Aenya Newsletter 12/7/18

“But why is she naked?”

This is the most annoying question I get about Ages of Aenya, whenever I post a picture of the Ilmar on social media. While the vast majority of comments are positive, I will inevitably get roasted for lack of realism, on Facebook fantasy groups that allow for artistic nudity. On these same forums loin-clothed monks punch dragons without anyone raising an eyebrow, but remove that loincloth and suddenly we’re in a world too far removed from reality. “She can’t go naked!” gets thrown at me time and again. It’s like they’ve never heard of the Ancient Greeks, or the Celts (who even fought naked), or Amazon tribes, or your everyday, modern American nudist. Oddly enough, nobody will admit to being offended by the human body, as nobody wants to sound like a prude, yet they’ll justify their discomfort by saying things like, “What does she do about mosquitos?” and “What about branches?” Again, these same people have no problem with barbarians covering their crotches in thin strips of goatskin, because, I suppose, bugs can only bite you in the ass. This is amusing to me, because while I have never personally fought a dragon, I can say that I have hiked naked in the hills of Greece, and in swampy Florida, mosquito capital of the world, and never once did I get killed by bugs, or had my penis shorn by a tree. We can blame the Puritans for this aversion to nudity, and the absurd belief that humans can’t go anywhere without clothes. But among readers of Sci-Fi and fantasy, you might expect a greater level of open mindedness. Think of it this way—not only can we mere Earthlings never survive in the buff, but neither can any human-like creature on any planet in the multiverse! Faster than light travel? No problem. No pants no shoes? Impossible!

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BOOBZ!

There’s one thing my detractors and I can agree on: Americans find casual nudity weird. Sure, the human body is acceptable when surrounded by a dozen or so erect penises, but put a girl in a tree with a bow and arrow and we’re in crazy town. Even my supporters can be disparaging, when they ignore everything in the picture to focus exclusively on the ten or so pixels making up a boob. Are we really just a bunch of dumb, sex-starved monkeys? The guy who left me this actual comment, and I quote, “kewl boobz!” will probably be disappointed by the absence of sex in Ages of Aenya, or lack of any juicy passages describing genitalia. In the good ol’ US of A, it’s gotta be PornHub or Disney, and there can be no middle ground, which is why I am finding it necessary to shift my attention to other parts of Aenya. Much as I adore my innocently naked heroes, bringing them into the mainstream may not be plausible in our hyper-demographics focused society, which is why I have spent the past several years working on other stories.

 

Writing Woes

As I have said to my troll friends time and again, if I am a failed writer, it is only because I have set the bar so high for myself. I know many authors who would be content with where I am, but my goal is nothing short of a million copies sold.

While it may sound egotistical, I really don’t know how else to put it: I have read hundreds of books, and nothing I’ve come across has convinced me that I cannot do what these other famous authors have done. Maybe I can’t write characters as engaging as J.K. Rowling, or build as convincing a world as Tolkien, or be as prolific as George R.R. Martin, but I persist in the belief that Aenya belongs on the shelf with their books. It’s like watching an Olympic athlete win gold, and knowing with confidence you could have at least taken the bronze. From the time I was in college, professors, classmates and readers of fantasy have said to me, “Why aren’t you published yet?” I’ve even been told, by fans (who I don’t know personally) that they preferred reading about Aenya to other well-known fantasy novels they enjoy.

Right now, the book market is saturated. There are just too many talented people vying for attention in this “attention economy,” and with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix and a plethora of video game systems, people’s entertainment options are near infinite. Even the most talented among us get lost in the shuffle. I have met amazingly gifted people who have thrown in the towel because, despite a strong following, they simply cannot make money doing what they love.

I have despaired over this many a night, but the solution is pretty straightforward: you have to be exceptional, truly stand-out exceptional, to get noticed. It’s no longer sufficient to write as good as those on the shelves, you’ve got to be better, A LOT BETTER, and to this I say: challenge accepted. 

The Princess of Aenya is my best work, and I believe it has what it takes to make a splash in the literary world. Unlike my first novel, it has greater market appeal, without those implausibly naked people in it, but, most importantly, I think the story will be harder to ignore. My plan is to reach out to individuals with far greater status. Should Stephen King give his stamp of approval, doors will open.

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The Compass Tower, from The Princess of Aenya

 

The Silmarillion and Strange Inspiration

Strangely enough, I find encouragement in the most unlikely of places. Few people can imagine the father of fantasy world-building, J.R.R. Tolkien, as anything but a master of his craft, well-beloved by all, but like most who have suffered from the writer’s disease, he also struggled immensely. Tolkien spent a lifetime feeling misunderstood, often being rejected by his publisher, who did not understand what it is he was trying to accomplish.

