Below are the most recent posts on NedMarcus.com.
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.
Okay, this is 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
I've entered Orange Storm into the Self Publishing Fantasy Blog Off—organised by Mark Lawrence. This is the second time I've entered. The first time was with Blue Prometheus in SPFBO5.
The contest usually skews towards a darker fantasy than I write, but it's certainly popular with fantasy writers. The 300 places were taken in less than 9 hours. Over 100 places went in the first 20 minutes. Dust, blood, and shadow are the most popular words in the combined titles entered. I'm the only one with orange in the title.
Young Aina is No. 1 on the Amazon Bestseller one-hour sci-fi and fantasy short reads category. Not the whole store, unfortunately. Still, it's a first for the novelette.
The 7th SPFBO (self-publishing fantasy blog-off) is an indie contest for fantasy writers. The winner this year is Reign & Ruin by J.D. Evans. The contest is one of the few dedicated to fantasy, although the slant is towards a darker fantasy than I normally write. But still some good stuff comes from the contest. The prize is a selfie-stick and publicity, which all writers want. The contest is run by Mark Lawrence. Here's a link to the SPFBO7 on his blog.
In my old armchair. I also like reading on the bus, however bumpy. I hate reading on the beach—too much sun and sand. For some reason, I can't read in bed either.
It's hard to say which fantasy book I've read the most times, but Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist must be one of the books I've reread the most. This is a book that divides opinion. Some people just see nothing special in it, but I love the protagonist, Mara, and the intricate network of people she builds around her as she fights for her family's survival.
How many books do you have?
I know. It's something that varies over life. My books include paperbacks, hardbacks, and ebooks. Not all of them are fantasy or sci-fi, but quite a few are. If I'd saved all the books I've ever bought (or even worse, read) then there would be no room for me in the house. Of course, I sell, give away or (on rare occasions) recycle books I don't want.
But how many books do I have? I've just counted them. Here are the numbers (in reverse order):
The ebooks are mostly on Amazon, but well over 100 are on Kobo, too. Only a handful on Apple.
How many books do you have? I always like to hear from readers. Leave a comment at the bottom of the page or hit reply on one of my newsletters and let me know.
If you're reading this, you may have already read ( or at least downloaded) Young Aina, but you may be interested in one of the other fantasy books being offered in the promo. No sign up required.
No.1 from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle
This one’s hard, but I have to choose Pug (later known as Milamber) from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Cycle. Pug appears in most of the 30 books in the cycle; he plays a minor role in the brilliant Empire trilogy, but otherwise is one of the main characters in almost all the other books.
The story starts with Pug outside Castle Crydee as a child, when he’s rescued from a storm by the magician Kulgan, to whom he later becomes apprenticed. Together, they fight against an empire that attacks through a rift in the universe.
I love the development of Pug from a boy to a simple magician of the lesser way, to a magician of the greater way who becomes involved in exploring the nature of the universe in order to save it.
No.2 from Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger Series
Although I think Pug’s the most interesting magician, I have to give honorary mention to Jonathan-Thomas-Meriweather and Clothahump—the turtle magician, from Alan Dean Foster’s funny Spellsinger series.
The wizard Clothahump searches across dimensions for a magician who can defeat an invading army. He finds Jonathan-Thomas Meriweather, an aspiring rock guitarist, and brings him into his world. He makes magic from rock songs on an instrument he finds in his new world. His magic is hit and miss and funny.
Fire Rising is the final book in the Blue Prometheus series by Ned Marcus. Can magic overcome the advanced technology of an expansionist empire?
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.
Today, 21st March is International Day of Forests, designed to raise awareness and celebrate the importance of all types of forests. I love forests, and they're the setting of many of my stories. But being a fantasy website, I want to celebrate the importance of magic forests in fantasy and myth.
Here's a link to one of my more popular articles on magic forests...
It’s rare that I wish a novel were any longer than it is; sometimes it’s the opposite. Although many of my favourite novels are the perfect length.
But Michael Moorcock was an author who wrote many fantasy novellas, and I often wished his books were longer. Any of the Books of Corum, for example.
What about you? Are there any novels you wished were longer?
Horror of any kind, whether it's psychological horror or graphic, bloody horror. Either way, I just don't see the point in reading it. I sometimes enjoy dark fantasy, but not horror. Sorry to any diehard horror fans out there!
Added some book quotes to my fantasy quotes. Here's Groucho Marx...
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
I've just finished reading the novella 'The Emperor's Soul' by Brandon Sanderson. It's more tightly focussed than most of his books, telling the story of a prisoner held by the empire. She's a master forger. Using her magic, she can copy objects. She's given the task of copying the emperor's soul after an assassination attempt.
She needs more than two years to create a new soul. Even then, she's not sure it's possible. She's given weeks.
