Genre-Melding

lunar-landscape-1978303_1920Picture if you will a large planet named Fantasy. It’s home to an array of creatures, each with their own societies and cultures; some primitive and some advanced. The laws which govern the world are far different from the physics, chemistry and biology that we Earthlings are familiar with.

A neighboring celestial body, the planet Xi belongs to the Sci-Fi Federation of planets. Xi and it’s galactically renowned bazaar is home to an assortment of aliens and Artificial Intelligences. Some aliens are sentient and others are not, depending on whose definition of sentient you adhere to. Naturally the aliens, though sharing a planet, each come from different homeworlds and customs.

Each planet – or literary genre, if you will – has a gravity well and loyal fans orbiting, some within the ionosphere and others at the very edges. They are loyal to their own planet, but the thought of traveling between planets is foreign…

Perhaps it is my own biases, and I’d like to think it’s breaking down… but once upon a time a fantasy novel was constrained to a single planet? No planet-hopping allowed. And if dragons exist on the planet, for some reason the inhabitants can’t develop space-faring technology? Why can Jaja Binks exist, but a dragon cannot? (Because we all know which one we’d like more).

The professionals on the Writing Excuses podcast talk about the importance of knowing which genre you’re writing to, so you can maximise appeal to that audience. (This advice was back in Season 1, so quite some time ago…)

cover-1Personally, I don’t see why genre blending isn’t more acceptable. When I wrote Vengeance Will Come (available soon), I didn’t write it for a particular genre… I simply wrote a book that interested me. It has elements from both science fiction (aliens, space travel, forceshields) and fantasy (telekinesis and other mystical powers and tied into arcane prophesy). In some ways it’s also an adventure story (fast-paced) that just happens to have those other elements as part of the setting. I don’t see how fantasy and science fiction can’t co-exist more.

Admittedly it’s been too-long since I read the masterpiece Dune, (particularly the first 3 books) but that successfully straddles the line between the two genres: a lot of science, but also brushed with a touch of fantasy in the Bene Gesserit.

Do you think genre-blending is more accepted by the reading communities in recent years, or do the rules of orthodoxy still hold true?

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Highlights from Crossroads of Twilight

My highlighted sections (and a few associated thoughts) from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, book 10 – Crossroads Of Twilight. I have pruned these comments quite hard, taking only a few picked from the bunch.

One important aspect of being a writer in my opinion is the skill of observation. (Which is quite funny, because at times I can be very un-observant). It’s looking at an object or person and noticing details. For example: not just that Sally was angry, but how that affected her face and body in minute detail. How it changed the words she used and the way she said them. (And how that could be related to other things or animals etc for similes). It is then those details which help to paint a vivid word-picture, or an interesting and insightful phrase. I can only presume, Jordan must have been watching at least one rain storm as he wrote these lines:

  • the only thing truly certain was that none of that mattered a spit in a rainstorm. (Page 25)
  • Rain fell by buckets, (Page 92)
  • driving the rain like stones from slings (Page 93)

As I’ve said numerous times, I like wisdom written down in a story:

  • how the horror of yesterday became merely the uneasiness of today, once you grew accustomed. (Page 61)
  • Loyalty to the Crystal Throne is precious above the breath of life, followed closely by knowing when to keep silent. The more who speak of a thing, the more will learn of it who should not.’ (Page 142)
  • Cowardice was the sort of rumor that stuck like greasy mud; you never could wash it off completely. (Page 258)
  • Hard times uncovered hard talents in the most surprising people. (Page 325
  • Truth almost always did come out in the end, but by the end, truth was often so wrapped around with rumors and speculation and absolute lies that most people never did believe it. (Page 393)

The differences between men and women provide endless fodder:

  • In his experience, if a woman did not want to hear something, she could ignore it till you yourself started to doubt you had spoken. (Page 89)
  • A woman started hissing at him like a kettle, a man with any brains found a way to cool her down fast. (Page 125)

I’m not sure if ‘humorous’ is quite the right word, but this was an interesting device I saw used a couple of times. First, the set up: relate someone or something

[She was like] A motherly farmwife amused by the antics of others in the village. Even some sisters were foolish enough to dismiss her that easily. (Page 394)

And then a few sentences later pay it off, by introducing a twist to the descriptor:

‘And why would we want to allow that?’ Anaiya said finally, in a dangerous voice. ‘We didn’t come all this way to talk to Elaida.’ She was a farmwife with a cleaver hidden behind her back and a mind to use it, now. (Page 395)

And three more lines I liked, for good measure:

  • The steps that led to the throne were as delicate as any court dance, and if the dance sometimes came to resemble a tavern brawl, you still had to make your steps with grace and precision in order to gain your goal. (Page 271)
  • They were generally accounted a thieving, unlettered lot who only bathed by accident, when they had to wade a stream. (Page 396)
  • She was not afraid. She was a skin stuffed to bursting with terror. (Page 495)

And something I started to do part way through book 10 was to highlight interesting words. Being a bit of a logophile, I like interesting words. (Yes, I once highlighted great words in a dictionary). Definitions are from Wordnik.

  • pomander – A mixture of aromatic substances enclosed in a bag or box as a protection against odor or infection, formerly worn on one’s person but now usually placed in a dresser drawer or closet.
  • ruction – A riotous disturbance; a noisy quarrel.
  • voluble – Marked by a ready flow of speech; fluent.
  • nimbus -A radiant light that appears usually in the form of a circle or halo about or over the head in the representation of a god, demigod, saint, or sacred person such as a king or an emperor.
  • lading – The act of loading.
  • inured -To habituate to something undesirable, especially by prolonged subjection; accustom: “Though the food became no more palatable, he soon became sufficiently inured to it” ( John Barth).
  • sibilant – Of, characterized by, or producing a hissing sound
  • languorous – lacking energy, spirit, liveliness or vitality
  • vulpine – Of, resembling, or characteristic of a fox.
  • avarice – Immoderate desire for wealth; cupidity.

Unfortunately, my love of words doesn’t help me beat my wife at Scrabble. I still get utterly decimated.

Highlights from A Crown of Swords

This is approximately the seventh in my series of posts where I share the highlights I made in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This post covers book 7, A Crown Of Swords. Given the lengths of the books, this selection is ‘the best’ highlights; otherwise there’d be several thousand words worth of quotes. As it is, this post is longer than intended…

Serious Matters: Dealt with First

It seems odd to start my ‘highlights’ post by talking about something which I found genuinely disturbing. But it needs to be discussed. Matt Cauthon, who frequently seduce any willing woman, finds himself aggressively pursued by Queen Tylin. No, I’m going to call a spade a spade: she rapes him. I’ll post the encounter here in full and then discuss it.

It was too much. The woman hounded him, tried to starve him; now she locked them in together like . . . like he did not know what. Lambkin! Those bloody dice were bouncing around in his skull. Besides, he had important business to see to. The dice had never had anything to do with finding something, but . . . He reached her in two long strides, seized her arm, and began fumbling in her belt for the keys. “I don’t have bloody time for—” His breath froze as the sharp point of her dagger beneath his chin shut his mouth and drove him right up onto his toes. “Remove your hand,” she said coldly. He managed to look down his nose at her face. She was not smiling now. He let go of her arm carefully. She did not lessen the pressure of her blade, though. She shook her head. “Tsk, tsk. I do try to make allowances for you being an outlander, gosling, but since you wish to play roughly . . . Hands at your sides. Move.” The knifepoint gave a direction. He shuffled backward on tiptoe rather than have his neck sliced. “What are you going to do?” he mumbled through his teeth. A stretched neck put a strain in his voice. A stretched neck among other things. “Well?” He could try grabbing her wrist; he was quick with his hands. “What are you going to do?” Quick enough, with the knife already at his throat? That was the question. That, and the one he asked her. If she intended to kill him, a shove of her wrist right there would drive the dagger straight up into his brain. “Will you answer me!” That was not panic in his voice. He was not in a panic. “Majesty? Tylin?” Well, maybe he was in a bit of a panic, to use her name. You could call any woman in Ebou Dar “duckling” or “pudding” all day, and she would smile, but use her name before she said you could, and you found a hotter reception than you would for goosing a strange woman on the street anywhere else. A few kisses exchanged were never enough for permission, either. Tylin did not answer, only kept him tiptoeing backward, until suddenly his shoulders bumped against something that stopped him. With that flaming dagger never easing a hair, he could not move his head, but eyes that had been focused on her face darted. They were in the bedchamber, a flower-carved red bedpost hard between his shoulder blades. Why would she bring him . . .? His face was suddenly as crimson as the bedpost. No. She could not mean to . . . It was not decent! It was not possible! “You can’t do this to me,” he mumbled at her, and if his voice was a touch breathy and shrill, he surely had cause. “Watch and learn, my kitten,” Tylin said, and drew her marriage knife. Afterward, a considerable time later, he irritably pulled the sheet up to his chest. A silk sheet; Nalesean had been right. The Queen of Altara hummed happily beside the bed, arms twisted behind her to do up the buttons of her dress. All he had on was the foxhead medallion on its cord – much good that had done – and the black scarf tied around his neck. A ribbon on her present, the bloody woman called it. He rolled over and snatched his silver-mounted pipe and tabac pouch from the small table on the other side from her. Golden tongs and a hot coal in a golden bowl of sand provided the means for lighting. Folding his arms, he puffed away as fiercely as he frowned. “You should not flounce, duckling, and you shouldn’t pout.” She yanked her dagger from where it was driven into a bedpost beside her marriage knife, examining the point before sheathing it. “What is the matter? You know you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, and I . . .” She laughed suddenly, and oh so richly, resheathing the marriage knife as well. “If that is part of what being ta’veren means, you must be very popular.” Mat flushed like fire. (page 515-517)

