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The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams (Book 1 of The Last King of Osten Ard)

The Witchwood CrownIt was with equal parts anticipation and trepidation that I began reading The Witchwood Crown, the first book in The Last King of Osten Ard series which follows the classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. The anticipation points are obvious: there is evidence all over this blog how deep I’ve gotten into Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and how much I and many other readers were looking forward to continuing the story, revisiting the world of Osten Ard. And while I had no trepidation about whether it would be a good book (I’ve read almost everything Tad has written, and have enjoyed them all), my concerns were split between personal and magnanimous. Personal, in that as Tad is the GOD of Osten Ard he has the power and the right to not pursue characters and plot lines that I the self-absorbed reader would want to follow. Magnanimous, in that Tad deserves the kind of world-wide recognition and success that authors whose works came out in the Internet age of Reddit, HBO and You-Tube receive. When Memory, Sorrow and Thorn hit the presses between 1988 and 1993, an author’s legend was formed on word-of-mouth and newspaper reviews. The DAW flyer that was sent out with promotional copies described Tad Williams as a “California-based fantasy superstar.” This book, this series is and was the chance to show the world what those of us who are fans of MS&T knew was true.

I was also very interested to see how Tad’s writing experience would express itself. After thirty years of writing, plus some great collaborative editing with his wife Deb and with the experience of venturing outside of fantasy with other series, Tad’s had a lot of pages to hone his craft.

Happily, my worries on most of the above were all for naught. The Witchwood Crown is better than we could have hoped for – at times poetic in its philosophizing, blatant in its treachery, tear-jerking (no, Audrey, I didn’t cry reading this book either!) and exciting. My biggest issue was trying to slow down my reading at the end, knowing I’d be waiting twelve months for the next installment.

Though I do not believe a new reader would be lost starting here instead of reading MS&T (and the follow-on novel, The Heart of What Was Lost), I highly recommend riding the entire Osten Ard train, and then diving into this one. Or at least read the re-read eBook (shameless plug).

My reactions fall into several categories:

  • Past characters – who would be in the plot? who, after 30 years, were too old to continue? who would be left out? How many times would I cry out “No, Tad! Don’t do it!”?
  • New characters – how would they blend in? I’m including those characters that were introduced in The Heart of What Was Lost (THOWWL) as well here.
  • Motivation – Tad has spoken in many interviews about his motivation for getting back to Osten Ard. What would be the motivation for the story, what would keep the characters moving?
  • Repetition – in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, Tad paid homage to and broke some of the (at the time) well-laid and well-worn fantasy tropes. And the story of a boy who turned into a man who turned into a hero with a to-be-revealed past played well with Simon. Would we see more of that, or a different plot line? Would this be Utuk’ku vs. mankind part deus (since we know she is only in the deep sleep)?
  • Differences in Tad’s writing - Tad’s older and has many pages under his belt. How would his writing show the changes?
  • Continuity – there are at least two more books planned in the Last King of Osten Ard series. What will be the reason for continuing?

I will mark each section if there are potential spoilers for those who have not yet read the book. If it is on the cover blurb and freely available, I’ll assume it is not a spoiler. The potential spoiler passages will be blurred out like this next section   this is a SPOILER  - just hover over to see it.

Past characters

One of the hardest challenges of The Witchwood Crown, of continuing a series such as Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, is how to handle the characters that Tad knew all of us had grown very attached to, while weaving in the new ones that will carry the story forward. I am totally enthralled in the way Tad is pursuing this.

Tad writes the reunions of his old characters like they are reunions between his readers and those same characters, as it should be:

But both the King and the wolf-riding apparition had stopped in the middle of the bridge and were climbing down from their mounts, paying little attention to nobody but each other.
“Binabik!” his grandfather shouted, then pulled the small figure into his arms like a father whose child had been returned to him after a long, frightening absence. (pg. 91)

While I wouldn’t call the time without Osten Ard frightening, it has certainly been long and arduous!

The returning mortal characters are 30-or-so years older, and King Simon and Queen Miri have been working to rebuild a war-torn kingdom in that time, while Simon learns what it is to rule. The interplay between these two 50-somethings is one of the best characterizations of the writing. Tad lets us see glimpses of the people that they were (Simon referring to himself as “mooncalf”, Miri telling stories about him) while showing us the people and couple that they are now. They should be enjoying the twilight of their lives, but their kingdom is under siege from forces within and outside.

He didn’t mean to sound like a hurt child, but he knew that he did. At the moment though, hidden by the darkness, he did not care. “When we argued earlier, you all but called me a ‘kitchen boy.’ As if, despite more than thirty years of being a king, of ruling at your side, I was still a child you thought you had to instruct.”
“No, no. That’s not true. It’s not even fair.” He heard her bare feet pad across the floor, felt the bed sag slightly as she climbed back in. “It’s just…sometimes I lose patience.”
“As you would lose patience with a child. Or a simpleton.”
“Simon, please. It isn’t like that. Not truly.” Her hand found his in the darkness and curled within it, like an exhausted animal looking for shelter. “I love you so much that is sometimes makes me think I would go mad without you. But sometimes you don’t seem to think beyond what you can see, what you can reach. If someone tells you the mean well, you believe them. If someone fails you but tried hard, you never punish them or even dismiss them.” (pg 590)

This occurred after the oldsters had just made mad, passionate love. Relationships are complex, even after 30 years of marriage. Tad knows this, and his depiction of their relationship is complicated and engaging. I’ve never been a big fan of Miriamele, but I am a fan of her vivid depiction: a spoiled former princess who has maintained some of her airs as Queen. She is balanced out by Simon, who she constantly chides for being too nice and naive.

As noted above Binabik is back, as are Tiamak, Count Eolair, Jerimias and others. Alas, age affects mortal men and mortal beasts. Duke Isgrimnur, a key figure in both the original trilogy and THOWWL, was old in those books and barely makes it to this one. Also, Qantaqa, Binabik’s wolf partner, has went to that great wolf home in the sky. He will be sorely missed.

Josua, Miri’s uncle, has not been heard from in quite some time, along with his wife and his twin children (who were the subject of Aditu’s prophecy – see below). This is from the book cover blurb.

Utuk’ku was, at the end of MS&T (and in THOWWL as well) in a deep recovery sleep after her defeat in To Green Angel Tower. As the book cover blurb states, she has awakened.

The Sithi are back as well, though the ones we know and love do not make their presence known until the very end of the novel.

New characters

There are two vectors here: how would the new characters introduced in The Heart of What Was Lost influence this new series? And how would new characters be integrated amongst the Simon, Miriamele, Binabik, Tikmak core group of players?

On my first reading of The Heart of What Was Lost my impression of it was that it was a nice vignette (short by Tad standards!), a standalone novel if you will, the main purpose of which was to get readers back into the world of Osten Ard and get them primed for the series. Au contraire! There are major plot points and characters that were introduced in that lovely bridge novel that highly impact The Witchwood Crown.

From The Heart of What Was Lost, the characters of Porto the misplaced warrior, Viyeki the Norn High Magister of the Order of Builders and and several half-breed Norn-mortals (which was excellently setup by THOWWL) play a roll in The Witchwood Crown, with  Viyeki and his half-breed daughter Nezeru  acting as point-of-view characters in several chapters. With The Heart of What Was Lost, we were able to see a Norn’s point of view, and luckily this continues even more so in The Witchwood Crown. There is no black and white/good and evil, lots of shades of grey on all sides.

Tad always has written strong female characters, and the new characters introduced here are no exception. Viyeki’s half-breed daughter Nezeru is a central character, strong but conflicted between her human and Norn selves. She is my favorite of all of the new characters introduced.

Prince Morgan, grandson of Simon and Miri, is a central character. There are some similarities with Simon from the first book; they both have some growing up to do. But there the similarities end. Morgan drinks and cavorts his way through his first chapters. Will he be able to grow out of that and be able to lead the Kingdom? Is he the titular Last King of Osten Ard? Tad writes spoiled rotten kid roles very well (see above comment about Miri), but Morgan is very  complex depiction of that personality.

Motivation

In my article on where MS&T fit in the history of fantasy, I wrote “From a certain perspective, Williams’ MS&T is at once an homage to LOTR and a commentary on those parts that seem a bit ‘black and white.’ I still believe this was the motivation for the series – to take the success Tolkein had with his imageries of pure good vs. pure evil, and make them more grey. I was very interested in trying to discern what Williams’ motivation for diving back into the world was…but even after devouring this first book, I do not yet know. Anticipation is a GOOD thing.

