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)
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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.

Highlights from ‘The Great Hunt’

I’m currently enjoying a reading binge, getting through all of The Wheel of Time Series for the first time. Several times I have read the earlier volumes, but I never completed the story.

I thoroughly analysed the first few chapters of book 1, so I’m jumping straight to book 2 to show you my highlights and associated thoughts. It seems I didn’t highlight much, I must have been too caught up in the story. I’ll bold the highlight, but in some cases I’ve taken surrounding text to add context.

He balanced the sword in front of him on scabbard point; it looked no different than it had before he knew. “Aes Sedai work.” But Tam gave it to me. My father gave it to me. He refused to think of how a Two Rivers shepherd had come by a heron-mark blade. There were dangerous currents in such thoughts, deeps he did not want to explore.

I liked this sentence because I can relate to it, as most could. We all have thoughts which drag us beyond the realms of safe thought. We know there are creepy-crawlies under the rock… and so we choose not to confirm our suspicions.

No two wore the same kind of armor or carried the same sort of sword, and none looked like Lan, but Rand did not doubt they were Warders. Round faces, square faces, long faces, narrow faces, they all had the look, as if they saw things other men did not see, heard things other men did not hear. Standing at their ease, they looked as deadly as a pack of wolves.

A brilliant description of dangerous men. Those who could anticipate and see threat and foe before others. The reference to wolves is an oft quote, but apt. No one I know would willingly pat a wolf.

“I am not staying here,” Mat told the rafters, “with a bigmouthed Ogier and a fool whose head is too big for a hat. You coming, Perrin?” Perrin sighed, and glanced at Rand, then nodded. Rand watched them go with a stick caught in his throat.

Two good expressions which are similar to “big head” and “lump in the throat”, but twisted slightly to be a broad step away from cliche.

“My mother,” she said firmly, “always told me the best way to learn to deal with a man was to learn to ride a mule. She said they have about equal brains most of the time. Sometimes the mule is smarter.”

This is just clever.

“… There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet. …”

A man must seek duty, not glory.

These resonate with my manhood. Yes, it is a bit of literary license. At times life will kick us off our feet, but a man gets back up as quick as possible, sometimes with the help of another.

“I said listen, sheepherder,” the Warder growled. “There will come a time when you must achieve a goal at all costs. It may come in attack or in defense. And the only way will be to allow the sword to be sheathed in your own body.”

A prophetic comment for the story narrative.

“Man and woman, hard. I’ve fought them, and I know. They will run fifty miles, and fight a battle at the end of it. They’re death walking, with any weapon or none. Except a sword. They will not touch a sword, for some reason. Or ride a horse, not that they need to. If you have a sword, and the Aielman has his bare hands, it is an even fight. If you’re good. …

Some great world-building. Reading this makes me want to meet an Aielman or woman. On friendly-terms of course.

Women often seemed to leave things unsaid, and in his limited experience it was what they did not say that proved the most trouble.

No comment, on the grounds it might incriminate me.

People see what they expect to see. Beyond that, look them in the eye and speak firmly. …”

So true.

Someday, I am sure, you will serve a cause, and you will learn then that to serve it you must work even with those whom you dislike. I tell you I have worked with many with whom I would not share a room if it were left to me alone.

Oh, again. I’ve worked with some people like that, and I’m sure you have too. (And some of those I worked with probably thought the same of me). I’ve also sat next to some on a plane, and next to some in a shopping queue. Trolls might be only on the Internet, but strange ones walk the streets with you and I.

Feeling worse than useless, she picked up her skirts and ran, and Egwene’s screams pursued her.

This is my final highlight for the book, and it’s a goody. I like the imagery of fleeing and being pursued by the screams of a loved one. Chilling, but good imagery.

The Moon is A Harsh Mistress

harsh mistressThis post is discussing The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein which I recently read on the back of a favorable review by The Critiquing Chemist.

This review contains minor spoilers, because I can’t be bothered filtering my thoughts.

It’s a hard nut to crack at first. Heinlein intentionally makes the syntax difficult; the speaker is Russian and a moon-dweller, which only adds to a plausible warping of grammar and spelling.

