Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Defying Hitler - Sebastian Haffner

There's a reason why the UK History channel is approximately 24 hours a day of wall-to-wall Nazi documentaries - Hitler sells. The rise of the Nazis exerts a horrible fascination; it's hard to fathom how a decent and progressive nation could suddenly become complicit in horrific acts of genocide. Sebastian Haffner's personal account, written shortly before the outbreak of WW2, takes a long hard look at the German psyche in the years between the wars, and exactly what it was that caused the country to buckle before the extremists.

Haffner's perspective on the subject is a very interesting one - a young Prussian lawyer who grew up during WW1, he was exactly the type of young patriot that swelled the ranks of the Nazi party in its early days; in fact, he'd even been in the forerunner to the Hitler Youth. In the circumstances, you might expect him to be bending over backwards to deny his involvement with all things evil, and demonstrate his own high moral standing, but in fact he is very honest about his own cowardice in his lack of opposition to the new regime. Though the book's title is Defying Hitler, there's very little defiance going on, as Haffner describes the national reaction to the dictatorship as everyone simply putting their fingers in their ears and going "la la la", almost literally, and hoping that it would all get better soon.

The timeframe in which the book was written also gives us a different viewpoint - the impending war was seen as inevitable, but of course the outcome was not, and the daily realities of life under the Nazis were something that Haffner could too easily envisage continuing unchecked forever. One of the most striking and disturbing features of this narrative is the breakdown of law and the undercurrent of terror that it produces - when the thugs are in charge and you have no legal recourse, then resistance becomes much harder than you'd imagine.

Haffner gives us an intimate portrait of the German national mentality in the twenties and thirties, and describes how the road to WW2 was just the natural continuation of one laid down in WW1, or the Great War as he still calls it. While the style is somewhat dated (long, wordy sentences being standard in that era) the book is very easy to read and sheds a fascinating light on a terrible period in history. Highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shameless self-promotion

It's amazing what you can find in charity shops. A few years ago, for less than a pound, I picked up a brilliant book of WW1 propaganda called The War Illustrated. It's a collection of magazines that were published weekly from August 1914, and has all the things you'd expect to see from that era - trenches, airships, prototype submarines and bare-faced hypocrisy, as the editorial copy rages against the dastardly lies of the enemy while telling exactly the same lies themselves. I thought it would be fun to get this put up on the web for all the world to see, so I'll be posting weekly updates on my new blog at http://the-war-illustrated.blogspot.com, not coincidentally on the same dates that the magazines themselves were published. If you're at all interested in that sort of thing, then please pop over and have a look.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dragon Master Trilogy - Chris Bunch

Storm of Wings
Knighthood of the Dragon
The Last Battle

In six words: mining lad becomes dragonrider, saves kingdom. This is exactly the kind of no-frills fantasy adventure that you'd expect from a series called Dragon Master - it's the Boy's Own Adventure school of writing, with a hero, some dragons and a lot of battles. Characterisation and even worldbuilding go by the board in favour of a blow-by-blow account of the war and our hero's rise through the ranks. You'd think that all this would earn the book a low score, but I actually really enjoyed it.

The plot is about as straightforward as they come. Hal Kailas is our hero, and we first meet him as a young boy dreaming of riding a dragon. Dragons are quite new to the world and no-one's really mastered dragon-taming yet, but when war breaks out between three neighbouring countries, the art of military dragonriding starts to become much more important. Hal is pressed into the army and eventually ends up in the dragon squad; through hard work and sound tactics he rises to positions of leadership, and avoids getting killed by the foolish strategies of the out-of-touch High Command... you know the sort of thing. There are few surprises, and thankfully few deus ex machinas too (in the first two books at least) - even Hal's uncanny ability to come up with winning tactics is based on his actual military experience and his previous failures.

The parallels with World War One are obvious, with dragons taking the place of the fledgling aeroplane technology - there's daring aeronauts, entrenched battles, over-the-top propaganda and even a Red Baron-like honourable-nemesis character on the enemy side; Bunch also slips in a sneaky Catch-22 reference. There is no Evil Dark Lord on the opposing team, just an ambitious and expansionist monarchy, which gives this a refreshingly low-fantasy feel; there is a certain amount of magic used, but it's nowhere near the centre of the story. This tale is all about the soldiering - looking after your mates, being tough in the face of adversity, making hard decisions, etc etc - and in that respect it works very well.

Characterisation is the series' biggest failing - Hal himself is the only one who achieves more than one dimension, and that only barely. His fellow dragonriders and other companions are reduced to cardboard cut-outs with one characteristic each - one is an ex-lord, one is an ex-sailor, one is a bully, one has a funny accent. Whether it is from this lack of character or from a particularly bad choice of names, I find it very difficult to remember what any of these minor players are called, even after reading about them for a thousand pages. The prose is workmanlike rather than actively bad - nothing fancy, it's just a tool for telling the story, though some of the choices of slang words are slightly bizarre (they include modern or exotic words like "heinie" and "wahine", which look out of place in the fantasy setting).

In the same way that soldier Hal has trouble with civilian life, Bunch also seems a bit lost in the third book about the war's aftermath, which contains more magic in than he can sensibly handle. However, it's still the same sort of story, and doesn't detract from the earlier books. This is much like the fantasy equivalent of Walter Jon Williams's Dread Empire's Fall trilogy - basic and unpretentious fare, that doesn't try to be anything special, and does a decent job of telling a simple story. If all you want is a series of battles, mild politicking, grim but amiable soldiers and a dash of heroism, you could do a lot worse than this trilogy.


The Name of the Truth

'My name is Richard, pronounced nearly the same as “Dick.” I have had more names than any man has a right to.

My mother used to call me her Special Little Trouper. It made me feel warm inside. My father often referred to me as Mistake. Honestly, I’m not really sure what that one meant. I have been called Richard the Great, Richard the Terrible, Richard the Cruel, Mein Fuhrer, Eater of Cats, and Bringer of Death. I have earned those names.

I have been called many other things. Most of them, however, were slanderous lies. I have rescued a princess from being almost-raped by a Namble, decapitated kings, appropriated an empire, and learned magic without any formal training.

You may have heard of me.

You have to understand, I grew up Enema Rahl. If you’re not familiar, the Enema Rahl are troupes that travel town to town preaching the virtues of objectivism to the simple backwater fools who lack the refinement of the morally enlightened. Charged by out patron, Lord Tori Greatfellow, we roamed the countryside, educating the ignorant. Giving them the knowledge necessary to choose how to live a proper way of life. Our way of life.

My parents were both Enema Rahl. Because of this, the only schooling I had received, was those same teachings that was our mission to spread. All a man needs really. It was an average childhood, and I was an average boy.

I did have other teachers. Those with proper moral clarity often traveled with the troupe, it being safer than on taking to the road alone. Strangely most of them seemed not to like me, and quickly left our company, opting instead to travel with ignorant savages spouting their heretical jibber-jabber.

One summer we had a Boundary Warden rogue wanderer named Chase travel with our troupe. To occupy idle hours he would teach me basic woodscraft. The first week of his stay was focused on foraging skills. We would walk through the forest nights after the troupe had set up camp, and he’d point out which plants were safe for consumption and which were not. After having poisoned my self near enough fifty times, we came to the conclusion that foraging just wasn’t my forte. The next week he began to teach me to set snares to catch rabbits instead. Encouraged that I had managed to poison myself only four times in that next week, we made this the primary focus of my study.

He taught me other things out in the forests too. Chase was a gentle man, for the most part at least. But his hand were heavily calloused, which sometimes made his touch abbraisive to my pale, tender skin.

By the end of the summer, when Chase left our company, I had decent grasp on snare making. I could set traps with moderate success. To say things like “decent grasp” and “moderate success,” I mean that of every ten traps that I would set, one or two might actually work as intended. What more could any one expect more? But despite my superior skill, I couldn’t help but to think of all those traps that weren’t successful.

