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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Does evil need to be effective to be evil? And how do you define effectiveness? Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge managed to murder about 25-30% of Cambodia's population, destroy the country's agricultural and industrial base, fairly well wipe out the educated class inside the country (defined as anyone with an education beyond the ability to read; a good many of those went too, of course), and in general became so rabid that only China was willing to maintain any sort of contact with them, and that at arm's length. Their rabidity was the prime reason that they ended up losing the country. (though they are still around and still causing trouble.) In other words, they were extremely ineffective in attaining their goal, which was to seize Cambodia, remake it in the way Pol Pot wished (and still wishes), and export their brand of revolution abroad. Looking at the death toll, the cities emptied out (hospital patients were told they had one hour to leave or die; post-op patients, those still in the operating room, everybody), the murders of entire families down to infants because one member of the family was suspected of "counter-revolutionary" crimes, the mass executions (one method was for hundreds of people to be bound hand and foot, then bulldozed into graves alive; the bulldozers drove back and forth over these mass graves until attempts to dig out stopped)—given all of that, can you say that Khmer Rough's ineffectiveness made them less evil? Irrationality is more fearful than rationality (if we can use that term in this regard) because if you have brown hair and know that the serial killer out there is only killing blondes, you are safe, but if he is one of those following no easily discernible pattern, if every murder seems truly random, then it could be you who will be next. But "rationality" can have its terrors. What if that killer is only after brunettes named Carolyn? Stalin had the very rational goal (according to Communist dogma) of forcibly collectivizing all farmland in the Soviet Union. He was effective—all the land was collectivized—and to do it he murdered some thirty million small farmers who did not want to go along.
But are the Forsaken ineffective or irrational? Are they any more divided than any other group plotting to take over a country, a world, IBM? True, they plot to secure power for themselves. But I give you Stalin v. Trotsky and the entire history of the Soviet Union. I give you Thomas Jefferson v. Alexander Hamilton v. John Adams, and we will ignore such things as Jefferson's hounding of Aaron Burr (he tore up the Constitution to do it; double jeopardy, habeas corpus, the whole nine yards), or Horatio Gates' attempted military coup against Washington, with the support of a fair amount of the Continental Congress. We can also ignore Secretary of War Stanton's attempts to undermine Lincoln throughout the Civil War, the New England states' attempt to make a separate peace with England during the Revolution and their continued trading with the enemy (the British again) during the War of 1812, and... The list could go on forever, frankly, and take in every country. Human nature is to seize personal advantage, and when the situation is the one the Forsaken face (namely that one of them will be given the rule of the entire earth while the others are forever subordinate), they are going to maneuver and backstab like crazy. You yourself say "If ever there was the possibility that some alien force was going to invade this planet, half the countries would refuse to admit the problem, the other half would be fighting each other to figure out who will lead the countries into battle, etc." Even events like Rahvin or Sammael or Be'lal seizing a nation have a basis. What better way to hand over large chunks of land and people to the Dark One than to be ruler of those lands and people? The thing is that they are human. But aside from that, are you sure that you know what they are up to? All of them? Are you sure you know what the Dark One's own plans are? Now let's see about Rand and his dangers and his allies. Have you been skimming, my dear? What makes you think the Tairens, Cairhienin and Andorans are solidly behind him? They're plotting and scheming as hard as the Forsaken. Rand is the Dragon Reborn, but this is my country, and we don't need anybody, and so on. And then there are those who don't think he is the Dragon Reborn at all, just a puppet of Tar Valon. Most of the Aiel may be behind him, but the Shaido are still around, and the bleakness is still taking its toll, since not all Aiel can face up to what Rand has told them about themselves. What makes you think the Seanchan will fall in behind Rand? Have you seen any Seanchan volunteers showing up? Carolyn, half of these people are denying there is a problem, and half are trying to be big honcho themselves. Read again, Carolyn. The world Rand lives in is getting more frenzied and turbulent. Damned few are saying, "Lead, because you know best." A good many who are following are saying "Lead, because I'd rather follow you than have you call down lightning and burn me to a crisp!"
