Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Demolished Man part 1: Man Without a Face

Alfred Bester was a supernova in the field of science fiction. He wrote a spate of short stories in the 1950s and two novels, and then withdrew from science fiction to return to the more lucrative field of writing for travel magazines. But the stories he wrote in that brief blaze of creativity were packed full of invention and ideas. Some critics consider him a precursor to the "New Wave" science fiction of the '60s, and the Cyberpunk movement of the '80s. The character of Bester, the Psi-cop in Babylon 5 was named after him. His experimentation with the very text can be seen in his two great novels, The Stars My Destination and the one we're going to be discussing for the next few weeks: The Demolished Man.

Ben Reich is one of the richest men in the Solar System. His company, Monarch Utilities & Resources, has holdings on three planets and six satellites. He's handsome and charismatic; "I wouldn't change looks with the devil. I wouldn't change places with God," he tells himself, and it's not a boast. "I'm not afraid!... I'm never afraid!"

And yet nearly every night he wakes up screaming.

Reich is haunted by nightmares in which he is pursued by a Man With No Face. The dreams are gnawing at him; obsessing him. He has an esper psychiatrist on call 24/7, but his doctor can't help him. "There's a limit to my ability, Mr. Reich." The doctor is a 2nd Class Esper, capable of reading pre-conscious thought, but not of digging down into the subconscious. He believes that Reich knows the identity of the Faceless Man from his dreams, but refuses to admit it to himself.
"E for Esper," he muttered. "Esper for Extra Sensory Perception... For Telepaths, Mind Readers, Brain Peepers. You'd think a mind-reading doctor could stop the screaming. You'd think an Esper M.D. would earn his money and peep inside your head and stop the screaming. Those damned mindreaders are supposed to be the gretest advance since Homo sapiens evolved. E for Evolution. Bastards! E for Exploitation!"
But his doctor's proddings do suggest the answer. Reich has an enemy; a nemisis, rather; a business rival named Craye D'Courtney who owns a major Martian transportation conglomerate. He hates D'Courtney, and realizes that he wants to kill him; no, he needs to kill him.

Thinking things over, he decides to give D'Courtney one last chance. He sends his rival a coded message, suggesting a merger between their two companies. But deep down, he's certain he'll have to kill his enemy. All through the day he keeps coming up against reminders of their personal war: Reich sees his stock dip a point and D'Courtney's rise; his Chief of Personnel tells him that D'Courtney is hiring away all the top quality espers and that he needs to hire a Class 1 to manage his staff.

Reich has a casual conversation with West, his company's "Recreation Director", actually in charge of corporate espionage. He knows he'll need the help of an esper if he wants to go through with murder, and West is a Class 2. But West doesn't want to know whatever Reich is planning. All Espers are members of the Espers' Guild and bound by a strict ethical code. The price of breaking those rules is ostracism by the rest of the Esper community; and nothing Reich can offer is worth that price.

Reich goes to his office and digs some papers out of his vault; confidential and highly valuable information. Among them is a dossier written by his ancestor, Geoffrey Reich, who originally founded the company: an outline of four methods for committing the Perfect Murder. Well, that's over-stating things. The plans are over a century old and hopelessly outdated. After all, with the proliferation of espers in the police departments and in most professions, there hasn't been a successful murder in over seventy years. Still, Ben finds them inspirational reading:
"Caution: The essence of murder never changes. In every era it remains the conflict of the killer against society with the victim as the prize. And the ABC of conflict with society remains constant. Be audacious, be brave, be confident and you will not fail. Against these assets society can have no defense."
As he turns over ideas in his mind, D'Courtney's response arrives: a one-word coded reply: "WWHG", Offer Refused. "All right, D'Courtney. If you won't let it be merger, then I'll make it murder."

Reich has information on a number of corrupt, eminently bribable persons; and one of these is a Class 1 esper named Augustus Tate. Tate belongs to a faction within the Espers Guild that opposes the Guild's policy of increasing the number of espers through controlled breeding, in order to preserve the power and income of top-tier peepers. Reich confronts Tate directly and lays out his offer: help him kill D'Courtney, and Reich will put his fortune into breaking the Guild so that Tate and his friends can be on top.

