Earwa > General Earwa

Further Curated Sayings of Cû'jara-Cinmoi

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A new attempt to collect all that we can of what R. Scott Bakker himself has said in interviews and Q&A sessions in one place (to make it easier to source things).

I'll try my best to put a source to each thing.  Please don't respond with discussion to this thread, I'd like to keep it clear of everything but actual quotes.  Do, however, feel free to add a quote, so long as you post it's source with it.  If you want to discuss a point, please copy the quote and start a new thread with it.

I believe all this came from the old Three-Seas Board, I'll dig deeper later.  Thanks to who curated it in the first place, I just reformatted it a bit:

Arboreal Themes

Otherwise, and I cannot emphasize this enough, trees DO NOT have any particular significance
to the Nonmen - as I think will become apparent in TTT.

The motif you're picking up on plays a far different roll...


Benjuka is something I've had swirling around conceptually for some time now. I've tried a
couple of times to cook up an actual version of it, only to be stymied (things got pretty
complicated pretty quick!). The hard thing is determining how various configurations of
pieces would reconfigure the rules in a manner that could be manageable.


More generally, I've been thinking about Martin with regards to this question as well. The
difference between his characters and mine, I think, is that he tries to make his characters
- even the brutes like Sandor - likeable. Mine all end up being these crazy inversions, where
I give the form of a favourite fantastic archetype - like Cnaiur - and I fill it with very
flawed and distorted contents. I want my characters to be out and out troubling, whereas -
and I in no mean this as a criticism - Martin wants his characters to be 'gritty.' I think
it's just a function of our differing goals. Mine are either far deeper or far more

But Martin does have a clear moral centre with the Starks, and I think this has an overall
impact on the way people identify with his characters. The only difference between his work
and the rest of the mainstream in this respect is that he's actually willing to use this
identification to wring his readers' hearts. It's a much different kind of 'reading buzz'
he's aiming for with his works than I'm aiming for in mine - and I think much more
accessible. I don't so much want to strain my readers' moral muscles as to interrogate them.

Does that sound like a good/fair characterization? Too flattering, maybe? It's always a
temptation to try to reason away what might just be a flaw in your work...

I self consciously picked three mysogynistic types for my female characters (just as I picked
fantasy cliche types for my male characters): the whore, the waif, and the harridan. Earwa is
a brutally patriarchal world, much as our own was (which makes our own fascination with
fantastic versions of our past that much more peculiar), and I wanted to explore the
significance of those types in such a world. Serwe is obviously the waif, the frail innocent
wronged by the machinations of a cruel world. As such she had to die.

But it was the innocence part, that struck me as the most significant and the most
redemptive. Without giving too much away, there is a manner in which Serwe is the most
important character in the book.

Most people shake their head when I say that... Hell, even I shake my head.

Kellhus is an inversion of 'the Young Man who would be King.' My UK editor calls him the
'Anti-Frodo.' He is of course, far more than that besides.

Cnaiur is the All-conquering Barbarian (who cannot conquer himself).

Achamian is the Wise Sorcerer (who continually fools himself).

<How powerful is Akka?>

The suggestion is that Achamian's unconventional beliefs and feud with Nautzera are the only
things that prevented him from being bumped up the 'administrative class' in Atyersus.

Typically, the sorcerers who join the Quorum are the most accomplished, but that isn't always
the case, especially as they get older.


The basic idea is this: the Quya first developed the Aporos in the prosecution of their own
intercine wars, but it was quickly forbidden. The arrival of the Inchoroi allowed several
renegade Quya to pursue their sorcerous interrogations, leading to the production of tens of
thousands of Chorae, which were used throughout the Cuno-Inchoroi wars.

The Aporos possesses a contradictory, or negative, semantics, and as such is able only to
undo the positive semantics of things like the Gnosis, Psukhe, Anagogis - even the Daimos.

Aporetic Cants have no other effect. Salting is actually a kind of side effect. I would
rather wait until TTT comes out before discussing the metaphysics - it has to do with the


My original idea was for the Aporos to be a 'dead and ancient' branch of the esoterics. I'm
still leaning in that direction, but I find the notion of a sorcery based on a semantics of
contradiction and paradox almost too juicy to resist!


Personally, I've always worried that the Chorae may come across as too ad hoc, as mere
narrative conveniences that allow a happy (but not very credible) balance between the
sorcerous and the non-sorcerous. But in point of fact, that role came after - the Chorae
developed independently. From the outset, I've looked at each of the sorcerous branches in
linguistic terms, as practices where language commands, rather than conforms to, reality. So
the Anagogis turns on the semantic power of figurative analogies, the Gnosis turns on the
semantic power of formal generalizations, the Psukhe turns on speaker intention, and so on.

And much as language undoes itself in paradoxes, sorcery can likewise undo itself. The Aporos
is this 'sorcery of paradox,' where the meanings that make sorcery possible are turned in on
themselves to generate what might be called 'contradiction fields.'


Yes, the depth of the Mark is proportional to the amount of sorcery cast, and the severity of
the Chorae is proportional the depth of the Mark.


The issue of the Chorae threshold is also broached in TWP. There is, however, a limited grey
zone, consisting of arcane keys, ciphers, and so on, which one of the Few can utter without
suffering the bruise or Mark of sorcery. It's the Mark that determines whom the Chorae can
kill. If one of the Few can recognize you, then so can those accursed Trinkets...


They're almost as fatal to the Cishaurim as well, though the mechanics differ. The Inrithi
would be in a whole heap of trouble otherwise.

I've actually structured the different sorceries of Earwa along the lines of different
philosophical theories of language. For the Cishaurim, it's the THOUGHT, and not the
utterance that is key, as it is in traditional sorcery. The Chorae are each inscribed with
metaphysical contradictions, impossible propositions, that undo thoughts as readily as they
undo utterances


Physical contact with a Chorae grants an individual and their immediate effects immunity -
nothing else.


The Chorae are actually sorcerous artifacts (of something called the 'Aporos'), manufactured
prior to the Cuno-Inchoroi Wars (by Quya defectors) as a way for the Inchoroi to counter the
sorcery of the Nonmen. The script inscribed across each embodies a contradiction that
unravels the semantics of all known Cants - even those of the Aporos!


The Daimos is a subcategory of the Anagogis, and though the Gnostic Schools have flirted with
summoning various 'Agencies' (to use the Nonman term for gods and demons), the Daimos is
largely monopolized by the Scarlet Spires. It's a powerful weapon indeed. (Wait and see!)


Kellhus is actually a prodigy among even the Dunyain, though any one of them would have us
raking their yard and taking out their trash (and loving them for it) inside of five

Before the First Apocalypse the Dunyain were a heretical community of Kuniuric ascetics
(originally based in Sauglish) who sought enlightenment (the Absolute) through the study and
practice of reason (the Logos). They were a young movement, but they had already suffered
sporadic persecution for some time. But since the Kunniat faith practiced by the High
Norsirai was not hierarchical, no concerted effort was made to punish their atheism.

As for the why the Dunyain would spend so much time with faces when they're utterly isolated
(and they are - almost), the issue is indirectly broached in TWP - chapter sixteen, I think.

Otherwise, I would point to Kellhus's surprise in the Prologue, when he meets Leweth for the
first time. The idea is that the Dunyain have developed this skill for training purposes (to
root out passion, one must be able to detect it). The fact that it translates into the
ability to dominate of world-born men is simply a happy coincidence (or as you say, Jack, a

On the other side there is the strange feedback that occurs between emotion and displays of
emotion - as evinced by those 'laughing classes' that seem to be sweeping the world. The idea
here is that by mastering the display of the emotion (which is under your self-conscious
control), you gain some measure of control over the emotion itself. The Dunyain are fond of

The form of the Kellhus flashback scenes ultimately comes from my days smoking fatties and
watching Kung Fu with my grandmother, back when I was fourteen... How I loved that show.


The bottomline, though, is that we really don't know how much it would take to suppress
emotions. Sociopaths, for instance, don't seem to experience the 'social emotions' the way
normal people do. If this does have something to do with an underdeveloped amygdala, and
other emotions share similar neurological convergence zones that act as choke points, then it
could simply be the result of a single happy mutation.
And don't forget the ancient art of neuropuncture...(lol emote)


Pragma is the ancient greek word for 'deed' or 'act,'


As for the Dunyain, they themselves destroyed their own historical records to better immunize
themselves from their 'darkness riddled' past. As a result, no one knows what their original
intentions might have been.

Earwa and the Five Tribes

Earwa is actually some four or five times the size of Europe. I put that allusory analogue of
the Norwegian coast along the top as a sneaky way to guage the land masses involved.

Save for some contact in Jek at the headwaters of the River Sayut, the Xuihianni, the Tribe
left behind at the Breaking of the Gates, are entirely confined to Eanna.

The castes are strictly hereditary in the Three Seas. There would have been somewhat more
mobility in the Ancient North, but only because in many ways they retained the 'freeman'
tribal structure of their ancestors.

I actually haven't worked out any details for lands surrounding Earwa, and nor do I have any
plans to. One of the things that characterizes the ancient relation to the world is
ignorance, the sense of occupying a small circle of light in a dark and cavernous room.

Actually most of the norsirai from the so-called 'Middle-North' are descendents of Meornish
refugees, who would eventually be responisible for the destruction of the Nonman Mansion of

All told, I would say the population of the Three Seas would hover around 75 million - just
somewhat larger than that of the Roman Empire circa 300CE. Since Zeum has a big role to play
in the future books, I'll take a pass on answering that one.

Like I say, I want Zeum to be a mystery, to be a 'pregnant unknown' similar to 'Cathay' for
the Persians or the Romans. As for the population, don't forget that this number includes
Nilnamesh, which is very densely populated.

Nilnamesh is Ketyai with a Satyothi admixture, and though it was incorporated into the
Ceneian Empire (the famous fortress of Auvangshei, which for denizens of the Three Seas is
synonymous with the ends of the world, is actually a Ceneian fortress), it's grip was
shortlived and dubious.

So far, the deepest the histories go is to the Fall, which is to say, the arrival of the
Inchoroi in the last Age of Nonmen. At the moment, that feels plenty deep, and it precedes
the Tusk by quite a few thousand years. I haven't been looking at the history of Earwa so
much from the standpoint of an 'absolute observer,' as from from the standpoint of what is
known or thought to be known at the time of the Holy War. This isn't a rule that I adhere to,
just a tendency I seem to have largely followed. There are things from the time of the Tusk I
do want to flesh out, such as the conflict between the Old Prophets and the Shamans, the
question of how the surviving Inchoroi brought Chorae, the 'Tears of God' to the Five Tribes
before the Breaking of the Gates, and the Cuno-Halaroi Wars (Halaroi is the Nonman name for
Men). Stuff like that.

Men only tried to enter Earwa through the Northern Kayarsus, though no one knows why. The
Cunuroi have no record of having to defend the gates from any race other than Men.

