Friday, February 29, 2008

Chapter 7 - Maiden Voyage

It didn't take me long to settle into the routines of the ship. After all, most ships are run in the same manner, it is only their tasks that are different. Over the next few days we prepared for an extended patrol, taking on provisions and some new crewmen, and I learned quickly the names that matched with the faces of officers and men.

After a week, a courrier arrived from Secretary Brill with orders. Allain managed to snag the poor fellow before he got to the capatin, who was curled up with his book on his bunk, and opened the orders without even bothering to consult with the old man. I smiled as we looked the document over.

"Hmm, seems simple enough. I guess the Secretary wants to test us on something simple to make sure we can work together," mused the young 2nd officer, "what do you think?"

Although I was well aware that this would not be the simple milk run it appeared, something in me wanted to reassure Allain and not unduly alarm him or the crew. I grinned and said, "Well, let's see if we can't show her what the best ship in the Free Cities can do. Mr. G'vaud'zshen, lay in a course for Miryor, we sail with the tide. Oh, and we need to get there as quickly as possible, so we will need to cut through the reefs."

Several of the sailors blanched at the thought, but none spoke up or commented, and with that, we embarked on one of the most unusual voyages that I have ever sailed upon.

Our orders were simple, make for Miryor with all due speed, and cut throgh the Wreckage Reefs. The reefs had always been a problem, there were a number of small islands concealed in the maze of reefs, and while some were innocent 'Tweener colonies, others were havens of pirates. Most ships avoided the reefs unless they were well armed, or had very good maps of the area. Of course the only folks with really good maps were pirates, so the possession of such charts could get you hung in some ports.

G'vaud'zshen beckoned to me from the chart table up near the tiller, and I walked across the aftcastle and climbed the stairs up to the poop deck. Allain did not follow, instead heading forward to begin the process of securing the ship for sailing. The burly Tulosh was poring over charts when I reached the main deck chart table. It always amazed me that the chart table was up on the deck instead of in the captain's quarters (where it was on most other ships), but this table had been ensorcelled by Saravoy himself and was proof against wind and weather. I had seen G'vaud'zshen leave the charts sitting on the table with no weights to hold them down during a windy day and the pages never even fluttered.

"You know that this is foolish, yes? We will be set upon the moment we enter the reefs, and the pirates will know the area far better than we. Our main advantage of speed will be negated."

I nodded slightly, but I was already coming up with a plan. "I am counting on it, old dog. Not to worry, I have a plan."

G'vaud'zshen grunted a chuckle, amused at my nickname for him. I had adopted it during our frequent games of narra in the officer's rack, and he seemed pleased that I took the time to find something less cumbersome than his true name.

"It seems like you say that every time you are losing at narra, so I will remain skeptical," retorted the navigator as he began to do the calculations that would enable us to sail with the tide in six hours.

I hurried back to the forecastle, hoping to catch Saravoy while he was on deck, and as luck would have it, the Ylvani Magus saw me coming and waited.

"I have the feeling that you are about to ask me to do something stupid. You have that look that humans get when they are about to ask a stupid question or demand an impossible action. So, what is it that you want me to do?"

"Well, it's fairly simple, really. In fact, it is so simple that I wouldn't bother you with it, but I needed it done right, so I came to you..."

The frost elf puffed up immediately at my knowledge of his obvious importance, and I seized the moment to ask my question. "I know that you have the ability to shape fire into usable constructions, so what I wanted to know is whether or not you can use your magical connection to fire to make the ship do something kind of like you did with the chart table on the poop deck."

Saravoy looked puzzled, and slowly responded, "How do you mean?"

"Well, you know how the chart table repels wind, rain, snow, and such?" he nodded, still confused, "I was wondering if you could make the hull of the March Harrier repel the reefs. This way we can still maneuver without fear of shoaling ourselves and damaging the hull."

I was pleased to note that the wizard found himself dumbstruck by the suggestion. His mouth worked slowly, as though he were chewing the problem, and he eventually replied, "I think... that might work. Basically, if I could enchant the keel it would push the ship away from any reefs in its path. The only real problem will momentum."

OK, now it was my turn to be confused, so I responded with a forthright question which beggared explanation from the wise mage, "Huh?"

