Further Curated Sayings of Cû'jara-Cinmoi

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« on: January 25, 2017, 01:50:50 pm »
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.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2017, 02:15:01 pm »
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.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2017, 02:24:20 pm »
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!
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2017, 02:37:05 pm »
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.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2017, 02:45:43 pm »
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.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2017, 03:00:06 pm »
The wotmania Files: A Conversation with R. Scott Bakker
(November 1, 2005)

    Scott Bakker is one of only a handful of authors that I have interviewed more than once. Since I posted the 2004 interview on Tuesday, I thought I would go ahead and post the second solo interview I did with him (there are two other interviews from 2008 in which I supplied a few questions that were posted on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, but I’ll have to search for those URLs later, as I’m actually writing this several hours before this is posted and I plan on being asleep when this goes live). There are two Q&As with Bakker that I believe will be posted by Ken on his blog, Neth Space, in the near future, once we figure out how best to showcase the questions/answers. Oh, and for those few who’ve ever heard me refer to Bakker as the missing member of the 80s band Air Supply, the joke is based on this photo, which appeared on the galley proof for the Penguin Canada edition of his third book, The Thousandfold Thought. Agree or disagree with my assessment of the photo? Anyways, here’s the interview:

For the past week, Scott Bakker and I have been emailing back and forth over issues pertaining not just to the thematic elements of his books, but also on matters of society and the relationship that literature, particularly fantasy, has with it. Since Bakker has to leave this morning for the World Fantasy Convention in Madison, Wisconsin (Nov. 3-6), we agreed to split this conversational interview into two parts, resuming after he returns. Of course, if you have more questions that you’d like to see Bakker answer, feel free to reply here and we’ll see if some of them can be worked into the interview. But it is our hope that this conversational piece addresses much of what readers have wanted to know about the Prince of Nothing‘s author, its genesis, and other miscellaneous questions.

When we last sat down at our computers and begun the the interview process, you were a new author who had just seen his first work, The Darkness That Comes Before, published in the United States. What were some of the reactions that you received from the ‘mainstream’ press and authors about your work?

Well not much from the mainstream press ( I am a loser fantasy writer, you know), but what I did receive was more positive than I dared hope. Both Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal gave The Darkness that Comes Before starred reviews. Publisher’s Weekly then went on to choose it for their ‘Best Books of 2004’ list, and for their ‘Overlooked Books of 2004’ list, which made my American publisher, Overlook, very, very happy – as you might imagine. The Guardian continues to be kind to me in the UK. In fact, their review of The Warrior-Prophet has given me my new favourite quip: “The Warrior-Prophet is a good book: with more stringent editing it could have brilliant.”

But other than that, I haven’t received much interest or attention anywhere other than fantasy circles.

And why do you think there hasn’t been much interest or attention outside fantasy circles? I’m curious, because it seems like there’s some pre-determined ‘marketing’ labelling that’s going on for all sorts of books. An example would be Jonathan Lethem. Dude writes some interesting, quirky novels that seem imbibed within a healthy spec fic tradition, books that were out there for years, then suddenly, with Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude, he’s being proclaimed as a “hot new author” in publications such as Rolling Stone. What are we to make of this? Is there some magical ‘boundary’ that must be passed for an author to go from the SF aisle to the Literature section? Can it go in reverse, can an Umberto Eco or a Jorge Luis Borges have their works appear in the SF section?

Well, the world is a big place and our brain is only three pounds. We constantly economize by placing evaluative labels on things. It is simply a fact that as a label, ‘epic fantasy’ carries a host of negative associations for those into ‘serious’ literature. Why do you think Margaret Atwood initially argued that Oryx and Crake was not a work of science fiction, and then only recanted after the book had established itself in the literary mainstream? The labels we give things always include implicit social coordinates, and as social animals, we tend to be very self-conscious of where we find ourselves in the pecking order.

Literary types don’t read my books for pretty much the same reason they don’t wear white after Labour Day. They’re afraid of being laughed at.

Of course, this begs the question of what IS it about fantasy/speculative fiction that causes such negative associations. It can’t be just the image of geeky adolescent boys reading D&D-style writing – there’s something else that seems to be at play. What is it about the types of literature that the literary mainstream is reading and writing that is portrayed as being so antithetical to fantasy?

Seems to me that there has been a retrenchment of sorts in literature, where people are gathering behind these drawn lines or fortifications and are just digging in, refusing to acknowledge anything counter to their own vision of what consitutes ‘literature.’ In a sense, it’s a negative conviction to me, where people are convinced of their ‘rightness’ to support such-and-such a literary field because the other side must be incorrect. Thoughts on this?

Also, your comments about humans being social animals seems so apt in a world where even our so-called ‘non-conformists’ have their own established pecking orders and customs and dresses to mark those traditions that they have created to counter the ‘mainstream’ culture. How is there hope for something such as Fantasy fiction to create something ‘new’ or vibrant out of this mess of conformity? What would a Kellhus make of this, I suppose I’m asking in passing. Or perhaps a Cnaiür might make for a more apt counterpoint – thoughts?

What would Kellhus think, hmm… Dammit, Larry, you really have to think when you try to think what Kellhus thinks – and I gotta headache. So lemme tell you what I think.

Check out the reviews posted on Amazon. How often do you find a reviewer saying, I’m a bad reader? Never. Absolutely never. Instead you find, This is a bad book – even if the author happens to be Gene Wolfe! The reason for this is obvious: the tendency for all of us is to make our tastes and opinions the absolute yardstick for what counts as good and what counts as bad. Given that our tastes and opinions form our immediate frame-of-reference, we generally labour under the illusion that they are absolute. Education, humility, and imagination are required to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,’ or to relativize our frame-of-reference within another. Since we can’t see what we can’t see, we generally assume we’ve seen everything, and think that it’s the other guy who’s ‘missing the obvious.’ This is a powerful psychological tendency – let’s call it ‘self-centred yardsticking’ – with obvious evolutionary benefits for humans living in stone age communities (but which could end up killing us in today’s world).

It seems obvious to me that literary types are just as susceptible to self-centred yardsticking as anyone else. (Unfortumately, education, humility, and imagination are a rare combination in humans.) In some ways, I think it’s even more pernicious, both because they tend to think they’ve faced and overcome the problem (when it’s a battle that’s never won), and because they occupy the cultural high ground. Literary types will tell you they look down on epic fantasy because ‘it really is crap,’ not because they possess a specialized set of expectations that precludes them from appreciating it.

Since self-centred yardsticking is part of our hardwiring, the best we can hope for is to mitigate it through education. Given the amount of self-deception and conflict it generates, you could argue that it’s not only a powerful social bane, but a major personal one as well. Self-centred yardsticking is among the greatest obstacles any one of us will face.

Then the question becomes, Why aren’t we taught anything about it in public school? It really is flabbergasting – perhaps even criminal – when you think about it. But since parents tend to be quite attached to their absolute frames-of-reference, the last thing they want is their kids telling them it’s a psychological illusion. People might have to start changing their minds and learning things!

I don’t think we’ll see classes on it anytime soon.

Interesting points brought up here, Scott. I still think, in light of what we’re discussing here, that keeping in mind what a Kellhus might make of this would be key, because in one sense, aren’t we addressing something that is played out over the course of your three novels?

You use the term ‘illusion’ to describe how readers (and presumably people in general) create assumptions and viewpoints based almost entire on a self-centered frame of reference. A reference in which everything that is Outside is therefore suspicious and possibly not kosher. But I want to know more about what you mean by how ‘self-centred yardsticking’ might end up killing us?

Kellhus simply manipulates this weakness, the way he manipulates all of our ‘worldborn weaknesses.’ So for instance, the Inrithi take their limited frame-of-reference to be the absolute frame-of-reference; they literally judge the moral worth of everyone against their yardstick. Kellhus masters the particulars of this frame-of-reference, so that the Inrithi believe he’s ‘one of them.’ Then he slowly starts introducing claims that ‘fall off the yardstick’ as it were, that the Inrithi don’t have any habitual or canonical way to measure. As a result, many begin thinking he’s mastered their common frame-of-reference, and so begin to accord him greater status. Then Kellhus starts adding secret knowledge, knowledge that no normal Inrithi could possibly possess, and he does it in such a manner that the Inrithi, given the limitations of their frame-of-reference, can only interpret it in one way. Kellhus, they begin thinking, possesses divine knowledge, prophetic knowledge.

And he owns them.

No frame-of-reference is absolute. It’s only the limitations of our perspective, the fact we have difficulty gaining persepctive on our perspective, that make it seem that way. We have a three pound brain in a universe so immense that much of the starlight we see is as old as the dinosaurs. We’re like plankton trying to make sense of the ocean – less than plankton! No matter what our beliefs happen to be, odds are they’re woefully incomplete, or just plain wrong. The only hope we have is to keep this in mind, and to continually question and revise, question and revise.

Thinking that one’s frame-of-reference is absolute, that one pretty knows the answers to pretty much all the important questions, closes down on the possibility of learning, of expanding one’s frame-of-reference. It’s literally a kind of enforced ignorance. And ignorance, as I think the example of Kellhus proves, is a kind of trust. The more inclined you are to think your frame-of-reference is absolute, the less inclined you are to ask questions, the easier you are to manipulate.

And yet no one, but no one is taught anything about this problem, even as our tools become ever more powerful. You do the math.

Pretty scary math, even if it’s been ages since I’ve done moral calculus! Now there’s something in what you said that piqued my interest – Ignorance as a kind of trust. I remember quite well when I read that quote in The Warrior-Prophet and I meant to ask you about that back then. Trust is such a powerful word, even today. In a sense, in a world where our three pound brains are struggling to make sense of anything from the perfumes we smell on people walking past to issues of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ it seems like so much of what we do and what we are has to be taken on faith. How does faith, or rather Faith, relate to what you are writing in the Prince of Nothing trilogy and elsewhere?

Well, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, there’s known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. If you remember, the media had a field day with this quote – they quite literally thought it was hilarious. I think they found it so funny because, superficially at least, it resembled Clinton’s definitional hairsplitting in the Monica Lewinski imbroglio. ‘Ooooh, you mean sex sex.’ This was the only yardstick they had, and it was a self-centred one at that. Which of course is the irony: since the problem of knowledge Rumsfeld was referring to was, for the media anyway, an unknown unknown, they had precious little way to make sense of it short of ridicule. By laughing at his statement, they were demonstrating the very thing he was referring to!

Let’s call this unknown unknown, the superunknown. What is the superunknown? Well, ask yourself, why didn’t the ancient Egyptians build automobiles? The obvious answer is that they lacked the technology. But if they lacked the technology, why would they waste all that time on pyramids, when they could have built a science research park instead? The obvious answer is that they knew nothing about scientific research. So why not hire some philosophers to figure out the scientific method, and get cracking? I mean, think of what the ancient Egyptians could have achieved with a couple of nukes…

But how could they, when they didn’t even know that they didn’t know? Cars, research parks, and the scientific method simply did not exist for them, not even as an absence! So much of what we now take for granted were unknown unknowns for the ancient Egyptians. They were literally adrift in the superunknown.

And we’re in the exact same boat. It’s a bit roomier, quite abit faster, and probably a whole lot more dangerous, but it bobs like a cork nonetheless. There’s no end to the superunknown. Odds are 5000 years hence we’ll look even more parochial and naive to our descendents than our ancient Egyptian ancestors seem to us now.

In practical terms, what the superunknown means is that we can never be absolutely certain of anything. This is why some kind of faith seems inescapable. No belief is absolutely justified, because no one can possibly account for all the unknown unknowns – by definition.

But note that this understanding of faith stands in stark contrast to the ‘faith’ espoused in traditional religion. The former faith appreciates that knowledge is always a matter of degree, and never absolute. It defines itself in opposition to knowledge. The less we know, the more we take things ‘on faith.’ The faith of traditional religion, on the other hand, defines itself as a kind of knowledge, and in many cases, a kind of absolute knowledge. I think it’s quite obviously the result of self-centred yardsticking, our hardwired tendency to confuse our frame-of-reference for the frame-of-reference. Pretty much every traditional belief system makes self-aggrandizing claims to absolute knowledge. And none of them can seem to agree.

In part, The Prince of Nothing is about the dialogue between these two species of faith, the one that identifies itself with doubt and remains open to the superunknown, the other that identifies itself with certainty and remains blind to the superunknown. It shows how empowered, how manipulable, and how dangerous we become when we think we possess an absolute yardstick.

So, in one sense, it comes down to matters of epistemology, yes? It’s not necessarily the ‘what’ we have in terms of knowledge, but the informational systems that we have developed not just to process this knowledge but also that which we use to account for the just plain Unknown? It’s sobering to think of just how far our conceptual systems have developed over the past five centuries, just ‘only’ (in the eyes of many) to illustrate just how little we know! Very interesting how your definition of Faith appears to be so much more Functionalist in nature than the traditional Christian definition of Faith being ” the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Thoughts on this and how it applies to what we are witnessing in Eärwa as the Holy War is progressing?

No matter what our particular beliefs, we assume that a greater part of the human race lives in delusion. Why? Because we assume we’re in the know, and that the billions who disagree with us are not. Everyone can’t be right. And if we go far back enough in history, we have to say that at some point, everyone but everyone lived in delusion, because our beliefs are historically contingent.

Not only only are we committed to saying that humans are inclined to believe falsehoods, we have to acknowledge that they believe those falsehoods with the same conviction, the same depth of passion, as we believe our truths. In Eärwa, for instance, it’s not simply the Inrithi who are willing to murder and die in the name of their beliefs (absolute yardsticks tend to license such things), the Fanim are as well. This amounts to saying that the personal character of our beliefs, the ‘gut feeling’ or the ‘epiphany’ or the whatever it is that makes our beliefs seem uniquely true, are the very same things that other people with entirely incompatible beliefs use to anchor their conviction.

And this just means that convictions are cheap. I know I offend people when I say this, but they really are. It’s a fact that everyone has them, and it’s a fact that very few bother to ask whether they’re justified. Most people simply, well, have them. Even though convictions tend to to differ drastically across households and communities, most simply assume that they somehow won the belief lottery, that the beliefs they just happen to have are more or less true, and that the incompatible beliefs that others happen to have are more or less false.

It’s kind of embarrassing when you think about it.

The best way to avoid this situation is to either accept that you likely live in delusion, or to be relentlessly critical. And the best way to do the latter is to be wary of all the ways we humans dupe ourselves – our matter of fact tendencies to cherrypick, to footstomp, to anthropomorphize, to flatter ourselves, to oversimplify – and to make our commitment to various claims proportional to the evidence.

As it stands, we humans tend to believe first and to cook up reasons after the fact. In other words, we rationalize. We’re rationalizers by nature, and only reasoners by education. Rather than seek to continually expand and revise our beliefs, instead of remaining open to unknown unknowns, we circle the wagons around the beliefs we already have (despite the tremendous odds against us simply ‘lucking’ our way into true beliefs), and we find ourselves in the ludicrous situation described above: everyone brandishing their yardsticks crying, “Mine is absolute! Mine is absolute!”

And the reason for this is implicit in the classic Christian definition of faith you give above: ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for…’ Faith is taking what we want to be true as true. It’s the confusion of hope for knowledge.

And this is precisely what you would expect from a prescientific belief system. Before science was institutionalized, the only constraints on our belief systems were sociological and psychological. Think of all the hypothesizing, the experimentation, the controls, the dreary mathematics, the elaborate procedure, the peer review involved in science. It’s all a form of methodological and institutional discipline that allows us to generate and evaluate claims independent of what we want to believe. As imperfect as it is, it’s the first institution in human history that has been able to do this. And in five short centuries it’s transformed archery into nuclear weaponry.

But still we persist in waving our ancient, absolute yardsticks. This situation is so obviously irrational, that it’s hard to fathom how people could possibly continue to perpetuate it, let alone murder and die for it. It’s almost as if we humans are hardwired for this behaviour. This is the interpretation I flirt with in The Prince of Nothing. But then that’s a different question, and I’ve babbled for far too long as it is! Talk about waving yardsticks!

Nah, I wouldn’t worry too much about babbling here, as I asked a fairly tricky series of questions rolled into one above, yes? Anyways, I had a thought as I was reading your comments about the delusional aspects of confirmation bias and how people in general want to believe that their world-view, their Weltanschauungen as the Germans might say, is the correct and right path that leads to eternal happiness or at least to some positive end. What about the Inchoroi and their Tekne? It seems from reading the books that there is something about them that is meant to be a counterpoint to the Inrithi and the Fanim. Are they meant to represent something about our own lives and views of the world?

You’re intent on prying your way to the heart of the book, aren’t you? Damn good question.

Given my previous response, someone might assume that I’m simply taking science as my absolute yardstick, which is certainly not the case. I simply think that where theoretical claims are concerned, science is the only yardstick we have that actually works. And I also think this is tragic.

Let me tell you what I think has happened since the rise of institutionalized science in our society, and then bring this back to the question of the Inchoroi.

Societies are vast mechanisms that take the repetition of individual actions as their constituent parts. Like any other mechanism, their function depends on the precision and reliability of those parts. Think of the amount of schooling modern society requires: this is simply a function of its complication. Modern society requires literally tens of thousands of different kinds of precise and reliable actions – we call them occupations, pasttimes, habits, careers, and so on. When a human infant is born, it’s field of possible actions is well nigh infinite. But since society requires particular gears, and not fuzzy ones, it spends its life being sculpted to do very specific things: to shop, to repair engines, to parent, to sell, to design rocket engines, and so on. You get the picture.

Now the more productive a society is, the more latitude it allows for ‘discretionary actions’ – for people to ‘do what they want.’ The less productive it is, the less latitude it allows. So for instance, though I’ve been poor all my life, I was lucky enough to live in a society productive enough to afford me the opportunity to write The Prince of Nothing in my spare time. I could indulge my desire. I have science and technology to thank for that.

Ancient societies, however, operated far closer to the brink. As a result, they required much more in the way of precision and reliability from their constituent parts. The pool of possible discretionary actions was far, far smaller, which meant that people simply could not do what they wanted. Desire, in other words, had to be strictly policed.

The primary way societies police desire is through systems of belief. Think of our society and our belief in conspicuous consumption. If we all stopped believing in it, our society would literally collapse. Note that the truth of the beliefs is pretty much irrelevant. It’s their social function that’s important. Our belief systems are literally not meant to be true, only to be taken as such.

Now think of the small paleolithic communities that put the final evolutionary touches on our brains. Here, the margins were even tighter still. These societies required even more precision, which is to say, very strict systems of belief, and even more reliability, which is to say, deep and abiding conviction. Our ancestors not only had to do the right thing, they had to see it through to the end, otherwise the social machine would crunch to a halt. We humans are literally hardwired to believe, and to believe deeply, to enable the tight social coordination required to keep prehistorical communities afloat.

Now along comes science and technology. Since technology changes the characters of our actions, usually by rendering them more productive, it actually transforms the structure of the social machine. This means the faster technological innovations come, the faster society changes. At the same time, we find ourselves with prehistorical brains and, thanks to the invention of writing, a repository of historical belief systems. All you have to do is look at what pundits are calling the ‘culture wars’ in America to see the result. There’s those who want to rewrite the rules to take advantage of all the new discretionary actions afforded by modern technological society, and there’s those who cling to retooled versions of ancient belief systems condemning them.

Now I imagine you’re wondering what the hell this longwinded preamble has to do with the Inchoroi and the Tekne. The thing is, the more productive society becomes, the more it licenses our biological desires. We can do whatever we want (outside of work), so long as we don’t interfere with other people doing what they want (outside of work). This is a cornerstone principle of liberalism, and it sounds great, until you realize that biological desires have no point outside gratification and survival. We are becoming a society of consumption for consumption’s sake, which is to say, for the sake of nothing. The adherents of traditional belief systems are picking up on this, and they are, I think, rightly critical. Their proposed solution, however, amounts to little more than oppression: the universal imposition of a very parochial vision of right and wrong. (Thanks to self-centred yardsticking, however, they literally think they would be doing everyone a favour.)

The Inchoroi are the flip side of the Inrithi and the Fanim. You could read them as a vision of the nihilistic implications of unrestrained desire. They are simply another dead end in the book’s thematic labyrinth.

So let me see if I have this right: The Inrithi and the Fanim represent (in part) a constrained system of Belief and Order, by which the day-to-day functioning of their societies is maintained via a fairly rigid belief in a paradigm (or as you say above, a yardstick) that is absolutist in nature, while the Inchoroi represent the dissolution of this, being nihilistic in their interpretations of the world around and in their actions. But where do the Dûnyain fit into this? In a world that is seemingly berift of ‘saviors,’ how does a Kellhus or a Moënghus relate to these opposing ends of the societal/moral spectrum? Are they beyond these concepts of Good and Evil, or is there something more to them than just that?

I just knew you were going to ask that. Superunknown, my ass…

Aside to add that what you just recapped is simply one way of interpreting what’s going on (I lost control of the trilogy’s meaning a long, long time ago), I’m afraid the most I can say is, no comment.

Ha! I was beginning to wonder when I’d get my first RAFO-type response! Fair enough, but luckily I have a question in reserve that might be a bit more difficult to answer and yet would allow you freedom to roam: We’ve been talking about the differences between prescientific and scientific societies in many of the questions above (not to mention elsewhere outside the realms of this interview). What do you make of this shift of storytelling, where elements such as ghosts, goblins, divine creatures and entities, etc. used to be viewed as being of a ‘religious’ (or is another term more appropriate than that?) but now are relegated to the ‘Fantasy’ section of the bookstore? Where and how did we change, if we did so at all?

As a moderator at wotmania, I imagined you’d be pretty used to it! But to answer that question would be to unravel the secret of existence, to make aircraft from beef, to squeeze OJ out of styrofoam, and the world just isn’t ready yet. Alas.

This question is different story. As you know, it cuts to the heart of why I’m so fascinated by epic fantasy, and why I think it’s perhaps the most significant form of genre fiction – or at least among the most telling, culture-wise. (And yes, I realize this fits the mould of a ‘flattering rationalization’ – I write epic fantasy, therefore it simply has to be the most important form of fiction on the planet!)

