10.16.2019

Book Review: Writing Horses

A Review by Godfrey Blackwell


Title: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right
Authors: Judith Tarr
Publisher: Book View Café
Godfrey's Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A solid introductory reference work for the fantasy/historical fiction writer to help them "get it right", written in an accessible  by a "horse person"

As the title says, this ebook is written by a "horse person" to help us non-"horse people" to get the horses right in their fantasy or historical fiction (or maybe even space fantasy). I downloaded this affordably-priced ($4.99) ebook on the advice of my mother who is a "horse person" to help me with getting my horses right. I found it very helpful in that regard and give it 4 stars.

The book is actually a collection of blog entries, revised for the book. Chapters include "Form and Function", "Care, Feeding, and the Inevitable Need for a Horse Doctor", "The Fine Art of Horse Stowage", "Baaby Horses", "Horse Training", and "Mind and Magic" (on the psychology of the "furry aliens" that are horses). It answers such important questions as how far can a horse travel in a day? What does a horse eat? When is a brown horse really a sorrel (or a bay, or a dun)? What do tack and withers and canter mean?

Some chapters were more useful to me than others -- the first two are certainly the most important since they give the nuts-and-bolts that a writer of stories where horses are present (versus some actually writing about horses) needs with recommendations for further reading. This book is by no means meant to be an exhaustive study but more of a primer. This makes it a quick and easy read that gives a clear notion of what further study is required for the reader's particular work.

Writing Horses is written in a humourous, down-to-earth style. I found it enjoyable to read and being a "non-horse person" gave me an appreciation not just for the complex psychology of horses but of their modern devotees as well. I do think is that some of the things complained of as major faux pas on the part of writers are so esoteric that only horse people would be offended. For example, when writers have someone knee a horse's flank -- technically totally wrong, but in terms of general parlance I think most people consider the flank as, generically, the side. Yet "horse people" are not an insignificant group and they are vocal, so it seems worthwhile to listen to them. Simply from the aspect of professional pride I do think that writers should try to learn about everything the write of so that they sounds somewhat knowledgeable to those "in the know" and to that end I recommend this book.

On the whole, then, "Writing Horses" is well worth the $4.99 pricetag and is a valuable resource for any fantasy/historical fiction writer. I give it 4/5 stars accordingly.

10.09.2019

Why Science Fiction/Fantasy is the Best Genre

“All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it."

Gene Wolfe

After the better part of a year, I figured some justification should be offered for this site's very existence, since many look down on science fiction/fantasy as “low brow”, “childish”, or “disconnected from reality”. It is none of these things, or at least, no more so than any other form of fiction. And it has many advantages unique to it which is why (aside from being a nerd) I love the genre and have little interest in writing outside of it.

    I thought to try to define what I mean by science fiction/fantasy, but the definition is so elusive I decline the opportunity. Instead, let me quote author Mark C. Glassy, who compares the definition of science fiction to the definition of pornography: you don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it

    I should also point out that I can't say ALL science fiction/fantasy is great. That is absolutely NOT what I'm saying. On the contrary, the names of titles to be avoided are legion. A perusal of the annual anthology The Best of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy might lead one to believe that perversity and blasphemy are the norm in contemporary science fiction. And this is true to a degree, which is why I generally prefer older works, and that which is published here on Swords and Space. But when science fiction and fantasy is good, it is the best, and, unlike other genres, it is more frequently "permitted" to be good (in my opinion)

Liberal/Modern Tripe Not Mandatory

    The ills of modern literature are not unknown to science fiction/fantasy. However, the genre’s marginalisation means that "mainstream" and "LitFic" authors don't write it, and the "respectable" critics don't read it. To a degree this is true of any genre fiction (since it's all looked-down on by the LitFic crowd) but I think it may be moreso with SF/F. It also seems to be slightly more acceptable to portray religion or introduce religious themes into such works (to my astonishment, Ad Astra featured astronauts praying to St. Christopher, for example).

    It is also possible to give a positive gloss on tradition, because the societies being portrayed are generally not Christendom or its remnants. This is also true in more mainstream works that deal with non-European cultures, but in science fiction/fantasy one can encounter civilizations more familiar and reminiscent of Christendom which would be verboten elsewhere. In science fiction and fantasy, the battle of “good versus evil” is not considered passé, but is rather a standard element.

