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The Domus is a place for me to put up short stories I’m working on, share snippets and updates on my work (I’m a developing author), as well as whatever I feel like writing. Expect to see a lot of opinions, recommendations and reviews alongside my creative writing.

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Duel

In the dim light of the canvas tent, Valda finished the last of his prayers. He rose from kneeling beside his cot, tucking a small metal talisman of a hammer into his breastplate. He clenched his gauntleted fist as the talisman left his hands to settle on his chest, the cool metal biting into his bare skin. The leather of his gauntlets creaked.

He checked and rechecked the straps of his armour, fingers feeling across the seams in the steel plate. He clenched, opened and clenched his fist again.  He tested the joints of the armour, and nodded, satisfied. Outside, through the thin fabric of the tent, the clamour of the crowd made for a cacophonous chorus of jeers, shouts and curses. Distantly, he could hear the ringing of steel on steel, and the pained screams of the defeated.

He pulled a black fur cloak over his shoulders, the final touch in this costume he put on for himself. A black wolf snarled on his breastplate, the stylised image taking up the whole of the front of the breastplate. He wrapped a leather cord around his forehead and tied his hair back. The hilt of his great two-hander, a sword large enough to seem unwieldy to most men, jutted out over his shoulder. Another snarling wolf capped the top of his hilt.

It was a costume. It was all for show, this image he had crafted for himself. He did not want to be be seen for who he used to be. The weight of the shame, the dishonour, would break his back.

He could hear the announcer, a fat and greasy bastard with a voice as slick as a weasel, cry out the names of the next contenders, “Our newest contender hails from the Blistered South, a blasted land of death and heat. Captured as a boy and taken into the Royal Guard of Brevalin, he is a ruthless killer!” That garnered a sizeable reaction from the crowd, “Without mercy, without pity! Introducing Tjorn of Tarda, the Razor!”

Valda wanted to laugh. He remembered the last time someone had been named Razor. 

He pondered. Tarda. He thought he had seen someone with the looks of those people in the training yard, but he hadn’t thought much of it. He tried to recall what he had seen but found his memory to be a hazy blank. He strained to bring up the memory–any information on his opponent could mean the difference between life and death.

“But, you may be asking yourself, ‘who could possibly be facing such a formidable opponent?'” The announcer paused theatrically, even though he had as much presence as a rat, “Born in the Frozen North, raised by the beasts of the Endless Plains, our contender goes by many names. The Fallen Knight! The Northern Bear! The Black Wolf!” 

The crowd erupted in cheer. Valda had no trouble hearing the cries of bettors looking to change their bets, or of new bettors ready to make fresh wagers.

That was his cue.

He stepped through the flaps of the tent into the blinding sunlight and entered into a swirling maelstrom of people, a mass of shoving and shouting. The crowd grew silent in a strange act of reverence. They cleared a path wide enough for five men abreast. Valda half-sauntered, half-stalked towards the arena. He walked so that all could see the black wolf on his breastplate.

It was all part of the image, all part of the costume.

He descended the ramp of compacted dirt into the arena, nothing more than a glorified pit. Several paces deep and large enough to fit a hundred men, the arena had seen more blood than any man would ever be able see in a lifetime, or even three. The walls of the arena were made of stone as slick as ice, and the top of the arena was covered in heavy rope. A heavy gate of steel would be lowered across the ramps leading into the arena as soon the battle began. There was no escaping. Two men entered and they would leave either a victor, or a corpse.

A man waited at the bottom of the ramp. He was a skinny, rat-looking fellow, but Valda knew him well. The fellow took Valda’s cloak, and would place it safely back in Valda’s tent until he returned–if he returned. The fellow nodded and stepped aside, leaving the path ahead clear.

Valda paused before the open gates for a long moment. His hands twitched and almost reached to feel the talisman in his breastplate. This was no time for that. 

Valda stepped into the arena, and the heavy steel gate slammed shut behind him.

Tjorn of Tarda, or the Razor, as the announcer had called him stood twenty paces away, on the other side of the arena. He looked as arrogant as the announcer had made him out to be. ‘Without mercy, without pity, a ruthless killer’ he had said. He was a lean, hard man, the type of man Valda had seen a hundred times before. He had an angry, puckered scar across his face, one that made him look even uglier, if that were possible. His skin was pale and wind-blasted, and his hair was black as pitch, typical of his region.

Tjorn wore armour but Valda could tell that it was cheap, and poorly made. It would not be able to withstand as much abuse as Valda’s own armour. That would make things easier. There were rules that both combatants had to wear armour, but there was nothing in the rules that said they had to wear the same type.

The Razor drew his sword and settled into the ready stance, the tip of his sword level with Valda’s throat. Valda did nothing, and instead stood passively. He watched the Razor from across the arena with eyes that could put a hawk to shame. The crowd watched on with baited breath, waiting for the battle to begin.

