The OF Blog: Q&A with R. Scott Bakker, Round 2

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Q&A with R. Scott Bakker, Round 2

Hello Scott,

This was probably asked before, is maybe obvious or a RAFO, but I'm curious nonetheless.

Cnaiür's final fate is somewhat ambiguous. It's said that "absolute darkness" engulfs him, after Cnaiür thought that he would cut the "final swazond" into his throat.
So, does that mean that Cnaiür actually killed himself?
Or did he simply pass out, maybe after drifting into complete madness.
Will we see Cnaiür again in the next series?


The infamous Cnaiur ending. All I can really say is that it surprised me as well. I did have a different ending planned.

Your books abound in religious imagery and clear parallels with Christianity and Islam in particular. You have a 'christ figure', a holy crusade, and an apocolypse (I assume anyway - I haven't gotten to TTT yet). I'd like to see a general response to religous issues you bring up, including some the specific parallels you include. How do you feel about religion? I assume that you began writing before 9-11; how (or did) this event change the direction of the story?

This isn't intended to be an ambush question - you tackle some 'deep' and important issues in your books, and I'm curious to see your response.

Even if this was an ambush question, I think it would totally be fair.

9/11 actually didn't change the story at all, only the context of its reception. Believe it or not, religion is only the incidental target of critique in my books. Certainty is the real target, and it just so happens that it's the coin of the realm in most religions. As a skeptic, I think its obvious that nobody knows what happens when you (inevitably) die, and so on, and I also think that this is a GOOD thing. Whenever we get our hands on some absolute warrant - God says this or God says that - we humans tend to do ugly things. Doubt prompts questions, and questions prompt dialogue.

Personally, I hope there's a God, but I don't believe in one. I think hope is enough.

Considering your books, I too consider this a fair question. I just wanted to 'comfort' you in the fact that I'm not some self-righteous guy waiting to throw scripture at you and your response. I never considered religion to be a direct target of your books at all, just a particularly appropriate vehicle to use in your commentary on certainty. Certainty in today's world takes many forms, and religion is one of the most visible. I've alway enjoyed works that challenge absolutes. Well hope is preferrable to certainty. I too consider myself a skeptic (which is better than considering myself a cynic as I did a few years ago), though I fall more on the side of their being a God, it's just that the humanity of religions often leads to an ass-backwards expresion of beliefs.

I like it when people throw scriptures at me. It gives me an excuse to throw arguments back!

In a recent discussion about TDTCB (linked), someone brought up that The Prince of Nothing can be a difficult series for women to read. In the world you have created, women are not treated well - it is a decidedly male world. I don't feel that the series is sexist, or anti-woman in anyway, however, I'd be reluctant to recommend it to women. Comments?

The Prince of Nothing is as much about epic fantasy as it is an epic fantasy, which is why I take - or try to anyway - the whole notion of a prescientific world very seriously. Prescientific worlds give us many things the modern world seems to have stripped from us - most importantly, I think, the illusion that something human inheres in the external world. Our ancestors didn't simply stamp their hopes on the world about them, they imposed their bigotries and fears as well. In Tolkien, for instance, the external world is racist, through and through. It is an objective fact in Middle-earth that some races are more valuable than others. In Earwa, the external world is sexist, not simply in the minds of the characters who dwell in it, but to the pith - much the same way Biblical Israel or any number of scriptural worlds are likewise sexist. The Prince of Nothing self-consciously explores this as a problem, and as such, I would hope that it's something women would want to read. The problem is that so many people confuse depiction for endorsment.

Well, I took the time to read some of the old interview and Q&A's you've done here - good stuff. Anyway, a few more basic questions....

-What's the next book coming out? When? Tells us about it.

-Have you begun any work on The Aspect Emperor? Do you still think of it as a duology? Anything more to say about the Title_That_Cannot_Be_Named? Duology?

-Do you have any upcoming appearences? Tours? Specifically down here in the states...Arizona?

My next book, Neuropath, is all but completed - I still want to rewrite the final chapter. But that's Top Secret.

I've been doing groundwork for The Aspect Emperor for a couple of months now. My submission deadline for the first book is early 2007. And yes, I'm pretty sure it will be a duology.

I don't have any US tour plans I'm afraid. You have to be a BIG fry to warrant that kind of grease!

