Monthly Archives: June 2015

“Of Shadow and Steel” A Self Review

Overall 3 out of 5.

Alright folks, I wanted to talk a little bit about my first book, now that I have re-released the second edition. There are several thoughts that spring to mind.

First, it is my first book. That is both it’s blessing and it’s curse. It is what really got me started in my writing seriously. Now, I have been writing for a long time, journals, snippets, various classes through high school. But this was my first novel, and that is a big deal to me. There have been at least 8 other manuscripts since I first wrote this book, and my love of writing has only grown. There are constantly new ideas springing into my head.

As far as a blessing is concerned, Of Shadow and Steel reminds me of where I started. It is a relic, an artifact, of when I really started writing. It is an accomplishment that all future works will build upon from a technical prospective. It is like the past, and it reminds me of where I came from.

But that is also it’s curse, because it does not show the refinement or experience of later manuscripts. In several ways it is simple, and lacks refinement. When I read it now, I find several things that I could do better, now that I have been writing novel-length stories for a few years. However, that would mean re-writing the entire story, something I lack the time or the motivation to do. Also, like I said, it is a kind of artifact, and I don’t want to mess with that.

Of Shadow and Steel began life as several “fragments”, little bits of text that I jotted down at various times as I was inspired or motivated to do so. As the manuscript took form, I used a larger narrative to link together the “fragments”, and the world started to take shape. The first edition of the book had a lot more of these “fragments” in the story, and was told through a combination of a first person main narrative, and several third person micro-narratives to help flesh-out the main story.

Later books in the Elder Blood Saga have generally abandoned the “multi-POV” style, as I find it reads somewhat haphazardly. It is clumsy, and kind of tedious. I have cleaned up the narrative quite a bit when I look at the 1st edition compared to the second, and this was a big step forward in my opinion. It reads a lot better now then it was.

And the new cover is fantastic!    

The inspirations for this story are pretty evident, and some of those inspirations have been carried right through the series. Of Shadow and Steel is really what I would call anthropological fiction, as it draws heavily from my educational background and archaeology in general. I really tried to fold that into the story, in a way that is not as prominent in the later stories. Also, it is what I would consider soft sci-fi, because hey, my background is in social science, not the hard sciences. Culture, belief, and ideology are all factors in my universe.

Other inspirations are also very prominent. It shows in the story that I was playing Skyrim at the time, and that I was reading a lot of Norse Myth and that kind of thing. Much of that was pulled into the story. On a more general scale,  much of the sci-fi and fantasy I have read or watched had a more indirect inspiration. I mean, that is a lot to draw from. Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, just to name a few.  It would be beyond tedious to detail them all.

I want to talk a little bit now about my writing process, for this book and for others.. I think that each writer goes about the process in an individual way, and that is what makes each work unique. Also, the inspirations and ideas around a writer are changing all the time, and that also reflects the story.

I like to think of my writing process as an organic one. The story, the characters, and everything else takes shape as I write it, and small seeds grow into the world. In some ways, the story comes first, and is driven by the characters. As they progress through the story, I (and my readers) discovers backstories and the history of the world.

Which I then have to go and write. I create the backstories, the plot, and the characters while I build tell the story. It all kind of grows like a tree. A character hears about a past event, or reveals some concept of a technology, and those are the branches. Then I have to go outside the story to develop those ideas, and flesh out the characters.

Honestly, I don’t have much luck with pre-planning. Writing histories and planning things before hand really doesn’t work for me. I can’t write character sketches to save my life. Really, I discover my worlds, the stories, and the characters as if I am also a reader, one word, one page at a time. I am discovering my stories why I write them.

That is what makes it so much fun! In so many ways, my characters and stories take on a life of their own. They create the story, and I really just record the events.

Before I digress too much, at the end of the day I think Of Shadow and Steel has a lot of room for improvement. However, at the same time, it is my first book, and practice makes perfect. It has its flaws, sure, but it is a constant reminder of where I started, and how far I have come

Thus, 3 out of 5.

Thanks for reading!

 

The book itself can be found at Amazon.

$4.99 for Kindle or $9.99 for Paperback

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Kalevala Part 4

First off, I want to say thank you to all my readers.