This unexpected revelation came to me upon delving deep into Tolkien lore, having picked up the more recent titles released by his son, Christopher, which include Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, and The Fall of Gondolin, all of which appeared previously in The Silmarillion, a prequel, of sorts, to the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But while The Silmarillion was published toward the end of Tolkien’s life, Christopher writes that his father had conceived of the epic long before the tiny people with furry feet. Scraps of notes regarding Beren, Turin and Tuor, Christopher tells us, originated early in his father’s life, a few of which were composed in the trenches of the first World War. After The Hobbit gained worldwide attention, Tolkien was eager to share his lifelong labor of love, The Silmarillion, but neither his agent or publisher could make heads or tails of it. They told him, instead, to write more about hobbits, and The Lord of the Rings came as a result.

The Silmarillion is a HARD read, and I really would not recommend it to anyone but the most devoted of Middle Earth fans, or, perhaps, to readers of history, because that is what the book essentially is, not so much a novel but a pseudo-history, remarkably rich in detail, with more places and people than I could keep track of. Imagine the entire seven book Game of Thrones series (properly Song of Ice and Fire) condensed into 300 pages. That being said, interspersed between dense passages of Middle Earth lore, you come across genuinely wonderful storytelling, and I find it a shame that Tolkien did not publish these separately, as I think that just about anyone can enjoy them, but that few probably have, finding the historical sections connected to their original release impenetrable. All the more reason I applaud Christopher’s decision to turn these tales into standalone novels, particularly Beren and Luthien, a fairytale romance on par with Tolkien’s best, if not his most moving tale. If Hollywood is starving to milk the Middle Earth cash cow, they need look no further than Beren and Luthien. Hopefully, the upcoming Amazon series—which is slated to become the most expensive show ever—will explore content from The Silmarillion, and not just rehash Peter Jackson’s epic.

Tolkien’s struggle encourages me, and drives me to build my own massive storytelling cathedral, because the Aenya that exists in my mind is far grander than any reader has yet imagined, perhaps not on the level of The Silmarillion, but a true epic in its own right. It may simply be that, like Tolkien, I must persevere, and march to the sound of my own drummer, perhaps until my death, or start the reading masses off with a more palatable story. The Silmarillion would have, no doubt, been lost to obscurity without The Hobbit. Perhaps The Princess of Aenya will be the key to bringing Ages of Aenya into the light. Maybe once I am established, nobody will pester me with questions regarding the implausibility of naked heroes. When you have a name for yourself, and earned the public trust, the people follow.

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If you’re curious about The Silmarillion, I highly suggest a visit to the bookstore to take a look. It is truly unlike any fantasy story you’ll ever read, equal parts history, myth, romance, tragedy and adventure, and I found it all the more compelling in that it was so different, but then again, I am a history major with a love for myth. And while it may seem a challenge to get through, you may be glad that you did.

As for the Aenya-verse, The Princess of Aenya is in the editing process, the cover is almost complete, and it should be ready to order from http://www.nickalimonos.com early 2019!

 

Aenya Newsletter 12/20/2017

Whoo-Boy. A lot’s been going on, so let’s get to it.

 

Ages of Aenya

As you probably know, Ages of Aenya finally became available last month, and sales have been brisk. It’s great knowing people from as far as Europe and the UK have read the story and have had nothing but good things to say about it. I do have, unfortunately, my pet troll to deal with. Like any loyal pet, he was the first to go barking on Amazon, giving the book a 1-star review. Funny thing is, he knew it was out before I did! I am still amazed by this, that some people have nothing better to do than to watch you like a hawk, ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity. Oh well. What Mr. Troll doesn’t seem to understand is that I don’t care about critiques from people who haven’t actually read the book, and I know he hasn’t, as his “review” came minutes after it was posted to Amazon. Even if Mr. Troll were to have dished out the money to give an honest opinion, I still wouldn’t care, because a troll’s viewpoint is worthless, in that it is inherently biased. Either way, art is subjective. There are always going to be readers who think what I write is garbage, and others who feel the opposite. Just look at the love/hate situation for the recent Star Wars! The fact that a majority appears to love what I do means I’ve succeeded as a writer. My only goal now is to keep writing and to find more readers. That means learning something about marketing. At the moment, I am planning book signings, reaching out to fiction bloggers, and networking with other writers, like Michael Sullivan.

