Ages of Aenya Launch Day!

It’s Ages of Aenya launch day everybody! Today, after ten years in the making, my book officially goes on sale on my new author site, nickalimonos.com! It’s available on Amazon, but you can get it directly from me at a discounted price, with free full color maps of Aenya. You can also find exclusive Aenya-related artwork, by Zhengyi Yu, Alexey Lipatov and Frans Mensink, at my store.

If you have been following this blog, have any interest in Aenya or in my naturist heroes, or if you simply love fantasy adventure, you can’t miss picking this up!

Welcome to the world of Aenya!

AoACover

GET IT NOW!

Aenya Newsletter 10/25/2017

Exciting news, everyone! My book came in the mail today! There’s just something magical, transformative even, when you get to hold your story in your hands for the first time. You know this is it, after more than a decade of writing and rewriting, the novel in its final form. Ages of Aenya is here.

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So where and when can you get it? Well, you can order it from Amazon.com, or next month from my new author site. I recommend cutting out the middle man and getting it directly from www.nickalimonos.com, as I can offer it at a discounted price, along with some Aenya inspired artwork! For all you e-readers out there, a Kindle version is in the works, and will be available next year.

Watch my YouTube video to learn more, or read the transcript below.

 

“Hi everyone! I’m very excited to show you what came in the mail the other day. It’s my book … Ages of Aenya!

I am really happy with the way this turned out. As you can see, it’s a hefty book. You can really do a lot of damage with this if you wanted. There’s Thelana on the cover, overlooking the city of Hedonia, with the pyramid of Sargonus in the background.

For years, people have been asking me ‘when is your book coming out?’ Well, now it’s here!

So, I really cannot wait to get this into your hands! It has everything lovers of fantasy adventure could ask for: fighting, monsters, exotic locations, romance, naked heroes, not-so-naked heroes; it’s been inspired by heroes like Conan and He-Man, and by writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, HP Lovecraft, and Homer (if you love Greek mythology).

It should be available to order mid-November, or even sooner from Amazon.com. But I recommend you wait and get it from me at my new author site, nickalimonos.com, where I will be offering it at a discounted price, and where I’ll be selling some Aenya inspired artwork. I will be providing links to buy it from my other social media platforms as well, from aenya.net and my blog, writersdisease.net.

Some people have asked me about a Kindle version. The Kindle version will be available early next year, but I wanted to get the physical copy into people’s hands first. There’s just something magical about a physical book. It has weight. It has substance. You can display it on your shelf. Too much stuff these days is digital, on a screen, so I think it’s nice to have something you can touch and feel. And besides, that’s actually a theme of the story!

Lastly, I’d like to thank my beta readers, who’ve supported me all these years. They include David Pasco, Heather Zanitsch, Tobias Tholken, and my brilliant editor, Ava Coibion, whose insights helped make the book even better. And of course my wife, Hynda, who has always been there for me!

So again, I am really excited to get this book into your hands. It’s been my passion for over a decade and now it’s here. Finally. Thanks for watching.”

The Old Man and the Sea

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Just as exciting as it looks!

So . . . ahem . . . The Old Man and the Sea is a book about a man, and, uh, he’s in the sea and . . . to be honest, I forgot to do this assignment until this morning. Sorry!

OK, for real now, I picked up the 1952 novel, The Old Man and the Sea, with its unassuming cover of water (just water) because it’s Hemingway, and his book won the Pulitzer Prize. They made a movie in 1958 with Spencer Tracy, and a remake (for some reason) in 1990, starring Anthony Quinn.

Now if this review sounds a bit half-assed, that’s because it is. The Old Man and the Sea is by no means a bad book. It’s quite well-written, in fact, and the main character (the only character, really) is likable enough, with a struggle that most any reader can relate to. At around 26,000 words, you can finish it in an afternoon. Hell, I’ve read longer chapters (The Princess Bride contains a 100+ page chapter, while the shortest has to be from Life of Pi, at just two words, yes two, which are: The Story). The Old Man and the Sea is your ultimate big-fish story, about a guy named Manolin who spends days trying to catch a Marlin that’s bigger than his old rickety boat. [Spoiler Alert!] So what’s my problem? I am not sure. Maybe if I liked fishing, I would have enjoyed it more. Thing is, I love a good story, no matter the subject. I loathe Netflix when it gives me a suggestion, “We think you’ll like this, a 98% match, based on your viewing history.” Screw you, Netflix! You don’t know me! Of course, good storytelling is layered. Oftentimes, a simple story, like Catcher in the Rye, can contain an ocean of meaning. Maybe Manolin’s struggle to catch this fish is symbolic of man’s struggle to . . . something. I dunno. I could not bring myself to care. Melville did it better.

