5E D&D Race: Ilmar

thelana_2015_by_alexey_lipatov_by_ageofaenya-d8ait4hThe ILMAR (plural) or Ilmarin (singular, descriptive) go by many names: savages, barbarians, wild humans. Though few true Ilmar exist, they are viewed by most civilized people as more animal than human. This view is perpetuated by the little that is known of their culture. Due to fear and misconceptions regarding their humanity, Ilmar are often forced into wars or labor camps, or become beggars. A small number become wives, adopting local customs, while keeping their heritage secret.

Ilmar are great survivors, and can make their homes in the harshest of environments. They exceed at hunting, foraging, and making simple tools from the simplest of resources. Due to their primitive natures, Ilmar can go without food and water, and endure extremes climates better than most other races.

 

ILMAR TRAITS:
Ability Scores. Strength and Dexterity increases by 1, Constitution increases by 2, and Charisma decreases by 1.
Primitive Survival. The Ilmar can survive one cycle (ten days) without water and 3 cycles without food, can walk across the most rugged terrain without footwear, and can survive (without clothing) in temperatures close to freezing.
Armor of Flesh. Ilmar abhor clothing. In light, medium or heavy armor, you have Disadvantage on all attack rolls and Dexterity based skill checks. While going completely nude, you have a heightened sense of awareness, adding your Proficiency modifier to Perception checks. Wearing no clothes and carrying no shield, your (natural) base Armor Class is 13.
Alignment. Ilmar tend toward chaotic and neutral alignments.
Size. Ilmar are human sized, weighing between 100 to 180 lbs. and standing between 5′ and 6′ tall, tending toward more muscular and slender physiques.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Languages. The Ilmar speak common and their own unique dialect, but literacy is uncommon.
Preferred Classes. Ilmarin characters are limited to the following classes: barbarians, fighters, monks, rangers and rogues. This is due, primarily, to the setting, in that magic is virtually unknown to Aenya. Monks and rangers draw their power from “spiritual” and “quantum” sources. In a different world, Ilmarin PC’s may choose a spell caster class, but they lose connection to their deity in any other setting, and consequently, any special racial abilities.
Starting EquipmentNone

 

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An Ilmarin barbarian fighting a Yuan-Ti

PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES: Once subsumed by other cultures, Ilmar are difficult to distinguish from other humans, aside from their light, almost translucent eyes. Despite evolving in an ideal climate, their skin is thicker than most humans and the soles of their feet can be hard as leather.

HISTORY: The Ilmar are believed the last vestige of proto-human, the earliest humans to have evolved on the planet. According to an inscription found within a Septheran ruin, the first word for human was ‘ilma’, which the Ilmar use to denote their species, as they do not recognize themselves as a separate social group. The proto-human lived peacefully for one hundred thousand to one million years until the arrival of the Septhera c. 10,000 BGM. Finding the dominant species of Aenya defenseless, the Septhera conquered the planet with ease, enslaving all of humanity except for a small population hidden in a region in the mountains of Ukko. There, the proto-human continued to thrive, oblivious to the changes occurring beyond his borders. It was not until 5 BGM that the people in the river valleys of Ukko were discovered by a Zo researcher. Known as Kjus, the researcher became so enamored by their simple way of life, he abandoned his own society to become one of them, naming the people ‘Ilmar’ and the land ‘Ilmarinen,’ meaning ‘land of ilms’ after the unique flower of orange and violet growing in abundance there, or possibly, ‘land of humans’. Kjus taught them of Zo science, history, philosophy and medicine, but made certain to not pollute their way of life with the excesses of his own civilization. Kjus later built a monastery high in the mountains, and before his death, founded the Order of Alashiya, who are also known as the Keepers.

CULTURE AND SOCIETY: Knowing nothing of war, crime, or government, the Ilmar live a simple agrarian life. Since everything in their community is shared, they have no concept of currency or wealth or poverty. As one saying goes, “No man is poor who wants for nothing.” Much of their day is spent farming and gathering, though Ilmar are known to hunt during food shortages. In their leisure time, they enjoy singing, dancing, and conversing. Through song and dance, they relate their myths and their history. The holiest time is the Solstice Night, the longest night of the year, when families throughout the land join to celebrate life, love and creation. It is during this time that boys and girls of a certain age, showing hair about the loins, pair off to jump the sacred bonfire, after which the pair is forever joined. It is believed that during this ceremony, the souls of lovers from past lives find one another again. Contrary to what many believe, the Ilmar do not engage in orgies or fornicate recklessly, but only with those with whom they are joined. When Solstice Night ends, it is expected that the female move into the male household, and by the following year, that she bear him a child. Having many children is regarded the highest honor for women. Despite their duty as mothers, however, females are given greater status than males, since it is the female that has power to create life.

The Ilmar lack many technologies, but are skilled woodsmiths and clay workers. Their artifacts include elaborately carved farming tools, throwing spears, atlatls, and pottery. They also excel in the shaping of trees to produce “living homes.” Giant camphor and oak are hollowed out to make bedrooms and kitchens, though eating, bathing and grooming is typically an outdoor activity. As they are without any concept of crime, the Ilmar typically do not have doors or locks, though partitions may include curtains of bead or bone.

LANGUAGE AND CUSTOM: For the Ilmar, nudity taboos do not exist, and for this reason, they do not typically wear clothing of any kind, nor produce material that may be used for clothing. The Ilmar are not, however, without a sense of style or individuality, and will decorate their bodies with flowers, bones, semi-precious stones like jade or lapis lazuli, and with elaborate mud patterns called henna. Neither sex cuts its hair. Women wear a single braid which can reach down to their ankles, while the men can grow their locks to the middle of the back, either loose or done up in multiple braids.

RELIGION: To the Ilmar, all life is sacred, from the smallest insect to the greatest camphor tree. They make no distinction between human or sentient life and animal or non-sentient (plant) life. All are part of a singular essence known as the Mother Goddess, or Alashiya. The goddess is thought to exist everywhere and in all things, even in non-living matter, such as in the wind, in sunlight, and in the earth. Alashiya is never seen or heard, but can be “sensed” through the skin. According to myth, the Goddess was born of two elder gods, Anu and Eru. At the beginning of time, these primordial deities danced through the astral void, singing to one another and making love continually, birthing new worlds in the process. After Aenya and Alashiya were created, the elder gods moved on.

The Ilmar do not consider dreams separate from reality. Each and every dream is a literal experience. By grinding the ilm flower into a fine powder and drinking it, ritual leaders embark upon purposeful dream journeys across time and space, into other dimensions, and to worlds beyond death.

In death, the Ilmar become one with Alashiya, as they were before birth. The body is marked by a cairn close to home, typically under a tree, which is then absorbed into the soil to become new life. Due to limited medicine and nutrition, the average lifespan for the Ilmar is sixty years.

ILMAR and other races: The Ilmar tend to be loners, in that they are shunned by most other races. Humans and dwarves in particular find their constant state of nakedness off-putting, whereas elves, gnomes and halflings are more accepting. In a party of heroes, an Ilmarin will keep to him or herself, dressing appropriately where the culture demands it. Others may find the Ilmar to be the best of companions, in that they are fiercely loyal allies, trustworthy to a fault. Perhaps more importantly, an Ilmarin has little interest in possessions (rogues steal to survive) rarely partaking in their share of treasure.

