I blog of dreams, which are the children of an idle brain, begot of nothing but vain fantasy

Good morning and hello everyone.  I hope you’re all doing well.  It’s Thursday, as you know, and so it’s time for another weekly edition of my blog.  This being the second Thursday of the month, it would have been an edition of “My Heroes Have Always Been Villains,” had I been able to keep that feature going*.

Work has continued on The Vagabond quite nicely; I finished the first run-through early this week, which served to familiarize me once again with my book that I wrote so long ago.  It sometimes feels like a very long time ago, and I guess it was…between twenty and thirty years, or more than half my life.  Weirdly, though—since it has been quite a while, and in some ways, it seems like ages—when reading it, I have to admit that it also seems quite fresh and recent.  I feel very much just the same person as I was when I wrote the novel, which is almost ridiculous considering how many things have happened to me since then**.  I suppose this is just one of the peculiarities of human consciousness…or at least of my own consciousness, which may or may not be considered human, depending upon whom you ask.

I think I wrote last time about how a woman in my office asked about my books for her son.  Well, as promised, I got the boy a copy of The Chasm and the Collision, and I got a copy of Unanimity Book 1 for her (definitely not for him).  She told me a few days ago that her son had been reading CatC and enjoying it and had reached chapter 4 already.  Because of that, I decided I’d read that chapter myself again, just to know exactly where he was.  It’s okay for me to skip ahead; I already know what happened.

Well, I’m pleased to say that I really enjoyed it, and on and off I’ve been reading further***.  As I’ve said before, it’s my most family-friendly book, having been written about three middle-school students, and being therefore written for middle school students, as well as for “children of all ages” as they say.  That’s not to say it’s a childish or light-hearted book; there are some rather scary and dark portions, and it’s not short, except when compared to Unanimity.  It’s nominally a fantasy adventure, and without dark and dangerous forces, such stories don’t work at all.  My sister, who is older than I am and reads even more, says it’s her favorite of my books, and that the main character, Alex, is her favorite of my characters.  I might have mentioned that last week.  Apologies for redundancy.

I say it’s “nominally” a fantasy adventure because it could be more literally described as a science fiction story.  There’s nothing “magical” in it, and even the “travel to other worlds” aspect uses concepts that I cobbled from M Theory, as I understand it from my layperson’s perspective, drawn from the popular works of Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Stephen Hawking, and the like.  Don’t worry, I don’t get much into that—I don’t know enough of it to do so even if I wanted to—but it does give me an arguably plausible way to bring in other universes and the spaces between them, and the possibility that the Big Bang was caused by two “branes” colliding with each other…and that such a collision might happen again.  (The word “brane” never appears in the story, however.)

Anyway, don’t worry about all that.  It’s a highly speculative science fiction story that really has the character of a youth fantasy adventure.  It even contains some environmentalist ideas, though they are by no means in your face.  I know, right?  A book by me, displaying any kind of conscience?  What’s the world coming to?  But again, you don’t have to worry about all that.  It’s a fantasy adventure about three middle-school students who get caught up in an inter-universal crisis and must do their best to help avert cosmic catastrophe while not getting in trouble for missing school.  I’m proud of it, and I can pretty much recommend it to anyone without reservation.  It doesn’t contain even a single instance of profanity!  I do encourage you to read it if you like that sort of thing.

Speaking of that, I would like humbly to request that, for those of you who have read my stories and books, could you perhaps take a moment to go to Amazon and rate and/or review them?  I considered doing it myself, as a kind of joke—making it clear that I was the author writing the review—but that seemed just too cheesy, and I don’t think Amazon lets authors do that, anyway.  I’m fairly sure they block reviews from people who have a financial interest in a book, which seems impressively and surprisingly ethical of them.  I can’t help but approve.

Finally, I’m thinking about releasing another of my songs as an official “single” to be put up on Spotify, YouTube Music, iTunes, Pandora, etc., like Like and Share, Schrödinger’s Head, and Catechism, but I only have two more original songs so far that could be so released:  Breaking Me Down and Come Back Again.  I’ve linked to their “videos”, so if any of you want to have a listen and give me your recommendations—even if that includes a recommendation never to allow human ears to hear the songs again for the sake of all that’s good and pure—I’ll gladly take your input.  I won’t necessarily follow it, but I would love to have it.

