Matthew Claxton sees the recent chartbusting Kickstarter by Brandon Sanderson as evidence of a disconnect between a small group of big names racking up the sales and the rest of the field, which gets critical attention but not much else. Also that Chris Anderson’s Long Tail, as applied today, is deeply broken when it comes to discoverability: “But where we were promised frictionless discovery, we got a series of loops back into the same things, over and over and over again. Rothfuss and Sanderson Jordan and G. R. R. M. and Tolkien and Lynch and Abercrombie, and you’re a couple of levels deep before you start regularly seeing names like Fonda Lee or R. F. Kuang. (And many of their recs will lead you back to guess where?).”
Three years ago Tor.com published an essay of mine in which I argued that the classic fantasy map style was not something that would be used by characters in a fantasy world. Provocatively titled “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters,” it proved to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. The main complaint was that it was wrong for me to think that fantasy should follow the rules of the real world; fantasy was fantasy, and as such it was okay if its maps didn’t follow the rules.1 In fairness, my critics were the wrong audience for what I was trying to say.
They would also be the wrong audience for the book under consideration here: Putting the Fact into Fantasy, a collection of 50 short essays by various writers, edited by Dan Koboldt and published earlier this month by Writer’s Digest Books. The publisher is a hint as to the audience: these pieces are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction who want to up their game in terms of adding a touch of realism to their work. Because fantasy is built from recognizable real-world raw materials—horses and castles, archers and peasants, trade routes and languages, weapons and wounds—getting the real-world details right can in fact matter. They can save you from resorting to clichés, and knowledgeable readers from being thrown out of the story by what to them is an obvious error.2
In December 2020 I won an eBay auction for a 1968 Royal 200. With shipping, the typewriter came to a grand total of $63.87. It was an ultraportable made in Japan by Silver-Seiko and sold under the venerable Royal brand; the 200 appears identical to the better-known Mercury. Our example turned out to be surprisingly good, not just for what it was—a cheap, small typewriter—but full stop: it types better and faster than many ostensibly superior machines, and despite some yellowed plastic1 it remains in terrific shape. But while its platen and sound insulation could stand replacing, I wondered whether it was worth spending money upgrading such a cheap typewriter: the expense would not necessarily be recouped if we decided to sell the thing on. Meanwhile, the typewriter blogger Joe Van Cleave went and did to his Royal Mercury what I was simply musing about: he replaced the platen and installed a sound insulation kit, with good results. He clearly intends to keep using his, and at this point I think I’m likely to do the same with mine. Resale value should be a moot point in this context. In a way it’s too bad that it’s no longer quite as silly to get J. J. Short to recover its platen, now that Joe’s broken this ground. I liked the idea of doing something silly.
Yesterday we were beset by strong winds that knocked out power for some and knocked down trees for others. In our case it brought down a secondary trunk of one of our beech trees. On its way down the trunk sheared off the top of one of the small maples and crushed the old, disused compost bin that predated our arrival here, narrowly missing the (also disused) shed.
All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.
The remainder of the tree isn’t looking so hot—the pileated woodpeckers have been at it—and will probably have to come down sooner rather than later. And today we spotted a pileated woodpecker checking out the fallen trunk, so I can’t help but think they were behind all this somehow.