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Two Types of Story Crafting I Discovered (Again)

Some time back I submitted an unnamed novel to my editor for a look-see. It’s a horror story set in two different time-zones, intermingled with time-travel and wax sculptures that bleed maggots. It was an idea borne from two prompts and co-joined into one grisly story. It also required a ton of both research and thumb-sucking.

At the same time, or at least close enough to it, I had that mind-blowing concept of a Steampunk version of my city, Johannesburg, which you can read in my last article: New Inspiration – Steampunk Johannesburg.

I came to realise, though it’s nothing new, that there are two main ways I go about writing a story:

Story Built Around A World

When I came up with a steampunk version of Joburg, I didn’t have a story. It was merely a city of literal gold, with gears built into the rising towers, slowly cranking at each turn, controlling various parts of the city. Some of it controlled the mining for gold. Others, the changing of traffic lights, the control of water, the generating of electricity. A great idea in my head. What then did it need?

  1. A Fitting Story: Of course every great world needs a story. A compelling story that fits the time, location, and people of the created world. In my head, as I saw this city unfold in front of my mind’s eye, I spotted a figure running along the roof tops of this fabricated city. Who was he? Why was he running? What was that clutched under his arm? As the world is set in a steampunk era, the story could have a feeling of being old but with an air modern lifestyle. There are plenty of stories that can be created from this amazing golden era!
  2. Compelling Characters: Right so I have the first character sorted – the guy running on roof tops. Maybe he’s being chased by Federation airships and Commander van nie Kerk is hot on his trail. Maybe he’s running to a secret organisation with documents tucked under his arm. Was the character part of political intrigue or perhaps inside the package he carried the still warm heart of his latest victim? Each of these story ideas can be spun around me new world, creating characters varying from inventors, to pilots, alchemists, mad-scientist, and who knows what from the story I hope to tell.
  3. Intriguing Plot: It’s all well and good to have a diverse world coupled with a brewing story and compelling characters, but what it really needs as well is an intriguing plot. Maybe the gears that everyone thinks merely run various aspects of the city, are actually pieces of a bigger cog. A gear slowly winding down to the destruction of the planet like a giant clock at the center of the earth. Maybe they control the opening and closing to the gates of hell? Maybe its alien technology and below ground in the mines, they have enslaved humanity to use them for powering the cogs. Our character on the rooftop may  figured out what’s happening down there and is on a quest to save us all from certain doom. Or they be an advocate for the villains, escaping with plans that will ensure our destruction. Who knows…

A World Built Around The Story

Five years ago I found an image on the internet. A beautiful drawing of a girl with white hair and black vest, grey sweatpants falling down to bare feet. She had white wings. Above her head was a halo… made of barbwire. It’s title: Junk Angel. Once I saw her and the title, a story began to form in my head. The story of a girl who was the Junk Yard Angel.

The first iteration of Junk Yard Angel was about a woman who killed people and turned them into her own mechanical monstrosities.

Later on I began to expand on this story, building the persona of this mysterious woman and trying to find out where exactly she fit in. Thus I had to build a world for herin. I saw junk yards, broken cities, old-school bars and taverns; places where she could find her victims… and they wouldn’t be missed.

What then did it need?

  1. A Kick-ass World: When you have a crazy maybe-half-robot-totally-human-looking girl with a razor wire halo, then her world has to at least reflect that fact. So much so that most of the JYA world has been built around her. When you read the story you will understand just how much.
  2. An Amazing Backstory: Knowing where your character (and sub-characters) come from, help define the places within the world of your story. You consider the environments around the characters and ask how the world would look around them. For instance, I have a character from a country similar to Russia/Serbia where snowfall is a constant. What kind of technology or tools would they use in this environment, and how would it reflect in the story.
  3. Mysterious Magic/Tech System:  On the topic of technology, perhaps your characters have an occupation that requires them to use machinery. Aviator. Solider. Taxi Driver. Doctor. Engineer… and so on. Or perhaps they have a particular ability such as magic or some form of “kinesis”. Perhaps there’s a supernatural element to them.
    Each of these help define the progression and history of the world, affecting how everything looks and works from buildings to locations to attire to religion. The world-building aspect of your story built from both story and characters.

