Below are the most recent posts on NedMarcus.com.
"The future is indicated not predetermined." The words of the ancient mariner—the last of his species—when asked about the likely outcome of the adventure Thomas and Lucy embark on.
I've created an image of the house where this flash fiction story takes place. It's a 400 word read. Sadly, by mistake, I deleted the few reviews I had. If you like it, I'd appreciate a short review to help other people find the story.
This is an image I created for my short story The Boatmen. It begins with an act of injustice when the politician and banker fire homes of poor people in an attempt to possess their land.
Near the beginning of The Darkling Odyssey, Thomas has a lucid dream. In the middle of a dark forest a dragon visits him. He wants to be left alone, but it insists he journey to the centre of the planet.
The Orange Witch, the final novel in my latest series, is finished. I’m just waiting for the hardback cover, which will be with me later in January.
I plan to publish it on February 1st. Although it's the second of a duology, it’s almost a standalone novel. Lucy returns from the planet of Blue Prometheus. It’s a mixture of contemporary fantasy, science fantasy, and exotic world coming together.
No More Series
I don’t plan to write any more series. At least, not in the way I have before.
The stories I’m writing for 2023 will touch on themes from psychology and religion in a way I’ve not before.
I’ve just finished a novelette set in seventh century England. It’s about a girl who must choose between the old ways and the new religion of Christianity, which was being introduced to England at that time.
Another story, I’ve jut finished is about a man who falls into hell by mistake and finds a bishop with a procession of his followers who are going to attempt to convert one of the demon lords.
I’ll be attempting to get both these stories (and others I’m working on) published in fantasy magazines first.
A New Fantasy World
After I’ve written four or five more novelettes and short stories, I plan to write standalone fantasy novels set in a new world I’m creating. The stories will be independent but some of the countries, cities, and troubles facing the people there will be revisited in the novels. Some characters may resurface from time to time. I’m still in the early stages of planning this world.
You're welcome to join me.
Read the A-Z of fantasy. A is for the author you've read most, B is for best standalone fantasy, C is for...
Fantasy and SF—Read the best of Ned Marcus blog posts from 2022
I've had to stop this challenge because I have too many unfinished short stories. Now it's time to develop them.
I wish all my readers a happy new year for 2023. I hope your plans and dreams come true.
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.
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.
adventure, alien attack. alien dragons, alien panther, alien species, ancient forest, crystal forest, dark sorcerer, distant planet, dragon, elemental fire, exotic aliens, forest planet, intelligent species, lizard aliens, magic, metaphysical, mystic journey, natural magic, nature fantasy, orange witch, planetary romance, psychic power, space dragons, space fantasy, stone forest, subterranean, telepathy, urban fantasy
The annual Smashwords sale is on now. Many fantasy and science fiction titles are on sale. My books too.
Blue Prometheus is half price, and The Darkling Odyssey and Orange Storm are reduced by 25%.
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.
What do you think?
I've revised my opinion of StarryAI. It was my lack of experience that was the problem. I'm starting to build a collection of great images—even though some of them are really weird interpretations of the prompts.
I'll be sharing many of these over the coming weeks and months + giving a review of the app.
Spoiler Alert—I think it's well worth a try.
Although I really want to explore Midjourney (and some other more sophisticated AI-art generators), I’ve been too busy to devote much time to it, so I started with a relatively simple AI generator. StarryAI is for phones only, which I don’t like as much because of the smaller screen size.
So far, it’s not been very successful. Actually, a disaster for the most part. Below is only one of two that I quite like, but none of them were anything like what I’d expected. The prompt was fantasy sailor on a sailing ship. Not specific, I guess.
Still, the app is free (for 5 goes a day—each go produces 4 images).
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.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in to help me choose which cover version to pick.
Twice as many people went for version B. This was my choice too, although I like some parts of A. It's good to know that my choice is the most popular one.
I've suggested several alterations to the designer and will post the updated covers as they come in.
