Monday 14, February

The Tyranny of the Night - Glen Cook

I have the habit of reading some pages of the new books I buy even if they still aren't part of the reading queue. I started to read this one just to have an idea of what it was about and how it would differ from "The Black Company", but then it took me more than 60 pages to form that idea, the book was incredibly complex, and so I ended up reading it all. The reason why I made this purchase in the first place is because from what I was reading it was part of a series of four books (The Instrumentalities of the Night) with a dense and intricate tangle of plot, quite ambitious and reminding closely Erikson's own work. It was interesting to see Glen Cook being inspired by who he himself inspired, and see what came out of that.

Even more so than other Black Company books, it's not one to mindlessly recommend. I was definitely surprised, almost amazed: Erikson's first book, Gardens of the Moon, is often criticized because how hard it is to get into it, but Glen Cook here pushed the same to hardcore levels. It doesn't suck you in easily, it makes a very, very hard and steep climb. This book mocks whoever thought GotM was mildly hard to read. It's nothing compared to this. Right from the start it buries you under layers of politics, names and a number of factions. You're caught in a flurry of info all stacked up, and not helped by the terse, to the point of being barren, prose. At the same time, obviously, all this fascinated me and became a reason to trudge on more than a barrier. But that's how I work, and why I'm not so easily recommending the book to any reader. The overall context is not too complex to grasp, the setting is like historical fiction, almost faithful, infiltrated by sorcery at key points. We have Europe at the time of the crusades against middle-eastern infidels. Cook took (well, sorry for that) a detailed map of medieval Europe and went to change all the historical names with fictional ones. The problem is that he did not annex that map to the book. I'm not one to complain about lack of maps in fantasy books, but believe me (and all other reviewers who will certainly complain) that in this case the lack of map is THE major hurdle you'll face. Medieval Europe is a mess. Tons of different states, cultures mixed together, and cities. You'll have constant name dropping of people and places through the whole book. Without a sense of geography and without generous exposition (Glen Cook gets irritated if something requires more than two lines of text to be explained) you'll end up with an insane number of scattered mental notes and no idea how to pull all of this together. A trip to the wikipedia to link at least some important places to their historical match will definitely help, and after 100-150 pages the vague shape of plot and direction will start to come out. After that, as long you found the challenge intriguing, it gets fun.

I lack the historical knowledge to know what Glen Cook made up and what is only a slightly twisted, refracted projection of history. There are some climatic changes, such as the incoming ice age that is closing around known civilization, and the fact that the sea is slowly evaporating. This has not a significant role in the plot, at least in this book, but it seems to close the perimeter and focus on the scene, like a spotlight that erases everything outside its sight. I don't know how much Glen Cook toyed with historical facts and figures but either way it helps giving a representation that feels authentic and believable. The subtlety of magic not disrupting it and being one element that the writer already demonstrated to handle perfectly in the Black Company. The other element that makes this picture so vivid is the usual pragmatism and terseness of prose that one can find in all his books. Here even to an extreme since the context is overly complex, with a tangle of politics that involves various places and various figures fighting each other even inside the same faction. Religious infighting about local heresies, or about grasping the power at the top, winning or fighting support of the King, of the most powerful merchants and families. Temporal power ruling over spiritual one, and all the bigger powers and influences dragging in their plans the lives of everyone else. Glen Cook won't explain anything twice, sometimes not even once. It's all there, working flawlessly and expertly woven, but you either sharpen your attention and intuition or most of what goes on will be missed. Glen Cook isn't ashamed of culling everyone who won't put an effort to follow this intricate story.