ILMARIN NAMES: To foreign ears, the Ilmarin language sounds hard and clipped as they often use conjoined consonances.

Male names include: Xandr, Baldr, Heimdl and Borz.

Female names typically avoid the conjoined consonant and end in an ‘a’. Examples are Thelana, Aliaa, Amina, and Anja.

NOTABLE ILMARIN HEROES: Xandr, Thelana


Starting character sheet:

Featured Image -- 14252Thelana

Strength: 12 +1
Intelligence: 11 +0
Wisdom: 11 +0
Dexterity: 18 +4
Constitution: 17 +3
Charisma: 12 +1

Race: Ilmar
Class: Ranger
Level: 1 (+2)
Armor Class: 17 (nude)
Hit Points: 13
Duel Wield: +6 / 1d8 +4 (short sword) + 1d4 (dagger)
Longbow: +6 / 1d8 +4 (range 150/600)
Alignment: Chaotic Good

Saving Throws: Strength +3, Dexterity +6
Skills: Athletics +3, Nature +2, Perception (nude) +2, Stealth +6
Special: Natural Explorer, Favored Enemy: bogren (goblins), horg (orcs)

Equipment: Short sword, dagger, longbow, quiver, arrows, cloak

BACKSTORY: Thelana is born in the river valleys of Ilmarinen, the middle child in a family of twelve. Her eldest brother, Borz, is sold into slavery when she is very young. As the dark hemisphere continues to creep eastward, the resulting famine forces Thelana into the wild. Her life is spent on the edge of survival, hunting for prey while hiding from predators. Wounded by a cannibalistic half-man, she is rescued by Captain Dantes and taken to a nearby military encampment, where she proves her archery skills and is recruited into the Kratan army. Years pass until, on the Plains of Narth, their forces are decimated by the bogren and horg, and Thelana, torn with longing for the life she knew, abandons the battlefield. In Ilmarinen, she finds the crops and ilm flowers have withered. There is no trace of her family.


 

To learn more about the Ilmar, please check out the Ages of Aenya.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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I feel that I owe J.K. an apology. I had always felt that her depiction of evil was a bit naive, 2-dimensional, “comic-booky.” I had long taken the liberal stance that real evil doesn’t exist, or if it does, it’s very, very rare. People are genuinely good, I thought, and genuinely want to do good things. A scene that stands out in my mind is from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, wherein the titular character, a Nazi industrialist, tells the soldiers working in his factory that they can shoot the Jews if they want to. He makes this announcement after the war is declared over. Before then, he had protected his workers from harm, despite his wearing a swastika pin. By asking the Germans to kill the Jews, and I paraphrase here, “if you want to,” he demonstrated the basic goodness of humanity, because no one in uniform acted of his own accord to commit murder. That, I believed, is the reality. Hitler brainwashed his people first before using fear and intimidation to carry out his misdeeds. Aside from Himmler and Goebbels and Mengele and other SS officials, few Nazis were actually evil. In my own The Princess of Aenya, the villain, Zaibos, creates an atmosphere of perpetual dread to exert control. So when, in the Potter films, devotees by the hundreds come out in support of Voldemort, it felt somewhat implausible. It wasn’t as if Voldemort had had some stranglehold over the wizarding community. On the contrary, Death Eaters in hiding went out of their way to serve him. The transition within the Ministry of Magic was jarring. In no time at all, every position of power, including Headmaster of Hogwarts, was filled by followers of the Dark Lord. Where were the institutions to prevent this from happening? How did the good wizards get so quickly pushed underground and into a role of resistance? This was pure melodrama, Ms. Rowling, and poor writing. Or so I thought.

Then of course, it happened in the real world. Now I am sorry if you’ve read thus far and you’re a Trump supporter (and really, did you get nothing out of the Potter books?), you can click the X in the corner or leave me an angry comment, but the way I see it, the takeover of the current administration perfectly mirrors the way in which Voldemort and his cronies seize the wizarding world. What has startled me isn’t how evil and inept Trump is, but rather, the sheer number of his followers who are racists, misogynists, homophobes, and outright hate mongers, people only too happy to throw away their freedoms to ally themselves to a greedy conman. At breakneck speed, we have come to the edge of dictatorship, and Trump isn’t even to blame. He is far too stupid to have manipulated anyone or anything. Rather, it was the people that gave him power. This recent turn in history has helped me to understand that Hitler didn’t make the Nazi Party, it was the Germans who harbored a hatred of Jews and a love for authoritarianism. Likewise, I now realize just how brilliantly J.K. Rowling portrayed Voldemort’s rise to power, because, even as far back as her second book, The Chamber of Secrets, Voldemort’s followers were there, hiding in the shadows, manifesting themselves in the fathers of Draco and Crabbe and Goyle

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Do these guys look familiar?

 

So what does this have to do with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Not much. But I will say my criticisms for The Cursed Child are applicable to this book, in that Fantastic Beasts… is not a novel but a screenplay, and screenplays are meant to be watched, not read. I had so hoped that J.K. would put the same effort into this series as she had Harry Potter, but she may be burned out. I know I would be after writing seven novels! Still, most Potterheads will agree that the movies are inferior, due to the wealth of information the books contain. Film is a limited format, bound by two to three hours’ running time, whereas there is just so much more storytelling you can fit on the page. For Fantastic Beasts…, which was written for the screen, the process should work in reverse. The book should provide more information, to give readers a reason to pick it up. Some adaptations, like for the Star Wars prequels, actually do this. There is a chapter describing how Shmi Skywalker was kidnapped by the Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, which you never see on screen. Unfortunately, there is nothing like this to be mined from the Fantastic Beasts… screenplay. Honestly, I would say that if you’ve seen the movie, there is no reason to go out and buy the book.

 

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How ’bout now?

As for the story, it’s quite a simple adventure, featuring a dozen creatures straight from J.K.’s furtive imagination, which are all better portrayed visually, and a lot more interesting than the protagonists. Newt and company can’t hold a deluminator to Harry, Ron and Hermione. But what stood out for me, in the grand scheme of her connected universe, is a subplot involving an evil wizard briefly mentioned in the Potter books. Grindelwald was the original holder of the Elder Wand, until he was defeated by a young Dumbledore. It may be that here, J.K. is showing us how history repeats itself, knowing how Tom Riddle follows in Grindelwald’s nefarious footsteps. What might make this villain more interesting, however, and more relevant to our time, in the book, Grindelwald gives a short speech regarding the inferiority of muggles, his sentiments echoing those of real-world “wizards.” And with Rowling tweeting daily against the abuses of right-wing ideologues, it would not surprise me to see life imitating art imitating life.

Aenya Newsletter 5/31/2017

Greetings Aenya fans! First, let me apologize for my long absence. For the past few months, I have been working diligently at completing the final, final (hopefully) edit of Ages of Aenya, with the help of my brilliant and insightful editor, Ava Coibion. Honestly, I won’t be changing another word unless a publisher insists upon it.