The Mythic Sagas of Our Times


    The classical pagans’ epic myths and the mediæval chansons de geste, with their superhuman characters, extraordinary events, and supernatural intercessions would be classed as science fiction/fantasy if written today, in my opinion. While the great works of antiquity such as the Aeneid, the IlliadThe Song of Roland, &c., are mandatory reading for any man, something more contemporary can an easier read and -- dare I say -- more “relevant” to specific issues of our own times. And it is to good science fiction that one can look if he seeks the grandeur, the sense of wonder, and lessons on humanity, that is present in the classics.

    This is why, I believe, Lord of the Rings is the best selling novel of all time. It simply would not be possible to write such an epic work in any other genre.

Use of Analogy and Extrapolation


    Which brings me to the third benefit of the genre; the creation of completely foreign places (and, indeed, worlds) gives a different perspective to the reader, and allows for especially effective use of analogy and extrapolation. It is one thing to read about why totalitarian governments or the modern world are bad or headed in the wrong direction. It is another thing entirely (and a much more powerful thing) to experience those horrors via science fiction works like 1984 and Brave New World. While other genres can do this well, science fiction and fantasy can take it to new levels by examining things that haven’t happened yet (or could have, but didn’t).

10.04.2019

Wellis Carter Space Adventure, Part 1

By Anna Blackwell (August 2019, age 11)

My name is Wellis Carter, age 18 -- year 2534. Let me tell you a adventure i had one time that will blow your mind.

The air around me felt chilly as I walked further through the forest. I slung my hunting rifle over my shoulder. It was very close to freezing season -- a time when my kind sort of carbonfreezed ourselves -- so I decided to do some some hunting before then. My eye suddenly caught a deer ;it was grazing on a patch that had not been covered in frost. I got my gun and prepared to fire. Suddenly the deer looked up and bolted as if something had frightened it. I turned around; no one was there but me.Then I looked up a Kronos space Saucer!!

The Kronos were a group of aliens that attacked our planet for the precious gem mines in the mountains. But as I watched a 2 human frigates followed after it. An explosion was heard at the end of the forest. I raced over and once I reached the end of the forest I saw some more human ships deploying a squad of justice troopers and far away were a group of Kronos.

I hesitated -- what was I to do? Should I to go to the troopers and ask it I could help or would I be better off on my own? I looked at my hunting rifle; I knew It would never hold off that many Kronos for long.But before I could do any thing a gun clicked and a heavy bolter was placed next to head.

"Don’t move, sonny. “

I saw next to me was a heavily armoured battle trooper

"Don’t shoot” I said, "I’m a Tathlan.“

But he didn’t listen; he was already on his com link: “Sir, I seem to have caught some Tathlan snooping about ... what ... oh yes right away sir.“

He nudged his gun at me. “Hand over the gun, sonny, and don’t trying and run off because I never miss.“

I gave him my gun then I started to move. He took me to a place were the humans were planning their battle plan or that's what it seemed like, for there was a map on the table next to them. The trooper took me to a human who seemed to be a battle commandant.

"Sir here is the Tathlan I told you about.“

The commandant turned around. He looked at me he could tell I wasn’t a human because of my grey skin a and white hair.

"Tathlan hmm? Well, child you better listen to me -- we aren’t on any fun trip were here to deal with the Kronos we already went through it with you leader and since your kind can’t stand the freeze coming up we are going to battle the Kronos ourselves.“

This angered me. “We can fight our own battles human!”

The commandant smirked but just then the ground trembled violently and a trooper rushed over.

“Sir, they're firing artillery at us!“ I Suddenly saw a way to get away.

“Incoming!” someone shouted.

I jumped at the commandant and we fell into a nearby bush as a blast hit the ground. The commandant looked shocked at my act to save him.

"You --”

I cut him off: “Yeah, don’t mention it."

“I’m sorry for treating you like that,” he said .”Here, if you really want to help us, do you now a way into Sarc Palace?“

I hesitated. Sarc Palace was an abandoned building north of the attacking Kronos position. But I replied, “alright, I know secret way to get in. I’ll show you were it is."

The commandant nodded and, after shouting a few orders to his men, he indicated that I should follow him. As he ran across the open ground, I followed right behind him.

"Where are we heading, kid?“ he asked.

“Around here to the right,“ I replied.

Keeping low under the shelter of the trees we traveled about a mile, 'til we came to a ruin on top of a hill. Somewhere below, the Kronos were firing their artillery missiles.

“You did well, kid," said the commandant.

I smiled. “There is a secret turbo lift somewhere," I said. “I’ll go see if I can find it."