Characterization follows a similar pattern. I am in awe about what he can do, but again characters aren't described and defined up front. You read about a number of vague shapes, then after a while, magically, you realize they became very strong and sympathetic characters. It's impossible to know when the transformation took place. There are no changes in style, it all falls in smoothly and naturally, and some of those vague shapes will become quite memorable. The main protagonist, Else Tage, reminds me of Croaker, the main character of the Black Company. He has a similar attitude and philosophy of life, a similar air about him I can't define exactly. Initially he seems a rather cold and detached character, but it soon develops a certain aura of charisma and competent authority about him, even more deserved because he does absolutely nothing to earn the favor of the reader. The narration sits always impartial, cold and unaffected. I'd say "cynical", since that is what colors essentially everything Glen Cook writes. Cynical but always honest, never preaching or rhetorical. And if one read what I wrote about other books, for me the lack of rhetoric and hypocrisy is the first and foremost requirement when I read. There's even a certain philosophical air that reminds closely of Erikson, it fits perfectly with the religious theme and is often truly inspired, but it doesn't fight for space and often it starts and ends within the same lapidary line. This mixed with a similar deadpan sense of humor or veiled irony that sometimes is so subtle that you can miss it entirely. Glen Cook has a very sharp eye, but as I said he doesn't overindulge in explanations.

Now that I think about it, there may be a certain symmetry between what happens in the book and the relationship of Glen Cook with his readers (the amusing impression I get is that he doesn't give a shit). Let's try to contextualize the plot as briefly as possible: Else Tage is one of the middle-eastern infidels, sent in Europe to infiltrate as a spy and try to go as high in the ranks he can get, and from the vantage of that position stir a mess as big as possible so that the western empires will be too busy fighting each other to launch a crusade on the east. Earlier in the book Grade Drocker, a powerful sorcerer, is established as what looks to be the Big Nasty Foe opposing our hero. Yet soon Else Tage finds himself working, under multiple disguises since he's a spy, right next or even for his closest and most dangerous enemy, reminding The black Company since right in the first chapter of that book the Company is being hired by the wrong side, the Taken (Soulcatcher precisely). In this position, Else Tage develops a certain unspoken respect, esteem almost, for Grade Drocker. Making that competency and pragmatism a trait they share, that makes them kindred souls in a world filled of inepts. Mirrored by a similar reaction of the reader since Grade Drocker, even if never presented under a favorable light, is always competent and unyielding, above the level of abjection and corruption in the clergy and all the positions of power. Even if not losing any of his nastiness and cruelty. A reader will never completely sympathize or approve him, same as Else Tage since for him he remains a threat, but it will trigger that air of respect (with which Glen Cook will amuse himself toward the end of the book). So the similarity with Glen Cook and his readers is that he won't try to win your sympathy and be generous with his narration of the story, but if you tag along you end up developing a certain esteem and appreciation. It doesn't have to be expressed through flourishes, because it's there and it is sincere.

The story is densely woven around political moves driven by greed, opportunity or convenience. There are a number of fights and bigger wars all sharing a common trait. There's no heroism at all. The cynical eye cuts entirely the spectacularization and victories are solely a matter of opportunity. Often the results are entirely due to botched logistic or other miserable circumstances. The force that hoards more kills throughout the book is dysentery. The war is shown as ugly and lacking even the slightest trace of romanticism. Take this example of exciting soldier life:

The soldier's life consisted mainly of waiting, or of marching somewhere in order to wait. Siege work meant concentrated waiting. Else found himself growing impatient. But never so impatient that he lost sight of the fact that impatience was the mother of stupid decisions.

Or how an anticipated conquest takes place:

There was no resistance. The Connected and Direcians from Shippen encountered only those complications of conquest posed by distance and numbers. Towns surrendered as fast the invaders could hike.
King Peter was restrained only by the fact that he did not have troops sufficient to garrison all the territories willingly to throw themselves at his feet. He considered enlisting Calzirans but he had no money to pay them.

Or:

"Sounds like knives in the dark time."
"Some of that may be necessary. But murder alienates people. Persuasion, arm-twisting, creation of mutual objectives work better."

Or this wonderful distillation of political essence:

Svavar wondered who was poking it to whom in the romance between Johannes and the Patriarch.

All this usually set up by some high power nested safely far away, meaning also without the slightest clue of the world outside and so often representing the first threat to the feasibility of their own plans. And so the need to rely on competent fellas, like Else Tage and Grade Drocker, who can make things move even when ensnared by the incompetency and complete blindness of the high powers.

