Tuesday, 25 June 2019 17:02

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 16

Just wanted to post a quick update here before I get to my day's editing.

By the end of the week, Bringing Ragnarok, Book Three (The Second Fimbulwinter) will be 75% complete, with only the third Part left to write.

Manuscript stands at just over 100,000 words, and I'm aiming to bring it in at right around 145,000 words.

So longer than Book One, but a bit shorter than Book Two. And as I mentioned in a previous update, this Book's position in the metastructure lets me tone down the combat a bit, and focus more on lore and understanding the mad broken world the Six Friends have discovered was always lurking beyond sight.

This, of course, setting the stage for the escalation of the action and intensity of the fighting through Book Four, which will echo Book Two but be a little shorter and more focused, the battles less about teaching the characters what war is like and more about advancing their new organization's interests, while learning how to also advance their own.

Now, this being said I am behind schedule, and for that I apologize!

But not that much, because I have a very good excuse: Spouse was recovering from brain surgery. Which went fine and seems to have worked as planned, but still requires a long and slow recovery. Turns out, brain don't like being mucked with or swelling or really anything of a physical nature (this is why Traumatic Brain Injuries are so devastating and probably far more widespread than we all realize, particularly among veterans) - hence why they hide behind a nice thick skull.

And I'm simply unable to function when my spouse or one of our animals is ill. So progress on Book Three slowed considerably for two months, pushing what I'd hoped would be a June release back to August.

Knock on wood and gods willing, life gets back to normal from here. Seeing her come alive again after a year of heavy medication has been a treat in and of itself.

Heh, on normal - anybody seen the news recently? I keep being right about the way things have been and continue to be headed, and I hope very much that I stop being right any day now. But if you want more of my thoughts on those fronts, click on of the other tabs than Bringing Ragnarok. Yes, the Saga is deeply rooted in understanding our contemporary struggles, but I work hard to avoid being too in-your-face about it, and my allergy to rhetoric remains potent, so my style of reflection and understanding is not "political" in the modern American sense. My own rhetoric and philosophy, if you want it, is elsewhere in the site.

And as for updates on how the first two Books in the saga are doing - I continue to attract readers at a steady pace, and if the research I've done is correct, publishing Book Three should tug my growth curve upward substantially. We'll see!

It can only help that, after a long and anxious drought, I've suddenly started getting ratings for Book 2 on Goodreads and even a couple more reviews on Amazon!

A huge thank so much to the readers willing to take their time to write out their impressions of an author's work! The story isn't really alive until people have read it and felt it resonate in some way. I'm particularly happy that (this holds for private discussion with beta readers) even people who don't usually read this sort of book are finding it interesting and even compelling.

Definitely a boost to my motivation to get Book Three out on schedule!

I may get a pre-order landing page set up on Amazon in July, but I want to get the full manuscript through beta first.

Finally, for those who for whatever reason like to use Twitter, earlier this year I set up an account where I post as "Mimr's Head' - rarely keeping in-character, because I'm no actor. If you happen to use Twitter, feel free to see all the random stuff I post into the aether, hoping some decent ideas find a good home at @mimr_s

I actually don't very much like social media, and got rid of Facebook a couple years ago. But it irritates me that I constantly see Tweets by a certain orange idiot even in the international news, and find it kind of therapeutic to do my own angry shouting at the crowd with my weird Norse-Buddhist take on the world. So, until Twitter finds a way to evade my ad-block software, I figure, why not?

And oddly enough, totally against my expectations... there are actually a couple communities on Twitter that are both not terrible and also kind of cool to be in touch with. Progressive veterans who loathe what is happening in the USA, international scholars talking about cool research, Tulsi Gabbard supporters - basically people I rarely get to interact with in the real world. It's actually helping stimulate some writing ideas, and expanding my reading list.

Welp, think that's all the business I've neglected to cover in the past couple months. For anyone who is interested in the story but wants it in print, I am beginning to send the Book One manuscript to publishers (starting in Canada), in the hope that I can find one willing to handle the print and audiobook side of publishing.

Ideally, I'd get independently big and be able to hire my own staff. But one step at a time - and capital is exceedingly difficult to get hold of when you're an over-educated autistic with no family wealth or connections to leverage.

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there!

Published in Blog

Whew, what a month April has been!

As I mentioned in a previous Dev Diary, my spouse has trigeminal neuralgia, and recently went through minor brain surgery to effect repairs.

All has gone as pretty much as planned, though she is not the sort of person who bears well being trapped in a chair waiting to heal for a month.

My progress on Bringing Ragnarok: Book Three has slowed to a crawl, though. I generally work best alone. I mean, mostly alone, anyway because is anyone truly alone when you have cats? I firmly believe that crazy cat ladies are actually just folks who have life figured out.

Of course, in a world where sanity is defined relative to the mental state of the rest of the population, maybe crazy doesn’t actually mean what it used to.

I find myself walking around more and more convinced that the wold has gone rather mad. Madder than usual, even.

Anyway! Back to the point – slow progress on the writing front. I’m starting to suspect that my publication date may slip to August, but the good news is that the publication date for Book 4, December 2019, should be unaffected.

While I slow in getting final edits made to Part 1 of Book 3, which will push back drafting Book 2 to mid-May, I have been able to do a lot of the research and planning that will make writing the rest of Book 3 and Book 4 even easier this year.

I’ve probably mentioned in these before that I’m incredibly obsessive-compulsive when it comes to embedding realism into my work. I love world-building, and find it much easier to focus on writing good characters and dialog in the world once I’ve fleshed out backstories.

So I’ve already filled a couple notebooks full of maps, diagrams, timelines, histories, hell, even the outlines of a couple academic fields.

Much of this material won’t even make it into Bringing Ragnarok. It’ll be for my next project, which I’m tentatively titling "Bivrost Nine" and will take place in a very different 22nd century than the one Yari and Loucas are stuck in. Many of the same features of my style will remain the same – multiple alternating perspectives, lots of lore – but the story will essentially be in the spirit of Babylon 5, Firefly, Star Wars, and Star Trek. My own anarchist/anti-colonial take on those genres, focusing on interstellar cooperation, diplomacy, and empire-building.

Empire-building from an anti-imperial perspective? Yup, I think it’s doable. And fun too – sci-fi adventure with tons of history and mythology, less than half of it human.

But Bringing Ragnarok gets its fair share of attention! In the 20th century Europe point along the Six Friends’ new Thread of reality, Eryn’s path will take her from Berlin to the Eastern Front in Poland, as the great Soviet Winter Offensive of 1945 is about to commence. So I’ve had to work out the approximate orders of battle for the Soviet and (alternative history) German Resistance armies, come up with a temporary counter to the Allied Air campaign so the Germans can actually do something with the forces they’ve assembled, and reveal the reason why Eryn has to go East, when she’d already had more than enough of war out West.

And in 21st century Post-America Kim, Timur, and Patrick are on the front lines of another looming conflict. The Deserets, naturally, were always a side-show for the Missoula Regiment. Texas was actually pulling their strings, hoping to expand north into Montana before the Lakers – shorthand for the Great Lakes Confederation headquartered in decontaminated Chicago – get there first. For their adventure, I’ve been doing a lot of Google Earth based recon – and getting some physiogeographic advice from an awesome person who runs one of the coolest, most calming sets of blogs ever. And, naturally, I’ve had to design a plausible Texas Armed Forces structure, decide what equipment they’d use in 2040, and what former US military divisions would be reflagged to Texan control.

Then there’s the 22nd century Inner Solar System, where Yarielis and Loucas are finally at a place of safety – Insurgence Headquarters, deep in the Northwest Hexant of the Belt – it isn’t to last. The hornet’s nest they’ve stirred up – ok, let’s be honest a long-simmering uprising across the colonized Solar System against the rich people who run everything from their paradise megacities on Earth – means that the Insurgence has to kick into high gear, and all hands (flesh, metal, or holographic) are needed for the fight. So, naturally, I’ve had to establish where the Navy’s fleets are, their response times, and what sort of plan an organization used to guerilla tactics might employ granted better equipment specifically built for the task. And, because fighting is only half the battle, develop the means to get Yari and Loucas to an important meeting on one of the Habitats of Lagrange Point 4 – Ramallah Station.