 

The End of An Era / A Bold New Direction

This blog is approaching its seventh year, and I am beginning to feel that much of what I have wanted to say has been said. In 2010, my head was bursting at the seams with ideas that had been bugging me since high school. I wanted to play Devil’s advocate with regards to cliches, melodrama, and ‘to say’ verbs. I wanted to throw in my two cents about popular fiction, like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and a A Game of Thrones, and to contrast these works with the lesser known classics that I love, like The Last Unicorn and The Never Ending Story, in an effort to understand what makes good storytelling, and how literary conventions change over time. I also longed to express my more unusual beliefs, for nudism in particular, but about religion also. The Writer’s Disease has been a great platform to share my life story, and to showcase my earlier work. Telling stories has been the most important thing in my life, and I needed to make certain that the world knew that, that nobody would mistake me for a guy who wakes up one day, in a mid-life crisis, deciding to be a novelist. At the very least, I feel that I’ve earned the respect that comes from three decades of dedication. Having a blog like this has helped keep my mind sharp, for when I was too busy with work and kids to labor over a novel. But now that much of what I have wanted to say has been said, with one teenager in the family and my other business largely self-sufficient, I am finally able to commit to my true passion. Despite how hectic my life has been, I am ashamed to admit that, since Aenya’s inception c. 1999, I have only managed to produce three full-length novels, with one of those, The Dark Age of Enya, mostly redone. I need to devote myself to Aenya, not just to maps and biographies, but to honest-to-goodness books. Hopefully, I should be shelling out a new Aenya book every two to three years, from now until I hit the grave. This doesn’t mean I am quitting this blog; only that you’ll be seeing less of me here, and more of me in my books.

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Book Review: C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew

I started reviewing novels as a means to learn from them. In college, we studied the classics, Shakespeare and Melville and Hawthorne, and while I have always been a fan of long-dead authors, modern-day readers seem to prefer people from *this* century. In essence, I have had to unlearn what I learned in college, to abstain from the flowery, poetic language with which I was so accustomed, and so adored (see?). This is part of the reason I ended up rewriting The Dark Age of Enya, to appeal to a modern audience. Some of Xandr’s dialogue still retains elements of Homer. In 2010, The Lord of the Rings was on everybody’s mind, thanks to Peter Jackson, and so every new author was accused of being a Tolkien-wannabe. I was accused of this myself, which was particularly infuriating. Bookstores are saturated by imitators, R.A. Salvatore chief among them, and even George R.R. Martin has been influenced by the Anglo-European myths that informed Tolkien. But I have never felt the need to explore tales of elves, dwarves or dragons. The Aenya series, for better or worse, is rooted in Greek mythology, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, and the 80’s cartoon show, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. All writers borrow, but the great ones borrow from a much greater pool. Inspiration can be found anywhere, and from anyone, which is why I aim to become familiar with every fantasist out there, from Adams to Zelazny.

This leads me to C.S. Lewis. I picked up The Magician’s Nephew from a small bookstore in London. Being a literary nerd, I was excited by the prospect of reading an English novel in its original, un-Americanized form, but if there were any differences in dialects, I didn’t notice them.

The Magician’s Nephew is a simple adventure story, about two children, Digory and Polly, who are given magic rings (again, rings) that enable them to travel to other worlds. One of these worlds has been destroyed by an evil-witch, Queen Jadis. Eventually, they end up in empty space, in what becomes Narnia.

Anyone familiar with C.S. Lewis knows of his outspoken religiosity, and of the Christian-apologetic he penned, Mere Christianity. His faith heavily influenced his fantasy, and it shows, even in The Lord of the Rings, as Lewis and Tolkien often critiqued one another’s work. Tolkien rejected allegorical interpretations of his story, but it’s hard to ignore similarities between the Lady Galadriel and the Catholic Mary, the elves of Middle Earth and Biblical angels, Sauron (Melkor, specifically) and the Fallen Angel, Lucifer. Lewis’ faith, however, is much more pronounced, not quite beat-you-over-the-head blatant, ala A Wrinkle in Time, but apparent, nonetheless. Digory and Polly witness the creation of Narnia, as Aslan, the Lion, sings it into being. He creates the land, the mountains, the rivers, and the animals. Why use a lion to represent God, and not some other creature? Lewis doesn’t really say. I suppose he just really liked lions. Tolkien seems to have borrowed this idea when he described his own deity, Eru Illuvatar, singing not only Middle Earth into being (properly Arda), but Time itself, in The Silmarillion. Shortly after Narnia is born, the story ends, having established the setting and the villain, Jadis, for future books in the series.

