Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Conan: A History of the Rights

A quick introduction to the rights issues that plagued Conan after Howard's passing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Quick Reviews: Karma Upsilon 4 and Appalling Stories

Karma Upsilon 4 is a short story sequel to Mark Wandrey’s Cartwright’s Cavaliers, continuing the adventures of Jim Cartwright as he leads his family’s mercenary company across the stars. In addition to being the foundation of the impressive Four Horsemen military science fiction series, Cartwright’s Cavaliers took Jim Cartwright from being an overweight washout mired in despair and debt, and through responsibility and the insistent nudging of his senior NCOs, he grew into a leader. Along the way, Jim picks up a kawaii alien sidekick, a smoking hot girlfriend, and a Gundam-style giant robot, yet the anime influence does not break the grit of milSF written in the classic Baen mold.

Now, with a couple years of experience under his belt, Jim Cartwright is searching for a refuge that will keep his company safe from the ravages of competing mercenary companies and blood-sucking lawyers. The abandoned space station in the Upsilon orbit of the Karma system appears to fit his needs. If he can get inside, that is. Someone has jammed the locks, sealed the hatches, and booby-trapped everything. Jim and the Cavaliers must cut their way through to find out just what Jim’s $125 million+ credits has purchased. It’s a straightforward story, enlivened by an unrelenting series of lethal traps.

Jim grew up in Cartwright’s Cavaliers, but still must deal with the consequences of his teenage rebellion and despair. Not in angst, but it takes time to turn fat into muscle. His size continues to be an issue, limiting him to older, larger equipment. In the tight corners of Karma Upsilon 4, it also means that he has to enter rooms alone, adding to his personal risk—and the risk of his company. But Jim also maintains his personal gains from Cartwright’s Cavaliers. He might not be the perfect captain—or soldier—but he shoulders his share of duty admirably, striving to improve instead of choosing the way of the malcontent. Growing up and leadership are not destinations for Jim, as they are in many adolescent fantasies, but gateways to greater, more satisfying duties and responsibilities.

As for what Jim and the Cavaliers found inside Karma Upsilon 4, that will be fodder for further stories.


I found Appalling Stories: 13 Tales of Social Injustice in my weekly new release searches, and grew curious. Here was a pulp-tinged counterpart to Forbidden Thoughts playing on the Astounding Stories name but not written by the Pulp Revolution or Superversive movements. And the writers touted it as anti-message fic.

Not quite. This is a bleak collection exploring the evils of the ends and means of social justice, filled with inverted morality tales where the good suffer and the bad struggle under the lash of the worse. It’s Black Pill Pulp, not quite speculative fiction as many of the stories, such as “Bake Me a Cake” and the military rules of engagement story “Our Diversity is Our Strength!”, have a distinct “is this true or is this the Onion” satire of modern headlines. Not so much “Could this happen?” but “is it happening right now?”As an Amazon reviewer said, "This is message fiction, and the message is, 'Hold my beer...'"

Perhaps the best of the lot is “The Bitterness of Honey”, a tale that breaks the mold of the collection by combining eco-terrorism, weird menace, and paranormal horror. It would be perfect for a modern, spicier version of Weird Tales, if the editor had the stomach for it.

Appalling Tales is not for everyone. When it is not heavy-handed with its message, it is smothering with mood. And, yet, among the despair is the laughter of the gallows, assuming the reader stuck around long enough to find it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

More Advice from Joseph T. Shaw

Joseph T. Shaw was the famed editor of Black Mask, ushering in the age of the hard-boiled detective and paving the way for film noir. Under his guidance, "The greatest change in the detective story since Poe," wrote popular culture scholar Russell B. Nye, 'came in 1926 with the emergence of the Black Mask school of fiction.'" (h/t: Detnovel.com, who has an excellent overview of Black Mask and its effects on the detective story.) We have already read Shaw's thoughts on dialogue, but Detnovel supplies some of Shaw's approach to character and action. Called "objective realism" by some, he was more interested with creating an illusion of reality instead of a copy of it.