With that, I’ll leave you again for this week.  I’ve still not been able to kick-start myself into doing more with Iterations of Zero, though I have drafts of a few things.  Keep your eyes open, if you’re interested.  And, honestly, do consider reading The Chasm and the Collision.  Heck, if you can figure out how to work it out, I’ll gladly autograph a copy for you, for what that’s worth.  Most importantly, continue to take good care of yourselves and your family, friends, and neighbors, and stay safe and healthy.

TTFN

CatC cover paperback


*No, I haven’t gotten over it yet.  Maybe I’ll try to do one of them a year or something, perhaps around Halloween.

**Including, but not limited to, medical school, residency, moving to Florida, having kids, acquiring a severe back injury and chronic nerve pain, getting divorced, spending time as an involuntary guest of the Florida DOC and as a consequence being unable to practice medicine or vote among them…all sorts of interesting things that make for a most stormy life so far.

***Interspersed with reading Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, PhD.  This is a very good and, I think, very important book.  I encourage you to read it.

The first man that blogged, cried, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

avatarofdeath2

Hello, good morning, and Happy Halloween to you all!  I hope all of you who celebrate the holiday enjoy yourselves, either by dressing up* and having sweets and treats, or by giving out such sweets and treats to the young’uns who come around trick-or-treating (perhaps dressing up to do so).  If you choose not to celebrate the holiday merely because of some religious misgivings that make you worry that to do so would somehow be pagan…well, all I can say is, those concerns are no more realistic than are all the ghosts, goblins, zombies and vampires, and they’re usually not as much fun.  But that’s your business, and as long as you don’t interfere with anyone else, you can do what you want.  Or not do what you don’t want.

Some of my readers will have already seen an article I posted on Iterations of Zero this week, stating my intention to use spare time during my work days to write and post there at least once a week.  There’s much more breadth of subject matter available to be pursued on IoZ, because it’s very much in the spirit of “Seinfeld”, being a blog about nothing…at least nothing in particular.  As I think I wrote when I introduced that blog’s title, it’s possible that the whole universe has a net energy of zero (balancing all the positive energy and matter with the negative energy of gravity), in which case we all—everything—are just iterations of zero.  It’s sort of like the credit economy.  When you only have iterations of zero, everything is far game.

Anyway, I plan for that to be an ongoing process.  And though we all know with what substance the road to Hell is paved, I hope that by declaring my intentions here and in IoZ, I at least put the pressure of avoiding embarrassment upon myself to keep me going.**

On to other matters.  Unanimity proceeds at a steady pace.  I’d say I’m almost halfway through the editing/rewriting process, which may not seem like a lot to those who’ve been paying attention, but when you’re dealing with a novel whose first draft was over half a million words long, you need to be patient.  In any case, it’s a Halloween-worthy effort, being a horror novel, though it’s only vaguely supernatural.  I do throw into it a passing reference to another of my stories, one that I’m tempted to explicate here…but I think I’ll leave it at just saying that the story referenced is one that is truly worthy of Halloween.

Unanimity is definitely a horrifying story, of course—hopefully only in the narrative sense, not in quality—and I’ve again reached a point in the book where more and more terrible things are happening.  I can only console the characters affected by saying that they can be born again anytime someone starts the book over.  This is probably little consolation, since the same dark things will happen to them every time the story unfolds.

Such is the fate of characters in novels.

It may be that such is the fate of us all, come to think of it.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere (in a blog about “playing with space-time blocks”), it’s possible, according to some interpretations of General Relativity, that all of time may pre-exist, so to speak.  This is the origin of Einstein’s attributed statement that, to the convinced physicist, time is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.  If that’s the case, we may end our lives only to restart them, as if we were but characters in a novel or a movie.  Still, we do know that GR can’t be quite right as it is, because it doesn’t properly integrate the uncertainty principle and other aspects of quantum mechanics which appear to be inescapable.  If we throw in the Everettian possibilities of many worlds, diverging at every occurrence of quantum decoherence (not at every place a human is faced with a choice, contrary to popular belief and popular fiction), there may be many possible fixed versions of ourselves.  This can be both a comfort and a nightmare, because as Carl Sagan once pointed out, while we can certainly imagine other versions of our lives that could be much better than they are, we can also—and perhaps more readily—imagine versions in which things are much, much worse.  Such is the nature of reality; there is no obvious bottom level to it.

