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A Dark and Hungry God Arises

How much can humanity consume? Earth is a solitary realm. She has a long past, most of it devoid of humanity. Thanks to plate tectonics and the unique chemical ability of sediment and stone to record images of Earth's past, we know that other creatures once roamed the plains and forests, or swam the deep oceans of our world. The Kansas prairie is full of fossils from the Permian geologic period. This was a key time in our evolutionary history. The diversification of amniotes into mammals, turtles, lepidosaurs, and archosaurs was a key to our evolution. But 250 million years ago, something happened—a runaway greenhouse effect caused by an explosion of methane in the atmosphere—that caused nearly all life on Earth to vanish. It took 30 million years for Earth's ecosystems to recover.

In A Dark and Hungry God Arises the third book in Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap Cycle humanity stands at the door of an extinction event that comes from the deep dark of space. In this book we get closer to the real story promised us in the first book of The Gap Cycle. Morn Hyland's crisis aboard Captain's Fancy becomes an existential fear of genetic mutilation by the Amnion. A personal horror that all of humanity faces if the UMCP cannot prevent it.

The story unfolds on Billingate, a space station where humans and Amnion trade secrets and currency for profit, pleasure, and power. At Billingate we are re-introduced to Angus Thermopyle who has become a welded cyborg under the control of Hashi Lebwol and Warden Dios. As a tool for the UMCP Angus has a singular mission; destroy Billingate, even if that means sacrificing Morn Hyland and the crew of Captain's Fancy in the process.

Children of Time

Spiders and ants and human beings, Oh My! Adrian Tchaikovsky massive work of science fiction won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Novel. An award it deserved. This book is an important work for science fiction fans missing the fanciful, yet probable, speculation Arthur C. Clarke made famous. Children of Time both accepts the hard science of space travel and challenges your understanding of intelligence and awareness.

Reviews of Children of Time put it in the hard SF genre. I am not a fan of hard SF. I find it boring. The endless speculation of characters turns into pages of exposition to support the fanciful ideas of the author. Clouded story arcs vanish beneath the weight.

When a good story breaks through the speculative science, I find that physics and time preoccupy the genre at the expense of biology. Stories span thousands of years, but through magic hibernation chambers or trippy time dilation, characters do not age, or age in a manner somehow unimportant to their psyche or the story arc. Folding space might be impossible, but I used it in The Fundamentals because preserving a body in a hibernation chamber for thousands of years is impossible. Now consider Children of Time.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Journey

Do you know the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition? It is an epic tale that challenges biblical fables. So much so, that the crew of the Endurance survives is the least amazing fact of the story.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage is an example of storytelling at its finest. It could have been just another retelling of Shackleton's ill-fated Trans-Antarctic Expedition, instead it becomes a story about the crew of the Endurance, and how they managed as a team on the ice of the world's most isolated continent. Alfred Lansing's writing is simple and unadorned. He recounts the tale of the ill-fated expedition using the diary entries of the ship's crew. Lansing weaves these individual diary entries into a complete narration of the events between December 22, 1914 and August 30, 1916. We get a picture of not only the man who lead the expedition, but the incredible crew that accompanied him.

Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap Into Vision

Before the Internet, I did not read book reviews. Professional reviewers—those paid to churn out a weekly summary of the latest media—tend toward promotional hype when the product is from their corporate overloads to sanctimony when the product is from a competitor. For science fiction, professional reviewers are especially complicit. The dullest, drawn out, unstories get five-stars while the exciting, mind-bending, stuff is never reviewed. The Internet has magnified the disease to a condition as accepted as pimples.

I used to choose books by their dust jacket summary and scanning the first, middle, and last chapters. A “New York Times Bestseller” sticker never swayed me to read a book. Most of the “sold” copies required to get such a sticker are sitting at the bottom of bargain-bins, unread.

My reason for scanning the middle and last chapters of a book is to identify the writer’s style, and to determine whether an actual story lies between the covers. Given a six-foot shelf of books, most are aimless blather. Those are easy to identify when you can scan the middle and last chapters. If you can’t spot a plot progression from ten or so paragraphs in the middle and end of a book, it is not worth reading.

Hile Troy! The Illearth War

Hile Troy! Just kidding. Hile Troy, the character introduced in Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Illearth War is one of my favorite fantasy fiction characters. Sure, the name helps, but it’s his story arc that fascinates me.

Hile Troy, like Covenant, is summoned to the Land through the same magic that started the story. But his arrival was a mistake. Atiaran, (the woman that led Covenant to Revelstone in Lord Foul’s Bane) in an act of despair, attempted to call Covenenat to the Land. Whether to get revenge for the rape of her daughter, or to save the Land is unclear because she is consumed by the power of the summoning.

The Lords of Revelstone, being Lords, do not share these facts with Hile Troy, a blind man. Like Covenant, Troy was damaged before his arrival to the Land. He was born blind. When hurtloam, the magic healing mud of the Land, cures Troy of his blindness, he follows a different path than Covenant. He chooses to save the Land from Lord Foul.

Linux Trip - Introduction

April was winding down, and Cinco de Mayo was right around the corner. In Kansas, the weather can go from bitter cold to hot in late April and this year was no exception. I was looking for a distraction from the cold. I looked through my long Someday list in my planner and decided that it was time to try Ubuntu Linux.

I rummaged through closets looking for my old MacBook Pro. An Intel dual core unit with the RAM maxed out; I figured it would be a safe machine for a Linux install. Turns out my wife had the laptop at the office. Her laptop had died several months ago, and she had used this machine as a backup while her laptop was in the shop. By the end of the week she had brought it home, and when she left the house to spend time with friends, I decided it was time for me to geek out. With the house and the Smart-TV to myself, I settled in for a cold spring's night of hacking.

Linux Trip – The Motive

With my geek-out weekend ending I had a working installation of Linux Mint with the MATE desktop, and I was unhappy with it. My reasons for looking at Linux were simple, I was tired of the increasingly closed garden Apple was creating. I came to Apple because I knew the new OS X was a solid OS built on a fine pedigree of open source software.

I stayed because projects like Fink and MacPorts made grabbing the latest open source projects ridiculously easy. It was a good mix of stable, working, programs that let me get my day-today tasks finished without any headaches, yet I could take a dive deep into geekdom when I wanted to.

When the iPod became a huge hit, I looked like a genius to my friends and family for making the move to Apple when everyone else thought they were dead.

Lord Foul's Bane

I come to this review in a crisis. While chasing my dream of writing science fiction, I forgot my age. Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant lit my desire to write. I found Lord Foul's Bane in the school library, a paperback fantasy on a shelf full of dusty, hard-covered tombs. Lord Foul's Bane entered my world at another crisis point; high school. The story of a man rejected by his world was the life of every thin high school nerd in the early eighties.

I devoured The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Donaldson's writing was a revelation. He ignored that tired advice of the simple word is better. Lord Foul's Bane forced me to read with a dictionary nearby. I loved it. With every beat of a sentence I thought to myself, I want to write like this.

I tried, but divorce and households emptied of joy marred my transition from childhood to independence. A journey made more difficult by parents that were unable or unwilling to help. American culture is fertile ground for such stories. My story spans thirty years before I sat down to finish my fist science fiction novel.

Lord Mhoram's Victory and The Power that Preserves

A few dramatic scenes are etched onto the consciousness of the collected public. From cinema there is Indiana Jones running from a boulder only to land at the feet of his rival, or Lawrence crossing a desert on a camel. From television there is the intro to MASH, or Kramer entering Seinfeld’s apartment. “Neuman!” From literature there is the white whale sinking the Pequod, or Gandalf standing on the Bridge of Khazad-dum declaring that the Balrog “shall not pass!”

When I took a date to The Lord of the Rings movie, I discovered that last one was not yet etched into everyone’s consciousness. For my generation, Gandalf, Frodo, and Samwise were reserved for the nerds. So, when I said, “you shall not pass,” to someone who cut me off at the snack line, she didn’t get it. When I whispered, “Balrog” at the beginning of the most dramatic scene in The Lord of the Rings, she was clueless. But when we left the movie, and I was opening her car door, she raised her hands as if holding a staff and exclaimed, “You shall not pass!”

Another dramatic scene etched into the collective nerd brain of my generation is the most dramatic, most heroic, chapter of my childhood: Lord Mhoram’s Victory.

On Writing Well

This book has become mantras I recite as I edit my work. I first turned to it when I worked for Cargill. After ten years in retail, I was rusty on the basics of a good paragraph. When you are heads down on a project, struggling with how to say it, the advice in this book grounds you to what is important; pulling weeds.

The Collected Works of Arthur C. Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey was boring. There I said it. I know you were thinking it. After the chimpanzees smash bones to Thus Spoke Zarathustra there is about a hundred minutes of nothing until we get to, "Open the pod bay doors," followed by a light show that requires the high of psychedelics to be appreciated.

That 2001 was boring did not stop it from becoming the most influential film made in my lifetime. The accurate (1968 accurate) depiction of space flight with ships matching rotation and a Pan Am stewardesses clomping along in gravity boots were a needed reality check to Star Trek's Enterprise and Lost in Space's Styrofoam sets.

Whenever my monopoly-controlled internet connection fails, and Alexa cannot turn off my bedroom lights or tell me the time, I am reminded of Arthur C. Clarke's vision and that glowing eye of Hal. (Hal is not a Wake Word for Alexa because the false positives generated by a single syllable sound).

(Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL died on the day I started writing this post. Like Arthur C. Clarke, his best work was not 2001: A Space Odyssey. For 32 seasons Douglas Rain played Shakespeare's most intriguing and iconic characters for Stratford Festival, but HAL is how he will be remembered).

The Extraditionist

I grabbed The Extraditionist as a Prime Early Access Deal. I was looking for something outside my diet of science-fiction and fantasy. I figured a good crime novel was the way to go. I might have been right, this was just the wrong novel.

This is supposed to be a novel about a drug lawyer—they call them Extraditionist south of the equator—that is all slime but is looking for a way out. He needs one more score, and he will stop with his murdering, drug dealing, clients to live on a beach somewhere. A standard criminal wants out storyline.

The problem is that Todd Merer chose to trap us inside the head of Benn Bluestone (yes two Ns), and aside from the first person, stream-of-consciousness narrator telling me he wants out, I would be hard pressed to believe it. In fact, Benn—or is it Todd—enjoys wasting pages of copy describing an expensive lawyer's lifestyle. Most of this novel is Benn getting in a car, getting on a plane, sleeping on a plane, getting off a plane, getting in a car, driving by stuff, thinking about his ex-wife, entering a prison, and meeting a bad guy. The characters grunt two words at each other and then our over-payed lawyer exits a prison, thinks about his past, drives by stuff, gets out of a car, goes to a hotel, gets drunk, maybe not, gets in a car, gets on a plane, and ends up back in New York. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The Good Girl

Here is another book I would have skimmed over or missed because the story is told with first-person narration. Lucky for me, Audible was giving it away as part of their Twentieth Anniversary Celebration.

By lucky, I mean lucky-ish. By the end of the fourth or fifth chapter I knew how the story would end. It might have gone differently, I might have been kept in suspense, but once again a good author hoisted her story on its petard with the first-person narrative style.

I know, I bitch about this all the time. I promise, when I write a review about The Handmaid's Tale, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I will praise their expert use of the first-person, until then we have tropes, cliché’s, and The Good Girl.

The Nature of Evil, or The Wounded Land

What is Evil? Does it exist? When you speak about the world, do you define an act, a person, or a group as evil? I have called Donald Trump Lord Foul since the 2016 Republican National Convention, by association am I calling him evil? If evil does not exist, then what is that quality we identify as evil? Is evil a treatable sickness, disease, or mental condition? The question of evil is a foundation for good fiction. Science fiction and fantasy fiction settings provide a rich playground to study the question. Is a race of mammals that eats other mammals evil? Orc eats human, human eats pig; evil depends on your perspective.

The Wounded Land, the first book in The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, introduces Linden Avery. She is the most tortured of Stephen R. Donaldson's characters. As a doctor, she has a certain self-assurance that no matter what situation, what disease, or injury she encounters, she has the training and the equipment to treat her patient. Short of those things, she relies on the institutions she belongs to for support. Then she meets a beggar in the driveway to Haven Farm.

Like Covenant before her, the creator of the Land tests Linden Avery. The beggar dies, his heart stops, and Linden does what she is trained to do; she tries to save his life. His breath is foul making CPR a disgusting process, but she does not relent. She cannot go for help, she struggles to the save the beggar, and she fails; her strength fades and she collapses. When she looks up the beggar is standing, he helps her to her feet, hugs her, and vanishes into the sunset.

The Real Story

The first time I finished The Real Story I was tired from a stressful day at work. I had curled myself against a stack of pillows with my dog sleeping in the crook behind my legs. The plan was to read a couple of chapters, then turn-in early. The thirteenth chapter spoiled my plans.

Nick bowed gracefully but didn't move. "On the contrary, Captain Thermo-pile." Except for his scars, his expression was bland. "I'm in no hurry at all. Please"--he gestured expansively--"after you."

His gaze and his bow and his gesture were all aimed at Morn.

"There-mop-a-lee," Angus retorted. "Ther-mop-a-lee. Get it right Succorso."

Suddenly, the story had changed, again. From those nine sentences, I realized that the real story was yet to be told. I plunged into the task of finishing the book like it was the deep-end of a pool. I finished that night, itching for the next book in the series.

Time Enough for Love

I have started this task of reviewing every book I have read since childhood. It is a ridiculous notion. I can’t remember every book I have read. Just now, I thought of one; a bear, and I am pretty sure an otter, have an adventure or two (no it’s not what you’re thinking). I think it was a series. I loved the books, but they were paperback, and I trashed them in a fit of organization. Still, I am an author now. The Fundamentals is moving to publication, and as for sharing my love of the written word I have been mum.

Reviewing my list, I decided that grouping the historical works by author would save time. Another problem with dredging up memories of old books is the desire to read them again before putting a finger to the keyboard. No problem, I have decided to cheat. I will piece together recollections from what others have said and make up the rest.

Copyright Troy Williams & The Walking Circle LLC