Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Post #5 of WorldCon 2011 at Reno: Continuity and Wheel of Time panels

By Linda

The Importance of Continuity

The panelists were: Lois McMaster Bujold, Eric Flint, Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, and Dean Wesley Smith.

First up were some comments about plotting: Lois said it is a good thing readers can’t tell the difference between carefully planned plot and seized opportunities. She doesn’t disabuse them. Dean doesn’t outline beforehand because it bores him. He does summarize each chapter as he goes along to keep track. Leaving questions or the fates of characters unanswered (voids) can be useful, but the writer can also trip over them when readers ask insistently for more information.

Eric says he tends to be obsessive about plotting. Writing the novelization of a movie is very hard. Movies can rely on visuals to carry over deficiencies. He thinks the plot of Gladiator is drivel. Dean thinks the worst continuity is writing novelization of movie. Films can skip a scene but the book must have some reference to the skipped action, even if it is invented for the novelisation.

It is hard to get to know a character in a shared universe when the writer is just handed a few traits. All agreed it must be tough to complete someone else’s series. The new author inevitably gets flamed on Amazon. Dean has finished many books when authors got sick and deadlines had to be met. He insists on being a ghost writer (his name not mentioned), and therefore didn’t get hassled by readers and neither did the author.

I like this quote from Lois: “If Ideas come fast enough, (the writer) won’t notice how stupid they are.”

Wheel of Time

Brandon Sanderson, Matt Hatch (moderating) and myself discussed the influence the Wheel of Time has had on the fantasy genre over the twenty years it has been running. Our panel was quite well attended, considering it was so late in the Con program. Thanks to all who came along.

Brandon began by recounting how he came to be Chosen to finish the series. Then we discussed the various ways that The Wheel of Time series was groundbreaking: not only size, but complexity and also subtlety.

Sanderson had to write a spanking scene in The Gathering Storm – the one where Cadsuane spanks Semirhage. RJ’s instructions on this scene were specific. I think Brandon would have rather it were Semirhage punishing Cadsuane.

A Memory of Light will most likely out between June and Nov 2012.

Brandon Sanderson reiterated that the Prequel books do not have detailed outlines and are thus not likely to be written.

Someone asked Matt Hatch and myself what we’d do after the series is finished. Matt said that not all answers would be given in the books and so discussion can, and no doubt would, continue. There are also always newcomers to the series. So Theoryland will be around. I have articles I want to write on various characters and aspects of the series. I haven’t finished the read-through, either. Which reminds me: there are a few theories I want to write before A Memory of Light is out…

Monday, August 29, 2011

Post #4 of WorldCon 2011 at Reno: Revolution

By Linda

Revolutions in SF, Fantasy and the Real World

The panelists were Bradford Lyau, Nick Mamatas and Walter Jon Williams.

This panel looked at revolution in the broad sense; it could be technological, political or social. Walter has written about all of these. His book Deep State features alternate reality gaming. Coding techniques are used to create revolution in a Middle Eastern country. It was quite prescient: the author sensed one country in that area would undergo revolution but didn’t know which one. If enough of the population is mobilised, then there could be virtual government. However, he didn’t think it would happen for another ten years and was surprised to see scenes from his own book actually happen. The revolution that he envisaged in his book is more like what is happening in Syria. He said that the Mexican drug cartels are on the verge of making the Mexican government irrelevant in some areas.

Some revolutions in sci-fi are conservative. In Erestoi Walter depicted an autocratic revolution and tried to set up society in which makes sense.
Nick’s book Under My Roof is about revolution and counterrevolution. It is based on his own experiences in 1990’s Greece where revolutionary groups come together and then fall apart after being manipulated from outside.

Bradford Lyau (author of The Anticipation: Novelists of 1950s French Science Fiction) said sci fi deals with scientific and technological revolutions which other sources don’t. He described the 1950’s revolution in France where they modernised their technology to defend themselves and (in their science fiction of this time) save the world from an alien invasion.

In Nick’s novella Northern Gothic the Irish Americans were not against draft and then rebelled against the Black Americans. The revolution changed to very reactionary within 24 hours. IT was a positive revolution one moment, then a negative one.

The recent communications technology revolution is creating a world with no secrets. The promise of fusion technology is another world-shifter. Scientific paradigm shifts are hard to dramatise.

The people of the US are used to positive endings in revolution but this is not necessarily the case elsewhere.

And after the revolution?