Overall, Ava’s enthusiasm has greatly stirred my long dormant feelings for the story and its characters, to see the adventures of Xandr and Thelana with fresh, new eyes. More importantly, she has helped me realize that the book is really up to par, that it deserves its place on every bookstore shelf.

After going through all 170,000 words, Ava forwarded Ages of Aenya to a well-known fantasy author (as in, his books frequent Barnes & Nobles top shelves). While I cannot yet divulge his name, here is what she wrote,

 

The novel is titled “Ages of Aenya” and includes elements of time travel, utopian societies vs. warring ones, mythical creatures and history, good against greed, civilizations gone awry, prophecy … Two of the main characters come from a now-extinct woodland society where they lived harmoniously and innocently and now the couple has to face all kinds of peril. They grow together as a couple though their relationship gets challenged in some unique ways. Nature and science figure in to the text really nicely … the book, overall, is really well balanced. Much like your Alice series, this book has the emotional range that a lot of fantasy/sci-fi does not. I edit a lot of stuff, and this book really had me hooked.

 

Ava and I are hoping for his help, because in the publishing world, the name of the game is knowing the right people. At the very least, he can shoot me a blurb to slap on the back cover.

Either way, I am more confident than ever that the Aenya series can find an audience, and that’s what the book business is all about. It’s not about satisfying every reader, but a sizable number who will find what I do enjoyable. I am sure many will think it garbage, but just visit Amazon’s comment section and you’ll find people who think Harry Potter is utter trash, and Song of Ice and Fire is boring, or that The Lord of the Rings is poorly written. It’s not the haters that matter, but the lovers that make sales, and the job of the successful writer is to find those lovers.

Should Ava’s author friend choose not to endorse me, you (dear reader) will still be seeing Ages of Aenya in your hands, hopefully before the end of this year, as I will be continuing my original plan to self-publish. I am only holding off on it at Ava’s request, who feels the book is sure to win over agents. But if I do end up going the original route, I feel far better about it, as the online world has changed significantly since 2004. Thanks to the web, entertainment media is becoming more and more independent. YouTube stars make as much, if not more money than people on TV, with production quality that is often superior. Kickstarter offers a flood of new, independent board games, which are more fun to play than anything at Toys-R-Us or at hobby stores (Cards Against Humanity, anyone)? And the three biggest console giants, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, have all embraced independent gaming. It all points to the death of the old age stigma, that if something doesn’t come from a big name company, it must be worthless.

On the fictional front, going over the novel has helped me realize the potential for an Ages of Aenya sequel. This is something I have been sitting on since 2006, because I could not be certain anyone would ever get their hands on the first in the series. I was also reluctant, because of the excessive nudity in the book. I wasn’t sure the world was ready for all-nude heroes, and in retrospect, I feel that Xandr and Thelana, in 2004, may have been too ahead of their time. The world looks quite different now. Today we have shows like Naked & Afraid and Naked Dating; and HBO’s Westworld features so much casual nudity, an Ages of Aenya mini-series seems well within the realm of possibility. Even celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Orlando Bloom can post full-frontal selfies on social media without scandal.

Perhaps more importantly, naturism is slowly growing synonymous with feminism. Emma Watson vehemently defended her feminist cred after posing for a magazine where part of her boob is showing, stating, “What do my boobs have to do with feminism?” and Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman, argued in favor of the first cinematic female superhero’s choice of thigh-revealing attire.

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OK, maybe I dwell too much on what my heroes are wearing. Either way, Ava didn’t find Thelana offensive at all, and that’s encouraging, as the Ilmar, in true naturist fashion, choose to forgo clothing for the entirety of the novel. The working title is, The Naked Gods, and will feature heavily revised scenes from both The Skyclad Warriors and The City of the Drowned.

Thelana 2016 by Lipatov

Thelana: Your Time Has Come

Finally, I have not forgotten my other big project, The Children of Aenya, or Lilliea’s and Rose’ Adventures through the Hub of All Worlds. It’s going to be a fun adventure story for a wider age group, something both my kids and long time readers can enjoy. Of course, I cannot devote the next two years to writing without exploring the themes I feel most passionate about. In this case, I will be exploring the sense of wonder that comes with childhood, how that shapes and motivates our lives. I will also be dwelling on belief, imagination and fact, and the interplay between them. Or in other words, between magic and science, and how they differ with regards to our perceptions. I think this may be of particular significance given our current political climate, as the very idea of truth seems to be under attack. Sounds like heady stuff, I know, but there’ll be no shortage of crazy monsters, jaw-dropping locales, and of course, characters you will want to call your friends.

 

The Hub of All Worlds

There is this crazy theory that’s been rolling around in my head for quite some time. It’s the idea that, given enough time and space, all fictions are non-fiction. Take your favorite book or movie, The Lord of the Rings, Harry PotterStar Wars. Somewhere, at some point in time, these things must have happened. I know I know, call the men with the white jackets, but hear me out for a sec.

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A growing number of astrophysicists have been arguing in favor of the multiverse theory, which states that there may be more than one universe, and in all likelihood, an infinite number of them. Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated that every time humanity thought there was only one of something, one Earth, one solar system, one galaxy, we were wrong. So why stop at one universe? The multiverse theory helps to explain a number of astronomical enigmas, including the origin of the Big Bang, the identities of dark matter and dark energy, and the inexplicably rapid expansion of space. One needs only ask, if our universe banged into existence, from where did it originate, if not some nether region beyond itself? If it is expanding, like a balloon, what space is it expanding into, if not some outer-outer space? What is perhaps still more interesting, if there is in fact more than one universe, astrophysicists argue, it is very well possible that each of these are governed by physical laws different from our own. If the gravitational constant deviated to the slightest degree during the early formation of the cosmos, stars may not have formed, and without stars you cannot have planets, or life. Life may be unique not just to our planet but to our universe as well. But if the multiverse has no boundaries, there would have to exist an infinite number of universes containing life, and in every conceivable form. Consider the limitless ways in which subatomic particles can come together, and the possible arrangement of atoms that follow, and the DNA strands constituent of those atoms. If these quantities are infinite—and only if they are infinite—some random Big Bang would create the right conditions for some random planet to randomly form Westeros from Game of Thrones, and the myriad details those books contain. Not only that, but we would also have a Westeros where things are slightly skewed, where Ned Stark doesn’t get beheaded, even one where everyone lives happily ever after. There would exist so many possible Westeroses, that finding the one you are look for would be as impossible as finding any Westeros, and by impossible, I mean it would take you an infinite number of years. This is the problem with the number infinity. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, even for mathematicians, and it makes for some profound if not absurd proofs. There are several other problems with this theory as well:

 

  1. There may NOT be a multiverse at all. According to Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing, one universe is all we need, and everything about the Big Bang and its consequent expansion can be explained by our current understanding of physics.
  2. If the multiverse does exist, it may not be infinite.
  3. The only number that can mathematically affect infinity is infinity itself. So all the kids at the playground one-upping you with, “infinity +1” are wrong in thinking their number is bigger. Infinity +1 = Infinity. Infinity -1 = Infinity. Heck, Infinity minus a googolplex is still Infinity. I bring this up only because, in the previous paragraph, I made the assumption that where time and space are infinite, variation is not. Imagine I left you alone with a certain number of LEGO blocks, and I gave you until forever to arrange those blocks any way you wanted. Eventually, every car, house or boat you could possibly make, you would. However, if I were to give you an infinite number of LEGOs, you could not arrange them in every way possible, no matter how long you tried, as these two infinities would cancel each other out. Infinity – Infinity = 0. Now, replace LEGO blocks with atoms, and you get the same result. Given a limitless number of ways a universe could exist, we might never, ever produce Westeros.