It's a hell of a risk. Ten years ago, Reich persuaded a 2nd Level named Jerry Church to participate in a scam which led to Church being booted out of the Guild. Here the stakes are even higher; if caught, both men face Demolition. (We are not immediately told what that is; but it can't be good). But Tate is a corrupt and greedy man. Reich assures him that he will only be needed to gain intelligence and to run interference with other espers. Being a Class 1, Tate has exceptionally strong mind-blocks which only another Class 1 can penetrate.

Reich knows that D'Courntney is on his way to Earth. The first step will be for Tate to learn where D'Courtney will be.

Next we meet Lincoln Powell, a Class 1 esper who has been mentioned before. He is a detective with the police Psychotic Division. The name of his department tells you how crime is regarded in this society. He is also highly-regarded in the Esper's Guild and would be an obvious candidate for the next Guild president if he were not unmarried; the Espers Guild requires all its members to marry before the age of forty in order to increase the Next Generation of Espers. He is handsome, easy-going, and with perhaps a too highly-developed sense of humor. He is having several Espers over to his house for a party.

The first guest is Mary Noyes, a close friend who is helping organize the party. They flirt a bit -- she's deeply in love with him -- but although he will tell her "I love you", he won't think it. He likes her as a friend, but cannot give her more.
He took her shoulders firmly, held her close and looked deep into her eyes. "You're a 2nd. Read me as deeply as you can. What's in my mind? What's in my heart? What's the answer?" 
He removed all blocks. The thundering plunging depths of his mind cascaded over her in a warm, frightening torrent ... terrifying, yet magnetic and desirable; but ... "Snow. Mint. Tulips. Taffeta," she said wearily. "Go meet your guests, Mr. Powell. I'll make your canapes. It's all I'm good for."
Here we have one of those virtuoso passages which must have driven the typesetters crazy. Bester has the espers speaking to each other telepathically, but instead of simply rendering ordinary dialogue in italics, he plays games with the presentation to give a sense that more information is being carried than just the naked words. A couple of the espers have names that are typographic puns, like @kins. Words are folded into sentences to show associated ideas. In a couple places we have sentences cascading, intersecting and overlapping with each other, so that in places the same word is used in criss-crossing lines of conversation.

Augustus Tate is there, discreetly trying to pick up information about D'Courtney. Powell senses he's up to something, but cannot tell what. Jerry Church is also present, hanging around outside the building, trying to eavesdrop on what fragments of telepathic conversation. Unlike Tate, he's not looking for anything; he just desperately misses the contact of other minds. Powell comes out later and offers him a drink. He offers to try rescinding Jerry's ostracism; but Church is in no mood to accept pity; especially from the cop who brought him down in the first place.

NEXT:  Reich goes to see a gal about an earworm; buys a book of party games, and puts his plan into effect. Tension, apprehension and dissension will begin.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Milwaukee is the center of Gaming once again...




27 January 2014
Nexus Game Fair Set for Milwaukee Debut
Nexus Game Fair Returns Summer Gaming Conventions to Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE, WIAfter a 12 year hiatus, summer convention gaming returns to the city of Milwaukee with the inaugural show of Nexus Game Fair which is set for June 19-22, 2014. With hundreds of individual events planned, an extensive line-up of industry special guests and VIPs, Nexus Game Fair is ready for success.

“Gamers are interested in affordable, centrally located destinations,” says show founder Chris Hoffner, “and Milwaukee has both great history and nostalgia for game conventions, having hosted both the Gen Con and Origins Game Fairs.  Milwaukee is also a great travel destination, with an international airport, professional sports teams and internationally known breweries.”
Events Manager, Harold Johnson, is the former director of Gen Con who led that show to grow to over 20,000 attendees during the 1990s.  “We’re very excited about our inaugural year,” says Johnson, “and we’re confident in our ability to run a well organized, event focused show.  We’ve already committed to 3 years worth of show dates and look forward to extending our stay in Milwaukee indefinitely.”

