Posted by David Stewart

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mike Shel was born in Detroit, Michigan and grew up in the suburb of Dearborn. He has practiced as a psychotherapist for over 20 years and is a freelance adventure designer for Paizo Publishing and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Aching God is his first novel. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife Tracy and has three children, Haylee, Trinity, and Leo. And two dogs, Neko and Elsie. Let’s not forget the dogs.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First book in the Iconoclasts trilogy, Aching Godis the debut novel of RPG adventure designer Mike Shel. He is working on book 2, Sin Eater. The first two chapters of Sin Eater are included at the end of Aching God.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (DAVID): The tendency to pigeonhole Aching God as a simple Dungeons and Dragons adventure is tempting (not that such efforts should be cast aside because many a good story has come from the table-top). Shel’s debut has all the trappings of a role-playing game: there is a band of adventurers, each with a different skill set; there are monsters to slay and dungeons to explore; there are strange religions of differing morality; and it takes its characters from one side of a map to another. This formula screams D&D. I would not be at all surprised to hear that Shel took his story from a well-run campaign - a very likely possibility given his Pathfinder work.

However, Aching God, by virtue of Shel's ability with the written word and his talent for diving deep into a character’s psyche, is so much more than a game set to the page. This is a horror novel, a story about post-traumatic stress, a character study, and a world-building opener that screams at more secrets and things to come. Aching God does what some of the best fantasy in the history of the genre does in its ability to flesh out a map and trickle in enough information to keep a reader wondering with every flip of the page. Aching God is really, really good.

The story finds an aging Auric Manteo, retired from the Syraeic League where he drew his fame and fortune, once more thrust into the life of an adventurer when his daughter and her fellow compatriots in the League, are stricken with a mysterious plague. The source of this plague is an idol taken from an ancient tomb, the kind of thing Auric himself might have plundered in his younger days, and the scholars within the League (those yet alive) predict that the only thing to stop this plague is to restore the idol to its place of origin. Auric must, with a cadre of capable companions, journey to the Barrowlands, spelunk back into the horrifying crypt, and place the idol back into the statue from whence it was wrested.

Sound familiar? The concept here is nothing new, but we don’t always need something new in our fantasy - Nicholas Eames proved that with his genre-shaking debut Kings Of The Wyld. Sometimes the oldest stories, if told with a twist and told well, can be fantastic.

What is Shel’s twist? He has a few. First, and most memorable, is the way in which he narrates Auric’s adventurous past. Auric did not retire because he had a nice long life and wanted to reap the rewards. Auric retired because his last foray into one of the Barrowlands’ dungeons saw his entire party slain and devoured before his very eyes. Shel does a masterful job of relaying Auric’s last journey, mostly through flashbacks or dreams, and the more we learn about that last fated adventure, the more we understand Auric’s motivations and his fears. Shel borrows notes from Lovecraft in his depictions of the Djao gods, deities once worshipped by an ancient race but that were cast down by the realm’s current pantheon. These are grotesque beings of indeterminable size or form. They toy with their victims in an eldritch manner, worming into the mind in order to use madness as a weapon. Shel shrouds all of this in that signature mystery often reserved for ruined ancient races.

Shel also does a lovely job in his characterizations of the party. Of particular note is Auric’s companion Belech, an ex-soldier who accompanies the retired adventurer at the behest of the noble lady in whose realm Auric has retired. Belech is a complex mixture of simple man and unassuming scholar. He has faith, but is not preachy about it and seems to truly believe in the benevolence of his god. He’s also handy with a mace. Auric’s other companions are ones furnished him by the League, but they leave nearly as much of an impact. Sira is a priest whom Auric and Belech meet even before coming to the Syraeic League’s headquarters, and she becomes one of the most sympathetic and authentic characters in the novel. It is a testament to Shel’s character work that he is able to write characters with a spectrum of cynicism and optimism. Gnaeus, a young swordsman, is the consummate cynic and polar opposite of Sira, in much the same way that Auric and Belech lean towards opposite ends. Del Ogara, a happy sorceress, and Lumari, a cold alchemist, round out the balanced pairs in a way that is only noticeable upon later scrutiny. There are times when the characterization does not completely hold up, and a scene near the end in particular that tries to impart an emotional bombshell that is unearned, but for the most part I cared about these characters and wanted to see them succeed.

