Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Objectivism vs Libertarianism

Recently on the chat board I posted a question about Objectivism vs Libertarianism. It was a simple matter about how I felt Objectivism and Libertarianism shared many qualities, and how I think Objectivism is simply a vicious outgrowth of libertarian ideas. I have recieved some good comments and they got me thinking about the two ideologies.

While libertarianism is a much broader political scope and ideology that encompasses almost the entire political spectrum Objectivism is a much more narrow and self-centered ideology that encompasses ones own view of the ones self and advocates purposely thrusting that view on society as a whole. I may have been in error when I made a broad sweep about libertarianism and Objectivism being the same, so I most likely goofed in that respect.

I do, however, believe that Ayn Rand's opposition to Libertarianism came from the fact that she unrepentantly grasped onto many of the ideas of the American right (mainly right-wing Libertarianism in the US) and used them while crafting her own personal ideology without giving credit where credit was due, hence why she called libertarianism 'my ideas without teeth [paraphrased]' and was always immensely hostile to them. So hard right libertarianism certainly shares a number of qualities with Rand's works and if compared, really is Rand's works wirhout teeth.

That being said on a second note there is a wonderful new TL on that website which takes Rand's beliefs to their logical conclusions. The TL is masterfully done and catches Rand at her worst. It starts off when Rand has entered a phase of deep depression following the writing of Atlas Shrugged when she is approached by none other than that infamous con-man L. Ron Hubbard and advised on where she may be able to get the worlds 'best and brightest' to a place where they can be free. There they will flourish and be better able to explore their opportunities. Its dark, but morbidly humorous to anyone that find Ayn Rand objectionable. I highly reccomend it.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Freehold by Micheal Z Williamson: A Review

Though it may seem that this blog is becoming something of a review site I am mostly reading books that are interesting and don't exactly conform to my own political views which makes them both interesting reads, and important learning material for an author. It can help an author avoid littering their work with his or her own political beliefs. And while Freehold is an author tract, it doesn't exactly read like one, which is why im comparison to my previous review of the book "Enemies Foreign and Domestic" this stands out as a superb example of how one can avoid serious author tract and write well at the same time. So I feel that it is important to follow up a resoundingly bad novel with a, while not A grade material, a novel that is still miles ahead of the previous work I read. So without further preamble I present to you Freehold.

The Story:

Set in the 26th Century we are treated to the view of Earth after it has been united under the administration of the UN as a one world government. We have a brief, well done and to the point opening describing the main character Kendra Pacelli and her mundane and mainly bureaucratic role in the UN Protection Forces. As the novel begins she has just returned from Mtali (a world divided by a multi-sided civil war) and is returning to her mundane job in the megacenter of Minneapolis. However, she is alerted by a guard and former lover that she is going to be arrested and interrogated regarding a scheme which involved selling millions of dollars worth of war material to the competing sides on Mtali. Kendra, having been involved with the logistics unit which the material was from is going to be rounded up with many others. She flees and in the midst of the investigation decides to run to the only planet where the UN cannot reach her, the Freehold of Grainne. After forcing her way into the embassy she is granted asylum and sent to Freehold where she becomes immersed in the society and deals with both her own struggles of getting used to Freehold and with the looming threat of the UN coming after her and the Freehold itself.

The Good:

The story is reasonably well paced and only drags at some inopportune moments. The characters are well fleshed out and believable and rarely the type of cardboard cut out caricature's that ideological rants usually present (Atlas Shrugged, Enemies Foreign and Domestic) people as. Rob Mckay, the books main love interest, is an interesting example. He is a typical Freehold man who is polite but extremely forward in his approach and has some grope happy moments but is otherwise an ok guy. He is a military veteran and has many friends because he 'saved their ass on Mtali' which shows a connection between society and the military in a pleasant way, Kendra herself has to go through almost 400 pages of a learning curve when she gets to the Freehold and never does get quite used to it and the culture shock is written well and very believable. It is attacked from all angles and it shows you how really alien this society would be. I liked that Williamson emphasized this fact instead of, as many authors do, simply assume that society will always be familiar and much like the 21st Century Western World (or mostly America) as we know it. It made for good friction between the characters and for excellent plot points.

