A few more tributes to wotmania, plus a new interview on its successor site

August 31, 2009 § 2 Comments

Seems I’m not the only one blogging about the passing of a large fansite. Bloggers who have had some sort of connection with wotmania who have commented in the past few days:

The Wertzone (Sunday)

Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist (Sunday)

Neth Space
(Monday)

The Thirteenth Depository (Monday)

In each of their posts, the authors talk about how they got their start in forum posting or at least active forum visiting with wotmania, particularly its Other Fantasy section, during the 2002-2004 period that I stated in my previous post Saturday might have been that section’s “Golden Age.” Perhaps there’ll be another site (Westeros’ Literature section being the closest I can think of right now) that’ll have a section that celebrated diversity in discussions and reading…even if the threaded MB format was beyond archaic for most of us who posted on multiple forums.

But this is not just a tribute to the dead, but perhaps the first of several links to something the new successor site, Read And Find Out, is doing. I noticed while browsing there (the handle there is the same as the one here, although you won’t see me post there very often, as I explained in the previous post) that one of the members there (and someone who comments occasionally here, I might add), Camilla, had just conducted a short but interesting interview with Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World (and a book I enjoyed when I read it several months ago). For those who may have thought my interviews to have been a bit too ponderous at times, I suspect the breezy, conversational style of this one might appeal to you. And from what I understand, the new site’s webmaster will have a transcript available in the near future of an in-person interview he conducted with China Miéville yesterday at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Once this comes available, I’ll probably link to it, although apparently there won’t be any A/V to accompany the transcript.

wotmania closes its doors on the 31st; successor site, Read and Find Out, to open on the 30th

August 29, 2009 § 11 Comments

Eleven years is a long time for many people. A child can go from primary school to university in that span. Varsity athletes can find themselves waking up one future morning aching from injuries that occurred when they were 80 lbs. lighter and a whole lot less grayer. Eleven years can be the span of a marriage or the time between the last flush of youth and the beginning of old age.

For the internet world, eleven years is a near-eternity. Think back upon all those old Geocities freebie websites that opened up in the late 1990s. Remember those primitive layouts, funky fonts, and horrendous design choices? Viewing those things is similar to seeing a dinosaur walking casually down the street. And yet after nearly eleven years, one of those old sites (with the original site still preserved here), wotmania, is finally closing its doors sometime on Monday, August 31, 2009.

I have visited that site regularly since February 2000 and posted there since October 2000. I was asked to become a moderator and Administrator for the nascent Other Fantasy section (which gave its name to half of this blog) when it opened on October 22, 2001. I have seen and done a lot during my time there, learning valuable lessons about myself along the way. I’ve seen molehills rise to the size of mountains in the hearts and minds of many there, with some of those molehills taking on a sentimental value that words alone cannot express if one was not present to witness them. But I am not going to talk at length about the community aspect of that site. After all, choose any large internet forum and you’ll find all sorts of relationships, some of them quite intimate in nature. Rather, I want to focus on the Other Fantasy section, as I add it to the the list of the Fallen (Napoleon and Steven Erikson’s fantasy series being the other influence on this blog’s name).

When I became an Admin back in October 2001, the Blogger/Wordpress/etc. blogging phenomenon had yet to take off. There were only a few authors who had begun pioneering the use of personal websites to promote their works. Promotion was oriented much more toward the newspapers and magazines, both genre and “mainstream” alike. And yet in 2001, there were a few forums that had begun to expand out of the 1990s Geocities/Tripod era. wotmania of course was one, as it and Dragonmount became the two largest fansites devoted to Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time fantasy series. I believe Westeros developed around this time and I believe SFF World became one of the earliest general fantasy/SF forums out there. But yet there was change going on under the surface of the discussions of what might happen in Volume X of Doorstopper Fantasy Y.

I was not the “typical fantasy fan” when I became an Admin in 2001. In fact, outside of Tolkien, I did not read any genre-marketed “fantasy” works on a systematic basis until 1997, when I read Jordan’s series and thought it interesting enough that I would try using the newly-popular World Wide Web to find information about it. My reading interests back in my mid-20s were generally in reading the Modernists, the Southern Gothics, and a few so-called “postmodernist” writers like Pynchon. I enjoyed best stories that were atmospheric, well-written, with various thematic interpretations. If I had not taken my new job responsibilities seriously enough to investigate other sites that were off the beaten trail, I might have found myself abandoning this “fantasy stuff” within a year or two, as I did find myself quickly bored with the relatively simplistic narrative structures of the epic fantasy mode.

But in early 2002, I began hearing about the “Prime authors” and the “Nightshade boards.” I heard about this enfant terrible writing columns on SF Site and Locus Online about the “Next Wave.” A friend of mine and fellow wotmania Admin, Keith, began to urge that I investigate this China Miéville chap and this Jeff VanderMeer fellow. So I did. Loved them. From there, I began to hear whispers, far away from wotmania of the time, of this thing called “New Weird.” The Zeitgeist was something else. It was the internet equivalent of being in Berkeley in 1967 or Seattle in 1991. And although the New Weird “movement” (I think “moment” would be more suitable) never rose to widespread commercial success (its core principles, if it can be said to have such, would always have a DIY ethic that makes popular embracing nigh impossible to occur), it certainly had a major influence on the new Other Fantasy section.

OF in 2002-2004 had a distinct identity. The New Weird brushing shoulders against the “traditional” fare, with some interesting new fantasies being released in Great Britain and Canada by the Canadian authors Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker beginning to infiltrate in. For perhaps the first time in publishing (and this was occurring in other places besides wotmania, mind you), global fan discussions of Author X and Author Y being available in Place A but not Place B began to lead to the use of that other internet force, Amazon and its international branches, to import books back and forth across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans (and maybe the Arctic?)

During this time, a few of us began discussing great plans, like a combination encyclopedia, review database, and interview depository, in a time before Wikipedia became big. Jokingly called the OF Fantasy Author Lexicon (OFFAL), this abortive project came to symbolize not just our ambitions, but also the first signs of the lapses that would lead to the eventual decline of OF and then the ending of wotmania itself. The spirit was strong, but the programmer(s) was/were weak. OF was, after all, the tertiary section of wotmania and while a lot of interesting discussions and, after January 2003, interviews were occurring with a huge range of authors, ultimately, the webmaster had no interest in putting forth the time to making this vision a reality (in all fairness, he was working on his Ph.D. then).

By August 2004, I had begun to become fed up with the delays, but I didn’t want to voice my displeasure so frequently or so vocally, so I began this blog on August 25, 2004 in large part to give myself something to do. But due to going back to school and working a full-time job, this blog was mostly inactive until June 2007, while the OF section also began to falter due to the decrease in time that I and the other OF Admins could put into it.

But when I did have some time free up in June 2007, I began to see this blog as being the sort of “alternative” OF that I had wanted for years. Although I had done interviews and even received a few galley proofs back in 2003-2005, I never really thought of taking advantage of the possibilities that developing an editorially-independent blog could present. I again did the research, observed what worked and what didn’t for the fledgling blogs out there and I worked to re-establish a “voice” in the larger community. At first, this Blog was limited more to the newer releases, but as I continued to discover older, less-promoted authors, I began to indulge in covering topics and books that interested myself more than it might others. The OF Blog, which originally was meant to be an OF team blog, had by default become virtually my personal blog, despite my original intentions for it.

Meanwhile, I almost totally neglected the OF section. I added the occasional interview and review, but all of those were just mirrors of what I had originally posted at this blog. I no longer helped set up and lead “book club” discussions. I rarely promoted new authors on OF. My fellow OF Admins went through a similar experience. One, Ken, had already established a blog, Neth Space, when he was asked to become an Admin during this time. Although he kept the discussions going for a while, at least in regards to new releases, the apathy/inertia was unfortunately too much to overcome.

If anything, the OF section and perhaps the wotmania site as a whole, should have been put out of its misery two years ago. This is as much an indictment on myself as it is on others, since I did help kill off the fun there by neglecting it in favor of this blog. Then again, perhaps it was just meant to be, as I certainly don’t think I’d be as comfortable working within the confines of a fansite forum ever again. This blog certainly fits my temperament more than helping moderate/adding content to a book discussion website ever would.

But despite realizing this, it certainly was a numbing surprise of sorts when the webmaster announced seven months ago that wotmania would be closing at the end of August. There was that sense of betrayal, the sense that all that I and others had worked hard to do (from starting a general spec fic discussion message board to adding hundreds of quizzes and reviews, dozens of interviews, and eventually a few promotional contests arranged with publishers) was being taken away. Thankfully, this blog had been well-established by then and the few pre-2005 materials that I didn’t have mirrored here, I was able to easily port in February and March.

However, it’s not the same. That sense of ending, although in some ways a relief, also carried a bit of irritation with it. Yes, there was a fatal neglect across the board. Yes, more could have been done to preserve momentum. But there’s always going to be conflict when one’s work, shared as it might have been to some extent, is going to “disappear” and that the duty, onerous as it had become by 2007, of being an Admin/mod was now ending.

For some, the site meant more than discussing X or Y. For those who wanted the “community” aspects of wotmania to continue, some members decided to help fund a new server, with a new webmaster in charge of devising a layout that would resemble the old site while still adding innovations. Supposedly this new site (due to open Sunday as ReadandFindOut.com) will make a successor to the OF section the centerstone of the site. Supposedly, some of the spirit of OF would continue there. Apparently, some of the content that I and others created will be preserved there (I was explicitly asked if my personal interviews could be archived there; I said yes, with a bit of reluctance).

But it will not be the same. For starter’s, I will not be participating in an administrative role, as I was not asked to be a part. Fair enough, since I would probably have declined due to my new responsibilities doing readings and selections for the Best American Fantasy anthology series, as well as the interviews I hope to continue to do for the Nebula Awards site and perhaps elsewhere. However, it would have been nice to have been asked. It certainly doesn’t do wonders for the ego to discover that one’s past accomplishments can mean so little to the new owners, although this emotion is more of a fleeting thought than anything that has consumed my thoughts over the past few weeks.

Will I participate in this new RAFO site? Right now, the answer is probably not, at least not in an active role like I had had at wotmania from 2000-2007. I’m like little Jackie in “Puff the Magic Dragon,” as after a spell I have “grown up” and have “moved on.” With some faint sadness and near-regret, but it was time to go forward and continue working on what I am now doing rather than trying to work in the past, thinking past thoughts. Still, it was fun when the scene was there, but this new site is not my scene. But for others, I think it will be. I do urge others to at least consider visiting/posting there, even if I won’t be very active there. After all, there are still opportunities to discover new authors, learn about new trends, and perhaps the opportunity to learn things about one’s self. Those things are better than just living off of the past, no?

So I guess this is farewell to wotmania and hello to…the real remnant of OF, or at least the alt-OF that could have been from 2002. But that alt-OF’s final chapter won’t be written for some time to come, so who’s willing to stick it out and see what comes from our conversations here?

Interesting discussion on fantasy writers

June 15, 2009 § 5 Comments

Saw this exchange over at wotmania the other day and thought I’d reproduce part of it to see what others here make of this. This discussion began with some concerns about how well Brandon Sanderson would do completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, before broadening into discussing certain perceptions of newer (epic) fantasy writers:

I think Sanderson’s case is different. Unlike Anderson is he is intelligent and a good storyteller, though since he writes in secondary worlds with some scope, he would do well to learn to take a step back from the action and actually look more into the characters, the setting and the issues in his secondary worlds. It’s not something unique to Sanderson. The present generation of Fantasy writers differ in one crucial way from the likes of Tolkien, Lewis, Kay, Jordan, GRRM etc. Fantasy used to be a genre where the best writers were men and women who had seen and experience the world, met tons people from various cultures, lived a bit, quite often had seen horrors and war firsthand – often they also had decades of reading about anything or everything, or actually working in intersting fields – and then they translated all this into a rich, fascinating secondary world. Nowadays, it tends to be written by very young ‘professional authors’ who often studied ‘creative writing’, have grown up loving Fantasy and reading in general. They are creating their worlds, their cast of characters, the issues in their story not from the heart and experience, but from book knowledge. It’s exceptional for people so young to have enough experience, have had enough relationships of all kinds (or witnessed enough of other’s) and a personal enough perspective on the world to be able to translate this into good fantasy. This is a bit what I see in Sanderson. He has obvious talents, interesting ideas. He will probably be a great writer when he’s a bit older, but he might want to slow down writing and get out of his Utah basement to live a ‘real life’ a bit. KJA is a bit like that too – there doesn’t seem to be much more to his lifestyle than writing, reading, hiking and promo tours. Worse, his wife is the same. If we look at the greatest books of SF/Fantasy – those that stood the test of time etc., that’s not exactly the sort of situations from which they arose.

Never really considered it from that angle before, but after reading it, I have to say that I’ve noticed that many of the authors that I enjoy most today (among them, M. John Harrison, China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer, Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin, Jeff Ford, Michael Moorcock) all have had something interesting in their backgrounds, whether it be being exposed to various cultures at a young, impressionable age, or working at some interesting “blue collar” or experimental labor jobs, or working in publishing/editing at a young age, or just participating in what today might be called “extreme” sports. Regardless of their disparate approaches to writing, one thing that I’ve learned about each of these authors (and several others) is that, as the quoted bit alludes to, each has “lived a bit” and experienced something in life that might be a bit “unusual” or at least would hold some sort of influence on their perceptions of life and how to write fiction.

But does the inverse hold true? Is “book knowledge” really a pale substitute, or does it too constitute some sort of positive influence on the creation of “meaningful” fiction works, especially those of a speculative nature? What do you think? Who would you cite to support your point of view?