 

Now let’s assume, for the sake of this thought experiment, that a multiverse definitely exists, time and space are indeed infinite, but there are just so many ways atoms can be ordered. Given these statements, we still run into the problem of infinity itself, because, as stated before, even if there is a Westeros somewhere, or a Middle Earth or a Hogwarts, we most likely could never, ever find it. Even after a million years of technological and biological evolution, having built starships to make the Enterprise look like a wheelbarrow, we still would never be able to find our favorite fictional world out there, though we might be able to prove, mathematically at least, that those worlds exist.

In his short story, The Library of Babel, Argentinian Sci-Fi author Jorge Borges imagines an infinitely-sized library, containing not just every book ever written, but every book that could ever be written. The people perusing the library seek to find books containing a record of their own lives, but given the nature of large numbers, they never do.

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The Library of Babel

From a pragmatic standpoint, such metaphysical-mathematical musings are a waste of time. If we can never know, why bother? We could make the same case for a much more plausible scenario. At this very moment, as you are reading this, some alien being is reading a near identical theory, in a thriving civilization on the opposite side of the universe, some 13 billion light years away. Even if we could freeze ourselves in a starship, to travel for that length of time, the alien civilization would certainly fizzle out by the time we got there. In fact, after 13 billion years, entropy would eliminate all trace of any such civilization having ever existed. Its star could go supernova and the gases surrounding it could reform into a new star and a new system before our arrival. If that weren’t enough, after 13 billion years, the rate of the expanding universe will exceed the speed of light, so even if we were to travel as fast as any particle can go, we would still never, ever meet our alien neighbors on the opposite side of our universe, or even find evidence of their existence. They would be as elusive to us as non-fictional Westeros. William James, founder of pragmatism, would likely argue that, if no evidence can ever be presented of something being true, it is equivalently untrue.

Not so fast, William James, because here is where art comes in, to exceed the limits of math and science and philosophy. For while we may never be able to literally travel to our favorite fictional worlds, we can get there instantaneously, using the vessel that is the human mind. This is what we do whenever we think. Or use our imaginations to create worlds. Authors, painters, video game developers, and the like, are all in effect explorers, and the space in which they explore is that of probability (in Sci-Fi) and possibility (via fantasy). Now it may appear that I have made a kind of logical fallacy, an argument from semantics. Fiction is something we consider to be untrue, because we can’t ever really know if it’s untrue, or, in other words, we believe something is false only because we can’t know whether it’s true. For a writer, however, this need not be a matter of contention. Writers do not seek absolutes, after all, but uncertainties, and to some extent, falsehoods. By entertaining metaphorical realities, we give fodder to those seeking literal realities. And even then, what exists solely in the mind possesses its own inherent value. At the very least, this thought experiment can help us rethink and reassess the purpose of creativity, and how it can play a larger role in the big questions posed by science and philosophy.

The realm of possibility and probability, where fiction and non-fiction dance around one another, is a place I like to call The Hub of All Worlds. It is an imaginary center, similar to Cosmos’ spaceship of the imagination, from which we can traverse the multiverse. And, while the theory that everything is true, given sufficient time and space, may not have any real-world applications, it makes for good storytelling.

2016 is Over (Finally) Year in Review

As of this writing, most of humanity is still alive. But there’s still time. So far, we’ve lost Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds (her mother), George Michael, Watership Down author Richard Adams, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s dad. Proving we are all living in a computer simulation, or as I prefer to think of it, in some author’s imagination, George Michael dies on Christmas Day, and is known for the song, “Last Christmas.” Fisher played Princess Leia, a character whose mother, Padme Amidala, dies of a broken heart, then Fisher’s actual mother, Debbie Reynolds, goes and dies of a broken heart. If that’s not proof enough, our government is hijacked by a KKK-approved fascist propped up by a Russian dictator (yes, I went there, fuck you) closely imitating Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, and Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate. At this point, we’ll be seeing Game of Thrones-style dragons in 2017.

But there’s also been a lot of good this year. I finished The Princess of Aenya, found a fantastic editor for my first Aenya book, and a new artist for the cover of said book. So, if Trump doesn’t trigger the Apocalypse, we should be seeing Ages of Aenya on sale sometime next year. Or, if he does, maybe the adventures of the Ilmar will provide comfort to those hunkering down in their bomb shelters without electricity. With electricity, well … who the hell wants to read when there’s PS4?

As for The Writer’s Disease, I feel this blog has begun to run its course. Most of what I have wanted to say, about writing, fiction, naturism, religion—has been said. I could go on, of course, into the never ending minutia of literary analysis, review another million authors, continue to share my radical views on naturism. But the thing is, I’ve never wanted to be a blogger. To run a successful blog, you have to focus on something. Video game blogs, movie blogs, naturist blogs, all see more traffic than mine. When I wrote Why Don’t We Live in a Perfect (Nude) World, it was shared 4,500 times on Facebook. I was invited to write for a naturist related magazine and a newspaper. My reaction? I quit writing about naturism.

All that has ever really mattered to me is storytelling. I’d rather be the late-great but lesser known Richard Adams than a YouTube star with a million followers. I’d rather pull the heartstrings of a single reader in earnest than lure thousands with some click-bait bullshit. And to that end, blogging is a dead-end. My time is better spent in fiction. Alas, writing is a lonely endeavor, and I must learn to embrace solitude.

This doesn’t mean I am quitting altogether. Every now and then, a topic will come along to compel me onto my soapbox. The free will debate is a recent example. But you won’t be seeing weekly updates when there are adventures to be told. Without doubt, you will also be receiving updates on The Children of Aenya.

Now, without further ado, here are my favorites from 2016:

 

The Fantasy Writer’s Dictionary: Too often, when you’re reading a book like Game of Thrones, you come across a word like wain or postern that simply doesn’t register. To give an impression of historicity, fantasy authors lean on archaic nouns and verbs, many excised from the OED. So I made this resource. Best part is, it’s a living post, to be updated as terms I don’t know cross my eyeballs.

The Nomad: A Love Story DLC: Dynotus wanders twenty years in the desert in search of his abducted fiancee. This is one of my earliest novels, from when I was in high school, a romance adventure set in a mythological world. Download it here for free in PDF.

The Destructive Power of Ego: If you want to succeed in writing and in life, it’s best to set ego aside. I discuss my struggles with self, with regards to my own person and those I have worked with.

The Princess of Aenya: This year saw the completion of my latest work. Here I offer the prologue and sample chapters.

The Aenya Bestiary: Updated to include the avian race, with new artwork!

DMT and D&D: I talk about drugs, tabletop role playing games, and the power of the human mind. What more do you need to know?

