Monday, February 8, 2016

What a Difference Thirty Years Makes!

Tentative cover for Part I of MWFB
I have no artwork for Children
of the Music yet.
I'm in the process of formatting The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars for publication, and at the same time I'm scanning into the computer my early piece called Children of the Music. Yesterday I worked on MWFB in the morning and then scanned and edited another chapter of Children in the afternoon.

Viewing both books in such close succession caused me to be impressed by how my style has changed. Children was written in the late 1970s and MWFB was written somewhere between 2006 and 2010, after I had written the termite books. In the late '70s I was still under the influence of Tolkien -- heroic fantasy was the order of the day. Children is laid in an imaginary world with two races of humans who exist at a level of technology that is fairly primitive, agricultural or pastoral in nature. My style at times verges on the grandiose, and I use a lot of description of setting (I was impressed by how successful these descriptions turned out to be). By 2006 I was definitely a realist, writing about the future of Earth. This started in The Termite Queen and persists into MWFB.
And yet I feel both styles are equally effective for the purpose intended. In fact, I was impressed by the chapter of Children that I worked on yesterday. It depicts the invasion of a pastoral people by a horde of "barbarians" and it stirred me emotionally, which is a good sign. (It's been more than thirty years since I read the manuscript.) It has a feel of both high fantasy and realism.  And I consider the straightforward narrative technique of MWFB to be equally compelling. I'm going to give you an example from each book so you can compare them.

From Children of the Music:

The good weather held, with a flawless blue sky above their heads and a dry northwest wind from the mountains that blew briskly down the neck and whipped the long manes across the horses’ eyes.  At night the cold sharpened, but the days warmed enough to have made life pleasant if only the wind could have dropped.  In the early morning the east was hazed with river mist, but elsewhere and at other times the air was like crystal.  Always the white bluffs barred the west, drawing closer as the caravan progressed southward, and in their breaks the Epanishai could see the ruffled horizon of dark silver mountains. 
In his impatience Daborno pushed the caravan faster than usual, only to suffer on the morning of the fourth day a broken axle on one of the oldest wagons.  After heated contention with the wagon’s family, he ordered it to be abandoned.  “We haven’t time to repair it, by the god of this world!  Where do we get seasoned ash for an axle, tell me that?  What do I care if this wain was made in the south?  Load your goods on the oxen, curse it!  Disperse them among the other vans!  Sirrah, I don’t suggest – I command!  Get this line moving, you snails’ spawn!  “
“What’s the rush, Daborno?” asked Leftis irritably, when they were underway again. 
The Chieftain glanced darkly at Rashemia and made no reply.  Leftis followed his eyes and did not repeat the question.  The High Codian had uncharacteristically taken no part in the altercation and now she rode three or four paces ahead of them, head held high, face pale and eyes farseeing – hoodless, with the wind tearing at loose strands of her hair.  The sight of her imperious otherness made Daborno quake with apprehension.  So they rode, past midday, into the afternoon. 
Suddenly, in a silence of weariness, a low cry came from Rashemia’s throat.  She drove her heels into the brown gelding’s flanks and dashed toward a long, sere brake of alder and birch that seemed to mark the line of a dry watercourse.  After a moment’s hesitation Daborno spurred after her, with Leftis and his wife not far behind. 
The Chieftain crashed through the brush and reined up beside Rashemia, rising in the stirrups to look where her hand pointed.  Before them lay hay fields, with neat, round ricks ready for winter.  Some eight furlongs beyond, in the valley of a lucent silver stream, was a shepherd village surrounded by its frail palisade, its flocks scattered over the slightly rising ground to east and west. 
Along the bluffs not half a league from the village, the woodland of bare birches and hazel thickened, punctuated by the brilliant darkness of cedars.  Amidst the white and gray hatching of the trees, against the chalk brightness of the bluffs, an indistinct lattice of heavy, black shapes teased the eye. 
It was into that distance that Rashemia’s sight strained, but Daborno’s was nailed southward, on the broad, bare knob of land that rose beyond the stream. 
“Aftran.  Aftran!  Rashemia!  Is this it?” He clawed at her arm, her horse’s mane, its reins, half beside himself. 
“Yes.”  The confirmation came, blunt, toneless, crushing down the emotion. 
“Aftran!  Aftran!  We are here!” The words roared from Dabornos throat as he pivoted his astonished stallion.  Then the rowels were buried in the beast’s side and it leaped forward, streaking across the fields, with the other three behind. 
On the north side of the brake, the caravan heard and there were whoops and war cries of disbelief, of elation, of ecstasy.  Everyone who was mounted coursed through the trees and followed the Chieftain.  The drovers screamed at their cattle, stampeding them into the brush; the wagoners beat the oxen with their goads, heaved the wains with shoulder and hip and hand, slashed at the trees with axes to clear a path – shrieking, weeping with frustration at being left behind – abandoning the more hopelessly wedged vehicles to pound on foot after their lord. 
Through the fields east of the village the ragged line of riders and wagons hurtled, hoofs shaking the earth, cloaks flying in the wind, the bound hair of women loosening and streaming behind like black banners.  The wild yelling scraped across the ancient, sunlit air, raw and terrifying as the music of an untuned viol.  The foremost horsemen dashed helter-skelter through the stream; the drovers and the wagoners gave up their charges on the north side and forded on foot; every human creature of the Axe and Owl beat their way up the slopes of the round, bald hill. 
The cavalcade had passed not two furlongs from the easternmost flocks, paying no attention to the two shepherds who rose up with fright on their faces, stared momentarily upon the careering wildmen, then turned and sprinted toward the village to the west.  

