Mistress of Dragons

Gideon Jura doesn’t like it either.

When I was on a D&D novel streak in high school, I remember reading through a bunch of the Dragonlance novels by the acclaimed duo of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I don’t remember very much about them these days — they didn’t leave nearly the impression that R. A. Salvatore’s Drizzt books did — but they were decent enough for the time, I guess. I don’t remember hating them or anything.

Those legions of Dragonlance novels aren’t the only thing that Weis and Highman have done together, and they’ve done a number of things on their own as well. Today’s book, Mistress of Dragons, is a solo project by Weis. The setup: a monastery full of magicians protects a human kingdom from the predations of angry dragons, but all isn’t as it seems. The dragons don’t interfere with humans as has been reported, and in fact, the monastery is under the thumb of a rogue dragon looking to sate her hunger for human flesh.

It’s an interesting premise. But here’s the problem: the book is boring.

There are two major causes for this. One, I don’t care about the characters. Horrible things happen to a few of them, and I don’t really care. I don’t know what happened here, given that there are characters from the Dragonlance books I still remember after all these years, but this is the cardinal sin a story in any medium can commit. For pity’s sake, I care more about the cast of Team Fortress 2 than I do the people in this novel, and that game has no story.

The other problem is the descriptions. When it comes to describing people, places, or things in your story, ‘less is more’ is my rule. It doesn’t appear to be Weis’s. She spends probably thousands of words in total describing locales that don’t matter, that never matter. You have to set a scene, sure, but in this novel it’s just excessive. It drains away the energy of every scene where it occurs.

All of this is made worse by the fact that there are some interesting elements present with the dragon society portrayed and the magic they can do, but there isn’t enough time spent on most of those ideas. It leaves me frustrated.

After all that, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I don’t recommend this novel, I likely won’t read the sequel, and my copy will be going into the library donation pile. Hopefully our next book to review will be better.

How To Write Your Dragons: Part 2 – On The Subject Of Hoards

Tiny dragon, tiny hoard.

Continuing off of our discussion of Scales & Scoundrels in the last post, let’s take a moment to revisit the writing of dragons — specifically, looking at the whole matter of hoards.

Dragons have hoards. That’s part and parcel of the trope. For some reason, giant fire-breathing lizards just love to sleep on piles of gold. Personally, if I had that much gold, I think I could come up with better uses for it, but so it goes. But why do dragons have hoards, and how do different stories play with that notion?

First and foremost, you have the stories where dragons just like gold, including those of mythology. At least in the classical stories, this is a clear analogy for the hollowness of greed and all that. The story of Sigurd and Fafnir ties into that in a particularly blunt way, with Fafnir transformed into a dragon in the first place due to his greed. So in ye olden times, it’s a matter of symbolism for sure. And possibly also a nice reward for the hero for getting himself nearly killed (or totally killed) slaying the dragon. That’s still a portrayal we see in more recent works, too, with Smaug being an obvious example.

The problem I have with this type of behavior is that it’s boring. Naked greed as a motivation just bores me, whether it’s a human doing it or a dragon. There are so many better options out there for a motivation. This isn’t the case if you’re discussing a dragon that just likes gold, but doesn’t hoard it, like Saphira from Eragon. That’s a personality trait, not a motivation. Totally different beastie. So, if you’re taking writing advice from me, I would advise you don’t do this.

There are other examples of hoarding in fiction that are far more interesting, though. A simple and shallow example can be found in Dragon’s Ring, where dragons have to sleep on gold in order to rejuvenate themselves. That’s fine, but not interesting or compelling. A more interesting example can be found in the aforementioned Scales & Scoundrels, where the dragons are collecting gold in order to exert economic pressures on the mortal kingdoms and shape the course of the world. Very Illuminati-esque, but that idea is actually fairly interesting to me, and offers a lot of interesting options to the writer.