The only part where Aching God falters is in its ending. Shel spends so much time working towards this confrontation with the unknown Aching God, and then when things finally reach that head, it turns out to be a disappointment. I both understand and lament this. This is the first novel in a series. Robert Jordan couldn’t end The Eye of the World with Rand confronting and defeating Shai’tan. Neither can Shel simply have his characters meet the world’s biggest bad and stick a sword in him. But where Jordan succeeds and Shel fails, to use the prior analogy, is that Jordan casts a wider net with his villains. Shel makes mention of something more out there, but not until the very end, and the entire novel is spent working solely towards this one unfathomable creature. The way in which this is told, it feels like Rand is making his way to the Dark One, to further push that comparison, and when he gets there he finds that the Dark One isn’t very dark at all. I feel that this will be fleshed out in the sequel, certainly, but it makes for a mostly unsatisfying conclusion to what is an incredible journey.

I don’t know if Mike Shel will win the SPFBO. This is my favorite book so far in the competition, but I suspect others might find less depth than I have and see it as more of a simple role-playing game-style adventure. I hope people take the time to read more into the story than what’s on the surface because I do think this is an excellent book, and I expect to stay with Mike Shel for a long while.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): Shel’s Aching God receives great reviews and did well in SPFBO contest. I had to see for myself what’s the hype about.

The plot is fairly simple, but not simplistic. Clever twists and turns keep the reader guessing and turning the pages. A mysterious plague devastates the Syraeic League, and no one knows how to fight it. Perhaps returning the Besh relic to the temple will help? Because of the plague, the League “employs” story’s protagonist Auric and his companions to make it work.

Auric Manteo, a retired Agent of the Syraeic League, is a traumatised but otherwise skilled and resourceful adventurer. In the past, during and after his missions for the League, he’s lost most of the people he had cared about. He still deals with PTSD. I think his intriguing and dark back-story makes Auric compelling and relatable. His faults make him more tridimensional, more layered and human. He reacts to events in believable ways. I think Auric’s character and POV make this novel interesting to read.

Other characters get much less time and, as readers, we don’t get a chance to get in their heads. The cast of supporting characters includes a trustworthy mace-wielding fighter Belech, an alchemist, a sorceress, a showy swordsman and an inexperienced priestess of Belu (god of healing).

Because of the choice of narration, all of them (except Belech) remain underdeveloped and two-dimensional.

I liked the simple and straightforward writing style that focuses on telling the story and not on crafting beautiful sentences. I was impressed with the editing - expect no typos or grammar mistakes. Someone put an admirable effort to clean the book.

My main gripe with the novel concerns occasional but dense info-dumps and expositions (for example the Queen’s back-story). Fans of rich and detailed world-building will probably dig it. For me, it was tiring.

The other thing is the ending. It doesn’t answer many questions, but I get it. I’m supposed to buy the sequel. That’s how this business works. Unfortunately, a good Lovecraftian horror that made Aching God exciting, transforms along the way into dealing with more conventional evil. The build-up was great, the resolution rather disappointing (but it’s just me).

Shel crafts a good escapist sojourn. He delivers a thrilling story full of action, wonder, and characters you can grab onto. Aching God is unpretentious (except for its significant length) and fun. The author does his best to immerse you in his world with admirable conviction and he mostly succeeds. For me, there was too much info-dumping to feel fully engaged and, at times, I felt tempted to DNF it. But I can see RPG fans love it, especially the parts of the book that take place in the Dungeon.

