On Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorTobias Wolff is one of my favorite writers. Specifically, he is one of my favorite short story writers. I consider him one of the greatest American short story writers of all time. I of course would be more than happy to hear who your favorite shorty story writers are since I love discovering new writers. If this post is the first time you’ve heard of Tobias Wolff, then I hope you read some of his work and come to enjoy it as I do.

I first discovered Tobias Wolff in a college course. If I remember correctly, the first story I read of his was “Bullet in the Brain.” I recently discovered that this story was made into a short film, and there is a recording online of it being read by Tobias himself. This story remains one of my favorites and it is a great introduction to his work. It may also be the best known of his short stories because it is often used in classrooms alongside several others he has written such as “Powder,” “Say Yes,” or “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs.” There is something about Wolff’s stories that capture what I like to refer to as human moments. He is able to weave a story together that could seemingly be about nothing in particular, but then can also be read as a revelation about a core element of human nature. Enveloping an entire species and capturing it within a single moment. His stories often linger with you afterwards and prompt an introspection of our own lives. He often pinpoints moments that define, in a that single moment, the entirety of a character. It is this aspect that I admire to great degree, and I aspire to write stories that have similar moments the readers keep with them. I think any fellow writers can learn a lot about the craft from reading his work as well.

Wolff’s works include several collections of short stories, a novel (Old School), a novella (The Barracks Thief), and two memoirs. I’ve written book recommendations about several of these. His memoir, This Boy’s Life, reveals much about himself through the lens of his childhood. It was made into a movie not long after it was first published. His second memoir, In Pharaoh’s Army, provides a description of his time in Vietnam during his military service. I found the man himself as interesting as his writing. I even built up enough courage to write to him. It was my first and only time (as of this writing) that I’ve written to a writer who I admire. This was about three years ago now. I wasn’t sure what to say, so all I ended up saying was a general thank you for his work and an offer to buy him a drink if was ever in my area. To my surprise, he responded with equally kind words.

There are several interviews with Wolff that you can find online. I recently found one by The Creative Process that I found really interesting. They have interviews with other artists as well. I learned a few things on this site as well, like Tobias Wolff taught George Saunders and was rewarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama.

I don’t have any fun stories about gong to see him or things that have happened to me while reading his works. I haven’t really found many people who have read his works or at least have talked to me about them. I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but every so often I can convince someone to try one and I usually recommend one by Tobias Wolff. I do remember one occasion where I did have a coworker/friend read “Bullet in the Brain.” The story itself is quite short but has incredible impact. He loved it and agreed with my initial comments I used to try and “sell” the story to him. Those comments being that Wolff’s stories have an unclear but substantial human moment. It’s hard to describe but easy to understand once you’ve read the story. If you want ever want to pick up a collection of his, I definitely recommend Our Story Begins. It has 31 short stories including several I have mentioned above.

I would love for the chance to meet Tobias Wolff one day. But if that never comes around, I know I can always pick up a collection of his stories, flip to any title, and be reminded once again what any amazing, intricate, and simple thing it is to be human.

Winter’s Heart

Winter's Heart


Winter’s Heart is book nine of The Wheel of Time and it has the longest prologue so far of the series at a lengthy 86 pages, which is more than 10% of the book. The previous prologue in the series to hold the title was in Lord of Chaos. A quick look shows that book ten will have an even longer prologue. I’ve commented on prologues before in this series and, if I’m being honest, I don’t care how long they are because it is all just one giant story and I don’t really notice chapter lengths that much when I’m reading. The longer prologues are split up nicely to allow for breaks if you don’t feel up to reading all 80+ pages in one go.

Anyway, enough about prologues and let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this installment. As with previous books in the series, there will be spoilers ahead so read at your own risk.

First, the weather. It was in book seven when the Bowl of the Winds was found and then used at the beginning of book eight. The weather begins to change drastically to its normal patterns once the Bowl is used. We go from summer heat to, wait for it, Winter’s Heart. Thanks, I’ll be here forever (since it’s my blog). So the weather does a 180. Between the heat through the last few books to the extreme cold now dominating the landscapes, this series demonstrates how weather can become its own character in a book and can be used to great effect in a story. A few books that I can think of that have similar use of weather as influential pieces of the story are The Left Hand of Darkness, Dune, and The Martian. The weather is causing issues for everyone, especially our heroes, but one thing that doesn’t make much sense to me is how quickly the Aiel adapt to the snow. Most of them have never seen snow before. I know night in the desert can be extremely cold, but that is not really comparable to a wet, blizzard cold. Yet we see the Shaido Aiel are moving easily and quickly in the snow and several of the Wise Ones seem to not be affected by the cold. Even those who can’t channel, like the stupid snake Sevanna.

Before we get to her appearance, I want to cover a few minor scenes. The first is Seaine and her newfound group within the White Tower who are seeking out the Black Ajah. We last saw her about to discover a Black Sister and we get a brief scene of them questioning her until she confesses that she is one. She then claims that Elaida is Black Ajah, but this goes to show once again that Aes Sedai can say what they believe to be true even if it is not actually true. I still believe Elaida is not Black Ajah since Alviarin is taking advantage of her and Alviarin is the one who is following Mesaana’s orders.

We get very little of Egwene in this book. We last saw her at the end of book eight making a doorway/portal and leading her army through it to lay siege to Tar Valon. Apparently, she is still in Murandy during the events of this book and presumably goes to Tar Valon towards the end of this book, so maybe we will see more of her and her battle at the White Tower in book ten. The only glimpses of Egwene are in Tel’aran’rhiod when she meets with Elayne and Nynaeve.

I’ll circle back to Sevanna here before moving on to Elayne’s thread in this book. We see Faile get captured by Shaido at the end of book eight. Morgase/Maighdin, Alliandre, Bain and Chiad are also captured. We see them led/dragged through the snow naked until they finally catch up to the greater Shaido forces where they don the robes of gai’shain. They are all made gai’shain to Sevanna because Sevanna is a hag and wants to rule the world. She separates her gai’shain from the others by making them wear jewelry. Her hubris and greed are sickening and I still hate her with a passion. She is breaking almost every Aiel custom but gets away with it. Maybe that is what irks me the most. Not only is taking “wetlanders” as gai’shain a break from custom, and essentially a taboo, she has things set up where non-Aiel who are taken as gai’shain are not released after their year and a day. Therefore, she is basically just making every “wetlander” she can get a slave for life.

Faile and those with her are approached by Therava who is the only Wise One who is willing to openly go against Sevanna. She asks/demands Faile to spy on Sevanna for her. Galina, who has been answering to Therava, also approaches Faile and claims she can help them all escape if they can steal the Oath Rod from Therava. This is where we leave Faile and I am again left to hope that we see more of her in book ten.

Along with Faile’s few chapters, we get a few chapters of Perrin. They get the first third of this book and then we don’t see them again. Perrin is caught between what he came to do, get Masema and take him to Rand, and rescuing Faile after she is captured. Obviously the latter takes precedence. Masema actually agrees to help Perrin hunt down the Aiel who took her and even agrees to go by Traveling which he refused as a way to get to Rand quickly. This team-up will be quite interesting. Maybe Masema will actually do something useful before he gets axed.