Review Index

March 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Since I’m practically done archiving all of wotmania’s Interviews here, the next step is creating a place for various reviews that I and others have done over the years. Since most of my best reviews have been posted here originally, the process is much simpler for me – just find the ones I really liked and add a link with description to a new sidebar category. I suspect in the near future there’ll be pre-dated entries from others that will appear there as well, or virtually everything ever posted under the Book Reviews category of wotmania’s Other Fantasy section.

This list will be expanded frequently, depending on my satisfaction with certain reviews of mine. Feel free to see what I’ve done by looking to the right and scrolling down to the part just above the Archive section.

The wotmania Files: Q&A with Scott Bakker Part II (Nov. 2004)

March 28, 2009 § 5 Comments

Due to all sorts of things happening the past few weeks, forgot about editing/posting more of the Q&A session Bakker did with wotmania back in November 2004. Here it is for those curious to know more about the author and his works.

You have given some hints that this world was at least discovered by off worlders. Are we going to see more of that? Are the No-men meerly a technologically advanced people from another world? I guess I am asking if they are a different species from the people we see.

Also, thanks tons for doing this.

Good questions… The problem is that I see the unveiling of the world (which is HUGE) as part of the reader’s adventure. All these issues come to play decisive roles in the story. I wish I could give you a better answer…

Otherwise, I’d like to thank YOU ALL, and especially Larry, for giving me the opportunity to do this. This MB is very, very cool.

Robert Jordan is a lucky man!

I mean, you are popular because you’re good, so much so, that we have a little fan club in El Salvador, Central America, where I am from. Larry adviced me to tell you here so I am doing it now. But the point is, your storytelling is great, why would a great writter not become successful,or if he does, why be surprised by that?

Thanks, dark gholam. Be sure to say hi to everyone!

Well, two things, I guess. First, I’m painfully aware of the many ways we humans like to delude ourselves, particularly when it comes to flattery. Do you remember the coverage of Ronald Reagan’s passing a few months back? The one thing all the American news organizations kept saying more than anything else was that Reagan ‘reminded us of how great they were.’ Somehow they managed to turn this poor guy’s death into an orgy of self-congratulation. They did this because they’re selling a product in a competitive market, and they knew that people want to be flattered more than they want to be informed. Just think of how awkward those words “Tell me what you really think” can be!

When you receive attention the way I’ve been, it pays-pays-pays to be suspicious, especially since it’s so HARD to gain perspective on one’s own perspective. I can actually understand what happened to Goodkind, I think.

Secondly, I had a hard youth in some ways. I grew up poor, working all the time, and profoundly suspicious of good fortune. Those kind of emotional habits are hard to shake.

My mind is a bit random so I hope you can excuse that these questions are a bit random.

Do polar bears wear sunglasses were you live?

Nope. But they DO drink Coca-Cola.

Were would you recommend someone that is interested in philosophy to start?

Hard question. I’m not sure there’s any one book that I would recommend: the best place, really, is a freshman philosophy course. There’s also a philosophy discussion section on The Three Seas Forum, where you can debate and ask questions to your heart’s delight. So far it seems remarkably flameproof, despite the charged subject matter.

Do you ever drink soft drinks? If you do what are your favourite?

I compulsively drink caffiene-free Coke Classic. Tastes the same as the regular, but doesn’t keep you up all night pondering the imminent destruction of the world. I like to feel rested when I ponder such things…

Do you prefer to write in the day or during the night?

I’m a lark when it comes to writing, which is a pain because all the years I spent working midnights transformed me into an owl.

How many books do you think you will write in your lifetime?

That depends. How long do I got to live?

Is death the beginning or the end?

Death lies beyond beginnings and ends.

Do you think you will some day be as popular as J.R.R. Tolkien?

Good lord, no! First off, I think the first 200 pages of TDTCB will ward off many readers, as will the general complexity of the world and the names. Kind of like St. Peter… Then there’s the dark and violent themes I tackle, which I’m sure will convince many, like poor Dorothy from Curved Lake, Ontario, that my books should be burned. Then there’s the fact that Tolkien is the God of epic fantasy, and as such, tends to be a jealous God, and will tolerate no others, and you know, blah, blah, blah, blah…

Do you see any parts of yourself in every character you create?

Only the well-endowed ones…

Couldn’t resist! What can I say? I grew up on a tobacco farm. The first time someone mentioned “Touched by an Angel” I thought they were talking about a porno. I like to think of my humour as ‘earthy’ rather than ‘dirty.’

Insofar as I put myself in their headspace, you could say that all of my characters are expressions of the possible headspaces I can occupy. I know this unnerves my wife, who now and again asks me to sleep on the couch after proofing a chapter.

Thank you for the great books and for taking time to answer questions from us lowly readers.

/Håkan

Thank you, Dark Matter!

I live in Australia and that leads me to my first question, I had a hard time getting your book down here, and it took so long to get here I have only read the first quarter. I think I have a British published copy, getting to the questions:

1. Are there going to be Australian editions or am I going to have to pay for international postage on ‘The Warrior Prophet’.

Simon & Schuster UK handle worldwide distribution in English (outside of the US and UK). I’ll ask my editor there about it. Thanks for the tip, I Am.

2. The cover art (on the edition I have) is very evocative and I know most authors have no control over cover art. Do you like the images on the covers and what they suggest about the book/story?

I’m happy with the S&S cover, but I haven’t the foggiest as to WHO that is staring out at you. I had thought that the Canadian cover was just so obviously superior, more ‘eye catching,’ so to prove myself right I took the book to one of my pop culture classes and put both covers up on the VDP, and without letting anyone know which I preferred, I asked my student which one they liked best.

They voted for the S&S cover by a 2 to 1 margin.

Which explains why publishers always reserve the right to put whatever they want on the covers. Though we authors fancy ourselves creative geniuses, the bottomline is that we haven’t a clue as what sells books. In this case, I’m told that it’s the face. Our brains have powerful face-recognition circuits, which often makes covers with faces more engaging.

I STILL prefer the Canadian covers though (as does my US publisher, thank Gawd).

3. Where does you interest in religion come from?

I’ve had a strange personal odyssey when it comes to religion. When I was young, I was ‘born again,’ but then around 14 or so I started asking questions, lots of them, and troubling enough to convince my mother to have the pastor over for dinner a couple nights. It had dawned on me that if everything had a cause, and those causes themselves had causes, then my thoughts, which were part of ‘everything,’ were themselves caused, and that there could be no such thing as free will…

I was the guy who you DID NOT want to talk to on acid or mushrooms.

So I spent my teens as an athiest and a nihilist, filled with moral outrage at the fact that morality did not exist, and yet everyone pretended it did.

Then I went to university, and somehow ended up reading Heidegger, the German father of what Sartre would later turn into existentialism. The intellectual ins and outs of my transformation are too complicated to relate here, but I ended up being an agnostic, firmly convinced of the reality of things like meaning and morality.

Then while doing my Philosophy PhD at Vanderbilt, I started playing poker on a regular basis with some classmates, one of whom was an avowed nihilist. I argued and argued and argued, and got my ass kicked. And I realized that if you were honest and only committed yourself to warranted claims, then nihilism was inescapable.

But nihilism, of course, simply HAS to be wrong. There’s gotta be more than function, process, and mechanism…

And this is the central thematic question of The Prince of Nothing: What is this ‘more’? What are the shapes we give it, and how do these shapes affect the way we see the world and each other? Is it real, or is it all a gigantic racket?

Could it be both?

I have no answers to any of these questions. All I know is that if you set aside your hope, your childhood upbringing, and stick only to what we know, the picture looks pretty grim.

Why epic fantasy? What is it about this form of communication that appeals not just to you as your chosen medium of writing, but to those of us here who love to read it?

*ducks the probable withering stare for turning the tables here*

No ducking necessary, you ducker. I think it’s an excellent question!

I should start with a caveat, though. Everyone knows that there’s a variety of ‘worldviews’ out there, and despite the fact that everyone is convinced that their’s happens to be the true one, everyone remains convinced that their’s happens to be the true – primarily because it just ‘feels’ right.

First: If it ‘feels’ right, then odds are it’s wrong. Despite what the movie hero or the commercial says, our ‘gut instincts’ are miserable when it comes to getting things right. Since collective beliefs underwrite collective actions, and since the repetition of collective actions is what makes societies possible, only those societies that successfully manage the beliefs of their constituent members survive. Ronald Reagan didn’t cause the collapse of the Soviet system: a collective crisis of faith did.

This is just a fact. If you were socialized in the traditional manner, your possess the belief system that your social system needs you to have in order to function as it functions. Our society is no different than any other in this regard, though most of us are convinced that we’ve monopolized the truth, just as most everyone in most every society has been convinced. In our society we call this requisite belief system ‘Individualism.’

One of the things I find so fascinating about epic fantasy is the way fetishizes a certain type of world-view – specifically, the pre-scientific one.

More than anything else, science is a kind of discipline, a set of methods and techniques that prevent us from duping ourselves in the quest to answer questions of fact. This is the reason so much science is so alienating for so many people: we’re hard-wired to prefer flattering, simplistic, and purposive answers. Evolution is the classic example here.

The world-views one finds in epic fantasy are examples of the world-views our ancestors developed in the absence of scientific discipline. This makes epic fantasy horribly important in at least two respects, First, those ancient worlds were the worlds enshrined in scripture. It’s no accident that Banker’s novelization of the Ramayana is shelved in the fantasy section. Fantasy worlds are versions of scriptural worlds. This is why poor Harry Potter has enjoyed all the controversy he has. For fundamentalists who still believe in the scriptural world of the Bible, being a ‘young wizard’ is as odious as being a ‘young gunslinger’ would be to secular readers. Second, since those ancient worlds arose without the ‘benefit’ of scientific discipline, they are bound to reflect a whole host of human foibles and human needs. They are pictures of the world as we want it to be.

The wotmania Files: My "review" of Robert Jordan’s Crossroads of Twilight, Part I

March 26, 2009 § 4 Comments

This was me having fun in 2006 after being challenged to read the 10th volume of WoT. I had previously stopped reading the series in 2000, so needless to say, I wrote long summaries of my stream of consciousness-like thoughts on it in several posts. Here’s one for the Prologue and the first section. I’ll post the others in the next day or so, if others are interested.In for a penny, in for a pound. The book is mine. The day is mine. Fear me, for I have no mouth and must scream. Or something. Anyways, time to begin reading….now:

Edit: Forgot the epigraph:

And it shall come to pass, in the days when the Dark Hunt rides, when the right hand falters and the left hand strays, that mankind shall come to the Crossroads of Twilight and all this is, all that was, and all that will be [Bret “the Hitman” Hart, anyone?] shall balance on the point of a sword, while the winds of the Shadow grow.

Need I say more than what I’ve highlighted above?

***

One of the first things that strikes me about this Prologue is that in the beginning there was Rodel Ituralde. Is it pronounced “RO-dell,” or could a case be made for “ROY-duhl”? I wonder if his friends called him Rodeo and what the is deep inner meaning of “Ituralde”? Hrmm… But at least the prologue is off to a nice enough start. He is not merely cold, his mustache is not merely neatly trimmed and rimmed with frost, but that his white gelding horse felt as though it were made of frozen milk. This certainly is not staid metaphors being tossed about here. I just pray that Rodel doesn’t feel his “thing” rising to the point of kicking an 8 year-old Seanchan girl in the jaw.

But there is a good descriptive bit here of the weather changes, to remind those of us who may have forgotten that the Bowel…err, Bowl of the Winds was used and that winter’s heart is colder than the *ahem* of a nun. Check. I’ll drop that theory that WH was originally Narg’s nickname now.

Ah, I was wrong! It’s Wolf, not Rodeo for a nick! But Little? Hrmm…like Little John, or is this a nick that started with the women? Anyways, this Ituralde dude is shaping up to be interesting…I wonder if he’ll be the main character of this book?

Apparently the Domani king with the porn star name of Alsalam has gone insane in the membrane, insane in the brain. Weird-ass orders, coming from all directions. Something tells me that either ganja was involved or that like Folgers, someone has secretly replaced the house blend with the specialized crystal…umm…yeah.

Now some dude named Donjel has appeared. He seems almost as badass as Randyll Tarly. Dark leather eyepath, only a single sword, hang marks around his neck – I bet this dude used to eat Trollocs for breakfast and then crap them out to kick the shit around a bit more. Hopefully he’ll get to lay the smackdown on some roody-poo candyass later in the story. That so would make this book worth reading.

More snow, more waiting, more desolation. I bet Moridin is set to arrive by the next train, right? Waiting for Moridin…yeah, that’d be a new way of approaching WoT. Maybe a fan-fic on this for the future?

By the light, I come under the White Ribbon….oooh, kinky! Is that like the Order of the Garter Belt?

More Lords, more titles, it’s like a bargain sale. Servants not included. But these are not any ordinary lords…these appear to be Dragonsworn, which by the description seem to live in an anarcho-syndicalist commune, where they each in turn act as a sort of executive, but that the orders of the executive must be approved by a simple majority in the case of ordinary affairs but by a 2/3 majority in the….oh, look Dennis, here’s some lovely filth!

Anyways…Rode…err, Little Wolf is meeting with Dragonsworn. Gets a bit pissed, tugs on ruby earring. Can’t decide if he’s about to get all Emo or go medieval on their asses. But I don’t think he’ll be launching into a 20 page speech about how the Dragonsworn should rise up and live their lives, mostly because no description of Rode- Little Wolf gives me the impression that he wields the Sacred Yeard.