 

What is your writing process when it comes to story-telling. Does your world affect your story or does your story affect your world? Perhaps both? What techniques do you use to define what kind of story you’re going to tell?

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Camp NaNo 2018: The Dilemma of Stagnant Progress

It’s been a slow week for me this Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve restarted about five times, struggled to write that killer opening line, and now I’m trying to get my story going. As slow as it’s going, I’m working on not quitting. I think there’s a gem in this story somewhere and I just have to keep chipping away until it reveals itself. I will probably re-write it anyway but for now it’s all about getting that word count going yeah? Speaking of which, here’s my current progress:

 

 

Writing Without a Plan:

The idea formed back in March (how is it April already!?) and back then I couldn’t wait to write. So I put down the basic thought and left it to simmer. What happened between then and now? Who knows. I didn’t want to think about the story in case I write it before I write it. You know? It’s playing out in your head, building itself up but not in any physical sense? Yeah that. Only when I sat down to start writing, I found that the story had lost its bulk and become a wasted, formless thing. Skulking in the dark recess of my mind on its last leg.

I didn’t know where to start or how. Couldn’t figure out where I wanted the story to go. I still don’t, but it’s beginning to take some shape again. My little ball of unformed clay spinning and spinning and spinning while my dirty hands form and reform the piece of clay into something. Anything.

Getting Over It

As much as I hate that “Just get over it” phrase that we sometimes use, with the expectation that the recipient of the advice will simply overcome their struggle and be fine, I’ve had to tell myself the same thing. It didn’t work, of course, but it changed my mindset a little. Set a silver lining against the clouds of doubt forming. This was augmented by:

  • Reading: Okay so maybe Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Brandon Sanderson aren’t the greatest motivators, when they know how to spin engaging stories so well and seemingly easily. Nonetheless reading their works has helped clarify some of my own writing issues. Especially with the skeletal framework that is my current WIP. I just finished King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and looking to finish The Illustrated Man by Bradbury. I’m feeling a shift in the winds.

      

  • Music: I’m writing a horror so I needed something heavy. That turned out to be Lamb of God, Slipknot, and the occasional Paramore because there’s apparently romance in my story. Hearing the heavy guitar riffs and deep vocals from these metal bands (not you Hayley Williams, your voice is a dream) I find the scenes writing themselves out naturally.
  • Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Manga: Movies, series, anime, and manga – that’s the good life. There’s a lot of good content out there, with unique stories and characters. How they form all of those smaller intricacies that later reveal themselves to be key sub-plots to an even bigger (and mind-blowing) main arc still baffles me. It also motivates me.

Not My Best – That’s For My Editor

Nicky, if you’re reading this, I apologise in advance haha. I’m not really happy or proud of this novella, but I’m writing it. I will finish it. By the 30th of APril (hopefully sooner) I will have 30 000 words of story. Of writing. Of content that later can be tweaked and refined and made better. Maybe this is my Carrie (Stephen King threw it in the trash. His wife rescued it. It was his first published work). Maybe. Nonetheless I will keep writing.

And that’s all I can do right now.

Writing Hiatus (Not Really)

Hey all,

I guess it’s been a long time since I updated the blog and the reason for that is my mind just failing to wrap itself around life in general. Just a lot of things happening all in all which makes writing difficult. No it’s not writers block, and nothing health wise. Just choices I’ve been making in the last couple of months all catching up at the same time, and emotionally I’m frayed.

At the same time, yesterday I churned out 3000 words in about an hour as two different intros for an idea I have. Each of them an intro to a new story twirling about in my mind like a ballerina doing an endless series of pirouettes. So rather than trying to catch up to March blog posts and book reviews and the endless list of books I keep adding to my reading list, I’ll be going on a mini-hiatus.

So what will I be doing in the mean time?

