Reading Vox Day


Yesterday, PZ wrote about having read “Opera Vita Aeterna”, the novelette that was nominated for a Hugo Award this year in a bloc voting move. Coincidentally, I was reading some excerpts from Vox Day’s political writing elsewhere and marveling over the (lack of) quality of the prose. I thought that if his fiction were as awful, it might cross the line into unintentionally entertaining to read. And as I personally relate to him mostly as that sad, whiny pest who will be arrested like his father if he ever tries to return to Minnesota, reading his work in which his racism, sexism, and delusions of religious persecution weren’t the main focus wasn’t much of a chore for me.

So I went out and found a free copy. It turned out Day was inviting people to read the work by offering it for free. I’m not going to link his site from here, but it’s not too difficult to find someone who did from a search based on the story’s name.

As it turns out, the story was not entertainingly bad. Don’t let that lead you to think it was good, however. It was dully, prosaically bad, with rookie problems that most critique groups would point out if he gave them the opportunity. Of course, in order for that to be useful, Day would have to be able to respond to criticism with something other than atavistic hostility.

This means I can’t recommend reading his story for the same lulz you’d get from a Steven Seagal movie. I can, however, give you a taste of that experience and spare you any misguided curiosity.

Let’s start with the title. It tells us in (mangled) Latin that we’re dealing with the works of an eternal life. Okay. Obscure, but titles are allowed to be obscure.

Then we hit the first two paragraphs.

The cold autumn day was slowly drawing to a close. The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky or to penetrate the northern winds that gathered strength with the whispering promise of the incipient dark. The first of the two moons was already visible high above the mountains. Soon Arbhadis, Night’s Mistress, would unveil herself as well.

The brother standing on watch duty at the abbey gate drew his cloak more closely about his shoulders, waiting for the bell that would summon him to Vespers and the warmth of the catholicon. While he was armed with a wooden staff, his only armor was the thick brown wool of the cloak. But this close to the inhuman lands, so near the elvenwood and the Waste of Kurs-magog, there were few brigands and thieves to trouble the stone walls that guarded the brotherhood of St. Dioscurus. One of the lesser orders, given formal recognition by the Sanctified Father only thirty years ago, the Dioscurines were not a mendicant order, but neither did they possess the wealth of the larger, more established brotherhoods.

At this point, nothing has happened except someone bundling up. We’ve had dumped on us a bunch of information I’ll mostly forget because I don’t know which part of it is relevant to anything that happens in the story. I do, however, see that we’ve moved away from Latin toward Arabic and Semitic naming, then back to Latin for churchy things. Okay, Latin = church. Got it.

Then we are introduced to the new arrival, walking up the road. The second thing our monk determines he is not is a robber. Very important to rule this out early when thieves are the rarity we’ve already been told they are. We also know that this traveler carries a walking stick “carved in an extravagantly ornate manner” and is wearing very rich wool, seen in the “ineffective rays” of the setting sun before the traveler turns off the road to approach the monastery. Apparently we’re not actually supposed to remember those two paragraphs of turgid description.

Additionally, we discover that the monastery sits on the “road to Bithnya”. So we have a Latin monastery in a place where the moon is referred by a roughly Arabic name, the nearest land is Semitic, and the road is referred to as having a Turkish destination. Either that, or these names were chosen because they were “cool”. Nobody actually reads these things with any pre-existing familiarity with any languages other than English, right?

The traveler turns out to be an elf, identified by the monopoly of his kind on detailed carvings and good wool. The monk hails him with “Peace be with you,” he bowed and greeted the elf in the humble manner he had been taught to show king or beggar. “Be welcome in our house, in the name of Our Immaculate and Ascended Lord.” Yes, it’s not just that Latin was chosen for monastery names for its association with the early Catholic Church. This is the early Catholic Church, plopped on a planet with elves and two moons. But this wouldn’t have changed how the church developed in any meaningful way.

The traveler asks for a place to stay, and the monk welcomes him. This surprises the traveler, even though it’s exactly what he asked for. By the way, if you’re curious why I keep referring to them as “the monk” and “the traveler”, this is because neither one of them has a name yet, a full page into the story. Mysteries, oooooh. Yeah, no. The monk introduces himself as Brother Sperarus a couple of paragraphs later, his name springing into being as soon as the author figured out a clunky and obvious way to provide it.