It is such a tricky situation. Matt does complain about it, clearly uncomfortable. It is culturally appropriate in the city of Ebou Dar for women to do the pursuing. Matt doesn’t entirely hate the situation or Tylin. But he does feel so uncomfortable that he seeks his friends out for help…

“You listen to me! That woman won’t take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She’s starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag! She has more hands than any six women I ever met. She threatened to have the serving women undress me if I didn’t let her—” (Page 653)

I suspect the scene was written in a failed attempt to be funny. The gag was probably supposed to be the chaser becomes the chased. Only it isn’t funny. If you swap the genders and have a man forcing a woman into bed at knife-point it’s rape. It doesn’t matter what the individual’s sexual past has been.

It’s important to note in the world-building of WOT, it isn’t rape. Matt never describes it as such himself. It’s in a grey area that has and can be argued over. However the problem is in modern times it equates to rape in the reader’s mind. At least in this reader’s mind.

Not everyone will agree that it was rape, citing plausible arguments. That’s OK. From a writer’s perspective is it a good thing that a significant portion of your readers will be uncomfortable about the scene? (When that isn’t the goal of the scene). I would say not. I found it incredibly jarring when I realised that’s what it was. I was shocked and disturbed.

Now I’ve read other books with rape or similar uncomfortable material. (I think of Rage by Wilbur Smith in which I couldn’t warm to any of the characters due to their despicable and abhorrent natures). Part of the reason why it disturbed me so much was because I wasn’t expecting it – it doesn’t fit the rest of the WOT books. Some author’s have made their careers by making readers squirm, but Jordan wasn’t one of them.

I don’t think Jordan is bad because of the scene; it was a poor choice with unintended ramifications. Who, among us though, hasn’t had a joke which has backfired horribly? It’s just that Jordan’s mis-fired joke was written down and mass-marketed. A good warning.

Onto Better Things

Now onto the good highlights.

“The White Tower will be whole again, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever. Rand al’Thor will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger. The Black Tower will be rent in blood and fire, and sisters will walk its grounds. This I Foretell.” (Page 16)

What I particularly like about this is it’s a prophecy of the future that is guaranteed to come true. Only, the interpretation that the character puts upon the Foretelling is a different outcome to what will happen in reality. I knew this because it’s not my first time reading the book, but for a new reader it would throw them off-track. A clever manoeuver.

More on the differences between men and women:

  • Standing on the ground, she somehow made it seem that she was looking down at him. Not an Aes Sedai trick, that; he had seen Faile do it. He suspected most women knew how. (Page 71)
  • Only a fool thinks a lion or a woman can truly be tamed. (Page 354)
  • “Women keep promises in their own way,” (Page 646)
  • Usually when a woman was in the wrong, she could find so many things to blame on the nearest man that he wound up thinking maybe he really was at fault. (Page 652)

And some real-life humor, a dig at us authors:

Loial strode up, bubbling with energy despite his obvious weariness. “Rand, they say they’re ready to go, but you promised to talk to me while it’s fresh.” Abruptly his ears twitched with embarrassment, and that booming voice became plaintive. “I am sorry; I know it can’t be enjoyable. But I must know. For the book. For the Ages.” Laughing, Rand got to his feet and tugged at the Ogier’s open coat. “For the Ages? Do writers all talk like that? Don’t worry, Loial. It will still be fresh when I tell you. I won’t forget.” (Page 87)

Other good quotes:

  • The wind shook the banner hard and was gone quickly, as if glad to be away. (Page 50)
  • Defeating Aes Sedai was not easy; making them admit defeat lay on the far side of impossible. (Page 57)
  • Perhaps they would only still them. From the little he had picked up, stilling an Aes Sedai amounted to a killing that just took a few years for the corpse to lie down. (Page 59)
  • “You think I can’t teach them as well as you?” Rand’s voice was soft, the whisper of a blade sliding in its sheath. (Page 82)
  • In Cairhien, maybe in most lands, ordinary folk could be crushed unnoticed where the mighty walked. (Page 116)
  • He floated in the Void, surrounded by emptiness beyond knowing, and saidin filled him, trying to grind him to dust beneath steel-shattering cold and heat where stone would flash to flame, carrying the Dark One’s taint on its flow, forcing corruption into his bones. Into his soul, he feared sometimes. It did not make him feel so sick to his stomach as it once had. He feared that even more. And larded through that torrent of fire, ice and filth – life. That was the best word. Saidin tried to destroy him. Saidin filled him to overflowing with vitality. It threatened to bury him, and it enticed him. The war for survival, the struggle to avoid being consumed, magnified the joy of pure life. So sweet even with the foulness. What would it be like, clean? Beyond imagining. He wanted to draw more, draw all there was. (Page 144)
  • It was always better to know than to be ignorant, but sometimes ignorance was much more comfortable. (Page 269)
  • A yellow-haired woman in red belt and plunging neckline made a faint sound as her eyes rolled up in her head and she slid bonelessly from her red chair. (Page 552)
  • “Yes, but there is the matter of the Bargain.” That word was plainly capitalized in Harine’s tone. (Page 597)
  • Mat crashed into the killer’s back, and they all three hit the floor together. He had no compunctions against stabbing a man in the back when it was necessary, especially a man who could tear somebody’s throat out. (Page 666)
  • Insults to Thom’s flute or his harp were insults to himself. (Page 684)
  • Rand blinked, and snatched one hand from the crown to suck on a pricked finger. Almost buried among the laurel leaves of the crown were the sharp points of swords. …  Gingerly he set the circle of laurel leaves on his head. Half those swords pointed up, half down. No head would wear this crown casually or easily. (Page 739)

Highlights from ‘Lord of Chaos’

Here are some of my highlights from book 6 of the Wheel of Time series, Lord of Chaos. After having so many quotes for the last book I had to split the post in two, I’ve really chosen only the best-of-the-best this time.

I want to make a special note of this recap on who the primary protagonist is.

Despite his having been raised in the Two Rivers by Tam al’Thor and, until her death when he was five, Tam’s wife, Kari, Rand’s true mother had been a Maiden of Spear who died giving birth to him on the slopes of Dragonmount. Not an Aiel, though his father had been, but still a Maiden. Now Aiel customs stronger than law had touched him. No, not touched; enveloped. No Maiden could marry and still carry the spear and unless she gave up the spear any child she bore was given to another woman by the Wise Ones, in such a way that the Maiden never knew who that woman was. Any child born of a Maiden was believed to be lucky, both in itself and to raise, though none but the woman who raised the child and her husband ever knew it was not her own. Yet beyond that, the Aiel Prophecy of Rhuidean said that the Car’a’carn would be such a one, raised by wetlanders. To the Maidens, Rand was all those children come back, the first child of a Maiden ever to be known to everyone. (Page 119)

This passage is good, because it provides a concrete and plausible explanation of why the Maiden’s are so loyal to Rand. It is not only because he declared ‘they carry my honour’ but also because he is a symbol of the children they have given away. Loyalties, thus explained, would be far stronger than to any individual under normal circumstances.

I’d love to know if Jordan had this in mind all along, or if he realised he could knit it together further down the track. In any case, it’s brilliant.

