Brandon Sanderson’s Massive Kickstarter

Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, famous for completing The Wheel Of Time series after Robert Jordan’s death, his writing classes at Bringham Young University, and his massive Cosmere setting in which the majority of his books take place trolled his fans on Youtube this week.

During his weekly update on Monday, he announced to his fans that he had a big announcement regarding his career that he would be making on Tuesday. Rumors abounded online. Some fans wondered if the author was ill, others suggested he might be stepping away from his sprawling Cosmere universe or bringing in other authors to help him complete it.

The truth was far more epic, far funnier, and a masterclass in trolling. Sanderson, already known for his insane level of productivity, revealed that the lack of convention traveling during the pandemic gave him more time to work on his side projects. He revealed that he wrote not one, not two, but five novels during the pandemic. For fun. He then went on to explain that four of these novels will be released in 2023.

Fans of Sanderson will be able to sign up to receive these books quarterly by signing up for his Kickstarter. The lowest tier includes just the ebooks. Physical books are available in higher tiers, as are swag boxed, and signed copies. Set up initially with a $1 million goal, it rocketed past $10 million in the first day and will probably exceed $20 million by the time it’s done.

Commentators like Daniel Greene and others have been quick to declare that Sanderson reinvented the publishing industry in a day with his Kickstarter. While other authors such as John Scalzi and Brian McClellan were quick to point out that most authors do not have a fandom large enough to pull a similar scheme off, Sanderson’s Kickstarter is showing the rewards that authors can reap if they put time into building their community.

Unfortunately, few authors have the time, resources, or Sanderson’s dedicated social media team. However, we can hope that his work will be an example for traditional publishing houses to follow as they continue to adapt to the changing markets of the 21st century.

As of this writing, there are twenty-seven days left to sign up for Sanderson’s Kickstarter. Best get over there before time runs out!

Reading For Context: Understanding The War In Ukraine

Log in to Twitter and suddenly everyone is an expert on Ukraine. Let me begin by sayings that I am most certainly not an expert either. However, for several years now I have made learning about Eastern Europe one of my primary hobbies. This interest was sparked by a pair of courses I took in college, both of which involved travel to Eastern Europe. In taking these classes I traveled to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Moldova. While much of what I have read does not directly concern the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, those books do provide a great deal of historical context regarding the region.

Us westerners in the 21st century like to pretend that our societies are guided by facts and reason, in reality, we are just as susceptible to patriotic fervor and nationalist sentiments as those who came before us. Now we are all watching in real-time as a land war in Europe, the thing we have spent 70 years avoiding, unfolds thanks to the imperialist sentiments of one man. The books I will list here will not make anyone an expert on these topics, but they will provide a glimpse into the history and culture of a region that has been both a part of western culture and held at arm’s length throughout history.

Read ‘Bloodlands’ For A Primer On Nazi And Soviet Attrocities Commited In Eastern Europe

This book by Timothy Snider does not try to convince you of the righteousness of one cause or the other. It seeks to explain the war crimes, ethnic cleansings, and ideological pogroms perpetrated by both the Soviets and the Nazis in their quests for supremacy in eastern Europe.

Read ‘The Crimean War: A History’ To Learn About A Conflict That Took Place In The Same Region As Today

By accident, this was the book I brought along with me to read while traveling in Moldova. It’s a solid account of the conflict in Crimea between Imperial Russia and the rest of Europe to determine the fate of the Ottoman Empire.

Read ‘The Romanovs: 1613-1918’ If You Want A Primer On Russian History Through The Eyes Of The Men And Women That Ruled It

The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by [Simon Sebag Montefiore]

This book humanizes the autocratic rulers of Russia’s history. It provides an intense look at how personal rivalries, education and ignorance, and family squabbles can quickly become a nation’s problem. It’s also a poignant reminder that the movers and shakers of history are human just like you and me, and that we are all immensely failable.