The Death of Truth: We seem to be living in a post-truth world. A gross number of people are no longer concerned with what is actually, demonstrably true, choosing, instead, to accept comforting delusions. This is a scary thing.

What is Free Will?: I challenge Sam Harris’ notion that free will is an illusion, and all such a philosophy implies.

 

 

Aenya News Update: 11/29/16

A few months ago, I put out a request for artists for the upcoming 2017 edition of Ages of Aenya. After a bit of vetting, by which we produced the Avian and Horde (below), I settled on the talented Zhengyi Yu.

I chose Zhengyi for his painterly style, which better suits a novel, I feel, than the more cartoony styles of my other, albeit equally talented artists. Mr. Yu also impressed me with his landscapes. When I see a book with some impossible, otherworldly terrain, it draws me in, igniting my imagination, and I hope to capture readers in the same way. More importantly, Zhengyi has been wonderful to work with, being attentive to my needs and more than willing to brainstorm and make changes. If you’re looking for a talented illustrator, look no further! Also, be sure to check out his awesome gallery at Zhengyi Yu

aoa2017cover

Thelana overlooking Hedonia

Here we find Thelana overlooking Hedonia. The massive pyramid temple of Sargonus eclipses the background. Depicting our heroine in her natural state, without triggering any censors, was a challenge. I wanted her in a normal looking pose, not too sexy or bashful, and without any comically placed leaves in the way. And she had to be dynamic, to show her power and fearlessness. She’s naked in a city of thousands and yet she does not feel vulnerable! That being said, Zhengyi and I are working on an alternate cover, with Thelana draped in her trademark jade cloak (hey, she gets cold sometimes). That way, you can read about the Ilmar on the subway without getting any weird looks!

OK, you may be thinking, all this is fine and good, but when can I read it? Glad you asked! As the old adage says, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and while I don’t believe this to be 100% true, story remains the most important thing, seconded only by the quality of the writing. Without those things in place, you can’t hope to sell a million copies, unless of course you’re writing bondage porn.

I’ve spent more than a decade building this world, its history and geography; fleshing out its races and its characters. Nine years alone I spent editing, as I ran a restaurant and helped my wife raise our two kids, but even the best of us need another set of eyes. If I could give myself amnesia, I could do it all myself. But it’s impossible to judge yourself objectively, to judge any story really in a non-biased way. Nobody can. But finding an editor you can trust isn’t easy. An author’s story is their baby. Giving it up, I am forced to wonder, will the editor tear it up for the sake of tearing it up? Will they maintain my voice? Avoid their own biases? This is a legitimate concern for me, as I’ve had professors try to “correct” my work in the most inane ways. One of my teachers actually suggested that the nun in my short story, Anna and the Devil, masturbate. After all, Satan can’t touch you so long as you abstain from carnal thoughts. His PHd, not surprisingly, was in religious studies.

Then I met Ava Coibion. Ava offered me a free sample edit, of my prologue, and we talked over the phone about our favorite writers, literary styles, and the best way to edit without encroaching on the author’s art. I found her to be intelligent and sensitive. And also, she had this to say,

 

Nick,

There are a thousand praises I could sing here, and with your permission, I’d love to at least give my friend Frank Beddor a sample of your novel to review, or perhaps put you in touch directly with him. But for now, here is the edit for Book One. I was determined to complete the work before Thanksgiving, in hope that you might have a little down time to review my suggested changes. In truth, I devoted this last week and a half solely to the completion of the edit, not because we are on a deadline, as I know you aren’t concerned with a timeline on this, but because I simply couldn’t stop! The prose is intelligent, poetic but often nicely spare/concise, and full of emotion. A true pleasure, and even if you don’t take me on for Books 2 and 3, I will read forward on my own because I simply must know what happens next . . .

Let me know what you think of my comments. I do think the final chapter could be split up into 2 or even 3 separate chapters.

All best,

Ava

 

I know I know, mere flattery. And I might be thinking the same thing, if it weren’t for the fact that, all of my beta readers have given me a similar response. Still, it’s great to get this from a professional, who no doubt has to trudge through literary swamps of poor storytelling.

So now, dear reader, you may be itching to get your hands on this bad boy. Well, the next step is working with Ava through the 170+k words, about 500 pages, until every “T” is crossed and “i” is dotted. Then I get to slap Zhengyi’s contribution over top of it, and last but not least, skedaddle on to the printers.

Ages of Aenya should be available sometime in 2017. In the meantime, my wife will be querying my latest effort, The Princess of Aenya, and I will be dutifully pursuing The Children of Aenya, the third book in the Aenya series, partly based on the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I have been playing with my friends and family these past two years. If you’d like to learn more about The Children of Aenya, and the game we are playing, feel free to join us on Facebook at The Hub of All Worlds.

 

 

 

D&D and the Fantasy Author

Roleplaying games, and by that I mean “real” roleplaying games, the kind with dice and paper, can be a powerful resource for any writer of fantasy, a great source of ideas and inspiration. My most recent novel, The Princess of Aenya, was inspired by a one-day 4th edition D&D campaign. In the game, my wife played Queen Isadora, a cleric. One of my nephews was a ninja/assassin sent to kill her, and my other nephew her protector, Demacharon. I imagined an enormous stairwell spiraling down a chasmic tower, with arrows raining down on them from all sides. Years later, that exact scene made its way into the first chapter of my novel, except Isadora was now Radia, and the ninja assassin appeared later in the story. Incidentally, Radia and Demacharon would later come upon a monster in a crypt, the tetra-claw beast. I first drew the tetra-claw beast when I was twelve, for a 1st edition campaign, and there it sat in my brain for 30 years, waiting to emerge on the stage of chapter 3 to pounce on my heroes!

The beautiful thing about roleplaying is that it allows you to create without having to worry about being judged. Too often, writers are discouraged by the literary world. Want to write a story about a knight saving a damsel in distress? No way! That’s both cliche and “sexist”. Want to have a ninja teaming up with a robot for a swashbuckling adventure? Not if you want to appeal to older, more jaded readers of “serious” fantasy like Game of Thrones. But in D&D, you can do whatever the hell you want. Write like nobody’s reading. Dream like you’re twelve again. And then, as is often the case, lightning strikes. An idea is born that germinates into something great. All it took for Harry Potter to happen is for JK to board a train.

Sometimes in this hyper-competitive market, we forget just why we read, why we write, and why we play. And the reason, in case you’ve forgotten, is because life is just too short and the world just too small for our human-sized brains. The fantasy enthusiast craves more than one planet to explore, longs to step outside the boundaries and limitations of this one-time existence. This is what novels and RPGs have in common; they are the gateways to something more.

If you’re a gamer, or just curious to read an adventure in a different way (this is where the oft-disregarded second-person narrative thrives) you can download the file below. Whether you’re new to D&D or a seasoned veteran, you may find it useful. And, unlike in the literary world, everyone is free to steal!