One thing that’s puzzled me over recent years is the fact that more hasn’t been made of the Harry Potter controversy. Think about it. How long has it been since a work of fiction inspired organized book burnings? And what does it mean that a fantasy was the target?

It just so happens that humans are hardwired to understand the world anthropomorphically. What this means is that we have a profound tendency to interpret natural things and events in human terms. We think of our pets as little people. We’re disinclined to boast because we fear the world will punish us the way our buddies would. We think natural events happen for reasons, just as human actions do. We humans are social animals, and given that our brains evolved in response to social pressures, it becomes easy to imagine how this kind of systematic category mistake could find its way into our hardwiring. Anytime the brain is confronted by something too complex to understand using its basic cause and effect schemas, it simply switches to its ‘people-schemas.’

Now the world is a very complex place, which means that we relied on our people-schemas to ‘understand’ quite abit. We quite literally sketched worlds where almost all natural phenomena were understood anthropomorphically, by analogy to people. This is why our ancient ancestors thought the world watched and loved and hated and punished and rewarded and so on. It wasn’t until we discovered science, and learned how to extend our cause and effect schemas to ever more complex phenoma, that we were able to see past these illusory ways of interpretating the world.

But note that we had to discover science, whereas our anthropomorphic ways of understanding the world came quite naturally to us. This is one reason why I think that, even after the scientific world-view rendered anthropomorphized worlds ‘fantastic,’ so many of persist in believing in these worlds, whether they be traditional or ‘new age.’ It comes naturally to us. We feel most comfortable in such worlds.

And this is also, I think, one of the reasons why we have fallen in love with fantasy worlds like Earwa or Middle-earth. Like scriptural worlds, they’re also anthropomorphic worlds, which is precisely what makes them fantastic. Think of the parallels between Middle-earth and Biblical Israel or Vedic India or Homeric Greece or Viking Scandinavia. Palpable gods. Real magic. A certain, objective moral order. Apocalyptic retribution. The primary difference is that fantasy worlds have dispensed with the belief that comes part and parcel with scriptural worlds. Fantasy allows us to lose ourselves in anthropomorphic worlds without the burden of belief. In this sense, they’re scriptural worlds that openly acknowledge themselves as fantastic – which is to say honest scriptural worlds.

And this was why Harry Potter was burned.

I could be next, if I don’t shut my yap!

Ooh, you just opened yourself up big-time, ya know! While I’ll eschew fetching the rope and sharpening the stake, I just can’t help but note that there’s a parallel between Fantasy’s relationship with scriptural belief with our current fascination with fast food. Seems like both offer the basics of a quick and tasty ingestion of desirable elements, yet with the potential for being left feeling ‘bloated’ afterwards. How would you counter such a stance? Is there something more to Fantasy than a pale reproduction of a world-view gone-by? What else does it offer besides the change to indulge in guilt-free anthropomorphism without commitments? Why Fantasy and why right now?

Well the answer has got to be yes and no. Pretty much any content whatsoever can be stuffed into the epic fantasy form, from the inane, to the exploitative, to the sensitive, to the profound – and so on.

But the form itself is pregnant with significance, simply because it so starkly reflects who we are and the cultural straits we find ourselves in. Thanks to science, the world has become the earth, and the earth, it turns out, is an alien planet. All the things we thought we recognized, all the human shapes we thought we glimpsed, have been nothing more than our eyes playing tricks on us. Of course, many of us still insist that we see those shapes – as we might expect, given our hardwired tendencies to anthropomorphize (just try and not look at your pet as a little person) – but year after year passes, hundreds of them now, and for some reason these ‘paranormal phenomena’ always evaporate beneath scientific scrutiny, only to be replaced by some new and even more amazing ‘proof,’ equally short-lived. There’s ample grounds to be pessemistic, even if science wasn’t the most powerful instrument of understanding in human history.

And now with neuroscience we find our very souls on the dissection table.

Scripture has become fantasy. I can’t imagine any cultural loss more profound. And I can understand why so many refuse to let go. For most of us, hope alone isn’t enough.

What a sobering thought. One to which I struggle to think of an effective counter at this point, unless maybe it’s through our glamours and illusions that we have managed to stay sane in a world that is much too vast for us to comprehend, much less master. Perhaps this is something else you tend to explore in future writings?

Given that the narrative form is one of our primary ways of making sense of the world, and given that reality seems entirely indifferent to our narrative expectations, you could say that fiction itself is the glamour you’re referring to. In a sense, all fiction writing is an exercise in hope. I play with this idea in my most recently completed work, Neuropath.

As for my future thematic concerns? As Donald Rumsfeld might say, that’s an unknown unknown.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2017, 04:18:36 pm »
Interview with Scott Bakker, Author Of The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy and Neuropath
(June 12, 2008)

A couple of years ago I stumbled across an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) of a book called The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker in a used book store. I picked it up and was immediately hooked by the author's use of language, and his willingness to go deeper into his characters' feelings and motivations than the majority of writers I'd read, let alone writers of Epic Fantasy. So far there have been two other books in the series called The Prince Of Nothing: The Warrior Prophet and The Thousandthfold Thought, and the epilogue to part three gave an impression of more to come.

So when I received a letter from Mr. Bakker back in late February, early March, asking if I would like an ARC of his forthcoming book, Neuropath, I assumed it would be somehow associated with the previous three books. When I wrote back that I would be thrilled to receive an ARC, I mentioned how much I had appreciated the first three books of the trilogy, and was looking forward to more of the same. He replied with the warning that Neuropath had nothing to do with the previous books, and was in fact somewhat of a major departure from it.

Bakker wasn't kidding about the departure bit, as Neuropath is a very intense crime thriller that explores aspects of human psychology that are very disturbing. Especially in regards to what he postulates is possible with surgery to control human brain functions to eliminate our control over what we believe we are feeling. The ability to surgically alter our synapses so that we will inflict pain on ourselves in the mistaken believe that we are experiencing pleasure has implications that are too frightening to even consider.

After I had read Neuropath, its release date has been pushed back to nearer the end of June 2008, so don't expect a review until probably the third week of this month. I contacted Scott and asked him if he would consider answering a few questions about his work and Neuropath specifically. He very generously agreed, so I sent him off a list of questions by e-mail and the answers you're reading here are verbatim copies of what he wrote in reply. We were both careful to avoid giving away anything that would spoil Neuropath for readers, so you can read the interview safe in the knowledge that it won't give the story away.

I'd like to thank Scott Bakker for taking the time to do this interview, and I hope you find what he has to says about his work as interesting as I did.

Richard Marcus: I always like to find out why it is people do what they do, so how about you? Where does the creative impulse come from for you – why writing, and what do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

Scott Bakker: I have no clue. I was the kid who debated the reality of Santa Claus in grade two and three, then the reality of God in grade five and six, then the reality of meaning and morality in grade nine and ten. No joke. I was an irritating, pompous, inquisitive little bugger – and perhaps not surprisingly, I grew up to be an irritating, pompous, opinionated big bugger! Novels just seemed to be the most natural way of expressing those facets of my character.

Writing is one of the few careers where you can get paid for being an asshole. Reviewing is another.

If you didn't answer this already – why fantasy and science fiction?

Because they were what captured my imagination in my youth. I discovered D&D, Penthouse, Black Sabbath, and Mary Jane at the tender age of fourteen – a potent cocktail as I'm sure you know! Our brains don't finish coating neurons in the myelin sheaths that so accelerate signal speed until our mid-twenties. The reason for this, they think, is that the pre-myelinated brain is much more plastic, which is to say, much easier to program. This could be why our youthful hobbies and fascinations leave such an enduring stamp on our adult imaginations.

I'm not sure if I've ever escaped 14. I really need to trade in my wardrobe though. Nothing worse than male camel toe.

Both the Prince Of Nothing trilogy and Neuropath have a lot to do with brain functions – in the former it's the way in which people reason and the latter the technical way that process works. Where did this interest in how and why we think come from?

Well, brains don't come up much at all in The Prince of Nothing. In fact, you won't even find the word 'mind' anywhere in the books. It's all about souls, as it should be, given that the setting is pre-scientific. What both share in common is the question of autonomy, or freedom. The Prince of Nothing explores the relationship between beliefs and manipulation, and the way the 'feeling of freedom' seems entirely disconnected from the fact of freedom. I'm actually amazed by the number of people who think the characters that Kellhus manipulates are fools – I always want to pop into the conversation and quiz them on their own beliefs! What makes ideological manipulation so insidious is the way it bypasses our sense of autonomy. It's always the other guy who's 'so obviously' been duped. The fact is we're all manipulated all the time. You. Me. Everybody. Simply by virtue of those beliefs we inherit without question.

Neuropath, on the other hand, primarily explores the relationship between the brain and the question of autonomy.

Do you see any relationship between the methods used by Kellhus in the Prince Of Nothing series and Neil in Neuropath?

There's actually quite a sharp distinction between the two if you think about it. They seem similar insofar as they both defect from conventional morality, but Neil is by far the more radical of the two. There's a 'good' for Kellhus, which is simply what most effectively allows him to achieve his goals. He is the perfect practitioner of 'the end justifies the means' rationality, or what philosophers call instrumental rationality. For Kellhus, the only thing that makes acts good or bad are their consequences. Since we seem to be hardwired, and are definitely socialized, to think that certain acts are good or bad regardless of their consequences, this makes him seem ruthless and unscrupulous in the extreme – nihilistic.

Neil, on the other hand, has done away with good and bad altogether. He literally exists beyond good and evil.

There's quite a difference in style and form between Neuropath and your previous work – from Epic Fantasy to Hard Science. What kind of challenges did that present you with when it came to writing the new work?

Nothing really in particular. I found Neuropath both easier and more difficult to write simply because of my preferences as a writer. There's just something about creating a world whole cloth, as opposed to writing across a world that already exists. I think I'll always be a fantasy writer first and foremost for this reason.

With Neuropath, the challenge I set myself was to create a story that could carry a substantial amount of information without sacrificing narrative momentum, and to write in a style that was as kinetic as an airport thriller without sacrificing the kinds of multiple subtexts I love layering into my prose. A tall order, I know, but then I think I got some kind of aesthetic death-wish thing going. It's a good thing I don't live in a dictatorship.

Electric Shock treatments and aversion therapy have been used as means of behaviour modification in the past on people. What's the relationship between those methods and the ones described in Neuropath, if any at all?

In principle, none. All behaviour modification comes down to brain modification, and this can be done using electrical shocks, chemicals, training routines, therapy sessions, magnetic fields, radiation, scalpels, or coat-hangers. But then this is the million dollar question, isn't it? What earthly difference should it make, whether we use old-fashioned techniques as opposed to the ones explored in Neuropath?

Think about all the commercials you see. Very few of them provide arguments, which is to say, reasons why it's more rational to sit down with a Whopper than it is a Big Mac. Commercials actually aren't trying to convince you of anything at all. Instead, they're trying to circumvent rational decision making, to condition populations to make them statistically more likely to pick their product. They're literally rewiring your brain, neurologically 'branding' you. And they're enormously successful at it, despite the fact that so many of us like to think ourselves 'immune' to advertising. Since our brain is largely blind to its own processes, we're never actually conscious of what these commercials do to us – they simply seem to fall through us without effect. One after another, an endless train of them. When we do go for a Whopper it's not because anyone forces us to, but because we simply 'feel like it.'

Modern advertising is literally predicated on mass manipulation, on training you the way we train animals, and yet we have no problem whatsoever with this state of affairs. So the problem can't be the fact that we're manipulated, because we are all the time. The problem has to be the way we are manipulated. As it stands, the only manipulations that we don't like are the ones that we can easily see. Who cares if someone's pushing our buttons, so long as we can pretend otherwise?

But if that's our criterion then we're in a whole heap of trouble.

The problem is that our culture spoon feeds us this out-and-out magical notion of who and what we are. So when the ad man cries 'Caveat emptor! Buyer beware!' in self defence, we're inclined to let him off the hook. Why? because it's an appeal to our magical self-conception. Since ignorance is invisible, we assume that all we can see of ourselves is all that there is – or most of it anyway. Everyone says, 'No commercial gets the best of me! I'm a tough-minded, critical adult!' But the truth is, the stuff we can't see composes the better part of us. Which is why the corporations keep ploughing billions into mass associative conditioning, and billions more into what has come to be called 'neuro-marketing.' The day is fast approaching when they stop training us like animals and start tweaking us like mechanisms.

Education, in North America at least, systematically avoids teaching us anything about our myriad weaknesses and limitations as believers and decision-makers – and the results, I would argue, are nothing short of catastrophic. Take drug addiction, for instance. Simply because of my socio-economic background, I happen to know many people whose lives have been destroyed if not snuffed out altogether by drug addiction. And the common thread between all of them is that they assumed they were in control, from the beginning, and in some cases, all the way to the end, when they became little more than crack or meth or alcohol acquisition mechanisms.

And why shouldn't they assume as much, when that was the magical bullshit that was being drummed into their heads from kindergarten and up? You can't have a healthy respect for your weaknesses if you don't know a lick about them. You can't make informed decisions.

(In case you actually do believe in the magical self, then I invite you to argue with the science, not me. On the technical side, I would suggest Daniel Wegner's The Illusion of Conscious Will, or David Dunning's Self-Insight. There's a small explosion of popular books that deal with our cognitive shortcomings, such as Cordelia Fine's A Mind of It's Own, Gary Marcus's Kluge, or Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.)

How do you see the science described in Neuropath relating to cognitive psychology theories of how the environment we experience as a child shapes our future behaviour? Is it along the lines of recreating the effects of learned behaviour by mucking about with the brain – or is that overly simplistic?

Only in a retail and incidental way. The real link between the cognitive psychology in the book — all the little factoids about how dumb we are — and the consciousness science is the dilemma this puts us into. If even half of what cognitive psychology tells us is true, then we really have no reason to think that any of our philosophical attempts to blunt the obvious implications of the science — that nothing is what we think it is — are anything more than 'comfort reason,' self-preserving rationalizations.

I know it's early yet, but I'm curious as to what people's reactions have been to the claim by one of your characters in Neuropath that humans are nothing more than a series of programable reactions triggered by the stimulation of different parts of the brain? How much basis in fact is there for that claim?

I was immensely pleased to receive an enthusiastic email from Thomas Metzinger, the co-founder of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, and the author of the landmark Being No One. When I asked him if he would be willing to blurb the book he declined, both because he found the book so disturbing to read, and because he thought I was covering ground that the bulk of humanity was better off not knowing about! I finally convinced him, though, by jumping up and down and going, "Please! Please! Please!"

Nothing else works with philosophers.

On the other hand, I was dismayed to learn that at least one of the 'future facts' I pose in Neuropath has come true. Apparently, Professor John-Dylan Haynes at the Max Planck Institute devised an experiment where he and his colleagues were able to determine, via fMRI scans, what their subject's choices would be seconds before they were conscious of them. Freaks me out just writing about it.

There's going to be people who deny this stuff come hell or high water, just as there's people who can't abide evolution or the heliocentric solar system. Truth be told, I'm one of them. I believe there has to be something to my experience of free will, but all the credible evidence is piling up on the other side, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. All I can do is stomp my foot and say, "No! It just can't be."

Because if it is, then nothing fucking matters.

Maybe I'm slow but I can't seem to understand why anyone would find the contention that stuff doesn't happen for any reason it just happens is anything to get so upset about. Or have I misunderstood the premise of the 'Argument' – the great debate between the central characters of Neuropath?

Well, if you're religious you're certainly going to be troubled by it – that is if you don't simply dismiss it. There's actually a running discussion in cognitive science circles about what does or does not trouble different individuals. Some, for instance, really don't care if their will is free or not. Out of the people I know who don't believe there's such a thing as free-will, morality, or meaning, some walk around perpetually bummed, and others just shrug and say, 'pass the joint.'

I actually had an e-mail exchange with Richard Morgan on this topic. He says he's okay with the illusoriness of it all, so long as the illusion functions the way he needs it to function. My answer was that this was like having a wife who sleeps around town, but being okay so long as she goes through the spousal motions at home. For me, the first function of this rich, wondrous, experiential life I lead, is that it be true.

Like you, the absence of objective purpose 'out there' doesn't bother me, so long as I can make my life meaningful. It's this latter that's at stake in Neuropath.

Here's the thing. For about five centuries now science has been scrubbing the world clean of anthropomorphisms, the projection of human psychological categories on the natural world. When the crops fail, only fundamentalists shake their fists at the heavens anymore. During this time, the sheer complexity of our brains rendered us immune to this 'disenchantment,' as Weber puts it. We stood apart as the world's only meaningful thing. Humankind, the great meaning maker – just think of how many narratives you've encountered where you find a protagonist struggling to find meaning in a meaningless world, usually via romantic love (a form I play with in both The Prince of Nothing and Neuropath).

Those happy times are gone. The human brain is finally passing into the province of science and its technical capabilities, and guess what? It's disenchanting us as well. The greatest anthropomorphism of all, it turns out, is ourselves. We are the last of the ancient delusions, soon to be debunked.

'I think, therefore I am' has morphed into 'It thinks, therefore something was.'

Some people are probably going to be disturbed by the graphicness of Neuropath, and I was wondering if you could explain why you thought it necessary?

Because it's a psycho-thriller! And because I've been so desensitized by so many B-horror flicks that I think I've lost the ability to tell what's graphic and what's not. I felt like I was holding back – being coy even.

What's next from you – are you going to go back to the world of The Prince of Nothing, where you left us sort of hanging with the epilogue? Continue on in the vein you started with Neuropath – more hard science? Or something new altogether?

The Judging Eye comes out this winter. I'm presently working on the second book of The Aspect-Emperor, which is tentatively titled The White-Luck Warrior. I'm also working on a second crime thriller entitled The Disciple of the Dog. At the rate I'm going I should have both books completed by next spring.

I'd like to thank Scott Bakker for taking the time in his schedule to answer my questions.

I hope what we talked about has intrigued you enough to make you want to pick up a copy of Neuropath when it is released in your part of the world. In Canada that will be sometime later this month — June 2008 — and you can check the Penguin Canada web site for the exact release date as I'm sure they'll be letting us all know soon enough when it is for sale. If you're in the States, and don't want to pay the shipping cost, it looks like you'll have to wait until winter of 2008 to pick up a copy.

With The Judging Eye, the first part of The Aspect Emperor, a new trilogy picking up the characters from The Prince Of Nothing trilogy twenty years later, due out this winter, and its sequel scheduled to be finished the Spring of 2009, we won't be lacking for new work by Scott Bakker, and that, as far as I'm concerned, is a good thing. No matter what anyone else might think or say, I don't think you can ever have enough of a good thing.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2017, 04:26:43 pm »
Interview with R. Scott Bakker, english version
(June 24, 2006)

Here in France, we are awaiting the release of "The Warrior-Prophet". On which project are you currently working on?

    The first book of The Aspect Emperor, which picks up the tale of the Second Apocalypse some twenty years following the conclusion to The Prince of Nothing. And though I worry I might need therapy, it feels good - very good.
The immensity and scale of your world is impressive. Even for a methodical and orderly person as you are, there must be some difficult passages to negociate as the story is coming along.

    The creepy thing is that I'm neither methodical nor orderly! I'm married, which means I'm pretty good at faking it from time to time, but usually I'm just a squadron of nuts and bolts flying in loose formation. The only thing that lets me generate the illusion of order is the disjunction between the time it takes to write a book and the time it takes to read one. Your twelve hour reading experience is the condensation of thousands of hours of writing...

    Sheesh, suddenly I feel tired.

By the way, have you ever been consulted regarding the translation of your works?

    Several times by several different translators for several different languages. I'm mostly contacted by Slavic translators asking about various names, particularly those pertaining to battles. I was contacted by Jacques Collin subsequent to the French translation of The Darkness that Comes Before, primarily because he was interested in discussing the book. Cool dude.
What is the most difficult facet involved in writing epic fantasy? Weaving the different plot threads? Keeping the character's souls burning with enthusiasm? Or knowing that you will spend several more years in front of your computer?

    The most difficult facet of writing fantasy, I find, is also the facet that makes writing fantasy so addictive: the sheer creative bandwidth. I mean, fantasy is fiction all the way down. In writing something like Neuropath, the psychothriller I recently completed, I found myself chafing at the constraints of the real world, even though I was spared the labour of creating everything from the ground up.

    The idea of spending several more years in front of the computer is at once both daunting and encouraging. After spending about 20 or so years parked in front of one, it now feels like my third lung - or testicle, as the case might be. No one likes being separated from their testicles for very long. Not in my experience, anyway.

History and philosophy are significant features of your books. For example, you show how History can be dodged by time and memories......Is the fantasy genre a good one to discourse on this?

    I'd have to say yes and no. In a certain sense, epic fantasy is an ideal as a narrative platform for explicit philosophical reflection. In the modern world, philosophy is largely a 'fallen' form of cognition: compared to the successes of science, there's little to recommend the kinds of theoretical claims made by philosophers. Epic fantasy worlds, however, are fantasy worlds because they are prescientific, which is to say, they represent an age when philosophical claims were the cutting edge of theoretical cognition. This means you can get away with a lot which would sound fatuous or lugubrious in a modern setting.

    The difficulty has to do with the fantasy readership, which (unlike literary fiction) is all over the map in terms of expectations, religious and political orientation, education, and so on. Don't get me wrong: this diverse readership is one of the primary reasons I think literature needs to migrate to genre if it wants to remain worthy of the name. But it does mean that if you inject real philosophical reflection (as opposed to platitudes), you're bound to alienate many of your readers. All of us suffer the unfortunate habit of disparaging things we don't understand. If I read a work I don't get, then the tendency is not only to dislike the work, but to blame the work. If I don't get something, then the 'something' is always to blame, not the 'I.'

    This is the way it's always been. This is the way it'll always be. But then taking risks is what it's all about, isn't it?

