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Monday, May 23, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Writing in a Different Question Palette, or Why Add the Fantastic to my Science Fiction? by Ada Palmer

 Visit Ada Palmer's Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is extremely excited to welcome debut author Ada Palmer to our blog today. Ada Palmer is the author of the futuristic science fiction novel, Too Like the Lightning, which was released May 10, 2016 by Tor Books.

Ada Palmer stops by today to writing in a different question palette. She shares amazing insight into her novel and the writing process.

About Too Like the Lightning:

Tor Books is proud to launch the first novel in a new political science fiction series, Too Like The Lightning by debut novelist Ada Palmer. Palmer’s unique vision mixes Enlightenment-era philosophy with traditional science fiction speculation to bring to life the year 2454, not a perfect future, but a utopian one, described by a narrator writing in an antiquated form to catalog the birth of a revolution. The result is The Iliad meets I, Claudius mixed with the enthusiasm of The Stars My Destination and Gene Wolfe style world building.

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

Perfect for fans of Jo Walton, Robert Charles Wilson and Kim Stanley Robinson, Too Like The Lightning is a refreshing change of pace from the current trend of gritty, dystopian novels. Much like Homer telling of heroic deeds and wine dark seas, Mycroft Canner’s narration will draw you into the world of Terra Ignota—a world simmering with gender politics and religious fervor just beneath the surface, on the brink of revolutionary change.

A huge thank you goes out to Ada for taking the time out of her day to stop by and share her story with us. 


Writing in a Different Question Palette, or Why Add the Fantastic to my Science Fiction?

My new novel Too Like the Lightning has tons of science fiction world building: set in the 25th century, with flying cars, helper robots, genetic engineering, terraforming, futuristic politics, cloned meat, and schoolchildren taking field trips to the Moon.  So people keep asking why, in the middle of all that, I chose to add a fantastic element, introduced right at the beginning of the first book, a boy who can—with a touch—bring toys to life.  The answer relates to an aspect of storytelling we rarely discuss directly, but that is as formative of story and reader experience as aspects like plot, genre, medium, voice, age group, and mode: a story’s question palette.

In 1752 Voltaire—the same firebrand whose pen-mightier-than-swords was galvanizing the Enlightenment—wrote a science fiction short story, Micromegas.  In it an alien from a world near Sirius travels to our solar system, where he encounters another alien from Saturn, and they go together to the Earth.  At first they think this world is uninhabited, since the Sirian is seven leagues (28 miles) tall, but eventually with effort he perceives what are—to him—tiny insects: first a whale, and then a ship, in which he eventually detects the frantic activity of tiny life forms.  With effort he works out human language and First Contact is achieved.  So far this could have been written in the 1950s instead of the 1750s, but what do these first interspecies ambassadors talk about at this all important moment?  The beneficence of the Supreme Being, whether Aristotle, Descartes, Thomas Aquinas or John Locke offers the best insights into the nature of the Soul, the universality of geometrical reasoning, the role of the Ancient Greek language in philosophical discourse, the strife between the Sultan and the Pope, the theories of Melanchthon and Leibnitz about why God chose to create Evil, whether knowledge derives from Universals or sense perception, and whether or not we can logically deduce the existence of immaterial and intelligent substances.

Voltaire’s story has a very familiar plot, but a very unfamiliar question palette, that is the set of hot questions which were on Voltaire’s mind in the 1750s and which he used First Contact to explore.  Every moment in the history of literature has had a particular question palette, the set of topics which was on the mind of the author and readers.  Since Voltaire’s is so alien to us it’s easy to spot, but we have seen it evolve over the course of twentieth and twenty-first-century science fiction as well.  Think of how many aliens we met between the 1950s and 1980s who were in situations very like the Cold War, with vying superpowers.  How many utopian and dystopian futures involved extreme forms of communism or capitalism.  How different stages of feminism made space colonists on distant planets suddenly more interested in talking about sex and gender.  Voltaire’s aliens who are ready to plunge into subtleties of Leibnitz vs. Locke aren’t any stranger than the alien in Contact, for example, who was intimately familiar with current American debates about whether religious faith is at odds with the scientific mindset, even though such debates didn’t take that form a few decades ago, and both Voltaire and his aliens would have been baffled by them.