Oh, well, c’est la vie.  As Camus tells us (if memory serves), there can be meaning, honor, and satisfaction even in the endless, repetitive task of rolling a boulder to the top of a hill only to have it roll down again each time, if that’s the existence to which you are fated.  I suspect that Marcus Aurelius would agree with him.  At least, the version of the Emperor that lives in my mind would agree with the version of Camus who lives there as well.  It’s an interesting forum up there in my cerebrum, though it does get tedious and pretentious at times.

Which is one reason why it’s good to indulge in silly frivolities like Halloween, in which we make light of things that might otherwise terrify us, and by embracing them divest them of their power.  Most importantly, it can be a lot of fun.  Life is short, and, as Weird Al Yankovic pointed out, “You’re dead for a real long time.”  You might as well try to have at least a little fun here and there as long as you’re not.

Again, Happy Halloween!

TTFN

 

*I’m dressed up at the office in an all-in-black version of the character in the picture above.  I’m sort of an amalgam of The Gunslinger and The Man in Black.  I don’t think that’s too presumptuous; after all, my father’s name was Roland.

**Though my regular readers may have their doubts about whether avoiding embarrassment is something that ever concerns me at all.

My heroes have always been villains, Episode V: Tom Marvolo Riddle

I first read the Harry Potter books as an adult—I began them when book four was still only available in hardback—so my reaction to them and their characters might be expected to differ from how I responded to those tales that had first begun to grip me when I was younger, such as The Lord of the RingsYet, like so many millions of others, I was enthralled by Rowling’s work.  When the new volumes were published, I was one of the midnight-pickup pre-buyers, waiting in the bookstores in the wee hours for my copies the day they came out.

Unlike many of my earlier reactions to such sagas of good versus evil, I was not—at first—particularly interested in the bad guy, Lord Voldemort.  Based on the first three books, which only showed us Voldemort in fragmented or highly reduced form, he seemed a petty villain to me.  Racist and otherwise bigoted, he—if his followers were any indication—was simply a spoiled bully, a reflexive defender of ancient and unearned privilege raging against a more modern, rationalist, and egalitarian way of life, embodied most fully in Dumbledore.  I did enjoy the plays on words Rowling made with his name, but he himself didn’t seem very interesting.  He didn’t elicit a feeling of overwhelming threat and natural force like Sauron does, and I thought it a bit cheeky for anyone to call him “The Dark Lord,” a title I scarcely felt he merited.  He didn’t have the tragic sense of twisted, broken, could-have-been greatness embodied in the likes of Darth Vader and Doctor Doom.  And he certainly didn’t have the cool, detached intellect, that sense of an almost alien intelligence, that Hannibal Lecter possesses. Continue reading

‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood and blog such bitter business as the bitter day would quake to look on.

I started this morning with no idea what I was going to write.  There isn’t much new to report with respect to my stories.  Progress on Unanimity and on Penal Colony goes on at a steady pace.  I haven’t started any new projects, and I don’t mean to do so until at least Penal Colony and In the Shade are both finished.

On the other hand, today is the last Thursday before Halloween, which is my favorite holiday.  Last October, as a celebration of the season, I wrote the first draft of Hole for a Heart, a quite Halloween-ey tale.  The story actually takes place in late spring, but its atmosphere is decidedly redolent of Halloween, and I pay lip-service to that fact during the story.

