Giant’s Rage Prequel

Here is a rough draft of one of my WIP’s.  Feel free to comment!  It’s the 3rd book in my Trials of Adrian Campbell series.


Prologue

Responsibility comes with power, but were power comes and goes responsibility sticks around and lingers like an unwanted house guest, so even though I was no longer invulnerable or super-powered, I still got tied to a boulder above Hawk’s Nest overlook in New York. I would have been less embarrassed about it if the people about to turn me into a human sacrifice had left me some clothes, or if they weren’t so darn… preppy.

I turned my head to the young man painting arcane symbols on my chest. “Are you sure we need to do this now? Couldn’t you take time to change into something different? I don’t want to disrespect your faith. I just don’t want to die at the hands of anyone wearing Izod.”

He gave me a smile that was more predator than preppie. “I dress for success, which Mar-Tack will grant me in exchange for your blood.”

I lifted my head off of the boulder. There were symbols painted all over the boulder, and candles burning on the end.

“You’re going to get your victory by stabbing me on a big rock table. Aren’t you worried about getting sued for copyright infringement?”

One of the two-dozen robed figures surrounding the boulder dropped out of the communal chant long enough to speak. “The sacrifice will be silent!” His words were slurred and husky.

I craned my head around to look at the face behind the mask. “You know, when you told me that we were going to go do some power ritual, I was right there with you. When it turned out that I was the power ritual my impulse to conform went right out the window.”

“Mar-Tack will punish you for your insolence!”

“Mar-Tack is apparently impressed by penny loafers and tops on sale at JCPenny. That takes some of the sting out of your threat.” I looked back at the painter, who was busy scribbling something on my hip. “Hey, buddy, I’m in your business law class, but that’s all. You go any further south and you’ve got to buy me dinner.”

“Ignore the sacrifice, Chester. This is your moment to claim your power and become one of us!”

I looked down at Chester. He was in his mid-twenties like the rest of the L2’s around him. Halfway through his law degree, he had a bald patch in his limp brown hair and he was working on a gut. “Listen to the sacrifice, Chester. Max is going to get you in real trouble one of these days. There is still time to change your mind. You don’t have to go through with this.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Chester said. “I need this.”

“No, you really need to stop. There’s no future in this.”

“The sun rises!” one of the robed cultists shouted.

“The sun rises!” the rest answered.

Max looked over the mountain valley and raised both of his hands high. “The sun rises, and Mar-Tack rises with the sun! Come, Mar-Tack, Master of the Dawning Hunt, and witness this newest member of the pack as he proves your worth!”

The black-robed young men took up the chant. “Mar-Tack! Mar-Tack! Mar-Tack!”

This was embarrassing. It was a frat party revision of The Call of Cthulu. I refused to die in the middle of something so derivative.

I looked down at my body. Chester had finished his paint job. Max put a foot-long flint dagger in his hands. That dagger belonged in the stone age, right along with hunter spirits and human sacrifices. Everything about my death was thematically consistent… except for the Izods. Seriously…

My train of thought broke off when the law students called for their false god, and Mar-Tack arrived.

Mar-Tack looked like a cross between Daniel Boone and an abandoned tree stump. It was hard to tell the shape of him beneath the mound of furs he wore. Moss grew on his buckskins, and his white hair was a wind-blown tangle. Honest-to-goodness twigs stuck out of that elderly tangle, and I swore the branches seemed alive. He might have been six and a half feet tall of he weren’t starting to go stoop shouldered with age. He held a gnarled wooden staff in one hand, and a buck-handled hunting knife in the other. I didn’t hear him approach. He just seemed to appear at the edge of the clearing. There was nowhere he could have come from in that direction. I could still hear the occasional car pass on Route 97 below us.

Mar-Tack really knew how to make an entrance. The Delaware River Valley opened wide behind him, and the wind whipped through his hair like an aura of power.

“Mar-Tack!” the robed law students chanted, “your servants greet you with the dawn!”

The elderly man looked down at me like I was a piece of beef. He smiled. “I am Mar-Tack, Giver of Power. I recognized your praise as my due. Let the supplicant come forth.”

That was probably the wrong moment to start laughing, but I couldn’t help it. “You can not be serious.”

Someone hit me in the head with something solid, and I thought about the universe, mostly about stars spinning around in circles. Then I started tracking the ritual again.

I didn’t know how much time I missed, but Chester the potential cultist knelt at the old hermit’s feet. Mar-Tack’s eyes were closed and his hands glowed against Chester’s head. Chester’s body seized and trembled. I doubt he was aware of much of anything. The robed cult members chanted Mar-Tack’s name over and over again, swaying back and forth as they did so. The rising sun’s rays painted Chester and Mar-Tack in golden light, but it did nothing to stop the feeling of evil that crept down my spine. I mean sure, they had falsely befriended me as their fellow student, kidnapped me, and tied me up as a human sacrifice, but whatever Mar-Tack was doing to Chester just felt wrong.

I must have blacked out for most of it, because Mar-Tack released Chester, who fell to the ground and flopped around for another few seconds. Mar-Tack looked tired and winded, like he had just sprinted a mile. Chester opened his eyes and pulled himself to his feet. He looked even worse than Mar-Tack. Chester was pale and shaking. His movements were slow, deliberate, tortured even. Ugly bruises in the shape of Mar-Tack’s hands framed each of his eyes, but he was still smiling. His smile was the scariest thing about him. Whatever Mar-Tack had done to Chester, and Chester looked like he’d gone to a demolition derby minus a car, it had reached into Chester’s brain and hit the yes button.

I felt sick to my stomach.

“Hey,” I shouted, figuring that with my hands and feet tied down dialog was my best option. “What’s going on? I thought that Chester had to stick me with the knife and then you’d make him part of your little club.”

Mar-Tack looked at me over Chester’s shoulders. His voice sounded like creaking branches, and I could smell his breath from the altar, but his grammar was surprisingly high class and a little old-fashioned. “You have been misinformed, sir. Two lives enter the circle. One comes for power, and the other gives his life to seal the bargain, but the knife was never meant for you.”

Chester stood in front of his master, arms out, chest heaving. Mar-Tack took the stone knife from Chester’s hand and cut the law student’s preppy clothes right off his body. I noticed two things right away; Chester really needed to start working out, and Mar-Tack had lots of practice at this maneuver. There weren’t that many members of the little law school cult, so I guessed that he’d been doing this for a while.

“Chester,” Mar-Tack said, “take him.”

“Woah,” I shouted. “I’m pretty sure that somewhere in junior high I made a joke that I wanted to die having sex, but I take it back, I swear.”

Mar-Tack laughed at me. “I admire your spirit, sir. Well done, but we harbor no such unnatural perversions in the pack. Chester will walk over there and eat your heart. If he is particularly quick about it, you may even get to see the spectacle.”

“I thought you said the knife wasn’t for me.”

Mar-Tack shook his head. “Chester no longer needs knives. Now Chester, join us! Kill him!”