In his letters and memos, he articulated a clear vision of hard-boiled fiction. "We wanted simplicity for the sake of clarity, plausibility and belief," he wrote. "We wanted action, but we held that action is meaningless unless it involves recognizable human character in three dimensional form." Critics have called this style "objective realism," but Shaw's own explanation stresses the difference between exterior appearance and interior emotion. He counseled his writers that "in creating the illusion of reality" they should let their characters act and talk tough rather than make them be tough. This model of character -- a crisp exterior but an amorphous interior -- corresponds to Shaw's idea of his readership. Nor did Shaw urge plots of relentless action on his writers. "To accomplish action it's not necessary to stage a gun battle from start to finish, with a murder and a killing in every other paragraph," he later told Raymond Chandler: "You can keep it alive through dialogue."
To expand a bit, Shaw romanticized his readership, claiming that his readers "knew 'the song of a bullet, the soft, slithering hiss of a swift-thrown knife, the feel of hard fists, the call of courage.'" and:
The Black Mask reader, he wrote, "is vigorous-minded; hard, in a square man's hardness; hating unfairness, trickery, injustice, cowardly underhandedness; standing for a square deal and a fair show in little or big things, and willing to fight for them; not squeamish or prudish, but clean, admiring the good in man and woman; not sentimental in a gushing sort of way, but valuing true emotion; not hysterical, but responsive to the thrill of danger, the stirring exhilaration of clean, swift, hard action – and always pulling for the right guy to come out on top."
As for the results of Shaw's vision, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Lester Dent all wrote for him, and it is impossible to think of film, comics, or fiction without these men.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Quick History of the Campbelline Decade

I continue to use the convention of splitting the Golden Age of science fiction into the Campbelline and the Golden Ages, following Robert Silverberg's convention. Much of what fandom considers the Golden Age occurs in the 1950s and early 1960s and follows the rise of the paperback. Certain tropes such as the "Happy Engineer" do not appear until the 1950s as well.

October 1937 - John W. Campbell succeeds F. Orlin Tremaine as editor for Astounding Stories

1938 - In March, Astounding Stories changes to Astounding Science-Fiction. In May, Campbell is given full authority over Astounding

1939 - In March, Campbell starts Unknown, a fantasy companion to Astounding

In July Campbell publishes A. E. van Vogt's first story, "Black Destroyer", and Asimov's early story "Trends". The Campbelline Age is said to begin with this issue

Lensman, the first upswing in popularity of science fiction. While Astounding follows an increase of realism, competitor Amazing uses isekai for relatability and sees better sales. Amazing outselling Astounding, while Astounding has the higher regard will be a constant occurrence throughout the next decade and more.

1940 - Slan

1941 - Asimov's Robots, Poor sales forces Unknown to switch to a bimonthly publication schedule

7 December, The Day That Would Live In Infamy. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States into World War Two

1942 - Foundation and Weapons Shop. Kuttner and Moore join the stable. Many of the engineers that pushed the technological fiction of the early Campbelline Age join the war effort. "Soft" science fiction, or social science fiction, begins to fill Astounding.

1943 - Paper shortages force Campbell to choose between Astounding and Unknown. Science fiction wins. In the last issues of Unknown, Campbell publishes stories by Babette Rosmond which catch publisher Street & Smith's eye.

The Shaver Mystery begins at Amazing.

1944 - Babette Rosmond is selected to edit Doc Savage. She forces Dent to change his distinct style for a more realistic style that strips Doc of his heroism and science for a conventional mystery format. Dent begins to branch out into mysteries. Sales begin to fall under her editorship.

1945 - Shaver Mystery mania takes over Amazing. Over the next three years, nearly 75% of the magazine is devoted to it. Science fiction fans condemn it, but Amazing's circulation swells to 200,000+ monthly, the highwater mark for all American science fiction magazines. By comparison, Astounding and Weird Tales both sold 50,000 monthly.

1946 - Rosmond begins editing The Shadow, attempting to force the same changes from Doc Savage onto Walter Gibson. Gibson will eventually quit under her editorship. Again, sales fall.

 Arthur C. Clarke's first story appears in Astounding.  Adventures in Time and Space and The Best of Science Fiction are published, igniting a science-fiction publishing boom.

1947 - At WorldCon, Campbell "begged for the fans' indulgence at the profusion of despair, claiming that he could only publish what the writers were delivering . . . but he was sending out pleas to cease and desist." His editing becomes more heavy-handed.

1948 - Rosmond is replaced as editor of Doc Savage and the Shadow. Both magazines return to their roots. Sales begin to recover.

Street & Smith attempts to revive Unknown, testing the waters with an anthology. "Street & Smith printed 300,000 copies, against the advice of John Campbell, but although it sold better than the original, too many copies were returned for the publisher to be willing to revive the magazine."

Amazing ceases publication of Shaver Mystery stories.

Despite science fiction's popularity, a slow exodus of Campbell's writers to other genres, markets, and media begins. This movement is driven by financial concerns as most writers could not support themselves on science fiction alone, especially Campbell's brand. Leigh Brackett notes, "I kept trying to sell him things because he was the top market, but when you wrote a Campbell-type story and it didn't sell then you had no place else to go with it."