There's a kind of convergence toward the end of the book, and after a big battle there are enough pages left to make a long epilogue that shows the consequences of all that happened, setting up the context for the following book but also wrapping up rather well all that happened in this one. So I'd say it makes for a satisfying read even if it's the first on a series of four (three if which already out there). I'm sure there are a number of reviews about this book that criticize how the prose is too fragmented and terse even for its own sake, how it can actively drive readers away, and it is true, a factual observation, but all of his falls within the author's specific style and it is part of the merits of this book, this razor-sharp, uncompromising narration.

Glen Cook's own words also define this and his other works:

You just write stuff the way it is instead wishful thinking.

Saturday 12, February

The cocoon of peace

Saving here one of my comments on the Tor reread about Deadhouse Gates.

It touches one of the core themes of the whole series.

--
The quote from Heboric at the beginning of chapter 14 reminds me of one in Midnight Tides I already brought up.

Heboric:

'Show me a mortal who is not pursued, and I'll show you a corpse. Every hunter is hunted, every mind that knows itself has stalkers. We drive and are driven. The unknown pursues the ignorant, the truth assails every scholar wise enough to know his own ignorance, for that is the meaning of unknowable truths.'

Maybe I go off on my own tangent but I interpret that as this quote (from MT) and the "cocoon of peace" discussed on a previous chapter:

‘We are not born innocent, simply unmeasured.’
‘And, presumably, immeasurable as well.’
‘For a few years at least. Until the outside is inflicted upon the inside, then the brutal war begins.’

Consider that the quote above from Heboric starts from "We can't stay here." I see the status of "being pursued" like the impossibility of staying still. Not moving equals dying, but moving equals pain. This is the way of living. The "outside inflicted upon the inside", without being invited in. Without being invited to be born (which is a thing both forced and painful) and grow up (like Felisin, and again can be both forced and painful).

Same for "we drive and are driven". This line goes directly to Felisin's part of understanding:

She felt she was close to grasping a profound truth, around which orbited all human endeavour since the very beginning of existence. We do naught but scratch the world, frail and fraught. Every vast drama of civilizations, of peoples with their certainties and gestures, means nothing, affects nothing. Life crawls on, ever on. She wondered if the gift of revelation – of discovering the meaning underlying humanity – offered nothing more than a devastating sense of futility. It's the ignorant who find a cause and cling to it, for within that is the illusion of significance.

As Amanda pointed out, the series shows this futility, but also the "massive repercussions" of action. And the pains and woes of inaction. So back at "being pursued" and always moving. Always trying even when facing the certainty/inevitability of failure (like Felisin).

This last quote also makes a link to Memories of Ice. Humanity perceived like a thin and temporary "layer" on the surface of the world. And if the world stirs it may well be the extinction of us all (Burn sleeps, we are her dreams).

Thursday 10, February

On narrative linearity (Erikson Vs Bakker & Martin)

Just a passing thought. In this blog post Bakker says he's currently writing his next, and last in the series, book "The Unholy Consult" and that specifically he's working and jumping between fifteen chapters without having completed any yet.

This "process" is similar to how George Martin writes. He jumps around and works at the same time on a number of disconnected chapters without following a narrative linearity, which also means that it's not possible to pinpoint how much of a book is completed since there's not a linear progress. The writing proceeds sparsely across the whole body of work.

Erikson instead is a special case. From one of his recent comments it can be deduced that he writes linearly not simply because of restraints due to deadlines, but because it's structural to his peculiar process of writing. He writes linearly, page after page, with the scenes following exactly the final order they'll have on the published book. And he specified that jumping back and forth, rewriting and moving scenes, switching order of chapters and so on, would feel like "cheating", and that this way of doing allows him to stay true to the characters and context, providing that limited perspective in which he thrives.

My thought was about the result, which is quite odd. Both Martin and Bakker jump all over the place when they are writing, but then the finished book has a strictly linear narrative. The scenes are ordered in chronological order. Erikson on the other side writes linearly, but the final structure delivers the opposite: scenes are scrambled in chronological sequence AND narrative direction. You can read an outcome in book 1 whose "cause" appears in book 5. How can he do this?