Chester took a step forward and every muscle in his body rippled. I thought he was going back into a seizure, but I should be so lucky. His legs bent and shortened, his arms lengthened. I heard every facial bone break, then tendons creaked as Chester transformed into something straight out of my very oldest nightmares. Three steps later a werewolf, seven feet tall and four hundred pounds of muscle, fang, and fur glared at me with Chester’s eyes. He licked his lips. Literally.

Who does that?

Adrenaline flooded my body and my mouth flipped over to autopilot. “You turned Chester into a freaking werewolf and you think gays are unnatural? You really need to rethink your priorities.”

The monster that used to be Chester Anderson took two more steps towards me. He walked hunched over, and his eyes pierced me with an inhuman hate. I wasn’t entirely sure that Chester was in the driver’s seat up there, but I decided to try one last time.

“Chester, listen to me, it isn’t too late. You don’t have to be a killer. You can succeed without this.”

I didn’t think that a werewolf was going to miss my words, but I wasn’t sure that Chester could hear me.

I raised my voice and called out to the whole cult. “Look! You can be forgiven! You don’t have to be murderers! The power to kill is nothing compared to the power to raise from the dead or live forever! Jesus died for your sins, even this one, but if you keep sacrificing people someone is going to stop you! All the money and power in the world isn’t going to help you out when you die!”

Mar-Tack wasn’t having any of it. “Listen to the powerless prey whine for its life. Jesus is a myth made up to enable the oppressors, a way for them to get rid of their false guilt. I have shown you the true power, power to take what you want from those weaker than you. You can survive for hundreds of years, ever wiser and stronger. As a pack you are greater than any mortal foe. Don’t be swayed by the powerless man and his threats of an imaginary tomorrow. Listen to the power in your flesh, the lust for his blood. Kill him, Chester, and we will drink his blood together!”

Chester took his time, but his claws were only a few feet away from my feet. “I’m not kidding,” I said. “Sooner or later someone is going to stop you. God isn’t going to let you get away with this forever. You need to repent before it’s too late.”

Mar-Tack laughed in my face. “Do you think you have anything to say the pack hasn’t heard before? Everyone tries to convince us, to persuade us. When that fails, they resort to religion and threats. Next you will offer us everything you have, everything you are if we just let you live. In the end, you will cry and call for your mother, but she isn’t here. She can’t help you. Make your noises, little pig, for the wolfing hour is upon you, and this is the end. What do you have to say to that?”

Chester the Werewolf leaned over me. He sniffed at my feet and licked a hot, wet tongue up my left shin. It was really sticky, and gross. I sort of forgot about Mar-Tack as Chester’s extra-large fangs got closer and closer to my junk. “Listen to me, Chester. You haven’t hurt anyone yet. You can still get free of this. I know it has to feel good… um… maybe even taste good. No. That’s a bad choice of words.”

Chester bypassed my family jewels and kept crawling over me. I could feel heat off of his supernaturally transformed body like an oven. He licked my ribs (gross) and lifted his head back with his eyes locked on my throat. If he’d been fifty pounds lighter, and not a flesh-eating monster, I might have felt complimented. As it was I just felt like a hors d’oeuvre.

My mouth ran into high gear. “Chester. Please, Chester. Don’t. You don’t have to do this.”

Chester’s eyes gleamed and he savored my helplessness, leaning closer by inches.

“No, Chester. Chester, stop. Stop! Stopstopstopstop….”

Chester’s fangs closed the final foot to my throat in one quick lunge with all his weight behind it.

So it must have really hurt when I Pushed my sword into my right hand. One instant I was naked and helpless, but I had an image in my head of Chester biting down on my sword, clacking his teeth on supernatural steel instead of the hollow of my throat. I felt the hilt of my sword in my hands, and called on my supernatural legacy, the one I got from my dear old demonic dad. I Pushed the image against reality. Basically I believed it with a supernatural amount of willpower until reality gave in and saw things my way. The sword was part of me, forged in the fire of my own magic and quenched in my own magical blood, I felt it in my hands as naturally as clapping. Chester’s chompers clapped shut on my sword blade, and he cried out in pain. Werewolves have really large lungs, and his mouth was an inch away from my throat, so that was deafening.

Chester reared back, snarling and clawing at his face. Chester didn’t back away fast enough. I whipped the rapier around with the twist of my wrist, the agile blade’s tip traveling a meter and a half as I moved my wrist four inches. Chester just wasn’t fast enough to overcome that sort of mechanical advantage. Werewolves might be really strong, but magic, holiness, and silver hurt them just like any other supernatural monster. My sword, forged in my own blood and quenched in anointing oil covered two of the three bases, and it slit his throat with a wound that sizzled and burned even as it killed him.

Chester flopped off of me, clawing desperately at the wound on his throat, which wasn’t going to help him any.

I cut my bonds away and stood. A flicker of mental effort called my clothes to me as well. It worked so well with my sword that I’d had an entire outfit made with bits of my hair and blood woven into the fabrics. I remembered my boots, pants, shirt, and coat. Then they were there. From commando to urban avenger in no time flat, it was a nice trick. But the nicest thing of all was the feeling of relief when I stopped using my Pusher’s powers to suppress my own supernatural nature. Werewolves were walking sensor suites, and I knew that they would be able to feel my strength, vitality, and power as if Roma Downey herself had put a spotlight down on my shoulders. Mar-Tack was no werewolf. He was what I was, a half-demon Fallen with supernatural powers woven into our very genetic code.

We locked eyes while the others hesitated. I got a first word into the silence.

“I never said that I was helpless, Marcus Takowsky. Today is the day God sends someone to stop you, the day when you brought all your followers together in one place for us to deal with.”

Mar-Tack was shaken, but he kept a good fame face on his surprise. “I can feel your powers, impostor. You’re a Pusher. You play at being a Caster, a Shifter, and the others, but it’s all just an imitation. You are the wanna-be of the Fallen world. You can call a sword and some undergarments? What good is your sword going to do against someone who can call fire? I will burn you where you stand!”

He wasn’t bluffing, either. He swept his wooden staff at the air between us and a wave of fire washed across the air between us. I lowered my sword, hunched my shoulders, and manifested my wings. Seven feet wide on either side, my wings beat at the wave of fire with inhuman strength and made a gust of wind that split the wave of fire to either side of me. I heard flames crackle behind me and at least one cult member cried out in pain. I flexed my shoulders, spread my wings wide, and leveled my sword at Mar-Tack’s face. “One more thing, Caster: leave my mother out of this.”

Mar-Tack looked at me with raw fury. “You’re not just a Pusher. You’re something else.” He made it into an accusation, like I had offended him by showing a power he hadn’t considered. “Who are you?”

“My name is Adrian Campbell. I’m a Reaper. Tell your followers to surrender and we’ll get them help. Fight, and you’re all going to die.”

More shock rippled through the cultists. Maybe Mar-Tack hadn’t told them about the things that made me famous in Fallen circles, the battle at QBI or the little vampire war in West Virginia, but I’d spent a few weeks on the top of the FBI’s most wanted list after a throw-down in Akron, so even normal folks reacted to my name. I thought for just a second that Mar-Tack and his followers might listen to reason and we could avoid a fight.