Elyas goes out with Gaul to look for the Shaido once they learn Faile was taken. I can’t help but hope we get more of Elyas because I like his character and would like to know more about him. Also in Perrin’s group is Berelain who escaped getting captured. She informs Perrin that Masema was meeting with the Seanchan. I can’t help but wonder what is going on with her though. Is she in love with Perrin? It’s starting to seem that way, which leads me to wonder if Berelain is the hawk from Min’s viewing back in book three. The viewing had the falcon, Faile, the Tuatha’an with a sword, Aram, and a hawk. The hawk and the falcon were both female and would cause trouble. Is her house symbol a hawk? I’m afraid to look into this because I want to avoid spoilers myself so I’ll just wait and see what happens as I go.

Back to Elayne. She is in Caemlyn and becomes first-sisters with Aviendha in a weird birthing ritual that lets them have a bond similar to a Warders but not as strong or invasive. Her claim to the throne is unsteady and she is having to rebuild the city guard. There is an attempt on her life that almost kills Dyelin. We later learn that the attack was set-up by an agent of the Forsaken to get close to Elayne. He was successful and is now her captain of the guard. He is still under Birgitte though so I hope Birgitte finds him out and puts an arrow through him. Elayne meets with the borderland alliance that is marching south to contact the Dragon Reborn. She expertly makes an agreement with them that will get them closer to their goal while putting her in a position to strengthen and possible secure her claim to the throne.

My favorite scene in this book is shortly after Elayne, Aviendha, and Min all bond Rand to them while he is in Caemlyn to talk to Nynaeve about his plan. After they complete the bond, we get a few different reactions. Min is excited to discover that Rand really does love them all equally and fiercely. Aviendha is overjoyed to know with certainty that Rand does love her. And Elayne is surprised to realize that her fears of sharing the bond were unfounded. We also get to see through the bond that Rand is basically in constant pain from his never-healing wounds and from using saidin. Shortly after the bond, Elayne basically tells Rand that there is one thing that Min and Aviendha have had that she hasn’t yet (Rand in the sack), and what happens next is hilarious. Nearly all intimate scenes have occurred “off-screen,” I think every one actually, and this one technically is as well but we get hints of what is happening through the newly formed Warder’s bond with Aviendha and Min, as well as the Warder’s bond via Birgitte. Honestly, sex scenes hardly ever need to be included in books, and they are rarely ever written well, but this second-hand account was absolutely brilliant because we get reactions from characters who are privy to the emotions involved. They try to block it out but they can’t and everyone is embarrassed and they all three go get drunk to help block out what is happening. Min also has a viewing that Elayne gets pregnant from this encounter and that she will eventually have two of Rand’s children. She has another about Aviendha showing she will have four of his kids and they will be quadruplets. Min wishes she could see her own aura so she would know if she would have any of his kids but she can’t.

Outside of Caemlyn is the ever-growing Black Tower. Mazrim Taim agrees to let Elayne and Birgitte view the little town whenever they please. It is in the Black Tower that we get a scene from the point of view of Toveine, the Red Sister who was captured and bonded by Logain. We get a brief look into Logain’s actions in the town. The camp is apparently split between Logain and Mazrim. Mazrim declared that all the Asha’man who were with Rand are traitors and are to be hunted down along with the ones who actually attacked him. I don’t see Flinn, Narishma, or Hopwell turning on Rand, and we get confirmation of this toward the end of this book which I will cover when I get to Rand.

I would move to his parts now but I’ll save it for last since it is a big moment. So next I’ll move on to Mat. Mat shows up halfway through this book. We last saw him under a pile of rubble at the end of book seven during the Seanchan invasion. One thing that has started in this book is that Rand and Mat, and presumably Perrin, start seeing visions or colors whenever they think of each other. I’m assuming this may come into play later on or it is just something that is tying them all together again and will force them to the same place later on. They haven’t all been in one place together since the start of book four.

We get into Mat’s story after we get a scene including Tuon who we learn is the Daughter of the Nine Moons. The Aelfinn/snake people who were in the doorway ter’angreal, located in Rhuidean at the time, told him that she would be his wife. We learn that Tuon is of the Seanchan Blood and is leading the next stage of the invasion, The Return, which includes settling a lot of Seanchan into the already conquered lands. I first thought that the Daughter of the Nine Moons was the Seanchan Empress, but I must have been mistaken. Maybe Tuon will eventually become the Empress since she is of the Blood.

Mat has apparently been holed up/held captive by Queen Tylin while he healed from his wounds. Tylin is doing well by working with the Seanchan. We also discover that Aludra, the Illuminator Mat saved back in book three and who gave him the fireworks he used to blow a way into the Stone of Tear, is traveling with Valan Luca’s menagerie, which is performing outside of Ebou Dar. The Seanchan invasion isn’t as oppressive as previously indicated. I for one could have done without seeing Valan Luca again, but here he is. Mat is trying to learn the Illuminator’s secret of how to construct fireworks so he can use them as weapons to aid his escape from the city. His entire story in this book is trying to find a way out. Thom and Juilin also are with him and have the same mindset, though Juilin apparently has been shacking up with a Seanchan slave/servant named Thera, and if my memory serves me well, Thera is the former Panarch of Tanchico named Amathera. Mat has another encounter with the gholam in the city and picks up another companion named Noal who effectively saves him from getting killed by it.

So Mat is trying to find a way out of the city safely and is hesitant to use Valan Luca’s troupe as cover. The dice start rolling in his head and only stop when he sees Tuon. He is wary at first because nothing happens right away. He continues trying to plan an escape when he is confronted by Bayle Domon, who is now a servant/lover to Egeanin who was the Seanchan in Tanchico who helped Nynaeve and Elayne. She was supposed to drop the male a’dam in the ocean but we find out that she had to hand it over to Suroth. Apparently there is a Seanchan prophecy that states the Dragon Reborn will kneel to the Empress. Supposedly this a’dam may be a part of that prophecy. Bayle and Egeanin also have a need to escape the city and the plan moves forward until it includes saving two Aes Sedai from being damane and getting another Aes Sedai out before she is found and collared.

During the rescues and escape, Tuon gets in the middle of it and Mat finds out who she is. He then says they will take her with them as a captive and Tuon actually smiles at this after her strange reaction when Mat called her his wife. We are left to wonder what will happen next. I expect we will see Mat and company getting outside the city in book ten and more on Mat and Tuon’s relationship. It will likely be a slow build but they will probably find a way to love each other.

I’m going to cover the rest of the events together. We really only have three parties left to discuss: Rand, Cadsuane, and the Forsaken. They eventually all come together so I’ll mix and match until we get to the main event.

Rand decides his next goal will be to remove the taint from saidin using the sa’angreal he finds in Rhuidean. They turn out to be keys that access the actual sa’angreal in the forms of humongous statues of the same design. One we saw several books ago being uncovered/excavated. The other is located on the island of Tremalking. Each one uses one half of the One Power. These sa’angreal are known as the Choedan Kal and were constructed toward the end of the Age of Legends. They were never used and therefore no one, even the Forsaken, knows what would happen if they are used. Rand believes using these is the only way to remove the Dark One’s corruption of saidin, which was the main reason for the breaking of the world and the end of the Age of Legends. This is his goal for this book, and is founded in the fact that he can’t use the power anymore without being physically sick or incapacitated, but first he decides he needs to eliminate the Asha’man who betrayed him at the end of book eight.

