”När Cassiopeias lastramp hade fällts ner och jag klev ut på landningsplattan fick jag första intrycket av Fredriksborg: kivande asfåglar dansade med flaxande vingar runt ett kadaver vid tullmagasinets gavel. Jag vände blicken mot bosättningens låga gytter bortom stängelset runt molnhamnen. Vinden låg på mot ansiktet och bar med sig doften av kolrök och vägdamm. Solen stod halvhögt i nordnordväst: eftermiddagen hade just börjat på den här platsen.”
This weekend I visited the Swecon SF convention in Upppsala. I had gotten the unexpected opportunity to participate in a shortstory-writing workshop with US author Kelly Link as an instructor. Four courageous Swedes had submitted one story each in English for her scrutiny.
This was my first experience of training my authorial craft in this format and it was rewarding. Kelly made two good rundowns on various dos and don’ts and taught me some good points on catching the readers’ attention in individual scenes. I have already started to look into my current writing projects for weak spots in need of revision.
Around 1970 several Tintin stories were published for the first time as proper albums in Swedish. Before that, they had only appeared in magazines. I found the albums in the school library and immediately fell in love with Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la Lune. The exciting adventures, the bulky pre-transistor technology, the mixture of drama and slapstick — what more could an 11-year’s old sf-fan ask for?
Forty years have passed and I still like the Tintin adventures a lot, particularly the thrills and joys of the protagonists’ traveling to remote places. Hergé was a stickler for technical details and I can see how he honed his skills with each album. The merchant ships in L’Étoile mystérieuse were not really up to the mark, but in Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge a few years later the depictions of sea travels had improved notably.
The passing of time has made the content turn from ”contemporary” to ”retro”; the heroes’ comfortable journey to the moon is a piece of lovely 1950s tech-nostalgia. (The Apollo astronauts went to the moon inside a command module the size of small car and they drove a skeletal dune buggy on the lunar surface.)
I have subconsciously picked up one or two pieces of literary tactics from Hergé and put into to use in my own stories. The protagonists travel into the unknown aboard well-rendered vehicles/craft that are distinct ”localities” by themselves. When the heroes set out on a daring adventure, it is never clear what they really are going to face. Unpredictability and danger — and clever solutions to escape the hazards. (Even though I nowadays find the denouement of Le Temple du Soleil a bit too contrived.) When I wrote about Johnny’s and Linda’s first encounter in the cloudship Cassiopeia in Iskriget or Fox’s river journeys in Spiran och staven, the spirit of Hergé’s way of telling stories was present.
When I write my novels and shortstories, it is usually so that the main character appears and wants me to put her or his story into printed words. I write what they have experienced, even when it gets peculiar. Because ”that’s the way it was”.
Ursula LeGuin writes in Always Coming Home (one of her more philosophical books) about telling a story ”like it was” or ”as it was”. Different approaches to the closeness of reality and the nature of truth. I write only fiction about imaginary worlds because that opens the gates to the realms of ”like it was”. However, I always wonder how the readers will react to the tales I convey from the citizens of those never-never lands. Their life-stories fascinate me, otherwise they would not be able to keep my attention for all those months it takes to type a manuscript.
So far, I have gotten quite nice reviews from people in the sf/fantasy subculture, which is great because they are discerning readers well versed in the in’s and out’s of the genres. But the major book publishers have been reluctant, making me one of many self-published authors in the current PoD-revolution. One of the more interesting rejection slips I have received stated that my novel Spiran och Staven is written for hard-core fantasy readers, which are not a part of that company’s target audience. Well, that’s an honourable verdict indeed.
Currently I am handling Adèle von Rosen’s account for her dangerous attempt to reach the rugged interior of the arid Altimundo plateau in 1940 in the midst of the Republican Rebellion. Being a spy and a progressive republican, she is hunted by both the Imperial secret police (for what she knows about rebel activities) and a local aristocrat (whose anger she triggered by provocatively defying a gynophobic custom).
Four days later I stepped off a motor coach in Degauer Satna, soaked in sweat and with a rucksack on my back and trekker’s boots on my feet. Before leaving the Garða-rām I had also exchanged the old cap for a khaki slouch hat more suitable for a desert climate. To most native passengers I must have looked like a wealthy Erþayn youngster out to see the strange corners of the world. Some had tried to chat with me during boring hours on the road, but I knew none of the local languages and their knowledge of Mariþi had been too limited for meaningful conversations. The warm and stuffy nights that I had spent at roadside inns had been plagued by nightmares about strafing aircraft and pursuing dark-suited lithe men wielding gleaming knives.
I had now come to the end of the Road: it runs for almost seven hundred leagues up from Port Veronica at the coast and arrives here at one of its two inland termini, the other being next to Ariana more than a hundred leagues away. Degauer Satna is also at the edge of our world: east of the town the Central Escarpment rises steeply for thousands of feet. That dark mountain wall runs north and south as far as the eye can see. And up there, beyond a craggy rim that is half obscured by haze and dust, lies the Altimundo.