All of the characters that we followed in the first series are 30 years older. For the immortal ones, that is a minor blip; but for the mortals, many of them have reached the advanced ages of life; Simon and Miri would be in their 50s if my math is correct. There are certainly the plot points of ruling a kingdom, of lands whose rulers are less that subservient or whose rulers are in danger of being usurped. However, this is certainly not motivation enough to extend the classic MS&T.

The prophecy that Aditu foretold in MS&T about Josua and Vorzheva’s twins was seen by many as motivation. For those that don’t have it memorized (I had to go back and find it) it is:

“They will be as close as brother and sister can be,” Aditu intoned, her voice suddenly solemn and powerful, “although they will live many years apart. She will travel in lands that have never known a mortal woman’s step, and will lose what she loves best, but find happiness with what she once despised. He will be given another name. He will never have a throne, but kingdoms will rise and fall by his hand.” The Sitha’s eyes opened wide, but seemed to gaze far beyond the confines of the room. “Their steps will carry them into mystery.” (pg. 411-412 of To Green Angel Tower)

The twins are in this book, not quite in the way I’ve imagined them. I’ll leave no spoilers here because I thought the reveal was pretty sweet. But I do not think this is Tad’s main motivation for restarting the series.

Nor do I think a second battle with Utuk’ku (though with her awakening that certainly seems likely) is Tad’s motivating factor either.

I was hoping for a view into the Norns’ perspective. That came with THOWWL and increases here.  The breeding of Norns with mortals, and the pursuant issues of prejudice and judgement of the pure bloods vs. half-breeds that comes with that, are a central part of the Norns story in this series, central to their survival and a major change in their culture. Williams writes scenes involving these characters very well, showing the  full blood Norns disdain for their less than pure brethren.

I do not think the reason for the series has been revealed by the end of this first book, although the search for the item that is indeed The Witchwood Crown (though we readers still do not know what it is) leads me to believe that it, its backstory and its usage will provide us the answer for Tad’s return to Osten Ard.

Repetition

There are several themes and plot lines that are similar between MS&T and this new novel.

MS&T can be described as a coming-of-age story of a boy that grows up to challenge dark forces led by a vengeful immortal Queen (with a Storm King side-kick, plus a mad mortal King). And that one line description could be used to describe the basis of The Witchwood Crown as well, as a lot centers on Prince Morgan who indeed has quite a bit of growing up to do.

MS&T could also be described as a treatise on love…and not just Simon’s and Miri’s. The motivation for King Elias to do the evil things he did, though it was never explicitly stated, was to go back in time to when his dear wife was alive. And let’s not forget about the love between Binabik and Qantaqa!!! The Witchwood Crown richly explores the love of Simon and Miri, but it does not seem to be as deep a theme as the first series.

There’s also a bit of familiarity of Simon and Binabik’s friendship with the one between Morgan and the Qanuc Snenneq.

I’m not pointing these out as bad things, and certainly not laziness on the writer’s part. These tie ins of familiarity are actually stimulating for readers of the first series, reminding us of what happened and how it felt to make that journey.

Differences in Tad’s Writing

It’s easy to forget that, as legendary as Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is in the annals of fantasy (see my article on SFSignal), it was the second piece of writing Tad Williams did (after Tailchaser’s Song if my history is correct). Like the characters in his book, Tad is older (though the shaved head hides it well!) and wiser…and certainly a more experienced writer. With Otherland, ShadowMarch, Bobby Dollar and other works under his belt, the pacing in The Witchwood Crown feels more natural, the characterizations more defined, the plot tighter. Some of this may be attributed to the familiarity of the world, much could be the editing of Tad’s lovely wife Deborah. It feels like a runner hitting his stride, and I can’t help but wonder if this is why Tad picked up the thread of the story…like a runner who’s feeling it and signs up for a race with confidence.

One of the knocks on The Dragonbone Chair is that it starts off slowly. There are a couple of chapters in that first book where I would agree with that sentiment – though I do enjoy the setup, the surrounding of the reader with the normalcy of Simon’s everyday life before all heck breaks loose. I personally experienced no such slowness of pace in The Witchwood Crown. I was told that I would speed through the last 200 pages – and the temptation and motivation was certainly there (though I resisted to make it last).

There are some situations here that are much more adult than the previous series, which I welcome…as they are a specific part of either the plot, or, more importantly of characterizations (especially of Simon and Miri, Pasevalles and Nezeru (not together). ).

Continuation

I do not recall reading any of Tad’s books that possess more cliff hangers than this one. Perhaps the fact that I could re-read the first trilogy back-to-back-to-back made any cliff hangers seem less significant.

In this novel, it seems that almost every major character was left hanging in one form or another – or revealed something about themselves that made us wonder how they were motivated to do that. On the one hand, I’d like to poke Mr. Williams in the ribs and shout “what the hell, Tad?” for doing that to us loyal readers. On the other hand, that might slow him down from completing the 2nd book in the saga.

There are certainly more than enough plot lines and secrets to be revealed to keep this series barreling along through the inevitable fourth book (a large third book split in two equals four)!

Things I wish would have happened

These have nothing to do with anything, just random thoughts. These contain MAJOR spoilers, so tread lightly.

  •  Aditu’s child was Simon’s. C’mon, we’re all thinking it, I just wrote it out loud!
  • Qantaqa, Binabik’s first wolf, was still alive. Maybe the wolf could have had an injection of Sithi blood or DNA to make the wolf immortal.

In Conclusion

If DAW, the publisher of this series, does a year between books, then there’s only 11 months until Empire of Grass. At least I’ve got a Packers season and the rest of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series to tide me over. Tad recently posted on Facebook that he was cleaning out the garage. If that was in any way slowing down the writing/publishing of the next novel, he could have found ample volunteers for the chore!

Tad’s trophy chest, though full of awards for bass playing, garage cleaning and promoting clowns, is empty of Hugo and Nebula awards. This books is a great story, a great start to a new series. We’ll see what else comes out this year, but The Witchwood Crown should certainly be in consideration.

Tad Williams Osten Ard

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 5

As much as I tried to make the return to Osten Ard in The Witchwood Crown last, for there is a wait of at least a year before The Empire of Grass arrives, it had to end at some point. Similar to the binge watching Netflix crowd who like to feast on entire seasons of a show in a few (or one!) sittings, I like to line up the books in a series and plow right through them. This is not just for continuity, but also for the freshness that comes with the characters. I’m in the midst (interrupted only by Tad’s latest) of a straight read through of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, which is a march through ten massive novels (with some of his cohort Ian Esselmont’s stories thrown in as well).

But for an Osten Ard novel, I will make an exception.

It will take me a while to get my thoughts together, but I would certainly agree with the job title attributed to Mr. Williams in the DAW promotional note that accompanied the book I received (thanks John!)….Tad Williams is indeed a  California-based fantasy superstar. He may not get paid as much as that other California-based fantasy superstar (who plays for Tad’s hometown Warriors)…a deeper conversation on the compensation differences between those who write prose that will last several lifetimes, and those who entertain us with skill in sports.

Tad Williams Osten Ard

In the mean time for my friend Ylva (who probably already has this memorized), here’s a list of the chapters (which I need to aid my memory as I write some notes). From my perspective after having read the book, there are no spoilers in reading these titles.

Foreword

Part 1 – Widows

  1. The Glorious
  2. The Finest Tent on the Frostmarch
  3. Conversation with a Corpse-Giant
  4. Brother Monarchs
  5. Awake
  6. An Aversion to Widows
  7. Island of Bones
  8. A Meeting on Lantern Bridge
  9. Heart of the Kynswood
  10. Hymns of the Lightless
  11. The Third Duke
  12. The Bloody Sand
  13. Lady Alva’s Tale
  14. Ghosts of the Garden
  15. Atop the Holy Tree
  16. A Layer of Fresh Snow
  17. White Hand
  18. A Bad Book
  19. The Moon’s Token
  20. His Bright Gem
  21. Crossroad
  22. Death Songs
  23. Testament of the White Hand

Part Two – Orphans

  1. Terrible Flame
  2. Example of a Dead Hedgehog
  3. The Inner Council
  4. Noontide at the Quarterly Maid
  5. Cradle Songs of Red Pig Lagoon
  6. Brown Bones and Black Statues
  7. The Slow Game
  8. A High, Dark Place
  9. Rosewater and Balsam
  10. Secrets and Promises
  11. Feeding the Familiar
  12. The Man with the Odd Smile
  13. A Foolish Dream
  14. Two Bedroom Conversations
  15. The Factor’s Ship
  16. A Grassland Wedding
  17. Watching Like God

Part Three – Exiles

  1. Hern’s Horde
  2. Forest Music
  3. Into Deeper Shadows
  4. Charms and Tokens
  5. A Nighttime Sun
  6. River Man
  7. Hidden Chambers
  8. The Little Boats
  9. Blood as Black as Night
  10. Several Matters of State
  11. Stolen Scales
  12. Homecoming
  13. Their Masters’ Folly
  14. Voices Unheard, Faces Unseen

Afterword

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 4

As I sit on Chapter 28 of 54 chapters in The Witchwood Crown, a few random observations:

Chapter Names

I mentioned this in the re-read and commentary eBook that I put together, but I’ll bring it up again. I normally never read the Chapter names in a book. Some authors keep it simple by naming the chapter at the PoV character (looking at you, Mr. GRRM!); some do not even bother with naming their chapters (guilty!). But I noticed during the re-read that Tad’s chapter names had either foreshadowing, humor or serious sarcasm in them.