Camp NaNo Prep

Camp NaNoWrimo is coming up next month. I’ve decided to write another novella (while my other one is still with my editor/publisher). The story is a horror romance temporarily named Upon an Endless Sea. That’s about all I have (I doubt I will use all previous drafts I’ve written haha) so I’ll be using the rest of March to put down some characters and a plot of some sort so I can pants my way through April.

Reading

I am so behind on my reading. Not that I haven’t been reading. On my bedside table (and following me around like a demonic shadow) is the book Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams. It’s about an angel who goes into hell to rescue his demon lover. Beautiful ain’t it? Not so much. It’s like Williams was playing DnD with his characters and every side of the die was an even worse situation than before. A true descent – pun intended. I also have to finish The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradubury and a bunch of other author requested book reviews.

Binge Watching (a.k.a Inspiration)

Yes, yes, yes. I will be watching all the series and movies and anime I haven’t seen yet. Me and Netflix/Crunchyroll gonna have a good time. On my list is:

  1. Altered Carbon
  2. Blade Runner 2049
  3. Insidious 2 + 3 (watched first already)
  4. Baywatch (Don’t even ask)
  5. Dexter
  6. The Machinist
  7. The Taxi Driver
  8. Jacob’s Ladder
  9. Requiem for a dream
  10. Zodiac
  11. A list-full of Anime

Talk about distractions inspiration. Anyway, here’s to a productive March of planning and onwards to an April of writing.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll see ya’ll in April yeah!?

The Store by Bentley Little #TBR

In a small Arizona town, a man counts his blessings: a loving wife, two teenage daughters, and a job that allows him to work at home. Then “The Store” announces plans to open a local outlet, which will surely finish off the small downtown shops. His concerns grow when “The Store’s” builders ignore all the town’s zoning laws during its construction. Then dead animals are found on “The Store’s” grounds. Inside, customers are hounded by obnoxious sales people, and strange products appear on the shelves. Before long the town’s remaining small shop owners disappear, and “The Store” spreads its influence to the city council and the police force, taking over the town! It’s up to one man to confront “The Store’s” mysterious owner and to save his community, his family, and his life!


A shout out to Lionel Green for giving me a heads up about this author. I’ve been looking for new horror authors and books and his article mentioned quite a lot of horror authors. Which means I have more books to buy and read. At this rate I’m going to need to move into a library…

Also, this particular book reminded me of Needful Things by Stephen King. Of a random shop owner showing up and causing havoc. I read the book and watched the movie so The Store is right up there on my next TBR list.

Bentley Little is an American author of numerous horror novels. He was discovered by Dean Koontz.

Little was born one month after his mother attended the world premiere of Psycho. He published his first novel, The Revelation, with St. Martin’s Press in 1990. After reading it, Stephen King became a vocal fan of Little’s work, and Little won the Bram Stoker Award for “Best First Novel” in 1990. He moved to New American Library for his next two novels, but was dropped from the company after he refused to write a police procedural as his next novel. He eventually returned to New American Library, with whom he continues to publish his novels.

Little has stated on several occasions that he considers himself a horror novelist, and that he writes in the horror genre, not the “suspense” or “dark fantasy” genres. He is an unabashed supporter of horror fiction and has been described as a disciple of Stephen King.

The Final Empire (Mistborn Trilogy 1) #BookReview

Title:
The Final Empire – The Mistborn Book One

Authors:
Brandon Sanderson

Genre:
Fantasy

Book procurement:
I was at Exclusive Books – Greenstone and saw the entire trilogy boxset on the shelf. So I did what an self-respecting book lover with some money did – impulsively buy it. No regrets.

Rating:

A heart-wrenching 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with colour once more?
In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage— Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

First Thoughts

I loved the magic system. I loved the characters. I loved the unexpected twists and turns and internal battles I fought with myself as I tried to figure out what would happen next and getting joyfully frustrated when that didn’t happen.