Read a description of the Taraboners and promptly start saying to myself, “I am the Walrus!” But then there’s a dude named Wakeda. Wakeda. Must be an anagram or else it’s the Japanese for “I have the facial hair strength of many men!” Or something…

Aiel on the plain, Aiel over there, Aiel way over yonder – bad guys showing a brain, I see. And best of all, Randy Boy gets the credit for this. Sweet. Villians gotta love when a plan comes together, right? Nasty do-gooders!

But now a truce has been forged. Domani, Dragonsworn, together again, like chocolate and peanut butter. Ready to kick ass, take names, and chew bubblegum, but alas, they are all out of bubblegum. Anyways, Hannibal…err..Rode…err…Little Wolf has a devious smile and a secret plan that shall be revealed….later.

***

Man, I’m so hyped. I hope there’s more snow travelling here! YES! Eamon, who has a kickass Irish name (although I’m partial to Eochaidh for familial reasons) is holding…his cloak. And it is cold. Not ball-breaking cold, but cold and steady, like a ninja stalking his target. But then the wind/cold has to get all Emo and sigh. Damn. But then again, it’s deceptively quiet, just like a granny can be in the calm before the storm. SBD. Oh, and for those that want to read way too much into it, “men huddled together unless driven to move.” I’ll leave this passage up to Robert Waite to psychoanalyze from a historical perspective. Surely he has time after all those years speculating about Hitler’s ball sac/emo condition.

But then again, I do learn that Valda (Valdarama? Kickass ‘do, ya know) lacks a Gag Reflex around maggots….Umm-kay. And he’s a scowler, not a sniffer. Very key difference here. Character development, FTW!

How lovely, horse hung is being buried, instead of being used for fuel for the fire. Idiots! Don’t they know the warming power of a few clumps of dried horse shit? But alas, the maggoty smell has faded suddenly – I wondered if it was just the Dark One (BBNC?) who let one rip behind the Pattern and it just oozed in and out like a faint miasma of decay… But I most quote here:

The wind did not change; the stink just vanished…The stench had come from somewhere. But there are no beginnings or ends to the stench in the wind. But it was a beginning…
Page 27, hardcover, bitches. Look it up, yo Okay, I added a bit, deal.

“Scudding gray clouds…” – scudding….ha! Only Sexy Saddam knows how to ‘scud’ properly. He’s like a pimp, ya know.

And alas poor Ailron, I knew him well! Stupid git, Valda thinks and I have to concur. Sadly.

Is it bad of me to think of the blind guy on Kung Fu when I see the name…Asunawa? Seems like a spoiled bitch, though. Tis a pity. Would have been better if he had studied with Goodkind and learned the torturous arts of the Mord Sith, such as how to stick a rod up a crack and…

Andorans in Murandy. Whitecloaks in Altara. Valda no longer in Morgase, who might be dead…or alive. Galadedrid being naughty, thus being called by his full name. Apparently no truth to the rumors that his middle name is Galadriel. Sigh.

Burn the witches! But first, build a bridge out of them and then see if they float as well as a duck…or a church.

And now, some Council of the Anointed to end this section. My guess is that they don’t use balm.

***

Whadda know? Gabrielle is enjoying…what? What else but a ride through the snow! Yippee! I really hope she’ll stop and make a snow angel. That’s the best part about snow. That and snow cream and snowmen and snowfights and pissing in the snow and shoving your siblings’ faces into it….not that I’ve ever done that, but…anyways, now where were we? Snow? Right…

Hrmm…I can hear it now in Gabrielle’s thoughts on Toveine. Tiffany’s cover version of “I Think We’re Alone Now.” After all, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around…except for Logain of course. But he is so masculine that he doesn’t need Rogaine. He has more than Fabio hair – he wills the hair into place, eschewing Saidin.

Oh wait, never mind. They aren’t friends, not really. No pillow-friendly talk…le sigh. And somewhere in the world, a pimply-faced 14 year-old (or urza) is weeping.

But she does have a nice consolation gift of a green-gloved hand and a fox-lined cloak which just so happens to be shut with the her other green-gloved hand (a matching pair, she’s special). But Gabrielle is obviously into kinky masochistic BDSM – she lets herself feel the cold, for the “refreshing vigor.” Yep, definitely kinky.

Birds, birds, plants, snow, more plants, and ooh, some minerals! But alas, just only a bird in the sky and not that’s not worth one in the bush, or however the hell that saying goes. But she is in a wooded area…just like all the other snowy wooded areas so far in this story. The geography is amazingly varied here. I wonder if we’ll get to see a snowy plain next! OMG, I’m about to wet myself in anticipation!

Black Tower, White Tower…chess, anyone? Anyways, apparently it isn’t a great tourist attraction yet. Maybe in the future, once that great big black wall gets built. It would have been ironic if it had been white. Then it could have had that Ying-Yang effect. But is it Yinging or Yanging? I can’t recall.

But we do learn that the essence of Logain Albar is in her, kinda like how Mojo Nixon sang that we all have a bit of Elvis in us, except for Michael J. Fox, of course. He’s like the anti-Elvis.

Finally, I see that Gabrielle is Down with the Brown. Sweet! And wrong-way bondage isn’t a good thing, I suppose….but how would she know if it were so, if she hadn’t had it done ‘right’ to her? But poor, poor Gabrielle – she’s caught trying to read a guy’s mind and to understand him. When will women ever learn?

Hrmm…devious mind, thinking of how to get around simple obedience. Sigh…they never learn, do they? I hope there’ll be lots and lots of spanking going on…isn’t that what RJ is renowned for in this series?

Logain appears. Mack Daddy of course, unless he’s Daddy Mack. Your choice. Well-fitted coat dark as pitch, but no signs of silk slashed with cream. I’m SO sober right now! Then Logain does his manly man pose, and the other AS, Toveine, just fawns all over him. Sigh, I miss HS suddenly and my days as a football player

Toveine is a Red and she supposedly hates men, but Logain is just the shit, so of course she just must hate him for his claims about the Red Ajah setting him up as a False Dragon. Hrmm….so will the real Dragon really “ride”?

More thoughts and speculation about Logain and his aims/apparent laxness toward the AS prisoners. And then the confession – she tried to seduce him, only to learn that he really was like a Dragon in the bed. Scudding, baby. I guess they might have named the Black Tower after him? Hrmm…

But then again, Gabrielle just goes back to thinking of Engla…err, Tar Valon. Tree, boulders, and smooth, white snow. That snow pwns.

And another Asha’man appears. Mishraile. Sounds kinda dark, no? Oh, he’s with M’Hael, and not the one living in LA right now. Apparently there’s a tension of deathly calm in the air. Still no silk washing. I’m disappointed.

Mishraile trying to talk Logain to leave for ‘recruiting.’ Hmm…he reminds me of a poacher. I’ll have to RAFO, I suppose.

Ah, interesting…no bonded women in the M’Hael section of the AM. Bet they’re gay…or evil. Your choice. Choose wisely.

Looking for signs of insanity, but Logain is as cool as the other side of the pillow. He dismisses Mishraile, keeps his honeys and is just chillin’. Old school. Relaxed. Kickin’ it.

Logain gets in touch with his feminine side and feels worry toward the women, which they then debate about for a while as to its meaning. Sheesh, women! Not that he probably isn’t talking about this with Narishma about how Toveine seems to be a bit coy but that Gabrielle is wild in the sack but won’t admit to liking it bareback.

***

Yuriko – I found it!

Oh, wait, her name is Yukiri. Damn. My bad.

But as we pick up her scent…err, not in that sense, she alas is not walking in a snowy woods at night á la a Robert Frost poem, but instead is descending…one of the wide hallways? Hrmm…I guess ADA nabbed the White Tower years ago, huh? Anyways, she is feeling as prickly as a starved cat, so I guess I shouldn’t be noticing her attire yet, right? But it is morning time, time for the Tar Valon people to rise and shine and for the Novices to wake to a new round of switchings. This is so meta Catholic Nun School, ya know.

She is lost in thought about how cold the winter is compared to up north. But alas, she isn’t walking barefoot uphill in TV carrying the firewood five miles to Elaida…yet. I bet that comes later, though. Right?

News is churning like newly-made butter inside her mind. As usual, rumors about things we’ve read about for books now and which some of us wish we could have forgotten. Everyone is everywhere, into everything and every and anyone. It’s like an orgy of confusion, but will the chaotic money shot be worth it? Hrmm…

More thinking. Lots more thinking. But now it’s time to stop the ever-present waiting and…greet another waiter. Meidani. Tall, slender, kinda girl mom would like to meet. Oh wait, never mind. That bosom apparently is standard-issued 36DD on a 5’8, 125 frame. Lara Croft meets WoT and is assimilated into the Bor…err, AS. Yep, that’s it. Accompanied of course by Another Typical Warder. ATW from now on.

Rebels in da house! Whoot! There it is! *sighs, hoping for some groupies to shake it for me…female groupies, not Homsar, just to be on the safe side* Hating going on. When will they ever learn that it’s love, man? LOVE.

But this is a fine example of Jordanian detail here: There is a talk about fishing rights in Arafel on rivers as opposed to lakes. It is so obvious that RJ is a GOB, Southern boy. I’m waiting for the discourse how how to frog jig. I bet it’ll be amazing whenever it occurs.

ATW with these RAS. No, that’s not Salvatore. You’ll have to post about him your own self over at OF. Sowwy. And more hostility! Are these women all raggin’ at the same time in this series? Or is it that RJ has had traumatic experiences and he’s reliving them through this section? You make the call.

More and more talking about rumors about which Ajah did this, how so-and-so got naughty and got spanked, but alas no 15 page description of torture or about how the rebels’ ears should be cut off, a la G–dk-nd (BBNC). Some things are a mercy, I suppose. But yet this is a scene full of chillness that has little to do with the nipply air…err, nippy air. But maybe nipply air is more appropriate?

More walking, more chattering about points of law (maybe hunting/poaching laws this time?). Whites jumping, Grays smiling, and five geese a’laying. Where’s that damn partridge…oh yeah…before I forget…

BONADUCE!!!

There, I feel better. Now back to the show, as I am nearing page 44 of the hardcover (US) edition. As you can tell, a lot has been happening in CoT so far. Pity those fools that overlooked all this! It’s actually not all that bad…so far.

More talk of Mistress Silviana and her birchings…hrmm…WoT BDSM? Moving on…

Even so, she could barely keep her eyes from lingering on one pair of Yellow who glided along a crossing corridor like queens in their own palace. – Dirty minds among us, interpret, now!

ATW appearance. More AS. Names out the wazoo. Pritalle? Does that rhyme with ‘retail’? Anyways, back to more walking, after the spotting of a Black Ajah gal. I wonder if they secretly dress like Goths… But here, they sound like the Boogeyman! Out to get ya! Booyah! And it drags on for a couple of pages…moving right along to this lovely scene…

…of the corridor being empty! OMG! WTF! BBQ Trolloc! More talking, more scheming, more AS being name-dropped. Later to be dropped on their heads? One can hope, right? Or is that fear? Hrmm…

Elaida apparently ‘favored’ Siuan more than just hating on her. Secret lustful feelings emanating from the goat-like yearnings (not that goats aren’t noble creatures, of course)? Anyways, just some futile attempts to sed..err, get ‘friendly’ with Elaida and Alviarin are being discussed. Are they a couple? Who is sending out the XOXO’s? And who here will write out my name and make a <3?

But alas, all this speculation/waiting is broken by the arrival of Seaine, a White with ATW in tow. Acting quite illogical for a White/Vulcan, and she promptly gets bitch-slapped for it. Sadly, no birchings yet.

Ooh…a second mystery! Get the Mystery Machine running, Shaggy! Oh wait, this is merely about the pattern of youngish Sitters. Why they couldn’t be Walkers or Runners is beyond me, but they are Sitters and perhaps secretly even Squatters. And so it goes…more guessing, theorizing…and waiting…for the Rebels this time and not for Moridin to respond to this post

***

Back to the loverly snow! YAY! Food conditions are so bad that Sir Robin’s minstrels were consumed for food. YAY! And we learn that Gawyn doesn’t sleep commando like a real manly man would have. Ask Randyll Tarly, Chuck Norris, or Donjel – they’re real men

Anyways, Gawyn is deep into emoland here, worrying about Egwene, apologizing to her, crushing on her, worrying about Elayne, the Rebels, a fire, home for the holidays in Caemlyn, downing eggnog shots…yep, he’s definitely a pussy.

Now an army has appeared out of nowhere. Rebels, of course. But without that kickass Hyperspace scene from the original SW movie. That rocked. Gateways are just so dull, ya know? It’s like opening a door. Big whoop.

Horses in a barn, in a village renowned for….cheese Vive le fromage! Surrender Frenchies! Oops…getting carried away with myself

Awww…how sweet, Gawyn has himself some honeys…oh wait, they’re Red/Black AS. Probably lousy lays as well. I guess the Red/Bed bit only works if it’s on the Head and not in the dress, slashed as they might be with creamed silk.

Ah, the two try to lay the smack down on Gawyn, but he ain’t having any of dat shit, so he’s like all, so what? Tell me, huh? And they’re like, no way, you’re like a guy and have cooties, and he’s all, so what, and then they get all secretive about why they want across the river to the side the Rebs are on and he’s all emoing about this like the pussy that he is. Yeah.

So he like tucks up his peanuts and asks about Elayne, only to get slapped down with a vague “she’s okay, just with some Rebs, but it ain’t her fault. Stop worrying, whinyass mo’fo”. This is some mighty fine character development here, along the lines of Anakin in the SW prequels. This so is begging for the Lucas treatment. Eat me, Raimi, RJ is saying, I’ll get Lucas to film this shit!