Then two dozen lawyer cultists threw off their robes and transformed. They threw themselves forward, howling for my blood. My claim that God was on my side was about to go on trial, and in the supernatural Shadow War the only trial was by ordeal. I raised my sword and gathered my power. God had really better be on my side, or I was going to die.

I didn’t stand a prayer against twenty-five enemies, even if Mar-Tack was the only other Fallen among them, werewolves were a nasty business all their own, but these were skin walkers, humans granted power. I was born with mine. Human werewolves weren’t as powerful as Fallen ones, but even if I could handle one or two the other twenty-odd sets of fangs would pull me down.

It was a good thing that I wasn’t alone. As soon as I called my sword my power would start pushing against nearby supernatural senses. The stronger someone’s senses, or the more powerful the Fallen, the stronger they pressed against their senses. Werewolves had some of the sharpest senses in the Shadow War, but they weren’t the best.

Oracles were the best. Hale didn’t just have the senses of a super-psychic thanks to his share of half-angel DNA. He could read minds, hear thoughts, and pretty much see the future.

So when Mar-Tack and his homemade werewolves came for my blood my team was ready. Mar-Tack witched twice, the slap-slap crack-crack of high powered rifle fire matching the wounds over his heart and his head. I worked with a man named Kerry Reynolds, and he was a Hunter. He couldn’t spout wings, throw fireballs, or see the future, but he was a born killer, and he had been a sniper since Gettysburg. He’d brought his Holland and Holland .300 Nitro-Express to the party. Two hundred some yards away, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware river, Reynolds was shooting at point blank range. Cordite propellant sent the rounds rocketing forward at two and a half times the speed of sound, so even this close it took half a second for the sound of the shot to follow its round to the target. A third of a second to hit the target was too slow for a kill shot on something as fast as a werewolf, but the supersonic round meant the critters never knew they had fire to dodge until it was too late, and Reynolds’ Hunting powers sent every shot home. Reynolds’ H&H was one of the first-ever belt fed rifles, and he put it to good use. I heard another slap-crack as a charging werewolf fell lifeless to the ground and the werewolf downrange took the anti-elephant round in the shoulder. Reynolds was fast and accurate like a shooter’s dream, but even the nitro-express with blessed ammunition wasn’t going to stop them all in time.

With a little luck and a lot of favor from on high, the rest of our plan would.

Heather burst into view at over ninety miles an hour, head up and red hair streaming in the wind. She must have flown up the mountainside to gain speed and stay out of sight until just the right moment. She dropped the passenger that she’d been carrying in her arms the moment they cleared the ridge, then sped into the sky like a vision of a warrior goddess in close-fitting leathers. Agent Forrest Hale flew through the air on momentum for a quick arc. He hit the ground and bled off his momentum with the fluid grace of a true Aikido master. He flowed to his feet nearby, facing my back as if he’d had it planned ahead of time. Maybe he had.

There was time for one more slap-crack from Reynolds’ rifle, another werewolf down, and then they were on us.

My sword is a late Scottish rapier, light enough to fence with and sturdy enough to parry heavier blades. With a doubled grip on the cat’s head pommel I could use it as a light broadsword when I positively had to cut something in half instead of simply killing it.

I doubled up my grip. It wasn’t that werewolves needed more than a thrust to the heart or brain to kill. A good sword thrust was wider than a fifty-caliber round. The problem was that thrusts required recovery time that a press of battle wouldn’t give me.

People talk about battle being a blur. The fight in the woods came to me like shards of a broken glass picture. I cut a werewolf down, kicked a second, and used my sword on a third. My training was European and Korean, full of short, brutal moves that put all my body behind the strikes. My blade was magic because I was, so a werewolf’s healing powers couldn’t help them against my attacks.

Forrest Hale reached out to me with his mind, and we stopped fighting as individuals. I knew what he knew, saw what he saw, and suddenly neither of us had a blind spot. His sword was holy, not magic, and it flashed as it cut through flesh. Hale flowed through sword forms like smoke in the wind, never hard, never resisting, and never stopping. He wasn’t as fast as I was, and nowhere near as fast as the werewolves, but he didn’t need to be when he could feel each attack coming before it even began. Claws and fangs missed him by inches, but his katana slipped through flesh and bone as if it were nothing.

I caught a glimpse of Heather, the team Hawk over the fight. Her wings were the color of autumn leaves, and they flashed gold in the morning sun as she dove between werewolves. They threw themselves into the air again and again, but Hawks were the messengers of our kind. Fast and agile, she found the path she needed through their attacks by instinct. She had an M-16A1 tucked tight to her shoulder, and put three-round bursts of silver-tipped slugs into targets at will. Silver slugs have terrible ballistics qualities and they penetrate for crap, but we weren’t here to kill elephants, and shapeshifters hated silver.

Thumple-crack came from Reynolds’ Nitro Express as the bullets punched deep into the pack. His rounds were designed to hunt elephants, and for every werewolf he killed he injured one or two more. I would be terrified if anyone else was shooting that gun at my enemies in a sword fight, but Reynolds could feel and see everything in the fight with Hale’s psychic link, and his Hunter powers kept him from killing me by mistake.

Twenty-four werewolves had enough raw power to eat a regular army company for lunch, but we were trained professionals. We were Reapers. This was our job and we were good at it.

I held an image in my mind from a Korean swordsman flick where heroes with swords stood against hordes of monsters with flashing blades and the dedication to their righteous cause. I Pushed the image from my head into reality and suddenly I moved faster, hit harder, and my sword started to hum in the air. The skin walker I’d kicked away leapt straight at me with his hands outstretched. I leapt right back at him, horse stance, elbow out with all my weight behind it. The werewolf’s nose hit my elbow, and my Pushed image meant that it was his nose instead of my arm that broke. His arms slashed the air in front of and behind me as he fell snorting to the ground at my feet. I cut at the base of his skull and side-kicked another werewolf in the shoulder. The skin walker was twice my weight in werewolf form, which meant my kick stopped him cold but threw me up and backwards in the air. That was fine by me. I landed in a fighting stance right behind Hale and went right back to slicing.

I spun right to cut a werewolf down before he could eat my knee, and his pack-mate leapt at my exposed shoulder. It was a great tactic if I were a moose, but I swept my right wing forward and batted the monstrous law student out of the air. The blow wouldn’t really hurt him, but it did knock him to the ground right at my feet. I watched the injured werewolf’s nose reform itself in the time I would need for a deep breath, and then it hurled itself right at me. I ran him through just behind the shoulders, lungs and heart ruined in one thrust. The monster thrashed wildly, tore big furrows in the ground, and then fell over sideway to lie still.

Slap. The werewolf I’d knocked down jerked six inches to the side as a Nitro Express round took it in the heart. Crack. The rifle’s report thundered over the sound of battle. The werewolf snapped at its side out of sheer reflex, but there was nothing there to counter-attack. Then it fell over twitching.

The last pair of werewolves on the battlefield turned to run. Heather’s rifle took one and Reynolds the other. More gunshots echoed through the river valley, and then my team was alone.

I lowered my sword and dropped my Gumdo Superstar image. Reality un-bent around me like a slap in the mind, and everywhere my mind had been Pushing. My hands and legs shook and I couldn’t catch my breath or gather my thoughts. I stumbled to one knee, dripping sweat, and tried to regain my strength.