As for its ideological tract the novel is not in your face about it. Naturally the society is portrayed as superior to Earth's for a variety of reasons. But it strikes you as a (somewhat) believable society that is fun to read about and interesting to examine, and might be one that a few people would want to live in. I'm not one of those people, but to each his own.

Then we have the character dialogue which is well done and thankfully actively focuses on the plot as much as it does the ideological talking points. Each character is fleshed out and given some screen time to establish their ideas and views on a particular situation. There is even one heartbreaking scene which shows a soldier from the UN with similar values to Kendra later on in the novel who you can actually feel sorry for and emphasize with, a rarity in most idelogical rants.

Then we have the brilliantly written battle scenes. Williamson puts you right in the thick of the fray and makes each individual firefight a gripping experience and has a well done great big battle near the end. I literally could not put the book down during this point and stayed up a considerable portion of the night finishing it. So points to him there for sure. War is described in the most brutal and unflattering of terms so I enjoy the fact it is not glorified and the intellectual honesty of the author on that front.

The Bad:

Unfortunately the book doesn't get a complete pass. While I understand this was his first novel there were some bits that were completely uncessesary. For instance the middle of the book consists of what seems to be the obligatory boot camp montage in great detail for over a dozen chapters. It was well done but it still seemed needlessly detailed and stretched out. If this were a book completely dedicated to military science fiction (ala Starship Troopers) then I would be more understanding, but it is not and thus the scenes were long, somewhat boring and had effectively little to do with the plot at large. I was irked by these after the swift beggining and pace up till that point. It is stated that this intense training is different from the UN, but this could have been shorter. Similarily with the obligatory sex scenes that seemed to pop up out of no where. Kendra is seduced inside a week by Rob and is having threesomes with another character, Marta, by the end of the first quarter. Kendra has had sex before but is portrayed both as unused to lesbianism and as a practicing Catholic to boot. They seemed more devoted to just pointless sex for emphasising the 'free love' ideology of the Freehold rather than anything else.

Speaking of Marta, this character seems to embody the worst about Freehold society. She is completely intolerant of any society other than her own, has a moral superiority complex, and is extremely naive. Marta, like many Freeholders, is completely convinced of of the moral superiority of her society and many times she seems to stop just short of reffering to other cultures as barbaric. Many other Freeholders hold a notion of themselves as being superior to other cultures and lay ridiculous criticisms on the representatives of other worlds. As author tract goes this is insulting to the reader and is especially annoying when the Freeholders criticize societies for not coming to their aid when they explicitly mention that other planets have no ability to intervene militarily. So any criticism seems hollow at best and petty at worst.

And unfortunately the UN is portrayed as evil almost exclusively for the sake of being evil and antagonistic towards anyone else with values other than their own. While I can agree on the point that too much berueacracy is a bad thing, and to much political correctness would have horrible effects on society I just can't find the incredibly polite, sexually sensitive, and almost pacifist (since most UN soldiers and people respond with horror to the idea of killing people) society as one willing to engage in the kind of imperialism that the UN attempts to enforce. They made for poor villains but it still gave a narrowly defined enemy for the reader to wish defeated. The other villain of the series, Tom Calan is just as poorly characterized and ironically highlights the extreme mercenary attitude that would most likely be prevalent in Freehold society. That of an extremely cuthroat and the ability to hold a grudge. He is simply badly portrayed and is genuinely uninteresting to read about, much like any unsypathetic secondary character.

I could go into other critiques of the Freehold system and various political ideas but that is not really applicable here.

In the end the book is a good read and I did enjoy it minor issues aside. It is good science fiction even with the ideological motivation. Libertarian science fiction would probably describe it best. Although jarring at points it is still a good read and I recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of easily read escapist science fiction. All in all I give it three point five stars out of five.

