Tag Archives: fantasy

Escaping

So much is tough and scary at the moment. The realities of climate change and extinction weigh heavy on anyone paying attention. I think we need to escape in our minds sometimes, just in order to cope.  The question is, where do we go to escape and what impact does that have on us?

You can escape by watching shallow celebrity distractions, or soap operas full of unreasonable amounts of human unkindness, or fantasies full of violent domination and might being right. You can in fact escape into things that reinforce the approach to life that’s causing all the problems. Tales of competition rather than co-operation. Tales of gratuitous consumption and the toys of the wealthy you can emulate in a shoddy, throwaway fashion. Tales of abuse and misuse.

When we escape into things that distract us, but that also reflect back that how things are is pretty much all we can do, it doesn’t help. Distractions that normalise all the worst aspects of human behaviour discourage us from feeling that people can do better. We come back with these perhaps having benefited from the distraction, but with no new tools to help us cope.

If you pick your escapism carefully, you can come back hopeful. Tales of survival against the odds, of co-operation to overcome adversity. Tales underpinned by the power of friendship. Tales that speak of courage and determination and the best that we can be and that remind us that we are all capable of heroism.

I suspect that most of us choose the forms of escapism that reinforce what we already think about people and possibilities. Those of us who crave power over will seek out the stories that give us demonstrations of that.  Those of us who imagine that chaos and violence could create a world in which we would personally thrive, may enjoy those fantasies, however far from our prospects they may really be.

There is nothing wrong with escaping into any form of entertainment that helps you cope with life. It is always worth asking what that escape is doing for you aside from distraction, and what you are bringing back on your return.

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Grey Sister – review

Grey Sister is the second book is a fantasy series by Mark Lawrence. If you’ve not already read Red Sister – the first book, I strongly recommend starting there.  (You can get it all the places that do books, here’s one of them https://www.bookdepository.com/Red-Sister-Mark-Lawrence )

This is a narrative that revolves around a group of young women training to be nuns. Some of them will be warrior nuns – Red Sisters, and some of them will be Sisters of Discretion (I leave you to imagine) some will focus on magic, and some will do religion. This story plays out on a freezing world whose sun is dying. A technological moon reflects what sun there is, in order to keep a narrow band at the equator ice-free. The moon is falling, people are fighting over the scraps and dreaming of miracles.

This is a world that has been imagined in great detail, but you will never be bogged down in those details. It is a world in which women are powerful agents for change, and the story itself revolves around the actions and adventures of a handful of young women. I absolutely revelled in this; it’s so rare to read high fantasy in which women get to dominate the pages like this. Mark Lawrence’s women are allowed to be all things. Some are heroic, some political, some nasty and plotty, some mean and spiteful, some kind and generous. Many are complex people with multiple motivating forces acting on them. None of them exist as prizes to be won. They rescue each other.

However, the thing I love most about this setting is how the magic works. Too often, when fantasy magic is described in other books, it becomes dull and mechanical. There’s often no mystery in fantasy magic, no sense of awe, or wonder. The magic in Grey Sister builds on what we encountered in the first book. It is wild and unruly magic. It does have rules, but it reminds me a bit of learning about physics. You start out at school with gravity and pressure and things that make sense and you can relate to. Then you advance into more disorientating territory. This is what magic in Grey Sister is like. We did the basic magic physics in the first book, now we’re doing things that are like the way space time blurs and quantum and string theory makes most of us confused. Whole new levels of reality are revealed to us.

Except the magic also isn’t at all like this because it is felt and breathed and lived and alive and in everything and makes intuitive sense and sings to my animist heart.

Mark Lawrence is an author of rare skill. His characters are complicated, well rounded, engaging people. This is an author who understands people – at their best and worst – and knows how to create scenarios that naturally would bring the best and worst of people to the surface. His world building is vast and well considered and full of glorious detail, while never turning into history or geography lessons. We learn about this world by seeing people trying to live in it. His prose is snappy and sharp and laced through with humour. He knows how to keep you turning the pages. But then at the end when you look back, you’ll see the richness of it. Too many page turners leave me feeling hollow at the end. This is not one of those. He’s one of my favourite authors.

Now I have to wait for the next one, and that’s going to be the difficult bit.

More Grey Sister here – https://www.bookdepository.com/Grey-Sister-Mark-Lawrence/


Short reviews for entertaining stories

Thunder Moon, by the looks of the blurb, is a romance novel. It is certainly a novel with a romance in it – and an erotic romance at that. However, I experienced this as a story where magic, rather than attraction, is the main driving force. The three main characters – Thea, her best friend Ellie, and Ellie’s brother Marc, all have magical capabilities. It’s not big Harry Potter style magic, but it’s also far more potent than anything your real life witch is likely to do. I liked that – fantastical, but not totally out of reach. Dealing with the magic, and the impact the magic has on the romance, is the real story here, which made it a less predictable read than a lot of romances. As the character list suggests, it’s a book about three people without being the classic love triangle. It’s as much about how everything impacts on the female friendship as it is about the romance. I found it entertaining, it’s ideal for a bit of escapism, the people are engaging and sweet but not so sweet that you hate them. There are a lot of adorable dog moments. It’s written with warmth and a keen sense of how people are shaped by the landscapes they inhabit.