Now here is a scene from The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars (a little background   will help: The SkyPiercer Project, flying a starship beyond the solar system for first time, has just been made public.  Robbin Nikalishin, who is to pilot that mission, feels compelled to call his mother after this revelation.  His relationship with her is strained and difficult, owing to a dire misunderstanding that took place during his adolescence):

Robbie called his mother when Kolm wasn’t there, because he knew his public charm would vanish the minute he had her on the link.  When she came on, she said immediately, “Congratulations, son.  I know this is what you always wanted.  You made it happen.  Like you said in the news conference, you saw the stars and you never let anything stand in your way.”
“That’s – not exactly what I said, Mother.”
“Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it?”
There was a silence.  Then Sterling said, “Are they going to give you any leave before you fly in August?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so.  I don’t think they want us having open contact with the public.”
“So … you won’t be able to come home then … ”
“Probably not.  I’m – sorry … ”
He heard a sound at the other end that he couldn’t identify.  “Mother?”
“What if you get killed?” she said harshly.  “You could, I’m quite sure.”
“Mother, a person can walk out the door and fall down stairs and get killed.”
“Don’t give me that trite old probability crap!” she retorted sharply.  “The chances are much greater of dying in what you’re doing and you know it!”
He made no answer, clutching the side of his head, feeling paralyzed of will.  Then he said, “Mother … how can you … really want to … keep seeing me … after all that has … ”  His voice petered out.
It was her turn to be silent.  Finally she snapped out, “I want to wish you a lot of luck, son.  I’m gratified that you’re accomplishing your dreams.  It makes all my hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.  I only hope the rewards you reap will be as great as you think they will.  And just in case something does happen to you out there, I’m going to say ‘Goodbye’ and I suggest you do the same.  You may never find the time to ring me up again before you go and it would be a shame for a son to die without having said goodbye to his mother.”
“God almighty … ” said Robbie in utter misery. 
“Goodbye, son,” said Sterling.  “Say it!  Say ‘Goodbye’ to me.”
“No, I won’t!  I won’t say goodbye …  Dammit, I’m not going to die, Mother!”
But she had cut the connection.  Robbie stood for a moment clutching the com piece, and then he turned and threw it as hard as he could across the room.
When Kolm tapped on his door later that afternoon, Robbie didn’t answer.  Alarmed, Kolm banged harder.  “Robbie, are ye in there?”
“ … ’s not locked … ”
Kolm opened the door and came to a dismayed stop.  “Holy cry, man, what are ye doing?’
“Working really hard … at getting rotten drunk … ”
“Damnation.”  Kolm hastily closed the door.  “Where’d ye get that bottle?”
“Over at … Base Exchange.  … sell the stuff, you know … ”
“Ye walked right in and bought it, afore god and everybody?  What if somebody reports you to Lara or to Teeter?”
“Yeah, I walked right in … could do it then.  Don’t much know if I could do that at the moment … ”
Kolm went to where Robbie was sprawled on the couch and jerked the whisky bottle out of his hands.  “Whatever in Mairin’s name provoked ye to break training like this?”
“They have no right … tell us we can’t drink.  Sometimes a man has to do something … sometimes there are things … a man can’t stand … ”  Robbie squeezed his eyes shut, his face contorting.
Kolm knelt beside his friend.  “Robbie, did ye ring up yer mother?”
Robbie twitched his head.
“Man, this is the worst.”
“That’s right.  The worst.  Goody, I’m never calling her again … don’t care what you say to me.  I can’t stand it.  I hope I never talk to her again … never see her the rest of my life.”
Kolm took Robbie’s head hard between his hands.  “Robbie, I don’t understand, but I feel terrible bad for ye.  If it takes such a radical thing to keep ye from goin’ to pieces like this, I guess I’d have to say I’m for it.  But it’s a terrible sad thing and I wish I understood about it, but I know I never can and that’s all right.  Now, are ye just gonna lie there, or are ye going to get up and let me pour some coffee down ye?  It’s for sure that ye’ve got to be over this by tomorrow mornin’, or the jig’s up.”
And so Kolm was able to pull Robbie together and no one was ever the wiser about his lapse.  But Kolm remained on guard, and if Robbie got particularly moody or seemed to be withdrawing into himself, Kolm made a special effort to stay close at hand.  Robbie knew this and was deeply grateful.  He understood all too well that the masonry on which his character was founded was not the most stable and he relied heavily on his friend to be his keystone.

So do you like one better than the other?
Or do you like them both?


  1. That's an easy question for me to answer Lorinda - I like both styles and await both books becoming available 👍😃🐵

  2. You're my number-one supporter, Chris! Thanks!