Nexus Game Fair has already signed a number of industry special guests, including Jolly Blackburn (Knights of the Dinner Table), Mike Carr (Dawn Patrol), Chris Clark (Inner City Games Designs), Bob Coggins (Napoleon’s Battles), Dave “Zeb” Cook (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition), Jeff Easley (Staff Artist, TSR, Inc.), Todd Fisher (Revolution & Empire), Matt Forbeck (Deadlands), Ernie Gygax (Gygax Magazine), Tim Kask (Dragon Magazine), Dave Kenzer (Hackmaster), James Lowder (Author, Prince of Lies), Frank Mentzer (Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set), Merle Rasmussen (Top Secret), Jim Ward (Gamma World), Skip Williams (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition) and more.

“We’re not just providing our attendees with the chance to personally meet these prestigious industry notables,” says Johnson, “but also to game with them.  Nexus Game Fair is committed to offering a variety of high quality events to our attendees.  We’ve partnered with demo and organized play teams from several industry leading companies, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Society and Catalyst Game Studios' Shadowrun Missions, in order to bring a phenomenal array of events to our show.”

For more information, please visit http://www.nexusgamefair.com
Like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nexusgamefair
Follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nexusgamefair

Saturday, January 25, 2014

BIG ASS MINI-COMIC aka BAM TOO

BAM TOO or BIG ASS MINICOMIC

With names like Matt Feazell, Jeffrey Brown, and Tim Seeley, this book is packed full of mini stories and ideas.  

I have work in the book too, and while this isn't my anthology, as in, a book I assembled talent for and created, I hope you all will consider it.   It is a mammoth work from many hands, and many of them have something good, a.k.a interesting to say.

So please consider it for your collection.

On the BAM TOO page or on Amazon



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Space Chantey

The Lay of Road-Storm from the ancient Chronicles
We give you here, Good Spheres and Cool-Boy Conicals, 
And perils pinnacled and parts impossible
And every word of it the sworn-on Gosipel. 
Lend ear while things incredible we bring about
And Spacemen dead and deathless yet we sing about: -- 
And some were weak and wan, and some were strong enough,
And some got home, but damn it took them long enough!
Something different this week. Not a Classic; not a Hugo-Winner; not a work by one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction. But Space Chantey is something special; a rollicking epic from a quirky writer who elevated the tall tale beyond the stratosphere.

R.A. Lafferty was a contemporary of Roger Zelazny. Like him, he was a part of the "New Wave" that overtook science fiction in the '60s and '70s. His writing was greatly influenced by oral storytelling and does not easily fit into the usual categories of science fiction, even by the iconoclastic standards of the New Wave.

What attracted me to Space Chantey when I encountered it in my Dad's collection of SF paperbacks in our basement was probably it's cover and interior illustrations by the legendary underground cartoonist Vaughn Bode. And the peculiarity of it's format: it was published as an "Ace Double", a peculiar "flip book" format that Ace Books experimented with in the 1960s. Space Chantey's companion on the other side was Pity About Earth by Ernest Hill, which did not impress me as much when I first read it, but which I probably should revisit one of these days.

Space Chantey probably could have been entitled "Space Odyssey" had Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke not already been using that name, for Lafferty's book is nothing less than the wanderings of Odysseus, fitted with rockets and hurled into the depths of space, as told by Burl Ives. But the book's opening can describe it better:
Will there be a mythology in the future, they used to ask, after all has become science? Will high deeds be told in epic, or only in computer code? 
And after the questing spirit had gone into overdrive during the early Space Decades, after the great Captains had appeared, there did grow up a mythos through which to view the deeds. This myth filter was necessary. The ship logs could not tell it rightly nor could any flatfooted prose. And the deeds were too bright to be viewed direct. They could only be sung by a bard gone blind from viewing suns that were suns.
The "bard gone blind" of course is a reference to Homer; but it could also be a shout-out to Rhysling, the blind poet of the spaceways in Heinlein's short story "The Green Hills of Earth". Lafferty's tale is punctuated by lines of verse whose bawdy exuberance is certainly worthy of Rhysling; heroic couplets that may be ragged and doggerelly, but are the more heroic because they are about heroes. There is music in Lafferty's prose as well as his verse and his extravagant preposterous rhymes are more joyous than any bloodless vers libre.

The tale begins with a group of soldiers ready to go home. The war has lasted ten years, but now it's over. There are six Captains, commanders of small hornet-class spaceships, and their crews, "the saltiest, most sulfurous men who could be combed out of the skies." One of the captains is named Roadstrum, and he states the matter plainly:
"I would say let us go directly home. We were boys when this began, and we are not boys now. We should go home, but I could be talked into something else. 
"Dammit, I said I could be talked into something else!"
Something else turns out to be the planet Lotophage. "They say it is Fiddler's Green and Theleme rolled together," Captain Puckett says. "...If we don't like it we can leave at any time."

