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
For my birthday last month I was gifted with Barnes & Noble and Amazon gift cards. Friends and family know me so well. The trip to the B&N resulted in some fine booty– soft covers from Neil Gaiman, Stuart MacBride and Steven Brust. It also, unfortunately turned out to be the very last shopping excursion to a B&N I will ever make. Pooh. Bummer.
Much more fun was going nuts filling up my Kindle via Amazon. Two of the books I wanted were printed versions and their release dates were the first and fifteenth of November. So I had to show some restraint. So those went on my Wish List and I marked my calendar. Okay, so I showed enough restraint that I actually had six bucks and change left on my gift cards toward today’s purchases. Oh well. It still feels like my birthday all over again to have ordered Chuck Wendig’s, Double Dead.
Will I be gushing about this book in posts to come? I do not know. I love Wendig’s blog, terrible minds, and I have all his very funny, quite profane, and extremely inspiring books about writing, but the only fiction of his I’ve read so far is Shotgun Gravy, which was very good. I have a suspicion that Double Dead is going to push Wendig onto my very favorite authors list. Will let you know.
The book I know I’ll be gushing about is Larry Correia’s, Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles. The first book in the series, Hard Magic, was… magical. It’s fantasy and steampunk and full of action and adventure and heroics. Knowing Correia, Spellbound is going to be all that and more. So be prepared, much gushing to come.
And now I have to wait for the box to arrive from Amazon. You know what, I bet that will feel like birthday number three.
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.
I have a special bookshelf just for classic novels. They are beautiful books, hard-bound, some in leather, some with gilt stampings and fancy papers. Not a single one has an illustrated cover. Just the title and author’s name stamped on the front and spine. It occurred to me that these editions were not targeted to a specific market. They’re just novels, suitable for… anybody.
I thought about this when I finished reading Dead Six, by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari. It’s a thriller, I suppose a military thriller to be more exact. The cover has a military patch with a grinning skull and silhouettes of handguns. Very macho. Very much targeted at a male audience. The story is filled with gun battles and descriptions of military hardware and gun battles and fights. Pretty much non-stop action throughout. It has other stuff, too. Friendship, romantic relationships, betrayal, loyalty, heartache, triumph. I wonder how many women turn up their noses at “that kind of book” the same way many men turn up their noses at romance novels. Turned off not by what’s inside, but by what’s on the cover.
Then again, maybe I’m not the typical (whatever that means) female reader. Here is an actual conversation I had with a friend over on facebook:
Me: there’s a giant snow blower in this one that had me gagging
Marina: heh. snow blower
Me: and zombie werewolves meet the snow blower
Marina: you and I seem to actually be teenaged boys
I understand why writers and publishers have to target their audience. They need to get the word to the people most likely to read a certain type of book. They need to spend their promotional dollars wisely. They know genre-centric readers are heavy buyers, so it only makes sense to lump books into genre categories and emphasize the elements in packaging that would most tempt the target audience.
And yet, often that same packaging turns off readers who might otherwise enjoy the story. Several men who’ve been induced, for whatever reason, to read my romance novels have told me (with slightly befuddled expressions and a touch of suspicion as if I’d somehow gotten one on over them), “Not bad. It actually had a pretty good story in it.” Well, gee, thanks, fellas. Or should I say, thanks, Harlequin, for packaging the books to look as if only a female could or should enjoy them.
Imagine if book producers eschewed cover illustrations and flashes on spines that denote genre, and put all books out with only the title and author’s name on the cover. Make it impossible to judge a book by its cover. Huh.
Anyhow, it’s kind of a bummer to know there are many readers– mostly female– who’ll be turned off by the guns and the skull and the spine flash, MILITARY FICTION. They’re missing out on a damned good story, full of treasures like this:
“Think she’s lost enough?” I asked Carl. He shrugged. “It’s for your own good, Jill. If you’re captured, this way you can’t be tortured into telling them where our hideout is.”
“You mean if I run away, I can’t sell you out,” she snapped. “Well, duh, I was lost the first couple of minutes, but that was a while ago, and now we’re on the Gamal bridge going over the ocean. I can tell. The embassy is only a couple miles from here. It’s the only big bridge in town, and it sounds like we’re on a big bridge, so unless we drove all the way to Dubai while I wasn’t paying attention, can I please take this stupid bag off now?”
Carl leaned over from the driver’s seat. “She’s got a point.”
“Next time it’ll be a blindfold and a gag,” I muttered. “Okay. Take it off.”
Jill complied. “See? Told you.”
Buy a book, support a soldier
I’m nuts about Larry Correia’s books, especially his Monster Hunter novels (Monster Hunter International, Monster Hunter Vendetta, and Monster Hunter Alpha) and his Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles is pretty good, too. He writes rockin’, rollin’ action-packed fantasy novels. What many don’t know is that Correia co-wrote a book with a soldier.
From his blog:
“…This is Mike’s first book, and it is a darn good one that deserves to be read. For those of you who don’t know, Mike is an EOD Technician, currently defusing roadside bombs in Afghanistan. He will still be in Afghanistan, risking his life and being awesome, when his first novel appears in stores. Places like NPR can talk about thriller writer street cred, but Mike plays high-explosive chess against terrorist IEDs before breakfast. Most first time authors are super excited to do their first book signings, but Mike can’t because he’s deployed… Think about that for a second… He can’t do book signings for the really nifty book he wrote because he is too busy DEFUSING MURDER BOMBS.
For most authors, the most exciting part of our day is when we spill Coke Zero on our keyboard. EOD are complete lunatics that do something so absurdly dangerous that complete snake eating warriors look at them and say F’ that noise, let the dude in the big suit play with the booby trapped death machine.
Mike is humble. You probably won’t ever hear him talk about that kind of thing. Luckily for him, I’m not humble at all.
Sometimes when somebody with that many points on his Man Card writes a thriller, the book tends to be mediocre (with a few notable exceptions) and the book was sold on the resume of the tough guy writing it rather than how good the actual fiction was. However, Dead Six is excellent, and I’m not just saying that because I wrote half of it. Believe me, I’ve got plenty of paying projects that I could be working on at this point, but instead I liked this story so much that I twisted Mike’s arm into making this book, and I’m so eager to continue the story arc that my half of the sequel is already done…”
Now pop on over to Larry’s blog and take a good look at Mike Kupari’s photo. Like Larry says, “Yeah, this is way cooler than most novelist’s ‘introspective writer guy’ pose.”
So support a soldier and buy his book. It’s a small price to pay for a guy who’s risking his life for you.
Available now at Amazon.