There are some post revolution novels; Walter wrote one – City on Fire. A good example of coping with ruling after the revolution is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Other recommended speculative fiction works featuring revolutions: Iron Council and Kraken by Mieville, Man in a High Castle by Philip K Dick and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

Revolution is a singularity; we don’t know what happens after.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Post #3 of WorldCon 2011 at Reno: God and Manga

By Linda

Creating Gods

The Creating gods (and other super powered individuals) panel was an interesting one. The panelists were Brandon Sanderson, Carrie Vaughn, Brenda W. Clough.

Do other characters become insignificant if there are god-like characters? Carrie Vaughan said no and gave Greek mythology,with its human and god interaction, as an example.

Brandon said that disparity in power causes conflict. The panelists agreed that power need not define a person (I was reminded of those endless debates over power levels of Wheel of Time characters at Wotmania; they are probably still happening!) A protagonist needs to overcome adversity to impress the reader. Too easy is not as interesting. Foreshadowing makes using magic to solve problems satisfying for the reader.

Super powered beings can have a weakness. (Brandon wrote a novella on this topic from which he read an excerpt earlier in the Con.) The classic way is to cripple the god, but the panelists found this often feels contrived. (Erikson has a god literally named the Crippled God).

Brandon tries to surprise the reader with how powers are used in interesting ways to solve or overcome problems. He said he “inherited” Rand when Rand had ultimate power and struggled with how to handle it. While Rand has god-like power, Brandon emphasized Rand’s difficulty with interpersonal relationships, and also the Shadow’s strategy to subvert Rand so they can win. He concentrated on Rand’s despair. These things have nothing to do with super powers.

I noticed that all panelists except Brandon talked about writing the death of a god. Hmmm…

Manga panel

I attended the Manga: which series got you hooked panel to get ideas for surprise gifts for my teenage son who likes manga and came away with plenty. Better still, Peter Ahlstrom kindly provided me with more suggestions after the panel.

Some, such as Full Metal Alchemist, I had written down on a piece of paper and then lost it. I have heaps of paper with notes on at home.

These ones sounded worth checking out to me:

    Hikaru-no-Go - about the game of go. (I’ve written about go in the Wheel of Time here).
    Barefoot Gen – about a Hiroshima survivor
    Dazzle – a complex series not complete about a small group of wanderers. (Heck, I’ve been waiting for series to be completed for years; I don’t see why my son can’t suffer too!)
    Gantz – ongoing series about souls who become part of a semi-posthumous "game" in which they are forced to hunt down and kill aliens
    Sanctuary – a political thriller
    Naruto – about a ninja
    Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle - by Clamp, refers to earlier works and has Sakura as the main character
    Planetes –a sf manga

These are all shonen (aimed at male readers) manga.

Some examples of shojo (aimed at female readers) manga recommended by the panelists are:
    Red River - about a girl sucked back into Hittite and Ancient Egyptian times
    Angel sanctuary – has incest, archangels (interesting mix)
    Ceres, Celestial legend – about an angel kidnapped and kept
    Fushigi Yuugi – about a girl sucked into a vortex and transported to China
    Basara – post apocalyptic Tokyo

Other shojo manga were mentioned, but I didn’t get them all.

Recommended anime are Twelve Kingdoms and Rurouni Kenshin.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Post #2 of WorldCon 2011 at Reno: George R. R. Martin's Reading

By Linda

GRRM read one of the opening chapters from Winds of Winter; it was an Arianne Martell POV. The chapter was originally going to be in Dance of Dragons but was held over.

Arianne and her small entourage are headed for Mistwood Castle. She is sending reports by raven back to Dorne. They shelter in deep cave, and lose Ariann’e cousin Elia for a time when she quietly wanders off to explore. The group reaches Mistwood Castle with Elia still behaving inappropriately. They see gold banners above the walls and surmise that the Golden Company has taken it. They are right; Mistwood has fallen to Jon Connington.

Connington’s forces are also trying to get Storm’s End and it is suggested to Arianne by Connington's men at the castle that she take ship to Storm’s End because Connington has now taken it. An army from King’s Landing is headed for Storm’s End to take it back and Prince Aegon wants to fight them. Arianne agrees to go to Storm’s End because she thinks they would force her onto a ship anyway.


GRRM will write about the taking of Storm’s End by Connington in Winds of Winter.

Interestingly he finds it emotionally hard to kill off POV characters.

