Friday, December 16, 2016

The Lost Castle

You might think you're done with sprawling multi-volume works of fiction, but if you're the sort to read 30+ books per year - and since you're reading this blog it's a safe bet you are - then you know full well you can run but not escape falling into a one now and then.

Nick Cole's The Wyrd Series, is the latest honey trap to snare me, and the latest title in the series, The Lost Castle, is also my latest dip into post-apocalypse fiction.  As is usual with Nick Cole, the action moves, the characters intrigue, and the prose bounces back and forth between gritty and dreamy.  If you're a fan of good PA tales, you need to add this one to your queue.

I'm actually not going to review the series does for readers here.  Rather, I'm going to talk about what the book does for writers.  Nick is a smart guy and a great writer, and he does a few things with this series that aren't obvious.

The first thing to understand is that the Wyrd series isn't really an epic start to finish tale.  It's a framing device for different kinds of stories.  We've seen this in television shows such as Doctor Who, X-Files, or Lost.  All of these franchises are specifically set up to tell different stories from week to week.  This week may be a gangster story, the next a closed dining room Victorian murder mystery, and the next a mad scientist unleashing a monster of the week story.  There may be a an overarching story line within each, but the set-up is such that the writers can play around with different kinds of stories within the setting.

So it is with Cole's version of the apocalypse.  Without spoiling any details that you can't learn from the back blurbs, this isn't An apocalypse, it's All The apocalypses.  So what starts as a zombie story morphs into a robots-victorious story.  What starts as the story of a drunkards redemption segues into an autistic child's glimpse into the last days of humanity.  The latest book bounces around a bit, (we continue to follow two other character's story lines,) but it is primarily a 1970's Lovecraftian spy thriller. 

The other thing for readers to note when reading this book is how Cole plays with tenses.  It took me some time to notice how he did this, but it's really quite simple.  The primary narrative is written in the past tense, but Cole uses present tense writing for the flashback scenes, which lends them an airy, dream-like quality that reinforces the narrative in some subtle and powerful ways.  There's more to the magic of his prose than that, but it's an obvious and effective tactic that every writer should add to their quiver.

The last thing to point out is that Cole's creativity consists largely of taking a lot of old ideas and throwing them into a single pot and stirring them up to create a new kind of tale that is both complex and approachable.  He doesn't need to reinvent zombies.  We know.  He doesn't need to reinvent terminator bots.  We know.  He doesn't need to invent dark suited devils orchestrating the end of the world. We know.  But by writing the old stories in surprisingly new ways, and tying them together in ways we haven't seen before, he gives us a whole new kind of fiction that is both familiar and refreshingly new.

Maybe we readers can get a lot of enjoyment from the Wyrd series, but we writers can learn a lot from it.


  1. I actually just finished this a couple of days ago. We seem to have somewhat different tastes, as I did not enjoy all jumping around in time and POV. There are some very interesting characters and storylines that were ill-served by this in my opinion. I really enjoyed the first book in the series, but two and three were disappointing followups.

    Ctrl-Alt-Revolt is the best book I've read in 2016 so far. I'd recommend it to those people who favor more linear storylines.

  2. I can't disagree there. Ctrl-Alt-Revolt was an eye opener for me when it comes to self-published work, and my love of The Wyrd series may include some afterglow of Ctrl-Alt-Delete and The Old Man in the Wasteland.

    For the record, the second one wasn't as strong as the first or this one, and I just plain didn't like the story set at Disneyland. That one was just way too dark and philosophical for my tastes.