The normal look of barely concealed condescencion clouded the Ylvani Yelin's face as he continued, "If the ship is going too fast and the keel tries to alter the course to avoid a reef, it will tear the ship apart. I think that i may have a better idea, though. Give me about ten hours and I can get it working."

"How will we know it works?" I asked incredulously.

"If we are drowning, then it failed, Arissa," barked the Ylvani in reply as he stomped off, down to the cargo area.

Several hours later we launched from our berth at the docks in Dahlon, and began to sail out of Saint Esta's Cove and into the seas that separated the various islands that were home to the Free Cities. Our maiden voyage had begun.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Top Ten Fantasy & Horror Couples

As this is the last week of Romance Month, I wanted to give one last Romance list. Today's list is a bit strange, relying on fantasy and horror more than Science Fiction. Here we have some great love affairs that could not be stopped, even by death, and a number of lovers whose attentions any young lady would shy from...

10 - Harry Dresden and Detective Karrin Murphy - Although Harry and Murphy have yet to discuss their true feelings for each other, it seems plenty obvious where their relationship is going. The problem that stands in the way of true love: a curse that Harry will 'Die alone'. Of course, Murphy would not be the first girlfriend of the Wizard Harry Dresden (she is proceeded by Elaine Mallory and Susan Rodriguez). Check out these books and follow the love affair from the beginning: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, White Knight, Small Favors.

9 - Robin of Loxley and Maid Marion - He is an altruistic Saxon noble who lost his lands and titles, she is a beautiful Norman Lady... well, at least in some versions of the story. Though there are many permutations of this story and these characters, it is in the various modern versions of this fantastic myth that has brought us the love affair between Robin Hood and his Maid Marion (original versions of the Robin Hood mythos had different women or none at all).

8 - Begarion of the House of Riva and Ce'Nedra Borune - When the Belgariad starts, young Garion is a farm boy with few, if any, talents to recommend him, but fate leads the boy to gather strange allies in the most unlikely of places to combat a great evil. One such ally is the daughter of the Tol Nedran Emperor (Ran Borune), and the love that grows between Ce'Nedra and young Garion, who later becomes Belgarion when his talent for magic is revealed, is as inevitable as the eventual defeat of Torak, god of the Angaraks, at Belgarion's hand.

7 - Gareth Radnor & the Lady Cosyra - Chris Bunch's stand-alone novel of piracy and the slave trade in a sweeping fantasy world features the unforgettable love affair between the Corsair Gareth Radnor, a man consume by the desire to destroy the Linyato Pirates, and the Lady Cosyra, who abandons a life of riches and privelege in order to help the man she loves on his dangerous quest. A wonderful story, by a master storyteller, Corsair shows us an unusual swashbuckling adventure and a love story that stands the test of time.

6 - Sookie Stackhouse & Bill Compton - Psychic Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress at a crummy diner in Louisiana when she meets the love of her life, Bill Compton. The only problem is that Bill is a Vampire who has recently moved back into local family estates now that the undead have moved out of the coffin and into the spotlight. Funny and engaging, it is great to watch the romance unfold with this truly odd couple (Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, Altogether Dead, From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris).

5 - John Taylor & Suzie Shooter - The Nightside is alive and kicking, and the strange relationship between John Taylor and the infamous bounty hunter Suzie Shooter (sometimes known as Shotgun Suzie, and sometimes known as "Run for your life, it's her") is in full bloom. Though the sparks are there from their first meeting in Simon Green's Something From The Nightside, it isn't until later in the series that their love truly comes to fruition. Unfortunately, like everything else in the Nightside, the fruit of their love is bittersweet at best.

4 - Count Dracula & Mina Harker - Another classic couple, these lovers are the stuff that nightmares are made of. Count Dracula loves Mina Harker with all of his non-beating dead heart, and Mina returns that love right up until the end (when Quincy Morris kills the immortal vampire). No matter how many permutations or changes are made to the story, this couple is a definite stand out, no matter what others may say.