I like the relationships between the characters in this story. I can't say much more without giving the ending away. It's my favourite of his stories so far.
Not all of the influence on my writing comes from fantasy writers, although I've been influenced by some, and not all the influence and inspiration has yet found its way into my published stories. I have unpublished stories where the influence is sparking new ideas right now.
Psychology has influenced some of the concepts I've written about, particularly in my short stories (mostly, as yet, unpublished). Ideas on consciousness and the unconscious, and how at certain times in history, decisions were made to discourage individuals from accessing their own unconscious, instead, they were encouraged to seek spiritual help from the church hierarchy. I'm interested in how this shifted thinking from being more subjective to something more objective—which science then adopted and adapted for its own use. Carl Jung discusses this in his book Psychological Types.
Milton's Paradise Lost is an epic poem that reads like fantasy. I took some ideas directly from Paradise Lost and used them in The Darkling Odyssey. The poetry of Emily Dickinson, and William Blake; especially his Proverbs of Hell, and The Four Zoas. The King James Version of the Bible influenced and inspired these writers, and me too, not least, the rhythm of the writing.
Philosophically, Heraclitus and Lao-Tzu have influenced the outlook of some characters. It's in the background of course—nothing explicit.
But for fantasy? Raymond E. Feist, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Lois McMaster Bujold are some authors that come immediately to mind. I'm not saying I write like them, but I've read and reread their stories many times. With Edgar Rice Burroughs, I like the sense of adventure. Moorcock has incredible imagination. I enjoyed Feist's long adventures which he mixes with the characters' philosophical ramblings on the universe—fun, even when I don't agree with them. Lois McMaster Bujold wrote science fiction as well as fantasy, and I actually prefer her science fiction. Epic adventures in space.
I've reread most of the above many times. Some have excited my imagination, some have given me ideas to explore. I'm not saying that I write like these writers, but something of their work has touched me.
Here's the link to my book page on Smashwords if you want to pick up a few discounted books. The discounts range from 25% to 50% off. Young Aina's free!
The Smashwords store has a sale at the moment. All my books are available at a discount.
The link below is to the sales page of the Smashwords store. Use the menu on the left to choose fantasy or whatever genre you want.
"Besides, I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows."Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber
There are several hidden gems that I've come across in SPFBO (Self-publishing Fantasy Blog-Off) contests over the years, although most of the books I enjoyed failed to reach the finals. Here are two of them.
First, Nectar and Ambrosia by E. M. Hamill. It's set in an inn that straddles our world and a mythological one. The protagonist, Callie, is chased by a monster when she comes across the inn. She enters. Strangely, the monster is blocked from entering. Inside, she encounters gods from mythology...
The second hidden gem is The Ember Child by Anthony Mitchell. It's an epic fantasy without much magic, but a good read if you like epic adventures. I don't think the author promotes this book—so it's a very well-hidden gem.
My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine and their fight for their country.
I nearly didn't give Robin Hobb’s first book, Assassin’s Apprentice, a chance. To be honest, the name put me off for a long time. I don’t usually read books about assassins, but this assassin was reluctant, making it slightly more interesting.
When I finally tried the book, I still didn’t like it and only read a few chapters. It wasn't until several years had passed that I tried it again. This time I finished it.
Even then, I didn’t love the book but was interested enough to buy the next one in the series. Later, I read the other (about 16) books in The Realm of the Elderlings cycle.
I loved them.
Many fantasy characters are too pompous for me. Too full of themselves. Especially the magicians, who seldom have time for regular people. If I were to spend time with any fantasy characters, I'd have to be able to relate to them naturally.
But there is one magician I'd like to have a drink with, that's Kulgan from Raymond Feist's Magician series. Kulgan was Pug's initial and very down-to-earth teacher. Another character I'd invite would be Macros. It'd be interesting to talk to someone who once tried to become a god. Still from Feist's books, I'd also invite Mara from The Empire Trilogy. I admire her ability to forgive people who have done her harm.
I'd be happy to have a drink with the Goblin Emperor (from Katherine Addison's novel) too. It's interesting when ordinary goblins rise to great heights as this one did.
Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings would be another character I'd like to meet. I'd love to spend the evening eating and drinking with him and his wife. Lots of questions to ask him.
Just to move quickly outside fantasy and into science fiction—I'd like to meet Miles Vorkosigan, the brilliant character created by Lois McMaster Bujold in her long and enjoyable Vorkosigan series.
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.
Hardbacks are my favourite. They last longer, and I like the look of them in my bookcase but will only buy them when I expect to reread the book several times.
Paperbacks are good, too, especially for nonfiction.