In writing this new series Terra Ignota, one goal that excited me was to try to write something in a very familiar, classic science fiction future, with flying cars and futuristic cities, but with a different question palette, specifically with Voltaire’s question palette.  My idiosyncratic and undeniably insane narrator Mycroft Canner is writing a history of events of the year 2454, but chooses to write in an eighteenth century style, insisting that the reader will only understand what he’s describing if he uses that peculiar period voice.  In the midst of an unfolding mystery, and the grand politics of borderless globe-spanning non-geographic nations, the narrator is constantly plunging into philosophical sides about whether the world is governed by Chance or Providence, the use of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and ‘he’ and ‘she’ (all antiquated terms in his 25th century), and what the apparently supernatural abilities of the boy who can bring toys to life tell us about the aims of Fate and the personality of God.  These are not the questions most characters would ask first if they saw someone bring a plastic toy to life, and most books would have the stranger who stumbles on the child’s power in the opening chapter use the words “magic” or “paranormal” while I have the discoverer be a professional theologian who jumps right away to “miracle.”  

This different question palette results in different actions on the characters’ parts (Let’s run scientific tests and also reread Thomas Aquinas!) but it also lets me ask a whole different set of questions of what I designed to be a very familiar kind of science fiction future.  Golden age SF worlds with flying cars and futuristic cities have been interrogated hundreds of times about the big questions of the second half of the twentieth century: superpowers and empire, capitalism and abundance, heroism and the momentum of technological progress, nuclear apocalypse and what would follow it, and race and gender in what is, in older fiction, now a very dated and consequently often uncomfortable way. 
 A bit later as other voices and events added to this question palette, and such futures started to be interrogated about transhumanism, feminism, post-colonialism and civil rights, libertarian economic theory, the cyber revolution, the singularity, and other topics which are hot now but were unheard-of then, and which add an extra level of alien fascinating when we reread science fiction from fifty years ago and plunge, not only into alien worlds, but into the alien question palettes of their authors.

I wanted to recreate that feeling, to write a novel with an alien question palette, alien in time as 1950 and 1750 are alien to us.  I wanted to create a narrator like those Voltaire and Diderot created in whose stories it is often even more delightfully surprising to read how the narration reacts to a strange event as to read the event itself.  I wanted to ask anew Voltaire’s questions about Providence and theopsychology—that attempting to deduce the personality of God from observing God’s creations i.e. nature—because they’re such weird, amazing questions, ones we’ve never asked of our futures of flying cars and glittering towers.  My narrator Mycroft Canner tells you, when he first describes this “miracle” that he is mad, and he invites, even encourages, you, the reader, to dismiss his talk of miracles as part of his madness, inviting you to observe his ravings about Providence from a detached distance, as you would observe a specimen in a zoo.  Thus my science fiction world ticks on in its science fiction way, but through the narrator, and through the questions he asks, and which others who see the “miracle” ask as a consequence, you get to explore a bunch of very new ways of thinking about an exciting, abundance-filled, golden age type future, and feel as if you’re somehow reading historical fiction and science fiction at the same time.  We know what someone who thinks like Voltaire and his Enlightenment buddies would deduce about the nature of Providence from observing 1752, but what would such a philosopher/scientist deduce from observing 2454?  That is a new question altogether, one I can only ask by mixing one part science fiction, one part historical fiction, and a dash of the fantastic.

Ada Palmer is the author of the recently released sci-fi novel Too Like the Lightning and a professor in the history department of the University of Chicago, specializing in Renaissance history and the history of ideas. Her first nonfiction book, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. She is also a composer of folk and Renaissance-tinged a capella music, most of which she performs with the group Sassafrass. Her personal site is at, and she writes about history for a popular audience at and about SF and fantasy-related matters at

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Introducing SPFBO II by Mark Lawrence & Various Bloggers (by Mihir Wanchoo)

So it’s that special time of the year, SPFBO II has begun. I’m a little late with this introductory post, but in my defense, I truly get very little time to read with an infant. However I have a plan for this edition. First of all you can read all about SPFBO II over at Mark Lawrence’s blog wherein the second edition was launched.

Now I plan to read atlas 3 chapters from each book. I’ll be doing 6 rounds with 5 books each. I’ll be updating each round after 3-4 weeks. If the book catches my interest after 3 chapters, I'll be reading it entirely. I'll try to say why I thought each book did or didn't work for me. Bear in mind that it's solely my opinion and that doesn't have to match everyone else. I try to be as fair and accommodating as possible.