An aside:
The best part is one does not even have to buy the book as it was published by Baen and can be read for free online or downloaded as a PDF and is available here:

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Enemies Foreign and Domestic: A Review

Enemies Foreign and Domestic is book one in a series of the same name by author and general gun nut Matthew Bracken. The story is set in "America in the near future" following the steps of one Ranya Bardiwell and a certain Brad Fallon (a sort of author expy). The follows them as they attempt to uncover a conspiracy behind a terrorist attack and the subsequent attempt to ban guns.

Terrifying isn't it?

I read this book through a link found on the website SurvivalBlog (a wonderful website for disaster prepardness, if not so much for politics) and began taking a look at it online. The first few events in the book are actually fairly intriguing. The prologue details a horrifying terrorist attack where a sniper fires into a crowded football stadium and the resulting panic and stampede of horrified spectators results in the collapse of the structure in a manner similar to what one sees in soccer riots, which ends in the deaths of over a thousand people in horrifying detail. This event truly did serve to suck me in and captivated me with its sheer horror and the well thought out plan by this terrorist, which we then learn may be part of a sinister conspiracy.

Sadly this turns out to be one of the most exciting and reasonable incidents in the book. We then see a case of monumental stupidity on the part of government and law enforcement officials in the part of contaminating evidence and breaking multiple layers for the proper handling of a crime scene in order to prevent just such contamination. For instance the local police chief accepts the attackers wallet while not wearing gloves and the president actually orders that the shooters weapon be brought to him. This is the kind of action that would get a politician impeached yet it completely passes under the radar of anybody (even the otherwise 'smart' protagonists).

It then follows a short battle in the Senate where a very strange law is passed outlawing 'assault rifles' which is in reality a wide ban on anything that looks remotely threatening. During the proceedings a female senator is attacked by an anti-gun supporter for some reason. Then we join our spectacularly bland and almost author-expy Brad Fallon whose life goal is to build a sail boat and sail away. He's only almost an author expy because he believes in sailing away rather than fighting to save America, otherwise his opinions and goals go hand in hand with the author's(especially his fascination with sailing and guns, he really likes harping on those). He is a bland and rather unremarkable character who spends much of his time fantasizing about bikini clad women, who is then targeted by the FBI to spy on a gun club which is a militia front (composed of men in their sixties no less) because he is seen with them exactly once in a coffee shop. That's some fine police work gentlemen!!

We are also introduced to the ATF agents who are behind the investigation. They are typically evil and in a (not so) suprising twist are masterminding the events behind the stadium massacre in order to get guns banned and make the ATF more powerful than the FBI! To do this they decide to run a dirty war like in Argentina or Brazil by murdering or kidnapping gun store owners and labelling them as militia fanatics. They make rather lackwit villains who are remarkably unintelligent and are constantly reffered to as being men with no discipline and are very trigger happy, and they prove it too. Despite the fact that they openly discuss planting evidence and framing people the rank and file still believe they are fighting 'militia gun nuts' and not blatantly murdering people. That was one of the issues that I could not get over while reading this book. The bad guys know their framing people yet still believe they are fighting the admittedly non-existant militia? Seriously? But I digress.

We then meet Ranya Bardiwell whose father is shot and killed by ATF goons burning down his gun store. The ATF then leave amazingly detailed forensic proof of their involvement in the form of 10mm casings from their guns and distinctive boot prints at the scene. (Also apparently malt liqour is indicative of liberals, these bottles indicate they are the people who threw the molotov cocktails that burnt down the store. I still don't understand that either). Ranya then swears revenge and goes on to attempt to blaze a path of bullets and assasination across Virginia and South Carolina against the Feds.