Rand approaches Nynaeve first because he needs her to wield the female half of the Choedan Kal. He chooses her because she is one of the few he can trust. He picks her up from Caemlyn at the palace. He tried to be secretive but Min gave him away to Elayne and Aviendha which led to what we discussed earlier. He then takes Nynaeve, Lan, Alivia, and Min to the city of Far Madding. Alivia is a former damane from Rand’s battles against the Seanchan in the last book. Min had a viewing about her that showed she will somehow “help Rand die” so Rand is keeping her close and begins to trust her based on this. Far Madding is the most interesting city I have seen so far, and there are many interesting locations in this series. The first encounter in the city shows Rand following and then facing two of the Asha’man in the streets. He lured them there by planting information back in Cairhein. They fight and he kills one and the other escapes. None of them use saidin when fighting. We later discover that there is a ter’angreal in Far Madding that replicates a Stedding, or creates a field where the One Power cannot be accessed. Therefore, no one can use the One Power in the city. They can’t even sense it there, which causes many who can use it uneasy until they leave the city. Not only does this ter’angreal prevent the use of the One Power, it can pinpoint where the Power is used on the outskirts of the city and within if someone figures out how to use it within the city limits. Surprise, someone does and it is our very own Nynaeve and Cadsuane who have angreal called Wells that can store the Power for later use. A somewhat deus ex machina moment but not a huge one. Another cool thing about Far Madding is that there is little crime. Partly because of the replicated Stedding and cutting off of those who use the One Power, but also because no one is allowed to use a sword in the city. You can either check your weapons at the gate or have a Peace Bond placed around your weapon until you leave the city. A Peace Bond is a wire weaving around the sword that locks it into the scabbard. Cutting a Peace Bond results in a huge fine and a public flogging. Peace Bonds are only removed when you leave the city and they are all registered when they are created at the gates. There are also extensive guards throughout the city to maintain the peace without the use of weapons.

Guess who is also in Far Madding? Padan Fain aka Mordeth. Padan Fain has been in this series since book one and has evolved, or devolved, into different levels of evil. Fain kills the Asha’man who escaped Rand’s first encounter. Rand believes he killed two of the others when Rand and Lan try to go kill them. There wasn’t confirmation of this but I could have just misread the scene. Anyway, Rand fights Fain while Lan fights Riatin. Riatin was seen with Fain outside Cairhein. He was leading the rebellion against Rand and is a master swordsman. Lan kills him, Fain gets away, and the guards of the city capture Rand and Lan. Cadsuane uses her influence and skills to convince the city to release Lan and Rand. They get to leave the city without being checked too. The record of them being in the city is wiped as well. All because Cadsuane and Nynaeve use their Well angreal to shock the Counsels/rulers of the city.

We do learn that the Asha’man who betrayed Rand were promised power and immortality from Demandred and Moridin. They were also ordered to kill Rand by Mazrim. This means that the Forsaken have reached the Black Tower and possibly could be within the Black Tower. Mazrim may even be one of them. This would be interesting but harder to believe unless they killed the original Mazrim and took on his identity since he had a reputation of being a false Dragon before we see the first Forsaken were released back in book one.

Speaking of the Forsaken, we do get quite a bit of information from them in short sections of this book. They have been somewhat on the edges of the story lately and not actively involved. A few new characters have been introduced but they have been operating outside the main story, which is weird considering how prevalent they should be at this point. So they all have a meeting in one scene and the only one who doesn’t show is Mesaana, who we know is in the White Tower. Moridin shows up. He is Nae’blis or the chosen one by the Dark Lord and therefore can command the others. We learn that Moridin is actually Ishamael reincarnated. We get references to two others who were reincarnated. Osan’gar and Aran’gar. Aran’gar was one of the two who were reincarnated as the opposite sex but can use the original half of the One Power they could access prior to reincarnation. This was a bit confusing at first and I’m not sure of the logic behind it, but it is interesting and causes misinterpretations and some tense scenes. Aran’gar used to be Balthamel. He is the one who was reincarnated as a woman. I can’t remember who the one was that was reincarnated as a man, but Osan’gar used to be Aginor, who was killed in book one. We also learn that Cyndane is the reincarnation of Lanfear. We didn’t know anything about her in the last book or two when she first appears. Apparently Demandred thought it was Lanfear reborn at first too but then dismisses the idea once he realizes that Cyndane is a lot weaker than Lanfear was. He thinks she is someone from the current time who was elevated to their level. The truth is she is Lanfear reborn, but she is weaker than her original form. This raises some concerns. I didn’t think Lanfear and Moraine were dead when they went into the doorway ter’angreal that is inhabited by the Aelfinn and Eelfinn (the snake people), but apparently Lanfear does die and is reborn. The question is why is she weaker now? Did she die in the ter’angreal after being held prisoner by the Aelfinn? Does this mean that Moraine may still be alive? I’m sure I’ll find out as I continue the series.

Moridin commands the other Forsaken to capture Rand while he is using the Choedan Kal. They all also agree that they need to kill Mordeth/Padan Fain since he opposes them as another evil power and may disrupt their plans. Sammael has not been reborn yet, if he truly is dead. We last saw him disappear/die by the fog in Shadar Logoth. Along with the Forsaken we get to see Luc/Slayer again for the first time since book three in the Two Rivers. We barely know anything about him then but get a few tidbits here. He apparently is an assassin known as Isam who sometimes works for the Forsaken but truly only reports to the Dark Lord. He seems to have a split personality or something. He Travels through Tel’aran’rhiod and can pop up anywhere. Perrin actually injured him in Tel’aran’rhiod back in book three. I’m not sure who/what he is, but I’m sure I will find out more as I read on.

Cadsuane and Sorilea have a fragile alliance and may end up having different goals, but they agree to work in the interest of Rand. When Rand gets bonded by Elayne, Aviendha, and Min, Alanna feints and this concerns Cadsuane. She apparently couldn’t feel her bond with Rand at that time. This leads to Cadsuane seeking Rand out by using Alanna as a dowsing rod. They both go, with an entourage of Aes Sedai and a few Atha’an Miere, to find him in Far Madding. The three Asha’man, Flinn, Narishma, and Hopwil, are now bonded as Warders to different Aes Sedai in this party. Verin is also in the party. She is getting more and more mysterious. I like her and want to trust her, but I am also wary of her. Alanna really wants to see Rand when they get to the city and is actually really happy to see him for some reason, though she is really upset when she finds out that he let someone else bond him. He says he actually allowed it this time which promptly shuts her up.

