Sapientia, a Fable

Wisdom is like a mouse: she is small and unassuming, and if you approach her on your own terms she will flee.

Sapientia wore a dress adorned with cowrie shells of every color as she walked down the path away from her village.

The day was drawing near an end, but even as the sun began to burn red in the low sky she was not afraid: she did not have far to go. She was returning to her house, which overlooked the sea. She found the people of the village too quarrelsome for her to dwell among them, so she had built her own abode some distance away.

However, when she got to her home, she saw a boar standing between her and the door. She approached it slowly and called to it in honeyed tone:

“Will you let me into my home, so that I can rest?”

The boar snorted and replied that he would not move; her home was his home now.

Sapientia argued with the boar. She had built it with her own hands! However, the boar kicked up dust and swiped at her with its tusks, tearing shells from her dress and sending her running back to town.

It was too noisy for her to get rest there, so she went to several of the hunters who had taken up lodging in the town, and asked them to help.

The first refused her request because he was tired and he had already hunted for the whole day.

The second refused her request because he did not hunt boars; he would hunt only wolves, who hurt the shepherd’s flocks, not boars, who he had no quarrel with.

The third refused her request because she could not pay him. She offered him the shells from her dress, which were worth quite a princely sum, but he still declined. It would not do, he said, to take the very clothes from such a distinguished elder, but he could not hunt for free on principle.

Sapientia turned and left the town, and was never seen there again.

Review and Reflection: Harry Potter (6-7)

I finished reading the Harry Potter series on Kindle, finishing The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows in pretty rapid succession. It’s been almost a week since I finished reading the latter, so I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts.

I know that I’ve already talked about how I considered the Harry Potter series quite good (for more see my previous posts on the first three books and fourth and fifth books) when I went to read it. I was part of the target audience back when it first came out, but just never got around to reading it for a variety of reasons.

Continue reading “Review and Reflection: Harry Potter (6-7)”

Review and Reflection: Harry Potter (4-5)

Before reading the fourth and fifth Harry Potter books (The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix), my opinion of the series was that it was quite good, but not quite what I would consider to be masterful work. I did quite personally enjoy the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, but the earlier two were of more academic interest to me: I enjoyed them, but no more than I would any average book.

For more on my thoughts, you can read the previous installment of my review and reflection.

Review

The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix (Amazon affiliate links) are a lot larger and darker than previous books, clocking in at a combined 1400 pages and featuring a lot more peril.

I read The Goblet of Fire in an old-school print format, but I switched over to reading from Kindle on my phone for The Order of the Phoenix, something which helped since the book got a little large to comfortably take with me and I was able to sneak constant little reads of the text.

When I was reading the first three books, my interest was largely satisfying personal and academic curiosity before developing into a desire to actually read the books for their own merit, but I’m happy to say that the fourth and fifth book strung me along quite well. It’s been a long time since I’ve devoted hours-long reading sessions to a book on multiple occasions during a day; I tend to break up reading between little tasks, but The Order of the Phoenix in particular led to a few occasions of me sitting on my couch, my cat in my lap (or beside me, or diligently ignoring me) for hours at a time.

A lot of this comes from how invested one has become in the characters by the time you get to the fourth and fifth books. They’re realistic, deep, and invoke sympathy and vicarious reactions. Even when they jump to wrong conclusions (a trope Rowling uses reliably but sparingly) and “pick up the idiot ball” to borrow an expression I’ve heard used frequently, they still feel like they’re making decisions because of their own motivations, rather than choices that drive the plot.

Much of what I could say about Rowling’s writing I have already said: I consider it to be very vivid and practical; it’s not quite the most deep prose, but for its audience it is sufficient, and I would argue that measuring writing by the depth of its prose is a poor metric. It is generally improved in the later books by any account, even though it did not necessarily need to.

Further, the stories get more archetypal depth as they develop; this is not only a consequence of extended length, but a reflection of the process of Harry and his friends growing more mature and becoming more aware of the reality around them.

Reflection

One of the things that I’ve been enjoying about the Harry Potter series is looking at the deep characters and how they’ve grown even deeper.

I mention archetypal characters a lot: through my Loreshaper Games stuff I’ve written a short series on role archetypes, the possible roles that characters can take in a story.

What I love about Harry Potter as I get deeper into it is that there are really deep interactions between the archetypes: Potter as the Hero, Hagrid as the Herald, Harry (and occasionally other characters, like Ginny, as the plot rolls on) as the Underdog, Dumbledore as the Mentor, George and Fred as the Trickster, Hermoine and Ron as the Ally, a plethora of characters as the Villain (at least one per novel, somewhat unsurprisingly), Sirius and Snape as the Shapeshifter, various characters as the Outsider (Harry, Hermoine, Sirius, Lupin, etc), and through it all Voldemort as the Serpent.

