I read Into the Lair, Book One of the Taming the Chaos Trilogy, by Jerry Bridges. This is a massive fantasy novel, over 140,000 words, and a powerful one. It begins with a Forward summarizing the Ages of Future Earth. The First Age is the world we know, up to about the present; the Second is the twenty five thousand years following the destruction of the First, where magic exists and alternate species develop, such as elves dwarves, ogres and many strange beasts, some of whom are intelligent. The Third Age sees interbreeding between humans, elves, demons and others, leading to magical children, crossbreeds, and the rise of many species of ferocious dragons. The Fourth Age sees wars of extermination that eliminate most of the dragons. The Fifth Age sees wars and uneasy alliances, and is the setting for the main body of the novel. There is an interesting and useful device wherein each chapter is prefaced by the name of a character, who is the protagonist for that chapter. So there are many viewpoints, but there is no trouble following them. One is Kailynn, who is a male elf, with light green skin and sky blue hair. He looks ordinary, but is 5,000 years old. To abridge things considerably, he avoids his lovely wife because she is urgent to mate and have a child but this is highly inconvenient for him at the moment. Then he goes to help the humans in a phenomenal battle, single-handedly destroying the enemy but then getting abducted himself so that others think he is dead. When they discover that he is alive but captive of the dragons they set up a mission to rescue him. This leads to many adventures, culminating in fighting a number of dragons who have powers like burning, freezing, or worse. The action throughout is hard hitting, as is the characterization. In fact every part of this novel is outstanding; I suspect it will become a minor classic of its type in due course. Even a fight with an animated chest that wants to collect magic things is compelling, and some of the actions of godlike creatures is mind blowing. One example from memory: a woman wants special power from a magical creature, and to sell it he twists off her hand and makes her eat it herself. Then similar with her leg, which I think he eats. She must endure the pain: he likes feeling that. Favors do not come cheap.
I read Elf Righteous by Briant Reil. This is the third in a series, following Elf Mastery and Elf Doubt in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Despite the light hearted titles, these are increasingly complicated, serious, and hard hitting books, with sometimes dismayingly thoughtful characterizations. The protagonist is Kyla, a girl elf, for all that elves live several hundred years. She is trying to do what's right, but in the complex social and political setting it can be challenging to know what is right, let alone managing to accomplish it. She has some magic of her own, plus some magic items that others want, notably Empress Aethelwyne, who is unscrupulous about obtaining them. At one point Kyla swallows them, and the Empress, unwilling to wait for them to emerge naturally, starts to have the elf girl cut open for them. No anesthetic, no threatening, just hold her down and slice her gut open. The Empress is straightforward about her designs. Kyla manages to get away, injured, but is pursued, and she barely escapes several times. She learns more about her own powers, such as being able to use her mind to read the minds of others, and edit out key memories or sights, such as herself, so that she in effect disappears. To simply considerably, the essence is that the power Chaos has been awakened, and is destroying whole planets. He can perhaps be stopped by the artifacts Kyla has, if they can figure out how to use them. But just stopping Chaos isn't enough; they need also to prevent the Empress from achieving her ruthless conquest of the several dominions that make up the larger society. There seems to be no perfect answer, and indeed, this fantasy is realistic in its refusal to provide an unrealistic solution. Read this for adventure, not laughs.
I read The Child of Chaos, by Glen Dahlgren, Book 1 of the Chronicles of Chaos. I have a special interest in Chaos, as the Demon of Chaos appears in a future Xanth novel, written but not yet published. Needless to say—so naturally I am saying it—my take on Chaos is different and much lighter than what is presented in the novel I am reviewing here. But I think we agree that Chaos is at least the equal of all the more conventional figures combined, and is to be treated with respect if not outright fear. Chaos is the original state of the universe, before the domains of Order got established. We see this in Elf Righteous, reviewed above, and in my coming novel Skeleton Key. Fans of the concept of Chaos are welcome to take note. The author of this volume has a comprehensive background in electronic gaming, and is now moving on to writing his own fiction. He is clearly competent in the fantasy genre, and this book shows him to be a formidable novelist in his own right. This is what fantasy fiction should be, though it is so hard-hitting that I'm not sure it is really suitable for younger adults.
In Child of Chaos, the main protagonist—there are several viewpoint characters in the course of the novel—is Galen, who starts as a boy of twelve and ages as time passes. He and his twin sister Myra are on their way to test for service to the religion Charity, along with two friends. They have some trouble with mean spirited bullies, but do get there, and Myra passes the test to become a priestess. Galen doesn't pass, but there is something odd about him, as if some other force is calling him. Meanwhile the bully Horace uses his ruthless cunning to sneak into the Temple of Evil and take over as its head priest. He then uses similar ugly skills to do the same with the Temple of War. Then he comes after the Temple of Charity, which is when it gets complicated. Galen and Myra fight back, but the outcome is by no means certain. There is a quality of imagination and detail here that impresses me, along with good characterization. This is no ordinary sword and sorcery story. This is another novelist who I think will become more widely known as his skill is appreciated. Look for it August 16.