I could just imagine all those rabbits… Springing my traps, then easily slipping out of the rope. I could hear their quiet condescending bunny laughter as they sprinted away to safety. It made me angry. Not just your average sort of angry. An intense frothing rage would well up inside of me searching for escape. At first, I would have no release but to cry. I often wept long hours in the woods alone.

Admittedly, not all of it was over the escaped rabbits. I missed Chase fiercly. The remembrance of his rough hands. The soft breeze of his breath brushing against my ear along with the sound of his grunts of pleasure. I’ve never known another man like him. None with his… prowess.

I didn’t take long for me to find a proper outlet for my wrath. If the fugitive rabbits were mocking at me, then I’d have to make the ones that didn’t get away pay that much more for their cousin’s ridicule. I never did anything too elaborate. I wasn’t being cruel or torturing them for the just fun of it. This was justice. My methods were simple and basic. Mostly, I’d burn of a few patches of fur to warm up. Then I’d cut of their hind legs and watch them try futilely to crawl away. All the while I’d be standing over them, the mighty hand of righteousness come to cleanse them of their sins. When I’d tired of it, I’d generally eat them. The feel of their little bodies squirming as the power of my jaws crushed the last traces of life. The warmth of their blood dribbling down my chin… Fond memories all. Of course, there were times when, while in an especially dark mood, I might have been a little more elaborate with their punishments. But that is not really the point.

It wasn’t always rabbits either. Occasionally, I might catch a squirrel or a chipmunk. It didn’t matter. Their being a different breed didn’t make them any less guilty. But, again, this is beside the point.

When the troupe was not on the road, when we were visiting a village, hunting got somewhat sparse. To make up for the lack of rabbits, I found that the town’s resident alley cats served equally well. By and large, they were even much easier prey. All I ever had to do was hold out a hand filled with a little meat, and they come scampering right up to me. They were fools.

Perhaps that’s how I came by the name Eater of Cats. I might have been called Eater of Rabbits, but that there were seldom any other people on the roads to witness my dominion.


I spotted my father, George, who was also the leader of our troupe, in conversation with the town’s mayor. My father was a tall man. He was taller than most men, but not as tall as some. He was taller than the mayor with whom he was speaking. As he spoke with the mayor, the rest of the troupe was busy setting up for the upcoming reprogramming seminars.

He looked down on the mayor and said, “We’re Enema Rahl, and we demand the use of the town hall to preach the ways of objectivism to all of the heathens that live in this town. It is mandatory that ever one attend our seminars.”

The mayor, groveling, agreed to his demands. He was a smart man. He could have refused us. Or course, he knew that doing so would be choosing death. And that his death would be served forthwith.

“We are honored to finally have your divine guidance. This town has been left to its own devices for too long. It’s about time someone came to mend their evil ways. You are most welcome. Anything that you may require is my pleasure to attend” the mayor finished, looking nervously at my father.

My father laughed. I laughed. The mayor laughed. Everybody laughed.

After we had finished laughing, I went to explore the town. Maybe I would chance upon a cat for some fun. It was at point that I hear a commotion in a nearby courtyard. Wandering over to investigate, I hid behind a building to see what the disturbance was all about. There was the mayor again. This time he was talking with a bent, white haired old man wearing long flowing robes.

“… we are god-fearing folks in this town. We don’t need your kind around here meddling with dark forces better left alone.” I heard, coming late to the conversation.

“Bags!” uttered the old man. “I have a right to sell my wares, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He gave the mayor a stern look. “Bags!” he said again for good measure.

The mayor reached out toward the old man. At that moment, with a small gesture, the lamps on the old man’s wagons started to glow. A simple trick, but the mayor couldn’t have known that. He backed away slowly, properly intimidated. That seemed to be the end of it.

I positioned myself for a better look. I could then make out the writings on the side of his wagon.

Zabbenthy: Magicker Extraordinary
Horoscopes, Prophesies, Fortunes Told
Hexes, Curses, People Turned Into Toads
Love potions, Handcuffs, “Marital Aides”

Just then, a mob of villagers stormed into the courtyard, led by the mayor. Armed only with their immoral hatred for moral clarity, they assailed the old man, Zabbenthy. It was a frightening scene to behold.

“We don’t appreciate your kind around here!” the mayor screamed. The crowd behind him grumbled their assent.

“And what kind is that exactly?” Zabbenthy answered.

The entire company exploded at once into erratic chants. Shouting “Witch!” and “Dark powers better left alone.”

A nervous sweat trickled down my back. The old man was in a seriously volatile situation. I worried for his safety. Not because I had any particular attachment to him, or any sympathy for his position. It seemed to me that I could make some use out of him before the villagers tied him to a steak to burn.

Zabbenthy puffed himself up indignantly. “A witch? Bags!” He paused a moment in thought, then continued. “I don’t understand. Are you trying to get rid of me because I meddle with dark powers better left alone, or do you only want to insult me by calling me a girl?”

“What?” was all the mayor could say. He stared at Zabbenthy with confusion writ on his face.

“Well, bags! Witches are girls. Boys are wizards. So what it is? Am I a girl or am I a wizard?”

A moment of hesitation, then the villagers exploded with a roar of, “Wizard!”

At that, Zabbenthy solemnly raised his hands, and in an almost song-like voice, “For your insolence, I shall steal all of your penises. I will take them, and sell them for pennies in other towns. If they are big enough even for beggars to interested in.”

Zabbenthy muttered one last word under his breath, so low as to be inaudible even to my highly tuned ears. At that, the villagers’ all grasps their crotches in a panic. Whatever Zabbenthy had said, put the truth to his words. Their penises were gone. Suddenly I realized he had spoken the name of the truth.

This was magic. Real magic. It wasn’t the type of magic that some inept writer might use in a fantasy novel. Not the type of magic that ham-fisted authors use as a crutch because they lack the ability to explore important human themes. Such books are used only to entertain children and some intellectually immature adults. This isn’t one of those stories. I was witnessing real, honest magic.

I stood dumbstruck as the villagers dispersed, desperate to flee the mad wizard, the man meddling with dark powers better left alone, who had taken their manhood.

From where I was standing, I could see the Great Serpent Guilder Ring glistening on his finger that proved him a graduate of the University of Prophets. I briefly considered asking him to teach me magic. Of course, that would have been a foolish request. I didn’t need anybody to teach me magic. If you can perform magic, then you will inherently know how. Real magic doesn’t require instruction, only ability.

Standing there, considering my position, I watched as Zabbenthy walked around to the goats tied to pull his wagon. “Bags!” he complained. Pulling a handful of oats from a sack, he fed the goats. Then proceeded to produce a veritable feast for him self. It was enough food to satisfy my entire troupe. He devoured it all, barely taking the time to chew. The food was gone in the little time it took me to cross the courtyard. “Bags and double bags!” he grumbled again.

Searching for something appropriate to say, I approached his wagon. “Can you sell me something?” I asked lamely.

“Bags! What would you like to buy?” was his response.

“I don’t know… I don’t actually have any money.”

“Hmmm… let me see what I have then…” He rummaged through his wagon for a few minutes. Eventually he returned carrying a long slender wrapped bundle. As he stripped away the blankets that were being used to protect it, slowly I realized what he was holding.

“A sword!” I shouted in wonder.

“Well, aren’t you the clever lad. Yes, a sword.” He said. “Bags! But not just any old sword.” He chose his words carefully. “This is a magic sword. And not some silly storybook magic that you might find in fantasy tales. This is a real magic sword, without a hint of being some cheap contrived plot device.” He, at last, finished.

I could tell that he had spoken in earnest as clearly as I could read the word “TRUTH” that was wound in copper and lead wire across the hilt. Zabbenthy tried to pass it off as gold and silver, but I wasn’t fooled. Even still, it was a generous gift.

“But giving me this would be an act of charity.” I complained. “We are Enema Rahl, and as such, categorically opposed to any unearned considerations.”

“Bags!” he replied. “But you have earned it. This is your due reward for helping me stave off those ignorant bumpkins just now.”

He was right. I had been a great help. Without my assistance he might not have been able to overcome them.

As I took the sword, Zabenthy ominously intoned, “I hereby pronounce you Speaker of Truth.” He then finished off with a right and proper, “Bags!”