Heather O’Leary landed next to me with a flurry of wings that weren’t there a second later. She knelt by my side with a worried look on her face. Her hands searched my body for wounds without hesitation or any concern for my personal space. Times like this she tended to forget that our years as lovers were years behind us. “Adrian! Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

Her hands danced up the inside of my leg seeking arterial wounds. My body forgot our changed relationship status as quickly as she did, right when all of Heather’s attention was where she couldn’t possibly miss her effect on me.

Heather’s hand landed right on the issue and her concern vanished in a second and she slapped me upside the head. “You sexist pig.”

I shook my head but my words wobbled to pieces in my scrambled brain.

“It’s Kickback, Heather,” Hale supplied. “He Pushed too hard in the fight and his powers have shorted out. He’ll get his strength back in just a bit.”

Heather was still offended. “I know just the refreshment he needs.”

“Heather…” Hale started, but he could tell what she wanted to do as well as she could, and I could hear the laughter in his head.

Two coherent words made it past my static-fuzzed brain. “Uh oh.”

But there wasn’t anything I could do. Heather grabbed me by the ankles, leapt into the air, and her wings were suddenly back. I counted five flaps of her powerful wings as she accelerated to high speed. It felt like sixty miles and hour at least when she let go of my ankles.

I dropped my sword and flailed at the air as the western edge of NewYork flashed past me. I fell head-first so I had an upside down view of the Delaware River Valley. Route 97’s scenic overlook blurred past. I tried to pop my wings, Push an image of weightlessness… anything, but my fritzed-out powers gave me nothing but a dizzy fit as I fell into the Delaware at about ninety miles an hour. The water hit me like a slap from Godzilla, then closed over me as I hit the rock and muddy bottom. Several fish floated towards the surface, stunned by the concussion I’d created hitting the water. By the time I dug myself free of the river bottom they recovered and spun away. A snapping turtle bit at the water in my direction as an all-purpose warning and then retreated inside its shell.

My Powers came back by the time I swam to shore. By the time I popped my wings and flew back Heather had already retrieved our resident sniper from Pennsylvania.

“Supersonic interstate werewolf bullets,” Kerry Reynolds said as he slipped his Nitro Express back into a leather satchel fringed with tassels and a strip of wampum. “That’s a first.” Kerry was five feet and ten inches, a hundred and sixty pounds, and with his dirty red hair he could have been an extra from the set of Justified. He had a Civil War style cavalry saber on one hip and a Colt revolver on the other. Reynolds didn’t seem scary until you saw him fight, but I’d seen him take on a Shifter werewolf with nothing but a Bowie knife and attitude before. Reynolds won.

I landed next to the cultists’ stone table and knelt next to one of the bodies. One reason the rest of the world goes on ignoring the Shadow War is because most of the evidence doesn’t stick around long. Shifters, Giants, and Skin Walkers changed back to human when the angelic or demonic forces that changed them shuffled off to the next world, or to their next victim. So our big supernatural battlefield looked like a nudist party gone slasher film before dawn. That was probably what the police would write it up as. God only knew what they would say about the bullet wounds.

Chester’s eyes stared back at me with nothing behind him. He had a shocked, confused look on his face. Death had robbed him of any dignity he’d had in life. His bowels and bladder had loosed with no concern for his modesty, and his naked body was covered with spatters of blood from the fight. I was a born fighter. I was good at it, and in the middle of a fight I loved it more than I wanted to admit. But I never let myself forget this part, the part that came after. No one, whether they had two human parents or just one, was a mistake. All life came from God, and went back to him for judgment. Every living person carried the image of God, and killing them was worse than taking a knife to the Mona Lisa.

I’d killed him because I’d had to. It had felt good at the moment, which I had to live with every time I looked in a mirror. Now, I just cared about what was lost. But I wasn’t going to cry in front of my teammates. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t understand. It was because they would.

I closed Chester’s eyes and rested a hand on his cheek. He had been my enemy. But the fear of failure that I’d felt in him, driving him to get power at any cost was gone. I couldn’t even see the lust for my life that his werewolf face had carried. Now he was just one more victim of Satan’s empty promises of power: one more casualty in the endless Shadow War.

“Now, Chester. Now it’s too late.”

Hale wiped his spectacles free of blood and seated them over his dark brown eyes once gain. He rested a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, Adrian. There’s nothing that you can do for them now. They’re in God’s hands, and whatever he decides will be just.”

“Besides,” Heather said with a lot less compassion, “if we don’t make tracks we’re going to be late getting home, and I don’t want to miss the party.”

“Shoot,” Reynolds said. He pronounced it she-oot. “I forgot about the knee-biter completely.”

“It’s all right,” Hale said. “It’s a three state drive back home, and we can stop to find you something from a gift shop.”

“Who said anything about driving?” he asked. He held his arms straight out. “Taxi!”

I gave him a look. “What am I, a rickshaw driver?”

“Naw,” Reynolds said. “I ain’t paying ya. You owe me for at least two of those Skin Walkers by my count. I will graciously accept a ride as repayment in exchange for saving your life.”

“Whatever,” I said. “I totally would have had them.”

Reynolds arched an eyebrow. “Don’t argue with your elders, child. Now, mush!”

Hale shrugged a semi-apology as he spoke into his cell phone. “Boss-man, this is Reaper Team Three. Our Mission is accomplished and we’re heading back home. We’re going to run into a thunderstorm over West Virginia so we won’t be back until just before supper. Everyone’s fine, and we’re coming home.”

Heather stepped up behind Hale and wrapped her arms around him. A normal human would tire quickly carrying a grown man around, but with our supernatural strength Hale and Reynolds weren’t any more inconvenient than a backpack when we were kids.

I adjusted my gear, called my sword out of the Delaware river and into a scabbard on my back, and manifested wings once again. I hugged Reynolds to my chest and muttered in his ear, “I still say I would have had them.”

He just laughed and pointed west. “Come on, flying monkey. Get me back to the Farm.”

He was still chuckling as we hit Pennsylvania and made a straight shot for home.

Wo is mein Handlung?! and Novel News

I have some novel news about The Curse of Silent Mountain, which involves a bit of writing theory.

I announced earlier that the current story would be released in a trilogy form over the next twelve months.  That announcement was about seven weeks ago, and except for a black belt test in Haidong Gumdo I’ve basically worked, written, and slept for a month and a half.

The same day that I announced the trilogy publishing schedule, I had passed the “final” version of The Curse of Silent Mountain to my Beta readers, and I was convinced that I had a month to edit.

Talking things over with the Betas, two things became abundantly clear.  First, the story was at an excellent stopping point.  Second, the excellent stopping point didn’t come after a good emotionally rewarding plot climax.  Don’t get me wrong, at least three minor plots took place, and the end of The Curse of Silent Mountain (version 1.1) did come at a large shift in the story dynamic that set the next book up.  The problem was pacing and plot.