More here – https://www.amazon.com/Thunder-Moon-beautiful-Langston-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B01N7D1GPF

 

 

 

 

 

The Necromancer’s Apprentice by Icy Sedgewick. At 30k this is a small book with a hefty fantasy setting in it. I was really impressed by the skilful world building that creates so much sense of place and history so deftly in such a short book while not skimping on story or character. Jyx is a working class boy from the underground city who has managed to get a scholarship to a magical academy in the city above. However, being clever and ambitious isn’t necessarily a virtue. Determined to get ahead and sure that his teachers have no good reason for holding him back, Jyx leaps from student life to frying pan to fire. It’s a very entertaining read – especially if you have a slightly dark sense of humour.

More here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Necromancers-Apprentice-Icy-Sedgwick/dp/0615964893

 

Brother’s Ruin, Emma Newman – part one of a series. This is a gaslight novel – corsets and crinolines, magic and politics. It’s set in an alternative Victorian London with a powerful magical society and a very oppressive approach to magic users. The young female protagonist, Charlotte Gunn is hiding her magical abilities, but helps her brother pass himself off as a magician of greater potential than he really is. Alongside this, Charlotte is investigating a threat to her father, and hiding the fact that she’s a successful illustrator. This is a story about being a powerful and capable woman in a world that doesn’t have any room for that and just wants you to stay home and make babies.

 

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Brothers-Ruin-Industrial-Magic-Newman/dp/0765393964

 

Weaver’s Lament, by Emma Newman – the sequel to Brother’s Ruin. Where the first book investigated gender politics, this one takes us into class politics. It’s a story about exploitation of the workers and attitudes to the poor – both in a steampowered historical setting, and with many implications for the present. Again there’s the mix of magic and adventure, as the stakes rise for our young heroine. There’s also a forbidden romance on the boil. As Charlotte becomes more able to stand in her own power, her very existence calls into question some of the things she considers fundamental to how the world works. Not least, her relationship with her brother. Clearly there are going to be more of these and I will be picking them up – an excellent balance of thoughtfulness and entertainment.

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Weavers-Lament-Industrial-Magic-Book/dp/0765394111

 


The illusions, fantasies and occasional uses of social networking

It’s a funny set of places, the social networking sites. People posting updates on the most mundane developments in their lives, photos of their food, commentary on TV programs. You can ‘support causes’ and sign petitions for just about everything, creating the illusion of something meaningful done. You can have hundreds of facebook friends but not really know anyone, creating an illusion of social contact. Then there’s the option of hiding behind a fake name and trolling the hell out of your victims. Oh, and there are games. We spend a lot of time on social network sites, time we will never get back and so much of what it gives is illusory.

I have, I case you were wondering, twitter, google+, linkedin and facebook accounts. I’m also on goodreads. Feel free to attempt to connect with me on any of those, although in practice facebook is the only place I reliably show up and interact with people. I have real friends there, people I actually know, or will know, or want to know, and that helps. I find that compared to the general assessments of social networking (as above) I have a pretty good experience of it. This is because my network doesn’t deliver many food photos and random trivia. I get pointers to really good articles I would not otherwise have found, and I get to find out about what some really interesting people are thinking and doing. In that way, I get a lot out of it.

Of course one of the things people use this stuff for is selling their work, big companies included. How much promo can one person take? Speaking as an author, occasional publisher and avid reader, nothing depresses me more than some author I’ve never heard of, banging on endlessly about their book. The egroups used to be full of similar stuff. I know there’s a theory that we can all go 50 Shades with our products, but maundering on about them isn’t the answer. Nobody cares. This can come as a bit of a shock, but one of the lessons the social networks have the power to deliver is that most of the time, most people do not give a shit about that thing you thought really mattered. When they do, it can be a humbling, overwhelming and powerful sort of moment, but that tends to pass. In the great noise of the internet, we might start to see our small place in the grand scheme of things, or we might equally end up with an inflated ego.

In practice the social networks are a lot like the rest of real life in that what you get out depends on what you put in and who you associate with. It can be really good. That a lot of it is tedious, pointless and time wasting, is simply down to the people who use it.