He feels the complexity of his series now. Sounds familiar…

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Post #1 of WorldCon 2011 at Reno: Brandon Sanderson's Reading

By Linda

Brandon read part of a new novella exploring superpowers. I liked it a lot. There are no super heroes, only super villains, and they take over world. The chapter he read describes two such and how a boy is the only surviving witness to the wounding of one of these supposedly invincible super-powered human. Ten years after the events Sanderson narrated, the protagonist tries to find a group of humans who research the individual weaknesses of the “Epics” and assassinate them.

Sanderson’s idea is of normal people trying to take down someone with superpowers, a reversal of the powerful guy protecting the humble.


Sanderson wants fantasy, particularly epic fantasy, to feel more alien. He is trying to achieve this while still using human characters because he doesn’t think he writes aliens well.

He also thinks that technology in fantasy series is too static and his series is a reaction against that. Magic should change the world. There will be a sci-fi series set in the Mistborn world.

There will likely be glimpses of a Stormwarden in the Way of Kings interlude.

He worries about repeating himself in writing and tries to vary his writing.

As research for his writing he has variously: bungee jumped to feel what like to fall off a building; gone to self-defense class; watched sword-fighting at Cons and of course read broadly.

To keep the voice straight, he writes new material in one book at a time, but will revise another series alongside it. He does a lot of redrafts and revision, especially adding description and writes every day for at least 8 hours. Being a full-time writer is a great opportunity, he believes, and he doesn’t want to waste it.

What Sanderson likes most about The Wheel of Time is Jordan’s ability to use third person POV viewpoints. He was wonderful at it. Jordan also had an ability to be subtle (which Matt Hatch and I were discussing the previous afternoon).

No publishing date has been chosen for A Memory of Light, it depends on how long the editing takes. (On Sunday he said that it was likely to be sometime between June and November 2012.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

US Conventions

By Linda

I've been offline for a day or so because I was travelling to the US. I'm now in Reno for Renovation, the 2011 World Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, where I plan on catching up with as many fellow WOT fans as possible. It runs from 17th to 21st August

I'll be speaking on two panels here:

Fri 14:00 - 15:00, Designing Believable Planets (Panel), A10 (RSCC)

A worldbuilding panel on world-creation. Can planets only form along with stars? Are there planet types other than terrestrial and gas giants?

Sun 13:00 - 14:00, Twenty Years of the Wheel of Time (Panel), A01+6 (RSCC)

The Wheel of Time series is perhaps the most influential epic fantasy after Tolkien. The panel looks back at the series and its importance to the genre.

Ten days later I shall be at DragonCon 2011 in Atlanta from 2nd to 5th September. I'll be on various panels on the WOT track there including blogging, WOT technology, the Ogier, the Black Tower, Perrin, and costuming.

I've brought two costumes with me: an Illianer one and a more generic WOT one.

I'll be posting regular reports on my activities at both Cons here, and I'll continue the read-through when I return home.

Really looking forward to catching up with my WOT friends and meeting new ones!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #40: Chapter 37 -A Force of Light

By Linda


Min likens Rand to a circus performer on the high wire. She senses he is on the edge of psychological disaster. He feels it is pointless to express emotion. In fact, much seems pointless to him. He has given up on negotiating with the Seanchan and saving Arad Doman. Both Moridin and Rand are infecting each other with feelings of despair and futility in some sort of positive feedback loop. Min fears the way Rand is bottling his anger and how he is no longer regarding cost of his actions.

Nynaeve challenges Rand to answer people’s questions. He stares her down. Min thinks it is Nynaeve’s fault that Rand is silently bullying her in this way because she shouldn’t have pushed at Rand while he is so tense. But he is always tense these days and becoming increasingly aloof and dictatorial.

Min notices that ignoring heat and cold can be done by those who aren’t bothered by regular human concerns but doesn’t understand the full significance of this. The aloofness and distancing that enables them to ignore temperature closes them off not just from their environment, but from feeling empathy with other people.

Min sees a viewing of Dragonmount with a crater in one side and clouded with Shadows. A tiny light from the heavens shines on it. As the axis mundi, central axis of the world, the mountain represents Rand; but the viewing also indicates that Rand will go there and battle his dark self. The crater in the mountain’s side symbolises Rand’s side wounds. Rand, too, is clouded with shadow – he is linked to the Shadow through Moridin and using the True Power and also through using balefire. Shadows make the mountain seem lower than it really is. Rand’s despair and emotional exhaustion has lowered him and leads to this viewing and to events on Dragonmount. The light afterwards indicates that Min sees a favourable outcome of the viewing, although she has no idea of what any of the viewing means.