1949 - Street & Smith kills off its pulp magazine, including Doc Savage and The Shadow. Only Astounding survives, as it is the most prestigious science fiction magazine. Fantasy and Science Fiction begins.

1950 - Galaxy Science Fiction begins. F&SF and Galaxy have a more permissive editorialship than Campbell, continuing his ideas while allowing the themes he forbade. Galaxy soon becomes the most prestigious magazine in SF.

Campbell publishes L. Ron Hubbard's first article on Dianetics. This flirtation with Scientology and Campbell's fascination with pseudoscience further diminish his influence in science fiction.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Swords of Saint Valentine

Saint Valentinus of Terni was a priest, a healer, and a hieromartyr. As a priest, Saint Valentine offered aid and succor to Christians in a time when persecution of Christians was a long-standing policy of the Roman Empire. As a healer, he restored vision to the blind daughter of Judge Asterius, who had held him under house arrest. When taken before the Prefect of Rome and Emperor Claudius II, he refused to recant his faith. He was tortured, beaten with clubs, and on 14 February 269, executed by decapitation. That day became the Feast of Saint Valentine.
Today, we call it Valentine’s Day.
In honour of Saint Valentine, the SteemPulp community cordially invites all readers to attend their first event: SWORDS OF SAINT VALENTINE. From 14 February to the 28th, SteemPulp writers will serialize pulp-influenced tales of science fiction and fantasy centered around the themes of love and chivalry. Fun, action-packed stories that place entertaining the reader first.
Looking for tales of love or chivalry, preferably love and chivalry? Romantic love and chivalric romance? Gallant knights and fair princesses, fantastic magic and strange technologies, gentle healers and steadfast clerics, cruel emperors and fearsome beasts, unwavering faith and unbreakable honour? Search the tag Swordsofsaintvalentine on Steemit (or follow the link) for the cutting edge of serialized short fiction blending classic values with classic action.
Swords of Saint Valentine will feature stories by  @everhart@noughtshayde@t2tang@jimfear138@notjohndaker and @jd-alden. Benjamin Cheah, author of Invincible and Hammer of the Witches, will also contribute “Realm of Beasts”, a tale of fearless warriors wielding sword and gun, rampaging man-eating beasts, superpowered cultivators, and martial valour.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Dialogue, by Joseph T. Shaw


by Joseph T. Shaw, former editor of Black Mask

Writer's Digest, June 1939

In a writing job, dialogue stands out the most; it is also the potent element and certainly the most versatile. Excellent dialogue appears rarely, but it then invariably commands its just reward; and for that reason it certainly deserves your careful study and attention.

A cardinal rule in practically all writing is that the author should keep out of it entirely and allow his characters to tell the story. Nothing weakens or spoils even good dialogue so much as to have the author act as interpreter between the quoted lines.
Bill swung around upon Ed. 
“You blankety blank blank!”
And the eager author, while his readers await Ed’s comeback, writes: “Bill was not smiling when he said this. He was angry. Moreover, he wanted to make Ed angry, force him to make the first move, to reach for his gun.”
“Now, Bill, you just oughtn’t to use names like that.”
And the eager author again: “Ed was a mild-mannered man. He didn’t relish a fight and he had a very wholesome respect for Bill’s speed on the draw and the accuracy of his shooting. He obviously preferred to swallow the insult than to risk the test.”

One must never even think of employing dialogue as a filler of space, without purpose, to break the long run of descriptive matter. I’m sure you have frequently seen stories where it seemed that the author, discovering pages without a spoken word, has suddenly decided that there must be a bit of dialogue thrown in here. Then comes the query, to himself: “Who shall I have talk? What will I have them say?”—and the compromise, “Oh, I’ll give them a half dozen lines about the weather.”

You are right. I’ve seen that far more often in manuscript than in published form, unless, indeed, you want to go back to the older, traditional English style with its inconsequential wordiness.

Dialogue should never be used without purpose, without a definite contribution to be made. If it needs introduction—and it can itself introduce a story, even a book—its most natural entrance is in the logical evolution of a situation, where characters have reached a point when they must talk it out, where the story demands it. Then let the characters you have portrayed tell the story you have set up, themselves; not in your language and with your own expression, but in their own.

For, essentially, dialogue must be real. It can be smart, if your characters are smart; it can be original, if your characters have that spark. But it must always be in character, not only with respect to the personalities to whom you give speech, but also with regard to the actual situation and its natural requirements. If it’s real, it strikes you pleasingly; if incongruous, it hits you like a slap in the face.