In stories, duels were an elegant, and graceful affair.

A storied duel had two men facing off, armed with but their swords and their wits. They would bow and exchange quips. They would flow from one form to another, moving with all the poise and finesse of ballroom dancers.

But this was not like the stories.

The Razor surged forward, cutting the distance between the two of them in half before anyone could blink. He attacked once, a downward slash strong enough to punch through steel and split a skull in two.

Steel met thin air.

The distance between the blade and its intended target was well over a full pace. The Black Wolf stood passively, examining its prey with eyes to put a hawk to shame.

Infuriated, Tjorn launched into another attack. A ferocious, blindingly fast barrage of slashes. His blade sang as it sliced through the air.

Valda retreated, eyes examining his opponent’s movements, simply stepping away as Tjorn continued to futilely swing at nothing. He was looking for something, his eyes studying every movement intensely. The crowd began to cheer, for who, Valda did not notice. Their shouts became a monotonous ringing in his ears.

Tjorn, enraged, ceased his attack and roared at Valda, baring his teeth as if he were an animal himself, “Stand and fight!” He glared pure murder at him–a fire burned in his eyes.

Valda said nothing. Instead, he settled into ready stance, no sword in hand. His legs tensed, ready to surge forward.

Tjorn circled him, eyes fixed on his opponent. Valda seemed to scrutinise Tjorn’s movements with cool, impassiveness. His eyes were cold enough to freeze over the sea. 

The crowd held their breath, rows of men and women leaning forward to watch, eyes transfixed on the two duellists. The silence in the air was prime, for breaking.

Roaring, Tjorn surged forward. Valda saw that he was on the offensive, and he attacked with all his might and fury. Steel sang against steel. Valda gave up ground easily, letting himself be driven back. There was space in the arena yet. He could see his opponent’s eyes light up with the false hope of victory. He could sense tiredness sinking into Tjorn’s bones, and he knew that Tjorn would have to try to end this soon.

Valda sensed the closing proximity with the walls of the arena behind him. He would not be able to retreat for much longer. But still his eyes examined Tjorn with all the intensity of a predator watching its prey. He watched, waited. 

Sensing his triumph close at hand as he continued to drive Valda back, Tjorn aimed a devastating downward slash across Valda’s skull. This would be it, there was no space for Valda to retreat any more.

There.

In one moment, Valda had stood pressed nearly to the wall of the arena, the sword of Tjorn whistling towards his head–poised to split his skull. 

And in the next, Valda stood a pace away from Tjorn, two-hander slick with blood. Tjorn staggered, sword clattering to the ground. He clutched at his stomach and convulsed when he saw he pulled his fingers away crimson. He dropped to his knees and collapsed in the dirt.

The crowd erupted in cheer. Their cries became a chorus of noise and in that noise, there was one name they bellowed, “Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!”

This was not like the stories.

In stories, duels were an elegant, and graceful affair.

A storied duel had two men facing off, armed with but their swords and their wits. They would bow and exchange quips. They would flow from one form to another, moving with all the poise and finesse of ballroom dancers.

Valda had not danced.

Sandman

Good morning. You are on rotation 10. You have three outstanding tasks.

You wake up. It’s your turn again. The pod door opens, just as it has every time before.

Micro-cracks in Sections C12, C13 and C14. Priority high. Low-oxygen in Section C22. Priority medium. Opened pods in Section D00 and E00.

Groggily, you sit up and swing your legs over the sides of the cryopod. You shiver and wipe the beads of condensation off your forehead. You barely register the simulated, artificial voice. You’re still recovering from the effects of cryostasis. Your vision is still a little blurry. Your chest heaves, your lungs unused to breathing on their own after thirty years.

You do not notice this. You know it will pass in time.

You are naked, just like when you went into the pod. Your clothes are where you left them, in the notch in the wall just beside your pod. Your name is there too, displayed on a slightly staticky screen.

You have one message.

You frown at the computer screen.

You have one message.

Play message?

You tap on the screen. A man’s face appears on the screen. He is you, and he is not you. He has the same hair as you, the same eyes, the same nose, but you know he is not you. You know he is not you because that cannot possibly be you. You were asleep for thirty years. You did not leave this message.

The man who is you but who is not you is wounded. He is clutching his stomach, red blood blossoming from underneath his hand and staining his pristine uniform. He tries to speak but he stops. His head swivels towards his left. His eyes widen, his mouth opens in a snarl, or is it a scream?

Message Ends. 

You do not know what to do. What just happened? You want to find out but the computer interrupts you.

Micro-cracks in Sections C12, C13 and C14. Priority high. Low-oxygen in Section C22. Priority medium. Opened pods in Section D00 and E00.