Min was totally humiliated by Semirhage’s attack on Rand through her. She thought she could defend herself and Rand, but was wrong and now she sees herself as a liability and thinks Rand does too. Rand thinks she is revolted by his attack on her. He has no idea what she is upset at. (Nor does she of he). One of the many “if only they’d talk openly and honestly” situations in the books. (Min was also liability to Rand at parley where he lost his hand shielding her from Semirhage’s attack.)

Min goes with Rand to prove a point, while secretly feeling a liability. She feels she has to keep trying. Rand doesn’t argue, but in turn defiantly takes the access key. Min says nothing about it. Neither dares talk lest their relationship fall apart. Each fears what the other will say.

Rand is wearing a dragon-marked sword:

The black scabbard, with its lacquered red and gold dragon, sparkled in the light. Such a strange weapon those scholars had found beneath the submerged statue. The sword felt so old. Was Rand wearing it today as a symbol of something?

The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

The sword was confirmed by RJ’s assistant Maria Simmons to be Hawkwing’s sword Justice. So far it has played no role in the plot. Rand is wearing it because he is going after Graendal to deliver justice. He has apparently told no one about the significance of the sword.

Graendal’s palace she has seized is like her parallel Goering’s Carinhall. Both were flamboyant and luxurious palaces located in woods surrounded by war, where their owners partied on unaffected, indulging in self-gratification and self-display. Both palaces were levelled; Carinhall at Goering’s orders by the Luftwaffe as the Allies approached, and Natrin’s Barrow by Rand’s balefire.

Ramshalan is not dressed as a conventional Domani. Instead, he has bells on like a court fool. Rand assumes Graendal will do something clever to Ramshalan involving Compulsion that he will not b able to anticipate:

"I don't know. I wish I did. She'll think of something clever, then infect Ramshalan with a very subtle Compulsion that I won't be able to anticipate. I'll be left with the choice to keep him nearby and see what he does, or to send him away. But of course, she will think of that as well, and whatever I do will set in motion her other plans."
"You make it sound as if you can't win," Nynaeve said, frowning.

The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

She does so: getting Delana and Aran’gar to weave the Compulsion. What Rand did does set in motion other plans. He did not win against her and has yet to bring her to justice.

Ramshalan’s accent is quite different when he returns from Graendal’s palace, with his “I say…” like an English gentleman of last century, which I found grating, it was so clumsy. Although it could be a sign that Graendal didn’t weave the Compulsion.

Rand feels very constrained by Cadsuane and somewhat traumatised by her. It is why he reacts so badly to her. He also rejects Callandor as constraining, yet he decides that he must constrain himself, so he does not need to be constrained by others:
"I see a different answer to my problems," Rand said, voice still almost a whisper. "Both times Callandor failed me, I was being reckless with my emotion. I allowed temper to drive me. I can't kill in anger, Min. I have to keep that anger inside; I must channel it as I channel the One Power. Each death must be deliberate. Intentional."

The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

Min is still not able to voice her feelings to Rand. Nor Nynaeve either. When he is intent but dispassionate like this, Min finds him terrifying.

People who have been balefired are dead, but they can be reincarnated. In this sense they are not dead forever.

Rand’s reaction to his vast weaving of balefire:

Min could see his face again, now that the enormous column of balefire had vanished, leaving behind only the glowing access key. He was in ecstasy, mouth agape, and he held the access key aloft before himself as if in victory. Or in reverence.
Then he gritted his teeth, eyes opening wide, lips parted as if he were under great pressure. The light flashed once, then immediately vanished. All became dark.

The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

Rand is addicted to the Choedan Kal’s power and to destruction? He is very dark after using balefire. It is a stain on his soul, because balefire is the ultimate sin. That is why the Dark One encourages it; so Rand just aided him. It is significant that the Creator’s champion balefires people and it is worse than a Dreadlord or even the Naeblis doing it, because Rand is one with the Land and is supposed to be Good. It is very bad when he does such bad things.

Very aptly, Nynaeve brings light as she asks what has happened to Rand? What indeed?

Rand thinks the removal of Graendal is worth the cost, especially since the people he killed were walking dead anyway because they were made mindless by Graendal. Sometimes Rand wishes that he was burned out of existence.

He left Ramshalan whimpering in the dark alone, which shows how uncaring he has become.