Another poster at this site asked this 'simple' question, which I'm going to present for you to answer:

"What is science fiction?"

*ponders asking the corollary of what is fantasy, then decides that might be tempting Fate*

You do realize I have a splitting headache, Larry? But I need to know precisely what you're talking about before I attempt to define it. What, exactly, is 'science fiction'?

I was being facetious and asking a question that I knew couldn't be answered without more detailed operationalization. But I was thinking back to our 2004 discussions about how we should go about trying to see if we could establish a framework of 'defining' that nebulous thing we call 'fantasy.' I thought maybe you'd remember that and then say much the same about 'science fiction,' except that it's on the other side of the Rift created between the Great Chain of Being/Scientific Method shift in people's understandings of the world around.

And how evil of you, wanting me to answer a question asked of you!

I mean, like, yeah, what the hell do you think this is? A Q&A or something?

But then you already know my answer to the question. I see both fantasy and science fiction as 'telltale' forms of fiction, places where the more significant travails of modern life come to the narrative fore...

I was hoping this would be the place where you'd buy me a nice 1.5 liter bottle of Grey Goose and have it shipped to my address. I agree, except I would add that 'fiction' itself becomes part and parcel of human manipulations and explorations of what Is and what is Possible. Needless to say, that 'definition' gets me in a lot of trouble.

I'm not sure I understand. Don't you think that SF&F is peculiar in it's own right?

I see it as nothing more than a 'flavor', not as a sui generis type of deal. When all fictions, whether they be a hymn of praise, a biography of a dead person, or a novel, appear to deal with matters such as tone, mood, characterizations, and creating a response from the recipients, it's just a matter of the means and modes employed to communicate with others.

SF/F deals with hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, but is it really any different in substance (not in degree, but in kind) from a Dickens novel that deals with a boy (say, Oliver Twist) setting out into the wide world? I just see SF/F as having a more concentrated dosage of those elements I mentioned above, but not to the extent where it's so different from a Bildungsroman (for example) that one cannot see similarities between the pacing, style, characterization, plot (if applicable), and so forth.

After all, didn't I note that there are similarities between a Cnaiür and an Achilles? Yet one is labelled an Epic poem/myth possibly based on history and the other is an Epic Fantasy.

I just hold that what we label as 'science fiction' or 'fantasy' is just one means of addressing certain concerns that we have about manipulating our world or of our fears of being manipulated. But what else would a cultural historian say in regards to writings but that they are parts of a larger human record?

If you're saying that SF&F are simply kinds of communication, then certainly, but if you're saying that there's nothing special about SF&F, then I think you have some 'splainin' to do. In fantasy the world itself is fictional, which is just to say that fantasies are fictions all the way down. To use the ten dollar philosophical word, the ontology is not given. You don't think this is significant? SF&F are direct 'folk responses' to the greatest upheaval in knowledge in the history of the human race. Namely, the rise of the scientific worldview. But myth only seems fantastic from a modern standpoint. It was scripture in its day. The similarities you allude to are underwritten by some rather drastic differences in 'lifeworlds.' I think you would agree that the various modalities of written communication have far broader concerns than those pertaining to manipulation. The question here is the significance of the differences that distinguish those modalities.

I'm almost embarrassed that I don't have such profound questions, but ony plot related ones; that's what really interests me, though.

Was Xerius' mother Istriya a Skin Spy from the beginning of the series, or did she become the replacement for Skeaös sometime later?

And, why did the Consult take the faces of certain people?
I thought at the beginning that the Skin Spies wear the faces like a mask. But later it's made clear that they can appear as anyone with a simple adjustment of their facial limbs.

And is it correct that they can change their bodies in the same way? (though, why had the Istriya Skin Spy male genitals then..)

Nothing wrong with story questions! It's all about story, ultimately.

Yes, Istriya was a skin-spy from the get-go. The idea is that the Consult places its operatives much the same as modern intelligence institutions do, which is to say, opportunistically. Maneuvering someone with a high profile into a position where they can be replaced is sure to be a tricky and serendipitous matter. Yes, they can change their bodies, only the process is more lengthy, which is why Kellhus is able to notice the differences in stature between the old Sarcellus and the new in The Warrior-Prophet. Unfortunately, they cannot change their genitalia at will, much to the relief of clinics worldwide...