And mentioning Palestine – there is another factor that has been slowing my progress this past month.

Politics.

The problem with having a lot of time where you need to be up and about – getting medicine, food, running errands – is that it is hard for an autistic like myself to get settled enough to do the “hard” work of figuring out what words to type out, then what ones to delete or write again.

As a result, I’ve let my brain get distracted by politics again.

And the problem with politics is that I find them eminently frustrating. Which impacts my productivity.

Most people dislike politics to some degree, but my dislike is rooted in the terrible mistake of knowing too much.

Which sounds arrogant, but remember: I’m autistic. Special interests studied to the exclusion of all else are part of the package. And mine are informed by years of postgraduate education in part a result of this special interest-slash-obsession, focusing on question of politics and policy from both technical/empirical and philosophical/ethical perspectives.

Plus I grew up in one of those rural conservative christian households where Fox News played most hours of the evening. Which offers me a unique insight into the worldview of that tribe, now proving so decisive in Anglo-Saxon elections, that appears totally lacking in almost all the mainstream discourse.

Basically, what we’re witnessing right now is a global collapse of the postwar socio-political-economic order. It is driven by a few key factors. Wealth and income equality are one, because they amp up the stakes of all interactions between members of the system. The internet is another, both because it has made information so cheap that it is more and more difficult for any one group to dominate global discourse and because this has forcibly revealed humanity to be more diverse than is comfortable for many people. And America’s failure to control its military-industrial complex and commit to a stable and just international security regime is a third.

And yeah – this doesn’t even mention the climate crisis. Which is real, only just beginning, and unlikely to get more than token support so long as the collapse consuming the rest of the world system continues unabated.

Ultimately, the old order is breaking down, and as it does, groups with starkly different visions of the future are engaged in escalating conflicts. Everyone is tightening their hold on their resources, members of their tribe, bracing in instinctive anticipation of what may come – and getting suspicious of outsiders.

It’s an old story, really, one of the oldest. And very frustrating to watch in real-time. Especially when I look around the internet, I listen to what people say, and I realize how completely asinine the discourse has become.

If you tell me what you online publications read, I can probably tell you who you want to vote for in 2020.

Better yet, if I were to look closely at the headlines, track record of writers, and other interesting details of the media landscape you consume, I could probably tell you exactly what kinds of phrases those writers and editors use specifically to attract your attention by feeding you ideas you already agree with.

Politics is always about identity. And so political publications, almost always funded by ads under the present model dominating the Internet and also facing conditions of ruthless competition, basically offer commentary geared to make some subsection of the political market happy.

So most everything you read about politics, and therefore most everything anyone talks about politics-wise, is just a giant feedback loop containing mostly nonsense and noise. All the chatter is just that – chatter.

And chatter accomplishes very little. Except maybe increase CO2 emissions. So, back to writing I go, and let the world take care of itself.

Published in Blog

I am more than a bit obsessed with Swedish melodic death metal.

This is actually a relatively new development in my life, though not entirely unforeseen, I suppose. I’m autistic, and hypersensitive to sound. The downside to this: One form of personal torment for me is sunny days, where the lawnmowers and airplanes (we live near an “Airpark”) are out and about, buzzing endlessly and without obvious productive purpose.

The more fortunate flip side of this hypersensitivity is that I have always gained extreme enjoyment from listening to music. In fact, I actually suspect autism is somehow related to synesthesia, because I’m not only sensitive to music in terms of rhythm and tone, but I can – provided I am in the right frame of mind – actually see the story the music tells.

For an author, this is a damned handy thing. It not only tends to eliminate writer’s block the moment the music begins, but it also helps me dream up some of (what I think are) my best scenes. Truth be told, there are entire chapters in Bringing Ragnarok specifically structured to give life to a musically-induced vision, and I'm totally cool with that.

But what I think is kind of funny, is how far I’ve come from my musical roots. As I mentioned, I didn’t always like Swedish melodeath – I didn’t know my absolute favorite band, Amon Amarth (Arch Enemy is a close second), even existed, until about 2015. I grew up in the rural US West, in a deeply Christian household, and both parents liked old-school Country music. It wasn’t exactly a rock n’ roll household, by any stretch, and to this day I don’t even know any Beatles or Rolling Stones songs when I hear them.

Even worse, the radio stations where I grew up - a little slice of the old Confederacy transplanted to Northern California -  were mostly country, christian, or classic rock. A veritable auditory desert.

Thankfully, about age fourteen (about the same time I abandoned the whole Christianity thing), I discovered that my new stereo system could – just barely, and only with much manipulation of antennae – pick up a radio station broadcasting from the nearest college town, Chico. This was – before the death of non-corporate radio – 106.7 Z-Rock, and through it I discovered the broader world of rock and metal.

Being an angsty teenager, I of course gravitated towards the most aggressive-sounding music typically played. Which in the late ‘90s, was (in the USA) the start of the Nu-metal trend. Limp Bizkit (oh gods, why?!), Papa Roach (the first CD was alright), and Korn (actually good in their early years) offered a different sound than the then-dominant grunge rock of Nirvana (which I like, but it was played a LOT in the ‘90s).

And then, I discovered contemporary American heavy metal. Slipknot, Mudvayne, Spineshank, System of a Down. I was listening to the last when I heard about the September 11 attacks – (appropriate, in retrospect) and Slipknot in particular (Spineshank’s Height Of Callousness was spectacular, and underrated) kept me going through college and into my Army days. I’d have been happy to have been called a maggot in the 2000’s, and I still pull out their early albums every so often even now that I’ve pretty fully converted to European melodeath.

In FlamesSoundtrack to Your Escape was my first introduction to the genre (I'll always remember walking to my Medieval English History course at Berkeley with that screaming in my headphones), but I could never predicted how much of a gateway drug that would turn out to be! Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I had encountered Amon Amarth’s work then, when they had just published Fate of Norns. But, maybe, those aforementioned goddesses knew that it was not yet my time.

Regardless, it was another ten years before I would re-encounter Swedish melodeath – in fact, I didn’t really do much to develop my personal aesthetic tastes on any front for a decade. Too busy trying (failing) to figure out the whole career thing, getting graduate degrees, building a household, and all that good jazz.

In late 2015 I was working on a statistical analysis project (published!) with Pandora active, set to play some In Flames, because I had listened to the CD again for the first time in a few years and remembered how much I really liked it. Naturally, other Swedish bands out of Gothenborg seen as similar to In Flames started coming up on the Pandora playlist. So I heard Dark Tranquility for the first time, and started buying their CDs. And I heard Amon Amarth.

To be absolutely honest, I had heard of Amon Amarth before – I’m a massive Tolkien-nerd, and in my various deep dives into Wikipedia and Tvtropes I’d run across the random factoid that a Swedish death metal band used Tolkien’s Sindarin name for Mount Doom (the place you throw the Ring of Fire, gentle Hobbits). Something I wholeheartedly approved of, but never had the motivation to track down the band’s work.

So when I heard a song come on that was, well, fucking awesome, and realized who it was by, I was hooked. “Valhall Awaits Me”, from With Oden on Our Side, is about a warrior in the heat of combat, slaying one foe after another – until being slain in turn. Sound grimdark? Yeah, well, that’s life, when you boil it right down to its bare essence.

Amon Amarth, for me, represents the perfect fusion of sonic complexity and lyrical storytelling. Death metal, even Swedish melodeath (as the name implies, it is death metal with an emphasis on melody), is difficult music, to play or to hear. The entire point of the genre is to explore that most terrifying and fundamental inevitability of human existence: the End. Because once you have explored that, the greatest of terrors, in all its aspects – only then, can you conquer it, and truly understand what it means to live.

Death is a difficult concept for Americans, accustomed as the culture is to avoiding hard material realities of life. The American music that does go down this road (Rap, Folk, and some Hip-Hop come to mind) traditionally comes from communities that have been trampled on throughout US history – and as a result, if it enters mainstream consciousness at all, it is usually stripped of all its subversive passion. I suspect that death metal too is appreciated mostly by marginalized populations in the United States – the people who have actually lived the nightmare that is the American Dream, for anyone outside the mainstream.