It’s patient and willing to develop these interactions and roles quite a bit, and it sets up a Hero’s Journey that is both divided into segments and then later into a longer complete saga of Harry growing up.

I know a lot of people have expressed concern about the darkness of the universe, but I think that this is actually a strength of the Harry Potter franchise. Children know that there are things in the world that they cannot see if they are sheltered from them (and if they are not sheltered, then there is no harm in what is contained in Harry Potter to begin with), but in the series they are directly uncovered and confronted allegorically through the role of the Hero and the development that Harry has to undergo.

Jung speaks of confronting the Shadow, the secret part of us that we choose not to look at, which holds both strengths and sins that we do not want to explore.

Harry Potter’s fourth and fifth book do that wonderfully; Harry is confronted by his own limitations but also his own potential and must rise up to meet the call that he has received. He makes mistakes, and there is real suffering that results both as a result of his action or inaction and forces that extend beyond his control, but his ability to be a compelling and noble figure is drawn from the fact that he strives, not that he always succeeds without loss.

There is death, sacrifice, and loss in these books, and also wanton deliberate evil. That may seem like a dark thing to contemplate, but it is also part of becoming fully human: one cannot accept themselves if they do not confront their Shadow, and cannot be good if they have not realized what it is to be evil.

There’s a point in The Order of the Phoenix when Harry is in a fight with a Death Eater, one of Voldemort’s servants, and he tries to use a Cruciatus curse to inflict unbearable pain on the Death Eater.

He tries, and ultimately fails, not because his execution of the spell was off, but because his heart was not in it: the Death Eater retorts that in order for such a spell to be effective, one must really mean it.

It’s a testament to his nobility, and one which shows this exploration of the Shadow in the most meaningful way: to be in a fight but not wish malice upon one’s opponent requires a control and willpower that is part of the Hero’s journey toward light and away from darkness.

Wrapping Up

I find the Harry Potter books to be growing on me as I read them more; this is probably because I am an adult reading them for the first time and their target audience definitely gets older as the books move on.

There’s a lot of good stuff in here, but it’s also an enjoyable read beneath that, which is quite a merit in its own right.

Review and Reflection: Harry Potter (1-3)

One of the books that I simply never read as a child was Harry Potter, and I never saw the films either. I wasn’t that far away from it in terms of advertising demographic: it was a big deal in my social circles when I was in 4th grade or so, but I’d already read the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia and was moving up to more difficult books.

However, I’ve been studying mysticism and alchemy recently as a way of trying to get an insight into the pre-modern mind, and since Harry Potter is theoretically aligned with that while also being l highly acclaimed and culturally influential in young adult literature, I figured I should jump in and see what all the fuss is about.

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The Dust Part 2: Arrival

I think that before I really started working on the Dust, I hadn’t really thought of a whole lot of the setting, and then I just sort of made it up as  I went along.

You can tell that there’s some inspirations in mythological tales for the names, but there’s also elements of American culture and other things as well.

Irkalla is mythological, Nuada and Atreon are references to things (I think? Atreon may just be “It sounds cool”), and Aspera is based off of the Latin word for hope (or, more particularly, the saying “Ad astra per aspera”).

Extropy is named after the transhuman Extropian movement, while Providence, Liberty, and Opportunity are all inspired by early American trappings.

The little intro exposition for this piece is inspired by Biblical stylings, and it was really the first effort I made in defining the setting’s boundaries outside of the titular dust of New Haven. I don’t remember if this was the first or second story I wrote after Grace, but I think it came really close after.

Eynsford is inspired in name by the Eynsford-Hills of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, though I don’t know if there’s really any significance to the choice of the name. I’ve sort of taken to picturing him like Sadavir Errinwright (spelling?) from The Expanse, for no particular reason other than the beginnings of their names and their similar political role.

The focus of this story was to introduce who the Federals were in a relatively “objective” light. They’re the “villains” of the setting, but I wanted them to not be mustachio-twirling damsel kidnappers. They provide for their own, but they’re also willing to foster conflict and perpetuate themselves where they aren’t needed.

Apparently I’m really fond of Bradford as a military name. I feel like that’s due to the influence of a particular historical figure, but I can’t put a face to the name, as it were. Likewise, I think I got Mikkelsen from a random name generator, but I at least remember Mads Mikkelsen’s existence.