The book was recommended to me for so long that when the opportunity arose I took it up. I have no regrets. It begins slowly and begins to build and build and the come crashing down on you. I was looking at the last few pages and wondering how the story could be tied up with so few pages left and it was done so well. Really a great example of Sanderson’s story telling ability and one of his online classes come to life.

The Story

The story follows two distinct characters throughout the book. Kelsier, the leader of an infamous thieving crew who has escaped from hell to inact a very elaborate and impossible plan. Vin is a street urchin who discovers something amazing about herself and moves from the streets to Kelsier’s crew.

Around them is The Final Empire, a land where ash falls continuously around the city and mysterious mists swirl about at night. At its head is the immortal and powerful Lord Ruler who has established himself as god for centuries, the dark lord who rules with iron fist and nonchalance. Around the city and within are the citizens of The Final Empire; Skaa who are  fearful, low-spirited workers treated as nothing more than lowest of the low in society, and the Noblemen and Noblewomen who rule the Skaa, while living lavish lifestyles and protected by the Lord Ruler.

It’s a story of survival. Of love and friendship. Of overcoming odds and believing in something greater. It is at its core, a story of hope.

Writing

The writing is simple yet elegant and powerful. It moves you along between characters and perspectives, giving you different sides of the story as is necessary without giving away too much.

The characters are each distinct and easily identifiable. I loved all of them. Kelsier’s charismatic persona filled the perfect role of rebel leader who is a caring mentor with a scarred past (if you’ve read the book, see what I did there). We see the kind of man he is, flawed yet determined.

Vin is clearly a smart girl, and quite adept in her abilities. We see her grow from street urchin to quite a notable member of the crew. We are with her in her thoughts and deliberations, her emotions and actions, all of which build her up as a character that by the end of the book you understand why (even when its frustrating!) she does what she does.

Clubs, Ham, and Dockson may be minor characters but they have major roles in the entire story. Not only in their abilities and characteristics, but how they also show different sides of Kelsier and Vin.

Sazed was perfect as the caring and knowledgeable steward. His Feurchemist abilities make him distinct but it’s his well captured persona that truly makes him a valuable friend and partner to both Vin and Kelsier.

The fighting is so imaginative and well written that you can imagine the scene playing out. The whole Allomancy “magic” system (using metals to fuel a specific ability) are unique and masterfully captured. Sometimes the repetition seems too much but it also works as a reminder of how each ability works. The Pulling and Pushing, Soothing and Rioting, Smoking and Seeing. How weight and power affects each one differently and the thought of using a coin to push off the ground to jump higher – so awesome!

The Inquisitors send shivers down my spine, with metal rods in their eyes, super-healing and just general inhuman strength, like what the hell!

Final Thoughts

This was a fantastic book. Filled with adventure, magic, friendship, death, love, and so many twists and turns and frustrations and joys and so many good things. The world building was done really well, each character consistent and unique, the story flowing well between each scene and tying up really well. Even the little notes between each scene or chapter ties into the whole story, with a major twist right at the end that even I did not predict.

All in all I loved The Final Empire and am looking forward to the next two books. I think there’s a lot I could have said but that would include spoilers and I don’t want to do that. Great work Mr. Sanderson.


The Final Empire was published July 25th 2006.

Did you know: Brandon Sanderson offers lectures on writing? I’ve watched a few and some of the topics he covers I’ve seen implemented in Mistborn. You can find them here: 2016 Sanderson Lectures.

Hope #Poetry

She appeared over the rise of green hills and yellow meadows. Against the sunlit backdrop of cloudless sky stretching to the heavens. The blonde locks of her hair become a halo, billowing against the soft breeze. An angel set upon the Earth. Even as the glint of iron armour bulks around her form, dulled sword thrust into the ground as though seeking to claim the hill, there is a softness to her. A beauty unlike any I had seen, and she stood strong as a great warrior.

In the distance, beyond the wave of hair framing her face, an army stands still. Silent. Fearless. These are her demons, each one her weaknesses manifest. Fear. Hatred. Anger. Loneliness. Sadness. Her past and present interwoven around her, threaded by the dripping scarlet-strands joined to her heart, unraveling the slowly beating organ. Leaving a void within and a protective cocoon with-out.