Had Roadstrum known more of the ancient languages of World, he might have remembered that Lotophage means "Lotus-eater" and been more wary. Then again, it might not have made any difference. And so, Roadstrum's great Odyssey begins.

They escape the deadly trap of Lotophage, the planet which is Utopia, Hy-Brasail, the Hesperides, and the end of every road -- because Roadstrum isn't ready for his road to end.

They encounter the joyous giants of Lamos, or Valhal as the natives call it, who inexplicably speak a dialect of Old Norse, who spend every day in feasting and killing each other -- and who then come back to life the next morning to do it all again.

They pass through a swarm of asteroids which act strangely like cattle -- and taste like cattle too -- which bear a brand that looks like the Sun. They soon come to regret eating of that celestial herd.

They hear the song of the Siren-Zo, an insidious ear-worm which drives men to madness because it's final note is missing. They wrestle with a big guy standing at the Center of the Universe who holds all of reality in his powerful mind. They land on Polyphemia, a pastoral world where the sheep walk on two legs and speak, and where the natives have unspeakable dietary habits. They fall under the spell of Aeaea, the enchantress whose song turns men to beasts and whom they escape only by committing a brutal and unspeakable crime.

Feminists be warned: These are testosterone-filled tales of rough and rowdy men doing rough and rowdy manly things. The only significant female character is Margaret the Houris, an immortal, amoral party girl. Then again, since Margaret can play as rough as the boys at the boys' own games, I suppose she's a feminist in some respects herself.

Throughout their adventures, Roadstrum occasionally comes across the legend that is already growing around his exploits, in the form of "The Lay of the Road-Storm" the epic ballad interspersed between chapters. "It is so long a time since we have had a certified hero in our place," says the leader of the giants of Lamos while taking a break from battle. "You think we be so nice to you if we do not know who you are?" In another chapter, Roadstrum hears a bard telling a tale:
"Puckett, Puckett," he wispered avidly, "just listen to this great stuff. Listen how it goes. What I would not give to be in on a campaign like that one! What I would not give to meet such a leader." 
"Roadstrum, Roadstrum," Puckett chided. "It is yourself and ourselves he talks about; our own epic.... It's part of our own story he tells." 
"Oh, I know that, Puckett. But he tells it so much better than it happened!"
The final chapter tells the story of the Return of Odysseus, as Roadstrum arrives back on World. His crew, those who have survived, have all scattered, and he faces his homecoming by himself. He meets his once-infant son, now twenty years older. Neither one is terribly impressed. The World has changed since he went off to war a lifetime ago. He runs into a few of his old shipmates: Margaret, who has changed her name to Charisse because it's artier and that's how fashions are on World these days; Crewman Trochanter, who still speaks to some of the others, but can't always tell whether they are real or ghosts; and Hondstarfer, the trollish son of the Lamosian giants, a mechanical genius who once fixed their stardrive with his stone hammers.

Oh, and he returns to his wife and kills her many suitors. "It seemed to be what was expected of him. It was fun while it lasted. You know how these things are."

He is now back with his home and family and everything he ever wanted. There's just one thing...
Honor, respect, enjoyment, peace, conjugal love, ease, peace, benignity, peace, perfection, honor, peace. What was wrong with one of the words? 
Peace. How does that sound again? Peace. 
It exploded inside of Roadstrum. He erupted out of the building in a place where there had never been a door, strewing sheets and beams of the building after him. 
"Peace?? For me?? Roadstrom, man, it is yourself you are talking about. Let you not hang it around your own neck! I am great Road-Storm! Peace is for those of the other sort!"
He gathers up the remnants of the old crew he can find, including Margaret, who has decided it would be more fun than becoming a Clarisse, and an old junked spaceship that Hondstarfer can fix up and together they all back to the stars and to adventure.

And what then?

Alas, we have the terminal report of him!
The coded chatter gives the sighted mort of him,
How out beyond the orb of Di Carissimus
His sundered ship became a novanissimus.
 