I’m not entirely sure why Halloween has always appealed to me so much.  Part of it probably has to do with its arrival shortly after my birthday, but that annual milestone hasn’t pleased me for quite some time, and I still like Halloween just as much.  Similarly, when I was younger, there’s little doubt that the acquisition of candy had no small influence on my holiday joy, but I’m not that big a candy person anymore, yet I’m still very much a Halloween person.*

Part of the attraction is that this is the most quintessentially autumnal of the holidays, and autumn has always been my favorite season, entirely unrelated to candy, to birthdays, and to any other more parochial concerns.  I simply love the feel of this time of year, especially as it is up north.  The changing of the colors of the leaves in southeastern Michigan, where I grew up, remains one of the most magical spectacles of nature.  Also, I was one of those supposedly rare kids who really liked going back to school after summer vacation (I think there are more of us than we’ve been led to believe).

Autumn has also almost always been the time of year when I restart the Tolkien cycle, beginning sometimes with The Silmarillion but often with The Hobbit, and always proceeding to The Lord of the Rings.  The fact that Frodo begins his adventure in the autumn surely contributes to my associational joy with the time of year.  That happy connection has only been bolstered by the fact that the Harry Potter books begin on Halloween (albeit on a tragic note).

Deeper than this, though, is that I’ve always felt an affinity for dark stories (in case you couldn’t tell) and Halloween is the holiday of the shadowy tale; I don’t think I’m anything like alone in this.  It’s not a coincidence that Stephen King is one of the most enduringly successful authors the world has yet seen.  Halloween is a time when huge numbers of people, at least in America, indulge their inner King, and embrace stories of the dark, the supernatural, the otherworldly.  For some people, it seems to be the only time when they use their imaginations at all.

Oddly enough, I’ve never really found Halloween scary, not even when I was a young child (no, not even the movie).  It’s just too much fun, frankly, and that’s true even of most scary movies and stories.  Weirdly, although I love most of Stephen King’s work, only two of his novels have ever frightened me (The Shining, and, more prominently, Pet Sematary).  It’s odd, but horror stories in general seem to affect me much the way Halloween does:  I feel them deeply, when they’re good, and I enjoy them; they resonate powerfully with me; but I don’t usually find them frightening.

The exceptions to this rule are interesting, and probably instructive.  Only a rare few books have literally made me feel afraid for any noticeable period of time, including the two listed above, as well as Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, and—the long-reigning champion—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has perhaps the best opening and closing paragraphs of any spooky story ever.  A few Lovecraft short stories, and more Stephen King short stories—as well as some Orson Scott Card stories, surprisingly enough—succeed in this area, as do intermittent others (most notably, the bone-chilling story Nadelman’s God by T.E.D. Klein).

In movies, the phenomenon is rarer still, with crowning glory going to the original Alien (Event Horizon was pretty darn spooky, too; also—though lamentably stupid as a science fiction story—as a horror movie, Signs really and majorly creeped me out…possibly because I first watched it in a hotel room, alone, at night, far from home).

Obviously, I like writing stories that might make other people frightened, but I don’t approach the writing with the idea of doing anything calculated to build a scary atmosphere, to make people feel uncomfortable, to surprise them, to worry them, etc.  At least, I don’t do it consciously.  It’s the darkness, rather than the scariness, that seems pivotal to me, both in my writing and my reading.  The same holds for my enjoyment of other literary forms, from plays, to movies, to video games, to TV shows.

And, of course, autumn is that time when darkness is gaining ground, with Halloween its most prominent celebration.  After Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthday, which is roughly at the equinox, the days in the northern hemisphere grow ever shorter, and darkness is ascendant.  In the shadows, where there is less blinding, glaring, external input entering the mind, the imagination can be brought more readily into play.  The mind’s eye sees most clearly in the dark.

Well, it seems I did have a fair amount to write today, after all.  I could probably go on and on about this topic, but that might be truly horrifying, and not in a fun way; the “Chinese water torture” isn’t very dramatic as torments go, but it does sound maddening.  I’ll spare you such erosion and hold off further discussions of darkness and stories for later times.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy your Halloween (those of you who observe it).  If you get a chance, dress up for it.  Have some candy.  Laugh at and about scary things.

But you might want to avoid going out by yourself too long after night falls.  Even the darkest of entities like to give themselves treats from time to time, and a solitary human is a juicy morsel indeed.

TTFN


*This isn’t quite the same—nor is it as bad—as being one of the Autumn People, à la Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it’s not entirely orthogonal, either.