As for lack of challenge, I refer you again to the question about whether you really think you know what all the Forsaken are planning. Or what Padan Fain is up to. There is a flaw inherent in fiction, one that is overcome by suspension of disbelief. We do always know, somewhere in the back of our heads, that the hero is going to make it through as far as he needs to. After all, if Frodo buys the farm, the story is over, kids. The excitement comes in trying to figure out how he can possibly wiggle out, how he can possibly triumph.
In Rand's case, let's see what he still has stacked against him. The Cairhienin and Tairens are for the most part reluctant allies, and in many cases not even that. At the end of Fires, he has Caemlyn, but I don't see any Andoran nobles crowding around to hail him. Illian still belongs to Sammael. Pedron Niall is working to convince people Rand is a false Dragon, and the Prophet is alienating ten people for every one he convinces. Tarabon and Arad Doman are unholy messes; even if Rand manages to get in touch with all of the Dragonsworn—who are not organized beyond individual bands—he has two humongous civil wars to deal with. True, he can use the Aiel to suppress those, but he has to avoid men killing men too much; there are Trollocs waiting to spill out of the Blight eventually. We must always remember the Trollocs, Myrddraal etc; the last time they came out in force, it took over 300 years to beat them back, and the Last Battle doesn't give Rand anywhere near that. Altara and Murandy are so divided in any case that simply getting the king or queen on his side isn't going to work; remember that most people in those two countries give loyalty to a city or a local lord and only toss in their country as an afterthought. Davram Bashere thinks Tenobia will bring Saldaea to Rand, and that is possible since the Borderlands would be one place where everyone is aware of the Last Battle and the Prophecies, but even Bashere isn't willing to make any promises, not even for Saldaea much less the other Borderlands, and I haven't seen any Borderland rulers showing up to hand Rand the keys to the kingdom. Padan Fain is out there, able to feel Rand, and hating him because of what was done to him, Fain, to make him able to find Rand. The surviving Forsaken are out there and except for Sammael, nobody knows what they are up to or where they can be found. For that matter, who knows everything that Sammael is up to? Elaida, in the White Tower, thinks Rand has to be tightly controlled. The Salidar Aes Sedai are not simply ready to fall in and kiss his boots, either. Aes Sedai have been manipulating the world for more than three thousand years, guiding it, making sure it remembers the Dark One and Tarmon Gai'don as real threats, doing their best, as they see it, to prepare the world for the Dark One breaking free. Are they likely to simply step aside and hand over control to a farmboy, even if he is the Dragon Reborn? Even after Moiraine decided he had to be given his head, Siuan was reluctant, and Siuan was in Moiraine's little conspiracy from the beginning. And the Seanchan...The last we saw of their forces, they were commanded by a Darkfriend. As for the Sea Folk, do you know what their prophecy says about the Coramoor? Do you think working with them it will be any simpler than dealing with the Aiel, say?
Now, what and who does Rand have solidly in his camp? Perrin knows what is needed, but he's hardly happy about it. What he really wants is to settle down with Faile and be a blacksmith; everything else is a reluctant duty. Mat blew the Horn of Valere, but it's hidden in the Tower, and frankly, if he could figure some way to go away and spend the rest of his life carousing and chasing women, he would. He'll do what he has to do, but Light he doesn't want to. The Aiel are for Rand (less the Shaido, still a formidable force), but the Dragon Reborn and the Last Battle are no part of the Prophecy of Rhuidean. That is all wetlander stuff. Besides which, they are still suffering losses from bleakness, people throwing down their spears and leaving, people defecting to the Shaido or drifting back to the Waste because what Rand told them of their origins can't possibly be true and if it isn't then he can't be the Car'a'carn. Rand has declared an amnesty for men who can channel and is trying to gather them in; they, at least, should give their loyalty to him. But how many can he find? How much can he teach them in the time he has? How many will go mad before the Last Battle? There is still the taint on saidin, remember. For that matter, can Rand hang onto his own sanity? What effect will having a madman inside his head have? Can he stop Lews Therin from taking him over?
I know that was supposed to be a listing of what Rand has in his favor, but the fact is that he is walking the razor's edge, barely hanging onto his sanity and growing more paranoid all the time, barely hanging onto putative allies, most of whom would just as soon see him go away in the hope that then everything would be the way it was before he showed up, confronted by enemies on every side. In short he has challenges enough for ten men. I've had people write to say they can't see how Rand is going to untangle all of this and get humanity ready to face the Last Battle. What I say is, what you believe to be true is not always true. What you think is going to happen is not always going to happen. That has been demonstrated time and again in The Wheel of Time. You could call those two statements one of the themes of the books.