His soaring vaunt escapes the blooming ears of us,
He's gone, he's dead, he's dirt, he disappears from us!
 
Be this the death of highest thrust of human all?
The flaming end of bright and shining crewmen all?
 
Destroyed? His road is run? It's but a bend of it;
Make no mistake, this only
seems 
the end of it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Wizard of Earthsea part 3: Facing the Shadow

When he was a youth on the Island of Gont, the wizard Ged was called "Sparrowhawk" for his interest in birds of prey and his ability to summon them. This was his use name, the everyday name people called him, as opposed to his true name, known only to himself and those closest to him. The name has now proven to be prophetic, for, in order to flee the servants of a malevolent sorceror, the Sparrowhawk has transformed himself into a falcon.

He has come to the sorcerer's castle fleeing the shadowy creature of evil he had inadvertently summoned from the realms of death. Possessing one of Ged's traveling companions, the creature almost seized Ged and turned him into a gebbeth, a mere husk of a living man. For a time, Ged found sanctuary in castle of a sinister nobleman and his flirtatious wife, who wished to use him for their own purposes. Now, upon discovering the dark power residing within the castle, Ged has again taken flight -- this time, quite literally.

As we saw in his fight with the Dragons of Pendor, Ged is quite good at these transformations; but they carry an innate risk. A mage who remains too long in a borrowed form may start to forget his true identity. And Ged, driven by anger, fear and a need to escape, is not really concentrating.

Whether by instinct, or by some latent vestige of conscious thought, the falcon comes to perhaps the only man in all of Earthsea capable of recognizing him and recalling him to his human form: Ged's former master, Ogion the Silent, the wizard of Re Albi on the Island of Gont.

"I have come back to you as I left: a fool," Ged says bitterly when he has again recovered. He tells Ogion of his the shadow he unleashed and of its pursuit across the islands of Earthsea.

Although Ged is pretty hard on himself, Ogion points out that he is not as weak and helpless as he thinks, He did, after all, best the Lord of the Terremon Stone on the sorcerer's home turf, and hold off the Stone's guardians; and he held his own against the Dragon of Pendor -- no small feat, even for a wizard. And although the shadow has pursued Ged, it has not managed to overcome him.

Ged doesn't see how he can possibly defeat the shadow when he doesn't know its name. The magic Ged knows is based on the power of names to correspond to reality. If a mage knows the true name of a thing, or of a person, he can bind that thing to his will. Ged isn't sure the shadow even has a name. Le Guin doesn't even capitalize the word "shadow" when she refers to it, emphasizing its anonymity -- a subtle touch that I missed until I stepped back to edit this piece.

Ogion is sure that it does, and reminds him that the shadow spoke Ged's name when the two last met. If the shadow could guess Ged's true name, there must be some way for Ged to learn the shadow's.

Ogion can offer no sanctuary from the shadow, nor does Ged expect it; but the mage does have a suggestion for his former pupil: turn around.
"If you go ahead, if you keep running, wherever you run you will meet danger and evil, for it drives you, it chooses the way you go. You must choose. You must seek what seeks you. You must hunt the hunter."
Ged takes his mentor's advice. It is the dead of winter and there are no ships willing to venture out upon the seas at this time of the year, but Ged is able to buy a decrepit old boat from a local fisherman. The practical shipwright skills he learned from his friend Pechvarry come in handy as he applies both craft and spells to make the boat seaworthy.

He sets off in the direction from which he came when he flew on falcon's wings to Gont. When he gets out to the open sea, Ged calls out to the shadow to summon it. The shadow appears, but instead of attacking, it turns and begins to flee. As Ogion surmised, the shadow is most powerful when Ged tires to avoid it; facing his enemy gives Ged a greater advantage. Now Ged is the hunter.

The shadow moves swiftly, but Ged's boat, impelled by his magically-created winds, moves quickly as well. By the time night falls, Ged is far to the southeast of Gont in unfamiliar waters. A mist comes up upon the waters, and Ged soon finds himself surrounded by a dense fogbank. He sees the shadow dimly through the mist and presses on. He does not see the rocky shoals until it is too late.

The shadow has stolen Ged's own trick and lured him into a deadly fogbank, just as the young Sparrowhawk had done to the Kargad raiders, long ago. Ged's boat is wrecked upon the rocks and Ged finds himself washed ashore on a cold, barren beach.