The name of Chapter 28 made me think Tad was laughing when he pulled that one out of his…head. It conjures up many different images at once, and somehow made me think of the WerePig from the Bobby Dollar series!

The Witchwood Crown chapter name

 

The Appendix of The Witchwood Crown

There is a 15 page Appendix in To Green Angel Tower (which is 1,066 pages in hardback) versus a 25 page Appendix in The Witchwood Crown (which is 694 pages in hardback). Obviously the world of Osten And has grown, and/or Mr. Williams marching band of personal Scrollbearers did great research (perhaps a bit of both, and kudos to Ylva and Ron, great mentions in the Acknowledgements!). I’ve tried hard to stay out of the Appendix, for the same reason I’ve tried hard to stay away from other people’s reviews…no spoilers please!

The Back Cover Flap

To Green Angel Tower and The Witchwood Crown back cover flaps, side by side…I’ll just leave this image here. The Dogly one ages well!

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 3

Binabik-isms

The Witchwood Crown is set some 30-odd years after the end of To Green Angel Tower. This implies that some of the mortal characters will be around in the new series, and some will not. It should not be a spoiler (and I apologize if it is) to anyone that Binabik is around.

In the re-read and commentary eBook that I put together on Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (on Amazon here), I tried to call out every saying that Binabik mentioned, every Binabik-ism. Given that they were translated from his native language into Simon’s Erkynlandish, they had a very roundabout but wise-sounding way of getting to the point. As the “Singing Man” of his people, perhaps cataloging these phrases is part of the job?

The first Binabik-ism that I came across in The Witchwood Crown reads like a parallel to getting back into Osten And:

“My people are saying that to meet an old friend is like the finding of a welcoming campfire in the dark,” the little man said.

The Witchwood Crown

And, one page later, yet another:

“As we also say on Mintahoq, hanna via mo siqsiq, chahu naha! – as easily be trying to catch an avalanche in a thimble as to make the seasons stand still.”

I’m sure there will be many more

The Witchwood Crown maps

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 2

Maps

I like maps. And I’m not referring to Google Maps, Waze or Apple Maps. I’m talking about paper maps. I still have the Texaco maps of states we drove through on camping trips with my parents in a Jayco Pop-Up camper, with my own felt-tip pen lines showing the roads and the stops along the way. Thus I’m quite content with the maps in The Witchwood Crown.

As an aside, if you also like maps, you should really subscribe to the MapPorn Reddit subgroup.

In the original Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, our hero (not Simon – the author, Tad Williams) not only played the role of writer but also of cartographer. He’s listed on the credits page, and in the bottom right of the maps is a “TW” set of initials.

In The Witchwood Crown, the maps are by Isaac Stewart. Using my google-fu, I found out that he is THE Isaac Stewart who has done the maps for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and Stormlight Archives series…and now he has added The Witchwood Crown to an impressive portfolio.

Below is an image of the map in the first pages of To Green Angel Tower (on the right) with the map from the first pages of The Witchwood Crown on the left. Clicking on the image will take you to a mo’ bigger one.

The Witchwood Crown maps

The new map is excellently similar to Tad’s original map. Stewart’s has more detail, more names of places that were visited and discovered in MS&T. But I like the way it carries on the old tradition while embellishing on the original.

In typical Tad fashion, The Witchwood Crown has three parts (no names as thar be no spoilers here) and each part has one of Mr. Stewart’s maps at the beginning (in addition to the map pictured above which is at the beginning of the book). Each of the maps show additional detail of particular areas of the first overall map.

8 chapters in (out of 54 chapters)!

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 1

The Witchwood CrownMy personal wait for Tad Williams’ new Osten Ard novel, The Witchwood Crown, is finally over, thanks to my friend John D. who provided me the copy sent to him. I’m interrupting my goal (as I suspected I would) of reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen series straight through to read this. It’s a good stopping point, as I just finished the fifth of Steve Erikson’s books in the series (and it is a very good series, highly recommended).

The Last King of Osten Ard series (of which this is the first book) takes place thirty years after the original Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. As readers we all carry our preconceived notions of what the characters were and what they would become. So there’s always the question of what happened to the characters in that series…who died, who lived, who changed.

I’m only about 50 pages in, but already have a couple of observations:

  • Thus far, the character transitions are handled not only with respect but with reality. One example is of a character from the original series (no names to prevent spoilage) who reflects upon what those of us readers who read the original series when we were young feel about aging:

I have become Time’s poppet, he thought sadly. She plays with me as a child with a doll, pulling off a piece here, another there, dragging me through the mud, then carrying me back to sit at some mock-banquet.

  • The other unexpected piece is a tie-in with The Heart of What Was Lost. I enjoyed this novel, set just after the events of To Green Angel Tower but was happily surprised by how early Williams tied those pieces and characters together with this new narrative.

So far I’m able to throttle the desire to speed through it, and enjoy it like a fine tequila…Only 900 or so more pages to go!

SXSW 2017

SXSW2017 Bruce Sterling

SXSW2017 Bruce Sterling – notes from his customary keynote at the end of the Interactive portion of SXSW titled “The Future: History that hasn’t Happened Yet.”

SXSW2017 Bruce Sterling1st half – normal cantankerous recap

Some quotes from Sterling’s recap:

Intro – calls himself a “South-by Heritage item”

About global warming:

“Every year I appear, I’m like ‘wanna know about the future, climate’s changing.’ And every next year I come back, and it’s worse. CO2 this year, out the roof. There will be hell to pay.”

About the Donald:

“It tires me to hear America say this is not our America because Donald is President. That’s silly, right? Nobody outside America has that attitude. Of course they know this is the President of the United States. This is the president of the United States – a rich TV-star con-artist who mostly talks self-serving bullshit. And that’s very American. Russians, Germans, French, Norwegians, South Africans – none of them have a moments illusion about it.”

I haven’t been able to find a posted video of the talk, but there is an audio recording at Soundcloud.

2nd half – Universal Basic Income

The topic Mr. Sterling chose to be of interest this year was Universal Basic Income. It’s got an acronym – UBI.

He reviewed other times in history when cultural change has frightened people into thinking jobs are going away (e.g., the industrial revolution) but, as he says “people don’t just stand around….people just pickup, and life kind of proceeds diagonally.”

So it’s possible that UBI is hokey and will never happen, but it is possible that deep learning and automation will force a surplus of people that are unnecessary. There might be zero work with plenty and leisure, but they might be zero work with scarcity…”universal robotized poverty.”

UBI might get support from the polarized left and right…for different reasons.

He noted that we’d done this kind of thing before, “if it happens, it will be like previous historical human arrangements.”

I believe I captured his list, which is classified as in order from worst possible outcome to least harmful (which Sterling says is always the best way…”like going to gym first thing in the morning…it’s painful, but it’s the worst thing that will happen to you all day.”

  1. reservations (Native American Indians). “Took a couple of centuries….today we’d use drones.”
  2. prison systems and labor camps. “…an engineering solution….you don’t do it to be the villain.” Mentions Nazi death camps.
  3. refugee camps. “displaced people, they don’t have an economy.” Mentions UN Camps at $1200 per year.
  4. armed forces. “one huge paramilitary defense corps.” “an Army is not at the mercy of the robot engineers.” “Probably the most plausible.”
  5. retirement villages. “universal pension income.” “Everybody just learns to mimic the elderly.”
  6. academic. “Everybody learns. People are busy even if they aren’t making a wage.”
  7. religions. “No competition because the robots are all atheists.” Monasteries and nunneries. “Maybe you could be religious and in an army.”
  8. healthcare uber alles. “would you rather be rich and employed or be immortal?”
  9. intentional rural communes. “go back to the land, live next to nature.” “traditional, romantic, never works. Sucks unless you’re the Amish.”
  10. drop out urban bohemia. “like Christiania, Denmark…why doesn’t everyone just become a beatnik?” “This is the Austin solution…this is the Keep it Weird contingent….you’re going to pay me to keep it weird, let’s see how weird I can get!”
  11. enlightenment. “an aspiration for many centuries…become spiritual mendicants….permanent vacation from economics.” “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment – chop wood, carry water.”