Read ‘Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History’ For An Overview On How Russia Changed In The Twentieth Century

Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History by [Orlando Figes]

Another book by Orlando Figes for this list. In this book Orlando Figes looks at recent Russian history with the idea that the revolution did not end in 1923, rather it continues on to this day and that we are still seeing the ongoing effects of the Revolution of 1917.

Read ‘From Peoples Into Nations: A History Of Eastern Europe’ To Learn How People Craft Identities For Themselves

From Peoples into Nations: A History of Eastern Europe by [John Connelly]

The map of Europe looked very different a century ago. Most of the countries there today had not been founded yet. Just a couple of centuries ago no one really knew what it meant to be Czech or Hungarian. This is a colossal and thorough book on how the many peoples of Eastern Europe found their sense identity and belonging.

Read ‘Revolution 1989: The Fall Of The Soviet Empire’ To Learn How The People Of Eastern Europe Got Out From Under Soviet Rule

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by [Victor Sebestyen]

We’ll end our list with a book about the popular protests and resistance networks that saw the end of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. It was actually required reading for one of the classes I took in college. It is by no means an exhaustive account but it is a thoroughly readable one and a great primer on why Eastern Europe is the way it is today.


If you share an interest in history, reading, writing, or science, you can chat with me on Twitter. You can also subscribe to my newsletter if you want occasional updates on new posts and curated media suggestions. If you want to help the people of Ukraine make it through this terrible war you can find a list of organizations to donate to here.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Like many, my first introduction to Altered Carbon was through the Netflix adaptation.

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels Book 1) by [Richard K. Morgan]

We’re all used to the adaptation being worse than the book, but aside from Eragon and Wanted I can’t think of a worse movie adaptation than Netflix’s adaptation of Altered Carbon.

The Altered Carbon of Richard K. Morgan’s imagination shows an amazing cyberpunk world where some of the secrets of the universe were unlocked by alien ruins on Mars. Where minds are cheaper to transport than bodies and the military trains psychopaths to inhabit premade bodies on remote worlds to brutally suppress insurrections. Where those same psychopaths have to come to grips with what they have done once they reenter the civilian world.

The adaptation did none of this. It combined huge chunks of Takeshi Kovac’s backstory into just a few bullet points. It took a soul tortured by his experiences as a cog in the machine and turned him into a lackluster failed freedom fighter. Now that I’ve read the source material I’m a little insulted by the Netflix version.

The Takeshi Kovacs of the book is a deeply flawed character with a deeply flawed past. He still does a lot of terrible things, but he has something of a conscience and he manages to find some kind of purpose in the process. The Takeshi Kovacs of Netflix however, was a starry-eyed idealist who got burned and as a result, he’s angsty…I guess?

I wish that studios wouldn’t do this. They get handed the rights to an amazing story and they decide to mutilate it. Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for the people adapting the source material to actually understand the source material.

A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians by H. G. Parry

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel (The Shadow Histories Book 1) by [H. G. Parry]

If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time therapy shopping in book stores you’ve probably come across more than a few books on the shelf that you keep stopping to consider but keep walking away. This was one of those for me. Over the past few years, it’s become harder and harder for me to get invested in SFF books despite my love of the genre. So lately I’ve made a rule for myself if I keep stopping to consider a book two or three times I’m going to give it a try.

“A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians” was one of those books for me. In a word, it’s fantastic, 5/5. It’s the first in a series called The Shadow Histories and the second book, “A Radical Act Of Free Magic,” just came out. Which for me is always a plus, I love it when I can get excited about a new series or author and immediately have another book to dive into.

From the title of both the book and the series, I think you can probably guess what it’s about. It’s a magical alternative history of our world that takes place during the French Revolution and follows the characters of William Pit, Robespierre, and others. The progression of events, so far, seems to closely mirror the events of our own history with some exceptions. The main difference is that there are millions of people all over the world who have some kind of inherited magical ability.

How is society not radically changed? Simple. A few centuries before we dive in, the Templar Church fought a war to eliminate Europe’s vampire rulers. Magic, after this was heavily restricted in most countries and commoners, were forbidden from using magic. Only the aristocracy was allowed to use their powers and an old agreement called The Concord forbids the use of magic in warfare.

