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Cover for The Wounded Land

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 of 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.

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Cover for A Dark and Hungry God Arises

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 and 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.

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Lord Mhoram's Victory and The Power that Preserves

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!"

There is another dramatic scene etched into the collective nerd brain of my generation. It is the most dramatic, most heroic, chapter of my childhood: Lord Mhoram's Victory.

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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.

Review, Crime Fiction

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Cover to Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap Into Vision

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.

Review, Science Fiction

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Cover of The Illearth War

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.

Review, Fantasy

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A man in a frightened boxing pose.

Violence, Fear, Hate, and the Modern Student

Modern martial art students separate their martial art training from the rest of their life. Compartmentalizing it as an activity that they share with people they barely know. They go to work, watch television, attend events and family outings without integrating or considering their martial art practice, it is just another activity on a full schedule.

This was not the way for students in the past. Martial art training was one aspect of an individual’s education. Reading, writing, studying the classics of philosophy, history, and medicine were all taught with the martial forms.

Those times were different. Institutions resembling modern police were rare and were often worse than the criminals. Hospitals were rarer still; the notion of an ambulance coming to carry you to a doctor after an injury wasn’t even a dream.

Training, Violence, Essay, Tai Chi

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Cover of The Real Story

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.

Review, Science Fiction

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Cover for Lord Foul's Bane

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.

Review, Fantasy

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Children of Time cover

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.

Review, Science Fiction

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Cover of The Good Girl

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.

Review, Suspense

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New Novella in the Fiction Section

The first week of January I sat down to write a short story about Ryan Jameson. It quickly grew into a larger project than I expected. The result is Special Correspondents Lottery, a novella length tale of how Ryan Jameson found his way to the Santa Maria and in the center of the biggest event in human history. I have published it in five parts in the Shorts section of this website. Enjoy.

Science Fiction, Short Story

Copyright Troy Williams & The Walking Circle LLC