Stories are an interaction of imagination and emotion.  They’re a discourse, a dialogue.  About twenty years ago I learned plotting along the classical Shakespearean 5-act structure.  I know that Common Core has completely butchered this theory, so here’s how it was taught back in the 1980’s:

Random Meta note: I just got asked by a reader on Twitter how the story was coming, as I was writing this blog post.  I’m working on it!  Honest! [Spoilers]

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Act 1: Introduce the Status Quo and break it with a conflict.  Example: Hamlet investigates rumors of his father’s ghost and discovers a murder to investigate.

Act 2: Developing Conflict: Show how the new problem has impacted the status quo, and reveal character through investigative challenges.  Hamlet’s stress and strange behavior through the investigation makes people think he’s nuts.

Act 3: TECHNICAL CLIMAX: The first conflict is resolved, and the way it gets resolved sets up a whole new problem.  Hamlet discovers his uncle’s guilt (success), chooses not to kill him (mistake), warns his mother off (success), and kills Polonius (bonus points/mistake… hard to say).

Act 4: FALLOUT REDUX: A ton of bigger, more interesting problems crop up from our first climax, building more tension.  Hamlet’s dad sends him to England to get killed, Ophelia goes nuts and dies when he isn’t there to save him, and Hamlet returns.

Act 5: DRAMATIC CLIMAX: The first and second problems jump your protagonist at once.  He stands alone against them, and triumphs (or not).  King Murderer and Wronged Brother plan a poisonous gang-bang vs. Hamlet, but Hamlet is secretly a Ninja, and destroys them both (but dies in the end).


 

So, as you may have noticed, like a really great date (between married people), there are at least two climaxes involved, with some stress and tension before hand.  Hey, folks, I didn’t invent the terminology, but the terms are what they are for a reason.

I plotted the series as a whole before I wrote the first book, and I had planned out a 19-book series of episodes plus a trilogy ending.  The first book went off pretty well, at my target size.  When my Beta readers were like, “um, Bruce, you’ve advanced the plot, but I missed my climax.” I realized that those books represent about 1-2 story acts each.

Additionally, one thing that I’ve learned this year as I continue to study story craft is the dao of Lois McMaster Bujold.  Her wildly popular Vorkosigan series are made up of books that function perfectly well in a stand-alone mode.

So, obviously my December 1st release date has gone the way of the coelacanth, but when the book does get released as soon as I get it done, back from the Betas, and edited, you will get the entire story that you would have had to wait until next Christmas (2016) to achieve.  Together, The Rogue of An Dinas and The Curse of Silent Mountain form a complete story, which you will hopefully be able to read and enjoy in and of themselves if sales don’t justify the other 4-5 novels I have planned out for the series.


That being said, I simply can’t maintain the writing pace I’ve had for the past six weeks.  It isn’t fair to my day job, or my martial arts students.

I am going to try and put in at least two hours a day to the story, and ten hours every weekend.  I’ll keep updating you all as the story progresses.  Right now I’m about 20,000 into Act 3 of the stand-alone misadventure.


If you absolutely cannot abide to wait that long for the story, consider becoming a beta reader!

What does that involve?  You get each chapter as I finish it, and in return you agree to
A] READ THE CHAPTER
B] RETURN A FORM with three questions on it.

The questions:
1] What did you enjoy about this chapter? (so that I can do more of that)
2] What did you not enjoy about this chapter? (so that I can do less of that, unless I’m deliberately torturing the readers, I mean… building tension)
3] Do you have any questions from this chapter? (so that I can make sure I patch all the continuity errors, or just check off a box marked “I’m not going to tell you…”, but that box should only be checked off because it fulfills one of my primary goals, which is to torture readers.)

If you do consider yourself Beta potential, please contact me here.

 

 

 

Breaking Balzac

A writer asked me this week how I keep track of all of my characters, since I have two works in progress with two more in the planning stages.

The answer is simple!

I cheat, Balzac style.  I’ve always enjoyed his Comédie Humaine, mostly because I think it is the origin of what is now called a megaverse or universe of literature from an author or group of authors.  Those of you who haven’t spent a semester or two on French Literature might be interested to know that Mr. Balzac wrote an immense series of novels to depict life at the end of the Napoleonic era.  One of the unique things about these novels was the recurrence of characters.  So far as I know he was the first significant novelist to do so, with some of his characters appearing in more than 29 novels all by themselves (which means they still didn’t appear in many more!)  In order that a dreary summer of weekends reading French tomes in marathon sessions (in French) wasn’t a wasted month, I have followed suit.  So far every novel I’ve written, including the ones I no longer sell, have taken place in the same timeline.

The urban fantasy story is the tale of how magic and science lead humanity to space colonization (towards the final novels planned in the series).

The lost-colony steampunk is the result of one of those explorer ships crashing on a planet.

The Song of Lagrandil books are the final days of that planet.

The sci-fi standalone is a time travel story in the end, that justifies the revision of the Young Adult tetrology into something more adult and sweeping when the sidekick of the series goes back in time to try and fix things, the timeline takes a quick spiral there and the retelling reflects the changes that the time traveler has made to his freinds’ futures (though he himself is mysteriously absent through books 1-2 and appears significantly differently in book 3, the reveal of whether or not he exists in his original form has to wait until book 4.)

That way I’m not tracking which characters or which, just what era of my imaginary world I’m spying on at the moment.

Royal Yamato Continuation

I have compared indie sci-fi author Christopher Nuttall’s Ark Royal series to the beloved anime Space Battleship Yamato (which was released in North America as Star Blazers).  In both stories a single refurbished battleship carried the fate of the human race against a nearly invincible alien invasion.  Ark Royal was an interesting military science fiction series that took a modern (effectively secular British) interpretation of the 1970’s classic story.  Add some Battlestar Galactica with one-third mixture of Robotech/Macross and you have the elements Nuttall used to bake up a solid and enjoyable fictional war.

The fourth book, Warspite, proved something exceptional about Christopher Nuttall that was not immediately apparent from his remix of previous fictions.  Nuttall has amalgamated space battleship classics with enough rigor to own the resulting universe.  Years after the original trilogy’s war, a new captain and ship will face new challenges.

What follows is one of my favorite delight in serial fiction, as Nuttall proves himself ready to play in the same league as, if he does not quite match the heart of David Weber’s early works, John Ringo, and the like.

Warspite is more than a mere continuance.  One of my scholarly disciplines is archetypal criticism, and the inversions in the unfolding new epic make for a real treat.  The old Ark Royal was an antique ship, outdated in a perfectly useful fashion with a rag-tag crew of outcasts.  Warspite is a human-alien hybrid prototype, the cutting edge of technological lessons learned in the war.  Ark Royal‘s commander was a half burned-out alcoholic who had to overcome his demons to lead his people into the fray.  Warspite‘s new CO is a grieving homosexual ex-pilot, a bright and rising star who has to carry the weight of a crew of political appointees in a quick, easy assignment that goes rapidly south.  The inversions continue as the two crews Shadow one another, but they reflect around a central axis of Nuttall’s enjoyable fiction.  The characters are typical, but likable and understandable.  It isn’t a crime to have stock characters, since the very nature of archetypes go back to the dawn of fiction in theater and religious lessons.