This is where the book mostly meanders into interesting action sequences followed by various detailed instructions on how to plan political assasinations. Then of course are the anvilicious moments where the author repeatedly reminds us that liberals are hypocritical idiots and there is no such thing as a free country outside America. The main characters repeatedly state that they cannot run anywhere as there will never be anywhere as free as America. There is no detailed reason for this and one is forced to assume that it is mostly because they won't be able to own their beloved guns if they go to Canada or Europe. I sympathise with their plight...not in the slightest. Another point which the author enjoys driving home is that most people are blind sheep (or sheeple as the common term is) who blindly follow the news and do no critical thinking of their own and will instantly cringe at the sight of a gun or attack freedom loving Americans who support the Constitution at the drop of a hat.

Indeed the author enjoys flaunting the superioty of gun owning, libertarian, Constitutionalist, conspiracy theory, and Christian Americans (I add the Christian part tenatively as they talk about faith but rarely even reflect on the moral issues of their actions or pray for that matter). I add conspiracy theory because the author constantly states that the Branch Dividians at Waco were burnt alive on purpose and the Ruby Ridge incident was a government slaughter rather than a colossal f**k up by poorly trained agents. The author explains these through a web server known as "" where various liberty loving Americans gather to discuss how the government is infringing upon their rights and how the FBI, ATF, CIA ect are secret police thugs who intend to take away their rights. Brad Fallon is particularly guilty of this as he is constantly berating regular people for not thinking about these things. Not to mention anyone who is even assumed to be liberal is mercilessly mocked by the main characters. A particularly ridiculous incident is when Ranya comes across a boy researching the Civil War and asks if he is researching 'the War of Norther Agression' much to his confusion while she keeps referring to it as such, then assuming he was only staring at her breasts. I doubt the author actually meant to have a liberal character come off as reasonable and probably smarter than his main character but it reads that way.

In fact the author goes out of his way to make liberals look stupid or foolish. In fact by reading this book we can easily discover the authors prejudices such as:
  • Smoking pot = stupidity
  • Piercings are only worn by liberals or sexual deviants
  • All liberals secretly hate the Constitution and are secretly 'socialists' who know nothing about freedom or good government
  • Illegal immigrants are parasites who barely speak English
  • Illegal immigrants also seek to steal American jobs and support a break away socialist state in the South Western US known as Aztlan
  • People who don't own guns want them banned and constantly look for ways to get them banned
  • The Federal government is mostly staffed with incompitents who don't care about freedom or liberty
  • Lesbians seek to steal children from married couples
  • Muslims are inherently violent and are all crazy
  • Muslims are also mostly hypocrites and hate mongers who want to impose Sharia law on Americans, anyone else is just a terrorist
  • Political correctness only serves to protect Muslin terrorists and Black Nationalists (or a combination of both) and serves to encourage Muslim racism
  • Also any of the above are very willing to engage in rape
Sadly this is just a taste of the racist and ridiculous comments that Mr Bracken enjoys spouting.

The novel is boring, repetetive and filled with card board cut out characters with no depth who seek to drive home the authors flawed ideas about gun ownership and the evils of Muslims and political correctness. Mr Bracken also suffers from a crippling case of 'write what you know' and unfortunately seems to only know how to describe sailing, guns, racism, how evil liberals are, sex, and the idea of America being the best nation on Earth. If you come across any of his other works I assure you that this will become immediately apparent.

Now some will undoubtedly ask why, if this book was so appaling, I bothered to finish it? The answer is quite simple, I got it for free on Kindle and the little I could read of the prologue intrigued me. Once I got deeper in I was horrified by the right-wing reactionary hate that the book preached. It also serves as a perfect example of how not to write what you know and how not to get your ideas across.

From me the book recives a one star out of five.

Proper Suspense

I have recently been considering how one properly inserts suspense into a plot. That is leaving an event unknown to the reader and making them ponder its broader implications. This is something I fear I am not yet very good at and always seem to give away to much when I am writing about it. To that end I have taken up reading murder mystery novels in order to properly adress this problem. I am beggining by cheating slightly and watching some old Sherlock Holmes films in order to get a view of actors portraying the events followed by some reading of Poirot or some other Agatha Christy novels I have lying around.