Your female characters are really strong, something not very usual in the wonderful testosterone-driven world of Fantasy. Is this something deliberate since the beginning, or has it arisen through the elaboration of your universe?

    Well I'm glad someone out there thinks as much! As you probably know, I take quite a bit of heat on this issue. This was deliberate from the outset. Since I'm not one for sentimental idealizations, I wanted to create a premodern world with all the ugliness and brutality of the real thing. And as a point of fact, people do not see past the limitations of their context - which they can scarcely thematize, let alone critique. So rather than planting female genitalia on a male character, I wanted to portray female characters you could reasonably expect in a premodern army - camp followers - and chronicle their apparent rise to power via Kellhus, who is of course a cipher for modernity.

    The question with Esmenet in particular is, Does he raise her out of oppression, or does he simply lead her into a more sophisticated cage? And this is the question of gender equality in our own day and age.

But, in the end, who is your favourite character?

    None of them stand alone for me: they form a circuit. Achamian and Esmenet stand nearest my heart. Cnaiur, I sometimes think, is too cool for school. Kellhus, though, was the breakthrough character: the sun/blackhole about which all the others orbit.

How would you define your relation with fans? Can their expectations sometimes weigh you down?

    For me the problem is one of focus. Too much feedback, I'm discovering, can hobble the creative process. So unfortunately, I've been more inclined to be withdrawn of late. Ultimately, I think my fans are far more interested in reading the stories I create than listening to me explicate or pontificate! It feels like the former suffers when I do too much of the latter.
Are you influenced by book reviews, or do you seek to write something that satisfies you in the first place?

    I think the temptation to write for your reviewers is a peril that every author faces. Since reviewers are not typical readers, succumbing to this temptation means writing for people with very specialized expectations. I actually think this is a very profound cultural disease, one which has lead to the degradation of spectacle as a literary category, and thus to the effective segregation of thoughtfulness and mass appeal. Here in North America at least, literary culture trains those with the desire to challenge readers to talk amongst themselves - or in other words, to write for people who have the least to gain from being challenged. They pilfer all the talent, then call popular culture dreck. Then, rather than acknowledge their own institutional role, they blame it all on the evil corporations, even though the human fascination for spectacle predates General Electric by the length of recorded history. After all, something must be preventing the masses from coming to them and to their status-preserving preference for the mundane.

    I believe that writing is communication, and that communication is always about meeting people in the middle (and so pissing everyone off!). It's when you can speak to someone totally unlike yourself that you've created something deep - something literary. Praise from the like-minded may feel good, but it's rarely significant.

    In some ways, humans are too predictable. Always drawing self-congratulatory circles. Me heaven; you hell. Me smart; you stupid. Never vice versa. I sometimes think writing for reviewers or for yourself are simply ways to draw more of those circles. Writing to communicate, on the other hand, is a way to erase them.

Do you have any book recommendations for our readers, fantasy or otherwise?

    Since I primarily read nonfiction, I'm going to lay a couple of egghead titles on you, both of which are very accessible, and I think valuable (though I'm not sure whether they've been translated into French). The first is David Dunning's Self-Insight, which is a treasure-house of psychological research results showing how (despite the obligatory happy-face Dunning attempts to put on it) we humans are pretty much self-serving brats who continually bullshit ourselves to feel better. We all do it all the time, and of course we're taught nothing about any of it in school, public and private (can't have Junior pointing out how silly Mummy and Daddy's beliefs are!). Meanwhile, we're fast approaching the time when these shenanigans will see us in our graves.

    The second is Jay Ingram's Theatre of the Mind, which does a fantastic job summarizing the bizarre and unnerving conclusions coming out of consciousness research.

    Both underscore an age-old axiom of human nature: the more we think we know ourselves, the greater the chance we're completely deluded.

    I'm so tempted to name names, here!

Last but not least, is there anything you wish to share with your French fans?

    Ah, a chance to preach preach! So here's the pitch:

    We're ringed round with apocalypse, my friends, and our greatest enemy is ourselves - as it's been throughout history. I'm not just talking about nuclear holocaust or environmental armageddon; even if the optimists are right, and we're able to innovate our way past these pickles, this, whatever life you happen to be enjoying or enduring at this very moment, has an expiry date. There's a series of scientific revolutions right around the corner which are going to transform things so fundamentally, it's not even clear we could be called human in their aftermath. Our brains are going to cut out the middle-man, stop trying to dominate their environments, and go directly to the source. And once we start re-engineering consciousness, it truly is game over. Most will argue that it's heaven come to earth, but don't be fooled. It is the end of the experiential frame of reference that makes our past intelligible, our literature great, and our hearts human.

    Whatever the case, we're going to need all the wit and flexibility we can muster. This means recognizing that we humans are believing machines, that we have a hardwired tendency to believe without basis and to do so absolutely. This is simply a matter of psychological fact - as is the fact that everyone reading this will think themselves the exception! Our greatest enemy is literally our own overpowering sense of conviction.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2017, 05:15:15 pm »

On the Spot at BSC – R. Scott Bakker interview

(May 30, 2005)

BSC continues its streak of absolute luck being able to get yet another supremely talented author to visit us ‘On the Spot’. We like to try to cover all sub-genres in Fantasy and we have one of the best regardless of category today. Author of what is in my opinion what is thus far one of the elite series being written currently The Prince of Nothing. The author is of course R. Scott Bakker an author who unapologetically writes epic fantasy, and does so in a manner that not only doesn’t require one but provides a stern challenge to those to deny the quality of his work as it pushes the boundaries to not just limits, which only implies change but not necessarily positive growth, but also helped push the ceiling of the epic genre to a new level that where he, George R.R. Martin, and Steven Erikson have a nice view as they survey the rest of epic fantasy landscape from above. Mr. Bakker has enjoyed early success and everyone should be on the lookout in the US, as Overlook is releasing the trade paperback of ’The Darkness that Comes Before’ May 31st, The Warrior- Prophet August 31st, with mass market versions of both coming out next year. In the UK, Orbit is releasing the mass market paperback of The Darkness that Comes Before June 2nd, and the trade paperback of The Warrior-Prophet on July 1st. The conclusion of the trilogy, The Thousandfold Thought, is tentatively scheduled to be simultaneously released January 14th, 2006 in Canada and the US, and May 1st, 2006 in the UK. So far both The Darkness that Comes Before and The Warrior-Prophet have received widespread critical acclaim. Publisher’s Weekly recently named The Darkness that Comes Before as one of the ‘Best Books of 2004′ – not bad, given the critical bias against Big Fat Fantasy! BSC is happy for the opportunity to present R. Scott Bakker:

Jay Tomio – Greetings Mr. Bakker, thanks for accepting the invitation to be ‘On the Spot’. Lets talk Prince of Nothing. All those that have read, The Darkness that Comes Before and it’s sequel The Warrior-Prophet know it’s one of the elite current fantasy series being written today, however, too many people remain unaware of this fact. On the many interviews I have read of yours, you definitely exhibit you have incredible ability to intelligently get your points across, but rarely do I get to see you get the opportunity to tell us at length about your work. So, for the first question please tell them what Prince of Nothing is, what trip are you offering to the reader, what can they expect, and who do you think is going to enjoy this work?

R. Scott Bakker – Thanks, Jason, both for the invitation and the hearty endorsement!

How would I describe The Prince of Nothing? In a sentence it’s the story of a holy war waged across exotic lands, and the man who for reasons unknown uses his godlike intellect to enslave it.

I think what makes fantasy truly ‘epic’ is its ability to evoke the tickle of awe (which is a strange and suggestive aesthetic goal if you think about it). Tolkien’s lesson is that believability can make that tickle resonate. So I literally spent twenty years tinkering with the world and the story, trying to write an out-and-out epic fantasy – with sorcery, dragons and dark lords – that would read like historical fiction, and hopefully, maybe even literature. I made realism my general rule. Since we humans generally develop emotional pathologies in response to sustained stress, my characters tend to be pretty demented. Since pre-modern societies tend to have authoritarian value systems, my world is patriarchal and bigoted. And so on.

I want to take my readers on the same epic fantasy trip, only in a way that makes it seem entirely new. Something darker, dirtier, deeper.

Jay Tomio – The next book in the series is entitled The Thousandfold Thought and is scheduled to be released this October. What can you tell your loyal fans about this installment? Any FBS Exclusive material?

R. Scott Bakker – I would give you some exclusives, but I would be promptly lynched by certain members of my fansite (you know who you are, White Lord)! What I can say is that my greatest fear writing ‘The Thousandfold Thought’ was that it would fall short of the ‘thousandfold expectation’ set up by ‘The Darkness that Comes Before’ and ‘The Warrior-Prophet’. Though I’m not confident about any of my work – I’m too close to have any real perspective – I am exceedingly happy with the way things have turned out. I recently finished reading The Darkness that Comes Before and The Warrior-Prophet back to back (checking facts for the Encyclopaedic Glossary which will be in the appendices of The Thousandfold Thought), and I was struck by how different each book is, and by just how bloody BIG the fricken story is! I must have been out of my mind. Say what you will, the books are Epic with a capital ‘e.’

Jay Tomio – I read an interview where you mentioned a couple of other works. One related to The Prince of Nothing setting and one not. The former is to take place during the time of the Second Apocalypse, and the first book detailing it you have dubbed The Aspect Emperor, the latter Neuropath, a sci-fi thriller. How does work go on these projects and do you have any new information on either?

R. Scott Bakker – Many moons ago, I had conceived The Prince of Nothing as the first book in a greater trilogy called ‘The Second Apocalyps’e. It quickly became apparent that it needed to be a trilogy itself – and given the fact that some twenty years pass between it and the events of The Aspect-Emperor, it stands quite well on its own, I think. I still don’t have a clear idea just how long the story of The Aspect-Emperor will be, so I’m not sure whether it will turn out to be a trilogy in its own right, or a dualogy.

In the meantime, I’m rewriting my draft of ‘Neuropath’, which as you mention is a SF thriller. The idea here is to write something as philosophically troubling as it is psychologically frightening, a demented ‘psycho-thriller’ that explores the nihilistic implications of neuroscience. I’m hoping to have Neuropath finished before the end of the year. I should have a better idea as to the shape, size, and schedule of ‘The Aspect-Emperor’ by then.

Jay Tomio - Besides Prince of Nothing being a quintessential example of a great series, it’s chief character Kellhus is one of my favorite characters being written about in epic fantasy. The only other character that interests me more is George R.R. Martin’s Tyrion. Is Kellhus a truly original creation, and if not what influences inspired the creation of such a profound character?

R. Scott Bakker - The question of Kellhus’s origin comes up frequently, and for some time now I’ve been trying to resuscitate those few memories that managed to survive the intervening twenty or so years of psycho-social trauma and substance abuse. What I’ve come up with is this. Reading Dune was a watershed event in my life. I grew up in a poor, backcountry household, where reading and education were not held in high esteem (though argumentation was – likely because my father is Dutch). What struck me most in Dune was the way disciplined thought – and I’m thinking of the Bene Gesserit in particular here – reliably translated into political and interpersonal advantage. I found myself loving anything that combined subtlety and intrigue. Then, when I was about nineteen or twenty, I read Douglas Hoftstadter’s Metamagical Themas, a collection of his essays for Scientific American, which included a piece on ‘memes.’

Without getting too technical, memes are simply beliefs conceived functionally. All of us have individual beliefs, but very few us consider either the social functions of those beliefs, or the ways in which they evolve and spread over time. Belief is a foundation of action. Just think of paper money: the only reason people are willing to exchange organs and stereos for those paper slips is they believe that others will also exchange organs and stereos for them as well. What gives money its power is our collective belief in ways others will act in response to it. Since all this is implicit in our daily routines, we just think of it as ‘the way things are.’

When you look at beliefs as memes, you look at them as something analogous to genes: the better ‘adapted’ a belief is, the more likely it is to reproduce. This move from looking at beliefs as something like little paintings that either did or did not capture the world to semi-autonomous things that coordinated and commanded our collective actions literally blew my mind at the time. For the first time I realized that most of what we believe has far more to do with conserving existing social hierarchies than with accuracy or truth. And I remember at the time thinking of a character who was a ‘meme-master,’ someone who could dominate all those around him by revising and rewriting the memes that underwrote all their actions. Kellhus.

That was where the original idea for the ‘Kellhus meme’ came from – I think. The next step in his evolution came with my readings of Theodor Adorno. The dominant tradition in mainstream literature is to depict protagonists stranded in a potentially meaningless world trying to find some kind of compensatory meaning – usually through some conception of ‘love.’ You’ve literally seen this pattern countless times. Kellhus offered me an opportunity to turn this model on its head. What makes fantasy distinct is that the worlds depicted tend to be indisputably meaningful – in a sense that’s what makes them fantastic! I thought to myself, what would a story of a protagonist stranded in a meaningful world struggling to hold onto meaninglessness look like?

Thus the ‘Prince of Nothing’ was born. Now he’s spreading, reproducing…

Jay Tomio - Mr. Bakker, in your article ‘Why Fantasy, Why Now’, which I know was written by you some years ago, you made a few interesting statements. One of them was “If so many religious groups are up in arms about Harry Potter, it is because they see in it a competitor–and rightly so. Fantasy novels can be construed as necessary supplements to the Holy Bible. In a culture antagonistic to meaning, the bald assertion that life is meaningful is not enough. We crave examples.” I was wondering if you could expound on that statement focusing on the “Fantasy novels can be construed as necessary supplements to the Holy Bible”, as I find your inclusion of “necessary” very interesting.

R. Scott Bakker – It just turns out that in the absence of any real methodological or empirical constraints, we humans tend to construct fanciful world-views. We take the schemes we use to understand other people – motives, purposes, passions, and morals – and apply them to the world. We anthropomorphize. Without exception, all prescientific worldviews are anthropomorphic. Our ancient ancestors lived in worlds that listened, that judged, that punished or rewarded, and so on. We have an innate tendency to interpret the world in these human terms, which is why scientific understanding must always swim against the tide when it comes to the general public, even though one could scarce imagine demonstrations more convincing or spectacular as computers or thermonuclear explosions. It’s in our hardwiring. Who we are makes these worlds necessary.

Nowadays anthropomorphic worldviews survive in at least two cultural incarnations: religion and fantasy. Biblical Israel, Narnia, Vedic India, and Middle-earth are all anthropomorphic. The difference is that the religious incarnation preserves the ancient commitments as well: despite science and its miraculous demonstrations, some people think these anthropomorphic worldviews are true. The fantastic incarnation dispenses with those commitments. In fact, it’s the anthropomorphic structure of these worlds that make them fantastic, as opposed to merely alternate. In both cases, I think its clear that we’re responding to something profound. Some people need to live in these anthropomorphic worlds, whereas others need to lose themselves in them from time to time. There’s precious little ‘anthropos’ in the world revealed by science.

Which is why science terrifies me so.

Presently, $1000 can buy you a computer with the processing power of an average insect brain. If the historical rate holds true, that same $1000 will buy you a computer with the processing power of a human brain within twenty years. Now keeping in mind that all technological change translates into social change, and that societies, like all supercomplex systems, can only accommodate so much change before falling out of equilibrium, then we are in for quite a ride over the next few decades.

We have no idea what we’re getting ourselves into. It’s no surprise, I think, that people are drawn to representations of pre-scientific worlds, be they scriptural or fantastic.

Jay Tomio – Mr. Bakker, as I have noted in the introduction to this interview your Prince of Nothing series is not the typical variety in regards to either the standard perception of what fantasy is to those that are not regular readers of the genre, or to those that are in the community that have perceived notions regarding epic or high fantasy. Your writing has a sense of purpose, a personality that obviously is indicative of the author. The Prince of Nothing is not only challenging what has become the mundane status quo in epic fantasy, it seems to be doing so on purpose, in regards to plot, your choice of narrative, and you stressing the personal viewpoints and experiences of your characters. Are you writing to challenge the genre? Writing to challenge the reader? Or both? Personally I feel both need it. This question is especially intriguing as I have seen you say about this series “I still think I wrote the book to be read twice”.

R. Scott Bakker – The reason most ‘literary types’ dismiss fantasy out of hand is that they see it as a form of ‘comfort food’ mass produced for consumers looking for repetition and sentimental reaffirmation rather than novelty and critical exploration. It is a fact that we humans find familiarity very comforting – it’s the reason why, for instance, franchising has transformed the North American landscape. Remember those old cartoons where the same backdrop would scroll by over and over when the characters would drive: the same burger joint, the same grocery store, over and over again? Thanks to the comfort we find in familiarity, we now live in those cartoons.

But it’s also a fact that we find novelty and exploration exciting as well. The two are not mutually exclusive – they only seem that way because of the crazy social dynamic we find ourselves in. On the one side you have the pressure to reap the efficiencies provided by standardization, and on the other side you have the pressure to socially differentiate oneself by touting the exclusivity of one’s standards. The marketers insist challenging expectations will not sell, while the literati insist that catering to them precludes artistic value. I couldn’t imagine a better recipe for clearing artists out of popular culture.

I’m trying to have it both ways. I’m trying to challenge generic expectations in the course of slavishly catering to them – to write an epic fantasy that’s at once classic and subversive. I’m under no illusions. I know certain people will absolutely hate my books – one reviewer on Amazon even went so far as to suggest they be burned! I offer no sentimental reaffirmation. I question cherished preconceptions. I explore controversial issues. I depict graphic and troubling events. And there will always be people who want no part of this when unwinding with a book. Downtime is downtime. But I also know many people – far more than the marketer’s credit – will love the books as well. I know this because I know people are as curious by nature as they are comforted by familiarity – especially when things start seeming too familiar, as you might argue is the case with epic fantasy today.

I like to think of this problem in terms of perspectival positions. Things often look quite different, depending on the vantage one happens to occupy. I’ll never forget how two of my musician friends were able to tell me my cassette player was running too fast. I had no clue, and until they played the same song simultaneously on a ghetto-blaster, I refused to believe them! But then they were always hearing and pointing out things that simply did not enter into my awareness, given my uneducated vantage. The same holds true for literature, or just about anything else you could imagine. The books we loved in high school usually seem trite and contrived after finishing a literature PhD.

Given our socialization in a similar culture, we all share a rough baseline vantage. Some of us then go one to transform and elaborate that vantage – to develop a ‘musician’s ear’ for literature. Most of us don’t. The problem is that things that look good from a baseline vantage often look bad from a cultivated vantage, and vice versa. It starts to seem as if the marketers and the literati were right all along, and that what we need are different works for different vantages – a ‘high’ and a ‘low’ literature. I disagree. Differences in perspective doesn’t mean we need different literatures – this leads to segregation. What we need, rather, is a literature that looks good from as many perspectives as possible. A literature that entertains and challenges. I think genre fiction is the venue where the artistically and academically minded can participate in popular culture once again.

So, when I said I wrote the books to be read twice I meant two things. The first is self-critical: there’s so much detail in the books that a second reading is almost required to absorb it all! The second is compositional: I wanted to write an epic fantasy that the reader will never outgrow – that can be read and enjoyed as much at 39 as at 19, if not more. It’s funny how we leave some books behind. I want ‘The Prince of Nothing’ to keep pace with readers… to stick to them.

Like a fungus, maybe.

Jay Tomio – Mr. Bakker you are writing a terrific fantasy series, and have plans on writing Sci-fi thriller. Who are your influences in both genres, and what do you find yourself reading currently?

R. Scott Bakker – I’m just finishing John Kay’s excellent The Truth About Markets, and am about to move onto Gary Wassner’s The Awakening – about which I’ve heard many good things. The primary influences on ‘The Prince of Nothing’ are, perhaps obviously, J. R. R. Tolkien and Frank Herbert. For Neuropath, the big, immediate influences are James Patterson and Michael Crichton. I read the former obsessively last summer, looking for the ‘generic hooks’ of the psycho-thriller. The idea is to write something as sleek and cinematic in form, but with content that might be described as literary.

We shall see…

Jay Tomio – I would like to thank Mr. Bakker on behalf of FBS for participating ‘On the Spot’, and hope you will decide to come back and visit us again anytime:)

R. Scott Bakker – Thank you, Jason! Drop me a line, anytime.

Jay Tomio -Everyone be sure to check out the ‘Prince of Nothing’! No matter what type of fantasy you like and how you categorize it, there is something in this series for everyone. If you’re a fan of epic fantasy you should already be in the know, this is one of the superior examples of that genre ever written thus far and Scott has assured me in a conversation I had with him about the forthcoming The Thousandfold Thought, he said:

    “Love it or hate it, people will not soon forget reading this motherfo”

That’s what the I’m talking about! If you gave up on epic fantasy and haven’t found a reason to come back in your quest for more literal fantasy, your search is over. It right here starting with The Darkness that Comes Before and the The Warrior-Prophet. Speculative Fiction at its very best.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2017, 05:28:51 pm »
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
(January 21, 2008)

- I know you have a visceral fear of spoilers, but you didn't think we'd let you go easy and not ask anything about THE GREAT ORDEAL. We've all read the blurb, of course, but what can you tell us about your upcoming novel?

Where did you get that title? That was just something I cooked up because you need to name the books for the contract. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. The first book is called, The Judging Eye, that is, unless one of my editors succeeds in arguing me into a different one!

All I’m willing to say is that the story picks up twenty years after the end of The Thousandfold Thought.

- When we spoke at the end of 2005, you were really excited about the prospect of beginning working on The Aspect-Emperor? Has it been a smooth/challenging process thus far?

Writing a book is always challenging, particularly when you’re writing a story across multiple installments, and even more so when you seem constitutively incapable of writing in a straight line like I am. I end up bouncing all over the place rather than sticking to the book at hand. For instance, the last chapter I finished was chapter three - chapter three! WTF...

Also, the fact that this is my career now has really settled in. I had to get my motivational ducks in order for this book - start looking at it as a job, while at the same time preserving my artistic commitments. Easier said than done, at least for me.

- Will we see more of the world -- geographically speaking -- in this new series?

Oh ya...

- In our last interview, you said that you were giddy at the thought of putting the Consult, the Inchoroi, the Nonmen and the Sranc into the narrative spotlight. Do you think fans will be pleased with the results?