Another thing I positively adore about Amon Amarth is the way they elicit, in sonic form, the spirit of the old Norse – and really, thereby, the broader Germanic and ultimately Indo-European – history and way of life. Western “Civilization” has largely been a long process of Greco-Roman cultural imperialism and cultural homogenization. The old ways were mostly lost as a result of switching from oral to written history at a time when those in control of writing actively worked to bury or re-interpret the past to suit their political goals.

One of the most fundamental factors enabling the virus of white supremacy is this loss of heritage. The many European peoples have been falsely taught to believe that they are united as a distinct race with a shared and unique history. This is bullshit, but the obliteration of our true past – as a tapestry of tribal groups not that different from those in any other part of the world – has enabled generations of “scholars” to claim otherwise. And so billions of other humans became our victims – and our leaders justify these atrocities as the price of “progress.”

To counter white supremacy, to destroy the false story it tells, “white” people must rediscover their true heritage, their actual deeper origins. And not just going back to Europe, but to Central Asia and before that, Africa. We must all reconnect with what makes us just like everyone else on this planet (and others?), the true day-to-day struggles and cares that define life in this mad, mad world.

Amon Amarth does a gorgeous job of carrying on the old traditions of Germanic storytelling, passed down in truncated form in the Eddas and Sagas. Something to keep in mind about this world: metaphor is essential. Pre-Christian Europeans were apparently particularly fond of word-play, of connecting concepts that seem unrelated in novel ways. Kennings are a classic example: If you want to be poetic in how you say “ship” you can call it a “sea-steed” – which makes sense, if you think of a ship and a horse as both being things a person can ride, with the environmental context determining what is ridden.

This works in death metal, and especially in Amon Amarth’s style, both because of the poetic flexibility needed for songwriting but also because once you make death a metaphor, you reduce its terror and allow for more deeper investigation of its structural nature. Which – and this is important – directly reflects the nature of the real world.

“Valhall Awaits Me” is a song about a warrior fighting to the death, but it is also a song about heedlessly throwing yourself into whatever challenge you face, saying to hell with the consequences. A scary thing to do, so most don’t. Which means that anyone who does, has a tremendous advantage. Whether you are writing a book, managing a project, or just getting through your 9-5, there are moments when single-minded devotion to surmounting challenges is the best possible response. And yeah, so in the end, you may lose – but so what? Sometimes, the experience is the point of endeavor. And fortunately, most challenges aren’t fatal. So knowing that even when they are, the same basic behavior is the best option? Helps you see that whatever you’re facing now, is probably less bad than it could be.

Something I learned in the military, doing things that terrified me: Motivation to courage comes from strange places.

Amon Amarth’s music is (to my ears) inventive, exploring, and thoughtful – even when it is also physically difficult to listen to. Death metal requires active listening, if you want to truly experience it. And there’s a lot going on, with a lot of volume, and tone changes. Drums roar like thunder, and death metal guitarists can do things with strings and tension that you wouldn’t believe possible. It is worth listening to just to appreciate the skill required.

And as for the growling vocals – hey, not everybody in this world can sing pretty. Weather-worn vikings (raiding is a very good metaphor for how to survive in the modern economy) get to sing in whatever voice all the sea air and shouting challenges at foes leaves after a few years.

And just for fun, here’s the part of the essay you probably just skimmed to: Where I list and rank all ten (it will be eleven SO VERY SOON!!!) Amon Amarth albums, with some Bringing Ragnarok relevant details.

Note: As I mentioned before, I listen to Amon Amarth, and I see things. The initial inspiration for sitting down and starting Bringing Ragnarok in 2016 was my attempt to make a playlist of all the Ragnarok-themed songs on their discography. Some scenes are derived directly from particular songs, and the major supporting character Sandra Chavez acts as a vehicle for my Amon Amarth fan-ness in the 2041 Thread. And the overall aesthetic is buried in the work.

Also: This is not intended to be a critical review. I like all the albums, some slightly more than others. On a scale of 0-100, I’d give each and every one a 92 or better. Better is a relative thing in aesthetics, and I don’t much see the value in musical criticism that isn't intended to help a band achieve what it wants to do with the music.

So without further yammering, to the rankings (inverse order), with my favorite three songs from each (woe that I can only pick three - but this can't go much longer than 4,000 words or nobody will read it)

 

Jomsviking (92/100)
Again, I REALLY like this album! The sound has evolved slightly from albums 8-9, and not in my absolute favorite direction, yet. When Berserker comes out I feel like it will tell me more about the direction they’re heading (a female lead singer if Johan Hegg ever decides to retire from raiding the distant shores? I hope!)

Back on Northern Shores
Epic ending track. Actually based on an attested battle, and one of those where I’m sailing right there in the prow of a Dragon Ship as the Berserks launch their desperate, doomed attack...

First Kill
I don’t think there’s a better way to start an album than roaring “The first man I killed, was the Earl’s right-hand man, when he came to take her away!”

One Thousand Burning Arrows
The song that always makes me think about anyone I’ve ever lost. And rpretty much what I'd want for my own funeral sendoff!



The Avenger (92/100)
The only criticism I have with this album is that it isn’t long enough. I’ve seen it referred to in reviews as a simple extension of the first album, Once Sent from the Golden Hall, which are probably fair, but who cares? They’re great. “Metalwrath” is an exception, it isn’t a bad song, just a bid of a parody and so kind of a one-off I listen to on its own, not part of the album.

The Last With Pagan Blood
The song describing the afterlife I sincerely hope exists. An endless party in Valhalla with all your friends, family, and pets healed and happy. So yeah, this describes Val-hall and the Einherjar in Bringing Ragnarok quite well.

Legend of a Banished Man
Quintessential song about someone forced from their home by Christians, who returns for vengeance.

Bleed for Ancient Gods
Just an all-out, aggressive statement of what ancestor veneration is really all about. Living according to their ethic to honor their memory and sacrifice.



Once Sent from the Golden Hall (93/100)
First album, and still an excellent album. I sincerely wish I had been exposed to this in high school. Apparently it was intended to be a concept album with a linked storyline (achieved in Jomsviking), and a number of the tracks fit that description well. Starts off with a song about someone losing their child, and swearing vengeance. Can’t think of a better motivation.

The Dragons’ Flight Across the Waves
With “Ride for Vengeance” basically a 9-minute track about one warrior swearing vengeance, then a companion bidding his family farewell as he goes along on the quest for retribution. I listen to it whenever I have to take a long trip away from home.

Victorious March
A song I like to listen to after a triumph of reasonable magnitude. About taking due vengeance against the perpetrators of a heinous act – another topic where the metaphor is key. Oddly enough, I kind of prefer the German language version of the track, “Siegreicher Marsch”

Amon Amarth
The track named the same as the band has got to be a statement. This one is about a grimdark battle between vikings and a great army on the slopes of a dark mountain. So, what you listen to before you do battle with Orcs.



The Crusher (94/100)
This is hands-down the angriest Amon Amarth album, and properly so, as it hits on topics of censorship and enforced faith. This is the album that is most clearly inspired by the forced Christianization of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Also appears to be the album that was the hardest on Johan Hegg’s voicebox.

The Sound of Eight Hooves
This song is how I’d like to see Mike Pence meet his fate. Preacher hung by pagans, discovers Odin (Odin = Icelandic spelling, Oden = Swedish) is more interested in him than the Christian god...

As Long as the Raven Flies
Sandra Chavez’ favorite song, and life ethic. About the inevitability of war (struggle), and a statement of commitment to the basic human struggle to build a better life while we’ve got the opportunity. Only through this struggle can we build a better world in this life or any that may come after.

Releasing Surtur’s Fire
To be written ;)

Note: “Risen From the Sea” is one of the few only ok Amon Amarth songs. I sometimes listen to it, but not with any album, same with “Metalwrath” and “Eyes of Horror” and a couple other one-offs.