But if you’re going to go with greed, at least make it an interesting twist on the norm. Have them collect knowledge, or magic, or maybe even people (Temeraire seems to do a bit of this). In urban fantasy novels, dragons that play the stock market are an option I’ve seen before. That one fits, but it’s a bit of a literal interpretation.

A more mystical example comes to us from Dragonsbane, which I will absolutely be reviewing at some point, but not anytime soon. In one scene, the protagonist Jenny asks the dragon Morkeleb why dragons care for gold so much, and learns that it acts as a sort of magical resonator that creates something akin to music, which strikes her as beautiful. It’s an interesting counterpoint to both the finance-focused hoarding impulses of the other dragons we’ve discussed, and the design of the dragons in Dragonsbane, which is almost more insectile than reptilian.

Both of these approaches have two things in common:

  • They’re interesting.
  • They serve the purpose of their respective stories. Which is always the most important thing.

When working on dragons within your own stories, that’s what to keep in mind. And if hoarding dragons don’t fit your story, don’t be afraid to not use them — some dragons just don’t have hoards. (Looking at you, Toothless.) Again, this is a matter of fitting the story being told. Some stories just don’t benefit from the addition of massive piles of metal that must be accounted for at all times. And that’s more than fine. Just so long as it’s compelling.

Review: Scales & Scoundrels

The entirety of today’s subject matter. Issues 11 and 12 are nice and camera-shy within their bags & boards. If they ever actually released a Volume 3, I’ve not seen it.

I can be a bit of an albatross sometimes. For example, no gaming store where I’ve played a Magic: The Gathering event at is still open. I claim no responsibility for their downfall (rather the opposite, considering I was shopping at those places), but the trend remains.

Included in that trend is Scales & Scoundrels, a comic published by Image that I ran into at one of the now-extinct gaming stores. It’s clearly aimed at a younger audience, based on the art style and the writing level of the comic itself, but beggars can’t be choosers, and you don’t see a whole lot of comics about dragons. Plus, as I mentioned back when I reviewed Dragon Goes House-Hunting, it’s not that I have a comic book problem, it’s that part of me wants to have a comic book problem. So I decided to give it a try.

Shortly after that, the creative team behind S&S announced they were ending the series after issue #12.

Aaaanyway.

Most of the (admittedly brief) plot of S&S is focused around the arcs of the main characters. Right off the bat, the comic introduces us to our draconic heroine, Luvander, who’s doing what dragons do best: taking gold from people. She’s stuck in human form, but has some powers still available to her, and more than a little attitude. After some mayhem and wandering, she runs into a party of adventurers that makes up the rest of the cast: Dorma, a dwarf searching for her brother, Aki, a prince on a ritual quest for adventure, and his bodyguard, who doesn’t like Lu very much. Together, they delve into an ancient draconic ruin, and as you might expect, run into some misadventures.

I’m running a little bit off of memory here, as I only managed to re-read Volume 1 before writing this, but most of the cast does get a complete arc, more or less. Dorma actually gets the most complete arc; I think all of issue #12 is devoted to her. Lu has not so much of an arc as a setup; we get to see how she got where she is, the mistakes she’s made in the past, and what that’s cost her. Much of that relates to the role that dragons play in this setting, and why the accumulate hoards — basically to assert economic control over the world and try to keep it from sliding into chaos, which is a pretty interesting idea.

(As an aside, I love it when writers try to come up with proper explanations for why their dragons keep hoards, beyond attributing it to pure and simple greed. It’s not something I see often; more frequently, the writers in question just don’t include the hoarding element.)

The art style of the comic is interesting. Overall I like it, but one place where it falls flat is with action scenes. A lot of the panels just don’t have any sense of motion or energy to them. Some break through and work better, but it does detract from the overall work.