He had abandoned them to this. If he had gone, there might not have been such a long list of the dead, so many names that he knew. But if he had gone, he would not have the Aiel behind him. Cairhien would not be his, as much as it was, and Rahvin would likely be sending a united Andor against him and the Two Rivers. There was a price to be paid for any decision he made. There was a price for who he was. Other people paid it. He had to keep reminding himself that it was a far smaller price than they would pay without him. (Page 283)

Hear the emotional turmoil for Rand. The necessities of events (the plot) are in conflict with what he would choose to do in relationships. The grinding together of tensions of plot and character.

A salient truth:

How people see you first is what they hold hardest in their minds. It is the way of the world. You can step down from a throne, and even if you behave like a farmer in a pigsty, some part in each of them will remember that you did descend from a throne. But if they see only a young man first, a country man, they will resent him stepping up to his throne later, whatever his right, whatever his power. (Page 391)

An intricacy of the sweeping plot explained, how history and past are woven together into a tapestry of the now and into the future.

Everything folded back into itself, in endless circles. Tigraine went to the Waste in secret, which made Laman Damodred cut down Avendoraldera, a gift of the Aiel, to make a throne, an act which brought the Aiel across the Spine of the World to kill him—that had been their only goal, though the nations called it the Aiel War—and with the Aiel came a Maiden named Shaiel, who died giving birth. So many lives changed, lives ended, so she could give birth to him at the proper time and place and die doing it. (Page 397)

A strong line:

“Take this message back to Sammael,” he said coldly. “Every death he has caused since waking, I lay at his feet and call due. Every murder he has ever done or caused, I lay at his feet and call due. […] But I will see justice done now. Tell him, no truce with the Forsaken. No truce with the Shadow.” (Page 400)

I loved the imagery used in this paragraph. To me it just resonated and I could see it playing out in my mind’s eye.

“I sent them [guards] away as you insisted,” Sulin said disgustedly. “Give me a slow count of one hundred.”
“Ten.”
“Fifty.” Rand nodded, and her fingers flashed. Jalani darted away inside, and Sulin’s hands flickered again. Three gai’shain women dropped their armloads of maps looking startled—Aiel never looked that surprised—gathered long white robes and vanished back into the Palace in different directions, but quickly as they moved, Sulin was ahead of them. As Rand reached twenty, Aiel began bounding into the courtyard, hurtling though windows, leaping down from balconies. He almost lost the count. Every one was veiled, and only some Maidens. They stared about in confusion when they found only Rand and three Ogier, who blinked at them curiously. Some lowered their veils. The palace servants huddled together. (Page 467)

The lovable rogue, Mat Cauthon:

  • Mat slipped back and left them to it. The general who leads in the front of battle is a fool. That came from one of those old memories, a quote from somebody whose name was not part of the memory. A man could get killed in there. That was pure Mat Cauthon. (Page 490)
  • “By the look of you, Nynaeve, I could almost think you were angry, but I know you have such a sweet disposition people ask you to dabble your fingers in their tea.” (Page 592)
  • He had four rules concerning action and information. Never make a plan without knowing as much as you can of the enemy. Never be afraid to change your plans when you receive new information. Never believe you know everything. And never wait to know everything. The man who waited to know everything was still sitting in his tent when the enemy burned it over his head. (Page 630)

Here is a highlight I made for the wrong reasons. Read it first and then I’ll explain why.

Then there were the Cairhienin, outside the ring of Aiel. Colavaere, strikingly handsome in her middle years, dark hair an elaborate tower of curls, and horizontal slashes coloring her gown from high gold-embroidered collar to below her knees, more slashes than anyone else present. Solid, square-faced Dobraine, the front of his mostly gray hair shaved soldier-fashion and his coat worn from the straps of a breastplate. Maringil, straight as a blade, white hair touching his shoulders; he had not shaved his forehead, and his dark silk coat, striped like Dobraine’s, nearly to his knees, was fit for a ball. Two dozen or more clustered behind, mostly younger men and women, few wearing horizontal stripes even as low as the waist. “Grace favor the Lord Dragon,” they murmured, bowing hand to heart or curtsying, and, “Grace honors us with the Lord Dragon’s presence.” The Tairens had their contingent as well, High Lords and Ladies without lesser nobles, in peaked velvet hats and silk coats with puffy, satin-striped sleeves, in bright gowns with broad lace ruffs and close-fitting caps of pearls or gems, making their respects with “The Light illumine the Light Dragon.” Meilan stood foremost, of course, lean and hard and expressionless, with his gray pointed beard. Close beside him, Fionnda’s stern expression and iron eyes somehow did not diminish her beauty, while willowy Anaiyella’s simpers lessened hers. There were certainly no smiles of any sort on the faces of Maraconn, a blue-eyed rarity among Tairens, or bald Gueyam, or Aracome, who looked twice as slender alongside Gueyam’s solid width if just as steely. They—and Meilan—had been thick with Hearne and Simaan. (Page 440)

Did you get through it? I’m not sure I did. Way too much detail on the clothes of people who aren’t important. Whilst some of these characters do make a re-appearance – and so possibly become more important – I think this passage is an example of waffling.