If I remember correctly we learn in the Encyclopedic Glossary that the Inchoroi gave the Nonmen a certain medicament, so that they achieved immortality. A side-effect was the Womb-Plague, though, that killed all their women.

Is this medicament and the Plague connected to the black seed of the Inchoroi and maybe their flight to the world of the series?
Does that mean that the Inchoroi took this medicament themselves, thus becoming immortal, but also steril and that any female Inchoroi died?

And if the Inchoroi knew this effect of the medicament, did they intentionally poison the Nonmen, or did they have good intentions at the beginning?

These are interesting questions, but as I keep saying (ad nauseum, I'm sure) on the Three Seas Forum, the 'Mist of Time' are a realistic feature of the world. Motives are the most difficult thing to reconstruct in ancient history - if not impossible.

And, for the time being at least, I'd like to keep the Inchoroi and their history off-screen. Sorry, Etzel!

How do you feel about genre labels and the respect, or lack there of, authors receive do to these labels? What do think the origins of these labels are?

I recently read something where you said an old professor congratulated you the successful publishing of your 'children's books'. Ouch! Did they even read your books?

We're hardwired to label. Just think of how much proccessing time it saves: with labels you can identify and dismiss with a single breath. No thought required. It's good to remember this when complaining about being the victim of a label.

The typical response from the genre community is to say, hey, these labels are unfair because not all epic fantasy and so on is crap. The response for the literati is usually, 'Sure, but most of it is, isn't it?' For them, it remains a sound negative generalization, even if it means a few jewels get swept into the dust pan.

For me the problem lies in the consequences of so many people in so many positions of institutional power ascribing to this negative generalization. I think it has the effect of funnelling talent away from subject matters that appeal to the public at large. To be taken 'seriously,' I've learned, you do NOT write epic fantasy, which is to say, you do not write for the public at large, but for a special public, with the insight and education to appreciate fiction that challenges. In other words, the literati quite literally MAKE their generalization true, and as a result, we have quite extreme cultural divisions - which they then wring their hands about and blame on the very corporations that publish their 'literary mainstream' works.

I would like to know how you define magic realism, what you like/dislike about it, and which works you've read that you believe that fall into this category.

Yes, I know this might lead to a multi-page essay, but if I'm not working, I'll have the time to reply back, because I think I want to see where we agree and where we differ on our opinions on this subject.

Magic Realism is to Borges what Epic Fantasy is to Tolkien. That's one way of looking at it. I've read a couple of articles on the various sub-typologies one could make in the genre, but like any group of family resemblances, there's sure to be interpretative disputes.

I'm not at all well read in the genre, though I seem to remember taking a couple of courses where it figured large. I've read some Borges, Marquez, Carter, Rushdie, and a couple of others.

What I find so interesting is the allergy to spectacle, the aesthetic of the 'quotidian fantastic,' that seems to characterize what I've seen of the genre. Which leads me to my question to you: are there any magic realists you know of who use the tropes of commercial fantasy? Since 'exploring the fantastic' seems to be their goal, you would think they would.

You're talking about the lack of, well, awe, that comes with genre fantasy, in magical realism?

I don't know if 'exploring the fantastic' is the magical realist writer's goal per se - especially since Marquez, every so often, denies being a magical realist at all - but if you're looking for a magical realist spectacle, you could try Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni's Mistress of Spices. It's a loud novel - not in the bad sense of the term - and it could fit, quite easily, into the commercial fantasy sections.

Or so I think.

What interests me about this is the stigmatization of subject matters. I think it's clear why the 'masses' love spectacle, but I can't shake the suspicion that the 'learned' dismissal of these things has far less to do with the privileged relation between the mundane and the profound (I really have no idea where this attitude comes from) than it does the good old-fashioned socio-psychological need to advocate.

Personally, I think most spectacular writing tends to be ornamental only because those with interesting things to say are funnelled away from it by the prejudices of the literary establishment. My suspicion is that 'Magic Realism' is simply fantasy limited to what the literati deem 'credible' subject matter. As a result, those with interesting things to say, tend not to say it to the 'masses.' And this kind of stratification, I think, is not only unfortunate, but potentially dangerous.