I drew the sword. For miles around, everyone could hear the distinctive whine it made leaving the scabbard. My thing rose, and I instantly felt a flood of anger welling up inside of me. It was a fury so powerful that it filled every inch of my body. This was a pure rage, the likes of which I have never before experienced. This newfound power ached for release. I surveyed the area for someone to dispense my fury upon. All of the villagers had fled. There was no one nearby.

Needing to unleash this destructive force somehow, I walked up to the nearest tree. With a powerful swing, my muscles corded with the energy of justice, I clove the tree clean in half. It fell limply to the ground, defeated. Evil murderous trees always infuriated me.

This small act wasn’t enough to satisfy me for long, so I swiftly returned the sword to it sheathe, quenching the pulse of righteousness.

Walking back to the Enema Rahl encampment, I thought to myself: This day marks the beginning of my destiny. It was at that moment that I named myself Bringer of Death.

- Muttering Bill

The Chicken-that-is-not-a-chicken drawing contest

- Zap Rowsdower
Earlier this week, Zap announced a chicken-that-is-not-a-chicken drawing contest. The results are now in...

Honourable Mentions (pinched from elsewhere)

- whelp

- The Wolf Maid
Fourth Place:
Looks like this image is missing at the moment, I'll try to track it down
- word
Bronze Medal:

- Jaxom 1974
Silver Medal

Gold Medal

- Tes'thesula

The Grand Prize:

Stalked by the BNP?

That's the Banque Nationale de Paris, not our homegrown bunch of evil racists. According to my counter stats, this bank has been hitting my site every half hour for the past few days with a regularity that suggests automation. Why on earth would a French bank need such regular updates from a book review blog? Can anyone shed any light on this? I mean, it makes my hit count look great, but it's just a little bit weird...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Iron Dragon's Daughter - Michael Swanwick

This is another book from the Fantasy Masterworks collection, and is one of the most original fantasy stories I've read in a while. It's got a changeling human girl abducted off to Fairyland; it's got sentient metal dragons armed with stealth technology and electronic pulse weaponry; it's got shoplifting teenage elves and midwinter sacrifices; it's got sex and violence and a whole lot more. Too often, authors inserting modern tropes into a fantasy setting adopt a Pratchett-esque jokey tone, diminishing the world's believability on the way, but here Swanwick plays it entirely straight for maximum strangeness, and it works extremely well.

The story's focus is Jane, the changeling, whose life we follow from the hellish dragon-factory of her childhood, through her days as a misfit in school and college, to the culmination of the dragon's destructive plan. The plot, such as it is, is mostly the development of Jane's character as she grows tough and callous enough to survive in her dark fairytale world; lacking a conventional storyline, the book has an odd and incomplete feel, but this also makes Jane's life seem more accessible, in the same way that real life doesn't have a storyline either.

As a work of imagination, this is an awesome achievement - the juxtaposition of the various tropes from fantasy, science fiction and the real world is a constant delight, and I've always loved dark fairy tales. The lack of a real story meant that my visit to Swanwick's world felt more like aimless tourist wanderings than a purposeful quest, but the details of Jane's day-to-day life were engaging and different enough to hold my interest, and the darker happenings gave it a real edge. I can see that this book might not appeal to everybody, but for a very different type of fantasy, I'd definitely recommend it.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

Do people even make compilation tapes any more? The balance of songs, the running order, the relevance of the lyrics to your state of mind or the person you're making the tape for... in these times of downloadable MP3s and random playlists, it's becoming a lost art. Nick Hornby would understand. High Fidelity's main character, Rob, is a record-shop proprietor and rather elitist muso, who firmly believes that a good record collection is the only worthwhile mark of character, and that a well-made compilation tape is the ultimate seduction technique. He's now got another chance to test this strategy, as his long-term girlfriend Laura has just dumped him.

My genius, if I can call it that, is to combine a whole load of averageness into one compact frame. I'd say that there were millions like me, but there aren't, really: lots of blokes have impeccable music taste but don't read, lots of blokes read but are really fat, lots of blokes are sympathetic to feminism but have stupid beards, lots of blokes have a Woody Allen sense of humour but look like Woody Allen. Lots of blokes drink too much, lots of blokes behave stupidly when they drive cars, lots of blokes get into fights, or show off about money, or take drugs. I don't do any of those things, really; if I do OK with women it's not because of the virtues I have, but because of the shadows I don't have.

Hornby does a great job of showing us Rob's character - nerdy, self-absorbed and a bit of an arsehole, but still quite a decent guy who you're mostly rooting for. The chatty and readable first-person narrative takes us through Rob's recollections of his past girlfriends and his attempts to find a pattern in why they all dumped him, as well as his current problems with his dead-end life, his interfering mother, and his burning jealousy over Laura's new man. In terms of structure, this is exactly the kind of story you'd expect from a '90s British comedy film - we meet the eccentric characters, a few funny things happen, then something serious happens, then it all sort of works out for the feelgood ending - but as '90s British comedy goes, it's very entertaining, and it's hard to read without a smile on your face. Good summer reading.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Empire of Bones - Liz Williams

I've had this book kicking around in the house for a few years now, but have only just gotten around to reading it - quite a common fate for books that I didn't spend my own money on. In this case, it was a hand-me-down from Robert Rankin, who used to be a friend of ours, and had been given it by Williams herself at a meeting of local authors; he never reads fiction, so I got to nab it. It's a short but ambitious near-future SF story with the premise that human life is the result of long-ago genetic colonisation by an alien society, and that the aliens now believe us ready to resume contact. The contactee is Jaya, an outlawed guerilla leader and prophetess from India's Untouchable caste, whose class-warfare backstory mirrors the strict caste system on the alien homeworld; there is also a parallel storyline set amongst the aliens, where inter-caste conflict is threatening the survival of the Earth project, as well as the lives of our alien protagonists.

The plot is well constructed, with the two plotlines nicely complementing each other and mirroring the theme of resistance to the social order, but unfortunately the writing isn't brilliant. Despite Williams's bold attempts to give the aliens real alien-ness with their hierarchy and pheromonal communication, their motivations are all too human - with the driving factors of jealousy, greed and petty social climbing, it looks like just Earth-based political scheming in fancy dress. Similarly, I was never entirely convinced by the portrayal of the future India, and Jaya's too-rapid journey from magician's daughter to Bandit Queen to intergalactic ambassador seemed to be missing more than a few steps.

Character-wise, the only one developed beyond two dimensions is Jaya; the rest remain ciphers for pushing the plot forward. The bad guys, both alien and human, are particularly flat, and seem to just be Bad for the sake of it. The grand ideas of the plot serve to conceal a shallowness elsewhere in the book, in particular a superficial worldview that needs to look a bit harder at itself. Jaya's strong female character is undermined by the storylines of the alien female courtesan, whose every chapter seemed to end with a cheesy girl-in-peril cliffhanger (she gets almost raped by a mindless beast/almost eaten by a carnivorous house/forced to distract a guard by having sex with him, etc); the condemnation of paternalistic colonial masters sits uneasily with the book's rather Western portrayal of India as a backward country full of superstitions.

The view of India, despite the whiff of patronage, was obviously based on some thorough research; the rest of the book rather less so. The scientist in me is standing up and screaming at the suggestions of alien interference in human evolution and the effect of pheromones on human behaviour; the linguist is puzzled by a Japanese man being named "Naran". Sometimes I'm happy to accept hand-waving pseudo-science in my SF, but the closer to home it comes, the harder it gets to maintain the balance, and here it just crosses the line and breaks into my disbelief. As a reasonably entertaining bit of SF fluff this just about works, but it falls short of its ambition, and a believable near-future social-comment first-contact story it's really not.


Essays on the Sword of Truth

Yep, we don't just make jokes about evil chickens, rising things and spine-ripping action. Here are a few of the more serious analyses of Goodkind's writing (thanks to WLU for sourcing them all - head to the ASoIaF forum if you need context or want to discuss...)

