Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

While I still own many a book I have not yet read, I still find myself wandering off to Half Priced books. Because of all the books though, I’ve decided that if I’m going to buy a book, it has got to be coming out of the one dollar spinners they have located throughout the store. So I pick up the Deed of Paksenarrion Book One through Three, written by Elizabeth Moon.

I’ve never read any Elizabeth Moon. I figure for a dollar each, if I don’t like them I can give them to a friend and not worry about it.

Her writing is crisp. It gets to the point. It is easy to read. These things alone insure that I will finish the series.

But what struck me in the first few pages that I wanted to share it with the readers of the blog? It is not necessarily that it moves quick in terms of action or events, but rather how it moves.

The main character, a tall woman Paksenarrion, Paks for short, does not want to do as her father wishes and marry the pig farmer down the road and wants to join the military and serve thanks to tales told to her by her cousin. It happens quickly. Her initial signing isn’t made a big deal of. Her leader and trainer in her unit is very much a mentor role without being interested in her as a woman.

This to me, after reading books like Best Served Cold and the First Law, was like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes when I’m reading writers, I get the feeling that they just keep adding text and text and text and problems and problems ot make things more interesting instead of getting the story done.

For example, while reading this, I thought for sure she wouldn’t get away from her father. I thought for sure that she’s have some dire encounter on the road to joining the military that would make her question her motivations. I thought for sure that she would initially be turned away from signing up, that her mentor would be some puke who only wanted to bed her and dispose of her. None of those things happened.

It is not that bad things do not happen to the character, but rather, it does not seem like the entire setting is out to cause her harm. When she does encounter difficulties, there are those who are neutral on the subject, but follow the chain of logic and evidence as well as those who stand against her. It makes a nice breath of fresh air.

When as a game master you are about building your story, communication with the players is a good thing to keep the game moving in a direction that makes everyone happy. For example, if there was a female player who wanted to play a warrior and was using running away from home as a background, would the GM throw those things above in her way or, like Elizabeth Moon does, just use that as a launching point and get to the military and move on?

I’m not advocating not throwing issues into the players way. But knowing which issues are worth the time to spend in game and to engage the player with is a vital tool of having the players enjoy the game. There are some players who look forward to expecting the inevitable betrayal, of expecting their employer to turn on them at any moment, that the kindly old white wizard is actually the balrog in disguise. Indulge them in that as it is what they enjoy. For those who have a stated goal and want to get to it, try not to make it so difficult that it alters the character concept and background.