Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

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Henckel
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Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby Henckel » Tue Sep 03, 2019 8:23 pm

Has anyone else read Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”. He included it in his Writing Tips email, 31 Aug.

I’ll just throw it out there… I read it last night. I enjoyed it (mostly because I like westerns), but when I finished, I felt like the climax was missing. It simply did not come to any sort of resolution. None! wotf021

Maybe I was just tired. But, this seriously bugged the heck out of me.

The thing is, Dave knows his stuff. He wouldn’t make a mistake like this. And if he did, he’d never be as foolish as it send it out to everyone under the sun. My conclusion was: the problem must be with my own scope of knowledge.

Ding, ding, ding. I had an opportunity to learn a new story structure. wotf022

So, I re-read the story a few minutes ago, taking notes. By the half-way point, the structure became clear. And by the end, I must have counted about fifteen different instances where he’d presented his thematic argument in various forms. Ultimately, I realised the climax had more to do with the theme than the action. wotf010

Anyway, I learned something and thought I’d share.

Now y’all go be awesome!

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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby Wulf Moon » Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:46 am

On Henckell's post, when you understand the rules as good as Dave does, you can pull off tricks in a story that would be fails for the less experienced. You can even make things happen off the page, which is the greatest mechanical trick of all.
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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby AlexH » Fri Sep 06, 2019 1:35 pm

Coincidentally, there's a story in V35 I didn't think paid off, mostly because I thought the ending contradicted something earlier. I thought "surely not, in a WotF anthology," but I didn't think to read it back to see if I missed anything until now. wotf001
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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby amoskalik » Sat Sep 07, 2019 8:52 am

I remember it from V35 as well. Dave talked about it before it came out in one of his emails. He seemed excited about the large variety of ideas he put into the story and I got the impression he used what some call "discovery" or "seat of the pants" technique to write it. I also got the impression this is not his normal technique for writing a story.

Anyway, at the time I was excited to read it because I like genre busting stories and have attempted to write a few myself, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to see how a master went about it.

When the anthology came out, I read Dave's story first and I was... underwhelmed. It felt to me at the time like he made a lot of promises early in the story that he didn't keep at the end. The story seemed like a series of random new world elements that never tied together, and then in the end... nothing.

So I reread the story yesterday to see what I must have missed the first time around. As Henckel points out, the main point of the story appears to be thematic and given that, the ending doesn't bother me now. I like the theme. I actually wrote a story recently that was just accepted by Nature with a similar theme. Nevertheless, in Hellfire, the theme is undermined by the very broad but inch-deep world building and for that reason the story still doesn't really work for me.
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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby Henckel » Sat Sep 07, 2019 11:32 pm

AlexH wrote:Coincidentally, there's a story in V35 I didn't think paid off, mostly because I thought the ending contradicted something earlier. I thought "surely not, in a WotF anthology," but I didn't think to read it back to see if I missed anything until now. wotf001


I've read most of the stories now and agree there are a few that I didn't feel the pay off. (Unlike Wulf Moon's story where I thought I was about to receive a bucket full of pay-off only to find I was drowning in more payoff that I was prepared for - a truly top quality story!)

Anyway, I'm going to make it a point to re-read those with an analytical lens. I'm all-in wen it comes to learning new structures.

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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby Henckel » Sun Sep 08, 2019 1:08 am

amoskalik wrote:I remember it from V35 as well. Dave talked about it before it came out in one of his emails. He seemed excited about the large variety of ideas he put into the story and I got the impression he used what some call "discovery" or "seat of the pants" technique to write it. I also got the impression this is not his normal technique for writing a story.


I'd be interested to read what he said about the story. Was it in one of his email updates? Do happen to recall which one. I did a search in my gamil for "hellfire" and only got the one hit...

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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby amoskalik » Mon Sep 09, 2019 10:52 am

Henckel wrote:
amoskalik wrote:I remember it from V35 as well. Dave talked about it before it came out in one of his emails. He seemed excited about the large variety of ideas he put into the story and I got the impression he used what some call "discovery" or "seat of the pants" technique to write it. I also got the impression this is not his normal technique for writing a story.


I'd be interested to read what he said about the story. Was it in one of his email updates? Do happen to recall which one. I did a search in my gamil for "hellfire" and only got the one hit...


I'll have to dig back to find it. I can't remember exactly how many years ago it was. At least one but maybe as many as three. I did find this from April 21, 2017 while searching just now and it seemed ironic to me:


Algis Budrys used to say that there is a “one impossibility limit” to the human imagination. Most readers will allow that one impossible thing can happen in a story. Okay, so pigs can fly like hot air balloons. What next? Well, if you decide to add elves and dinosaurs, your one-impossibility rule is broken, and it progressively erodes your reader’s faith in the story. Ultimately, what you’re left with is meaningless glop.


He went on about this theme for a couple of pages, but that paragraph captures the gist of it.
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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby Henckel » Mon Sep 09, 2019 1:00 pm

Thanks! I recall Dave talking about this on a few different platforms. He used Stephanie Meyers Twilight series as an example: Vampires are fine in book one because they are your one impossible limit. But don't use werewolves until book two. Otherwise you will have overspent your balance.

This is a bit of a tangent, but from there he (sometimes) goes on to recommend not mixing sci-fi and Fantasy. ... This comes to mind because I'm currently listening to Galaxy Outlaw audiobook. It mixes the two by having a magician on the starship. Weird, but really really fun.

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Re: Dave Farland’s short story “Hellfire on the High Frontier”

Postby amoskalik » Mon Sep 09, 2019 4:23 pm

I found the original Hellfire story in V 32 from 2016. I looked in all the Writing tips from 2016 before the anthology came out and could not find where he talked about it. He does have a blurb before the story itself in the anthology where he refers to it as a "Kitchen-sink" story. He even lists some of the speculative elements, feral angels, floating cities, clockwork men, skin walkers as if this was a good thing. I'm still having a hard time squaring this with the quote referenced above.

Personally, there are number of works of fiction that mix many disparate elements together that I enjoy quite a bit, so I don't necessarily buy into the Algis Budris quote. For instance my current favorite cartoon series is Gravity Falls. It is jam packed with seemingly random weirdness but in the end it all comes together and is very satisfying.

So, for me the take away is, if you want to write a "kitchen-sink" story, make sure all the elements are necessary and somehow related even if it is not apparent initially to the reader. I'm not sure I see that in Hellfire, though.
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