The Magician’s Nephew is a well-written and a (bit too) straightforward tale, mostly for children. Through the Narnia series, Lewis helped introduce young people to aspects of his faith, much in the way I hope to introduce Aenya-readers to naturism, but in doing so, I am hard pressed to imagine him not finding the cracks in his beliefs, as his own story seems to fix many of the narrative issues found in the Bible. For instance, Aslan does not create Narnia’s Devil, Jadis, but rather, she invades and corrupts his creation from beyond, having come from another dimension. This makes a lot more sense than having an all-knowing, all-powerful entity bring Lucifer into being, whom YHWH must have known would turn against him. Put another way, if your own, made-up story makes more sense than what you believe actually, literally happened, I think you’d start to question your beliefs.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Dammit. Just when I thought I was done talking about Star Wars, Episode VIII comes along to stir up more controversy. YouTubers are calling The Last Jedi the best since or better than Empire, while others are just as passionately arguing to remove the movie from canon. As someone who studies storytelling for a living, I am continually fascinated by divergent reactions to books and movies. I want/need to know why fans love or hate things, because I work hard to entertain them. Try as I may, however, I know I will always garner haters, because art is subjective. And yet people cannot seem to accept this. Armchair critics will argue endlessly in defense of, or in opposition to, some viewpoint, as if their arguments could be proven. It reminds me of the gold/blue dress debacle. People were incensed that others could look at the same thing and not see what they did. The Last Jedi is a lot like that.

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I am one of the few on the planet who actually adored the Prequel films. And it has been hard for me to witness, from every corner of the web, the hatred spewed at something I so greatly enjoyed. When Episode VII was released, I was equally perplexed. Most people loved it. But Star Wars, for me, has always been about imagination, originality, and inspiration. The Force Awakens, while entertaining, felt like a retread of things familiar, a way to cash-in on nostalgia. It offered nothing new. Worse still, it seemed to retcon everything we loved about Return of the Jedi. Turns out, the Empire wasn’t destroyed with the second Death Star, nor when Palpatine was thrown down a reactor shaft by Darth Vader. It simply became the First Order. Palpatine was replaced by Snoke, Vader by Kylo Ren, and a brand new third Death Star was built. Luke is still the only Jedi in the galaxy and Han still works as a money-hungry smuggler. It forces one to wonder, what the hell was the point of Episode VI? Was anything accomplished?

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[SPOILERS AHEAD]

When Rian took the reins from JJ, I think he recognized these flaws, and did his damndest to rectify them. He immediately did away with Kylo’s Vaderesque helmet, turning Ren into a much more interesting character, and he killed off the Palpatine-wannabe, Snoke, preventing JJ from copying VI with IX. More importantly, Rian gave us a *new* story, and much like Lucas with his sequels and prequels, offered something new with regards to the Jedi and the Force, giving Luke, Rey and even Leia powers we’ve never seen before. This is what, for me, a good sequel needs to do. It needs to expand on what we know about a story we love.

So what’s my verdict? I liked it. It still lacks Lucas’ visual flair. There were few moments when my jaw dropped in awe. In this regard, George is an unparalleled director. But Rian gives us plenty of genuine surprises, and he does it the old-fashioned way, via storytelling. Mark Hamill gives his best performance as an old, crotchety, and conflicted Luke Skywalker, and I have never been such a fan of the character.

The previous film killed my excitement for Star Wars, but with Rian at the helm, the old spark is coming back. I am eager to watch the movie again, and can only pray that JJ (why him?) manages to conjure some originality with his next outing.

Ages of Aenya Holiday Special!

Whether you commemorate the birth of your savior or honor the Green Goddess of the Ilmar, ’tis the season to celebrate!

Starting today, I am offering Ages of Aenya at the DEEPLY discounted rate of $10.00. That’s down from $17.95! This is my GIFT to you!

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So if you’ve been sitting on the balustrade about taking your first step into Aenya, NOW is the time! Don’t know what to get the book lover in your life? Tired of waiting for George RR Martin to finally finish Winds of Winter? Itching to find some new fantasy series to lose yourself in? Explore Hedonia before the Sea washes it away. Lose yourself in the Great White Flat. Brave the pewter peaks of Northendell. Follow Thelana and Xandr as they brazenly hunt the Wildwood. But you’d best hurry, because this offer is only good for the holidays, and supplies are limited.

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VISIT AENYA

 

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.

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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?

 

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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.