It is the last task that stands out to you. Another pod? Section D00. Section E00. You know that no other pods should be open by now. You swallow. A short trip away if you take the onboard rail system.

But you’re not allowed to go into the other sections. Not unless it was an emergency. There are other technicians in those sections. It’s their job to work on that.

However, there are other things that require your attention first. The micro-cracks in Sections C12 ,13 and 14 must be attended to immediately. Any weaknesses in the hull could turn out disastrous for the mission.

You think back about the man who is you, but is not you. You push that thought out of your mind. You have to work, you tell yourself. You cannot let this distract you.

You walk towards the living quarters, just a few minutes away from your pod. You don your white uniform, crisp and clean just the way you left them before the long dark of sleep.

You’ve always kept your quarters nice and clean, as neat and as tidy as can be. However, as you enter the quarter, you notice something is a bit off, a bit strange, a bit different. That cup should not be in the sink, it should be in the cupboard. A plate is still on the table, a chair had been pulled out. The bed in unmade. But you tell yourself, it is okay. This must be from the cryosleep, you’re just imagining things, you tell yourself. There cannot possibly be anyone else awake on the ship, cannot possibly be another you because you are you and no one else can be you.

You walk up to the food and drink dispenser. The familiar soft-blue glow of the screen comforts you. You tap out an order and the machine spits out two pills, and dispenses a small paper cup with cold water. You take the pills right away. You feel better immediately.

After eating, you check with the computer for your outstanding tasks.

Micro-cracks in Sections C12, C13 and C14. Priority High. Low-oxygen in Section C22. Priority medium. Opened pods in Section D00 and E00.

Maybe you should check again.

Micro-cracks in Sections C12, C13 and C14, priority high. Low-oxygen in Section C22. Priority medium. Opened pods in Section D00 and E00.

You check again.

Micro-cracks in Sections C12, C13 and C14, priority high. Low-oxygen in Section C22. Priority medium. Opened pods in Section D00 and E00.

No.

Opened pods in Section D00 and E00.

No.

You don your protective Hazards Environments Suit and grab a flashlight. You strap a toolkit to your waist. It must just be an error in the computers in that section, you tell yourself. A simple error. But there cannot be any errors on a ship designed to last for a thousand years.

You board the rail system, nothing more than a simple cart that hurtles through the gargantuan spine of the ship. Within minutes, you arrive at the great bulkhead at the entrance to Section D00. A door to a gargantuan vault, an imposing piece of metal and steel, it looms above you. You check the console at the door and run diagnostics on the systems. If this was an error, you’d be able to find it here.

Error. Unable to perform remote diagnostics.

You frown. You try again.

Error. Unable to perform remote diagnostics.

You look up at that great, hulk of metal and steel and feel a sense of dread build in your mind. You tell yourself it cannot be anything other than a mistake. Surely, it must be a error. Why would there be anyone else awake? You realise you must go in if you are to see if it truly is just an error. You hold a wrench in your hands like a club and desperately tell yourself that you will not need it.

The door opens with a great, metallic shriek that makes your heart start to beat faster. Anxiety builds. You enter the section and the door closes behind you.

You wander the halls, walls lined with the same hexagonal pods, again and again and again and again. You hear the gloves of your suit creak as you grip the wrench even tighter. You wander and wander. You suddenly feel as if you were lost, even though you know exactly the layout of every section in the ship. You could’ve sworn you’ve seen those names before. You backtrack and find yourself reading the same names over and over again. Your heart starts to beat even faster. You can feel sweat build on your brow.

You start to run, not caring about the noise you’re making, not caring that your clanging footsteps could be heard from anywhere in the section. You run back towards the door from whence you came. Then you stop. You have found the pod. It’s open. You look at the name. You shake your head, you cry, you scream.

It is your name.

You hear footsteps. You turn.

It is you.

His face is caked in blood. Flesh rots in his long, scraggly hair. Pieces of meat are caught in his teeth. He howls and launches himself at you.

You are not fast enough.

Good morning. You are on rotation 11. You have three outstanding tasks.

Wanderer

The Wanderer unslung the bow from across his shoulder, careful to not disturb the rocks at his feet. Sound would give him away. There was something strange about this fog-shrouded land. He could feel the eyes of a thousand unseen watchers, peering at him from the corners of his vision. He reached into the bristling quiver at his hip and nocked an arrow.

He had come here not out of some petty desire for treasure or adventure. He had been called here.

He had been asleep when it had happened. Beneath a sky full of stars, he tossed and turned, caught in the midst of a nightmare that he could never escape. Then the whole world trembled. The ground beneath him shook so violently that he was surprised when he opened his eyes and found no bones broken. He felt something pull at him, something far and distant, far and far-off to the north. A low, haunting voice rumbled in his mind.