Gender roles and historical parrallels

In relation to your portrayal of women (and any controversy thereof), it seems to me that
the demands of the (Kellhus-centric) plot rather the constraints of gender roles in pre-
modern societies have dictated your choice of weaker, more needy female types over stronger
ones. Would you say that this was the case?>

Not at all. I've always thought that sanitizing gender relations in ancient worlds comes very
close to 'selling out.' The only real editorial pressure I received to make the book more
commercially palatable was to make it more 'female friendly' - they even wanted me to change
Conphas into a woman at one point! Apparently the male share of the fantasy book market is
dropping quickly (because of weed and video games, I suspect).

Once you decide to portray a repressive patriarchal society, then character becomes the place
to explore the inevitable distortions that result. I actually think of Esmenet as quite
strong, though in a conflicted (which is to say, unsentimental) fashion.


What you're doing is akin to arguing historical periodization. Arguing similarities and
dissimilarities, accidental or essential, is bound to be plagued by interpretative
underdetermination. It's always better I think, just to take the 'family resemblances' tack
and to try to stipulate rather than to assert. There's no authority on which association-sets
are canonical and which are not (as you yourself agreed in a previous discussion, I think,

Personally, for me the family resemblance that works the best is 'Medieval Mediterranean,'
but even that could be plausibly contested. It's a mishmash.

As for your original questions Aiturahim, yes, I thought about the change, but only because I
try to give due consideration to all my editors' suggestions, even if I disagree with their
motivations on principal, as I did in this case. The longer I thought about it, however, the
worse the suggestion became.

Otherwise, I'm afraid I don't share your historicist tack when it comes to questions of
gender, which I'm very interested in exploring, and try to approach as self-consciously as
possible. I think it follows that I'm not saying anything about women in general by having
both of them fall under Kellhus's spell. In narrative terms, Kellhus simply gets what he
wants, and he wanted both of them. In thematic terms, my quarry is actually contemporary
society, not the 'nature of femininity.'

As far as paralleling the First Crusade goes, I'm curious as to why you think this is a
problem. I've had a couple of people complain to me about this, but I've been unable to make
any sense of their explanations. Certainly you don't want to suggest that historical
parallels, even when thematically motivated, have no place in fiction, do you?


The 'too historical, therefore too predictable' criticisms I've encountered previously seem
more opportunistically motivated than anything else: an excuse to show-off how much one
knows, rather than say anything meaningful about the work. I would think it's obvious that
I'm up to something, as opposed to being lazy or derivative or whatever. Your question,
Aiturahim, is the decisive one, I think: Why the parallel?

I see, and have always seen, the parallel with the First Crusade as one of the thematic keels
of the book, but I'm inclined to let others puzzle that out. There just seems something
disingenuous about an author decoding too much of his own work. To answer your other
question, the world started congealing several years before the story.

And I agree with you as well, Damaen: though the Holy War parallels the First Crusade, there
remain some significant differences - enough to render the outcome entirely undecidable. I
don't think I give any guarantees - especially since the Keebler Elves have yet to show their
foul hand...


The big thing to remember is that Inrithism is founded on Sejenus's reinterpretation of the
traditional Kunniat faiths, whereby each of the old gods are thought to be 'aspects' of the

God. It is a 'syncretic faith,' both in theme and in practice. The Inrithi have no 'saints,'
primarily because they do not parse the worldy and the divine the way we do, but they do have
'Kahiht,' or 'Great Souls.' They might pray to a renowned ancestor the way a Christian might
pray to a saint. Piety and the redemptive value of suffering are two of its central themes.

<Influence of Hinduism?>

I have a copy of the Upanishads which I reference from time to time, but otherwise Inrithism
slowly grew from a melange of influences over the course of several years, and just sort of
'happened' to fall into a 'Hinduism + Catholicism' form. I never self-consciously set out to
make it 'like' anything in particular.

Language bits

My original idea was to have a layered nomenclature, with the Sheyic versions of different
names rendering hard K's as soft C's (parallel to the difference between latinized version of
Greek names, where things like the original Kyklops are rendered as Cyclops). But at some
point in the naming frenzy I got lazy, and whatever systematicity I originally had got lost
in the shuffle - I always told myself that I would 'straighten in out later' and change those
hard C's (as in Cishaurim) into K's.


The Scylvendi believe in the Outside, but since Lokung, their God, is dead, they don't
believe they have any place in it. And they hold all outlanders accountable for this...

They don't believe they have any afterlife. You have to remember too, that just as most
religious people have no consistent, systematic understanding of 'noumenal world' that
brackets the mundane, neither do the Scylvendi, nor the Inrithi, though the latter have many
scholarly accounts of what awaits them.

Lokung is indeed the No-God - though this is not necessarily how the Scylvendi themselves see

Moenghus vs Skoitha

The fight between M and S was actually recapped in an old version of PoN, and until you asked
this, Mith, I'd completely forgotten that I'd cut it out. If I remember correctly, in the old
version M crushes his throats. It's the way he verbally manipulated the situation that left
its mark on Cnaiur.

No-God & Stillbirths

<re: question asking if it affected animals>
Since the Nonmen no longer reproduce, it only affected humans. The idea has been that only
the rare animal ever 'awakens' enough to develop a soul in Earwa, but that's not something
I've ever explored to date


Here's a clue: since the Inchoroi used the Nonmen as the foundation for their creation of the
Sranc and Syntheses, you could use some of their features to get an impression of the
Nonmen's appearance.


Nimil, which is the artifact of millennia of Nonman craft and metalurgy, is actually stronger
than Dunyain steel, which in turn is stronger than the best Seleukaran steel in the Three


Unions between the races were rare, as you might imagine, but some interbreeding was
inevitable. The first recorded mention of it is in the Isuphiryas, which relates the tale of
Sirwitta, an Emwama slave, who seduces an unamed Cunuroi noblewomen, who later conceives a
daughter, Cimoira. This is going waaay back, though, before the Womb-Plague.
The Siqu need not be Quya, though they could be. The ability to see and work sorcery is
heritable, though far less so in Men than in Nonmen. The Quya are in fact hereditary


The southern Mansions were entirely obliterated.


'Mansion' is used both as a term to describe Nonmen cities, and much as the way 'House' is
used - as an epithet for dynasties, families, etc.


In my old notes the Nonmen also used totemic devices, but in the multi-form manner that
characterizes much of their art. So for instance, a Nonmen representation of a wolf would
likely show it occupying two or more postures at once, like sleeping/running.

Having Nonmen blood means many things - things, which come to the fore when the Nonmen take a
more active role in The Aspect-Emperor.


The Nonmen have no scriptural prohibiltion against sorcery.

1. Is it possible for unions between Sranc and Men to have offspring?

No. Though it is possible with Nonmen.

Nonman = Mek... Oops (Or "How we found out it was Mek in tDtCB)"!

Okay here's a question... if the Nonmen once warred against the Inchoroi and the Consult...
then why are they now the "badguys" so to speak? Why do nonmen ride with the Sranc?>

The Nonmen are generally 'good,' (in their own myopic, self-interested way), but the problem
is that they are all going insane. They're immortals with mortal brains, and the problem is
that the longer they live, the more the traumatic events they suffer crowd out their other
memories. A group of them, called the 'Erratics,' actually actively seek out trauma as a
means to remember. Since the Consult is good at providing horrifyingly unforgettable
experiences, a number of Erratics have joined them. Mekeritrig is one of them.


there's three basic options: Oblivion, Damnation, or Redemption. The idea is that without the
interest of the various 'agencies' (as the Nonmen call them) inhabiting the Outside, one
simply falls into oblivion - dies. Certain acts attract the interest of certain agencies. One
can, and most Inrithi do, plead to redeemed ancestors to intercede on their behalf, but most
give themselves over to some God. Doing so, however, puts their souls entirely into play, and
the more sketchy one's life is, the more liable one is to be 'poached' by the demonic, and to
live out eternity in everlasting torment.

Philospohical Influences

<re: Deleuze and Guattari?>
Never been a fan of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, actually (which is to say, the Guattari
stuff). It was the earlier Deleuze of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense that I
found more interesting - though I'm not sure I would 'recommend' reading either of those
books! D&R, especially, was one of the most difficult books I ever read.

Despite the parallel concerns of the relation between anteriority and power, I just can't say
I absorbed enough of the Deleuze and Guattari stuff for it to have played an actual formative
role in my work. I'd be more inclined to say that the parallels are more the result of me
taking the same departure point, which is to say, Nietzsche and Freud.

In terms of French post-structuralist influences in a more general sense, I would have to say
that early Derrida and the Foucault of The Order of the Things (especially the "Man and his
Doubles" chapter) are pretty important. But in a critical sense as much as anything else. The
question of veracity, which is almost always translated into questions of power in the French
post-structural tradition, is given quite a different spin in my books, I think... I have
many, many problems with post-structuralism. I am a skeptic after all.

Probability Trance

The idea for the Probability Trance as described comes (in part at least) from Daniel
Dennet's Multiple Drafts Model of consciousness, where 'conscious experience' is the artifact
of competition between multiple neuro-subprocessors. The Dunyain, the idea is, have developed
the ability to direct and access those subprocessors - or 'Legion' as they call them -
through the Probablity Trance.


The sorcery of the Three Seas, Anagogic (and Daimotic) sorcery, arose from its shamanistic
roots without the benefit of the Quya, the Nonmen sorcerer caste, whose sorcery was ancient
before the Tusk was even written. The Gnosis, the sorcery of the Ancient North, is the result
of what was called the Nonman Tutelage, a period in ancient Norsirai history marked by
cultural exchanges between Nonmen and Men. The Gnosis is simply what the Anagogis could be,
if the proper conceptual leaps were made...

Differences between sorcerers sharing the same Metaphysics is determined in much the same way
differences in any profession are: native ability, knowledge, training, and experience.
... as many women are born to the 'Few' as men, but due to oppression, they have no formal
tradition as such: they're typically burned as witches. Neither the Schools nor the mundane
powers tolerate sorcery outside the aegis of the Schools, so wizards suffer much the same

Sample Timeline exerpt

820 - The Rape of Omindalea. Jiricet, a Nonman
Siqû to the God-King Nincarû-Telesser II
(787-828), rapes Omindalea (808-825), first
daughter of Sanna-Neorjë (772-858) of the
house of Anasûrimbor in 824, and then flees
to Ishterebinth. When Nil’giccas refuses to
return Jiricet to Ûmerau, Nicarû-Telesser II
expels all Nonmen from the Ûmeri Empire.
Omindalea conceives by the union and dies
bearing Anasûrimbor Sanna-Jephera (825-
1032), called ‘Twoheart.’ After a house-slave
conceives by him, Sanna-Jephera is adopted
by Sanna-Neorjë as his heir.
- The cuneiform script and the syllabaries of
the Nonmen are outlawed and replaced with a
consonantal alphabet, c.835.

The Rape marks the end of the Nonman Tutelage, though the relations between the two races
would have their mecurial ups and downs until the First Apocalypse. The old Siqu caste, as
well as that of the Quya, have transformed considerably over the years. But then that's a
story for some other day.

Source: A Conversation With R. Scott Bakker
September, 2004

Some fantasy writers begin with story, some with worlds. I understand that for you the world building came first. What was the inspiration for the world of Eärwa? Was it always planned as a home for novels, or was it more an intellectual exercise, at least initially?