3 - Captain Khaavren of the House of Tiassa & Countess Daro of the House of Tiassa - These characters from Stephen Brust's incomparable Phoenix Guards series of books share a life and love set against the backdrop of cataclysmic tragedy and disaster. Khaavren, Captain of the Phoenix Guards under Emperor Tortaalik, first meets his future wife as she is being dismissed from service as the handmaiden of the Empress bare hours before the destruction of the capital city during Adron's disaster. As a retelling of the classic Dumas story of the Three Musketeers, these novels are wonderful in their style and content.

2 - Captains Hawk & Isobel Fisher (a.k.a. Prince Rupert & Princess Julia) - As guards in the city of Haven, this husband and wife team stand for truth, justice, and kicking the ever-loving snot out of villains. Investigators, enforcers, and Captains of the city guard, Hawk and Fisher are the best of the best, and they are given the worst of the worst assignments. From their introduction in the first novel of the Darkwood (Beyond the Blue Moon) as extra expendable Prince Rupert and the distressing damsel Princess Julia, this fantasy couple has cut a swath through their enemies and embraced their love time and again. Simon Green, master of fantasy and horror, gives us one of the best married detective series of all time.

1 - King Arthur & Queen Guenivere - The love of Arthur and Guinevere is epic in its scope, and even in the versions where Lancelot steps between them, their love is still incontrovertible. From The Morte D'Arthur to the modern Hollywood interpretations, Arthur and his young bride are the very definition of romance and love in fantasy.

Honorable Mentions: I am in love with a few romances that I did not get a chance to put in here, and will list them separately. I did want to draw attention to Jackie Kessler's characters of Jezebel, Paul, Daunuan, Lillith, and Lucifer. These are all great romantic characters as are many of the characters in the Anne Rice Vampire novels. The reason that they did not get listed is that there is so much romance and so many couples that it was hard to determine who to list and where.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Walk like a Ghost

Since is it still Romance Month, I will continue on with our theme of love with another review of a book we did recently for our Modern Masters discussion group, Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott.

This book is very hard to place in any one niche. It is modern fiction with supernatural elements, but has quantum physics, historical research, animal rights, chemistry, biography, murder, horror, and a great love story. It is such a strange blend of things that one hesitates to classify it as any one genre (which is why it is shelved under regular fiction).

The story of Ghostwalk is told as an open letter or journal of the main character (Lydia Brooke) to her lover (Cameron Vogelsang), and is basically an explanation of the events that lead up to the rather shocking ending of the story. What starts out as the research project of a lifetime turns into a haunted, bizarre story of a woman trying to survive in the face of some awful truths. What exactly does that mean, you ask. Well, I shall enlighten you.

Following the death of Elizabeth Vogelsang, an historian specializing in the late 17th century, Lydia Brooke is commissioned to finish Elizabeth's controversial biography of Sir Isaac Newton and his work as an alchemist. When she is approached by her ex-lover, Cameron, to do the ghostwriting that would allow the project to be completed, she sees it as a way to help her dead friend and (subconsciously) to get close to Cameron again. Though her friends counsel her against taking the job (fearing that the all-consuming relationship with the married man will resume), she does so anyway.

This all seems normal enough as things go, but as time passes, and Lydia becomes more and more engrossed in the narrative, things become stranger and stranger around her. Suddenly it seems as though the 17th century is intruding into the modern world, and the ghosts of the past are not some insubstantial things, but rather physical beings whose ominous threat pervades Lydia's whole life. Soon, a series a murders that Elizabeth had researched are being replicated in the modern time, and the idea of ghosts goes from uncomfortable fantasy to horrifying reality.

One thing that has struck me as exciting about this story is that it seeks to treat the idea of paranormal phenomena, specifically ghosts, in a very scientific way. The idea that 'ghosts' are nothing more than quantum paired observations that exist independent of time (i.e. they are linked by space and observation regardless of time) is intriguing to say the least, and the idea that a series of murders (that did happen and are speculated about by the Historical Societies interested in the period) could form a potent focus for observation makes the idea of 'living history' more and more of a frightening prospect.

As much as this story is a supernatural, occult, physics, and historical piece, though, it is primarily a romantic love story about two people who are so deeply obsessed with each other that their primal feelings overcome their own good sense. This unfortunate circumstance leads to the deeply tragic ending of the book, and the destruction of Lydia's personal life. At the end, Lydia is left with the knowledge of the truth, which is cold comfort for her sacrifices.