As a Druid who does not have many other Druids in close geographical proximity (when you walk or cycle, ten miles away isn’t close) I appreciate the contact of being online. It’s enabled me to stay at least a little bit in touch with friends and to learn more about the Steampunk community. For this, I am very grateful. I know I’d feel more isolated without it. Not all of us can get to where the likeminded people are. But if there are real people to interact with, better not to be on facebook, I think. My Druidry calls on me to go outside, but it’s easy to hold an illusion that time playing with online Druid communities is somehow proper Druid time. Mostly it isn’t. Or it’s a pale shadow of the real thing. It worries me how readily many people seem to have replaced real world contact with social networking though. Locked away in our little rooms with our little boxes, typing words to people we’ve never met… The scope for fantasy and illusion is vast. The unfortunate outcomes of this show up on a regular basis but the hurt caused is all too real.

I know that the internet has changed how I think. I’m watching myself for good ideas to blog about, and good thoughts to share over the ether. Twenty years ago, this didn’t feature in my mind. I lived and thought differently. I’m aware that social network sites can be addictive, particularly in times of boredom or loneliness. They tend to perpetuate the problems rather than solving them. I don’t think we’ve begun to understand the social implications of what we’re doing. Or the psychological implications, for that matter. It’s a mass retreat from the real world. And yes, the real world is not a great place just now, but we aren’t going to fix that by signing a petition on facebook.
Jo over at http://www.octopusdance.wordpress.com has committed to spending one day a week free from modern communications devices. Obviously I know about this because she facebooked it… but the idea is well worth a thought. Spending less time doing it can, if nothing else, improve the quality of what you bring to it.

I may not be blogging for a couple of days, I have a lot of real world stuff to do. Gods of trains and weather permitting, I shall be in Northampton Waterstones for a book signing on Saturday and then doing family stuff on Sunday.


Escapist Druid

In the last week, I’ve spent time in Middle Earth, visited Japan with Arriety, wandered Wonderland and seen something of the surreal world of Professor Elemental. In the physical world, I’ve not been more than ten miles from my usual haunts. This combination is not unusual for me. I travel more in thought than in body. The mind can go anywhere, unhampered by cost, timetables or physical health. I always was a daydreamer.

In my imagination and meditations, I can go to Stonehenge or Avebury. I can go back to scenes and places of abject wounding to try and reclaim parts of my soul. There are otherworlds to explore, imaginatively, even if I’m not confident of my ability to make real journeying. (How do you tell?) As an author I’ve always lived a lot in my own imagination.

It’s grey, wet and cold here. Yet another rainy day, but at least the wind has dropped. It’s so wet underfoot that walking and cycling are miserable, and I don’t have a car. I have nowhere to go, and am still ill. The imagination calls. I’m surrounded by books, each one of them a doorway into another world, or time, or location. My childhood was full of books, and this sort of escape. Life always seemed too narrow, dreams could take me anywhere, and usually those dreams were shaped by books. Aged 11, I wrote quite a long story for a school project that was supposed to be “how I became famous”. I pictured myself as a successful author, so involved with the fictional world I’d created that I became unable to function in the real world, and was only able to re-engage after a train crash allowed me to fake my own death and start over. That was the future I saw for myself, aged eleven. Lost in my own imagination, isolated, a bit mad, but writing books. However rich the dreamworlds might be, there was always that skein of darkness in the mix.

I didn’t get that life, for which I am grateful. I’ve learned a thing or two about the escapism and the lands of dream and fiction, too. They only work when they hold real life resonance and relevance. Go too far into fantasy and you get nonsense. Alice in Wonderland may be surface nonsense, but it’s the existential crisis of Alice that makes it compelling. How do any of us know who we are, after all? Or what the rules really are? Wonderland is also the insanity of this world.
I escape into books and films looking for inspiration, wonder and enchantment. When life seems grey, or I’m ill, those escapes give me back a sense of possibility and magic. The trick is to bring that with me, back to here and now, and do something about the greyness, or my perception of it, or share a flicker of possibility with someone else.

Two years ago to the day, I married a fellow dreamer. Someone with whom I can make the journeys to those other places, and come back again. It’s the dreams we make for our own shared life that are the most powerful, though. Daring to imagine better ways of living and more potent things to be doing. Refusing to become banal, resisting mediocrity and the insipid norms of the consensus reality. If fantasy tells you that you can’t have those dreams as real things in this life, then the fantasy itself is doing it wrong, and exists to trap you, not to set you free.

If, as my younger self imagined, the journey into creativity is a one way ticket to madness and isolation, you’ve missed the point. It’s not the going there, it’s the coming back, and what you bring with you from the journey. Because if you bring it back and make it shareable, it becomes real. At eleven I didn’t understand the power of a story told, the magic of sharing a daydream. It’s not the lonely place I thought it would be, and out of those dreams, all kind of real things are born.