Fate of Norns (94/100)
Every few albums Amon Amarth gets a little experimental, and this one came after what the band sees as its first era, albums 1-4. It gets a bit slower, and even a bit heavier than those before (already extremely heavy). This one is atmospheric for me, one I listen to when I want to think strange thoughts.

The Pursuit of Vikings
A long, epic-like song about a group of vikings preparing to launch on a raid. There’s a live version that I think is absolutely effing cool just for Johan Hegg’s joking on stage about how nobody can understand the lyrics. “Odin, guide our ships, our axes spears and swords!” will get written into an upcoming scene with reference to that video.

The Beheading of a King
Shorter than the usual Amon Amarth track, I love how they lyrically tell the story of a battle between two kings, that goes terribly wrong (for one side). I wish I could pay them to do this for like, half the battles in history.

The Fate of Norns
A song I can’t be objective about because it reminds me of the animals we’ve lost and who I still miss. The song itself is about a man mourning the death of his child. ‘Nuff said.



Deceiver of the Gods (95/100)
This is just one of those all-around good albums that I listen to again and again and again, from start to finish and in the proper order. I do that with most, but some of the earlier albums (that I like to listen to later in the day, for some reason) I leave a song off or my spouse often comes home in the middle, so I’m less rigoros. DotG, however – nope. Full listen, every time, if possible. It’s just that good, though there is a slight tone shift on this album that leaves it feeling distinctly more up-tempo than, say, Fate of Norns.

As Loke Falls
About the last moments of the Last Battle, Ragnarok, just before Loke loses his head. Naturally, this is baked in to Bringing Ragnarok at a particular point (ok, maybe more than one – we’re dealing with parallel Threads here, y’know). Glorious description of Heimdall and Loke’s mutual battle to the death.

Blood Eagle
How I so desperately want Donald Trump to meet his fate. ‘Nuff said.

Warriors of the North
A song about being true to your vows, even when betrayed, then rising up after years in exile to defend those you vowed to protect, despite their betrayal. Very much a scene that ought to be in a movie set in Middle Earth (oh, how I wish Tolkien had the time to write more)



Twilight of the Thunder God (96/100)
This is just one long stretch of loud, fast, fun songs. This is one of the easiest Amon Amarth albums to listen to, I think, it simply thunders along from one great track to another. I would say this is the best produced of the Amon Amarth albums, in terms of the overall structure. It also always makes me want to listen to another album, given the tragic way it ends!

Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags
Yeah, this one shows up in Bringing Ragnarok, because it’s about the march of the risen Dead to Vegris – an essential component of the mythos, as I’m re-telling it. The imagery here is stunning, and drawn straight from the Eddas.

Varyags of Miklagaard
Another of their history-themed songs, and one of their absolute best tracks. A song about the Northern European warriors who for centuries traveled from Scandinavia to Constantinople to fight as mercenaries in the armies of the Emperor. As a reward, they traditionally got to raid the palace treasury at the end of their contract period, carrying off whatever they could back home.

Free Will Sacrifice
Directly quoted by Sandra Chavez in the Battle of the Teton River Valley, September 2041, as the Missoula Regiment counterattack begins against the attacking Deseret Army. Just that damn epic a song about battle.



Surtur Rising (96/100)
I feel like this is a more melancholy version of Twilight of the Thunder God, even more focused on history and the Norse ethic. As a result, it has an even more epic quality to it, and explores more of the arcana of Norse mythology, like Fenris-Wolf, Surtur, and the Loke-Baldur conflict (all touched on in Bringing Ragnarok). Just another well done album that I listen to from start to finish, then again in a few days or a week.

The Last Stand of Frej
Frej, which I English-ize to Freyr, is Freyja’s twin brother and a fellow Vanir god into love and nature and fertility and getting really drunk. This song is about his final stand against his nemesis: Surtur, the destroyer, whose flames will consume Midgard after Freyr’s suicidal final charge. Beautiful, melancholy track.

Slaves of Fear
This one is unusual for Amon Amarth in that it addresses contemporary world issues, though through the lens of the Norse mythos and its particular ethic. This song is simply about how Greco-Roman Christianity and Capitalists preach to us, scare us, do whatever they can to make us give them our money.

Doom Over Dead Man
A slow, mournful track, about a man on his deathbed, who realizes he has accomplished nothing in his life that will matter after he is gone. According to the most ancient Indo-European ethic known (and a similar ethic holds in most cultures), “one’s name” – in other words, the things they accomplish or build that impact the world enough that people bother to remember them – is all of any of us that will ever last in this world.



Versus the World (97/100)
This was almost Amon Amarth’s last album. That’s why the whole thing is about Ragnarok, in one way or another, from the Dead rising at Loke’s call, to the Einherjar preparing for war, to Odin’s last ride on Sleipnir to face the Fenris-Wolf at the End of Days. Thank the gods things didn’t turn out like they feared – but also, thank the gods that they were motivated to make what remains one of their best albums. This was actually the album that convinced me I had to get all of Amon Amarth’s albums.

For the Stabwounds in Our Backs
This song directly inspires a scene in Book 2 of Bringing Ragnarok. It’s about the Dead rising at Loke’s call to fight the gods at the Last Battle, dealing with their motivations and rage. It also (perhaps inadvertently) touches on one of the oldest and most famous rhetorical tactics in politics, the “Stab in the Back” myth. I combine these two ideas to explain why the Dead fight for Loke – and it isn’t about good vs evil.

Death in Fire
This one is essentially about the Einherjar, the gods’ counterpart to the Dead, slain warriors taken by the gods to fight for them, and their motivations. I quote it at the start of Part 1, and certain of these themes will come up again and again in the course of the full Saga.

Thousand Years of Oppression
Johan Hegg gets extra points in my book for using a poem written by his sister as part of this song, about Odin’s sacrifice of himself to himself in search of wisdom, and the hypocrisy of Christianity as it destroyed the old Norse culture in Europe, pretending to be about peace, but in truth about dominance. I love the call for returning to our roots inherent in the piece, and certain aspects of this story will become very important as Bringing Ragnarok proceeds.



With Oden on Our Side (98/100)
Not much more I can say than you could already glean from the above. This album is as close to perfection as any I've ever heard. Each track flows to the next, there are glorious highs and melancholy lows, with each track its own special bit of awesome. I only wish there were more! This album, along with Versus the World, are what got me writing fiction again after a long break. Basically, narmy as it sounds, they got me pursuing my dream. And I want to return the favor by amplifying their message, and incorporating their aesthetic and Tolkiens into the heart of Bringing Ragnarok.

Gods of War Arise
Rexburg, Idaho, 2041. If the gods grant me success, I will make this chapter into the most anti-war film sequence, ever. Saving Private Ryan for the War on Terror.

Cry of the Black Birds
Every time I listen to this track, I have a vision of the riders of Rohan charging to Gondor’s defense at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Which is probably my all-time favorite moment in fiction, ever. Yes, this one will make it into Bringing Ragnarok, at a similar point in the narrative. Only, with tanks.

Valhall Awaits Me
Given what I wrote above, need I say more? This exemplifies my approach to, well, everything. Win, lose, or draw, I believe in the struggle.

So there you have it! All ten Amon Amarth albums published as of April, 2019. I can’t effing wait for Berserker to drop, and what visions it will bring to me. If you are a fan of this kind of music, or are willing to try something new, check them out, like, yesterday.

 

UPDATE May 2019:

I have finally had the time to sit down and listen to Berserker.

It is awesome. Buy it now.

That is all.

 

Thank you Amon Amarth!

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 20 March 2019 15:18

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 13

Wow, how is it late March already?

That's time, I suppose. Unless you are a Time Lord, of course.

I have to admit to being a bit behind where I wanted to be on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok. Part 1 is written and going through the re-write phase (me going line-by-line on the digital manuscript to make it sound like I wanted it to in the first place), but I had hoped to be through Part 2 by the end of March.

So I expect to publish in July, possibly late July - but I have a good reason for the delay!