Brilliantly written and innovative, Ghostwalk is probably one of the most notable books of 2007.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Top Ten Science Fiction Romances

Romance Month continues with the SFSNNJ, and to continue to promote this fun and exciting topic. Today I will be listing the best romantic couples in the realms of Science Fiction. These are characters that define true love and romance, and show love in a new and exciting light.

10 - Staffa kar Therma & Chrysla - Trained to be the ultimate defender of his homeworld, and conditioned with psychological triggers, Staffa kar Therma was to be the greatest general of his day. That was, until he fell so in love with his psychological programmer, Chrysla. When he was told of her death, Staffa went mad and left his homeworld, eventually returning as a conqueror (Requiem for the Conqueror by W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O'Neil Gear). Unfortunately, Chrysla was not dead, and Staffa is told that he has killed her during the battle, precipitating another bloody rampage and a journey of self-discovery. Staffa and Chrysla's doomed love is all the more potent for the disasters it creates.

9 - Hilfy Chanur & Tully - Hilfy Chanur, neice of Pyanfar Chanur, Captain of the merchant vessel Chanur's Legacy fell in love with their human refugee, Tully, during their long captivity and torture at the hands of the vile Kif, Akkiktimakt. Though this love could never be requited (mainly due to the difference between the Human and Hani species) it was a source of much angst and anguish betwixt the two (Pride of Chanur, Chanur's Venture, Kif Strike Back, Chanur's Homecomingby C.J. Cherryh).

8 - Captain Laurent Zai & Nara Oxham - They say that opposites attract, and nowhere is that more evident than in the unlikely love affair between Capatin Laurent Zai and Nara Oxham in The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld. Although divided by all conceivable divides (politics, religion, and personality), their love flourishes and grows, even in the icy depths of Nara's Antarctic home.

7 - Phaethon Prime Rhadamanth & Daphne Tercius Semi-Radamanth - Driven mad by his love for Daphne, Phaethon is sentenced to having his memories redacted to such an extreme state that he can no longer be sure of who and what he is. In the end, he learns that his love for the real Daphne has been overshadowed by his love for a specially designed AI of Daphne, which is who he truly loves, though he thinks that it is the original that he fell in love with. A truly strange set of affairs. (The Gold Age, The Phoenix Exultant, The Golden Transcendance by John C. Wright)

6 - Han Solo & Leia Organa - The greatest romance in the Star Wars universe is that between Han and Leia (in spite of what people think, Anakin is a stalker and Padme is a co-dependant girlfriend). Even Carbon Freezing cannot keep these lovebirds apart, and their love stands as a testament of their times.

5 - Duncar Reever & Cherijo Grey Veil - No greater love hath a man than that he lay down his life for another, and in this series by S.L. Vielh we witness Duncan placing himself in harms way again, and again, and again, and again. This is especially impressive considering his wife is nearly immortal and regenerates faster than most people heal little scrapes and boo-boos. Romance oozes from the pages of this wonderful medical series. (Stardoc, Beyond Varellan, Shockball, etc.)

4 - Captain James T. Kirk & U.S.S. Enterprise - 'Nuff said. This one needs no explanations. No green princess or beautiful scientist will ever compete with Jim Kirk's love of his starship.

3 - Sauscony "Soz" Valdoria & Jaibriol II - When Catherine Asaro introduced us to this doomed couple in Primary Inversion, we knew that we were onto something special. Their love for each other transcended the bounds of war and hatred between their Empires and found unity in purpose and hope on a small backwater. One could only wish the best for them in spite of the obvious problems that they would encounter.

2 - Owen Deathstalker & Hazel D'ark - When a man loves a woman he does what he can for her whenever he can. Owen and Hazel have a great reciprocal relationship, and have saved each others' bacon more times than anyone could keep track of. The problem is that when Hazel believes Owen to have died, she uses her maze enhanced super-powers to begin the destruction of the universe becoming... Well, that is a story for another time. (Deathstalker, Deathstalker Rebellion, Deathstalker War, Deathstalker Honor, Deathstalker Destiny, Deathstalker Legacy, Deathstalker Return, Deathstalker Coda by Simon R. Green)

1 - Paul 'Muad'dib' Atreides & Chani Liet-Kynes - Another couple that needs no introduction: Paul and Chani are the clock by which Science Fiction romances are set. Dune by Frank Herbert showed us a love that pushed the boundaries of space and time, and would only come to be tested and resolved over and over again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Da Gears

OK, so this in keeping with this month's theme of Romance in Science Fiction, Tripping the Write Fantastic will be covering the works of the notable writing couple of W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neil Gear. As a prelude and preview for next weeks discussion, I have decided to spend some time here on the blog reviewing some of my favorite books by the Gears.