SPFBO Final Score - 7/10

Posted by Kylie Cheung

The last few weeks have seen Virginia racked by government scandals, including Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring’s histories with blackface, and allegations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Democratic Party leadership has since swiftly called for the resignations of Northam and Fairfax — demands that some on both sides of the aisle have ignorantly all but chalked up to excessive “political correctness.”

We’ve seen this before: appropriate backlash against intolerant, highly inappropriate behaviors and language is criticized and dismissed, all while normal or harmless language—often used by marginalized people—draws overblown, disproportionate outrage. Last month, in the wake of a faux outrage storm generated by Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s comments referring to President Trump as a “motherfucker,” a report exposed a troubling disparity in how controversial comments are covered: Tlaib’s explicit words threatening to impeach Trump had received five times more media coverage than Rep. Steve King’s defenses of white supremacy later that week had.

Certainly, Tlaib’s word choice seemed to draw more ire from some than the president’s racist, lie-filled address defending his proposed border wall, as well as his decision to hold the government hostage at the expense of quite literally everyone. And many of those who criticized Tlaib were the very same people who have shrugged off the president’s own seemingly endless list of profanities, often used in explicitly racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted contexts.

This is a common pattern: The same actors and institutions that decry “political correctness” and label demands for basic respect for marginalized people as attacks on free speech simultaneously hyper-police the language and behaviors from some groups and not others. These double standards strike at the core of what criticism of “PC culture” ultimately embodies: deep resentment of societal progress—specifically, progress that increasingly empowers people who have long been expected to shoulder their oppression in silence to speak up and ask for respect. And, as Tlaib demonstrated, they are increasingly speaking up on their own terms.

Popular narratives around the supposed excesses of political correctness tend to focus on language that now can’t be said, such as racist, homophobic, transphobic or misogynistic slurs. But make no mistake: the anti-PC culture’s outrage is ultimately directed at what now can be said—by marginalized people.

Late last month, on the latest stop of a comeback tour no one asked for, self-identified comedian Louis CK made a slew of “jokes” exemplifying this resentment at shifting cultural norms. CK criticized today’s generation for having the nerve to listen to and respect the pronouns of transgender and non-binary people. “They’re like royalty,” CK said of trans and non-binary people, a demographic that consistently experiences higher homicide and suicide rates than any other group. “They tell you what to call them. ‘You should address me as they/them. Because I identify as gender neutral.’ Okay. You should address me as ‘there,’ because I identify as a location. And the location is your mother’s c-nt.”

In addition to mocking and trivializing the experiences of trans and non-binary people, it was impossible not to draw a connection between CK’s critique of purported, societal hyper-sensitivity and his own treatment of women. In 2017, CK admitted to sexually harassing and masturbating in front of several women, and said he would  take a break from comedy. Suffice to say, it was a short-lived break. CK quickly made a return and almost immediately framed himself—and not the women he had admitted to abusing—as the victim. CK’s self-victimization complex was starkly emblematic of the power dynamics that define our understandings of “political correctness”: somehow powerful people who face accountability for abusive behaviors are victims, and those whom they oppress are the real  oppressors, simply for asking for better treatment.

We hear so much about the importance of preserving “free speech” in the context of people with privilege no longer being able to say and propose awful, dehumanizing ideas and tell cruel and bigoted “jokes.” But so rarely do we hear praise of a broad, mounting cultural shift toward inclusivity, thoughtfulness, respect, and safety as something that helps promote greater access to free speech by marginalized people. Groups that have previously been expected to accept oppression and bigotry as inherent to existence without a word of complaint or option for recourse have become increasingly empowered to respond to comments and actions that perpetuate their oppression by saying how they feel. They utilize their free speech rights to respond to bigotry with such comments as, “that demeans me,” “that hurts me,” or “think about what you’re saying.”

And they utilize their free speech rights to speak up about their experiences with oppression.