I hope so! But it’s literally impossible to tell from the inside of a story what people will think from the outside.

- Are there specific themes you wanted to explore in this second series?

Specifically, I’m interested in what it means to live in a world where value is objective - which is to say, to live in the kind of world our ancestors thought they lived in. Could you imagine, for instance, what it would mean to live in a world where, say, the social and spiritual inferiority of women was a fact like the atomic weight of uranium. Biblical Israel was such as world, as were many others.

We have a hardwired predisposition to "naturalize" our values, to think what we value things is the way things are - it’s one of many liabilities we can chalk up to our stone-age brains. This is why fantasy worlds are our doubles, our psychology writ in geographical stone, and so worth exploring in their own right.

Other than that, there’s a number of carry-over themes dealing with belief and faith as the levers of action.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write The Prince of Nothing? How about The Aspect-Emperor?

I’m more keen on embracing the conventions than breaking them - the twisting seems to happen of its own accord. The biggie, the one that spans The Second Apocalypse in its entirety, is eschatology - no surprise there. What does it mean to live in a world with an objective narrative structure (which is to say, a world with a climax and an end)? And conversely, what does it mean to live in a world that doesn’t? The others, I think, are pretty obvious.

As for The Aspect-Emperor, my particular interest is the quest, and the ways in which the world itself becomes the primary antagonist. I’m also keen on exploring the idea and role of alternate races, be they sub or super human, as well as - brace yourself! - the young dispossessed king.

- Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing The Prince of Nothing, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?

I know when I started working on The Judging Eye, I found myself inventing a whole series of new viewpoint characters. I didn’t realize what I was doing until I started reading A Feast for Crows, at which point I scrubbed them all save one. I told myself I was adding these new viewpoint characters for the reader’s sake, when in actual fact I was doing it for my own - I mean, multiply the time you’ve spent with The Prince of Nothing by a thousand, and you’ll have a rough ballpark sense of how much time I’ve spent with my cast. The urge to "freshen things up" is almost irresistible, as is the attendant assumption that you’re doing it as much for your readers as for yourself. But when you already have a complicated narrative on the go, you really do risk drifting across that fateful line where your story starts to decohere. Whether or not this was what happened with Martin’s last book, I’m not sure - all I know is that it threw what I was doing into perspective, and led me to take an entirely different tack. It took me a while, but I eventually fell back in love with the old fogies.

And I’ve never stopped being ga-ga over the world. I’m downright conceited when it comes to Earwa. My world kicks some major ass, man.

As a result I really feel as though I’ve been able to strike a better balance between the complexity of the story and the richness of the world in The Judging Eye, as compared to any of The Prince of Nothing books. It’ll be interesting to see what people think.

- Any word on a mass market paperback edition of The Prince of Nothing in the USA?

This summer, or so I’m told.

- How will The Aspect-Emperor differ from the Prince of Nothing trilogy?

Well, I can’t say it’ll be a duology anymore, because in the course of writing it ended taking a parallel form: the story breaks into three natural parts. The first book, The Judging Eye, does the same kind of frame-setting work that The Darkness That Comes Before does in The Prince of Nothing - only without the super-steep learning curve! The second, The Shortest Path, will be a travelogue, much like The Warrior-Prophet, and the third... well let’s just say we’ll be a long time cleaning the fan! One difference, I think, is that the relative lengths of the books will be inverted. The Judging Eye will be the shortest, and I anticipate the final book will be far longer than The Thousandfold Thought, which picked up on the doorstep of Shimeh. This could complicate things, since I would like to include an updated Encyclopaedic Glossary. Maybe I’ll have to break down and do a separate omnibus - but that just feels like a cash grab. Cheesy.

There will be some minor differences in style - I’ve tried to gear the lyricism of my prose more to character than to plot. There will also be substantially less narrative navel gazing - I think that was one area where I erred too much on the literary side in The Prince of Nothing. I want this story to crackle!

- Who will be publishing the Canadian edition? Penguin Canada are saying that they do not have the rights to the Canadian edition of this new book.

Well, someone should tell my editor at Penguin about that!

- Again, without giving anything away, what can you tell us about NEUROPATH? The last time we spoke, you told me that things were brewing in both New York and Hollywood.

Unfortunately, brewing doesn’t always mean beer.

It’s followed almost the same path as The Darkness That Comes Before: I’m swapping genres with this, so I should have expected I would have to prove my point all over again - let’s hope Neuropath pulls through the way The Darkness That Comes Before did! As of just a few weeks ago, I signed with Tor’s Forge Imprint for the US rights, and it looks like it will hit American shelves this upcoming September, several months behind the Canadian and UK releases.

Meanwhile, it’s in development in Hollywood, but so few books get made into movies that it’s like bragging about buying a lottery ticket.

- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?

It would have to be the Serwe/Cnaiur dyad. Something so creepy happened that it almost became poetic, to my mind at least. I still feel surprised whenever I think about it.

- What inspired your decision to completely stop posting on the Internet a year ago? Fans say that three-seas.com has been a sad, quiet place since you went to ground.

Owich. Well, according to Jack Brown, one of the fine fellows who run the board, it’s literally receiving millions of hits per year, so maybe I’m a ‘lurker-magnet’ or something...

As for withdrawing from the web, it was just too much mental clutter, on the one hand, and too much of a distraction from work on the other. Imagine working in a room next to another room filled with people who are both slagging and praising you every day. You would have to get sound-proofing, otherwise the impulse to press your ear against the wall would be overwhelming. So now I work on a laptop with no Internet, and try to avoid using this ol’ beast as much as I can.

I steer clear of cell-phones as well. It makes me feel like a secret agent, being all, like, incognito...

- How hard was/is it to get inside Esmenet's head and portray her? What were/are the main inspirations for her character?

I’m afraid Esmenet is one of those characters whose origins extend so far back I can no longer remember them. She was actually one of the easier characters to write - though now, after having learned more about prostitution, I’m inclined to think I romanticized her way too much. The crazy thing is that if I had made her realistic, I’m pretty sure she would have been almost universally despised, and I would have been even more severely criticized for making her "weak."

- How hard is it to write Kellhus? Given his nature and intellect, I presume it must be challenging to make him "believable."

The strange thing is that to write is to be Kellhus - in an sense. In the same way Kellhus can think a dozen thoughts and assess numerous possibilities where others can only think one, I get to spend hours, even days, cooking up stuff for a Kellhus section that only takes several minutes to read. I just keep thinking and thinking and sooner or later I get lucky and come up with something smart or bad-ass sounding to give to Kellhus. He’s the 1% smart-me 100% of the time - which is why I don’t trust him for a second.

- The genre exhibits a strong (albeit recent) tradition for subverting gender stereotypes by presenting worlds in which strong, independent female characters are plausible or even expected. Yet your world is as patriarchal as the reality that inspired it. I expect that this theme makes up for a good part of the discussions you have about your creation, possibly detracting from what you actually want to talk about. Is it difficult to resist the temptation to put something like a bad-ass tomboy warrior-princess with snappy dialogue and a heart of gold into the books?

First, let me say that I think I should be called out on the carpet on this issue, simply because I cover some pretty troubling ground. I certainly don’t believe in "quota characterization," either to be politically correct or to broaden the "gender appeal" of my books. Leave this for the after-school specials. I also don’t think that depiction automatically equals endorsement. The question that people should be asking, it seems to me, is one of whether I reinforce negative gender stereotypes or problematize them. If the books provide enough grist to argue this question, then the answer, it seems to me, automatically becomes the latter.

But the fact remains that a lot of people get hung up on my female characters: On the one hand, I self-consciously chose the harlot, the waif, and the harridan for my female characters, yet some seem to think a kind of unconscious moral defect chose them for me. If so, it would be a truly colossal coincidence that I would happen to pick the three misogynic types - I mean, isn’t it obvious that I’m up to something critical? On the other hand, I wanted my fantasy world to be realistic, to temper our yearning for premodern times with a good look at how ugly things got, particularly in times of war. When bad things happen to my female characters, it’s the circumstances that are being criticized, not the characters themselves!

But people get hunches while they read, and once they do, confirmation bias goes to work (and this is simply one among many reasons why we always buy our own bullshit), and the text, I think, possesses more than enough ambiguities for people spin any number of self-validating interpretations. It’s when they insist their interpretation is the only interpretation, or even worse, that it captures what’s really going on in my bean, that I become baffled.

- M. John Harrison recently wrote this post on his blog:

"Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’’s victim, & makes us very afraid."

Needless to say, a multitude of people disagree with Harrison's postulation. What's your take on Harrison's post and the concept of worldbuilding in general?

As a diehard grognardian world-junkie myself, I obviously disagree. But it is a blog, which means that it’s probably written without much forethought. Consider his observation that worldbuilding can never "exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there." Who thinks that the "biggest library ever built" is a goal any writer seriously entertains? You can't do it, the argument seems to be, so why bother trying? But no one outside of characters in Borges stories have ever tried to do this. No one. Ever. He’s just riffing without thinking here.

And he’s also referring to science fiction, where the situation is somewhat different than in fantasy. It makes me wonder what he would think of a work like Neil Stephenson’s Diamond Age, where much of the worldbuilding isn’t "technically necessary," and yet necessary all the same. My guess is that it probably boils down to worldbuilding he enjoys reading versus worldbuilding he doesn’t, and his arguments are just ad hoc rationalizations.

The "clomping foot of nerdism" sounds pretty cool. Makes me feel like a bespectacled, buck-toothed Godzilla, building worlds instead of tearing them down. Aaaargh!

What troubles me most though are the unconditional, declarative tone - as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world that worldbuilders are "bad writers" - and the insinuations regarding the psychological type of the worldbuilder.

Worldbuilding either is or is not "necessary" depending on the effects the writer is hoping to achieve. Of course Harrison would say that worldbuilders, such as myself, are trying to achieve the wrong effects. Detailing a world beyond the technical requirements of the story, the implication is, simply turns readers into literary shopkeepers with inventories to keep and no meaningful choices to make. Thus the frightening psychology: apparently the worldbuilder’s goal is to cretinize their readers, keep’em dumb and distracted so that they can be better exploited by the powers that be.

For Harrison, who is an avowed post-modernist, the reader should be continually confronted with the performative as opposed to the representational function of language. They should be reminded (apparently over and over and over) of the power of words to spin realities, to the point where the work becomes a multifarious, promiscuous, meaning event (albeit one that is too often generated by the most mechanical of po-mo tactics, elision). Forcing the reader to draw whole characters out of fragments, narrative arcs out of discordant events - to "fulfill their part of the bargain" - this is the true way to make the reader an active part of the process, and so a critically minded, enlightened citizen.

I don’t know whether to laugh or yawn anymore. For better or worse, readers without literature degrees tend to hate this stuff. They like coherent characters and stories and settings. So when you start screwing with "representational expectations" (in other words, unilaterally rewriting the "bargain") by and large all you end up doing is preaching to the choir, writing for people with literature degrees, which is to say, for people who already share your values. In other words, you simply end up catering to their expectations. You become an "upscale" version of the very commercial entertainers you continually denigrate.

We’re hardwired for this shit, which is why you see the same pattern repeating itself over and over in every sphere of cultural production. Every sphere has a self-styled elite who both identify and flatter themselves via their values, then criticize others for not sharing those values. "Our values are the values and you guys are losers because of this and this and this..."

This pattern bums me out because it swallows so much talent in our society and aims it inward. Harrison really is a prodigious talent, but he can’t seem to see his way past this post-modern crap. This is another universal human pattern: whatever your yardstick happens to be, nothing else seems to measure up - it quickly becomes the yardstick.

Don’t blame the cretinized masses for not reading your stuff. If you really are afraid, if you really are a writer with a social conscience, then go out and meet them. Write something that communicates to them, and not just to those who already share your values. Stop writing for "yourself," or for the "page," or for whatever clever euphemism you use to cover the fact that you’re simply a producer of a kind of a high-end cultural commodity.

Until you do, you’re just another entertainer. Which is okay, so long as you’re not pretending otherwise. Say, "I write for people like me, and I’m not all that interested in making a social difference."

Me, I don’t know what my yardstick is half the time. All I know is that I think its important to write stories that challenge readers, and that if I write "literary stuff" my audience will self-select and I’ll just end up catering to expectations and so not really challenging anybody. What’s the use of pissing in the soup if its made of urine anyway?

When it comes to worldbuilding, I'm simply trying to tell a story that happens in a fantasy world bigger than that story. And there’s meaning-effects aplenty to be explored here, believe you me. Profound ones.

In fact, the very thing worldbuilders are probing is the selfsame power of words to spin realities, a power which is intensified when the writer approaches the world and the story as separate works - when the writer is also a worldbuilder. I personally think this is one of the keys to Tolkien's elusive magic: imagine The Lord of the Rings without a separately crafted Middle-earth! And because it resonates with a broad cross-section of readers, I think epic worldbuilding provides a powerful opportunity to communicate, one which "literary minded" writers are less likely to explore because of incredibly narrow "literary virtues" like those espoused here and elsewhere by Harrison.

But I imagine Harrison would think this power to spin realities, which is the one we regularly confront on the evening news, holds no "real" literary interest for "good" writers. I'm guessing it focuses too much on the pernicious representational aspects of language, and so numbs readers into forgetting all the ways language dupes and deceives - which is why they vote Bush (and why we should be afraid, I'm supposing).

But what if it works the other way? What if the canned experimentalism of post-modernism, by leaving so many readers behind, reinforces the general anti-intellectualism that seems to characterize our culture, and so makes anti-intellectual politicians like Bush more appealing? This only needs to be an open question to throw a rather severe light on the political undertones of Harrison's position. He could be the very scourge he's disparaging.

- Anything else you wish to share with your fans?

One thing: read A Mind of its Own by Cordelia Fine. You are not who you think you are - this is simply a fact. The quicker we as a species come to grips with this, the greater our chances of surviving the technologically mediated madness just over the horizon. Read it, then pass it on.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2017, 06:06:30 pm »
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
(April 03, 2008)

- After writing a fantasy trilogy, what prompted the idea of writing a thriller? At this juncture in your career, did you or your agent think that it could be a risk to switch genres like that?

Three things actually came together in the genesis of Neuropath. The first was a family get together, though for the life of me I can’t remember what the holiday was. A Scientific American Frontiers show on brain science just happened to be on the tube, and over the course of several minutes all the people who had been lurching around laughing and drinking found themselves glued to the screen. Soon the house was completely quiet, except for the odd “No way!” or “Whoa that’s creepy!” That got me thinking about cognitive science, which I had always been interested in, as something that would interest a broad cross-section of people.

The second thing was teaching Popular Culture at a local college. It’s an axiom of human nature, I think, that if you lock a group of humans in a room long enough, they’re going to invent their own languages. That’s the way I think of philosophy, as a big room that’s been locked for a long, long time. So the challenge I set for myself teaching this course was to take a bunch of the issues I’d been writing about and debating and make them as accessible and as pertinent as possible to my students. I was also bent on taking a non-semiotic approach to the question of pop culture (just as the man with a hammer sees all problems as nails, English professors tend to see all problems as texts) so I came up with idea of interpreting contemporary culture as a prosthetic for our stone-age brains. The class was a blast – so much so I’ve actually dedicated the book to my old students. Many of the claims that appear in Neuropath were formulated in that class.

But my wife, Sharron, is the real reason for writing this book. Fantasy, well, let’s just say it isn’t her cup of tea. And yet she’s my primary reader and editor, so she’s been quite literally suffering for my art for a few years now. Since the psychothriller is her favourite genre, I suggested, as a warm, loving, generous gesture on my part, that I try writing one after the trilogy was completed. She laughed – a little too hard, I think – and told me (and this is almost a direct quote): “You couldn’t write a thriller if you tried! You-you, I know you. You’d have to stuff it full of all kinds of literary and philosophical crap, and that’s not what psychothriller’s are about. You’d just screw it up!”

So what began as a gesture of love on my part was instantly transformed into an exercise in spite. I had to prove the smug little… wonderful woman wrong! Given the fact that I’m always mucking up the wash, folding clothes “screwy,” loading the dishwasher “backward,” missing spots when I sweep or vacuum, and so on, I gotta tell you, it was pretty gratifying to actually hear her admit that she was wrong!

My agent did have concerns, but these seemed to vanish after he read the first draft. It’s always a risk when you jump genres, and things could still turn out to be pretty ugly with Neuropath – the business is just that capricious. But hearing your wife admit she was wrong – man, mission accomplished.

- How would you describe Neuropath to potential readers?

You are not what you think you are. Neuropath pursues that fact through a story of lust, betrayal, and a string of serial murders unlike anything you’ve seen before.

- Other than producing a good novel, were there any specific objectives you set about to reach with Neuropath? Looking back now that the novel will be published in a few weeks, do you feel that you have succeeded/failed in those endeavors?

I just got my mitts on the Penguin advanced reading copies last Friday, and I did what I always do when I get an ARC of one of my books for the first time, I play the Cringe Game. The cringe game consists of taking the book, fondling it for a minute or so, then randomly opening it here and there to this or that page, and reading a paragraph or two. Your fingers cramp. The muscles in your back tense. Your shoulders draw up. A burning in your gut bends you kneeward. You grimace, and a voice that sounds a lot like your own says, “Yeesh, I write like crap.”

This has been my experience with every book I’ve written so far: I want to take it back, to burn or to rewrite it, or to a least insert several footnotes apologizing to the reader. Or maybe slip a five dollar bill between the pages, with that note says, “Go to DQ, buy yourself a sundae.” I can honestly say that I suffered none of this with Neuropath. It was actually kind of surreal. Now this could be because the book is simply better, but since I was at Ad Astra (a con in Toronto), I was waylaid by Rob Sawyer and Hayden Trenholm before I could sit down to play the Cringe Game. I think I was on my seventh pint before I got a moment alone.

I just wanted to write a freaky-deaky thriller that would enthrall readers while making them squirm – both viscerally and intellectually. It’s not going to work for everyone – no book ever does – but I think it will succeed for quite a few.

- With this psychological thriller, you demonstrated that R. Scott Bakker has what it takes to write for a mainstream audience. And yet, do you feel that the mainstream readership is ready for something like Neuropath?

I don’t know who this R. Scott Bakker character is – Neuropath was written by Scott Bakker. What kind of pompous ass puts an ‘R’ in front of his name?

Are the muggles ready for Neuropath? That remains to be seen. The vast majority of readers will reject the vast bulk of the claims made in the book – that goes without saying, I think. Our incompetence as theory believers pretty much assures that people will refuse to acknowledge their incompetence as theory believers, and so muster all the power their myriad biases have to offer. Just for instance, you would think that encountering well-formed counterarguments would make people more skeptical of their own beliefs – after all, someone has to be wrong and it could very well be you – but research has shown that precisely the opposite is the case. Thanks to things like source bias, selective attention, confirmation bias, and so on, we almost always feel that we have utterly demolished those counterarguments, and if our position is so strong as to demolish well-formed counterarguments, well then, it simply has to be true! In other words, we draw the most irrational, self-serving conclusion possible.

This means the majority of those who find themselves arguing with the book will be convinced that they have “beaten it.” Since I knew this going in I tried very hard to make sure the story took priority, so that the book could be thoroughly enjoyed even if the cognitive science stuff was written off. At this level of engagement, my hope is simply that people will be curious enough to keep their ears pricked to all news cognitive, and that over time the itch that they are as every bit as deluded as all the people they disagree with will continue to grow and grow.

- The thesis underlying the novel is that there is no such thing as human free will and that consciousness as we know it is illusory. Do you believe that this controversial premise is the reason why it was difficult for you to find a home for this manuscript?

In the US, maybe. But I really think that the problem had more to do with the fact that the content was philosophical, more than the specific nature of that content. I had one very high profile NYC editor call me up to explain why he was passing on the book, even though he thought it was the most disturbing thing he’d read in 10 years! That’s literally what he said. What it came down to was that he thought the book was too cerebral to sell in the American market.

And who knows? He could very well be right. But since this is exactly what I was told when The Prince of Nothing first made it’s editorial rounds in New York, I’m inclined to think there’s a good chance that I may be right.

This does illustrate one big peril of jumping genres, though. It turns you into a first time novelist all over again, especially if your bona fides come from a genre with reputation as low as epic fantasy. So I’ve been forced to make all the same arguments all over again.

If you embrace the form, strive to entertain above all else, there really is no limit as to the crazy cerebral contents you can give the reader. I take the success of The Prince of Nothing as proof positive of this. The problem is that most writers interested in arguing with readers go to university, where they’re taught that forms, particularly popular commercial forms, are the devil. So they generally go on to write cerebral fiction that violates or “plays” with generic conventions, and as result end up generally writing for people who share their education and values. All their talent is squandered on people who already share the vast bulk of their thoughts – they simply become high end entertainers. Intellectual buzz merchants.

The editorial bias against intelligent genre fiction, I would argue, is the result of a pretty understandable equivocation: it’s the violation of form, the beloved rules, that turns off popular audiences, but since it’s so regularly paired with cerebral content, the latter ends up taking the blame as well.

The situation is certainly more complicated than this: there’s definitely issues of vocabulary and comprehension that are going to impact the overall accessibility of any book, but I’m arguing that it’s primarily the form and not the content that selects for or against certain audiences. Like I said, if you look at a set of generic rules as an opportunity to communicate with people at large, rather than the corporate devil, you’d be amazed with what you can get away with.

- Was it arduous to simplify all the scientific elements found throughout Neuropath so that readers could understand what's going on and follow the various plotlines?

It would have been, I think, had I not done so much work toward this end while teaching the popular culture class I mentioned earlier.

- After reading Neuropath, one can conclude that it is the work of a brilliant or extremely disturbed author. Which is it!?!

The only reason humans think they’re so smart is that our nearest competitors are still sniffing each other’s asses to say hello. All I try to do is to think one thought too many – something which is bound to make you seem crazy sometimes, I guess. The hope is that way I can expose the reader to a couple of thoughts they may not have encountered before. Whether I succeed or not is entirely dependent on the match between the book and the reader.