This is a small time project for learning skills necessary to better characterization and writing. Wish me luck :)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Guns and Liberty

I recently attended a presentation offered by a university group of mine called 'LOL' standing for 'Love Of Liberty'. The presentation was offered by Solomon Friedman a pro gun advocate and laywer in Canada. The presentation was called "Firearms: The Foundation Of Freedom". It was a good presentation, mind you much of the content was when Mr. Friedman explained the many redundancies in the Canadian firearms laws.

Now I personally support the individuals right to bear arms (barring military hardware of course, a category which to me includes fully automatic assault rifles simply for the sake of consistency) and for a law abiding member of society to hold them. I have seen very little reason for someone to wish to abuse their right to bear arms nor have I routinely heard of legally registered firearms being used in criminal acts. The presentation did make the valid point that a criminal is not going to get their firearm registered before he kills someone or commits a robbery. Indeed we see murders and muggings commited with knives and crossbows for heavens sake, banning guns does not decrease crime.

The enlightening legal facts presented in the talk were interesting but the presentation itself was, in my opinion, an atypical gun owners argument which was unoriginal, poorly thought out, and offered me very little incentive (especially as a non-gun owner nor would I imagine this having any effect whatsoever on someone in the opposite camp) for any support to allow firearms to be more readily accessable.

You see I do respect Mr. Friedman as he had a wonderful grasp of the law and statistics in crime and other variable facts about how guns did not increase crime but rather did show some evidence for decreasing it, which may be difficult for some people to believe. Though to that I give you one of Mr. Friedman's best arguments, the 'bowl of M&M's argument'. If you are presented with a bowl of M&M's and informed that just one of them is poisoned, are you going to reach in and grab one? You may, but a less reckless person would move on to the next bowl. The same can be said for presenting your average criminal with a town where many people have guns, he will most likely go after those less able to defend themselves rather than those who will.

But the meat and potatoes of Mr. Friedman's presentation did not revolve around those arguments. Luckily for those present I was at least sympathetic to their goals else there may have been more dissention from myself and others. But the mainstay of the presentation revolved around guns preventing tyranny, yes that old libertarian (and rather uniquely American) nugget. Despite gross evidence to the contrary all across history at showing how an armed populace simply does not outright prevent tyranny, Mr. Friedman listed some tyrannical regimes that had disarmed their subjects. The Soviet Union, the PRC (China), Guatemala (with the disarment of the Indians), and of course Nazi Germany and its disarment of Jews. I constantly hate seeing these hollow, misguided, and rather foolish ideas thrown around.

If I may cite two of the examples. The Soviet Union for starters, Friedman's presentation mentioned the twenty million worked to death or killed in the gulags (which is only scratching the surface really) of the Soviet system. The idea that having an armed populace would have prevented such mass arrests or imprisonment forgets two harsh realities. One was the long brutal war fought during WW1 which the Soviets had promised peace for (much to the happiness of the population) and the second is the following Russian Civil War which ravaged the country. There was armed resistance to the Soviet regime many times early on in its inception and throughout its history. People still had hunting rifles, and in some cases even hand guns. But maybe not the majority of the population. Even if they had what chance did they stand against the Red Army and the ruthless regime behind it? To answer that question, none. I shall explain what I see as the foundation for liberty in a moment, but now on to my pet-peeve example.

The almost standard example for the horror of disarming citizens is Nazi Germany. I had hoped against hope that this would not be shown as an example but sadly stereotype and apparently predictability proved me wrong. The example of Nazi Germany is one that explains the Jews were explicitly disarmed and forced to be segregated. Now I must again point to the painful portion of history where we can see what most likely would have happened to an armed Jewish population that did resist the insane Nazi regime. Kristallnacht was an orgy of violence, arson, and murder instigated by the Nazi regime when a Polish Jew shot and killed a Nazi official. The films and personal testimony of that horrible night stand out as a stark reminder of why racism and tyranny should never mix. But they also serve as a window into what would have happened had the Jewish population resisted in such a violent manner. Thanks to the prejudices, and ignorance of the time it would have been an even more wholesale and horrifyingly willing slaughter of the Jewish people in Germany.

