This post is primarily intended as an educational one, to discuss some of the terminology and thought-processes involved in materials science, but it was inspired by world-building considerations. As you may recall, if you've been following along with what I've been reading (and my regular book reviews), I recently read a book called The Substance of Civilization, which detailed how the materials to which our species has had access have shaped the course of cultural evolution over the past ten thousand years. It prompted me to think in more detail about choice of materials and construction techniques in world-building.
In my mind, one of the most significant drawbacks of the modern education system is its tendency to silo or stovepipe ideas and topics. Yet as I learned in The Substance of Civilization, it was partially the work of Flemish artists that led to the invention of the movable type printing press...
I admit that I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, despite it being one of the most popular events for the past several years for aspiring writers. The goal of it is to help people establish a writing habit, so it's not that I don't support the mission. In fact, I post writing prompts here on the site precisely because I want to encourage people to write more. And the idea of basically free-writing a short novel in the course of a month isn't a bad one. As unreasonable as it might sound, writing fifty thousand words in a month is not all that much of a stretch, if you're willing to make a routine out of it.
Considering that a lot of classic fantasy genre tropes come from this period and region of history, perhaps that is a bit of an oversight on my part, one that reading Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series has helped me address. In fact, reading these books, combined with some thinking I've been doing recently about plotting, has led me to some interesting reflections. So while this is still a review of the series, I also want to talk a little about those thoughts.
Creative writing, or the speculative fiction genre, has long leveraged something called the MICE quotient. I first came across this when I was reading an Orson Scott Card book on how to write science fiction and fantasy (I think it was even titled How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy). The premise is that stories in the speculative fiction genre can be broadly binned as having one or more of four, primary drivers: milieu, idea, character, and event. Although most good stories will incorporate multiple of these components, with different ones emphasized at different times, there is usually one that drives the story forward.
If I were reviewing this is a fantasy book, I would critique is for being repetitive. After all, this is book four in which Lancaster and York fight, kings get captures, kings get killed, people don't have heirs at the appropriate times, and battles are fought over the exact same thing that they were waged a few years ago. However, if this is not a fantasy novel, so I can't blame Iggulden if Ravenspur started to feel repetitive in places. This is, after all, what really happened, or at least the broad strokes are. For some thirty years, the houses of York and Lancaster fought back and forth over the throne of England, and devastated the population in the process.
Remember when I promised that I was going to try to share more world-building details and background of how I go about crafting these stories? I think this is the first post to move that effort forward. Back in September, I finally got ahead on my Blood Magic writing schedule, even beginning part one of the two-part season finale (released in November and December), so it seemed a good time to release something extra.
In the previous two books in this series, a lot of time was spent bringing players into place and setting up introductions. There is plenty of action, but it all retains a fairly light touch - there is a sense that, although things are happening and changes are occurring, nothing really major has changed yet, and anything that has changed is not necessarily permanent. This is common in series, when you start to look at them holistically; it takes time and words to put all of the characters into the places they need to be for the plot to start really picking up. With The Stiehl Assassin, the plot definitely accelerates.
We've mentioned logical fallacies on the site before. It turns out that the human brain is not the most reliable machine, at least when it comes to being rational/logical. After all, our brains evolved to help us find better food sources and communicate about the dangers (and discomforts) of eating poison ivy or being attacked by saber-toothed tigers, not to help us analyze the finer points of morality or the inner workings of the cosmos. Functionally, they are just constructions of chemical and electrical signals that react to various stimuli.
There's something vaguely amusing about the fact that as I go through and read The Fall of Shannara series, I find myself most interested by, and rooting for, the invading Skaar and their hyper-competent Princess Ajin. It's not that I don't like the other characters (most of them, anyway), or that Brooks hasn't done a good job at making them sympathetic. To me, though, Princess Ajin is exactly what the best characters should be.