The mysterious traveler though–surely there is mystery there? Nah. We just get paragraphs about how Sperarus can’t ask for a name because hospitality and curiosity being a sin, mixed in with a sentence about food at the monastery that is more descriptive of how the brothers live than the bit in the opening paragraphs that attempted to tell us explicitly. Finally, the traveler makes his first move toward becoming reader proxy by just telling Sperarus that his damned name is Bessarias. I guess elves are Persian.

Bessarias is a high elf, by the way, a city elf. This surprises Sperarus, apparently because while elaborate carvings and fine wool are unique to elves and can be spotted at a distance, there’s no discernible distinction, even up close, between how forest elves and city elves dress and accessorize.

We are blessed by a jump cut at this point to the POV of the monastery’s abbot, Father Waleran. No, don’t ask me why a Latin order that adopts Latin names has an abbot with a Germanic name. Maybe it has something to do with being surrounded by the eastern end of the Mediterranean. *cough*

The abbot thinks very hard about the history of the order and how the buildings are put together as he goes to meet his newest guest. They pussyfoot around Waleran asking Bessarias what he wants from them, because that’s how you provide good hospitality, a particular mission of this monastery. Once again, Bessarias has to insist on providing back story so the rest of this will make sense to us.

Long story short, a monk–with a Latinized Germanic name–from a different order–Latin–showed up in the elves’ magic school–Latin–and bested everyone in magic. Bessarias killed him to stop other people from torturing him, a confession which put Waleran at ease. Bessarias wants some of that magic for himself, so he’s come looking for magic monk’s god, while at the same time not believing in that god. This makes sense to Waleran, who invites Bessarias to stay.

Cut to winter in our Mediterranean-surrounded Latin monastery, where “The snow fell relentlessly for what felt like months” and cows froze in the field. The monks, by way of showing hospitality, have forced Bessarias to renounce his magic while he stays with them. Bessarias has been hanging out in the library, which is also the scriptorium for some reason. He has drawn them a pretty picture as a stay against the end of his immortality.

We have our first work of an eternal life. Pay attention now. The title tells us that what he’s about to decide to do is what the story is about. I snark, because, ugh, this story, but this is the smartest part of it. Bessarias decides to study his bible by creating a fresh, illuminated copy of it. Just don’t ask me to reconcile that canon, with 45 books, including three “approved apocrypha” with any canonical bible in use by the Catholic Church at any point in it’s history.

Cue theological discussion. I have no idea what “incorruptibility” is supposed to mean in this context. Either we’re supposed to know or it doesn’t matter enough to make sure we get it–even though they argue over the definition of the word. Some very basic understanding of infinity will tell you the problem with the question posed. It’s almost like a straw man has been erected in order to sell us Waleran as a great theologian.

Then a demon shows up. It possesses a fox. It’s very scary. Our demon fox wants Bessarias to return to the elf magic school to sway the balance in some political maneuvering that we’re told too little of to understand or care. The fox is banished by the use of a simple request, but threatens to return once a year to see whether Bessarias has changed his mind and…is incapable of walking back the way he came apparently.

Ten years pass. We get a demon bunny and a demon squirrel. It appears the area suffers from a shortage of large predators. Or maybe the demon likes cute. Bessarias isn’t done with the book yet. Waleran is writing his own book on theology that recreates the arguments he has with Bessarias. We’re not told whether they get better at defining their terms or who the possible audience for this book is if they don’t bother making their terms explicit before arguing about them.

Bessarias needs to run into town for supplies. He takes with him two monks we’ve never heard of, Brother Latin Shades and Brother French Surname. They come back and everyone is dead. Goblins (goblins exist here too?) have killed everyone at the behest of the demon. Bessarias wanders through the monastery until he finds Waleran in the chapel. Bessarias fights the urge to use magic to destroy the goblins that are no longer at the monastery and prays to the god he still doesn’t believe in to give his friend eternal life.

So now we don’t know which works of which eternal life we’re supposed to be thinking about, since they each created one, or whether the title should have more plurals in it. The coda to the story doesn’t help us either. It’s just an older monk and a younger monks oohing and ahing over both books three hundred years later. Bessarias has drawn the dead monks into his illuminated manuscript, so there are more eternal lives we could be concerned with.