Before her I stand, hand outstretched to feel sword that gleams as her eyes. Armor-less and sword-less I become the strength of the blade firmly planted at her feet. With willing smile I impart myself to it, its sheen suddenly ready to crush the earth. Soft words of adoration become a single swing against these demons that threaten to overwhelm. Ears that listen to her words shoot gleams of bright light, washing over the protective shell she weaves.

Each swing against the enemy now strengthens her. Each cut dwindles the number of demons, threads of what once was winding back to reform her heart. I become her hope. Hope that banishes fear and hatred and anger and loneliness and sadness. Hope that reshapes her present and strengthens her future. Hope in the fiery passion that flows between us like the rivers of life, filling the void of her heart as we unite as one.

I as the only army she requires.

I as her hope.

#FlashFiction: Fees and Bodies Must Fall

“Fees and Bodies Must Fall” was my entry for Microcosms Fic for this past Friday. The prompt was:

(Gonzo) Journalist / House Party / Crime


You would think the blood spatter, taste of copper, and underlying stench of faecal matter would ward me and the others off 17 Mahogany Drive that hot July afternoon. It wouldn’t. Journalists are the curious type and like the proverbial cat, death is part of the gig. Confetti is still strewn about the leather couch, right next to a Ms. Davidson, 22, student at the University of Johannesburg. We look over the shoulders of a police squadron on site led by a Constable Gumede who is all frowns and glares.

“This isn’t a puppet show,” he growls. But we know it is. And not because we can see the threads of bed sheets hanging off the balcony, angling Ms Davidson across the couch like a modern-day Death of Marat. It’s because we know the M.O. That this is the third victim in the repertoire of a man we journos have affectionately labelled The Neoclassic Killer. Just the previous month, a house party in the pseudo-glitzy Parktown area revealed students from Wits University arranged as The Death of Socrates. Bed sheets and all.

It’s difficult to remain objective when faced with the surrealism that our city has a serial killer. The fear radiating through our bones. Poisoning our hearts. Lining our street poles with headlines screaming murder at each corner. Yet we must remain objective so we may assess the situation without emotion. To notice that the killer targets these students not based on any merit of their own but the continuous protests sweeping our streets; Fees Must Fall – which Ms Davidson led as an advocate of.

I am not a prophet, it’s not in my job title, but as more pledges rise, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next classic we see, is The Oath of The Horatii. And death.

Slaughterhouse-Five: Kurt Vonnegut #TBR

Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don’t let the ease of reading fool you – Vonnegut’s isn’t a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, “There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”

Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut’s most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author’s experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut’s other works, but the book’s basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy – and humor.


I don’t remember who actually recommended this book to me, or where I saw it. I think the words “Slaughterhouse” stood out to me more than anything haha being a horror lover and all. Not necessarily that kind of horror, but one that is said to strike home in various ways. Looking forward to reading this book.

image of Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana’s own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat’s Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)

New Inspiration: Steampunk Johannesburg

I’ve made a new observation: I’m not observant enough. I spend at least two hours in traffic and apart from the massive billboards vying from my attention, I don’t really look around much. Or I may look at a car but never really my surroundings.

As one who loves nature, I’m far more fascinated with drives down to Durban or Drakensberg, where the concrete towers and varying high walls and buzz of incessant traffic give way to sprawling greenery against a backdrop of harsh, grey mountain dipping its feet in deep-blue tranquil waters. I can watch that all day. How I love that scene. That image.

image of Drakensberg mountain

Image courtesy of: Go Self-Drive Tours

It was only quite recently, following a trip back to the city from nature’s beauty, that I became aware of landscapes around my home-city too. Then during the walk through the Joburg Central Business District (CBD), I started to notice the little things about it. The varying trees growing within the city. The modern buildings directly across their older, derelict kin. The repaired roads running parallel to the new public transport lane of the Rea-Vaya and its co-joined Bus lane. The uneven, mud-caked site populated by squatters and hawkers right beside the refurbished pavement leading towards the Mandela Bridge.