Once I ran behind a corner, the sound of artillery made me shake in fear. Telling myself to calm down, I distracted myself by looking for the secret turbo lift. When I was younger, me and my friends played games up here, so it didn’t take too long for me to find what I was looking for. Stripping the vines off ,I was happy to see the lift was still in working order. But suddenly I heard approaching footsteps and around the corner a Kronos fighting warrior appeared!

It hasn’t seen me yet, I thought as I backed up until I pressed hard on the lift .I reached in to open the door and backed in. But the sound of the door alerted the Kronos of my presence. It started to fire it's ray gun but it luckily bounced of the doors as they closed.The lift began to descend but stopped mysteriously. Its doors opened I got out and found myself in a long dark corridor that seemed to have no end. I ventured forth, careful to keep an eye out for security measures. I soon thought it had no end til I can to another set of turbo lifts. I checked to make sure they worked, and walked in.The doors shut again and before I knew it I began to be fly upwards.

Whats wrong with the rotten thing today? I thought, then once again the doors opened and I found myself standing in front of a tall man.

"You took your time," he said, shaking my hand and grinning.

"Who are you, were am I?” I asked in surprise. “How could you know I was coming?"

“I’m Basker Nek. Now, cut the questions in til we find a proper place to talk."

I eyed him suspiciously as he hustled me down the passageway away from the lifts.I had barely got what appeared to be his office when he launched a whole conversation:

"As i said my name is Basker Nek and I used to design security systems for both government and private enterprises. I have done it for years. Not just here, but in many other different places.”

"How did you know I was coming?" I asked again.

"I didn’t know it was you, specifically, but I had sensors all along that corridor that runs along that ruin and I tracked your arrival. Then I programmed the turbo lift to bring all persons using the lift to pass to this level,” he explained. "Now I want to know what you were doing up there -- you seem too young for a smuggler."

"Smuggler!!" I said bewildered. "Of course not -- I was just hunting when a Kronos ship scared my deer…"

He stopped mean mid-sentence. "Kronos? are you sure it was a Kronos ship?”

“Yeah, sure, I saw them with my own eyes once I got to the edge of the forest.”

"Sorry please continue," he said apologetically.

"Well that's kind of it when I got to the ruins. I saw them using a kind of artillery thing, that was until I stumped into that lift and got spat out into that corridor," I said, keeping out the part with the humans, because I had a feeling that I had no need to tell him that.

"Hmm ... Kronos, eh?" He murmured . "Well, I kind of heard …uh, rumours that they are going to use your planet's gems to power up a weapon they might be making ... that can kill all life on a planet."

"But that's INSANE," I said in horror. “No weapon can kill all life on a planet and not completely destroy it -- that's impossible"

"Oh, it's quite possible alright,” he said. "But not without your planet's gems and uh …I think you and I should have a word with…uh ..my associates in, er,um criminal classes."

I froze. How can I consult with criminals and bounty hunter and should I trust this guy? I thought. My first option was to decline but I knew that if I did, he might lock me in the turbo lift and leave me to die. So I decided to give it a chance. I followed him through a long secret tunnel that seemed to go forever but when we got to the end it lead to a room. It had a curtained doorway. When I ducked through my eyes met the strangest sighting ever -- creatures from all over the galaxy. Basker Nek guided me through the crowd and waved at a lizard looking creature.

"Now stay here, I shall be back in a few minutes and for your own sake don’t talk to any one “ he said.

I frowned "I thought I was coming with you. If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t know the Kronos were here."

“Stay here; this place is dangerous," he said with some force and, pointing to my seat, he disappeared into the crowd. I went to my seat and sat down. There were so many species there I felt very obvious, especially since none of my kind were there. Just then a human at the next table looked at me and smiled, raising his cup. I smiled back distractedly and looked back at the surrounding mayhem. The man looked at me again and gestured for me to come over.

Who is this guy? I wondered. Is he gesturing for me to come over? I pointed to myself questioningly and he nodded and gestured me over.

"I noticed you siting there looking a bit out of place," he said. "I’m Sank by the way."

"You can say that again” I said. “ I’m Wellis Carter”.

Sank told me that he was a merchant trader. Soon we began talking like friends (despite the fact he was a human and I was a Tathlan) 'til Sank’s com bead beeped he talked to however it was in Jamaka (a type of alien language).

“That was my first mate," Sank said once he finished. "He does repairs on my ship, so I must join him. We had trouble getting parts on the Stellar Jewel -- that's my ship -- she’s a Class Jina 6."

