This is probably the edgiest post I will ever write, because I want to talk today about edge cases. Like some of the concepts I described in my post on narrative physics, this is another instance of me taking an idea from a "hard" field (science, engineering, math) and applying it to a "soft" field (political science, philosophy, literature), and this time that concept is edge cases. If you're not familiar, an edge case is an engineering term used in testing to express failure modes. For a product to be deemed effective/safe/useful, it has to be rigorously tested, and not just under "normal" conditions; it has to be exposed to the most extreme and unusual conditions that the engineers can possibly imagine it might ever conceivably experience, and tested in that environment, too. Those extreme and unusual conditions are known as edge cases, and it is very common for a product to require redesign after it has met its nominal operating conditions because it fails to account for edge cases. If only that concept were applied outside of engineering.
Criticism is a vital part of literature, and for that matter most fields. Active, reasoned critiques help identify weaknesses and strengths, provide multiple interpretations and perspectives on disparate matters, and foster improvement, perhaps more than anything else. They are just as essential to individuals; critical feedback is immensely helpful to improving oneself in any number of aspects, whether that's a specific ability, or more generally. It is something that we are encouraged to actively seek out in order to understand how our work and how we are perceived and received by others. Unfortunately, it is also something that I struggle with receiving.
One of the wonderful things about this modern age is the fact that so many classic texts are available for free, or for very little, to read instantly on Kindle. That's actually why I first found myself delving deeply into the lesser known works of authors like Jules Verne and HG Wells, and I continue to find it convenient how easily and cheaply I am able to obtain copies of classics. I can't help but think that in another day and age, finding a copy of something like The Story of Burnt Njal would have involved multiple trips to specialty bookstores in the hopes of finding this particular text.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into this read, as I make something of a point not to read too many reviews before I start a new book so as to not bias myself one way or another from what other people thought. Whatever it was I expected, I found something very different. After I finished it, I did see a review that aligned this book with something like The Iliad, which I think might be the most apt comparison of which I can think. This has a very mythical feel: all of the characters are larger-than-life, both they and their enemies are exaggerated in their powers and personalities, and character arcs are largely absent...
Have we written a philosophy book review before? I know that we've talked about philosophy on the site in previous posts, but this might be the first time that I'm actually reviewing a philosophy book here at IGC. That's a little ironic, because this series of essays is probably not the first work of philosophy that comes to mind - I think most people probably would come up with Plato's dialogues as the most popularly known (though not necessarily read) piece of philosophy.
If you've been writing for awhile, you've probably reached a point in a story where you've had to kill off a character. I don't mean a minor character or a world character who pretty much exists just to die on a main character's sword - I mean a point where the plot and the characterization and the whole story demand that a character you have worked with and developed and followed through thousands of words must die. Maybe you knew this was something that would have to happen from the time you started writing the story, or maybe it was something you weren't expecting before you reached the scene and realized there was no other good choice. Regardless, it's never an easy thing.
A lot of very strange things can, and do, happen on a world that is flat, and is carried on the backs of four elephants perched upon the shell of the great turtle A'Tuan. Terry Pratchett's world and stories seem, on the surface, to be plainly fun. And they are that. Lighthearted and amusing, his stories don't feel heavy, but despite their facade, they in many cases convey unexpected significance. The well-meaning Watch Captain Vimes does just that as he investigates a dwarfish murder.
Speculative fiction, broadly, includes the stories that are typically classified as science fiction and fantasy, but if you've written in the genre realm for long, you may have noticed that the terminology employed by libraries and other sources to classify genre fiction is somewhat limited. Maybe we genre writers aren't as "serious" as the "real" authors, but that hasn't stopped us from developing our own terminology to help describe our works. Since I think that many of these terms would be useful for both readers and writers to know, I've sought to describe some of them below.