It can be, but making analogies like that without firm understandings of what Borges or Tolkien are about can lead to dangerous sets of assumptions. Another way of interpreting it could be (and again, this will tread on dangerous interpretive ground) is that one views the world as is, as real but with characters that cannot be real, while the other sees the characters as real, but the world has a sense of unrealness.

It appears prominently in much of Isabel Allende's work, somewhat in Julio Cortázar's fiction, and also in Ben Okri's The Famished Road. Those are the 'classical' tales of that thing called Magic Realism, but these examples almost all emerge from writers who were living in places in which a social/gender/ethnic group of which they were a part experienced hardship and prejudice from the dominant cultural force. Hell, I think I'm about to get into a Neo-Marxist interpretation of this (but in this case, there's some validity to this and I had a lot of grad training under disciples of E.P. Thompson), but I believe a lot (not all, but a lot) of Magic Realist works serves to underscore a relationship between a dominant superstructure and a sometimes oppressed but never in power substructure. Sometimes the values of one flow to the other, sometimes they are in conflict, and when I read works such as García Márquez's Cien años de soledad, with his focus on the villagers of Macondo and the Buendia family, I see this expression of dynamism in how the characters react to the power of the Catholic Church, the warring Liberal and Conservative factions, and the intrusion of American multinationals like United Fruit. I think that is something that has to be considered when reading a work of Magic Realism - what is the relationship between the Elites and the Plebs on the cultural as well as on the narrowly-defined political level?

Well, Charles de Lint is often considered to be a Magic Realist and many of his Newford stories do contain tropes such as sprites, elves, unicorns, and so forth. And have you started reading any of Jeff VanderMeer's works recently? Seriously, there are elements of both an exploration of our world as contained within the ethos of a created world and an exploration of values within such a structure.

And I asked that question about Magic Realism because I think it potentially is one of the most valuable forms of literature we have going for us. It's more than just mere allegory, although there are certainly more allegorical examples to be found within Magic Realist works than in most other places. I see it, as a semi-recovered quasi Neo-Marxist cultural historian, being a series of texts focusing on the stuff of myth AND on how these authors are relating their hopes and fears within a very real and concrete sociocultural-political framework that they themselves cannot help but notice.

Hopefully, this will spark some responses, yes?

It all comes back to the relationship between language and reality. I think self-conscious, intellectually grounded explorations of this relation are important, but I'm far more interested in 'folk forms,' in the unconscious ways communities frame these relationships. Commercial epic fantasy is a perfect example of just such a form. I think this is where the narrative rubber hits the socio-cultural road.

I had no idea that de Lint had any kind of literary reputation among the literati. Are you sure they don't just think he's another 'fantasy writer'?

Again, I agree that this kind of commentary is interesting, but so long as the bulk of voting consumers have no interest in it (because of its eschewal of generic tropes and spectacle), I'm curious as to how it can be significant. How are these writers, in the English speaking world at least, reaching out instead of in?

You're showing your Branch Derridan roots here, with the reference to the relationship between language and reality Not that I disagree, because I see the form of Reality being shaped by the associations implicit in Language. As for the relationship between the Patronized and the Folk Forms (for this goes back millenia), I agree there is something to be explored there as well. I just see it as a more dynamic and fluid relationship than what many portray it as being. From more and more 'genre' works addressing concerns found in the real world to a 'rediscovery' of how utilizing Imagination can drive narrative, there just seems to be more of a blending than what was present a few generations ago. Modernism sometimes has ruled all of this with its dead hand, but I see a liberation of sorts taking place in a variety of fields.

Depends on whom you consult. I think the problem is that Modernists have become too entrenched in certain positions of influence and it creates a more monolithic appearance than what truly exists. Of course, I could be influenced from having a grad professor who was a Postmodernist (no hyphen!) and who taught a course on the History of the Novel (sadly, I couldn't take it that semester due to another class I needed at the same time) that dealt with how to explore viewing the Novel as a communication device. But in a private talk with him once, he did persuade me to reconsider how I read Moby Dick, noting that there was much more there than a boringly 'realistic' tale.