Okay. Final Scene. Rand and Nynaeve use the Choedan Kal outside of Shadar Logoth. As they try to control the power to remove the taint on saidin, the Forsaken are drawn to them. Anyone who can use the One Power will have felt them since they draw on so much. Cadsuane and her group defend Rand and Nynaeve as they attempt to cleanse saidin. The Forsaken Travel to Shadar Logoth to try and stop Rand from his objective and capture him. It is here that we learn that Osan’gar was actually Dashiva the whole time. He is also the only Forsaken who seemingly dies in this battle. He dies by fire to an Aes Sedai called Elza. She is one of those who swore fealty to Rand, but she apparently is also still Black Ajah because when she kills Osan’gar/Dashiva, it is because she thinks he is only Dashiva the Asha’man and she therefore wouldn’t get in trouble for attacking one of the Forsaken.

Rand and Nynaeve succeed in cleansing saidin. This should let Rand be a full-on badass for the rest of the series. Hopefully he gets his wounds healed too so he can be completely unhindered. This may also help Cadsuane bring him back to being a human being again since he doesn’t have to fight the Dark One’s touch every time he uses the One Power.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. We get decent sections from each character but a lot is still left open, especially about Perrin and Faile. I know there are still five more books to go and I’m still aiming to finish them by the end of the year. I just hope I don’t have to wait until book eleven to find out what happens to those two. I almost prefer seeing a little from all characters than not seeing them at all. I guess that really only pertains to the characters who were last seen in a bit of trouble. Rand right now is passed out but he succeeded in his task and is protected by Cadsuane and Lan so I wouldn’t worry about him too much if I didn’t see him for a bit. Egwene was last seen marching off to attack the White Tower so I do want to see what happens there sooner than later. Since she wasn’t in this book, I expect to see her in book ten, which I will be starting shortly.

On to Crossroads of Twilight.

On J.K. Rowling

JKRowling_2016GalaJ.K. Rowling. One of the biggest literary success stories of the past 25 years if not of all time. I don’t think it is much of a surprise that she has been a big influence in my life since she has influenced hundreds of millions of people around the globe with her immensely popular series Harry Potter, but she is an inspiration beyond her writing as well. Before I get into the details of why and how she inspires me, let me herd an elephant out of the room.

I think there is a cliche response associated with aspiring writers that has been based on J.K. Rowling’s success. When someone says they are a writer, or want to be a writer, the response sometimes given is “So you want to become the next J.K. Rowling, huh?” I think this has become too common and is actually detrimental to many of these writers for several reasons. One, they probably don’t want to be the next J.K. Rowling because what they write is completely different and they want to carve their own path and be recognized for their own merits. Two, the question itself is often asked in a snarky way which shuts down any chance of the writer sharing their dreams, goals, and stories with those who ask it. They feel like that initial response tells them that they aren’t good enough because it is a direct comparison with one of the masters of the craft. If you have experienced this response before, I hope you read the rest of this post because I think it will enlighten some things about J.K. herself, help you no longer consider that question an apathetic response to your dreams, and possibly provide the perfect response to such questions.

The question above does give credence to J.K.’s success (J.K. Rowling’s full name is Joanne Rowling. She uses the “pen name” J.K. Rowling where the K is an honorific for her grandmother’s name Kathleen). I think her story of rags to riches has become fairly well known, but I’ll give a brief summary here just because it is insightful. J.K. was a single mother on welfare when she began writing Harry Potter. The book was rejected by 12 publishers before getting picked up and published. These books, along with the movies, made J.K. Rowling a billionaire. That’s right, with a B. She is also one of the few people, perhaps the only person, who has gone from billionaire status to millionaire status by charitable giving. Her recent “net worth” is just shy of one billion dollars. I remember hearing her story about how she started her charity, Lumos, to assist orphaned children. She was reading a paper and saw a story about orphaned children and thought, as many of us surely have, that someone should be helping these children. Where most of us would have left it at that and continued on with our lives, she had a second thought which was a realization that she was in a place that would let her personally offer help because she had the funds to make a big difference and help address the issue. This led to the creation of Lumos. I haven’t followed the charity too closely but I hear great things from time to time about what they are doing. I did buy a pair of shirts for myself and my wife for a Lumos fundraising event (I haven’t written my international bestseller yet, but every little bit helps). I just think it is fantastic that she has taken her success and used it to assist others. I think this shows more about her character than her writing ever could.

I read a brief biography on J.K. when I was maybe twelve years old and the only thing I really remember from it was that she was on a train headed somewhere and was looking out the window (maybe at some cows?) and the name Harry Potter simply popped into her head and she knew she had the character for her book. She had known a family with the last name of Potter earlier in her life but the name that has become infamous simply came out of the ether, as most ideas do, and simply struck her and inspired her to start writing his story. She wrote the name on a napkin if I remember correctly to make sure she remembered it.

I grew up with Harry Potter. Literally…okay not in the actual literal sense as I didn’t go to Hogwarts with him, but I grew up alongside him in a way that made if feel like I went to Hogwarts with him. I’ll date myself here, but I was six years old when the first book came out in 1997. One of the only memories I have of being read aloud to as a kid was my mom reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to me and my siblings. I think my mom had won the book at a raffle or something because it was the first book in the series we had. I eventually got the first book and began reading through the series myself. I also had to wait for each book to come out because she was still working on them. The third book may have been out at that time because I remember waiting for the fourth. I ended up reading the first four books four times before the fifth book came out. I remember going to get the book when it came out too. We ended up getting it from Costco of all places and I remember there just being a pallet of books, a literal pallet full of just copies of the new Harry Potter book, sitting near the entrance for people to pick up and it seemed like everyone coming in was taking one. Then I waited for the sixth, which I read in three days, and then I waited for the seventh. Both of which were picked up from another pallet-full of copies. I remember I didn’t read the seventh right away for some reason, but I did read it not too long after it came out. Nearly ten years after the final book came out, they came out with a print edition of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play that had become a big success. So, in 2016, almost 20 years after the first book, I found myself going to a Barnes & Noble for a midnight release party of a Harry Potter book. I went by myself but ran into some friends. We bought copies and went home. I went to bed, but I woke up the next day and read the play straight through (plays are often much quicker reads than books) in a handful of hours. I met up with the same friends I ran into later that day and we talked about the book/play since they also read it straight through. We liked and didn’t like various things, but we mainly just happy to have more of the story we grew up with.

I remember waiting in line for the first Harry Potter movie. I was nine or ten years old. They would rope off an area and you could wait in line to get into the theater. This was before theaters had assigned seating or the ability to buy tickets online. We got there early and were one of the first in line for the opening night and it was a magical experience seeing it for the first time. They had started making the movies before the books were all released, but the movies did get released not long after the books were released. The last book came out in 2007 and the last movie came out in 2011.

I remember seeing the sixth movie when I was at college getting my undergraduate degree. I went to a decent sized university in a smaller town and they had a fairly new theater built which held a total of ten screens. Of course, me and some friends bought tickets for opening night. The theater was running the movie on all ten screens. I worked at a movie theater back home when I wasn’t at school so I knew a bit about how things worked, and I think I remember this theater saying they only had one copy of the film. This was when they had actual film, everything wasn’t all digital yet (do I sound old yet? haha), so they rigged it up, which they were actually outfitted to do so it wasn’t a questionable type of rigging, where the film would start on one projector and then go along pulleys to the next projector and so on and so forth until it went through all of them. The result being that one theater would start the movie and the tenth would start the movie only a mere few minutes later. It was crazy. So they had the film in all ten auditoriums so when you went in, they tore your ticket, and you could go to any of the auditoriums you wanted. It was a one night show of only Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Many of my friends had re-read the book prior to seeing the movie. I had not. They ended up not liking the movie much, because they had the book fresh in mind, but I enjoyed it quite a bit since I had decided to keep a little distance between the adaptation and original content.