Aristotle, Augustine, Virgil, and Peter Lombard all make appearances as historical figures at this point. Waleran and Bessarias are put on a level with them, but their names are lost to time. Apparently, neither thought to name the other when they represented each other in their work, bringing the eternal nature of their lives as given through art into question. At the same time, however, the younger monk says the manuscripts preserve their minds.

The end. Have any of you seen Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman?

So, yeah. There’s the story that got nominated as…what? More proof that people are willing to embrace crap in order to spite those who interrogate privilege? Don’t they worry they’ll get dirty?

Look, the opening drags for several reasons. Information is withheld and scenes are drawn out to no purpose. The author uses Earth naming conventions and historical people, but just dumps them willy-nilly into a non-Earth world. It screams, “I can’t be bothered to think through worldbuilding!” The author doesn’t know how his chosen historical setting would really be set up. The title–the title!–contains glaring grammatical errors that obscure its meaning. There are a grand total of two sources of conflict (plot). One of them is resolved accidentally, when one of the parties dies abruptly. The other isn’t resolved at all, as we don’t know whether Bessarias went back to the magic school. The only example of “eternal” theology we’re given is a misunderstanding of math, but it’s “resolved” instead by an opaque semantic argument. And there is zero character development.

I do, however, have to admit that I didn’t spot any spelling errors.

Comments

  1. thetalkingstove says

    The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky or to penetrate the northern winds that gathered strength with the whispering promise of the incipient dark.

    This sentence hurts my eyes. ‘the whispering promise of the incipient dark’ – good grief! It’s just words that sound nice to the author with no other thought behind them.

  2. says

    Oh my god…

    When I was around 15, I used to haunt Holly Lisle’s writing workshop forums, and submitted various incomplete short stories (usually a chapter at a time) to get interrogated by the multitude of published and unpublished writers for errors and other writing things (obvious writing things, like pacing, internal consistency, creativity and the like). I swear to god, in the hundreds of un-edited manuscripts I read there (including my own), I very rarely saw something as painful to read as the tiny little piece of VD’s work you quoted. I started a search for full thing after reading your opening, but after reading that turgid little section I decided my time could be better spent downing a few brews in the hope of killing the memory of that ridiculously over-narrated (and, at least according to your follow-up, completely unnecessary section) amateur paragraphs.

    May dog have mercy on the souls of those who voted for this in the Hugo award…

  3. playonwords says

    The “… pallid sun”? Is there a hearty sun in this world as well? As this particular sun’s rays could not penetrate the wind, was it dark?

    What a shame that the order of St. Dioscurus could not afford full length cloaks but only one’s that cover the shoulders and this order must be really poor because the only protection this poor guard has is this shawl! Mind you the guard is probably there as punishment possibly because he leaves his guard post without being relieved by another guard just upping and leaving his post with the vespers bell. The order probably mean this literary automata to freeze to death because they do not even provide a guard hut and brazier.

    I could go on … but there is better written slash fiction demanding my attention.

  4. says

    Well, it’s poetic description. Of course, that tends to work better if you’ve got poetic language in addition to actual content. Is the sun, the moons, the wind or the coming night important in some way? Not as far as I can tell; not for the plot, nor for the motivations of the characters.

    Moreover, the metaphors are quite muddled. Since when is wind ever penetrated by sunlight? Shouldn’t that be mist or clouds or some other thing that could conceivably be, or not be, penetrated?
    If the winds are gathering strength, then why are they also whispering? Shouldn’t they be doing one or the other? Gathering strength implies strong winds, but whispering implies soft breezes. Maybe they could whisper promises of strong winds to come? That’s also better than promising darkness. How exactly does wind promise coming darkness? Can’t the wind blow in daytime?

    I’m being picky, perhaps, and I don’t want to be too harsh. Anyone who’s ever done any creative writing knows how easy it is to fall into the traps of flowery language. Still, once you publish, you’re inviting criticism. These lines sound to me like they were written during the first draft and then never revisited.

  5. says

    “The golden orb had almost disappeared… behind the interlacing fingers of the hawthorn…

    A man’s huge body, rude as a wind-tortured thorn, was printed dark against the fame of sun that– that throbbed– that throbbed on the tip of Mockuncle Hill. The golden orb…”

  6. karmacat says

    I wonder if vox day as ever started a book with this line, “it was a dark and stormy night….”