Nyaneve wishes for Moiraine. Min says they have to do something. Nynaeve asks if this is the way Rand has to be to win. They discuss how ruthless Rand has to be:

Can we dare send a man to fight the Dark One who won't sacrifice for what needs to be done?"
Min shook her head. "Dare we send him as he is, with that look in his eyes? Nynaeve, he's stopped caring. Nothing matters to him anymore but defeating the Dark One."
"Isn't that what we want him to do?"
"I. . . ." She stopped. "Winning won't be winning at all if Rand becomes something as bad as the Forsaken. . . We—"
"I understand," Nynaeve said suddenly. "Light burn me, but I do, and you're right.

The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

In desperation they go to Cadsuane, who has been warning about this all along. They all have to work together to “handle” him. It should be to help him, as Min notes.

"Handle" Rand? That was another problem. Nynaeve and Cadsuane were both so concerned with handling that they failed to see that it might be best to help him instead. Nynaeve cared for Rand, but she saw him as a problem to be fixed, rather than a man in need.

The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

Merise, Cadsuane and Sorilea go out of their way to patronise Nynaeve. Is this to annoy her enough that she stubbornly persists in her aims? Is it a test? Or is Sorilea, at least, trying to sabotage Nynaeve’s efforts? She tries to send Nynaeve away and asks for her obedience.

Cadsuane insults Merise by praising Nynaeve backhandedly. This is not what she would have done in earlier books. Cadsuane is more negatively written in The Gathering Storm, and Towers of Midnight. Cadsuane orders Nynaeve to find Perrin; why can’t Dreamwalkers find out Perrin’s location from the Aiel with him?

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #39: Chapter 36 - The Death of Tuon

By Linda



Verin calls for tea for suspense just as she does when she meets with Egwene.

In this chapter Verin is beginning to be confirmed as a trickster. Mat sees through her because he is one himself (see Tricksters essay). Aes Sedai are tricksters; as their name indicates Aes Sedai are derived from aes sidhe, the fairy folk, and aes sidhe were considered dangerous trickster figures. Care was taken to appease them – or at least not offend them, just as people high and low treat Aes Sedai with regard and wariness and are careful not to offend them. Aes Sedai are described early in the books as tricksome by a particularly reliable and astute character, Tam al’Thor:

”You see, lad, Aes Sedai are tricksome. They don't lie, not right out, but the truth an Aes Sedai tells you is not always the truth you think it is.”

The Eye of the World, Tellings of the Wheel

Davram Bashere agrees:

“Aes Sedai are tricksome; no man can know what they'll do or why."

Lord of Chaos, Lion on the Hill

Verin is the ultimate Aes Sedai trickster: she tricked the tricksters, both good and bad.

Verin forges a camaraderie with Mat, while tricking the reader as well. It is a masterly performance. I long ago postulated in the Black Ajah article that if anyone infiltrated the Black Ajah successfully it was Verin; but never formalised it as a theory. How I kicked myself after reading The Gathering Storm!

Mat squirms at the thought of a) his ta’veren powers and b) others knowing of them.

Verin thinks Rand is mad but currently in control of himself. She righly judges that his madness is not due just to taint, but to stress and trauma. Mat thinks the cleansing absolutely momentous, as does Moiraine in the next book.

What Verin related to Mat about being pulled by ta’veren may or may not be true. It would be in keeping with her trickster role if it was a complete fabrication. Her tale supposedly accounts for the four week time gap between when she left Rand and when she met Mat. She still has a few letters to deliver, but she may have spent some time already doing so.

One thing her tale does do is make her mission to Mat look all the more important, and thus more likely that he will do as she wishes.

"Curious, wouldn't you say, young Matrim? I accidentally end up here, in your path, right when you have great need of someone to create a gateway for your army?"

The Gathering Storm, The Death of Tuon

The Darkfriend who gave Verin Mat’s mugshot thought she was a Darkfriend because she was known to be one. The danger from the Shadow is extreme now. Mat should disguise himself; Verin knows Mat is essential.

The bargain Mat and Verin make over the price of her making a gateway is: wait 30 days without opening her letter, or open it after 10 days and do what it says. Verin thinks if she could be free of the Oaths Mat doesn’t need to defend Caemlyn. She is convinced Mat’s curiosity will get the better of him; she underestimates his loathing of Aes Sedai and the One Power. Mat already plans to use the extra time to make dragons and find out about the Tower of Ghenjei and the *Finns.

Verin apparently used her angreal to make the gateway, probably so she could make a large one for the Band.