Similar was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, valiant and heroic though it was, it was sadly and ultimately doomed in the face of an all to willing Waffen SS to exterminate everyone involved. These brave and liberty loving men, women, and children all fought heroically but in the face of elite and vicious SS killers were ultimately doomed going up against a modern military machine.

The reason I hate these arguments is that is spits on the memory of all those slaughtered by tyranny. It says 'Oh if only they had been armed, they could have fought' and in retrospect many did, but they ended up no better than those who did not resist. That kind of ignorance only breeds a sense of reactionary thinking which in some ways is no better than making a freedom fighter or terrorist. I despise that kind of argument as it ignores the stark brutal reality that these people faced. As for the Nazi regime it took the power of an alliance of the entire world to crush, and the Soviet system did eventually rot from the inside, but it was not brought down by armed resistors in any way.

Thus is the premise, even the title of the presentation flawed. A firearm is not the 'foundation of freedom' nor is it a great equalizer in the face of tyranny. I can understand the weird thought that comes to mind in many from the cushy and drastically oversimplified view of the American Revolution, but that forgets the valiant arms of French and Spaniards who drew away the eye of the British preventing the utter collapse of the American rebels. In that naive view I suppose those who believe this can be forgiven, but the idea of applying such to the different regimes around the world is pure folly.

To end this, I shall briefly detail the true foundation of freedom. The foundation of freedom does not, with added emphasis on does not, lay in violence. Instead it lies in, political will, popular will, honest government, checks and balances, and just as importantly a service sworn to the people and state. Political will is the want and desire of the people for fair and honest government, popular will is the desire of the people to excersise the right of democratic ideals in a country. Checks and balances is a government which has been given a set of restrictions on its power and ability to excersise power (like those laid out in the Amercan Constitution, or the Monarchy in the British Parliament). Finally there is the service sworn to the people and state, much as a member of Her Majesties armed forces swears an oath of loyalty to the crown for reasons of political neutrality so to does an American serviceman swear an oath to ensure the same thing, much like any government service member. A neutral army and civil service is an essential check and balance in maintaining a free government, which is one loophole many tyrants have worked into their governments. Hence why the very political militaries of the Middle Eastern dictators continue to support tyrants and why the Libyan armed forces were split allowing them to fight the despot Gadaffi head on (with foreign intervention of course). So while the right to bear arms is important, it in and of itself does not make for the foundation of liberty or a fair and honest government, rather other more political measures are necessary.

While I respect Mr. Friedman and his agenda, I do not respect these lame duck and blatantly false assertions that many of the pro-gun crowd are forced to fall back on. I would insist that they stick to tried and true statistics as Mr. Friedman presented in the presentation regarding crime and others about institutional rights (which we Canadians unfortunately do not have). All in all I support the ideas, but the message is flawed.

Monday, 12 March 2012

International Murder

On Sunday a US soldier (according to official reports acting alone, but eye witnesses claim there were others) left his base of operations in the Panjwai district in Khandahar and proceeded to murder 16 (current body count) civilians, mainly women and children. Details thus far are sketchy but many were shot to death and there is eyewitness testimony that he beat one woman to death by smashing her head against a wall. This report is one that is truly sickening and if I am being frank, does not surprise me.

Compare it if you will to the Maywand district killings, or the Haditha massacre. I'm not saying these events are one in the same but it is a rather scary thing to look at.