The Anasazi Mysteries: Although not, strictly speaking, science fiction or fantasy, this series is notable as a magnificent mystery told in two different parts. That's right, there are actually two concurrent mysteries going on in each of the books, one ancient and one modern, as archeologists Dusty Stewart and Maureen Cole unearth relic of the past and try to make sense of a horror story unfolding before their eyes. Meanwhile, 800 years before, Catkin, Browser, and Stone Ghost try to unravel the fresh mystery of bad spirits and murder in their tribe. Brilliant work all around, with a heart stopping climax in The Summoning God.

Forbidden Borders: This trilogy of stories opens an obviously far future humanity that is trapped in a rather limited section of space. Walled off by strange super-beings, these humans have fought war after war until only two super-powers and one major mercenary commander remain. The series is amazing in its scope and detail, and was the first set of Gear books I ever read. To this day it remains a favorite.

Starstrike: The nations of a pitiful backwater planet called Earth find themselves drafted by pacifistic aliens to fight an aggressive foewho apparently does not know that war is about to be declared on them. Every nation must send its best unit to work together with the Ahimsa to end the threat. Though the political scene is admittedly dated, it is still a fun story, and, for those of us who were alive at the time, will recall us to the height of the Cold War and its paranoia.

People of Spider: OK, now imagine a future where most of humanity lives either on Space Stations or Planets. Now imagine that the space stations are ruled by Managers, vastly powerful space-adapted humans with immense brain power capable of running the star-spanning space empire. Now imagine that they run into spiritual psychics descended from Navajo who were stranded on a small world by the last prison ships of the Soviet Empire of the 21st Century. Fun, huh? It gets better, and weirder.

These are a few of my favorite series by the Gears, and I hope that you pick them up and enjoy them too!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Chapter 6 - The March Harrier

In spite of the Secretary's statements, I had to cool my heels for nearly three months, waiting for the March Harrier to return, hidden in Dahlon and moving about every few days. The time spent was arduous and tedious. I was unable to leave my bolt holes to visit family or friends for fear of running afoul of the Polinoy clan in the first month of my stay in Dahlon. After that, my few visits with the people of my life before I sailed with the Wavestrider were somewhat strained, and I found myself unable to really connect with the people I had known before I went on my long journey. Thus it was with a certain amount of relief that I found out that the March Harrier had come into port.

In addition to relieving the ennui of life ashore, the arrival of the Harrier meant that I could finally get to work. Time and tide wait for no man, and they sure as Saint Esta's bronze breastplate wouldn't wait for me! I grabbed a last cup of vressa from Damal's bakery and headed to the port. The sight that greeted me was everything that I expected and more.

The March Harrier was a beauty, a masterpiece of nautical design and an examplar of the graceful architecture that made Merlani and Dayrin ships second only to the Varyag among Human nations. The ship was large, a good sized caravelle, with gracefully sweeping masts festooned with the gleaming ivory color of furled sails. The grayish elven ropes of the rigging played a sharp contrast to the white of the sails and the dark, almost black, stain of the wood. She looked lean and hungry, a kind of sea-going predator that ships like the Wavestrider feared to cross. She was like a sheepdog sitting amidst the flock, a hunter guarding the sheep.

The deck bustled with activity and I got no closer than a half-score of paces when I was stopped by a rather odd man with weathered skin, salt and pepper hair, and a somewhat distracted look about him. He was dressed well, and seemed to be looking for me when I caught sight of him. He was obviously a member of the crew, and equally obviously was there to greet me.

"Arissa Uleira?" he asked cautiously.

"Yes, sir," I replied almost automatically, and he smiled.

"My name is Galldi, Alain Galldi, and I am the second... actually, now I guess I am the first mate on the Harrier."