My dear fellow rasfwrjians, as (to the best of my knowledge) the only one of us to attend the signing at Science Fiction, Mysteries, and More on Thursday, I feel obliged to report what Jordan said there, and my impressions.
Robert Jordan was stockier, shorter, and better cushioned than I expected. He wore a wide brimmed hat and walked with a cane with a ram's horn like handle. Generally he was open and friendly. When he came in late he explained that it was because Princess Di was in New York to meet Bill Clinton to discuss Vince Foster's suicide. However he made repeated references to being worn out and overworked by Lord of Chaos.
Majority rules, my dear? You should know that I am neither Democrat nor Republican; I am a monarchist. For the church for the laws, for the king, for the cause! For Charles, King of England, and Rupart of the Rhine! Ah, for the chance to re-fight Malvern Hill. God send this crumb well down!
Ah, me. To do evil without doing wrong. What about the law of unintended consequences? An example, partly fictive, but possible. We have passed laws protecting harp seals. The result so far, an explosion in the harp seal population, an explosion in the orca population (they feed on harp seals, among others) and a sharp decline in commercial fishing in those waters (orcas and harp seals both like to eat the same fish that people do). Nothing evil so far, just fishermen and cannery workers out of work and some fishing towns in depressions, but here is the fictive yet possible part.
Population explosions frequently result in waves of disease, quite often new and deadlier strains of something that has been around in the population with less effect for some time. As witness AIDS, Ebola, Zaire and the Devil's own litany of others, these things can be devastating. So, postulate that the explosion in harp seal population results in the appearance of a virus among the seals—call it Seal Ebola—and the next thing you know there aren't any harp seals left at all. (Some of these things do seem to come close to 100% lethality, and if you only have 90%, which is the rate among humans with Zaire, I think, you are left with 10% of the population weakened and in no shape to escape orcas or sharks and with systems weakened to where they would be easy prey for other illnesses that they usually shake off.)
Worst case. Seal Ebola does not only infect harp seals. After all, most diseases that affect one part of a species will affect the rest. So seals vanish. All of them. Or maybe it's the orca explosion, and all the whales and dolphins that are wasted. The ecology of the oceans is thrown into a tailspin from which it might never recover. Now, will future generations record what we did as evil? If they use out present manner of viewing history—holding everyone in history to the standards of our time, usually more tightly than we hold most of our own populations, holding them to account as if they had our knowledge and lived in a world with our moral views, and condemning those ancestors who fail to measure up—if thy use that method, they certainly will. Would what we did be evil? I don't know. An act taken with the purest of intentions that resulted in the death of an entire species. The result could not be called other than evil, but does that make the cause evil? Now more than ever, I regret that Robert Marks, an old friend, died some years ago. This is the kind of question that would make him want to open a bottle of good brandy and discuss it for hours.
"No man is an island, but every one a part of the main. Therefore, send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee." John Donne.
Don't worry about grinning over the fate of the poor string bean. I have heard people express the belief from the heart. Not from the brain, though; I think that they lacked that particular organ. Then there is the group of rather vocal people who believe that human beings have no more rights than any other animal ("a boy is a cat is a dog is a rat"), though they generally express it by saying that animals should have the same rights as people. To vote, perhaps? To hold elective office? We already see enough jackasses in public office.
Don't worry too greatly about how much of what you said there that you actually believe. The purpose of the sort of discourse you engaged in is not so much to express belief as to explore ideas and possibilities. you say, if this, then maybe that, and if both things, then this other should follow. None of that is saying that you necessarily believe in any of the points, though it can lead to belief in various things. It is a good way to reason out what you do believe in. Much better than simply taking someone else's word for it. That is fine for 1 + 1 = 2, but not so good on points of morality, ethics, philosophy, or whether monarchist feudalism would function better than the mish-mosh of corruption, self-interest and idiocy we are saddled with at present.
In the end, I believe that we ourselves define what is good or evil. Several hundred years ago, slavery was seen as good and right. I don't mean just black slavery; there were white slaves in Europe—and slaves in Asia, Africa and just about everywhere else—for thousands of years before the first black slave was brought to America. Helping a slave escape was theft of property at best and an abomination in the eyes of God—or the gods—at worst. Time passes, and our views alter significantly.