I don't generally talk about details of the home life, because I'm a rather private person when it comes to anything but my ideas. But suffice to say, my spouse has been going through a difficult medical condition, called trigeminal neuralgia, for most of the past year. It's a nasty, terribly painful condition, but we're exceptionally lucky in that we live about an hour away from a hospital that employs one of the world leaders in treating it, and there's hope for relief in sight - albeit, after a major operation and a lengthy period of convalescence at home.

So writing has been a bit interrupted, both by my obsessive need to care for anything sick in my household, as well bringing my academic career to a conclusion.

On that - if you've dared to read through any of my other (too-long) thinkpieces on this site, you can probably guess that I spend a lot of time reading dense academic literature. This is because for most of the last eight years, I have been working towards a doctorate in the social sciences.

Since my undergraduate days at Berkeley, I've had an autistic-obsession with understanding how the world works. Not just the physical world, but the human world as well. So after moving to Oregon - a terrible mistake in terms of building a viable academic career, for reasons I'll go into on another post, sometime - I took the opportunity to go to grad school. There I took classes in almost every discipline you can imagine (and some you probably haven't) and learned every method I could, eventually earning a spot in a doctoral program.

But I never was, or wanted to be, a traditional academic. And the longer I stayed in the Ivory Tower, the more I hated it, because the contemporary American university is not about education, but about learning how to become a proper white suburbanite.

Make no mistake - American academia has baked-in racism, sexism, and elitism, that make it exceptionally difficult for anyone who doesn't look or sound like the established tenured academic's idea of a colleague to build a career. If you are not a white, middle-class, neurotypical and able-bodied American male, you will experience exclusion and discrimination at some level.

Many people rise above, and do great things, and more power to them! I have personally known quite a few brilliant, capable scientists dedicated to improving understanding. But unfortunately, they're the minority. Most faculty are tenured or tenure-track white men desperate to fit in, because that's how you get employment-for-life, regardless of your actual skills. A great gig, if you can get it - and ultimately, all else gets submerged in the dismal political-economy of tenure.

Me, I have learned throughout my life, working in a bunch of different industries, that sucking up and fitting in is only ever a short-term solution. I had hoped academia would be something of a meritocracy, as it is billed, but my own experiences of actually doing meritorious stuff proved that standing out in any way not explicitly approved by your department is exceptionally dangerous, whether you get published in a top journal early in your career or mix hard science methods with critical theory and send a proposal to the National Science Foundation.

Anyway, long story short, in the past year medical crisis and family losses convinced me it is time to leave academia - at least, American academia. So the past few months, I've been wrapping up my academic projects, while working as a research assistant for a professor in the area. I've also been trying to build up my savings a bit, to make sure I have plenty of capital to invest in taking Bringing Ragnarok to the next level.

I've at least obliquely mentioned in past Dev Diaries that I've been learning how to do marketing and advertising as I go, and been generating some interesting results. Having pretty much zero experience in this world, save as an extension of theory and methods I've learned over the years, it has been a definite learning experience.

But about nine months in, I've paid for enough clicks and examined the results in enough depth to get a sense of how Bringing Ragnarok is being received. Here are some takeaways:

  • Genre is a tricky thing. I don't think or write in terms of genre, I just like particular kinds of stories - historical, character-driven, philosophical - written by people with something interesting to say. I incorporate themes and tropes from Fantasy, Science Fiction, War Literature, and Norse Mythology. All of which makes marketing difficult in an industry where genre provides the structure allowing people to find books they like.

    Genre-ing Bringing Ragnarok has been difficult. And rather than decide the genre before hand, I've chosen to use the data to tell me where it fits. This strategy has had downsides - there is a subset of readers (mostly male) who guard the boundaries of their favorite genre. Bringing Ragnarok contains elements of litRPG, gamelit, alternate history or alternative history, and technothriller, but it isn't any of those things exclusively. Most of my poor ratings have come from genre-readers who didn't even get through half of Book 1 - or Nazi sympathizing white supremacists.

    Ultimately, the best fit as these things go appears to be cyberpunk science fiction and a mish-mash of epic and historical fantasy, with Norse mythology providing the connecting tissue, so to speak, and war fiction providing the action. So, I am narrowing my marketing and advertising to target these categories - and seeing results.

  • Women like my work more than men. Now that I've hit two dozen independent ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, I'm able to apply some actual (very basic, given the small n) statistical analysis. Women, on average, rate Bringing Ragnarok a half to a full star higher than men - and I'm pretty sure I know why.

    There is a strong subset of white males who react negatively to any inclusion of women or people of color in what they see as their fiction - science fiction and fantasy. I knew going in that I would run into these twits, and because Amazon and Goodreads let me see what sorts of books people rating Bringing Ragnarok like, I have a decent sense of why certain people (a subset of males) don't like it.

    I'm writing not only sci-fi/fantasy, but war fiction. I send six characters to war in three different centuries as a way to explore war in a comparative sense - a technique drawn from my academic studies. There is a great deal of parallelism that should become apparent as a reader gets deeper into the story. And war fiction (and video games), sadly, remain largely the province of males who want to read about tough men having adventures.

    This is silly, because women have always read in this genre, and there are hundreds of thousands of female veterans across the world who have known war, and waged it. I'm content to write for these readers - and I'm starting to get evidence that they're finding Bringing Ragnarok and enjoying it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to reach them, while filtering out the sexist and racist males. But I'll keep trying to figure that out!

  • Norse Mythology has a white supremacy problem. As in any other sort of fiction where males have traditionally dominated the authorship, Norse/Germanic Mythology (really, a deliberate mis-reading of it) attracts a small subset of Nazi types - as it always has.

    The problem, however, isn't the mythology itself - read the Eddas, and women are present throughout, despite the writers of most myths probably being male - hence, why you have probably heard of Odin and Thor, but not Freyja, Frygga, or Idunn. As with most history we have, males did the writing, and all too often failed to include the female perspective.

    Neil Gaiman has done much the same thing, while also making the mythology a set of campfire tales, diminishing them in favor of his colonial, neoliberal narrative about "new gods" displacing "old gods" as people's belief changes. I want to offer an alternative to this, and reclaim my Anglo-Saxon heritage from white supremacists and American colonialists of all stripes - hence, why many of my "Norse" gods aren't white.

    Tolkien's work too has suffered (presently suffers) from the same kind of whitewashing. Note how almost all the main characters in the televised versions of Lord of the Rings are white - despite this being patently ridiculous. Tolkien wrote Middle-Earth as as "real" version of Earth some ten thousand or so years ago. People migrated across the face of Middle-Earth, and the Numenoreans lived for generations on an island at the equator. Aragorn, the people of Bree, much of southern Gondor - they should actually be played by people from the Middle East and India, with the Riders of Rohan representing the primary intrusion of a "white" culture, derived from Tolkien's study of the old Anglo-Saxons.


    Ultimately, one of my long-term objectives is to decolonize Tolkien, and save it from white people - same as my goal with Norse Mythology. Of course, this is guaranteed to provoke the wrath of alt-right and white supremacist types, who I am now certain comprise the bulk of my one and two star reviews.

  • And finally - praise the gods! - a growing number of people are actually loving my work. My Kindle page reads go up and up, and oddly enough raising my price to $4.99 increased sales. I'm not exactly breaking into bestselling categories yet, but I'm getting there slowly but surely - and getting Books 3 and 4 out this year should secure the series.

    If you're reading this far, I expect you are actually someone who did enjoy Book 1 (and, I hope, Book 2 as well) and is looking forward to Book 3. Hello! And thanks much! Now, if you have a moment, would you mind clicking over to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a rating? The vast majority of ratings are 4-star and 5-star, and I'm not one of those people with a big social network, so almost all ratings are organic, from readers who discovered the book on their own.

    Once I break down the 24 total ratings across the two sites, and subtract out the four 1-star and 2-star reviews from people who apparently didn't read the whole book (mentioned by two of them), that leaves 9 5-star, 9 4-star, and 2 3-star reviews as of present counting. That's a 4.35 star (out of 5) rating among those who actually wanted to read the book in the first place, and a 3.91 star rating including the poorer reviews.