  7. says

    LykeX
    No, you’re not pricky, I had the same reaction. I mean, I can accept that in that world the sun might be pallid, but either that world has some very strange physics that for some reason or other don’t play any role afterwards, it neither makes sense that the rays are unable to hold it up in the sky nor that they can’t pennetrate the wind .
    Because while metaphors are different from culture to culture, they are always based in the reality of that world.

  8. says

    Yeah, VD’s first sentence makes me appreciate Gibson’s opening sentence in Neuromancer all the more: “The sky was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” THAT’s how you set a mood…and start a genre.

    And what’s all this crap about “city elves” on another planet? Can’t VD even decide between science fiction and fantasy? Elves — like vampires and werewolves — are creatures of FOLKLORE (and they’re almost 100% nature-aligned, so they’d never be caught dead in a city — it’s dwarves who work with metal, manufacturing and mining); and putting them in a science-fiction context, like a planet that clearly isn’t Earth, is just plain jarringly asinine. Vampires and/or werewolves would have made far more sense here than bloody “city elves.”

    And demons who can’t possess any critter bigger than a fox? I just take that as a reminder of how ridiculous the whole demonic-possession thing is to begin with — ever notice they always seem to possess uneducated teenagers from poor families? If they really wanted to cause trouble, why can’t they possess a rich CEO or lobbyist?

    As for the mashup of Latin, Germanic and Arabic/Persian names, that’s probably the most believable part of what’s quoted here. If a planet is colonized by humans of several different ethnic groups acting independently (as the Americas were colonized by British, French, Dutch and Spanish), then you’d get a good bit of name-mixing over a period of several generations. (You’d also get a lot of culture-mixing, but VD doesn’t know squat about culture, so good luck finding that in his writing.) And besides, you never know what those city-elves will do with their naming conventions…

  9. says

    Still, once you publish, you’re inviting criticism.

    And when you’re an abysmally ignorant bigoted misogynistic asshole with a truly appalling overestimation of your own intellect and talent, as VD has shown himself to be for many years already, you invite even more criticism.

  10. says

    I’m crafting a story myself (it’s taking, admittedly, far longer than I should’ve hoped.) When it comes to naming conventions, I am just curious how best to approach that?

    @Raging Bee:

    I have “city elves” but they’re actually half-elves.

  11. says

    Raging Bee
    I object to your Elves argument. TOlkien’s elves had fuckin’ big cities and a clear distinction between the high Elves and the Green/Greyelves. Still, you need to make sense of that distinction.
    Though it can be interesting to be thrown into a world where you as the reader never get told anything. Not that this in any way saves Vox Day here

  12. B-Lar says

    If they really wanted to cause trouble, why can’t they possess a rich CEO or lobbyist?

    Because Jesus would never let that happen to rich people, and poor people deserve it for being poor of course.

  13. says

    TOlkien’s elves had fuckin’ big cities…

    Yes, built of living trees in the middle of big old-growth forests. And the reason they had to leave Middle-Earth was because those old-growth forests were being cut down by the REAL city-folk, humans. With metal and other wealth mined by the dwarves.

  14. says

    Because Jesus would never let that happen to rich people, and poor people deserve it for being poor of course.

    That’s certainly consistently consistent with the notion that natural disasters are expressions of God’s wrath — which, again, always seems to hit the poor hardest, regardless of what sin God was originally pissed about.

  15. says

    Raging Bee

    And when you’re an abysmally ignorant bigoted misogynistic asshole with a truly appalling overestimation of your own intellect and talent, as VD has shown himself to be for many years already, you invite even more criticism.

    Indeed. I was deliberately trying to judge the writing on purely artistic merits, so I left that out.

    and they’re almost 100% nature-aligned, so they’d never be caught dead in a city — it’s dwarves who work with metal, manufacturing and mining

    As Giliell points out, Tolkien is a counter-example to that (and not the only one). While elves certainly have a more organic feel than dwarves, the idea that elves are craftsmen is not alien. For that matter, elves have taken many forms over time and there’s not always a firm line between elves, fairies and dwarves. It’s perfectly legitimate to build your own mythology on points like this.

    Of course, if that’s what you’re going for, it’s a good idea to actually build a mythology. E.g. if you’re going to set up a difference between two types of elves, it might be a good idea if that difference matters in some way.
    Does it? I haven’t read the full story, but from this review I’m not getting the sense that any of this has the slightest impact on the plot. So, why is it in there? Presumably, it’s a rather lazy attempt at world building.