    Middle-Earth was definitely my inspiration: I was a world-junkie from the first day Mrs. Martin began reading The Hobbit to my grade five class. Then there was D&D, which provided the initial incentive to work (and work and work) on Eärwa. I wanted my players to believe they adventured in a real place. That way, when their characters died (yes, I was one of those dungeonmasters), it would really, really hurt.

    Kind of like George R.R. Martin...

What prompted you to begin writing fiction in this world?

    There were a couple of different motives. In D&D, I was always the dungeonmaster. Since I loathed pre-made adventure modules (which I always thought were too 'Monty-Hall'), I made my own instead. This meant I did an inordinate amount of prep for our adventures. I remember quite distinctly wanting to 'make good' on all that labour, especially after I abandoned D&D for sex and drugs.

    At the same time, I found myself growing more dissatisfied with the epic fantasy then being marketed. At some point, I thought why not write the story (the idea then was to combine the grandeur and authenticity of The Lord of the Rings with the grit and intrigue of Dune) that I wanted to read. That was the original spark back around 1985, anyway.

Eärwa is a creation of extraordinary depth, with a detailed geography, history, language, literature, religion, and several distinct cultures. Can you give some insight into the process of creating/elaborating all of this?

    It's been about twenty years, I think, since I sketched the first map that would eventually grow into Eärwa. There would be months of furious world-building activity, followed by months where I seemed to forget it even existed. I have disorganized reams of material on this or that, and I've likely thrown away more stuff than I've kept.

    The big thing, for me, has always been names. I make lists of them, drawn from any number of different sources, so that when the urge to flesh out more of Eärwa hits me, I have this ready reservoir waiting for me. I'm not entirely sure why, but for some reason, when I have the names, the world often seems to build itself. Things just occur to me, then I get bored and move on to 'real life' (though now that I'm making a living doing this, it's actually become real life!).

    But you need more than detail to generate the illusion of reality, you also need to know how that detail is organized. Here I think my childhood obsession with historical atlases (in my whole life, the only thing I ever stole was a historical atlas) gave me a good feel for the way 'reality is organized' (which is probably why Eärwa has more a 'historical feel' compared to the 'mythic feel' so brilliantly evoked by Middle-Earth).

    And university played a huge role as well, primarily because it forced me to read the ancients themselves, rather than modern interpretations of the ancients. I really think I needed a decade or so of academic osmosis, dabbling in history, languages, and religious studies, to get the organization 'down' in a manner I found satisfactory. It always felt I was taking on too much before.

I understand that the first book of the series, The Darkness that Comes Before, went through multiple rewrites over a considerable period of time. What was the catalyst (Was there a catalyst?) that sparked the final version?

    The first catalyst is my good friend Nick Smith, who now teaches philosophy at the University of New Hampshire. We entered the philosophy PhD program at Vanderbilt University the same year, and over the course of our late night discussions of Heidegger and Adorno, I'd periodically mention The Prince of Nothing. While visiting New York, he mentioned it to an old roommate of his, Kyung Cho, who had just become a literary agent -- he described it as 'Nietzsche meets Tolkien,' I think.

    I sent Kyung the original manuscript, which then amounted to a monstrous exercise in worldbuilding written in relative seclusion over a period of years -- a mess pretty much, but a mess with promise. "Give me something I can work with," I think he said. After busting my nuts to finish my course work and preliminaries, I moved back to Canada in 2000 and promptly joined something then called the Del Rey Online Writer's Workshop (or DROWW) -- both because it was free, and because of the hope that some editor would 'discover me.' This became a seminal event, not because I was discovered by Del Rey (to my knowledge, no one was, though the workshop produced the likes of Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Caitlin Sweet, and Karin Lowachee), but because I found a community of peers -- Roger Eichorn, in particular -- who taught me how to tell an effective story. University can teach you writing, but only workshops can teach you storytelling. (The DROWW still exists, by the way, though it's now called the Online Writer's Workshop, and I can't recommend it enough).

    The final version of The Darkness that Comes Before emerged out of this.

You have a US agent, but you first found publication in Canada. Were US SF/fantasy publishers resistant to such a dense, complex, literary work (and if so, why do you think that was)?

    The Darkness that Comes Before bounced through New York twice before my present agent, Chris Lotts (Kyung left to run the family business), found the wonderful people at Overlook. The reason? I know the book's thematic content made some uncomfortable: I was flogging a fantasy that explored the origins of religious violence at a time when sensitivities regarding this subject matter were very high. Even still, I was dismayed and baffled. I thought the book's commercial premise -- as an epic fantasy written for those whose tastes had outgrown the commercial mainstream -- was strong, particularly the way new media (video games in particular) were changing the demographics of reading.

    After all the reviews, after the way both books seem to be selling here in Canada, the temptation is to blame the 'corporate editor' -- you know, risk-averse, enslaved by the bean-counters, all that. But when you talk to editors, you realize they don't have this cookie-cutter template in mind, they just know what they like, and they have a series of hunches about what will and will not sell. And it also tends to be the case that the 'higher' you go career-wise, the busier you become. Editorially speaking, New York is the summit of the publishing mountain, and there's very little in the first 200 pages of The Darkness that Comes Before that shouts commercial viability! It's a hard book.

    Lucky for me, fantasy readers are unlike any other reader. Think of how many people reread entire series in preparation for the release of a sequel. It really is quite extraordinary.

The Darkness that Comes Before introduces the reader to a hugely complex, multi-layered setting. What challenges did you face not just in making it accessible, but in incorporating the sheer volume of information that needed to be conveyed?

    Stories set here on terra firma take place in a world where all the associations are ready-made. Not so with epic fantasies. Somehow, you have to build a world while telling the story, and it's quite a hard trick, as I'm sure you know! Tolkien overcame this problem by using a couple of very simple and effective mechanisms: he made an 'innocent' his primary protagonist, and he devised a plot that, while referencing an immense amount of detail, avoided turning on too many of those details. This allowed him to gradually reveal Middle-Earth, and to do so in a way that clearly distinguished between details integral to the plot and mere textural details.

    Now both the characters and the plot of The Darkness that Comes Before are deeply embedded in Eärwa, and I found myself in a catch-22 as a result: the only way to follow the story was to learn the world, and the only way to learn the world was to follow the story. I adopted a variety of tactics to cope with this problem. I used dialogic reference, passing repetition, dramatic demonstration, and so on, and I can honestly say that in certain respects, I failed. Insofar as none of these tactics come across as contrived or 'potted,' I think I succeeded, but the first 200 pages remain difficult nonetheless. I still think I wrote the book to be read twice.

The Warrior-Prophet contains many intense battle scenes, which you portray not from your characters' individual perspectives, but from an omniscient viewpoint -- an interesting choice of narrative style that really adds to the sense of epic sweep. What prompted you to do this, and what were you trying to achieve thereby?

    I spend altogether too much time brooding over these things, so I'll try to outline what I see to be my central concerns and leave it at that. I could clear rooms, trust me!

    In narrative terms, I wanted the Holy War to become a character, to be something that suffers, survives crises, and develops as a result; and in this sense, I look at those omniscient sections (which I patterned after Harold Lamb's history of the First Crusade, Iron Men and Iron Saints) as a kind of collective third-person centred POV. I also wanted the Holy War to be entirely believable, a collective version of the psychological realism I try to bring to my characters, both for consistency's sake, and because I think believability is a necessary precondition of conjuring awe, or the tickle of it, anyway. I'll get back to this...

    In thematic terms, I was interested in referencing ancient verse epics, The Iliad in particular, and the recounting of the epic order of battle. Ancient epics possessed an important encyclopaedic function; in many cases, they were the repositories of knowledge for their societies, and as my answers to your subsequent questions should make clear, this is something I'm very interested in exploring: the fact that, nowadays, the epic has been stripped of its cognitive role (which is why we call it 'fantasy'), yet tries to mimic that role nonetheless -- to make the impossible believable. I find this quite remarkable -- and unique to epic fantasy.

    Another thematic motive for the 'historical voice' has to do with the question that animates The Darkness that Comes Before and The Warrior-Prophet from start to finish: What does it mean to belong to something larger than oneself? The statement, 'There's more than me,' has got to be a signature human insight. The 'more' calls on us in innumerable ways, draws us out of the narrow circle of our self-interest and makes us human -- or so we like to think. So just what is this 'more'? Is it a lover? A movement, a faith, history, or people? Is it a God? What happens to our relationships when we embrace any one or combination of these? And what happens when this 'more' becomes a weapon? Only the epic allows you to fully explore these questions, I think. (I want to say 'only epic fantasy,' but it sounds too flattering to be trusted).

    Since childhood I've always been attracted to things that dwarf me, that make me feel small. This was what captivated me about Middle-Earth, I think. For whatever reason, there's an eerie sense of beauty to be found in recognizing our frailty as solitary human beings -- a beauty I've always associated with awe. And for me, the sense of awe, whether conjured through the intimation of unseen immensities or the depiction of collective strife, is what transforms 'large-scale stories' into 'epic narratives.'

    And lastly, I wanted to explore the collective dimension of belief and desire. All our actions are underwritten by our beliefs and our desires. We do action A rather than action B, because we believe action A will give us what we want. So what about extreme actions, or better yet, extreme collective actions? What kind of beliefs and desires underwrote, for instance, the lunatic extremes -- the unthinkable atrocities committed, the impossible obstacles overcome -- of the First Crusade? One of the reasons I cleave so closely to the actual history of the First Crusade was that I didn't think people would believe the events I attribute to the Holy War otherwise! And all this, I think, comes back to transcendence, to the belief in 'more,' which for some reason seems to breed both the best and the worst in humanity.

In a series filled with vivid, fascinating characters, Kellhus (for me anyway) is the standout -- not least because, unlike some other writers who portray superhumanly intelligent beings, you succeed in making his intellectual superiority completely convincing. What were the challenges of creating such a character?

    I've always felt more intelligent when I write than when I speak. Take me away from my computer screen, and I'm lucky if my thoughts attain the clarity of Campbell's Soup. I suppose (and remember, I'm writing this response!) this is because writing allows you to step outside of time, to think a thousand thoughts where the reader encounters only one. And if you think about it, this is pretty much what Kellhus does while speaking. He stands outside the rush of verbal interaction, and so is able to scrutinize and premeditate where others can only reflexively respond.

    So in a formal sense, portraying Kellhus's superhuman intelligence was relatively easy. I would start with straight dialogue for Kellhus's scenes, which I would then go over again and again, each time giving Kellhus more in the way of insights and observations. It was the substance of these insights and observations that proved exceedingly difficult to write. But here again, I had the luxury of time: I would work and rework them until I eventually came up with something 'Kellhus worthy.' I took a shotgun approach.

    But there were other challenges as well. Surprising ones.