I noticed the cluttered, and varying shops with displays just outside their glass facades, with the door man calling out to us passing by. The street vendors cooking seemingly shady meat on equally-shady grills. Then I noticed the people. Like really noticed the people. All shapes and colours and fashions and styles. A marriage of cultures, languages, people, nations. Truly a rainbow nation.

image: Johannesburg CBD, Mandela Bridge

Johannesburg CBD and the Mandela Bridge

 

Same City. But Different: Egoli – City of Gold

So this new idea I’m rolling with (amongst others, I know, I know) came to me as a series of intermingled thoughts finding connections I hadn’t seen before. They are:

  1. Johannesburg is nicknamed, the City of Gold by miners who worked in the gold mines. e’Goli – where there is gold. I spend a lot of time in these streets. In a car, but… still.
  2. Many of you know I have a love for all things Steampunk. I even started a steampunk tumblr account at one point and I’m still (still) working on my steampunk novel Junk Yard Angel – 5 years strong.
  3. Worldbuilding is one of my favourite activities while I’m driving. Spending too much time in my head thinking of different scenarios. Concepts as trivial as what my first speech will be when I publish my book, to creating whole worlds where the species is telepathic which means we would not be able to hide our thoughts and someone just created a device that stops that from happening and its implications. You know. The usual drivel.

Then came that truly mind-blowing thought: Steampunk Johannesburg made with real gold buildings and political leaders broadcasting their campaigns on airships crossing the city skyline. The air has a constant buzz, not only from the passing pedestrians of every ethnicity, but from the gears that run the city, and the continuing mines constantly searching for the precious metal. Yes. I can see it now.

It’s so beautiful.

image: Johannesburg skyline sunrise

The Priests of Psi – Frank Herbert #BookReview

Title:
The Priests of Psi

Authors:
Frank Herbert

Genre:
Science Fiction

Book procurement:
Bought this anthology in a heavily secured, highly stacked second-hand book store run by such a nice, though wary, old man. He looked like the gatekeeper to a secret library, awaiting the “Chosen One”.

Rating:

A mind-boggling 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

A psychic parasite who hijacks personalities.

A couple who discovers the house of their dreams … in the wrong dimension.

The priests of Psi, custodians of a forgotten wisdom which may exalt or damn mankind completely.

Five dazzling stories from one of science fiction’s masters

First Thoughts

Following the horrors of space in the last book I read Tales of Terror from Outer Space, I was expecting a lighter and perhaps more science-religious delve into the science fiction genre. And then I had an extremely vivid and emotional nightmare after reading the last story in the book. So… yeah.

Not at all what I was expecting and in a good way. Frank Herbert is a brilliant writer and articulates himself well. Each story was different from the other, with “space” being the bond that ties them all together. There is no horror, or not in its strictest sense. It’s the emotional and psychological horror of having your beliefs and ideas ripped apart by a story, while you’re undergoing emotional turmoil. And for me, that’s scary.

The Stories

Try to Remember!

A spaceship arrives on Earth. The aliens within send out representatives who speak in weird noises and make weird body movements. The reason: interpret the message or be eradicated. Thus the worlds greatest minds across the planet converge in an effort to make sense of the message.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective, who happens to be the only female in a room full of men. And desert sand. Really well written and a commentary on the different ways men and women think or rather, interpret the world around them. Women are the future!

Old Rambling House

This was an interesting story. Ted and Martha Graham live in a trailer, and are contacted by a couple willing to trade their house for the Graham’s trailer. Frank Herbert makes all of this believable in the sense that the couple was aware. Like they knew something was off, and when something seems to good to be true well…

Murder Will In

William Bailey is on his death bed, only he’s not William Bailey. Hasn’t been for the past 200 years or so because a parasite by the name of Tegas took over William’s consciousness and body. The Tegas has been body hopping for centuries, with one single powerful motivator – the emotions experienced by a murderer are the most thrilling. In that moment he hops from murdered to murderer and carries on life.