It is possible that a UBI solution is completely new and bizarre and totally revolutionary and not something from human history.

“We’re so inventive that we’ve got no use for ourselves. We’re making ourselves obsolete.” If you said that to people 100,200 or 400 years ago, would they congratulate us?” They would probably question why they are defaulting our future to robots and AI? They are not historical participants.

“If humanity declared itself useless and we all vanished, our machines would stop.” Long discussion about machines having no ambition or appetite. Sterling is obviously not on the side of AI taking over the world.

“When we say our machines can render us irrelevant, we are buying into a suicidal ideology.” His basic concept here is the UBI concept is humanity bailing out on its responsibility, leaving running the world to machines.

I tried to find videos of Mr. Sterling’s other closing keynotes so I could keep them all in one place. Here’s what I’ve found:

2016:

2015

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book notes: Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont (Malazan)

There are at least 15 books in the Malazan world. From all I have heard, they are quite complex. So that I do not forget plot points or people, these are the reading notes for the Malazan novels by Steve Erikson and Ian Esslemont. I am somewhat following the reading order at this link.

I read the prologue for Gardens of the Moon (Steve Erikson’s first novel in his series) and saw that it had the same timestamp as this novel…so I switched over. The writing style between Erikson and Esslemont is quite a contrast. There are points in this novel by Esslemont that are vague; at first I thought that was because I was new to the series and names/places/plot points were many. But after re-reading some passages, it is actually vague. I’m not certain if this is on purpose, but it is another good reason to take notes.

Timeframe: 1154th year of Burn’s Sleep, 96th year of the Malazan Empire, last year of Emperor Kellanved’s reign

Location: Malaz Isle (at this point I have no clue if this is important or not, but, since it is called the Malazan Empire…CLUE!)

Same timeframe and location as the prologue of GARDENS OF THE MOON.

Prologue

Captain Murl’s ship, Rheni’s Dream, is getting stuck in ice south of Malaz Isle and his men are freezing to death. Ice riders pass them riding the sea and the ice, apparently heading for the Isle.

A Path Within Shadow

A creature named Edgewalker is walking along sand dunes. He comes across a creature he knows as Jhedel and asks him if anyone has passed. Jhedel is being held here against his will, and Edgewalker feels some type of change is coming (a disturbance in the force, Luke?). Apparently Jhedel slew his predecessors to take a throne, and then was bound by some who overthrew him in turn.

Edgewalker continued on. He was late, and time and the celestial dance of realms waited for no one. Not even entities as insane and portent as the one pinned behind him. When they conversed during more lucid moments, it could remember its full name, Jhe’ Delekaaran, and that it had once commanded this entire realm as King. Liege to the Que’tezani, inhabitants of the most distant regions of Shadow. And mad though he may be, Jhedel was right in one thing: it had been long since the Throne last held an occupant. With the coming of each Conjunction, this absence worried Edgewalker. But this time what intrigued him most was something so rare he’d almost failed to recognize it…the coiled potential for change. (pg 11)

Chapter One – Portents and Arrivals

We meet Temper, who from the get-go is obviously more than he seems. He thinks about previous battles and injuries, and the fact that the arrival of an Imperial Official couldn’t have anything to do with him. Temper gets off guard duty around Mock’s Hold, and beats the crap out of some pretender named Larkin. Temper is a bad man, but he holds his temper pretty well…get it?

Kiska is a young lady who knows the town and spies on people, hoping it will get her somewhere, raise her station in life. She’s stalking the Imperial Official’s group that Temper saw when on guard duty. They don’t jive with her either. She gets caught by a “Claw” (“Imperial intelligence officers, mages, enforcers of the Emperor’s will!”), but let go, after she begs for a job. She continues to watch, and just as she’s about to follow the party, a grey-cloaked man she didn’t see comes out of hiding in front of her, following the same quarry.

Temper is heading home, stops to help a known acquaintance named Rengel, who tells him of the Shadow Moon…which is the event that will apparently affect this entire book. And Rengel mentions the “Return.”

“Return stank of the cult that worshipped Kellanved, the man who along with his partner, Dancer, had founded the Imperium. They’d been missing for years. Some thought both dead, others that they’d vanished into some kind of thaumaturgic seclusion.” (pg. 38)

Temper thinks about a house across from the Hanged Man Inn, called the Deadhouse.

“Rumour also held that it was there that Kellanved and Dancer, along with others including Dassem and the current Regent, Surly, had live and plotted everything that followed. ….locals called it the Deadhouse.” (pg 39)

Interesting since book two from Erikson is titled Deadhouse Gates.

There’s a different crowd at Temper’s local bar (called Coop’s Inn, after the bar keep), and Coop warns Temper away from them.

I have no clue if Temper and Kiska come up again anywhere in the Malazan books. After the prologue of Gardens of the Moon the timeline skips forward a few decades, so my assumption is that they are just being used as story telling vehicles. But I’ve been wrong before.

Chapter Two – Assignations

This chapter ends up with more re-read notes that I had intended, but a lot goes on here that I assume is background for the entire series.

A quick para on the “Fisherman” who apparently has to head out in inclement weather. Must be important, or they wouldn’t have mentioned him.

Kiska lost track of the guy she was following (“She smelled the warrens on him”).  She follows on, through to an estate, climbs a wall and see two men on a bench.

The one on her right  was the man she’d followed, hood back, shaved scalp dark as rich loam, a long queue draped forward over one shoulder. The other was an old man, ghostly pale, white haired, thin shoulders hunched like folded wings. (page. 53)

She watches them for a while, one leaves. Kiska is about to leave when she hears something, jumps back up on the wall and see the “intruder from the wharf” (the other gent she did not see) standing over the form of the old man. She thinks him adept (that’s what Warrens are – a type of magic!). After a while, the magic man leaves and Kiska goes to rifle through the dead old man’s clothes to see who he is…only he isn’t dead, grabs her, she stabs him, but he still talks to her.

Temper heads to his room upstairs at Coop’s. Corinn (a lady he was hoping to see) waves Temper to her room, trying apparently to protect him. She reveals to him that she is a Brdgeburner…”once of the Third Army. An army that Daseem, with Temper at his side, had led in Falar and the Seven Cities.” (Pg. 58)

Corinn tells him that she knows who he is.

“I was at Y’Ghatan. I saw the Sword broken. I know.” (Pg. 58)

Soldiers barge in and take Temper back down stairs, seating him with Coop the bar owner, Trenech the bouncer who seems not all there, and an old man named Faro.

Kiska finds herself in an alternate world. A Realm – the Path of Shadow….with the dead guy who just grabbed her. He provides some education in what is going on.

“You’re still on your wretched little isle. And at the same time, you are here. Two realms overlapping. Two places at once. What is called a Convergence.” (pg. 63)

“My name is Oleg. Many years ago a man came to me. He claimed to be interested in the arcanum of my research. We worked together. We shared knowledge. His prowess and grasp of Warren manipulation astounded me. I, who admit no peer in such mastery. He -He betrayed me. He stole my work and left me for dead.

That man was Kellanved, Emperor of Malaz. He returns tonight to this island. The Claws and their mistress no doubt think he returns to reclaim the throne, but all who believe such things are fools. He returns to atempt to re-enter the Deadhouse. They are after another, far greater prize. He and Dancer.” (pg 63-64)

And, just like that, we have the summary of the conflict in this book, and what are in the Prologue of Gardens of the Moon.

Oleg tells Kiska that “transubstatiation must be the time of striking. Entombment is the way”. Then Kiska is back in Malaz, in the garden with the dead man (apparently Oleg). The other man who she had seen with him (the one she originally followed) comes back and tries to kill her (she shoots a crossbow but it goes right through where he was). Oleg rises up and puts some serious hurt on the assassin, freeing Kiska before she is garroted.