E-books are not bad—especially for novels. They're useful when I'm travelling or when I want to read a book immediately. I like that I can increase the size of the print to suit me, too. I don't really like reading on my phone. Mostly, I read e-books on my Kindle e-reader (I have plans to buy a Kobo e-reader, too). E-books are also good for special offers, and as a way to check out a new book to see if I like it.
If I drink anything while I read, the choice would usually be between tea and water. Tea during the day and water at night.
Any type of tea is good, but I particularly like a good Ceylon or Darjeeling tea. I also drink oolong tea from central Taiwan, and the teas grown in the valleys around Shiding. Pouchong and the local red tea are my favourites.
Here's a picture of one of my teapots, which is designed as an ox with a calf on her back. I bought it in Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan.
I'm currently reading a sample of Legend by David Gemmell. It's a tale of war and vengeance. I quite like it, but maybe not enough to want to see what happens next. The protagonist just doesn't interest me enough.
The other fantasy novel I'm reading is The Oak and the Ram by Michael Moorcock. It's book two in the Chronicle of Prince Corum and the Silver Hand. This follow-on series isn't as strong as the Books of Corum trilogy, but I like the world he's created. I have first editions of the trilogy in hardback which I picked up in a secondhand shop, and I like the early 70s artwork.
Writing fantasy involves research, especially when your aim is to deepen the world building. This is how I approached it.
I'm working on the second draft of the sequel to Orange Storm. I don't want to give too much away, but one part of this novel is when an alien flora (and fauna) pushes its way into Earth, bringing magic with it.
This may be the cleanest first draft I've completed, and I hope the relatively small changes won't take too long. We'll see.
I like many but here I'm choosing The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I really enjoyed this book. There's no more than a hint of magic, but the goblin's personal struggles as he moves from obscurity to power are fascinating. Well written with a warm tone.
The novel won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2015 and was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards, too.
I've decided to write an A-Z of (mostly) fantasy on the blog and publish them once or twice a week.
A is for 'Author You've Read the Most Books From.' For me, there are several authors I've read extensively since I was in my teens or twenties.
Terry Brooks wins with 41 books. I loved his books, and still like them, although not nearly as much as I used to. Still, they're good fantasy adventure stories, and his Magical Kingdom for Sale series kept me occupied during a long (13+ hour) flight, so I'll always appreciate that.
Honourable mentions go to Raymond Feist (31 books), Lois McMaster Bujold (21 books), and Michael Moorcock (21 books).
I still find Feist readable, and particularly like his original Magician books and the Empire Trilogy (which I love). The rest of the series rambles in an enjoyable way, and I always find it interesting when his characters launch into philosophical discussions on the nature of the universe and life. I don't have to agree with them, of course; I just enjoy listening to them.
Lois McMaster Bujold has written some good fantasy, but I most love her science fiction. The Vorkosigan Saga, with Miles Vorkosigan's adventures in space I've read and reread several times.
Michael Moorcock was my introduction to fantasy; I began reading him when I was about 14. I loved the Eternal Champion concept and followed the character in most of his incarnations. I still find them fun to read.
B is coming shortly!
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.
One of the language learning apps I've used is Duolingo—the most popular language-learning app in the world at the moment.
I use it for Mandarin Chinese and French, but they've got options to learn three constructed languages, including two fictional ones: High Valyrian (Game of Thrones) and Klingon (Star Trek).
Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese have (27.2M) (16.9M) and (5.52M) learners respectively using the app. But the numbers for fictional languages is surprisingly high. High Valyrian has 504K learners, and Klingon has 303K learners. More than several 'real' languages. Although I doubt if many can speak them—learning a language is quite hard.
The other constructed language, for anyone interested, is Esperanto with 291K learners. One of the first members of my writers' critique group spoke Esperanto—fluently from what I heard.
Does anyone here have plans to learn a fantasy or sci-fi language?
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.
Read the best of Ned Marcus blog 2021.
I've finished the first draft of the second novel in the Orange Storm series—The Orange Witch. It looks like it'll be slightly longer than the first novel. At present, it's at just over 84,000 words.
I plan to rest if for a few weeks while I work on a short story I want to finish, then I'll start work on the second draft, which will involve tightening up the story.
Orange Storm is now on sale at Smashwords. I'm new to this store, but I quite like it. It has a different feel to the major online booksellers.
If you have a new e-reader to fill or just feel like a bargain, it's a good time to buy the first book in an exciting series. Blue Prometheus is reduced from $2.99 to $0.99 until new year's day.
Visit my books page for all links...
I wrote this story in 2019 for a Fantasy Faction contest. It came second. Now it's been reprinted in the speculative fiction magazine Metastellar.
My books are now available on the Smashwords store. Blue Prometheus is currently on sale on there, reduced from $2.99 to $1.49 until Jan 1st. Click the link below to go to Smashwords.