The Power of Friendship

I’ve written about friendship before on this blog, in terms of what it means to me from a story perspective. I’ve always been drawn to stories about friendships, just as friendships have always played a crucial role in my personal life. My friendships mean the world to me. They’re some of the most important relationships in my life, and they always have been.

But as a society, I feel like we don’t honour friendship enough. Romantic relationships are always upheld as the ultimate in personal interaction. We denigrate friendship even as we distinguish it from romantic partnerships. We use terms like ‘just friends’ or ‘friends with benefits’, as if platonic friendships don’t have masses of benefits above and beyond sex.

Just friends. Think about that for a minute. If we celebrated friendship the way we celebrate sexual relationships, such a description wouldn’t exist. Yet friends are the people we stick with through life. They’re the people we turn to in need. They’re the people we want with us when we’re celebrating. They’re the people who know us best. The people we can be our true selves with. The people who love the things we love and fight for the things we fight for. The people who’ve been with us through thick and thin, who’ve outlasted those lauded romances and hugged us through breakups. They’re the people we bond with on levels that far surpass the biological influences of reproduction.

Yet those influences are the ones we turn to, the ones by which we measure ourselves, the ones we see constantly highlighted through the media and in fiction.

I’m the first to admit I’m a sucker for a good romance. I’ll root for my favourite fictional couple any day of the week. I’m sad when real-life romances don’t work out. But fiction in particular comes with a certain expectation of romance. How often do we wait for the central pair in our favourite TV show to finally get together? How many times do we expect the platonic friendship to finally graduate to a sexual relationship? As if it’s not valid unless it does so? As if the true potential of that relationship hasn’t been fully explored until they’ve admitted their true feelings for one another and got it on?

I call bullshit on that. The true potential of a relationship lies in what those two people can achieve together. On what they share above and beyond what they have with anyone else. On what has bonded them and continues to bond them. On the absolute trust they have in each other. Whether that involves romance or not is irrelevant. When a romantic partnership has all those things, it’s one of those partnerships that’s built to last… a partnership that’s based on friendship. And friendship can, and does, have all of those things without the need for romantic attraction.

Mulder and Scully didn’t need to get together to prove the true worth of their friendship. Ron and Hermione could have stayed friends for life without getting married. Xander and Willow didn’t need to go through that weird phase of sucking each other’s faces off (at least they grew out of that one). Their friendships were amazing as it was. They had nothing else to prove. They didn’t need to ‘graduate to the next level’… they’d already reached the ultimate levels of trust and support two people can reach.

I want to see more friendships in fiction. Celebrated, appreciated, adored friendships without the need for romance. I see the Finn/Poe shipping and there’s a part of me rooting my arse off for it… but a larger part of me looking at the amazing potential to explore a deep friendship between two men. A friendship that doesn’t need to prove itself by morphing into romance. Friendship is worthy in and of itself, and I think it’s time we started celebrating that. Friendship has been an underlying theme in my stories for a long time, but I’m making a conscious effort to bring it to the surface. To really focus on it and allow it to be exactly what it is.

Not second best. Not ‘just’ anything. But among the most meaningful and worthwhile relationships it’s possible to have with another person.

Deep Magic – Out Now!

The August edition of speculative e-magazine, Deep Magic, is now live. It features, among a fabulous table of contents, my story ‘Her Glimmering Facade’. It also has gorgeous cover art. Just look at it!

Deep Magic - August 2016 by [Brown, John D, Thompson, Eldon, Russell, Josi, Power, Stephen S, Tahmaseb, Charity, Powers, Beth, Wood, Eleanor]

This story is sort of a sci-fi mystery. It has twists and turns and tragedy… and I really can’t say much more about it without ruining the plot. Usually I’ll summarise a story’s theme in one of these announcements, but even that would be giving things away. Hopefully that fills you with desperate intrigue and a need to know more… If not, the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon gives you the first few hundred words of the story before the preview cuts out (as well as the entirety of Stephen S. Power’s ‘The Catskill Dragon’), so go and read it for a taster if you’d like.