It’s hard for me to grade this series, honestly. What material there is here is fun, if not deep, and I don’t regret the time or money I spent on it. When all is said and done, though, it just doesn’t feel finished. The creative team did their best to bring everyone to a conclusion rather than just ending the series abruptly, which is great to see, but at the end of the day there’s a sense of something missing. Hopefully the team will come back to this setting and these characters at some point, but without any idea as to why they ended the series in the first place, it’s hard to say if that will ever happen.

For now, if your library happens to have copies of the books or you just think it looks interesting, pick it up and give it a read. Just be warned that the ride will be a short one.

How To Write Your Dragons: Part 1 – Brains and Brawn

(You may be wondering where the second part of the Dragon’s Ring review is. Well, I got lazy and didn’t write it, so I shall conclude it here: the book is good. Not buy-in-hardcover good, but buy-in-paperback good. So there. Expect a review of the sequel, Dog and Dragon, somewhere down the line.)

So far this blog has mostly been about reviews, but part of my intention for it is to include some ruminations on writing. In part because I feel like it, and in part because I’ve spent the last two weeks reading biographies rather than fiction, we’re going to get rolling on that today. And in the nature of the blog, we’re going to be talking about writing dragons. Might as well make a series out of it while we’re at it. You certainly can’t cover the entire topic of writing dragons in one article.

For our first outing, we’re going to go over what I would argue should be the first question you should ask about your dragons you plan on creating: what can these these death reptiles do?

Savage or Savant?

If you’re a fan of Magic: The Gathering, then you know who Nicol Bolas is and just how twisty his mind is. We’re talking about a dragon whose schemes stretch across thousands of years and who knows how many planes. Whatever physical strength Bolas has is, frankly, irrelevant: it’s his mind that’s the true weapon.

On the other hand, we have the dragons of A Song of Ice and Fire (and yes, I do mean ASOIAF, because I haven’t seen Game of Thrones and still have hope that the novels will end better). The dragons of Westeros are pretty much just animals. Highly dangerous, and cunning by animal standards, but they’re not going to kill you with schemes. They’re going to kill you with fire.

When designing dragons for any sort of creative work, this is one of the earliest questions to ask yourself. This is less about your dragons’ sense of morality and more about their intellect, whether they’re a proper sapient race or if they’re closer to animals. Both have their place, but they fill very different niches within the world, ancient wisdom and cunning as opposed to instinctual savagery.

Speedy or Sturdy?

Let’s be honest with ourselves, folks. As awesome as Toothless is, he got himself shot down and crippled by a kid with a net gun. Night Furies aren’t the most durable of creatures, but they’re plenty fast enough to make up the difference. Contrast that with Smaug, a dragon so well-armored that he only has one weak spot on him. He’s not fast, but you can’t hurt him, so it works out.

That’s a decision you need to make regarding your own dragons: how do they fight? Through brute force, or agility? It may sound like a bit of a shallow question at this point, but the fact is that distinction will shape the entire behavior and culture of the species. Think of how humans show respect to those who defy or exceed what’s considered “normal” for our physical capabilities. That’s going to be the same for any other species.

Mundane or Mage?

The third question we ask ourselves is, what sort of magical potential do these dragons have? And this is being determined against the baseline of what a dragon is; we’re not including the ability to breathe fire or fly in this category (unless your setting requires it to be so, I guess).

This one is tricky, because a dragon is already a pretty powerful creature, and giving them magic on top makes them even more powerful. As with all other magic systems, care must be taken, and what you let your dragons do should fit within the purpose those dragons have within your story.

The Real Question

You might have noticed a common theme in the above discussions, and a common question: what purpose do the dragons in your setting serve? That’s the real question that you have to answer, the one that informs everything else. You can’t just drop some dragons into your setting and expect it to work: they have to have a place within the world. They have to serve some purpose to the story beyond just looking awesome.

Once you figure that it, getting everything else to fall into place is far simpler.

Review In Progress: Dragon’s Ring

Well, it had to happen eventually. Today we’ll be talking about a book I haven’t quite finished yet! But I can talk about the first half, so that’s something.