"A Class Jina 6, that is one of the fastest ships ever !“ I said in excitement.

"You heard of it? “ he asked in surprise.

"Of course I have, my great grandfather had one.”

"Well I could take you to see her," he offered. "I can’t give you the whole tour though."

I knew I should wait for Kasker Nek, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Really? Of course!"

Then Sank and I slipped out of the bar door. The space port wasn’t very far and as soon as we entered, I saw the Stellar Jewel.

"She is beautiful !!” I exclaimed.

"She sure is," said Sank. “Come and have a look at the twin blasters but then I really have to go.”

Ducking under the wing he gestured for me to hurry up.

"I’m coming, I’m coming!" I said.

He showed me the newly installed cannon. “You can see the new position of the Solar Drive enhances its capabilities ‘’

I leaned closer to get a better look, but he suddenly grabbed me tightly and hustled me up the gangway.

"Hey Sank what are you doing?”I asked in confusion.

“You're coming with us," Sank said, tightening his grip and pulling me farther into the ship as the entry ramp closed.

“Go!” he yelled to his first mate who engaged the engines and we took off out of star port.

"W-what are you doing? Were are you taking me?’’I asked as Sank grabbed a pair of security cuffs and fastened one armlet to a bench and the other on my wrist.

"We’re going to RockBen," he said, grabbing another pair of cuffs securing my feet to the bottom of the bench. "I’m going to sell you to a mine owner I know.”

“What? your a slave trader!”

"Yes, I am “ Sank replied stuffing a gag into my mouth. "Now shut your trap you're giving me a headache."

When the Stellar Jewel landed in RockBen there was a unscrupulous mine owner waiting for me. Still gagged and cuffed, I was shoved into the back of a transport.

What am I going to do? I throught. If I try and signal for help,who’s going to believe I’ve been kidnapped, I’m sure that mine owner is able to tell numbers of lies to disprove my story. He probably had a lot of practice at it.

I felt the transport slow down and stop. We're here, wherever here is. I then heard voices.

“Do you have authorized papers?” it sounded like a security droid.

"Yes I do right here,” I heard the Mine owner say.

A security check point! Could I take this for a chance to escape? I decided any risk was worth it, I wasn’t going to become a slave, not in my life. With my hands still cuffed behind my back and the gag in my mouth, I slid across the floor of the transport.Trying to keep out of sight I hauled my body over the back of the transport. Unable to break my fall, a surge of pain hit me. Ignoring it, I continued to slug across the ground to a bunch of crates.I knew if the mine owner looked back, I was dead! So as silent as I could, I crawled behind the crates.I watched as the mine owner drove off with out even looking back.

I breathed a sigh of relief when suddenly a voice said, "well, well, well, what do we have here?”

I felt frozen stiff from my position. I couldn’t see who it was but I knew it wasn’t a security droid

“Don’t move," the voice said. "A security droid is coming."

The sound of footsteps came close “Are you Mar Iber?" a robotic voice asked.

"Thats me, have you finished ransacking my ship?” said the man who had accosted me.

“Yes you are clear to leave Bay number 2-13 “

“It better be in the same way I left it “ the man said. The security droid left.

"Easy “ Mar Iber said as he picked and unlocked the cuffs.

"Thanks," I said, removing the gag from my mouth.

"No problem. You got a lot of guts kid," he said. "You're lucky I was the only one who saw you." He grinned. “The name's Mar, as I guess you heard."’

He held out his hand and helped me to my feet.

"Well, I better be off,” Mar said. "Be careful and don’t get in trouble. "The Justice Legion probably don’t want trouble”

I watched as Mar left. The Justice Defenders were also? If they were I had to find them and ask for help.I started to walk about. The vast marketplace was crowded. Once I got to a railing to get some air, I saw a spectacular view of rocky mountains with skyscrapers perched on their sides forming a chain of cities.It was quite amazing, though it made me the want to go home back to Tarthlan.

I suddenly heard a low scream and I turned around I saw that a little girl had fallen down and if no one helped her. She was going to get trampled.

"Stop, look a little girl fell down, help her!” I shouted, but nobody listen so I through myself through the crowd I pushed forward.

"Watch it," yelled an alien as I ran past it. I was almost there when a large Ogler was in my way .There was no way past him so in frustration I grabbed a pin from my pocket and pinched him in the back. He howled and got out of the way just enough for me to get past and help the girl up but as I did so, the Ogler grabbed me.