And the scene ends with Gawyn…emoing. Consistent characterization. Sweet.

***

Clear blue skies, the sun a ‘pale golden ball’ of sunshininess! My oh my, what a wonderful day! Zippee-a-doo-dah, zippe-de-eh! My oh, my what a wonderful day! Plenty of blue skies, coming my way…oops, remembering an old song there

Davram Bashere is on the prowl and Mr. Bluebird is not on his shoulder. He’s thinking about how a true winter back home in Saldaea would have burst trees and caused Saldean nips and balls to ache a bit…but only a bit, as the blood runs hot and furious in their veins. Viva la Raza! Andále! Arriba, arriba!

Sadly, the dude has a lame-assed named bay horse called Quick. Now I’m thinking of Quick Ben and how he would have opened a Warren and let loose…err, wrong story. Sorry about that, sometimes my mind wonders away from WoT and CoT, but rarely to SoT, unless it is to vomit Now back to the story.

A league north of C-Town, he’s got a fancy spyglass made by that inventor Tovere that Randy Boy gifted him with some time ago. He’s checking out all the men, because he’s comfortable with his sexuality, ya know: fighting men, fletchers, farriers (say those three times fast!), armorers, laudresses (I hear they like a good ‘tickle’ once in a while ), wagon drivers and ‘other camp followers’ (translation: hoors! Lots and lots of hoors!). But these are for the likes of him, as they are a noble faction besieging cap-town, trying to keep the lovely Lady Elayne from her daily bathing in ass’s milk, which I hear was the Third Age equivalent to Oil of O’lay (sp.?).

But apparently wolves and wolfhounds are mixing in the besieging camps, which puzzles Bashere, who can’t seem to understand that some animals are ‘born that way’ and that ‘there’s nothing wrong with it.’ He’s such a bigot, isn’t he?

But so far, this is all about the flags. Which I can understand. I taught students from all parts of Latin America. They too were all about the Flag, and not just the Grand Ol’ Flag, the High-flyin’ flag! Oh no, they were representin’, ya know. Keeping it real. Just like these nobles are, WoT style. Yo.

Bael, deadly Aiel chieftain, veiled and ready for action. He was born in a crossfire hurricane, the product of Chuck Norris’s semen mixing with the ovaries of Inanna. Go look it up. He’s one bad mo’fo. He wants to haterize on the besiegers and to kick their asses.

But alas, politics gets in the way. Game of Houses, Game of Thrones, Game of Gin Rummy. It’s all the rage and it’s what shall decide the fate of nations, as no doubt a few here see that and think of a Robert Plant solo album from 1993.

Refugees flowing in, wood is valuable, apparently. A straggling group is surrounded by the besiegers, until C-Town regulars save the day! And there was much rejoicing and posturing and beating of chests like Tarzan. Then some went out and raped a few Tinkers. So it goes.OK, so that didn’t happen. But it could have, right? Just laugh, dammit!

Bael departs and the manly men Aiel trot off, as if waving their private parts at the snow as if they were haughty Frenchmen holding the sacred Castle Arrggghhh! Or something.

Now Bashere has to comfort/counsel another Saldaen, Tumad, about the silly, poncy Andorans. But no “comforting” or frottage takes place here. Feel free to vomit after you look up that word

Rumors of Tenobia coming down from the North with the other Borderlanders. Bashere bitchslaps Tumad verbally by noting that there’s bigger fish to fry and more things to emo about. This book so obviously should have inspired a few emo artists, right?

Broken Crown mention. My guess it’s not a dental matter anymore. Thinking about a razor, but not to shave his mustache. But it’s not a walrus mustache. He’s Saldaen and he’s okay! He sleeps all night and he works all day!

Another phrase (from p. 68 taken out of context: Every man could be mounted…. Debate that for a while.

But then this PoV closes with Bashere meeting up with wife, who calmly shows him her boobies while getting a ‘flesh wound’ treated. All in a day’s work in Saldaea, killing two would-be assasins and then making laconic small talk with the midget husband. Ho-hum. Search is on for the assasins, but they were found dead by sword thrust from a narrow blade (must be special, that). He sends for a ‘special someone’ as his PoV fades to black…

***

C*ds**n* – Talk dirty to me?

[Before beginning, I’ve noticed some ‘hate clubs’ for C*ds**n*, *gw*n*, and F**l*, so I might just asterik their names just to avoid the wrath of those…or maybe it’ll just be C, E, and F. No D though. Sorry.]

More snow, this time of the light feathery type. Perfect for snowballs and snow angels after a while, or for backdrop to Yuletide carols or my dream of makin’ whoopie (not Whoopie Goldberg) in a driving snowstorm on top of Old Smoky…

Anyways…I’ll wait a moment while you stop vomiting/retching profusely.

Oh, ready? Here we go! (to be said in a faux Mario 64 voice)

Samitsu, whose sister gave her name to Jujitsu, is looking out at all the falling snow drom a tall narrow window in the Sun Palace in Cairhien, Cairhien, home of the Game of Houses and the place where Asha’men Gone Wild! was recently filmed. The Tower of the Rising Sun (not to be confused with the whorehouse in N’awlin’s known as the House of the Rising Sun, as popularized by Lead Belly and The Animals) is gone due to the carelessly roughhousing of the Asha’men.

Samu, as I’ll nick her now (she should be grateful that it’s not Shamu the Whale or my old Japanese roomie, Osamu, who had the same nick), is worrying (favorite sport of WoTlanders next to sniffing, braidtugging, scowling, and waiting) about the orders that C left her a week or so before she went away, away. Keep those pesky meddling kids…err, Cairhienin out of trouble and C’s hair. And of course, she’s fretting over Randy Boy’s decisions as to who gets to pretend to rule which country, although she admits to herself that Dobraine (rhymes with ‘no brain’?) isn’t too shabby.

There’s another page or so of worries. Damn, these people worry more than my mom does when she used to be on the ra…err, nevermind. Anyways, worryage broken up by Sashalle. What I’d give for an AS to be named Shaneyney here. It’d so make my day/night. Descriptions of Shaney…err, Sashalle made her sound like Sir Mix-a-Lot’s anaconda might want some…ahem.

And now for the unintentional AS blush moment of the PoV: Not for the first time, she found it difficult to meet the other sister’s gaze. (interpretation: She wants to knock boots…titties? with her, right?)

More blabbage, as the covert sexual tension is heating up, as they are leaning forward a bit, getting a bit…closer to one another. Oh yeah, baby (to be said in a Barry White voice). This goes on for most of three pages before Corgaide Marendevin interrupts in a comedy of manners segment which showcases RJ’s “borrowing” from Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. Apparently there is an Ogier in the Kitchen, but surely God is still in his Heaven, right?

More talk of AS and stilling and faces and aging and aging creams, but alas, no mention of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste that some AS were rumored to be using to make their rears as smooth as their fronts. Sigh…

More walking…damn these women must be in a lot of shape.. All they do is walk, talk, and worry…and sniff and braidtug on occasion. Now if she had only hiked up her leg and…well, that would have broken more than the wind whistling through the meadows, right?

And not just AS, but Nobles are strolling, looking like multi-hued peacocks, if they just aren’t postin’ up flashing the 4-1 or the 3 in a circle or the V-L. Noble gangs…yep, another feature that I’ll look forward to seeing RJ explore in the future, perhaps later in this book?

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen I know-oh-oh! Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, strumming on that ol’ banjo! Oh wait, it’s just an Ogier named Ledar. Anagram is Radel, one letter away from being the romantic whirlwind/badass junior named Rodeo…err, Rodel.

Anyways, stupid talk about Dragons, Asha’men, and craziness, oh my! But it does serve to bring into focus events from the earlier books, which is a good and useful thing to do. It’s amazing how much I remember of this despite not having read any WoT per se in almost 6 years.

Oh wait, Ledar is simply Loial trying to play Bond, James Bond. Sigh…where’s Xenia Onatopp and Pussy Galore when you need them?

Some conflict/staredown (Dude! You can’t win! Only good stare a woman can give ya is a bedroom eyes stare and she don’t want your scrawny Asha’man ass! She’s thinking “Ledar” all the way, because once she’s tried Ogier, it’s ovah!) with Karldin, who might be the long-lost Asha’man brother to Jimmy Dean. Hrmm….sausage?….hrmm…maybe Samu does want him…

More walking, even an ‘arduous climb’ from the kitchens to Dobraine’s pad. Apparently everyone thinks he’s croaked and the bloody sheets seem to indicate that, not to mention those dead, pesky bodies that hit the floor, Drowning Pool style. But then Samu goes all Bret Hart and thinks that she’s the best there is and she patches him up to where he’s still alive, but hangin’ by a thread. And somewhere, Survivor is writing a theme song for this moment.

And this Prologue closes with Logain and his Ho’s somehow riding into the city, at some point in the past/present/future to what took place earlier. And now for the main course to begin…tomorrow.

[Actually, this Prologue wasn’t as bad as I remembered it being from 2002 when I read the free legal E-book from M$ Reader. So maybe this bodes well for the future?]

New WoT-oriented blog

March 26, 2009 § 4 Comments

I’ve known of this for a little while, thanks to Dom, one of the co-operators here, but this morning, the blog known as The Thirteenth Depository went public. Run by several wotmania Admins and regulars, including Linda and Dom, this blog will not just be a repository for the wotmania FAQ on WoT, but also for several other WoT-related projects. Linda, Dom, and the other contributors are hard-working, diligent people, so hopefully people will visit this new blog and weigh in from time to time.

The wotmania Files: First part of a Q&A with R. Scott Bakker (Nov. 2004)

March 5, 2009 § 2 Comments

This is the first of at least two and maybe three parts of the Q&A Bakker did with wotmania back in November 2004. For the most part, I’ve tried to preserve questions, silly and serious alike, with the exception of a couple of my own time-specific silly questions on hockey. Since this will be rather lengthy, I’m going to break it up into 2000-2500 word chunks and will try to post the entire thing over the course of the next few days. There ought to be a few matters of discussion for people reading this over four years later, including a comment on Esmenet being a “moral” argument for gender equality.

Since I just dropped my opinion about this in the book discussion below, I am curious. What are your views about gender roles in the world you created, how they are portrayed in the two books (not necessarily the same) and how they relate to our world?

With the recent elections, do you think a woman will ever be elected president of the US? Who would be your choice?

Great questions. Without a doubt I think this is the topic I take the most heat on, something which I see as ironic given that my initial concern was that I was being too overtly feminist!

Epic fantasy worlds are almost exclusively pre-scientific worlds, which is to say they’re worlds where traditional authority, rather than public debate or scientific method, tells us what’s true or false, right or wrong. What I wanted was an unsanitized epic fantasy world, one that was true to the brutalities and beauties of our own world before the Enlightenment. I thought the most honest way to explore our fascination with these worlds would be to look at them as they would really be. The culture of the Three Seas, as a result, is as misogynistic as western culture once was. Women are often treated as a sexual and reproductive resource. As Kellhus points out in TWP, when men cannot control their desires, they try to control the objects of their desires.

The reason I think I take so much heat on this issue is that some confuse representing such a world with endorsing it – which believe me certainly isn’t the case! The idea, rather, is to explore the psychological consequences of such a culture on my female characters. We keep returning to these worlds (as fantasy readers), I think, because they represent something we’re missing, but it’s a mixed bag – very mixed.

A female US President? It’ll take some time, I think, but with the way women are out-performing men in school, we’re about to witness an immense gender role reversal. Things are going to look a lot different in 20 years time. And it’ll all be blamed on video games.

I think I can see your point. Did you try to move away from the type of women portrayed in early fantasy works? Let’s face it, Tolkien portrays women as almost holy in a way. He has a very Victorian attitude. This is not surprising given his time period. However, many people have shown women in the role of objects of desire, but not very bright. Were you concerned that readers would not buy that Esmenet was smarter than the men who used her? Or that we would be offended? Since we started down this path, it seems she does a total reversal by the end of The Warrior Prophet. Is this just another example of how well Kellhus manipulates those around him?

For me, the Kellhus/Esmenet dyad is one of the thematic cornerstones of the book. My big concern, and I think it’s been borne out, has been that I’m simply being overly subtle.

One of the questions I’m interested in is, What happens to truths when they become instruments of manipulation? Kellhus enslaves Esmenet by emancipating her, by showing the ‘truth’ of the misogynistic culture she lives and breathes. In effect, he makes her modern. I have no idea how to answer this question, but it seems to me to be an important one.

If you believe that all values are simply social artifacts (which I don’t, because I think this is tantamount to nihilism), then what we call ‘women’s rights’ is simply an expression of changing technological and economic conditions. Given the way that technology increases productivity, the ‘base economic units’ of society become smaller and smaller. Just a few centuries back it was the village, then it became the extended family, then it became the nuclear family, and now it’s becoming the individual. Every society in history rationalizes its economic organization in its belief-system, and our society is no different. So as the possibilities of female economic independence expanded, the more and more ‘oppressive’ the standing beliefs in the auxilary, familial role of females came to seem, and so the ‘women’s rights’ movement was born. It’s not that women are in FACT equal to men and always have been, it’s just that their labour has recently become equally useful. There’s no moral fact of the matter: just a social system spontaneously adapting its belief-system to better exploit its resources.

I see Esmenet, who is through and through the product of a society that subordinates women to men, as embodying this question. Is there a moral fact of her station, or is it simply the result of an arbitrary, socially grounded belief-system? How do here own decisions feed into this question? And how does the manipulation of Kellhus bear on the whole?

Her native intelligence, I think, is itself a powerful moral argument. It demonstrates her equality in fact.

Enjoy sci-fi?