Deep Magic has recently relaunched after a ten-year hiatus, so it’s great to see another pro speculative fiction market back in action. Go send them some love and a few quid, and pick up what looks to be a terrific read.

All purchasing options are on their site – check it out!

 

 

False Hearts

Laura Lam‘s latest novel, False Hearts, is a departure from her previous YA fantasy series. It’s a fast-paced sci-fi techno-thriller, and awesome hyphenated adjectives are the least of its strengths.

This book is a serious page turner. Once I started reading, I could hardly put it down. It more than met my need for a riveting, all-consuming read. More than that, it has a wealth of elements I adored. It’s science fiction. It’s a mystery thriller. It’s packed with fascinating, well-constructed techno marvels. It’s set in San Francisco. It deals with issues of consciousness. It’s set against the background of a secretive religious cult. It has grey areas aplenty.

And best of all, it features a pair of awesome protagonists with a highly unique perspective on life. Taema and Tila are twins. More than that, they were conjoined twins, separated in their teens, and still dealing with the psychological impact of having grown up with somebody else a literal part of them, having never been alone, having each of them know every single thing about the other. When they’re separated, all of that changes. The story is as much about the impact that has on each of them, and how it feels for Taema to discover that the person from whom it used to be physically impossible to keep secrets now has a massive one that threatens both of their lives.

I loved the interaction between the sisters. I really enjoyed the back-and-forth narrative and the clever use of viewpoint to show the past and the present simultaneously. Taema’s chapters revolve around the present – the terrifying dilemma she finds herself in when her sister is arrested for murder. Tila’s chapters recall the past: the sisters’ upbringing in the cult that refused them treatment for their condition, and the consequences of their determination to seek help when their shared heart begins to fail.

It’s a cleverly constructed novel with superb pacing throughout. The balance between the past and present viewpoints is perfect, allowing necessary insight from the twins’ past at just the right points in the present storyline. Their distinct personalities come through vibrantly, and I was rooting for each of them in turn. The story also portrays an intriguing futuristic society – an almost-utopia on the surface, with lurking dystopic menaces underneath.

For a fast-paced thriller, this novel has a ton of layers. I think that’s what I loved most about it.

If you love a good story with fascinating protagonists, more than one attention-grabbing setup, ample twists and turns, and action in droves, look no further. This is the droid you’re looking for.

Endings, Dark Towers, and Confidence

Story endings are difficult. Sometimes they’re difficult to read, either because you’ve enjoyed the story so much you don’t want it to end, or because the ending isn’t what you expected or hoped. But most often, they’re difficult to write. I guess some writers find endings easier than others, but for all the times an ending has come naturally and perfectly, there have been a dozen where it’s been dragged out a word at a time, or rewritten over and over, or just never felt right, no matter how you twisted it.

I think the best endings have confidence. If you believe in your ending, it’ll show, even if readers hate it. And I think when you know it’s an ending that will divide opinion, confidence is everything.

I recently finished Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. (MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD. IF YOU INTEND TO READ IT OR HAVEN’T YET REACHED THE END, GO AWAY, FOR YOUR FATHER’S SAKE.)

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~ You never intend to read it? You don’t care? Okay. *grumble grumble* Your loss.

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~ Just in case you’ve changed your mind. Last chance.

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Right. Let the spoily-spoily fun begin.

Now that was an ending. A magnificent, inevitable, divisive, heartbreaking, hope-filled ending. I adored it even as I hated what it meant. Roland goes through all of that, a quest which has consumed his entire life, killed most of his friends, tormented him physically and mentally, and finally – FINALLY – reaches his destination… only to be sent back to square one, with the whole thing still ahead of him. It’s a vicious, brutal cycle, which he briefly recognises he’s already lived countless times. He has to start over, and even though his memory resets with his surroundings, we as readers know what he’s been through. We know that it abruptly lies ahead of him yet again. It’s devastating.