I try not to discuss politics too much in the column, because I think most readers come here because they like my published books, mostly the funny fantasy, and whatever political inclinations I have are not relevant to that. For the record I am far liberal; I registered in 1959 as an independent because neither the Republicans nor the Southern Democrats reflected my views. Since then the Southern Democrats have mostly morphed into Republicans and the national Democrats have come closer to me. In recent years the Republicans seem to have gone off the deep end of ignorance and bigotry. A recent political column paraphrases my view nicely. It refers to the unraveling presidency of “the Crybaby-in-Chief,” who threw a tantrum because a photograph of the crowd at his inauguration showed that it was smaller than that of his predecessor four years before. It refers to his “Niagara of lies,” and suggests that not only must he be removed in the next election, those Senate Republicans who support him in lock step must be routed. It even quotes from T S Eliot's “The Hollow Men,” and says there is no such thing as rock bottom here; the worst is yet to come. Who is this extremist columnist? George Will, the noted conservative commentator.
Our hundred-acre tree farm started with trails around and through it, but three decades have filled them in with resurging wilderness. The crop is thirty acres of slash pines; I would have preferred longleaf pines, but it was planted before we bought it. The rest is assorted oaks with occasional magnolias, hickory, dogwood, persimmon, red cedar, cypress, holly, multiple saw palmetto and Sabal Palmetto like the one MaryLee and I got married beside, two mulberry, and a single volunteer sand pine. So we got the paths cleared out again, and find we have some very nice forest alcoves. But MaryLee is not a hiker the way I am. So we bought a Mule ATV so we could drive those trails. It's a nice little vehicle and should be perfect. But the day after we got it, a neighbor sighted a big black bear on our property, even taking a picture of it. This is not bear country, but I like to think of our farm as a kind of wildlife refuge. We have deer and feral pigs galore—the latter are descendants of ones brought by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto nigh 500 years ago, for slaughter, that got loose and have ranged Florida ever since. I'm glad some escaped their fate, but they are a nuisance now; the forest floor looks like a disc-harrowed field where they have foraged, and they tend to drive out other creatures, like deer, and big ones can be dangerous when encountered, though ordinarily they scramble away. So that is the only hunting we allow on our property, to keep them down. We have alligators, gopher tortoises, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, the occasional fox or otter or bobcat, many kinds of snakes including, yes, rattlesnakes and the lovely coral snakes, also the big indigo snake that eats rattlesnakes and I think is the State Snake, all of which we value, plus birds, including the stately sand hill cranes and more common cattle egrets, hawks, owls, huge piliated woodpeckers and others. Even a nest of chimney swifts in our disused brick chimney, who fly all the way from South America just to be with us. Also insects galore, especially the green and blue dragonflies by day and fireflies by night and even once a lovely flower fly. I dislike only the mosquitoes, though ours are cute little ones. We have the huge golden orb spiders and others with smaller but prettier webs. Yes the deadly brown recluse spider is native to these parts, but we've never had trouble with them. Most creatures simply mind their own business, ignoring us, and that's fine. I'd love to have a bear, but am cautious, as they can be dangerous when surprised or cornered. Suppose I am on my exercise walk and suddenly encounter an irritable bear? That prospect freaks MaryLee out. So now she follows in the car when I walk, just in case. And the ATV has sat unused, until we are sure the bear has meandered on to other pastures. No, I can't ignore MaryLee's concern; she's being wifely. She is determined that I don't do something stupid and widow her prematurely. Other married folk will know how that is. It's why married men live longer than single men. Who says backwoods life is dull?
The conversion of our pool to a sunken garden is now almost complete. We got the torn enclosure mesh redone so that the flower-eating creatures can't get in, and are about to set out assorted flowers and maybe vegetables. There were some sacrifices along the way. The pool had been taken over by frogs, and there were tadpoles we didn't want to ground. So we got a bucketful of tadpoles and I hauled it down to the edge of the lake and let them swim away, and any frogs we caught we took down also, though most departed on their own. Cruelty-free conversion has its nuances. Carroll and Lina Wren had a nest there, with live chicks, so we had to wait until they vacated before closing it off completely. Then one day the nest was empty. My hope is that the chicks spread their wings and flew, but my fear is that a snake cleaned them out. Now the wrens have nested on our front portico, and the eggs have just hatched; I hope the snake doesn't think to check there. But there was also a nest of cute little wasps. These are not your fierce stingers, but half sized ones nesting on a wind chime. Every so often when I was working there my head would inadvertently bang it, setting off the chime, but the wasps were tolerant and never protested. They were nice neighbors. But if we shut them in with tight new screening, how would they survive? They needed to forage farther afield. So early one morning when they were torpid I took the wind chime out to hang near a tree. That seemed to work, but gradually their number diminished, and finally the nest was gone. I fear I had put them in an area the birds could spy, and they got eaten. I like birds, but I wish I could have better protected the wasps. Yes, nature is red in tooth and claw, but I don't have to like that aspect. One day we saw a mole in the garden, and I'm not certain whether that would be good or bad for the flowers, but it is hiding. We also got a low picket fence set up around the edges, so no one could accidentally step off the edge and drop four feet down and hurt a flower plant. So we finally have the garden started, but with some regrets along the way.