Or are you solely a fantasy kind of guy?

I’ll read anything, so long as it’s good. Fantasy just happens to be my fave. My big problem is finding time to read what I want to read. I find that if I like reading something, it always makes me write, which is good for the writing, but bad for the reading.

What was Nietzsche’s beef with Wagner?

I’m not sure. Holstein? Texas Longhorn?

Explain the meaning of life.

To stumble about without a bloody clue, convinced that you pretty much know everything you need to know. At least that had BETTER be the meaning of life, otherwise I’m screwed.

Over the course of TDTCB and TWP, we learn that the magic employed by the Schoolmen are based on semantical understandings and that the Chorae unravel these. Will we be learning more about the underpinnings of this conflict in TTT?

Quite a bit actually. I’m overweeningly proud of my world as it is, but I see sorcery as the jewel of Earwa.

I’m still waiting to learn more about the bathing habits of the Scylvendi. Anything to reveal in regards to that?

The memorialists tell harrowing tales of the legendary ‘Loincloth of War,’ but not much more than that…

Silk or cotton, boxers or briefs, this loincloth?

Rancid wolfskin… As if you didn’t already know, Larry!

Ah, so the old and comfortable choice, huh? None of that effeminate silkworm refuse for them, yeah?

By the way, doesn’t Rancid Wolfskin sound like a great name for a band?

LOL!

Hi Scott. I loved TDTCB and I’m looking forward to TWP and future books. I imagine with the success of your books comes change. What has been the biggest change in your life (for better or worse) since you were published? How have you indulged yourself? Fantasy is your favorite genre, do you have any favorite authors? Favorite books? Are you reading any books now? If I think of anything else, I’ll ask later. Thanks for taking time to do this and the other things you do like book contests, etc. It’s very cool of you, and much appreciated!

Well, I’m still driving my 1991 Golf diesel… The big thing, though, is that I no longer have to work for a living – and after working midnights at a grocery store for 14 years while going to school, that makes me a happy duck indeed! I’m not sure my books are accessible enough to have any hope of making real money.

My favourite fantasy author at the moment has got to be Martin, followed closely by Erikson. My favourite author in general is Cormac McCarthy. Right now I’m reading Mieville’s The Scar and Vassanj’s The In Between World of Vikram Lall.

What is your name? What is your quest? WHAT…is your favorite brand beer? Any favorite movies? Do you play video games (#1 reason for decreased male average intellect)? Do you play chess? Favorite music/musicians? Any bad habits? Whats the one thing you’d like to change about yourself?

Holy moly, Moncul! Let me see…

My full given name is Richard Scott Bakker, and my ‘quest,’ if I get your meaning, is to always be a better man than I was yesterday, and to convince the world that they shouldn’t be convinced by ANYTHING. Beerwise, I enjoy IPA’s, but I’m not fussy – I think warm Bud is just fine. My favourite flick is A LION IN WINTER. Presently, I don’t play video games, but only because I’m too broke to buy a computer capable of playing anything interesting. Bad habits? I fart in the morning and scratch my nuts in the afternoon. Those few times I’ve had a good computer, I’ve turned into a video game addict. I tend to drink and toke too much, though as it happens, toking is the one thing I’m trying to quit.

Makes me stupid. Drinking likely makes me stupid too, but I feel smarter…

Why does paper beat rock?

Because Rock is a bad boy who just won’t listen!

Hey there. Cool of you to do this; we loves our authors, we does.

I’m partway through your first book in the series, and I quite enjoy it, but I won’t ask any questions about it because any I would have at this point will surely be answered if only I read on, brave soldier, read on. However, I do have some other questions, which I believe are of some importance in the scheme of things.

1. Which of the four Ninja Turtles do you most identify with?

The one with the shell.

2. What sort of writing schedule are you used to, if indeed there is a schedule?

I try to plunk my ass in front of the computer every morning at 5AM. I try to write as consistently as possible until 5 PM, but…

Let’s just say I have a very clean nose.

3. Do you write longhand first drafts, or do you type from the get-go?

I rarely, if ever, write anything in longhand, despite the enormous length of my index fingers.

4. You have twenty-four hours to save the last six living penguins from the attack of a giant killer giraffe who has waded through the ocean to Antarctica. How do you do it?

Hire Karl Rove.

5. Is it just me, or does Larry taste funny?

OBJECTION! The prosecution is leading the witness, your honour. No matter how he answers the question, Larry will be tasted, and the jury will be duly disgusted.

*tries to think of something witty*

*gives up*

What are you reading nowdays?

At the moment I’m reading THE SCAR and THE IN-BETWEEN WORLD OF VIKRAM LALL – loving both of them.

Do you ever find yourself reading something or watching a movie and thinking, “That plot twist should have been handled differently.” or “Sloppy exposition.”

Sometimes that’s ALL I do. It drives my wife bonkers. When you’re writing, you always encounter the ‘How do I get there from here?’ problem. The one thing I’ve learned is that you can get between any two points in a plausible fashion, so long as your prepared to take the time to think things through. That’s what makes me gnash my teeth more than anything else when I encountering a huge plot hole while reading or watching: I know it’s more a matter of laziness than anything else.

How’s Thousandfold Thought coming along?

Awesome, at the moment, anyway. I’m pretty neurotic when it comes to my writing, which is just another way of saying that I’m not sure it’s ME who’s writing at all. Half the time it feels like I’m just watching my fingers dance.

What is yourPhD work about? When can I read it? After reading TDTCB, I became vastly interested in whatever you’re cooking up. Is Prince of Nothing in any way related to or reflective of your academic work? What’s the best IPA and who brews it?

Quit tokin’….still drinking…

Crackpot stuff. I think the various metaphors used to illustrate basic fundamental positions, such as the ‘picture’ for representationalism, or the ‘game’ for contextualism, actually play a powerful ‘inferential’ and explanatory role, and that by simply playing with these metaphors it’s possible to develop novel approaches to a large number of philosophical problems.

I have nothing approaching a readable manuscript, I’m afraid, though I’m hellbent on completing the thing as soon as I can scrounge together a few fiction-free months. Are you studying philosophy, Anasurimbor?

Actually, a few things surface here and there. In TTT, one of these ‘metaphors’ actually finds a prominent place vis a vis sorcery…

Currently, my favourite IPA is ‘Keiths,’ though as I think I mentioned, I’m not really all that fussy. So long as I have a headache in the morning…

Revision. How much do you tend to revise? How long does it take you? Do you find yourself taking only a bit of what you wrote, and essentially rewriting it, or do you lean more towards doing the work the first time, and just tidying it up later? Finally, being an author. Fun, or not worth the effort? Thanks for dropping by!

Good question. Revision is the heart and soul of writing for me, but I know people who would say the exact opposite. It’s different all the time, though I still think one of the most important skills I learned was what we used to call ‘killing our babies’ on the Online Writers Workshop. You need to be absolutely merciless when it comes to killing words (especially modifiers), phrases, passages, and even entire chapters – anything that isn’t pulling it’s weight.

To give you an example of just how much I revise, I would bet my next advance that there isn’t a single sentence that survived from my initial draft of TDTCB. But then not only did I cut my teeth writing that book, I had tremendous difficulty reworking it to make those infamous first 200 pages more accessible. I think several sentences survived from the TWP, but even then, they know I’m looking, and that sooner or later…

Is writing fun? I love it. I still can’t believe it. I still find myself expecting a bus or a dumptruck to take me out at some intersection. I always wanted to be a writer, but I never really pursued it because I thought it was a pipe-dream. Now I find myself feeling guilty for some reason – probably because I started working in the fields when I was ten.

People are supposed to work for a living.

The wotmania Files: Short reviews of Jorge Luis Borges’ collections (2005-2007)

February 27, 2009 § 8 Comments

Here are a few short commentaries/reviews of some of Jorge Luis Borges’ collections that I originally posted at wotmania in 2005-2007. Since I praise Borges on occasion here as being one of the best storytellers that I’ve read in either English or Spanish, thought I’d post my comments, even if I would have said a lot more here than I did there two-four years ago.


El Hacador/Dreamtigers and Siete noches/Seven Nights

I’ve just finished re-reading the original Spanish essay collection of Borges, Siete Noches (available in English as Seven Nights) and have waited to review his 1960 collection El Hacedor (Dreamtigers) in English so I could be cheesy and dedicate it to a fellow Borges fan, Mery, who turned 24 today. But there’s already a birthday thread for her elsewhere, so back to the blind Argentine writer/poet/essayist, shall we?

Dreamtigers is a story collection that displays Borges at his most surreal and dreamlike best. The stories are indeed, as Shakespeare said in The Tempest “the stuff as dreams are made on” and these fragmented tales contain that mixture of the Real and Unreal that people our dreams. The titular story (in English, that is, as El Hacedor is the namesake title for the Spanish original) is a thing of lost, almost forlorn hope and beauty.

Although I could type out completely without proper citation Andrew Hurley’s translation of “Dreamtigers,” I will rather attempt to do my own translation, with consultations with the Hurley translation to smooth over rough patches:

In infancy I exercised with fervor the adoration of the tiger: not the spotted tiger [jaguar] of the camalotes of the Paraná and the Amazon wilderness, but instead the striped tiger, Asiatic, real, which only could be confronted by men of war, from a castle on top of an elephant. I would remain, stopping for ages, before one of the cages in the zoo; I ranked the vast encylopedias and books of natural history by the splendor of their tigers. (I always remember these figures: I who cannot recall without error the face or smile of a woman.) Infancy passed, the tigers and my passion for them faded, but always they are in my dreams. In that underground or chaotic pool, they continue to prevail and thusly: Sleeping, I am drawn into some sort of dream and suddenly I know that it is a dream. Then I stop to think: This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will, and since I have limitless power, I’m going to bring into being a tiger.

Oh, incompetence! My dreams never know how to generate the savage beast I so desire. Yes, the tiger appears, but it is shrivelled or weakly, or with impure variations of form or an unacceptable size or is fleeting in appearance or takes the form of a dog or parrot.

The other stories in Dreamtigers follow along similar paths where ‘reality’ has interstitial relationships with ‘dream.’ Another example is the story “Borges and I”, for which there is a link to a translation.

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Borges’ other works or are curious to read stories that touch upon the stuff of dreams, then I would highly recommend Dreamtigers for you to read. Of the books that I have of Borges in Spanish, it is certainly the most poetic of his prose works.

But what if you’ve read Borges and don’t get all of his literary/philosophical references? Or what if you want to know more about what influenced Borges? For those wanting to know more about Borges the essayist, I would suggest a reading of Seven Nights. This is a collection of seven speeches that Borges gave in 1977 dealing with a wide variety of cultural/literary topics including the textual meanings behind Dante’s The Divine Comedy (and the roles of Reason and Faith in it); the shaping of Nightmares and how such a word has so many connotations in the various languages in which the concept of an evil, malignant dream exists; The Arabian Nights and the infinitude implied within its alternate title of The Thousand and One Nights; the core characteristics and values of Buddhism; the power of Poetry to capture in a word snapshot the soul’s image; the arcaneness of the Kabbalah and the search for that elusive Word to bring life into being; and Blindness as a real and metaphoric condition – each of these elements reflects in part some of the elements present in Borges’ stories.

If you want to see a thoughtful look at literature and the development and importance of Ideas, then his Seven Nights will make for an enjoyable read and perhaps will serve to interest you to explore further the topics Borges covers.

El Aleph/The Aleph

It should be no surprise that Jorge Luis Borges is one of my all-time favorite writers. The work he did over a 50 year period is truly remarkable, considering he never wrote a full-length novel. However, his exploration of how words and images connect with our imagination and with our hopes and fears to create a nexus of thought and meaning has had a profound impact on late 20th and early 21st century writing, both within and without the speculative fiction sphere.

Last Wednesday, I posted about his earliest well-known collection of stories, The Universal History of Infamy. I could post now about his most famous work, Ficciónes, but Jake already has covered that in a Book Club review (not to mention that last year I had a thread devoted to discussing some stories from Ficciónes). Instead, I’m going to talk about a work that I think is the equal to Ficciónes, at least in some regards. That work being The Aleph.

This collection of stories was released in 1949 and, to me at least, was a more coherent and focused collection than was Ficciónes. As I was reading these stories in Spanish (and later checking over them with the English translation I have), I kept noticing certain themes. Themes such as the Thirst for Knowledge, the Exploration of the Unknown, the Conflict between Orthodox and Heterodox, and the Search for the Meanings behind Life. In a very real sense, just as Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “these are the stuff on which dreams are made.”

Borges explores these themes in a variety of ways. In “The Immortal,” not only is the main character lost in a maze leading to a fabled city, the language used is a labyrinth of meanings as well – what is immortality anyways? For “The Theologians,” Borges uses the imagery of people hating and waging conflict from afar over a philosophical/theological truth that is substantially the same, with the action of the story paralleling what occurs on the metaphysical level.

Many of the stories focus on secret knowledge and how life is based upon and reacts to it. “Averroës’ Search” is a prime example of this, while “The Zahir” is something else, something verboten in a sense that isn’t immediately made clear to the reader. And the titular story, “The Aleph,” deals with the Kabbalic knowledge in a way related to the creation of life and meaning from the associations with the first letter of the primordial alphabet.

Each of the stories have their own meanings and I will not delve further at this time (unless someone else who’s read some of these stories wants to discuss them with me below?), but I would hold The Aleph up as being the second crowning point (after Ficciónes) of Borges’ writing. A simple must-read in order for someone truly to be knowledgable of speculative fiction.