But this is an age of revolution and the common folk of Europe of tired of not having their voices heard. With talk of freedom and liberty comes also freedom of magic. And there are forces fighting in the background, manipulating events as they happen. This leads to one of our protagonists, Prime Minister William Pitt, working to not only lead his nation through the horrors of the Napoleonic War but also to fight a smaller and more personal conflict in the background.

Like I said. 5/5, 10/10, A+. Go give it a read! You can purchase the book in physical format or on kindle right here!

Dune

I tried to manage my expectations. I really did. But I failed. And that’s okay because this movie is fantastic. It met every expectation that I had and surpassed them.

It’s a problem inherent in every movie adaptation. Too many times readers have been disappointed by movie adaptations made by people that don’t seem to understand the source material. We can’t always expect to get the Peter Jackson treatment, as much as we all wish that wasn’t the case. But this time, this time readers were not let down.

This movie is amazing in so many ways. I was worried that all of the lore and politics that the book dwells on so much would seem hamfisted in the movie. I was totally wrong. So wrong. Villeneuve and company distilled all of that worldbuilding into its most essential elements. It all just worked. Everything was made with an obvious appreciation for the source material that is hard to find in movie adaptations.

However, I really want to talk about what made the movie better than the book. Yes, you read that right. Sometimes the movie is better. In some ways. Sometimes.

Here, the movie succeeds in how large the world feels. Science fiction is littered with planets that feel like villages. The book series that is Dune is filled with a few planets that feel like universes. In the first several books the narratives focus exclusively on events that take place on Arrakis. That single planet feels big and there is a lot that happens there. We are told that there is much more out there in the rest of the universe but we mostly have to take the narrator’s word for it. In Dune Messiah we are told that Paul’s armies have rampaged across the known universe, but we are only told that. We aren’t shown that. We only ever focus on the lives and actions of a handful of characters.

That’s okay. It’s characters who are at the heart of any narrative. But it’s also hard to feel like the rest of the universe is really out there. The movie doesn’t have that problem and that is where it really shines.

From the book, we know that the Atreides are one of the great houses and that they are powerful. In the movie, we see that. We see that in the army behind them at the signing ceremony chanting “Atreides” and in all the pomp and ceremony that we see when the Atreides arrive on Arrakis.

Everything in the movie is big. All of it is focused on Paul and the other main characters, but everything around them is so much bigger than they are.

Honestly, it’s nearly perfect. Just go watch it. And then watch it again. And again! In my mind, Dune is to SciFi what Lord of the Rings is to Fantasy. They’re not the end all be all, but their shadows loom large. It’s so good to see Dune finally get the treatment it deserves on the big screen.

The History Behind the Character Names in ‘A Memory Called Empire’

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan Book 1) by [Arkady Martine]

This is a book that has been sitting in my TBR pile for quite a while now and truthfully I am not done reading it, but the naming conventions interested me so much I decided to look into them a bit and write this post.

The book follows the new ambassador from Lsel Station, Mahit Dzmire, as she arrives at the imperial court of the Teixcalaanli Empire. Her first priority? Finding out what happened to her deceased predecessor. That’s enough context for now.

What I really want to talk about are the names of the characters from the Teixcalaanli Empire. The first one we meet is named Three Seagrass and we are soon introduced to many others like Nine Maize, Ninteen Adze, Six Direction, Fifteen Engine, Thirty Larkspur, and so many others. Luckily, we see all this through the eyes of a character who is new to the culture and her assigned cultural liaison is able to provide some context. In short, all names consist of a number and a noun. Parents then use certain customs such as a belief that low single digits are good luck to decide on the name of their child. It’s further implied that the noun used in their name may sometimes reflect what is important to daily life in their place of birth.

So far that’s all that’s been explained so far, it’s possible that more will come later in the book but I am impatient so I decided to do some digging. To begin, I started out looking for the historical inspiration that Arkady Martine most likely drew from in crafting the Teixcalaanli Empire. If your instinct was to think “mesoamerican” then congratulations, you and I think a lot alike.