    Not bad for a first book by an indie author (not actually my first book, but the first presently available). Not bad at all. And given that I get a sale or lend on Kindle Unlimited every day (2-3 towards the middle or end of the month) I'm slowly accumulating a readership sufficient to make this author thing a paying career.

So that's it for another long update! Happy reading, and stay safe out there in this mad world.

Also, go pet some cats. It makes everything better.

Published in Blog
Monday, 25 February 2019 17:02

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 12

Well, February is almost gone, but there's snow falling in the Willamette Valley.

So as the alley and street turn white, and Broken Wagon farm wakes to a slow winter Monday, here are some random thoughts for anyone who happens on this website.

1. Bringing Ragnarok Book 3, Part 1, has been written. Of course, that's just stage 1, but it is nice to hit the 50,000 word, 1/3-of-the-way-through mark. Especially as the past couple months have been a tad chaotic, as I have been working to wrap-up my academic work in preparation for going full-time on the authorship biz while preparing for my spouse to go through a major surgery (not life-threatening, but will be followed by a long recovery).

2. On leaving academia, I guess I should add some details. I have spent the better part of the past decade working towards a doctorate, but the time for that adventure is now past. Simply put, despite my successes in the field - publishing in a great journal early in my career, getting great teaching evaluations, so forth - haven't left me feeling any sense of satisfaction. Academic writing is too obtuse, good research is locked behind paywalls, and the culture of bullying and exploitation runs very deep in the academy, probably because it is dominated by a bunch of old white men who have been out of new ideas since they got tenure. I'm tired of seeing the best people leave to pursue other careers, and I'm finally ready to go too.

3. I am absolutely convinced that there is a need for the kind of story I'm telling in Bringing Ragnarok. Quality science and competent narrative do mix, and together can have a greater impact than either alone. As the saga progresses, the reader should start to see that I am telling several stories simultaneously - the story of humanity in the age of colonialism, the story of how elites have seized on the idea of war to protect their power, the story of how certain ideas come to dominate the collective conscious at the expense of others. My six perspective characters, in a way, are for most of the saga actually secondary to the plot. Hans Lewinsky in 1944, Sandra Chavez in 2041, and Olga in 2147 are in a way the real main characters in Bringing Ragnarok, much the same as Samwise Gamgee is the real main character in Lord of the Rings. And I chose these three characters to full a particular purpose, that you might be able to guess early in the saga, but will become more apparent in later Books.

4. Politics in the Anglo-Saxon world continue to be insane, as the liberal world order continues to break down. The dark humor is everywhere - from Britain pretending that Brexit is the "people's will" despite like 40% of voters not participating in the referendum, to the American Democratic party's hollow claim to be the "Resistance" while every democrat and their uncle scrambles to be the party's next anointed - each of them catering to a different tribe within the party. Disorganization, chaos, and uncertainty are the order of the day, and as far as American politics are concerned, all the shouting completely ignores the slow, steady move towards formal authoritarianism in DC that is ultimately what will destroy the USA.

Contemporary politics make it wicked easy to predict a bad near-future for humanity, at least. Hey, it'll keep purveyors of dystopian cyberpunk employed for a good long while.

On that topic, anybody who happens to have followed this website over the past couple years will probably note that  I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. And actually, I'm rather convinced that my long sojourn in academia has given me a greater ability to "see" the broad outlines of humanity's likely futures - at least better than most of the hacks who pretend to. I have developed a unique scientific view of human society driven by critical social theory and cybernetic social systems, that I believe offers a chance to understand human history (and ultimately, the history of any other intelligent life that may be out there) in a new way, one that reconciles conflict and order and incorporates the post-modern understanding of our shared reality as a sort of illusion produced by our mutual communications about it, contingent always on the ever-present need to acquire the resources needed to survive.

I've come to the view that the world system does move in cycles, that these follow a disctinct pattern of chaos, reconsolidation, rapid growth, slow-growth/niche-expansion, metabolic overload and collapse into chaos, thus beginning the cycle over again. This not a deterministic cycle in the sense that, like, the world always disintegrates and then gets rebuilt. That's an extreme version of the idea, that can happen, but is by no means guaranteed. But the cycle of increasing complexity followed by release and reconfiguration aptly describes many patterns important to human society and history, as well as ecology.

Actually presenting this view in a simple and coherent way is one of the crucial goals of my fiction writing - Bringing Ragnarok, my present project, and Bivrost Nine, the project to come after (a Babylon-5 themed saga). But I have constructed the overarching plot of BR using this critical systems perspective, emboldened by the fact that my assessment of phenomena like, oh, the current "President" and his people's electoral strategy has been spot-on over and over again, while so many others seem continually shocked and surprised by events.

Sadly, my assessment is that things are headed down a very dark path, with hope re-emerging somewhere by mid-century. The cycle of European Great Power struggles produces a geoquake every 100 years or so [see: (1618-1648), (1756-1763), (1803-1815), (1914-1945)] and the next iteration is in the making - unless people figure out how to stop it, and soon. But as the crucial driver is the collapse of the American Empire at the same time China is returning to its historic role as a leading global power, and falling empires usually start a fight and lose with the rising challenger, I see great dangers on the horizon.

Dangers that the DC system refuses to see, and in fact likes, because the American two-party system is outdated, hollow, and colonized by two big-tent parties who benefit from people living as if they're the only political forces in play.

My predictions: 2020 is a disastrous mess of an election. Either Sanders or Biden ends up winning the Democratic primaries in a drawn-out, vicious fight, leading to the loser *probably* launching a 3rd-party bid. (Warren is doomed by Sanders and Harris both running, Harris/Booker will do well in the south) If Sanders takes the DNC nod, the neoliberal wing breaks off, joins the nevertrumper wing of the old GOP, and launches a formal 3rd party bid - not unlike The Independent Group that just formed in the UK from Labour and Tory defectors. If Biden wins, the Sanders-left probably runs a 3rd party bid.

'cause, see, the trick is this: America is fracturing along regional lines, with regional splits correlated to the ethnic composition of the local electorate. And so is the UK. New opportunities are coming, and new coalitions are forming. Individual agendas and egos are all looking at the state of politics, and seeing that the landscape is changing. Media outlets won't pick up on this until it's too late (and the present Oval-office occupant steals the election through some means, rendering opposition mood) - but that's their deal, innit?

Living through these times is interesting, if nothing else. As I said - makes writing dystopian cyberpunk plots with realistic backstorys easier than it would have been ten years ago.

On that, for anybody who has gone through this lengthy blather - despite the nuts-ness of the past few months, I'm aiming to have Book 3 released on Amazon by the end of July, and Book 4 released in mid-December if at all possible. Fortunately a lot of the research for Book 3 carries over to Book 4, as happened with Book 1 and Book 2, so I'm confident I can continue to make progress.

And to reward you for reading this far (or being smart and skimming to the bottom) here's a sneak peak at where Book 3 is taking the characters:

Eryn gets to witness the deployment of Germany's Me-262 fighters in full-force, as Adolf Galland leads his 'Experten' in a desperate bid to stem the tide of American and British bombing of Germany. After that, it's to Occupied Poland (post-uprising Warsaw) for some diplomacy, and last-minute preparations for the massive Soviet Offensive across the Vistula.

Kim, Timur, and Patrick begin the struggle against the Texan invasion of Montana, which is both larger and more technologically-sophisticated than the Deseret attack in the Battle of the Teton River Valley. While they're now actually competent at the whole fighing thing, Chavez will take them on a trip to First Nations territory in former Wyoming, in an attempt to open a new front against the Texans.

Yarielis and Loucas start on Insurgence Headquarters in the Belt, but are dispatched along with the rest of the Insurgence fighting force on a major strike that is partly inspired by the Islamic State's assault on Mosul a few years back. But in Space, and as a prelude to an attempt to unify all the subaltern peoples of Inner Sol, which will take Yari and Loucas to the rebelling Lagrange Point Habitats, Ramallah Station in particular.

So more fun to come, to distract you from the travails of a mad, mad world! I'm also working on getting a print edition out, so those of you who prefer "real" to e-books - on it.

Published in Blog
Thursday, 07 February 2019 21:42

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 11

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary update time!