And yet. It’s also hopeful. It’s hopeful because his last-minute realisation is that he’s messed up, somehow, on the previous times, and this is his new chance to get it right. It’s hopeful because he begins again with something he didn’t have on his last try, something he has already realised he needed. And it’s hopeful because now we know there’s a chance the whole ka-tet may yet make it to the end. Maybe Eddie, Jake, and Oy don’t have to die this time. This is a chance for the happy ending the previous cycle could never have had, even if something glorious had awaited Roland at the top of the Tower.

This ending understandably divides opinion. I can sympathise with people feeling cheated by it to some degree, although I didn’t feel remotely this way myself. But I’ve also heard people call it a lazy ending, an easy way out, and I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment.

The ending to The Dark Tower might just be the bravest ending I’ve ever read.

Remember that thing about confidence? Just imagine having the confidence to write that ending. The confidence to say to your readers, ‘Yeah, I know, this sucks. But it’s right. It’s how it had to end. I’m sorry, but there it is.’ You think it was heart-rending for us readers? I guarantee you it was a damned sight more heart-rending for Stephen King, who had been writing that story for over three decades and who knew Roland and his obsession far better than any of us. It was the only way the story could end. The clues were there throughout. Even as I hated it, I knew it made sense. And the fact that it ends on a shining note of hope means the disappointment and shock is immediately lessened.

For me as a writer, this is an incredible lesson in trusting your endings, even if they’re not what you expected them to be. It’s a perfect example of realising what’s going to happen and then letting it happen, even if it hurts, and even if your readers might hate it. I have yet to write anything remotely as encompassing as the Dark Tower series, but I can still employ this lesson in my shorter works. The key to a kick-arse short story is so often its ending, and such endings can be elusive.

But however they arrive, I intend to imbue mine with confidence from now on.

 

[Also, I highly recommend this brilliant analysis of the Dark Tower’s ending, if you want a more in-depth look.]

Anthologies Still Abounding!

This year’s Campbell Anthology is here! Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors is now available to download for free, for a limited time only. This amazing collection of stories features 120 authors and over a million words of SF&F short fiction. It will only be available until the end of March, so grab it while you can!

 

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is an annual award given to the best new writer whose first professionally published science fiction or fantasy work has appeared in the previous two years. It’s nominated and chosen at the same time as the Hugo awards, and announced at each year’s Worldcon. I’m in my second (and final) year of eligibility following my first professional sale (my story ‘Daddy’s Girl’, to Crossed Genres) in 2014.

Up and Coming contains three of my previously published stories: ‘Daddy’s Girl’, ‘Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust’, and ‘Fibonacci’. Those three little stories are in some incredible company, with works from some of the most happening FSF writers in the field. I’m delighted to be sharing a table of contents with these talented people, among whom is my dear friend Emma Osborne, who’s also in her second year of Campbell eligibility.

Click on that link and download yourself a mindblowing collection of fiction that’ll cost you absolutely nothing and provide you with reading material for months. If you have an active Worldcon membership, you can nominate and vote, and if you don’t, you can get a taste of what’s happening in the marvellous world of today’s speculative fiction.

In years to come, you can say you saw it here first.

 

 

Anthologies Abound!

First up in anthology news, Flash Fiction Online’s 2015 anthology, featuring my story ‘Fibonacci’, is now available! It contains over thirty stories by a wide variety of authors, all available for the price of a cup of coffee, or a large portion of chips, or a jar of Marmite, or an average-price greetings card. You know, whatever you’d usually spend a couple of quid on. I’m currently reading the anthology, and it’s fabulous. Such a wonderful range of stories! And as they’re all 1000 words or fewer, it’s so easy to dip in and read a quick story when you’ve got a spare five minutes. I’m having a lot of fun working my way through them all, and I highly recommend the read.