Fascinating concept isn’t it? Except this time William hasn’t been murdered and now the Tegas and his inner companion Bacit, must survive at all costs. What an amazing story. I could see it play out like a movie in my head. Not often you root for the alien… even when you know it’s a parasite. Odd.

Mindfield!

Ah. Humans. Such amazingly adaptive creatures. So in the far future, the earth is populated only by adults. I won’t tell you why since that would be a spoiler but there’s this psi-machine that “cleanses” the adult of everything and brings them back as effectively children. Your name becomes a variation of its original but never the original.

Priests and priestesses run the world. One is not allowed to dig anything in case one of the “Old-Machines” explode but of course there’s other reasons for that.

The story focuses on the head priest in control of the psi-machine, a rebel couple and their newly awakened partner, and an old-man who just came out of the psi-machine but is remembering too much. The shocking truth at the end is absolutely brilliant way of ending this story.

The Priests of Psi

Right, the final story centers around military man Lewis Orne who is an operator for the Investigation and Adjustment Agency. A hard man who has prevented countless wars from happening. Logical in every way. Which is why it comes as a shock when the religious Priest Planet, Amel, recruit him to be one of their disciples. The I-A, who have never been able to infiltrate the planet, send Orne as a spy. What follows is a psychological, emotional, spiritual journey he will never forget.

This story just messed with my mind. A planet encompassing every religion, all ascribing to one God, and explaining that miracles and other unexplained occurrences are the product of Psi. And Lewis Orne has this ability. What will that mean to a man who has rejected all forms of religion?

Writing

It’s quite interesting to see how each story is written so differently, set across different planes of reality, and each with their own commentary on us as humans.

Try To Remember has a very humanistic approach to it and in the style of writing. Focusing on the more real descriptions of the world, emotions, and frustrations seen through the eyes of the protagonist. It’s simple but the implications are quite massive. We tend to focus more on logic and less on emotion, as though “feelings” don’t have a role. When in truth, the body tells more truth than our words. It is also a commentary on how we as humans are never fully honest with each other, even if it threatens our existence. We must have some sort of power. Some kind of control. And we’ll remain uncooperative and mistrustful – not all of us of course but usually those in power *cough Government cough*.

Old Rambling House followed the same kind of writing. We are thrust into the world of a couple living in a trailer and hoping to get out. They are just regular people and it shows in their speech and in their encounter with something beyond their comprehension. More than that, they are stand-ins for a much larger story. A deeper complication with greater implications because of selfishness.

Murder Will In this one was again just human expression in an alien form. You see its fears and worries and hopes even though you know its a parasitic alien that thrives on the suffering of others to continue its own existence. Frank Herbert writes it in such a way that I was sympathizing with Tegas and Bacit and the many trapped conscious-es within. Herbert really knows how to capture emotion.

Mindfield! brings up the idea of forgetting the past and focusing only on the present under the guise of “Faith”. We know faith should be informed. Apart from that, the writing is quite fascinating. One of the characters is in a sense a relic and on the cusp of insanity so it’s amazing to see how they interact. Each person has their own voice and in the end the overall mystery is solved brilliantly.

The Priests of Psi broke my mind. This was a far more in-depth story. Lewis Orner is a fascinating character and so well written. You understand his fears, his worries, his skepticism and the gentle fraying of his mind when these opposing forces (science vs religion?) come against everything he knows and believes. There was also a really disturbing scene which probably fueled the nightmare I had while my mind was trying to decipher all the underlying meanings and suggestions this story was making. I’m still reeling.

Final Thoughts

It was a great little book with shifting perspectives and worlds. Top-notch world building, great, varying and believable characters, concepts that aren’t just about putting horror in someone but subtle ideas planted into your mind through cleverly veiled mysteries in a sci-fi setting.

 


The Priests of Psi was published January 1st 1981.

Did you know: Each of these stories appeared in different publications before being compiled into this anthology, the first being Old Rambling House in 1958.

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