And while critiques of “political correctness” imply their softness and sensitivity, many of the realities that women, people of color, and LGBTQ people speak up about—only to be routinely mocked, dismissed, and verbally or physically attacked for doing so—are at their core matters of survival and the ability to participate in public life: From pro-choice activists speaking up about rising maternal death rates and anti-choice violence, to Black Lives Matter activists speaking up about how police violence and the racist criminal justice system are quite literally killing them. The systematic dismissal of marginalized people’s voices and demands for respect often implicitly contributes to violent outcomes that persist on a daily basis for marginalized communities.

Discussions about political correctness often center around free speech, with the implication that free speech applies to some people—those with power and privilege—and not others. It’s incumbent on all of us to shift the conversation, and talk more about how to protect the free speech and voices of marginalized people, whose demands for basic respect too often remain the butt of jokes.

Posted by Łukasz Przywóski

Official Author Website
Order Seraphina's Lament over HERE
Read Stalin, Communism, & Fantasy by Sarah Chorn (guest post)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom. In her ideal world, she'd do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The world is dying.

The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought holds the east as famine ravages the farmlands. In the west, borders slam shut in the face of waves of refugees, dooming all of those trying to flee to slow starvation, or a future in forced labor camps. There is no salvation.

In the city of Lord’s Reach, Seraphina, a slave with unique talents, sets in motion a series of events that will change everything. In a fight for the soul of the nation, everyone is a player. But something ominous is calling people to Lord’s Reach and the very nature of magic itself is changing. Paths will converge, the battle for the Sunset Lands has shifted, and now humanity itself is at stake. First, you must break before you can become.

CLASSIFICATION: Seraphina's Lament is a gritty and dark dark fantasy.

FORMAT/INFO: Seraphina's Lament is 398 pages long divided over 44 chapters. The narration is in the third person and focuses on eight POV characters: Seraphina, Premier Eyad, Mouse, Vadden, Amifi, Taub, Neryan, The Ascended. This is the first volume of the Reborn Empire series.

This book is available in e-book and paperback format. It was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Pen Astridge,

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): Seraphina’s Lament breaks genres, conventions and taboos. Set in a secondary world based on the Russian Revolution and the Holodomor, it gives a detailed look at a dying world.

A collectivist government controlled by an ex-revolutionary, Premier Eyad, used to have noble objectives. Things and people changed. Rulers inflict starvation, forced labour, and death on their subjects. Rampant famine forces people to commit acts of unspeakable cruelty and despair, including cannibalism. Magic leaks from the world.

Seraphina, a slave with a unique fire affinity, escapes her tormentors and joins revolutionaries. She wants Eyad dead. Her anger consumes her humanity. The same happens to other protagonists. As they head to Lord‘s Reach city to fight a corrupted government, they undergo significant changes. Some of them start to Become.

Seraphina’s Lament is a dark and unsettling book. Using elements of fantasy, horror, symbolism, magical realism and allegory, it dives into metaphysics and creation of gods.

Food, eating, and starvation represent life, death, guilt, and withheld love. Early in the book readers get to know Taub who undergoes a shocking metamorphosis. Chorn describes radical changes (mutations?) in such hallucinatory detail that I had to stop and reread chosen passages to picture them accurately. We can see protagonists’ bodily torment and share their disgust and terror when they first witness and experience it.

You’ll know early in the novel if her writing style works for you. It switches from poetic and allegorical to no-nonsense. I loved parts of it, but had to slowly reread others to see things. Some similes didn’t work for me. Others felt creative and imaginative. Chorn’s writing is dense and her story is so different from mainstream fantasy that I expect it to divide the audience. Some will “get it”, while others will feel lost and helpless. I like allegories and Seraphina’s Lament may appeal to readers who enjoyed themes of unbecoming pictured in Dyachenko’s brilliant Vita Nostra.