Or it could just be that I went with the first Swedish/Scandinavian name I could think of, though Rose isn’t a particularly Nordic name.


And it was recorded among the first arrivals that there were six-hundred thousand among the frozen. Around the binary stars of Aspera, there were six colonies: Irkalla on New Haven closest to the sun,  Providence and Liberty on Jefferson, Extropy on Narcissus, Opportunity on Atreon, and Dublin-II on Nuada.

Eynsford leaned back in his chair and sighed. Despite his triumph, he could not help but feel a bittersweet twinge of regret in the founding of a new empire. “So it is settled then?”

Aspera had never seen a real war. They were conspiring to shatter that peace. Such had been the vogue on old Earth, or so he had been told. Such things were far in the past.

Of course, so were shooting wars.

The reply came from a gravel voice with the patience of one rarely interrupted underpinned by the urgency of one used to making demands. “The coalition is solid. There is no reason for us not to cooperate. After all, New Haven’s resources are barred from us if we lack a military capable of taking them.”

“You always worry, Secretary Eynsford. Our worlds are more than capable of coming together to mutual prosperity.” Rose Mikkelsen was Aspera’s most dangerous woman, whether or not Extropy would formally pledge allegiance to her, and Patrick Eynsford had to admit that he had thought of her more than once when he was nursing a glass of wine alone after a diplomatic hearing. Her red dress was the sort of thing one expected to see at a gala, not the negotiating table, but he couldn’t help staring just a little.

That was her intention.

“I’ve already prepared replicants for deployment. Give the signal, and we’ll launch a precision strike on Irkalla and bring New Haven to its knees—if we can count on Providence for naval cover.” General Bradford’s rough voice and straightforwardness only added weight to Eynsford’s sorrow, and he found himself reflexively reaching to pour his new cabal drinks. The rumor was that the general was a quiet drunk. Eynsford felt the pressure of wearing his face very distinctly now. It was bad enough to want Mikkelsen and be so close to her without a chance of even the smallest romance, but to have Bradford cheerfully buying into the cult of destruction was too much for his stomach.

He poured each glass himself, passing them to the heads of state from the whole system—barring, of course, the unfortunates of New Haven. They would find out what had transpired the next day, when they found out that they had been condemned to die. He raised his glass, hoping that the poison inside would work on him the same effects their venomous coalition would work on Aspera.

“To the Aspera Federation, may it last beyond our days.”

The estimates had been wrong. Irkalla was not difficult to assail, and each combat replicant was worth dozens of New Haven’s soldiers. The first newsfeeds showed that the new Federal forces were capable of covering the ball of red dust with an ocean of blood.

The elites rejoiced, proclaiming a mission accomplished and anointing their followers with promises of land to settle and minerals to exploit. In exchange for New Haven’s resources, the Federation promised order, law, uniformity. Each citizen would be equal because of their inherent dignity, not their altered carbon sheathes, being the metric of their worth. The tiny settlements squabbling over water and held in the grasp of cybernetic warlords would see their world turned into an oasis and a model for the system.

But when they went on the broadcasts to announce the annexation of New Haven, the rebels punctuated it with violence. He supposed that frauds built on other frauds ought to be repaid in such a way, but the opposition raised a sleeping anger within him: the spite a booted foot feels as it plants its heel into a dissident skull.

Eynsford remembered the confusion in the moment. A bomb had gone off on the stage, turning his earlier proclamation of the Federation’s era of peace and stability into an ironic echo of itself. Bradford and Mikkelsen disappeared in the blast as he had been walking back to the seats. Only the premature detonation had saved his life, not that he had very much of his body left. The doctors were patching him back up, and the vat would regrow his flesh, but he felt he had lost something else, something more important.

The rebels had taken responsibility immediately,  wearing the labels heaped on them by the media with pride and defiance. On New Haven the Federal garrison was hit with a viral attack. Footage circulated of men and women clawing at their faces, the pirate streams reaching out across the mesh on waves of fascination and horror. An image of a soldier who had wandered into the dust and fallen in the scorching sun, his scarred body blackened by the heat was seared in Eynsford’s mind, a haunting image that was the talk of every newscaster on Jefferson.

The victim’s family could not be reached for comment, but that wasn’t enough to buy silence. Everyone had an opinion, and for a while it looked like the Federation might bring its guns on itself, dividing into cells and organs of disparate interest.

It was too early to be sure that the bombing was even a rebel act. There were factions operating behind the scenes, and there were many inside the Federation who would be happy to open up the higher echelons of control for themselves.

