January 28th, 2012


Read "Horses as a Plot Device"

S.A. Bolich has posted another essay in the excellent series on writing horses, "Horses as a Plot Device."  It contains all sorts of ways to complicate your protagonist's life with perfectly ordinary horse hassles.

The point about economic hardships particularly caught my eye.  Look at Path of the Paladins, a low fantasy series set in a war-torn world.  People have used up a lot of the resources faster than they can be replenished.  Livestock have been stolen or eaten.  This appears rather quietly in a bunch of the poems:

In "Shine On," Shahana the paladin is not riding a warhorse or a magical mount, but a mule.  A darn good mule, but still a mule.  She leaves Apricot in the village because the latest raid has left them with trampled fields and no  draft animals.

Subsequent poems, "The Ones They Leave Behind" and "One Eye on the Horizon," continue the village thread by following Ari's brother Larn and the mule Apricot.  I've seen working draft animals, mostly horses but also a few mules and oxen, and I'm using that background knowledge to add grit here.

The first hint of horses appears in "The Shadow of His Passage," which mentions the sound of hooves.  The followers of Gorrein are powerful enough to take what they want, more often than not.  They aren't always careful with it, but they have the lion's share of what little resources are left.  This is also a hint at horses as military power; they're the local equivalent of tanks or troop transport, depending on context.

"Opening the Gate" re-emphasizes something introduced discreetly all along: Shahana and Ari are traveling through a nearly empty world.  They see old, faded signs of people and livestock more often than they make actual contact.  People tend to avoid meeting strangers if they can, because it's unlikely to go well.  Later in the poem, Shahana and Ari come across a battlefield littered with the bodies of humans and horses.  They learn that Gorrein's men attacked some herders who were tending their last few horses. 

Something else the essay mentions is the danger of having a heavy horse land on a rider -- and one of the casualties found by Shahana is indeed trapped under a dead horse.  That one comes from my explorations of history and visiting battlefields from the Indian Wars (and maybe a few from the Civil War or Revolutionary War).  Having your horse fall on you was a major risk for cavalry soldiers, and something you tried to make happen to the enemy.  It was a good way to break your neck, or break a leg badly enough to lose it.  Shahana and Ari also have to figure out how to move a very heavy weight off of an injured man in the middle of a field, without magic because Shahana needs all of that for healing.

In "Patches," a traveler has a cart pulled not by a horse or even a donkey, but a pair of billy goats.  Goats make capable draft animals, and have the advantage of being able to eat almost any vegetation.  Billy goats, rather than wethers, are somewhat more challenging to control but can provide stud service to farmers lucky enough to have nanny goats left: a useful trade item, in a setting that uses barter more than cash.

So there you have an analysis of how one motif -- horses and their absence -- creates a running thread to distinguish the details of a setting low in magic and other resources, and to provide challenges for the characters that are well matched to that setting and the characters' current resources.

Rhysling Award Nomination

My poem "The Cathedral of the Michaelangelines" has been nominated for a Rhysling Award in the long poem category.  (I can still get a nomination in the short poem category and not be competing directly with myself.)  This poem comes from my main science fiction universe, which has a lot of interesting thematic colonies.  Here we're visiting Picture This, the REAL artists' colony.

Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon

This article looks at how Barnes & Noble competes against Amazon.  The main focus is on ebooks, with some attention to paper books.

I really hope that B&N survives.  When it comes to books -- and almost everything else -- I'm a browse shopper.  If I cannot examine a product while shopping, I almost never buy it.  I will occasionally buy books because they belong to a series that I already know I like.  Far more often, I'm looking for a book of a general type (a novel to read in the car, a new cookbook on a particular cuisine, etc.) and I'll want to compare several options.  I can quickly tell, with a book in my hands, whether or not it's worth my time.  Online, that's a much harder decision to make; either I won't buy anything or I'll only buy one, where I might have bought several in a store if I could afford to.

I buy less these days.  Part of that is because I'm broke.  But part of it is because most products are crap, most services are unreliable, the delivery is not to my liking, and if I'm not happy about my shopping options then my money stays with me.