It's like all three of them work by fighting what would come natural: Bakker and Martin have to restore a linearity after they "built" the whole book in a non-linear way, while Erikson has to have his mind jumping around an do the extra work so that he can set up the roots of the narrative complexity that he is going to realize.

Am I the only one finding this curious?

Sunday 6, February

Quotes from Midnight Tides

These are quotes from Midnight Tides I just read, within a few pages. Earlier in the day I followed a Twitter link that asked how the Wheel of Time compares to the Malazan series, and, well, these following quotes are a good example of what you won't likely find in the WoT.

Ten paces to Seren's left was Hull Beddict, seated with his forearms on his knees, hands anchoring his head as he stared at the ground. He had neither moved nor spoken in some time, and the mundane inconsequentiality of their exchanged greetings no longer echoed between them, barring a faint flavour of sadness in the mutual silence.

'Our skin is thick, after all——'
'Born of our fixation on our so-called infallible destiny,' she replied. 'What of it?'
'I used to think,' he said, smile fading, 'that the thickness of our ... armour was naught but an illusion. Bluster and self-righteous arrogance disguising deep-seated insecurities. That we lived in perpetual crisis, since self-avowed destinies wear a thousand masks and not one of them truly fits—'

"We are just the fallen. You, me, the ghosts. All of us. We’re the dust swirling around the ankles of the conquerors as they stride on into glory. In time, we may rise in their ceaseless scuffling, and so choke them, but it is a paltry vengeance, don’t you think?"

Fallen. Who tracks our footsteps, I wonder? We who are the forgotten, the discounted and the ignored. When the path is failure, it is never willingly taken. The fallen. Why does my heart weep for them? Not them but us, for most assuredly I am counted among them. Slaves, serfs, nameless peasants and labourers, the blurred faces in the crowd — just a smear on memory, a scuffing of feet down the side passages of history.
Can one stop, can one turn and force one’s eyes to pierce the gloom? And see the fallen? Can one ever see the fallen? And if so, what emotion is born in that moment?

The Acorn

Being still lost in my patterns.

In the Kabbalah there's this idea of the "collective soul", which I discover is a Jungian idea. Which leads again to Hillman's archetypal psychology.

Which is basically Erikson's fantasy series.

According to Hillman, “polytheistic psychology can give sacred differentiation to our psychic turmoil.…” Hillman states that

"The power of myth, its reality, resides precisely in its power to seize and influence psychic life. The Greeks knew this so well, and so they had no depth psychology and psychopathology such as we have. They had myths."

And:

They studied how the hierarchy of ancient gods, polytheistic religions, and archetypal ideas found in tales might influence modern life with regard to soul, psyche, dreams and the Self.

Aristotle described an archetype as an original from which derivatives or fragments can be taken. In Jung's psychology an archetype is an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual unconscious.

And Jung:

“My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.”

During the reread of Gardens of the Moon we discussed the significance of the "acorn" that creates the Azath at the end of the book. Erikson commented briefly:

And yes, it's an acorn, not a stone or marble or jeweled ring; and from tiny acorns mighty trees do grow.

Back to Hillman:

Hillman's book, The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, outlines an "acorn theory of the soul." His theory states that each individual holds the potential for their unique possibilities inside themselves already, much as an acorn holds the pattern for an oak, invisible within itself. It argues against the parental fallacy whereby our parents are seen as crucial in determining who we are by supplying us with genetic material and behavioral patterns. Instead the book suggests for a reconnection with what is invisible within us, our daimon or soul or acorn and the acorn's calling to the wider world of nature.

And back to Bakker's woes about consciousness:

the ego is but one psychological fantasy within an assemblage of fantasies.

And by the way, the T'lan Imass seem another literal manifestation of the "collective consciousness":

Collective consciousness was a term coined by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) to refer to the shared beliefs and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.

Durkheim argued that in traditional/primitive societies (those based around clan, family or tribal relationships) totemic religion played an important role in uniting members through the creation of a common consciousness.