If an Avatar of Pure Good appeared and told us that in order for Good and Light to triumph over Evil and Darkness, the human race must be extinguished, I think we would decide that old Av was sliding us the long con. And I think we would be right to. Not only as a matter of species survival—any species that is ready to slit its collective throats for whatever cause should go ahead and do it now; it isn't up to survival in a universe that, if not malignant (I do not believe that), is certainly neither benign, compassionate nor caring—but also because I would seriously doubt the Good- and Light-hood of whoever/whatever made such a pronouncement. The Devil can quote scripture, and all that.
It is one of the themes. We like to believe in the United States that we're a nation of great individualists. And we do have occasional great individualists. By and large, we are a nation of people who bond together in groups and are generally suspicious of anybody in any other group. It's always been a struggle for Americans, it seems to me, what group to belong to and how far to submerge ourselves in that group. How far do you retain your own thoughts, and how much do you go by received wisdom? Sometimes received wisdom is true, and sometimes it's not. And it's difficult sometimes to tell the true from the false.
So, that is all part of it, that struggle, which I play out again and again. Because I'm not trying to give answers here, I'm basically trying to tell a story. And if in telling a story, I can make a few people think about this or that and ask a few questions, I'm really not that interested in what answers they come up with as long as I can get them to ask the questions.
It's not only an ancient structure like that. It's in places like, oh, say a country that has a tradition of the common man born in the log cabin and rising to the White House. You know, anybody can be President. And in recent years, anybody has been.
It's an old tradition, and it's not just American. I've seen it in Japanese and Chinese mythology and African mythology. In Asia and Africa, more often the fellow who's the commoner who aspires to greatness gets punished for it by the gods. It is more—I should say, not exclusively—but more of a European and Middle-eastern tradition that the common man can challenge the gods, the entrenched powers, and conquer, or at least work out some sort of rapprochement.
And yeah, I work with that. I've tried to mine myths from every country and every continent. And reverse engineer them, of course. The Arthur myths, the Arthur legends, are easily recognizable in the books. I tried to hide them to some extent, but frankly Arthur is, I believe, the most recognizable legend in the United States. More people know about King Arthur than know about Paul Bunyan or Davey Crockett or anything that we have out of our own culture. But the others—myths from Africa and the Middle East, Norse mythology, Chinese mythologies—those things I could bury more deeply, more easily, because they're not very much recognized here.
Do the events of the outside world (i.e. current affairs, politics and the like) affect what you write in your books?
They must filter in, to varying degrees. I follow the world news assiduously, and I can’t see how I could keep events in the world from affecting events in the books. But it happens when and as I choose. Refugees in Kosovo, ethnic cleansing, famine in Africa, civil wars, upheavals, floods, whatever—you might say I use those events to give authenticity to similar events in the books. I don’t like preaching, but I always hope my readers will think a little beyond the story, and I think that acquired authenticity helps.
Do current events and world politics, such as the tragedy on September 11th, ever end up influencing the events within the books? If so, what are some examples?
Only by accident. Any writing is always filtered through the writer, and whatever the writer lives through always changes the filters, but I don't consciously set out to mirror current events in any way.
(for kcf) I haven't seen J.K.Rowling's comments on reading and writing fantasy, nor any comments by Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett. Are you thinking of particular comments? It seems that you do for Rowling. For myself, I believe that the popularity of fantasy has expanded in the last decade or so, perhaps the last two decades, and expanded far beyond the level at which it began. The success of the Lord of the Rings movies and the Harry Potter phenomena are both results of this increase in popularity. Neither the Lord of the Rings movie nor Harry are causes. Nor do big budgets or modern special effects have much to do with this popularity. People flocked to the movies in droves long before there was any chance that more than a (relative) handful had actually heard about the special effects.