Depends on what you mean by 'reaching out'. There are a lot of real-world concerns that interest readers and more and more, I've noticed both magic realist and 'full-fledged' genre writers integrating in more and more subtle and profound ways these issues in their writings. But as for a perceived eschewal of generic tropes and spectacle, it depends on how one defines that. I want to be sure that I know what you mean before I address that.

I think there is a 'liberation' of sorts going on. What I would like to do is give the forces of light a rationale! A reason why they should continue fighting the good fight. Ambiguity and complexity need to be communicated to everyone, not just those trained to appreciate them.

By reaching out, I simply mean writing fiction that interests more than those with cultivated reading tastes. Whenever I find myself in the company of English professors or literary writers, comments on the 'sorry state of commercial culture' always seems to come up, and I always ask, 'So what are you doing about it'?

It's an old and vicious social cycle. Mass attitudes have mass consequences. When the bulk of the literary establishment continually denigrates commercial culture, they are literally training the next generation of gifted communicators to avoid it. Action becomes a joke. Fantasy an embarrassment. All the things that appeal to general audiences become radioactive for writers who prize ambiguity and complexity (unless, of course, packaged in a 'more serious' format - which is to say, in a way sure to scare away your average reader). The system is literally rigged to prevent literary-minded writers and yarn-oriented readers from communicating.

Would you ever be interested in coming down to the States and giving guest lectures? Not that I have any self-interest there...

I guess that would all depend on where and when and who's buying the beer!

If you would honestly be interested, I think it would be excellent- just based on your books and postings, I imagine you're a good speaker.

Pennsylvania perhaps, addressing a high school or college audience? I'll buy you as much as you can drink..though I'll probably regret those words.

You might want to wait until I can actually draw a crowd!

This is a bit of a protocol question, but it's been bouncing around in my mind since I was 0.5-way through TDTCB.

Can women be of the Few? If so, what happens to them upon their awakening? (confinement, banishment as a witch, summary execution by local cretins/sorcerer schools?)

If women cannot be of the Few, why not? (physiological contraints, psychological issues, not enough, *ahem*, "life-force?" )

Women certainly can - just the way they could be great poets or philosophers or artists in our own history. Thanks to the oppressive society they find themselves in, they just never have the opportunity to develop their abilities, and if they do somehow find their way to 'witchcraft,' they get burned alive if they are caught.

Thanks for answering our questions, Scott. I admit, I had certain women (e.g. Hypatia of Alexandria and Christine de Pisan) in mind when I posed the question. I wonder if Kellhus' New Earwa Order will allow (force) a more gender-balanced power structure.

And now, back to nursing my own vicious hangover.

Vicious hangovers should never be nursed, unless you happen to want a hale and healthy vicious hangover!

Are you going to follow up TPoN series with another trilogy, or will it be a stand alone novel?

Will your next book be in the same world as TPoN? Same characters?

If so, do you have plans for a different realm? If not, will you write in the world of TPoN in the future? Maybe at a different time in that worlds history or future?

The story picks up some twenty years after The Prince of Nothing with a duology entitled, The Aspect-Emperor, which I just so happen to be working on now... I have a want or wish or hope or whatever to write a little standalone set several years before The Darkness that Comes, er, Before - something that might make that book more accessible. I really worry sometimes that I'm building a seven book series on feet of clay.

Given that I am interested in philosophy, and am interested in college level teaching, how does one become a philosophy professor?

You just started your undergrad, right G? I seem to remember you being a highschool prodigy or something a couple of years back!

It's not an easy racket to break into. The thing you need to do is MAKE A PLAN. You want to ring all the bells you can as an undergrad - even publish in undergraduate journals if you can. But most importantly, figure out what you want to work on, and then, WHO you want to work with as a graduate student - preferably someone at a good university. Your philosophy professors should be able to point you in the right direction.

I was just talking to a friend of mine who's been several years on the sessional merry-go-round (which is to say, having no luck landing a tenure-track position), and he says there's at least 200 applicants for every job he applies to.

See, the difficult thing at this point is that I can't really demonstrate the interest. Environmental science, you can go clean a river as a high schooler. Politics, you can go work on a campaign as a high schooler, etc. But philosophy...not quite so simple.

Also, as to making a plan, how can I do that now, when I know so little about the system, or what I should plan on studying? Plus, I have some interest in double-majoring in philosophy and history/political science. Is that feasible, or would I go insane?