Of course the attempt for realism can be carried too for. Several writers have gained a measure of renown for their reproduction of what purports to be actual speech; but what is good in one medium is not so good in another. Most people say too much anyway, and are often repetitious. If you have to read every word they say, even in a short dialogue, it grows monotonous and you easily lose the thread of the discourse. Written dialogue should be edited, like everything else borrowed from another medium. As a rule, it should be terse, with only significant expressions remaining.

The staccato form is often effective in stepping up the speed when approaching a climax. Here, however, is an example of the reverse, and is given to show not only how suspense is sustained right up to the instant action breaks—and incidentally bringing the book to its peak—but also to indicate the calm steadiness of the speaker who, facing a seemingly unbeatable opponent, a moment later very nearly kills him with his bare hands. Moreover, in this instance, the ordinary short, sharp speech would be insufficient, since the “I” character feels it necessary before they fight to make absolutely clear to the third person, the woman, exactly what the situation is, to which she in a way has contributed.
“I will tell you, my dear,” I said, smiling at her, “it is because we are men and you are only a woman. And we are men in the raw, too, for things have come to that pass where you are no longer to be wooed but only to be won. Edward Leng, the Oriental barbarian, will have it so, and I, the Celtic one, am no better. You have proclaimed your very splendid ideals and given us an unmistakable dismissal, but the ultimate and lustful savage in us has no use for these things. We are going to fight savagely for you, and notwithstanding ideals and dismissals, you will be the chattel of the victor. Now, my pagan woman, if you will stand aside, we will settle this small matter of ownership. You will be safe in that doorway, or if you want to escape the victor for the time—only for the time—you can flee while we struggle….” 
Leng… was now laughing in grim merriment. 
“You surprise me pleasantly, King,” he said. “You and I are the same man at bottom. You have proclaimed my philosophy better than I could myself.”
“I know that,” I said. “It was your philosophy I proclaimed.”
“Come on then and throw me outside,” he said; and before he had finished speaking I was on him.
This is a rare passage. In the space of a paragraph it sets up the whole situation, makes the purpose, of the antagonist, brutally clear, exposes his character to the last fiber, and while extolling the woman, leaves no possible doubt of what she faces in the event that Leng is the victor. At the same time, it shows the high quality of King who, having found no other way to solve the situation, gives himself willingly to the test. Needless to say, it is a passage from a very thoughtful book, the sort we all hope to write someday.

Here’s another example of careful writing of a different type, sharper, yet made more impressive by its restraint. Nick Charles tries to talk a man away from an idea of using his gun.
Nora was saying: “He made me let him in, Nick. He said he had to—”
“I got to talk to you,” the man with the gun said. “That’s all but I got to do that.”
I said: “All right, talk, but do you mind putting the gun away?”
He smiled with his lower lip. “You don’t have to tell me you’re tough. I heard about you.” He put the pistol in his overcoat pocket. “I’m Shep Morelli.”
“I never heard about you,” I said.
He took a step into the room…. “I didn’t knock Julia off.”
“Maybe you didn’t, but you’re bringing the news to the wrong place. I got nothing to do with it.”
“I haven’t seen her in three months,” he said. “We were washed up.”
“Tell the police.”
“… But listen; what’s the law doing to me? Do they think I did it? Or is it just something else to pin on me?”
I shook my head. “I’d tell you if I knew…. I’m not in this. Ask the police.”
“That’d be very smart. That’d be the smartest thing I ever did…. The boys would like me to come in and ask ‘em questions. They’d like it right down to the end of their blackjacks. I come to you on the level. Studsy says you’re on the level. Be on the level.” 
“I’m being on the level,” I assured him. “If I knew anything I’d—”
Knuckles drummed on the corridor door, three times, sharply. Morelli’s gun was in his hand before the noise stopped….
And here’s Nick and the copper, after Nick was shot:
“… How’d you people happen to pop in?”
The copper … said: … “Mack here sees this bird duck in, he gives us a ring and we … come on up, and pretty lucky for you.” 
“Yes, pretty lucky for me, or maybe I wouldn’t ‘ve got shot.” 
“This bird a friend of yours?” “I never saw him before.” 
“What’d he want of you?” 
“Wanted to tell me he didn’t kill the Wolf girl.” 
“What’s that to you?” 
“What did he think it was to you?” 
“Ask him. I don’t know.” 
“I’m asking you.” 
“Keep on asking.” 
“I’ll ask you another one; you’re going to swear to the complaint on him shooting you?” 
“That’s another one I can’t answer right now. Maybe it was an accident.”
These two bits are either side of a shooting, and one point of interest is that both give practically the same impression of Nick Charles, cool, with his wits about him and apparently unworried. In the first of the two scenes, Nick knows very well that Morelli, a gunman on the dope, will shoot, as he does, on the slightest suggestion that he is being crossed; yet there is nothing flurried or strained in Nick’s talk; nor in Morelli’s either, which makes him a more dangerous, deadly type than if he were hysterical or threatening. Nick admits that he “could hear the blood in my ears and my lips felt swollen,” yet he holds the same poise under the gun to mask his own action. It can be noted that the restraint of this dialogue renders the action that follows, and the whole scene, more real and impressive.