He looked rather sheepish as he made the correction, and I wondered what exactly he meant by it. Perhaps the former first mate had been released or retired, I mused as he guided me up the gangplank and onto the caravel's deck. I almost missed the explanation as Galldi started rambling on.

"...they never liked each other from the start. The skipper thought that Iblis was too soft and Iblis thought the captain was too strict. It was going to come to a head eventually, but I never thought that they would actually duel on the deck at sea. They fought pretty hard, so you see, the old first mate and the captain killed each other in the duel and well... Baron Moravese couldn't save them, and we were too far from shore, and... there you have it. Our new Captain arrived just before you did. He seems... different..." the first mate's narrative trailed off with a sort of non-committal shrug, but by now I was too busy taking in the faces of my new companions to care that much.

Galldi walked me around the deck and showed me the ship himself, introducing the officers as he went. The first officer started with the cargo master and shipwright, a stout red-headed Dwarf who went by the odd name of Tex, which was short for Tekeshak "Oarbreaker" craghs'Eruksel ghorfs'Thrumsul. I figured Tex was a heck of a lot easier to remember, so I stuck with that. The dour dwarf seemed to consider the idea of socializing with others distasteful, and began muttering about the lack of proper diet, too few dishes featuring beans, and the stupid quartermaster who couldn't brew proper ale or stew a proper plate of beans. Tex was obviously a master at what he did, but equally obviously was far too obsessed with beans.

The next member of the crew was a portly Merlani, who Galldi claimed was Baron Maximus Moravese de Fornice of the city-state of Tunde, and a member of one of the ranking Patrician families there. Baron Moravese provided the air of cool competence that one would expect of a ship's surgeon, and it seemed obvious that in addition to his mundane skills as a healer he was a skilled shaman as well. Convivial and friendly, I chatted openly with him about life in Tunde, and the differences between our cities until Galldi maneuvered me away. The Baron seemed like a good solid sort, and was obviously an asset well worth having around.

After moving away from Baron Moravese, Galldi escorted me over to a hulking figure up near the tiller. Another non-human, the ship's helmsman and navigator was a raffish Tulosh named G'vaud'zshen. Nearly seven feet tall, the jackal-like humanoid looked graceful and deadly, even standing still on the poop deck reviewing charts. Friendly but terse, G'vaud'zshen indicated that his responsibilities for the ship precluded a lengthy discussion at present, however he would be happy to chat later, once Arissa was settled in and the new patrol routes were plotted in. With a flowing bow, the Tulosh resumed his arithmetical calculations.

As Galldi prepared to resume the rounds of introductions the Quartermaster appeared on deck with rations for all those currently working. The man was introduced as Otahr Taylin, and he sized Arissa up without skipping a beat. Pleasantly cheerful with the crew, Otahr began asking quick and pointed questions the moment the crowd of hungry sailors dispersed. It did not take me long to realize that this was no simple cook, and though his food was excellent it would be a mistake to underestimate this man. His thick brogue took some of the sting out of the questions, but it became clear all too quickly that this man was a trained investigator. The two saparas strapped to the Atvaran's back also put paid the idea that this cook was only dangerous to cold meats. For a purser or quartermaster to be so well armed indicated certain other tasks were also within his sphere of influence.

Moving on from Otahr Taylin we came to the ship's mage, a slim Ylvani Yelin sorcerer named Uliel Akatri. Quiet and reserved, Uliel did not speak much until I asked him about the smallish ballista he had been working on. At that point Galldi grimaced and it became almost impossible to shut the mage up. Apparently the devise was a magical apparatus that used something Uliel called "sympathetic magic" to increase the potency of... alright, I got completely lost in the abstruse theoretical ramblings of the Yelin spellcaster. Mumbling my acceptance of the theory, I gratefully allowed Galldi to guide me away from the sorcerer before he could get his second wind.

Next was the Sailing master, a whip thin Gnome named Haska Running Stag, who grunted noncommittally and barked abrupt orders at the men and women in the rigging as they re-tied and adjusted the rigging for port. Though she didn't say much, I got the feeling that we would get on just fine so long as I did not gainsay her or try to tell her how to do her job.