On Not Feeding the Yeard

To my fellow lemmings of discord (if I can be counted among that heady group):

There has to be a way from either a) actually causing people to read the books or b) Goodkind getting some sort of benefit or satisfaction from it. I can think of two possible solutions.

1) Have people sign a 'Yeard pledge', where if they are going to read the threads, they must promise they will never read the books, or at the least never buy them new.

2) Everyone who ends up reading the books as a result of this forum must write a letter to Goodkind. The letter must detail how much they loved his world building, cool magic system and awesum combat-writing skillz, but wished he would spend less time focussing on Richard's speeches and all that boring talking. Then go on to detail how the books could be turned into a wikid vidje game, and how the books are even better when you read them while on drugs that you purchased only from pushers who have killed a baby. Or terrorists. Finish with a discussion of the role-playing game you are writing based on the Sword of Truth world. Explain that the Sword of Truth itself is a +5 vorpal blade with optional colour-changing and cool-sound making enhancements. Try to find a fat guy to sweat on the pages. The p.s. should be how mad you are that Robert Jordan keeps ripping Goodkind off.

If we're lucky, he'll die of an aneurysm before publishing Confessor.



On Richard's Character

A page or so ago we were talking about whether Richard would have been as homicidal as he turned out to be if he had never fallen into Denna’s clutches. I posted a snipped from Wizard’s First Rule before he was taken prisoner by Denna in order to prove that he was always pretty crazy.

However, I suppose you could make the argument that it is the Sword of Truth’s magic that makes Richard thirst for blood. I recall one instance in the story where Zedd explained to Kahlan that before Richard took up the Sword of Truth that he was as “gentle as a lamb.”

Frankly, that is untrue. Zedd’s “gentle as a lamb” statement is what is called an “informed attribute.” Jabootu defines an informed attribute as:

When a character displays a mediocre or even inept level of skill in some discipline (anything from dancing to writing to fighting), yet we are shown other characters lauding their talents. This is to signal the audience that, at least in the universe presented in the film, these people are to be considered as highly proficient at their craft, however much this belies the evidence of our eyes and/or ears. EXAMPLE: When we watch actor ‘Frankie Fane’ chew up the scenery in The Oscar, yet learn through dialog that his performance was considered to be skilled. Informed Attributes can also pertain to non-apparent character traits, as when one character notes another’s purportedly high intelligence or sexual magnetism.

I think that description fits Zedd’s “gentle as a lamb” line in Goodkind’s books. However, I would add that even if Richard’s homicidal aggression is not an inherent part of his personality from the get-go, Richard would have still made all the brutal, bloodthirsty decisions and actions he has made throughout the book.

Because, you see, there is at least one aspect of Richard’s personality that definitely cannot be attributed to the Sword’s magic, or Denna’s 70 page long torture session.

Richard’s planet sized egomania. I have not read all the books so far, but the ones I have read never mentioned all consuming selfishness as one of the side effects of using magic. No, Richard brings his egomania to the table himself. He can’t lay the blame at anyone else’s door.

And it is his egomania which prevents him from seeing anyone or anything that does not conform to his view of reality as his enemy. And because Richard associates everything good, noble, and true with himself, Richard must conclude that if someone is his enemy, he must be utterly evil. And, anything evil must be utterly destroyed.

Richard’s short temper certainly exasperates issues, but in the end it is Richard’s belief that he is the center of the Universe that makes him truly a monster.

Let me give you just a brief example of his narcissism from the thirds book, Blood of the Fold. Before I set the scene, you need to understand what a “devotion” is. You see, over in D’Hara, to honor their Lord Rahl, every day the D’Harans chant:

Master Rahl guide us. Master Rahl teach us. Master Rahl protect us. In your light we thrive. In your mercy we are sheltered. In your wisdom we are humbled. We live only to serve. Our lives are yours.

And they keep on chanting this same refrain for two hours each day.

Richard and a bunch of D’haran’s have just been attacked by a bunch of eeeevil beasties straight from Fantasy Book Central Casting. Richard had been having trouble convincing the D’haran’s that he was their new Master Rahl, since he had killed his father, Darken Rahl. Well, Richard rips through the evil beasties like shit through a goose and that apparently impresses the D’Haran’s enough and they acknowledge Richard as their new Lord and Savior. However, the monsters managed to kill a couple of Richard’s bodyguard’s and in order to honor their sacrifice-well just read for yourself…

[extract from Blood of the Fold]
With a sickening wheeze, the air left her lungs for the last time. Her sightless eyes started up at him.

Richard drew her limb body to himself as he wept, a despairing response at being powerless to undo what had happened. Gratch put a claw tenderly to her back and Cara a hand to his.

“I didn’t want any of you to die. Dear spirits, I didn’t"

Raina squeezed his shoulder. “We know, Lord Rahl. That is why we must protect you.”

“We’ll give her a proper D’Haran funeral, Lord Rahl.” General Reibisch, standing beside him, gestured toward the table. “Along with Edwards.”

Richard squeezed his eyes closed and said a prayer to the good spirits to watch over Hally’s sprit [sic], and then he stood.

“After the devotion.”

The general squinted one eye. “Lord Rahl?”

“She fought for me. She died trying to protect me. Before she’s put to rest, I want her spirit to see that it was to a purpose. This afternoon, after the devotion, Hally and [Edwards] will be put to rest.”

Cara leaned close and whispered. “Lord Rahl; full devotions are done in D’Hara, but not in the field. In the field, one reflection… is customary.”

“I don’t care what you have done in the past. This day there will be a full devotion, here, in Aydindril. Tomorrow, you may go back to custom. Today, all D’Harans in and around the city will do a full devotion.”

The general’s fingers fidgeted at his beard. “Lord Rahl, there are a great many troops in the area. They must all be notified and-”

“I’m not interested in excuses… If you cannot accomplish this task, then do not expect me to have faith that you can accomplish the rest.”

General Reibish…turned back to Richard and clapped a fist over his heart. “On my word as a soldier in the service of D’Hara, the steel against steel, it will be as Lord Rahl commands. This afternoon all D’Harans will be honored to do a full devotion to the new Master Rahl.”

Soooooooo… to honor the death of two people who died protecting you, you are going to have all your troops kneel and scrape on the ground and chant your name for two hours straight. Gee, how thoughtful of you Richard.

When I first read this I was reminded of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer almost forgets Marge’s birthday. He frantically looks around town for a gift. In the end he buys a new bowling ball fitted to his hand, knowing that since Marge doesn’t bowl, she will likely give the ball back to him. So in essence Homer buys a bowling ball for himself on his wife’s birthday.

Selfish. Selfish. Selfish.

One more point to add in support of my arguments that Richard was already screwed up before he got the sword. Zedd explained that the Sword of Truth could not be handed off to just anyone. It was the job of the First Wizard (Zedd) to find the one person who was capable of wielding the Sword of Truth in the proper manner. If you read between the lines, it seems clear to me that the only possible people who can wield the Sword are self-righteous, narcissistic, bloodthirsty morons.

Does that description fit anyone we know? In other words, being psychotic is a prerequisite for wielding the Sword and Richard was just about the only person with enough bats in his belfry that Zedd could give the Sword too.

- Zap Rowsdower

On reading the entire series

Actually, this is what spawned (at least) my supreme dislike of our dear TG...I started reading his books when I was younger, thought they were alright...SotF came out, and I was not impressed. My friends and I agreed that it was ridiculous, and the only interesting part was the pseudo-grey baddie Dalton Campbell. Then came Pillars of Creation, which fundamentally changed how I viewed SoT, and made me realize certain things.

1. I was only reading the books solely based on the fact that I had already invested both time and money in them. After reading about 200 pages into it, I flipped through the book looking for the words "Richard" or "Rahl", because I really didn't enjoy the Jennsen/Oba storylines, and just wanted the book to progress the story (basically, SotF seemed like a sidebar, and I wanted TG to shit or get off of the pot with advancing the plot).