Come, Lost One. We await.

That was all it had said, and that was all he needed.

For all his life he had wandered the lands. He had no memory of being a boy or of his parents. He did not remember playing with other children or having any boyhood friends. One day, he was just there.

He drifted from town to town, city to city, without thought and without purpose. He lived solitary, and alone. The days brought only a chain of visual sensations, none of which cohered into any sort of meaning. The world felt out of focus, without meaning.

His name was The Wanderer, for he knew nothing but the long, lonely roads, and the never-ending journey of a man with no home.

Until the message.

He had travelled, moving northwards slowly over many long days–long days that turned to weeks, weeks that turned to months. He did not know if he was getting any closer at first and he felt as if he were destined to walk north forever, until the end of the world. However, he had felt that rumbling again and heard that ancient, rumbling voice.

Come, Lost One. Return to us.

And so he continued on his journey. Onwards and onwards, further north. As he travelled, he felt that pulling become stronger. Day by day, the tug on him became more focused, until he could point directly at his destination, wherever it was.

And on the thirteenth morning of the thirteenth month of his long journey, he had come onto this valley, this valley enshrouded by a mist that swallowed the lands in front of him. The mist did not deter him, for he knew exactly where he was meant to go. He could point right at it through even the thick, grey fog. A place of vast stones and ancient ruins. That was where his journey had taken him, and where he was now.

He stepped carefully over the rock-strewn slope that slowly angled upwards. This close, he could see the ruins in more detail. Whatever this place was, it had been abandoned for some time. Moss clung to the stones tightly, blanketing them in hues of green. Ivy creeped over the cracks in the ancient stonework.

Suddenly, the ground shook again. The earth heaved up and down, and he dropped to the ground, clinging onto tufts of grass to stop himself from being thrown about like a rag-doll. The stones around him crumbled and fell.

And then the quake ceased.

We have waited long for you, Lost One.

He stood, slowly, and stared at the hundreds of stone creatures, ancient beyond imagining, peering down at him. Their eyes glowed unnaturally. Runic carvings in their stoney-hides thrummed with energy. He could not believe them to be made of stone, for they moved with fluid, snake-like movements. And they had spoken to him.

He dropped to a knee before them, for he felt that it was only right, “Why am I here?”

You have been gone for too long, too long.

He looked up at them, he did not know what they were talking about, “What is this place? Why have you brought me here?”

Suddenly, one of the great creatures lifted its head and howled a mournful cry. And a hundred throats echoed that sorrowed sound.

Too long!

Too long!

“Why am I here?” He shouted, trying to be heard over their grieving cries.

Your mind was addled in the escape. When the invaders came, our creators–your people–sent away the young so that they would be spared from the killings.

All across the lands were you spread. Ashes to the wind, scattered to the north, to the south, the east and the west. Far and farther away were you sent.

We were created to stand guard over the ancient city.

But we failed.

We failed!

We could not hold back the enemy’s raving hordes. In the final moments of the war, we were given new instructions. We were told to bring back their children once it was safe.

So, we went into slumber. For many long years we have waited until the time is right.

Until we could send out the message and bring home the Lost Ones.

Bring home the Lost Ones.

Bring them home. 

Flashes of memory, flashes of images, burned into the Wanderer’s eyes. He shook his head, trying to clear it of the images that came unbidden.

Like a flood, his memories rushed to fill the empty voids of his mind.

He could see himself as a boy, playing with his father’s reddish-blonde hair. He could remember the girl in red who had been his first childhood love. He could remember the red of her lips when they had first held each other. He could remember the girl in red who was his first love, and who became his first sorrow. He could remember the fires that had burnt down his home. He could remember the crimson pool which made a bloody halo above his father’s head.

Lost No More. 

Suddenly, life–bleary, washed out–snapped back into focus. The ancient guardians looked down at him and suddenly the world had meaning again. Purpose flooded into him, overwhelmed him.

Go into the city, Lost No More.

Go into the city!

The Wanderer stood… No, that was not his name. He would not need that name anymore, for he would wander no longer. He had another name.

Long have we awaited your return!

Go into the city!

Atlas was his name. Atlas.

Save your people.

First Article from my Internship

Hey everyone, I know I was supposed to have something up on Mondays from now on, but things have been a bit hectic.

I will be trying to put things up on Mondays and Fridays consistently since that makes things easier for everyone, but it’s a bit hard to do that at the moment.

I’ve started an internship at the Khmer Times Newspaper and I’ll be working here until the 15th of July. I’ll try to not let that get in the way of posting regular updates on the blog, and I will definitely be trying to put out the same type of content on the scheduled days as normal, however it goes without saying that I can’t promise anything.

