I could be saying that about the actual book itself. I purchased Spellbound in hard cover a few months ago and it’s been sitting on my desk, looking… huge. I’m spoiled by the comfort of reading on my Kindle. Print books are so clunky and awkward. But anyway…
Putting on my writer hat for a minute. When crafting a plot, the writer needs to keep thinking in terms of “upping the stakes.” The fastest way to lose reader interest is to introduce conflicts and situations that just don’t matter. Who cares if Spiff Bunkerson has to choose between coffee or tea for breakfast? What diff does it make if Spiff tells his boss, “I quit,” if he has another, better job waiting in the wings? The key to tension is risk. Danger can come in many forms: physical, emotional, psychological. True suspense comes not from the danger itself, but from what is at risk.
Larry Correia knows how to up the stakes.
In his Monster Hunter International series and in his Grimnoir Chronicles, Correia doesn’t mess around with run of the mill monsters. Spooky little creepies vulnerable to holy water or a splinter just aren’t big enough or bad enough. Correia’s characters have to tackle gods. When reading any of his books, you learn to cringe whenever a character has to open a door. Anything could be on the other side. Zombie elephants, anyone? Giant robots? How about Godzilla’s and King Kong’s foul-tempered love child?
It’s not just the increasingly monstrous monsters upping the stakes. If it were, then these stories would be nothing more than B-movie romps. Uh uh, it goes much deeper than that. One element runs constant through all of Correia’s books, and it is that constant that lifts his writing out of gobble-’em-and-forget-’em story pile. Sacrifice. Every time you think his characters can give no more, Correia ups the stakes. He rips away what little comfort they’ve earned and demands to know, “How much more you got?” Your life? Liberty? Honor? Dignity? Love? Reputation? Friends? Family? The world and every human in it? It’s all at risk.
Back up a minute and let me tell you a little about Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles. In a melding of steampunk, pulp noir and B-movie homage, the story is set in an alternative history, 1930s America. “Actives,” people infused with magical powers, are increasing in number and no one is sure why. On the surface, the big conflicts seem to be between “Actives” and “Normals,” those who have no magical ability. America is engaged in a Cold War of sorts with the Imperium–pre-World War II Japan. The Imperium has plans to conquer the world. There is, however, a threat much bigger than that. The Power is coming from somewhere and something is pursuing the Power. The Grimnoir Knights are a secret society of Actives self-tasked with saving the world, originally from the Imperium, and now from the dark entity pursuing the Power across worlds. Jake Sullivan and other Grimnoir knights are also faced with a battle on the homefront against their own government who want to round up the Actives and enslave them for the “good” of all society.
In the preceding novel, Hard Magic, the Grimnoir knights prevented the Imperium from wiping out America with a Peace Ray. Shady government types managed to twist that act of heroism around to fuel the hatred against the Actives and use it as an excuse to properly “control” them. (Correia draws spooky parallels with the real Progressive movement, from President Wilson through FDR, trying to destroy the Constitution and reshape America for “enlightened” ends) You don’t need to read Hard Magic to understand the story in Spellbound, but you’ll enjoy the series more if you read the books in order.
Back to sacrifice. A lesser writer would delineate between good guys and bad guys by making the good guys nice, always on the right side of the law, and of course good-looking, while the bad guys sneer and kick puppies. Correia draws a more powerful distinction. Good guys are willing to sacrifice themselves while the bad guys are only willing, and eager, to sacrifice others. That, my friends, makes for memorable characters on both sides.
But don’t think these are lofty, philosophical novels. No, these are high-octane action with lots of guns, battles, chases, twists, turns and high emotion to make for a thrilling read. Enough bright spots of humor, too, to ease the tension a bit before it ratchets right back up again.
The Healing spells on his chest were certainly earning their keep tonight. Sullivan got to his feet. The lack of noise from the courtyard indicated that his team had gotten all the mechanical men. “Thanks.”
Toru just grunted a noncommittal response as he lifted the feed tray to check the condition of his borrowed machine gun. They didn’t see the final robot inside until it turned on its eye and illuminated the Iron Guard in blue light.
Sullivan’s Spike reversed gravity, and the gigantic machine fell upward to hit the steel beams in the ceiling. Sullivan cut his Power and the robot dropped. It crashed hard into the floor where it lay twitching and kicking. The two of them riddled the mechanical man with bullets until the light died and it lay still in a spreading puddle of oil.
“Normally, this would be the part where you thank me for returning the favor and saving your life.”
“Yes. Normally… If we were court ladies instead of warriors,” Toru answered. “Shall we continue onward or do you wish to stop and discuss your feelings over tea?”
Sullivan looked forward to the day that the two of them would be able to finish their fight. “Let’s go.”
Spellbound: Book II in the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia
Discovered: Author is on my must buy list
Purchased: from Amazon, $16.50, November 15, 2011
I read almost all genres. No rhyme or reason, anything that looks interesting. Sometimes, but not often and for limited periods, I’ll glom onto a genre, needing to get my hands on everything offered. Since I don’t specialize, sometimes I miss interesting trends. Like steampunk. As a kid I read a lot of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, which I thought was science fiction, but I guess with the emphasis on machinery, it’s actually steampunk. I cycled out of reading science fiction in the 1980s. Apparently that’s when steampunk made its resurgence. Here lately I’ve been reading a few paranormal and alternative history novels that qualify as steampunk. Books like Clay and Susan Griffith’s, The Greyfriar, which is a wonderful vampire novel and very romantic, and Larry Correia’s, Hard Magic, which is a gung ho, action packed adventure.
And then I discovered Mike Resnick’s, The Buntline Special.
Now I get it. This is what steampunk is all about. I’ve been missing out on not just a lot of fun, but an author I somehow overlooked for like… my whole life! He published his first work in 1962. Shees.
A quick recap: Tombstone, Arizona, 1881. Marshall Wyatt Earp, along with his brothers Morgan and Virgil, plus his good friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson, have to protect the lives of Ned Buntline and Thomas Edison while they try to invent machines that will counteract the heavy duty magic conjured by Geronimo and Hook Nose, powerful medicine men, that is preventing the United States from expanding beyond the Mississippi River. And oh yeah, gunslinger Johnny Ringo is a zombie.
It was fun, historically “accurate” given that it’s an alternative history, and even includes a few laugh out loud pleasures. Like this little gem:
Finally Buntline stood up. “There!” he said. “You’re as ready as I can make you.”
“Nobody asked me to join in,” said Holliday. “Maybe I’ll just sit out front, with my chest and my legs protected from mosquitoes.”
“Shut up, Doc!” said Kate. She turned to Buntline. “He thanks you, Ned. He’s like this when he’s just out of bed.”
“It’s all right,” said Buntline. “He’s my friend.”
He left the kitchen, walked through the parlor, and exited the house.
“We have to move to another town,” said Holliday. “I’ve got too many friends in this one. They’re starting to become a pain in the ass.”
So now I’m on the hunt for more steampunk and I have a whole lot of Mike Resnick reading to catch up on, too.