This blog has passed over the 800 email followers mark. Now, I don’t know if that means over 800 people get an email when I post, or if that counter is somehow consecutive, or even faulty. However, it is one of the few measures I have with which to judge my readership. And, to me at least, 800 is a big deal.

So, thank you all so very much!

For this post I will be telling my experience of Rune 9, or the 9th poem in the Kalevala. As I mentioned in my last post, I will be skipping certain poems, partially based on interests, but also partially based on what the spirits feel I should study.

To recap, Vainamoinen has left Pojhola and set off back home. On the way, he meets a woman from Pojhola and tries to win her hand. She finally promises to wed him, if he can build her a boat and get it into the water without touching it in any way. While he tries to do so, his ax slips and hits his knee, which then begins to bleed profusely, and so Vainamoinen has to seek healing.

That is where Rune 9, picks up, and here is my experience of it.

So Vainamoinen took to his sled, and traveled to the cabin of a healer. His knee was gushing blood, as he entered the old man’s house. The old man cried out, and jugs were brought forth, to catch the blood that Vainamoinen has bled.

“Oh! So much blood have you left on my floor!” The old healer cried.
“Alas, that such a wound was made with iron, and I know not the charms to heal such a wound as this.” The healer said.
“I know some charms, and I can tell you of the origins of iron, or the beginning of steel.” Vainamoinen said.

So, Vainamoinen told of the beginnings of iron, since it was iron that caused his wound.

“ Air is the first of its mothers, Water the Oldest Brother.
Iron is the younger brother, and Fire the Middle

Ukko, great god, separated the air from the water, and the land from both.
Three Maidens were brought forth, three spirits of nature.
They traveled the land, and their breasts were full of milk.

So, to find relief from the ache, they milked out their breasts onto the land.
The oldest of them let out black milk, and where it hit the land bar iron came into being.
The middle one milked out white milk, from which steel is made.
The youngest let out red milk, and from this came iron ore.

After some time, Iron wanted to meet its older brother, and so it sought out fire.
But their meeting was not kind, and Iron was badly burned.
Iron ran, went into hiding, deep in the fen, deep below the ground.
It hide from its brother, went into hiding from fire.

For many long ages, iron was not found.
Until a wolf came running through the fen, and a bear too.
The wolf’s tracks uncovered iron, and the bear’s tracks did too.
In the wolf’s claws, and the bear’s paws, was iron revealed.

One day came Ilmarinen, the great smith, and he looked for a place to set his forge.
He walked through the fens, and found the tracks of wolf and bear.
Ilmarinen saw Iron, and saw it was in hiding, and miserable.

“Why iron, are you in such a terrible state? Lowly is your situation, for one so grand as you.” Ilmarinen said.
“I am in hiding, for fire, my brother, has burned me!” Iron said.
“That is because Fire does not know you, does not realize you are his kin. Come, and I will put you into the forge, and you can make a proper aquitance with Fire.” Ilmarinen said.

Yet, iron was afraid of the fire, and cried out before being put in the forge. Ilmarinen soothed it.
“When Fire has met you proper, it will lift you up and make you beautiful. Your form will be of fine tools, swords and fine jewelry.” Ilmarinen said.

So, Ilmarinen put Iron into the forge, and it became hot.
Iron cried out; “Take me away from this agony!”
“If I do, you will grow terrible. You will rise up against your kin, and be cruel to your brothers and mothers.” Ilmarinen said.

Then Iron swore a solemn oath, by the forge, the anvil, the tongs and the hammer.
“There is wood for me to bite, the heart of stone for me to cut, so that I will not have to harm my kin. It is far nicer for me to exist as an ally, as a tool, then to harm my own kin.”

The Ilmarinen pulled Iron from the Fire, and Iron was shaped into swords, shovels, and many fine tools.”

Vainamoinen had finished his story, and so the Old Healer understood the nature of Iron. Thus, he set about stopping the blood, and mending the wound caused by the abuses of Iron, so that Vainamoinen could go on his way.
I really enjoyed this story, and it is chock full of lore, knowledge, and charms. In this story alone, not all of which was covered here, is the origin of iron, charms for staunching blood, charms against the abuses of iron, bandage charms, healing charms, and even a protective charm at the end.