  16. Menyambal says

    If the sun’s rays cannot penetrate, the dark is no longer incipient, it is there.

    Here on Earth, it is kinda lame to assume the moon is going to be coming up at nightfall. On a planet with two moons, it is much less likely that both will be conveniently coming up to add atmosphere. If you want that, it just takes a few words, like, “It was double-full, when spirits walked”.

  17. says

    Yes, built of living trees in the middle of big old-growth forests. And the reason they had to leave Middle-Earth was because those old-growth forests were being cut down by the REAL city-folk, humans.

    The Silmarillions, works of art and craft, were made before the elves ever encountered humans. The elves are described as having cities in Aman and cutting down trees, for timber to build their ships.

  18. A Hermit says

    Well, it’s Vox Day so at least we can be sure that it’s historically accurate…

    Seriously, I’ve been reading Mervyn Peake again; he could write whole chapters describing how the daylight moved through an abandoned building in a way that made you want to keep reading.

    Day’s prose in that first paragraph had me looking for the “skip” and “start game” buttons…

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    A commenter at Electrolite reveals of Theodore Beale’s pseudonym that

    “Vox Day” is just his own special way of spelling “Vox Dei”, which, if I’m not mistaken, would mean “Voice of God” or some such.

    (Maybe even “voice of gods“!)

    Yet Stephanie Zvan, mere Stephanie Zvan, dares to criticize his divine prose. Oh, the sheer uppitiness of our fallen times!

  20. says

    I was deliberately trying to judge the writing on purely artistic merits…

    That’s fucking hilarious. Your pure fantasy is better than VD’s mixed SF-fantasy mashup.

    It’s perfectly legitimate to build your own mythology on points like this.

    True, but when you take MYTHOLOGY that’s based on either an Earth of folklore or Middle-Earth or some other obvious fantasy-universe, and transplant it to another planet in a science-fiction context, the result just gets self-contradictory and just plain stupid. Creatures of folklore arise from a totally different context from creatures of science-fiction; fantasy and science-fiction have two different sets of rules (which arise from the fact that those two genres themselves arise for different reasons); and mixing the two genres gives you science-fiction that’s not at all believable, and/or fantasy that’s totally uprooted from its context and thus made meaningless. “Game of Thrones” works because it’s a pure fantasy world with no SF-style reference to any more “real” world. “True Blood” works because it’s got vampires, werewolves, and other fantasy-creatures still doing what they did, and signifying what they signified, in the original Earth-based folklore from which they all originated.

  21. hoary puccoon says

    I’m still hung up on how the watchman could tell the quality of the wool in a cloak at long range in the dusk. Was s/he, like, Anna Wintour?

  22. Kevin Kehres says

    The cold autumn day was slowly drawing to a close.

    Seriously? He started his book with “It was a dark and stormy night?”

    Geez. Snoopy could do better.

  23. says

    The Silmarillions, works of art and craft, were made before the elves ever encountered humans. The elves are described as having cities in Aman and cutting down trees, for timber to build their ships.

    Let’s not forget Gondolin and Nargothrond.
    And even in LotR Middle Earth Rivendell is not “organic” and in trees and while Legolas’ home is in Mirkwood, it’s halls of stone.

    The Elven history of my favourite pen and paper RPG is somewhat similar: they were a great civilisation long before mankind ever did anything more impressing than wrap themselves in furs and then there was a betrayal, a fall brought on by hybris and then they decided to becose those squirrel loving tree fuckers they are today.

  24. says

    To be fair, the prose heads back toward black and white very quickly after the two opening paragraphs.

    When it comes to naming conventions, I am just curious how best to approach that?

    Kevin, I don’t know that there’s a tried and true way of doing this, but in general, the more things you have to name, the more you thought you should give to being systematic. If you have multiple cultures and language barriers between groups, you’ll want to make the people-naming schemes relatively distinct from each other. Assuming that, unlike in Vox Day’s worlds, women exist in the world you’re building, you’ll want to think about whether there are any pieces of their names that are distinct to one gender, the way that names ending in “a” are feminine and those ending in “o” are masculine in Spanish. If you decide to use names that already exist in our world, be aware of what cultures or languages they came from and what that implies about travel in your world.