The spit of land on which he's been cast away barely ranks as an island; it's only about a half a mile across and little more in length. But Ged finds that it is not uninhabited. An elderly couple live alone on the islet, in a little hut made of scavenged driftwood. They fear Ged, and do not understand his speech, but they grudgingly offer him some small hospitality; the little shelter of their hut and what shellfish they can gather to eat.

The woman seems more friendly than the man, and from some of the few possessions the woman shows Ged, he guesses that the two were a brother and sister from a noble family of the Kargad Lands, left on this remote rock as children to die during some political strife.

The woman gives Ged a strange relic, a half of a metal ring. It has no meaning to Ged, and has absolutely no bearing on the rest of this book; but he keeps it, and it later becomes significant in the second book, The Tombs of Atuan.

Ged repairs his boat with bits of driftwood roughly cut into a serviceable shape and lots of magic. The result isn't pretty, and it requires constant attention to his spells to keep the planks together; but the boat will float and not leak. Much.

Ged offers to take the old couple back to civilization, but the sister cannot understand him, and the brother does not want to go. Neither the foreign islands from which Ged comes, nor the Kargad Lands in which the old man was born are home to him. The two will remain on their islet, a forgotten mystery in the middle of the great wide sea.

It is the day of the Winter Solstice when Ged sets out again, the longest night of the year and the day called the Sunreturn by the people of Ged's culture; an appropriate day to resume his quest, seeing as he has turned from fleeing the shadow and that now the shadow flees him. It could have easily attacked him when he lay half-drowned on the beach of the islet, yet it didn't. Ged doesn't know exactly where the creature is now, so he continues on his southeasterly course.

He comes to a island of high cliffs and narrow fjords, and beneath the shadows of those cliffs, his enemy appears to him again, this time in his very boat. Ged does not hesitate; before it has a chance to attack, he grabs it. The shadow dissolves like a mist in his grasp, but despite losing the creature, Ged has won a significant victory. This is the third time he had the creature have come in physical contact, but this time Ged initiated that contact and forced the shadow to flee. More importantly, the act of seizing it forges a link between shadow and man.
There was no need to hunt the thing down, to track it, nor would its flight avail it. Neither could escape. When they had come to the time and place for their last meeting, they would meet. ... He knew now, and the knowledge was hard, that his task had never been to undo what he had done, but to finish what he had begun.
He comes to an inhabited island where he rests for a few days, having slept little or none at all since leaving the islet. He buys a boat to replace the cobbled-together pieces of wreckage he has been using, paying the owner by magically healing the man's cataracts. The grateful man renames the boat Lookfar, and bids Ged paint eyes on it's prow, so that "...my thanks will look out from that blind wood for you and keep you from rock and reef. For I had forgotten how much light there is in the world, till you gave it back to me." The Lookfar becomes Ged's second home in all his future travels.

He continues from island to island, from village to village, along the chain of eastern islands, until he comes to the town of Ismay on the island of Iffish. He has resolved to spend only a night there and continue on, when he runs into an unexpected friend: his schoolmate, Vetch, whose true name is Estarriol; a fully-accredited mage who has established himself as the island's wizard.

Vetch welcomes Ged warmly and brings him home to meet his sister, Yarrow, and his younger brothers. He mentions a curious thing: just a couple days ago, Vetch saw a man passing through a marketplace who looked exactly like Ged. The curious thing was, that the man seemed to have no shadow. Ged is not surprised. He has heard the rumors of this doppelganger in one of his previous stops. He does not know why the shadow has taken his likeness, but he has no doubt that this is his shadow.

As they relax at Vetch's home, Ged tells of his adventures and his pursuit by, and then of the shadow. Vetch ponders his tale, and then decides, "I'll go with you, Ged." Ged protests that he doesn't want anybody else to suffer from his evil, least of all his friend; but Vetch will have none of it.
"Pride was ever your mind's master, ... "Now think: it is your quest, assuredly, but if the quest fail, should there not be another there who might bear warning to the Archipelago? For the shadow would be a fearful power then. And if you defeat the thing, should there not be another there who will tell of it in the Archipelago, that the Deed may be known and sung? I know I can be of no use to you; yet I think I should go with you."
Ged can hardly argue with that. And the company of his friend is a great comfort to him. They chat about other matters. Vetch tells him that Jasper, Ged's hated rival from school, left the School of Roke the same Summer that he did, without having earned his staff. The last Vetch heard, Jasper was working for a nobleman in another city. A year ago, Ged might have taken great satisfaction in his rival's lack of status; now he says nothing.