In truth, there is so much to this story that would need another post to unpack. I will hopefully be writing such a post in the near future, but for now I leave this here.

Thanks for reading!


Environmental Thoughts Part 3

 

Beyond Theory and Politics: Practical Applications

Here is where I diverge from Beckett’s article. I feel that Beckett’s article does not go far enough, or at very least stops short. I agree with most of his points, but it does little in the way to suggest practical and applicable options for going forward.

However, I do not want to understate the very real challenges that stand between the current state of things and the “new world” of the future.

1). Diversity. The world is a very complex place, and there is not one vision, one unified idea for the future. There is a plurality of ideas, and not all of them agree. That is the biggest challenge. My view of the future will not agree, or even reflect the view of the majority. In fact..

2) Minority. As a pagan, and an animist, my views are not even amongst the majority in the minor communities I inhabit. That means that finding common ground will be an important task, a diplomatic solution that makes everyone equally unhappy. I think Ecopagan.com is a good start, and that is why I signed onto the statement. Any future inevitably I envision will be a small drop in a very big pound. Even if a large swath of pagans come together under a common vision (which I have my doubts, see point 1), the fact remains that any world we envision would be our vision alone. We are a small minority, and thus face real limits in political and social influence.

3) The unknown. Beckett rightly pointed out that we cannot know how this will all play out. So even if we agree upon on vision, any plans we make very well may just go to hell.

Thus begs the question, what world would I envision?

If I stopped here, my article would also stop short. The points above are obstacles to be sure, but not impossible challenges. I am not fond of identifying problems without offering some solutions. As such, I offer them with the caveat that they assume I would have the ability to make them happen, that the real challenges above have been overcome.

“A Pagan Community Statement” reads;

“There are certain actions we can take now. It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will…

Any economic or political system which encourages the exploitation of Earth and people must be dismantled or substantially reformed. This includes any system based on endless growth. We should be operating in a closed loop system, not a linear one. This means moving away from disposable development and culture, and moving toward renewable development and culture wherein all products are intended for longevity, repairability, and easy recycling or composting at the end of their use. The sustainable economy of the future will be one with the shortest distances between production, consumption and recycling of byproducts.”

This is a good starting point at least. Living rightly with the rest of the world, and the “web of life” is a big one. While they are all vague notions, we need to work on more ethical and environmentally friendly means of extraction and production. Industrial society, as has been mentioned, is a dangerous machine. However, I am not for the wholesale dismantling of said machine. Surely, there are parts that can be improved, and some that need replaced, but we need to keep realistic changes in mind. This leads into the next point.

The ‘sustainable’ economy of the future, should strive for the ideal of short distances between extraction, production and recyclables. I am all for local economies, and methods of production. However, we need to be realistic about this. Our machines are not built of fully recyclable materials, and those materials we do use are not available in every region.  That implies some level of transportation and trade networks.

Some have pointed to societies of the past and claimed they were “local” economies, and that simply is not true. Many examples can be drawn from the North alone, where extensive regional trade networks are in evidence. Flints and ambers from southern Scandinavia have been found in the north, where these things were scare. Some cultures in northern Scandinavia and Finland used slate to build their tools, because they lacked, except through trade, access to good quality flints.

Yes, our materials and means of transportation are different today, but some regions only have slate, whereas other have flint. Trade and transportation is a necessity. Here are a few points we could work on, with the side note that I lack the technical expertise to comment on some of these in depth.

1) Yes, we should strive for local economies and resource management.

We need to select for smaller scale manufacturing and farming. Some big industries and big agricultural, especially factory meat farming, are some of the worst offenders. We need to move towards a more localized food and material production, smaller and more diverse systems, while still maintaining connections and networks beyond our own borders.

Ecosystem preservation and conservation should be a priority. I do my part on my family land and on public land to ensure that these stay clean and viable. The importance of maintaining clean rivers, and truly sustainable forestry are priorities.

2), Yes, we need to make processes of extraction, production and recycling as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.

