With so much chaos, someone will do something stupid.

I just finished reading Orphans of Chaos by John C Wright. When I first started reading this book, I was immediately awed by the writing. How can somebody write something that makes you feel like you are reading something haunting and wise and sad and inquisitive and beautiful? Authors like that amaze me.

I took the book along with me when I went to a book sale at the library in Fullerton. I go early to get a good place in line. But even though I'm early, I can never get there early enough to be at the front of the line. Seriously, I think some of those book scouts and dealers sleep there. Still, I usually end up being one of the first ten people in line. The weird thing is, the longer I stand there, the farther back in line I become. Without even moving. It's a strange phenomenon that must have something to do with something I don't know anything about because I never took advanced math or science in high school.

So, on this occasion I was there at the library, waiting for the sale to start, and I was passing the time reading Orphans of Chaos. One of the other sellers waiting there said to me, "How do you like that book?" And I said, "It's great!" And he said, "Isn't it amazingly written?" And I said, "Yeah!" And he said, "He's a great writer." And I said, "Yeah!" Scintillating conversation like this makes waiting in line a not unpleasant thing to do.

Anyway, here's an example, from page 27, of Wright's brilliant writing:

I do not know how old I was when I found the notes, but I must have been quite young, because I remember that I had to stand on tiptoe to reach the handles of the cabinet where the cleaning things were kept. We had been told to scrub the floor of the dining hall, a task usually done by the servants, because of some prank Colin had pulled involving a bucket of fishheads. None of us was willing to turn Colin in, not even Vanity, even though (I am sure) everyone knew who had done it. This was back before we chose names, so it was Quartinus we were all mad at for getting us in trouble. I remember it was spring, and the great windows were wide open, and I could smell the new-mown grass of the playing field outside, and I remember how dearly I wanted to jump and play, rather than kneel and scrub.

And there's more like that. I wish I could finish off quoting that page and the next, because it's one of the best passages, but you'll just have to read it yourself. In fact, the first five chapters are really lovely. Wow.

The story is told from the point of view of Amelia, who has been raised in isolation as a human but who is really the daughter of the Titan Helion, and she is a fairly sympathetic character, which is always a plus with me when reading a book.

As I read on, however, I started noticing a couple of drawbacks. Not that the quality of writing changed. No, it was something else. A couple of somethings, actually.

One: the story, as I said, is about some offspring of the Titans, except one of the five kids is really Nausicaa - and why she's there, I haven't yet figured out - but they have been kept isolated (imprisoned, really) by their Greek mythology-type captors (like the North Wind, for instance) for many years and raised as human children, with periodic memory erasures when they start figuring out too much so that they reset to the beginning every so often. So the "boys" and "girls" in the story are, I suppose, realistic in the sense that, being in their teen years when the story starts, they are curious about body parts and sex and such, but most of the boys I knew when I was a teenager thankfully had the manners to keep comments regarding such things to themselves in mixed company. And we girls certainly never discussed the subject except amongst ourselves. One of the "boys" in this story, however, is extremely annoying to read about because he can't keep his mouth shut or his hands to himself. His behavior is not a huge drawback for the book; I just don't like reading about annoying characters, is all, and he is an extremely annoying character.

Two: the kids have conversations like this bit from page 156:

"If [says Amelia] I used a crayon to draw the circumference and another crayon to color in the area, the first crayon would lose a bit and the second a bit more. Use a third crayon to color the surface of a balloon, and a fourth crayon to somehow fill in the entire inner volume of the balloon. The first crayon loses a bit and the second crayon loses a whole lot. Rotate the balloon in the fourth dimension to create a hypervolume. The first crayon fills in the volumes of the six balloons that form its hypersurface, the second crayon has to fill in a hypervolume raised to the fourth power. You see the difference would be enormous."

Quentin blinked. "I don't get it."

Victor said, "Why six?"

I said to Victor, "Oh! You're right! There are only six points on the hypersurface where the axis intersects it that form three spheres. I guess I was confusing the number of right-angle intersections with the Kissing Number, which in the case of 4-D equals 24. I was fooled because I was thinking that if a sphere is all points equidistant from a given point such that x2+y2+z2=r2 [those 2s are supposed to be superscript], then a four-sphere would satisfy w2+x2+y2+z2=r2. This implies that for any values where one axis, let's say w, falls to zero . . ."

Victor held up his hand. "Now is not the time."

And I thought, "When is ever the time for talking like that?" For people like me, anyhow, who never took advanced math or science. As King Sylvarresta said when Raj Ahten took his Wit: "Ghaaaah!"

Here's another example (page 316):

I bent that world-line into a knot. The controlling monad for that group of chemicals was inert, and the final causes of the atoms were deterministic, controlled entirely by Newtonian cause-and-effect. The monad tilted in the Fourth Dimension and came awake, bringing its meaning-axis to bear. Quantum uncertainty increased in the atomic mixture. No different than what I had done to restore Quentin's memory to him. New branches and stalks erupted on the monad's tree of possible futures. It was no longer determined and inert.