What mostly interested me here is Hemingway, a literary giant (they’ve made movies about his life!) who is said to have greatly influenced the craft. Hemingway is the anti-Lovecraft, his style consisting of few adjectives, fewer adverbs, and not a fragment of flowery language. As I was reading his book, I never once stopped to think, “What a beautiful passage.” This isn’t to say he doesn’t excel at painting a scene, or in giving vivid description. As any How-To will tell you, his words never get in the way of his story. But if you’re someone who adores the beauty of language, you may find Hemingway a bit lacking. I love my Lovecraft (see what I did there? Bad writing, Nick! Bad!) and my Robert Howard. I’ll take The Frost Giant’s Daughter to The Old Man and the Sea any day, and I cannot help but feel that poetic language is just what Hemingway’s novel needed. As is, it’s just . . . adequate.

demoiselles1

The old new style

Why oh why do the editors of major publishing houses today feel this is the way we should all be writing? I suspect it has something to do with pop culture, and a declining educational system that places little emphasis on the classics. Nobody is reading Shakespeare for fun anymore. 50 Shades of Grey, with its straightforward proseis a best-seller, while modern masterpieces like Cloud Atlas end up in dusty libraries. Is it all Hemingway’s fault? I don’t think so. He was a product of his time, no more or less than Shakespeare was the rockstar of his. That being said, I don’t feel that The Old Man and the Sea has aged as well as the critics of the 50’s imagined it would. Hemingway is like Picasso, the painter who gutted tradition in favor of a simpler, less elegant style. And yet, show someone who knows nothing about art Les Demoiselles d’Avignon alongside the far less respectable Cat Girl (by Frazetta), and I am guessing which one they’ll prefer. In the same vein, I imagine Lovecraft, with his endless barrage of adverbs, comparing more favorably to Hemingway in the decades to come. At least among us plebeians.

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The new old style

It Can Happen Here 3: Orwell’s 1984

 

1984

This can’t be a coincidence 

 

Whoo-boy

 

Rarely do words fail me like this, but after finishing George Orwell’s 1984, I am utterly at a loss for what to say. Nothing I can put into words, other than the words Orwell uses himself, can accurately describe the depth of despair, the hopelessness, the utter nihilism bound in this book. The most tragic ending you can imagine cannot begin to prepare you for the story Orwell has written. Something along the lines of Hamlet might as well be a Disney cartoon. At least Hamlet gets his revenge, and is ultimately vindicated. Nothing of the kind can be said of 1984. In the world of the book, there is no glory, no heroism, and no possibility for happiness. You couldn’t make a heavy metal song about this, because even the darkest metal lyrics contain an element of rebelliousness, a strength fueled by rage and angst. This kind of fuck you to the world is not permitted in Orwell’s universe, because freedom of thought is not permitted. What I once regarded the ultimate expression of nihilism, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, cannot even come close to 1984, because the life of Hester Prynne, however awful, becomes a stepping a stone to a greater future for others. I am also reminded of the absurd controversy over the ending of Mass Effect 3, with its supposed “nihilistic ending,” that somehow ruined the franchise. To these people, I say, you do not know the meaning of nihilism until you’ve read 1984.

Even if the entire world were obliterated in a nuclear holocaust, I would greatly prefer it to the future imagined in 1984. Or send me to Westeros on the worst day. In the Hub of All Worlds, board up the door leading to 1984 and let’s never speak of it again. As you may have probably guessed, 1984 is a dystopian novel, the standard by which all other dystopias are judged. Having read Brave New World, The Hunger Games, Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go, The Giver, The Man in the High Castle and The Plot Against America, among others, I thought I was ready for this book. I wasn’t. And yet, 1984 is of paramount importance to the literary world, serving as a warning, and a very likely prophecy we must do everything in our power to escape.