In the short term, we are not going to just “stop” using metals and rare earth elements. How can we improve the use of the metal already in existence, especially those where extraction is really harmful, such are rare earths? I do my part by using my forge, and learning metallurgy. In the near future, I would like to build a smelter as well, so I can actually reclaim salvaged metals.

3) But, in cases that longer distance trade is needed, transportation must be as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. See point 4.

4) All this can imply, a strong need to get away from oil based solutions. We cannot run our trucks, trains and ships on fossil fuels any longer. Renewable sources must be favored.

All applications here will be both short and long term in implementation. We need to realize that we have the technology today to get away from an oil based society. Ethanol can be used in place of gasoline, and our current engine designs can be easily adapted to ethanol use. Ethanol can also be used to supplement, or fully replace power plant production. Oil, and coal are often used in power plants to heat water to run steam turbines, and ethanol can work as a substitute here too. Retrofitting of current infrastructure could easily accommodate a switch to ethanol, and once again, the technology is there today to make this happen.

Ethanol has its problems, don’t get me wrong. Better solutions could be found in the long term, surely. But we need changes we can make now, and ethanol is one option. And, contrary to the big oil “no food for fuel” campaign, there are much more efficient means of producing ethanol than from corn or food grains.

In addition, I have seen first hand that ethanol also presents the opportunity for local production. My family came from Appalachia, and I live in a huge beer state. Local and even backyard production of ethanol is certainly a possibility, provided the proper social and legal framework.

In addition, when supplemented with solar and wind production, a viable short term solution for the power grid is feasible. If for power generation and for transportation, we shifted towards an ethanol and electric, it would go a long way. It is a set of solutions we can implement today, and then work towards better alternatives.

5) Also, new materials will need to be developed and implemented to take the place of those that are non-renewable.

Plastics are a big part of our way of life. Many plastics are made from petroleum based products, and that is a problem. Recycling of plastics goes a small part of the way, but other things must be selected for. More environmentally safe and renewable materials. Honestly, I lack the technical expertise to suggest any solutions. Some have suggested bioplastics, and other such materials, but others can surely comment on these better than I can.

However, the caveat is here that we should not necessarily look to better technologies to solve the problems that other technologies have caused. A change in mindset is needed as well, and to remember that greater efficiency isn’t always better. In some cases, greater efficiency just means faster resources extraction and greater environmental harm.

Another point that can be made, is what can be done on the local, individual level? My practices include recycling and picking up trash as I hike and travel. I also try to be mindful of where my food comes from, and hunting and fishing for a natural source of meat. I am also in the process of learning about edible natural foods, so that foraging can also add to my local supply of food. These are some small things that could add up to a lot of change at the collective level. But individual solutions are not enough. They ignore governments and big corporations which are some of the worst offenders.

As such, we also need to move towards a more equal, and fair distribution of resources. This is a global problem, that will need global solutions. Some of these solutions will be political, some will be technical, and others will be cultural. We will need all three, changes in body (technical), mind (political) and spirit (cultural).

Honestly, we must look beyond ourselves to find the answers to this problem. Beyond America, which is one of the big offenders on the international stage. Environmental decay is a global problem. As such, I would consider the following steps. Change would happen on the local level, as well as on the global stage.

As such, a change in sociopolitical landscape would also be required.

1) Supporting a more unified world, and a more fairly regulated global economic system. One that works for the common good of all people, and not just a select few.

2) The UN is a good foundation for such work, but has a long way to go. See their Declaration of Human Rights, and Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples.

3) The UN would also need teeth, at least more than it has. Not just the power to make “declarations” or “statements”, but also the ability to enforce them. Nations, states and local governments (including indigenous people and non-human persons) should retain the right of sovereignty and self-determination to the highest possible degree, but also that a global standard for a truly sustainable future for all needs to be implemented.

4) Which implies that the unilateral ability to rebuke such global standards would need to be revoked. Veto power for America and other “top countries” in the Security Council would need to be stripped or reformed.

5) Ecopagan.com has a statement up, and this can be used as a guide for global and local change for our small communities. Our goals and needs could be used as a foundation to enact both local and global change.