Nuttall provides solid secular adventure.  His view of the military goes beyond the offerings of Hollywood and the BBC.  I can really only name David Weber and Timothy Zahn as the other military SF writers who make as thorough an offering of multiple levels.  Political conflicts trickle in from the upper nobility to the ramifications of a yeoman’s duties.  Few of the fiction books written by actual military veterans, that have this fabric in the writing also manage to keep the wide-eyed sense of adventure that space opera needs to thrive.  Few space operas have the detail work that Nuttall carries through in space travel, military logistics, and colonial economics.

Nuttall isn’t the best at any one aspect of genre fiction (that non-‘literature’ stuff that has been the vast majority of written and enjoyed works for the past two hundred years or so), but he continues to establish himself in the realm of up-and-coming indie authors whom I will pick up whenever they have something new and I have the price of a Happy Meal to spare.

Affordable, enjoyable, and solid, I recommend the Ark Royal series to anyone who enjoys military SF.

Finally, the take of a literary monk:

A quick comparison of Nuttall’s first four Ark Royal books and the first four Honor Harrington novels highlights the difference between American and British society over the past fifty years, where Britain abandoned God at the end of WWII and America in general waited until the first Clinton administration to go whole-hog-secular.  Two generations of cultural drift away from our former common faith show through.

The differences are not always negative.  If an American author offered a homosexual captain, it would be an active, brash, and probably obnoxious assault in the ongoing cultural conflict between the religious and the anti-theistic.  Nuttall’s captain is neither transgressive nor pioneering.  It’s simply a descriptor of his past, not a definition of his every waking moment, and his happiness and goals do not revolve around the nature of person he used to take to bed.  That genuinely is a rare treat these days.

For all the bright spots, the innate futility and pessimism of the godless worldview, or perhaps it is more accurate to say a constant cast of the godless, carries its own weight through the tone of Nuttall’s otherwise excellent work.  With no concept of grace or undeserved forgiveness, justice is a bleak and hopeless thing.  The same proves true with victimization of the powerless.  Without the hope of supernatural intervention, crises like rape, imprisonment, and conquest result in lifelong damage.  Likewise, those who lose loved ones have no recourse for their grief, no hope of reunion.  Those whose loved ones are not dead, but injured, are on the other side of that despair, where the universally accepted truth is they won’t have the strength of character or enduring emotional commitment to put the damaged relationships back together.

So it isn’t a big surprise that Nuttall’s world revolves largely around pornography and self-gratification for personal pursuits.  I don’t object to the inclusion of Sin City, a lunar base dedicated to every illicit fashion to press your YES button over and over again.  Indeed, I see it as the inevitable conclusion of the worldview.  “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

This is not a puritanical judge-fest.  I enjoy Nuttall’s fiction.  I have bought four of his books and I will buy the next in this series.  But I am glad that I have a hope for more, and the assurance of help for the troubles, injuries, and love for the journey.  I’m also glad for the color and life that religion adds to cultures.  Nuttall’s Russian culture is collectivist, secular, and frequently savage, but here in the real world Russian iconography, songwriting, classical music, dancing, and their churches are vital and beautiful additions to a culture rife with conquest and war.

I believe that the inherent optimism from faith, even from legalistic or liberal faiths that tend to view religions as socio-political constructs more than actual interactions with an invested divinity, colors plot and story.  Weber’s Honor Harrington series starts off with political corruption, innovative space travel, and attempted victimization in On Basilisk Station, covers many of the same topics throughout the first ten-novel series, but they are dealt with in a much more hopeful tone.  The prisoners of war aren’t just dehumanized property who cave in and give up.  They band together, keep their morale, and emerge stronger than before.  Back-woods planets become powerhouses, and though their faith undergoes change, it doesn’t just survive but becomes a source of power and adaptive drive for the Graysons.

So, I prefer it in my space opera not simply because I believe in it, but because I prefer optimism to pessimism, progressive improvement to nihilism, and idealism to hedonistic escapism.

I enjoy both series, but sometimes I come across something I really enjoy that reminds me how, even while I wait for the true joys of heaven, my faith and others’ brings joy and life to the daily experiences as well.

Closed Loop System

In machining, a closed loop system is a fancy way to describe a servo motor.  It doesn’t just move, but it tracks how it is moving.  It’s one of the things that allows us to create parts within .0005 inches or so of a desired dimension.  Without that sort of accuracy ballistics and the aerospace industry wouldn’t get very far.  Feedback is essential to accuracy and production.

I find that writing uses ideal readers and beta readers in much the same fashion, and I don’t think I would make nearly as much progress without them.  My current work in progress (WIP) is the second installment in the new semi-steampunk series St. Gavin’s Ghost.

Sure, there are the typical elements of a story that excites me: speculative science, faith, martial arts, dynamic relationships, lots of action, and plenty of questions about belief, relationships, sexuality, and society.  I am not fishing for an entirely new audience.  That will have to wait until I have a better pen name for a new style.

But for every core similarity I am trying something new with this series.  Instead of my typical immense epic I am shooting for shorter episodes put together for as large a saga as I have ever dreamed up.  Book two, The Pilgrim’s Path already has 150% of The Rogue of An Dinas‘ word count, and it will probably be three times as large when the manuscript’s done.  This is the first time I have written a non-Christian protagonist as the critical voice in the story. That’s saying nothing of the challenge of writing a compelling character-driven piece with an actively gay main character in a committed relationship at the start of the story, and then selling him and his subsequent struggles to an American Christian audience.  It probably isn’t an immense leap to guess he won’t be pagan all his life, but I have always left that role to antagonists who enjoy perhaps thirty percent of my narrative (Helen and Sven in Song of Lagrandil, Caith Moore in Darkblade) even when I really enjoy them.  There’s the challenge of writing a conversion story, when as a lifelong Lutheran I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God.  The interactions between singleness and family life, sexuality versus relationships, the attempt to find honor when worldviews change, colonialism and post-colonial assumptions in fiction…  New format, new world-build, new characterization, new questions, the new series has a stretched me in almost every direction.

So I wanted to take a post to say how lost I would be without my faithful beta readers.  The Logic Monkey, my Ideal Reader, is an invaluable go-no-go check.  If something isn’t working for the person to whom I’m telling the story, then something needs to change.  He’s also invaluable asset because he’s willing to sit down and explore the logic and justification between choices, why things work and don’t.  Mrs. Keys is a super-charger.  She never fails to find something positive to reinforce or point out as the story goes.  Southern Simul, the latest edition to the beta readers, is a great canary in the mine shaft.  Young, passionate, and pure-hearted, I get a great sense of impact when he shares how the story reaches him.  My long-time Nerd Posse members Mr. and Mrs. Dolly have nearly a decade’s experience with my plot twists and turns, and they’re always ready to engage with my apologetics or plotting.  Though he isn’t on the regular beta mailing list, The Ninja provides encouragement when he e-mails me pictures of various hunting rifles attached to questions about how long before the next book comes out (cough cough hint hint).

I may never make a living JUST as an author, but without a back-up crew like my beta readers I wouldn’t be turning out half the stuff I have.

Sometimes you just have to take a moment and represent.

Thank you, Betas!

A Dance with Dragons and Story Questions

I just finished George RR Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in his Song of Ice and Fire series.