I began in the place where all research begins, Wikipedia. There I found an account of the Mixtec king Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, or 8 Deer for short, who was the only Mixtex king to ever unit them all under one banner. The Mixtecs were later conquered in the 16th century by the Spanish and there are about 800,000 Mixtec still living in Mexico today.

Map showing the region covered by the Mixtec civilization. Imaged sourced from Wikipedia.

So that was a good start and it gave me what I needed to look a little further. As it turns out, the basis for Mixtec names came from the calendar that they used, with individuals being named after the day they were born. So Eight Deer would have been named after the day on which he was born. There are thirteen days and twenty symbols on this calendar. Eventually, I found this site which offers much more context on Mixtec names and mesoamerican culture in general.

Basically, the day a person was born would be their name as we already established, and the individual may then add to their name or change it later in life. The day a person was born was believed to reflect their future including their profession, personality, and even spouse.

So that’s the basis of names used in Arkadi Martine’s A Memory Called Empire. It’s a great bit of worldbuilding on Martine’s part. It makes complete sense that after several millennia parents would stop using the literal date to name their children and instead name them based on their hopes for their child’s future. Depending on how involved Martine chooses to get with the names later in the book, a character’s name could say a lot about what their family expects of them.

I’m not finished reading this book, but my initial impressions are nothing but positive. I really like the worldbuilding based in mesoamerican culture and can’t wait to see other ways in which that history and culture is incorporated.

Have you read A Memory Called Empire? What did you think? Did you find any good resources to learn about the historical inspirations for Arkady’s worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments!

The Seventh Son

Fury of the Seventh Son: The Last Apprentice, Book 13

The other day I decided to try watching a movie that I had forgot exist and I would strongly argue should not exist; Seventh Son. It’s a movie starring Jeff Bridges and others loosely based on The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. Also called The Last Apprentice by us Americans. The books series holds a special place in my heart, I devoured the books in middle and high school and remain a fan to this day. The world of The Last Apprentice is wonderfully constructed. And after all these years I finally read the final book in the series, Furry of the Seventh Son.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. Ten years later I don’t find the books anywhere near as scary as I used to, which is to be expected. But the plot and the worldbuilding are still exemplary.

The best-written part of the series is the protagonist, Tom Ward, he is so incredibly annoying. He is stupid at times, he makes the wrong decisions all the time, but he still does his best. That’s probably the best part of the series. Because at many times throughout the series he keeps things from his master, The Spook, for various reasons, in nearly every instance it turns out that he should have been honest from the beginning. Yes, The Spook doesn’t want to compromise his morals for the greater good, but also Tom never tried to make the case for that option. Because as much as this series highlights the difference between light and dark, but when it comes down to individuals there are a lot of shades of grey.

The Spook, over the course of the series, eventually makes compromises for the greater good. But I think he could have reached that point and a lot of evil could have been averted if Tom had just spoken up and shared what he knows.

But’s that’s one of the great things about this series. Tom was doing the same thing that you or I probably would have done. It’s very easy to say what the right thing to do is, it’s another to actually do it. You and I would probably not do the smart thing if we were in Tom’s shoes.

But I will tell you what the right thing to do is. Read the books. Don’t see the movie. It’s bad. Read the books, you will be glad that you did. While this is certainly a YA series, the story and worldbuilding are hard to beat.

The Last Watch: A Novel Of The Divide by J.S. Dewes

The Last Watch (The Divide Series Book 1) by [J. S. Dewes]

This book first came to my attention thanks to a “Big Idea” post on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever. In that post, Dewes explained that the original inspiration for the book came from a single line sung by Johnny Cash in the song “Highwayman.”

“I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide.”

That instantly hooked me because like Dewes I’ve listened to that song many times and thought that there must be a story somewhere in that line. Turns out Dewes found it.

The Last Watch follows a group of Sentinels, soldiers sent to stand guard at the edge of the universe as a punishment. That’s how Adequin got there at least. The other POV character, Cavalon, was once the heir-apparent to one of humanity’s royal houses, THE royal house in fact, or as close to this universe has to one. Forcing him to enlist in the Sentinels was a convenient way to get rid of him.

