The Best of Ned Marcus Blog 2022

2022 was another year of extremes in every area of life, but I hope you can escape from some of the madness in fantasy and SF.

Below is an image of Tu, a cat with some magical ability that appears in The Darkling Odyssey. More about him later.

Here are the highlights of the Ned Marcus Blog in 2022.

Starry AI—DO Tu in blueTu, a cat who helps out in The Darkling Odyssey

A-Z of Fantasy (and SF)

For fun, I decided to post an A-Z of fantasy on my blog. I originally intended to include the complete posts here, but that made this article far too long, so I'm just putting the titles here. You can read the complete article A-Z of Fantasy here.

(A) Author You've Read the Most Books From

Terry Brooks

(B) Best Standalone Novel

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

(C) Currently Reading

A sample of Legend by David Gemmell

(D) Drink of My Choice While Reading

Tea during the day and water at night.

(E) E-book, Paperback, or Hardback?


(F) Fictional Character You'd like to Drink With

Kulgan, a magician from Raymond Feist's Magician series.

(G) Glad I Gave This Book A Chance

Robin Hobb’s first book, Assassin’s Apprentice.

(H) Hidden Gem Book

Nectar and Ambrosia by E. M. Hamil (there are more in the full article A-Z of Fantasy)

(I) Influences on My Writing

C.G. Jung (I go into this in far more detail in the full article)

(J) Just Finished

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

(K) Kinds of Books I Won’t Read


(L) Longer—Novels I Wished Were Longer

Michael Moorcock—any of the Books of Corum (first series).

(M) Most Memorable Magicians in a Fantasy Story

Pug/Milamber from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle.

(N) Number of Books in Your House

432 (not including ebooks)

(O) One Fantasy Book You've Read Multiple Times

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist

(P) Preferred Place To Read

In my old armchair.

(Q) Favourite Fantasy Quote

Not strictly a fantasy quote, but I think it relates to fantasy. “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” Albert Einstein

(R) Biggest Reading Regret

My biggest reading regret is that between the ages of about 30 and 36 I hardly read a single book.

(S) Short Stories You Enjoyed or Made You Think

The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan by Clark Ashton Smith. This is an old one, first published in 1932, but it still reads well. Fantastic purple prose. It's a strange story, a little dark, but also quite funny. It's the story of a usurer who meets a sticky ending.

Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead by Carmen Maria Machado.

(See the complete article for my SF recommendations)

(T) Favourite Stories with Trolls

I particularly liked the rock trolls in Terry Brooks's Shannara series.

(U) Favourite Underground Sci-fi

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series.

(V) Favourite Fantasy Villain

Jimmy the Hand in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle.

(W) Favourite Fantasy Woods

The Old Forest at the edge of the Shire.

(X) Best Story Involving Xenology

The Interpreter by Brian W. Aldiss. This one is SF.

(Y) Best Yacht Stories in Fantasy

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb.

(Z) The Zaniest SF Series

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Read the complete article A-Z of Fantasy here.

Thoughts, Reading, and Life

Jan 02, 2022

Thoughts on Epic Fantasy

I once thought I'd write epic fantasy without a trace of science or technology (I mean modern technology because even the plough and sword are basic forms of technology). I still like the idea of creating an epic fantasy—unlike the magic in the contemporary Britain of the Orange Storm series or the mix of sorcery and science in the world of Blue Prometheus—but I've realised that I like playing with (and reading) stories where there's a conflict between scientific thinking and magical or intuitive thinking.

I doubt I'd ever put high-tech in an epic fantasy setting, but I may include steam power or alchemists experimenting with basic chemistry. Perhaps mechanical flame lances containing the oil of some explosive plant. But it's the difference in thinking between these two approaches that interests me the most.

Jan 11, 2022

The Forgotten Habit of Two Sleeps

I've just read an article in BBC Futures (The forgotten medieval habit of 'two sleeps') that describes how people in the ancient and medieval worlds slept twice a day. Like those people, I too get up from my first sleep in the early hours of the morning, and then take my second sleep in the late morning or early afternoon. I'd heard of the practice, but didn't realise it was so common in the past. It's strange how something that was so normal is now so rare. Personally, I feel good with this pattern, and waking up in the middle of the night's not normally a problem. I just get up and start working. I understand that having a regular job would make this hard, but it works if you can control your schedule.

The article surmises that biphasic sleep may have allowed richer dreaming in the past because there were two opportunities to wake up from a dream. Perhaps. I certainly remember many dreams. The article also says that there's no way of going back to this situation. I'm not so sure. If people have control over their schedules, then the habit may spontaneously appear again. The pandemic has introduced working from home for many, giving, sometimes at least, the opportunity to control your own schedule.