The full effect of the action is accomplished because the emotion produced by it is not anticipated, and therefore not spoiled, by exactly similar emotion being exploited before it actually occurs.

I often have had reason to think that most dialogue is done too hastily. It is possible that the writer has his mind preoccupied with the action toward which he is approaching and, considering that it is the all-important part of the story, gives divided attention to the buildup and particularly to the talk that introduces it.

Dialogue has practically all the properties which a story demands. It can be both a story builder and a character builder. Of Mice and Men employed the functions of dialogue to their fullest extent. A sparse word of setup—the scene—a meager description of one big man and one small man, and dialogue supplies all the rest.
“Lennie! Lennie, for God’s sake don’t drink so much. Lennie, you gonna be sick like you was last night.” 
“Tha’s good. You drink some, George You take a good big drink.” 
“I ain’t sure it’s good water. Looks kinda scummy.” 
Then Lennie makes ripples in the water. “Look, George. Look what I done.” 
George looked sharply at him. “What’d you take outa that pocket?” 
“Ain’t a thing in my pocket.” 
“I know there ain’t. You got it in your hand. What you got in your hand—hiding it?” 
“I ain’t got nothin’, George. Honest.” 
“Come on. Give it here.” 
“It’s only a mouse, George…. I don’t know where there is no other mouse. I remember a lady used to give ‘em to me….” 
“… An’ she stopped givin’ ‘em to ya. You always killed them.” 
“They was so little. I’d pet ‘em and pretty soon they bit my finger and I pinched their head a little and they was dead—because they was so little….” 
“Well, you ain’t pettin’ no mice while you walk with me. You remember where we’re goin’ now?” 
“I forgot again.” 
“We’re gonna work on a ranch like the one we come from up North. Now, look—I’ll give th’ boss th’ work tickets, but you ain’t gonna say a word. You just stand there and say nothin’. If he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job, but if he sees ya work “ before he hears you talk, we’re set. Ya got that?” 
“Sure, George. Sure I got it.” 
“O.K. Now when we go in to see the boss, what you gonna do?” 
“I… I… I ain’t goin’ to say nothin’. Jus’ gonna stand there.”
From even these few lines there can be no question of the characters of the two men; in fact, the whole setup of the story is here, even to the planting of the first indication that big Lennie is a killer, not through any “meanness,” but because of his enormous strength, the feeble mind that controls his impulse to bear down when the object of his petting resists. The work is open to criticism as a book. It is to all intents a play presented in book form, for when dramatized, the descriptive passages were used as stage directions. But it does show the extent to which dialogue can be employed; for here, almost unassisted, dialogue not only makes characterization brutally clear, but it also exposes the motive of the story, expresses thought, outlines the action and carries on and develops the story. Such dialogue cannot well be broken down or substituted by another type. This dialogue is the story.

While not so definite in characterization, another excellent example of the employment of dialogue to forward the story is Octavus Roy Cohen’s popular Collier’s serial, “I Love You Again.” And perhaps of more immediate interest is the work of a writer who a few short years ago was a leader in rough-paper detective fiction and is now pointed to by the smooth-paper editors for his outstanding ability in story construction.

Now, if you analyze those older stories of Frederick Nebel, you will observe that they are very close to ninety percent dialogue. Years ago, as it has been suggested in the beginning of this paper, Nebel set himself definitely to study and acquire command of the various functions of dialogue, and he was one of the first of a particular group to use dialogue to develop his plot. That dialogue did not show the studied effect of smartness but in other respects it can be taken for a pretty safe model. For one thing, it was always in character. It was hardly necessary for the text to point out that MacBride said this, and Kennedy said that. Their respective speech was unmistakable and reflected clearly not only the character of each man but also his method of thought, mood and mannerism.