To sum up without many spoilers: The hopes we had from the last book will be stabbed to death in front of our eyes, while corruption, scheming, and evil continue.

A Dance with Dragons covers some ground that the other books have, but it does highlight Martin’s strengths as a storyteller.  The world continues to be full of bright and memorable characters in dire circumstances wrapped up in bright and dynamic situations.  Martin’s world is vivid, well-thought out, and continues to hearken back to actual Western structures without true derivation.  The combination of Mongols and African nomads in the horse warrior Dothraki are just the first.  There are echoes of the old Greco-Roman slave economies blown to hideous proportions, complete with the corruption that semi-Christian Byzantium left as its nominal legacy through all time.  The religious faith of Westeros, the Seven Gods, mixes semi-Buddhist thoughts with Western cultural values and Roman Catholic monastic structures.

The main characters (whether they survive or not) show themselves, with the notable exceptions of Brienne of Tarth and much from young Bran Stark on his journey from cripple to super-psychic.  Denaerys’ new throne in the Bay of Slaves faces a coming war with Byzantine divisions and desperate plots.  Jon Snow’s drama continues on the Wall.  The ruins of Winterfell become a pivotal plot point.  Arya’s path takes a new twist in a brief but interesting blerb.  Winter is no longer coming.  The white raven is sent out to announce that the seasons have changed.  The last two books filled Autumn, and Winter has now come.

Without giving too many spoilers, I will quote the lesson that the HBO’s producers pulled from the book series as a rule for their production of the amazing but gratuitous flesh-filled series.  To whit: honor, duty, and faith never work out.  So, take all of the pseudo-medieval slime that may or may not have been part of European history, and there are plenty of staggering stories, corrupt manipulations, and plots to draw from.  Take out any truth, justice, honor, reliable religious belief, and hope.  Wallow in that cess-pit long enough until it starts to seem like home, just do it magnificently with technical skill.

The best summation comes from heretic and apologist Vox Day (ponder the irony in those two roles, when Arians fight more for their faith than the Orthodox for ours), who despite his other issues has a deft turn of wit on Martin’s work:

Don’t get me wrong. A Game of Thrones is an excellent novel when read in its own context. So are A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. But among their various themes is the subversion and overt mocking of concepts that Tolkien honored, concepts such as honor, courage, commitment, love, loyalty, and family. In Martin’s world, nobility is equated with stupidity; evil and treachery prospers abundantly on every side. While there is something to be said for rejecting the tedious old tropes of good, in the persona of the young farmboy, inevitably saving the world by triumphing over cackling, cartoonish, and cretinous evil, the reaction against the shadow of Tolkien that began with Michael Moorcock has gone much too far into nihilism and moral blindness.

I don’t object to the ugliness, hate, and perversion in A Song of Ice and Fire and other modern epic fantasies. Such things exist in all fallen worlds and must be included for the sake of verisimilitude in any work of sufficient seriousness and scope. Is there not ugliness, hate, and even perversion in the Bible? What I object to is the near-complete absence of beauty, love, and normalcy to oppose them. As I have written in other contexts, I don’t object to modern epic fantasy on moral or religious grounds, but on literary and philosophical grounds. Theories abound as to why the Martin series has declined so dramatically, but the fact that it is written from a nihilistic and overtly anti-heroic perspective may well have contributed to the lower quality of the two more recent books.

This quote came from a year and a half ago, and recent releases have continued to prove Vox’s point.

I will probably read the next book, but Martin has joined David Weber on my probation list.  If I want to watch despair, corruption, plotting, double-dealing, and no trustworthy faith, I can just follow Middle Eastern politics for a lot less money and higher stakes.

Stories are about tension and conflict.  There has to be a question in the air, a story question, as it were.  WHEN [Something Happens] THE HERO SETS OUT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  BUT CAN HE/SHE/IT SUCCEED IN THE FACE OF [Enemies, weaknesses, challenges, etc.]?

Heresies about theology aside, Martin and Weber’s technically deft (in different fashions) long-winded series commit heresies against the fundamental principles of story craft, to ask a question, maintain tension, provide a dramatic climax, and then end the story.

I used to work in a Christian bookstore, but I have long since stopped reading “Christian” fiction for four reasons.  I will discuss them in the next post.  Theology aside, there are seldom real story questions in Christian fiction.  After a lifetime of Christian media consumption, the title Christian in the fiction kicks of a Pavlovian yawn.  The good guys will win, because someone will say Jesus at just the right moment, and all the bad guys who are not killed off or driven away will become Christians.  Forgiven sins will immediately disperse all earthly consequences.  The Christians are all good people who live nearly perfect lives, no enduring struggles with sins or heroic weaknesses.  Peter’s waffling is nowhere here.  Paul’s battle with his flesh (Romans 7) is invisible or redacted.

There is no story tension.  Good guys win, with white cloaks unstained and their arms have the power of a hundred men because of the purity of their souls.

Folks, I have been around the Church and in churches most of my life.  I haven’t really seen that anywhere.  The most amazing Evangelist I know has real theological weaknesses.  The most theologically orthodox man I know has no spine to assert the truth.  The most successful and conservative seem devoid of love and compassion.  Elders harbor dark pasts, sexual sins, and more.  So Christian fiction is not just predictable, but predictable fairy tales.

Back when he wrote his Wild Cards series that I encountered in High School, George RR Martin was praised for writing super hero stories without the heroism.  Twenty-five years later Martin is pounding on the same drum, and he has drowned out the story question with its monotonous beat.

When I pick up a David Weber book written solo (I’m still a fan of his collaborations by and large) I know the answer to the story question, WILL THE HERO SUCCEED is going to be: Maybe next novel.

When I pick up a George RR Martin book, the answer is only slightly more complex: WILL THE HERO SUCCEED?
Option 1: If the hero is noble, good, upright, just, kind, or loyal, the answer is no.  He will make progress, be seen as admirable, and then fail in a gruesome and nihilistic fasion.
Option 2: If the hero is treacherous, murderous, corrupt, perverse, or otherwise vile, the anti-hero will either succeed over the poor schmuck hero, or he will succeed only to be supplanted by someone better at treachery, murder, corruption, perversion, manipulation, and all evil.

Christian fiction fails because good always wins easy victories.
Weber fails because the good will typically make no real progress either way.
Martin fails because the good get F-ed over (a deliberate choice of words given Martin’s fiction) and darkness and evil prevail in one guise or another.

A Dance with Dragons has decent plot progress, some great character development, fascinating resolutions to previous dilemmas, and an end as dark and depressing as anything I have read from them.  Sure, the opening novel in the series was dark, but we had hope because Arya was on her way home with the Night’s Watch, Robert’s son was saved from the purge, John Snow was safe and rising in the Night’s Watch, and Rob Stark had rallied his father’s men in righteous cause with a good chance to win independence from the corrupt south, or overthrow the evil usurpers.

Four novels later, anyone with a functioning memory has learned that Martin only throws false hope.  Never trust the light at the end of Martin’s tunnels.  They may not always be trains.  They may be Kaiju.