    Most people don't know that the average per second cost of a primetime commercial is greater than the per second cost of a major summer blockbuster. In fact, you could argue that commercials are the most premeditated form of communication in history. Now this is pretty scary when you realize they're primarily designed to condition viewers, rather than rationally convince them. Most commercials are intent on branding, on connecting a product or corporation to a certain set of positive associations. The point isn't to provide the details you need to make a informed decision between competing products -- this is the amateur model of advertising that started disappearing after World War II -- the point, rather, is to literally train you, to transform your automatic response when you next encounter their products. (I irritate my wife to no end by adding 'honest taglines' to pretty much every other commercial we see. With the Olympics on CBC, for instance, my favourite has been, "Another American corporation, pretending to root for the Canadian team.")

    Advertisers use these tactics because they work so damn well. It just so happens that conditioning us with associations is a much more reliable sales generating mechanism than engaging us rationally. And yet ask anyone if they're regularly manipulated by commercials and the answer will be an emphatic no. 'I make up my own mind, dammit!'

    (Of course 'tough-minded individualism' happens to be one of the primary associations utilized by advertisers. Flattering us with images of personal agency and independence is a good way to exploit us as an impersonal 'market' -- which in the end, is pretty much all we can be to a corporation.)

    And this is the point. We humans tend to be a credulous of everything save our credulity -- something I forgot while writing the first draft of The Warrior-Prophet. Originally, my idea was to slowly 'externalize' Kellhus, to move away from his POV and show more and more of his manipulation from the outside. I'd have a wicked gleam in my eye as I wrote, thinking 'What a sneaky bastard!' But my readers kept coming back to me with things like, 'I'm so relieved Kellhus is coming around!' It turned out that Kellhus was duping them as thoroughly as he was duping the characters! They knew he wasn't trustworthy, just as we all know commercials aren't trustworthy, and yet the instinct to think 'Ah, it's OK,' is just so strong (which is why advertisers continue using the tactics they do).

    This was perhaps the second greatest difficulty I had writing Kellhus: depicting him in such a way that my readers would always have a sense of the distance between his claims and his intentions. I'm still not happy with the way I resolved this problem.

    And I still find myself checking out Nikes at the shoe store...

In addition to a very complex plot, you're unfolding a meta-story in this series, whose outlines, at the end of The Warrior-Prophet, are only just beginning to emerge. Obviously you know where you're going -- but how detailed is your advance planning, both book by book and for the series as a whole?

    On the one hand, I want to say my plans are very advanced because I've been living with this story for such a long time (so much so I'm pretty much screwed if I get Alzheimer's). On the other hand, I want to say my plans aren't detailed at all, because aside from brief synoptic sketches, I don't have that much down on paper, and it just never feels real until you 'get it down' for some reason.

Your author bio on The Warrior-Prophet says something I found intriguing: "He divides his time between writing philosophy and fantasy, though he often has difficulty distinguishing between them." The influence of your academic expertise is certainly clear in your novels -- but has your immersion in fantasy affected your study of philosophy?
    If you think introducing yourself as a 'fantasy writer' to strangers elicits skepticism, try introducing yourself as a 'philosopher'! And the affinities go far deeper than this...

    Imagine you have two friends, one named Theo who tends to tell you what you want to hear -- old and flattering stories that makes things simple and certain -- and one called Phil who tends to tell new stories without quite the same regard for what you want to hear. Now for the longest time, it seems to make no practical difference just who you listen to, so you tend to favour Theo, perhaps because your parents swear by him, or perhaps because you happen to like his wondrous worldview.

    Then one day Phil introduces you to his younger and equally innovative sibling, Nat. Now at first, you find Nat rather irritating. Not only does he avoid answering the interesting questions, he seems to make things pointless and unnecessarily complicated. But to your astonishment, you discover that his explanations make a real practical difference. In one breath he says, 'humans are but one animal among many,' and in the next breath he tells you how to track and avoid cholera epidemics. And as time passes, he starts talking more and more, and the things he makes possible become more and more remarkable: supercomputers, MRI's, thermonuclear devices -- things that entirely transform your life.

    As this happens, you can't help but look somewhat askance at Theo and Phil -- after all, Nat has inadvertently provided you with a pretty imposing yardstick. You still like what the duo have to say -- even more, you realize they're saying things you need to hear to make sense of your life, especially in the indifferent world of blind processes revealed by Nat (the 'disenchanted world'). And yet, they just don't seem to measure up. Their claims still don't make any practical difference, and they remain utterly incapable of resolving any of their debates -- certainly not the way Nat the wunderkind can.

    Because of the extraordinary successes of scientific naturalism (Nat), both religion (Theo) and philosophy (Phil) have become fallen forms of cognition, or knowing, in contemporary society. Our culture is filled with curious phenomena that attest to this 'fall.' Religious belief, for instance, has become a matter of 'personal preference.' Traditional prohibitions, like working on the Sabbath or viewing pornography, and traditional biases, like those against women or homosexuality, have either fallen or are presently falling by the wayside. Epic fantasy, I think, likewise attests to the way Nat has changed our world.

    For instance, take the ancient Middle-East as described in the Bible. If you were to redraw the shorelines, rivers, and mountain ranges, and to rename the various peoples, nations, and cities -- to change everything, that is, except its fundamental form -- what would you have? A prescientific world where magic and prophecy are possible, where divinity is certain, where individuals have an indisputable place in a cosmic order, and where the end of the world is imminent.

    What you would have, in other words, is something very similar to Eärwa or Middle-Earth! And this is my point: if you change the details and leave the fundamentals intact, scriptural worlds become fantasy worlds.

    Personally, I find this fact extraordinary. It explains, for instance, why so many Biblical literalists have so much difficulty with Harry Potter. If you think the world as described in the Bible is the world, then Harry's world is no longer 'harmless fantasy' -- he might as well be a gunslinger! And it also explains, I think, something of epic fantasy's mass appeal.

    Scientific method is a hodgepodge of techniques and procedures that enable (albeit in a messy and retail manner) the world rather than our fears and biases to determine our conclusions. It's a kind of discipline, a 'cognitive kung-fu,' and it's utterly transformed our lives as a result. Before science, however, we were able to interpret the world pretty much anyway we pleased. We had no procedural discipline, no way to avoid our hardwired tendency to anthropomorphize or to guard against our hardwired weakness for flattery, oversimplification, and blind certainty. So we tried to understand the world the way we understood each other, as a something possessing purpose and motive. We saw the world as something personal rather than an aggregate of blind and indifferent processes. Existence, we thought, was a kind of extended family, where pleas (prayers) or demands (incantations) were often heard and answered. Before science, in other words, we still saw ourselves as fundamental participants in the world -- as helpless as we were! We knew nothing, and yet things made sense.

    So, to finally answer your question (I told you I spent way too much time mulling these things over!). Thanks to science, fantasy worlds are worlds where philosophy and religion still command the heights of cognition. In other words, any world where philosophical discourse remains entirely credible is a fantasy world -- which is why I think fantasy is ideally suited to be a 'literature of ideas.' To write the one, I've found, is to inevitably beg the other. I started using my philosophy to understand my fantasy, only to find my understanding of philosophy transformed as well.

You have some strong views on the disdain manifested by the self-styled speculative fiction literati toward anything labeled "epic fantasy" (a disdain that to my mind interestingly mirrors the prejudice many non-fantasy readers exhibit toward the genre as a whole). Please feel free to air them here.

    This is what I think is going on.

    For simplicity's sake, lets say this debate is between two well-defined groups (which it isn't), the 'literati' and the 'laymen,' with the former impugning epic fantasy, and the latter defending it.

    Training and socialization are the backbones of appreciation. When architects look at a building, they see far more than laymen see. When musicians listen to a composition, they hear far more than laymen hear. And likewise, when critics read a novel, they comprehend far more than laymen comprehend.

    This just underscores an obvious fact: in many cases, how much one knows conditions what one can and cannot appreciate. Take sentimentalism, for instance. Once you come to understand the baffling complexities and ambiguities of human emotion, then emotional clichés like 'love conquers all,''be true to who you are,' and so on, start looking hackneyed and cartoonish. Listening to Britney Spears is no longer an option (looking, on the other hand...). You've outgrown sentimentalism, and certain things no longer ring true.

    So what you have are individuals with standards arising from specialized training, literati, critiquing works written for individuals with standards arising from their socialization in popular culture, laymen. Since the training of the former builds on the socialization of the latter, the standards of the literati are bound to be more complex, more informed, and more sensitive to nuance -- like the ear of a musician or the eye of an architect.

    Given these standards, works written expressly for laymen are bound to seem simplistic and ignorant to the literati, and they say as much in their critiques. Now since ignorance is invisible -- we're typically ignorant of our ignorance -- these critiques are bound to sound 'out of the blue,' or arbitrary, to laymen. And since we tend to be jealous rather than skeptical of our commitments, the initial lay tendency is to accuse the literati of 'reading too much' into the works at issue. 'It's just entertainment!' is a common rejoinder.

    Of course the literati know there's no such thing as 'pure entertainment,' that most cultural expression tends to encode and reinforce the prevailing ideology of the society it's expressed within. (As the systematic sum of what we do, societies require the repetition of our actions -- buying, working, and so on -- to maintain structural integrity. Given that beliefs are a primary basis of action, the production of cultural artifacts becomes an important way in which societies regulate the repeated actions that make them possible: this is easily seen when one looks at ancient or exotic societies (think of the social function of medieval beliefs like 'the divine right of kings,' 'life is a veil of tears,' and so on) but becomes progressively more difficult to see the closer one comes to one's own society, where one's beliefs and assumptions seem 'natural.' This is why so much popular culture seems ideologically inert, or 'entertainment pure and simple,' to laymen: because our socialized beliefs frame our perspective, it's difficult to take a perspective on them, and since we can't take a perspective on them, we assume there's nothing to take a perspective on (and comments like this one, strike us as 'out of the blue' or 'just plain wrong').

    The tendency of the literati, at this point, is to make some claim to authority -- and this is where everything falls apart. The worst way to ground apparently arbitrary judgments is to claim authority. Not only is authority taken to be 'authority over,' it simply compounds the sense of arbitrariness. The lay response, not surprisingly, is to accuse the literati of arrogance.

    And in a sense, they're right, because ultimately the literati have no real authority, at least not in the way neurosurgeons or other technical and scientific specialists have authority in debates involving their subject matter (imagine contradicting these guys on a message board!). The literati themselves may think they have that authority, but authority without recognition is no authority at all. They're no different than priests or philosophers in this regard.

    Add the usual bundle of human weaknesses to the mix and this communicative impasse becomes pretty much insurmountable. Debate collapses into name-calling. The literati feel confirmed in their elitism (because it just goes to show), the laymen feel confirmed in their anti-intellectualism (because you can always tell the bad guys by their vocabularies), and as is usually the case in disagreements, both sides go home feeling smug and self-satisfied.

    It doesn't matter, I think, what sub-genres you plug into this literati/laymen relationship. Now it just happens to be the 'new weird' on the literati side and 'epic fantasy' on the laymen side. The key to resolving the ruckus, I think, is for the literati to acknowledge their lack of institutional authority, and to concentrate on showing what's 'wrong' with commercial epic fantasy, rather than telling (as authorities do), but this is hard work, and we tend to be lazy. It's far easier to call people stupid. Likewise, laymen should acknowledge the limitations of their appreciation, the fact that there's always more than what meets the eye. The problem here, however, is that this is humbling, and we tend to be conceited. It's far easier to call people pompous.

