Put out by Writer’s Digest, an organization which markets to the aspiring and emerging writer, this book is a guide for those who wish improve their writing skills in the areas of fantasy and science fiction. It contains a total of 13 articles written by nine different authors and covers subjects as diverse as steampunk and Wicca to medieval clothing and admonitions to watch grammar and spelling.
The first and longest section is written by speculative fiction author Orson Scott Card discussing, broadly, writing speculative fiction and world building. In his introduction, Card tells the reader:
A writer never knows who’s going to be reading his book, but I’ve made a few assumptions about you, anyway. I figure that you’re probably not yet an established writer in the genre of speculative fiction, or you wouldn’t feel a need to read a book on how to write it. Still, you have genuine interest in writing science fiction and fantasy…
“[T]his is the best audience in the world to write for.”(p. 2)
He challenges his reader: Is your story based on the setting (“milieu”), an idea, a character, or an event?
In the next section, fantasy writer Philip Athans declares that we are in the golden age of science fiction and fantasy, with many of the top ten best sellers being fantasy and science titles. This is especially true for the YA market.
This is followed by an essay on steampunk written by Jay Lake: how it originated, what its characteristics are, how it might be used by a writer and its strengths and some inherent weaknesses. Steampunk is a style, rather than a genre. While many steampunk works have a similar setting—Victorian London, for example—Lake shows that this setting is hardly necessary.
The last section is a collection of shorter articles written by a variety of authors which is not so much a how-to but a reference resource for those wishing to write fantasy based on traditional medieval settings. The topics of dress, law, castles, money, religion and magic are all brought up. While there are mentions of non-European settings, the bulk of the material is set in medieval Europe. The reader is confronted with word lists with short definitions. This is useful for skimming and for coming back to later. There are no illustrations, which would have come in handy, particularly in discussing the clothing.
However, I would not take anything said here as the final word. Do a little bit more research if you’re incorporating an unfamiliar element into your writing. But at least, as a writer, a creator of a convincing fantasy realm, you’re not going to have your warrior hero fastening his wimple before heading into battle or stopping off at the garderobe to get a trebuchet of water.
Overall, this is a useful collection that should continue to be useful to writers in its genres.