Yes, I realize some of the implications, but I am only one man. Such thoughts would need to be debated, discussed, and implemented to the good of all people. Such an undertaking would be a collaborative effort, and many others would need to be involved. The need for allies, and social networks would be imperative, and essential for any practical solutions.

Yes, I also realize that some amount of socialism would be needed. It is not perfect, but neither is capitalism. The two systems could be implemented to a degree that allows economies and business to thrive, but at the same time puts people over profits. We have models we can look to, especially the Nordic countries. All people, including the environment, and those of the non-human variety. A healthy ecosystem would also be more important than profits. A holistic approach needs to be implemented.

We must work outside the system as well as inside, and balanced approach of measured dismantling and strategic reform to get away from the destructive system we have made.

Petitions and voting are great, but these are not the only methods of change. In fact, I am a bit cynical about these things in wake of the wolf hunts here in Michigan. People petitioned, people voted, I among them, and still we were ignored. That is also part of the problem.

Also, capitalism is fickle. Once we reach Peak Oil (if we have not already), perhaps the economy with shift another way. The capitalists will follow the profit, and should oil be no longer profitable, society will shift along with it. Henry Ford’s early cars use to run on ethanol, but moved to petroleum because it was cheaper. What would happen if some other source became cheaper, and more profitable? The pendulum would swing once more. Capitalism is a big part of the problem, I admit. But dismantling that beast is a momentous undertaking.

Still, we can’t trust greed and profit alone to guide us, and so I return to my previous points. As a fiction writer and a sci-fi buff, I want to live in a world were we reach for the stars. Honestly, I think flying on the Enterprise would be pretty sweet. But to realize that dream, a new path, a new future is needed.

“We possess the power, if it should start to fall apart, to mend divides to change the world, to reach the farthest star.

If we should stay silent, if fear should win our hearts, our light will have long diminished before it reaches the farthest star”

– VNV Nation, “Farthest Star”

Now let’s get to work.

 

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

http://godsandradicals.org/

http://www.ecopagan.com/

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/apr/21/regenerative-economy-holism-economy-climate-change-inequality?CMP=share_btn_fb


Environmental Thoughts Part 2

“We’re on a runaway train and we desperately want to apply the brakes, but the people running the train – and most of the passengers – keep calling for more speed.

I see no way to stop the train.” – John Beckett

While writing the my first post, I realized there was a lot more to say. In many ways, there always will be. There are VOLUMES written about this stuff for a reason, and as such this post will only scratch the surface of such things.

Beckett continues in his discussion, of which I will once again use as a framework.

Point the first; We don’t know what the post-oil, post-climate change world will look like.

This is an important one. I am a sci-fi reader and writer, and that is what all those stories are. Honestly, we don’t know what the world will look like. Will it be a dystopian future like in Neuromancer or Fallout? Will it be a socialist utopia like in Star Trek?

1984? Firefly? Pick your possible future world. Beckett asks if the 23rd century will look like the 19th?

The fact is that we just don’t know, and that brings with another host of difficulties. What world should be start setting the foundations for? Surely, we don’t even agree on what form the future should take, and preparing for an unknown is difficult at best.

Still Beckett makes a few points worth considering.

Point the second; Look at systems and individuals.

“Conservatives like to blame all the ills of society on individuals making bad choices.  Liberals tend to blame systems: the structures and expectations that constrain choices, particularly for those living at the margins of society.”

This is an important point in my opinion. Many others have made these points better than I can (See Gods & Radicals, Ecopagan.com, ect.) Part of our current “green economy” (using this with reservation, as it has problems), the individuals are expected to shoulder the burden of “sustainability.” Recycle, buy CFLs, install solar panels, be efficient, and so on. Let me say that individuals choices have some influence, but they are not they whole story. Large scale industry, commercial and industrial systems are just, if not more, destructive. It is not individuals building massive open pit mines, or dumping toxic waste in rivers. These are systemic issues. Along with individual responsibility, the system needs to be rethought, and rebuilt.