Sergeant Ash (the Bridgeburner) and Corinn after some planning, take most of the men away, leaving four to guard the Temper, Coop, Trenech and Faro. Temper feels Warrens (magic?) growing, and Trenech responds to a threat by killing all four guards barehanded. Faro and Trenech are more than what they seem, telling Temper to leave, as Shadow and Others come.

Chapter Three – Hounds of Shadow

The fisherman is in his boat, rowing and chanting. The same riders who froze out the boat in the prologue keep trying to approach, but are unable to because of the chant.

Kiska is walking around Malaz, and then flips into another realm. There she meets Edgewalker, (who she describes as a walking corpse) who tells her that he “…walks the borders of Kurald Emurlahn. What you call Shadow.” So, Edgewalker walks the edges of Shadow, eh? He tells he she was swept there by a shadow storm, and that he will send her back. She asks Edgewalker if he knows Oleg, or if Shadow has a ruler. Edgewalker does not know Oleg, and says that many including he have tried to take the throne of Shadow. Kiska asks him what is entombment, and he tells here “the price of failure. Eternal enslavement to Shadow House.” (pg 81).

Then they hear a Hound. Edgewalker tells Kiska it has caught her scent, and she must seek protection in Obo’s tower. Obo is a myth, but so were the Hounds! She reaches the tower and finds a “doddering oldster” who does indeed turn out to be Obo. He somehow gets her back to her Realm on Malaz, and she bolts for the house of Agayla, her friend and caretaker who apparently is also a powerful mage.

Agayla warms her up, treats her wounds while Kiska tells her about her adventures (leaving out Edgewalker and Obo, for some reason). Apparently Agayla knows Oleg. While they are talking, something (one of the Hounds?) comes sniffing and scratching at their door, scaring them both; Agayla somehow makes it leave.

Agayla repeats the story to Kiska the version of the Emperor’s story that we’ve mostly heard before: the Emperor and Dancer have been seen less and less, and Dassem, the Sword of the Empire and two others of the sword, who survived the battle where the Sword of the Empire was broken, were killed later that night, presumably by the Claw (who are loyal to Surly). Agayla also says that Oleg Vikat was an acolyte of Hood and a theurgical scholar who “claims to have discovered a foundations understanding of the Warrens.” The man in grey (who attacked Oleg and later Kiska) was a “cultist. A worshipper of the Warren of Shadow” and an assassin.

Kiska thinks Agayla is going to lock her in a room, like she did when there was a purge against all who are talented (possess knowledge of the Warrens…apparently Kiska has some talent). Agayla used her talents to disuade the soldiers from taking her on. But this time Agayla gives her a letter to take to the man Oleg wanted her to give a message to, and sends her out into the night.

Temper takes Coop to the house of Seal who is apparently a healer with a bit of an addiction to the poppy plant. Temper gets his old armor and gear (which Seal was apparently storing for him), borrows some really old stuff that Seal kept of his father’s dumps Coop and heads out.

Kiska has also headed out into the night of Shadows, and is at once disoriented. She remembers the last time, when there was a purge against those with talent, which she had dropped down to the street to save an old man, had almost gotten raped but ended up fighting and knocking out two of three men and scaring off the third. Kiska has some skilz as well as talent! She also apparently has a crossbow this evening. She spies some more grey clad “cultist” figures, and follows them. She comes across a dead girl, with the mark of a Talon, and then spies the gent she was following (this is described a bit vaguely, IMHO) with four bodyguards. She sees more than 50 cultists sneaking in with three tall grey-clad cultists (obviously in charge and bad mama-jammas), and a fight ensues, with two of the man’s bodyguards kills. Just as the man she is following and on of the grey-clad cultists are about to have a magic battle royale (Kiska can sense it) she is grabbed from behind, bound, gagged, hooded and taken.

Kiska hood is taken off and she is in a inn she recognizes as the Southern Crescent. Turns out that she has been taken by the group that Corrin, Temper’s lady friend is part of. She is questioned, slapped, and apparently on the list to be killed (leave no witnesses) when scratching is heard at the door. Long story, short – a Hound comes in, Corrin and the leader and some others bail, and the Hound feasts on most everyone else. Kiska slips under a table, uses her one remaining hidden knife to slice her bonds, and, when the lone survivor pulls out some kind of magic grenade, dives down the stairs and out the door before the place explodes in magic and light.

Back to Temper, who is running around the city. He is drawn by a girl’s cries, and when he picks her up she wraps herself around him, and turns into something with more than two legs and starts to attack him. Just when he is down and it looks like she/it is going to bite his neck off, someone grabs the creature by the head and chops its neck off. That someone turns out to be Edgewalker, who departs after introducing himself as quickly as he came.

Temper cleans himself off in a fountain, then gets the Shadow treatment as the city starts to shift. He heads up – and finds one of the guards he met back at Coop’s Inn walking toward him with his entrails in hand, saying the Hound was behind him. Temper takes off running. A Hound eventually catches him, and though he fights back and hurts it, the Hound leaves Temper with a broken arm, mauled.

Kiska is hiding after her own encounter with a Hound but pulls herself together and takes off again to deliver her message. She takes a shortcut she knows up to Rampart Way, by way of climbing. She reaches a hole, a cave she has hidden in before, but is surprised by someone already hiding there, whom she fights and loses. She recognizes her opponent of the bodyguard of the man she is trying to get the message to. She convinces the bodyguard, who is called Hattar, and she speaks with a man who identifies himself as Artan. She gives him the scroll from Agayla, and Artan asks for her real name (“Kiskatia Silamon Tenesh”). Kiska tells Artan what Oleg said (about conjunction and transubstantiation). He thanks her for the information, then leaves her tied up as Artan and Hattar climb out. Kiska frees herself and follows.

Ch5OldEnemiesChapter Four (though it is labeled Five in my book) – Old Enemies, Old Friends

Who’s the editor that let two chapter five’s out the door in a Malazan series? Oy vey!

The fisherman who was rowing gets overrun by the boat from the intro (Rheni’s Dream) which was encased in an iceberg. An unknown woman goes into a hut where Agayla was knitting, but as she “reached out to gather up the knitting the wool shattered into fragments.”(pg 147). Then Agayla is meeting with Obo, who she tells of the fisherman’s fate and of other things.

“And the fisherman?” Obo asked, cocking a brow at her.
“Overcome. He was out there all alone. They knew how naked we are. They could sense it.”
“That fool, Surly, trying to outlaw magery on the island. Why didn’t she stop to consider why this island should be such a hotbed of talent? Wind-whistlers, sea-soothers, wax-witches, warlocks, Dragons deck readers. You name it. The Riders dare not come within hundreds of leagues.”
“She didn’t know because no one knows, Obo, “Agayla observed. (pg. 148)

She tells him she has recruited someone to their side in the upcoming fight, but won’t tell him who.

Temper dreams of the siege of Y’Ghatan, where he is with Dassem. Dassem has faced and beaten all of the champions – except one.

As they advanced, Temper kept a look ahead for Surgen – Surgen Ress, the man who claimed to be the last of the Holy City’s patroned and anointed champions. Never mind there were only seven Holy Cities and that all seven champions had fallen to Dassem’s sword. He gave life to Y’Ghatan’s claim to be the eighth Holy City, hidden, but the eldest. (pg. 153)

With Temper and his other bodyguards, Dassem advances, easily defeating the normal soldiers (I am assuming here that “patroned” means something like blessed or backed by one of the gods in this world?) as they make their way to Surgen. As Dassem is fighting, Temper sees something flash in front of him and hit Dassem (an arrow or something), wounding him. The bodyguards surround him, each in turn standing between Dassem and Surgen. Temper gets his turn and somehow holds the anointed one off until a wave of Malazan soldiers rescues them. We readers already knew Temper was a baaaad man, but this really pushes home that point.

Temper awakens from his nightmare looking at a hooded man, who has apparently used healing magic. The healer says his people saw Temper’s “duel with Rood”, which is apparently the name of the Hound (in the dramatis personae in the front of Gardens of the Moon, it lists seven Hounds of shadow). Temper is not sure who they are, but there are a lot of these hooded men, who say “We control the island two or three nights every century.” They take Temper to the top of the ridge and show him a strange set of lights, what Temper thinks accompanies manipulations of the warrens. The robed man tells him they think it is a door.

“An entrance to the realm of Shadow. And he who passes through commands that Warren as a King. A stunning possibility, yes?” (pg. 161)

They ask Temper to help defend the door, but offer him safe passage if he refuses. He accepts their offer of safe passage and goes to Rampart Way.