Sheesh. You have a long time to sort out your priorities yet! When I was your age all I could think about was getting some...

If you're serious though, all you can do is get the best damn grades possible to get into the best university possible. But for some reason, I suspect this is already part of your plan.

Because I know some people are eager to hear an answer about this (I half-expect a form of RAFO), so here's your chance to shoot this down:

Cnaiür's ultimate fate at the end of TTT was left unclear. I've read a few posts here and there speculating that the Consult is going to use his body/mind in some form of construct (which made me think of how the evil King Zarkon ended up becoming a giant Robeast in the Voltron series - did you ever watch that in the 80s?). Can we get a shootdown on this or an ominous....wait and see?


Not a form of... Just R. A. F. O.

*evil snicker*

(Yes, I do snicker)

How did the recent Ad Astra convention go and do you have any 'interesting' stories you'd like to share with us about that experience, both with other authors and with the fans you met there?

Well, I should apologize, because I got drunk and missed my autograph signing session. Such an idiot.

Other than that, I bought a couple of floozies in sequin go-go skirts for thirty-five dollars. (Apparently there's photos floating around somewhere). I secretly farted during my 'SF and respect' panel, but it was okay, because most of the panellists didn't show up. Umm, I got real drunk drinking malt beer in the green room. I had a great conversation with Karl Schroeder about nihilism and neuroscience...

It was a very cool time.

Do you like any of the people you write about? I love the multiplicity of your narrative, I like the fact that I can lean almost any way in whether I like or dislike a character. But I'm agog with the wondering. I don't necessarily mean Do you approve of any of them... Would you pick someone to be, for instance, a beer buddy? A morning-after-beer buddy?

Obviously anything involving 'morning after' and Serwe sounds interesting... In all honesty, I think I would be too afraid to party with anyone other than Achamian and Esmenet.

That said, a part of me actually loves ALL the characters - even the most deranged or wicked. I've just been with them for so damn long they seem like family, which means I'll likely never get a clear-eyed perspective on them.

Afraid for your sanity/virtue/insert vulnerability here? Nobody else will, either, if that's any consolation.

It shouldn't be.

Fear for my sanity. Laugh at my virtue.

Otherwise, I'm afraid my vulnerabilities have already been exploited...

Will the future books continue to take place in the regions seen in PoN or will they explore new areas beyond the edges of the maps?

I watched Slither with my brother last week and cracked him up at the very beginning with the asteroid by saying: 'That's the thing about space. You just never know what's coming.' Now that our world is sealed shut, all we have is space to play the timeless narrative function of 'terra incognita.' But for our ancestors, the unknown always lay just beyond the horizon, and what was worse, horrible things actually did come rumbling in now and again.

Earwa is the same way. In The Aspect-Emperor the story moves into the ruined wastes of the Ancient North, but everything is still ringed round with darkness.

I know you and I had a brief discussion on this back a couple of years ago, but I think it would be edifying for others to hear you explain how you view the Gnosis within the body of your text (as I don't think it's the same as Gnostic groups from the early Common Era). As I read TTT, I noticed more and more explication on the nature of objects and their relationship to a Reality - care to elaborate a little bit further on this?

Also, how does the Dûnyain Logos fit into an understanding of the world? I understand the 'magic' is based on Heidegger, but is this something you can explain at length here, or will this be another topic that will have to wait until a future Eärwa book is written?

Sheesh! How did I miss this question? Sorry about that, Larry.

One of the overriding themes of The Prince of Nothing is the role of knowledge and belief. One way of looking at the story is as the coming together, not so much of Kellhus and his father, but of the Logos and the Gnosis in Kellhus.

This plays into the allegorical dimension of the work. In a sense, the Gnosis and the Logos are two sides of the modern knowledge coin: the secret, inaccessible content, and the powerful, world-transforming method. I could go on and on, but this is basically how the two categories relate to each other and our world.

The Heideggerean stuff has to do with the metaphysics of Earwa: I wanted a fantasy world that explicitly turned on the type of 'intentional thinking' which is implicit in pretty much every pre-scientific scriptural world you could imagine. I wanted Earwa to typify the kinds of worldviews we cooked up before science forced accountability on our theoretical claims. Heidegger's account of Being-in-the-world, or Dasein, seemed to provide a good departure point for that ambition.