The reason for the popularity of fantasy, and the reason science fiction is fading in comparison, is quite simple, really. Increasingly in books and films, including science fiction but also in everything from mysteries to so-called "main stream literary" novels, the lines between right and wrong have become blurred. Good and evil are more and more portrayed as two sides of the same coin. This is called realism. People by and large want to believe that there is a clear cut right and wrong, though, and that good and evil depend on more than how you look in the mirror or whether you're squinting when you do. In fantasy, you can talk about good and evil, right and wrong, with a straight face and no need to elbow anybody in the ribs to let them know you're just kidding, you don't really believe in this childish, simplistic baloney. That seems to be less and less so in other genres.
Does that mean fantasy all has to be goody-goody on the side of right and black-as-the-pit on the side of evil. No. In my own work telling right from wrong is often difficult. Sometimes my characters make the wrong choice there. Sometimes they do things are quite horrific. But they try to find the right choice. This is the way I think most people see the world and their behavior in it—trying to do the right thing with the knowledge that sometimes you're going to make the wrong choice, and with "right" defined as more than simply being of benefit to yourself—and they want to read books that reflect this. Right and wrong are not simply different shades of gray. Good and evil are not simply a matter of how you look at them. (Have you ever noticed the use of "of course?' As in, "The actions of the suicide bombers is quite horrific, of course...." You know that a "but" is coming, followed by an explanation of why their actions, while "quite horrific, of course" are also "entirely understandable under the circumstances," which come down to "the death and destruction is all somebody else's fault completely.")
As the view of the world, as expressed by the evening news and most books, has increasingly become that everything is really just shades of gray, people have grown more and more to want something that says choosing right from wrong may be difficult, seeing what is evil might be hard, but it is not only worth making the effort, it is possible if you try. Maybe not every time, but most of the time by and large. And that is the heart of the popularity of fantasy, and why it has grown. I suspect that somebody has a doctorate in the waiting simply by showing a correlation between the increase in popularity of fantasy on one hand and, on the other, the increase on the evening news and in most literature of the view that right and wrong, good and evil, are just matters of where you stand and how you're holding your head at the moment.
I have talked before about turning the logic of physics into being a fantasy writer. The first part of it is a simple paradigm that you're given as an undergraduate: Schroedinger's Cat. An engineer says, "Well, we can't know if the cat is alive or dead. You open the box to find out." A physicist says (if he has the right frame of mind for quantum physics), "The cat is both alive and dead, and will be fixed in one state or the other when you open the box." If you can really wrap your mind around that, you're ready to write fantasy!
I browse mythology, but I think if you've studied it too closely there is a tendency to be too grounded in it—an unwillingness to start twisting things and bending things too far. In physics, you expect it to twist and bend and you say, "How does this work? What can I come up with? Hmmm. I wonder how far this thing will bend?" At one time I really did want to get a doctorate in quantum optics but that was a long time ago, so I have not kept up with the literature at all (though I do like the whole notion of the particles, powers, and forces). Occasionally I've been stuck on a panel with physicists—I don't know why they do this to me, since I'm 30 years out of date! Most of the time I'm wondering what the hell they're talking about, but I've discovered a way that I can hold my own: I don't think about discussing physics; I discuss theology, and they think I'm discussing physics! That again says to me, physics is a great grounding for writing fantasy.
Then there's the moral element. In fantasy you're allowed to have at least some dividing line between good and evil, right and wrong. I really believe people want that. In so much of literature there's total moral ambiguity: good is not merely the flip side of evil, it's on the same side of the coin. Quite often you can't tell the difference between the two. If you want to talk about good and evil in mainstream literature, you do it with a nudge and a wink to show that you're really joking, but in fantasy you can say, 'This is right, this is wrong; this is good, this is evil.' OK, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but it's worth the effort to try.
Sometimes you're going to make the wrong call, but that doesn't mean you suddenly have to go on living and try to make the right call the next time, being aware that you have a belly button and that means you're going to make mistakes, sometimes big ones.
Nobody has ever gotten up one morning and said, 'I am a villain' or 'I will be a villain.' What they say is 'I want power.' Serial killers want power, and so do rapists and a lot of other villains, but let’s stick with one sort as an example. You want power and you convince yourself that your being in power will be the best for everyone. That is the way most politicians work. But then there are the guys who say, 'I want power, and if I can convince them that it's the best for everyone, all to the good. I don't give a good goddamn whether it is or not, as long as it's good for me.' He doesn't think he's a villain; he's just trying to do the best he can for himself. But he's on the road to villainy. Unfortunately, so are some of the guys who said, 'This is going to be for the best for all the people involved.' If you do what you believe is the best thing in the world and the result is you deliver millions of people into slavery, as Lenin did in Russia, are you a villain? Yes, you are.