I’m enjoying my time working at the newspaper. Although I somewhat dreaded having to wake up before noon during the summer (I know, what hardships I must endure), I was pleasantly surprised how only an hour makes a difference. It’s so much easier getting up at seven rather than getting up at six. One’s tolerable, and the other’s just absolute Hell. Schools should take note.

The office is nice and everyone is really great to work with. Everyone here is really approachable and they’re willing to help, no matter what it is. I will say that the working environment it is a far cry from what I’m used to in classes. For one, everyone works and gets things done on time. Good luck finding that in high school. There is the issue of what I’m supposed to do for lunch, since I can’t feasibly have lunch at restaurants everyday–God knows I’d love to do that–but I’ll figure something out.

Anyways, if you’re interested about reading what I’m putting up on the Khmer Times during my stint there, you can check them out at khmertimeskh.com.

I’ve also put up my first article there about China’s Belt & Road Initiative. You can check that out here.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you like what I put out.

-S. 

My Book Recommendations Pt. 2

So, I posted on Monday a list of some of my book recommendations for the summer. That post only had six books, and I wanted to do more. Reading is one of my favourite things to do, and I love sharing that whenever I can. I’m ecstatic when someone I know enjoys something that I recommend to them, because that means someone else is reading what I’m reading. Say what you will about reading being a solitary experience, there’s also some precedent for reading to be a social activity.

Anyways, this post will follow the same format as the list I posted earlier. I’ll recommend a book, briefly summarise and then I’ll tell you why I like it or why you should read it.

1. The Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

necronomicon

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. 

The Necronomicon is both the name of the fictional grimoire that appears in many of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, and this collection of Lovecraft’s best stories. The collection has many of Lovecraft’s more well-known stories, such as At the Mountains of Madness, the Cthulhu Mythos and The Dunwich Horror, as well as some that newcomers would be completely unfamiliar with.

I love Lovecraftian horror because it is so unlike what is considered horror today. There’s no gratuitous scenes of gore and inhuman violence, there’s no sudden shock, no startling moment. Lovecraft’s stories are slow, they’re tense and they’re deeply psychological. As scary as a man in a mask or a vampire is, there’s nothing as terrifying as the unknown, and Lovecraft conveys that feeling of unknowable horror perfectly. Nowhere can you find that same amount of existential dread and foreboding fear, trust me. And if you’re still not convinced, let me remind you that Stephen King has stated (in his semi-autobiography, Danse Macabre) that Lovecraft was responsible for his fascination with horror and the macabre.

It’s a really a dauntingly large collection, so if you’re a newcomer to Lovecraft then you’re better off just trying to find the individual stories. Seriously, this thing is big. You could give someone a concussion with this thing.

You can check out its Amazon page here (I couldn’t find any better page for info on this).

2. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver

what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love

Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a collection of short-stories written by, you guessed it, Raymond Carver. The stories focus on themes of love, loss, loneliness and companionship.

I don’t even think I’m qualified to write about Raymond Carver, and you should definitely read other people’s more detailed writings on his stories, but I’ll try my best.

Raymond Carver’s style is, in a single one, minimalistic. Each sentence is declarative and to the point. And he uses this minimalistic prose to great effect, creating deeper meaning in only a few short sentences. Many authors (myself included, come to think of it) would kill to be able to do the same. Carver uses his ability to convey deeper meaning to great effect in these stories as he summarises years and decades of character’s lives and histories with one another in only a few short pages. He reveals the sadness in the character’s lives, showing us stories that do not always end well. It’s melancholic and depressing, and incredibly realistic. The characters come to life in Carver’s writing and makes each of the stories in this collection incredibly moving.

Goodreads page here if you’re interested.

3. The Name of the Wind, By Patrick Rothfuss

the-name-of-the-wind-cover

I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.

The Name of the Wind is a fast-paced, well-written piece of fantasy that I enjoyed immensely. We start the story listening to an innkeeper named Kote recount his life’s story to a man named the Chronicler. As the book progresses, through Kote’s narration, we slowly build an image of Kvothe, a legendary swordsman, a magician and a talented musician–a formidable, funny and witty protagonist.

I really liked The Name of the Wind and I think a good part of that is because of just how fast it reads. This isn’t to say that the novel is short or it skimps on detail. Rather, the pace feels incredibly fast and really energetic. The plot never slows down, and while it has slow moments, it never feels like the story drags on. We’re always moving forwards, and that was a refreshing change of pace after reading fantasy that dwells and prefers to move at a light job. The Name of the Wind feels like its going a hundred miles an hour and it feels great.

Patrick Rothfuss does a good job of making this supposedly legendary character, Kvothe, very human. We see him develop and grow as a character, and it never feels cheap when he accomplishes something or he manages an impressive feat. You really feel like he’s accomplished this through his own skill and talent, not just because the author wrote it. The other characters feel well-written too, and you really get a sense for their personalities through the writing. Sometimes the best parts of the book are just when the characters spend time interacting with one another.