I have not been as active on this as I should have been, but if you happen to be following along - never fear! Progress on Book 3 is... progressing!

Long story short - this week I'll be just shy of 40,000 words into the draft, approximately 30% of the way through the manuscript. I'm enjoying writing this Book in the Saga in particular because I feel like the characters have "leveled up" sufficiently to be able to independently narrate scenes without relying on asking the core supporting cast so many dumb questions.

Fingers crossed, this will allow me to integrate the idea stuff, discussions of philosophy and science and whatnot, more gently in the narrative than in the first two Books. I'm going for a learning experience type of feel, so the training element is appropriate, I think, but does start to hit the edge of plausibility after a while. If you've reached the end of Book 2, you can probably see where things are going.

In other news, Anglo-Saxon politics remain insane, with America's madness not worth speaking about, and Britain's kind of epically hilarious (to me, not to anyone having to wonder what March will bring) Brexit fiasco. I stand by my predictions on both: America is already in campaign mode, the conventional wisdom is a-flying - and as usual bad theory predominates the discourse. It'll be fun/tragic to watch the unfolding Democratic party clownshow, though there are a few bright stars shining through the fog. And Brexit... if it happens, I'll be shocked.

I have to admit feeling a sort of grudging admiration for Prime Minister Theresa May's committment to holding her Conservative Party together by taking Britain to the brink. If Britain were to vote on the matter tomorrow, the result would be 55-45 against Brexit. And the whole backstop thing - what a perfect issue for the EU to refuse to budge on! They get to look strong to their domestic audience, and justified to an international audience, because who would want to much up the Irish peace process? Basically, May is in a position where the EU gets to look benevolent and principled, while also serving its own interest - avoiding Brexit altogether.

Who says the EU doesn't work?

On the topic of predictions, here's a little map I put together with the help of Alex Wellerstein's excellent Nukemap tool:

What you should see is a rough outline of the regions that will be irradiated (and the likely direct casualties - radiation casualties not modeled) as a result of the 2029 USA-Russia nuclear exchange, following the escalation of the Second American Civil War to the nuclear level by the Hollahan, then Pilsudska, factions. Turns out, the media was wrong about how a nuclear war would go. No simple mutual annihilation and post-apocalyptic horror, no, not in reality. Ray Bradbury was closer to the mark in Fahrenheit 451 - save that neither Russia nor the US would bother targeting cities.

No, when the fearless idiots in Moscow and DC do inevitably drop the bomb, both sides will do everything they can to be selective in their targeting, demonstrating to the other that see, I can do everything you can do, so you wanna take this to the next level? Huh? in a cycle of escalation that will end when someone blinks - or the government falls.

In the 2029 Exchange, Russia targets the American ICBM fields in North Dakota and Wyoming/Colorado (the things are spread out) it judges are under the control of the psychotic Hollahan regime, which came into power via nuclear decapitation of the senior US leadership in 2028, attacked several other nuclear-armed countries (or suspects) and is happy to fling nukes about in order to secure control of the US West in the aftermath. Hence, drawing Russia's paranoid ire.

Putin's solution is (as it would have been a Soviet Premier's in the late Cold War) to go Counterforce against the most threatening part of the US arsenal (ICBMs tend to be more accurate than Submarine-launched weapons, cause Subs move) as a signal that it was ready and willing to go further. The result, is the map above. Hundreds of nuclear warheads are ground-bursted on the American ICBM silos, turning tons of soil into radioactive fallout and throwing it high up into the sky, where an unusual weather pattern funneled it over the Corn Belt.

Most of North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa are contaminated - as are all the tributaries of the Mississippi downstream. Much of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana receive a lighter dusting that will still require removal of all affected topsoil before the region is safe again. Ohio gets a share too, as the geography of the mid-continent funnels the rest to the Great Lakes and beyond - not enough to be dangerous (very), but not exactly healthy, either.

More than 30 million people are forced to evacuate, many never to return, as their homes will be cordoned off, deemed unsafe - and who will pay for the reconstruction? Especially when the USA never recovers, and formally splits apart in subsequent years.

Hey, that's what happens when you insist on maintaining an arsenal of ICBMs at the headwaters of your continent's largest watershed. Don't like this future, Americans? Go talk to your politicians.

Published in Blog
Monday, 07 January 2019 21:27

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 10

Bringing Ragnarok – Dev Diary 10

Well, the New Year has begun, and so the time has come for me to start work on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok.

I am rather pleased that I was able to write, edit, and publish Book 2 between July and December of 2018 – just as I’d planned. But plans are one thing, and reality quite another. 2018 has to have been one of the worst two years in my memory. It was a year of things breaking. We lost two of our founding Broken Wagon Farm members, one cat and one dog. Illnesses struck us both and other family members, and while the lass of the house spent a summer working, in effect, three jobs, the lad - me - finally realized that the logic of pursuing an academic career was coming to an end.

So! I am quite pleased that I was able to get the job done, and with a manuscript that ended up a full third longer than I’d originally intended. And with 2019 looking – at least in our household – to be a more stable time, I am confident that I’ll be able to get Book 3 up and published by the July 2019 – and then on to Book 4.

Completing Book 2 was also a relief for another reason – insofar as the narrative goes, Books 1 and 2 complete the first of three “movements” in the Saga. The first movement, First of Fimbulwinter, is about the Six Friends transition into their new world, and coming to grips with the reality of what being in war really means.

As a result, Book 1 has (I hope) a bit of a jarring feel, with a bit of whimsy, while Book 2 is more of a descent down the other side of a rollercoaster – it starts off slow, a bit like the late-middle of Book 1, and then accelerates into a torrent of action. Book 2 also ends on a much darker note, as I believe it has to, in order to serve its role in the Saga.

Book 3, by contrast, begins a new movement, one more focused on exploration and problem-solving. There’s still action, but it is spaced out again, and the Six Friends won’t always be quite so close to the center of the battles. I hope to continue taking the readers on a whirlwhind tour of three periods of human history, while working in as much detail on the crucial question of how the world got so dystopian in the first place.

Which means more about America’s collapse (the news continues to make this both easy and salient), more about Germany’s descent into madness, and more about the dark future the Neoliberals have in store for us all (though unless they get to work on rejuvenation pharmaceuticals soon, those of us reading this in the 21st century won’t live to see that particular dystopia rise).

Also, while I’m using musical metaphors...

*Brief aside: as this sentence was being typed, a cat just leaped onto my lap and then over to the couch. One of my primary functions in life is serving as a cat highway/parkour installation*

...As I was saying – musical metaphors. I make no secret of the fact that I love music. In fact, most of the backstory and plotting that swirled around for a couple years before I actually sat down to write the Saga came together whilst I relaxed on the couch, listening to Amon Amarth.

For some reason, back in about 2015 I got back into listening to music after a long period of, well, not doing much of anything new. Working on my PhD was starting to get... well, I was starting to get burned out, I now realize. Academia is a right hell-disaster, as I’ll get around to talking about on my blog one of these days. Racism, sexism, a culture of bullying – anything you can imagine experiencing in a cubicle in corporate America, you can find it in Academia, too. And there’s only so much self-congratulating hypocrisy from old white men with no clue about how the world actually works one can take in a lifetime.

Well, in any event, while I was starting my three-year journey to total burnout, I was listening to Pandora whilst poring over some statistical data (like ya do) when a song came on – “Runes to my Memory” that just totally blew me away. I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan, and I knew there was a Swedish melodic death metal band named Amon Amarth, which is the Sindarin (One variety of Elf-speech) word for Mount Doom – the fiery chasm whence the One Ring was thrown, freeing us all from the dominion of Sauron, forever. (others have moved in to fill the void since, sadly).

So when I heard this song and checked the Pandora feed to grok the band name, I knew I had to find more of their stuff. I’ll save the full review, analysis, and impressions of the full Amon Amarth discography for another day, but suffice to say that I acquired all ten of their studio albums and listen to each pretty much once or twice a week, every week. Often, while putting together plotlines and lore for Bringing Ragnarok.

