Archive | December 2010

The problem of naming characters

I submitted a short story to Electric Spec yesterday (keep your fingers crossed for me!) and one thing I had to do to get it ready was re-name all my characters.

I have such trouble picking names. I’ve managed to get past it enough to write first drafts, on the basis that I can pick any name and fix it later. But then at some point I have to pick names for the characters that aren’t silly, obvious or cheesy. That’s where I struggle. I find it really hard to just come up with names, whether they are mainstream, fantasy or science fiction type names.

So what makes it so hard? Partly it’s because I think many of my original choices are derivative. I’m easily influenced by what I’ve been reading lately, especially if it’s Iain M Banks or something. And some times they are just naff sounding. I also tend to pick names that begin with R, G, S and T, and have either one or two syllables. There is definitely a lack of variety.

In the end I do get to change them and with the help of a few random name generators I usually end up with names I like. How do you all pick names for your characters?

Thoughts on reading: Selling Out

I have a huge stack of books I’ve read waiting for blog posts. Some seem like much harder work than others. Selling Out by Justina Robson is one of the easy ones.

This is book two in the Quantum Gravity series, and this time I’ve actually read the first one. What I love about this is the blend of science fiction and fantasy. It’s set in the near-future after a world-changing event, the nature of which is not clear at this point. The protagonist is an experimental cyborg spy who is sent on missions to the new worlds (elf, fairy, demon, etc) that were revealed by the event. I’m all for a bit of genre-bending and Robson is a great writer so it all comes together seamlessly.

When I read the first book I thought it was fun and well-written but lacking the depth and complexity of Living Next Door to the God of Love, which was the first of Robson’s novels that I read. After reading Selling Out I think I might be wrong. It’s still great fun, and still has a light feel to it, but the character development and foreshadowing in this book make me suspect that by the time I get to the end of the series a grand vision will have been realised.

In this book, I noticed how the dialogue stood out. It worked hard to move the plot along and reveal character. It’s snappy, witty and highly engaging.

Justina Robson is one of my favourite authors and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. And everything else she’s written.


Is anybody else loving Misfits? I think it’s the best new sci-fi on the telly for ages. Can’t wait for series 3 next year!

Thoughts on reading: Boudica, Dreaming the Eagle

There are some books that have been on Book Mountain for a very long time and Boudica, Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott is one of them.

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this, other than the fact that the copy I have is in hardback. Dreaming the Eagle has got Celts, Ancient Britons, Romans and Druids, its got sword fights, pitched battles and shamanic journeys, all stuff I love. On top of that, it’s got strong female characters, sensitive male characters, lots of variation in sexual and intimate relationships and rites of passage.

It’s competently told. The characterisation is good for both main and supporting characters. The relationships between them are strong and I could really connect to them. The world of the Druids and the early Roman empire is convincingly brought to life. Dialogue is good, pacing is good. And the story is good. Scott’s use of foreshadowing is excellent. Through shamanic journeying and visions a couple of pivotal events are foreshadowed early on and it is not at all obvious how they will play out. I found myself thinking I knew how it would go and finding myself wrong. Yet the final reveal felt natural and unforced. Great stuff.

This is the first in a series of five and I will certainly be reading the rest. I liked this a lot.

Thoughts on reading: Corum

I’m working my way through Michael Moorcock’s The Eternal Champion series and recently I read Corum. Elric is one of my favourite characters in literature and I enjoy the self-conscious/aware nature of the multiple worlds cycle that is the Eternal Champion. Although one might argue that Moorcock is simply telling the same story over and over again. Of course, there is an art in that. Multiple interpretations of the same story layer up into a deeper understanding of the themes that are explored.

Corum comprises The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords and The King of the Swords. The language is amazing; the descriptions are lush and full of depth. Characterisation is not so deep, because the characters are ciphers. They perform the function of metaphor. What is happening here is myth not story.

Moorcock is the literary end of science fiction and I think you either like it or you don’t. Or at least, that’s true for me. I usually don’t have much time for literary fiction because it turns out I’m all about the story. However, Moorcock’s worlds are so fantastic and the description so beautiful that I am completely engaged. I find Moorcock much easier to read than most literary fiction.

I also enjoy the links with the other works and in the last volume of Corum, Elric makes an appearance, so that’s good. I enjoy the layer where the story is inviting the reader to compare it with its other versions in the Eternal Champion multiverse.

I enjoyed it. Corum’s not as good as Elric though.

Thoughts on reading: Royal Flash

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser is the second in a series of books following Flashman, the bully from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (which I never read). Naturally, I haven’t read the first in the series.

Well, this is a pretty entertaining romp that doesn’t take itself seriously at any point. Actual history is tweaked to give Flashman a role in world changing events. The characterisation of Flashman is excellent and it’s told in first person from his viewpoint. Characterisation of supporting characters is quite shallow, but this rather suits Flashman’s character so it works.

It’s competently written, dialogue is good, pacing is great, and the story is just fun. It was written in the 1970s and the language does reflect that, but that was the only thing that niggled.