 

Heraldo the Great

5th Edition D&D Adventure

People of Aenya: Horde

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Horde by Filip Bazarewski

Ten thousand years before the reign of Radia Noora of Tyrnael, or 5 BGM (Before the Greater Moon), the sun of Aenya began its expanse into a red giant, having swallowed the Xexaz world of Reptos within its corona ages before. Recognizing the danger to their planet, the Zo scrambled for a plan of salvation, but were mired by political divisions. Anti-science factions did not accept the looming threat, believing it a conspiracy to gain political sentiment, whereas the scholarly community were split as to what actions could be taken, if any. Many surmised that the end of the world was inevitable, and any attempt to change course was a waste of the precious little time they had to spend with their loved ones. Evacuation was the only option. But a vocal minority considered the ethical aspect of letting a world and all of its life forms perish.

Led by the charismatic thinker, Kjus, they stressed that the planet could be saved by moving it. Years were spent organizing engineers and workers, all of whom were driven by the threat of certain doom. They labored to save not only themselves, but the lives of their children and children’s children, and every descendent they were ever to have, their species and their home. Vast networks of underground tunnels were built, and a great machine, the mass piston. The machine allowed the Zo to manipulate the surrounding higgs boson field, oscillating the mass at the core to alter the planet’s orbital trajectory. The plan was as crazy as it was ambitious, and few believed it could work.

All the while, the exit majority, led by chief science advisor, Kzell, focused efforts on the building of wormhole generators, fancifully dubbed fantastigates. The proposed plan was not without its share of problems, however, for the formation of wormholes was, at the time, theoretical. Of the major obstacles was energy. Like the mass piston, the wormhole generator used mass to create gravity, but creating enough to punch a hole in the fabric of space-time greatly exceeded what was required to move the planet. Another more pressing problem: even if a gate to another world could be opened, there was no way of knowing where or when the gate might lead. Mathematician and historian, Eldin, disappeared through one of these gates, and was later discovered to have become lost in time. Eventually, after a number of trials and errors, including one in which an entire island continent was sucked into a micro-black hole, the fantastigate project was abandoned for a simpler, more desperate plan. Days before Solos’ expansion, the leading Zo voted to transfer their consciousnesses—their thought algorithms and memories—into an invincible golem body. It was intended as a vessel to extend and preserve their lives, a biological organism which could thrive in any environment, including the depths of space. Kjus, who continued his work to move the planet, was offered to join them. But he refused, choosing death over what he regarded the loss of his humanity. A separate body was designed for each member of the council, one hundred and twenty in all, but too much effort had been wasted on wormholes.

The golem body had a number of advantages to a starship. It would be far smaller, at 12′ in height, and therefore quicker and easier to manufacture. Powered by a heart of nuclear decay, it would require no sustenance, no food or water to produce and store. The fusion of organic and metallic materials would prove impervious to cold, heat, and aging. A magnetic field was added to deflect solar radiation, and a neutronium alloy veneer (derived from neutron star matter) to shield from micro-meteorites. Once off-planet, the nigh indestructible entity could traverse the stars at nearly the speed of light, creating ionic thrust from its hands and feet. After unmeasured centuries searching the cosmos, the golem was to settle upon a hospitable world, where its collective mind could be dissociated into separate biological entities. This was the last desperate hope of the Zo. The greatest flaw in the design, however, was intentional, as the golem brain was made to maintain a sense of awareness. They wanted to feel “alive.”

As Solos exploded into its final phase, the golem launched into space, but Aenya was not destroyed. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Kjus and his devoted followers, the planet was moved into a safer orbit, becoming a moon of the gas giant, Infinity. Recognizing its error, the collective attempted a return home, but a violent solar flair from the newly formed star stripped the golem of its magnetic field, and damaged its propulsion system. Falling into an irregular orbit, the body gathered icy particles near the system’s outer rim, forming a comet like cocoon around it. After untold eons adrift, alone save for the one hundred and twenty voices in its head, the Zo lost their sense of individuality and went insane, calling itself Horde.

Ten thousand years pass before Horde returns home. Encased in ice, it crashes onto the surface like a fiery meteor, cratering the ground and obliterating the land about Kiathos. But it is a very different world from the one it abandoned, a primitive world with two moons and one sea, where science has become magic and the Zo are long forgotten.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

My family and I are big Potter fans. One year, my daughter was Hermione for Halloween, and my wife went as Madam Hooch (she had the hat). We’ve also been to Hogwarts and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, and incorporated our Wizarding World wands into our D&D sessions. Personally, I feel that J.K. Rowling’s epic is without peer, the only fantasy franchise that consistently holds up in terms of storytelling. So, you can see, I wasn’t about to pass up on the “8th installment of the story.” And yet, I was pretty skeptical going into it.

harrypotterfam

It’s Jaime Hyneman, Madam Hooch, Hermione and Baby.

Rowling hasn’t written a Potter book in many years, and I found her last effort, The Deathly Hallows, a bit of a letdown. Clearly, she meant for Hallows to round out the saga. Offering an 8th book felt like a nostalgia trip, or some vain Gilderoy Lockhart-attempt at getting back at the top of everyone’s reading list. Usually, those sorts of things don’t turn out well. Just look at Episode VII, a film fueled entirely by nostalgia, without a crumb of originality or inspiration. If that’s not enough to give one pause, consider the messy situation on the cover. Who, exactly, are John Tiffany and Jack Thorne? Alright, they’re playwrights, but how much of the overall story did they provide? Or did they simply give Rowling help on where to put the margins? More importantly, why is this even a play? I understand JK wanting to do something different, and being a proud Londoner, who wouldn’t care to experiment with theater? But here’s the rub, as Shakespeare put it, screenplays aren’t meant to be read other than by actors.

There is a reason some mediums don’t translate well into others. The Harry Potter books, for instance, make for better reading than watching, even though I greatly enjoyed the films. Still, the directors did what they could to finesse the dense plotting and thickly textured world in every book into roughly 2 1/2 hours running time. They cut whatever plot threads they could, leaving only the essentials, and they used special effects and model-building to bring the world to life. Now, when it comes to turning a screenplay into a novel, you have the opposite problem. Instead of cutting things out, a novelist needs to expand, give us details, to offer—in words—all the costuming and set dressing and stage effects we probably missed not sitting in a theater. When two wizards are having a duel, for instance, we need more than stage direction, we need to feel the action. This is what defines good writing, but screenplays simply aren’t made to provide this, and it’s a damn shame. If JK wanted to have her theatrical cake and eat it too, she needed to put in the effort to write a proper novel. In particular, the whole project is a shame because, unlike Star Wars, this new installment didn’t feel like an unnecessary cash-grab/add on. In fact, Rowling appears to have genuinely found some new inspiration here.

Starting into the Cursed Child, you immediately feel a sense of familiarity with the world and its characters. Despite a sparsity of description, we instantly recognize Harry and Ron and Hermione in the way they talk. We are again treated to some humorous, bumbling-side-kick Ron-moments, and are reminded of Hermione’s no-nonsense, stuffy yet endearing quirks. The Cursed Child also debuts the Potter children, though we are left to guess at the personality of Rose, daughter of Ron and Hermione, and learn almost nothing at all about James or Lily, Harry and Ginny’s kids. The whole story revolves, rather, around Potter’s youngest, Albus Severus Potter, and his best friend, Scorpius, son of Draco Malfoy. While there are flashes, here and there, that remind you of his famous father, Albus is his own person. Scorpius, despite his namesake, is actually quite tame, and not one bit like his dad, Draco.

