Ask Papa Fuzzy Anything: Genders, Pets, Humans and Wil Wheaton

Here we are at Day Three of Ask a Fuzzy!

First, Papa Fuzzy explains how to tell human genders apart, even though fuzzys are a genderless species:

Next, a question about pets, and a shout-out to a friend:

And now we’re talking about whether or not Papa Fuzzy is offended at being called an “alien”:

Finally, Papa Fuzzy gives you details about that it’s like to work with famed actor Wil Wheaton:

Everything wraps up tomorrow, so if you have a question, this is your last chance to get it in!

The Big Idea: Helen Lowe

When Helen Lowe sat down to write The Gathering of the Lost, she thought she knew what the big idea of the books was going to be. But as it turned out, the book had other plans for her, and for the concept that ended up motivating many of the events of the book. What happens when a book has a mind — and a big idea — of its own? Lowe explains.


Usually when I begin to write, I do so with a very clear notion of the “big idea”—what a story’s really all about. At other times it is only when I read through the finished manuscript that I realize there is an idea present that’s been percolating in the story all along, even if I didn’t set out to consciously write about it.

This latter situation is what happened for me with The Gathering of the Lost, book two of The Wall of Night series.

Seventeen months ago, John very kindly allowed me to write a first Big Idea post for the initial book in the series, The Heir of Night. In that post I talked about my love for classic epic fantasy, but also about my desire to explore how conflicts between good and evil really play out, both within individuals and at a wider societal level—especially when one of those societies perceives itself as defending good and yet has a darkly chequered history.

“And that,” I thought then, “is very much the whole ‘big idea’ done and dusted, as obviously the second book, The Gathering of the Lost, will simply expand on the original theme.” And in fact that is a large part of what this book does. But when I finally read through the completed manuscript, I realized that the new story also has its own, distinct “big idea.”

The Gathering of the Lost is a book about friendship.

The Heir of Night raised questions about ties of honor and loyalty within a rigidly monocultural society. The Gathering of the Lost forces the central protagonists in particular, Malian and Kalan, to ask and answer questions of loyalty and responsibility to each other, but also about their obligations to those who stand outside their own culture’s narrow bounds. And other central characters, such as the heralds, Tarathan and Jehane Mor, and the minstrel, Haimyr, who have been brought together by events into a “band of brothers” find those ties tested by changing circumstances and the reassertion of old allegiances and duties.

Ultimately, The Gathering of the Lost is also a story about responsibility, in terms of which I can do no better than to use the words of my lead editor, Kate Nintzel: “… to each other, to the world in which we live, to our families, whether of blood or friendship.”

What fascinates me in all this is how a big idea can work itself into a story so invisibly—but no matter how fantastic the world, I always strive to keep the characters emotionally real. And this is big epic as well, a story dealing with the sweep of large events—and there is nowhere, history would suggest, that such events bite more keenly than on the personal relationships between people, especially when those relationships are tested by religious, cultural and political difference. So perhaps it is not so surprising that The Gathering of the Lost should have become a story where the big idea is friendship.

Now don’t get me wrong—as well as the sweep of epic fantasy, I love stories that are adventurous and swashbuckling and magical, so The Gathering of the Lost is still very much a magical, swashbuckling and adventurous tale. But running beneath that torrent of danger and power, very much like a secret river, is a story about friendship: its tenacity but also its fragility, as well as its potential—sometimes, if the fates are kind—to transcend the divides of creed, ambition and self-interest.


The Gathering of the Lost: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.



Christopher Priest Shouts at Clouds

Or, more accurately, at the nominees for this year’s Clarke Award, and the jury which selected them. Mr. Priest, for those not aware, is a science fiction and fantasy writer most famous (in the US, anyway) for The Prestige, which was made into a film by director Christopher Nolan. The Clarke Award is a juried science fiction and fantasy award for works published in Britain; Mr. Priest won it in 2003, for his novel The Separation.

I made comment about this on a Metafilter thread on the issue, which I will reproduce in its entirety here:

“Mr. Priest’s contribution is the first this year in what is sure to be a lot of barking at clouds concerning science fiction award nomination slates, all of which will essentially boil down to ‘my tastes are different than yours, and your tastes are wrong.’ This format of complaint will no doubt pick up considerably, as it does on an annual basis, regardless of what is nominated, when the Hugo slate is announced in a couple of weeks.

“That said, as a representative of the format, it’s pretty good: Mr. Priest writes it with an engaging amount of piss and vinegar, varies his tone from target to target (more in sorrow than in anger for Mr. Mieville, blithe condescension for Mr. Stross, outright contempt for Ms. Tepper), and to his credit, offers viable suggestions for an alternative slate, at least one of which, Mr. Tidhar’s Osama, is in my opinion eminently slate-worthy. So for connoisseurs of the form, this is top-shelf stuff, much better than the usual entitled bleating of the tendentiously aggrieved.

“Whether Mr. Priest is right in his cane-shaking is, of course, a matter of personal taste. But with a piece like this, that’s always the case.”

On my end of things, I suspect Mr. Priest and I have different tastes, as I liked Rule 34, have been a Tepper fan of long standing, and believe that if Embassytown is China Mieville underachieving, we should all slack as well as he. But of course that’s my point, and in any event it’s a rare nomination slate for any literary award that does not have someone railing against it as a parade of mediocrities, or worse.

Over at his blog, critic Damien Walter offers a psychological portrait of Mr. Priest to explain his invective regarding the Clarke list. I can’t speak to the accuracy of Mr. Walter’s mind modeling, knowing neither him nor Mr. Priest, but in a general sense I don’t think we have to reach that far into Mr. Priest’s psyche for why he’s had his eruption. Sometimes, one is just cranky about a list of works for which one has little enthusiasm or connection, which purports to exemplify the best of one’s field.

At the end of his rant, Mr. Priest inevitably does what it seems most people who write these sorts of things inevitably do, which is to blame other people for not having their personal tastes. This is where he loses the plot. As I’ve noted before, there’s a difference between saying “This is not what I would have done” and “Why did you do this? You suck.” The first is a perfectly valid thing to say; the second assumes the primacy of one’s personal opinion over everyone else’s. Mr. Priest may feel well qualified to assert such a thing, but no one else is obliged to agree with him. “Incompetent” does not actually mean “valuing the works I do not.”

What should Mr. Priest’s punishment be? Quite obviously, to head up next year’s Clarke Award jury. I would wish him joy in the task.

Update: Charlie Stross, whom Mr. Priest referred to as an “Internet puppy,” is making t-shirts, featuring the image at the top of the entry, made by his mighty spouse Feòrag NicBhrìde. I’m totally getting one.

Update, 3/30: Follow-up entry here.