Eynsford wanted to cry in the cold blue nebula of the healing pod.

This was the image that had broken his sleep for months. From the first talk of exploiting the reserves of New Haven to the formation of the Federal state. Such a structure was beyond men and women, beyond humanity, somehow greater and more horrible and more terrible. The factories were retooled for war, their labors turned from plowshares to swords. The replicants were too few. Boys and girls were sent to war alongside them.

For every rebel they killed, more took up the banner. The most fervent agitators proclaimed that New Haven’s resources would be opened up all the greater with the extermination of its people. Instead of the expected capitulation, bombs went off on Jefferson and Atreon, the wages of sin. Eynsford’s people paid the price.

Eynsford had become accustomed to eating alone. At the state dinners there were too many ghosts, seats left unfilled by faction or by death. He tried to remember that his intentions had been pure, that this was the natural outcome of unification. The next day would show that it was worth it, that the small pieces of the system came together for a greater machine.

The filet mignon turned to ash with the sorrow. There had been no great intention, no great hope. Just the promise of opportunity. Each grasping hand reached for a rung above it, until the only move left was to claw past others for a clear hold.

He thought of the latest news, a troop transport holed by accidental friendly fire. Fifteen sons and daughters of the Federation who would not be returning home. He had killed them. Eynsford pushed the thought out of his head. Stray railgun rounds had killed them, nothing more or less than the uncaring calculations of a universe in which humanity was an accidental combination of particles and energy.

He wondered when his glass had become empty, and filled it once again. The bitterness washed the ash away, but it was only temporary. The next bite was just as barren as its predecessor. He got up and looked out the window. The light from outside washed over him, casting shadowy reflections across the polished steel surfaces of the flat.

Despite his folly, Providence looked the same as it had for decades before his birth. The same towers slid out of the ground and into the sky, their inhabitants had circulated like blood through the living organism of the colony, but the bones stood tall. The bombings had stopped in recent months. The rebels withdrew to their homefront. It would be over soon.

The security system gently chimed to announce authorized access. Eynsford didn’t bother looking to the doorway. He knew what had come for him. The first shot missed, shattering the window.

They hadn’t even bothered to send a professional. A tear rolled downward, battered by the wind. The second shot pushed him forward, and he felt the sensation of weightlessness.

The Dust Part 1: Grace

The first part of the Dust collection was inspired by the dust storms that occasionally sweep through the Phoenix area.

Out in the middle of the desert there’s not really anything to stop the winds and the sun, so the city winds up getting some pretty big storms. Monsoon season is pretty dramatic, but the dust storms are tremendous by themselves.

Continue reading “The Dust Part 1: Grace”

Separation

After seeing his name on the list, he was almost relieved when the black car arrived at the far end of the street. At least he had a few moments left.

He turned to his wife. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she’d wait for him, but he wasn’t coming back. He bent over and kissed her forehead, trying to ignore the quivering of her thin nervous lips. They would put on a brave show for each other.

The only way that they would leave her alone is if he was there to meet the car as it pulled up. He drew in a slow, lingering breath and cursed himself in his own mind, wishing that he’d made different choices in his life. He ran his fingers through the dark tresses of her hair, falling as elegantly as ever like a funeral veil.

He could hear the motor pick up a little, the tires plowing a fresh path through the freshly fallen snow. If they had to go into the other house, they had been very efficient with their time.

He grabbed his coat from the hook, shrugging it over his shoulders. She said nothing, standing frozen in stillness. It was time to go, and he looked away, reaching for the door.

He could swear he heard a sob as he stepped out into the chill of the winter night.

The Flames (Part 1)

Herrek hadn’t gotten the chance to see Lethe before it burned. Born on the frontiers of the empire, he had always had his eyes turned home.

But the empire was too large, Lethe’s influence too wide-spanning, for just anyone to return home. Travel was expensive, and not without risks—how little they had known—so he had been stuck on a frontier world mired in dust, mud, and rebels.

The Hammer had been his chance to return to the land of his forefathers, to go back to Lethe.

He arrived to ashes, the burnt shell of a once-proud civilization.

Continue reading “The Flames (Part 1)”

Topple the Giant, Part I

He felt the cold breeze settle into his bones as he stared out at the neon lights of the city. His ears tuned out the noise, listening for the music that underpinned the bustle and life.

Soon, he thought, they would have their chance.

He returned to the apartment, and his lover. She was caught in repose, sleep having taken her hours earlier, head on the armrest of the sofa that he’d purchased when he moved into the apartment.

Continue reading “Topple the Giant, Part I”