Feb 17, 2022

Favourite Fantasy Races

I've become a bit tired of elves and dwarves—perhaps I overdosed on them when I was younger. And I've never really enjoyed fantasy giants. That said, I do have a giant in The Darkling Odyssey and elves appear sporadically in my stories.

My favourite fantasy races (as measured by how often they appear in my stories) are hobs, gnomes, and trolls. The trolls are not evil. Usually, they're ambivalent to humans, but if you've read the Blue Prometheus books, then you'll be familiar with a troll who allied himself with the protagonists.

Hobs, if you're not familiar with them, are smaller than gnomes, often the size of a human hand. In mythology, they're found in the north of England, especially around the border with Scotland. They're also found in the midlands. Traditionally, they're household spirits, but some live outside, as they do in my stories.

Gnomes are more famous. I used to have one in my garden in England. This one's from France.

Gnome (French)A Gnome in France

Mar 24, 2022

Tolkien Reading Day

Today's Tolkien Reading Day and an excuse to talk about Tolkien. The Hobbit wasn't the first fantasy I read, but it was one of the books that drew me into fantasy as a child (along with the Narnia books—actually, as a child, I preferred Narnia).

My favourite version of The Hobbit is the BBC audio version that I used to have on cassette, but which unfortunately disappeared years ago, although it doesn't really make a difference as I no longer have a cassette player. Usually, I'm not keen on audiobooks, but The Hobbit's perfect for listening to.

Later, I read The Lord of the Rings. Like many fantasy fans, I loved it. I liked the films, too, although I'm not sure I'd watch them again. Nor am I sure I'd reread The Lord of the Rings. I think I read it to death. But never say never.

Except when I'm talking about The Silmarillion.

I've never managed to read more than five or six pages. Strangely (I think) I once met someone who claimed The Silmarillion was his favourite book. He said he liked the detail. It may be the perfect fantasy book for that.

Sep 04, 2022

Giant Hairy Caterpillar

Along the river near my house, there's a pagoda style shelter that I see as my creative office. 

Any creative block vanishes when I come here. 

Recently, I spent a few hours writing a short story when a giant hairy caterpillar fell on my head and then walked around the edges of the shelter for the next hour, starting a lively conversation with other people resting there.

A hairy yellow caterpillarA hairy yellow caterpillar near my house

Dec 03, 2022

The Master and Margarita

I recently read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I was surprised. 

First that I enjoyed it. I'd expected it to be a hard read. 

Second, that it was fantasy. Okay, I understand that some people may call it magical realism (although it's not all set in the real world—and being set in a realistic location is sometimes one of the criteria given for magical realism). The devil's ball seems to take place in some undetermined magical location, and later they visit one of the nicer regions of hell.

I agree with Terry Pratchett, that magical realism is really a polite way of saying fantasy.

Okay, putting all that aside, The Master and Margarita is fantasy—if written in a literary style.

There are many characters, and each character seems to have two or three names, which means getting into the book takes a little time, but it's worth it.

I won't give away too much of the plot, but basically, the devil visits Moscow during the Soviet era and targets the atheistic authors peddling the communist worldview propagated at that time. He finds fertile ground to work on.

The devil's accompanied by a giant black tomcat that walks on two legs and has a love for fine living, including good cognac. He also likes hanging from chandeliers firing a submachine gun.

When Margarita asked the devil to have mercy on an unfortunate dweller in hell, the devil replied that that was not his department, i.e., God sent the sinner there.

One thing I never knew was that The Master and Margarita influenced the Rolling Stones song, Sympathy for the Devil. 

I appreciated the novel more because I've been writing short stories featuring demons on Earth and bishops in hell. The themes have been on my mind.

I read the Ginsberg version. One of the better translations, I think.

AI-Generated Art

Nov 23, 2022

AI Dragon Based on Cover of Fire Rising

A friend created AI-generated images based on the cover of Fire Rising, and this was one of the results. I plan to experiment, too.

dragon blue eyesA Dragon Inspired by Fire Rising

Nov 27, 2022

Red Dragon

Here's another AI-generated dragon based on the cover of Fire Rising.

dragon redA dragon inspired by the Fire Rising cover

Dec 11, 2022

The Darkling Odyssey in the Fiery Core

I've been creating a series of AI-generated art based on my fantasy series. The Darkling Odyssey in the fiery core was the prompt for this one. Of the four images I generated for The Darkling Odyssey, this is my favourite. I like the colours used.