More great lines:

  • “‘The right medicine always tastes bitter,’” Lini murmured softly. “Most of all for a child who throws a sulky tantrum.” (Page 60)
  • Any man would have to be aware of them, sudden death in their eyes, their hands. (Page 99)
  • A woman’s eyes cut deeper than a knife, another Two Rivers saying. (Page 121)
  • The simple form of it was this: where a spymaster should doubt his own face in the mirror, Omerna believed anything. (Page 255)
  • If you took risks, sometimes the bill came due when you least expected, in the last way you expected. (Page 292)
  • Elayne’s first wincing instinct was to smooth it over somehow, though how was a question she could not begin to answer. As easy to smooth over a mountain range. (Page 384)
  • “Women do not become exhausted,” Haman said, “they only exhaust others. That is a very old saying among us.” (Page 464)
  • Rumor might cross a hundred miles in a day or take a month, and it birthed ten daughters every day. (Page 506)
  • We are always more afraid than we wish to be, but we can always be braver than we expect. (Page 666)
  • ‘Fools only listen to themselves (Page 733)
  • “If you pursue two hares, both will escape you,” (Page 789)
  • She always touched him. Not blatantly, just fingers on his hand for a moment, on his arm, his shoulder. Hardly worth noticing. The third day a thought occurred that made the hair on the nape of his neck rise. When you were taming a horse that had never been ridden, you began with light touches, until the animal knew your touch would not hurt, until it stood still for your hand. After that came the saddle cloth, and later the saddle. The bridle was always last. (Page 910)
  • Rand let Sulin hold his coat for him to put on, for the simple reason that he would have had to rip it out of her hands physically to do otherwise. As usual, she tried to shove the garment onto him with no regard to details such as where his arms happened to be. (Page 916)

Highlights from the ‘Fire of Heaven’ (2)

This is my second post about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, book 5 in the series, ‘Fire of Heaven‘. I hadn’t intended on making it a multi-part post but I had too much highlighted to fit into the first post. I still have too much for two-posts, but I have decided it only gets two posts: whatever doesn’t fit, misses out.

(After reading so many books (and so many pages) in such a short timeframe it does all blend into a quagmire. I couldn’t tell you the main plot line of any book – it’s all one continuum in my mind. And I’m currently reading book 7, so forgive me if my thoughts and comments stray across lines. Unintentional spoiler alert).

In book 5 I definitely noticed the different journey of the characters. Matt, Rand, Perrin, Nynaeve and Egwene all started out in the same Two Rivers village. There were slight differences between them: Nynaeve was older and in a position of authority as the Village Wisdom, and Egwene had a tiny bit of status as the Mayor’s daughter. Excluding personality, gender and occupational differences they essentially shared the same world-view.

Now, after all going on separate journey’s, they are all radically different. This gives me one (or is it two?) insights on how to treat and understand characters:

  • a different journey produces different results
  • if you want different results, you must send characters on different journeys

It’s cause and effect from both angles. A characters growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. No two characters should go through the same event and come out exactly the same. Personality and individual resilience should at least create some differences, but for radical change I’d recommend radical diverging paths to make it believable. Egwene is destined for greatness – in her own way – and so her path leads her to be a Wise One’s apprentice among the Aiel. This radical diversion forces her to grow up much more rapidly, and have a different worldview from those she grew up with.