    If you want to have a naming scheme that feels distinctly foreign to English speakers without evoking another culture specifically, here’s a little trick. Find a somewhat obscure or even dead language that is nonetheless documented moderately well online. Westerners’ infamous cultural incuriosity will serve you well here. Spend some time looking at this language to make its general shape clear to you. Steal ways of putting letters together that you like. Create your names based on those patterns. Make sure you can pronounce them if and when you read your story out loud or need to discuss the story with your critique group. And then Google your new names to make sure you haven’t created any unfortunate associations.

  25. says

    sad, whiny pest who will be arrested like his father if he ever tries to return to Minnesota

    wait, what?

    “approved apocrypha”

    that’s not how apocrypha work.

  26. says

    Of all the things to criticize this… thing… for, being a sci-fi/fantasy mashup isn’t one. the insistence that these must be entirely separate genres is silly, and given the calcification of fantasy as a genre, some of the best “fantasy” writing is placed in a sci-fi context to bust it out of that calcified format. Also: Star Wars.

  27. says

    If you want to see a good example of naming (in ways that are crucial for propelling forward the story) I highly recommend you read Ann Leckie’s “Collateral Justice” which is another Hugo nominee. Seriously, if I were Vox and my book was being reviewed alongside Leckie’s, I’d cringe so hard my spine would snap.

  28. says

    Jadehawk, Theodore Beale’s dad, Robert, was arrested and convicted of tax evasion. Then of conspiring to harm his judge, but that’s not much relevant here. Robert’s wife divorced him along the way and successfully sued for most of his property. Most of the kids in the family devoted themselves to saving the family business. One of them, however, stood accused of helping Dad get at funds he’d squirreled away in Switzerland, this help happening while Dad was on the run. Theodore has publicly denied that there were funds to be had in Switzerland at the time and generally supported his dad as having been persecuted by the government, all while living in Italy. It’s not that hard to figure out which of the kids is the one the feds will want to talk to if he comes back here.

    There is actually such a thing as approved apocrypha, but as far as I can tell, it refers to a historical state of being. That is to say, these are the books that were once included in the canon but no longer are. At one point, the church thought them worthy.

  29. geekgirlsrule says

    Also, Tolkien’s elves are not the only elves out there. See: Warhammer, Shadowrun, hell, D&D in later versions does designate between elves who live in forests and the uber-civilized city building type.

    Not to mention, the tales of castles and palaces in the Summerlands, where, you know, elves come from (fictionally).

  30. says

    So other people, who would be much more disturbed by dealing with his work, can comfortably get a sense of its merits. Well, no. I read it for lulz and was bored. Writing this was for other people.

  31. freemage says

    It’s pretty obvious that this is spoiled-grapes trolling by Vox. He resents his treatment at the hands of the SFWoA or whatever the acronym is, and is attempting to use the open-nomination system of the Hugos (it costs $40 to be a supporting member, or you can just have attended the most recent convention) to embarrass the community by getting a piece of inartful drivel considered for the award.

    It’s possible that the Hugos might establish some other criteria for the awards in response, especially if he comes remotely close to getting the award.

  32. Anthony K says

    Kevin, I don’t know that there’s a tried and true way of doing this, but in general, the more things you have to name, the more you thought you should give to being systematic. If you have multiple cultures and language barriers between groups, you’ll want to make the people-naming schemes relatively distinct from each other. Assuming that, unlike in Vox Day’s worlds, women exist in the world you’re building, you’ll want to think about whether there are any pieces of their names that are distinct to one gender, the way that names ending in “a” are feminine and those ending in “o” are masculine in Spanish. If you decide to use names that already exist in our world, be aware of what cultures or languages they came from and what that implies about travel in your world.

    If you want to have a naming scheme that feels distinctly foreign to English speakers without evoking another culture specifically, here’s a little trick. Find a somewhat obscure or even dead language that is nonetheless documented moderately well online. Westerners’ infamous cultural incuriosity will serve you well here. Spend some time looking at this language to make its general shape clear to you. Steal ways of putting letters together that you like. Create your names based on those patterns. Make sure you can pronounce them if and when you read your story out loud or need to discuss the story with your critique group. And then Google your new names to make sure you haven’t created any unfortunate associations.

    I’m not a writer, but this advice seems sound to fan of good world-building in SF who also happens to have a background in anthropology. I appreciated your critique of VD’s names for much the same reason, Stephanie.