Temper has another flash back, wakening in a medical tent after being healed with only one Dassem’s bodyguards  (Ferrule) alive with him. They are being held under guard by members of the Claw, Surly’s troops. They fight and kill them and go to find Dassem. When they do, he is barely alive, and Surly and three more Claw are in the tent. They “negotiate”, though Temper believes neither side will hold up their end of the bargain. Surly leaves with one of the Claw, leaving the others with reinforcements to to take care of Temper, Dassem and Ferrule. While Ferrule guards him, Temper pulls a blade and thrusts it at Dassem – thus awakening him (or his patron awakened him? The text is unclear). They easily beat the remaining guards and flee. Dassem leaves them to go do something “he must do.”

So Dassem, the sword of the empire, is alive somewhere! Surly covered up their escape, saying they died in a raid from the Holy City troops….which is why Temper has been trying to avoid the Claw. I’m pretty quick on the up-take here….except for those whose suspected this several chapters ago.

Back to Kiska, who has finished her climb to the top of Rampart Way. There are signs of fighting, the mercenaries who had captured her are dead here. The gatekeeper Lubben grabs her from a door and pulls her in. He’s hiding, she borrows a weapon and leaves again. She finds more of the mercenaries dead, but one alive, who tells her that Surly’s Claw had lain in wait and attacked them. She sees a man coming wearing lots of armor brandishing two swards (Temper, obviously) who has two Claw stalking him. He kills one and calls the other “Possum” which was the name of one of the Claw’s Temper fought with to free Dassem.

Kiska heads further up, into the rooms that used to be used by Sub-Fist Pell (who was over the fort until all hell broke loose). Of course she finds Artan and Hattar. She tells them of the crazy armored man, and Artan catches a glimpse of him, and acts like he knows him. They watch as Temper (the crazy armored man) begins talking to a cultist who appears, who Temper obviously knows (and Artan seems to as well). They negotiate and a woman appears on the floor, one whom Kiska recognizes as Corinn (though she doesn’t know her name). They seem Temper take Corinn and walk away.

Then we see the same thing from Temper’s perspective. He passes Lubben’s quarters, kills a Claw who tries to raise a Warren, and keeps going. He fights Possum and the other Claw (killing that one), and heads further up. He meets the one Kiska thought was a cultist – it is Dancer, “Kellanved’s co-conspirator, bodyguard and the top assassin in the empire.” Temper asks for Corinn, and Dancer asks for something in return.

“One last first, Temper. One last service from the last shard of the shattered Sword.”
The last? Something stabbed at Temper’s chest. Truly the last? He seemed unable to breathe. Then Ferrule – even Dassem – dead? (pg. 191)

Dancer wants Temper to fight and send him back to Pralt, the cultist he had met before in the lower city. Temper takes Corrin, but asks Dancer a question, which I’m guessing may be want the entire series ends up being about:

“You two mean to retake the throne?”
The hooded head tilted to one side. Temper imagined a teasing smile. “We’re not here for a lark; you know that. But even from the beginning we didn’t want such an unwieldy entity. A kingdom, an Empire. There are just symbols. Kellanved and I see much further. We’ve always been after greater things.” (pg 192)

Temper takes Corinn back to Lubben’s, and heads back out.

Night of Knives Chapter 5Chapter Five (the real Five) – Feints and Fates

See? Two chapter 5s!!

Dancer has seen Artan, Kiska and Hattar and comes to confront them, calling Artan “Tay.” He suggests they stay where they are, as everyone upstairs is a “participant” (i.e., possible dead meat). They do as he suggests…for a while. Kiska asks and has confirmed that Artan is actually Tayschrenn, Imperial High Mage. He in turn asks her about her background and Kiska finds out that Tayschrenn considers Agayla a “colleague.”

After a while, she asks him what he is thinking:

“I am wondering,” he began, his voice low, puzzled, “just who is trapping whom. Surly has set a trap above for Kellanved. But he picked the time and place long ago – who knows how long – and has been preparing all the while. So perhaps this trap is for her. One she likely recognizes but cannot avoid. She had to come. They both had to come.” Then he frowned. The lines bracketing his mouth deepened into furrows. “And what could he and Dancer hope to gain? Their followers have been killed or scattered. No organized support remains but for Dancer’s Shadow cult, and they gone to ground and so few. Their authority would not be accepted by the Claws – or the governing Fists – should they return.”
“And Oleg. What of his message?”
The magus actually grimaced, touched one temple as if to still a throbbing vein. “Yes. Oleg. Our hermit mystic. A self-mortifier and flagellant. Drive insane, perhaps, by his own blind ambition? Or a prophet foolishly ignored?” He sighed. “If I follow the lines of his reasoning accurately, they lead to suicide for Kellanved and Dancer. That I simply cannot accept. I know those two and neither would allow that.” (pg 202)

They hear something on the floor above them – pacing, then a battle and screams. The three go upstairs (reluctantly taking Kiska with them).

Surly is there, with a bandaged hand and many bodes strewn around (including Ash, the Bridgeburner from the inn). Surly’s surviving claw, Possum and Topper are there. The balcony is destroyed, the impression is that Kellanved and Dancer lost the battle and were blasted off the balcony. Tayschrenn says he was there for a different reason but Surly does not believe him. Surly declares herself Imperial Regent, says she and Tay must plan. He sends Hattar and Kiska away, back down the stairs…where Kiska falls asleep.

Two cultists meet Temper after he has dropped off Corinn. One gets mouthy, threatens Temper, Temper hits him, the cultist pulls a knife and ends up with it in his stomach. The remaining cultist escorts him into Shadow, to the Deadhouse, surrounded by cultists. The one called Pralt tells him what he traded for – a “simple assault” on the Deadhouse.  When Temper says “I ain’t no stalking horse,” Pralt replies “That’s all you’ve ever been.” So Temper’s assault is to be a diversion for Dancer?

Faro and Trenech show up, telling Temper and the cultists not to enter the gate to the Deadhouse. “By crossing the barriers, you weaken them. And that is not to our liking.” (pg. 217). Temper goes in with Pralt and one other cultist…who magically vanish behind the gate, leaving Temper alone.

Agayla and Obo are holding back the forces attacking Malazan Island, when Tayschrenn arrives (he was the assistance that Agayla had talked about at the beginning of Chapter 4). Agayla is obviously exhausted. She tells him that before the dawn they will fail without Tayschrenn’s help.

“Yet some force was forestalling this. Where are they?”
“He has been overcome.”
“He? One against all of this? There is no one. Osserc, perhaps -”
Obo snorted again.
Agayla merely massaged her fingers across her brow. “Really, Tay. You, above all, should know there are ancient powers, those that see past your and Kellanved’s empire-building as just another pass of season. The paths of Ascendancy are far more varied that you image.” Sighing, Agayla straightened. “But now is not the time for that. Surly’s campaign against magery had left him sorely diminished. A fraction of talent remained to draw upon and so he was overwhelmed.” (pg. 220)

Paths to Ascendancy? Sounds like a huge motivation for the entire series, don’t it?

Tayschrenn uses his Thyr Warren (which I’m sure we’ll learn about in the series) and probes the power behind the Stormriders, called the Wandweilders. He senses a power similar to his old master, D’rel, the Worm of Autumn. Agayla asks him what if their goal was not just to get past the barrier at Malaz island, but to get to the House. Could the house withstand that force? With this thought, Tayschrenn joins them to contain the Riders.

Kiska awakens, Corinn the mercenary mage above her, and Lubben with her, but Tayschrenn and Hattar gone. She tells them what she thinks has happened. They decide to go to the House (isn’t everybody?), and Kiska convinces them to take her. Corinn uses the Thyr Warren (the Path of Light), and Kiska steps in after her. Kiska sees images, and Corinn comments that she must be a “natural.” Kiska thinks of Agayla, and then sees her, exhausted by the sea, and warning her away. Somehow (the writing is a bit vague) Kiska again ends up in Shadow, and finds Edgewalker. She sees the House in Shadow (which looks alive) but also sees a glacier (which we assume is the shadow parallel of the Stormriders force/attack against the isle). Edgewalker says that is the more deadly threat in this “Conjunction”. Edgewalker sends her back…right near an assassin, who Kiska kills…but also near a Hound, who Kiska charges but trips and is knocked out.

Temper see a giant stepping out of the house, a giant that Faro calls the Jaghut (whom Edgewalker has also referred to). He tries to leave, but Faro, Trenech, Cultists and Claws prevent it. The Jaghut calls forth skeletons from the ground, and marches toward the gate, flinging Temper out of the way. Temper fights to get out, fighting Cultists, his old Claw ‘pal’ Possum, skeletons and a tree that wraps its tendrils around him.