A fellow in Russia, a politician who's a fan of my books, was asking me a lot of questions because he gives them to his friends. He said, "I tell them these are not a manual of politics; they are a manual of the poetry of politics." I'd never thought of them that way. But there's this scale: at one end is total purity in your beliefs, at the other what your enemies believe and are willing to do. Sometimes you can maintain total purity and still defeat your enemies—or win out over them, if you wish to use a less aggressive term. (It still means kick their butts into next week.) But sometimes you can't. If holding onto purity means that the other guys are going to win, then what is your purity worth? So you move just enough to counter them, but now you've danced onto that slippery slope of necessary evil.
And it is necessary, that's the unfortunate thing. The world is not a textbook study—it's uncomfortably real. And that's where you have to start dancing very hard to make sure you don't swing so far over that your victory is no different from their victory. Often the media just give excuses: "He had a terrible childhood, so the fact that he killed 47 women with an ax is not totally to be held against him." Simplistic, true, but not far off the money really except in scale. I don't believe that many people are purely good, and most of those are ineffectual. We all contain shades of gray. But how dark is that gray? I used to pride myself on being a cynic until somebody said to me, "Oh, a cynic is just a failed romantic." These days being a cynic is too lazy an option.
I have been diagnosed with amyloidosis. That is a rare blood disease which affects only 8 people out of a million each year, and those 8 per million are divided among 22 distinct forms of amyloidosis. They are distinct enough that while some have no treatment at all, for the others, the treatment that works on one will have no effect whatsoever on any of the rest. An amyloid is a misshapen or misfolded protein that can be produced by various parts of the body and which may deposit in other parts of the body (nerves or organs) with varying effects. (As a small oddity, amyloids are associated with a wide list of diseases ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to Alzheimer's. There's no current evidence of cause and effect, and none of these is considered any form of amyloidosis, but the amyloids are always there. So it is entirely possible that research on amyloids may one day lead to cures for Alzheimer's and the Lord knows what else. I've offered to be a literary poster boy for the Mayo Amyloidosis Program, and the May PR Department, at least, seems very interested. Plus, I've discovered a number of fans in various positions at the clinic, so maybe they'll help out.)
Now in my case, what I have is primary amyloidosis with cardiomyapathy. That means that some (only about 5% at present) of my bone marrow is producing amyloids which are depositing in the wall of my heart, causing it to thicken and stiffen. Untreated, it would eventually make my heart unable to function any longer and I would have a median life expectancy of one year from diagnosis. Fortunately, I am set up for treatment, which expands my median life expectancy to four years. This does NOT mean I have four years to live. For those who've forgotten their freshman or pre-freshman (high school or junior high) math, a median means half the numbers fall above that value and half fall below. It is NOT an average.
In any case, I intend to live considerably longer than that. Everybody knows or has heard of someone who was told they had five years to live, only that was twenty years ago and here they guy is, still around and kicking. I mean to beat him. I sat down and figured out how long it would take me to write all of the books I currently have in mind, without adding anything new and without trying rush anything. The figure I came up with was thirty years. Now, I'm fifty-seven, so anyone my age hoping for another thirty years is asking for a fair bit, but I don't care. That is my minimum goal. I am going to finish those books, all of them, and that is that.
My treatment starts in about 2 weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where they have seen and treated more cases like mine than anywhere else in the US. Basically, it boils down to this. They will harvest a good quantity of my bone marrow stem cells from my blood. These aren't the stem cells that have Bush and Cheney in a swivet; they can only grow into bone marrow, and only into my bone marrow at that. Then will follow two days of intense chemotherapy to kill off all of my bone marrow, since there is no way at present to target just the misbehaving 5%. Once this is done, they will re-implant my bmsc to begin rebuilding my bone marrow and immune system, which will of course go south with the bone marrow. Depending on how long it takes me to recuperate sufficiently, 6 to 8 weeks after checking in, I can come home. I will have a fifty-fifty chance of some good result (25% chance of remission; 25% chance of some reduction in amyloid production), a 35-40% chance of no result, and a 10-15% chance of fatality. Believe me, that's a Hell of a lot better than staring down the barrel of a one-year median. If I get less than full remission, my doctor already, she says, has several therapies in mind, though I suspect we will heading into experimental territory. If that is where this takes me, however, so be it. I have thirty more years worth of books to write even if I can keep from thinking of any more, and I don't intend to let this thing get in my way.