Ibland är det motigt att vara kreativ och gå framåt i en roman. Då blir ett sådant här positivt läsaromdöme om Iskriget en rejäl energikick — länk >>>. (Se nertill på webbsidan.)
I have been working quite a lot during April and May on a novel. There have been several references to that in earlier blog posts. However, now it seems that the venture has reached a chasm and I cannot find the rope bridge across it. I have established several scenes at various ”places” ranging from the novel’s beginning to its end, but I am not able to connect them to a seamless unit. My trusted brother-in-law has read what text there is and he put his finger on some weak elements. Annoying, but he is right. The currently plotline is insufficient.
It seems that I have to put this story on hold for some time. My subconscious mind has to ”knead” the story until a solution rises likes a bubble in my conscious thoughts: ”Ah, that’s the way to move ahead.” It is frustrating, but I have had that experience many times before. Usually there will be a flash of inspiration.
I haven’t been blogging much recently because my mind has preoccupied with the on-going novel project. Its Swedish name is Ökenvandring (the Desert Wandering), but I might have to change that title. It is simply not enough desert in the story. The novel belongs to the same alternate Earth as Iskriget, a dieselretro vision of a different 1940 in which the republican rebels in northwest Europe fight against the oppressive Habsburg empire.
Iskriget sent the protagonists across the ice-covered southern continent of Alba. This novel takes the reader to the hot and arid continent of Magalhana, the stage for the two concluding short-stories in Iskriget. (Both short-stories are actually prequels that take place several years before the rebellion.) Afghanistan and India have been some of my sources of inspiration — two countries in which I have lived — but Alba and Magalhana are fictional testing grounds where the protagonists face social, natural and moral challenges.
One recurring underlying theme in my stories is Cain’s question in Genesis: ”Am I my brother’s keeper?” The scarred and reclusive marshal in The Road has to respond to it and the consequences get more far-reaching than anyone would imagine. The world forces everyone to choose — taking the narrow path may cost the wanderer much trouble, but out of those hardships comes inner growth, too. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: ”The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”
When I worked in Kabul in 2008, I watched the movie The Journey of August King* on a satellite channel. North Carolina 1815, a widowed white farmer helps a runaway slave woman. The consequences are harsh, because that state’s law shows little mercy for such behavior. But what is morally right and what is legal may differ significantly. At the movie’s end, Mr King, simultaneously facing one victory and one defeat, concludes: ”I have never felt so proud before in my life.”
*The movie is well worth watching, being unsentimental and understated.
My first experience with the Japanese anime tradition was in 1980 or 1981 when Space Firebird, was shown for a few weeks on a second-rate cinema in my hometown of Gothenburg*. For me at that time, animated movies had more or less equaled Disney so this was a gateway into a different aesthetics. I loved it, but I had no idea how to get hold of more. (Those that remember my space-faring fantasy RPG articles in the Sinkadus magazine around 1990, may be amused to know that the liralên space creatures were inspired by the eponymous firebird.)
In the 1990s, the web made its appearance and I started to learn about the vastness of anime. My brother-in-law served as a guide and soon I had found my way to the Studio Ghibli cosmos. Its films later appeared in the shelves of Swedish VHS and DVD stores — somehow the producers realized there was a lucrative market in the west. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds and Laputa: Castle in the Sky were breathtaking in their beauty: the cloudscapes, the huge flying craft and the never-never-lands with diesel-retro technology. Eminent science fantasy.
The fairy-tale stories of Hayao Miyazaki are lovely. I would not be able to write one, however. My stories belong to a different tradition. But the visual aesthetics are irresistible. The ice juggernauts and the cloudships of the Iskriget alternate history certainly have their roots in Ghibli’s films. I wrote the following paragraph in the (not yet finished) sequel to Iskriget as if it was a scene in such a movie:
This time, the big hatch opened and I entered a cluttered room as wide as the cloudship. My first impression was vast banks of instruments around broad windows and beyond these: blue sky and clusters of white clouds above the Lowland’s endless checkerboard of farms and fields, blond and green with crops. In the center of the room, captain Singh lounged in a comfortable pilot’s chair surrounded by levers and complex metal devices. Three cloudmen manned similar stations around him. Parkas, knitted caps and gloves protected their bodies from the numbing high-altitude chill.
*A brief explanation for younger people: In the days before the VHS and DVD technology, Swedish cinemas had a broader repertoire than today. In the major cities there were often one or two run-down cinemas that showed a mixed fare of B-movies and old classics, each movie running for a week or two. I have no idea how the managers made their selections, but occasionally an unexpected gem would appear in their programs, like Space Firebird.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
— Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.