"WAIIITTTT” I yelled and then the crowd went silent, even the little girl stopped crying. ”Please, I was just trying to help this girl before she got trampled to death, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I said.

The Ogler grunted and let go. “Fine, but if I see you again you're dead.”

Just then a figure ran over. ”What's going on here?” he asked in a stern voice.

I looked around. It was a Justice Legionary! The ogler stepped back “ uh..nothin ... “

The Legionary looked at me. “Nothing sir, just a small mishap," I said.

He looked at the Ogler. “You may go but you --" he pointed at me -- "come with me.”

I followed him but I was in a hurry to tell him what happened. “Sir wait I have to tell you something.”

He turned back to me. "I didn’t ask you to speak."

This didn’t stop me. "No, sir, please, you have have to take me back to my home planet.”

"You didn’t have perm--”

I didn’t let him finish “ no sir please it’s under attack by the Kronos you have to take me back." This time he listened. After a short while of explanation he decided to take me back. After he sent a few messages to his people I found myself in his ship on my way to home…..

10.02.2019

Movie Review: Ad Astra (2019)



Title: Ad Astra
Director: James Gray
Producer: New Regency Pictures
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Godfrey's Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Rating: PG; I'd say this rating is appropriate and I'd have little difficulty showing it to the older children (13 and 11) as there not a lot of violence or profanity, and no nudity.
Summary in a Sentence: A thoughtful and stylistic film with great potential, but which falls short of the masterpiece it could have been, due to a lacklustre storyline with some very big plot holes and inconsistencies.

This is a film that I really wanted to be able to give a top rating, since it was full of many of the things I love in a science fiction film: strong thought-inducing themes, beautiful cinematography, relaxed pacing, and a reliance on story rather than big explosions. And while it was certainly worth my return to the cinema for the first time since Blade Runner 2027, I could not help but feel disappointed and cannot give the film more than a middling 3/5 star rating. The plot synopsis from the IMDB page:

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.

Ad Astra gets full marks for style -- I really liked the retro, 1960s space-race inspired flight and space suits. The "space ships" had a realistic feel to them and the film seemed to give at least decent effort to giving a realistic look and feel to all the sets. The military won major "rule of cool" points for wearing Fallschirmjäger-style splinter camouflage on earth, and orange-red Flecktarn on Mars. This is worth at least half a star bonus in my books.

The filmmaker seemed undecided on what sort of mood to strike. Is the film an optimistic space exploration film? Dystopian future? I'm not even sure ... it was a little bit of a lot of genres, a little bit of 2001/Interstellar, a helping of Moon's paranoia, a dash of Mad Max (moon land pirates), and a pinch of Gattaca (the constant psych evaluations throughout the film). I'm all in favour of mixing things up like this but I just don't know how well it was pulled off ... maybe I just couldn't wrap my mind around the dark aspects when guys are wearing space suits that look like what the Gemini astronauts wore. Having slept on it I think it actually worked better than I felt while watching it.

And while I love "long boring space movies" like 2001, I just couldn't get into this film in the same way. It had a slow pace, but I question the choice of what time was spent on. The viewer gets a few gorgeous space vistas but they are all too fleeting, rather we spend a lot of time inside Roy McBride's head as he sorts through his "daddy issues". The film did have some food for thought, but I think it was too wrapped up in McBride's neurosis and unresolved issues with his father abandoning the family to search for extraterrestrial life and then after all that buildup the final "confrontation" between father and sone was very anticlimactic, almost rushed (perhaps 15 minutes of the 2 hour film are spend actually aboard his father's ship), and very unsatisfying.

I found the acting to be very "low key", unemotional, and flat. This was perhaps intentional (cf. the Gattaca aspect),  but it also made it difficult to connect to the characters.

There were massive, massive plot holes, and inexplicable choices made by various parties. This is mildly spoilerific, but the whole plan to take down Clifford McBride made no sense at all and had zero chance of success until Roy intervened. And it was not clear why the authorities wanted him killed for intervening when he then goes on and carries out the mission. And why is that mission done by some random civilian science vessel that can apparently travel to Neptune in 72 days yet no one had been there since McBride Sr. went (and it took him something like 20 years to get there)? The moon pirates felt random and inconsistent with what's described as a war zone over disputed moon borders -- why do they just kill everyone and wreck the moon buggies instead of trying to steal and capture?

All in all this made for a dangerously close to mediocre film. I still hope that readers will go watch it for the good aspects, because even though this film isn't perfect, it's the type of film we need more of.


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