Information and reviews for The Name of the Wind.

4. Metro 2033, by Dmitry Glukhovsky

metro-2033

And then, after five minutes of silence, almost inaudibly, the old man sighed and said, more to himself than to Artyom: ‘Lord, what a splendid world we ruined…’

In the year 2013, the world is scorched by nuclear fire. In post-apocalyptic Moscow, the survivors of the apocalypse, who fled to the underground metro, eke out a danger-fraught existence, besieged by threats from above ground, and below. Dmitry Glukhovsky’s post-apocalyptic novel is a claustrophobic, terrifying ride as main character Artyom must make his way from his home station to warn the rest the other stations of a new mutated threat that could destroy the whole Metro, and wipe out the last remnants of man.

Originally published in Russian, there doesn’t seem to be much lost in translation in Metro 2033. This is one of my favourite books of all times, for so many reasons. For one, Dmitry Glukhovsky’s writing manages to perfectly encapsulate that dim, dank and tightly-enclosed space of a Metro tunnel, as well as depict what life would be like in those tunnels. The world feels real and lived-in. People are crammed next to one another, there’s barely any free space that isn’t occupied by beds or farms, and privacy is almost impossible while living literally cheek-to-cheek. People grow mushrooms and farm whatever crops they can in the darkness of the tunnels. People exchange bullets as currency. Criminals and bandits still make trouble despite the fact that they are the last remnants of humanity.

However, it’s not just the realism that makes this book so good. It’s not afraid to venture into the philosophical, into the realm of superstition and mysticism. I like it when a book isn’t afraid to pose hard questions and Metro 2033 does that in spades. Artyom questions the world around him constantly as he matures and sees more of the ugly world that he was born into. It adds another layer to what would’ve been a simple life-after story, and we get a good blend of realism and surrealism.

Metro 2033’s Goodreads page.

5. The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

thestarsmydestination-2

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The stars my destination.

Gully Foyle, an uneducated, lowly brute of a man, is the last survivor of the spaceship ‘Nomad’, cast adrift amongst the stars. Then the passing ship ‘Vorga’ leaves him to die, and his purpose is found. The Stars My Destination is a revenge tale spanning planets as Gully Foyle proves that there is no price not worth paying in the pursuit of vengeance.

I love a good revenge story. It’s simple, it’s to the point and Goddamn is it satisfying. Alfred Bester takes what could’ve been a good revenge story and elevates it, making the world around the revenge plot more interesting. The world of The Stars My Destination features so many ideas that many authors would take entire series to flesh out: personal teleportation (and all the kinks and societal ramifications with it), cybernetic implants, planet-spanning pseudo-feudal corporations, world-ending substances that leave the world on the brink. Through this intricate and complex world, Alfred Bester’s simple revenge story becomes so much more than that.

Add to that a roster of well-written and clear characters, and you can see why this book has gotten all its praise. Gully Foyle is a detestable person, but you see his motivations and his thought process clearly. We watch as he pulls himself up, agonising step by agonising step closer to his goal. Foyle’s criminal accomplice, Jisbella McQueen (her nickname’s Jiz cue laugh-track) who is simultaneously attracted to and disgusted by Foyle. There’s the Presteign of Presteign, a wealthy megalomaniac with desires of a grand scale. His daughter, Olivia, who sees the world only in the invisible infra-red and electromagnetic spectrums of the world.

Bester’s story, with a premise as simple as one could imagine, is given complexity and depth through all the elements surrounding that simple idea of revenge.

Goodreads page here.

-S. 

My Summer Recommendations

Since it’s the summer, I figured that this would be the perfect time to recommend books. Some of these you’ve probably already read (okay, some of these you’ve definitely read), some you’ve might not have read. This is in no-way a comprehensive list but I just wanted to put up what I think are some really good books that people should definitely check out. I’ll do my best to explain why you should give them a try and why I liked them.

1. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series

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The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

I don’t think I can ever do any type of book recommendations without mentioning, at least once, Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. In The Wheel of Time, the Dark One–the embodiment of evil–is breaking free from his prison, ready to wreak death and chaos upon the land. One man is fated to save the world from the Dark One’s grasp, but also destined to destroy it in the process.

While the premise sounds very basic, Jordan does an incredible job of turning it into something much more than a simple good vs. evil story. The Wheel of Time is not only his story but the story of an entire world and its struggle with the rapidly-approaching Last Battle. It is an incredibly detailed and beautiful series of books. Me being a massive fantasy fan, The Wheel of Time series has everything I want: an in-depth and detailed world, awe-inspiring battles, killer quotes and great characters.

The Wheel of Time kicks ass and if you like fantasy, then you should definitely give it a try. I wrote a post about the series here.