    The irony of all this, of course, is that the epic fantasy condemned by the literati and defended by the laymen generally depicts worlds where value is objective, which is to say, a world where the literati could (like doctors and physicists in our world) have the authority to command consensus from laymen.

    We live in strange times.

What are you working on now? How many books will ultimately be set in the world of The Prince of Nothing?

    The Prince of Nothing consists of three books, The Darkness that Comes Before, The Warrior-Prophet, and The Thousandfold Thought. They tell the story of the crucial events that occur some twenty years before the Second Apocalypse begins. I have outlines (whose original forms, coincidentally, date back some twenty years) that sketch the story of the Second Apocalypse, starting with The Aspect-Emperor and ending with The-Book-that-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Whether these will turn into trilogies like The Prince of Nothing remains to be seen. My guess is that each will be a dualogy.

    I'm presently working on The Thousandfold Thought. Following this, I have a draft of a near future thriller entitled Neuropath, which I hope to gussy up and shop around before returning to fantasy, which is my first love.

The wotmania Files: Interview with R. Scott Bakker
September 27th, 2004

Scott Bakker is author of the Prince of Nothing series, whose first volume, The Darkness That Comes Before, was just released in the US on June 1st. This book was a Locus Recommended Read for 2003 and his second book, The Warrior-Prophet, was just released about two weeks ago in Canada. This interview was conducted via email, although many of the questions are inspired by a face-to-face meeting by this interviewer with Bakker at a book signing in Nashville on June 21st.

Thanks Scott for agreeing to do this interview. If you don't mind, could you give us a brief biographical sketch to give us a clearer image of the person behind the pen?

I spent the bulk of my childhood on the north shore of Lake Erie, back in the day when "Be home before dark!" counted as parental supervision. Throughout my youth, my father was either a tobacco sharecropper or farm manager, so I've spent many a long season toiling in hot fields. I have a BA in English and an MA in Critical Theory from the University of Western Ontario, and if I could complete my bloody dissertation, I'd have a PhD in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University. My favourite band is Black Sabbath, and has been since I was fourteen years old. I drink Coke, not Pepsi. I refuse to wear clothing with corporate logos, and am inordinately fond of my cat. I vacuum when I'm told and typically do the dishes without being told. As for the bathroom, well, there's usually an argument. And last but not least, I tend to consume about eight beers a night through the entirety of the NHL playoffs.

What was it, if "it" can be defined, that led you into reading and later writing fantasy?

I'm not sure it can be defined, but it can certainly be named: The Hobbit. When I was ten, my grade five teacher read it from cover to cover for our class. I devoured The Lord of the Rings immediately after - several times - and have never fully recovered. When I think back to my sketchy memories of those times, I recall only a sense of breathless wonder, blue carpet, and chincy wood panelling. Reading Dune as a teenager only made things worse.

Many of our readers have expressed curiosity about philosophy. What works would you recommend for them to read?

This is a hard question, I think because the field seems to resist summary in a way others don't. For those in college, I would urge taking a freshman philosophy course - this was pretty much how I entered the labyrinth. As far as primers go, the most important thing is to find something that will hold your interest long enough to get you some kind of footing in the debate. For me, that was Wil Durant's The Story of Philosophy. Anything or anyone but Ayn Rand, who's left out of philosophical dictionaries and anthologies for a reason. As a friend of mine likes to say, she put the 'pluh' in 'please.'

You've mentioned on your site and in person that you spent a great deal of time writing The Darkness That Comes Before. When did you start writing it and who were some of the people that encouraged you during the process?

I started writing the first draft of the story around seventeen years ago - I actually completed the entire Prince of Nothing trilogy when I was 23, before I knew how to write. The world, Eärwa, is actually some seven years older: the first rudiments date back to when I was fourteen playing D&D with my hairy-palmed buddies. As far as encouragement goes, my brother has been with me since the very beginning - but at first I think he was just trying to ensure his character wouldn't get killed. Flatter the dungeonmaster, just like in the real world... Jokes aside, there really isn't anything major, either in the world or the story, that I haven't discussed at length with Bryan. He possesses an unerring ability to uncover cheese.

I always regarded the whole thing as a pipe-dream, a juvenile fantasy, and as a result I never actively sought publication. I just kept building the world and rewriting small sections of the story, and now, after all this time, I find myself with this absolutely immense amount of material. As far as getting published goes, the decisive person in my life, without a doubt, would be my fiancée Sharron, without whom I'd likely be an addict or one of those irritating people who go on and on about their squandered highschool potential. She gave me the drive to go back to school (which had been touch and go before her: I quit both highschool and university twice).

Then there's Nick, my buddy from Vanderbilt, who talked me into sending the first draft of The Darkness That Comes Before to his old roommate, who at the time was an agent in New York. And there's Michael Schellenberg, an editor from Penguin who somehow saw through the mess of manuscript notes my first agent gave him, and made an offer...

As a newly published writer, what are some of the surprises that you've experienced in the year or so since The Darkness That Comes Before was published?

This writer thing certainly is strange, there's no doubt about that (or as we Canadians would put it, no doot aboot...). The first surprise has been the steady stream of rave reviews, from small webzines to mainstream publications. I always assumed the bulk of reviewers would find the book too dense (in either sense of the term!). The second has been the sales: once I realized I was going to be published, I just assumed The Darkness That Comes Before would at best become a cult success, something that world-junkies - you know, those who've read the Silmarillion more than once - would primarily dig. But for several days now, The Warrior-Prophet (which has just been released here in Canada) has been neck and neck with Stephen King's latest Dark Tower novel on amazon.ca... Truth be told, it's messing with my head.

I guess, in short, what's surprised me most is the widespread appeal the books seem to have. I literally feel as though I've been bushwhacked by good fortune, and it makes me very nervous. It just seems, well, inconsistent.

What were some of the historical influences that went into the writing of the Prince of Nothing series?

The original idea way back in 1987 was to write something that combined the depth and grandeur of The Lord of the Rings with the intrigue and thematic sophistication of Dune, through a story modelled on Harold Lamb's narrative history of the First Crusade, Iron Men and Iron Saints. Now many, many things have changed since then, but under the layers the skeleton of this original plan still exists. I stole a lot of licks from Lamb, and I still find myself referencing him.

The other historical influences are more generalized or inchoate: historical readings on the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Indians, Arabs, medieval Europeans - too many to keep track of actually. Then there's the period readings, which seem to stand out as more significant for some reason: Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Aristotle, Plato, Xenophon, Thucydides, Plotinus, Virgil, Tacitus, and bits and pieces of others.

Interesting that you mention Dune as being an influence, because on reflection after reading The Warrior-Prophet, I noticed that there were certain surface similarities to Herbert's story, in particular the way you explore the characters' interactions with their religions and the idea of the effects that a jihad/holy war can have on people. Was this a conscious decision, or one borne of subconscious thoughts?

The similarities are more than superficial, I would say. The skin-spies, for instance, are obviously inspired by Herbert's face-dancers. The way I've developed the various factions, giving them histories and coherent belief systems, is heavily influenced by Dune as well. But the religious themes I would have to attribute to Lamb more than anyone else: reading his Iron Men and Iron Saints as a youth was a seminal experience for me. The story of the First Crusade with all its triumphs and atrocities is nothing short of spectacular. All our actions, save the rare occasions we find ourselves doing the funky chicken, arise from a combination of desire and belief. This is why the only way for us to understand impossible acts, like 9/11 for instance, is to examine the desires and beliefs that gave birth to them - and to do so without lapsing into sentimentalism or flattering rationalizations. Given the right beliefs, we humans seem to be capable of damn near anything, be it demonic or divine. This is one of the things I set out to explore in The Prince of Nothing.

How many books are you planning on writing in the PoN Universe? Also, are there any other writing projects you're considering in the near future?

I'm presently working on The Thousandfold Thought, which concludes The Prince of Nothing. Following this, I have a draft of a near future thriller entitled Neuropath, which I hope to gussy up and shop around before returning to fantasy, which is my first love.

When I originally conceived the whole story (The Second Apocalypse) way back when, it was a trilogy with The Prince of Nothing as the first book, The Aspect-Emperor as the second, and The-Book-that-Shall-Not-Be-Named as the third. But of course The Prince of Nothing has since become a trilogy in its own right, which would seem to suggest that The Second Apocalypse will be nine books long! I honestly have no idea how long it will ultimately be. My best guess is that The Aspect-Emperor and The-Book-that-Shall-Not-Be-Named will both be dualogies - if that's really a word...

All I can say with certainty is this: First, The Prince of Nothing does stand on its own - The Aspect-Emperor picks up approximately twenty years afterward. I look at it as The Hobbit of The Second Apocalypse. Second, all the books in The Second Apocalypse will be written in service of the original story. I've been thrashing and dreaming the thing for twenty damn years, and I'm not about to compromise it for any reason, commercial or otherwise. The grooves are just too deep.

Now you have me being very curious: That book-which-shall-not-be-named, is it because the very title would have major spoilers for the present series?

Ah, yes... The-Question-That-Cannot-Be-Answered.

Let's start with discussing a major hot topic on the fantasy forums these days: China Miéville's comment about Tolkien being "the wen on the arse of fantasy." What were your reactions to that? What did you think about the response that question provoked on the forums that you've visited?

I'm afraid this answer has turned into something of a short essay, so let me apologize in advance.

What were my reactions? I laughed, of course, then I went running to the dictionary to look up the word 'wen' (just to be sure). I can certainly understand why Miéville might say this. The degree to which Tolkien has become the rule for so much fantasy is sure to antagonize those who style themselves 'rule-breakers.' Add to this a socialist bent and the sheer nostalgia of Tolkien's work, and the wen becomes very inflamed indeed.

All fantasy is a response to modernity of some kind, so it seems fair not only to ask what kind of response it is, but whether it's a positive or negative one - especially if you think, like Miéville and Tolkien, that modernity is somehow in crisis. In this respect, I think it's clear that there's something regressive about Tolkien's approach. By yearning for 'simpler times,' you not only risk drawing on the anachronisms and prejudices belonging to those times, you also become less inclined to participate in the present. Pining for the days before a problem is generally not an effective way of resolving it.

So I understand and in many ways sympathize with his complaint. Tolkien - and perhaps more significantly, Tolkienesque fantasy - can be seen as one of many 'social opiates,' a way to cope with social problems that reinforces rather than transforms the dominant institutions behind those problems.

Let me go into some detail, since statements like this can seem alienating in the absence of an explanation. Imagine what life was like for the average person some 400 years ago. They knew who stitched their clothes, who grew their food, who raised their houses, and so on - all the ways they depended upon others simply could not be ignored, and as a result some sense of community and communal responsibility was inescapable. Not anymore. As a result of technological innovation and the concentration of production, pretty much everything we depend on, from our blue jeans to our fried chicken, is provided anonymously. Not only can we ignore our multifarious dependencies, we can even pretend they don't exist. We are in fact the most interdependent generation in the history of the human race, and yet somehow we've come to think of ourselves as the exact opposite, as the most independent - as 'individuals.'