    I’d like to add to this advice, if I may: I’d suggest doing a little reading just to get a feel for how varied naming conventions can be among different cultures, and remember that in all cultures, a person’s name is much more than a collection of sounds or symbols used to differentiate them. It’s a good idea to have reasons behind the conventions you adopt or create. What do they say about your culture? Which parts of the conventions are historical artifacts (such as the practice of using biblical names for a person’s given or ‘Christian’ name in many European linguistic traditions) and which have active meaning in your culture?

    For example, Lithuanian surnames indicate the person’s marital status, at least if the person is a woman.

    In the Ganda culture of Uganda, twins have significance enough that there are specific conventions in naming them: if the twins are female, the first born is named Babirye and the second Nakato. If the twins are male, the first born is named Wasswa and the second Kato. (These patterns exist in many sub-Saharan African cultures, and the explanations for these traditions vary.)

    Closer to home for many North Americans, there was a reason that the millionaire on Gilligan’s Island was named Thurston Howell, the third. It said something about him and his place in society, as did the fact that Alan Hale’s character was always referred to as ‘Skipper’ rather than by his name (it was Jonas Grumby. Who knew?). One was named for his lineage, the other for his labour.

    Many of my colleagues and coworkers are from China. It was recently common among first generation Chinese-Canadians to adopt English given names for professional use. One such coworker’s parents were visiting when someone phoned, referring to her by her English name. Her father was deeply hurt and disappointed, feeling she’d turned her back on her culture. When she came to the office next day, she asked that people start calling her by her Chinese name. Soon after, several other coworkers who’d been going by English names asked to be referred to by their Chinese names. Now, very few of my Chinese coworkers bother with using their English names at work at all (if they even have them), and those of us who don’t speak Mandarin have gotten much better at pronouncing Mandarin names (I’m still terrible with tones, though I try hard.) So name choices also reflect human geography: demographics, migration patterns, and politics. (For instance, read up on crypto-Jews for examples, some apocryphal, of how names can be used to secretly encode lineage, culture, or belief in the face of persecution.)

    Now, I’m not sure how deep down the rabbit hole you want to go with your names; you’re writing a story, not an ethnolinguist’s grammar (unless you’re Tolkien, in which case you’re doing both). But if you want your names to have meaning to the reader, they should have meaning to the other characters, and they should have meaning to you.

    I hope that helps.

  33. says

    WMDKitty:
    Incidentally, that’s another example of different types of elves. Some live in trees, some live in houses, some live in caves inside a mountain. Furthermore, it’s arguably an example of a fantasy/sci-fi crossover, since it involves standard fantasy tropes, like trolls and magic, while also incorporating time travel.

  34. Arren ›‹ neverbound says

    Stephanie & Anthony K:

    Sincere thanks for the enlightening thoughts on naming and world-building.

  35. says

    All I can say, in response to this, is two things:

    First, Stephanie, you are far braver than I to read this guy’s stuff.

    And second…how sad is it that he should ASPIRE to be as good as “The Eye of Argon”?

  36. 4ozofreason says

    “Though it can be interesting to be thrown into a world where you as the reader never get told anything. Not that this in any way saves Vox Day here.”
    It can be fun for the reader to not know anything about the world and have to try to figure it out, but the author had damn well better know the details of their world, especially the those the reader never learns.

  37. says

    4ozofreason

    It can be fun for the reader to not know anything about the world and have to try to figure it out, but the author had damn well better know the details of their world, especially the those the reader never learns.

    Absolutely. It’s like sending students on a learning quest: They might only get one clue at a time, but the teacher has to have the big picture.
    One example where it’s been brilliantly done, IMO, is Peter S. Beagle’s The Innkeeper’s Song: The story is told from multiple perspectives, and it is told to somebody who lives in that world, so the narrator never bothers telling you what on earth a sheknath is, just like you wouldn’t bother to explain what a tiger is. But since it’s clear in that world you can get a pretty good idea what kind of creature that is.

  38. says

    …and given the calcification of fantasy as a genre…

    …it makes very little sense to stick bits of it into science-fiction, except maybe in humorous or satirical works. Personally, I’d prefer to let science fiction keep on moving forward, unencumbered by calcified dead weight.

  39. says

    It can be fun for the reader to not know anything about the world and have to try to figure it out, but the author had damn well better know the details of their world, especially the those the reader never learns.