Dragon’s Ring, by Dave Freer, is one of the legion of books I first read back in high school (I really need a title for that horde) and sort of lost track of after that. I have it on Nook, so I assume it got read at some point in college, but I couldn’t tell you when I last read it before this latest pass.

(As an aside, my paperback has a blurb on it from the inestimable Garth Nix which isn’t shown in this cover shot. We haven’t talked about Nix much yet — he doesn’t write a lot of dragons — but a recommendation from him carries weight here in the Library, that’s for sure.)

At any rate, the novel’s about a world called Tasmarin, an artificial plane created from chunks of several other worlds to provide a home for dragons, and a dragon planomancer named Fionn who wants to tear it all down. It’s also about a young girl named Meb, a rare human with magical potential, and a conspiracy of people from various races who want to try and capture her to rebuild the world. Oh, and a dog. I haven’t gotten to a point where the dog is important yet, but the sequel to this novel is named Dog and Dragon, so I’m assuming I’ve forgotten something of its significance.

There’s a couple standout elements of this book so far, and one of them is the setting. Given it’s an amalgamation of stolen chunks of worlds, Tasmarin has a pretty varied population. Humans, dragons, alvar (elves), dvergar (dwarves), tree-sprites, “creatures of smokeless flame” (demons), centaurs, and merrow, oh my. It’s a long list, but Freer manages to make them each distinct in flavor and culture. Not always hugely original — most of the dragons are about what you’d expect, and the elves are in a similar boat — but they’re distinct. Another interesting element is the magic system, which is very soft in terms of its actual implementation, but includes a sort of rock-paper-scissors element where each species has a weakness to another species’ power. For example, the demons have power over humans, and the humans have power over dragons — which is why the dragons wiped out the human mages.

The second element is the writing, which strikes a pretty fun tone. Meb has a more serious tone to her and a more tragic backstory, but Fionn taps into the Raven trickster archetype and is a lot more fun. He spends more of the novel shape-shifted as a human, pretending to be a gleeman and trying to keep Meb from killing herself or getting eaten, and it works well.

At this point, I’d give Dragon’s Ring a solid four out of five. But I’ll check back in once I’ve finished it to provide a final decision based on the full piece. That will probably happen off-schedule; I don’t want to spend a whole month just going over this one book unless there’s something in it I decide to deep-dive into.

The Dragon Book: Part Four & Wrap-Up

Only four more stories to look over. Let’s finish this book off, shall we?

The War That Winter Is, Tanith Lee

A clan scavenges a village destroyed by an ice dragon, and finds an infant that somehow survived being frozen.

This one is heavy on the imagery, which is usually not my preference in writing styles, but it works out better than some in this case. At a topical level the setting is something we’ve seen before (basically the planet Hoth) but the uncertainty added by the existence of the dragon in the piece makes it more unique, along with later developments that would constitute spoilers. The characters were strong as well, mainly the infant (once he’s grown) and his adoptive father. Over all, a strong piece.

The Dragon’s Tale, Tamora Pierce

This story is a tie-in to Pierce’s Tortall books, which I know about from reputation and my old shelving days at the local library, but haven’t ever read. This time our protagonist actually is a dragon, with limited ability to communicate with her human foster-parents, who gets tied up with trying to aid an outcast magician and her infant son.

It’s a good story on its own, despite the fact I’m probably missing a lot of things that would connect to Pierce’s novels. It has some fun elements to it, and the dragon has some limitations I don’t often see which make her endeavors more interesting.

Dragon Storm, Mary Rosenblum

A young woman with the ability to talk to dragons adopts a hatchling sea-dragon, who turns out to be more than originally assumed.

This is definitely one of the more unusual stories in terms of its setting, an ocean with groves of trees growing from it and hosting villages. One problem with this, however, is that the story skips between these unusual locations too rapidly. The magic system is on the softer side, but has some interesting elements, and the actions people take actually have some significant consequences. A pretty solid read.