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Imagine a world where you are not allowed to think, or to believe, what you want. Imagine a world where your sense of logic, your reason­—sanity itself—is torn down. To resist is to commit thoughtcrime, and thoughtcrime can be anything that contradicts Big Brother, the physical embodiment and face of “the Party.” It isn’t simply a matter of professing allegiance to a particular ideology. There is no real ideology in 1984, only total—not obedience—but agreement with the Party. Obedience is too easy, as it leaves room for hope, and for freedom within one’s own soul. Anyone can be made to obey, while sheltering rebellion in his heart. The black plantation slave could still sing about freedom while imagining a better day for himself or for his children. Under the Party, the Negro would be forced not only to work under the lash, but also to love working under the lash.

Long before the start of the novel, the Party has determined that the only way to maintain total control is to force its people into agreement. To avoid the Thought Police, you must believe, in you heart of hearts, that what you are being told is true. The Party manages this by brainwashing everyone from birth. Every book, film, newspaper, and TV channel is a carefully manufactured work of propaganda. No evidence contradicting the Party is allowed to exist, and when propaganda is the norm, it becomes impossible to separate the truth from the lies. In essence, the lies become true. Even the dictionary is used as a tool of obfuscation, as no words are permitted within the language to allow for seditious thought. In the most disturbing example of the politicization of reality, the main character, Winston Smith, is forced into believing that 2 + 2 = 5. Again, he does not have the luxury to simply state the truth of this claim. He must literally believe it. Winston is also forbidden from having basic human emotions, other than devotion to the Party. No one can love their spouse, or their children, only Big Brother. This might not be so bad if the world were composed of unfeeling robots, or if the Party was in possession of some Borg-like technology, but the price for thoughtcrime is imprisonment and torture. If you are even suspected of guilt, you are made to suffer until you sincerely believe you are in the wrong.

The truly scary thing about 1984 is how plausible it all is. We will likely never be invaded by aliens, or be taken hostage by AI, but the Party feels right around the corner. Orwell paints so complete and convincing a picture, in fact, it all seems inevitable. The technology now exists, from hidden cameras to microphones, to record everything a person does, from your facial expression to the pitch of your voice, to determine what you may be thinking. Modern day computers can make the process even more efficient. We know, thanks in part to Edward Snowden, that the NSA can be watching your every move. Before Orwell, I had never fully appreciated the Right to Privacy. I had always considered, quite erroneously, that if I had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, privacy doesn’t matter so much. But when a political party comes into power that criminalizes the things you strongly believe in—being a nudist, an atheist, or LGBTQ+—then privacy is the only way in which you can be protected. Already, we are seeing our right to privacy being eroded. Add to this the dilution of our cherished values, the right to a fair trial and laws against torture, both of which were diminished following the Patriot Act, and 1984 edges closer to reality.

I started this series, It Can Happen Here, as a response to the Trump election. But even after comparing Trump to Hitler, I am hesitant to mention Orwell’s Party in the same breath. There is no greater evil than Big Brother, no more Hellish a place in all of literature than the world of 1984. Mitch McConnell’s wildest imaginings have yet to touch upon such a dystopia. That being said, Orwell has forced me to reevaluate and even to course correct some of my earlier assumptions. The Party is, after all, a government institution, and conservatives have long maintained that the greatest thing to fear is big government. Between the out-of-control capitalist corporatocracy in Cloud Atlas and the Party of 1984, I’ll take the former any day. No doubt, many conservatives turn to Orwell to reaffirm their ideals. But the most pressing question at the moment is whether the current administration resembles the Party in any way. To this I would answer that the parallels are too close for comfort, particularly when it comes to matters of science, history and, to a finer extent, truth itself. Consider how conservatives perpetually strive to rewrite the history books, to omit the atheist assertions of Thomas Jefferson, to refute slavery as the cause of the Civil War, to continually insist that America was founded as a white Christian nation. Consider their opposition to evolution and climate change. In 1984, the very idea of history and science, and of objective reality, has been expunged, politicized to the point of losing all meaning. What is true or not true is based on the dictates of Big Brother, which is how 2 + 2 = 5.

Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party […] Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. 