What interested me most about The Cursed Child was Albus’ having to deal with his father’s legacy, even though, later in the story, his own journey through Hogwarts and the accidental adventures he embarks upon closely mirror those in the first few books. All the while, Harry is forced to deal with his past, as a 40-something father and employee at the Ministry of Magic. Much of the conflict surrounds this father/son dynamic and the miscommunication between them, and after being sorted into Slytherin House, Albus ends up feeling like a failure and a disappointment. Harry tries to steer him clear of the Malfoys, despite Scorpius being his only friend, and is confused when Albus doesn’t view Hogwarts as the magical refuge it was for Harry.

Now, if this sounds too much like a Lifetime drama, not to worry. The story picks up when the boys come across a Time Turner. Now, I’ve long argued JK switched gears halfway through the series, beginning with The Goblet of Fire, after the books became popular with adult readers. Many of the things in the earlier books, things that would otherwise seem absurd in adult fantasy, like giving a Hermione a device to go back in time just to take two classes at once, had to be explained or retconned away. The How-It-Should-Have-Ended YouTube series makes a great point in one of its videos, when Snape uses a Time Turner to go back decades to murder Voldemort as a child. Rowling seems to have realized her mistake by having all the Time Turners destroyed in book five, but she still failed to explain why they were kept in one place, where they came from, how they were built, or why a Death Eater couldn’t have simply made one of his own. I mean, if a schoolgirl can be given one for her studies, they can’t be all that rare. A lot of YouTube critics are lambasting the writer(s) for revisiting time travel in this latest installment, but if you’re going to take Rowling to task, you can’t give her a free pass for inventing them in the first place. Perhaps the problem was nagging at her (I know it would me) which got her to writing this book, because a good three-quarters of it deals with time travel. Cursed Child goes to great lengths, in fact, showing what havoc a Time Turner would cause, and it’s all great fun.

Now without getting too deeply into spoilers (you can stop reading here), I felt the story climaxed too soon, after Albus and Scorpius screw up the timeline enough to create an alternate reality, one in which things are really, really bad, let’s just say Dolores Umbridge bad. After that, the fourth act falls a bit flat. Story aside, a lot of the dialogue tended to get sappy and melodramatic, a remarkable shift from the subtle pathos contained in her earlier works. Consider the 11-year old boy quietly pining over his dead parents before the Mirror of Erised, to a forty-something father going on like this,

HARRY: I shouldn’t have survived—it was my destiny to die—even Dumbledore thought so—and yet I lived. I beat Voldemort. All these people—all these people—my parents, Fred, the Fallen Fifty—and it’s me that gets to live? How is that? All this damage—and it’s my fault.

—p. 269

Honestly, I wanted to slap this guy in the face. You’re a 40 year old wizard, for Dumbledore’s sake! Act like one! And here is the ultimate disappointment, the same disappointment I have with the series as a whole. The least interesting character, for me, has always been Harry himself, because he never takes the initiative. Things just happen to him and he reacts. This might have been acceptable when he was a child, and still learning, but after heading Dumbledore’s Army and mastering the Patronus Charm, I expected him to become the hero, to earn his name in all these titles, but he never lives up to it. Even as a much older man, Harry is inept, a subpar wizard at best. His constant whiny attitude also left me cold during his exchanges with his son. All the while, I found myself unexpectedly touched by Draco, of all people, who seems to have been transformed in Scrooge-like fashion into a pretty swell guy, who laments, at one point, that all he ever really wanted was a friend. Lastly, I feel Rowling lost much of her inventiveness after her sixth book, as there is nothing new to see here—no equivalent of Quidditch or Durmstrang of Chocolate Covered Frogs—to expand our understanding of her wonderful Wizarding World.

All this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book. In fact, I found it quite hard to put down, being well told and engaging, with some clever moments and great characters. However, when placed alongside the others in the series, it falls to the bottom. This is the double-edged sword that is following up a much beloved classic, when, like Star Wars, the bar is set to the sky and expectations go unmet.

 

 

 

Martin Has a Heart: A Review of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

Nick Alimonos I am here with my friend and partner in crime, David Pasco, to discuss George R.R. Martin’s new book, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Now I think it’s safe to say that David and I have a slightly different outlook on Martin. While I don’t technically dislike the Game of Thrones series, or as it was known before the show, A Song of Ice and Fire, I tend to find it a bit long-winded and cynical. David, on the other hand . . . well, I’ll let you answer that.

David PascoI’m a huge fan. I totally got into the TV show before the books, but I enjoyed it so much I read the books literally because I was having such GoT withdrawals that I was willing to take whatever scraps of new information I could get (which turned out to be a feast in and of itself). I’ll admit it’s dark, but that doesn’t bother me much. I think war is dark in general. As far as your criticism that it’s long winded, I will concede to that. Sometimes it’s worse than others, but Martin is rarely succinct.

Nick Alimonos Right. Martin’s world is fascinating in its complexity, and he gets kudos from me for world building, what is probably the biggest and most complete world in the fantasy or any other genre. My two main gripes with him, specifically, are that he doesn’t seem to end things, and so many of his characters are unlikable. I mean, I loved Ned Stark like everyone else, because he was honorable and just. But then Martin cuts his head off, and we’re stuck reading about a lot of less than savory characters. I often thought, if he’d just stick to the Stark kids, John Snow or Robb or Arya (my favorite), I’d like it better. This is why I decided to pick up A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms after giving up halfway through A Storm of Swords. Since the novel takes place 100 years before GoT, I figured we might have an ending. Also, the main character, a knight named Dunk, is genuinely likable. And you follow his adventure throughout. So I was really satisfied with both of those things.

David PascoI think his Song of Ice and Fire novels are meant more in the same vein as movies with two parts than self collected volumes. I suspect when the final novel is written, we’ll have an end. I disagree about the likability of his characters though. I think the Stark kids are all quite likable, as are Tyrion, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Barristan, Jorah Mormont, etc. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but there are even some unlikable characters that you’ll end up rooting for even more than some of the ones I just mentioned. People change, and that’s the most enduring message of hope that one can give, in my opinion. That being said, I agree with your opinion of Dunk. I also like seeing Westeros in a post war period of relative peace, instead of in the middle of a war.

Nick Alimonos For whatever reason, Tyrion comes off better in the TV show. Maybe the actor, Peter Dinklage, brought something to the role. But I suppose if I’d stick it out, I’d learn to like Brienne and some of the others. I guess I just really like the heroes. This book focuses entirely on Dunk, which is short for Duncan, and he is a knight with a true sense of honor. I also liked his squire, Egg. They seem to have a genuine caring relationship, father-son or older brother-younger brother, that really touched me, proving, I guess, that Martin does indeed have a heart!