Tuesday 1, February

The Crippled God starts awesome

There's an excerpt on Tor.com site, "The Crippled God" is out in about 20 days.

I obviously won't read further, but this line was awesome in its meta-narrative quality:

‘I have no intention of explaining a damned thing.’ He looked up, eyes locking. ‘Do you understand me?’

I guess it's a better premise than the beginning of the end of LOST ;)

Monday 31, January

Kabbalah fancy introductory video lessons

In the post below I added a short clip with terrible video quality, now I found the actual mp4 source and will host on the site for simple ease of use.

The original videos can be seen though a flash player right here: http://www.enterthezohar.com/

The first six are available:

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5
Lesson 6

Some interesting and fascinating stuff that often resonates with what I studied. The real interesting part is how they underline it's not a "religion" but a science. Meaning that they don't ask you to have faith (preconditioned acceptance) in something, or believe in some god, or pray, or follow certain holidays or do this and that during the day. All aspects of religion are excluded and they ask you to test what they say on yourself, see if it's true or not by yourself, dispute what they say, ask questions, disagree. The core point being that the Kabbalah is a process to "attain an higher level of reality" (like the "awakening" in The Matrix movie, or the Instrumentality project in Evangelion), breaking the layer of the physical world like a shell, and that this can be done in this mortal life, right now.

The "end" is also quite similar to Lost. There's no promise of afterlife or paradise of the worthy. They think that the soul is just one, and immortal (no distinction between god and us, we're just fragments of the same god). When you die you reincarnate, but carrying along exactly the level of spiritual clarity you attained in that mortal life, whatever it was able to achieve.

Monday 24, January

Mythology of god and creation

I'm watching these interesting lessons on Kabbalah and this one deals again with another aspect that is featured predominantly in Fantasy as well. Being normal since Fantasy also deals with the pillars of our culture and Kabbalah deals directly with that as well.

In this case the theme is the Theodicy and its possible explanations:

--
First Method: Nature
Hence, although He watches over the existence of reality with wondrous wisdom, yet He Himself is mindless, and does all that senselessly. If there had been any reason and feeling in Him, He would certainly not leave such malfunctions in the provision of reality without pity and compassion for the tormented. For this reason, they named Him “Nature,” meaning a mindless, heartless supervisor. And for that reason, they believe that there is no one to be angry at, to pray to, or to justify oneself to.

Second Method: Two Authorities
In consequence, they came to a second assumption that there are two supervisors here: one creates and sustains the good, and the other creates and sustains the bad. And they have greatly elaborated that method with evidence and proof along their way.

Third Method: Multiple Gods
This method was born out of the bosom of the method of two authorities. This is because they have divided and separated each of the general actions for itself, meaning strength, wealth, domination, beauty, famine, death, disorder, and so on. They appointed each its own supervisor, and expanded the system as they wished.

Fourth Method: Left His Operation
Recently, when knowledge increased and they saw the tight linkage among all the parts of Creation, they recognized the concept of multiple gods to be completely impossible. Thus, the question of the oppositeness sensed in Creation reawakened.

This led them to a new assumption: that the Supervisor of reality is indeed wise and caring. Yet, because of His exaltedness, which is beyond conception, our world is deemed a grain of sand, nothing in His eyes. It is not worthwhile for Him to bother with our petty businesses, and this is why our livelihood is so disordered and every man does that which is right in his own eyes.

Alongside these methods, there existed religious methods of Godly unity.

--
Then the lesson proceeds explaining Kabbalah's solution of the problem through this simple graph:

Monday 17, January

Tearing apart the fabric of reality

Still following my own tangents.

Almost a year ago I gathered some info about the Kabbalah, but then curiosity was quenched and I didn't go very far. Now curiosity rose again and I'm determined to get further into it.

It also means I'm starting to draw parallels, of the most disparate kind. Here I'll collect a couple of posts where I link the Kabbalah, Scott Bakker, Steven Erikson, James Hillman, Niklas Luhmann, Evangelion, Lost and The Matrix. It's a nice geeky party.