And here's the question (which I notice you address in passing in the trilogy): Does this 'secret knowledge' save or does it damn or does it depend upon the Intent of the person wielding this secret knowledge? After all, the historical Gnostics emphasized the saving, redemptive features of the secret knowledge that they sought, while other categorizations of such searches turned toward more nefarious end-goals.

And I think it's interesting to note how Kellhus and Moënghus view this intersection of the Logos and Gnosis. Quite telling, yes?

Indeed, that's how I perceived it. The Circle within the Square within the Triangle. But then comes the issue of the Outside. Shall that be addressed more in the upcoming Eärwa novels?

Interesting, as this turns into not just an exploration of a pre-scientific mindset (from the vantage point of there being some sort of discontinuity between the pre- and Scientific worlds in how the world(s) is/are perceived) but also into a look at how one can try to construct a fantasy world that straddles the two, with the author at one point trying to understand the created world that has a value system so alien in places from the world we know and live in. I wonder how many readers have commented upon this perception.

It's a secret, known only to the possessors of the Metagnosis.

The two worlds are antagonistic. This is actually a good way to summarize the dilemma of modernity - and, I might add, another reason to see fantasy as peculiarly significant cultural response. Tolkien laid it all out in The Lord of the Rings, and the best part is that he had no idea he was doing it.

Evil'd that whole thing work out?

Did you and Jeff have to look up the words to Kum Ba Ya, or did they just come naturally?

There's still the question of just WHO had the flash of insight that led to the cure for Barum-barum disease, but aside from that, our lawyers seem happy, and the natives of Walumkomwiki no longer flash their bare buttocks at Westerners, which is the important thing.

Naw, I'm still not sure what happened with all that. Thanks to my years of teaching, I have the bad habit of grading the arguments people make against me. I seem to regularly offend people when I do this.

'How'd' is not a legitimate contraction, by the way...

When I decide not repress my Texas dialect roots, any academic professional's ears will bleed.

Hmm...what role did the fermented buffalo milk play in all this?

It's really tragic to see legitimate cultural beliefs eradicated in this manor. The world is clearly a lesser place now that the Walumkomwiki no longer expose their bare buttocks. If I weren't such a lazy westerner myself I'd proabably do something about it.

The impersonal nature of the internet only exacerbates this.

I always use the analogy of walking down the sidewalk, where people cut you off all the time, and road-rage on the highway. There seems to be some crucial dimension of interpersonal feedback that's missing, and that inclines people to be far more cynical and defensive than they would be otherwise.

First, have you considered setting up a blog? I for one would be a frequent reader.

On a serious side, have you read the recent 'story' that Dan Simmons posted on his website that has since been taken down? It focuses on some rather extreme views - and there has been some interesting response. Linked is a good post summarizing things and showing the original story.

And just because I feel I should lighten things up again:

You bring up beer a lot - what are your drinking preferences? Has drunk writing ever come back to bite you in the ass? When?

I don't think I could do it. I'm not sure why, because I certainly have opinions, and I certainly love to broadcast them (even if it is to the TV, as my wife constantly complains), but the blog thing just doesn't appeal to me.

Huh? There's a non-xenophobic way to read what he's saying, I suppose. How different is the story, for instance, from Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, where a fundamentalist coup leads to the overthrow of American democracy?

Aside from Bush taking over the marketing for Islamic extremists - I often wonder how much his firm charges - my understanding is that this notion of fundamentalism sweeping the earth is belied by the statistics. According to the most credible surveys of religiosity in America, for instance, religious affiliation has been declining about 1% a year since the 90's. Even the evangelicals, with their aggressive marketing tactics, have only been able to break even.

Something like that, anyway.

Anyway, if I were to bet on any 'ideology' sweeping the planet, it would be consumerism. People like stuffing their faces, and radical religious convictions are bad for business.

I was reading Caitlin's report of the 2006 Ad Astra convention, where I see a composer has written some music based on Esmi!

Sounds pretty cool

Did you know about this beforehand or was it a complete surprise to you?

YES! It was - is - a very cool tune. Martin Springett is an extraordinarily talented man, and I count myself lucky. I knew that he was working on something, but I had no idea he was actually going to play it. A very pleasant surprise indeed.

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