Ged spends a pleasant couple of days in Vetch's household, preparing for the next stage in his journey. It is an idyllic, homey place. He gets to know Vetch's younger sister, Yarrow, who is a welcome antidote to the treacherous, scheming women we have seen so far. Yarrow is friendly and pert. She admits that she does not understand magic, but her questions to Ged on the subject shows that she has an intelligent mind and an honest interest in the subject. I get the feeling that Vetch would like to fix his sister up with Ged, and perhaps the author originally had that intention too, but it's not going to happen. Le Guin establishes later on that the wizards of Roke do no marry, period. They devote their lives to their craft. And although this subject does not come up in the Trilogy, the later books show that this enforced celibacy is a failing of the Roke-mages for it limits their understanding of women, and by extension, of a great part of the world.

The two friends set out on the Lookfar, continuing southeast. Ged can sense the shadow ahead of him. Astowell is the easternmost island, called "Lastland" by its inhabitants for there is nothing known beyond it. Here the Hardic language of the Archipelago is spoken with an accent even Vetch finds unfamiliar, and the magic works in peculiar ways. Vetch quotes the proverb, "Rules change in the Reaches"; spells which he learned on Roke don't always work on the distant islands of the East Reach, and some of the spells he uses were never taught at the wizard's school.

But this is the way the shadow has gone, and so this is the way Ged must go. He feels sure that they will eventually come to land. The shadow has always fought him on or near land before, and has avoided him on the water.

After days of travel, steered by the conjured magewind, the Lookfar does come to land, sort of. The sea seems to become solid, as if its waves were dunes of sand. The two wizards beach their boat on the shoreless shoal, and Ged climbs out upon the water. He sees the shadow ahead of him and walks out to meet it.

The shadow takes of other shapes to distract him: first of his rival Jasper; then of his friend the shipwright Pechvarry, but with a face bloated as if he had drowned; then of Skiorh, the galley-oarsman whom the shadow had possessed and devoured. Unfazed, Ged advances closer, and the shadow-creature comes to meet him, now black and bestial.

In that dreadful silence, man and shadow come to stand face to face; and that silence is then broken as Ged and the creature simultaneously speak a single syllable, the shadow's name: "Ged."

He takes hold of the shadow, and this time it reaches out also to him. And as they touch, the two join and become one.

With this, the sea becomes normal again, and Vetch must row out to pull Ged from the water. For a horrible moment he fears that the shadow has overcome his friend and turned him into a gebbeth. Then Ged banishes his fears with a laugh. "Estarriol, ... look, it is done. It is over. ... The wound is healed, I am whole, I am free."
Now when he saw his friend and heard him speak, his doubt vanished. And he began to see the truth, that Ged had neither lost nor won but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole: a man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life's sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark.
Together the two friends return to Iffish, where Yarrow waits to welcome them.

A brief epilogue tells that Ged goes on to undertake great journeys and perform mighty works, which are recounted in The Deed of Ged, the epic song of his adventures which later generations will someday sing. But this, his first journey, was never recorded in that account. Ged will sail the Dragon's Run and recover the long lost Ring of Erreth-Akbe and eventually become Archmage of Roke and the greatest mage of his generation, just as his master, Ogion, once predicted.

But that, as a different storyteller once said, is another story.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Wizard of Earthsea part 2: Pursued by the Shadow

Continuing our look at Ursula K. Le Guin's fantasy classic, A Wizard of Earthsea.
Ged, also known as Sparrowhawk, is a young wizard from the Island of Gont who has come to the Roke School of Magic. He has the potential to become a great mage, but foolish pride and envy has spurred him to attempt a dangerous feat of magic: summoning a spirit of the dead. The attempt ripped open the fabric of reality allowing a dark creature of evil, a living shadow, to enter the world of the living. This is what is known in thaumatological terms as a Problem.