2. I co-bought Naked Empire with my roommate (we both no longer wanted to spend the full price of the books, after PoC), and this was good because the book was a huge hunk of shit: up until FotF, the books at least seemed to push forward with the main storyline. SotF and NE both seemed like rewrites of FotF, with corrupt democracy and peace-loving hippies substituted in for commies (Richard goes into a nation, they are stereotypes, he makes some long fucking speeches).

3. I believe I read Chainfire from the library: it seemed to advance the plot, but the speech-to-story ratio had gone up. Haven't touched Phantom yet (may get it from the library over the summer, before Confessor rears its ugly head, and chase it with a few bottles of bourbon), and it's not very high on my priority list.

I really didn't care much one way or the other until TG's whole "people who stopped reading my books are children, anyone who doesn't like my books are death-choosers" remarks, and the original incursion by a nameless idiot onto another message board, who made a ton of stupid comments regarding people (among them, myself) who don't like SoT.

I know I have carte blanche when it comes to my opinions, and since I did in fact feed the Yeard in the past, I think I have a right to express my discontentment with the shit he put out onto a page. As for people who say "Oh, you don't have to read it...you're obsessing about something that you hate", I say "Fuck you, I walked off that cliff already, and anytime I can dissuade someone else from doing the same, I will."

After all, if a perfect stranger came up to me and said "I heard this milkshake made out of shit is great, should I try it?", I would knock it out of their hands. I'd even go so far as to post preemptive warnings about said milkshakes, and let everyone know that "Hey, I sort of liked the first flavors of milkshakes that Yeardi Queen put out. But the fecal content just gets worse, and regardless of the people who say that the shit tastes just like chocolate, you probably should not poison yourself with it."

- VigoTheCarpathian

On Darken Rahl's Evil Plan

Something has been bothering me for a long time. Ever since I first read “Wizard’s First Rule,” there was one scene that I never really understood. I must have re-read the scene at least a dozen times, but I’ve never been able to really make sense of it.

I have been haunted ever since.

Self doubt has gnawed away at me for years until I have finally reached this point. In order to exorcise the demons of confusion and discord Tairy afflicted me with so long ago I want to set up the scene for you exactly as it was set up in the book and see if it makes sense to any of you.

You see my problem is this- when I read the scene, it just doesn’t make any sense at all. I’ve squinted my eyes and tilted my head but to no avail: this scene seems totally ludicrous no matter how many times I read it. I asked myself: is Terry Goodkind smarter than me? Maybe Terry’s thinking is so sublime, that it is on a completely different intellectual plane.

It starts about on page 140 of my paperback copy of “Wizard’s First Rule,” so those of you who have the book in your possession can reread it yourself and verify that I am not imagining anything.

Let me set the stage. Richard has just saved Kahlan’s life and taken her to Zedd in order to seek his help in order to save the Midlands from Darken Rahl. Zedd, Kahlan, and Richard are interrupted however, by an angry mob. There have been a lot of strange goings on recently such as a two headed calf being born. The mob accuses Zedd of being a witch because they’ve all seen him doing amazing, inexplicable things over the years.

Zedd manages to defuse the situation using a pretty stupid bit of deception that I won’t go into. As the mob disperses Zedd informs Kahlan and Richard that something is wrong:

[extract from Wizard's First Rule]
Zedd stood with his hands on his bony hips, watching the men go. “Idiots,” he muttered under his breach. It was dark. The only light came from the front window of the house behind them, and Richard could barely see Zedd’s face, but he could see it well enough to see he wasn’t smiling. “My friends,” the old man said, “that was a stew stirred by a hidden hand.”

[Snip. Snip. Snip.]

“As I said, this was a stew stirred by a hidden hand, the hand of Darken Rahl. But he has made a mistake tonight; it is a mistake to use insufficient force to finish the job. In so doing, you give your enemy a second chance. That is the lesson I want you to learn. Learn it well; you may not get a second chance when your time comes.”

Richard frowned. “I wonder why he did it then?”

Zedd shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe because he doesn’t have enough power in this land yet, but then it also was a mistake to try, because it only served to warn us.”

They started toward the door. There was a lot of work to do before they could sleep. Richard began going through the list in his head but was distracted by an odd feeling.

Suddenly, realization washed over him like cold water. Richard inhaled in a gasp. He spun around, his eyes wide, and grabbed a fistful of Zedd’s robes.

“We have to get out of here! Right now!”


“Zedd! Darken Rahl isn’t stupid! [Debatable] He wants us to feel safe, to feel confident! He knew we were smart eough to beat those men, one way or another. In fact he wanted us to, so we would sit around congratulating ourselves while he comes for us himself. He doesn’t fear you- you said he’s stronger than a wizard- he doesn’t fear the sword, and he doesn’t fear Kahlan.. He’s on his way here right now! His plan is to get us all at the same time, right now, this very night! He hasn’t made a mistake, this was his plan. You said it yourself, sometimes a trick is better than magic. That’s what he’s doing; this was all a trick to distract us!”

Kahlan’s face went white. “Zedd, Richard is right. This is how Rahl thinks, the mark of his way. He likes to do things in a manner you do not expect. We have to get out of here this very minute.”

“Bags! I have been an old fool! You are right. We must leave now, but I can’t leave without my rock.”

OK. Let me try and sort out this mess once and for all and maybe give my tortured brain peace at last.

"That was a stew stirred by a hidden hand." First of all, nothing in the angry mob confrontation scene indicates that this is the case. As far as I can tell, Zedd weaves this conclusion together out of thin air. Nothing about the mob indicated that they had been either possessed by Darken Rahl’s magic or had been simply been tricked by Darken into attacking Zedd. The mob is there because Zedd possesses strange powers and there have been strange and evil goings on in that region of the Westland. So, it seems the only thing the mob actually did was to reason that since Zedd had strange powers he might be the one responsible for their current problems. Frankly, this does not seem like an incredibly large intuitive leap. I fail to see how Zedd can justify his whole “stew stirring” comment. Christ, Zedd doesn’t even give us “I felt a disturbance in the force.”

Now, lets move on to “But he has made a mistake tonight; it is a mistake to use insufficient force to finish the job. In so doing, you give your enemy a second chance. That is the lesson I want you to learn. Learn it well; you may not get a second chance when your time comes. Maybe because he doesn’t have enough power in this land yet, but then it also was a mistake to try, because it only served to warn us.” This is a very strange thing for Zedd to say since only a few pages before it is revealed to Zedd that Darken has opened the boxes of Orden and by doing so he has made himself invulnerable to any and all types of harm. In addition to that, Zedd already knew that Darken was the most powerful wizard on the face of the Earth and that’s even someone of Zedd’s own considerable magical ability could not hope to challenge Darken Rahl. It therefore seems strange that Zedd would think that Darken had to resort to using a bunch of inbred yokels to carry out his dark designs.

Which brings me to Richard’s “remarkable” revelations. I know Terry was trying to make Richard seem smart and heroiffic. However the first time I read this scene I said to myself “hold on here- if Darken Rahl knows where to send the redneck mob after Zedd and co. then he obviously knows where the heroes are hiding.” I do not consider myself a genius, and yet I reached this conclusion within a split.

Now, as for the rest of the stuff Richard babbled- gargh I can’t even begin to describe how stupid this is.

Lets reconstruct Darken’s plan step by step, shall we? It is the only way to completely fathom Goodkind’s idiocy.

Even though Darken Rahl is the most powerful wizard on Earth and he is totally invulnerable and he knows the exact location of the heroes, he decides to:

A. Utilize a redneck mob of the local yokels to confront the heroes.

B. Rahl knows that not only will the heroes defeat the mob, but that the heroes will somehow discern that the mob was “a stew stirred by the hidden hand,” of Darken Rahl.

C. This is good for Rahl, since this will force the heroes to sit around for the longest time gloating about how they outsmarted a bunch of rednecks instead of saying “Ohmygosh! Darken Rahl knows where we live! Run away, run away, run away!”

D. So, while the heroes are gloating over their victory over the rednecks, Darken will swoop in and capture them, even though he could have done exactly the same thing, minus the redneck mob and warning the heroes that he knew exactly where they were.