- What were the reactions of your first test readers? I reckon you probably scared a few people, even with the first draft.

My brother claims to still be freaked three years later. My friend Gary Wassner told me he had to go jogging for an hour after reading it. My friend Larry Nolen (whose evil intellect I can sense behind some of these questions!) says that he had nightmares. But not everybody had reactions this extreme: only those who found themselves genuinely arguing with book as they read it, I think. Others simply saw the consciousness stuff as a cool hook for a cool story. One reader I know of absolutely hated it, even claimed that it was proof that I was a sexist pig! (The whole sexploitation dimension of the genre is something I try to put under the narrative microscope. You’d think I would have learned my lesson with The Prince of Nothing…)

- Given the subject matter presented in Neuropath, do you personally have any hope that humans can overcome their "hardwiring" (whether it be via social engineering or genetic manipulation)? Or is "rewiring" something that scares you even more than the present condition?

We’re fucked.

Either we kill ourselves via anyone of a number of apocalyptic scenarios, or the technological optimists are right, and we’ll innovate our way out scrape after scrape. But if they’re right, ‘rewiring’ is inevitable. And as I like to think the narrative of Neuropath shows, rewiring is simply collective suicide by other means.

I’m not big on post-human debates because I have no faith in the kinds of conceptual arguments they rely on. It’s like the abortion debate: Where does ‘personhood’ begin? There is literally no decisive way to settle this question, which is why abortion law in most every developed country splits the difference on the issue. We know that the idea of the State moving in and telling a woman what she can or can’t do with her body is pretty damn creepy, but the idea of killing people is pretty scary as well. So when does an embryo become a ‘person’? We have no bloody idea, so we make abortion legal up to a point, then we suspend a woman’s reproductive rights – we split the difference.

Likewise, when does neural rewiring make a person not a person? You could cook up a thousand arguments, and you could probably – given how inclined we are to buy our own bullshit – convince yourself that this or that interpretation is God’s interpretation, or nature’s, or whatever. But what you can’t do is end the debate, because in the end, no matter how hard you believe, your interpretation is just as flimsy as all the others, just as susceptible to ‘death by a thousand qualifications.’

What you can predict is that the rewired will think they’re the real humans, and that the unwired will think they’re the real humans. That everyone will beat their breasts and shout “Me-me-me!” (with the exception of those rewireds who have shut off their selfhood modules). But in the meantime, because it’s our shared neurophysiology that gives us our shared experiential frame of reference, you can be assured that after a certain point the rewired will not be us. Imagine a world filled with different kinds of Kellhuses! At some point, thanks to technology, the whole of human history, its aspirations let alone it’s art and philosophy, will be little more than crayon scribbles taped to the fridge.

There’s no such thing as posterity, not anymore.

I dunno. Maybe we’ll cook up laws. But the competitive pressures will remain. Christ, we can’t even keep on top of doping in sports. I know this sounds awfully pessimistic, especially since the whole point of writing Neuropath was to make a stand against this particular Armageddon. But so long as we continue living in Disney World doom is inevitable, and I don’t see us moving out of the Magic Kingdom anytime soon.

- While portraying the Bible family, you have shown that you possess a rather deft humane touch. Frankly, based on your previous books, I didn't know you had it in you. Is this a side of your talent you wish to explore a bit more in future works?

In all fairness, The Prince of Nothing is a story about war, and war tends to grind sentiment down to the nub. It also has many, many characters, which forces you to shift narrative emphasis away from the personal and more to the public. The Prince of Nothing is a story about multiple machinations. Neuropath is the story of a Hapless Father struggling to become a Hero – it’s much more focused and intensely personal.

So I guess I’m saying it all depends on the story.

I have nothing against sentiment – it’s sentimentalism, the cartoon portrayal of human emotion that I take issue with. In that sense, I would argue that Neuropath is of a piece with The Prince of Nothing. Thomas Bible is a complicated father – as are all fathers outside of Hollywood and Disney World.

- I am aware that Neuropath has been optioned for a movie. Based on Hollywood's reticence to showcase anything even remotely controversial, if a production company decided to go along and do it, aren't you afraid that what they would come up with would bear no resemblance to the novel? Especially since what they show on the silver screen must more or less be accessible to the lowest common denominator.

Optioned? That would be news to me! Apparently it’s being considered by various high people in places – I don’t know anything more than that.

Even if it were optioned, that’s about as exciting as buying a lottery ticket. So few optioned books get made into movies. The best analogy I’ve heard is that it’s like putting together a crew for a pirate ship, then trying to sail out of a port blockaded by the British Navy.

But if it were to happen, I really don’t think I’d be one of those authors who would be bummed by the “distortions” that arise when you translate a story and character between drastically different media. If the resulting movie were crap, I’d be bummed, no doubt about that. But if it were wildly different and yet excellent, I’d be ecstatic.

I think the content of the book would have to be streamlined – there’s no way around that – but I do think, rather predictably I suppose, that it would make an awesome movie. It’s been quite awhile since the last high concept thriller. Aside from a strong story, it has a novel murder hook, and it offers an entirely new palette for CGI.

In fact, I think it would make such a great movie that it would win several Golden Globes and set a record for the most Oscars, before wrapping things up with a Nobel Peace prize...

But that’s just my brain’s impartial opinion.

- With such a controversial premise, depending on how hard your publishers will be pushing Neuropath, this book could potentially cause a bit of a stir. Are you hoping/dreading this? Knowing that controversy sells, are you and your editors hoping to cash in on such a turn of events?

Hoping, of course. And dreading, certainly. The “cash in” would be nice, but only for the sake of security: as well as things have been going with the fantasies it’s entirely possible, if not statistically probable, that I’ll have to take a day job in four or five years time. Most authors that make to the mid-list usually peak then sink back out again. Since my primary artistic goal is to complete The Second Apocalypse, it would be nice to be able to afford to write fulltime for the next several years at least. Otherwise, I can’t see upgrading my lifestyle any more than I have – my environmental footprint is too big as it is!

Outside that, I have an evangelical bent. I believe in human stupidity (my own included!) so fervently that I want to shout it out to the world. Look at history. Hell, look at the evening news. We’re surrounded by evidence of our folly, and yet all we do is congratulate ourselves all the time. Our kids spend two decades being educated, and nowhere – nowhere – are they taught anything about themselves, about the cognitive shortcomings that will lead to their divorces and their addictions, to their prejudices and their self-serving delusions. They come out of university not only ignorant of their limitations, their weaknesses, but convinced that they’re tough-minded critical thinkers.

I actually have a bad habit, which I’m sure has alienated many an acquaintance. Whenever someone tells me they’re a critical thinker – and let’s face it, everyone but everyone thinks they’re a critical thinker – I always ask them “How so?” Usually the answer is that they don’t believe everything everyone tells them. They make fun of Mormons, distrust corporations, or disagree with Fox news or some such. But when I point out that no one believes everything everyone tells them, so that can’t be a criterion for being a critical thinker, they get freaked out.

You get lots of valuable procedural knowledge in school, as well as a smattering of dogma, but nowhere – not even in most philosophy programs – are you taught how to think critically. We are hardwired to bullshit ourselves, and that’s a bloody fact Jack. And what are you taught? What does our system drum into your head at every bloody turn?

To believe in yourself! Believe in yourself when all the research shows that you are in fact the least credible person in the room. Though it seems the other way around, we’re actually much better at critiquing the claims and predicting the behaviour of others than we are ourselves. Check out David Dunning’s Self-Insight if you don’t believe me.

Ignorance is invisible, and so long as we remain ignorant of our cognitive shortcomings we will be slaves to them, we will be condemned to repeat all the same mistakes over and over, only with toys and tools that grow ever more powerful.

- Both Kellhus in The Prince of Nothing and Neil Cassidy in Neuropath are "over the top" intellectually. Do you relish the challenge posed by writing about such characters?

Definitely, but I actually think Kellhus and Neil are entirely different. The one is bred and the other is “tweaked,” but when push comes to shove, the threat posed by Kellhus is spiritual, whereas the threat posed by Neil is out and out physical – the spiritual stuff simply falls out of that.

- You have already made a name for yourself in the fantasy genre. What are your hopes regarding Neuropath and a more mainstream audience? Are there any other thrillers or non-fantasy works in the future for you?

I’m actually on the hook for a second thriller with Orion, to be completed following the sequel to The Judging Eye. But as I think I mentioned above, my focus is on completing The Second Apocalypse. I have at least four, maybe five books left to write. I’ve been dreaming this story for over twenty years now: I must see it through. At the same time I have all kinds of different books bubbling around in my head, and in all kinds of different genres. But quite frankly, unless Neuropath does really, really well, I’ll have no choice but to stick to fantasies and thrillers – you can only tempt the fates so many times.

Unless you’re Iain Banks.

- I know you thought you got off the hook in our last interview, but did you really think you could somehow dodge the question pertaining to The Judging Eye? Come on, man, you have got to give us something to whet our appetite! Give us something akin to a cover blurb, at the very least!

The world is not equal in the eyes of the God. Twenty years have passed since the Fall of Shimeh, and the Three Seas are united for the first time since the days of Near Antiquity. Bent on destroying unholy Golgotterath. Anasurimbor Kellhus, the Aspect Emperor, leads a new holy war, the Great Ordeal, across the wastes of Earwa, while his wife, Esmenet, rules as Empress in absence, warring against a rising tide of heresy. And Drusas Achamian, guided by two thousand year old dreams, embarks on a quest of his own: to find Ishual, the secret fastness of the Dunyain.

- The pub date for The Judging Eye appears to have been pushed back to winter 2009. Is that accurate or just a tentative release date? Has the book been postponed because the format of The Aspect-Emperor went from being a duology to a trilogy?

As far as I know that’s tentative, and it has more to do with scheduling issues arising from Neuropath than anything else. I’ve started writing the sequel, but I keep finding myself going back to fiddle with things – I’m a chronic fiddler, probably because of the Cringe Game. Revision really is a central part of the process for me.

- Now that you got the ball rolling, how long do you figure the wait between each installment will be?

I’m anticipating that The Aspect Emperor will roll out the same as The Prince of Nothing: the first two books a year apart with a several month longer gap before the final volume – because of the intervening second psychothriller. I tend to be the most productive when I have a gun pointed at my head, and right now I’m in the middle of a Mexican standoff. The words, they are a flying!

- If you could go back in time and make a few changes to The Prince of Nothing, what would those changes be? With that in mind, are you attempting to steer clear of some "mistakes" you may have made in the first series when you sit down to write The Judging Eye and its sequels?

Steve Erikson and I had a conversation about this very thing at the ICFA a couple of weeks ago. Both of us are building very tall series on narrow foundations simply because of the sheer complexity of our first books. My bold prediction is that Steve’s next series will be every bit as successful as A Song of Ice and Fire.

If I could go back, I would exhaustively rewrite The Darkness that Comes Before to include the Kellhus chapters that I cut out, and to add a couple of others. I should have stuck with him so that the reader could have learned the complexities of the world as he learned those complexities, then I would have slowly added the alternate POVs.

Another error I think I made in The Prince of Nothing as a whole is that I think I focused too much on interior action – I spent too much time knocking around in my characters’ heads. This is one thing that I tried to rectify in The Judging Eye: there’s still plenty of internal action, but I like to think I’ve done a better job balancing it with external action.

Even still, my bold prediction is that The Aspect Emperor will be nowhere as popular as A Song of Ice and Fire, but that the world junkies among us will be pleased indeed.

- Is there any chance we might see you up your game a bit in terms of internet presence, or is that too much of a distraction and it gets in the way of your writing?

Ever since I quit smoking my concentration, which was capable of marathon sessions, has become a lot more twitchy – brittle even. Now I do all my writing on a laptop with no internet connection, simply because whenever my focus wanes and I have this way of bullshitting myself into doing phony work, such as “research,” or “internetworking.” I seem to do it all the time. It makes me feel crazy-neurotic it’s so mechanical. I’m trying to build a routine-based “healthy balance,” but I’m 41 now, and my every attempt to “balance myself” in the past has been a failure. Whatever I happen to be doing I do too much of, whether it’s drinking or reading or writing or posting. What I want to do is write too much for the next five years or so, finish The Second Apocalypse, as well as look after a couple of side projects.

- Anything else you wish to share with your fans?

Buy Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of its Own: How your Brain Distorts and Deceives. Read it, ponder it, then read it again. Know thyself. Then you’ll see that the only thing for certain is that nothing is for certain.

It thinks, therefore we fantasize.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2017, 06:13:07 pm »
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
(December 27, 2005)

Dear Mr. Bakker,

Let me start by thanking you for being gracious enough to take some precious time off your indubitably busy schedule to answer these questions. But with the imminent release of The Thousandfold Thought, know that your fans are extremely excited about this chance to hear from you in person.

- Given the complexity of many of your characterizations, is there a character that you particularly enjoy/enjoyed writing? Why is that? By the same token, is there a character that you absolutely don't like writing about? For what reason?

There’s no one I really dislike writing - it’s more a matter of each posing their own peculiar challenges at particular points. Kellhus is typically the most difficult, simply because it’s hard to convincingly portray someone that damn smart. Others, like Cnaiur, oscillate between extreme difficulty and writing themselves. I had expected he would be the most difficult (after Kellhus of course) to write in The Thousandfold Thought, but thanks to the Melvins and Lustmord, he ended up writing himself. Conphas is easily my favourite. Sometimes I laugh my ass off while writing his sections.

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

This question is hard because I still feel I have so much to learn. I think my strength is that I set explicit challenges for myself - extreme challenges in some cases. For every scene, I always ask myself what I want my words to do. Most times I fall short of my goals, sometimes I satisfy them, and every once in awhile - like the scene I call ‘Esmenet’s Song’ in The Thousandfold Thought - I sit back and think, ‘There’s no way I wrote that...’

- What author makes you shake your head in admiration? Many fantasy authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?

I used to read everything, years and years ago, but the deeper I wandered into university, the more and more I became addicted to ‘primary texts.’ I lost the ability to read for pleasure’s sake, but I think I’m on the slow road to recovery. In the genre, I probably admire George R R Martin the most, not only for his story-telling skills, but because his books made me realize that my little hobby - writing complex fantasy - could very well strike a chord with readers. Reading him was a revelation of sorts. Most recently, I finished Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, which, meta-fictional wanking and meta-wanking aside, is nothing short of brilliant.

- Many purists, epic fantasy aficionados, and critics now consider you one of the best fantasy authors in the world. Is there added pressure when it comes down to writing a new addition to the series?

Finding it. Difficult. To breathe...

This is crazy. Are you serious?

Well first off, you should know that I don’t write fantasy - only hacks write fantasy. My books are about the triumph of the human spirit which just happen to have everything you would find in The Wheel of Time...

Look. See the damage you’ve done?

Seriously though, I have found myself freaking out on occasion. I wouldn’t say I’m the most psychologically robust person in the world. I feel like an imposter answering questions like this, and I get chilled by the shadow of the giant shoe some part of me knows is about to drop. I’ve suffered a few instances of depersonalization and derealization... The jargon helps.

But when a story ‘clicks’ for me - I’m not sure how else to explain it - the old priorities reassert themselves, or so it seems. The big temptation, I think, when you start garnering critical acclaim, is to start writing for your critics, which can have disastrous consequences. You write for your readers. It’s not as simple as that, but it’s where I hang my hat.

- In addition, The Thousandfold Thought sets the bar rather high. Will you approach writing The Aspect-Emperor differently now that your writing skills have reached (in my opinion at least) a new level of quality?

Thanks, Pat. I think my writing has gotten stronger with each book, and I’m hoping to put these new skills to work in The Aspect-Emperor. I’m excited by the prospect, primarily because the canvas is so much bigger - so much more (please don’t groan) Tolkienesque. The story is still the same as when I conceived it some twenty years ago, but where I used to despair of being able to do it justice (after so long, the plot of The Second Apocalypse has become something of a religious fetish in my mind) I now feel I have the tools that I need.

But when I reflect on The Prince of Nothing, I sometimes worry. Despite all the flaws, all the ways it makes me cringe, it seems like a kind of monument to me, like something truly iconic. It has a peculiar magic, like a spell an author can only hope to cast once in his or her lifetime. That’s the way it seems.

Pretty melodramatic, huh?

- What would you say was the hardest part of the entire process involved in the writing of the THE PRINCE OF NOTHING? Each new addition reveals yet more depth to a series which has shown just how rich and complex it truly is. What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write the series in the first place?

I could go on and on about the complexities. I just spent so much time layering things into the world and story - it almost feels geological when I think about it. The framework arose from my attempt to ‘make good’ on all the work I put into my D&D campaigns back in the eighties. The story proper grew around the character of Kellhus, who arose from the biggest revelation I suffered in my first year of university back in 1986: the realization that belief systems are more a product of social function than of ‘truth.’

Standing inside a given belief system, canonical claims always seem ‘obviously true,’ so much so that we reflexively use them as the yardstick of other belief systems, while remaining utterly oblivious to the fact that others are doing the exact same thing with the same depth of conviction. We seem to forget that having conviction, no matter how soulful or meaningful or redemptive, is as much an indicator of deception as it is of accuracy. Ignorance is invisible, after all. Thanks to psychological mechanisms like confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error and self-exceptionalism, we’re quite content with the embarrassing notion that we somehow just ‘lucked into’ the one true belief system. And why not, when it’s the only yardstick we have? Everything else has to come up short. Outsiders are judged and found wanting.

When you consider the pivotal role belief plays in action and the ways social systems depend on the repetition of interrelated actions to exist (if everyone starting doing different things all at once - like NYC transit workers deciding to fart in front of the TV rather than going to work - society would collapse) then you can see that the primary function of belief systems is to conserve actions, not to be ‘true.’ This is why social systems collapse when belief in them collapses, which is arguably what happened in the old Soviet Union.

Given things like this, I asked myself what a martial artist who used the functionality of belief as well as his sword and his hands would look like, and I came up with Kellhus.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

The New York Times bestseller, because then I could buy a World Fantasy Award - maybe two or three of them. I would like to move out of this grungy little apartment, buy a flat screen HDTV, and it would be nice to own a car with a CD player, but aside from that my primary interest is in being read. My goal is to challenge as many people as I can possibly challenge: I really believe we’re entering a phase of history where we’ll need as much conceptual flexibility as we can get. And if I can pass on a few philosophical stretching exercises, then I will have been part of the solution I think.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was curious about the prospect of winning awards - yes, I was vain enough to think I had a shot - but when The Darkness that Comes Before didn’t even make the list for the Sunburst Awards here in Canada... well. My agent even warned me: epic fantasy doesn’t win refereed awards. I’d like to chalk it up to the perennial inferiority complex we fantasists have. It sometimes seems that the awards go to those who bring fantastic elements to a literary format, and of course I’m trying to do the exact opposite. But that’s likely just a flattering rationale.

Maybe my stuff just isn’t good enough.

Either way, life is about honour, not honours. So the cliche goes.

- What's the progress report pertaining to NEUROPATH? What can you tell us about the premise of the story? Anything new you wish to share with your fans? Something to whet their appetite. . .

I’m working on the rewrites as we speak, and I should have something for my agent to shop around by February. In many ways, I’m doing the same thing I did with The Prince of Nothing: I’m embracing the genre, telling a classic psychothriller tale, in order to explore its significance from the inside out.

I got a good vibe about this book.

- What extensive research did the writing of the THE PRINCE OF NOTHING entail?

It wasn’t so much a matter of doing specific research - like I’ve been doing for Neuropath, for example - as the result of twenty years being a student and an information junkie. I seem to be a little bit interested in everything. Outside of philosophy, I’m as shallow as an ice rink, but I’m at least as broad as the blue line.

- The series has garnered what can best be described as a cult following. However, many doubt that it will ever become "mainstream." With that in mind, how rewarding is it to realize how successful the series has been and continues to be to this day?

It probably is too challenging to go mainstream in a manner analogous to Martin or Jordan. All I know is that it has already exceeded my initially pessimistic expectations. I have regrets, especially about the difficulties with The Darkness that Comes Before, primarily because I know they are largely the result of my immersion in the world and my inexperience as a storyteller. But the fact is I’m paying my rent, all of my publishers are very happy with the numbers, and those people who love the books, really do love them. Hoping for more is understandable, but expecting more would be presumptuous and self-defeating. I started working in the fields when I was nine years old. I put myself through university by working midnights at a grocery store - fourteen years I spent there. Drudgery was my middle name. Right now my life is slack - I know it, and I’m not about to second-guess it.

- I am aware that The Darkness that Comes Before has been translated in French. How many foreign sales have you been able to secure so far?

Hmm. So far it’s also being translated into Spanish, German, Polish, Czech, Romanian, and Russian. Not bad for a newbie, I think!

- The fact that you have your own forum on the internet is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

It’s very cool, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a mixed bag, because it is. The web is a precarious place for an author to be. Say you knew that two people were whispering about you in the next room. What would you do? Ignore them and continue cleaning your toe jam, or hold your breath and try to hear what they’re saying. I think it’s human nature to do the latter, even though there’s something unhealthy about doing it. The web is a big whisper, and once you strain your ears to listen, it becomes very hard to stop. For me, anyway, it tends to become a kind of psychic noise pollution, and it interferes with the clarity that is so integral to my writing. The problem is that the more I log on the more I succumb to a morbid curiosity for the vox populi - even though afterward it feels like sticking myself with pins.

Some people really don’t like me.

On the other hand, however, the actual interaction is absolutely priceless - there’s no better way to work out your thoughts on a topic than to debate them on a web forum. Then there’s the desire to give back to those who actually spent a part of their lives - because that’s what money is: what we get for surrendering part of our lives to assembly lines, kitchens, highways, or whatever your occupation happens to be - to share your thoughts and your stories. And the web is the perfect way to do this, even if you find yourself saying RAFO over and over again, and your readers keep pointing out inconsistencies that you missed, or factual mistakes that you made, or seem to think your imaginative excesses offer clues to your sex life or psyche or...

Which is to say, keep you honest!

