fiction tagged posts

Critique Technique, Part 17: Dialect, Foreign Languages, and Jargon

This is the last post in the series on characterization. Next time we’ll move on to setting.

Confused person
Photo by Jeroen van Oostrom, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’ve traveled around the country, or watched TV or the movies, or done just about anything other than live under a rock, you know that people speak differently in different places. They have different accents, different slang terms, and different styles of speaking. Compare the laconic Mainer or cowboy to the fast-talking New Yorker. And that’s just in the United States! Canadians, Britons, Scots, Irish, New Zealanders, Australians, and some Indians and Kenyans (to name just a few) speak English, too.

And they all do it differently.

England’s WWII Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill famously described America and ...

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Critique Technique, part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Comedy has been defined as “ordinary people in extraordinary situations, or extraordinary people in ordinary situations.” But what if the piece you’re critiquing isn’t comedy—or isn’t meant to be comedy? When a character you’ve come to know suddenly acts in a way that makes you stop, scratch your head, and say “huh?”, maybe there’s a problem.

Maybe. That’s an important word. What does the story’s context tell you about this new behavior? If Alice suddenly starts screaming, which she’s never done before, but it’s because the car she’s riding in just went off a cliff, that’s reasonable...

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The Tides of Time Review

[No rating]

I’m really not sure how to respond to this odd little novel by John Brunner. For the first three-quarters, it seems like a different take on the standard time travel story. Then it gets weird.

Rich white girl Stacy and her black boyfriend Gene are fleeing something. Prejudice because they’re a biracial couple? Maybe. It’s never made clear. In any case, they have signed up to travel through time and space, and are initially sent back to a Sphinx-shaped Greek island called Oragalia in their present day or close to it. But the next morning, they have magically jumped back in time to something like the 1980s. They spend the day exploring the island and its one small town. The next morning, they’ve jumped again, this time back to WWII.

The pattern continues: in each “Part,” ...

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Close Range Review

Close Range coverI came to this book with some unease. My first encounter with Annie Proulx’s collection subtitled “Wyoming Stories,” was the final one, “Brokeback Mountain,” in which a cowboy discovers, as an adult, that he’s gay. Uh, yeah, sure. The story was a “political” assignment by one of my English professors, and it set my expectations when, probably 15 years later, I finally picked up the book again.

Proulx starts “A Lonely Coast” late in the book this way:

“You ever see a house burning up in the night, way to hell and gone out there on the plains?… And you might think about the people in the burning house, see them trying for the stairs, but mostly you don’t give a damn.”

That seems like a fitting metaphor for the entire book...

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Critique Technique Table of Contents

Here’s a Table of Contents of all of the Critique Technique posts to make it easier to go directly to the post you want to read.

Introductory Posts

Part 1: Critique, Technique, and Procedure

Part 2: Series Overview

Reader Response

Part 3: How Do You Feel?

Part 4: Authorial Intentions and Tracking Your Own Responses

Beginnings and Endings

Part 5: Weak or Missing Hook

Part 6: The Wrong Beginning

Part 7: Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 8: Story Endings

Characterization

Part 9: Characters and Conflict Updated!

Part 10: Poor Characterization Updated!

Part 11: Lack of Character Development Updated!

Part 12: Showing and Telling in Character Development Updated!

Part 13: Timing the Reveal Updated!

Part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior Updated!

Part 15: Unclear Character Goals Updated!

Part 16: Unclea...

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Lilith’s Fall Review

4 star rating

It’s fair to say that I don’t read erotic science fiction romances very often—like almost never—but hey, it’s good to broaden your horizons, right?

Lilith's Fall coverLilith’s Fall is the first book in Susan Trombley’s Shadows in Sanctuary series. Lilith Galeron is a mild-mannered (her best friend Stacia calls her “boring”) but highly skilled computer programmer living in Dome City, a collection of large, connected domes on an unnamed planet. The society is tightly controlled by a religious leadership called the Diakonos, whose rule is enforced by police known by the Orwellian name of the Peace Keepers.

But there’s trouble in paradise and Lilith is suddenly arrested by the Peace Keepers, who wrongly allege that she’s involved with a shadowy revolutionary group called the Commemoro...

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Spirit Walk Review

Best novel I’ve read in quite a while. And a debut novel at that.

Jay Treiber is a rare individual: a college English literature professor who can also write it, and write it well.

College English professor Kevin McNally has been struggling for decades with his guilt over an incident that happened when he was a teenager. This is the kind of subject that could lead the author and reader down a rat hole of angst, self-loathing, and neurotic navel-gazing but  Treiber avoids this trap. Instead, he chooses to have McNally seek resolution of that guilt, and forgiveness for what happened, through a skillfully interwoven series of story lines that mix McNally’s present and past.

By itself, that’s not unusual, but the story’s location and characters are...

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Children of the Thunder Review

Dark, dystopian, and deeply flawed. And yet….

Author John Brunner’s late 20th century England is a mess: the economy is collapsing, environmental degradation is rampant, the government is corrupt, religious fundamentalists are taking over, and a renegade general is advocating xenophobia and racism at home and nuclear war abroad. Things in the U.S. are similar, minus the general. Meanwhile, Japan and continental Europe are doing fine, or better.

Peter Levin is a freelance reporter. Few newspapers will buy his work and they are in danger of closing. Claudia Morris is an American sociologist. She made her name with a provocative book, but she now thinks she might have gotten her thesis wrong, and has come to England on sabbatical to do research and write a new book...

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Fancies and Goodnights Review

3-star rating

I had been looking forward to reading this collection of short stories for literally over ten years. I was first introduced to it via one of its stories, “Are You Too Late or Was I Too Early,” while taking classes for my Master’s Degree in the mid-2000s. That brief story, with its never-saw-it-coming twist ending, enchanted me. And Ray Bradbury, my all-time favorite author, wrote the introduction. How could I not enjoy the other 49 stories?

Well, it turns out that the book in total, and the individual stories, were less than I had hoped. To be clear, John Collier was a very skilled writer. Even though the stories were all written in the 1930s and 1940s (the book was first published in 1951), each one is tight and clean, not a word wasted...

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Invasion! Review

The premise of Invasion! The Forgotten Adventures of Dolley Madison, Book One is clever enough. Dolley Madison, wife of America’s fourth President, James Madison, had another life during the War of 1812: a turbaned crusader, along with her trusty sidekick and servant girl Sukey, harrying and perplexing the invading British Army at every turn, rallying and leading American troops, turning the tide of battle after battle. Unbeknownst to historians everywhere, or forgotten by them, she was America’s secret weapon.

A clever premise, yes. In execution, not quite so much.

In his end notes, author Neil Garra reports that at one time he built war games for a certain government agency located in Maryland (likely the National Security Agency), and that around that same time he’d become fasc...

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