The same is true for Rand, forced by circumstance and prophecy to become a ruthless leader for the sake of the future. There just isn’t enough time before the Last Battle and everything he must do. Nestled amongst the writing is a class on plotting, I suspect tongue-in-cheek by Jordan, as described by Rand:

He could trace the steps that led to them, each necessary as it seemed at the time and seeming an end in itself, yet each leading inevitably to the next. (Page 663)

Which is exactly how plotting should be: surprising, yet inevitable developments. And the protagonist should not be master of their own domain. They must struggle – internally and externally, with deadly foe, lover and compromises in which no answer is perfect. They must be forced to choose, pushed and pulled like the wind and rocked by the waves. (And I’ve slipped back into Siuan’s fishing references). The protagonist who is in control is either a mistaken, or weakly written.

It would be easier if this was a story, he thought. In stories, there were only so many surprises before the hero knew everything he needed; he himself never seemed to know a quarter of everything. (Page 671)

There were always limits and rules, and he did not know them here. (Page 865)

Also present in this book is a great deal of emotional turmoil for the characters. Rand’s self-loathing over the fact that women were dying for him and worry that Elayne would believe the rumours that he killed her mother.

A Maiden or a Stone Dog, a spear is a spear. Only, thinking it could not make it so. I will be hard! He would let the Maidens dance the spears where they wished. He would. And he knew he would search out the name of every one who died, that every name would be another knife-cut on his soul. I will be hard. The Light help me, I will. The Light help me. (Page 843)

There are many different kinds of emotional strain that a character can face – visible threats from enemies, but also angst over love, friends and family. There are internal fears of failure or faults of success. A good story milks all of the human emotions in their varied forms.

And to finish up, some more noteworthy lines:

The hill valley twisted and forked as he angled north, but he had a good sense of direction. For instance, he knew exactly which way lay south and safety, and it was not the way he was heading. (Page 633)

Only a battle lost is sadder than a battle won. (Page 655)

The topknotted men, not much less ragged than those they fought, worked their two-handed swords methodically, craftsmen at their craft, and the onslaught went no further than their thin line. … Yet if they held the mob, it was Galad who broke them. He faced their charge as though awaiting the next dance at a ball, arms folded and unconcerned, not even bothering to bare his blade until they were almost on top of him. Then he did dance, all his grace turned in an instant to fluid death. He did not stand against them; he carved a path into their heart, a clear swathe as wide as his sword’s reach. Sometimes five or six men closed in around him with swords and axes and table-legs for clubs, but only for the brief time it took them to die. In the end, all their rage, all their thirst for blood, could not face him. It was from him that the first ran, flinging away weapons, and when the rest fled, they divided around him. As they vanished back the way they had come, he stood twenty paces from anyone else, alone among the dead and the groans of the dying. (Page 723, 724)

 

Highlights from ‘The Fires of Heaven’

Saturday I woke up at a ridiculous hour and so in the absence of sleep, finished book 6 of the Wheel of Time (WOT) series, Lord of Chaos. And although still held by the plot, I finished with a tired sigh and not just because of the hour.

When I began reading the series I knew it was a long series – but my understanding of the term ‘long’ was grossly inadequate. Unsubstantiated Googling informed me that the audiobooks for the series are over 17 days long. Apparently there are also 147 unique points-of-view (more eye-bleeding stats). Knowing too, that the quality of the series dips a little (or rather that the content of the books stretch excessively) I’m feeling a little apprehensive about how much farther in the journey I have to travel. I’m not even half way there yet! But I must slog on…

Perhaps in response to an earlier tweet of mine (ha!) Amazon Studio’s has announced they’re working on a WOT TV series. This is great news and has the potential to deliver a better story than even a series of movies. Jordan has created a fantastic world, rich with wonder and plot. Needless to say though, there is plenty that can be excised.

In any case, here are my highlights from book 5, The Fires of Heaven. I had over 4,500 worth of quotes. I want to write about a few of the themes in this book, and I think to do it well I should split it into at least two or three posts.

The major theme I want to talk about in this post is the interpersonal relationships between the characters, specifically the three females (Nynaeve, Elayne and Ewgene). The oldest Nynaeve was Village Wisdom and so previously in a position of authority over Ewgene. And Elayne as Daughter-Heir of Andor is used to a privileged upbringing. It is interesting to watch how the women see the world – completely blinded to their own faults. It almost gets too much for my male sensibilities 🙂