And here's the other version. Which do you prefer? I need to choose one. Then I can have minor alterations until I'm happy with it. Let me know in the comments, contact, or click on any of my newsletters and email me.
What do you think of this preliminary version of the new Orange Witch cover (1A)
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.
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.
Does anyone here use Substack? Particularly for reading fiction?
Along with my discovery of AI-generated art, I've learnt more about Substack—I've known about it for a while but only recently looked more deeply. I'm thinking about starting my own channel there and serialising some of my fiction. I'd release short chapters weekly with fantasy art attached. It would be free, but with the option of paid subscriptions offering something more.
Would you be interested?
Let me know via the contact form above or by clicking reply to any of my newsletters.
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.
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. What do you think?
The zaniest SF book I've read is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It's just very funny. Actually, I think the radio series (BBC Radio 4) is the best. The book comes second. I'd place the TV series in third place. The worst of the franchise is the film, which I didn't enjoy and didn't finish watching.
I don't normally like comedy in fantasy/SF, but here it works well.
This is a hard choice, but I'm going to pick Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb. It's #1 in the Liveship Traders series. Althea Vestrit is denied her inheritance, a sentient sailing ship. It's a story of family politics and power, one that I didn't think I'd enjoy, but I did.
The rest of the Liveship Traders series is worth reading, too. Other sailing fantasy books I've enjoyed include The King's Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist, and The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock, which is pulp fiction but fun. The Odyssey by Homer is obviously a classic, too.
This one has to be SF. I can't think of any 'x' for fantasy, except perhaps, Xena, warrior princess.
Xenology is the scientific study of alien biology and cultures, and the most enjoyable novel I can think of that involves the study of alien culture is The Interpreter by Brian W. Aldiss. Earth is enslaved by an alien race, and the protagonist is the chief interpreter. He's a person with a deep understanding of the alien race, and he has the chance to help free the planet.
Although I don't rate The Interpreter with Hothouse, one of Alidss's classics, I enjoyed his portrayal of the alien species.
The Old Forest at the edge of the Shire, with Tom Bombadil, and Fangorn, the home of the Treebeard and the ents are still two of my favourites, even though I don't read Tolkien so much nowadays.
Read more in Magic Forests in Fantasy and Myth.
Good to know that Douglas Adams in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and J. K. Rowling in Harry Potter, use span as the past tense of spin.
I'm in good company!
I once asked why many fantasy readers love villains in an online fantasy forum.
I was immediately attacked. I think I broke some sort of fantasy reader code. Perhaps I'm risking the same again, but with very few exceptions (my favourite is named below) I dislike fantasy villains because I don't like people who use and abuse other humans for their own gain.
My experience of real-life criminals has been negative. And what I see around me in society is even worse. They're self-centred, cynical, and selfish. Organised crime is very destructive, so I dislike anything romanticising it. Even autocratic kings and queens are more attractive to me—although I don't love them (I do love them as characters!).
I understand that most people are not thinking of this when they enjoy a fantasy villain. The attraction is identifying with someone living outside the law, unconstrained by rules and regulations. I like this part, too. But I'd rather the fantasy villains be antagonists.
But there is one I like.
Who is my favourite fantasy villain?
I like Jimmy the Hand in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle. Not the novel named after him, but the part he played in The Riftwar Saga and later books. His character's attractive to me because he actively improved himself and his life, becoming someone great, even if he still had some connections to his old world.
What do you think of fantasy villains?
Let me know in the comments (way down at the bottom of the page) or just reply to one of my newsletters.
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.
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?
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I have several weeks of writing short stories while I'm waiting to send my latest novel to my editor at the end of August.
Just had some positive personal rejections from fantasy and sci-fi magazine editors. One loved my writing style, and another called my writing professional standard and my story excellent. At least it made the final round of consideration.
And yet, I've also just received a couple of bizarre comments. One magazine told me to "reign in the reality" in my story because "Bots can only do what humans can ask them to do."
Isn't there at least a possibility (in science fiction) that bots might develop autonomy?