Early today I was reading a post of Scott Bakker about free will, perception of reality and whatnot. My comment was a reply to that.

--
Not trying to close the circle because I don’t feel I have enough elements.

Just a few suggestions.

“a way to successfully manipulate and interact with monstrously complicated systems”

Niklas Luhmann is a sociologist I studied that I still base my fundamental beliefs on. His theory has a place for pretty much everything and is usually dead on (explaining from the evolution of men till modern days).

One of the fundamental ideas is that beliefs systems, religion and modern systems were essentially created to go against uncertainty. Linguistic acts. If the answer to whatever question is always “yes” and “no”, then you need some kind of system that reduces the complexity and makes something just “yes”, or just “no”. Put linguistic order into chaos.

So religion is basically a way to set a “yes” (or “no”) and have no one who can go against it (it’s more elaborated and, well, convincing of this, but the essence is this). “Faith” being the premise for this system to work, so the prohibition of returning to ambivalence and complexity.

Today, he says, it’s pretty much the same but the reduction systems are much more elaborated and he calls them something that translated sounds like “media of communication symbolically generalized”. And so more complex relationships about values, truth (science), love, art, money, property, rights and so on.

I was thinking about this: anthropology basically tells us the same. Religion we know as being totally “wrong”. We know it doesn’t rain because a god is pissed, so the belief system is wrong. Yet today we also know that all these belief systems had a pragmatic purpose and helped societies to survive.

Which means that in the end the same structure you describe is repeated: “He doesn’t care so much whether intentionality is real, as he cares whether its useful”

Religion too. Doesn’t matter if religion says something true. The point is that it can say something useful that can lead us (somewhere?).

“Of course, the problem is that ‘we’ are just a small part of our brains.”

And this reminds me a comment I wrote down on the Malazan reread. Where I go from the ideas of Kabbalah (I explain them wrong btw, but they serve the point) to the idea that “magic” is still well alive under the stream of consciousness (while we are only "aware" on the surface, the conscious, logic level).

--
(here's the comment about Kabbalah, James Hillman, and how magic exits through a door, Science, only to reenter from another, the undercurrents, the Midnight Tides)

I wanted to go off for a bit on a tangent to see if maybe someone else got curious like I was. I find fascinating what Erikson says about the way he deals with symbolic subtext because that kind of subtext and complexity is one of those aspects I enjoy the most in this series, and overall in general.

Erikson (not really) demanded if his way of writing is an odd personal quirk. I haven't read Robin Hobb yet, but Gene Wolfe surely writes in a way where everything is openly symbolic. For me even too much because I consider Wolfe too cryptic and so most of the subtext is lost without having a bottomless knowledge to draw from. Too often to truly understand his book you have to have with you knowledge that isn't offered within the novel. It's "esoteric" writing, meaning that one truly understands it only if one has the "code" to interpret it, and so belongs to the group of those "enlightened" (the Illuminati, the typical esoteric group).

From my point of view Erikson satisfies a vaguely similar demand, in the way symbolic meaning and subtext are often quite important, but doing it in a way so that everyone has access to it, as long one pays attention and has patience. It wants to be accessible, and it is a similar quality that I find in David Foster Wallace, whose "Infinite Jest" is, if I can say, even more complex and intricate than the Malazan series, and also exceeding in subtext and symbolic meaning. Yet it is completely accessible, as long one has the patience to go through a 1000+ pages book with that kind of complexity.

These days I was reading about the Kabbalah, just for pure curiosity. The Kabbalah is all based on the fact that its holy books can't be read for what is literally written in them. You read about things and concepts that are normally part of the world, but all those things are actually "symbols" for something that belongs to the world of spirituality. These books are in truth only "codes", and to understand them you need a Kabbalist that slowly teaches you how to attain this higher world of spirituality.

Now, through the anthropological mindset, this is quite easy to debunk. The moment an idea can't be expressed in words, that idea acquires magic power. It can't be scientifically known. It's the old trick of the "magic healing bones", that, if you aren't one of the shamans in the tribe, can't see or touch, because you'd then recognize that they are "just bones".