Jim Rigney/Robert Jordan
For several people, a LONG way back, regarding my statements about good versus evil. I wasn't claiming a total monopoly for fantasy. Andrew Vachs certainly writes about a good vs evil environment, for example, yet Burke, his main character, blurs many of the distinctions. For Burke there is one real evil above all others—the abuse, especially the sexual abuse, of a child. And so say all of us. Anyone I'm willing to drink with, anyway. But remember Wesley, Burke's compadre, that stone killer who finally killed himself, if he actually did die, by blowing himself up along with a school full of children. Burke himself has stepped over any other moral lines often enough that only that one remains for him. Well, I think he would balk at rape, and loyalty to his self-adopted family is paramount to him. But nothing else would faze him in the slightest. That blurring, that acceptance of blurring, is widespread.
I certainly did not maintain that my characters always have proceeded, or will always proceed, from the perceived correct action according even to their own beliefs of right and wrong, good and evil. People have a tendency to make excuses for themselves in what they see as special circumstances. It happens.
The "realism" that I mock—and I will mock it—is that of writers who, in the final result, say, for example that there is no moral difference between the men who flew their airplanes into the Twin Towers and the men who hunt down terrorists. For those who think there are none such, I direct you to comments concerning the Spielberg movie "Munich." I have not seen the film myself and cannot comment on it, but both reviewers who seem to love the film and those who seem to hate it speak of the "equivalence" that Spielberg established between the men who carried out the murders of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the Israeli agents who later hunted them down and killed them. They are all supposed to be the same. Like hell, they are!
I'd better get off this topic. Next I'll be going after fool college professors who call the dead in the Towers "little Eichmanns" and the fool professors and actors who seem to think September 11 was all a plot of the US government. Does Charlie Sheen have ANY brain cells?
Yes, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan were very, very important for the participants. But these wars have been completely localized. Their effect was local, if you don’t count the political changes in the participating countries. Speaking at the global level, the two generations have grown up, and only a small fraction of them have direct combat experience. Most of those who remember the Second World War, who saw it with own eyes, have died. Changes in people's perception of war is incredible. We in the West...
You continue to divide the world into East and West?
Yes, but while maintaining the terminology I have added to this idea another concept. In the days of my youth the United States and Western Europe were called the West and the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union were the East. I grew up in suspense, because I knew that the day could start with a large tank battle between East and West, or that nuclear missiles could be dropped on cities in both areas. I do not think I need to say how happy I was when the danger had passed, but I should clarify that today, when I think and speak of "the West", I am including Russia in this concept. We were allies before we became enemies, and I very much hope that in future we will stand beside you, and you will stand with us.
As I said, we in the West have undergone radical changes in our perception of war. In the U.S. there is a very vociferous minority which believes that any future conflict MUST occur without any losses on our side. I repeat: without any losses. Moreover, every war must take place with MINIMAL losses to the enemy! This belief has reached the point that an extensive research program has been initiated to develop weapons that can destroy the enemy's ability to fight, but without harming his personal well-being. Thus, the nature of future wars comes from the civilian’s understanding of what they should be.
I have already told you about William Tecumseh Sherman, the general, for whom I have little love, but I cannot deny his acute powers of observation and language. During the Franco-Prussian War, he became a columnist and completely shocked the Prussians with sharpness of his stories. He was probably infuriated that the Prussians meticulously and heartily reopened what the armies of the North and the South had opened a decade earlier. So, during this war, Sherman noted: "The war adds to hell—he said—and there is no way to avoid it." To forget this is dangerous, as you may encounter with those who have not forgotten.
Dreams of a bloodless war must be accompanied by a formulation of the rules of combat, rules which must be carried out "humane" war. But we have seen and see people who do not follow any rules, and will fight based on their own rules. Osama bin Laden and his ilk create bombs, that kill hundreds of innocent people, give them the chance and they will blow up the bomb, killing thousands and millions. They will take hostages and order and perform assassinations. To appeal to them or to encourage them to join the "civilized people" is by definition useless.