In a way, both Cavalon and Adequin are out of place in their current posting and are in conflict with each other. At the start, Adequin is trying to beat Cavalon into an acceptable soldier and Cavalon is just trying to be…Cavalon? He really wants to be better he just can’t seem to keep his mouth shut.

Both of them will learn a lot by the end of the book. They accomplish a lot too. In this book, Dewes manages to tell a small story with large implications. I think that’s a skill. We are so used to protagonists with outsized importance. The characters that Dewes created do have a great deal of importance, but they have also been completely relegated to the edges of society. And I mean it when I say edges.

The book’s back cover promised an existential threat that only the Sentinels could avert. It didn’t disappoint. There are a lot of ideas in this book coupled to a lot of fun. The dialogue is great, the ideas are better, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the second book. You should go read it. Right now.

Dan Simmons’ Mystery Box

Mystery can be a great driver of plot and a trap at the same time. J.J Abrams is notorious for using this strategy in Lost and blowing it at the end. The problem is if you set up some huge mystery at the beginning of a narrative you better have a satisfying answer to the mystery by the end. Or do you?

I would argue that you don’t. If you do it right.

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, Book 1) by [Dan Simmons]

If you have a great answer to the mystery you present to your audience at the beginning then by all means share it, but if you do you better make sure you are very confident in the answer. Your audience will not thank you if your answer fails to live up to their expectations. Remember how disappointed Spongebob was to find out Patrick has just spent the entire episode hiding the string in his secret box?

I am here to argue that sometimes it’s best to leave mysteries unsolved. There is both terror and wonder in the unknown, that’s part of being human, there’s no reason the stories we tell shouldn’t reflect that.

I am using Dan Simmons as an example here because his 1989 science fiction novel “Hyperion” is fantastic. It’s the kind of “genre fiction” that gets literature snobs to lower their barriers. But I think it would have been better if Simmons had never written a sequel. Let me explain.

Hyperion, unsurprisingly, centers around the planet Hyperion. A planet at the edge of known space, one that is not incorporated into the network of gates that allow instantaneous travel between worlds.

Traveling to Hyperion means sacrificing a great deal of time and accepting a certain amount of risk. Many accept this because Hyperion is a planet of mysteries. It is one of the labyrinthine worlds, worlds with great labyrinths constructed by unknown aliens. It is also home to the Shrike and the Time Tombs. Both have been sent back in time for an unknown purpose.

shallow focus photography of gray concrete building
Photo by Sebastian Palomino on Pexels.com

One group of humans, the Shrike Church, believe that the Shrike is a punishment for humanity’s sins and traveling willingly on pilgrimages to Hyperion where most of them will be killed in various horrible ways by the Shrike. It’s strange how the bishops never go themselves, isn’t it?

The protagonists of Hyperion have all been selected for what will probably be the last Shrike pilgrimage. At the start of the book, it is stated that the Time Tombs are opening and that a group of transhumans called Ousters are about to attack the planet. There’s not much hope that the planet will hold out either. None of them are members of the Shrike Church, none of them know exactly why they were selected, all of them have their own reasons for accepting the missions.

The book is a futuristic retelling of the Canterbury Tales. In between chapters that narrate their journey to the planet and their attempts to determine who among them might be a spy, they each share their stories about what led them to accept their place on the pilgrimage.

Through their stories and their motivations, Simmons explores imperialism, artistic integrity, betrayal, love, artificial intelligence, technological reincarnation, fatherhood, and many more themes. In some ways, the book is also a love letter to John Keats.

In the end, despite their differences, they joined hands and walked to their fate. Then the book ends. The series should have ended there too.

photo of people near wooden table
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Instead, Simmons continued to write in this universe, which eventually became the Hyperion Cantos. The second book, The Fall of Hyperion, wasn’t that bad. It largely follows an artificial reincarnation of John Keats and much of the book’s events are told through his experiences. But we also see the POVs of the characters from the first novel. This is where the problem arises.