p. 222

While the relative nature of truth may seem absurd, at first, Orwell’s antagonist argues the point with such twisted logic, he almost convinces the reader. After all, how can we be certain that 2 + 2 = 4? Or that George Washington was America’s first president? Or that the year is really 2017? Or that the Earth is round? Everything we know or think we know was taught to us in a school, and public schools are government institutions. The same paranoid sentiments are echoed today by the Flat Earth Society, who accuse teachers of brainwashing children with the “globe theory.” And while we can make simple observations to determine the shape of our planet for ourselves, it is easy to see how everything we believe could turn into a matter of politics, particularly if we are forced into a left or right leaning bubble, wherein lies become omnipresent.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient […] to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies …

p. 191

Considering the book was written in 1949, it is remarkably prescient when looking at how carelessly Trump lies, and how his adherents are expected to deny or to accept objectifiable truths. We have never seen a political movement like this before. It has given rise to anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-vaxxers and the Flat Earth Society. At this very moment, the Trump administration is robbing us of our health care, our clean air and water, and every institution established to help the sick and the needy. They threaten anyone who stands beyond their control: the free press, the scientific community, any and all educated “elites” who disagree with them. All the while, those who voted the administration into office stand to lose the most, and yet they are convinced that every action taken by Trump and his cronies is for their own good, that while big government is the enemy, it also, paradoxically, represents their own interests.

All that was required of them [the lower classes] was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.

p. 63

Orwell called this doublethink, holding two contradictory beliefs in your mind simultaneously. So while millions of the poorest Americans will lose their health care, it’s all for the best, because the government says so. In this nation, facts are ceasing to matter. You can no longer argue objective reality because reality has been politicized. Stating that a million people attended Trump’s inauguration, or that hundreds of thousands of voters were bussed-in from other states to vote illegally, is equivalent to two plus two equaling five. Evolution, climate change, even the shape of the Earth is being called into question. And so now I ask you, what year is it? Are we living in 2017? Or are we closer to 1984?

I can think of only three authors whose names have become adjectives: Shakespear(ean), Lovecraft(ian), and Orwell(ian). What greater mark on society can a writer hope to achieve? Without question, Orwell is deserving of his spot on this mantle. His brilliance is effortless, his writing without flaw. But more impressively, his insight into human nature, political philosophy and metaphysics and the interplay between them is without peer. 1984 is a timeless masterpiece. It is a story that, quite frankly, needed to be told. And it is as important today as it ever was, perhaps more so.

****

It Can Happen Here 2: “The Plot Against America”

md8057491406TRUMP SUPPORTER: “What’s that you’re reading?”

ME: “Oh, it’s a book about Charles Lindbergh winning the presidency.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I remember that.”

ME: “What?”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I learned about that in school.”

ME: “Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly a plane over the Atlantic, from New York to Paris.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “Right. And then he became president.”

ME: <<rolls eyes>>

It should not surprise me that Trump people don’t know their history. If they did, they would never have voted for a fascist. In our universe, of course, Lindbergh never ran for office, and Roosevelt went on to win an unprecedented third term in office, wherein he lead the United States into World War II. It’s easy to paint a rosy picture of the past, to imagine a government full of wise, determined men like Roosevelt, who, with little opposition from the American people, bravely charge into Europe to save the day. History is murky, however, and the history of politics even murkier. While it may seem a no-brainer that America should have joined the war effort, in the 1940’s, there was considerable contention over the matter. Republicans, namely, felt the need to “put America first,” and not get involved. Sure, Hitler may have been massacring Syrians Jews by the millions, but that wasn’t America’s problem. We had our own economic depression to worry about. But thanks to the charismatic leadership and foresight of FDR, the isolationist America First-crowd lost the argument, and the world as we know it is free from the grip of fascism (at least so far). What Roosevelt understood, even back in 1940, was that the world’s problems eventually become our problems. It isn’t only unethical to ignore the plight of nations, but downright dangerous to our security.

 

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At least Lindbergh was a looker! And he could fly a plane!

 

This is the crux of Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, wherein Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in his third run for president, leaving America deaf to the genocide across the Atlantic. In both reality and in the novel, Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer. The result of his presidency was to delay America’s insurgency in World War II, as Lindbergh and Hitler agree to a treaty of non-engagement, leaving the Nazi blitzkrieg to steamroll over Europe and into Russia with only Great Britain to contest them. Aside from the odious politic of non-intervention, what I found most timely and disturbing is how accurately the book mirrors current events. If I did not know better, I could accuse Roth of blatantly ripping the plot of his book from today’s headlines. Here’s just a few of the similarities between Lindbergh’s and Trump’s presidencies:

 

  1. Before his election, Lindbergh is demonized for his racist comments.
  2. As a non-politician, Lindbergh becomes the surprise Republican nominee, winning against great odds and considerable controversy.
  3. Lindbergh is said to speak off the cuff, without prepared notes, telling it “like it is.”
  4. Lindbergh runs his campaign his own way, frustrating Republican leaders.
  5. Lindberg runs on a platform of putting “America First.”
  6. Lindbergh loses in the polls, but wins the presidency anyway, to the shock and consternation of many, against a popular career politician and Democrat.
  7. After Lindbergh is sworn in as president, he tones down much of his racist rhetoric.
  8. Lindbergh is said to admire a foreign power (Hitler) and is accused of having secret ties with Germany.
  9. Lindbergh is repeatedly accused of being a fascist.
  10. Lindbergh’s followers belong to white supremacist groups. They commit acts of violence against Jews, destroying businesses and synagogues.
  11. Lindbergh stifles the free press. Those in the media who speak against him lose their jobs.

 

Did I mention the book was written in 2004? Which begs the question: Is Philip Roth a time traveler? Or does he simply understand that people are predictable in their hatreds and prejudices, and that such happenings (albeit with eerie specificity) are simply inevitable?

While political in theme, The Plot Against America is far from a political treatise. Roth does not seek to find or give answers here. Instead, he examines fascist America from an intimate perspective, the story unfolding through the eyes of a young Philip Roth in a kind of pseudo-autobiography, wherein the author imagines the childhood he might have had—had Lindbergh won the presidency in 1940. This unique approach helped lend credibility to Roth’s reimagining of the past, and I do not doubt that anyone reading this book, ignorant to history, might take it for one. Roth conjures real world people, places and events, tweaking them just enough to service the story.

It doesn’t happen right away, of course. But ever so gradually, the rights ensconced by the Constitution are eroded away. And as always, it is the minorities, the immigrants, the others who are made to fear, and ultimately, to suffer. What I found particularly poignant was the way in which the author portrays America. Through the lens of his Jewish heritage, he paints two contrasting pictures. We are a nation of promise, where differing ethnicities, races, and religions find acceptance and equality. The other, more sinister portrait, is the hidden face of America, with its undercurrent of prejudice waiting to burst at the emergence of a demagogue—someone to push into the fore the undying resolve that the only true American is white and Christian.

I had planned to review this book in the usual way, critiquing for style and content, and if you are questioning whether you should pick up this book, I will only say that Roth’s style can be off-putting, at first. He leans toward page-long run-ons and has a tendency to trail into wild tangents. But when I consider the importance and, dare I say, necessity of this book, especially now, these seem like minor quibbles. The Plot Against America is a warning against fascism and the politics of hate. I found myself reading ahead just to see how everything was going to turn out, as if it was a book of prophecy, with a chance to quell my fear of the next four years.

How tenuous is our democracy, really? Can the Founding Fathers’ checks and balances endure the onslaught of a tyrant bent on dismantling them? A man who runs on a platform of discrimination? Who challenges the right of the courts? Who demonizes the Free Press? Who puts America first at the expense of the world?

 

kkk-america-first

This has happened before.

 

Without giving too much away, I found Roth, ultimately, to be an optimist, and his love for America all the more genuine in that it stems from his Jewish roots. Only here, in this country, could his people have found a respite from the hatred that has dogged them for millennia. America is defined by its inclusiveness. It is a promise, and owing to this promise, people have chosen to live here from all over the globe. But that promise has never come without challenges. In The Plot Against America, it is Lindbergh against the Jews. Today, in the story that is our lives, Trump is the villain, and Muslims and Mexicans the protagonists. But what kind of a story are we living in? A tragedy? A triumph? A cautionary tale? Only the ending can tell us, can give answer to the question—will the promise of America endure?

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.

hub-space

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.

library

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.

 

 

It Could Happen Here: A Review of The Man in the High Castle

I’ve already been a victim of hate speech. This wasn’t your normal troll variety flaming. This guy got eerily personal, digging deep into my life to attack my lifestyle, my beliefs, my career, and most disturbingly, the person I chose to marry. Sadly, he concluded I should leave the country. People like him have never understood what America is and what it stands for. But to understand America, you have to look no further than its founding document, The Declaration of Independence:

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

You won’t find “white Protestant Christian” mentioned anywhere in our founding document, but you will see it in Jefferson Davis’ traitorous Articles of the Confederacy. Our constitution specifically states that ALL MEN are created equal, and that they have a right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness. This is what it means to be an American. This is our founding ideal. If these ideals are threatened or abolished, if people of color or those of differing religions are cowed by an institution of fear, then the U.S.A. ceases to be. We won’t need to leave America because America will have left us. Honestly, it amazes me how these trumps claim to be patriots. These same folk insisted our first black president must be a Muslim terrorist dictator, born in Kenya. They want to kick us out to make America what it isn’t. To them I say, Go back to Germany!