All 6 books selected after 6 rounds will get mini-reviews (which are decently sized, checkout my previous mini-reviews) either at the end of each round or at the end of all rounds depending upon my time constraints. Lastly after reviewing all six, I’ll be selecting my eventual round 2 choice which will reviewed in the full FBC format and possibly I hope to provide an interview with the author as well.

If I don’t like any book in any batch then I might not select any and might select a title in the end from the other batches. If that should occur, I’ll be stating my reasons as to why that was the case.

And here’s the list of books that have been allotted to me:
 V.M Jaskiernia - Larkspur; a necromancer's romance 
 Scott J. Robinson - The Age of Heroes 
 Thomas K. Carpenter - Revolutionary Magic 
 Kristal Shaff - Powers of the Six 
 K.A Fenwolfe - Tiz Phoenix and the Witch's Tree 
 L.S Johnson - Vacui Magia 
 R.J. Blain - Storm Without End 
 Roger Atreya - Hondus Pointe 
 Rachel E. Rice - Insaitable 
 Loren Bukovka - Nicky and the fairy named Anika 
 Phill Berrie - Transgressions 
 Michael-Scott Earle - The Destroyer 
 Jeff Russell - The Dungeoneers 
 Fiona Skye - Taming Shadows 
 Cameron W. Kobes - Tales of Cynings 
 Jeff Davis - Scalebane 
 P.F Davids - Lesser Evil 
 Jack Conner - War of the Black Tower 
 Becca Mills - Nolander 
 Rosemary Fryth - Arantur 
 Katrina Archer - The Tree of Souls 
 Katlynn Brooke - The Six and the Crystals of Ialana
 Eustacia Tan - The Nutcracker King 
 Teddy Jacobs - Sword Bearer 
 Marilyn Peake - The Fisherman's Son 
 S.K.S Perry - The Moonlight War 
 Emily Martha Sorensen - Fairy Eyeglasses 
 Katie Salidas - Dissension 
 Travis Bughi - Beyond the Plains 
 Allan Batchelder - Steel, Blood, and Fire

Authors, if you wish for more detailed updates, please feel free to reach out to me via email ( or on Twitter or via Facebook. I won’t mind it if you just want to chat and talk to me about your book or series or just want to say howdy.

I’m hoping that I can be more transparent and make it easier for all of you as well. So I look forward to hearing from you. My first batch will be the first five titles of the aforementioned list and I’ll be selecting one title for a mini-review.

NOTE: SPFBO banner courtesy of Matt Howerter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

GUEST BLOG: The Art of the Mash-Up (How Colliding Ideas Create New Stories) by Jeff Wheeler

Link to Jeff's website:
Link to Jeff's Facebook page:

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Jeff Wheeler to our blog today. Jeff Wheeler is the author of The Queen's Poisoner, a new fantasy series. Today he joins us to talk about the art of the mash-up, or ways that authors combine ideas to create one unique story.

About The Queen's Poisoner:

King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs,ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.

Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

Fantasy Book Critic wants to extend a huge thank you to Jeff Wheeler for stopping by today. 

The Art of the Mash-Up (How Colliding Ideas Create New Stories)