Where is the motivation to see more people I’ve come to love die?  Where is the tension for the story’s ending when Martin himself has described his ideal ending as a battlefield graveyard with nothing but wind blowing over the bones?  That probably isn’t the actual ending in mind, but that is the heart, the spirit behind the ending, and we know we can tell a tree by its fruit.

A writer must be able to see the love in both good and evil to tell a story in this fallen world.  With no empathy for evil, there are only medieval style morality plays (trust me, they are pretty boring).  With no home or love in the good, there is only a nauseating darkness like dipping your mind in rancid oil.

It is possible, possible that Martin, who needs to eat and is subject to market standards, will bow to pressure.  His HBO producers need to give a satisfactory conclusion if they want high-paying jobs when Game of Thrones wraps.  His publishers may look at Martin’s plummeting sales and decide Something Needs to Change.

So, I will probably see the series through, but I deeply understand why many will not.

PS. Vox Day would do well to remember Ephesians 5:11-12.  The Bible does indeed speak of many terrible things, but neither explicitly nor in a titillating manner.  It is important to imitate HOW God’s Word discusses terrible sins and crimes as well as the fact that they do so.

Mistborn Highlights

This past weekend I finished up Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.

In terms of genre fiction craft, this series is superb.  The fantasy story revolves around a prophesied savior from a vague enemy lurking in the murky distance of time (we think) and the oppressive semi-industrial world that he’s created afterwards.

I have lost track of the number of times that Sanderson rotates his mythological framework by thirty degrees at a time, revealing a new angle to the concepts he has already laid out without compromising the integrity of the mythos to date.  That is hard, and Sanderson has woven an intricate double-helix of truth, history, and magical systems that expand inward and backwards into the story’s history without losing an ounce of immediate relevance.

Mistborn is a series full of action that belongs in an anime series or a beautiful graphic novel or twenty.  His fight choreography is dynamic, dramatic, and tight.  He lays out powers, teaches how they are used, and for the next three novels we get to see characters improvise, improve, and double-down on the potential laid out in a coherent magical system.

Sanderson’s characters are dynamic, bright, and bold.  They’re quick to learn, easy to like, and they are dynamic as all-get-out.  No matter how large a role the characters play, they grow and change in relevant ways as the story progresses.

Sanderson’s non-human and human-modified races are interesting, unique, and completely fit into his mythology.  The “new” discoveries of their nature and origin touch on facts that have been consistent in all previous novels.  This was one well-planned work.

The result of his careful planning and tightly woven character growth is a narrative energy that flags slightly in the beginning of the second novel (Even great writers are not immune to the Big Swampy Middle) only to redouble in scope and import.  This is a truly epic story crafted well, full of narrative twists and turns to entertain many, if not most comers.

As a piece of writing craft, Mistborn is one of the better fantasy offerings I have encountered recently.  It’s less nihilistic and deliberately sadistic to the readers than Martin’s work, though the scope is somewhat less grand in terms of narrative if not in terms of consequence.

I wanted to say those positive things first before I hit the point where I talk about why the series fills me with sadness.

Mistborn, more than any story I have watched or read since the original Ong Bak film, makes me so very glad that I am not left with the options of godlessness and power.  Mistborn screams from start to finish with an implicit angst born of the lack of a true God.  A supposed savior of old has set himself up as the only god, destroyed all other religions, and set up a dystopia straight out of Marxist propaganda videos, or a college “sociology” class.  Really, truly nauseating modernist distortion of peasants and social classes.  No society in the history of the world was ever as oppressive as Mistborn‘s Final Empire.  It’s genuinely nauseating to immerse in.  That makes it great to root for the band of thieving conspirators who set up to overthrow it, but the lack of ethics other than affection or loyalty within the crew is stunning.  Heroes lie, cheat, steal, set themselves up as objects of worship, covet, slander, and murder… but it is all supposed to be OK because they are fighting the Marxist nightmare around them.

The solution to a false god-king?  More man-made religions!  Patently false religions made up by men!  Worship of the dead as god!  But wait… it gets even better…

Mistborn appears to point out and revolve around the nature and identity of the divine.  Scholars collect destroyed religions in secret.  Dead heroes are worshiped as gods by people who know that they’re inventing the religion themselves.  People who know those who invent religions are in favor of them instead of shocked.  It would dishonor Mr. Sanderson’s incredible plotting and work to go further into the question of whether or not there are any superhuman powers, or if those who have passed on are able to become something more than they had been by one mechanism or another.  Sanderson really does dig at the topic ever more as the growing threats loom on a dying world.  The mist, the ashmounts, prophecy, and more all come together in what is one of the technically best-crafted endings I have read all year.  That does not, however, change the fact that for the most part all religion in this series is a pile of man-made obviously untrustworthy manure.

It is an indication that I live in a post-Christian society that I expected more disbelief at the notion.  The truth is that in the course of world history blatantly invented faiths have been pervasive.  Judeo-Christian terms would talk about it as idolatry, people who make something physical, call it their god, and then look to it for supernatural aid.  From Roman household gods to the golden calf at Mt. Sinai.

Fantasy was originally the domain of the Believer, though the object of belief has changed from culture to culture.  Fantasy draws upon the historical epic in which the gods undoubtedly functioned.  Christianity’s touch on the genre shows up as early as Beowulf and the touchstone gold standard of modern fantasy remains The Lord of the Rings, an intentionally religious work whose entire history and mythology is filtered through Mr. Tolkien’s Catholicism.  In the late sixties and early seventies atheists and anti-theists have tried to take the reigns of fantasy, but it is of limited success, and Mistborn highlights the problem.  There is quite enough drama in the life of one touched by the gods, but the modernist refusal to have any gods worthy of the name constantly turns to a single, dreary, endlessly repeated monotone of theology:

There is a world of magic and wonder.  A supernatural evil exists (somehow) and piddly humans must save it with their own power and resources because God is (A: dead, B: never existed, C: actually evil) not going to help.  If something does help, it will be something untrustworthy, lying or pretending about its nature, or just another mortal.

Mistborn is to be praised for at least addressing the inevitable slump to which non-believer’s fantasy must fall: When man “kills” the idea of God, the only answer to supernatural evil is for man to become God, either a god-king, a god-like hero, Super Saiyan Level 15, The Dragon Reborn, or Raistlin.

And that is one thing I get out of stories like this.  No one can wreck our world because it is maintained by a power more able to preserve than we are to destroy.  The fate of the world can never depend upon us because its fate has already been won on a cross.  Does this mean there can be no fantasy, no drama?  Hardly!  In science fiction terms the rise and fall of a single planet, city, or space station is no more of a stretch than the rise or fall of an earthly kingdom, or the Shire.  There is enough drama in a people leaving slavery (Exodus) a just king coming into his throne (David) the exiled claimant seeking his due (Bonnie Prince Charlie) the lowly defenders of the mighty changing the fate of nations (Three Musketeers) or a struggle to survive the siege of a city, etc.  Only man-focused pride must make man-focused action the linchpin for all time and space.

That being said, if you can stomach yet another early-industrial dystopia in fiction, or you haven’t played through one of the Fable games recently, Mistborn is a technically exceptional and thoroughly well-plotted story that is well worth your time.