From the novelette, Young Aina, which is available for free on all major online bookstores.
"The forest spoke to me in whispers, but I couldn't understand it clearly. When I told my father, he went quiet. I think it made him uneasy." Ned Marcus, Young Aina.
Aina began learning natural magic at a young age. The tragedy of her early life was a preparation for what was to come. But what happened to make her into the person she is?
As I've mentioned before, I've always loved fantasy and sci-fi set deep beneath the planet's surface. My favourite is Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series. Here's the cover of one of my old paperbacks. The series is pure adventure taking place in the centre of the Earth. The molten core becomes the sun. I adopted a similar idea in The Darkling Odyssey.
Apart from Burroughs, I also like Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which was partly the inspiration for The Darkling Odyssey. And although the sci-fi film The Core received a poor critical response, I still enjoyed it. Perhaps I could like any story with this theme.
“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong - faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it's too late.” Frank Herbert, Dune
I've always enjoyed fantasy with trolls, and I particularly liked the rock trolls in Terry Brooks's Shannara series. They were sometimes allies to the druids and sometimes not. Kermadec was one troll I liked; a leader intensely loyal to Grianne Ohmsford, the Ilse Witch.
Terry Brooks's trolls were warlike and tribal, originally coming from humans exposed in the apocalypse. They influenced mine, although the trolls I write about are elemental creatures, and not descended from humans. My first novel, Blue Prometheus, introduces a troll who proves a formidable ally to the heroes.
A variety of my books are on sale! Some are heavily discounted. I don't promise that they'll remain this price the whole month, so if you're interested, it's better to buy sooner. Just saying.
Get 30% off the Blue Prometheus boxset on Kobo in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for the next few days!
The promo code is JUNE30
'S' again. A few days ago I published short fantasy stories I've enjoyed. I thought I'd do a science fiction post, too. One of the stories might sound and feel like fantasy, but it's actually soft science fiction.
The first one is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (first published in 1959). It was later expanded into a novel and eventually became a film.
Scientists discover a way to increase intelligence. They test this on a mouse (Algernon). It works. The mouse becomes incredibly intelligent. Then they replicate this on Charlie, a man with an IQ of 68. His intelligence drastically increases, and he realises that the people he thought friends were really mocking him. He becomes one of the top scientists in the world, but then he notices a problem with Algernon. The mouse is returning to what it was before.
Sad but worth reading. And don't be put off by the poor spelling—it improves as Charlie gains intelligence.
Here's a free version on the Internet Archive. It's a PDF of a physical version of the story.
The final story is The Smallest Dragonboy by Anne McCaffrey. It's a positive and uplifting story. From the title, it sounds like fantasy, and it feels like fantasy, too. But actually, it's not. I think most fantasy fans would still enjoy reading it. It's a moving and entertaining story. In many ways, it's my favourite of the four.
You can read it here:
Here are two short fantasy stories that I enjoyed. I'm not saying they're the best I've read, but they were fun to read. The first came quickly to mind, and the second I found on a quick internet search and enjoyed. Always good to discover new stories/writers.
I've linked to free versions of each story. Let me know if you like them. Here they are.
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.
This one's written in the style of a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the protagonist who needs to go to hell to find her sister. Interesting read. Published in 2014. You can read it in Lightspeed magazine.
My biggest reading regret is that between the ages of about 30 and 36 I hardly read a single book. Throughout my childhood, teenage years, and twenties I read a lot. Every day. From 37 onwards I've read a lot, but for some reason, I almost completely stopped for about 6 years. I'm not sure why, but I remember feeling bored whenever I read. I clearly remember the joy I felt when I started reading again. In fact, for the first five or six years of my return to reading, I read an enormous amount, and that reading gave me so many ideas for books of my own.
Orange Storm is now $2.99, reduced from $4.99. Link to the books page and all retailer links...
The Nebula Awards are out. Mostly new writers for me, although Ben Bova won a posthumous award. I've submitted Blue Prometheus for an SFWA story bundle later in the year. See how that goes.