Magic is meaning by absence. Magic is language. Or: magic is the absence of language. Magic defines the perimeter of something unknown and untouched. "Holy". Forbidden. Removed.

The magic quality is in the premise of "faith". Acceptance of blindness.

So it seems to me that the Kabbalah works on similar premises. The knowledge is somewhat elitist, because the world of spirituality is essentially esoteric, can't be put directly into words.

Now I even accept that because I think writing corresponds to omnipotence (how's that for a writer's ego?). And it's not an abstract idea. It is easily explained.

Writing is not one of the many human activities. Writing simply INCLUDES everything that a human being can experience. What we are is contained within the perimeter of language. People sometimes think that a "thought" precedes language. But if one makes some simple linguistic studies it's easily learned that "thinking" is always a linguistic act. There's no separation between thought and language.

So we are fictional beings. All of us. There's absolutely no difference between a character in a book and us real beings. Or, the only difference is in the complexity (speed) of perception. Meaning that an instant of our life would require millions of pages to be expressed in its entirety. (this Total Awareness is a theme in Infinite Jest)

It's then consequent that magic, the supernatural, spirituality (so the Kabbalah, in my example), need to stay outside language. Outside the human perception.

But then it seems that language is only a surface. Psychological studies done by Freud and similar demonstrates how much moves behind the scenes, and below conscious thought. People think of acting logically, but are instead moved by way stronger undercurrents that they rarely understand or are consciously aware of. We learn of how fucked we can be if a trauma may have devastating consequences on our daily life.

And then there's more, which is the point where I wanted to arrive. After Freud there's a deeper level that is usually represented by Jung. And then there's another, even deeper, represented by James Hillman (and btw, all I know comes by just look up the wikipedia and having read some parts of his most known book "The Dream and the Underworld", so if you're curious you can just look up the wikipedia and there's already enough to deal with). Whose ideas may sound as crazy as those of Freud to someone who never heard about these kinds of psychological studies.

What he thinks is that our dreams not only are dense in symbolic meaning, but that this symbolic meaning is rooted far below: in myths. So he analyzes dreams through things like Greek mythology. And even if this sounds completely absurd, it's still as grounded and concrete as every other psychological study and has obtained attention from those who study this kind of stuff.

Erikson's pantheon and magic system have more than one thing or two in common with Hillman's archetypal psychology. I'm reading now Midnight Tides where dreams again have a significant role and divinities are dealt with in a "literal" way. But all I've written here wants to hint that there's more than a fictional dress. More than entertainment. And even Hillman's principle seems to adapt well to describe Erikson's work: “dreams tell us where we are, not what to do."

And so back to what Erikson said about his symbolic writing and especially: "I had a film teacher once tell me that I see the world like a Russian novel. I asked him what he meant and he said that I see subtext in all of reality, that for me environment was symbolic."

In the end it goes back at finding something authentic to write about. I'm simply saying that this process of looking for symbols isn't an authorial quirk and actually carries with it in potential a huge power. It is universal. And, in the hunt for meaning, if the building blocks are authentic then the outcome will be too. The truth that builds the foundation is inherited by the rest. Whether completely conscious or not.

--
I want to quote one of those poem of Erikson I just read:

“There are tides beneath every tide
And the surface of water
Holds no weight”

“The problem is the chasm that seems to be opening between the world we experience versus the world we know”

What about the chasm between the world we don’t see (deep symbolic level) and still has a determinant impact on us?

(thanks to the accumulating horror that is the subconscious)

“I think we are hardwired to believe in magic of various kinds”

But magic in the end is a linguistic structure. I’ve studied a bit of Chomsky and I know that we are hardwired for language before we are hardwired for anything else.

NOTE: I plan to add here a video that will look like the weirdest mix of The Matrix, the Kabbalah, Evangelion and Lost/DHARMA Orientation videos.

Saturday 8, January

Rift, the MMORPG, is Warhammer in weaksauce

I know very well to stay away from this, but I decided to check it out, despite my vow to never again join mmorpg betas, because at the helm of this game is Scott Hartsman (former EQ2 technical guy and then producer, surely did better work as the latter) and he's one of the VERY FEW guys I have esteem for.