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 4: “Dinosaur Dogs and the Dining Room” – the audio

Okay, well, here it is, slightly earlier than I had expected:  The audio for Chapter 4 of The Chasm and the Collision.

As always, the usual disclaimers and restrictions and permissions apply:  Feel free to listen, to download, and to share ad libitum, but you are not authorized to make any money by doing so.

I’ll be putting this audio up on YouTube either this weekend or early next week, but in the meantime, feel free to listen to it in this post.

For links to earlier chapters and other audio stories, you can go to my earlier post, here.

 

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 3, “The Waves in the Wall” – the audio

Well, here it is, the audio for the third chapter of The Chasm and the Collision, read by me.  It will be posted on YouTube sometime early next week, but for the moment, feel free to listen to it here.  As always, feel free to download it, share it, etc., but you’re not authorized to make any money off of it…

…even if you could.

By the way, for ease of use, here are links to the entries on my blog where you can listen to earlier chapters:

The Chasm and the Collision Chapter 1:  A Fruitful Day and a Frightful Night

The Chasm and the Collision Chapter 2:  Shared Visions

Also, here are the links to the audio for my thee short stories, so you can easily navigate to them:

“I for one welcome our new computer overlords”

Prometheus and Chiron

Hole for a Heart

 

I hope you enjoy.  Remember, if you like them, you can find them all (in written form) at Amazon.  You can find my author’s page here.

TTFN!

My heroes have always been villains, Episode II: Sauron, lord of Mordor

It’s the second Thursday of the month and, as promised, this is the second installment of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Today, I discuss one of the greatest villains in modern fantasy literature:  Sauron of Mordor, the title character of The Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson’s amazing LotR movies (and the slightly less amazing The Hobbit movies) have brought Sauron to the attention of the population at large to a greater degree than ever before, but he was hardly a shrinking violet to begin with.  Millions upon millions of us met him in the books, after getting teased by him as the Necromancer in The Hobbit. Continue reading

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 2: Shared Visions – the audio

Here it is, my audio for Chapter 2 of CatC.  I hope you enjoy it!

As always, feel free to listen, to download, and to share, but do not charge anyone or otherwise make any money from this.

Author’s note for “The Chasm and the Collision”

CatC cover paperback

See on Amazon

The Chasm and the Collision is my currently published novel that has the most recent—and what might be thought inauspicious—origins.  I came up with the idea for it while I was an involuntary resident of Gun Club Road, a period lasting eight months.  It was a longer stretch of enforced restriction from most of the sources of intellectual stimulation to which I was used than I think I’ve experienced either before or since.

During that time, thanks to the help of my ex-wife, I was able to keep in contact with my children by calling them two days a week—though the calls were restricted to fifteen minutes at a time, and this was disheartening (though positively luxurious compared to my current interactions).  My children were around eleven and twelve at the time, my son just entering middle school and my daughter in the latter year or so of elementary school. Continue reading

The Chasm and the Collision

CatC cover paperback

Click here to go to Amazon

Middle-school students Alex, Meghan, and Simon discover a cluster of delightfully fragrant, irresistibly delicious berries in the fruit bowl in Alex’s house.  Assuming the berries to have been bought by Alex’s mother, they eat them all.  But this fruit is like nothing ever grown on Earth.

That night, the friends share a dream about an impossible city-mountain floating at the edge of a horizon-spanning cliff with no other side, just an endless rusty sky.  Over the next few days, they begin to see and hear strange people and bizarre creatures that no one else seems to notice.  Eventually, they are abducted to the world of their dream, where the sky is always sunset, where feathered reptiles work alongside humans, where mole-weasel creatures dig caverns by manipulating space itself, and where the miraculous plants can think and communicate telepathically with gifted individuals called Gardeners.  There they learn of an impending catastrophe of horrifying proportions:  The collision of that world’s universe with ours, a cataclysm that would destroy everything in both realms!

They also learn that there are people—and an Other—that want the collision to happen, in order to fulfill a terrible prophecy.  Now Alex, Meghan, and Simon must do what they can, with new abilities they have gained by eating the berries, to escape from those who serve that prophecy, and eventually to help save both universes…all while trying not to get in trouble for being late to school.