Now, it is just me or this “plan” incredibly stupid? Or am I missing something? Does this whole sequence make sense and I’m just too dense to understand it?

- Zap Rowsdower

The secret of Goodkind's appeal

Goodkind's appeal is like McDonald's appeal. It's quick and easy to eat (read), it tastes good (it is satisfying on a basic level), it's easy to digest but wreaks havoc on your body (it takes very little reflection to swallow and destroys your ability to critically analyze), and if you really thought about what goes into it, you wouldn't eat there (actual reflection reveals the intensely harmful, shallow and desensitizing nature of the writing and world).

Goodkind's writing taps into basic human instincts, and I mean like, caveman basic. It's the same instincts that make you slow down for a car accident, turn and look when you think you see a naked person, and cheer on [national event] Day. It's the novel equivalent of a slasher flick - a bit of violence, a bit of tits, and in the end the good guy wins. It's not news, its olds. It's Cops, Montel, Sally Jesse, TLC presents the World's Fattest Man. It's news about the guy who kept a girl locked in his basement for 5 years then killed himself on a set of railroad tracks. Worse, it's a fly-on-the-wall view of what happened in the basement, then the train running over his head. It's every movie where the good guy gets beat to a pulp, but somehow manages to get up and win. It's the War on Drugs propoganda without the CIA forcing people to chose between growing the only viable crop in their dry, nutrient depleted soil while there's a gun pointed to their head or starving.

People want to see gross things, horrible things, but they also want in the end to see the bad guys punished and the good guys to win. Everyone is safe, even if they have to go through something harrowing in the end, the main people are safe. Richard will get tortured again and again, Klan will get almost raped, but you know they will never die, or actually be raped. Richard and Klan can get away with whatever they want because they are right, the people are right, not their actions. It reduces the world to simple things, we never have to wonder who is right, who we should cheer for, because no matter what, it is always Richard. The complicated world is distilled down to a simple fact of 'believe in this person, and you are correct'. It's the same simple view of the world that gets America criticized in foreign policy, so there's already a built-in audience for it. 300 million bored people with tremendous disposable income and a pre-existing penchant for unquestioning acceptance of 'the good guys' (Fox 'News' and CNN), who are already fed a steady diet of violence, sex, black-and-white good and evil on the evening news, freaks and titilation, the moral restraints of the Bible along with constant access to everything the Bible is against, all wrapped up in the idea that an action can be good or bad because of who does it, rather than what is done or why. On top of that, it's got a 'you can do anything if you try it, because you are soooo smart' invincible superman who is good at everything (when really he's not smart, he's magically enhanced) that we all wanted to be when we were kids that we can live out our fantasies in. Plus, he's got a hot girlfriend who's demure and pure when in public but has a turboslut switch he can flip on whenever he wants. And she's not quite as smart as he is, she always listens, and when she does disagree, she's always wrong.

In short, Goodkind provides a series of voyeuristic narratives which maintain a gruesome level of contrived tension, in easy language, with a protagonist we always wanted to be, lots of naughty bits, all wrapped in a ridiculously uncomplicated worldview that simplifies problems down to cushy decisions that generally can be solved with some speech showing how smart you are (against a straw opponent) or a sword. The villain always wears a black hat and the hero always gets the girl (who is a cheerleader in public and a harlot in the bedroom). All decisions are easy and all problems are resolved in 700 pages or less.

Or to be really short, it supports the idea of an world free from doubt.

But that's just what I think.


One thing I missed out on (what happens when I compose at work) is his approach to 'justice'. It relates back to the instant gratification and moral simplicity thing. The villains are always punished in a most gruesome and gratifying way. We touched on it in many previous posts, and Demmin Nass is the best example. Just before he's about to triumph, some deus ex machina bullshit never alluded to in the past gets them out of their painted corner (fake paint, that just kinda appears out of nowhere, like the First Wizard, who threw up barriers separating a CONTINENT, is powerless because of...ya know, stuff). Then, when she finds out her honey is in danger, she attacks the source of the news (in my mind, she cuts his balls of not because of his pedophilia or his vicious leadership of his quads, but because she's upset about her lovey-dovey being kidnapped, tortured and possibly killed). But fortunately and gratifyingly for her readers, she can force him to cut his own balls off and eat them, despite the fact that the essential being that was Demmin Nass ceased to exist as soon as she Con Darred him. He could have been used, provided information, betray his boss, be a front-line fighter, the best possible personal guard ever. Instead, he dies because she doesn't have the brains to restrain her gushy love-vengeance and goes for the McDonalds for 30 seconds of gratification.


The appeal of Goodkind-bashing

So, why do we bash Goodkind? Firstly and foremostly, because it's funny. We don't have a particular agenda to push, and we certainly don't "hate that he exists"; we just find him a ripe subject for parody and mockery. It's harmless fun and has produced some good discussion and some great comedy, as well as building a friendly online community. Portraying us as hate-filled fanatics is just not accurate.

But why Goodkind? There are plenty of bad writers out there, why have we chosen this particular one? Well, the main reason is the perceived pomposity and self-importance of the man himself. From his online interviews, he comes across as terribly arrogant, claiming that his books are revolutionary and original, and that he has serious philosophical points to make. We feel that this attitude makes him fair game. If he was just a mediocre writer who was happy to rake in the money, we'd probably still have a quick chuckle about the poor writing but then leave it at that; his constant claims to greatness leave him wide open to exactly this kind of criticism.

The quality of his writing is the most obvious area for criticism. The tropes and storylines are derivative, the plot twists are contrived, and the descriptions are overlong and frankly quite boring; one mark of a good writer is the practice of "show, don't tell", and Goodkind usually does the opposite. The worldbuilding is very sloppy and does not follow its own internal logic - for example, distances between places seem arbitrary depending on the demands of the plot. Goodkind has stated in interviews that the world's internal consistency is unimportant compared to the story's real human themes, but that's not a very good excuse; most writers can manage both.

As mystar has correctly surmised, our main problem with Goodkind is his philosophy, and particularly his attempts to force it into his storylines by any means necessary. The situations he creates to illustrate his philosophical points are unrealistic, and seem to only exist to show the heroes as moral, even when they commit actions that we consider abhorrent. His depiction of the moral spectrum as being simply Good or Evil is overly simplistic and in fact rather dangerous; having Richard's every act defined as Good simply because he is the hero is dishonest, and removes from the reader the option of making their own moral judgement.

On Moral Clarity

[Wikipedia definition of Moral clarity]
Though the actions of the United States and its allies may lead to civilian deaths or other forms of collateral damage, and may involve temporary alliances with undemocratic regimes, these actions are justified by the greater moral necessity of defeating terrorism and thus promoting American values and ensuring long-term U.S. security.

Opponents of action against terrorists are guilty of promoting moral relativism or moral equivalence, in which the allegedly similar means of both anti-terrorists and terrorists are used to blur the moral differences between good and evil.

Oh yes. Richard is truly the essence of moral clarity.

I don't have problems with people who believe they are morally right in certain, if not many things. Lots of people are like that, including me. I have problems when certain people disregard the possibility that they are morally wrong or incorrect, in certain, if not many things. I dislike them even more when they do not consider the fact that there are times when morality is relative and ambiguous, and changing.

Despite what the definitions seems to say, I think morality is relative. It varies from place to place, culture to culture. What could be taboo in a certain society could be perfectly normal in another. Also, there are times when the lines between right or wrong isn't clear. Morals change as well. It's the way of the world. Hell, even truth changes. What could be true today may be false tomorrow.

And it's the world that Richard (and by extension Terry Goodkind) rejects. They want clear, defined rules and lines, black and white, no gray.

SoT is, as mentioned before, an escapist fare, which is why many people like it. Many are sick and tired of trying to figure out what's right or wrong or making compromises on certain things. SoT is like the soothing balm from reality for them. There is very little compromise or gray areas in SoT, and the heroes able to do what he wants, no matter what, without having to compromise his beliefs and desires because they're morally right.