Kiska wakes up yet again, this time in the Deadhouse with Oleg. Oleg asks about Edgewalker, then he spies a place over the wall where the vines move, smoke and die. Kiska watches as Oleg jumps over the wall and finds a man near the vines who he attacks. Kiska spies his face and believe it is Kellanved. A third figure – “in rags, scarecrow thin with elongated, oddly proportioned limbs” – grabs Kellanved, much to Oleg’s delight. Another person, Dancer appears, grabbing Oleg and throwing him onto Kellanved and the creature who he struggled with. The creature grabs Oleg, and Kellanved and Dancer proceed into the house, and in through a door in the back of it.

Kiska then runs into Tayschrenn, supported by Hattar. She tells them what she saw, and Tayschrenn forcefully tells her that she must be mistaken, as he and Surly have agreed that Kellanved and Hattar are dead and gone. Tayschrenn goes to talk to “the Guardian”, and a battle erupts with the Jaghut trying to escape with Faro, Trenech, and Tayschrenn trying to stop it. Hattar runs in and rescues Tayschrenn, who is unconscious and Kiska and Hattar take him to be healed.

Temper survives, and Corinn finds him. Lubben and Corinn want him to leave, but they see that magic battle at the gate. Temper finds Faro, a smoldering ruin, and Faro tells him to “step into the gap, soldier.” Temper realizes that the Jaghut cannot be allowed to get through the gate. He “receives the Guardianship” from Faro as he dies. Temper asks Corinn if she can shield him from the magic energies surrounding the Jaghut. She responds “for a heartbeat.”

Temper and Lubben attack the Jaghut, with Lubben quickly thrown aside. Temper defends, not attacking, with something giving him strength (maybe a patronage? the gods choosing sides?). Soon, the Jaghut stops fighting, and starts talking. It’s name is Jhenna, a name it expects Temper to know. It says it was a teacher of humans long ago, defending them from the K’Chain. Then it asks Temper to name his price to stand aside. He declines. The Jaghut says it has brought Temper to its Warren, where his battle would go on forever. As the Jaghut is taunting Temper, Edgewalker walks up. Edgewalker announces that the Riders have been repulsed, and the Shadow cultists have withdrawn. The Jaghut continues to push Temper to stand aside, and Temper asks Edgewalker to tell him what is truth in what the Jaghut says. The Jaghut finally realizes that Temper is the Temper of the Sword, and tells him that Daseem Ultor is alive. But the Jaghut had been stalling, Temper finds his legs and torso encased in ice. Some energy allows him to explode the ice and fend off the sudden resumption of attacks of the Jaghut. The Jaghut attacks furiously, then is hit by weapons thrown from behind Temper. The House sucks the Jaghut back into the ground, as Corinn and Lubben grab Temper who has passed out. It is dawn. The Conjunction appears to be over.

Chapter Six – Resolutions

Kiska awakens to find herself in Coop’s tavern and healed by Seal. She gets a message that the men who she came in with (Hattar and Tayschrenn) are down at the wharf. She runs down to the wharf, finds them and is taken as an apprentice. She runs and tell Agayla and her mother good bye.

Temper is back at guard duty the next day, acting like nothing happened. The guards and his officer only know that there was an assassination attempt, but nobody saw anything.

Epilogue

Edgewalker comes across two prone figures, encountering an old man he calls “Lord” and Cotillion. Based on how the plot has gone, I assume these are Kellavaned and Dancer, now rulers of Shadow. Edgewalker says to himself that this could “continue the possibility of…progression.”

Some of the folks of the island find a body washed up, that of an injured Rider. The Rider speaks to the old man, asking him “Why are you killing us?” before the old man does just that, slicing the Rider’s throat, surprised by the red blood.

 

the-heart-of-what-was-lost

book notes: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

The long wait for the return to Osten Ard is almost over. I was grateful to be given an opportunity by Tad Williams and his wife Deborah Beale to read an advanced copy of The Heart of What Was Lost (available at the beginning of January). Returning there was indeed the sweet breath of cold fresh icy Nakkiga mountain air that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (MSantT) fans have been waiting for. And, since it made me want more, luckily the three books in the new series, The Last King of Osten Ard, are not far behind.

Full disclosure: this is based on an advanced copy. Slight spoilers may be below. If you don’t want to read further, the TL;DR of this review is…it sure as hell was worth the wait…but makes the months until The Witchwood Crown seem like an eternity.

I normally include snippets from the book in my notes to emphasize certain thoughts, but in deference to the author and readers of this unreleased book, I will forego that practice here.

After wars there is hatred. If you’ve ever talked to an American veteran of World War 2 who experienced the Pacific battles, many of them had an undying hatred of the Japanese. And that hatred was reciprocated. It may heal over time, but directly after the conflict it is fierce.

Tad Williams captures this (and other points) scarily well in this novel that takes place shortly after the battle at the Hayholt at the end of To Green Angel Tower. Duke Isgrimnur, whose son Isorn was killed by Pryrates and Norns in that battle, leads an army of Rimmersmen and others to chase the Norns as they retreat north, all the way back to Nakkiga. The Duke’s men’s increasingly fervent goal is genocide, to completely exterminate the Norns. Though tired of war, they are propelled by a hatred and an “it’s us or them” mentality (as it was the Norn’s intention to end the human race with The Storm King and Utuk’ku’s plans).

The Norns return the harsh sentiment. In MSandT the reader saw little of the Norn viewpoint, save for small vignettes from Utuk’ku. In The Heart of What Was Lost, as hoped for, the curtain is pulled back to reveal a very complex and developed Norn society, as one would expect from a people who had been around for many human lifetimes. The Norns believe, rightly so, that they are fighting for their very existence. With their Queen Utuk’ku in a deep sleep of recovery after her part in the battle, they are on their own. And their is “court intrigue” as those leaders who would normally bow to Utuk’ku vie for leadership roles and influence in what remains of the Norm kingdom.

There are dark parts of this novel, parts that remind me of Williams’ writing in Happy Hour in Hell (reviewed here on the archived and Hugo-award winning SFSignal) from his Bobby Dollar series (a series I highly recommend, and hope Williams continues to write…AFTER he’s finished The Last King of Osten Ard, of course). There is a viciousness to the battle scenes and tactics not seen in MSandT but appropriate for the enmity of these two armies. In MSandT, when a long-lived Sitha was killed, there was an almost palpable sorrow in the writing…that one who had lived so long and had so long yet to live would perish. In this novel, perhaps because there is so much death for the Norns, that sentiment is different; it is the blasphemy of genocide that permeates each Norn death. 

There is not much character development in the humans (we’ve known the Duke and Sludig through thousands of pages, so not much is needed), other than the view of a Pedruin named Porto who gives the common soldier’s perspective. This is well played, as in any war the common soldier normally wants nothing more than to survive and return home, and desires the same for his brothers-in-arms. Porto portrays this well, as the hatred of the Norns is left mostly for others (save when the Norn violence hits close to him), and Porto stays, committed to his fellow men but constantly pining for distant, warmer places…and survival.

I admit that after the mysteriousness of the Norns in MSanT (which fed their mystique), as a reader I was apprehensive about seeing them as real characters, and losing that veil of unknowing. But that apprehension faded the as the story moved. The Norns are paraded out for all to see, with their family histories and specialities: Singers, Builders, Sacrifices. Simply put – Singers work with magic, Builders build and Sacrifices are soldiers – an interesting but appropriate name for the riskiest job of a long-lived people. Family histories are hinted at and in some cases revealed. The Norns have human slaves as well, unlike the Sithi. One wonders if this was another of the reasons for the split between the two (Sithi and Norn), or if the Sithi learned to survive without the Dwarrows (the other part of the Gardenborn who were used mostly as slaves) better than the Norns. It would be interesting (and perhaps will be revealed?) to learn if the Norn builders learned from the dwarrows how to do their craft of bending stone to will. And, though hinted at here (no spoilers), it will be interesting to see how the Norns and their slaves change in the The Last King of Osten Ard. There are several great new characters to follow into the forthcoming series.  

There is a building suspense in the question of whether the Norns would survive, fed by notes interspersed amongst the novel from a Chronicler of the Norns (Lady Miga). With The Last King of Osten Ard series looming, and the Norns set to play a roll in those tomes, there is little room for such suspense of whether the Norns would be wiped out. But there is uncertainty on which of the long-lived Norns will survive and how the Norns will be changed; and how, if at all, the humans like the Duke will be changed from this last ordeal. One assumes this book would be the Duke’s last hurrah, as the Last King series is said to be set 30-40 years after these events. The Duke is already an old man, and one would assume he would not make an appearance. From my standpoint, he will certainly be missed; his characterization was outstanding throughout the entire MSanT series, as well as in this addition to the canon.