Contemporary consumer culture continually bombards us with images of this: "Everything you need," the commercial tagline runs, "comes from within." Just think of all the ways in which this message is repeated - and no wonder, given the way the media caters to our conceits. SUV's and rugged individualism. Cigarrettes and rebellious individualism. Shampoo for that 'individual look.' Few people make money telling people those things they don't want to hear, like the systematic way wealth often depends on poverty, or how our cars dump their own weight in CO2 into the atmosphere every year, or how we're becoming the greatest extinction event to hit our planet since the comet that took out the dinosaurs.

For people like Miéville, we already live in fantasy worlds - that's the problem - and what we need is a literature that will mitigate rather than aggravate the problem. Think of the way so many men style themselves as a 'rebel' or 'warrior' - I know I did. I remember congratulating myself day after day for being such a badass, even while I shuffled down aisle and queue, thoughtlessly doing what my boss told me to. 'Travel light,' the movie suggested. 'Wherever I lay my head is home,' the song crooned. 'Your future is what you make it,' the teacher insisted. The slogans go on and on. We've even been convinced that embracing these sayings - which are essentially marketing shout-lines - is what it means to be a rebel! Buy this CD and those hair-care products, look after you-know-who and spurn all things cooperative and collective - especially if they're political, which is to say, capable of effecting real change.

But of course this is only pseudo-individualism. In truth you're simply a 'good consumer,' working hard to make other people rich, reminding yourself over and over how unique and special you are while verifying your identity with your credit card, and thinking of all the things you could be, if only you had the time and money... If only... Because afterall, everyone is free to be what they want, aren't they?

Of course not. We don't live in a meritocracy - not so long as wealth remains more a matter of heredity than wit, grit and determination. The game is rigged - I think everyone understands this at some level. But the winners, the ones who own all the bullhorns, (and thus the only ones who are heard), crow on and on about how 'great' the system is. "I'm living proof!" they cry, conveniently forgetting their trust fund, that someone has to flip the burgers, pump the gas, stitch the clothes, man the assembly line - which is to say that someone has to provide all the goods and services they enjoy. Like all winners, they're convinced the game is fair, and if the game is fair, if everyone regardless of class has the same chance of becoming wealthy (and the facts shout otherwise), then the problem must lie with the players and not the game. Afterall an individual takes responsibility for their play... It's your own damn fault you're poor. You had all this potential...

If I had a nickel.

The systematic roots of our predicament escape us, because the media caters to our weaknesses, flattering us with images of illusory self-empowerment, papering over the complexities of system we live in, and concentrating on the short-term, the short-sighted and the individual. Afterall, each of us is our own person, with fiercely independant product choices to make. We end up living in little consumer bubbles, only dimly aware of the great machinery churning away in the darkness.

Given this dystopic picture, it becomes easy to see how Tolkien could be 'ideologically suspect.' The nostalgia for 'better days,' one might argue, induces complacency. The celebration of individual heroism and the identification with aristocratic values simply reinforces our false sense of empowerment. The provision of alternate worlds gives us yet another excuse to avoid the realities of this one. And so on...

Tolkien, understood in this light, is the return of the repressed, a way to express our disempowerment without having to relinquish our illusions. A wen.

Now I agree with much of this picture (so long as we remember it's an interpretation and not gospel), and yet nevertheless I would argue that Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece - a founding work of genius and not a wen. One reason for this is that I take the business of evaluating the value of a work's social role to be simply part of the business of evaluating the value of a work as a whole. The second reason is that a work's social role is always a work in progress, something that can be transformed by the reception of subsequent works. Tolkien - rather obviously it seems to me - stumbled upon something profound, something which, even when bound up in nostalgia and sentimentalism, simply has to be acknowledged. By casting light on the world of Middle-earth, he has thrown into relief a world pressed to the edge - our world. And the problem lies not so much in what he's written, but in how he is read. We determine his social role.

And this is why I'm such an unabashed fan, and why I write Tolkienesque epic fantasy. I want to continue Tolkien's exploration of our world, and to further it if I can. I'm not so interested in 'transcending the genre' as I am in exploring the possibilities within it - and I would argue that these are far more vast and significant than most realize.

So what was my overall reaction to Miéville's comment? Understanding and disappointment.

As for what I've seen of the debate this comment has triggered, I found it both interesting and heartening. As an epic fantasist, I've been stung by the 'laymen' versus 'literati' divide that seems to be forming along the epic and urban fantasy lines - especially regarding the 'new weird.' It's strange how little versions of this hierarchy seem to crop up in every sphere of human cultural production. For my own part, too many people seem convinced of the superiority of their tastes for me to have that much faith in the superiority of my own. All I like to point out to self-professed rule-breakers is that in many cases they're not so much overturning a set of conventions as they are buying into another. Post-modern works, for instance, have their own stable of conventions: hybridity instead of purity, existentially subversive doubles instead of dragons, displaced subjects instead of heroes, and undecidability instead of apocalyptic evil. I try to test the rules I follow, but I'm not convinced that simply swapping one set of commonplace rules for another set of arcane ones counts as 'original.' It's too mechanical. Originality, I suspect, arises between the rules.

Great answer. As I was reading this, I couldn't help but think that the Scylvendi chieftain, Cnaiür, would fit excellently as a badass who is a badass not because he resembles other badasses of his time and place, but even more so because he feels compelled to break with tradition to forge his own path. Did you have in mind this exploding of the badass character myth when you created Cnaiür?

I'm glad you've mentioned Cnaiür. He is indeed the battleground for this question.

I remember reading somewhere that 19th Century literary scholars had a difficult time dealing with Homer's Achilles, primarily because of the way he weeps to his mother after Agamemnon seizes his concubine. Here's Achilles, the most martial of all men, crying like a baby... How could this be?

But this is the thing: our present concept of what it means to be a 'man' is largely a historical artefact - and a very troubling one at that. Think of all the terms we use to impeach someone's manliness: pansy, bitch, queer, fag, girly-boy, pommy pufter, and so on. Almost all of them are accusations of femininity, which would suggest that the worst thing for a man to be is... a woman! Which is to say, soft, weak, passive, and emotional... Huh? This, I think, is an absurd and destructive way for men to value themselves. Strength is found by owning and understanding one's weaknesses, not by displacing and denying them. Think of all the supposed badass warriors out there, checking people in at hotels, clearing tables, posturing in front of mirrors, bragging to sceptical significant others about how lucky so-and-so is because... We live in strange times.

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but there seems to be an implied statement that we humans find it necessary to create our own rules and hierarchies to meet our needs. Could it be said that fantasy is in one sense our attempt to experiment with the rules to see what we can make of it?

Are rules and hierarchies inescapable? Certainly. Cooperative action would be impossible otherwise. All societies are made up of human beings doing things in concert - the repetition of interrelated actions. That's what we do when we go to work everyday: we repeat actions that fit a greater network of repeated actions. Rules and hierarchies serve to regulate individual actions to ensure that they meet the requirements of the greater system. Since beliefs and desires are the bases of action, any given system requires the proper beliefs and desires in order to function. Imagine, for instance, if we all stopped believing in property or pointless consumption. Our whole system would come crashing down.

Nowadays we belong to a vast 'global machine,' one with six billion parts. Make no mistake, all the numbers you carry with you in your wallet perform the same function that the numbers serve in a car parts warehouse. They keep track of you, define your position relative to the whole.

The problem is that we evolved living in small systems where the people we knew were also the people we depended on to survive. Suddenly we find ourselves living in this immense system where we rarely depend on the people we know, at least not in any immediate material sense. For the first time in our history it is quite possible to survive without knowing anyone - this is extraordinary if you think about it. The 'shut-in' is a recent historical development. What this means is that we're living in social environments that cut across our evolutionary grain in what are likely profound ways. It's no accident that the feeling of alienation or 'not belonging' is the malaise of the modern world. And this is the reason, I think, why nostalgia rather than experimentation characterizes what one finds in epic fantasy: fantasy worlds tend to be places where individuals have an unambiguous social role, where they can clearly see where they fit, not only in the cosmic order of things, but in the social order as well. If we have to look to the past to find those orders, then it's because they no longer seem to exist.

Recently, many people (Margaret Atwood being one) have begun to shun the title of "sci-fi" or "fantasy" writer for the catch-all term of "speculative fiction." You had an interesting response to this at the signing. Would you please elaborate for the readers who were not present?

Did we do an inordinate amount of drinking afterward? Because I'm not sure that I recall...

In all fairness, I've been told that Margaret Atwood has since recanted many of her earlier comments regarding Oryx and Crake - though long after the media spotlight had moved onto to bigger things. Back when I was in grad school and The Prince of Nothing was simply a shameful little hobby, I used to describe what I wrote as 'speculative fiction.' Nary a label passes through our heads without some kind of value judgment attached to it. Anyone who's ever felt a pang of shame when telling another their occupation knows exactly what I'm talking about. We are social animals, wired to be exquisitely sensitive to estimations of status. I think it's obvious, particularly now that she's reconsidered her position, that Atwood was simply positioning her novel in the marketplace. To the general ear, 'literature' sounds much more impressive than 'SF.'

Unfortunately, 'epic fantasy' has even less cache than 'SF' - I would guess it's presently somewhere between 'porn mag' and 'harlequin romance.' Perhaps this will change, and 'epic fantasy' will gain something of the camp cache presently being enjoyed by, for instance, 'space opera' - afterall, the rehabilitation of the marginal and devalued is a very postmodern thing to do. Either way, the thing, it seems to me, is to be wary of the implicit judgments in the terms we use. I find it amusing that the people most likely to complain that SF&F is a 'literary ghetto' are often those most likely to devalue other regions of the barrio, particularly when it's as commercially successful as Jordan's work. It's cool to be an iconoclast, I guess. It makes us feel oh-so individual, when in fact we're simply being aristocratic.

So now I stubbornly say 'epic fantasy' whenever anyone asks me what I write. I am officially out, and resigned to never being reviewed in The Globe & Mail.

Excellent points about the subjectiveness of labels, especially as it applies to genre writings. So in other words, 'epic fantasy' is still a dirty phrase in many circles, but there seems to be some positive progression toward acceptability?

Not any way that I can detect. It's a hope more than anything else. I feel like a poser for saying this, but this is one of the things I was hoping to do with The Prince of Nothing - not to make epic fantasy 'respectable,' because I think it already is to those who matter most, but to prove that it hasn't exhausted its resources.

You wrote a piece on SFF World recently giving your take on fantasy, focusing on the reader's perceived need to find "meaning" in a world that's been stripped of most meaning. Can you list some of the books/authors that have provided the most "meaning" for you?

Actually, it was back in 1999 when I submitted that piece, and though I largely stand by it, I think I would retreat from the strident tone I take. Society and culture are super-complex systems, which means that all theories regarding it are doomed to be underdetermined by the facts - to be interpretations.

In my writing, Tolkien obviously looms large, followed closely by Herbert. If it weren't for Dune, I sometimes think I would have never gone to university. In my life different writers, mostly philosophers, have been important at different times - the kind of stuff you might expect from an egghead. Derrida in the early days - I spent several years as a 'branch Derridean,' irritating professors and classmates alike with my clever deconstructive turns of thought. Then came Heidegger, and to a lesser extent, Nietzsche and Hegel. Then came Wittgenstein and Adorno. But lately, everything seems to be dominated by Kellhus...