The talk between the two, and with the other characters, brought out the story, built it up and then introduced the action climax.
Kennedy in his quiet way has been snooping, found the trail of guilt leading to a man whom the blunt McBride has not suspected, and in place of telling it to McBride, lets the man implicate himself: 
Kennedy said quietly: “… Torgensen was killed by a .38. That phone call I just had was from Headquarters. They’ve got the gun over there. I found it in a dump heap across the way from the station. Haims at Headquarters says it checks with slugs found in Torgensen. A dealer down in Beaumont Street told me how he sold it to Lewis Friel.” 
Friel shouted: “That’s a lie!” 
“You can’t prove it’s a lie.” 
“Oh, can’t I,” snapped Friel. He pulled a gun from his pocket and said: 
“There’s my gun and I’ll face that dealer and make him prove he sold me the gun you’re talking about.” 
Kennedy said: “Steve, take a look at his gun.” 
MacBride strode across toward Friel. Something snapped in Friel’s eyes and he jumped back. “Hold on there!” he said. 
MacBride scowled. “Don’t point that gun at me.” 
“I’m pointing it at you.” 
Marcia said: “I’ve got them from this side, Lewis.” 
Kennedy turned. Marcia Friel was holding a very small automatic. 
Friel said to Kennedy: “You almost trapped me, smart boy.” 
“What do you mean, almost?” Kennedy drawled. 
And after the fireworks, MacBride, lying in a hospital bed, said: 
“Talk to me, Kennedy… What about that gun you had Haims examine?” 
“I did find it where I said I found it, down near the station. Some jumpy guy must have tossed it away. So when Haims told me over the wire that it didn’t check, I told Lewis that it did just as a gag. He pulled his gun and I meant to have you take that and check it.”
All of the foregoing are samples of good dialogue, and an examination of the fuller works, of which these are merely brief excerpts, will show clearly the important part they play in establishing the quality of the respective stories. If the dialogue was bad, in respect of being careless, out of character, faulty with regard to situation and emotion, without significant meaning, these books would not have achieved the success they did. And it should be borne in mind that the works of the writers quoted are all of outstanding merit and made so in largest measure because of the excellence of their dialogue.

A writer brought in a book-length script with the candid desire to learn why it had not been accepted by one of the very publishers to whom it had been offered. He believed his story was intrinsically a good one, and he was correct. The dialogue was thoughtful and meaningful and at times smart; but an analysis showed that the speech of his dozen or more characters had a notable sameness, expressing the thought, the method of thinking and the philosophy, not of the respective characters, but of the author himself.

Comparisons are odious; and it would not be in good part to reproduce a passage of some published story and attempt to pick upon its dialogue weakness and fault. But if your story does not sell—granted that essentially it is a good story—or if it sells but does not hit, you might have a look at your dialogue and see if it has taken enough part in the telling of the story, if it is in real, true character—that is, if it reflects truthfully the character of the respective person and the emotion of the particular situation—if it has significance of meaning or is merely a wasteful jumble of words hastily thrown together; in short, see if it correctly exposes characterization and develops the plot of your story; see if it produces any of the varied emotions or falls flat.

Your writing of good, effective dialogue can be improved by study and practice. First, you must know your respective characters thoroughly, just what sort and type of men and women they are, how they will act and react in a given situation. Of course you know your plot and just in what manner you want to develop it. Then cast yourself into the character that is to speak and express the thought, the feeling and the meaning that particular character would naturally express under the circumstances and in his language and in his way of speaking.

Dialect in dialogue is not a short cut to characterization. It may denote personality, whether a person be black or white, foreign or domestic, ignorant or educated. It should never be difficult to read and understand unless, in rare cases, the purpose is to cause the reader to pause in his running, to read slowly and thereby to get the full gist of the passage. But as a rule it should not check for a moment the run of the story and should be given in small doses. It can get monotonous and annoying. Often a suggestion of dialect is wisest, especially if the particular speaker has much to say. Its chief forte is color and glamour, when skillfully handled. And again we take a bow to Octavus Roy Cohen:
“How come you ain’t usin’ yo’ muscle mo’ frequent, Frenzy?” 
“Is you incineratin’ I ain’t doin’ my share?” 
“Well, you suttinly ain’t doin’ no mo’ than.” 
“Ise expendin’ my full stren’th.” 
“Says which?” 
“Says Ise puttin’ out my foremostest muscle. An’ don’t you like it, you can lump it.” 
“Life sho’ is queer, ain’t it, Frenzy?” 
“Did I say it wasn’t?” 
“You ain’t said nothin’. I jist ast you wan’t it?”