The Dragaman’s Bride, Andy Duncan

A female wizard goes exploring the hills of Virginia, encountering a giant who turns into a dragon and a sheriff trying to sterilize the hill-folk.

Honestly, this story didn’t work for me. The protagonist is basically just there to provide a viewpoint for the reader; she undergoes no growth at all. None of the other characters were particularly engaging either. I probably would skip this one on re-reads.

Wrap-Up

Out of these four, the best stories are… honestly, any but The Dragaman’s Bride. They’re all roughly equal in my estimation. I feel kind of bad, dumping on Dragaman’s like this, but it really didn’t work for me.

Across the entire anthology, the stories I enjoyed the most, in the order in which they appear, would be the following:

  • Vici
  • Humane Killer
  • Ungentle Fire
  • JoBoy
  • After The Third Kiss

In closing, this is a solid collection, with a good range of styles, themes, and ideas. It’s worth owning if the stories within sound interesting to you. I believe I’ve seen Garth Nix’s Stop! published one other place (although I’ll be darned if I could tell you where) but most of the others I’ve not seen other places, which adds to the appeal for me. If you do pick this up and find it interesting, let me know what you think!

The Dragon’s Banker: Fiery Fun with Finances

Featuring Treasure Rocky, by Reaper Miniatures

Let’s take a brief break from The Dragon Book, shall we? I need to make an adjustment to my format for short story collections, I think. We’ll wrap it up later and adapt the plan for the next one. For now, let’s talk about a novel!

I can’t remember where I first heard about this book (a Tor.com article, maybe?) but honestly, this book for my attention on the title alone. The Dragon’s Banker, by Scott Warren, is about a banker whose nation is just beginning to introduce paper currency, and who gets an offer he can’t refuse from an ancient, reclusive dragon: help him invest his hoard before the new world economy ruins his fortune. At least, ruins it as the dragon sees it.

The first thing to give Warren credit for is making a book about finance fun, which he does through the characters. There are a few scenes where Sailor (the banker, and in fact, not a sailor) explains the mechanisms of trade he’s employing to the dragon’s daughter and agent, Arkelai, but they don’t get too lengthy. And there are plenty of other characters and conflicts sprinkled around to keep the tension from being just a game of numbers. Even when the conflict does focus on Sailor’s business dealings specifically, it’s really more about practical issues standing in his way, rather than funding.

The second thing to point out about this book is the world-building. Warren does a good job of keeping the focus on the areas that need it, such as the dragons and the elements of the city and the magic system most related to Sailor’s actions, and giving the right level of detail to everything else. It produces a good picture of what the world is like without taking up too much time fleshing out things that don’t affect the plot.

Of course there are some twists and turns in there, and the book ends on a sequel hook, but I’m cool with that. If Warren makes a series out of this, or writes another book in the same setting, I’d be interested in giving it a look. In particular, one of the dragons feels like she would make for an interesting protagonist. I guess that’ll be something for me to keep my eyes open for. In the meantime, this is definitely a book I’d recommend.

The Dragon Book: Part Three

And on to part three!

A Stark and Wormy Knight, by Tad Williams

A mother tells a bedtime story to her son, but there’s a twist: they’re both dragons.

This one is very weird, stylistically. The dragons have a very non-English vocabulary and grammar, using a ton of invented or corrupted words. But it’s remarkably readable, and a good bit of fun.

None So Blind, by Harry Turtledove

An empire sends explorers into the un-mapped jungles, with the goal of determining if the old maps are right when they say “here be dragons.”

This one plays with a lot of themes regarding mythology and colonial perceptions of native myths, but it does it without being obnoxiously preachy, which is a neat trick. Ending’s a bit predictable, but the story works all the same. A couple points off for low dragon content.

JoBoy, by Diana Wynne Jones

A story of the events surrounding a destructive event near London. And that’s what the story tells you in the first line.