I was actually working, physically, at a movie theater when the last movie came out. I had recently won an “employee of the month” award or something similar and one of my rewards was to pick my schedule for two weeks. Luckily for me, the last day I was able to pick my schedule was the opening night of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I would have felt bad taking the whole day off since it was going to be insanely busy, so I set myself to work from 12pm to 8pm. I had bought my tickets for the midnight show, the earliest it was shown back then (I can hear my bones cracking in my old age). I came into work and there were people already lined up since 9am. They were seeing the special double feature of the sixth and seventh movies that would then show the new movie at midnight, but I was surprised to see people waiting in line that early. Anyway, I’ll avoid the hellish work day I had and just say that I made enough popcorn to feed a pod of whales for a year. I got of work at 8pm, ran home and showered in an attempt to remove the smell of popcorn from myself, and then went right back up to get in line and watch the final, amazing experience of a generation. I still remember hearing that line “Always” in the theater and feeling the entire audience’s reaction. It was simply incredible. Movies are somewhat heightened when in a packed theater full of dedicated fans. I was really into films back then and I do recall that J.K. had let Alan Rickman know about Snape’s relationship with Lily very early on in the film series. He was the only one who knew until that final scene so he could have a driving motivation for his character. He wrote a letter about it when the films were completed and you can find it online. It is quite touching and hints at J.K. fully understanding of the story even though only three books had been completed when she told him the little secret that would become a huge moment.

A few final things about Harry Potter before I move on to the real focus of this post, the one behind the stories. A study was done titled “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice” which showed that reading Harry Potter actually makes people more empathetic. This is fantastic and shows how stories can influence people. Think of a few stories that have really gripped you. Can you imagine yourself without ever having experienced them?

There are theme parks entirely dedicated to bringing the world of Harry Potter to life. I still need to go to the bigger, more in-depth park in Florida, but I went to the one in Los Angeles a few years ago and had a blast. I bought a replica of Sirius Black’s wand since he is my favorite character in the series. I also bought a set of wizard robes. Ravenclaw robes since that is my “house.” A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on their sorted house. J.K. herself is a Hufflepuff.

Harry Potter was so successful that J.K. thought that anything she wrote afterwards would be impacted by simply having her name on the cover, that an expectation would be placed on the story before people even knew what it was, so she adopted an actual pen name of Robert Galbraith. She did publish a handful of books under J.K. Rowling, but she has a few successful series under her newer pen name, specifically the Cormoran Strike novels which are also now a TV series. I think the Robert Galbraith pen name was quickly found out to be J.K. Rowling, but she still uses the name today for some of her series. I think she has broken out of the shadow of her first success and continues to write new and interesting stories to find newer successes. She loves what she does and continues to find new audiences. She didn’t let herself get stuck in the expectations of others. She has always paved her own way. This is why I think she is a great role model.

I think her influence on me was not just the story that gripped the world, but the fact that it came into my life at the right time and has had a lasting impression. This is another aspiration I have with my own writing. To become a positive influence to a younger generation. To help kids experience stories that awe them and hopefully encourage them to become better people and believe in themselves. I’m not limiting that to those younger than me actually. I would love for everyone to have these reactions. I haven’t had the “so you want to be the next J.K. Rowling” response in a long time. I think I got it more when I was younger and the Harry Potter movies were still being released, but I’ve finally found an answer besides shutting down and thinking I could never be that successful, which then turns into believing I’ll never be successful with that comparison. My answer now is “No. I could never be J.K. Rowling. I don’t want to be. I’m going to be the first Ryan Yarber.”

The Path of Daggers

A Path of Daggers


The Path of Daggers is book eight of The Wheel of Time series and is the shortest of the fourteen. I think I mentioned around book four that I felt our main characters had come into their own and grown or matured greatly over the course of the first three books. As we get into book eight, I can’t help but feel like our characters have matured even more. So much that they are beyond just adults but taking on commanding roles within the world. I’m continuing this series discussion as before, with spoilers, so be warned if you have not yet read this far. If you have not read the series at all, I still advise against reading these spoilers, but we may be so far into it that the spoilers might not make sense without knowledge of previous events. Despite being the shortest book, there is still a lot to talk about. Let’s get into it.

Beginning with something brief, I noticed that Mat is not in this book at all, whatsoever, and I’m a bit disappointed. I’m disappointed because I was excited to see what happens to him after the ending of the previous book, but we don’t even get a glimpse, which means we last saw Mat getting buried in a pile of rubble in Ebou Dar during the invasion by the Seanchan. We do get information that the Seanchan have settled into Ebou Dar so surely the next time we see Mat he will have been through a few things we will probably just get a brief summary about before jumping back into his story. Also, I think Thom and Juilin had stayed behind with Mat so we don’t know what is happening with them either. We just know they are not with Elayne.

Elayne has only a few chapters in this book but they are important. We open up with her, Nynaeve, Lan, Aviendha, and Birgitte, along with the Kin from Ebou Dar, the Atha’an Miere, and the Aes Sedai who were in Ebou Dar all going out to the Kin’s farm/retreat. They Travel there via a Gateway made by Aviendha. She gets everyone through but then quickly undoes the Gateway by tearing the weaves, or “unweaving,” so no one can follow them. The Aes Sedai are appalled. They forbid that practice because it is high risk, but she does it for a purpose. They were being watched by what could have been the gholam that attacked them in the last book. She was right, but they were also being watched by Moridin (more on him later).

They travel out to the farm and end up using the Bowl of the Winds using a circle. Strangely enough though, the Bowl uses saidin alongside saidar when it spreads across the sky to return the weather to normal patterns and reverse the Dark Lord’s touch on the world. They are successful and their success ends up having consequences later on. After they use the Bowl, they see that Ebou Dar is under attack by Seanchan so they prepare to leave. The Seanchan begin to scout into the area when they are finishing their Travel into Andor near Caemlyn. Getting everyone through took time and some of the Seanchan started coming through as Elayne, who made the Gateway this time, is still unweaving the threads so the Seanchan can’t follow with a damane who might be able to trace the weave. Some Seanchan come through and start attacking Elayne and Birgitte, and Aviendha, and Elayne isn’t able to fully remove the weave successfully. The result is a major explosion that wipes out most of the area around the weave on both sides of the Gateway. The explosion takes out the Seanchan on both sides and hurts Elayne, Birgitte, and Aviendha as well. Nynaeve is able to heal them once she comes back to help them. I have a feeling this “unweaving” will come into play later on since it can effectively wipe out an entire army if used as a weapon.