When I first read SoT with WFR, I admit I enjoyed parts of it, mostly because for me, it was fun to see the bad guys get their comeuppance. I'm a very passive reader, and for most part content to be entertained. Of course, this was before I found out that SoT was not fantasy (gasp!) but is actually about the nobility of the human spirit.

And why is this about the nobility of the human spirit or of man? Why because of the moral clarity the heroes possess, of course.

Which is just about the shittiest thing I've ever heard in my life. Having moral clarity does not make you an example of the nobility of the human spirit. It makes you an example of being a rather high-minded, escapist, rigid idiot.

Tolkien, I would totally understand if someone told me that this was a book on the nobility of man or whatnot, but SoT? I mean, how can something with be about truth or the nobility of man when its heroes and its author does not consider the possibility or even allow the possibility that they are not morally right or that morality can be relative. How can it be about the nobility of man when the heroes slaughter mercilessly those whose beliefs disagree with him? How it can be about truth when it doesn't seem to acknowledge the truth that morals are relative and ambiguous?

- The Wolf Maid

On Idealogical Continuity

I've always thought that Goodkind didn't start out with quite as much moral celery as he developed toward the end, and so he's constantly having to retcon his earlier ideas to make them more celerious. Now, I know he denies this, but hear me out.

Take the prophecy thing for example. In a book which claims to make choice paramount to morality, prophecy seems to be slightly at odds to the central theme of the whozamawhatsit, doesn't it? I mean Richard spent the whole of Stone of Tears worrying about that stupid prophecy that was going to kill Kahlan. Ideologically it would have made more sense if Richard or Kahlan had made some other choice, showed that prophecy has no effect on freewill and so neatly avoided the whole mess, but no, instead the prophecy is fulfilled albeit in a rather half assed way. I think Goodkind realised three books later that prophecy didn't really fit with his message and started trying to water it down a bit, and I know it's all terribly complex with dead prophecies and prophecy forks and so forth, but with all this still I don't recall there ever being a prophecy turn up on the page without it coming true in some way.

Same thing with the moratorium on meat, only more so. He made meat bad because Ricahrd balancing out his killing seemed cool and real, but then he realised that it didn't really gel with Yeardian ethics, retconned, and so gave the fans a mistake they can claim that Richard made, and mistakes make for super three dimensional characters don't you know. Especially the contrive, plot-hole filler type that aren't actually mistakes when you make them - in fact when you do the damn thing in the first place it's ingenious and solves a lot of problems - but which become mistakes only once your author realises they are ideologically unsound.

- Will

The Author's First Rule

Author’s first rule

People are stupid.

Explanation by Mytard Mytardicus Mytardian

People can be made to buy any trash, either because they have absolutely know taste, or because they dig badly written, violent, derivative fiction with lots of naughty bits.

Author’s second rule

The greatest harm can result from admitting you are wrong.

Explanation by Madmoose Madmoosian Mcmoosie

Sometimes, being honest can lead to a drop in sales. Instead, proclaim long and loud that you are misunderstood. Overreach your talent, then blame your readers. Retcon ‘til your fingers bleed. Doing what your mother told you is the right thing can cause more harm than good. Violation of this rule can cause anything from discomfort, to disaster, to death. Remember, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Author’s third rule

Passion rules reason, for better or for worse.

Explanation by Mindonner Mindonarian Mindoiusousity

Try to get your fans passionately committed to buying your books. After investing hundreds of dollars, they’ll work their asses off justifying why they spent so much money on what is basically toilet paper printed between perfectly good covers. Letting your emotions control your reason may cause trouble for yourself, so always keep your cool. Encourage those around you to lose it when people disagree with them.

Author’s fourth rule

There is magic in graphic violence, naughty sluts, almost rape and really, really long speeches. In graphic violence, naughty sluts, almost rape and really, really long speeches you give, but more so, you receive - buckets of cash.

Explanation by Myshkin Kin’myshy Manmishiomannus

There’s enough 12-year-olds and bed-wetting virgins in the world who will buy crap (as long as it has graphic violence, naughty sluts and almost rape) that you can easily afford that shiny penis-mobile the cool kid in high school had but you didn’t because you were to busy not being able to read and learning from wolves. When they grow up, you can put in those really, really long speeches (‘cause you get paid by the word) and they’ll just skip over them to get to the naughty bits. Plus, then you can claim your books are high art, and hopefully sucker in some nobby blokes who will pretend to read the speechy bits, but really just want to read about graphic violence, naughty sluts and almost rape.

It is noted by S’teven Eriks’on that it is not imperative that you believe in your own speeches, ‘cos if you did you’d be such a huge dick that only idiots as big as you could stand your presence. Oh, hold on...

Author’s fifth rule

Tell people to mind what you say, not what you write, for it will help you cover the fact that you’re just making up shit as you go along.

Explanation by the noblest Goat in the Mountain

Because retconning only works if you can keep track of what you’ve said in the past (and God knows you don’t want to have to re-read your own work, that’s what rabid, leg-humping fanboys are for), you need an out. This is your ace in the hole ‘I’ve got a teleporter built into my bionic leg’ escape from any awkward situation. Seriously, ninja’s with smoke bombs wish they had this. Take every opportunity to proclaim that the actual words are secondary to the noble ideas you are using to write them. Pick an obscure philosopher who is an academic joke as a backdrop - Ayn Rand is intellectual masturbation for people who believed it when their mothers told them they were the smartest little boy alive, but landed their jobs by marrying into the company. She’s perfect. Use her. Bonus points for plagiarism. Double points if you can insult your fans’ intelligence (more so than you already are).

Author’s sixth rule

The only sovereign you can allow to rule you is your yeard.

Explanation by Yeardi vonNamblecock

The yeard knows all, sees all, and if I tie it tight enough, it’s a substitute for a facelift. The only sovereign I can allow to rule me is my yeard. It does not make you look constipated. The first law of they yeard is this: it draws attention away from your receding hairline. From this irreducible, bedrock principle, all self-delusions are justified. This is the foundation from which fantasies about the women who would like to fuck you are spawned. Yeards are a privilege, not a right. Wishes and whims are not yeards, nor are they a means to discover them. Yeards (and cash) are your only way of getting sweaty, hairy chicks at WorldCom -- it's our basic tool of survival.

Explanation by Tairy al’Badkind

Misery, iniquity, and utter destruction lurk in the shadows inside [a yeards’] full flowing, where sports jackets are did not go out of fashion in the 80’s. The yeard can draw faithful disciples, the deeply feeling believers, the selfless brainless followers. Faith and feelings are the warm marrow of evil that let you sell more books to suckers, so be nice to people when you meet them in person. Like yeards, faith and feelings provide no boundary to limit any delusions, any whim. They are a virulent poison, giving the numbing illusion of moral sanction to every depravity ever hatched. Use them to your advantage. Reason is the very substance of truth itself, so whatever you do, if one of your mindless drones shows some whisker of reason, get ‘em banned from your website and don’t sell ‘em tickets to your overpriced meet-and-greets. Faith and feelings are the darkness to reason's light, and if it’s dark enough you might be able to mug ‘em and rifle their pockets. The Sixth Rule is the hub upon which all rules turn. It’s Sixth and not the First because of shut the hell up. It is not only the most important rule, but the simplest. Nonetheless, it is the one most often ignored and violated by pimply fat guys who try to look like you but don’t have the dildo far enough up their asses.

Author’s seventh rule

Life is the future, not the past.

Explanation by W’lu W’luarian W’luzoolander

Continuity is for suckers. If something you write now is contradicted by something you wrote in the past, just ignore it. People are stupid and will forget or not pay attention, because they are too enthralled by your bitchin’ ass prose and wickid awesum depictions of real human values. It might help if you include a really long and confusing infodump on how it’s kosher (fucking weirdo diversity) just fine because of some shit you forgot to make up before. And you can never go wrong with a really long speech.

Author’s eighth rule

Deserve your fanbase.
(Translated from “needem fuckwits” in High R’andian, the secret language of Objectivists, which usually used to exploit suckers for cash).