Historia universal de la infamia/Universal History of Infamy

This is the earliest of Borges’s collections of fictions, except in this case, it’s based on true stories…well, kinda. Written in 1935, The Universal History of Infamy (although Andrew Hurley translates it as The Universal History of Inquity) deals with 7 rather unsavory types and their rises and downfalls. From the ‘cruel redeemer’ Lazarus Morell to the Widow Pirate to Billy the Kid to a masked prophet who rose up in the years following the Hegira in the Middle East, Borges has taken accounts of real-life people and made them akin to his own creations, with a plethora of possible motives and intentions. Following the History proper comes some of Borges’s earliest-known fictional pieces, like the stunning “Man on the Pink Corner” (about a street tough who goes down in a blaze of…well, he goes down in a moving way that needs to be read to be understood in full) or his account of multiple Mohammad’s being produced. Each of these tales gives a hint of the cleverness and the twisting narratives that has made Borges not only one of the most important Argentine authors, but also one of the most important writers of the 20th century.

Without a Borges, I don’t know if magic realism would have been as important. Without a Borges, I doubt a Gene Wolfe would have been inspired to write Book of the New Sun. Without a Borges, we likely wouldn’t see the exact types of stories that a China Miéville or a Jeff VanderMeer or a whole host of others would have written otherwise. And we certainly wouldn’t have a direct tribute to Borges written by Rhys Hughes (daringly called A New Universal History of Infamy) that pays homage in a way that is much more than just lifting inspiration and mode from the original.

For those curious as to what Borges is all about and why many of us think he’s head and shoulders above virtually all other authors of the past 100 years, start with The Universal History of Infamy. It is perhaps his most accessible work and in it, you can see the seeds begin to germinate into the flowerings such as Ficciónes and The Aleph.

El libro de los seres imaginarios/The Book of Imaginary Beings

As many of you may have noticed recently, I have mentioning a certain blind Argentine writer more and more around here. There is a reason for that, as I believe Borges to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, not just in the field of les letres belles, but also in the realm of speculative fiction. Without Borges, I cannot imagine Gene Wolfe’s labyrinthical works having that element of twisting mystery and double meaning to them. Without JLB, China Miéville might not have had the inspiration for many of the creatures that appear in the bestiary that is Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council, among other works of his. Without Borges’s subtle manipulation of Mood, Tone, and Language to create multitude of possibilities within a dreamscape, so many other writers, both Anglo-American and Latin American alike, might not have been moved to write their own works of beauty.

It is with this in mind that I checked out from the library this week El libro de los seres imaginarios (available in English translation as The Book of Imaginary Beings). The book itself is deceptively small, only 210 mass-market paperbook-sized pages with a largish font, but within are contained a plethora of stories and images to ponder.

Borges was an inveterate collector of stories, often taking them, tweaking them just enough to make them his own. As I posted here, Borges took a character from Grimmelshausen’s The Adventurous Simplicissimus and made him appear to be a vague menace, one that likely had a direct influence of Gene Wolfe’s character of the same name in the Book of the New Sun series. Or Borges would take a legend, say that of the Garuda, and make it new, something spectacular to the point that a China Miéville would consider such a creature for his Perdido Street Station.

But these are just vague references, but how about this little writing of Borges’s that appears at the end to the first edition of Miéville’s The Tain, the story of the attack from the mirror people. In this story, Borges uses sparse but very descriptive and imaginative language to convey a sense of the surreal, of the fantastic lurking beneath the mundane world in which we purportedly inhabit to the oft-denial of our imaginative selves. It is one of the more remembered short pieces of Borges and indicative of his mastery of style, which thankfully translates rather well into English from the original Spanish.

However, I’ve been talking around the book, haven’t I? In regards to what is included, imagine just about a hundred beings from satyrs to chimeras to leviathans to unicorns to banshees to krakens to basilisks to other fantastical fauna and flora from all across this globe of ours. Borges adds a bit of ‘realism’ to them, while also revealing in a few short phrases how we tended to view these ‘creatures’ and their ‘place’ in ‘our’ world. It is an amazingly subtle work that can be read on a multitude of levels – a simple bedtime story to a child to a penetrating analysis of our mythologies. It is as if Borges were but a mere presenter and we the interpreters of our own dreams.

The Book of Imaginary Beings is not a novel in the sense of a unified story. Instead, it is a collection, a true bestiary in written form. As such, it might do to read 5-10 of these 1-2 page stories a night before sleeping, perchance to dream. But however you choose to read, do read it. This is beg, borrow, or even steal territory here. So go out and get you some.

Ficciónes

“El Sur”/”The South”

The first story I read for this discussion is actually the last one in the combined edition of Ficciónes. Because Mery was curious about why I chose this particular story, I thought I would elaborate on my comments to her earlier.

The story revolves around one Juan Dahlmann, a descendent of a German immigrant and apparent heir to the fatalistic romanticism of his maternal grandfather, Francisco Flores. Enamored with the life of the gaucho, Dahlmann saves the Flores ranch among other things. One day, he is cut by the edge of a metal door and the wound becomes infected. Fever burning, images of the recently-purchased The Thousand and One Nights run through his mind (hmm… anyone want to discuss the symbolism here of this book?). Carried to a sanatorium via a hackney coach, Dahlmann soon finds himself hating his body, infected and as weak as it is at that point. Stoic in front of the doctors, he lapses into crying self-pity.

But an interesting thing happens, not only does he recover, but Borges uses an interesting phrase for it (in English): “Reality favours symmetries and slight anachronisms…” In by hackney, out by hackney, with the putrid images of disease replaced by the clean memories promised by the autumn winds. As he leaves Buenos Aires and enters the true South (a metaphorical place as much as anything physical, apparently), Dahlmann seems to come more into himself, both in thoughts and in dreams. Again The Thousand and One Nights appears, but its fantastical imaginations seem to pale in the wonders and mysteries of a life somehow restored from the brink of a death by infectious rot. Images of peace and wonder flow at this point of the story.

As he travels South (and not just merely south), Dahlmann’s perceptions alter subtly. Nothing is quite the same as it was before; things have a taste of “home,” or of whatever symbolic (or maybe even real?) virtue that is bestowed upon them by the observing person.

The train stops in advance of his ranch/estancio, but Dahlmann is ready to walk. Small adventure, nothing special, yet very at the same time, as all adventures must seem to those participating in one. Slow walking, breathing in the odors and perhaps more of the grassy, clover-filled lands about him. Again, the juxtapositioning of images with objects, creating an effect of familiar strangeness, if such an effect might be termed that. The scarlet (blood?)-colored general store being one example.

He enters a room filled with gauchos, rough and tough. As he drinks his tart red wine, a Chinese-looking gaucho flings breadcrumb spit balls at him as a sign of contempt, causing the peones to laugh at his apparent weakness. Even a cursory examination of The Thousand and One Nights doesn’t resolve anything in his mind or with the situation at hand. Realizing that he isn’t well enough to engage in a fight, he attempts to leave when the owner complicates matters by speaking aloud of the situation. Interestingly enough, he seems to know of Dahlmann’s name (what could this mean?), which makes the before-apparently anonymous insulting into something more, something akin to a direct attack upon his very name.

This forces Dahlmann, following his own code of honor (apparently gauchos, cowboys, and Appalachians are much the same in this), confronts the peones, especially the Chinese-looking gaucho, who draws his knife and challenges Dahlmann to a knife fight. Dahlmann has no knife, but an old, wizened gaucho tosses Dahlmann his knife and the fight is on.

Realizing that he is going to die, that in his condition, this is little more than justifying murder, Dahlmann feels liberated, much more than he ever did in the sanatorium. This is a death for him, perhaps the only one someone of his particular code could ever accept as “clean” and as being “real.”

***

I annotated my above lengthy summary of the story for a reason. There is much of Borges’s style that appears innocuous at first glance, but a more careful re-reading reveals certain clues (and before you ask, Mery, I also read this in Spanish, but I must write from the English edition for the others to understand) on how a reader can be led into interpreting this passage in many ways.

For those raised only in a city far away from a culture akin to that of the gauchos, this might be hard to understand – how can a man take joy in dying? Why the crying in the sanatorium? Why the difference in perceptions as one travels away/toward a destination?

I could try to answer these at some length, I suppose, but I rather not at this time, because there’s so much more worth toward people discussing these questions above.

For myself, my own understandings are colored by my own regional perspective. Although my family past is full of relatively important people (as are many people’s past), the recent past has been that of a brutal poverty that my grandparents on both sides endured. A poverty of living from one week to the next, hoping that the farm won’t be foreclosed, that the cicadas won’t emerge that year to destroy the crops, that there won’t be devastating rains out of season, that the “creek won’t rise.” Yet those adversarial conditions bred a contempt for the easy way out. Although I’m of the first generation of my family to be completely raised off the farm, I can’t help but have picked up some of that unbending attitude, of a resolution that while shit happens, one just can’t be a coward and back down. One has only one’s family and maybe friends to depend upon and songs have been written romanticizing this attitude.

So when I read of Juan Dahlmann’s journey toward a death of his own liking, I just couldn’t help but think of relatives who have refused medication in preference for just dying in a manner most befitting of them. It is not vainglorious, it is just how certain people want to live, as if choosing the manner of their death gives validity to the life that they had just lived to its (hopefully) fullest completion.

“Pierre Menard”

“Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote”/”Autor de Don Quijote” is one of my all-time favorite short stories to read, because as is so often the case with a reader considering what he/she has read from Borges, it is the reader’s own attitudes that fill in the blanks to so much of this story.

The story begins with an interesting comment about “the visible works left by this novelist.” Much can be read into this, or very little. Such a choice of emphasis. To refer to something visible is to refer not just to one’s own perceptions, but also perhaps to the biases and attitudes of those reading the writing, those who will choose to see what he or she will see in the writing, leaving the rest behind. The following reference to omissions by a partisan Calvinist newspaper serves to underscore this particular interpretation of the story, for what is truth and history but how its readers/interpreters choose to tell it? More on this later.

Menard’s background as a thinker and a writer, as provided seem to illustrate strong connections to symbolism, of the juxtapositioning of Idea/Form for Matter/Fact in such a way as to create perceptions and shadows to color the viewer/reader’s understanding of what has been apparently presented. Poetic vocabularies, ideal objects, essential metric laws, enriching the game of chess – all these are included to develop this notion of transference further.

So by the time we get to Menard’s audacious (and dare I say Quixotic?) plan to write anew the Don Quijote of Miguel Cervantes, the reader has been given the opportunity to consider just what is at stake here in this story in terms of interpreting Interpretation (among a great many other things, of course).

The various steps in Menard’s struggle are interesting. The first one (dismissed as Menard as being too easy!) is to simply become Cervantes in purposes of language, faith, actions, and understanding of world events. Yet he decides to do this new writing (note my avoidance of the term “rewrite,” for this would be a major disrespect to Menard here!) through the experiences of Pierre Menard, a totally different way of approaching the material at hand, even if the words are exactly the same.

Borges then points out (as a precursor to the ending paragraphs) a reading of Chapter XXVI of Don Quijote, which concerns “the nymphs of the rivers, mournful and humid Echo.”/”las ninfas de los ríos, la dolorosa y húmida Eco.”, which Borges ties into a line from Shakespare: “When a malignant and turbaned Turk.” Interesting choice there, especially considering how Shakespeare’s own words have taken their own lives independent of the author, his times, and of the poems/plays from which they come. And it is in this that I have chosen to interpret the story of Pierre Menard in the following fashion.

But first, a focus on another seemingly small comment. There is a reference to a philosophical fragment of the German writer Novalis which outlines the theme of total identification with a specific author. The italicized total is very key here, I believe. How do we react when we read this? Do we reject it out of hand, or maybe just a little bit subconsciously? Can we ever identify so much with anything, or do we create our own little spaces for distance, using the guises of Perception and Interpretation?

And then we get to the end part, where Borges interprets Part I, Chapter Nine of Don Quijote:

…la verdad, cuya madre es la historia, émula del tiempo, depósito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente, advertencia de lo por venir.

(…truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future.)

Both Cervantes and Menard wrote this same passage. But how do we interpret this, presuming that Menard has created anew this interesting phrase? Do we try to interpret it via the lens of the early 17th century, perhaps following Ranke’s dictum of Wie es eigentlich gewesen – How it truly was, or do we choose to understand matters as it relates to ourselves?

This passage is central here, because the narrator/Borges points out how such a passage surely must have been meant by Cervantes, just as he commentates how Menard’s phrase shows an acute understanding of Jamesian ideas regarding the origins of history, full of pragmatism, compared to the poetic rhapsodies of Cervantes’s version. One version of the Quixote might be a parody of the chivalric tales of Amadis of Gaul, the other a nihilistic destruction of the idea of Glory as being purposeful.

It is this interesting twisting of words (or is it only a seeming twisting and it’s really my own biases doing the warping here?) that fascinated me so much when I first read this story. Now having re-read it in both English and Spanish, I feel like there’s even more at stake here and that there are blind spots in my own understanding that could be fleshed out. Anyone want to weigh in with their thoughts on this story and its possible meanings/anti-meanings?

“Funes el memorioso”/”Funes, the Memorous”

“Funes, the Memorious/Funes el memorioso” is in turns an easy and exceedingly difficult story to read. A man trapped in a shell of his body, memory constant never fleeing, such a prison of the structures one makes of the world. When I read the first few pages, I almost immediately thought of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, published in 1939, of a World War I soldier who loses his arms, legs, hearing, eyesight, and voice, yet somehow miraculously lives on (Metallica wrote their famous song “One” based on the movie version of Trumbo’s controversial anti-war novel). But Borges goes a totally different path here.