Eight years ago, I read an interview with Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, where she described her interest in Greek and Roman mythology and an episode of channel surfing late one night. Drowsily watching TV, images of war coverage began to mesh with a reality show based on teenagers.  In her own words: “That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of something like this. JK Rowling had a similar experience being on a train and inventing Harry Potter. It’s happened to me many times. What I became curious about, as a writer, was how to make inspiration happen.
There are two principles I’ve learned about the art of the mash-up and I’ve used both in my writing.
The first principle comes from John Boyd, famous for being a dog-fighting instructor for pilots at Nellis Air Force Base. I read his biography years ago and learned that he not only invented the fighter pilot methodology called the OODA loop which is still used today, but his insights into aeronautical maneuvering were also impactful on his engineering studies where he figured out an optimal ratio for speed and acrobats of aircraft. This model has been used to develop more modern combat planes. Mr Boyd wondered where his creativity came from and wrote an essay called “Destruction and Creation” in 1976.
In the essay, Boyd describes how we get ideas through mashing up different ideas together in our minds. We take a piece of this and another piece of that and throw them together. We toss out information that doesn’t help. We incorporate new information. So in its rawest essence, creativity comes from the destruction of bad ideas and forming new patterns or connections.
For me, the practical application of the Boyd principle is to constantly immerse my mind in new material. I like to read a variety of things and not just genre fiction. I read history books, biographies, business books (which is how I found out about John Boyd, actually), as well as classics from the past. I always have a kindle nearby, a book on CD, and physical books, and I go through several simultaneously. I’ve always found a lot of inspiration from history and from the books that I read.
The second principle comes from Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, which I’ve dubbed the new math: 1+1=3. Hill called it the Mastermind principle. It goes like this. One person talking to another person about a problem or an idea doesn’t just constitute two minds working on a solution, but invokes a third genius. Have you ever experienced that before? The act of consulting and discussing something with another person can often lead to brilliant insights that just seem to come out of nowhere but in fact come from our creative faculties. These flashes of “inspiration” are crucial to an author and they can come purposefully.
In Hill’s book, he credits the idea to the old steel industry tycoon Andrew Carnegie, but I have witnessed this happening in a variety of settings, even during my career at Intel. It would impress me how a team of engineers could get together and routinely solve insurmountable problems just by putting their heads together. The combination of individual efforts, discussed in a setting that encouraged openness and candor, resulting in near-miraculous breakthroughs.
Now for the application. I think every writer needs someone they can bounce their ideas  around with. A lot of the creative process happens alone, but I need a sounding board and it’s usually my wife who plays that role. Sometimes I’ll put my characters in situations that I don’t know how to get them out of, and so I’ll bring the problem to my wife and discuss it with her. While I was writing the Covenant of Muirwood trilogy, I was conflicted by a scene near the end when what I had planned to happen wasn’t meshing well with where the chapters were going. I wrestled over the dilemma for a while and then went out to vent with my wife. During our discussion, she suggested something that changed my way of thinking about it. That stroke of inspiration came right when I needed it and helped impact the story.
For my newest book, I used both principles. For starters, I’ve enjoyed a childhood favorite called Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I thought the story about a spider trying to save the life of a pig could be transposed onto a fantasy setting. I wanted something Game of Thrones-ish, but without the violence, sex, or swearing. So I turned to my master’s thesis from college where I explored sanctuary rights during Richard III’s reign. I re-read some of the historical documents I had researched long ago. I watched several interpretations of the Shakespeare play. During this process, I also went with my wife on a trip to Yosemite and was entranced by the majestic waterfalls. All these ideas came together to form the basis of the series.
But before I wrote a single chapter or submitted the book proposal to my publisher, I remember sitting down with my oldest daughter and running my ideas past her. She’s an avid reader and listened to my ramblings very patiently. I was going to take some risks in this series that I’d never done before like having such a young protagonist in the first book. We discussed it closely and new ideas came which would be spoilers, so I won’t share them here. 1+1=3.
The result is a mash-up of Charlotte’s Web and a clean Game of Thrones. Even the title came to me as a flash of inspiration: The Queen’s Poisoner.

More about Jeff Wheeler:
Jeff Wheeler took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to become a full-time author. He is, most importantly, a husband and father, and a devout member of his church. He is occasionally spotted roaming among the oak trees and granite boulders in the hills of California or in any number of the state’s majestic redwood groves. He is the author of The Covenant of Muirwood Trilogy, The Legends of Muirwood Trilogy, the Whispers from Mirrowen Trilogy, and the Landmoor Series.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Exploring Character Development in Fantasy Writing by Fox Lancet

Visit Fox Lancet's Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Fox Lancet to our blog today. She is the up and coming author of a new fantasy novel titled Otherworld Soldiers: Rise of the Apocalypse.

Today she stops by to discuss character development and writing her latest novel.

A huge thank you to Fox Lancet for stopping by today!

Summary of Otherworld Soliders: Rise of the Apocalypse:

A Demon lord running low on victims.
A woman who was never meant for the world she was born into.
An enemy seeking to stand in the path of a violently ravenous horde.
When Lord Nefarion learns of the Otherworld, he stops at nothing to bring his legion to its gate and cross over. The Key must be found so that the demons can keep control of this precious gate out of the hands of their enemy.
Meanwhile, the Seraphs will do anything to keep the demons from their goal. Earth and its billions of humans cannot be allowed to fall victim to the savage bloodlust of Nefarion and his Horde, but they are outmatched. Only allies on this Otherworld can help, but can this equally blood-driven race be trusted?
Can either side locate the Key before the other and secure their access to this new battlefield? What happens when there is much more to it than any could have guessed?