One thing I started doing in that connection: for the last 50 years or so I have composted organic kitchen wastes in our back yard, recycling them into useful soil instead of stinking up our household trash. Now that we have the sunken garden, I am composting the scraps in a corner of it, where our local armadillo can't dig them up overnight. So this may be the place to mention a link, Creating The Best At-Home Composting System, https://porch.com/advice/creating-composting-system/. So if composting interests you as it does me, here's how.
I check in the Junk Mail section of my email every so often, as legitimate letters can wind up there, and some junk gets in the legitimate section. I found The Equedia Letter, a sort of provocative newsletter. One article said it had predicted that six events would determine our future. 1. Inflate. 2. Deflate. 3. Control. 4. Divide, where they incite riots and hate crimes. 5. War, where they mask the international financial and economic crisis through the rhetoric or the reality of war. 6. Reset, where they blame the war for changing things to suit the powerful elite. It says we are already in Stage 4, so Stage 5, War, is near. This makes uncomfortable sense to me. I do fear that Trump, seeing his defeat in the election looming, will start a war so that he can declare marshal law and stay in power indefinitely. The newsletter says to make as much money as you can, because the shit is about to hit the fan. I hope that does not happen, but worry that it will, and it's not just money that concerns me, but the servival of democracy itself. These are interesting times.
Shorter notes: I check the Ask Marilyn column in the Sunday supplement, as there can be interesting things there, regardless whether she is right or wrong. One week she was asked to make three words from the letters A E G I L N R T. Okay, I made A TEN GIRL. But the keyed answer was to make three different eight-letter words. I figure my take on things differs from the norm. One item in NEW SCIENTIST says that a concussion is not just a passing headache, but can have long-term complications, because the brain has been injured. I believe it. The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is well underway, and accelerating. I believe it, and know that we humans are the cause. If there is a god, he may eliminate our species, to save the world. That prospect bothers me. Question: will Russia interfere in our presidential election again? Answer: it never stopped; they are working tirelessly to destroy democracy; and are having more success than I like. And an ugly recent new trend, as police deliberately assault journalists. That suggests that there is more police malfeasance than has been known, and rather than clean up their act, those police are trying to shut up those who report on it. That trend needs to be squelched immediately. But how?
Meanwhile, having caught up on my reading of other writers' novels, I am resuming my own projects. MaryLee and I put together a book titled The Dying and the Light (apologies to Dylan Thomas for the paraphrase of a line of his, one word changed) which DREAMING BIG will publish in due course. That consists of two pieces written in grief, her “Invisibly Captive,” fiction about a way to cure Alzheimer's, after her mother died of it, and my own “My Rose With Thorns,” the story of my 63 year marriage that some feel is too personal to be published. After writing those pieces the authors met and married, coincidentally. We are also working on another collaboration that I will un-stall as I catch up. And we are watching Season Twelve of Doctor Who on Blu-Ray, which Robert Katayama sent me. Doctor Who has become wondrously more sophisticated over the decades, and we had trouble following the complicated plot lines at first, but are catching on better with subsequent episodes. Doctor Who is now a woman, not played for sexiness, and I like that.
Hilltop Farm, the massive—290,000 words—history co-authored by me and my sister Teresa Engeman, is now being globally marketed. This is the story of an ambitions Utopian community in backwoods Vermont in the early 1940s, during World War Two. The forest property was inaccessible by car in winter, so we trekked by snowshoes, and there was no electric power, so we used a wood burning stove and kerosene oil lamps. The book consists mainly of the letters of our intellectual pacifist parents Alfred and Norma Jacob, both of whom graduated from Oxford University in England, and journals of the time, that we inherited and saved for about seventy years before concluding that the story needed to be told, and we were the only ones who could do it. I selected and transcribed the letters and Teresa edited the whole, adding pictures and explanatory notes. The community finally foundered, and our parents divorced, but it is a significant story for those interested in obscure things like saving the world. We regard it as an irony that only the two useless children survive that effort today. More on this anon, when.
And so life continues in its petty pace, as I reflect on Shakespeare's Hamlet, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools to—well, never mind, because you already know it.
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