Tuon POV

Fortuona still contains the name Tuon, so ‘Tuon’ is not entirely dead. The empress kept the name Athaem, which is an anagram of athame, a witch’s knife, and a sign that Tuon will channel. Devi is the Sanskrit word for goddess, and as such is related to ‘the Goddess’ of the Celts, the Goddess of Sovereignty. She embodies the Feminine without which the male divinity is impotent. In other words, she completes him and provides balance. She is pictured right, with Shiva (a parallel of Rand, see Rand essay) at her feet. Devi is a later arrival in Hinduism: the early Hindu goddesses such as Lakshmi (a parallel of Tuon, see Tuon essay) and Parvati were subsumed into her as one ultimate goddess. Tuon’s mother Radhanan also had a Hindu name so it is not surprising that Tuon adopted the name of the Hindu Divine Mother or Goddess of Sovereignty.

The Bloodknives receive a benediction from the Empress (one of whose parallels is Queen of the Dead, see Tuon essay) as though they had died:

"May your death bring victory," she said softly, speaking the ritual words. "May your knife draw blood. May your children sing your praises until the final dawn."

- The Gathering Storm, The Death of Tuon

They are effectively dead men walking, who give their lives in exchange for enhanced assassin abilities, just as Grey Men and Women do in service to the Dark One and are thus one of the parallels the Seanchan society has with the Shadow. The Bloodknives’ ability to blend into shadows is reminiscent of another creature of the Shadow: Myrddraal. Many mainlanders liken the strange creatures the Seanchan use in battle to Shadowspawn and of course ravens are important symbols for both the Seanchan and the Shadow, Ishamael having encouraged Luthair’s invasion of Seanchan.

The assassins are also like ninjas, and thus one of many examples of the Seanchan society’s strong resemblance to Japan. The roles of ninjas were sabotage and espionage as much as assassination and their abilities were the subject of legends. Ninjas were covert operators and contrastred wsith samurai, who followed bushido and had strict rules about honour and combat. Tuon (who also has parallels with a Japanese Emperor) described the role of Bloodknives as to cause as much damage as possible to the enemy, on this mission to be achieved by assassinating Aes Sedai.

The wording used to describe the functions of the Bloodknives’ ter'angreal rings (leech, shroud) suggest influence from games such as Magic the Gathering. There are Magic the Gathering cards with leeching spells similar to that of the Bloodknives’ ter’angreal, notably certain black-coloured spell cards (and Brandon Sanderson said on Twitter on November 10th that he favours Magic decks composed of black- and blue-coloured cards). For example, with the Magic card called Hatred you pay x life and your creature gets x stronger, just as the Bloodknives receive strength and speed in exchange for losing life. Hatred is an appropriate description of this mission aimed at weakening the Dragon Reborn by assassinating as many of the hated and feared Aes Sedai as possible. Another black card called Unholy Strength strengthens the creature’s power far more than its toughness, just as the Bloodknife has enhanced powers but is ultimately weakened by the ter’angreal. There are other Magic cards that could also be considered apt descriptions. Some Magic cards grant the ability called ‘shroud’ which makes creatures untouchable by their opponent’s attacks. The Bloodknives are “shrouded in darkness” by their ter’angreal.

The whole mission is “shrouded in darkness”: it leaves in darkness and has a dark aim which will benefit the Shadow: to weaken the Tower and Rand’s support and increase enmity between forces which should unite against the Shadow. Tuon thinks the attack will turn Rand against Seanchan.

As it turned out, the raid happened to also resolve the division in the Tower and remove a surplus, ineffective and antagonistic Amyrlin, but at a high cost to both sides.

To’raken have never been used before in such numbers. It is the start of a true air force.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #38: Chapter 35 - A Halo of Blackness

By Linda


Falme was the turning point in Rand’s life that proved he was the Dragon and declared himself there. It is a turning point in Tuon’s life too when she declares herself Empress after meeting the Dragon there.

This was the place where he'd first acknowledged himself as a killer, the place where he'd first realized what a danger he was to those around him. He'd tried to leave them all behind. They'd come after him.
At Falme, the shepherd boy had burned, his ashes scattered and blown away by those ocean winds. From those ashes, the Dragon Reborn had risen.

The Gathering Storm, A Halo of Blackness

Rand uses phoenix-like imagery here. Empresses in China wore a phoenix crown (see Seanchan Costume article). There are strong influences of Imperial China in Seanchan customs and dress. Tuon’s appearance is not described in the next chapter, but when we next see her after that, in Towers of Midnight, she is wearing an owl headdress.

Rand can’t escape his destiny or responsibility; including of his ambivalent nature. He has a halo of blackness – the reverse of what he should be, which is full of angelic light, as he will be in Towers of Midnight. Here in The Gathering Storm he is Lucifer the fallen angel, and the name Lews Therin is a reference to this figure (see Character Names L article). It is interesting that after Rand re-integrates Lews Therin into himself at the end of the book, he is a positive angel.