Friday, February 9, 2018

More Tools For Writers

Last year, I recommended a couple editing tools for writers, Hemmingway and Pro Writing Aid:
The Hemmingway App is a free editor designed to make your prose clearer. As you can tell from the name, it does have a stylistic bias that prefers the sharp bold directness of Anglo-Saxon root words as opposed to the languid elegance of the Romantic root words. It uses formulas to determine how easy a passage is to read. Generally, the longer the sentence and the more polysyllabic words, the harder it is to read. Note that this a contextless survey, as many clear and grammatically correct devices of rhetoric get flagged. Hemmingway also searches for adverbs and passive verbs. While it doesn't have the bells and whistles of the paid editing software services of AutoCritGrammarly, or Pro Writing Aid, I have found Hemmingway useful in aiding my own writing. Just keep its bias in mind. 
If you are going to drop the coin, I recommend Pro Writing Aid as the most powerful and cheapest of the three services. I do like AutoCrit, but its new pricing model is prohibitive for a system that only checks 1000 words at a time. I remain unimpressed with Grammarly as a service, as it trips up on certain simple and complex grammars that the other two services do not. The free plug-in, however, is useful as a slightly more powerful spell-check.
But mindful of the popularity of such services, and the distressing tendency to convert them into pricey monthly services, I have continued to play with various editing tools out there. I have found three more free services I like.

The first, and most powerful, is Slick Write. Per the site, it is "a powerful, free application that makes it easy to check your writing for grammar errors, potential stylistic mistakes, and other features of interest." It comes the closest to the paid services in power and variety of features. In addition to the common spelling, adverb, and readability checks, it highlights "weasel words", excessive prepositional phrases, weak descriptions, and repetitive sentence starts. It also offers visual representations of sentence and paragraph flow as well as a determination of word variety in a particular passage. Some of these tools display the information with a clarity that beats the paid services, and when it comes to catching repeated sentence starts, Slick Write is the best tool I have encountered. I often run a story through Slick Write after completing an editing pass through Pro Writing Aid because of it.

EditMinion is the second service, offering thirteen tests from the practical (cliches, adverbs, passive voice), to the amusing (words originating from Shakespeare, Greek, or Latin), to the stylistic (weak words and a "said" test that seeks to replace said words like this list with the currently preferred simplicity of "he said".) Since Conan and Solomon Kane don't agree with some of these stylistic conventions, a writer can select as many or as few of these tests as possible. Perhaps the most unique is the Ambrose test, which compares your document's word usage to that set out in Ambrose Bierce's Write It Right, a useful corrective to many popular and incorrect turns of phrase.

Finally, Analyze My Writing offers six tests that give a detailed examination of the types of words used, passive voice, readability scores, and lexical density, examining many on a sentence by sentence basis. This one's more for the quants, but it can also help pinpoint where in your document the readability spikes and other issues.

Once again, these are machine editors, so a writer must keep in mind the various biases of each program--many of which include the annoying imposition of Latin grammar onto English. But, as with any editor, the choice of wordings ultimately is in the hands of the writer. Perhaps these tools might help you make a more informed choice.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Rappacini's Daughter