You can find more info on the series at their website, Dragonmount.

2. Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

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The long-hoped-for, long-feared encounter had come at last. Mankind was about to receive its first visitor from the stars.

Rendezvous with Rama details mankind’s first encounter with an alien construct, a gargantuan cylinder hurtling towards the Solar System. It’s a slow, thoughtful look into how man would react to first contact.

As a lover of science-fiction, I love Rendezvous with Rama whole-heartedly. It’s a slow, mysterious novel where each chapter leaves you with more questions than answers. It’s not like most other novels where the draw of the book is the action or the violence. Instead, it’s about the slow discovery of a design that is wholly and completely alien to us. It’s a visionary piece of science-fiction writing and I think if you like science-fiction, you should 100% give it a try.

You can find read the description about the book, as well as some reviews, here.

3. Filth, by Irvine Welsh

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The games are the only way you can survive the job. Everybody has their wee vanities, their own little conceits. My one is that nobody plays the games like me, Bruce Robertson. D.S. Robertson, soon to be D.I. Robertson.

In Filth, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson schemes, manipulates and thoroughly screws with his co-workers in a ploy to gain a leg-up on them in a race for a promotion. It’s a filthy novel (see what I did there? I’ll see myself out), and it does not flinch in showing you the vulgar realities of Bruce and the consequences of his actions.

Filth is an amazing book, and I wish more people would read it. It’s a lurid, vulgar, depressing and darkly-funny book, and one of my all-time favourites–which might make me just a bit biased. The way that Irvine Welsh writes is unique, in that the whole book is written to resemble Scottish dialect. While that might make it a bit hard to read at first, I found that I could easily understand what was going on after spending the first few chapters adjusting. From then on, it was a smooth ride through one man’s spiral downwards as he manipulates and screws with his coworkers in an attempt to get his promotion.

I don’t say this lightly, this is quite a mature book and probably not suitable for anyone who’s not into cursing or any sort of nastiness.

Link to the official site here.

4. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

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Trying to find a single quote that could nicely summarise this book is pretty much impossible, so I’ve given up trying. Move along.

The End Times are coming, as predicted by the only accurate prophetic book, written by a crazy old witch named Agnes Nutter. An Angel and a Demon, both having lived in our world for centuries, try their best to avert it and save their pleasant lives amongst man. Oh, and someone’s misplaced the Anti-Christ.

Good Omens is a quaint little book packed with some of the best lines ever. It’s a funny book that dips into light-hearted humour and some pretty deep retrospectives on the idea of free will, the meaning of life and the truth behind ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The jokes are probably the highlight in a long list of highlights, from the well-written characters, the great plot and the endless references. Each joke, small or large, short or long, are all given the same attention and each one of them is funny. Although some might pass over your head (there’s a lot of British jokes and references, a lot), you’ll still get enough of them to really get how funny this book is.

You can check out the Goodread’s page on the book if you want to know more.

5. Fables, written by Bill Willingham

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What happens when you gather all the characters from all your childhood stories in one place? Why, you get Fables.

I’ll be honest, I love the covers of Fables almost as much as I love the stories themselves. Just look at them!

Anyways, back on topic. Fables, created by Bill Willingham, are a series of graphic novels depicting the lives of famous storybook characters such as Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Beauty and the Beast, etc. and then put them in the real world. The premise is great and it’s executed wonderfully. The artwork is clear and beautiful, the dialogue feels quick and smart and the characters, God I love the characters! Each of these fairytale characters have been elevated from their original personalities and given these great new twists, which I won’t spoil here.

More info here.

6. The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski

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Okay, I admit, I could’ve tried a bit harder to try to come up with a quote to summarise the book but a running theme with The Last Wish is how things often are more than they appear. This makes coming up with a single quote summary is pretty much impossible.

The Last Wish is the first book to introduce us to Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who was created to hunt down the monstrosities that plague the world of men. Although he could be played as a straight, no-nonsense, gruff character and have the story totally work like that, Andrzej took another route. He gave Geralt intelligence, he gave him reasoning and the ability to quip. That’s what makes the Witcher series so great in my opinion. There’s lots of great action, but it’s also very human. There’s a levity and humour to it, and what could’ve been a very black-and-white story is, instead, given many, many shades of grey.

And if you’ve played the video games, then you should give these books a try for another perspective on your favourite characters.

More info here.


 

And that’s it!

I’ll probably do more book recommendations later, but I just wanted to get this one up first.

Please help me gain some traction and share my posts! Every little bit helps!

-S.

 

The Beauty of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series

On the 15th of January 1990, The Eye of the World, written by James Oliver Rigney Jr–otherwise known under his pen name, Robert Jordan–was published by Tor Books. At first glance, it seemed like it was just another book hoping to ride off the coattails of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ridiculously successful Lord of the Rings series. But The Eye of the World was the first step to the fantasy powerhouse that is Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.