So I checked this out.

In short: Trion, the studio behind this game has been shopping for Mythic's devs for a while (Mythic's producer is the most recent acquisition). Scott Hartsman probably brought some SOE devs with him as well. The game uses Gamebryo, the DREADFUL engine that everyone learned to hate and scorn. It's the same engine used on Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout, DAoC and Warhammer, so you know what to expect.

The result is that Rift plays, looks and feels like an hybrid of EQ2 and Warhammer. The basic gameplay copies the first iteration of WoW (when quests had far less variety), plays the exact same way and has the exact same UI (but done in Guild Wars art).

There are two features that make Rift stand out:

- The "soul" mechanic, that makes the same class mix and cover different roles (tank, DPS, control, healer).
- The rifts.

The soul mechanic I approve (even if the specific implementation comes with some issues, like balance problems, redundant skills, and not quite streamlined skills purpose), in fact it's quite curious how one of the two distinctive features of this game that wasn't copied from some other MMO... is one of my own.

About five years ago (see forum date and original thread for evidence) I was proposing the exact same idea:

Here's how I'm following HRose's "fixed classes/flexible roles" concept ...

My idea was basically letting characters and a single class cover all "roles" in a party like "healer" "tank" or "DPS" so that some players could always form a decent group at all times, without having to sit an hour because they couldn't find an healer.

You could basically swap your party role to whatever was needed. And what is used in Rift is close to the same idea. (as long the swap is not permanent like WoW's talents)

It can take time, but eventually even the professional designers arrive to the same conclusions I arrived a few years ago. If you sit and wait in the place where everyone is going, then it looks like everyone is coming to you ;)

The other feature is the "rifts". This one seems an original concept, but it's just a variation of Warhammer's Public Quest. Quite shameless, imho. You arrive at the location of a Rift and you automatically obtain a Public Quest divided in sub-phases EXACTLY like Warhammer. First there's a wave of minor mobs, then a "boss" of some kind. When all phases are complete you can pick up a reward depending on how much you contributed.

It's exactly the same idea, with very minor adjustments. The only relevant one is that instead of being in a fixed location like Warhammer, these are scripted to occur at random in a number of points across the map, including quest hubs. You gain some dynamism, but you lose the handcrafted detail Warhammer's model allowed. Imho, it's not a step forward.

Conclusion:
Warhammer offered four kinds of gameplay: standard PvE, Public Quests, Battlegrounds, world PvP. Of these, two were badly broken due to bad game design (Public Quests not being scalable, world PvP being just horribly done and nerfed so that everyone was playing just BGs), but AT LEAST they were there.

Rifts plays essentially the same, but PvP seems entirely tacked on (and balance problems won't make it easier).

Warhammer was a big failure. Rifts offers even less and has far less ideas, but perhaps isn't utterly doomed. I think it was developed in a short time span and cost less than Warhammer (all thanks to Gamebryo, whose "discounts" will be then payed every single day). Without EA expecting millions of subscribers and Scott Hartsman at the helm I think they have a realistic plan and in the end the boat could stay afloat even if this game is on paper (and in what I played) sensibly weaker than Warhammer.

And for more Gamebryo HORRORS look here.

Different projects names, same people behind them. In the end I can't be surprised if all these games play exactly the same. From what I see, the larger the crisis in the industry and especially the mmorpg genre, the more fragmented it gets. Studios shattering in many smaller ones and developers finishing on the road and continuing to wander aimlessly like zombies between failed projects. It's not a recipe for success, and it will take many more years to see a new mmorpg that actually deserves the attention.

EDIT:
I LOLed at the beta forum:

What about the Gamebryo engine? What impact does it have on performance?

The fact that Rift uses the Gamebryo engine does not have a significant impact on performance. Rift uses a heavily modified version of the engine, and only for certain game systems. As such any issues you may have experienced with other MMOs using this engine will not affect Rift.

Wishful thinking :)