This one is hard to talk about without spoiling things. Lots of interesting ideas played with from a world-building angle, some interesting metaphysical structures, and a very healthy amount of dragon involved. It’s very much worth reading, and I won’t get much more into it.

Puz_le, by Gregory Maguire

A young woman is stuck in a vacation home with nothing to do on a rainy day, other than keep herself busy with some used puzzles.

This is not a bad story, but to me, it’s one that mostly focuses on imagery, and that just doesn’t work for me stylistically. There are some interesting glimpses of the wider setting at the end, but still, I’m left wanting more.

After The Third Kiss, by Bruce Coville

A princess turned into a dragon by her evil stepmother is rescued by her brother’s kiss, but the kingdom’s problems are far from over, and the princess begins to miss what she once had.

At its surface, this is a retelling of the Laidly Worm fairy tale, but there’s a lot of extra layers that get added here. Pretty much none of the major players are everything that they seem. Again, spoilers, but this one is very solid, with some strong characterization and a satisfying ending.

Of the lot, JoBoy and After The Third Kiss are the definite standouts. The others are fine, just not as notable. We’ll see what next week brings us!

The Dragon Book: Part Two

Continuing from the post from two weeks ago, let’s look at the next five stories from The Dragon Book!

The Dragons of Direfell, by Liz Williams

A travelling magician is called to the mansion of Direfell to help solve a dragon problem, and finds the real problem is greater than everyone thought.

There’s a lot of English mythology and folklore being tapped on this one; it has a certain fairytale vibe to its layout and world-building. Speaking of world-building, it’s quite good, hinted at and left for the reader to understand rather than being explained to them. Interesting take on dragons, too.

Oakland Dragon Blues, by Peter S. Beagle

A police officer has to deal with a sickly dragon resting in the middle of an intersection, trying to figure out what he’s after.

This one’s more light-hearted, and I’d bet five bucks it features some straight-up author insertion at one point when the cop and the dragon go to visit a writer. I can relate to the setup and the ideas being explored here. I imagine most writers could.

Humane Killer, by Diana Gabdalon & Samuel Sykes

A witch and her undead, weed-powered crusader go up against a reluctant warrior-priest and his axe-wielding Amazon cohort, trying to save their respective skins by eliminating a dragon threatening the neighborhood.

Also more light-hearted, also a lot of fun. The characters in this one are a blast, and the plot works out pretty well besides. About the only negative to this story is that the dragon only comes in for a brief period at the end. But in this case, I’ll permit it.

Stop!, by Garth Nix

A squad of soldiers guarding a nuclear test site get a visit from a very strange and unnatural figure.

I have to invoke the Veil of Spoiler Secrecy on this one. There’s not a lot I can say about it without giving something away. Suffice to say, it’s very good, which is what I expect from Nix.

Ungentle Fire, by Sean Williams

A sorcerer apprenticed to a dragon is sent to kill another dragon, but he doesn’t get what he was expecting.

This one was especially good. The setup allows for some good exploration of ideas regarding the consequences of violence, how we choose who to listen to, and why we keep listening to them even when they ask us to do things we consider wrong. The world is strange, but well-depicted, and there are dragons, all right. And I like the ending!

Of these five stories, the definite standouts are Humane Killer and Ungentle Fire. Stop! is an interesting piece, but very much in the Idea side of the MICE quotient, and my love of Garth Nix aside, that’s not the part of the quotient I prefer the focus to be on. It doesn’t make it bad, it just edges it off of the top of the podium. The Dragons of Direfell and Oakland Dragon Blues are both good stories, but they too get beat out by the competition in this set.

The Dragon Book: Part 1

Short stories are an interesting medium. As much as I love novels and want to publish a few dozen of my own, there’s a certain appeal to the short story format that keeps drawing me back, both for writing and for reading. And while in some ways it’s not as healthy a market as it used to be, as the number of magazines or websites publishing short stories dwindles, it’s still very much alive and kicking.