But what makes separates The Wheel of Time from all its competitors? What is it about this series that makes it one of the best, if not the best, fantasy series of all time, rivalling and sometimes surpassing Lord of the Rings? (Yeah, you read that right).

Well, in my opinion, there are several:

  1. Scope
  2. World-building and detail
  3. The Characters

By all means this is no comprehensive post about all the great parts of The Wheel of Time, but they’re just my opinions. 

Scope

Perhaps one of the best parts of The Wheel of Time (henceforth known as WoT since I can’t be bothered to write it in full every single time) is also one of the things that makes it so hard for people to get into it–the sheer immensity of the series.

This series spans fourteen novels (fifteen if you count the prequel), each book averages 888 pages and 315,002 words. It’s an incredibly large series, by any metric. Even the Companion, which includes just glossary entries from the other books, is the size of two novels combined. Compare this to the three main novels of LotR, or the seven of Harry Potter.

The series follows three to seven main characters–depending on where you are in the books and what you constitute as ‘main characters’. Some characters are given POV chapters but are not main characters. Most of these characters are usually split up across a massive world, following their own adventures that eventually loop back and intersect with other characters.

Okay, I realise that I might be focusing on the size aspect of the series a bit much, and that may seem like a turn-off but don’t let its size fool you. Fourteen novels allows Jordan to spend so much time with this world, and boy, does he really take advantage of that. Because we get so much material, we get to spend more time in this world. We grow attached to the events and the history, the characters and the locations. And we get all these details and all this information about the events, history, character and locations in the series. The scope is really a by-product of how information we get and how much detail is crammed into every book. And, let me tell you, it’s in the details that really make WoT shine.

Speaking of…

World-building and detail

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I think know more about the characters’ taste in dresses than I do some of the subjects I learn at school. I’m exaggerating, but the way that Robert Jordan writes is incredibly detailed and in-depth. The scenes come to life in his vivid prose. I could probably find my way around some of the locations in his books than I can in real life.

The series is one of the longest and most broad in scope so far in all of Fantasy. Robert Jordan kept detailed files on every character, every nation, culture, every facet of the world that he has created. We’re given so much information on the world that nothing feels like left out and that’s what makes it feel like a real world–it has all of the complexities that we would find in real life. Some authors do this thing where, to give their world a sense of history, they write these callbacks to previous events that we never get to see before. And while that does work for some writers, Jordan has actually planned out and explained, thoroughly, about the history behind his world. While some authors are content with doing something like:

Character 1: “Hey, remember that thing that happened? That thing that happened that probably won’t get explained but sounds vague and cool?”

Character 2: “Yeah, I remember that.”

Character 1: “Yeah, that was such a crazy/sad/happy/joyous/badass moment. I’m so glad we have all this history together, etc.”

Jordan does something like this.

Character 1: “Remember that thing that happened?”

Character 2: “<INFO DUMP>”

You get the point.

 There is a planning and a sense of realism that you find in every description of every event, city, every town and village, every person.

The detail is just incredible. All books must have some sort of descriptive writing, you can’t just have characters spout dialogue without describing who’s saying what to who as well as where and when (unless you’re like Raymond Carver), however Robert Jordan takes that to the next level with the Wheel of Time. From the subtlest things such as a maid’s dress to the grand–like the look and layout of an bustling, sprawling city–there’s no shortage of vivid imagery in the Wheel of Time.

The Characters

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What can I say of the characters in the Wheel of Time? Well first, let me ask you a question.

How many characters have you spent 14 books on?

For a lot of you, that number might be a resounding zero. The benefit of such a long series is that we are with the characters of this series for so long that we know them on such an intimate level. Pretty much all of the books spend most of their time on the characters. This is not like those series where it’s all about the action–even though you can find that aplenty in Wheel of Time. There is a ton of character development.

The five main characters–Rand al’Thor, Matrim (Mat) Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara– are all youngsters from the same small village. Over the course of the fourteen novels, we see as they grow up and become more mature. We see them gain more responsibilities and growing as individuals and as leaders.

The characters develop so much that they are almost unrecognisable by the end of the series, compared to where they first started. Robert Jordan does an incredible job of having them grow organically, instead of hamfisting character development into their arcs.

The characters also feel like real people. They act based on what they know, not on what the author makes them do for the sake of convenience or for the sake of the plot. They act like real people, making assumptions (sometimes wrong, sometimes right) and then going off of them. It’s amazing to see how all of the characters adapt, learn from their mistakes and then continue on their journey just a bit more mature each time.

In my opinion, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series is a monument of great fantasy. Not without its shortcomings, mind you, but for me, I find that its positives outweigh its negatives.

-S.