Actually, now that I'm writing it, I understand it better. I think.

Other readers have mentioned another drawback: that this book is the first of three that tell the story of these Chaos Kids, and as such it is rather introductory in nature, and the real story doesn't get going until book two. I don't know. I agree it's definitely an introductory book. But I was more disappointed to find (around chapter 9) that there were all manner of multi-dimensional mythological creatures involved. I had kind of hoped it was something else, or someone else. At various points throughout the second half of the book, there were some pretty lengthy expository conversations. Those helped me to come to terms with the creatures and what they were doing in the story and why, but they certainly slowed the action. On the other hand, there was enough stuff going on to keep my interest. I wonder: if it had not been so beautifully written, would I have kept going during the slow parts?

But it ends with a small bang that makes me want to read book 2. So that's good, eh?


Chase 'em away! Chase 'em away! I'm afraid . . . Need your aid . . .

Christmas and Winter and the holiday season remind me of the Moffat books by Eleanor Estes.

Yay Rufus!

And it's all because of one word: chilblains. Somebody in the book, probably Jane, was always worried about chilblains when the cold weather set in. I didn't even know what chilblains were, but it sounded bad.

I learned a lot from reading the Moffats. I learned about dressmaker dummies, and what it's like to have to move and to get your first library card and to grow up during wartime, and about making a fool of yourself in front of your peers, and helping someone who's in trouble. I also learned new words like chilblains, and what it was like to be really cold in the winter, something that seems rather far-fetched here in southern California where winter means you actually might have to put a sweater on if you go outdoors in the evening between Thanksgiving and St Patrick's Day.

We were downtown a couple of weeks ago, sitting on lawn chairs on the sidewalk with the rest of the town, waiting for the commencement of our local Christmas Parade at dusk, and Gary wasn't even wearing his jacket. He couldn't remember a time when it had been this warm at the parade. No chilblains for us!

Going to the Christmas parade is a tradition for us, mostly because the high school marching band is in the parade, and our kids have all been in the band over the years. Well, that's not the whole reason. I remembered going to Christmas parades when I was a young child and I thought my kids, when they were little, would also enjoy the experience. It's so Moffat.

I don't remember a Christmas parade in San José where I grew up. But before my grandparents moved away from Watsonville, we used to go down there for the parade. It was sometimes chilly enough that my grandparents, parents, and aunt and uncle would stay in the car (they were avoiding chilblains, I guess). But they still wanted to be able to see the parade, and that meant getting the people standing in front of the car to somehow move away. So they told my brother and sister and cousins and me to make nuisances of ourselves by running around in the crowd, making noises, singing, and being just generally bratty.

I remember a Stanford U drinking song we used to sing - I can't remember who taught it to us, my mother or father or some other adult relative - but it was the kind of song that rhymed "beer" and "cheer", "wine" and "fine", and "whiskey" and "frisky". (I looked up the lyrics here. Either I've apparently remembered it wrong, because there is no "wine" verse in the listed lyrics, or else my parents substituted it for one of the other verses.)

Can you imagine how delightful it was for us to be ordered by our parents to be rotten and rude? "Yes, children", imagine the adult responsible for your upbringing saying to you, "Run amok through these grownups, bump into them, be as annoying as possible, and sing a song about getting drunk while you're at it." What a lovely Christmas gift!

This year it was just Gary and I at the parade. Most of the kids have moved on, and the last of them was in the marching band. I got my camera out, prepared to take pictures when he came along with his shiny new trumpet.

I took a picture of the Marine Corps band just fine:

I took a picture of the Cool Horses pulling the Old Steam Fire Engine just fine:

I took a picture of my favorite Vintage Auto just fine:

But when the band came along, some chucklehead, in fact a whole pod of chuckleheads, walked right in front of me, obstructing my view. I had to run down the street a block or two and get ahead of the band again so I could try taking another picture. Even then, people still got in the way.

I began to wish I had a group of little ones that I could teach songs to and command them to annoy the chuckleheads out of my way. Because an adult bumping into people and singing loudly about being drunk would just get arrested. And that's not Moffat.


How many of us have to die for your happiness?

A while back I was volunteering at the Bottom Shelf and a woman came up to me and said, “Would you happen to have any of the Mistborn books?”

I said, “The what?”

She explained that it was a fantasy series that was really, really good and her son wanted to read the next in the series. She then described a bit of the premise, which I didn’t really understand, but she was so enthusiastic that it caught my interest anyhow.

So out loud I then answered her that we didn’t have those books in the store, but in my head I was wondering why the heck I never even hear about cool book series (serieses? What’s the plural of series? Is series plural already or is it like deer, where it can be singular or plural?) until like the last installment is ready to come out or even until the series has been around for so long that they’re making a tv show out of it.