Secondly, Hear Me Roar, which includes my story ‘The Fruits of Revolution’, is a finalist for the Aurealis Award for Best Anthology! Very exciting… can’t wait for the results on the 25th of March. If you haven’t yet grabbed yourself a copy and want to find out why it’s a deserving finalist, all Ticonderoga paperbacks are currently 20% off when ordered through their site. It’s also available via Amazon (Kindle and paperback), Barnes & Noble (Nook and paperback) and Book Depository.

So what are you waiting for? Go treat yourself to a couple of awesome story collections already! And enjoy the wild ride.

 

My Favourite Authors – Robin Hobb

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post ever since I started this blog series. I’m not sure I can convey what Robin Hobb means to me as an author. She’s my all-time favourite writer. She’s my greatest influence. Her stories pull me in and shake me up like no others. I have a circle of wonderful friends I wouldn’t have without her books. I’ve met her twice, and have five of her books signed. Her stories are magic… beyond compare in scope, depth, and intricacy.

And nothing about that paragraph does justice to how I feel about her work. The only way I know to share that feeling is to get people to read her books. But I started this blog series knowing she was top of the list… so here goes.

I received Assassin’s Apprentice from my best friend for my 18th birthday. I’d never heard of Robin Hobb, and my friend hadn’t read the book either – she was drawn in by John Howe’s stunning cover art, which turned out to be the best example ever of why you should sometimes judge a book by its cover:

Robin Hobb - Assassin's Apprentice Cover.jpg

That little paperback remains one of the best presents I have ever received. Not only because the story it begins is the greatest rollercoaster ride I’ve ever been on, but also because of all the paths that opened up as a result. Amazing, lifelong friends. Fellow writers with whom I began my writing adventure. Places I’ve visited. People I’ve met. Spectacular memories. All of which stemmed from a birthday gift (admittedly, from one of the people who knows me best in all the world).

Robin Hobb’s books are addictive beyond measure. Her prose is supremely elegant – beautifully wrought without being the least pretentious. Her ideas and the massive scope of the worlds she weaves provide an intricate playing board for her characters. And such characters…

FitzChivalry Farseer isn’t just my favourite novel character ever. He’s almost a friend. In any other context, that would sound more than a little weird. But Fitz’s first-person viewpoint is so consuming, so intimate, so unflinching, that you can’t help but know the man, inside and out. Over the course of eight (soon to be nine) long books, his detailed narrative has got into my head like no other. I see the world through Fitz’s eyes in a way no other first-person narrative has ever managed to convey. It’s the depth, it’s the magnificent crafting of character, it’s Hobb’s superlative writing.

Fitz’s relationships, particularly with the Fool, are what carry the story forward. Yes, there’s war and political strife and evil baddies. There’s magic, subtle but crucial to the world and plot. There’s upheaval at every turn. But the relationships Fitz forms along the way are the real hooks. They enable Fitz to shine even as they highlight his copious flaws. They’re wracked with intrigue and wonder and terrible heartbreak. They’re why I come back to these books again and again.

Of course, the Farseer, Tawny Man, and Fitz and the Fool trilogies are only part of Hobb’s magnificent Realm of the Elderlings. The Liveship Traders books are like a fine tapestry of complex characters and epic worldbuilding. The Rain Wild Chronicles build further on this and add consequences and ever more layers to this rich universe. There are so many threads and so much detail, and all along there’s the feeling that Hobb is working some amazing magic trick as everything slowly comes together to form an immense picture. It’s glorious. Unputdownable. The definition of immersive.

Then there’s the Soldier Son trilogy. And The Inheritance, Hobb’s collection of short stories. And all of her wonderful books written as Megan Lindholm. Her stories are an absolute treasure trove of gems waiting to inspire.

This is how fantasy should be done. These books are what the supercilious detractors of fantasy need to read in order to grasp what the rest of us are raving about. These books are why I read. When I’m not having this experience through reading Robin Hobb, I’m reading something else in the hope that it might come close. It rarely does.

Hobb is where my heart is.