Kellhus indeed is an unnerving character, so much so that he has made me consider how I order my thoughts, at least during those times that I dwell on what he's saying and doing. Very unique character, as I said in my review.

As for a final question, I thought I would invert this question/answer order and give you an opportunity to ask questions to us. Are there any questions that you as an author want us readers to consider?

One question: "What makes me right and other people wrong?" If you think about it, there's something almost embarrassing about assuming oneself to be 'in the know.' For one, it's extremely improbable that out of billions, one person called 'me' could monopolize the truth - especially when we take into account of all the ways (such as confirmation bias, social-proof bias, deprivation bias, and so on) we humans are inclined to delude ourselves. For another, it seems fairly certain that thousands of years hence our descendants will think us as deluded as we think our ancient ancestors were deluded. The fact of the matter is that we know so very little - it's just the invisibility of ignorance that makes this so hard to see. All we need do is own up to that fact. With the suspension of judgment comes learning, tolerance, and openness to the new.

If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

I would have to go with monkeys, because dwarves are no longer cool in fantasy. One I'd name Clint, and I'd train him to chew cigars and watch the saloon doors with a steely gaze. The second I'd call Terry, and I'd forbid him from making things up about philosophers he's never read, and I'd try not to look at him, for fear he might be masturbating. Another I'd call Shakespeare, and I'd turn questions regarding his sexual orientation into a morbid fascination. Then there would be Gwynneth, whom I would woo with critcisms of Troy, shaving cream, and very, very dim lights. I'd call one Bush, and when he got a rash, I'd call him 'burning' and listen with awe and reverence to what he had to say. The last one I would call Nietzsche, and I would teach him to repeat, as well as he could, these words of wisdom: 'There is no one smarter than Jack Handey. There is no one smarter than Jack Handey.'

Thanks again Scott, for taking the time to reply at length to these questions. I really appreciate the effort and thought put into these and I believe the readers will as well. It's been a pleasure conducting this interview and best of wishes with the series.

I must say, I've immensely enjoyed this!

The wotmania Files: First part of a Q&A with R. Scott Bakker
(November 2004)

Since I just dropped my opinion about this in the book discussion below, I am curious. What are your views about gender roles in the world you created, how they are portrayed in the two books (not necessarily the same) and how they relate to our world?

With the recent elections, do you think a woman will ever be elected president of the US? Who would be your choice?

Great questions. Without a doubt I think this is the topic I take the most heat on, something which I see as ironic given that my initial concern was that I was being too overtly feminist!

Epic fantasy worlds are almost exclusively pre-scientific worlds, which is to say they're worlds where traditional authority, rather than public debate or scientific method, tells us what's true or false, right or wrong. What I wanted was an unsanitized epic fantasy world, one that was true to the brutalities and beauties of our own world before the Enlightenment. I thought the most honest way to explore our fascination with these worlds would be to look at them as they would really be. The culture of the Three Seas, as a result, is as misogynistic as western culture once was. Women are often treated as a sexual and reproductive resource. As Kellhus points out in TWP, when men cannot control their desires, they try to control the objects of their desires.

The reason I think I take so much heat on this issue is that some confuse representing such a world with endorsing it - which believe me certainly isn't the case! The idea, rather, is to explore the psychological consequences of such a culture on my female characters. We keep returning to these worlds (as fantasy readers), I think, because they represent something we're missing, but it's a mixed bag - very mixed.

A female US President? It'll take some time, I think, but with the way women are out-performing men in school, we're about to witness an immense gender role reversal. Things are going to look a lot different in 20 years time. And it'll all be blamed on video games.

I think I can see your point. Did you try to move away from the type of women portrayed in early fantasy works? Let's face it, Tolkien portrays women as almost holy in a way. He has a very Victorian attitude. This is not surprising given his time period. However, many people have shown women in the role of objects of desire, but not very bright. Were you concerned that readers would not buy that Esmenet was smarter than the men who used her? Or that we would be offended? Since we started down this path, it seems she does a total reversal by the end of The Warrior Prophet. Is this just another example of how well Kellhus manipulates those around him?

For me, the Kellhus/Esmenet dyad is one of the thematic cornerstones of the book. My big concern, and I think it's been borne out, has been that I'm simply being overly subtle.

One of the questions I'm interested in is, What happens to truths when they become instruments of manipulation? Kellhus enslaves Esmenet by emancipating her, by showing the 'truth' of the misogynistic culture she lives and breathes. In effect, he makes her modern. I have no idea how to answer this question, but it seems to me to be an important one.

If you believe that all values are simply social artifacts (which I don't, because I think this is tantamount to nihilism), then what we call 'women's rights' is simply an expression of changing technological and economic conditions. Given the way that technology increases productivity, the 'base economic units' of society become smaller and smaller. Just a few centuries back it was the village, then it became the extended family, then it became the nuclear family, and now it's becoming the individual. Every society in history rationalizes its economic organization in its belief-system, and our society is no different. So as the possibilities of female economic independence expanded, the more and more 'oppressive' the standing beliefs in the auxilary, familial role of females came to seem, and so the 'women's rights' movement was born. It's not that women are in FACT equal to men and always have been, it's just that their labour has recently become equally useful. There's no moral fact of the matter: just a social system spontaneously adapting its belief-system to better exploit its resources.

I see Esmenet, who is through and through the product of a society that subordinates women to men, as embodying this question. Is there a moral fact of her station, or is it simply the result of an arbitrary, socially grounded belief-system? How do here own decisions feed into this question? And how does the manipulation of Kellhus bear on the whole?

Her native intelligence, I think, is itself a powerful moral argument. It demonstrates her equality in fact.

Enjoy sci-fi?

Or are you solely a fantasy kind of guy?

I'll read anything, so long as it's good. Fantasy just happens to be my fave. My big problem is finding time to read what I want to read. I find that if I like reading something, it always makes me write, which is good for the writing, but bad for the reading.

What was Nietzsche's beef with Wagner?

I'm not sure. Holstein? Texas Longhorn?

Explain the meaning of life.

To stumble about without a bloody clue, convinced that you pretty much know everything you need to know. At least that had BETTER be the meaning of life, otherwise I'm screwed.

Over the course of TDTCB and TWP, we learn that the magic employed by the Schoolmen are based on semantical understandings and that the Chorae unravel these. Will we be learning more about the underpinnings of this conflict in TTT?

Quite a bit actually. I'm overweeningly proud of my world as it is, but I see sorcery as the jewel of Earwa.

I'm still waiting to learn more about the bathing habits of the Scylvendi. Anything to reveal in regards to that?

The memorialists tell harrowing tales of the legendary 'Loincloth of War,' but not much more than that...

Silk or cotton, boxers or briefs, this loincloth?

Rancid wolfskin... As if you didn't already know, Larry!

Ah, so the old and comfortable choice, huh? None of that effeminate silkworm refuse for them, yeah?

By the way, doesn't Rancid Wolfskin sound like a great name for a band?


Hi Scott. I loved TDTCB and I'm looking forward to TWP and future books. I imagine with the success of your books comes change. What has been the biggest change in your life (for better or worse) since you were published? How have you indulged yourself? Fantasy is your favorite genre, do you have any favorite authors? Favorite books? Are you reading any books now? If I think of anything else, I'll ask later. Thanks for taking time to do this and the other things you do like book contests, etc. It's very cool of you, and much appreciated!

Well, I'm still driving my 1991 Golf diesel... The big thing, though, is that I no longer have to work for a living - and after working midnights at a grocery store for 14 years while going to school, that makes me a happy duck indeed! I'm not sure my books are accessible enough to have any hope of making real money.

My favourite fantasy author at the moment has got to be Martin, followed closely by Erikson. My favourite author in general is Cormac McCarthy. Right now I'm reading Mieville's The Scar and Vassanj's The In Between World of Vikram Lall.

What is your name? What is your quest? WHAT...is your favorite brand beer? Any favorite movies? Do you play video games (#1 reason for decreased male average intellect)? Do you play chess? Favorite music/musicians? Any bad habits? Whats the one thing you'd like to change about yourself?

Holy moly, Moncul! Let me see...

My full given name is Richard Scott Bakker, and my 'quest,' if I get your meaning, is to always be a better man than I was yesterday, and to convince the world that they shouldn't be convinced by ANYTHING. Beerwise, I enjoy IPA's, but I'm not fussy - I think warm Bud is just fine. My favourite flick is A LION IN WINTER. Presently, I don't play video games, but only because I'm too broke to buy a computer capable of playing anything interesting. Bad habits? I fart in the morning and scratch my nuts in the afternoon. Those few times I've had a good computer, I've turned into a video game addict. I tend to drink and toke too much, though as it happens, toking is the one thing I'm trying to quit.

Makes me stupid. Drinking likely makes me stupid too, but I feel smarter...

Why does paper beat rock?

Because Rock is a bad boy who just won't listen!

Hey there. Cool of you to do this; we loves our authors, we does.

I'm partway through your first book in the series, and I quite enjoy it, but I won't ask any questions about it because any I would have at this point will surely be answered if only I read on, brave soldier, read on. However, I do have some other questions, which I believe are of some importance in the scheme of things.

1. Which of the four Ninja Turtles do you most identify with?

The one with the shell.

2. What sort of writing schedule are you used to, if indeed there is a schedule?

I try to plunk my ass in front of the computer every morning at 5AM. I try to write as consistently as possible until 5 PM, but...

Let's just say I have a very clean nose.

3. Do you write longhand first drafts, or do you type from the get-go?

I rarely, if ever, write anything in longhand, despite the enormous length of my index fingers.

4. You have twenty-four hours to save the last six living penguins from the attack of a giant killer giraffe who has waded through the ocean to Antarctica. How do you do it?

Hire Karl Rove.

5. Is it just me, or does Larry taste funny?

OBJECTION! The prosecution is leading the witness, your honour. No matter how he answers the question, Larry will be tasted, and the jury will be duly disgusted.

*tries to think of something witty*

*gives up*

What are you reading nowdays?

At the moment I'm reading THE SCAR and THE IN-BETWEEN WORLD OF VIKRAM LALL - loving both of them.

Do you ever find yourself reading something or watching a movie and thinking, "That plot twist should have been handled differently." or "Sloppy exposition."

Sometimes that's ALL I do. It drives my wife bonkers. When you're writing, you always encounter the 'How do I get there from here?' problem. The one thing I've learned is that you can get between any two points in a plausible fashion, so long as your prepared to take the time to think things through. That's what makes me gnash my teeth more than anything else when I encountering a huge plot hole while reading or watching: I know it's more a matter of laziness than anything else.

How's Thousandfold Thought coming along?

Awesome, at the moment, anyway. I'm pretty neurotic when it comes to my writing, which is just another way of saying that I'm not sure it's ME who's writing at all. Half the time it feels like I'm just watching my fingers dance.