The Maywand District killings were a clear case of murder and cover up by US service members of unarmed Afghan civilians, one a little boy, another who may have been mentally retarded, and a local cleric. The murders were carried out under the guise of 'eliminating' Taliban fighters. The ring of grisly murderers (so called 'kill team') was covered up by the squad leaders while a whistleblolwer was physically assaulted after he suspected more. It was not until after the whistleblowers assault and second report that attention was finally given to these incidents. The Haditha massacre (which I refuse to call by its official name 'Haditha killings' because massacre is what it is) was a case of outright murder as well. In response to an IED attack US marines launched attacks on local houses and machinegunned a vehicle killing twenty-four people in cold blood. What was more outrageous was no soldiers involved in the incident were ever charged properly for what was clearly a premedidated attack on buildings and vehicles that posed no obvious threat. What was more telling was how it revealed the almost casual use of lethal force by US forces in Iraq when it came to stopping vehicles.

The Haditha massacre aside when looking at the most recent incident I have to agree with Afghanistan's president and say that this was indeed a case of 'International murder'. In an unprovoked and monstrous act sixteen innocent civilians were murdered in their own homes. If proper legal action is not taken against the perpetrator(s?) then it is simply a matter of time before pressure will force the US forces out.

While I have no sympathy for the murderer I have plenty of sympathy for the average US soldier on the ground. Stuck in a hostile land far from home serving on a mission which is not their own, they are stressed, under constant threat of death, and as I understand it, usually have almost no comprehension of the various petty local politics that are staged in the reason. Any normal person would be overwhelmed, that so many men and women serving over there do not simply crack is a miracle.

I myself am hoping that President Obama will do right by the Afghan people and see these crimes properly brought to justice. But with current rifts and cracks appearing in the already strained relations of Afghanistan and the Western world I sincerely think that the mission in Afghanistan may be coming to a close much quicker than people think.

For anyone interested I urge you to follow events on BBC or on its Wikipedia page which will hopefully be updated well as time goes on.

And for the other gruesome events mentioned these Wiki articles are also a good starting point as sorting through news websites to find them can understandably be difficult:

Friday, 9 March 2012

Thoughts on Literary Style: Tolkien and Jordan

I recently had a very interesting conversation via text with my brother. We were talking about our favorite fantasy authors when I pointed out I really loved Lord of the Rings, he shot back that he thought Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time was better. I pointed out that Robert Jordan had taken much inspiration on his quests and ideas from Tolkien's style. He retorted that while Tolkien may have set the template his works felt dead and sort of like a lost history rather than something alive and vibrant like Jordan's Wheel of Time or Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I informed him that this was exactly the effect that Tolkien had been going for when writing his series to begin with. He had loved the original Ango-Saxon and Norse literary classics so tried to capture the same scale of epic story telling while giving us grand and admirable heroes. Tolkien's works were meant to be a lost history of our world and thus give us a haunting, poetic echo of a lost time. In this manner he largely succeeded as he created one of the most studied and well thought out beautiful worlds to ever be read in a literary circle.

That being said my brother does have some points. He is correct in pointing out that in contrast, Martin or Jordan's characters are relatable and we understand their deeper thoughts fears and motivations, where as Tolkien's characters are the sort of remote ancient heroes one reads about in Shakespear or Beowulf. But each approach has its strenghts and weaknesses. The strenghts of Tolkien's approach is that he establishes very well cut and presentable characters who the reader can be in awe of and relate to easily, but also in some way project themselves upon the characters to imagine their own adventures in Middle Earth.

On the other hand you have Jordan's characters who are interwoven parts of the story opening up the world and having us see it through their eyes. They have clear dreams, fears, desires, motivations, and internal conflicts. They tend to make for exciting contrasts to one another in casual reading and are much more exciting than Tolkien's great battle between good and evil in some cases. But at the same time they give us a distinctly more human and down to earth feel which makes them feel less epic, and in some cases more mundane. Not that their being easily relatable is anything to balk at for it makes them more accessible and pleasing to the reader, as well as establishing some clear chains of conflict among characters.