So I think it is fair to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Amon Amarth. In fact, there are scenes, even entire chapters, that are directly inspired by certain songs. I quote AA both as Part epigraphs and in the voice of a character, Sandra Chavez of the Missoula Regiment, who (like I suspect I would if I were a 20+ year veteran of the aftermath of the collapse and breakup of the USA) has incorporated certain lyrics as part of her life ethic and enjoys transmitting them via radio as part of psychological operations against her enemies.

It actually strikes me, as I type this, that perhaps I should reach out to the Amon Amarth fan community and see if I can score some readership. In past blogposts, I’ve wondered who my fans are – and I still am not entirely certain of the answer. But I suspect that it is safe to say that someone who likes reading stories about badass women who fight against the odds to change the world, who also enjoys swedish melodeath, and who is super into sci-fi and fantasy books, is probably someone who would like Bringing Ragnarok. So perhaps, I need to think of a way to chase down that particular idea Thread...

In any event, Amon Amarth also deserves credit for getting me into reading Sagas in the first place, which is what allowed me to pull two decades of ideas together into a coherent, epic, metaphysical storyline. Wanting to learn more about the Norse gods Johan Hegg growls about, I read the Eddas (Prose and Poetic). Then I went and read every Saga I could find on Amazon. Ragnar Lodbrok, the Volsungs, Sagas of the Icelanders, Heimskringla – most sit proudly on my shelf.

And it was that spree, tied to my own disillusionment with Academia, that provided crucial impetus for getting me (finally) writing the kind of tale I’ve always wanted to write. Something that blends genres, draws on the critical and postcolonial scholarship that I think is so important for people to encounter, and takes the reader on a familiar sort of journey, while reaching what I hope will be a rather unexpected (if, in point of fact, foreseeable if you’ve gotten obsessed with sagas and mythology) endgame and conclusion come Books 5 and 6...

But first, there’s the fun of Books 3 and 4 to get through. Which I guess I’d better get to writing.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 29 December 2018 16:47

Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2, live on Amazon!

Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 is now live on Amazon! Here's the link to the landing page on Amazon US:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07M9ZM6RS

Really not too much to say aside from this: Enjoy, and leave a review on Amazon if you'd like to help me get more people into the Saga of Six Friends!

Now, the writing of Book 3 begins...

Published in Blog
Thursday, 27 December 2018 20:22

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 9

Bringing Ragnarok, Book 2, is fully edited and complete!

Phew! Well, I set out to write, edit, and publish Book 2 of Bringing Ragnarok in no more than six months. And I'm proud to say: Objective achieved.

Book 2 definitely goes a little darker and edgier, with much of the action taking place in and around major battles. In 1944, Eryn heads out to the Western Front, helping to coordinate a German counteroffensive against one part of the American advance to the Rhine. 2041 sees Kim, Timur, and Patrick fighting with the Missoula Regiment against an all-out Deseret assault in eastern Idaho. And 2147 carries Yarielis and Loucas further on their escape from Toff pursuit into The Belt, which is essentially the 22nd Century's space-version of any mineral rich, poorly controlled area in the developing world.

In the six-book saga I'm writing, I felt it was necessary for Book 2 to be somewhat of a reality check after Book 1's more adventure-oriented theme. As the characters are getting more involved in their new times, they're starting to see and experience the consequences of prior events. This functions as a bit of a maturing process for them, and sets up the stage for Book 3 to go down a different path, focusing more on exploration and diplomacy (with intermittent battles).

One advantage of the Saga mode, being an early form of historical fiction and/or fantasy, is that each book in a series should actually go in a different direction. In the old Icelandic Sagas, for example, the story typically traces the adventures of several generations of a family, from father to son (and sometimes mother to daughter). So rather than follow the normal, modern convention of having a plot structured to present slowly rising action, a dramatic culmination, then (briefly) the aftermath, the Saga is more focused on presenting a fictional and stylized history of a person's life and experiences. Key battles and other plot events take place at scattered points throughout the narrative, structuring the overall course of the character's life (or a family's), rather than having that life be structured by the will of the storyteller.

In any event, Book 2 has more Norse gods talking about the nature of the metaverse, more things going boom, and I hope a little more insight into the perspective characters. But if you liked Book 1 more than Book 2 at the end, never fear! In Book 3, things get a little brighter. Darkened only by certain unavoidable philosophical discussions (note: people who deal with a lot of boredom, like soldiers and astronauts, talk about deep matters more than you might think. Philosophy is much more appealing when there's nothing more interesting to do - hence history's ascetics, hermits, and other folks who keep far away from society in order to better understand how it works.

Oh, and as for publication date - uh, well, still going with "By December 31st" because I don't actually know how long it'll take to get through Amazon's approval queue, once I hit the publish button tomorrow or Saturday. Should be hours, but could be days. On the off chance you are eagerly awaiting the sequel, I'll post a Dev diary update with the link to the book live on Amazon US.

Published in Blog
Tuesday, 11 December 2018 20:03

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 8

Phew!

Well, once again, I've gotten bad about blogging. But, while I've slipped with the Dev Diary updates, I've kept working on the actual thing that matters, the manuscript for Bringing Ragnarok, Book 2.

And it is done!

Took a few more days into December than I'd originally planned, but that was more out of a desire to slightly expand and rewrite a couple of the later chapters than discovery of major issues. Book 2 ended up being about 25% longer than Book 1, coming in at a bit under 160,000 words as compared to 120,000 for Book 1. The tone overall is, necessarily, a bit darker and grimmer than Book 1, but hopefully not so much so that it puts readers off.

I actually tend to structure the meta-plot a bit like a symphony, with themes shifting and action rising and falling according to a rhythm of sorts. So while Book 2 is thematically more battle-focused, Book 3 will shift tone again towards exploration (physical and intellectual) and understanding, setting the stage for another more action packed Book 4.

As for actual publication, I haven't chosen anything more specific than 'by the end of December', as I'm not entirely certain when the copyediting will be done and I'll finish any necessary corrections. I'm holding out hope of being done and published before December 31, but just don't want to make any promises just in case something goes strange. It's been quite a rough year on the home front around Broken Wagon Farm, so we're not taking anything for granted until 2018 is dead and done!

On Book 2, I have to say that I'm very excited to publish, and having garnered a number of good ratings on Goodreads and Amazon (more is better, so if you are reading this and enjoyed Book 1, please leave a review and/or rating! It significantly enhances visibility) has been particularly encouraging.

Since December is looking to be a slower month in terms of the amount of formal writing work, I'm hoping to spend some time making maps and appendix materials for each of the three Threads. For 1944, I've got some sketches of big-picture stuff, policy reforms and military reorganizations taken by the Beck government, which would have had quite a task on its hands had it, unlike our reality, actually been able to make Operation Valkyrie a success. For 2041, I want to put together some maps of Post-America, and include some atlas-style sketches of the different successor states to the USA, which broke up (formally) in 2031. And for 2147, I have some diagrammatic maps of Inner Sol, and more descriptions of places and players in the political-economic mix. And history, of course. Lots of timelines and the like.

Of course to actually get this done will require some focus, at a time of the year I tend to have trouble with that. And this year, there's the whole Brexit fiasco occupying my attention. I'm Cascadian, and follow US presidential politics best, but the UK comes as a close second, because in my globalist dreams, all the postcolonial remnants of the British Empire would unite in some kind of loose democratic federation. Anyway, I've found the whole Brexit drama to be high theater, years of ink spilled and negotiations... had... all so that in the end the EU could offer a deal that wasn't quite good enough, so that the UK politicians could say they did all they could, and then force a situation where a second referendum or general election would almost certainly nix the whole thing before it could do any real damage.

But we'll see! The performance seems to be headed down to the wire. Still, I always welcome a chance to put a theory to the test, mine being that inertia will prevail, where it can.

Won't in the United States, though - sorry to all the milquetoast old white liberal types who think some old hack like Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or even Bernie Sanders is the right choice for 2020. The UK already lost its empire, so the dynamics - while mirroring in many ways, remain quite different.

But hey - my Timeline to 2041 assumes that the USA goes into inertia for the rest of the '20s...until the greater earthquake begins.

Published in Blog
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