- Are you surprised by what little support you receive from the Canadian media? You and Steven Erikson rank among the best fantasy authors out there, yet both of you Canucks appear to get very little recognition in your own country.

Don’t get me started. It all comes back to the pigeonhole. We have a brain you can fit into a shoebox in a universe so big it defeats the speed of light. As a result, we constantly simplify things by using evaluative tags - things that identify, interpret, and dismiss all at once. ‘Epic fantasy,’ unfortunately, is one of those tags. And despite my early hopes and considerable literary hubris, my work has not managed to shine through.

Thanks to Penguin, I have received some attention here and there, and I sometimes wish I could pull it together enough to manage what Rob Sawyer has accomplished in terms of homegrown media exposure. Part of the problem, I sometimes think, is that here in Canada the literary culture has a powerful nationalistic subtext - not surprising when you consider overwhelming influence of American mass culture - which has led to an almost academic inwardness. The only way to get onto the conveyor belt is to write about Canada, which I have yet to do.

If I ever become commercially successful, I imagine things will change. Canadians love Canadians who manage to beat the Americans at their own game. Failing that, I suppose I could try breast implants or talking out of my butt. Worked for Pamela Anderson and Jim Carey.

- Having read The Thousandfold Thought, I've been telling everyone who will listen to me that it just might be the best fantasy novel that will see the light in 2006. For the benefit of those who have not read it, and without revealing too much, what would you like to tell your fans about it?

I thank you for that, Pat. Word of mouth has been the primary engine for The Prince of Nothing from the start. All I can tell you is what I hoped to accomplish. I wanted to create a world as deep and as consistent as Middle-earth, but as unsentimental and as gritty as the real thing. I wanted to write something that was truly epic and truly fantastic, something religiously faithful to the genre, and yet utterly unlike anything fans have read before. I wanted to tell a story that, when completed, left readers of all stripes feeling as though they had climbed something, even if the full dimensions of the structure escaped them.

The Thousandfold Thought is the summit.

- Some readers have commented on the fact that there is an inordinate amount of semen in the series. Is there a reason for that?

I read somewhere that the average man produces enough ejaculate to fill a bath-tub over the course of his lifetime. By my own estimates, the books contain a small fraction of that - a quart or so at most. So those readers are quite mistaken...

Semen was magical to our ancestors, though it has become quite taboo for us. Think of the Old Testament, which certainly spills a lot of ink about ‘seed.’ The word itself comes to us via old French from the Latin word for seed. Suggestively, the ancient Greek word, s‘ma, meant sign or token or signal. It belongs to a nexus of meanings that are conceptually crucial, I think. But most importantly, it is the visible link between generations, the rope that binds each of us both to the generations that have come before and to our shared animality. When you think of this in the context of Esmenet, who is the perspectival focal point for most of the references, I think you’ll quickly see that my use of the word is far from gratuitous.

- Throughout the trilogy, you have shown your desire to take your tale on the path less traveled. The Mideastern setting, as well as the religious and philosophical aspects, are great examples of how you took epic fantasy on a different path. Was it something that you truly wanted to work on, or did it just happen that way?

I think it just happened that way. I wanted something literate and cosmopolitan, so the Hellenistic Eastern Mediterranean just became the associative quarry where I cut most of my stone.

- Were you surprised that Penguin Books Canada, a publisher not particularly known for producing much works in the fantasy genre, gave you your first opportunity?

I certainly never expected it, but when you consider that they first published Guy Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry it makes sense. They’re actually something of a powerhouse when it comes to Canadian SF&F.

- Since there was no glossary in The Warrior-Prophet, I was a bit shocked to see such a comprehensive glossary in The Thousandfold Thought. Was it difficult to get your publishers to go along with the idea?

Not at all, though they did ask me to keep it as concise as I could. It was part of the plan from the very beginning. A tip of the hat to The Return of the King.

Either that or plain old thievery.

- Will we continue to learn more about the Consult and the Inchoroi from Seswatha's dreams, or will there be more information given in the next series?

There will be much, much more information. As I think I mentioned earlier, a larger part of the world, especially when it comes to the Sranc and the Nonmen, will come into the narrative spotlight. I get giddy just thinking about it!

- Speaking of the next series, what can you tell us about The Aspect-Emperor?

As those who frequent the Three Seas Forum know, I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to potential spoilers. I’m one of those people who covers their ears and sings nonsense when people even mention something I want to read or see. All I’ll say is that it begins approximately 20 years after the conclusion of The Thousandfold Thought.

- Do you have any details concerning a possible upcoming book tour to promote the release of your new novel? Fans are curious to know if you'll be stopping by in their home towns.

Not at the moment. I know I’ll be flying out to Calgary and Vancouver, but not much else.

- Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.

If I have my way.

I have some pretty insane ambitions and rapping the insular knuckles of the literary mainstream is one of them. Let them kneel at our pew for a change. To bring commercial genres to the literary mainstream is to use genre as a literary resource for literary readers. To bring literature to commercial genre is to use literature as a resource for popular readers. I’m not interested in singing to choir. I want to write for people who could be potentially offended by what I have to say. I want to start discussions, not rehash them or string them along. The irony, of course, is that this is what literature is supposed to do. Span perspectives, not entrench them. Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost sight of this.

I’m convinced that the division between the commercial and the literary is an artificial one, and that universities are the primary institutional culprit, not the media corporations (which is not to let them off the hook). The same firewalls that provide academic communities the freedom to explore what they will has produced standards of artistic merit drastically removed from those with only their socialization in popular culture to draw on. Isolate any conversation long enough, and it will eventually become esoteric to the point of general unintelligibility. Far from being the heights of contemporary culture, universities have become vacuums, sucking up the individuals with the talent and sensitivity that mass culture so desperately needs, using institutional pressures to rewire their priorities and tastes (just try, without embarrassment, arguing the virtues of epic fantasy in an English literature class), and putting them to work for the also-trained, where everyone can collectively bitch and moan about the commodification of culture and cretinization of the masses. They rob us with one hand, then dare wag their finger with the other. "Look how poor you are."

There’s lots of bullets that need to be bitten, I think. Pass the ammo.

Well, thanks again for accepting to do this. I wish you continued success, and wish you the best for the release of The Thousandfold Thought.

Thank you, Pat. It’s been a pleasure.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2017, 06:22:30 pm »
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
(January 15, 2009)

- Are you satisfied with the way THE JUDGING EYE has been received thus far?

Gauging critical reactions to your work is a tricky thing, primarily because we all–me and you included–regularly confabulate reasons when trying to explain our judgments. It’s a terrifying fact, actually, but the research suggests that we should be exceedingly sceptical of the rationalizations we use to explain our likes and dislikes. We seem to just make things up. So when a reviewer tries to explain why this or that worked or didn’t work for them, chances are they’re just confabulating. (This doesn’t mean that reviewers should give up rationalizing their judgments, only that they should be sceptical of them. Sometimes you hate a book simply because your dog took a dump on the carpet).

So as it stands I’m obviously pleased that so many online reviewers are so enthusiastic about the book, and my own cognitive vanity makes me want to say these are most intelligent and good-looking reviewers to have ever walked a planet so benighted as Earth, but I always remind myself that it’s the readers I’m writing for, and that so long as the series continues its slow growth I’m doing something right.

- Are there any upcoming appearances to promote THE JUDGING EYE you'd like your fans to know about?

I’ll be launching the book in Toronto at North York Central Library on Saturday, February 21st, thanks to Peter Halasz and the excellent folks with the USS Hudson’s Bay. I’ll be at Ad Astra in Toronto this spring, of course. I’ll also be the Guest of Honour at SFERA in Zagreb, Croatia this April.

- Overlook recently elected to go with the UK cover art instead of the cover they had originally selected. Were you consulted on this? What are your thoughts pertaining to the covers of both THE JUDGING EYE and all three volumes of the Prince of Nothing series?

I get the odd query and image sent to me now and again, but unless a cover strikes me as horrible I tend to keep my counsel. Ever since I polled my students asking whether they liked the Canadian or the UK versions of The Darkness that Comes Before, thinking I could use the results to convince Darren Nash, my UK editor, to go with the Canadian covers, I’ve stopped pretending that I know what makes a cover ‘work.’

My students voted for the UK cover by a whopping 2 to 1 margin . . . Bunch of stoners.

- Did the researching and writing for NEUROPATH have any impact on writing or plot decisions made for The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, or indeed the earlier trilogy? I get the impression Kellhus and the Dunyain have a firm belief in The Argument.

When you have soup for brains everything sloshes into everything else. But in point of fact, Kellhus and the Dunyain would strenuously object to the Argument as it’s found in Neuropath. For one, the Dunyain make an ideological fetish of control, which Neil argues is a perspectival illusion. Neil is actually a far more radical character than Kellhus in this philosophical respect.

The Dunyain only seem like nihilists because for them all value is extrinsically determined. Everything and everyone is a kind of tool for the Dunyain, valuable only insofar as they facilitate this or that particular end. Since we generally think that people and things are valuable in and of themselves–which is to say, intrinsically–this makes them appear nihilistic.

- THE JUDGING EYE seems to be a notably less standalone work than even the individual novels in the Prince of Nothing, which whilst part of a greater tapestry did seem to have more resolution to each book. Was this a deliberate decision or more of a natural evolution given the story requirements for the sequel series?

When you try to tell a story as big as The Second Apocalypse, you have to go with what local resolutions you can get. This is even more complicated when your story slowly weaves together three narrative lines, as is the case with The Aspect-Emperor. What gives The Darkness that Comes Before a greater sense of closure, I think, is that it concludes with the various narrative lines coming together in the Holy War. Since I have no interest in manufacturing closure simply for the sake of closure, I had to settle for the one point where the development of the three threads of The Judging Eye lined up dramatically...

Then snip.

- Some have observed in the past that one of the hallmarks of epic fantasy is its tendency to make metaphors into actualized, concrete representations. To what degree, if any, is this true of your writing?

You could say the concretization of abstractions, whether metaphorical or not, is the hallmark of fiction period, not just epic fantasy. The thing I was most interested in concretizing in The Judging Eye was the abstract, ontological notion of a moral world. Because of our native tendency to anthropomorphize our environments, to interpret complex phenomena in psychological and social terms, our interpretative strategies are thoroughly skewed. This is simply a fact, though it rarely sees the light of day because we are pathologically jealous of our beliefs–to the point of killing one another if need be. (No matter how much lip service we pay to "critical thinking," the sad fact is that we really want no part of it–which is why we teach our children absolutely nothing about all the ways they’re doomed to dupe themselves). In the meantime, we see conspiracies everywhere we look–ghosts, gods, spies, corporations, governments... Pick your poison. No matter what our culture, we posit hidden agencies that have something planned for us, good or ill.

Humans are born drama queens. It’s always all about us.

This is the primary abstraction I try to concretize in The Judging Eye. What would it be like, what would it mean, to live in a world where everything had objective value, where everything was ranked and ordered, so that men actually were ‘spiritually superior’ than women, and so on. The tendency in much fantasy fiction is to cater to readers’ moral expectations, to depict ideologically correct worlds and so avoid all the kinds of trouble I seem to get into with my fiction. In other words, the tendency is to be apologetic rather than critical (and then to be critical of those who refuse to apologize). My interest lies in the glorious ugliness that is a fact of traditional world making. Bigoted worlds. Biased worlds. Human worlds expressed through fantastic idioms.

This is what I’m interested in realizing.

- Power is a theme you explore in several ways, especially in your latest Eärwa novel. In particular, at times it seemed as though you were making the case that power is a form of discourse in which the "willing" and "unwilling" have more active (albeit largely subconscious) roles in creating said structures. Is this observation true, or are there elements to be addressed in the series that will cast a different light on the nature of power and how someone such as Kellhus gains and maintains his power?

Control a person’s beliefs and you control their actions. This is the ancient rule of human civilization.

Since our perspective is always the rule we use to measure the moral and cognitive propriety of other perspectives, we always assume that our particular beliefs, no matter how lunatic, are true. And since the precursors to our acts are usually utterly inaccessible, we generally think of ourselves as initiators rather than products. In other words, we generally don’t think that we’re manipulated at all.

I sometimes think that those people who find Kellhus’s manipulations unconvincing are those who are the most oblivious to all the ways they themselves are controlled. Since they assume they would be immune to Kellhus’s manipulations, they end up thinking all the characters who do are implausibly weak-minded, or they are simply not convinced by the moves Kellhus makes. But the fact is that all humans are weak-minded. We know for a fact that if you put humans in situations like Abu Ghraib that they will do the kinds of things they did in Abu Ghraib–we know that a large fraction of the responsibility belongs to the planners who made Abu Ghraib possible.

So why, then, are the individual ‘bad apples’ in prison while the planners continue drawing huge salaries? Because we all think that if we happened to be working at Abu Ghraib, we would have blown the whistle. We think we would have been the exception, and so blame the weak-minded fools who let their immediate social situation drive them, and not those who manufactured that social situation. We all think this, but the sad fact is that we are almost all wrong. Study after study shows that our counter-to-fact assumptions about how we would react in various situations are often dreadfully out of whack with how in fact we do react in those kinds of situations.

We literally live our lives believing in fantasy selves. We live and die deluded, with only a vague anxiety to point us in the direction of truth. This is one reason, I think, so many of us have so much difficulty identifying with realistic characters.

But I wank. Let me get back to the question. We act as we believe, and our actions interlock to form the vast system of institutions that we call contemporary society. (This is one of the things that makes the present economic crisis so frightening: our actions have become so specialized, and the over-arching social structures so complicated, that we could have crossed some kind of organizational threshold. As far as we know, we may have created a system that has to utterly crash before it can be rebooted. But I wank... still...)

In The Prince of Nothing, Kellhus and his father were the parasitic invaders who had to rewrite the established operating system to produce actions consistent with their ends. The authors of the ‘Thousandfold Thought virus.’ In The Aspect-Emperor, Kellhus is the new operating system, continually fending off other upstart viral invaders. And as I’m sure Obama is about to find out, gaining power and maintaining power are two distinct beasts. For Kellhus, the very weak-mindedness that made the former possible is what threatens to make the latter impossible. The more powerful Kellhus becomes, the more removed he is from his followers, the more he has to rely on his flawed worldborn tools to keep the masses in line.

- I have always enjoyed the quotes found at the beginning of every chapter. How do you come up with each, and what amount of research is involved in the process?

Some of them just occur to me. Some I adapt from other sayings–rip off, essentially. But at some point I hunker down with my pipe and take several days to revise and to brainstorm. Then I fiddle and fart and fiddle, all the way to the final proofs. It’s no walk in the park coming up with wise-ass shit.

- In a previous interview you stated that reading George R. R. Martin's A FEAST FOR CROWS forced you to reconsider the number of POVs to use in the writing of THE JUDGING EYE. How then did you select which POV characters would "tell" the story of THE JUDGING EYE?

I actually scrapped my initial attempt at writing The Judging Eye because I realized I was creating characters simply because I was burned out on my original cast. Everyone rationalizes the path of least resistence, but I sometimes think that writers are particularly gifted in this regard.

At the YMCA I frequent there’s an indoor track with arrows that tell you which way you should be running. Since they switch the direction every day and since I’m perpetually distracted, I often find myself going in the wrong direction. When I’m going against the arrow and I pass people going in the right direction I catch myself thinking, "Look at all the sheep! Baa. Baa. Must do what arrow tells me." When I’m going in the right direction and I pass people going in the wrong direction I catch myself thinking, "What? Too cool to follow the arrow are we? What a fucking asshole."

Which makes me either a woolly ass or a stinky sheep.

- Considering that the "darkness" that comes before has been discussed in several ways over the course of your novels, how does prophecy fall along the lines of what comes before and perhaps after?

I once wrote a paper on Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, and the misogyny hidden in the ascription of intuitive knowledge to women and discursive knowledge to men. Cassandra agreed to sleep with the god Apollo in return for the gift of prophecy, only to renege on the deal after receiving the prescient goods. Being the vengeful sort, Apollo cursed her with the doom of not being believed, of living with the knowledge of Troy’s imminent destruction and being utterly helpless to prevent it.

The thing about Cassandra and her curse is that if the Trojans believe her predictions then they act on them, but if they act on them, they change the future, which means that Cassandra is wrong about the future, which means that the Trojans had no business believing her in the first place. So Apollo’s curse is actually a farce, when you think of it. His ‘gift’ was automatically a curse.

Prophecy is a form of cognitive time-travel: information from an otherwise indeterminate future somehow finds its way to the present. As such it suffers the same kind of paradoxes that bedevil the notion of time-travel more generally. That which comes before conditions that which comes after. So if you were to travel back into the past and kill your grandfather, then you will never exist, so you can never travel back into the past and kill your grandfather, so you will exist, so you can travel back into the past... You get the point.

The really weird thing is that the very structure of agency seems implicated in this paradox. Our actions, from an experiential standpoint, are ‘goal directed.’ In other words, from the standpoint of experience, that which comes after determines what we do, and that which comes before is covered over, obscured. This is what allows Kellhus to so effortlessly manipulate the people around him. As marketers have long known, when people don’t believe they have buttons, you can push them at will.

In other words, the ‘darkness that comes before’ and prophecy are quite tightly intertwined, conceptually speaking. And of course I play with all these things at a subtextual level throughout the novels.

- Damnation is a recurring topic among the sorcerers. Will we see any of the mechanisms behind the judgments related to this damnation as the series progresses?

Likely not. The occult and the theological are hopelessly muddled in the real world, so in the interests of realism I intend to keep things the same in Earwa.

Besides, with the possible exception death-row inmates, does anyone ever really know why they’re being burned?

- Will you be able to maintain your long-standing 'Internet silence' in the face of what promises to be many months of intense debate over THE JUDGING EYE, particularly its ambiguous closing chapters?

You get jaded, I think. I sometimes feel I’ve pretty much seen it all when it comes to responses to my books, but who knows? Something might outrage me yet. I still see red every once and awhile, usually when I come across someone poo-pooing my books to position themselves in some flattering intellectual light. If I have a public reputation for being a smarty-pants, then taking me down a notch becomes an easy way to assert your own intelligence. (There really is no underestimating the degree to which these kinds of status ploys snake through our aesthetic judgments).

But then I imagine much of what I say strikes others much the same way. Look at that Einstein idiot. Ooooh, my relativity is so special...

- Whilst not trying to give anything away, the end of Akka's storyline in THE JUDGING EYE has been seen by quite a few reviewers as a homage to an iconic Tolkien sequence, although with a very different ending. Was this a conscious decision and if so how did you reach it?

Cil-Aujas was part of the original storyline from way back when–I’m a former D&D geek, remember! Since I was such an idiot back then, I’m really not sure whether the choice was deliberate or not. It certainly became self-conscious at some point. The thing to remember is that Tolkien himself was paying homage to the epic tradition more generally when he conceived his version. Homer, Virgil, and of course, Dante. You always kiss a lot of dead ass when you decide to embrace an established literary form.

- What's the progress report with THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR? In our last interview you seemed confident to be able to release volumes one and two a year apart. Is it still the case?

I’ve actually been working on both The White-Luck Warrior and the sequel, so I’m not as far as I hoped to be at this point. I also have an April deadline for Disciple of the Dog, another thriller. This might sound like I’m hopelessly overloaded, but in point of fact I’ve discovered that I write far more per day when I can swap through multiple projects. It actually feels like I'm going through some kind of creative renaissance or something. Even still, I’ve decided not to take on any new side projects until The Second Apocalypse is completed in its entirety. My goal is to have the entire thing finished in four to five years.

This story... man. I know it’s impossible not to fall in love with ideas you live with for a long time–and I’ve done everything but sign the pre-nup when it comes to The Second Apocalypse. But I’m telling you, people are in for one helluva a ride!

- THE JUDGING EYE is a vast introduction to The Aspect-Emperor series. Is it harder to write THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR, now that you have quite a few marbles in the air?

The Aspect-Emperor is actually proving to be easier to write simply because I have learned (the hard way, you might say!) how to keep a large number of narrative balls in the air. No teacher like experience!

- There seems to be a a complex relationship between the World and the Outside. What are some of the ways in which the World influences the Gods/Outside and will we see more of a metaphysical exploration of what seems to me to be a symbiotic relationship between the two?

If I were to give some definitive metaphysical interpretation of the relation between the Outside and the World, as opposed to the hairy, haphazard, contradictory mass of hints and explanations I’ve given, I think I would actually be doing a disservice to Earwa. The bottom line is that no one really knows... Though, like the real world, there’s no shortage of people who would pop a cap in your ass you for suggesting otherwise.

As much as people hate uncertainty, the best they can do is try to ignore it. Naysayers, on the other hand, can be put to bed permanently.

- What is "blindness" to a divinity? Can the Hundred Gods be fallible, or is this something beyond the ken of the people of Eärwa?

Once again, it depends on who you ask in Earwa. Maithanet says that Yatwer is deceived, whereas Psatma Nannaferi says otherwise.

- Are you baffled by the fact that, though you have pleaded your case several times, some readers continue to interpret your writing style as misogynic?

‘Disappointed’ would probably be a better word than ‘baffled.’ It’s human nature to mistake depiction for endorsement, I think. And I actually think the criticisms of more sophisticated readers, that negative depictions reinforce negative stereotypes, have a valid point to make–one that I would take quite seriously were I writing after-school specials. You know, stories about an Elfen child having difficulty growing up in a Dwarven home.

On the one hand I understand that many readers require overt ideological fidelity to enjoy books–why else would there be religious bookstores? People find agreement agreeable–full stop. On the other hand censoriousness is simply a fact of human nature, no matter where a person falls on the political spectrum. Since we all implicitly understand the power of representations, we often fear them as well. And of course, we all naturalize our values. So you have well-meaning fools like those behind the hate-speech legislation here in Canada, who have no real sense of just how prosperity-dependent democracy is, and so design legal tools to illegalize the public expression of bigotry, all under the daft assumption that those tools will always be used the ways they want them to be used.