That said, today’s review comes to us from the hazy, bygone age of 2009. The Dragon Book, edited by Jack Dann and the late Gardner Dozois, was one of a number of draconic tomes I burned through in high school, and picked up after college now that I have money. Notably, at the time of its publication, each of the twenty stories in this book were brand new. When you’ve gone through a few dragon anthologies and realized more than half of them include either Weyr Search by McCaffrey and/or The Bully and the Beast by Card, this fact becomes greatly appreciated. (They’re fine stories, but I don’t need to own a half-dozen copies of them!) It’s also readily available in digital and physical formats, so if you find yourself interested, you should have no problem picking up a copy. (If you do, let me know!)

So, with the intro out of the way, let’s talk some dragons! To do the stories justice, I’ll be breaking this book up over multiple weeks, so we’ll only be talking about the first five today.

Dragon’s Deep, by Cecelia Holland

A duke’s raid on a fishing village forces the survivors to venture into dangerous waters to survive, and our heroine Perla ends up trapped in a dragons lair after it destroys her people’s boats. But when she makes it back home, it seems that the humans have become more monstrous than the dragons.

This one’s a bit confusing. Not to get into too many spoilers, but the relationship between Perla and the dragon is strange, and even reaches into euphemism-veiled rape at one point. Decisions are made that don’t really make sense. But the writing and imagery are good. Not a bad read.

Vici, by Naomi Novik

A Roman playboy is convicted of murder and sent to kill a dragon, but comes home with an egg. The situation devolves from there, although I’ll spare you the spoilers.

If this story isn’t set in the same world as Novik’s Temeraire books, I’ll eat someone’s shoe, but it’s a lot more lighthearted and fun than the tone she uses in those novels, and a refreshing change after the previous story in this collection. If you’re a fan of Temeraire, this is a must-read, but even if not it’s still excellent.

Bob Choi’s Last Job, by Jonathan Stroud

An old, tired dragon hunter goes a-hunting, but gets more than he bargained for.

There’s some definite streaks of Blade Runner‘s Deckard in Bob Choi, with his trenchcoat, love of noodles, experience hunting things that mask as human, and questionable humanity. He exudes an aura of cold so strong that he’s immune to dragonfire and can’t touch anyone without killing them. It’s a very cool setup, and Stroud takes it in some interesting directions, raising some similar questions to those which Blade Runner asked, about the nature of humanity and how we lose or preserve it.

Are You Afflicted With Dragons?, by Kage Baker

Mr. Smith runs a hotel, and has dragons infesting his roof, so naturally he calls in an exterminator. At the risk of repeating myself, things devolve from there.

We’ve see-sawed back to humorous with this one, and it’s good humor. And as there is humor present, I don’t want to go into it too deeply lest it be spoiled. Mr. Smith is not the center of the story, experiencing basically no growth throughout the piece, but Crankhandle the trapper is good fun, and the premise behind the world and the dragons is interesting.

The Tsar’s Dragons, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

The Tsar of Russia has dragons, in case you weren’t aware. He’s using them to persecute Russian Jews, but they’ve made their homes more or less dragon-proof. But the Jews have some dragons eggs too, being cared for by man with some revolutionist sympathies. And there’s Rasputin as well, of course, because what respectable fantasy story set during Rasputin’s lifetime wouldn’t make use of him?

This one feels like a straight-up historical fantasy. It’s a version of Lenin’s revolution and Rasputin’s death with added dragons. It’s not bad, but it’s not the strongest piece in the book either. The dragons are purely animalistic, so they serve the plot more or less as living weapons and not much more.

Of these five tales, the definite standouts are Vici and Bob Choi’s Last Job, but rest are pretty solid as well. What will we get in our next installment? You’ll just have to wait and see, but there are some good ones coming, I’ll tell you that much!