Rand and Lews Therin battle for saidin and for Rand’s body. He is not sure which personality he is at times lately. “We are fine” implies he is both. However, they are non-cooperative and inconsistent, with each other as well as with other people. Rand’s struggle for sanity parallels the world’s struggle to maintain reality. Rand’s usage of balefire made his psychological state worse, the Forsaken’s use of balefire as requested by the Dark One at the beginning of Lord of Chaos made the Pattern’s state worse.

Just as Rand balances between the lure of the Choedan Kal and the lure of the True Power, so his emotions of rage and cold stillness are balanced against each other.

He could only feel the cold stillness inside, the stillness that capped a fountain of frozen rage.
He would keep the rage and stillness balanced long enough. He had to.

The Gathering Storm, A Halo of Blackness

Rand believes Min is distant from him because she remembers him trying to kill her. It is the corruption from the True Power - which he used to prevent himself from killing her – the coldness and darkness, that puts her off.

Rand and Tuon are on roughly equal terms at this parley. They are the same age nearly. He is bigger than her, but she has more forces. Tuon expects Rand might burn out quickly as conquering heroes do. Is she not a conquering hero too? Will she burn out? (She could literally do so once she starts channelling.) Tuon is not present in Aviendha’s visions in Rhuidean.

Rand is dressed in red and black – Moridin’s colours, again - and gold. Tuon assumes Rand had the finest teachers as she did. However, Rand is an example of “innate nobility” or “nobility of the humble”.

Tuon likens Rand to a bonfire. Such symbolism was used for the ta’veren in The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt.

Rand is uncompromising and autocratic. It is convenient for the Shadow that this parley fails. If their efforts to corrupt Rand had only this one effect they would have paid off.

This is the first mention of the Essanik Cycle in relation to the Seanchan prophecies. Essanik has overtones of Essene and Messianic in the name. Their differences with the Karaethon cycle, especially in the end of the Last Battle, are striking (and probably misinterpreted by Tuon).

Does Rand’s prophesied bowing before the Empress mean that his kingdoms join with the Empire? Not if Tuon assumes so. Tuon thinks Rand’s words of argument against her are foolishness because the prophecies say he will bow to her. They probably won’t turn out as she expects. It is possible to do a courtesy without being subject to her; just not in Seanchan society, where there has been a solitary over-ruler for a very long time.

“We are fine,” and “We are the Return” show that both Rand and Tuon use the royal “we” for their pronouncements in this chapter. In one way it is regal, in another, distant and dissociated. “Many in the one” can indicate both things.

Tuon and Rand fall out over the enslavement of channellers. Tuon says the a’dam is the “only way to deal with those who can channel.” So, will Tuon accept one when she finally channels?

Tuon is one-sided about her cultural traditions and as convinced of her own rightness as anyone on this side of the ocean, perhaps more. She is in for a rude awakening. Rand and Nynaeve are probably disturbed as much by the threat of Seanchan traditions as by their difficulty in relinquishing their own.

Tuon assumes Rand is mad because he says he saw her face with Mat’s. It’s a reasonable judgement, but wrong. She is right that Rand is mad, but this isn’t a manifestation of it.

She also thinks Mat was sent to her by the Pattern because he knows Rand. If this is so, why did the Pattern move Mat on? It’s not that simple and people do not exist just to serve Tuon. It’s Mat’s duty to be domesticated into Seanchan ways, but Tuon feels it would be a pity. Tuon speaks disparagingly of her husband (although she kept their relationship secret) as a trickster and fool, and Nynaeve defends him. She says Tuon doesn’t know him. Nyaneve is dressed like a sky goddess; Tuon notes Nyaneve's blue dress with white “trim like clouds”. This could be a reference to the cloud collar which originated in the Sui Dynasty in China and thus an appropriate recognition by an (at least partly Chinese) Empress.

Just as he has done to others recently, Rand tries to impose his will on Tuon to sign a treaty. She sees the darkness, a halo of blackness warping the air (and the Pattern?) around him, and refuses because of this. Thwarted, Rand ices over again. Is his entourage disturbed by Rand or by what failing to make a treaty means?