CONCLUSION: Seraphina‘s Lament is a strong debut. It evokes feelings of futility, confusion, and helplessness, but I wouldn‘t call it nihilistic. It ends with a glimmer of hope. It impressed me and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): Seraphina’ Lament is Sarah Chorn’s debut book and knowing Sarah’s penchant for the darker side of literature. This title was high on my list once she announced it. The story is set in a secondary world and one wherein magic is present but not in a high fantasy sense. Focusing on different characters such as the titular character, Premier Eyad, the rebel leader Vadden, Seraphina’s brother Neryan and a few others. We are shown a world in crisis and one wherein there’s no straight end in sight. Sarah Chorn deftly gives us a landscape wherein famine and magic co-exist. There have been calamities on all fronts and Premier Eyad is forced to take certain hard steps or is he

The story is dark and right off the bat, I can see this is going to be one of those wherein readers will be divided into camps about it. There’s no two ways about this book because of the darkness and the misery it showcases. The author brandishes a deft hand in handling a sensitive subject such as the Holodomor as well showing a thing or two about communism. Not that she names them as such.

Characterization is a forte of Sarah’s writing as she handles each person’s needs and ambition crucially while never making them caricatures. Even the villains as well those manipulated by the higher beings. The characters never take missteps within the story’s needs but act as simply with their own feelings and intellect. I loved this aspect and I couldn’t wait to see how they would react within certain points within the story and especially in the end. The author also has highlighted characters with disability and I found that to be another unique feather in her cap.

The prose is perhaps the best part of this debut. The author manages to show the depth of suffering and yet elegantly describes feelings, emotions and such. There are such gems strewn throughout:

 "Belief was a terrifying thing, he realized. Give a man a blade forged of purpose and another of belief, and he has all the justification he needs to do anything he wanted.”

CONCLUSION: The book is littered with such lyrical prose that brings you joy and will have you doubting the depths of human depravity. It’s highly unusual to find such accomplished writing in a debut and the fact that Sarah has written this is of no surprise. Sarah Chorn is an author who impressed me mightily and if his debut is any indication. Then we can wonder what further brilliance there is to come. Dive into Seraphina’s Lament and discover why Sarah Chorn is dark fantasy’s next superstar.

Savage Love

Feb. 19th, 2019 04:00 pm[syndicated profile] savagelove_feed

Posted by Dan Savage

Consider the (Extra) Lobster by Dan Savage

Two weeks ago, a longtime reader challenged me to create a new sexual neologism. (Quickly for the pedants: You're right! It is redundant to describe a neologism as "new," since neologisms are by definition new: "ne·ol·o·gism noun a newly coined word or expression." You got me!)

"Neo-Neologisms, Please!" was too polite to point it out, but my two most famous and widely used neologisms have been around so long—pegging (2001) and santorum (2003)—that they're practically paleogisms at this point. So I accepted NNP's challenge and proposed "with extra lobster." My inspiration: on a visit to Iceland, I was delighted to discover that "with extra lobster" was a menu item at food carts that served lobster. This delighted me for two reasons. First, lobster is fucking delicious and getting extra lobster with your lobster is fucking awesome. And second, "with extra lobster" sounded like it was a dirty euphemism for something equally awesome. I offered up my own suggested definition—someone who sticks their tongue out and licks your balls while they're deep-throating your cock is giving you a blowjob with extra lobster—and invited readers to send in their own. It was my readers, after all, who came up with the winning definitions for pegging ("a woman fucking a man in the ass with a strap-on dildo") and santorum ("the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex").

What follows are the best reader-suggested definitions for "with extra lobster," with occasional commentary from yours truly...

"With extra lobster" sounds to me like going down on someone—regardless of sex—when it's a little more odoriferous than you would like because they haven't bathed in a while. For example: "Things were getting hot and heavy with my Tinder date last night, and then I started to go down and was surprised with extra lobster."

I think I have a good candidate for your "with extra lobster" definition! It could be applied to a man who has an exceptionally large and dangling foreskin ("His penis comes with extra lobster!") or a woman whose labia protrudes ("I love pussy with extra lobster!").