In writing the second novel Simmons had to explain all of the questions that arose in the first. In doing so he brings up a lot of interesting ideas that were totally unprecedented in the first novel. So instead of leaving the mysteries of the first book as mysteries, he chose to answer them with time-traveling agents from the future and messianic powers that came out of nowhere.

The first book was an amazing opportunity to explore multiple stories at once, to get close to deeply flawed characters with mixed motivations for being where they are, and to see them accept the uncertain future in front of them. I think the series would have ended beautifully with just one book. Instead, Simmons decided to keep writing.

That’s not to say that I hated the second book. I enjoyed most of it. Just not as much. I think I would have enjoyed it more if some of the concepts introduced in the first actually mattered in the second. Powers that destroy the Shrike don’t bother me as long as we the readers were given reason to think they might be possible beforehand.

But we weren’t.

I keep looking at the third book on my shelf and I don’t know if I can convince myself to read it. Hyperion is a great book and if it was the only book of the Hyperion Cantos that you read it will likely remain a great book in your eyes. Because the answers provided in the later books simply don’t hold up to the questions posed by the first. If you haven’t read Hyperion yet then you definitely should, but consider skipping the books that follow.

How To Read More Books

Start listening to audiobooks.

There was a time when I looked down on people who liked audiobooks. I ignorantly thought listening to a book was somehow a lesser experience than reading the words on a page. I was so wrong.

I began with a few books that were gifted to me on Audible, and I was a near-immediate convert. I began with a re-read of Dune, and it reignited my love for the series. Then I started listening to the Great Courses, and I’ve found a whole new way to learn that I wasn’t aware of before. It didn’t take me long to get my own audible subscription, and since I have, the benefits have expanded. Not only do I get one credit each month to buy a new book, but I also get access to a whole library of audible books included with my subscription. I’ve searched for certain titles on multiple occasions and found that they were already included with my subscription. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Now, I’m not just recommending Audible because I will financially benefit if you sign up for a free trial. I think it’s a really great service. But I understand if you don’t want to support Amazon by supporting Audible. So for the rest of this post, I will focus on why you should give audiobooks a chance and a few examples of audiobooks I’ve especially enjoyed.

They’re Efficient

I know I’m not the only one who is busy. These days it’s hard for me to find the time to read a 1000 page doorstopper. As much as I love them, I just don’t have the time. Audiobooks have been a lifesaver in this segment of my literary experience. I can download an audiobook and listen to it while driving, while I’m doing chores, even while brushing my teeth in the morning. All the moments in my day where I turn my brain off while my body does something tedious, I listen to audiobooks. It’s allowed me to make those parts of my day infinitely more enjoyable while finally getting to experience the books I’ve always wanted to read.

They’re More Engaging

I tried to read American Gods on several occasions. I really did. I just couldn’t get into it. Then one day, I was browsing and found the full-cast recording of American Gods. Honestly, it was just better than the print version. A good narrator(s) can do so much to change and enhance the experience.

Recommended

Revelation Space – This is another one of those books that I would not have had time to read if I had gotten the text edition. The audiobook was over twenty hours long, and there are at least five books in the series. The narrator, John Lee, does a phenomenal job with voices. Overall the series is a great example of interstellar hard science fiction.

American Gods – This was a book I tried to read on several occasions and never got past the first chapter. For some reason, it just didn’t work. Then I downloaded the full-cast audiobook on a whim, and I blew through it. There are so many little stories inside the larger one, I know some people don’t like Shadow’s extended stay in Michigan, but that was one of my favorite segments of the book.

The Anatomy of Fascism – I often forget that Audible subscriptions come with a library of free audiobooks now. The Anatomy of Fascism, which I wrote about a few months ago, was one of those books. It’s a fascinating analysis of Hitler and Mussolini’s respective brands of fascism.

The Story of Human Language – This is one of the Great Courses offered on Audible, and I heartily recommended it. It’s a fascinating introduction to linguists and what it can tell us about our past.