- Which would be closer to the "darkness" that comes before: a symbol, a representation, or the "meaning" of an object, person, or event? Depending on the one chosen, could it be presumed that if one grasps an "essence," that one could gain a semblence of control over how that symbol/representation/meaning is applied in say religious or political affairs in Eärwa?

Like any philosophical concept, ‘the darkness that comes before’ can be used in innumerable ways. In The Prince of Nothing, I primarily use it to refer to the way our ignorance generates the illusion that we are always in control of our actions–an illusion that leverages simplistic notions of things like responsibility and the political intuitions that follow. But I'm just another reader now.

- Anything you wish to add?

Every time you hear some version of the imperative "Believe!" cringe and fear for the future. It is the clearest symptom that we live in a culture of wilful delusion–one that actively encourages billions to think they’ve won the Magical Belief Lottery.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2017, 06:40:24 pm »
Interview with R. Scott Bakker
(July 18, 2004)

Rob Bedford (RB): You have obviously put a lot of time and emotion into your work. How much time and effort did you put into The Darkness that Comes Before prior to contacting an agent or publisher? Did you contact an agent before submitting the book to publisher(s)?s

R. Scott Bakker (RSB): The world of Earwa was born in the basement of a small house in Port Stanley, Ontario, in the early 1980’s. The rudiments of the story started evolving in 1986, my first year of University. I actually have multiple versions of the story, and aside from one sterile exception, I never sought publication. It was my hobby – and one I felt an inordinate amount of shame about, actually. I’ve been working on the monster for a long, long time – so long that its meaning has long ago escaped me.

The only reason I’m published at all is because of Nick, my closest friend while I lived in Nashville working on my philosophy PhD at Vanderbilt University. Though I think the actual language he used would be inappropriate, one drunken night he said something like, ‘Get off your friggin’ ass and send that frigger to my old roommate!’ who just happened to be an agent in New York. Yet another ‘who you know’ story, I’m afraid. Anyway, it took a couple of years, then things just started to happen. I’m still pinching myself.

RB: The cultures you present in the saga, thus far, have a strong sense of familiarity about them. Which cultures or peoples did you use as a basis for the people of this world?

RSB: The analogy I always like to use when discussing worldbuilding is sculpture: when you build a world, what you’re doing, it seems to me, is taking a lifetime of shared cultural and historical associations and sculpting them into different shapes. When writing contemporary fiction, you simply say ‘New York’ and all the associations come ready made. But when you say, ‘Carythusal’ or ‘Nenciphon,’ the words are meaningless. The fantasy author really has one of the most difficult jobs in fiction: he or she has to make the meaningless deep with meaning – the more authentic the better, as far as I’m concerned. This is one of the things, I think, that makes Tolkien such a genius.

Some fantasy authors, Guy Kay comes to mind here, take things ‘ready-made’ from that quarry of shared associations. The advantage is that much of the work is already accomplished: once the reader realizes that Sarantium is an alternate Constantinople, the associational image is immediate and clear. Others mine the collective quarry in a more eclectic, fragmentary, or mysterious fashion – here the work can be more difficult, since nothing comes ready-made. Because my interest lies in exploring and extending the conventions of Tolkienesque epic fantasy, I followed his ‘middle approach,’ making use of fragmentary but still extensive parallels, drawing primarily on the Hellenistic Mediterranean, which I find so interesting because of its inclusion of the far more ancient contexts of Egyptian and Sumerian societies. I wanted a literate, socially intricate, and cosmopolitan world – something I could have fun destroying.

RB: You probably had intentions of publishing all along, but some writers say they reach a point when the story clicks and say to themselves: “I’ve got it.” How far were you into the writing of Darkness when you realized things clicked?

RSB: As you might have surmised from above, I actually finished writing The Darkness That Comes Before quite a while before that first ‘click.’

For the longest time I thought publication was a pipe-dream, like saying ‘I wanna be an astronaut’ in elementary school. I sent the original manuscript ofThe Prince of Nothing away once, in my early twenties – I can’t even remember to whom anymore. It was rejected, I remember that. And I also remember thinking that some editor had stolen my names: shortly after the manuscript was returned several of the names I used started popping up on the Whorf/Klingon episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation! Ah, the heady days of creative paranoia…

But even then I think I looked upon the whole thing as an impossibility. I pretty much knew ‘I lousy writer was,’ and that the themes I set myself were beyond my ability to explore in anything other than a hackneyed fashion. There was always this gap between what I wanted to write – the reflections, the feelings, the tapestry of actions – and what I was actually able to write. I never sent the manuscript out again. Instead, I started rewriting from the very beginning, and elaborating and remoulding the world of Earwa.

And I continued doing this into my mid-thirties – at this point I regarded the project as little more than an embarrassing hobby. I was living with my fiancée, Sharron, and my dissolute ways had started to dissolve. I had discovered philosophy, and the endorphins were coursing through my veins. I was hellbent on becoming a professional academic. As strange as it might sound, this was when things ‘clicked’ for me writing-wise. I still farted around with the world and the story, but for the first time, it seemed that I actually could write what I wanted to write. Expression and expectation became one and the same thing. “Some day I’m going to finish this damned thing” – that was my mantra. But as a worshipper of the great god Procrastidemus, I never really believed it. When you’re a radical pessimist, life is full of pleasant surprises.

RB: Much like fellow Canadian author Steven Erikson, your work appeared up North and across the Ocean before hitting the US shelves. Do you feel being a Canadian/non-US writer was a hurdle or obstacle to finding a US publisher? And how important was it to you to be published by a US publisher?

RSB: I’m green, so many of my opinions on this issue are simply guesswork. Many US publishers, I think, have simply rolled the Canadian market into the larger American fold, so for them, purchasing works without Canadian rights can be something of a pain in the ass – this was a barrier at places like Tor, for instance. So I guess it was something of an obstacle.

From what I understand, it’s very hard to make a living as a writer unless you have some kind of US presence. Since eating becomes an issue when you can’t make a living, you could say that getting a US deal was pretty important. Up there with sex, definitely…

Jokes aside, there are benefits to being published in Canada first. There’s what I like to call the ‘home son effect,’ which allows even a lowly fantasy author a crack at radio and television interviews. And the publishers here know the Canadian market much better than those in New York, (where Canada often seems, as A. Whitney Brown puts it, little more than “a summer camp with its own currency”). As a first time author, you’re literally at war with your own obscurity. Building a readership, I’m discovering, is far more difficult in the vast clamour of the American market.

RB: You’ve received some high praise from well-known and regarded names in the genre; specifically the blurbs on Darkness from Steve Erikson and John Marco and on The Warrior-Prophet from Kevin J. Anderson. How rewarding was this acknowledgement from you peers and did it help secure a US publishing deal?

RSB: Peers – I’d never really thought of them that way before! The acknowledgement is good, very good. I can still remember the day when my editor forwarded Steve’s blurb to me… I was floored. Here I was, this egghead with a small deal in a small market, casting about looking for ways to reach those I thought would love the book: world-junkies (such as myself), and those who’d abandoned epic fantasy when they went to university. All I could think was ‘9-out-10-first-novels-fail-9-out-of-10-first-novels-fail…’ You really feel helpless in that situation: As I said, I hadn’t taken publication seriously, but once I had the taste… That first book seemed like a hopelessly tiny doorway I had to squeeze through. Then without warning, Steve kicked open the cover from the other side and cried, ‘Where the hell have you been?’

It’s hard to explain. All I can say is that I’m very grateful to those who helped during the darkness that came before The Darkness That Comes Before. I intend to pay it forward.

RB: With Darkness, you probably did not have a deadline and the most pressure was probably from yourself as your own editor. In completing The Warrior-Prophet, was there a deadline and/or external pressure, to complete the book? Did the critical success of Darkness have an impact to your approach to writing The Warrior-Prophet?

RSB: I can honestly say that last year was the most trying year of my life – labour-wise. I taught part-time at Fanshawe College here in London, rewrote and defended the prospectus to my dissertation, and completed The Warrior-Prophet. I woke up at 5AM every morning seven days a week. Between May 2003 to March 2004, I took only one day off (to get messy with my buddies and watch The Return of the King). I wrote on Christmas. I even worked (with a hangover) on New Year’s Day.

Because I had about 15 years to finish The Darkness That Comes Before, I really had no idea what I was getting into when I signed the deals for The Warrior-Prophet and The Thousandfold Thought. Suddenly my private passion had become a collective enterprise – and I just don’t mean the immediate circle of commercial interests that suddenly spring up around an author (your agent, editor, publicist, greedy relatives, and so on), there’s your readers as well. Buying into an uncompleted series, especially by an unknown author, is an act of faith – $26 is a tank of gas or a week’s worth of groceries for me! The idea of defaulting on my end of the bargain tormented me, and the idea of writing anything other than the book I felt compelled to write was unthinkable. Pressure-pressure.

Add to this all the crazy reviews The Darkness That Comes Before was racking up. I really thought the book was a ‘love it or hate it’ work, which was no problem as far as I was concerned, because I didn’t write it for everybody. I thought the reviews would be split, and that the raves, if I received any, would be peppered with telling criticisms. After all the reviews the book has received, I think the first review I read (and what a nail-biting experience that was!) comes closest to my own feelings toward the book. Everyone else has been too kind – including you, Rob!

This is where I think the pressure was a good thing. Because my schedule was so tight, I really had no time to fret (that much) over whether The Warrior-Prophet would live up to its predecessor. All the collective concerns faded into a single imperative: ‘Write, write, write your ass off!’ And as strange as it may sound, suddenly there was me, the world, the characters, and a blank screen – just like the good old days.

Now that I have time, I’m freaking out.

RB: Was The Warrior-Prophet a more difficult work?

RSB: Both books were difficult for different reasons. One of the things about The Lord of the Rings is that the story it tells is a story that can be told (and has been told) in any number of different worlds. One of the many things that makes the story so remarkable is the way it engages the breathtaking intricacies of Middle-earth without really depending on those intricacies. People usually crinkle their noses when I say this, so let me explain a little.

When I started my first exhaustive rewrite of The Darkness That Comes Before, this time with the intent on getting published, I joined something then called the Del Rey Online Writers Workshop (or ‘the DROWW’ as we called it), where I learned fairly quickly that although I could write, I really knew squat about storytelling. If you want to write something mysterious, the first tendency, I think, is to make everything mysterious. And if you have a vast world of which you are overweeningly proud, the first tendency is to try to reference everything. Both are big mistakes. In order to interest readers in a mystery, you need to give them firm ground to stand on – concentrate on the mystery rather than on making everything mysterious. Likewise, in order to interest readers in a world, you have to give them a clear road into that world.

One of the lessons I’d learned from Tolkien is something I call ‘narrative transcendence,’ which expressed as a rule might be something like: In epic fantasy, the world must transcend the story – it must, like our own world, seem like a place capable of containing innumerable stories. To me, this meant creating a detailed world. Reality, afterall, is a function of detail. But Tolkien has a storytelling lesson that’s the compliment to this worldbuilding one: no matter how detailed the world, keep the story simple, stupid, at the beginning at least. Give the reader a clear road.

Now, through the rewrite, I had little difficulty with the mystery problem, but the ‘clear road’ problem proved nearly insuperable. Unlike Tolkien, I had a story which, though universal in abstract (the Son searching for the Father), turned in so many ways on different details belonging to the world. Since I set out to write an epic fantasy as convincing as a historical, you might think this is a good thing – and perhaps it is – but it sure made rewriting The Darkness That Comes Before difficult. I’ve lost count of all the various ways I tried making the Three Seas and Earwa accessible. And in some ways I think I failed.

With The Warrior-Prophet, I already had the world in place, and in certain respects, this made things so much easier. Even still, I found the new difficulties that arose just as challenging, but I’ll save that story for the next question.

RB: Again, comparing the two novels, Darkness, as an opening novel, naturally had more background and back-story to bring to the fore. Was focusing more on the progression of the plot in The Warrior-Prophet a more challenging or enjoyable process?

RSB: The main difficulties I faced in The Warrior-Prophet stemmed directly from the outrageous goals I had set for myself. In a sense, the book is about conquest, the myriad and often bizarre ways in which humans submit to one another, whether through violence or seduction. So on the one hand there’s the conquest of the heathen by the Holy War. I really wanted the Holy War to come across as a living, breathing thing – as an alternate protagonist, in fact. Doing this, however, required a line of quasi-historical narration (which I patterned off of Harold Lamb’s Iron Men and Iron Saints) threaded through the various strands of character narration. Since I wanted to play these two lines against each other in interesting ways, they became painstaking affairs. Also, I find the tendency is to gloss over the details when telling the story of collective actions – to narrate at a level that invites abstractions. This is what makes history boring to so many people. So there was also the continuous struggle to keep the Holy War concrete, to keep it alive in my reader’s imagination. If I think I succeeded, it’s only because I recognize that it’s impossible to carry everyone with you – the detail that enlivens historical narration for some is going to overwhelm others. There’s no way around that. As a writer I think it’s very important to pick your reader.

On the other hand, there’s the conquest of the Holy War from within – by Kellhus. Here my goal was to tell a story that shows a prophet coming to power, rather than simply telling it. Think about the difference between describing a conversation that captivates a listener, and actually giving that conversation. The former need not be captivating at all, whereas the latter has to be, somewhat, if the reader is to find its consequences plausible. Now I’m as conceited as the next guy, but I have no doubt that if I met Kellhus he would have me washing his drawers while marvelling over my good fortune. It’s bloody hard writing someone that much smarter than you! I just used the shot-gun approach, writing stupid thing after stupid thing, until I got lucky and wrote something improbably intelligent.

RB: With The Warrior-Prophet just released in Canada, when do you expect to see the next volume(s) published? Once completed, how many volumes will make up The Prince of Nothing?

RSB: 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 once boasted while very drunk that I wanted to write something that would ultimately make The Lord of the Rings look like ‘Little Miss Muffet.’ It’ll never happen, of course, but I truly do want to write something worthy of the word ‘epic,’ hoping that even if I fail I’ve accomplished something interesting. Since buying into a series of books is very much like getting into a car with someone else behind the wheel, people should know why I’m wearing a crash helmet.

RB: With the publication of The Warrior-Prophet can you commit yourself to a full-time writing career? How much of your writing time do you devote to writing Philosophy?

RSB: I took the plunge after finishing up the spring term. Against all reason the translation deals keep trickling in, and my fiancée Sharron and I are managing to scrape by. Having the Best Agent in the World helps… As it stands, I have very little time to devote to writing philosophy, which is probably for the best. Like sobriety, it keeps me from becoming too preachy. At the moment, I’m more interested in re-enacting the crime than I am in solving it.

RB: Growing up and finding your own authorial voice, which writers/books influenced you, both in and out of the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre?

RSB: First and foremost, Tolkien. Then Frank Herbert – especially the original Dune. In some ways I think I’ve never escaped the fences these two writers have imposed on my imagination. Outside the genre, Ernest Buckler has always been the model to which I aspire, both with regard to character and style. For some reason, I always keep a copy of Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby within reach – just to remind me, I guess, of the sensitivity and nuance that thought and care can instil in one’s prose.

RB: What authors are you finding time to read, again either in or out of the genre?

I just finished rereading Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon, and have started rereading Deadhouse Gates, all so that I can catch up on Memories of Ice andHouse of Chains – I’ve just been so bloody busy! Erikson is single-handedly reminding me of how much fun I had reading before being institutionalized by University and ‘primary texts.’ Before that it was Mieville’s Perdido Street Station – an extraordinary book – and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which took some courage to read due to a bizarre near-death experience I had some years back. It’s the kind of book that carves its initials into your psyche. And before these it was Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, just to see what all the fuss was about. I’m still mystified.

RB: With all the fervor surrounding the Tolkien/LOTR films and Epic/High fantasy becoming a more recognizable genre, there also seems to be an undercurrent of writers who espouse to writing fiction in a vein quite the opposite of the Tolkien tradition (Elves, Wizards,and what not). While this is a good thing for the growth and (lack of a better term) diversification of the genre, there also seems to be a bit of derision towards Professor Tolkien’s works. In our Fantasy forums (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=6), there is a continual debate regarding the genre and where it is going, are there too many Tolkien clones and are there not enough “original” voices in fantasy, writers who don’t exactly mimic Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Though your work straddles the line between the two in the best possible way, something reminiscent of the spirit of Tolkien’s work mingled with an incredibly detailed, rich, vibrant and new world, where do you personally stand, in terms of diversity in the genre from Tolkein-ish fantasy to the New Weird writers like China Mieville?

RSB: I actually see myself as slavishly following Tolkien’s model… But then that was the point: to explore these enormously popular conventions by taking them seriously – turning them inside out, you might say, as opposed to upside down. When the first galleys of The Darkness That Comes Before were printed, Penguin sent me two boxes of fifteen by mistake, and following the helpful advice of John Marco, I started sending them far and wide, asking various people if they would be interested in taking a looksee. Now I knew nothing, and I mean nothing, about the bigger SF&F scene – I’d scarcely read three or four fantasy novels in the preceding decade – so I had no idea of what to expect. But I scoped out various websites, thinking the book would be better received by eggheads like myself. I started emailing queries.

Then I ran head on into this debate. First I received a couple of outright refusals of the ‘I don’t do epic fantasy’ stripe, then a couple of warnings: ‘Send it, but you should know that I hate epic fantasy.’ Given the hype surrounding Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, I thought this was understandable. Everyone knows someone who seems to hate popular things because they’re popular. You have those who cultivate what I call the ‘iconoclastic chic,’ on the one hand, and those who have a principled suspicion of the culture industry on the other. No surprise here, I thought. Every nook and cranny of culture has its own ‘literati.’ If SF&F is ‘paraliterature,’ then ‘paraliterati’ are pretty much inevitable, aren’t they? All I have to do, I told myself, is show them I’m the ‘real deal’ – they’ll come around.

So I posed a question on a message board where epic fantasy seemed to be taking a particularly hard beating at the hands of one of these reviewers. I realized something was amiss the first time I had my knuckles rapped for using the term ‘sci-fi’ instead of ‘SF.’ Then I ended up spending my time fending off a succession of strawman criticisms and attacks on my character – and I kept apologizing, thinking that it had to be my ‘e-tone’ or something like that. I mean, these people were all about celebrating difference and diversity, weren’t they?

No such luck. The grease was burning and I was on the grill!

At the time the reasons behind the flames escaped me, but now I think it had to do with an attack I made on postmodernism – something which only became clear to me after I had read Perdido Street Station. If I remember correctly, I was in the midst of reading Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, and apart from being awestruck by his incisive observations and immaculate prose, I found myself disappointed by what seemed – to me, anyway – an almost mechanical reproduction of a number of post-modern tropes: the use of ‘existentially subversive’ doubles and mirrors, the continual references to hybridity and the carnivalesque, the decentred self, the eschewing of motivation and ‘psychological realism.’ So much of it seemed straight out of the po-mo manual to me, to the point where I started playing, quite against my intentions, ‘spot the trope’ while reading. Even worse, it seemed to me that he was using them uncritically – or worse yet, thinking them inherently critical rather than the statement of an alternate status quo.

I think the reason I was flamed was simply that these tropes, which seemed a tired expression of a bankrupt formalism to me, actually seemed exciting or important to those I debated. Their reaction, I think, was akin to the reaction lovers of Jordan or Brooks must have when one of the paraliterati parachutes in and starts enumerating and dismissing all the recycled tropes they adore. They got their backs up.

Of course none of this means that postmodern tropes can’t be made interesting – I actually think Mieville has one up on Wolfe in this regard. And of course, an indictment of postmodernism is not necessarily and indictment of the New Weird. Personally, I look forward to sharing their explorations as a reader and an unabashed fan.

But this encounter, which dismayed me at the time, set me thinking long and hard, not simply about fantasy, but about what fantasy should be. As a result, I’ve come to a handful of tentative conclusions, any of which I’d only be too happy to be argued out of…

i) Intellectual conventions, such as the po-mo tropes I mention above, can be every bit as stifling as commercial ones – perhaps even moreso, given the way they seem to fool otherwise intelligent people into thinking they’re doing something critical, or even worse, revolutionary. The ‘traditional paradigms’ of self, meaning, and representation crashed a long time ago.

ii) Defecting from conventions is cheap. Rule-breaking is simply a formal exercise, and one which can be pursued, as modern art has shown, to the point of utter inaccessibility. It does not magically possess a more privileged relation to originality than rule-following. The issue, it seems to me, is always one of how we break or follow the rules.

iii) Commercial conventions can be profound. The paraliterati, I’ve found, often gloss over the dialectical nature of the culture industry and claim that media corporations dictate what the masses read – this is every bit as weak as the libertarian or market fundamentalist claim that the masses dictate, through their purchases, what media corporations produce. Obviously the two are in dialogue with one another, and the pendulum swings.

Any mass market product is in some way the result of collective desire, which is to say, the result of some collective lack. Now in the case of many mass consumer products, I would agree that the lack at issue is largely a corporate contrivance: diamond engagement rings are the classic example here. Ashamed you can’t afford a decent rock? Thank DeBeers, who in their wholesale promotional videos openly admit to engineering new ‘cultural imperatives.’ Epic fantasy, however, is a different story: Tolkien’s original publisher simply stumbled upon the collective lack it answers to, one that predates any marketing campaign and seems damn near universal.

This makes the sub-genre, and all the family resemblances belonging to it, horribly significant. Epic fantasy is a cipher, a way to decode who we are during this strange and dangerous time in our history. For me, this means the conventions of epic fantasy need to be understood far more than they need to be lampooned. Those who think they already understand, that the case is closed, are nothing more than dogmatists. There’s precious few open and shut cases in cultural criticism. It’s interpretation all the way down.

iv) If epic fantasy is a symptom of a far more fundamental phenomenon, then wishing away its commercial dominance simply makes no sense. This, I think, is the crux of the ongoing debate. If epic fantasy was simply an arbitrary phenomenon, a historical accident or a corporate imposition, then perhaps the tactics of the paraliterati would make sense – perhaps. I have my chits on the opposite side of the table, and a host of what I think are compelling arguments (some of which are summarized in an old article I submitted here at sffworld called Why Fantasy and Why Now?. But even if I’m wrong, I’m not sure what the paraliterati hope to accomplish by continually railing against epic fantasy. Surely they don’t think the demise of epic fantasy will mean the end of commercially dominant conventions, do they? Perhaps they simply want their conventions to become commercially dominant, though you’d think they’d realize, given the way the market caters to our all too human need for flattery, simplicity, and certainty, that the chances of this seem pretty bleak.

