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Dreams and the White Gold Wielder

As children all we have dreams. As infants we lack income, property, and choice and we are fragile and slow to grow compared to the rest of the natural world. As soon as we achieve enough independence to think and wander on our own, society dictates we get an education, attend church or temple, or at least recognize a higher power. Unable to chart our own course, dreams are all that remain.

When I was a child, daydreaming was a sin. A protestant farming community expects the children to contribute. I suppose it is better than the alternative; running and hiding from predators. Never mind that the daydreamers created the civilization and society that now shunned them.

I was a rebel. I daydreamed at every opportunity. A simple garden stake became a great overland vehicle that brought technology and hope to a post-apapolptic world. A broken frisbee became an orbital platform where the wise retreated from a barbaric horde. A left over sheet of parchment paper became a map to a world where men transformed themselves into dragons and forbid you to love.

I had many seeds to my daydreams. Stephen R. Donaldson was one who fed my imagination with his anti-hero Thomas Covenant. Like Covenant, I did not belong to the small puritanical community where I lived. When I didn’t—or couldn’t—participate in the activities the community considered important, they called me a faggot, threatened, and beat me. I had a refrain that saved me; Be true.

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This Day All Gods Die

What life is valuable? More precisely, whose life is valuable? Is your life more valuable than mine? Does your position, title, salary, or family relationship make your contribution to this small planet more valuable than mine?

This is not a small question. We ask it in fiction yet ignore it in reality. On this globe, everyday decisions have determined that some lives are more valuable than others.

Last month the powerful cyclone Idai took aim at Mozambique. It promised to be one of the deadliest storms in history, yet I heard nothing about it. Trump being a spoiled brat had plenty of news. The 2020 Presidential field saw nightly coverage. A self-centered egoist faking his attack in downtown Chicago got wall-to-wall coverage.

I first heard of Idai slamming into Mozambique on BBC World Service. I listen to World Service every night as I go to sleep. It is the most consistent and reliable source of news I have found.

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Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Keith Hobson’s -126th Birthday

I do not celebrate birthdays. Despite the convention, you have only one. All days after that are living days. The particular orbit of our planet around the sun has nothing to do with age. Age is biological. If our planet orbited at the distance of Uranus, most of us would never celebrate a birthday. Worse than the birthday celebration for the living is the need to celebrate a birthday for someone dead. As an orbital celebration shouldn’t it be their deathday we celebrate?

Social custom is social custom. For this April Fool’s day, I decided to play along and celebrate the -126-year birthday of Keith Hobson. You read that right, the minus 126-year birthday of Keith Hobson. To be born on April 1, 2145 Keith will witness humanities devastation and play an important role in its revival.

(The  events in The Fundamentals happen 125 years after the Arabian impact. Symmetry dictates that I wait till next year, but screw symmetry.) 

Keith Hobson meets Erin Smart--Keith's View was not cut from The Fundamentals, but it is missing. This is Keith’s and Erin’s first meeting told from Keith’s point of view. When editing the final version of The Fundamentals I found that I had a few chapters told from minor character viewpoints. That was important for me to understand the story; I had to get inside their heads, but it was not important to telling the story. So, the linked scene was altered to Erin’s viewpoint.

If you have not read The Fundamentals, there are a few spoilers here, but nothing plot shattering. That we have a stranded alien trying to save his human daughter is the tagline of the novel. That Keith Hobson is a telepath who can control electronic equipment with a thought is a spoiler.

Fuck, now I have spoiled the spoiler.

Regardless, this is an interesting look into story development. Reading it two years after it was written, I am surprised how well the scene survived my final edits.

Read Keith Hobson meets Erin Smart - Keith's View in the Shorts Section.

 

The Long Shadow of The One Tree

Have you been locked in an emotion or a feeling for weeks while ignoring events around you? Have you looked up to find that it is a fresh spring day, the birds are chirping, and the air is crisp against your skin, then wonder how you missed it? That is what reading The One Tree is like. It is a deep dive into the character of Linden Avery, a character who never sees the spring day, or understands the events around her because the bitterness of her past consumes her.

The One Tree—more so than the books that went before it—shows the flaw in Stephen R. Donaldson's writing. Here, at last, I can agree with those that say there is never anything good about Donaldson's characters. Seen primarily through the eyes of Linden Avery, her miserable past, her inability to experience joy, weighs down this epic tale.

The One Tree is not a bad book. I celebrated with the giant crew of Starfare's Gem as they set sail on a quest to find the legendary tree of the Staff of Law. I devoured the description the Elohim's island and thrilled to every gut churning event at Bhrathairain Harbor. But The One Tree—and much of White Gold Wielder that follows—is like grinding through a video game before the next boss challenge. Every page is laden with the dark moods of either Linden Avery or Thomas Covenant—who happens to be absent for most of the story.

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Cover for Chaos and Order: The Gap Into Madness

Chaos and Order and Theme and Madness

Those real-people reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have difficulty finding themes in The Gap Cycle; imagining a more clueless lot is difficult for me. At the end of The Real Story Stephen R. Donaldson summarized his intent, his themes and—in broad strokes—outlined the story he prepared. The Gap Cycle is not an attempt to mimic the Wagnerian epic of Der Ring des Nibelungen, but it is about the moral conflict between humanity’s desire to survive as an individual or as a group. From The Real Story:

My original intentions were explicitly archetypal. What I had in mind was an aesthetically perfect variation on the basic three-sided story: the story in which a Victim (Morn), a Villain (Angus), and a Rescuer (Nick) all change roles. (This, incidentally, is the essential difference between melodrama and drama. Melodrama presents a Victim, a Villain, and a Rescuer.)

But that was not the real story, that intent needed to conflict with another, earlier desire of Donaldson's:

My intentions were conceptual rather than literal. I wasn’t interested in simply retelling the story of Wotan’s doomed struggle to preserve the power of the gods in the face of pressure from giants, dwarves, and humankind. Rather I wanted to create an analogue which would allow me to explore the same themes and exigencies on my own terms. Most particularly, I was fascinated by Wotan himself, who finds that an understanding of his own power leads to the destruction of that power, as well as of himself and everything he represents; even more, that an understanding of his power leads him to will his own destruction.

Review, Science Fiction

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Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Mother's Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Other cultures have harvest celebrations, but the tone of an American Thanksgiving is unique to history. I drafted this essay after the September 11 terrorist attack, while the Iraq war was still young, and the Afghanistan conflict had failed to capture or kill the 911 masterminds. I meant to publish it once, on my blog, then took it down when the theme felt tired.

I have edited this work for exposition, tone, and theme annually hoping I would capture the mood of our nation as we endure this extended weekend. I rejected my work every year till this. The result is that the angst I felt over the undoing of civility the 911 attack ushered in is gone. Missing is a paragraph lamenting the loss American, Afghanistan, and Iraqi mothers must feel at wars fought over theological ideals that lack humanity. Some angst of separation is still here, hints that modern connected society lacks connection. Cleared of those old notions, the result is short, simple, and heartwarming.

Photo of relish tray abundance from Dan Gold (@danielcgold) at Unsplash Dan Gold

Children in America cannot escape the holiday season. A series of events that culminate in a week off school between Christmas and New Years. The start of this season is the next-to-last Thursday in November. On this date, parents toss their children from bed at an early hour—for a no-school-day—and order them dressed in their Sunday best.

Essay

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A young Arthur C. Clarke

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).

Review, Science Fiction, Science

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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 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.

Review, Fantasy, Evil

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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 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.

Review, Science Fiction

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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.

Review, Fantasy

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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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Copyright Troy Williams & The Walking Circle LLC