So Elayne & Co are in Andor and begin to make their way toward Caemlyn so she can claim the Lion Throne. The weather turning back to normal, effectively turning abruptly to winter, impedes their progress and they take much longer to get to Caemlyn. Along the way, they discover a Darkfriend is among their party after Adeleas is found dead and the Black Ajah, Ispan, is killed as well. The main goal seemingly was to silence Ispan from revealing too much. Either way, they can’t trust anyone until they find out who did it. They all make it into Caemlyn and everyone is housed in the palace after Elayne announces her claim to the throne. She does meet with Dyelin who asks what her intentions are and then supports her. I can’t help but hope that Dyelin will be a good friend to her.

Morgase and her little group had run from the Seanchan invasion of Amadicia and we find them being hounded by some of the Prophet’s people. Perrin comes in to save them and sends a warning to the Prophet/Masema who he has come to meet with. Morgase is going by the name Maighdin and is picked up by Faile to become a servant. She apparently is slowly coming to terms with her new path in life since she is no longer queen, and Lini even tries to make Perrin marry her to Talanvor (he doesn’t, yet).

Perrin is still my favorite character along with Loial. Loial left to find a Stedding and we haven’t seen him in a long time, but Perrin is back in a somewhat major way. He has come to get Masema and bring him to Rand and he is supposed to be quiet about it. He is able to get Alliandre, the Queen of Ghealdean, to align with him. She even swears fealty to him. Elyas shows back up too. I think this may be the first appearance from him since book one. He joins Perrin and actually gives Perrin some marital advice, which ends up helping Perrin out quite a bit. Perrin ends up meeting with Masema at the end of the book and convinces him to come see Rand, but he refuses to go by Traveling and Perrin agrees to take him to Rand by horse/foot. I doubt they will make it all the way to Cairhein considering the last bit of info we get with Faile. She is out hawking with Alliandre and gets info that Masema has been meeting with the Seanchan. She tries desperately to get the info to Perrin, but they are attacked by the Shaido Aiel. Faile, Maighdin/Morgase, Alliandre, and a few others including Bain and Chiad are taken prisoner as gai’shain. Supposedly, Berelain escapes and can inform Perrin of what has happened. Perrin will go crazy to get Faile back so I bet he takes out the Shaido for Rand now. Faile was more worried about getting Perrin the info about Masema than she was about being prisoner, but that may be because she knows Perrin will come get her soon.

We get a short chapter about the Shaido and Sevanna. She is losing influence with the Wise Ones after the Shaido were scattered by Sammael’s Travel boxes. She tries to make Galina swear an oath to her using something similar to the Oath Rod that Sammael had given her, but the oath Galina takes is to obey the Wise Ones and not just Sevanna.

One of the opening events in the prologue shows the leaders of the four border nations, including Agelmar from Shienar who we last saw in book one, meeting and deciding to band together, via an old pact not used in two thousand years, and move south to settle the unstable countries.

I’ve noticed that many of the events in the prologue of each book don’t often, if at all, get mentioned further in the book they prelude. The plot lines are simply mentioned to plant the seed and then come into play in either the next book or even a few books later on. This prologue includes the four border nations making the pact, Moridin who gets a little more mention in this book, and Verin who is apparently questioning the captured Aes Sedai from Dumai’s Wells. Within the prologue, she is doing something that apparently is forbidden. It seems to be some kind of mind control to make the Aes Sedai do what she thinks needs to be done. She even, at least it is hinted at, helps some of them escape. Presumably so they can carry out her “orders.” I like Verin, but this is kind of a red flag.

Moving on to Moridin. He seems like he will become a major villain, especially since the Forsaken have been absent of late. All we see in this installment though is that he has Moghedien and another woman go to summon Graendal. They name Moridin as Nae’blis, the top person named by the Dark Lord, but Graendal is skeptical until Shaidar Haran, the altered Myrddraal, shows up and convinces her. She is supposed to go meet Moridin and become his minion. There are still several Forsaken out there who we haven’t heard from. Only six remain from my count. We see a little of Mesaana who is still in the White Tower. We don’t see Demandred, Semirhage, or Asmodean (where has he been?).

We get one line during a scene with the Seanchan that tells us that Liandrin, the original Black Ajah troublemaker, is now a servant/slave to the Seanchan since she is still blocked from the One Power by Moghedien’s weave from a few books ago. Another Black Ajah, the one who was with Ispan but got away in Ebou Dar, has been captured and is now a damane. The Seanchan have captured Ebou Dar and are expanding further west. Many of the nations now know about them but have not yet done anything to move against them. Little is known if they are even preparing to defend against an invasion by them either.

Most of the main action of this book centers around Rand rooting out the Seanchan in Altara. He Travels from Illian with a small force of nobles who have issues with him or caused him trouble in the past. They come with a few soldiers each making up about four thousand. He also brings about 50 Asha’man who are meant to do most of the killing. They Travel and scout through the mountains and drive the Seanchan out and back toward Ebou Dar. He then faces off against them in large numbers in the forests north of Ebou Dar. Both Rand and the Asha’man with him are uneasy about using saidin in this area because there is something off about it. I’m curious if this is another side-effect of using the Bowl of the Winds since it was used in Ebou Dar, but either way it is making things difficult for them. Unstable perhaps. Rand continues onward though despite this. He first meant to just get the Seanchan out of the mountains to lessen their hold on the area, but he decides later to take them out of Ebou Dar. To drive them back to the sea like in Falme. He gets so focused on this that he has Narishma go get Callandor from Tear. He then uses the ter’angreal to finish off the Seanchan but he loses control and ends up killing some of his own people, including one of the Asha’man he first recruited to the Black Tower. He only stops because Bashere tackles him and makes him stop. Bashere is great. Rand believes this is his first defeat in battle since becoming the Dragon Reborn. We as readers get to see that the Seanchan also consider the battle a defeat.

Rand later learns from Cadsuane that Callandor is flawed and can only be used safely when one man, the wielder, is linked with two women and one of the women controls the flows of power. This info seems a bit too convenient for Cadsuane’s purposes and I’m not sure I believe it, but Cadsuane is bound by the three oaths and cannot lie (but we do see how believing something is true lets an Aes Sedai claim it as truth, but more on that later). This also sets up many possible combinations of Rand using Callandor with a few Aes Sedai. The most likely combination either him with Elayne and Egwene, or him with Elayne and Aviendha.

Rand almost dies, twice, while fighting the Seanchan. The first is right after Traveling to the area and was an attempt on his life by one of the men in his party who was paid supposedly by Aes Sedai but Davrim Bashere pretty much shows that it couldn’t be assumed it was Aes Sedai. We don’t get to know who paid the man, yet, but it does seem like it was planned to look a certain way. The second time is when Weiramon gets too eager and leaves a side undefended, thus letting some Seanchan through who almost kill Rand.

Lews Therin’s voice also returns in Rand’s head and the issue with saidin is persisting with Rand. He pretty much is incapacitated temporarily when seizing the source and when letting it go. The fact the Asha’man state they feel the disturbance within saidin too soothes Rand at first but he still pushes himself and his soldiers too far. This leads to the final confrontation of the book, which I will save for last.