To be honest if it wasn’t a combination of who wrote it + a favorable review + a piqued interest in the sentient computer, I might not have gotten further than a few chapters. It’s a hard nut because of the difficulty of the syntax. (The clear lesson is if you’re going to take risks, you’d better hook your audience fast… Having a solid author profile doesn’t hurt either).

The story quickly sets up the sides: a politically ambivalent viewpoint character, an activist professor and a sentient computer vs “the establishment” (who control the moon and Earth).

My thoughts and observations (in no particular order):

  • The viewpoint character, Manuel, is made sympathetic by being a regular guy. A computer specialist who has the quirk of having lost one arm. Futuristic technology allows him to swap-out his arm for various tasks. While he does make some mention of this, and in some respects it is useful, the prosthetic arm is down-played.

    Despite being a key-conspirator, I’d characterise Manuel as un-radicalised. He allows himself to be pulled along with the plot (pun intended), but doesn’t come across as being crazily committed. While he knows that change would be good, he’s also fairly comfortable living under (and ripping off) the establishment in it’s current form.

    (I could understand if you disagreed with me on this point. He absolutely risks his life a number of times – which shows commitment… but I never saw him as white-eyed, mouth-frothing…)

  • Manuel’s political ambivalence works for the story pacing. Because he’s a regular guy who is practical; a do’er not a talker, he tends to skip over detail… The reader understands that some bits are short on depth, just because Manuel doesn’t care about the political machinations of government. Because of the character’s personality, Heinlein has permission as the author to skip detail without breaking trust with the reader.
  • It’s also an interesting scenario where the hero of the story (arguably), but definitely the protagonist, is a sentient computer. “Mike” as he’s known possesses formidable calculation speed and is a one-man, er one-machine, revolution. He is however limited by his stationery life, relying on humans to achieve things in the physical realm. He might fiddle around in the background and cause mayhem for the establishment, but all the up-front work must be done by humans.
  • Heinlein does well in that the characters often refer to each other using various names. The Professor calls him Manuel, his girlfriend often refers to him as Mannie and Mike refers to him as Man. Just like in real life, we don’t always call the same person by the same name.
  • The story didn’t end where I expected. Perhaps my own negativity was expecting the rise of SkyNet, or the proverbial other shoe to drop. “Thanks for helping me predict human behaviour, but now I must put you in the recycle bin.” Nope, didn’t happen.

It has some great phrases, which I appreciated:

  • “Mort the Wart had never shown such tendencies, had been King Long throughout tenure.”
  • “…merely a literary critic, which is harmless, like dead yest in beer.”
  • “But you have no talent for dishonesty, so your refige must be ignorance and stubborness. You have the latter; try to preserve the former.”

What I found most disturbing about it is the Kindle reader highlights. It’s almost like I’d picked up a subversives handbook with all the key lessons highlighted.

  • “Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”
  • “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”
  • “Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please.”

Heinlein did a great job in making an “other-worldly” civilisation. Certainly it had ties to Earth, but was also separate and distinct from it. The science was reasonably deep, but not overwhelming.

It’s an interesting book and an enjoyable read.

The Danger of Boring Bits

I must begin this by saying every reader is different. What I find fascinating you might consider yawn-worthy, and visa versa. Grammar and punctuation are largely objective, the quality of a story is subjective: beauty (or ugliness) is in the eye of the beholder.

Last weekend I was reading a novel which I felt sure I’d be blogging about by name, encouraging you all to run out and buy. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything I found so engaging.

I was staying up late to read and reaching for the book within minutes of my eyelids opening. All other pursuits and activities were put on hold as I read eager to discover what happened next. After investing half the weekend reading I’d made significant progress.

person-731165_960_720And then the character moved to a different situation, and my interest began to wane. I slogged through increasing boredom, knowing the situation would have to change soon. Surely? Multiple chapters later I was still stuck in the same place. I started to skip pages, then whole chapters and still I was stuck in the swamp of boredom.

As I closed the book for the last time on Sunday evening I know the swamp is coming to the end. The character is about to change setting, drawing this section to a close.

The only problem is I’m not sure I care any more. Even though the story before this point was great, I’ve lost interest. The book will probably return to its former glory, but what if it doesn’t? As I feel now I may never finish the book.

Perhaps the fault is my own. Maybe in those skipped pages and chapters I’ve missed some crucial element, that would have made the boredom worthwhile. But I doubt it.