Tuon proclaims herself Empress where Rand proclaimed himself the Dragon. She believes the world needs her and will attack the White Tower to thwart Rand some more. The world certainly needs Rand – for salvation – and he has suffered wounds as the world has. Rand was wounded at Falme when he fought Ishamael. He duels Tuon here in Falme and she decides to wound him.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #37: Chapter 34 - Legends

By Linda


The fool motif is a strong one in Mat’s character, and one I’ve written about a couple of times before here and here. It comes to the fore in this chapter, though it’s not always done well.

It was time to stop being a fool. The whole world had decided to turn against him—even rural mountain towns were death traps, these days. Next he knew, the daisies on the sides of the road would be ganging up to try and eat him.
That thought gave him pause as he remembered the poor peddler, sinking into the phantom Shiotan town.
When that ghostly place had vanished, it had left behind a meadow with butterflies and flowers. Including daisies. Burn me, he thought.

The Gathering Storm, Legends

During the Saturnalia and similar festivals in early times, the fool was given power for a day as part of the anarchical reversal of the strict social order which gave a much needed outlet for the suppressed. In The Wheel of Time, the Dark One is trying to turn the world upside down to sow chaos and weaken social order and strength.

Apart from being innocuous little flowers, daisies are also the “day’s eye,” a solar symbol, and thus a link to Rand, the most solar character.

Normally Mat is the most loved character and can go anywhere with impunity. Here he is aware that this is increasingly under threat.

“I'm tired of walking into traps unprepared. I plan to take command of my own destiny, stop running from problem to problem. It's time to be in charge."
"And you do that with ..." Julin said.
"Elaborate aliases with backstories," Mat said, handing Thom and Noal their sheets.

The Gathering Storm, Legends

Mat’s silly background stories are not good characterisation. Most tricksters spin a good yarn, especially ones as skilful as Mat (see Tricksters essay). These stories are deliberately incompetent. I think it’s a mistake to make a mockery of him for a few laughs.

A better example of Mat's skill as a trickster is how he tricked Joline‘s Warder into lending his fancloth cloak by lying by omission. When Verin arrives Mat regrets that his preparations for Trustair are now redundant. Of course, this makes Verin the stronger trickster. The merchant who sketched Mat the plan of Trustair and then reported to Verin that he had met Mat and sold him the “wanted” picture could be a Darkfriend, or he could be a good guy sent by Verin. Whichever he is, we could not realise the significance of this yet.

Mat’s crossbowmen are firing crossbows every 8 seconds, which is faster than early modern weapons, yet Mat now wants to develop a new method of loading which doesn’t require the crossbows being lowered.

Thinking has changed since Jordan devised the crossbows for Mat’s Band. Ralph Payne-Gallwey's book on the crossbow wasn't available on Google books when Jordan wrote Knife of Dreams. It has influenced thinking on crossbow arming speed and one arming device similar to Mat’s crank, the cranequin, is now thought to have taken 35 secs to load, rather than 8. The re-arming speed of another device, the windlass, is still the same at 12 secs though. And Mat wants to shave 4 seconds off the cocking time. That would put the bow up with the re-arming speed of the best of modern crossbows.

Mat is careful not to annoy Aludra because he wants the plans for the dragons. He is using her and she is aware of it. This is the sort of ambivalent thing tricksters do. Aludra is hurt that Mat transferred his attentions to Tuon and makes a sarcastic remark about Mat’s attraction to gold. He is a god of wealth (see Mat essay). She could be implying that Mat married for money.

Aludra is a fire goddess (see Mat essay). She has invented primitive matches, which will strike fire quickly and efficiently at will, and another firepower, the firing of gunpowder weapons. Mat’s “appropriating” of this “fire” to change the face of warfare parallels that of tricksters stealing fire from the gods to aid humanity. Aludra says to Mat:

“Do not complain of the heat when someone offers you the sun in the palm of her hands."

The Gathering Storm, Legends

Aludra is a rather down to earth goddess and has started a feasibility study of her dragons. The copper and tin are for casting the bronze bodies of the dragons, while the sulphur, charcoal and guano (nitrates) make gunpowder (see Mat, Fireworks and Bellfounders article).

Mat thinks Rand might afford the production costs of the dragons, but he couldn’t.

Why, he'd have to dice with the queen of Andor herself to find this kind of coin!

The Gathering Storm, Legends

He’s mistaken. Rand has practically bankrupted his estates to feed people. In Towers of Midnight Mat bargains with Elayne instead of dicing with her and sells the services of the Band to get her to finalise the production of the dragons.

Egeanin really admires Aludra’s brilliance and it’s appropriate that a fire goddess is brilliant. The exiled Seachan woman won’t aid the Seanchan, but won’t fight them either.