Eventually, I'll put them all together, showing parts of the Blue Prometheus and Orange Storm stories through AI art and captions. 

There are creatures something like this in the novel—but not exactly the same.

Starry AI—DO 1Image inspired by The Darkling Odyssey

Dec 20, 2022

AI-Generated Image for The Darkling Odyssey

Another AI-generated image using the prompt 'the darkling odyssey in the fiery planet core.' 

This one creates the atmosphere of the journey to the centre of the planet, and the image could represent one of the ghostlike entities they encountered on the way.

Starry AI—DO 4Another image inspired by The Darkling Odyssey

Dec 30, 2022

A Special Cat in The Darkling Odyssey

This is one of a series of (at present) 100 AI-generated images that will form a pictorial guide to The Darkling Odyssey.

This image is of Tu—a very special cat with a touch of magic. He was discovered floating on a wooden map in another world.

Starry AI—DO—cat on mapTu offers help in The Darkling Odyssey

My Books & Short Stories

Aug 04, 2022

Why I stopped swearing

I’ve never used a lot of swearing in my fiction. Perhaps eight or nine times in my first novel, four or five times in the second, and only about twice in my third. When I wrote my fourth novel, I had one swear word. That made me stop and rethink my use of language. It was obvious to me where this was going. 

Unconsciously, I'd started to reduce swearing in my fiction. While I don’t care if other writers use swear words and can read fantasy containing swearing without pain, I no longer feel the need to use it myself.

I asked myself, why leave the swearing in my old books but not have any in the new ones? 

So I went back and cut out all swear words. 

I’m not a prude and don’t care if you swear (I do sometimes, too, in my life) but in my writing it’s gone.

Does this make my writing better or worse? Overall, probably neither, but looking at the specific sentences I changed, I think about 60% of them now read better, about 30% are neither better nor worse. In a couple of cases, I lost some humour, but not that much.

Some famous fantasy writers use swearing. George R. R. Martin is an example, and I enjoyed his novels. Some don’t (not much). Brandon Sanderson is a good example of this, although he may throw in the occasional ‘damn,’ which I hardly consider a swear word, to be honest. I’ve enjoyed some of his stories, too. 

What are your thoughts about swearing in fiction?

(This is an abbreviated version from my newsletter.)

The Orange Witch

I asked for opinions helping me choose the best version of The Orange Witch cover. Here's the one I chose. The Orange Witch will be released in early February 2023.

The Orange Witch by Ned Marcus. Cover imageThe Orange Witch by Ned Marcus

Short Stories

Nov 25, 2022

New Short Story Challenge!

The last time I challenged myself to write a fantasy flash fiction story every day for 30 days, I created a lot of stories. Not all were finished, of course, but since then, I've polished many of them into complete stories.

Now it's time to set myself another challenge. I'm not sure how long I'll continue this time, but I hope to start (and sometimes finish) a lot of new short stories. They won't all be good, of course, but in my experience, some of them will be worth publishing. 

I'm devoting 20-30 minutes a day to this, which is outside my regular writing schedule. When I can, I'll work on this challenge when travelling or in the intervals when I'm waiting for something else to happen. 

I'll be writing the stories by hand.

Dec 01, 2022

Short Story Challenge—Part 2

I've written almost 10 short story fragments over the past 10 days or so. None are finished (I’m only writing them for 20-30 minutes a day) but some are more complete than I expected. 

I wrote the first on a rattling and squealing bus as it bounced its way down from the mountains into Taipei. I was trying to think what the story would be about when I was jolted in my seat. The squeals coming from a worn fan belt (perhaps—I’m not an expert on vehicle mechanics) made me think of basilisks. Don’t ask why. The bus became a carriage. We were trying to escape the basilisks. 

The protagonist feared for his life. They were getting closer. I’ve not finished yet. The basilisks will kill, but it won’t be as the poor protagonist expected.

Dec 09, 2022

Short Story Challenge (3)

I've been writing short stories most days. Despite being really busy, I can usually fit in 20-30 minutes to write whatever story comes to me. I've not had to use prompts (although I think they can be good) because stories have just come to me. So far, at least.

A few days ago, I wrote a complete fantasy flash fiction story on the bus. It needs polishing, of course, but I'm quite pleased with it, and it feels good to finish writing a story in one sitting, especially after spending so long on each novel.

Dec 31, 2022

Short Story Challenge (4)

I've had to stop this challenge because I have too many unfinished short stories. Now it's time to develop them.

Read more articles by Ned Marcus


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