David PascoI agree with your assessment of Dunk and Egg. I think one thing that really impressed me with this book was seeing the history of two almost mythic characters. In GoT they refer to Egg a lot as the last good king the Seven Kingdoms had (he was father to The Mad King). Dunk, we know, will grow up to be the Lord Commander of Egg’s Kingsguard, and will end up being something of a legend even among Lord Commanders, and a personal hero of sorts to Barristan Selmy (one of my favorite characters) and Jamie Lannister. It’s kind of fun to see someone so larger than life (pardon the pun) losing every joust he enters and thinking of himself as a generally inept individual. It’s quite humanizing.

Nick Alimonos  Yes, this is why I wanted to get your take on the book, because it really feeds into the GoT lore, and a has a lot to offer the hardcore fans. I did find myself wondering who Dunk and Egg were related to. I am happy to know Egg (or Aegon) grows up to be a good king. Again, I think Martin is showing his soft side, in that Egg turns out the way he does despite his Targaryen background. I imagine hanging out with a decent human being (Dunk) did the trick.

David PascoWell, to be fair to the Targaryen dynasty, they’re not all evil. There are a lot of great Targaryens. Unfortunately, madness runs in the lineage, most likely from all the inbreeding. Viserys and the Mad King both suffer from this, as does Aerion. He will eventually become king, and die because he drank wildfire believing it would transform him into a dragon. That being said, I think Egg’s father was well aware of the lack of prospect in his other sons, and had Egg squire with Duncan for exactly that reason. To his credit, it seemed to work great, and their friendship literally continues until the day the two perish, together I might add. Egg even names his first born son and heir after Dunk. Another interesting side note is that Brienne of Tarth is almost certainly a descendant of Duncan the Tall. Aside from having his size and strength, there is an old shield in the armory of Tarth bearing Dunk’s coat of arms, which Brienne used to visit often when she was a girl and would imagine being a knight. Jamie even asks Brienne once if she is “thick as a castle wall” when he is trying to apologize to her.

Nick Alimonos See, I think you liked it more because of your knowledge of the world. But even if you know nothing about Westeros, you can enjoy the adventure that it is. In fact, the book consists of three mini-stories, each of which have a satisfying conclusion, which gives me confidence that Martin can wrap all this (his saga) up.

David PascoI agree. I love things that can be read on multiple levels. If you have no idea who Martin is, and you look up this book, there are three great stories about two genuinely likable characters, and the rich world they live in. If you’re a somewhat rabid GoT fan, you’ll get that, but also hints into the rich tapestry of the history of Westeros. I think life is an awful lot like that, which is why I enjoy it when fiction follows suit.

Nick Alimonos Now, sometimes I feel Martin tends to pigeonhole himself. He isn’t the most inventive or imaginative writer. His world resembles mostly medieval Northern Europe (and yes, I remember some of his Oriental excursions, like Qarth). That being said, he really owns that time period. His description of knight life (pun unintended) and jousting is just unparalleled. It’s both thrilling and, from my studies of history, very accurate.

David PascoI think there are very few truly original ideas. Martin keeps me guessing, and he’s a compelling writer, so I’ll keep coming back for more. I think I’m going to hit the library up for The World of Ice and Fire next, which is basically a Westeros history book. That level of interest says a lot about the compelling world he has created.

Nick Alimonos This is true, regarding original ideas. I have written a lot about cliches, and how a cliche is only that to those who are familiar with it. If you read a lot about zombies, you might get sick of it, and start to view it as an overused cliche. For many, I am sure, Martin is quite original. While he tends to dabble in many tried and true literary devices, he often does new things with them, and expands on them in ways we’ve never seen before. That being said, do you have any complaints, about this book specifically?

David PascoVery minor ones. I wish there was slightly more character development. Dunk and Egg are almost the same people by the end of the book as they are in the beginning, you know what I mean? Also, while I loved the illustrations more than I ever expected to, the way they drew Egg bothered me. They made him much too effeminate in my opinion, and almost like a pixie. It takes away from the overall mood. What about you?

Nick Alimonos I loved the artwork. It made me insanely jealous. And I know how incredibly expensive that can get. It seems almost as if Martin wanted to make up for the “clip-art” covers from his earlier books. But in all reality, I suspect the publishers wanted a spin-off to GoT and figured they couldn’t charge $30 for a 150 page novel. The artwork, which is showcased on almost every other page, greatly extends its length. And given the popularity of the franchise, there’s no way a publisher was going to lose out on that investment. I really like the way Egg was drawn, like a very young, frail kid, who needed protection from this very strong, very big guy. It provided a nice contrast between them. I agree there wasn’t much of a character arc, but that didn’t bother me. Not every story needs one. It felt like Martin was going for a pulp-fiction, serial adventure feel, something along the lines of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and you know how I am a big fan of that stuff.

David PascoIt definitely has a more pulp fiction vibe. As you know, my favorite author writes a lot of pulp fiction type stuff, but even in that, there seems to be more character development. Overall, though, these are VERY minor complaints.

Nick Alimonos Do you have a favorite scene or part in the book?

David PascoThe Trial of the Seven. Baelor Breakspear was so likable, and I loved seeing everyone band together for Dunk. It was such an inspirational scene, even if it ended poorly, and it gave Dunk an almost Spiderman like quality afterwards. What about you?

Nick Alimonos That was great stuff. There was even a bit of humor in it. I loved the part where the guy with the apple sigil (of House Fossoway) sides with Dunk in the joust against his Fossaway uncle, and just paints his apples green instead of red, to differentiate himself. Also, in classic Martin fashion, one of the knight’s brain falls out after he removes his helmet! He’d been killed in the joust and didn’t even know it!

David PascoI really love the level of import Martin puts on a family’s coat-of-arms. He manages to convey so much through that.

Nick Alimonos I agree. Although I kept getting confused as to who was who. Even in this, much shorter and simpler book, I needed a chart just to keep track of everyone.

David PascoI agree with you there. It takes some doing, especially in the third story. I think Martin can be quite confusing in that regard.

Nick Alimonos I guess it gives it more of a real world feel, because, just like in life, we don’t fully comprehend everything going on around us.

David PascoTrue. I think the end result is worth the investment of energy, too.

Nick Alimonos OK, so, I rate books on a scale of one to four. How do you want to call it?

David PascoI’d give it four stars easily. None of the problems I have are anywhere near bad enough to make it three or even three and a half stars. You?

Nick Alimonos So, four stars being the highest possible rating you could rate a book, you’d give it a four?

David PascoTo be fair, I think a four star rating system makes for a limited variance in grading. If you scaled it up, it might be lower, but so would many books. You know what I mean?

Nick Alimonos I give room for half stars. Want to give it a half star less?

David PascoI think I’m going to stick with four. My problems with the book were so minor, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. What more can you ask for?

Nick Alimonos Yeah, I tend to be a tougher critic. I give it a solid three.

David Pasco What were your problems with it?

Nick Alimonos I didn’t have any, really. I like to judge things more on the positives and focus less on the negatives. So, while the story didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, there is a lot it could have done that it didn’t. For instance, I wasn’t really moved emotionally, nor did it make me think too much. Not that every book needs to do those things.

David Pasco I can see your point. Aside from the trial I described, I didn’t feel much either.

Nick Alimonos Well, I think that pretty much wraps things up! Thanks for talking to me today!

David Pasco Thanks for suggesting I read this book.