What is yourPhD work about? When can I read it? After reading TDTCB, I became vastly interested in whatever you're cooking up. Is Prince of Nothing in any way related to or reflective of your academic work? What's the best IPA and who brews it?

Quit tokin'....still drinking...

Crackpot stuff. I think the various metaphors used to illustrate basic fundamental positions, such as the 'picture' for representationalism, or the 'game' for contextualism, actually play a powerful 'inferential' and explanatory role, and that by simply playing with these metaphors it's possible to develop novel approaches to a large number of philosophical problems.

I have nothing approaching a readable manuscript, I'm afraid, though I'm hellbent on completing the thing as soon as I can scrounge together a few fiction-free months. Are you studying philosophy, Anasurimbor?

Actually, a few things surface here and there. In TTT, one of these 'metaphors' actually finds a prominent place vis a vis sorcery...

Currently, my favourite IPA is 'Keiths,' though as I think I mentioned, I'm not really all that fussy. So long as I have a headache in the morning...

Revision. How much do you tend to revise? How long does it take you? Do you find yourself taking only a bit of what you wrote, and essentially rewriting it, or do you lean more towards doing the work the first time, and just tidying it up later? Finally, being an author. Fun, or not worth the effort? Thanks for dropping by!

Good question. Revision is the heart and soul of writing for me, but I know people who would say the exact opposite. It's different all the time, though I still think one of the most important skills I learned was what we used to call 'killing our babies' on the Online Writers Workshop. You need to be absolutely merciless when it comes to killing words (especially modifiers), phrases, passages, and even entire chapters - anything that isn't pulling it's weight.

To give you an example of just how much I revise, I would bet my next advance that there isn't a single sentence that survived from my initial draft of TDTCB. But then not only did I cut my teeth writing that book, I had tremendous difficulty reworking it to make those infamous first 200 pages more accessible. I think several sentences survived from the TWP, but even then, they know I'm looking, and that sooner or later...

Is writing fun? I love it. I still can't believe it. I still find myself expecting a bus or a dumptruck to take me out at some intersection. I always wanted to be a writer, but I never really pursued it because I thought it was a pipe-dream. Now I find myself feeling guilty for some reason - probably because I started working in the fields when I was ten.

People are supposed to work for a living.

The wotmania Files: Q&A with Scott Bakker Part II
(November 2004)

You have given some hints that this world was at least discovered by off worlders. Are we going to see more of that? Are the No-men meerly a technologically advanced people from another world? I guess I am asking if they are a different species from the people we see.

Also, thanks tons for doing this.

Good questions… The problem is that I see the unveiling of the world (which is HUGE) as part of the reader’s adventure. All these issues come to play decisive roles in the story. I wish I could give you a better answer…

Otherwise, I’d like to thank YOU ALL, and especially Larry, for giving me the opportunity to do this. This MB is very, very cool.

Robert Jordan is a lucky man!

I mean, you are popular because you’re good, so much so, that we have a little fan club in El Salvador, Central America, where I am from. Larry adviced me to tell you here so I am doing it now. But the point is, your storytelling is great, why would a great writter not become successful,or if he does, why be surprised by that?

Thanks, dark gholam. Be sure to say hi to everyone!

Well, two things, I guess. First, I’m painfully aware of the many ways we humans like to delude ourselves, particularly when it comes to flattery. Do you remember the coverage of Ronald Reagan’s passing a few months back? The one thing all the American news organizations kept saying more than anything else was that Reagan ‘reminded us of how great they were.’ Somehow they managed to turn this poor guy’s death into an orgy of self-congratulation. They did this because they’re selling a product in a competitive market, and they knew that people want to be flattered more than they want to be informed. Just think of how awkward those words “Tell me what you really think” can be!

When you receive attention the way I’ve been, it pays-pays-pays to be suspicious, especially since it’s so HARD to gain perspective on one’s own perspective. I can actually understand what happened to Goodkind, I think.

Secondly, I had a hard youth in some ways. I grew up poor, working all the time, and profoundly suspicious of good fortune. Those kind of emotional habits are hard to shake.

My mind is a bit random so I hope you can excuse that these questions are a bit random.

Do polar bears wear sunglasses were you live?

Nope. But they DO drink Coca-Cola.

Were would you recommend someone that is interested in philosophy to start?

Hard question. I’m not sure there’s any one book that I would recommend: the best place, really, is a freshman philosophy course. There’s also a philosophy discussion section on The Three Seas Forum, where you can debate and ask questions to your heart’s delight. So far it seems remarkably flameproof, despite the charged subject matter.

Do you ever drink soft drinks? If you do what are your favourite?

I compulsively drink caffiene-free Coke Classic. Tastes the same as the regular, but doesn’t keep you up all night pondering the imminent destruction of the world. I like to feel rested when I ponder such things…

Do you prefer to write in the day or during the night?

I’m a lark when it comes to writing, which is a pain because all the years I spent working midnights transformed me into an owl.

How many books do you think you will write in your lifetime?

That depends. How long do I got to live?

Is death the beginning or the end?

Death lies beyond beginnings and ends.

Do you think you will some day be as popular as J.R.R. Tolkien?

Good lord, no! First off, I think the first 200 pages of TDTCB will ward off many readers, as will the general complexity of the world and the names. Kind of like St. Peter… Then there’s the dark and violent themes I tackle, which I’m sure will convince many, like poor Dorothy from Curved Lake, Ontario, that my books should be burned. Then there’s the fact that Tolkien is the God of epic fantasy, and as such, tends to be a jealous God, and will tolerate no others, and you know, blah, blah, blah, blah…

Do you see any parts of yourself in every character you create?

Only the well-endowed ones…

Couldn’t resist! What can I say? I grew up on a tobacco farm. The first time someone mentioned “Touched by an Angel” I thought they were talking about a porno. I like to think of my humour as ‘earthy’ rather than ‘dirty.’

Insofar as I put myself in their headspace, you could say that all of my characters are expressions of the possible headspaces I can occupy. I know this unnerves my wife, who now and again asks me to sleep on the couch after proofing a chapter.

Thank you for the great books and for taking time to answer questions from us lowly readers.


Thank you, Dark Matter!

I live in Australia and that leads me to my first question, I had a hard time getting your book down here, and it took so long to get here I have only read the first quarter. I think I have a British published copy, getting to the questions:

1. Are there going to be Australian editions or am I going to have to pay for international postage on ‘The Warrior Prophet’.

Simon & Schuster UK handle worldwide distribution in English (outside of the US and UK). I’ll ask my editor there about it. Thanks for the tip, I Am.

2. The cover art (on the edition I have) is very evocative and I know most authors have no control over cover art. Do you like the images on the covers and what they suggest about the book/story?

I’m happy with the S&S cover, but I haven’t the foggiest as to WHO that is staring out at you. I had thought that the Canadian cover was just so obviously superior, more ‘eye catching,’ so to prove myself right I took the book to one of my pop culture classes and put both covers up on the VDP, and without letting anyone know which I preferred, I asked my student which one they liked best.

They voted for the S&S cover by a 2 to 1 margin.

Which explains why publishers always reserve the right to put whatever they want on the covers. Though we authors fancy ourselves creative geniuses, the bottomline is that we haven’t a clue as what sells books. In this case, I’m told that it’s the face. Our brains have powerful face-recognition circuits, which often makes covers with faces more engaging.

I STILL prefer the Canadian covers though (as does my US publisher, thank Gawd).

3. Where does you interest in religion come from?

I’ve had a strange personal odyssey when it comes to religion. When I was young, I was ‘born again,’ but then around 14 or so I started asking questions, lots of them, and troubling enough to convince my mother to have the pastor over for dinner a couple nights. It had dawned on me that if everything had a cause, and those causes themselves had causes, then my thoughts, which were part of ‘everything,’ were themselves caused, and that there could be no such thing as free will…

I was the guy who you DID NOT want to talk to on acid or mushrooms.

So I spent my teens as an athiest and a nihilist, filled with moral outrage at the fact that morality did not exist, and yet everyone pretended it did.

Then I went to university, and somehow ended up reading Heidegger, the German father of what Sartre would later turn into existentialism. The intellectual ins and outs of my transformation are too complicated to relate here, but I ended up being an agnostic, firmly convinced of the reality of things like meaning and morality.

Then while doing my Philosophy PhD at Vanderbilt, I started playing poker on a regular basis with some classmates, one of whom was an avowed nihilist. I argued and argued and argued, and got my ass kicked. And I realized that if you were honest and only committed yourself to warranted claims, then nihilism was inescapable.

But nihilism, of course, simply HAS to be wrong. There’s gotta be more than function, process, and mechanism…

And this is the central thematic question of The Prince of Nothing: What is this ‘more’? What are the shapes we give it, and how do these shapes affect the way we see the world and each other? Is it real, or is it all a gigantic racket?

Could it be both?

I have no answers to any of these questions. All I know is that if you set aside your hope, your childhood upbringing, and stick only to what we know, the picture looks pretty grim.

Why epic fantasy? What is it about this form of communication that appeals not just to you as your chosen medium of writing, but to those of us here who love to read it?

*ducks the probable withering stare for turning the tables here*

No ducking necessary, you ducker. I think it’s an excellent question!

I should start with a caveat, though. Everyone knows that there’s a variety of ‘worldviews’ out there, and despite the fact that everyone is convinced that their’s happens to be the true one, everyone remains convinced that their’s happens to be the true – primarily because it just ‘feels’ right.

First: If it ‘feels’ right, then odds are it’s wrong. Despite what the movie hero or the commercial says, our ‘gut instincts’ are miserable when it comes to getting things right. Since collective beliefs underwrite collective actions, and since the repetition of collective actions is what makes societies possible, only those societies that successfully manage the beliefs of their constituent members survive. Ronald Reagan didn’t cause the collapse of the Soviet system: a collective crisis of faith did.

This is just a fact. If you were socialized in the traditional manner, your possess the belief system that your social system needs you to have in order to function as it functions. Our society is no different than any other in this regard, though most of us are convinced that we’ve monopolized the truth, just as most everyone in most every society has been convinced. In our society we call this requisite belief system ‘Individualism.’

One of the things I find so fascinating about epic fantasy is the way fetishizes a certain type of world-view – specifically, the pre-scientific one.

More than anything else, science is a kind of discipline, a set of methods and techniques that prevent us from duping ourselves in the quest to answer questions of fact. This is the reason so much science is so alienating for so many people: we’re hard-wired to prefer flattering, simplistic, and purposive answers. Evolution is the classic example here.

The world-views one finds in epic fantasy are examples of the world-views our ancestors developed in the absence of scientific discipline. This makes epic fantasy horribly important in at least two respects, First, those ancient worlds were the worlds enshrined in scripture. It’s no accident that Banker’s novelization of the Ramayana is shelved in the fantasy section. Fantasy worlds are versions of scriptural worlds. This is why poor Harry Potter has enjoyed all the controversy he has. For fundamentalists who still believe in the scriptural world of the Bible, being a ‘young wizard’ is as odious as being a ‘young gunslinger’ would be to secular readers. Second, since those ancient worlds arose without the ‘benefit’ of scientific discipline, they are bound to reflect a whole host of human foibles and human needs. They are pictures of the world as we want it to be.


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