How do we do that? That is the real question. I’ll be the first to say I’m not a radical. I don’t think the entire system needs to be burnt and rebuilt. Perhaps that is the craftsman in me. When something breaks, you don’t throw the whole thing out. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Sure, the way we do things is awful, terrible and environmentally destructive. That being said, surely there are some things we’ve done right? I say, let’s fix what needs to be fixed, and replace what is broken. It’s a big systemic machine, I know. But surely every cog isn’t bad? I’ll say more on this in a bit.

Point the third; Preference for community.

“We have an evolutionary urge to look out for our own well-being and comfort, but contemporary Western society takes that urge to ridiculous extremes.  The myth of the rugged individualist has exacerbated our abuse of Nature.  If I think I have to be completely self-reliant, I need huge amounts of stuff and money to feel secure.  If I know I can rely on my community, I can feel secure with far less, knowing that if I stumble others will pick me up.  Strong communities mean we don’t need as much stuff.”

Here is a point I thinks where he hits the nail on the head. And as an animist, I believe that those communities include non-human beings as well. Those beings need to be considered in any world that is to come. Also, those connections and networks matter. It is important to remember that all things are connected, to some degree or another.

Point the fourth; Reverence for Nature/Veneration of the Ancestors

“When we honor our ancestors, we acknowledge that much of the good we enjoy is because of the foundations they laid. And we’re reminded that we have an obligation to leave a good world for future generations.  Ancestor devotion helps us think about the impact of our actions beyond our immediate self-interest.”

“Humans have always made use of the bounty of Nature.  That will not (and ultimately, cannot) change.  But if we truly believed Nature is sacred, would we create strip mines?  Would we even consider trying to extract oil from tar sands?  And more directly, would we modify our environment to the point we drive other humans from their homes and other species to extinction?”

I combined two of Beckett’s points here, because I think that they are two sides of the same coin. It is important to remember that some foundations have already been laid by our forebearers, and I include all peoples (human and non-human) when I say this. In no small way, we are connected to the entire tree of life on this planet. The first lifeforms are counted amongst our ancestors as much as our human families. Sure, we are just one small branch on that tree, but the connection is there none the less. This ties back into the preference for community.

While some foundations have already been laid, it can be said not all of them were good. Some foundations will inevitably need to be upturned and rebuilt. Others can be built upon.

Point the Last; A living example.

“People will figure out how to live without oil in a hostile climate – necessity is the mother of invention.  But figuring out how to live well in an era where the material standard of living is in constant decline?  That’s a much harder task.  As people are looking around for ideas and suggestions, what can we show them?  Not what we can tell them, but what we can show them by our living examples.”

I think Beckett’s final point is a good one. We will adapt, we will endure. Whatever the future may look like, we will figure out a way to make it work.

There are more coming posts on this, where I explore some of my own ideas on these topics.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2015/04/building-the-world-to-come.html


Re-release “Of Shadow and Steel”!

Hello folks!

I am proud to say that I have finally released the 2nd edition of my book “Of Shadow and Steel”, the first book in the Elder Blood Saga.  The new cover looks amazing! Especially when you compare it to the old, crappy cover. The text has been updated as well, and I think it makes the whole story a lot more fluid for reading.

Also, there is a publication link at the top now, for my selection of books.

I am considering posting my own thoughts on the book here, but that will be in another post. For now, enjoy!

Cover_FINAL-LowRes

(Note, Low Res Image)

Synopsis:

By the 24th century, the Earth had been ravaged by a third world war, environmental decay, corrupt, ineffective governments, as well as corporate greed. To survive, humanity had to leave the world of its birth for a new life among the stars.
Erik and Sarah Smedson are among those ready to embark on a new life. Their plans for that new life did not include one of the greatest discoveries of their time. A rare element, that holds some secrets of its own. Secrets that question the spirit of humanity, its place in the galaxy, and the very nature and origins of humanity itself.
The very same secrets that attract the attention of the United Earth Corporation, and the old ways of war, greed, and corruption that they had hoped to leave behind.

It is currently up in the Createspace E-Store, and for Kindle on Amazon. As far as I can tell, the updated 2nd edition paperback has not made its way to Amazon just yet, though you can still find the old version there.

Createspace: Paperback $9.99

Amazon: Kindle ($4.99) and Paperback ($9.99)