Tolkien's approach fits well into his designed purpose but does not let us get as deep a look into Middle Earth as we might like. The Westlands in the Wheel of Time are much more open to us as a myriad of different characters from all cultural walks of life are paraded before us opening up the world and allowing us to get a glimpse of the life of the most powerful queens down to the most impoverished commnoner and anything in between. This is something that one finds rather annoyingly absent from the Lord of the Rings but because of the epic scale one can forgive.

But in the argument at hand it comes down to the respective styles and goals writers are trying to accomplish by carrying them out in such a way. As previously noted Tolkien's creation of a poetic echo of the world is one that enthralls young minds and ensnares lovers of the English language for its masterful prose and the dedication of its author in all his works. While Robert Jordan's world is one which pulls readers in and direclty puts them on the front lines of the final battle for the world with all the gore, emotion and greatness that this attends to. Each author has indeed set a standard of sorts for their writing in the world and how they wish to portay that world.

In my humble opinion each author's world is fabulous and the ways they portray it are amazingly well done for their respective styles. I suppose that this all comes down to ones personal preference, but I don't think anyone can complain when presented with either case as a purely relaxing activity. I love the poetic and haunting style explored by Tolkien as it conjures images of a lost age. Jordan's world too is one that I am literally pulled into every time I open the books. His characters are thrilling to learn about and his world still holds secrets and wonders we have yet to understand. In my eyes there is no clear 'winner' in any contrast between the two, rather it comes down to preference. I personally like the more direct style of Jordan but when it comes to reading a classic, short, and beautiful work done by someone who was truly a master of my language I will choose Tolkien every time.

So there.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Thoughts on Dialogue

So recently I dusted off an old manuscript of an 'urban fantasy' I had been working on some time ago. After reading it again and correcting the many errors in both punctuation and narrative point of view I decided that it would be a good project to continue. Thus I have once again begun plucking away at it.
The story follows a typical teenage named Rose after a break up with her boyfriend. In order to properly console her, her best friends Annie and James take her out to a cafe where we are introduced to the other two supporting characters, West and Ivan. From there they attempt to proceed home when set upon by muggers. When one of the muggers attempts to rape Rose she manages to 'portal' her way home. From there magical mayhem ensues as she attempts to figure out just what is going on in her life.

While reading/writing/editing I was pleased with how I had captured the dialogue and interests of fifteen year old characters, considering I was not much older at the original time of writing this was much easier. Though as it is about three years on I do have some trouble making the dialogue appropriate I feel and must wrack my memory for how people would have spoken.

I think that writing proper dialogue is something that can give many writers difficulty. I for one can sometimes be stymied as I have trouble making my dialogue sound realistic. In some ways I feel constrained by attempting to put good diction in, which I find fairly unrealistic whenever I talk to anyone I realise how poor my diction is. On top of that I find my mind sometimes struggles to think of appropriate conversations and mannerisms for characters speech. I make a strenuous effort to avoid every character having the same sort of conversational style as it would simply rob characters of their originality.

It is also sometimes difficult to shape characters how I want them, especially in the case of Ivan. He is a character that doesn't speak much and must relay many thoughts through his looks and sometimes cryptic statements. So when writing his dialogue he has to be brief and to the point which is why I have trouble putting him in most conversations. Then of course in establishing individual quirks and mannerisms I find myself having some confidence but hesitation as I reflect on "would someone really speak this way?" which does slow my pace considerably.

While reading other authors such as George R R Martin or Robert Jordan I've been studying their dialogue closely (mostly Tyrion, and Mat Cauthon purely because of their wit) and attempting to find ways of my own to properly fill out dialogue. In making my own characters I find that I have to think deeply and wonder about their personalities and ask myself 'how would this character say that?' or 'how is he or she going to react to something that has been said?'. It is a fascinating process and one that takes alot of time if you sincerely want to put effort into a work.

I highly reccommend other upcoming writers study dialogue from other authors and their methods of putting words in characters mouths (as it were) and making them act according to their character. If a character speaks and says something that doesn't match with their words before, the reader is going to notice.