With MSandT there were some glimpses of the Garden, of the time before the Gardenborn (Norns, Sitha and Dwarrows) were driven out by “Unbeing.” And there is a bit more of that in The Heart of What Was Lost. As we are shown a more complete vision of the Norns world in this novel, I hope we see more of the history of the “Garden” and what really drove them out in the next series..

One note on the setting, the descriptions of which show the effort Williams puts into such things: much of the latter half of MSandT took place in the cold, in winter-like conditions, and this book has more of the same. As the locale moves further north, the weather grows colder. It is amazing how Cali-based Williams can write the cold so much that the reader knows, even feels, how much the characters abhor it.

This is a novel that requires an extensive background in Osten Ard (or at least of the events of To Green Angel Tower), but given Mr. Williams’ tendencies in all of his series, this book will be prefaced by a “What had gone before” section to catch up old and new readers. This practice should be the norm among writers on long works and series, other than expecting readers to re-read or catch-up via Internet scraps. There are already (as of December 1) photos around the InterWebs of some spectacular maps that will be included in the book. Hopefully this will be accompanied by “previous events in the series” blurb for new readers…and there should be a lot of new readers. This series influenced the legion of great fantasy writers that are being published today (for more background on this, see this SFSignal article).

It’s been more than two decades since To Green Angel Tower, the last book in MSandT, was released. The 1990s were a different world, or so they seem. But Tad’s books have remained timeless. I, like many, have so been looking forward to this continuation, so much that I hope, in typical Tad fashion, he turns The Last King of Osten Ard “trilogy” into a 4 or 5 book set! (or at least a record setting length for the books).

dan_simmons_-_fires_of_eden

book notes: Fires of Eden by Dan Simmons

I honestly thought I had read all of Dan Simmons works, but was proved wrong when I stumbled upon Fires of Eden. Written in 1994 (just before Endymion was released, the third book in the Hyperion cantos, if that helps to place it in a timeline), it is, as many of Mr. Simmons novels are, an interweaving a some historical facts, some myths and lots of imagination. There are two timelines running in parallel:

  • an 1866 timeline involving Samuel Clemens (yes, Mark Twain) and Lorena Stewart (who appears to be based on the travel writer Isabella Bird, based on some of the titles that Simmons attributes to Ms. Stewart, and who wrote a travelogue about the Hawaiian Islands (source));
  • and a modern timeline following one of Ms. Stewarts modern day relatives Eleanor, her new friend Cordie Stumpf, and Byron Trumbo, a bombastic billionaire real-estate mogul who I would say was based on Donald Trump had not Mr. Simmons mentioned Trump as a rival of Trumbo’s.

The main conflict in both timelines is the eruption of the volcanoes on the big island of Hawai’i, caused by the on-going fight between the goddess Pele and her enemies (of which there are many) brought about to some extent by kahuna (Hawaiian shaman) invoking her name to get the haoles (non-Hawaiians) kicked out of Hawai’i.

This myth is discussed in several texts. From Fundamentals of Hawaiian Mysticism:

In one well-known myth, Pele, the volcano goddess, engages in a colossal battle with her would-be lover, Kamapua’a, the hog god, during which she tries to annihilate him with fiery lava and he tries to quench her fires with ocean waves. (pg. 27).

Simmons description of this is much more entertaining, told by Eleanor to Cordie while they are drinking an adult beverage called “Pele’s Fires” at the resort owned by Trumbo. It is interesting and effective author choice that has two haole are explaining Hawaiian mythos while drinking adult beverages. I’ve edited out Cordie’s non-essential rejoinders (sorry, Dan):

Eleanor took a sip of Pele’s Fire, cleared her throat and started again. “Pele is not one of the older gods, but she comes from the best family. Her father was said to be Moe-moea-au-lii, literally “the Chief Who Dreamed of Trouble,” but he disappeared early on and doesn’t figure into any of Pele’s later tales…”
“Typical male,” muttered Cordie, and sipped her drink. “Go on.”
“Yes…well, Pele’s mother was Maumea, sometimes known as Hina or La’ila’i. In her various forms, Haumea is the supreme female spirit, goddess of women’s work and fertility, the mother of all the lesser gods and of all of humankind, and and generally the female counterpart to all the male power in the universe.”
“Right on,” said Cordie, and lifted a clenched fist.

“Pele’s powers were created out of the womb of the Earth Mother the ancient Hawaiians called Papa,” said Eleanor.

“The ancients saw the universe balanced only in the embrace of opposites,” said Eleanor. “Male light penetrating female darkness , begetting a universe of opposites.

“Pele came late to these islands,” continued Eleanor, regaining her storyteller voice. “Her canoe was guided by Ka-moho-ali’i…”
“Hey, that’s the shark king you were talking about earlier,” said Cordie. “The old man of the brat who tried to eat me today. Sorry…I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“You’re right,” said Eleanor. “Ka-moho-ali’i was Pele’s brother. Back in Bora-Bora, where the both came from, he was also known as the king of the dragons. Anyway, he helped lead Pele’s canoe to Hawaii. She landed first at Niihau and then moved on to Kauai. Being the goddess of fire, Pele had a magic digging tool – I think it was called Paoa. She used Paoa to dig fire pits in which she could live, but the sea kept rolling in and quenching her flames. Pele moved down the island chain until she came here to the Big Island, where she eventually found Kilauea to be just right. That’s been her home for thousand’s of years.”

“Anyway, before she settled here, Pele got in a huge battle of Maui with her older sister, Na-maka-o-Kaha’i, the goddess of the sea…”
….
“Pele and her sister slugged it out until Pele was killed,” said Eleanor.
“Killed?” Cordie looked confused.
“The gods have mortal sides,” said Eleanor. “When Pele lost hers, she became even more powerful as a goddess. And because she died here in Hawaii, her spirit could be free to fly to the volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, where she lives to this day.”
Cordie was frowning. “I thought that Pele could appear as a mortal…”
“She can,” said Eleanor. “It’s just that she’s not mortal anymore.”

“It get’s complicated,” agreed Eleanor. “For instance, Pele is the goddess of fire, but she can’t make fire…that’s a male perogative. But she can control it, and she does on these islands. She has several brothers, also gods, who control thunder, explosions, fountains of lava, the so-called rain of fire…all the noisier and more dramatic but less powerful aspects of fire.” (pg 289-291)

 The Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain historical fact integration follows Clemens’ adventures in Hawaii somewhat. In Clemens autobiography (have you not yet read this? egads!) there is a section entitled “My Debut as a Literary Person” where he talks about chatting with the survivors of the U.S. S. Hornet and being in the “Sandwich Islands” (as Hawai’i was called by some) in the 1860s:

I had been in the Islands several months when the survivors arrived. I was laid up in my room at the time, and unable to walk. Here was a great occasion to serve my journal, and I not able to take advantage of it. Necessarily I was in deep trouble. But by good luck his Excellency Anson Burlingame was there at the time, on his way to take up his post in China where he did such good work for the United States. He came and put me on a stretcher and had me carried to the hospital where the shipwrecked men were, and I never needed to ask a question. He attended to all of that himself, and I had nothing to do but make the notes. It was like him to take that trouble. He was a great man, and a great American; and it was in his fine nature to come down from his high office and do a friendly turn whenever he could. We got through with this work at six in the evening. I took
Twain, Mark; Smith, Harriet E.; Griffin, Benjamin; Fischer, Victor; Frank, Michael B. (2010-11-15). Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1 (p. 128). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Thus the timeline is set for Mr. Simmons’ purposes. Both the past and current timeline participants first try to comprehend the Hawaiian mysticism that they find themselves in, and then they participate in ancient rituals as if they are believers. While this transformation of belief has neither the slow downward spiral of drug-induced belief of Drood (still one of my favorite books) or the reality scariness of The Terror, the book relates well the unrepentant belief of a native peoples in their gods…even a peoples trod on and trampled like the Hawaiians. There is a bit of foreshadowing of Black Hills in this novel, of native americans getting trod on and seeking a type of revenge of their own making.

Overall, yet another enjoyable read…but one that makes me question my memory and forces a review of Dan Simmons’ bibliography!

Dan Simmons And Me

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Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

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