In addition, the rules are always changing. Sometimes they are changing under the influence of forces that are not under our control.
Climate change in the future makes me more than worried, even if one considers only the favorable scenario. If we consider the worst, then I’m terrified. They can be avoided, but... The nations of the Third World demand exclusive rights in the fight against global warming, because, if you follow their logic, everything that happens is a conspiracy against them personally, and they should have a chance to become equal to the developed world. If our leaders grant them these rights, in the coming century, China will be the main polluter of the environment and the major contributor to global warming on Earth, but who can stop them? So the climate becomes a wild card in the total war game. Which of the nations will suddenly discover that they have too little land to feed themselves, and decide to take land from their neighbors? Which nation, upset by the changes in climate that have been caused by the attempt to become equal with the civilized world, will go down the ancient path of resolving internal conflict, i.e. foreign war?
We believe that we can limit the future of war—the length, the amount of bloodshed, the site of action—but can we really? Can we at least know where the next war will come from, or who will be our new enemy? Today in the heart of Africa, in Congo, there are seven tribes and the three rebel groups engaged in what many call the "First World War in Africa." The United Nations are trying to stop the conflict, but without visible results. You can try to believe that this war is far away or that it involves only a third world country or that this war doesn’t affect us, but history has seen cases, where a miniscule conflict turned into a large-scale war. The fire of the First World War started from a single spark, but who could believe that everything starts with the Serbian attempt to gain independence from Austria-Hungary? Any "reasonable" person of that time would say that this is not enough to spark the fire.
We do not know, and we cannot know. Today, many of the nations, even terrorist organizations, are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The nuclear missile that will destroy Washington, DC, and Moscow can be launched from a place which no one ever considers a real threat. Pneumonia, anthrax or Ebola could devastate our country, and the source will be a country that no one would ever consider to be a powerful enemy.
Features of war have changed as much as the crossbow gave way to a musket, and rifle replaced the musket. A clumsy, almost useless aircraft in 1914 turned into a fighter jet and an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2000. But there is something that has not changed. I usually end my discussion on this topic with three quotations. One I mentioned in our conversation, but it's worth repeating.
"War is hell, and there is no way to avoid it."—General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865
"War—it will not play fair. I am not here to teach you to play fair; I'm here to teach you how to win."—Master Sergeant Maxwell Ritter, U.S. Army, 1968
"As long as minds grasp the philosophy and the passion burning in their hearts, there will be war."
There were lots of other cool aspects of the signing. He's a wildly interesting man to hear speak. My wife hasn't read any of the books, but she came with me and she was fascinated. There was one story he told that was too cool not to pass along. I hope I am faithful to the story and don't embellish too much.
RJ was asked about his portrayal of elected officials and rulers, and he said that he wrote them in the way that he thought politicians in the real world acted. Then he told a story of a meeting he had with a fan in Russia. This fan turned out to be an ex-KGB officer who had been nicknamed "The Dragon" and wanted to know how RJ "knew what he knew." RJ admitted to being really nervous at this point, imagining KGB torture stories, but said that he replied, "First, we must determine what it is that I know." The Dragon seemed to find this funny, and then proceeded to compliment RJ on his writing of politics, saying that he gave the WoT books to friends with the caveat they were not books about politics, but books about the "poetry of politics."
So, don't bad mouth RJ in Russia, unless you want the Dragon on your ass.
As I starting moving towards Mr. Jordan, I prepared my books to be signed, by turning to the title/author page. I had with me: Knife of DreamsNew Spring: The Novel, Lord of Chaos, and issues one and two of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: New Spring comic book. My plan was to go around the line 3 times in order to get them all signed. I chose New Spring: The Novel and Knife of Dreams for the first pass through.
As I got close, I heard Mr. Jordan answering other people's questions. Mentions of "Aes Sedai" and "Seanchan" whispered through the air, though I couldn't hear much more than those. When I rounded a corner and was in sight of Mr. Jordan, (only 3 people in front of me), I got to hear more conversation.
One gentleman told Mr. Jordan that his books are being read by our troops overseas. Mr. Jordan seemed pleased about that, and mentioned that he tried to go across to the Mideast to appear with the USO, but no dice (from what little I heard).