    It can be fun, or it can be a needless distraction from the story itself, and possibly cause many readers to simply give up on a story they’d otherwise enjoy. More to the point, the author doesn’t just have to know the details of their world, it has to be a sensible and reasonably consistent world, otherwise the readers will lose faith in their ability to figure things out. If you want your readers to use logic to figure out what’s what, you’d better have a logical world.

  40. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Good grief … an opening like that would get any manuscript I ever judged into the discard heap. And, because I judged some contests for RWA, that’s saying a LOT!

    Who the heck published this? PublishAmerica?

  41. D. C. Sessions says

    $HERSELF, who has in the past won a Bulwer-Lytton, thinks this is potentially award-winning material. Not for a Hugo or Nebula, of course, but there are prizes that would be appropriate.

  42. D. C. Sessions says

    Wait! I have it!

    Since the whole exercise is a great middle finger raised at the elitists whose cabal is running SFWA and fandom by the Heroic Forces of Truth and Justice [1] following VD [2], why not demonstrate contempt for the Total Intellectual, Spiritual, and Political Bankruptcy of the Despicable Cabal that runs SFdom (and demonstrating their power) by scoring a Hugo for some unmistakable and unapologetic dreck?

    [1] FOTJ is an old SCA movement
    [2] Seriously — I mean seriously — he chose that handle?

  43. Kevin Kehres says

    Of course, if you’re trying to build a new ethno-world, why elves at all? Why not an entirely new genre of being? Like ‘veles’? That way, you can get around the pre-supposition that this creature looks this way or that, lives this way or that, eats this thing or that.

    You can create an entirely new thing, rather than hack your way around the thing that everyone already has an opinion about.

    No more dragons, too. I am sick and tired of dragons. Find a new monster, FFS.

  44. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    ^^^^ That’s it!

    Vox Day is trying to do a sting operation in the Hugos, like some SFWA writers did on PublishAmerica with Travis Tea’s amazingly horrible Atlanta Nights and the equally bad Crack of Death by Sharla Tann. I was the designated author and public face of Sharla Tann, but had nothing to do with the writing of the book.

    Links for the book reviews:
    voices.yahoo.com/book-review-atlanta-nights-travis-tea-75559.html
    voices.yahoo.com/book-review-crack-death-sharla-tann-164391.html

    His politics and personality aside, Vox Day has incredibly bad writing by modern standards. I’d have to go back to the days of Mrs. Humphry Ward, Bulwer-Lytton, and E.D.E.N. Southworth to find his match.

  45. Alex says

    The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky or to penetrate the northern winds that gathered strength with the whispering promise of the incipient dark

    While the fiendful use of adverbs and adjectives shows glimmering promise (“ineffective rays” and “whispering promise of the incipient dark”, this is the stuff of greatness, people!) it is not yet quite up to the soaring standards of Eye of Argon. I propose adding several more seizing adjectives to heighten the sense of tremendous foreboding.

  46. says

    The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky…

    Wait, WTF?! What the frak does that even mean? Even in a geocentrist universe, that phrase is just ridiculous.

  47. Alex says

    No, if you want to sun to shut off at night and descent, you need to go all the way to a flat earthyverse.

  48. firefall says

    if they really wanted to cause trouble, why can’t they possess a rich CEO or lobbyist?

    Well because they are already possessed?

  49. says

    I, for one, am not denying I have a prejudice against elves. They’re silly creatures to have in a work of fiction, even when they’re kept in their proper place.

  50. gardnerhill says

    Reading those first few sentences? I kept waiting for Grignr the Ecordian to show up.

    So this is what passes for Hugo-worthy these days.

  51. Moose says

    The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky…

    He’s likening the dropping sun to something weak and ill. Mostly, it’s ‘pathetic fallacy’ designed to evoke the sense of an ill world or an ill day finally dropping. Also likening it’s ineffective rays to a walking stick or a staff. Which comes later in the paragraph.

  52. says

    If you really think this is good writing, have at it, but I think you’re reaching. E.g. he does not in fact liken the rays to a walking stick in any direct way and the stick of the monk is referred to as a weapon, not as a support for holding something up.

    As such, the text simply doesn’t have the comparison that you’re pointing to. It’s something you’ve read into it.

  53. dannysichel says

    “Incorruptible” material is stuff which does not decay, rot, or otherwise show signs of age and temporality.

    As I pointed out on Scalzi’s blog, this means the elf is making an argument that’s disproved by his own existence.

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