than with a more developed villain.  However, his ability was suitably impressive, and his lack didn’t detract from the story’s other strengths too much.

    (Minor spoiler alert). I did feel that the book ended rather suddenly – although it was obvious that it was getting close to the end (there weren’t many pages to turn), the story only seemed part-way through.  I was really expecting a partial conclusion with a sequel (or two) to finish the story off – although this is probably partly due to the ubiquity of trilogies within the genre).  However, with only a small number of pages to go, the story is completely resolved.  Although it ended cleanly and it did create a real echo of surprise to match the character’s surprise, it still felt quite rushed.

    In general, this felt like a really good story by a slightly inexperienced writer.  I think someone with more experience would have been able to flesh out the antagonist more and create a less rushed ending – although these would probably both have meant a longer book.  The story changes a little abruptly about a third of the way through, and I think a more experienced writer would have tied the parts together a little better as well.

    Overall, it was a very enjoyable read (it’s unfortunate that the publisher didn’t find a better cover artist), and I highly recommend reading it.  I hope to read more from Cashore in the future, and expect that later novels will have more polish than this one, while hopefully retaining the originality and great character development found here.

    Foxmask (Juliet Marillier)

    This is the sequel to Wolfskin – to understand the relationships that underlay the characters, it would certainly be best to have read Wolfskin first, although this is a standalone story, not part two of two (or three), which is certainly refreshing.  I purchased this at the same time as Wolfskin, so I wasn’t then aware that I’d love that book so much.  By the time I got to reading Foxmask, though, I had reasonably high hopes for anything from Marillier.

    Although I enjoyed Foxmask, it wasn’t quite as fantastic as Wolfskin.  The basic story has a lot of promise, mostly as a result of the earlier book – Somerled, the antagonist from Wolfskin, was so clearly the villain of the piece, but also clearly had the potential for redemption.  Here, we can find out whether he did manage to redeem himself – but Marillier made the sensible decision to place the story a little later in time, so that although the story answers that question, it’s not actually the central focus of the story.  That means that Foxmask is more of a standalone story than a direct sequel, which is a benefit, in my opinion.

    Although Thorvald, Sam, and Creidhe are interesting characters, I was never as drawn to them as the Wolfskin characters – and the antagonist of Foxmask is far more on the black side of grey than Somerled ever was, which makes him a lot less interesting.  You can see how he might have made the decisions that he did, but they are still more evil.

    The weakest part of the book was the character Keeper.  For some reason, I was never interested or attracted to this character, and that made it harder to understand the relationships that he formed with the other characters.  The strongest part was the development of Thorvald’s character, particularly the leadership development with the other men of the island.

    The magic in Foxmask is a little more overt than that of Wolfskin, which also detracts slightly from the story.  It’s also a little darker in some ways (although there’s probably less death, the reader knows the characters that die or suffer better, so they are more intense).

    Overall, however, this is still an excellent novel.  If this was the first Marillier novel I read, I’m not sure I would be so eager to seek out more of her work – probably I would just hope to remember to buy one next time I see it, rather than actively looking for it, but I absolutely recommend reading it, especially since it wraps up the Wolfskin story a little more.

    Wolfskin (Juliet Marillier)

    The main reason that I bought Wolfskin was because I noticed that Marillier was a New Zealander (or at least was born here, although she lives in Australia now), and there’s not really very many NZ sci-fi/fantasy authors or books, and I’d like to support the locals as much as possible.  (As an aside, my favourite NZ book is Beak of the Moon, by Philip Temple, also of Dunedin).

    So I wasn’t really expecting that much – it wasn’t quite charity, but I would have been happy with a pretty mediocre story.  However, I really loved this book.  I’m not sure why so many fantasy authors feel the need to set their stories in/around the UK, but it’s so common that it didn’t really bother me here.

    The characters in Wolfskin were excellently developed, and a pleasure to get to know.  The antagonist was nicely grey – although you really could despise what he did, you could also understand his motivation for the most part.  The magic was pleasingly subtle, and the battles sufficiently short.

    One minor note that bothered me (minor spoiler alert): early in the book, a girl is attacked, and the attacker isn’t identified.  The implication is that it’s the antagonist, Somerled.  The way the scenes were written, it seemed likely to me that it would turn out to not have been (directly) Somerled at all, but rather the girl’s friend, led to a bad decision by listening to Somerled (so he was at fault, but only indirectly).  Even later in the story, when the friend is re-encountered, nothing in the events seemed to contradict this theory.  However, the book ends without coming back to it, so I suppose that we’re meant to just believe that it was Somerled who did the attack.  I think it would have suited Somerled’s character, and improved the story, if we had discovered that it wasn’t directly his fault.

    The story ends well, with the story nicely resolved, and although there’s clearly a hook left for a sequel, it’s subtle enough that the ending is satisfying and yet the hook doesn’t seem like the only purpose for that element is the sequel.

    Overall I highly recommend reading Wolfskin, and intend to keep an eye out for anything else that Marillier produces.