Next, let’s move back to Cadsuane. She was introduced a while back and was made out to be a prominent character. She is slowly getting there. She and Sorilea have a scene where they make a pact to bring Rand out of his downward spiral and remind him what it means to be human. This will be a great thing considering Rand has been too enveloped in his “purpose” and being the Dragon Reborn that he is pushing himself non-stop and is losing sight of why he has to do what he is doing. Min has seen an image of Cadsuane teaching Rand and all the Asha’man something important that they won’t enjoy learning, but it will be essential. Because of the viewing and Min’s insistence that he needs her, Rand asks Cadsuane to become his advisor. They discuss the possibility of this but never come to an agreement. They test the waters and it seems like they will eventually will become official allies once they find terms acceptable to each of them.

Sorilea brings the remaining five Aes Sedai prisoners before Rand to make a final decision regarding what to do with them. They are all now willing to serve him and have learned their mistake. They all swear the same oath of fealty to him that the other Aes Sedai did at Dumai’s Wells. If I can remember correctly, none of these five Aes Sedai were Black Ajah, or even Red Ajah, so they are still bound by the three oaths. They are then given back to Sorilea to be made apprentices to the Wise Ones like the other Aes Sedai who swore fealty.

A few more areas to discuss before the finale. Elaida is still Amyrlin in the White Tower but she is basically a puppet for Alviarin right now. She is hoping Seaine will get the dirt she needs to have Alviarin dealt with. This brings me back to the Aes Sedai needing to believe something to be true in order to speak it. Seaine and Pevara are using the Oath Rod to try and find the Black Ajah members in the White Tower. They inadvertently discover the Salidar spies, or the spies the “rebel” Aes Sedai sent to the Tower. Pevara tells the spy they uncover to stop telling the “lie” that the Red Ajah set up False Dragons including Logain. She tells her to renounce the lie, but the spy believes it to be true so she can’t say it is false. She starts choking since Pevara told her to say it is false and she had just sworn an oath to follow Pevara and Seaine’s commands, but she is still bound by the oath to tell the truth, so she is stuck between each oath of obeying Pevara and telling the truth as she believes it, which are contradicting each other. Pevara ultimately has to remove her command so the girl doesn’t die. Right after this event, other sisters, Sitters of the Hall, pop into the basement room Seaine and Pevara are using for their questioning. They hoping to dig up some dirt about what is going on in each Ajah since the Tower is basically split by Ajah now and the Aes Sedai are not trusting each other as before. They think Pevara and Seaine are sneaking to this room to discuss information related to their Ajahs. Anyway, these Sitters come in and find the Oath Rod and they all retake the Three Oaths and claim they are not Black Ajah. The scene cuts short before the final sister takes the Oath Rod, who we know is actually Black Ajah, so I’m sure we will get to see the repercussions of this later on.

Elaida also has sent about fifty Aes Sedai and two thousand guards to take out the Black Tower since they think only a handful of men are there who can use the One Power. They are of course terribly wrong since Mazrim Taim has been recruiting like crazy. One of the Aes Sedai groups, one of ten that would regroup in Andor before attacking the Black Tower, gets intercepted by a group of Asha’man which includes Logain who we last saw escape the “rebel” Aes Sedai camp with Egwene’s help. Logain does…something…to get one of the Aes Sedai to calm down. It seems like he bonded her similar to a Warder, but we will have to wait and see. Min’s viewings did show an Aes Sedai bonding an Asha’man as a Warder, so we may be getting some cool Aes Sedai/Asha’man team-ups in the future.

Last section before the climax of this book. Egwene. She finally takes control of the Aes Sedai group by having them declare war on Elaida. An older law in the White Tower claims that if war is declared, as done with a majority vote by the Tower, then the Amyrlin must have full support in all decisions regarding the war. Few seem to remember the law but it does bind them to her. Siuan is tutoring Egwene and has aligned with her, as has Gareth Bryne, whom Egwene realizes Siuan is in love with. Egwene threatens to tell Bryne in order to get Siuan to behave herself. There was a weird scene where Sheriam was attacked/forced into submission by someone we don’t get to see. It is hinted that she is being subservient to a Darkfriend, but not in a way that would claim Sheriam is a Darkfriend herself. The person I think may have done this is Halima. We know Halima is a Darkfriend to say the least. We find out in this book that Halima is actually a (former?) Forsaken who apparently was reborn by the Dark Lord, who we know can bring people back from death somehow. However, this reborn Forsaken was a man prior to being reborn so he is now technically a woman who can weave saidar, which means that he/she/they is the one who freed Moghedien from the a’dam and from Egwene. Halima is indirectly shown killing the two maids given to Egwene from Romanda and Lelaine. She remains with Egwene as well and is too close for comfort considering what we know. Egwene spends a month on the border of Andor resting her troops, who are making poor time traveling with the new weather, for one month. Then, at the end of the book, she Travels her entire camp to Tar Valon to lay siege to the White Tower and depose Elaida. I hope we get to see this battle and resolution in the next book. Or at least the start of this conflict. I would hate to have to wait an entire book before getting back to that Egwene’s story. Similar to how we didn’t see Mat in this book.

Okay, on to the climax of this book. As with previous books, we get an unexpected fight at the end. Usually it has been with a member of the Forsaken. We are first lead to believe it is either Demandred or Asmodean, but we ultimately see that it is a few members of the Asha’man who attempt to kill Rand. They are all members who had gone with Rand to root out the Seanchan, including Dashiva. I was skeptical of Dashiva since the beginning, or since Rand chose him to follow him after Dumai’s Wells, and never understood why Rand chose him since he mutters all the time and seems to be on the brink of insanity. I thought for a moment that Dashiva’s muttering was him talking to a past hero as well, or someone from the past who could wield saidin. Maybe this will turn out to be true. It could be an interesting development. Perhaps some of these Asha’man will join the Forsaken. The Black Tower was made to assist Rand but may turn out to be detrimental to his cause. I doubt this since Logain is now an Asha’man and he is supposed to attain some sort of glory according to Min’s viewing.

So a handful of Asha’man attempt to kill Rand in the Sun Palace in Cairhien. They were all insubordinate or questioning Rand’s orders during their fight with the Seanchan and seemingly held a grudge. I think maybe they are just ambitious as well. Below are two quotes I included when talking about book five, The Fires of Heaven, that I think apply once again.

  • If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals – J.K. Rowling
  • Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. – Abraham Lincoln

The Asha’man have definitely been given power, or at least trained to enhance and control the One Power. I think some of the Asha’man were bound to lose themselves to ambition or believing they were or could do better than Rand despite knowing Rand is the Dragon Reborn. They probably question that as well. At first, I thought that maybe these Asha’man were rebelling at the orders of Mazrim Taim (I never trusted him and still don’t) because I can see Mazrim taking the forces he trained and turning them against Rand. But Mazrim shows up later to report a few deserters, who end up being the ones who attacked Rand, and Rand tells him who else was included and demands that Mazrim hunt them down and kill them. Rand kills Fedwin Morr by feeding him a cup of something poisonous. Mazrim is impressed that Rand can be ruthless and he assumes Fedwin was part of the group that tried to kill Rand. I was confused at first as to why Rand kills Fedwin since he had asked him to protect Min, but after reading the section again, it sounds like Fedwin may have lost his mind. He was young, but it says he reverted to the mind of a young child and Min had to convince him to play like a child with wooden blocks instead of using the one power to tear stones from the palace walls to play with. So this makes me believe Rand kills Fedwin mercifully since Fedwin is no longer the man/boy that he was and is too dangerous to be left alive still able to use the One Power.

I really did like this book and I am continuing to love the series. I still have six books to go and I’ll be jumping right into book nine, Winter’s Heart.

On Philip K. Dick

Phil K Dick AuthorI’ve recommended a few books by Philip K. Dick (PKD) on this blog. In one of them, if I remember correctly, I mentioned how I first discovered his work. It was a very strange, roundabout way that I think is ironically fitting. Before I “discovered” who he was or what work he had done, I had already been exposed to several adaptations of his works. Many movies and shows have been based on his short stories and books. Perhaps you have seen some of them without realizing who first created the concept or idea. Many adaptations take many liberties that stray from the original story, and movies based on short stories obviously had additions, but at the core they are influenced by PKD’s work. Here are a few adaptations:

Movies:

  1. Blade Runner (1982) & Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
    • Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  2. Total Recall (1990 & 2012)
    • Based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966)
  3. Screamers (1995)
    • Based on the short story “Second Variety” (1953)
  4. Imposter (2002)
    • Based on the short story “Imposter” (1953)
  5. Minority Report (2002)
    • Based on the short story “The Minority Report” (1956)
  6. Paycheck (2003)
    • Based on the short story “Paycheck” (1953)
  7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
    • Based on the novel A Scanner Darkly (1977)
  8. Next (2007)
    • Based on the short story “The Golden Man” (1954)
  9. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
    • Based on the short story “Adjustment Team” (1954)

TV Shows:

  1. The Man in the High Castle (2015-present [2019])
    • Based on the novel The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  2. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (2017)
    • Episodes based on the following short stories:
      • The Hood Maker (1953)
      • The Commuter (1953)
      • The Hanging Stranger (1953)
      • Sales Pitch (1954)
      • Exhibit Piece (1954)
      • The Father Thing (1954)
      • The Impossible Planet (1955)
      • Human Is (1955)
      • Autofac (1955)
      • Foster, You’re Dead! (1955)

If you have seen any of these movies or TV shows then you have experienced PKD’s work. Perhaps, like me several years ago, you had no idea that this man was behind a piece of work you have seen before. So I guess you can say I first discovered/realized PKD the author around 2015 when one of his novels was mentioned by a character in a show I really enjoy. I discovered William Gibson from the same show. The show, an animated science fiction, dystopian future story, is called Psycho-Pass. The novel mentioned was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which subsequently became the first book of PKD’s that I read. I have read a few collections of short stories, the transcription of his final interview What if Our World is Their Heaven?, and I still have much of his work still to read. After all, he wrote 36 books and 121 short stories.

What I like about PKD’s work, especially the short stories, is that after I finish reading the story, I am still thinking about something. Many of his stories are centered around an idea or a social commentary that get my synapses firing and sometimes prompts me to have ideas of my own that I could use for stories. I can’t tell you which ones, but I know that a few stories I wrote for this blog were influenced in this way. Some of his stories were about social issues back between the fifties and seventies, but most are still relevant today. I remember reading a story about abortion around the same time new abortion laws were being made in several states in the U.S.. Not every social commentary story is that prevalent. Some are and some touch on lesser topics that are still relevant.

Another thing I find fascinating about his work is that much of his work is already dated in some way. The events in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? happen in 2019. Obviously things turned out quite different (we still don’t have flying cars for f**k’s sake), but science fiction is never about “predicting” a future. It’s about talking about the current moment in a different perspective. This is why PKD’s stories are still fascinating and fun to read. I once referred to his work as “nostalgic science fiction” and I think that is still accurate. His stories are dated not only because they dated themselves by using futuristic dates that have come and passed, but because they cover topics that were prevalent at the time they were written. Topics that did not persist as the years passed. So even though the stories are futuristic they are also historical, and I think this adds to the magic of them.

There is no doubt that PKD writes an excellent story. Hollywood wouldn’t be using them if they didn’t think their adaptations would make a lot of money. I really enjoy reading them because I think the old adage “The book is better than the movie” rings true with probably every adaptation of his work. Granted, I haven’t read or seen them all, but the few I have lead me to hold strong to this assumption. I will be honest here though. I watched Blade Runner after I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I was thoroughly disappointed with the movie. This statement I’m sure will open a can of worms with those who love the movie and will try to defend it. I think the book was way better. I did enjoy Blade Runner 2049 despite its slow pacing, but that’s enough about the adaptations.

I will say that some of his stories have not aged as well as others and some are simply odd or outright goofy, but most are thought-provoking and meaningful. I have come to hold PKD’s works as essential additions to my little, personal library. He was an interesting man as well from what little I have learned about him. Most of which I learned in What if Our World is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick, the transcription of his final interview. I randomly came across this book in a Half Price Books store and bought it along with a collection of PKD short stories. I had no idea the book had existed before then, but it caught my interest.

The interview was conducted three months before PKD died of a stroke in March of 1982 at the age of 53. He died before they finished filming Blade Runner, but he was able to see parts of the set and was really excited about the movie. It was the first film adaptation of any of his work. I also learned from this book/interview that PKD mainly read non-fiction. He taught himself Latin so he could read the bible in the original Latin because he wanted to see if anything had been lost as the book was translated throughout history. He read less and less fiction as he got older until he only read non-fiction. He also wrote books and stories extremely fast and sometimes at the cost of his health. He would shut himself away for days or weeks and pound out a full manuscript usually in about ten days. He often wouldn’t eat much during these projects and once mentioned mainly consuming only painkillers and alcohol for days at time. I was afraid this interview may prove to be one of those “never meet your heroes” kinds of thing because we often hold our heroes on a pedestal and can get a shock when finding out they are not anything like we believed, but I don’t build pedestals too high (I hope) and always remind myself that everyone is human. Anyway, I was glad to find out that this interview revealed a lot about the person I knew little about outside of his works and I was interested in almost everything that was said. 

What if Our World is Their Heaven? also includes the description of the book PKD was working on before he died. A book that was never finished, but the concept and outline he provides in this interview makes me wish he had finished it. Then I remind myself that I’m lucky to even have the description he provides. The book would have been called An Owl in Daylight if my memory serves me right. It was a conceptual novel that was quite fascinating and involved extraterrestrials and life-after-death and religion and mixed them all together into a simple yet complex and thought-provoking story.

I think his stories greatly influenced the progression and possibilities of science fiction as a genre. His stories continue to get adapted into film and I think his work will persist and continue to influence people for many years to come. I sometimes imagine how I would be today if I had discovered his works earlier in my life. Perhaps they would have simply been another log in the fire that is my aspiration to become a published writer myself. I definitely hope that I can write some stories that are as thought provoking as many of his are. I also hope to influence and inspire others as his stories have influence me, and obviously the many people in the film industry. He may have passed away much too early, but he left us a large collection of great stories with which to remember him. I’m just glad I discovered them. They will likely remain on my shelf, even after I am gone, to be enjoyed by those who come after.