As I’ve noticed when reading other stories of his, Borges leaves much to the reader’s imagination. His stories are pared down to the essential frameworks, which incidentially leaves him plenty of room to place a word in such a way as to make us consider anew what he might have meant whenever we re-read his stories.

Ireneo Funes is a difficult character to comprehend. Uruguayan, young in chronology, his life after a horrible accident is more than just a terror for many of us. Trapped, sealed within his body’s cage, Ireneo depends upon others to live. Yet the accident has caused him to have impeccable memory. But what happens when memory is all one is left and experience is taken away?

Perfect reconstructions of conversations, systems of analysis, and languages – yes, Funes is more than capable of those. But change, the moments between which we move uncertainly on our way toward life experiences and ultimately death? Funes seems to be constantly startled, viewing the world in such a way that while at first glance seems to be deep in details, in the end it merely becomes more ethereal and frail than our own forgetful memories of what we have experienced.

This was an incredibly sad tale to read. Funes almost begs for our pity, yet he is so alien as to make it very difficult for any reader to be able to understand even remotely the way he must live his life. It is as if Funes were in a dream within which he could construct a world, but outside his prison/body, he was helpless to do anything.

“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbius Tertius”

This first story of Ficciónes is also one of the longest stories that Borges ever wrote. It appears to take the form of a detective story, albeit one starring a fictional Borges and a fictional Adolfo Bioy Casares, but yet its exploration of an “encyclopedia” of a “vanished” civilization, with its rather unique semantical orderings of time and space, is rather more than what it appears. A clue appears in a footnote in the middle of the story (p. 29 in my Spanish-language edition) that references the belief that in the act of repetition, one becomes all of the so-called others who have ever done the same; one who repeats a line of Shakespeare becomes Shakespeare for at least that instant. There is no real thing as a past or a future, just vague collections or interpretations of that continuous turmoil called the “present.”

The story is one of the first to reference mirrors and the “creation” of doubles (or the “abominable” multiplication of beings) and as such, that imagery underlies much of this story. In the “discovery” of the XI volume of the Tlön Dictionary, I believe one can see in the ensuing discussion a mirroring and thus multiplication of ideas concerning the relationships between languages and realities. The Orbius Tertius is portrayed as being some sort of secret society. As the Tlön “languages” are explored, Borges confronts us with imagining one language without any nouns, only suffixes and prefixes to verbs to convey a sense of unrooted action, while another Tlön language employs only modified adjectives that describe while leaving the presumed subject forever in the background, thus making conceptualizations of most, if not all, of our philosophy impossible. How could we portray the world and our hopes and fears if there are no visible subjects/nouns?

In pondering that, Borges, I believe, has us by the short and curlies. The “postscript,” dated 7 years into the “future” of the story, reveals a possibly sinister plot by the Orbius Tertius to take over “the” world by introducing a “new” civilization, ungrounded in our concepts of reality and thus not existing in our space but in another space and time. It is this postscript where the mystery mutates and becomes something more than just a mere intellectual exercise and becomes in part (perhaps) an example of how ideas influence reality rather than reality (or the concept of it, rather) influencing ideas. And considering the time (1940) that it was written and considering the place (Argentina) where Borges formulated the notion of an “ordered reality” emerging (perhaps in response to the quasi-Fascist government in place then), perhaps there is more of the then and there to his story than what can be taken from a reading thousands of miles and many decades later. Still, it was a very enjoyable story, one that has grown more chilling with each re-read.

“Las ruinas circulares”/”The Circular Ruins”

This is one of the more dreamlike and fantastical of the stories in Ficciónes and yet one of the more straightforward ones I’ve yet to read by Borges. It is a tale of a wizard who comes to a place of circular ruins and dreams of creation. He makes a deal with Fire to have his painstakingly realistic dream of a boy come “true,” to be able to walk in this world without appearing to be any less real than them. It then continues until the “real” becomes in the end, nothing more than the dreaming of another, perhaps an allusion to the Universal Mind theory of a divine being that “dreams” all of our waking and sleeping moments, dreams of our hopes, fears, and silly goodness and earnest madness. When I read this again just now, I couldn’t help but think of Calderón de la Barca’s classic play, La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream). In miniature, many of the same motifs of that Golden Era (early 17th century Spanish theatre) appear here in Borges’ story. And one writer dreams that of another writer’s work, both becoming as real as a boy walking through flames…

The Book of Fantasy (anthology, read in English translation)

This book, full of short stories and excerpts from novels of the fantastic, consists of tales chosen by three famous Argentine writers/critics: Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares (The Invention of Morel being a work that I believe most here should read), and Bioy Casares’ wife, Silvina Ocampo. The genesis of this collection began one Buenos Aires night in 1937, when the three started to discuss tales of the supernatural or otherwise fantastic that moved them the most. Since the 1940 original edition, the work was expanded in the 1960s to reach its present length of nearly 400 pages.

I bought this book in English rather than in Spanish because roughly half of the stories available were known to Borges and his friends in either English original or translation. There are many stories that ought to be familiar to readers here, such as Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.” But there are also many South American and Asian writers that are well worth the time to read.

The stories themselves generally tend to have a heightened sense of “otherness.” The settings (or if you prefer, the “landscapes,” as Moorcock referred to him in his book on epic fantasy) are varied and almost universally vivid in its tone and effect on the characters and the story.

For those that might want to know some of my favorite authors and stories, here is a partial list:

J.G. Ballard, “The Drowned Giant”

Max Beerbohm, “Enoch Soames”

Ambrose Bierce, “The Tail of the Sphinx”

Borges, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”

Ray Bradbury, “The Golden Kite”

G.K. Chesterton, “The Tower of Babel”

Chuang Tzu, “The Dream of the Butterfly”

Julio Cortázar, “House Taken Over”

Herbert A. Giles, “The Man Who Did Not Believe in Miracles”

W.W. Jacobs, “The Monkey’s Paw”

James Joyce, “What is a Ghost?”

Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”

Emanuel Swedenborg, “A Theologian in Death”

B. Traven, “Macario”

Evelyn Waugh, “The Man Who Liked Dickens”

Oscar Wilde, “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, “The Reanimated Englishman”

Plus many, many more that were just merely pretty good.

So I would highly recommend that you do yourself a favor and look for a copy of this book, although it’s probably best to buy used online and get a good condition hardcover for around $10. It’s more than worth any money paid for it.

Biblioteca Personal/Personal Library

Borges was much more than just a writer of speculative short stories. He was also a poet and a literary critic and in Biblioteca Personal (which is available in multiple languages, including English), he had collected 76 different introductions he had written for Spanish-language editions of works from across the globe.

While reading his takes on the lives and the importance of works by authors such as Julio Cortázar or Oscar Wilde or G.K. Chesterton or Edgar Allen Poe, I couldn’t help but be struck by how insightful Borges’ comments were. In the space of a mere 2-3 pages, he would almost invariably manage to sum up why the book was worth reading, why the author was interesting/important, and why the reader ought to be paying close attention to what she/he was about to read. Critiques/reviews/introductions do not come as finely as those that Borges provides in this slim 211 page book.

Excuse me while I try, probably in vain, to resist going out to read or re-read those 76 works. That alone should say something about how effective those collected introductions were, no?

El informe de Brodie/Dr. Brodie’s Report

I finally managed to read this latter work (1970) of his in the original Spanish. For those who’ve read Ficciónes, The Aleph, or Dreamtigers and enjoyed that but thought that was about it as to what Borges “was about,” then reading a book such as Dr. Brodie’s Report might reveal a few new facets to this Argentine author’s range of styles.

The stories here are not, for the most part, metaphysical. There are not armies of doubles marching down labyrinths toting mirrors to glean out arcane knowledge. Instead, there are gang fights, violence, and a bit of devolution seen in the title story. The writing is more direct, but no less of an impact upon the reader. Borges reports, we decide – what is it that motivates us as human beings? What drives us to kill, to join up with others, to become more (or less) than what we are now?

I enjoyed reading this collection. Although individually, these stories aren’t going to have as an immediate of an impact as may a “Dreamtigers” or “Pierre Menard,” they as a whole serve to stand as a testimony that Borges had many notes that he could play to get a reader to think and to react to what was happening in the stories. Highly recommended for those who’ve already had some exposure to Borges.

La memoria de Shakespeare/Shakespeare’s Memory

I just finished reading the last-written collection of short stories that Jorge Luis Borges wrote before his 1986, collected as La memoria de Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s Memory in English translation, contained within Andrew Hurley’s omnibus translation, Collected Fictions). Written around 1983, there are only four stories contained within, but I feel like some, if not all of them, ought to be talked about in much the same fashion as his earlier stories from Ficciónes or The Aleph are discussed.

Before I did the virtual version of sitting down to write this review (having already had my tookus in park for a while), I scoured the web for reviews of Shakespeare’s Memory. They were scant, perhaps in part because at first they were only available within the omnibus Collected Fictions. Perhaps it’s because many reviewers are drawn to the first sparkles of creative light and are not willing to reflect upon the last refractions cast before the life’s sun sets eternally. Whatever the reason, I want to devote some words to two of the four stories contained within, “Blue Tigers” and the eponymous story of “Shakespeare’s Memory.”

“Blue Tigers” is that of searching too far, of having the miraculous given unto you, in the guise of stones that multiply or disappear at will. It is a story that can be viewed as a reflection upon the Almighty and all of His names, or perhaps of our attempts to make order out of things beyond our ken. It was for me a cautionary tale, with multiple possibilities, but also rather straightforward in its storytelling and language. It is not another Tlön, nor did it need to be – it was its own story, possessing a unity of voice and style that did not hearken back to an earlier tale, but instead felt more as if it were written by a more world-wise and weary Borges, one who wasn’t content with asking simply “What if?” but rather “Why this, perhaps?”

“Shakespeare’s Memory” is one of the better tales that Borges has written. It is a reflection of how the Bard has had an influence on how he’s perceived people and motives, but also a musing on how impossible it is to contain that dead man’s “memory” within that of the living, vibrant souls, regardless of how “inferior” of a talent that person might possess in comparison. It is also a tale of personality conflation, of a confused jumble of images, emotions, and loves. It is a memory to be passed on rather than kept for oneself. It is, perhaps, a personification of the transmission of literature and ideas and how they are altered and transmuted by each person in line from the past to the now-present towards the future.

These two stories, along with “August 25, 1983” and “The Rose of Paracelsus,” represent a Borges that still was continuing to probe questions about Self and Others, among other things. He just wasn’t being as whimsical about it as he might have been earlier in his writing career. It would be a grievous oversight for people to neglect his latter fictional works only in favor of the earlier work. One would miss out on the maturation process that took place through the various experimental stages. Borges was not a static stylist; his pieces have their own tunes. We just only have to open ourselves enough to consider that the old dog still had tricks to show us that he hadn’t done before his last years.

The wotmania Files: Interview with Brandon Sanderson (11/15/2005)

February 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

Before Brandon Sanderson was chosen in 2007 to complete Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, he was a first-time author. One of the members at wotmania, Bryce, contacted Sanderson and the following interview was arranged. Interesting to see how things have developed a little over 3 years later, no?

As a new author, many people are starting to discover Elantris and would love to know your story. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and how you came to be a fantasy writer?

My story starts back in junior high. I’d never really read any fantasy books, though when I’d been in grade school, I’d been a big reader. My favorite series was the “Three Investigators” books, a kind of Hardy Boys style mystery series.

Well, as I grew older, people tried to give me other books to read. Most of these were realistic fiction–the types of books that bored me out of my skull. My reading habits dribbled off, and I landed in junior high as an average student who just didn’t get through many books in a year.

Then I had a wonderful English teacher–Ms. Reader, ironically–who told me I couldn’t keep doing book reports on novels that were four grades below my reading level. Instead, she gave me her copy of Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambly. That was the beginning of the end for me! I was amazed by the book–I hadn’t realized that there were things like that out there. The book engaged my imagination to an extent none ever had. I read through every book in the Library that had “Dragon” in the title, then quickly move on to the bookstore, buying whatever fantasy I could get my hands on. I still remember when both Dragonbone Chair (by Tad Williams) and Eye of the World (by, of course, our friend Robert Jordan) came out in paperback–both books quickly hooked me as a reader, and those two became my favorite authors.

I went to college as a bio-chemistry major, but it only took me about a year to realize that I was in the wrong place. I spent all my free time writing, and eventually gave in and changed to an English major. After that, I dedicated myself to becoming an author. I learned the craft (Elantris was the sixth book I wrote) and learned the business of writing, and eventually got a contract!

As a new writer, what are some of the surprises and favorite experiences that you’ve had with Elantris?

I’d have to say one of my favorite experiences was getting the cover art for Elantris. This can be a harrowing experience for a writer–you know that the cover is going to make a big difference in your sales, and you worry about how someone will interpret your book into a visual medium.

Tor was great with me on this one. They asked my opinion, asked if there were any artists I preferred, and eventually decided to go with the artist I’d asked for to do the cover. Stephen Martiniere is his name–he’s done work for Lucas and for the Myst video game series. I think he did a brilliant job with the cover. (Irene, Tor’s art director, is a real genius when it comes to placing artists with books.)

Overall, in fact, the experience of working with my editor (Moshe Feder) my agent (Joshua Bilmes) and the whole Tor team was wonderful. In relation to your original question, I’d have to say that the most surprising thing for me was how kind and easy to work with everyone was. Authors were very considerate in reading the book to give it a potential cover quote–Orson Scott Card, David Farland, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Katherine Kurtz, Simon R. Green, and Kevin J. Anderson all read the book and gave it quotes. Pretty much everyone I asked was very accommodating.