There are all sorts of aspects in writing that we writers have to hone in order to be successful. Between setting, characters, structure, and dialogue it’s tough to be the master of it all. One of my favorite parts of writing is character development. Creating intelligent beings and unveiling their personalities through their words and actions never loses its luster. In a way, we writers have very personal relationships with every character we bring to the page.

It is beyond simple to write a likable character. We make them do things that we ourselves wish we could do or would do if we were in their shoes. Even beyond that, we write people we like into those very characters. But we have to tread lightly when writing the likable character because they’ll often become predictable and fall flat as a believable character. A writer has to remember to give each of them their own quirks and flaws because that’s what makes a true, intelligent being. Allow them to make mistakes, to be cruel, to be overbearing or irrational. Before you know it, your character will start moving through your story doing things you never would have guessed and that’s when you’ll know you have succeeded.

No story would be an interesting story without the unlikable character. This one can be as easy as it is difficult. Think of people you don’t like and why you don’t like them and put them on your pages. The difficult part is still giving this character a chance. Give him opportunities to be somewhat likable or relatable by giving him empathetic motivation or actions. My struggle with these types of characters is my disinterest in them. I wrote most of my book almost completely ignoring a key character because he didn’t interest me. He was a thorn in the spines of my main characters and so I just blew him off. Then it was brought to my attention that the reader needed to know him more in order to really care what was happening in the book at all. It took great effort to write him in, primarily because I didn’t really know him and secondly because I didn’t like him. But after writing in more scenes with him he really rounded out and became easier to include later on.

Motivation is probably a writer’s strongest tool when developing a character. Once you establish their reason for existence and what moves them through your pages, the rest should come easier. After that you just have to establish his attitude and give him some personality. So long as you’ve had your own human interactions, creating a make-believe person with certain personality traits shouldn’t be too tough, otherwise you may be trying too hard and trying too hard often creates a calculated character that’s flat and predictable. I always like to say, “You have to hate what your characters do sometimes and even more, let them surprise you.” Once you really know your character, you can stop asking yourself whether that’s something he would do or not do. He’ll do what he does for you.

The relationships your characters have with one another are pertinent to revealing their personalities. This is probably one of my favorite ways to develop characters, through their interactions. It sets up moments of actions and reactions to another intelligent being’s own actions and reactions. These scenes will give you plenty of chances to show off your character’s personality. Even if he is conniving and fake, we’ll see him faking it when discoursing with another character. Most of my favorite characters are part of a dynamic duo because I like to write a lot of my characters in pairs. This way they play off each other and they know each other well enough to remark on the other’s traits.

In some respect, you have to be aware of certain emotions and characteristics within yourself to help the process of developing characters. If you don’t know how to be mean—or nice—how would you ever expect to write about someone who can be one of those things? Recently, I told a friend (who is an aspiring writer) how he needs to get in touch with all aspects of himself, even the most loathed parts of his being. He’s one of those ridiculously nice persons who wouldn’t curse you even if you crapped in his morning cereal, but he is an unbelievable comic and book nerd! He loves the bad guy. He loves the good guy. But I believe to write these characters you have to feel the good and the bad in yourself and everything in between. If you can’t connect in some way with those parts of yourself, how can you imagine writing those personalities?

After I told him this he went ahead and tried to play an RPG game through and was attempting to make his character the most diabolical by making all the most terrible decisions and he admitted that he really struggled with it because he didn’t want to disappoint the character’s father or bestie, etc. See right there? If you go into a fictional role still acting like yourself, you’ll never find characters beyond yourself. They will always be just you.  In other words, if you can’t break from your own mold, you’ll never break the fictional mold. If you can tap into all aspects of personality possibilities (try saying that ten times fast) then you have an unlimited supply of characters at your disposal.

Developing characters is, in my experience, a very rewarding process. I’ve created these beings that move around the pages of practically their own volition. I think about them when I’m out and about and I even dream of them. I’m pretty much to the point I wish they really did exist, but maybe it’s because they’re like my babies. Either way, just try and stay away from the clich├ęs and get ready to let your characters do what you DON’T want them to do. You can’t always lead your characters otherwise you’re just doing what YOU want to do and your character’s can’t be themselves. And don’t be afraid to feel things you don’t normally like to so you can write a personality that’s nothing like you.    

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