It’s pretty hilarious when you think about it: epic fantasy fans on the one side, dismissing the paraliterati as arrogant cranks, and the paraliterati on the other side, dismissing epic fantasy readers as ignorant fools. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Generic conventions aren’t the only things being repeated ad nauseum!

So what should fantasy be? Enjoyed. Explored. Criticized and extolled. Arguing the form it should or shouldn’t take, it seems to me, is something of a mug’s game.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2023, 02:08:09 pm by H »
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira


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« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2017, 07:02:29 pm »
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
(June 01, 2011)

- You seem quite pleased with the way THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR has been received thus far. Did Overlook and Orbit market this one differently than its predecessor, or has the novel just built on the wave created by THE JUDGING EYE?

There’s as many answers to this question as there readers of the series. One of the factors, I think, has to do with the difficulty of The Thousandfold Thought. Combined with the delay, many readers took their time moving onto The Judging Eye, so there was no real sales bump you often see in fantasy series. Then of course there was the fiscal crisis... Dark fiction generally doesn’t fare that well during dark days.

The bottomline is that I’m walking a tightrope with this series, balancing what I think is a celebration of the high fantasy genre with various staples of literary fiction in what I think are novel and interesting ways. It’s a rich and heady brew, and it’ll take time, I think, to move through the cultural gut. My agent worries. My wife worries. I’ve actually been offered substantial sums to abandon the series!

And I always say, "Wait... wait until its done. Then you’ll see." The catechism of the Wishful Thinker, perhaps.

Perhaps the response to The White-Luck Warrior is the first glimmer... Who knows? Hopefully people keep talking.

- THE JUDGING EYE was your most accessible book to date, yet many hardcore fans bemoaned the absence of your "spending too much time knocking around in your characters’ heads." In that regard, THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR seems to be a return to what made the Prince of Nothing so distinctive. Was that a conscious decision, or did the narrative simply demand such a return to form?

I’m always tweaking, of course, especially while working on revisions, but I think this as much a function of the story as anything else. I still think there’s too much unmotivated interiority in The Prince of Nothing, points where I wallow in this or that perspective for the sake of exploring this or that nuance of character–nuances, which, frankly, strike all but the most careful readers as bald repetition. So in The Thousandfold Thought, for instance, I was bent on exploring the fingerprint, down to the trough and whorls, of religious submission to another. This angle and that. Spin it this way, articulate it that. I see it as a meditation on some very curious facts regarding power and passion, and I indulged myself, saying, ‘Well, if they’ve followed me this far...’

‘This far,’ I now think, was ‘too far.’ All along I wanted to write an epic fantasy that rewards careful reading, the kind of scrutiny generally reserved for so-called ‘literary texts.’ A fantasy that wouldn’t be ‘ruined’ by a literature PhD, let alone a BA. At the same time I wanted to write an epic fantasy that rewards casual reading as well–to literally have it both ways. This is the tightrope. The temptation for me would be scoff at the casual readers, upbraid them for not being ‘careful enough.’ But the failure is mine: I’m the one who set the task of writing something that works at multiple levels of resolution, so it would be dishonest to simply jump from the one to the other depending on the charge. I need to have both to satisfy my own yardstick.

This is why I like to think I’ve been much more careful in The White-Luck Warrior, dipping into the souls of my characters, yes, but with more an eye for advancing the story. The nuances are all still there, and I’m sure many will bitch about ‘getting it the first time,’ but not quite so many, and I’ll take that as a measure of progress.

Otherwise, I think the book has more than enough hysterical psychodrama to please the navel porn junkies out there.

- Why was the original title, THE SHORTEST PATH, ultimately dropped and changed to THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR?

I was never quite happy with The Shortest Path, and I always liked The White-Luck Warrior, more so once the structural parallels to The Warrior-Prophet became increasingly apparent. I love blurs, the way repetitions, twisted through the lens of changing contexts, create resonances and ambiguities.

- What's the basic timeline we can expect for the release of your next few books? I understand there is a "Can-Lit" novel that will be released in the near future? What can you tell us about that novel?

We were working on a deal that would have seen Light, Time, and Gravity published this fall, but unfortunately, things didn’t work out. A couple years back I took this recipe I had been using to spoof CanLit (up here on the boreal fringe of the United States, we’re forced to subsidize culture to convince ourselves we’re more than just Americans who think they’re better than Americans) and used it to pitch a project to the Canada Council, an institution notorious for high-brow bigotry. And lo, I received a cheque for twenty G’s in the mail a few months later. Loathe to part with the money, I decided to actually write the book.

The idea is the same: embrace the genre, then stuff it with as much craziness as I can get away with. When you write a literary novel you are entering a certain kind of ‘judgment space’ (one where many of the things you and I love are regarded as ‘silly’ to varying degrees). I know there’s a lot of people like me out there, people who for whatever reason find themselves stuck between judgment spaces. (As the saying goes, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy!) What I try to do in Light, Time, and Gravity, is put these warring pieces in narrative and theoretical motion. The point was to tell a kind of inverted ‘portrait of the artist as a young man’ tale, or Bildungsroman, to use the ten dollar term. What I wanted to show was the bullshit at the heart of so many intellectual bootstrapping tales you hear in academia and literary circles, how transcending one’s ‘benighted origins’ was simply a movement from a set of vulgar conceits to a more insidious set of sophisticated ones.

Values are judgments, so when you abandon one set for another, as happens to so many in university, you are in effect learning how to play a different ‘judgment game.’ The assumption, of course, is that the new game is better than the old, that the humanities, as people like Nussbaum argue, teach people how to think ‘critically,’ that it produces ‘citizens,’ that it somehow elevates individuals above the popular mire, and so preserves some essential kernel of true culture.

Bullshit. It teaches people how to rationalize (typically canonical) conclusions, not to think critically. Teaching people how to write essays is teaching them how to cook up reasons after the fact. This, given the world we live in, is an absolutely essential skill, but there’s nothing ‘critical’ about it. Rationalization is the primary obstacle to the possibility of critical thinking. My (entirely hypothetical) claim is that if you put an English professor in an MRI and pose a number of controversial cultural claims that they would access the problem-solving centres of their brains no more than would a Christian evangelical. (I think I’m actually a kind of proof: If the literary world were even remotely ‘self-critical,’ then you would think they would be discussing critiques such as these, rather than lace the blinders like the ‘cretinized masses’ they lampoon.)

Even worse, it stigmatizes ‘intellectualism,’ renders it the marker of an adversarial social identity. To be intellectual is to belong to a particular, ideologically entrenched out-group, one that generally assumes the cultural worst about ‘regular Joes’ like you. Brainwashed. Oppressed. Kissing the boots that kick us.

As if they were anything more than another boot. The primary social function of post-secondary literary studies, as far as I can tell, is to sift through the masses, identify the critically and creatively minded, then convince them to turn their back on their community. To make fun of popular culture rather than transform it. The sad fact is that the humanities evolved in near absolute ignorance of the pedagogical and social problems they pretend to address. Now, given their prodigious rationalizing skills, they cling to the model that secures their livelihood and prestige.

And I remain another lunatic in the institutional wilderness.

- In THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR we get some hints about the stakes that are being played for, the notion that the Consult want to reduce the population of Earwa to a specific decimal number which has Biblical significance. Was your intention here to draw a direct parallel between the story of Kellhus and the Great Ordeal and that Biblical source, or was it merely an easter egg and the correlation itself is not significant?

Is an ‘easter egg’ the same thing as a herring? If so, there’s a whole whap of them in the books.

- Many early readers of THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR have speculated over the meaning of "144,000." Considering there is a reference to that in the biblical book of Revelation, it does spark curiosity. However, what I'm more curious about is symbolism in the series. Are you consciously connecting "revealed truths" and prophecies with what is unfolding in your narrative?

In a sideways manner, definitely. Fantasy is about ‘blurring,’ taking a shared semantic palette and painting new things–new worlds. Tolkien took Northern European myth as his primary palette. I’m blurring scripture, pursuing the idea that epic fantasy is a kind of ‘scripture otherwise.’ So I employ a variety of strategies to spin a kind of scriptural tone, a certain diction, a certain kind of repetition, a certain moralistic attitude, and so on. Story-wise, I often draw content from the Bible, milking old religious associations to create something new.

Few things are more epic than the Holy Bible.

- After months of relative internet silence, you have elected to create your own blog. What prompted that decision?

I was told this was what contemporary writers have to do to keep their publishers happy nowadays. But for some reason I don’t think my blog makes anyone with a commercial stake in my work happy.

Having something to sell–like I do–makes honest communication bloody difficult. And I am always, always haunted by this. Yet I blunder on. I know that for many readers, no matter how often I spoof myself, no matter how often I reference my own foibles to condemn this or that social idiocy, I come across as a pretentious, arrogant blowhard. How could it be otherwise when I spend all my time telling everyone that they’re far less intelligent, far less rational, far less right, than they credit themselves? The endless qualifications don’t matter. The stupendous amount of research doesn’t matter. The automatic, instant assumption is that I must–at some level–consider myself the magical exception. Nothing makes people more defensive than impugning their intelligence.

Tweak someone’s pride and your wit becomes snark, your insight becomes pretense–the whole tone of everything you say is transformed. Once a brain is primed to find fault, there really is no stopping it, given the ambiguity of language and the world. I sometimes think the very premise of the Three Pound Brain makes it untenable.

This is why I fear the blog is actually doing real damage to my book sales. But what the hell can I do? Transform it into market friendly pap? I just don’t have it in me. Abandon it? I’m beginning to think this is the best solution.

I’m a critic. I’m a know-it-all. I’m a mincer and a tail-chaser. I can never quite play along–no matter what the game! All this makes me a hard sell when it comes to general audiences. The sad fact is that some authors detract from the viability of their work–they just do. Before my daughter (and the prospect of funding a post-secondary education) came along, I would have throttled forward, the torpedoes be damned. But nothing argues cowardice quite so fiercely as parenthood.

- How has your interaction with the fans and the critics colored your choices in characterization and plot? Has there been anything that you've changed because of that interaction?

Most critics are what you might call ‘extreme readers’: they tend to read a lot more than your typical fantasy fan. The paradox of reviewing is that critics are forced to offer up their assessments as typical when their training and sheer exposure to a genre almost guarantees a relatively idiosyncratic reading. So as interested as I am in what the critics say, I really don’t take much of what they say to creative heart. It’s workaday readers and the distribution of their responses that I’m primarily interested in.

I actually gave a paper on this at Aarhus University several months back, so it’s something I’ve pondered quite seriously. The argument I’ve been making ad nauseam for years now is that ‘Literature,’ whatever it is, is nothing essential. Literature is as literature does. Change the circumstances radically enough, and what once counted as Literature will cease doing literary things. And in the past couple decades I think we have witnessed a number of circumstantial game changers. First and foremost, there is market segmentation, the ever more specific and robust linking of various readers to various kinds of fiction. This transformation, I’ve been arguing, has rendered present day ‘literary fiction’ just another genre, with largely fixed audiences demanding the satisfaction of relatively fixed expectations.

The second great game-changer has got to be the Internet.

I go through these spasms of trolling the web, looking at message board responses to my work. I find it taxing at times, simply because my books seem to be so polarizing, but over the years I’ve developed a fair understanding, I think, of the ways my writing parses readers, blowing some away, and irritating others to distraction. Since I see fiction as a form of communication, an attempt to conjure worlds in the brains of others, I think this near instantaneous feedback is as invaluable as it is revolutionary.

It’s like watching the ripples your stones make when you plunk them in the pond. If you think Literature resides in the shape of the stones (the resemblance of your work to past forms), then it makes no difference if you throw them with your eyes opened or closed. If you think literature resides in the ripples (what you work does to actual readers), then you have to keep your eyes peeled, and prepare to be humbled time and again.

- In a Q&A you did five years ago, you brought up the issue of exploring sexism in the guise of what if religious tracts were correct about the "inferiority" of women. Despite this, you've received some flak for the lack of female characters that aren't variations of the "crone, whore, or saint." Has this affected your portrayals of some of the female characters?

When it comes to the misogyny charge my answer has been fairly consistent, I think. First, that I am a sexist, insofar as I think men are generally less competent than women across the majority of modern social contexts. I generally find women more reliable and trustworthy. If anything, misandry is my problem, not misogyny. Second, that people are inclined to mistake depiction for endorsement. Third, that those who decide my books are misogynistic cannot help but find evidence to confirm their view (just as people who decide my books are feminist (my intention) cannot help but find evidence confirming their view). Fourth, that I recognize the problem of the ‘Archie Bunker effect,’ that for many readers the feminist subtexts are simply too opaque to rescue the books from misogynistic misreadings.

And fifth, that the story is far from done, that my critics are passing judgment on fractions of the whole.

It would be entirely dishonest of me to suggest that I haven’t been influenced by the debate, but the fact remains that the story, the characters, and most importantly, the thematic arc, were around long before I realized how hindsight and confirmation bias would obscure my intentions. One of the recurring themes in the series has to do with the contextual vagaries of strength. I have always thought of Esmenet as being extraordinarily strong, given her oppressive circumstances. But her strength is a different strength than that of Mimara, whose strength is entirely different than that of Serwa.

The problem is that so many people think strength consists of agency and nothing more–that strength is simple. Even worse, most think they have far more agency than they in fact do. Everyone thinks they would do better than others who falter or fail in various moral situations. This is why, for instance, they overrate the value of confessions in trials: no one believes that they could be verbally cajoled and coerced into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit (when a frightening number can be). Or consider all those fast-food managers who, convinced that a sophisticated prank caller was a narcotics officer, found themselves talked into strip-searching, and in some cases, sexually assaulting, their employees.

Perceptions of authority make us do crazy things. It’s not just that nobody wants to be as weak as they are, we’re simply hardwired to believe otherwise to varying degrees (just another unpleasant human fact that we need to come to grips with as a society). As a result, many people have difficulty identifying with ‘weak characters.’ Why? Because they’re continually doing things they think they wouldn’t. A surfeit of ‘weak female characters’ they then consider a flag for misogyny. Add that to a brutally patriarchal setting, and we have a pretty compelling case that Bakker is a misogynist.

All they need do is keep reading after this point: a character will have a hundred thoughts, and they’ll pounce upon the one involving sex. That thought will have a hundred different possible interpretations, but they’ll crow about the one that confirms their criticism. The very semantic density of the works begins working against me. Competing interpretations are dismissed, particularly if they’re charitable. To preempt the possibility that I’m doing something more complicated, I get dragged through the mud in other ways. I become trite, derivative, preachy, and the list goes on.

Once people socially commit to this position, then its game over. Others challenge them (because the books really are more complicated) and suddenly making their case becomes a matter of in-group prestige. They become invested, to the point of repeating the same arguments over years. It really is remarkable. They end up sounding like, well, gay conservatives. People who act like fans in so many ways, devouring the books, discussing them, and yet spending all their air-time taking the piss out of them. Such is the need to be believed!

And the unfortunate fact is that they prime the expectations of other readers, bend the funhouse mirror in ways that tend to close the possibility of open, charitable readings–a mindset that I think the books genuinely reward. I have no doubt that sales have suffered, such is the power of labels. Books that interrogate misogyny, that ask genuinely hard questions about gender (as opposed to politically correct ones), become shunned as ‘misogynistic.’

Is this me ‘blaming the reader’? Fucking A it is. Books are not like shoes: the customer isn’t always right in the world of writing. But I’m only pointing out weaknesses that we all share, that screw with all of us all the time. Me. You. It’s just the way it works. Moral intuitions are tweaked, then the reasons come rushing in afterward. I know these reasons are convincing: for most people they’re identical to conviction. There just has to be something wrong with me or my books. It’s so obvious. And yet, when I tell friends of mine, male and female, that people ‘out there’ think I’m a male chauvinist, they laugh their asses off. People who actually know me think it’s preposterous.

This is getting really longwinded–such is the need to defend one’s honour, let alone sell books! Anyway, I was already committed to the story long before these controversies erupted. More than a few times I found myself writing material that I knew people would intentionally read against my intent, but like I said, I was already committed. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that a certain subset of readers will see flags instead of ciphers, and that this controversy will always dog the books. All I can hope is that the overall reputation of the series will survive and eventually overshadow this perplexing sideshow. For all the praise you hear about ‘risk taking,’ you still get punished for taking them. That’s what makes them risks in the first place!

The moral of the story? Be careful of what you ask for.

- There appear to be parallels between THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR and THE WARRIOR-PROPHET, in both name and the fact that huge armies face massive difficulties (logistical and otherwise) in traversing huge wastelands. Was this deliberate or a natural side-effect of them both being 'middle books' in their respective series?

It was always in the cards, simply because the story always involved two holy wars waged over great distances. War stories of the kind I’m trying to tell seem to possess a natural tripartite structure: assembly, transport, conflagration. Tailor-made for trilogies...

- In the past you've said that the final sequence of The Second Apocalypse cannot be named because it would be a massive spoiler. Will THE UNHOLY CONSULT - the final volume of The Aspect-Emperor sequence - reveal the name of the final sub-series? And if Kellhus is the Prince of Nothing and now is the Aspect-Emperor can we assume that the title of the final series will also refer to Kellhus?

So much will be revealed, in fact, that I can’t comment–at least not in a family-friendly interview such as this! Things. Get. Positively. Hardcore.

- You've said in the past that Cil-Aujas in THE JUDGING EYE was a nod of thanks to Tolkien and Moria. Similarly, was Cleric and Akka's adventures in Sauglish a nod at Erebor and Smaug from THE HOBBIT? Some have also mentioned McCarthy. Are there other literary touchstones in your books fans may or may not have perceived?

More than I can count. I don't have an original bone in my body. Derivations piled upon derivations. I'm kind of like calculus that way.

- In DON QUIXOTE there is a line, "History is the mother of truth." To what degree, if any, would the altered "memory is the mother of truth" apply to your novels, particularly DISCIPLE OF THE DOG and the scenes involving the Nonmen in your Earwä novels?

Beautiful aphorism, isn’t it? One thing I love about aphorisms is the way they can become a kind of conceptual haiku, how abstract claims, left to hang in isolation, seem to soak up profundity and possibility. Consider these alternatives to Quixote: History is the mother of power. Power is the mother of truth. Hunger is the mother of history. Knowledge is the mother of history. Each of these versions possess some whiff of truth: the concepts involved are so abstract, their meanings so overdetermined, that you seem to capture something in the mere act of shuffling them around. Each says something (apparently) crucial without in any way saying anything final.

History, Appetite, Knowledge and Power are of course four of the bigger thematic pillars of the series. The story literally bristles with them. With Achamian, history is indeed the mother of truth: the key to understanding the Second Apocalypse lies in comprehension of the First. With Kellhus (and the D nyain more generally) history is the mother of deception, another ‘darkness that comes before.’ In both cases, history is the frame, the ground of what happens. And the series has become somewhat notorious, I think, for the way histories are layered throughout.

With the Nonmen, history is not so much the frame as the object of appetite. They are way to explore what happens when history is piled too high, so high that the losses begin to crowd out the joys. Disciple of the Dog explores a similar theme, only for Disciple it’s the crowding that’s the problem more than what gets crowded out.

In both cases, history becomes the mother of insanity.

- Being as meticulous as you are, have you ever drawn a "world map" of the areas that are outside the ones already depicted?

I’m not sure ‘meticulous’ is a word that I have any right to. Any rigour in my worldbuilding is simply the product of having lived with (and in) Earwa for so long. I’ve actually resisted mapping out the entire globe over the years. Ideas for alternate civilizations seem to crop up like mushrooms in my imagination, and the temptation is to make good on them by giving them a ‘place.’

But way back, I wrote this paper on the difference between ancient and modern roads (in the context of a philosopher named Levinas). The signature conceptual difference, I argued, was the way modern roads enclose the globe, the way civilization, in a sense, never runs out for us the way it did for the ancients. At the time I decided the best way to remain true to the ancient headspace I was trying to conjure was to make sure all the roads in Earwa run out, to make the terra incognita in my world absolute.

But this isn’t to say that surprises haven’t been painted across the horizon.

- As the final volume in The Aspect-Emperor, will THE UNHOLY CONSULT also feature a massive encyclopedia about the setting, like The Thousandfold Thought?

I’ve already started working on the ‘Expanded and Revised’ Encyclopaedic Glossary, in fact, but more and more it’s looking as though The Unholy Consult will be larger than even The White-Luck Warrior. If so, I’m guessing that the Glossary will have to be published... gulp... separately.

- Speaking of THE UNHOLY CONSULT, what can you tell us about the final volume of The Aspect-Emperor?

Completing it will certainly be a tremendous relief, simply because it’ll allow me to finally talk about so many things I’ve kept bottled up for so many years. I’m not sure whether The Second Apocalypse will be anything more than a cult success, commercially speaking, but when you live with a story as long as I have, it becomes a kind of yardstick, something almost religious in its demands. I am very, very happy with how the tale has come along–thanks, in large part, to some important lessons I learned along the way. My brother and I used to pine and daydream about this back in our D&D days, so to see it rendered, every bit as epic as we hoped, and as profound and lyrically beautiful as I could make it... well, that’s just way, way cool.

It feels scriptural, in my imagination at least.

Now, at the top of the sixth inning, the bases are loaded and I need to hit the ball out of the park. So what I want to say is that The Unholy Consult is where most of the burning questions will be revealed. I write books that many people love to hate: my hope is that after this latest set of reveals, the series will have earned their grudging respect as something genuinely unique and daring.

- Will the final sequence still be a duology or do you think there is scope for it expanding to another trilogy?

I won’t know until I begin working on it in earnest.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira