Tag Archives: fantasy

Can men write good women characters?

This is a stupid question. Can men write good women characters? Obviously, the answer is no. Men are idiots. Wait. No, I meant to say the other thing. Yes, (some) men can write (fairly) good women characters (sometimes). No, the real question is this: why can’t all men write good women characters all the time?

Here’s the thing. I’m a man (you’ll just have to take my word on that). And I wrote Elf Saga: Doomsday, which has a primary cast of five women, and is written from the first-person perspectives of those women. Now, the vast majority of the reviews of Elf Saga are fantastic 4- and 5-star ratings, so clearly some humans think it’s a good book. But who are my fans and who are my critics? Men or women?

(And before we go any further, yes, I know that this post looks like I’m tooting my own horn, but just wait until the end, please, because I am trying to make a very serious point. Thanks!)

Now, let’s look at the numbers.

Currently, there are 47 reviews of Elf Saga on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 (thank you for that!). So let’s check out what the people are saying about the characters in Elf Saga, broken down by gender:

Gender Unknown

(aka “People who use weird screen names on Amazon”)

  • 3 stars: “I did enjoy the way the characters interacted with each other”
  • 4 stars: “the cast of lead characters are a well-written group of female protagonists, something I haven’t encountered too often in works of fantasy”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were great”
  • 5 stars: ” I love the idea of a band of adventurers that are mostly women instead of the standard fare of women being support only”
  • 5 stars: “I always love a good story with smart strong women kicking butts all the way”
  • 5 stars: “The characters are great”

Assessment: People of unknown gender seem to be consistently positive about the women characters in Elf Saga.

Men

(aka “Bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling”)

  • 3 stars: “for a group of supposedly seasoned warriors they seemed entirely too silly. The lead characters, who are all female, don’t really act like women. They act like what a man thinks women act like”
  • 4 stars: “very competent female heroes”
  • 5 stars: “each of our protagonists have their own particular quirks and personality traits. These ‘traits’ bloom and expand as the story proceeds”
  • 5 stars: “Lewis has awesome characters with personalities that remind me of guys I served with in the Navy”

Assessment: Aha! Here we go! So, a couple guys like the women characters, but the one 3-star-man thinks the writer-man (me) failed to create decent women characters, because the characters “act like what a man thinks women act like”, which apparently is wrong, because… real women act in ways that men don’t think women do? Maybe? At any rate, it’s clear that this reviewer-man feels he knows how all women act (because women all act the same way, obviously) better than the writer-man knows how all women act. So there!

Women

(aka “Actual real live women”)

  • 1 star: “The characters are good and it’s quite funny in parts”
  • 4 stars: “I approached this book with a bit of trepidation after seeing that a male author was writing a story with an almost entire female cast. I was pleasantly surprised at the nice job he did with those characters. He did a great job of meshing the characters with all their bantering and bickering, and ultimately with their trust in and loyalty to each other.”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the very strong female characters”
  • 4 stars: “The characters are each unique and have distinct personalities that I would enjoy watching grow”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the feminine point of view”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were each fully fleshed with their own distinct backgrounds and I would love to read a book about each of them in turn if given the chance. I have never really read many books with a feminine point of view but I must admit I did truly enjoy this”
  • 5 stars: “the person who complained about the women being too masculine must remember that all warriors are pretty much the same. I applaud the writer on his ability to keep my interest in this book”
  • 5 stars: “The group of elf girls are hilarious”
  • 5 stars: “I was pleasantly surprised as I finished up the last paged. The characters had such varied personalities”
  • 5 stars: “As the story goes on you get to know the characters and cheer for them or agree with their choices”

Assessment: Real actual women think that the women characters in Elf Saga are good (hilarious! strong! unique!).

So there we have it. In addition to giving me an excuse to post all about my own positive reviews, this little exercise has shown that a man is capable of writing a popular, engaging story about a diverse cast of women who appeal to both men and women readers.

And this brings us to the real question, the real point, the very serious issue that I mentioned at the beginning of this ridiculous post:

If I, a man who admittedly has no idea what he is doing, can write good women characters, why the hell are so many other men failing to do the same?

Storytelling: Beyond Good versus Evil

We all go through phases in life, and that includes our professional and creative lives as well. When I first started writing what would become the AETHERIUM series, I wanted to tell traditional heroic stories but focus on characters and settings that are often left out of mainstream media, so I wrote African steampunk, Viking horror, Russian folklore, and Indian mysteries. And that was fun.

My focus started to shift a little over time. I wrote the ZELDA PRYCE trilogy to encourage girls to embrace science, technology, history, and philosophy through globe-trotting adventures. And then I wrote ULTRAVIOLET to bring that focus on young women in science to the YA dystopian genre. I still think this is very important, but it feels like more and more artists are telling these types of stories and creating these types of characters, so I’m comfortable moving on.

And my interests have been shifting even more lately. Earlier this year I completed the ANGELS AND DJINN trilogy, which takes a critical look at the traditional hero’s journey, as well as the sort of toll a life of violence has on a “hero”. It’s about heroes in conflict with the whole idea of being heroes, everything goes sideways, and it ends badly (but with a note of hope, of course!).

And now… now I’m working on a new series, a new project, a high fantasy world of elves and dragons, partly because I’ve been promising myself for years that I would write about elves and dragons at some point. But even though high fantasy is the classic genre for good-versus-evil stories about traditional heroes and villains, I found that I have no interest in telling that sort of story anymore.

It’s not that heroes and villains aren’t relevant anymore. They certainly are. We live in a world full of real heroes and villains, and we need to keep inspiring the one to fight the other. And I still love watching movies where the good guys win, because they make me feel good.

But I’m not writing that type of story anymore because I personally just don’t feel like I have anything useful to say about that type of story anymore.

So my new series doesn’t have a villain. Oh sure, it has jerks and criminals and antagonists of all sorts, but there is no Big Bad. No one dies at the end. Well, someone might, but it won’t be an UberVillain.

Instead, I want to focus on the positive qualities of friends, teams, and families, and I want to tell stories about people overcoming Problems and Issues and Challenges instead of overcoming Bad Guys. So that’s what’s coming.

And from where I am so far, one-third into the new series, I think it’s pretty good stuff, and I hope you will too.

New: Aetherium Omnibus Edition – the entire series at half the price!

I have just launched an Omnibus Edition of the newly revamped Aetherium books (you know, my sprawling fantasy and steampunk series set in an alternate version of the 16th century), so now you can get all eight books in the series, all at once, for just $9.99.

If you went to the effort of buying all the books separately, it would cost you about $22 total. So this new Omnibus Edition will save you more than 50%. It also means that when you get to the end of one book, the beginning of the next book is right there!

How big is the whole Aetherium series in one Omnibus Edition? Here are some numbers!

  • 673,000 words
  • 2,243 pages in length (at 300 words per page)
  • $0.41 in transmission fees (which are usually about $0.06)
  • 2.8 MB in size (which is usually less than 0.5 MB)

So if you’ve been waiting for even more convenience and savings to buy the Aetherium series, now is your chance. Check out the Aetherium Omnibus Edition today!

Free fantasy and steampunk books this week!

We are in the last few weeks of my catalog being Amazon-exclusive, so we will be having lots of free books, every single week. And when the exclusive period ends, you’ll be able to get my books at many more online stores!

Free this week, from July 23 to July 27:

Assassins of the Steam Age (Aetherium, Book 1)

When the local airfield is destroyed, Taziri Ohana is the only airship pilot left to help the marshals chase the killers across the skies of Marrakesh. But the case becomes terrifyingly personal when Taziri finds that her enemies have turned her own inventions into weapons and her family’s survival may hang in the balance.

Meanwhile, exiled Incan princess Qhora and her swashbuckling lover Lorenzo face a gauntlet of assassins, cruel aristocrats, and wealthy industrialists conspiring against the very Queen that Taziri is trying to save, and her country’s only hope for peace may be her crippled airship plummeting out of the burning sky.

Welcome to a fantastical world where strange machines sail the seas and the skies, enormous prehistoric beasts roam the earth, and the restless dead whisper to the living.

Publisher’s note: This book was originally published under the title Halcyon 1: The Burning Sky. No content has changed.

LINKGet it now on Amazon!

The Kaiser Affair (The Drifting Isle Chronicles)

When a master thief escapes from prison, detective Bettina Rothschild must put him back behind bars before the scandalous fiasco destroys the Ministry of Justice. Her investigation leads from decaying cemeteries where ravens conspire to warehouses where wondrous machines are built in secret, and even to the fabled Drifting Isle above the city of Eisenstadt where an ancient tomb hides a deadly secret.

The relentless chase proves taxing for a young woman who relies on her cane and her steamcarriage to get about, but that’s where a good husband steps in. While Bettina picks locks and interrogates suspects, her beloved Arjuna defends her from the most brutal and bizarre assassins in Eisenstadt.

But as the clock ticks down, Bettina finds too many questions still remain. How did the thief escape from prison? How can he afford to hire so many killers? And why would he go to the Drifting Isle only to steal a giant beetle?

LINKGet it now on Amazon!

Ultraviolet

In Carmen Zhao’s dystopian Baltimore, everyone uses personal 3D printers to make anything they want, from designer clothes to high-end electronics, right in their own homes. But this has left the city torn between the wealthy elites and the poor masses working in massive scrap heaps and recycling plants. Luckily, Carmen was on her way to a better life with a rare college education and a plush office job …until she got fired.

Down but not out, Carmen invents something of her own: solid holograms. With a high-tech suit that can turn ordinary light into extraordinary machines and weapons, she takes to the streets as the vigilante called Ultraviolet, protecting her family and friends from spying drones and company thugs, and living on the run with the help of a handsome new friend. But when she sees how far the megacorps are willing to go to take away everyone’s freedoms, Carmen leads a revolution that will change her world forever.

LINKGet it now on Amazon!

Massive new branding for my steampunk fantasy series!

Well, this is kind of a big deal, and it’s kind of nothing at all. Isn’t it always?

I recently decided it was time to give my Halcyon, Europa, and Chimera books a flashy new makeover, and I went whole hog. New series, new titles, and new covers.

Instead of three series, we now have one: Aetherium. I thought it would help to clearly show that these books all take place in the same world, and that their stories all tie together.

Here’s the new rundown:

Aetherium 0 – Wreck of the Frost Finch [ Omar the Immortal ]

Aetherium 1 – Assassins of the Steam Age [ The Burning Sky ]

Aetherium 2 – Legend of the Skyfire Stone [ The Broken Sword ]

Aetherium 3 – Revenge of the Exiles [ The Bound Soul ]

Aetherium 4 – Plague of the Demon King [ Freya the Huntress ]

Aetherium 5 – Fury of the Witch Queen [ Wren the Fox Witch ]

Aetherium 6 – Curse of the Golden Dragon [ The Dragon and the Lotus ]

Aetherium 7 – Twilight of the Immortals [ The City of the Gods ]

You can check out the new cover art on my main site or on Amazon.

And of course, the big question and answer: No, none of the content has changed. It’s the same story in all eight books, just with a different packaging. Tell your friends!

20 Awesome Webcomics You Should Be Reading

For no particular reason, I’d like to post about some (only some!) of the amazing webcomics that I’m currently reading and you should check out. I think webcomics are brilliant both at telling stories and showcasing artists, while some may have better writing than art, or better art than writing, some have both, and all of them have something fantastic to offer.

So I hope you’ll read at least ten pages of each one before deciding whether or not you like it’s style, message, or theme:

Clever and Thoughtful

Abstruse Goose – http://abstrusegoose.com/
Beatrice the Biologist – http://www.beatricebiologist.com/
For Lack of a Better Comic – http://forlackofabettercomic.com/
Incidental Comics – http://www.incidentalcomics.com/
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – http://www.smbc-comics.com/
Scenes from a Multiverse – http://amultiverse.com/

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Bird Boy – http://bird-boy.com/
Blindsprings – http://blindsprings.com/
Dresden Codak – http://dresdencodak.com/
Gunnerkrigg Court – http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/
Strong Female Protagonist – http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com/
Stand Still, Stay Silent – http://www.sssscomic.com/

Big Idea or Big Story: Which is better?

I’m reading a great fantasy novel right now about death and immortality. I’m sure I’ll blog about it when I finish, but it put a question in my mind. Which makes for the better book: a big idea that challenges your assumptions and perceptions, or a big story with characters you love and emotional arcs?

Now, of course it’s not impossible to have both in one book, but we tend to get one or the other. And I’ll use a couple of my favorite movies to illustrate the point.

Star Wars is a big story. It’s epic (galactic!), it’s funny and exciting, it’s tragic and romantic, and it’s full of characters that are easy to love and remember and idolize, and tons of dialogue that has become part of the bedrock of our language and popular culture. Luke, Leia, and Han will be shaping our world for generations to come.

But there is no big idea in Star Wars. It’s just good guys versus bad guys.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Matrix. This is a big idea (not a new idea, mind you, but a big one). Reality is fake. History is a lie. Humanity is not what it seems. The first time you see The Matrix, you’re on a strange ride full of mysteries and questions and factions that don’t make a lot of sense, and when the big ideas start landing, they can really mess with your head (at least for an hour or two).

But there is no story here. It’s barely good guys versus bad guys. The only quotable lines are action movie cliches (“Dodge this”) and hollow philosophy (“There is no spoon”).

Both types of books or movies are important, intellectually and culturally, and the best things in our culture strive to be both.

I’d like to trot out my favorite TV show as a great intersection of the two. Farscape is a show about characters. It’s all about the humor and romance and tragedy and insanity. But in the end it proves it has a big idea, too: the true power and cost of weapons of mass destruction, and the power of fear to shape politics and lives. While the characters are breaking your heart, that last idea, that last image of an entire world burning to death, is breaking your mind.

So, idea versus story. Do you have a favorite? Or a great example of the two coming together?