After hearing about some horror stories about the publishing industry, I wasn’t expecting it to be as easy as it was to work through the editing process and work with everyone in the industry. After all of this, I can honestly say that I think Tor is a first-rate company.

From what we’ve seen on the internet, it looks like Elantris is receiving a great amount of praise. What was your reaction to this criticism?

Relief!

To be honest, as a new author, you really never know if your work is as good as you feel it is. Your editor and agent tell you it’s great, and your friends do the same, but honestly–how unbiased are they? Every author, I think, has a little voice inside that whispers “This book is
actually terrible, and everyone will see through you once you put it on the market. You think your book deserves to be up on those shelves with people like Asimov and Jordan?”

I realize that, in a way, my book STILL doesn’t belong on the shelves with Asimov and Jordan. Fortunately, there are only a few of them, and there is room up there for some of us who are still learning and growing. The reaction to Elantris has been nothing less than astounding–and humbling at the same time. My agent told me not to expect any foreign sales on my first book. We’ve sold in ten different foreign markets now. My editor warned that the review markets might overlook a book by a new, unimportant author. We got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and got very favorable reviews in Locus, the Library Journal, and Booklist.

And, of course, there’s the praise on message boards and blogs. In all honesty, this is what means the most. Some authors write to be remembered, some to win awards. I just want to tell good stories. That’s the beginning and the end of my aspirations. I want people to read my books and get that same excited, wonderful feeling that I got when reading Dragonsbane as a teenage boy. That sense of being taken to another place, of meeting people who feel real, and of seeing things that you’ve never seen before. When readers pick up my book and feel that it was worth the time and money they spent on it, then I feel vindicated in all the years I spent trying to get published.

What is your method for writing? Do you have a daily schedule? Are the novels planned well in advance, or do you let story take shape as you write?

I think a daily schedule is very important for writers. When I was working to get published, the thing I did was get a job working graveyard shifts at a local hotel. That way, I could go to school full time, work full time, and still have plenty of time to write. By doing that, I built a schedule for myself–I went to work every night, checked people into the hotel, and by about midnight things were quiet enough to sit down and work on my novels. I wrote for four or five hours, every night, and then did my other work for the hotel.

This got me into the habit of writing. People ask me how I managed to write thirteen novels before I finally managed to sell one (as I’ve noted, it was my sixth.) It’s because I had good habits. Writing was what I loved, and so doing it so much became second nature to me. Even now, if I’m not making significant progress on my current book, I start to feel anxious. I need to be writing!

I do make outlines. Plotting is one of those things that is difficult to explain. Not because I don’t know what I do, but because I can’t ever be certain that my method will be useful to another person. The thing is, everyone works in different ways. For some, a very strict outline is essential. For others, writing a book without an outline is necessary, for this gives them the freedom to discover what they really want to write while they’re writing it.

I’ve found that people who outline a lot spend more time up front planning. People who discover their story by writing it spend more time at the end revising. It tends to even out. The danger for the outliner, however, is that they sometimes plan so long that they never get to their story. On the flip side, it’s just as easy to spend so long revising certain sections of your story that you never get around to finishing it–so the other method can be dangerous as well.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s often very useful to try different things, and discover what works best. And, what works best is generally whatever keeps you writing and finishing things!

Anyway, here’s my method. I tend to lean a little bit more toward the ‘outliner’ side than the ‘reviser’ side of things. I like to know where I’m going. I, personally, can’t start a story until I know what the ending is. To me, that would be like starting a trip without knowing
your destination!

So, I always plan a good climax first. Then, as I’m pondering a story, I begin to pick out very important or interesting scenes. These could be climactic confrontations, moments of great character growth, or simply beautiful setting images that I want to portray. These ‘super-scenes’ will develop in my mind to the point that I’ve almost got them completely written before I put pen to paper. (Or, uh, fingers to keyboard.)

Once I have some of these scenes, and I have an ending, I decide where my beginning is. Sometimes, this is obvious. (The beginning is often one of the super-scenes.) But, if it isn’t, I try to start in a place of great motion–something has to be happening. Important events are afoot. I always tell newer authors to be wary of starting their stories too long before important things start happening!

Now I’ve got a beginning, an ending, and a smattering of scenes. I place the scenes in order, and they kind of become my destination points. It’s like a trip–I know I’m starting in LA, and I want to get to New York. I also know I want to pass through Denver, Chicago, and Boston. So, I begin building an outline. What do I have to do to take me from the beginning to the first super-scene? What character growth has to happen? What clues need to be discovered? All of these things go as bullet points on my outline beneath the ‘part one’ section heading. Then, I take myself from super-scene one to super-scene two. What needs to happen here?

I build an outline that way. After I’ve got ten or so bullet points for each section (one point roughly being a scene or chapter) I’m ready to start writing!

Also, I’m assuming that you’re LDS. I could be wrong, but you teach at BYU, right? We were wondering if it would be possible to ask a question about how your religion and values influence the way that you write. I thought this was an interesting question, having just finished R. Scott Bakker’s first book . If you want to answer this question, feel free. If not, don’t worry about it.

No problem at all! This is the type of question that I like, since it forces me out of dry “how to write” mode and gets me talking about more personal things.

I am indeed LDS. I would be lying if I said that my philosophies on life, including my religious philosophy, didn’t influence my writing. Who we are as writers dictates inherently which kinds of conflicts we choose to put in our books, and how our story deals with them.

That said, I come down with Tolkien (and against C. S. Lewis) on the side of the debate about the didactic nature of stories. I don’t think that fiction–in most cases–should be written in order to perform some agenda, even if that agenda is to make people into better people. That undermines the story–to me, the most important thing about the book needs to be the story, and not a group of morals an author decides his readers need to learn.

So, while I deal with issues I think are important and valuable, I don’t intentionally put any sort of moralistic themes into my books. Being religious myself, I tend to deal with religious conflicts because they interest me. Those who have read Elantris realize that my antagonist is a very religious man. I did this not because I had a moral to prove in saving him, nor did I do it to show that any particular kind of religion is evil–I did it because his internal conflict fascinated me. What would a man do if his conscience disagreed with his religion? How would he react if he were told to do something terrible, but knew something even more terrible would happen if he didn’t follow orders?

In the end, I think it comes down to being true to your characters. One of the characters I enjoyed writing the most was an atheist. I knew from the start that I couldn’t put her into the novel just to have some warm-fuzzy of a conversion story–if that were her purpose, I’d not only be betraying the character, but insulting any of my readers who shared her philosophy on life. So, I worked hard to read up on the atheist worldview, and tried to present her arguments–where appropriate in the story–as forcefully and logically as possible.

Some people have told me that a side-effect of my religion is that my books tend to be inherently optimistic. I tend to write characters that are optimistic, even when they get thrown into terrible situations. I can look at it and see that they might be right, though this was never my intention. However, I guess that it really is true that you can look at an author’s soul through his writing.

When you said that you spent time working at a hotel in order to write during the nights, I had to laugh. I work nights at the Holiday Inn right now, and I tend to use that time to ponder writing and do a few things for wotmania as well. Quite the coincidence, no?

Perhaps. However, I notice that creative people I know have a singular aversion to ‘real’ work. We try and find people who will pay us to do our own thing, even if that requires us to sit at a desk over night!

Speaking of writing and what influences your style of writing, what advice would you give to aspiring writers? What important lessons have you learned that could help us (speaking for all aspiring writers at the site) to get published and generally write a better novel?

Well, lets see if I can get some quick ones down. First off, I’ll talk about writing, then I’ll give a few tips on getting published.

1) Write what you love! I believe that passion shows through in writing, and it is very important that you feel passionate about the subject you choose. Don’t switch from SF to fantasy just because fantasy seems to be selling well at the moment. Excellence will always get published–and I believe that passion has a lot to do with excellence.

2) Write something original. Don’t write what you’ve seen before. Try and capture the same feel of something you’ve read and loved without writing that same story. You do this, in my opinion, by experimenting a lot with setting, magic, and worldbuidling concepts. What was it you really liked about Tolkien? Was that he had elves and dwarves, or was it that he created new cultures that felt real?

3) Keep reading, and read a lot in a all genres to give you a broad basis of ideas.

Now, unfortunately, I’m going to have to contradict myself. See, here’s the thing–writing is a very strange job. You have to be one-half artist, and one-half realist. So, you need to have a professional mindset as well as an artistic one.

1) Write what you love, but if you love several things, write the one that will sell. If you’re a really creative person, you’ll often have a lot of ideas. Some of those ideas will be more marketable than others. Those should probably take priority.

2) Be original, but don’t be too wacky. Breaking conventions is all well and good, but you need to understand the business side of marketing. The sales department is going to know what genre sticker to slap on your book. If they can’t, they have a very tough time selling it. So, before you write, decide what about your book is going to be innovative, and what is going to be familiar. (And, if you do happen to write a brilliant western, fantasy, comedy, dark gothic romance hybrid. Just tell the editors it’s a historical fantasy and let them figure out the rest on their own.)

Just as a note, I think this, actually, is one of the best things Jordan did with Eye of the World. He was creative and clever, yet still managed to write an epic fantasy with many of the traditional elements. The books that sell, I believe, are the ones that walk the line between the familiar and the original. They have something old to love, but also something new to discover.

3) Read around in all genres, but pay attention to what is selling. Read first novels by new authors (hint hint) and see what the editors are buying. (In other words, find out which editors bought those books and which agents represented them.) It comes down to learning the business side of publishing, and learning the tastes of the different editors. You don’t have to write toward those tastes, but you improve your chances drastically if you can place your manuscripts on the desks of the editors who seem to like books similar to the ones you write.

About the WFC last weekend. Did you get to meet any authors that you previously hadn’t talked to? We heard that there was some talk about R. Scott Bakker and his goings on at the WFC. How was WFC, and what role did you play there?

I got to WFC late, missing the first day and most of the panels on the second because of a booksigning in another state. So I had a fairly low profile at this con. I went to the parties Saturday night, then hit the banquet on Sunday. I did meet several people I hadn’t before–I got to talk to David Drake and Jim Frenkel at the banquet, and they were both very courteous and nice to a newcomer like me.

I’d say, however, that the last author I was really star struck to meet was Robin Hobb, who sat next to me at a booksigning at Nasfic this year. She’s one of my favorite authors, and one of the best things about being in this business is that I can actually sit next to her and feel–a little bit–like I belong there. It’s a weird feeling. (Don’t worry about my humility though–that was well restored when I had all of three people come get books signed by me, while she had quite the line. She deserves it!)

Elantris is a stand alone novel, which really excites many people here who don’t prefer to get into a long series before it’s well underway. You do, however, have a series planned, correct? What can you tell us about that series? Number of books, date of release, brief description, etc.

Well, if you insist. . .

First, let me say that I love having written a stand alone. I always wanted my first published novel to be a stand alone because I felt that was a much better way to introduce myself to a readership. Nothing annoys me more than looking through a bookshelf, wanting to try a new author, and only finding “Book one of this series” or “Book one of that series.” Not knowing the author, I don’t want to get bogged down by a trilogy (especially one that isn’t done yet) without having confidence that the author can tell a good story.

So, that’s why I don’t plan on a sequel to Elantris right now. I won’t say it will never happen, but it probably won’t be any time soon.

That said, however, I also love to read in a series. A trilogy of books give a reader more time to know the characters, and lets them return to a world they love and find familiar. A lot of my favorite books are part of a series. However, I told myself I wouldn’t let my series go on forever. I don’t have Mr. Jordan’s weight to throw around! I decided, then, that I would write only three books in the Mistborn series, with each book standing alone fairly well. That way, I could go on to another project, and worldbuild something new. (Which is one of my favorite parts of this process.)

So, the new series is called The Mistborn Trilogy. Book one, Mistborn, will be out in June of 2006 from Tor, and they plan to release the other two at nine month intervals. (Getting them out quickly so people don’t have to wait too long! And, don’t worry. The first two books are already turned in, so I promise that they’ll come out on time.)

Mistborn came from two concepts. First, I was watching the movie Ocean’s Eleven, and realized that some of my favorite movies (Sneakers, The Italian Job) were centered around a team of specialized thieves pulling off incredible feats. I wondered why nobody had done this in fantasy. So, I built a magic system with sixteen specialized parts, and came up with a team of underground con-artists who each specialize in one or more of these aspects of the magic system.

The second inspiration for the book came from the weight of fantasy novels I’d read when I was younger. It seemed to me that so many of them were the stories of a young peasant hero who went off to fight some powerful dark lord. I wondered what would happen if. . .well, the dark lord won. What if he squished that little peasant, as probably should have happened in all of those stories?

So, Mistborn takes place in a world where the dark lord won. A thousand years ago, a prophesied hero rose up to fight the evil power, and got abjectly defeated. Now, a millennium later, our little team of thieves is annoyed. Their prophesies failed, and the world has become a dark place where ash falls from the sky and most of humankind is enslaved. Our heroes, lead by a charismatic man with the powers of a Mistborn, decided that they’re going to take down the dark lord their own way–by stealing all of his money then bribing his own armies away from him.

Of course, they get involved with much, much more than they expected, as the story a thousand years ago isn’t quite as simple as everyone believes. (Sample chapters will be up on my website beginning in January!)

Last, but certainly not least, if you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Well, I would certainly hope that they would, indeed, be monkey midgets, rather than just one or the other. I would have an infinite number of them, of course, because then they could produce fantasy novels for me in iambic pentameter while I swung in my hammock and ruled over my unending simian empire.

Great interview, huh? For those of you curious to know more about how others have received Elantris, check out the reviews section. And Sanderson has also provided commentary on the chapters in Elantris, so feel free to check those out here.

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