Last on the tour of introductions was the Captain, Byrne Haut. Captain Haut, Galldi explained, had been a merchant and a privateer for years, and really wanted nothing more than to retire. He had made it clear to Galldi that Arissa and Galldi would be running the ship, he was not going to do more than be a glorified passenger. The man barely looked up from the book he was reading to wave his first and second officers out of his office. Bedraggled and unkempt, it was a wonder he was allowed to command a ship at sea, let alone one of the stature of the March Harrier.

Galldi finished the rounds and the tour, and I looked back at the odd assortment of men and women and thought to myself: This was going to be one hell of an interesting cruise.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Top Ten Writing Teams

February is Romance month at the SFSNNJ, and to celebrate I am going to do a top ten list of the best pairs ever in the writing field! Socrates defined love in many terms, and some of these couples are romantic, some are familial, and some are the love of friendship.

10) Lily and Dash: Yes, Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman. They were a great couple and brought us some of the greatest mystery stories, and that is that!

9) Stephen and Dal Perry: Not a romantic couple, but a great father/daughter team who have separately brought us some fantastic SF novels, and are now collaborating on a number of other projects. Check out The Gangster Conspiracy if you don't believe me.

8) Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn: Although they have many collaborated on stage plays, this husband/wife team is responsible separately for a number of great SF items. Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series is still a classic, and Hume Cronyn's roles in Batteries Not Included and Cocoon rate up there as great science fiction films.

7) Verner and Joan Vinge: Although they have never actively worked on the same project together, this husband and wife team have separately brought us some amazing Science Fiction stories. Check out Joan's Winter Queen and Vernor's A Fire Upon the Deepas great examples of this couple's talent.

6) Frank and Brian Herbert: This father/son duo worked together to bring us the later books in the Dune series, and Brian later completed his father's grand vision of work. Each worked separately on the Dune series but it was truly a generational labor of love.

5) J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien: Another pair filled with familial love, Christopher Tolkien continues to edit and work on his father's work. As a side note: I personally dislike the way Christopher Tolkien handles J.R.R.'s works, but there is no doubting that the Chris Tolkien editions are valid.

4) David & Leigh Eddings: This couple made high fantasy soar far above the clouds with their epic series and stories. From the Belgariad to their recent Elder Gods series, this husband and wife team know how to tell a great story. I highly recommend both the Elenium series and the stand alone novel The Redemption of Althalus.

3) Chris Bunch and Alan Cole: One of the best writing teams in the history of Science Fiction, these two friends collaborated on everything from episodes of Quincy MD to pornography to some of the best loved SF and Fantasy adventure series ever. From The Far Kingdoms to the realm of the Eternal Emperor in Sten, Bunch and Cole have created some true classics of adventure SF.

2) David Weber and John Ringo: another pair of good friends writing great stories. These two cannot work together often enough for me. Though their output is infrequent, it is always worth the wait. Separately they are great writers, and together they are a juggernaut. I dare you to read March Upcountry and disagree with me.

1) W. Michael & Kathleen O'Neal Gear: This husband and wife are the featured writers for this month's Tripping the Write Fantastic, and they are a fabulous team. From historicals to mystery, fantasy to Science Fiction, these two represent the best that the genre has to offer. Pick up a copy of Requiem for the Conqueror and tell me I am wrong. Try reading the People of Spider and tell me that it is not brilliantly written and ingeniously imaginative.
I guarantee you will love these two writers and all of their works from The Bone Walker to Raising Abel to Dark Inheritance.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Chapter 5: A Strange Conversation

Fendy Brill was not at all what I was expecting, I thought as she ushered me into the house, and down a hall to the sitting room. Brill had become Secretary of Dahlon about ten years ago, when I was a girl of about twelve. Having served as councilwoman on the city council for nearly twenty years, she was the senior member and thus it fell to her to take up the mantle of secretary when Hector Messala decided he no longer felt like running the city.

Dahlon politics were simple: nobody wanted the jobs, so whoever could be persuaded, connived, or bullied into taking the job was forced into it. We Dahlonese are a fractuous lot, and we will be damned if anybody is going to tell us what to do, and that includes other Dahlonese. The city itself is divided into seven sections called departments, each forces a resident to serve on the city council which maintains the barest minimum of security necessary to stave of pure anarchy within the confines of the city. The secretary was called upon to arbitrate disputes and arguments and ratify the council's decisions, but otherwise had little real power. As it was, even the ombudsmen on the streets had more power than the secretary, if only because they had more freedom.