  • Egwene said. “Unless you let your temper get the better of you. You need to hold your temper and keep your wits about you if you’re right about the Forsaken, especially Moghedien.” Nynaeve glowered at her, opening her mouth to say that she could too keep her temper and she would smack Egwene’s ears if she thought differently, (Page 262)
  • Elayne also made two bundles, but hers were larger; she left nothing out except the spangled coats and breeches. Nynaeve refrained from suggesting that she had overlooked them; she should have, with the sulking that was going on, but she knew how to promote harmony. She limited herself to one sniff when Elayne ostentatiously added the a’dam to her things, though from the look she got in return, you would have thought she had made her objections known at length. By the time they left the wagon, the quiet could have been chipped and used to chill wine. (Page 719)
  • Nynaeve knew very well why they touched her most, too. Each story could have been the reflection of a thread in her own life. What she did not quite understand was why she liked Areina best. It was her opinion, putting this and that together, that nearly all of Areina’s troubles came from having too free a tongue, telling people exactly what she thought. It could hardly be coincidence that she was harried out of one village so quickly she had to leave her horse behind after calling the Mayor a pie-faced loon and telling some village women that dry-bones kitchen sweepers had no right to question why she was on the road alone. That was what she admitted to saying. Nynaeve thought a few days of herself for example would do Areina worlds of good. And there had to be something she could do for the other two, as well. She could understand a desire for safety and peace very well. (Page 740)
  • Seeing [the palace], and knowing that, made her understand a little of Elayne. Of course the woman expected the world to bend itself to her; she had grown up being taught that it would, in a place where it did. (Page 745)

And some great descriptions on the differences between men and women.

  • ‘The more women there are about, the softer a wise man steps.’ (Page 85)
  • With a sudden grin, she ruffled his hair. “He is my little mischief maker, now.” From the horrified look on Mat’s face, he was gathering his strength to run. (Page 140)

I like the second dotpoint especially. Matt is a girl-chasing, commitment-shunning individual. Continuing…

  • [On flirting] But I am out of practice, and I think he is the kind of man who might hear more promises than you meant to offer, and expect to have them fulfilled.” (Page 29) … Her usually brisk tones were gone, changed to a velvety soft caress. (Page 33)
  • He denied her, of course. Not his love for Nynaeve al’Maera, once a Wisdom in the Two Rivers and now an Accepted of the White Tower, but that he could ever have her. He had two things, he said, a sword that would not break and a war that could not end; he would never gift a bride with those. (Page 164)
  • Elayne shuddered elaborately. “Three hams. And that awful peppered beef! Do men ever eat anything but meat if it isn’t set before them?” (Page 184)
  • Sometimes she thought the Creator had only made men to cause trouble for women. (Page 285)
  • “Men always believe they are in control of everything around them,” Aviendha replied. “When they find out they are not, they think they have failed, instead of learning a simple truth women already know.” (Page 343)
  • Fall in love with a man, and you ended up doing laundry, (Page 440)
  • There was no point in arguing. In his experience, from Emond’s Field to the Maidens, if a woman wanted to do something for you, the only way to stop her was to tie her up, especially if it involved sacrifice on her part. (Page 469)
  • But neither made fun of him for backing down so visibly. Though that might well come later. Women seemed to enjoy jabbing the needle in just when you thought the danger past. (Page 622)
  • “You did not try to talk me out of it,” he said abruptly. He meant it for Moiraine, but Egwene spoke first, though to Aviendha, and with a smile. “Stopping a man from what he wants to do is like taking a sweet from a child. Sometimes you have to do it, but sometimes it just isn’t worth the trouble.” Aviendha nodded (Page 799)
  • “The Creator made women to please the eye and trouble the mind.” (Page 814)

Every Man’s Battle

Revery man's battleecently I’ve re-read “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. It’s a brutally honest book that acknowledges the trench-warfare-like struggles most men have with sexual purity. The authors don’t sugar-coat reality:

“Before men experience victory over sexual sin, they’re hurting and confused. Sexual immorality in our society is so subtle we sometimes don’t recognise it.”

The authors encourage the reader to fully examine their hearts (and actions) and offer practical tips for freeing oneself from a cycle of sexual compromise and sin. They openly acknowledge it’s going to be hard battle – with backward steps as well as forward. The cost of failure, however, is more than any man can afford. They encourage the reader to choose manhood, purity and honour.

“Holiness,” as they define it simply is, “a series of right choices.”

Sexual purity is a challenge for men of all ages and stages in life. Let’s tackle it head-on, and be men who learn to throw off the shackles of the enemy, and stop him from also oppressing those we love.