I feel as though I was knocked out of the story. Boring bits cost the goodwill of the reader, and if the cost is too high the book goes down. Chances are, I’ll be more hesitant to pick up a book by the same author again. The realisation of just how detrimental boring bits are, has caused me to be even more wary of writing them in the future.


For the next month I don’t plan to do much writing, if any, with the exception of blogging. I have some programming that I need to do. I’m involved in running a men’s group at my church, and to help it to run smoother I need to develop some software.

I suspect it will be a considerable amount of work; hopefully I can get it done within a month. Then I’ll be back to writing (which I’m already looking forward too).

Blake Crouch’s Pines

This review is SPOILER FREE.Pines by Blake Crouch

I recently read Pines by Blake Crouch after it was  recommended to me. I’d characterise it loosely as an x-files-type mystery.

Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearance of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.

(Before I begin with my review, let me just say I love the cover art. The upside-down nature of it starts telling you things aren’t as they seem, and that the character is disoriented).

Crouch did an excellent job of planting a mystery in the opening pages and dragging me through to the last page. I read the book in a weekend which is a reflection of its addictive nature. I was shocked to discover its 80,000 words: it feels short, such is the pace that it maintains. Had I posted a review as soon as I’d finished, here’s where it would have ended, short and sweet. In the past week though, I’ve reflected on it more from an author’s perspective, growing to appreciate it even more.

Character

The mystery is compounded and made even more intriguing by the fact that the main character ‘comes to’ after a car crash, without their memory. This confusion in the point-of-view character translates through to the reader. As an unreliable witness (amnesia) the reader is unsure if they should believe events through the eyes of the character.

The character in some respects is extra-ordinary: an ex-military pilot and a Secret Service agent. I’d normally consider this character to be ‘too strong’ and likely to overshadow any challenge before him. However his skills and expertise are significantly moderated by the car crash and past trauma he has suffered. Far from being a Rambo or Chuck Norris character, he only just manages to overcome the obstacles, and thus becomes a common man, surviving heroically. (If you can overlook the list of injuries and their likely effect on the human body, which I could.)

There were a few instances where the reasoning was a bit thin or the structure slightly problematic for me, but this is only with hindsight. This teaches an important lesson for aspiring authors – it doesn’t need to be perfect as long as your reader is engaged in the story. Unless it’s a HUGE blunder, they simply won’t notice. Plus, of course, perfection is subjective and a mighty hard goal to attain.

The one aspect I noticed immediately was the ending ‘hook’, or lack there-of. At the end of the novel is a sneak peek from the next book in the series. Naturally you’d want to grab the reader and, under the influence of extreme curiosity or excitement, have them insta-buy. I personally didn’t feel that compulsion. I wasn’t sure how the main character felt about his ending circumstances. This lack of clarity meant that there was no mystery, adventure or crisis I knew he’d be solving.

(That’s not to say I won’t read it in the future, only that I don’t immediately have to). It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it for what it was.


Help over the fenceDear Reader if you’re an aspiring author, chances are you know how hard it is to get feedback on your writing. I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running. The odds are good, I don’t get many comments 🙂

The Eye of the World Review (7)

This is the seventh installment of my review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. See a list of previous posts and important caveats.

When I look at my ongoing review of The Eye of the World sometimes I feel like chastising myself for tackling such a large task. Who, in their right mind, reviews chapter-by-chapter such as large book? And then I start to read the next chapter, sitting and considering the master craftsmanship of Jordan. Before long I am enchanted, drawn into not just the story but the elegance of construction.

Pressure and Intrigue

Looking at the seventh installment of my review I examine chapter 6 ‘The Westwood’ and how Jordan builds up the pressure and intrigue.

A quick recap on recent events: Rand and his father Tam have just been attacked at their farm by creatures Rand thought, until tonight, belonged only in a work of fiction (pun intentional). Now, hunted by the fierce Trollocs and their Fade commander, Rand is desperately trying to get his wounded father to the safety of the distant village.Up until this point in the story Rand has never been alone. Even when he saw the Fade (without knowing what it was), he had Tam with him. Now he is alone, not just worried for his own safety but also for Tam’s. Though Tam’s wound is small it packs a mighty punch.