Explanation by Maid of Wolves, noble animals they be

Be justified unreasonable in your convictions. Be completely committed. Earn what you want and need rather than waiting for others to give you what you desire. See rule 10. Have your official websites run by your most dedicated, unreasoning fans, some real nutters who are willing to ignore your insanity, and spend their time either whitewashing your stain on the internet, or praising you to high heaven. Occasionally show up for chats or interviews. Use plants to lob you easy questions, then praise them for being so clever. Watch ‘em wriggle like you were petting a greased puppy. Eat greased puppies, they are good for you, and their bones are still soft so they don’t stick in your throat. Don’t let others know about it, ‘cause it’s a subtle tell that you’re actually EEEEEEEEVIL. Though to be honest, if they didn’t figure it out with Michael, they probably won’t see it now.

Author’s ninth rule

A contradiction cannot exist in reality. Not in part, nor in whole.

Explanation by Vigourous Carpathian

Like the Wizard’s Fifth rule, this should be bleeding obvious, to the point that there is no real need to actually say it. In fact, proclaiming this as some sort of Great Truth is frankly, a little embarrassing. Like, “my reference of choice is Conservapedia” embarrassing, or "I think Tom Cruise is soooo cool, he informs my choice in religions" embarassing. Use this to your advantage. Proclaim it as a great truth, then spew out so many contradictions in your books and interviews that people start to believe you are either a great thinker too subtle for their puny minds to understand (even though you have the writing talents of Christopher Paolini) or just fucking bonkers. When people point them out and ask questions, grab the first tangent you can think of and announce it like it was the Sermon on the Mount, then insult the questioner with ‘elegant subtlety’. Ignore the fact that you just basically admitted to anyone with a modem and a sausage of common sense that you were stumped. Embrace any random impulse that strikes your fancy-- imagine something is real simply because you wish it were (‘cause that’s what Richard would do). You must abandon the most important thing you possess: your rational mind. You weren’t using it anyway.

Author’s tenth rule

Wilfully turning aside from ripping off another author’s work is treason to one's self.

Explanation by Ezrulie the Unruly (who’s name finally made sense last night at about 1:30 a.m.)

Look, honestly, why would you bother doing all that work when someone else has done it for you? When people ask about it, be shrill in your denunciation. Turn your venomous antagonism on an entire genre if anyone dares to point out the truth. To those seeking the truth, its a matter of (your) simple, rational, self interest to always keep reality out of sight - be photographed in front of the bookshelf filled with used non-fiction that you prominently display in your livingroom, and keep your REAL bookshelf locked up in your S&M dungeon. Truth is rooted in reality, after all, not the imagination.


Little-known facts about the Sword of Truth

Contributors: The Mad Moose, Mindonner, Jaxom 1974, Myshkin, Agulla, VigoTheCarpathian, The Wolf Maid

-When Richard and Kahlan are having sex, Richard repeatedly whispers "bringer of death". Kahlan thinks its sexy.

-Zedd's overeating and skinny frame are a result of an eating disorder which goes back to his days as a runway model.

-Zedd claims that in the great war both sides called him "the wind of death", but this nickname actually goes back further to the fact that Zedd made the nastiest chili in the wizard's keep.

-According to Richard, the first edict of being a war wizard is "cut". The others are "a-ho, aha, guard, turn, parry, dodge, spin, thrust."

-The Mriswith are supposedly great powerful wizards from long ago who gave up all their magical powers in order to become invisible. What nobody has noticed yet is that this is incredibly retarded.

- Gratch is actually a great, eloquent gar philosopher. It pleases him to slum it among the idiot humans and pretend to be a bit stoopid. His hilarious anecdotes about that dumb war wizard get him invited to all the best gar parties.

- The namble has a sideline advertising Marks & Spencers loincloths with reinforced gusset; all inferior underwear gets ripped up by the barbs in less than an hour.

- After running around for months in the same sweaty red leather outfits, the Mord Sith reek and no-one will go near them.

- 3 out of every 4 Sisters of the Dark are afraid of the dark and prefer to sleep with nightlights on.

- The Sword of Truth is actually only 4 1/2 inches long, but Richy tells everyone it's 6.

- When she was a teenager, Kahlan used her Confessor powers to force beggars and orphans to do her chores. After her chore-slave was done, she ordered them to dig a hole and bury themselves in it.

- Although it may seem like they have good reasons for getting naked (to go into battle against a numerically superior force wearing nothing but paint, showing boobs to come in and kill wizards, etcetera), all the women in SoT are secretly just exhibitionist sluts.

- Samuel is Gollum's less successful step brother.

- Originally, Kahlan was going to be saved from the not-a-chicken (which was possessed by a chime) by a not-a-bald-eagle (that was possessed by moral clarity). However, this would've taken away from Richard's glory, so the scene was eliminated with extreme prejudice.

- The alternate to the statue Richard carves in Faith of the Fallen was a gigantic penis labelled "Freedom and Individuality", entering a puckered, scarred, and diseased anus marked "Communism, Collectivism, and Liberals" instead of just two people standing there.

- TG's initial vision for gars involved them speaking Spanish. It was supposed to be a heavy-handed and obvious parallel for how terrible he thinks immigration in the US is. However, this was cut for space reasons because it would've added 150 pages of Richard speeches to the book.

- In the final book of the trilogy-that-is-not-a-trilogy Confessor, any new characters will be named to by their stereotype (for instance, Zedd would have been "Wise Old Wizard").

- Most of SOT readers read the books just for the story and don't care for its philosophy (neither they do care for the writing it would seem).

- Almost all SOT readers are completely convinced that they are reading fantasy.

- Unconfirmed information points out that Terry Goodkind never reads fantasy. He has someone else read Robert Jordan's WOT books to him while he is writing his unique SOT.

- It is said that Terry Goodkind is a very kind man when you meet him in person, and that it's his evil twin the one that answers his on-line interviews for him.

- There are rumors about Terry Goodkind running for president of the USA in a near future.

- There is actually a plant called moral celery in the SoT world.

- In the SoT world, almost-rape happens so often to women it can almost be said as a form of hello.

- Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell are in fact based on real people. Really.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Cowboy Angels - Paul McAuley

This is the latest review book I've had through from Gollancz, and was one I approached with some trepidation - my only previous encounter with McAuley has been his short stories, which I've not been too keen on. Fortunately, this is worlds away from pretentious London ghost-hunters - it's a gritty military thriller with a sci-fi setting, and while the clichés are rampant, it's almost as much fun to read as anything by Richard Morgan.

Parallel universes seem to be quite popular at the moment, and are indeed the technological centrepiece to McAuley's creation. One version of America, calling itself the Real, developed universe-hopping technology in the 60's, and lacking its own version of Vietnam, instead decided to aid all the parallel Americas against their various Communist enemies; the "Cowboy Angels" of the title are the elite agents trained in infiltrating and influencing these other worlds. It's now 1984 and the peacenik President Carter has called a halt to this cross-dimensional empire building, but factions within the military are not so happy with the imposed peace; after a string of murders brings agent Adam Stone out of retirement on the trail of his old friend, his investigation turns up all sorts of nasty secrets, and a conspiracy that spans the known universes...

All fairly standard stuff, as you can see; it's a Cold War spy thriller crossed with 24, with the hard-driving pace and not-entirely-unforseen twists that you'd expect. It's the setting that adds a dash of originality - while some of the wider implications of parallel universes are hand-waved away with a few infodump conversations about quantum probability, I did like the idea of an America so obsessed with fighting the Commies that it will even do it across dimensions. The plot did start to run out of steam towards the end, once the conspiracy had been unmasked and it was all over bar the shootout, but there was enough momentum there to carry it right to the finish.

Naturally, there's not much in the way of character development (it's your usual rogue-agent-on-the-edge/retired-veteran-back-for-one-last-job/girl-who's-a-bit-feisty-but-actually-just-gets-kidnapped-a-lot) but that's not what you read this type of book for anyway. If you're not after anything too deep, and are happy to skate past the paper-thin "science-y" bits linking quantum theory to consciousness and so on, then there's a lot here to enjoy. For all his short-story disasters, I might well give McAuley's other books a try sometime too.