“For some purpose or other, this man of science is making a study of you. I know that look of his! It is the same that coldly illuminates his face, as he bends over a bird, a mouse, or a butterfly, which, in pursuance of some experiment, he has killed by the perfume of a flower; — a look as deep as Nature itself, but without Nature’s warmth of love. Signor Giovanni, I will stake my life upon it, you are the subject of one of Rappaccini’s experiments!”
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1844 short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” university student Giovanni Guasconti finds his apartment overlooking a lush botanical garden tended by Beatrice Rappaccini, the daughter of reclusive scientist Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini. He soon discovers that the garden is poisonous, killing every creature that wanders into it, save for Beatrice. One day, while Giovanni watches Beatrice from his window, she discovers him, and the two fall for each other. Despite his mentor’s warning, Giovanni makes use of a secret passage to visit Beatrice in her garden, although always with the proper precautions for the poisons inside. For, having been raised in poison, Beatrice is poisonous herself. Soon, he discovers that his breath is as poisonous as Beatrice’s garden. Finally, Giovanni enters the garden one last time, carrying an antidote from his mentor that will neutralize the garden’s effects on his love…
Hidden behind the Gothic menace, the hand of new comedy is strong upon “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” In such tales, an obstacle separates two lovers, often placed there by an angry old man. If the couple can surmount this roadblock, the story is a comedy, ending with weddings and babies ever after. Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is one example, as is The Taming of the Shrew. But if the couple cannot overcome, death, funerals, and mourning close out the tale.Again, we turn to Shakespeare for an example, this time Romeo and Juliet. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, the obstacle separating Giovanni and Beatrice is suitably lethal for tragedy:
“That this lovely woman,” continued Baglioni, with emphasis, “had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them, that she  herself had become the deadliest poison in existence. Poison was her element of life. With that rich perfume of her breath, she blasted the very air. Her love would have been poison!–her embrace, death!”
Rappaccini attempts to surmount this obstacle by secretly changing Giovanni to match Beatrice’s poisonous nature, much to Giovanni’s horror. This revelation shakes his love for Beatrice, and he rejects Rappaccini’s designs. He attempts to free Beatrice with an antidote, but a lover’s quarrel poisons more than just the air in the garden. Alas, the tale of “Rappaccinin’s Daughter” is not a comedy.
Literature classes love Hawthorne, mainly for his social commentary. The Scarlet Letter, for instance, is used to show the evils and hypocrisy of shaming people. “Young Goodman Brown” is often used as an anti-Puritan and anti-Christian tract. “Rappaccinni’s Daughter” gets taught as an anti-science and anti-Modernist screed, warning against the immoral choices made when amoral science is pursued to the exclusion of all. And, yes, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” does fall in line with Romanticism’s critiques of science’s impact on society, as Rappaccini sacrifices his patients and his daughter for one more breakthrough in knowledge. (These critiques would resurface in the 1970s, as science fiction writers attempted to impose the conventions of Damon Knight’s writing circles on fantasy.) But “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is an illustration of C. S. Lewis’ “First and Second Things,” where he instructs “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things.” Rappaccini raises his daughter among poisonous plants to increase his knowledge and, in the end, loses both his daughter and his experiments. But to read Hawthorne for a message is to miss out on his stories, and in the case of “Rappaccinni’s Daughter,” portions of the story itself.
Absent from the textbook reprints and many others, including Weird Tales, is an introduction where Hawthorne claims to have found the story as an earlier work of “Monsieur Aubépine” and gives a critique of the monsieur’s literary style. Also included is a list of works written by Aubépine, a list that, like Aubépine himself, contains thinly veiled references to Hawthorne, his works, and his publisher. It isn’t the first time an author has created a fake history for a story, with a wink and a nod in this case, and it won’t be the last. During the chinoiserie craze of the pulps, many authors would claim that their stories had been discovered in the East, whether in an Istanbul marketplace, among the sacred writings of various Indian sects, or in the opium dens of China. Removing this introduction does not affect the meat of “Rappaccinni’s Daughter”–and it certainly saves precious space in a magazine–but it obscures the living link between Weird Tales and other pulps and the Romantic traditions they nurtured nearly a hundred years after the passing of that literary movement.
It comes as no surprise that Farnsworth Wright reprinted “Rappaccini’s Daughter” in Weird Tales. There is a timeless element to the tale and Hawthorne’s prose that matches the fashions of the pulp. Many of the elements that would feature throughout the magazine’s run appear here, eighty yeas earlier. A myth thought to be fiction imposes itself suddenly on the unsuspecting, as Rappaccini gained inspiration for his garden from an Indian fairy tale. Said fairy tale also brought a touch of chinoiserie, just as E. Hoffman Price brought to the unique magazine. Mad science? Check. Investigations into perilous realms of knowledge, in both lore and discovery? Check again. Moral and mortal peril with a touch of romance and the whims of fickle fate? Present and accounted for. Wellman’s Weird Tales outings bear Hawthorne’s influence on their structure, as do many others. And if the tale of a young man sneaking into a perilous garden to steal away a cloistered beauty from the plans of her father sounds familiar, we shall soon return to C. L. Moore’s “The Black Thirst.”

Thursday, February 1, 2018


The premise of the first standalone in Jason Anspach and Nick Cole's Galaxy's Edge series is simple: what if Darth Vader went to Dagobah instead of Luke Skywalker?

But reducing IMPERATOR down to that single question does a disservice to the first glimpse beneath the hood of the Emperor, Goth Sullus. Here they lay bare his history, his motives, his rise to power, and even the secret of his name. Part character study and part secret history of Galaxy's Edge, Anspach and Cole weave three plot lines together, his present, his past, and our near-future, into the action and mysteries readers have come to expect from Galaxy's Edge and its inspiration, Star Wars.

There is a risk to revealing so much about Goth Sullus so soon, as the list of villains who lost their appeal alongside their air of mystery is long and distinguished. Fortunately, Anspach and Cole deliver. Not only do they portray Sullus as sympathetic even as his choices cause him to fall, the revelations about his long and near immortal history open up even more mysteries for readers to ponder and explore.

Clever Star Wars fans may recognize Sullus's motivations in conquering the galaxy as similar to the Emperor's in the Star Wars Extended Universe. And there are plenty of callbacks to a galaxy far, far away, taken from all eras, even Rogue One. Suitably repurposed, of course. Like a kaleidoscope tumbler, Galaxy's Edge takes the old images, symbols, and stories from Star Wars and puts them together in new and novel forms. After all, Darth Vader never went to Dagobah to learn the Force. The shuffling of familiar elements creates that Star Wars but not-Star Wars taste that so many readers are craving.