I decided then and there that things have got to change.

The lady had told me the author of the series was Brandon Sanderson, so I did a little research and discovered that, besides being an author, he also taught in the English department at BYU. My first thought was “Can there any good thing come out of Provo?” Speaking of fantasy, I mean. But I kept my ears peeled. My eyes, too. But there wasn’t a single Brandon Sanderson novel available in our library, and the request list was a long one, with many people before me. Well, I would have to wait.

A month or so later, I read that Brandon Sanderson was going to be in San Diego at a book signing for the third (and, as far as I know, the last) installment of the Mistborn series. I decided to go get me a signed book. When I got to the bookstore, after only getting lost once, I discovered that Sanderson was in company with another fantasy author, David Farland, who would be signing his latest publication.

Well! I thought happily. Two authors for the gas price of one.

David Farland, I learned from overhearing someone talking in the bookstore, is not only the author of the Runelords series. He is also Dave Wolverton, who has written scifi. I had actually read some scifi by Dave Wolverton, not knowing (because I’m a fantasy ignoramus) that it was the same author. I was a little disappointed: if I’d known, I’d have brought along my two Dave Wolverton books to be signed.

But it was an enjoyable event anyway. Both authors read a bit from their latest releases, answered some questions, and signed books. When it was my turn, I found both authors to be funny and friendly and approachable, and Sanderson wasn’t even affronted when I told him I hadn’t read anything by him, yet. They both told me about their websites and how I could get the older books in the series. I asked if I could take a picture, and David Farland said yes very graciously and posed nicely, and my hand was shaking so his picture came out blurry. Rats.

Brandon Sanderson

David Farland

In the last few weeks, I’ve still been looking, without success, for Mistborn books. I commiserate with that lady who wandered into the Bottom Shelf. I did, however, have access to the first Runelords book, entitled (of all things) The Runelords.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, the saying goes. And when I saw the cover of The Runelords, I had to ask myself why the two mortal-looking characters were dressed like they’d just stepped out of a 1940s MGM medieval epic. It kind of turned me off, because it made me think of the kind of “What ho, my lord!” dialogue that irritates me about a lot of what I’ve heard termed “medievaloid” fantasy. In fact, Farland’s characters do use the term “milord”, which was annoying, but I was able to get past it. Fortunately, the book itself was such a mixture of intrigue and creepiness and adventure and love that I was able to ignore the strange artwork. (It does become clear, near the end of the book, what’s going on in the picture, but the costumes they’re wearing are totally a fabrication of the artist’s imagination.)

When I say the book is creepy, I mean I found myself really creeped out by the idea of giving “endowments” of power to other people. For instance, people volunteered their wit, their sense of smell or touch or sight, their stamina, their grace, etc, to the nobles and their warriors so that the leaders could be successful in fighting their enemies. At first, I thought it was kind of silly, some of the things they gave. But it became increasingly apparent that many of these traits were intertwined or interdependent – like you needed extra stamina to deal with the increased brawn, and you needed more grace than usual to deal with the additional metabolism – and it was interesting to see the whole rune culture unfold. I told Ian about it, and he decided that our cats have been involved in swapping endowments: Skipper has seven endowments of fur, and Piper has given away an endowment of wit. I don't know which category it is (grace? metabolism?), but all three cats have donated something there. I don't know how else to explain their diminished capacity to properly digest food.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading The Runelords because it was well written, it was exciting, it had a few strong sympathetic characters (one of them female) that I could root for, and it had a nice love story that was very well balanced – not too much, not too little. It also had a very creepy villain. Ew. Raj Ahten, in my opinion, is way creepier than Darken Rahl in Wizard’s First Rule. I think they were both creepier than Sauron in LOTR, though neither was as powerful nor as evil. Although that may be because we really don’t get to see much of Sauron. But anyway….

I also really liked the philosophy the main characters espoused – the good ones, that is. Where Wizard’s First Rule tells us that people are stupid and that all living things thrive by murder (or whatever it was) and that we must live our own lives, The Runelords tells us that “Few men, even among the wise, understand the great power one can gain from service” and “We are all intertwined. Man, plant, earth, sky, fire, water. We are not many things, but one thing.” And then there was this conversation between Gaborn the Runelord and Binnesman the Earth Wizard:

“Is happiness everything?” Gaborn asked.

“Yes, ultimately I believe it is,” Binnesman said. “It should be the goal of your existence, to live life in peace and joy.”

He didn’t add any nonsense about succeeding at your goal of peace and joy by murdering other creatures.

So, I heartily recommend The Runelords. It’s the kind of book I wanted to read all the time, even at night, in bed, with a flashlight so as not to disturb my bedfellow. We were both happy, he in his slumbers and I with my book.