In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines the allies losing to the axis powers during World War II. In this sobering alternate history, America is no more. The land is still there, as are its people, but its founding principles have been abolished. Nazism is law and the ideals of aryan superiority. Jews are forced to change their names, to better hide their identities, and blacks, Indians and handicapped people veer close to extinction, and it’s all due to the ramblings of a paranoid, narcissistic strongman.

Now I didn’t plan to be sitting here writing this review as this nightmarish scenario edges closer to reality. But life can have a sense of irony. In all honesty, I picked up The Man in the High Castle because of the Amazon show, and because Philip K. Dick is among the greats of the Sci-Fi genre. His novels adapted to screen include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Super Toys Last All Summer Long (A.I.), and The Minority Report. Bad titles aside, Dick is known for his mind-bending concepts, deeply couched in philosophy. In Bladerunner and A.I., he challenges our notions of consciousness and sentience, and our ethical intuitions with regards to synthetic life. In The Minority Report, he imagines a totalitarian world where a prescient police force can stop and punish a crime before it happens. Stop and frisk? But The Man in the High Castle deals not with some far flung future, but post-America circa the 1960s.

It isn’t difficult to imagine this happening, and it can be argued that, by the slightest tweak of events, our world might appear totally alien to us. Consider what would have happened had the German scientists behind the V2 rocket made the atomic bomb? A single nuke, dropped on New York City, and we might all be shouting, “Sieg Heil!”

Looking at the story of the human race, you come to see repeating patterns and the same foolish mistakes being made again and again. The Roman Republic collapsed due, in part, to xenophobia. Julius Caesar was charged with protecting against northern incursions, acting preemptively and genocidally in the name of Rome. Shortly after his military campaign, he declared himself emperor, but was assassinated, stabbed by sixty senators on the senate floor. The political factions dividing the Republic went to war, and when the dust settled, democracy was no more. A similar thing happened in Germany after the first Great War. Hitler was elected chancellor, owing to his impassioned rhetoric regarding German exceptionalism and a pure Arian race. He was viewed as an outsider and a strong man, someone who spoke his mind and could get things done. He blamed all of the nation’s problems on immigrants, particularly the Jews, but those with disabilities as well. It is impossible to talk about these events and not think of Trump. To a student of history, the parallels are all too clear, too frightening. This is why a book like The Man in the High Castle matters.

Alternate histories show us a startling picture of what could have been, shaking us out of our complacency, helping us to recognize the invaluable lessons of the past, lessons we too quickly forget. Dick offers a startling reminder of a world we fought so hard and sacrificed so much to escape, a world where every man, woman and child are judged not by their character, but by their race and nationality. The picture he paints is often haunting. There is no cooperation in his Nazi world. No NATO. World leaders show courtesy to one another so far as they prepare for the next war. In this hellish setting, the only remaining powers are Japan and Germany, with America divided between them. Nuclear devastation is a forgone conclusion, because the Nazis do not want peace, only to conquer, to prove their superiority. Humanity be damned.

All that being said, it’s unfortunate The Man in the High Castle isn’t a better book. Philip K Dick is a rare genius, but his genius too often gets the better of him. His book diverges into wild philosophical tangents that have little bearing on the plot. While his characters run the gamut from an antiques salesman to a Nazi undercover assassin to a Japanese diplomat, they all lose themselves in thought. Dick has a lot to say about the human condition, the nature of suffering, the psychology of cruelty and the politics of race. It’s far too much to condense, and it’s an admirable literary endeavor. I, for one, look for meaning in every story, but here the story seems to take a back seat to whatever meaning the author is trying to convey. Given the subject matter, it’s a shame he couldn’t have been more focused. He only hints at the axis victory and how it played out, and we learn just as little about the bomb dropped on Washington or the global genocides perpetuated by the Third Reich. Dick does, however, give considerable detail regarding the manufacture and selling of antiques.

As I neared the final pages, I anticipated some great reveal, something akin to Life of Pi. In a meta-fictional twist, The Man in the High Castle involves a fictional account of the allies winning the war. A lot of mystery surrounds this book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and its author, but the payoff just left me confused and wanting more.

I have a need to understand how the very worst of things can happen, and whether they can ever truly happen here in America. So I picked up Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, wherein a Nazi ascends to the White House. Look for that review soon!

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.