When I first started dating my wife, she kept her lady parts waxed clean, and they looked a bit like a lobster claw, even being slightly red if the waxing was recent. We nicknamed her vagina and surrounding area "The Lobster," or "Lobby" for short. So I would suggest that "with extra lobster" should mean anytime you get some extra lobster in on the act—from normal lesbian sex (two lobsters!), to a standard-issue male fantasy threesome (two lobsters and one cock), to a surprise second go-around after you thought the sex was over.

The area surrounding the vagina already has a name: the vulva. While most people are familiar with the labia majora and minora parts of the vulva, aka "the lips," fewer know the name for the area between the labia minora. The spot where the opening to the vaginal canal can be found—also part of the vulva—is called the "vaginal vestibule." According to my thesaurus, lobby is a synonym for vestibule. So this proposed definition of "with extra lobster" is pretty apt. Now, some will quibble with the lobby-ish implication that a vagina is a space that needs to be entered. One can have a good time—great sex with lots of extra lobster—without anyone being penetrated, i.e., without anyone entering the lobby.

"Extra lobster should be the name for those cock-extender things. Example: "My husband has a small penis. And you know what? The sex is great! He gives great head, and isn't afraid to strap-on some extra lobster now and then."

As a vegan, Dan, I strongly object to "with extra lobster." It reinforces the speciest notion that is it permissible to consume lobsters, sentient life forms that feel pain, and associating a sex act with the violence of meat consumption further desensitizes us to acts of sexual violence.

Fuck off.

When you see a gorgeous ultra-feminine creature far more gorgeously feminine than my straight CIS ass will ever be. But under all the silks and stockings and satin panties... there's a wonderful and welcome surprise! That girl comes WITH EXTRA LOBSTER!

I've learned about fursuits from you, Dan, and so many other crazy things—like the guy who wanted to be sexually ravished and then torn apart and eaten by zombies. With that in mind, I think "with extra lobster" shouldn't refer to a sex act. It should be ENTIRELY literal: an act of bestiality performed not with one lobster, but with two or more lobsters. (The zombie guy was what hooked me on "Savage Love." I'm too shallow for the actual problems and stuff. More freaks please!)

Too literal and too improbable—and euphemisms that describe things that have never happened or only happen very, very rarely are unlikely to enter the lexicon.

I used to hook up with a cuckold couple with a particularly naughty fetish: I'd fuck the woman, fill her up, and her man would eat it out of her. So, say you hooked up with a woman, let's call her "Melania," and her husband, call him "Donald," ate her pussy after you filled her with come. Donald is eating pussy with extra lobster!

Sounds more like pussy with extra chowder to me—and what you've described already has a perfectly good (and widely-used) name: cream pie. And, please God, let's leave Trump out of this. There's no need to associate something so vile and disgusting with eating another man's come out of your wife's lobby.

"With extra lobster" should refer to any intimate pleasure where your expectations are greatly exceeded! I'm a gay man in my sixties, and my husband and I have been together for decade. I also have a friend with benefits. One night we were camping and I blurted out, "I would like to cuddle with you." What happened next was 12 courses—at least—with extra lobster! We've managed to rekindle this energy every couple of years over the past 25!

I believe your example of "with extra lobster" regarding an extra WOW factor during something sexual is perfect and doesn't need extra explanation. As the saying goes, Dan, you pegged it!

I agree with the last two letter writers: "with extra lobster" shouldn't refer to any specific sex act—and it should never involve actual lobsters and/or mental images of the current president of the United States—but should, instead, be a general term meaning "expectations exceeded." When someone really comes through for you, when they knock your socks off, when they make you see stars—when they really WOW you—then you got boned or blown or fucked or flogged or torn apart and eaten by zombies with extra lobster!

And with that sorted and settled, a bonus neologism to close the column...

This isn't a definition for "with extra lobster," but I wanted to share it. I live in Uganda and many of the streets are lined with stalls that sell BBQ chicken. If you know to ask for the special chicken, they'll often sell you weed. Special Chicken has become my favorite euphemism for weed!