The main thing that bothered me about Fendy Brill was that she was a whole lot older than she appeared. Although she looked to be in her mid to late forties, with graying hair and crow's feet around her eyes, the truth was that she was nearer to seventy years old. To say that she was aging gracefully was an understatement, and some citizens had joked aloud about where she kept her phylactery. It may have been in bad taste, but it was still kind of amusing... until, or course, one was sitting in her parlor.

As I eased myself into the chair across from the secretary I had to remind myself of why I was here. There was really no alternative, and I did not relish the idea of more piracy on the high seas. Of course, there was the distinct probability that the secretary was going to have me do something even worse, but there was no way to stop that. I was looking at my only way out, so I started to speak.

"Skip it, I already know the high points. You signed on with the Polinoy clan three years ago and have not enjoyed their leisurely life of larceny, so now you are here begging for protection and a job. I got the story from the Tyrennhian already, he warned me that you would be along and why. Oh, don't worry, there is nothing you could have done. After all, the weaselly little turd can read minds," growled Brill acidly.

In spite of her brusque manner and growling voice, I found myself liking the assertive old woman seated before me. Before I knew it a shy grin was creeping across my face as the alleged leader of Dahlon continued.

"Unfortunately we need the little scumbag to figure out what in the seventeen shades of the deep is going on here. You will make a good addition to our little sewing circle, assuming the Tyrennhian is not as full of drekh as he normally seems. Given what he knows, and what I know, it is fair to say that your role will be crucial in figuring out what the hells is happening here. Now, since I am pretty sure our Tyrennhian friend told you next to nothing about what's going on, I will fill you in.

"About a year ago I started noticing a strange pattern of shipments going from our fair city to the city of Miryor in the west. One ship, the Wandering Lover, seemed to be making regular runs with barely profitable cargoes. Now this is not too unusual, but the thing that stunk like a slillikul in heat was that the crew had an awful lot of spending cash for folks who were barely making ends meet...

"Piracy?" I asked with a hollow feeling.

"Nah, somebody would have caught them in the nets long before were that the case. Besides, that scow can barely float let alone menace a merchant ship into submission. I figured they were smuggling goods to Miryor, but I could not figure what or why. Then this Tyrennhian shows up, claiming to be an honest sailor with some information. I may not be old enough to remember the worst of the occupation, but I remember one thing really well: Imperial Lictors."

The hollow feeling had grown like mold in a damp cellar. There was no way in the world this story was going to end well. Suddenly I was beginning to wish I had stayed with the Polinoys, at least there the motivations were less murky.

"Anyway, this 'simple seaman' shows up with information on shipments of weapons that are being smuggled from Vrendisium, in the Tyrennhian Imperium, to Dahlon. His problem was that he could not keep track of the shipments once they left the holds here in Dahlon. All he knew is that they were not destined for this city. The two of us have been watching the trade lanes from Vrendisium to Dahlon for months waiting for a break, and I am guessing that is where he caught you in his little web."

I was a bit overwhelmed and confused by the brutal honesty of the secretary, but one thing was obvious about the entire episode: I had leverage here. They needed me for something, and I now that I understood the mechanics of the situation I would see to it that my services were well compensated. Apparently some of Savago's piratical cunning had rubbed off on me.

"I don't see what any of this has to do with me. If your Lictor friend read my mind, then he must know that the Wavestrider was a pirate, not a smuggler. I cannot give you information that I do not have, so I have to wonder: what is it I can do for you?" I hedged cautiously.

Secretary Brill looked me over a moment, then nodded curtly to herself, "Come off it, you aren't stupid, so don't pretend to be. I may be old, but I know enough to recognize when somebody is trying to get over on me. You know that we need you to run tracking and interference to trace the shipments, and we know that you need us to get away from the Polinoy clan. It would be too dangerous for us to send you out right now, too many eyes on the docks, so I am going to offer you a berth on my privateering vessel, the March Harrier. You can learn a lot from Captain Haute, and you should be able to build yourself one hell of a reputation away from the Polinoy unless I miss my guess. So, what do you say?"