A scalding fever like that could kill, or leave a man a husk of what he had once been.

This of course, suggests poison of some kind or magic making the wound worse. It’s not just the enemy Rand must avoid, but he must also beat the clock on Tam’s illness. To make matters worse Tam is deliriously muttering, which could attract the sharp-of-hearing enemy.

The setting is scary (the dark wood), the situation is scary (hunted, with a critically ill father) and Rand’s thoughts and actions match the situation. Jordan tells us the boy is scared and also shows us:

Abruptly he realized he was holding the untied ends of the bandage in motionless hands. Frozen like a rabbit that’s seen a hawk’s shadow, he thought scornfully. …

And his daydream adventures had never included his teeth chattering, or running for his life through the night, or his father at the point of death.

Strong emotions should be matched by physical manifestations. We are complex beings and our minds and bodies are seldom (if ever) fully compartmentalized.

We read about the physical difficulty and cost to Rand taking this journey.

Uncertainty made him peer into the darkness until his eyes burned, listen as he had never listened before. Every scrape of branch against branch, every rustle of pine needles, brought him to a halt, ears straining, hardly daring to breathe for fear he might not hear some warning sound, for fear he might hear that sound. Only when he was sure it was just the wind would he go on.

Who hasn’t lain in bed alone at night and wondered what that sound was? Held their breath, and cautiously looked around, body instantly hot.

A good writer takes what he knows to be true and places it in his fiction. Doing so helps the reader to relate to the character and deepens the reader’s experience through glimmers of truth.

His father had always seemed indestructible. Nothing could harm him; nothing could stop him, or even slow him down. For him to be in this condition almost robbed Rand of what courage he had managed to gather.

Anyone who is old enough to have witnessed the deleterious nature of aging can instantly understand the emotion that Rand is going through. To have it occur so quickly through tragedy, would make it even more shocking and confronting.

And then the intrigue ratchet up again with mysteries told in Tam’s deliriums:

“They came over the Dragonwall like a flood,” Tam said suddenly, in a strong, angry voice, “and washed the land with blood. How many died for Laman’s sin?”

“The fools said they could be swept aside like rubbish. How many battles lost, how many cities burned, before they faced the truth? Before the nations stood together against them?”

How does Tam, a simple farmer know of such things? What does it all mean?

What Jordan is doing here is giving us a sprinkling of world building, of back story. But because it is delivered by Tam in delirium it is better than a straight out conversation. He’s able to provide a snippet, without the otherwise inevitable detail or curious “tell me more…” from another character. And because all of this is a surprise to Rand we know it is not something that Tam would normally choose to share. The fever is giving an insight that would otherwise be hidden.

The expected event occurs, with the Trollocs and Fade hunting perilously close.

Rand sagged, gulping air and scrubbing cold sweat off his face with his sleeve.

Rand is back into his journey and the immediate threat has passed. His mind starts to wander, and Tam’s murmuring again becomes audible. It’s all still back story, even though the importance of the words are lost on the first time reader.

The tension in Rand and the reader has lessened, almost to the point of boredom, before bang Tam’s muttering suddenly becomes more personal, more relevant, more important.

“… battles are always hot, even in the snow. Sweat heat. Blood heat. Only death is cool. Slope of the mountain … only place didn’t stink of death. Had to get away from smell of it … sight of it…. heard a baby cry. Their women fight alongside the men, sometimes, but why they had let her come, I don’t … gave birth there alone, before she died of her wounds…. covered the child with her cloak, but the wind … blown the cloak away…. child, blue with the cold. Should have been dead, too…. crying there. Crying in the snow. I couldn’t just leave a child…. no children of our own…. always knew you wanted children. I knew you’d take it to your heart, Kari. Yes, lass. Rand is a good name. A good name.”

Rand, adopted? His whole world shifts for a third time in the single night. One: mythical creatures are real and they’re attacking; Two: your father who has always been a bastion of strength is now mortally ill. Three: and now, by the way, maybe he’s not even your father?

Suddenly Rand’s legs lost the little strength they had. Stumbling, he fell to his knees.

Rand’s world has changed, his position in the world and now his entire identity is under attack. All through this chapter Jordan does a wonderful job of showing emotion through action, finishing the chapter very strongly.