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Posted by The Reader

Order Seraphina's Lament over HERE

My first draft of Seraphina’s Lament did not have a communist government system. It wasn’t until I was getting ready to do my rewrite, and doing a ton of research in preparation for that, that I realized that the Sunset Lands really needed to be communist. How could I possibly tell a story even remotely related to the Holodomor without communism?

Furthermore, how could I do it without a Stalin.

It was impossible.

So, in my second rewrite I realized I had to almost completely rebuild the world I’d created. I also needed to create a Stalin, and then a magic system that fit into all of this.

I knew that communist government systems weren’t that common with fantasy books, but I don’t think I realized just how unique having a Stalinist communist system would actually be until people started commenting on it.

This required an incredible amount of research. I’ve got a few books totaling around 6,000 pages on Stalin sitting on my bookshelf at home, and that’s not taking into consideration all the books I’ve read at the library, or the ones I bought through Audible. The thing is, it’s pretty easy to create a world where communism is the government once you know enough about communism to be able to do that. After I’d done all my research, the whole story fell into place and I realized that communism was exactly what had been missing from that first draft that it had desperately needed. I also realized that my own character, Premier Eyad, who is patterned after Stalin in so many ways, really needed to be part of this book.

Stalin was a horrible person. There are no mincing words about that. He killed millions upon millions of people, passed policies that had dire impacts on just about everyone, and left a red-stained legacy behind him. Yet despite all of that, he still thought he was doing the right thing. I really hated doing it, but trying to capture that element of Stalin’s character was really important to me. Villains rarely think they are villains.

Once I stopped looking at Stalin as a hulking historical figure, but started to see the man that made him who he was, creating a character influenced by him was pretty easy.

Communism was really interesting to learn about, and even more interesting to write. Communism is pretty foreign to people located out here in the United States, and while we learn about it, a lot of the details are either glossed over in history class in high school, or just not touched on at all. Basically, from high school, I was left with the understanding that communism is bad, and not much else.

In order to build a realistic communist system in my world, I had to not just understand the policies, but the impacts of these policies and how they were implemented. I had to take the main points of Stalinist communism, and change it enough to fit into the Sunset Lands.

Communism itself has a lot of territory for an author to tinker with. Setting down the policies of this government system and figuring out the impact on society as a whole was really the groundwork for building my world. Once I had that figured out, everything else fell into place.

Going into this, I knew I wanted to create a magic system based on the elements. However, due to communism, and state ownership of both goods and labor, it had to be a magic system that could be utilized like any other skill. It needed to be something that could be worked, and create, or help create, goods and services. Therefore, I ended up deciding that the elemental magic system needed to be something that could be bartered and traded.

Due to the dying world, and the changing nature of magic, the magic in Seraphina’s Lament, is understated, but there are a few situations that show what I’m talking about here. One, early on in the book, where a woman who has a talent, is forcefully separated from her son and sent to a village, ordered to use her elemental talent to help people in that village work their land. Seraphina and her twin brother Neryan are slaves because their fire and water talents are incredibly rare and valuable. Every person in the Sunset Lands is tested at a certain age, and a mark is branded into their cheek that shows if they are null talents (no talent) or what talents they have, and then, depending on the results, are either sent into specialized schools, labor camps, or assigned to villages for labor.

While I chose to write this book with a government system based on Stalinism, I ended up being really surprised that there weren’t more fantasy books with communist government systems. It’s a form of government that has plenty for authors to draw on, and use in the books they write.

The world is a big place, and part of reading is discovering it, and exploring different ways of living. Part of doing that is straying away from the tried and true forms of rulers and leadership in fantasy, kings, queens, emperors and the like. There will always be a place for that in our books, but there are so many other governmental systems out there, and so many other ways that people have lived, and are living. For me, choosing to create a communist governmental system was natural to the story I was telling. I can’t imagine Seraphina’s Lament being told any other way.


Official Author Website

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.

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hth: recent b&w photo of Gillian Anderson (Default)

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