Ged survives the attack by the shadow creature, although it is some months before he fully recovers. The student who once surpassed all his peers is now behind them all in his studies and he has lost his confidence. He wants to learn how to undo the evil he has unleashed but even the Archmage himself, who drove off the creature at the cost of his life, was unable to do that.

The new Archmage warns Ged that he will need to gain strength and wisdom to defend himself, for surely the evil shadow will seek to possess him and make him a gebbeth, a puppet doing the creature's evil will.
"You have great power inborn in you, and you used that power wrongly, to work a spell over which you had no control, not knowing how that spell affects the balance of light and dark, life and death, good and evil. And you were moved to do this by pride and by hate. Is it any wonder the result was ruin? You summoned a spirit from the dead, but with it came one of the Powers of unlife. Uncalled it came from a place where there are no names. Evil, it wills to work evil through you. The power you had to call it gives it power over you: you are connected. It is the shadow of your arrogance, the shadow of your ignorance, the shadow you cast. Has a shadow a name?"
This dismays Ged, because the magic he knows is largely based on knowing the names of things. How can he work magic against a thing which has no name?

He gets a visit from his friend, Vetch, now a fully-ranked mage with a staff and everything. Vetch has taken care of Hoek, Ged's pet ferret -- sorry, his pet otak -- during his convalescence. He offers Ged words of encouragement and invites him to come to his home in the East Reach. Vetch also shares with Ged his true name, Estarriol; an act of supreme trust, fur by speaking a person's true name a wizard can conjure him. True names are usually shared only with very close family members and friends, which is why most people know Ged as Sparrowhawk. Ged reciprocates by telling Estarriol his own true name.

Ged finally completes his own training. The Archmage sends him to a distant post where, with luck, the Shadow will have difficulty finding him. Normally, graduates of the Roke School can expect to be placed in noble courts and important cities, but Ged is just as happy to be sent someplace small and out of the way.

Many years ago, the Island of Pendor far to the west had been wiped out by a dragon, who made the isle his habitation. Since then the Dragon of Pendor has been content to remain there, but fishermen from the islets nearest to Pendor have recently seen more dragons, young ones, flying over the adjacent waters. They fear these new dragons will attack their homes and so have petitioned the Archmage of Roke to send them a wizard to protect them.

Ged is happy with his new assignment. The community of islanders is poor and they can offer but humble lodgings, but no worse than his home growing up on Gont. He makes friends with a boatmaker named Pechvarry, and works with him building fishing boats. Pechvarry teaches Ged about the craft of boat-building, and in return Ged places enchantments on his boats to enchance their seaworthiness.

Then one day, Pechvarry's son falls ill, and he calls in Ged to heal the boy. Ged quickly sees that the boy is dying. Since the disaster on Roke unleashing the Shadow, Ged has been cautious about using his magic, but to save the son of his friend, he tries to follow the dying boy's spirit to bring it back into the land of the living.
Ged is breaking protocol with this. One of the essential lessons the Master Healer of Roke drummed into his students was "Heal the wound and cure the illness, but let the dying spirit go." Still, Ged makes the attempt.

The boy, alas, is too far gone; and in following his spirit, Ged finds himself in the Land of the Dead. Making his way back to the living world, Ged sees, waiting for him at the border between life and death, his enemy, the Shadow creature. By crossing over into its home turf, Ged has attracted its attention. Now Ged faces the possibility that he might draw the creature to him and that his very presence will be a threat to his new friends.

The obvious course of action would be to flee; but Ged also has an obligation to defend the fisher-folk from the dragons. Since the dragons have been lying low of late, Ged decides to take the fight to them. He sails a boat to the dragon-ridden isle of Pendor.

The meeting of Ged with the Dragon of Pendor has to be my favorite scene in the book, and Le Guin's dragon ranks up there with Smaug the Terrible as one of the best dragons in fantasy literature.

The first dragons who meet Ged are young, immature ones, and he is able to dispatch them easily. Then three come after him at once, and Ged must transform himself into a dragon to fight them -- a dangerous act which he dares not maintain for long. Changing back to his normal form, he calls out a challenge: "Six I have see, five slain, nine are told of: come out, worms!"

Finally the oldest of the dragons comes out to meet him, and he is a huge critter; one so big that Ged at first mistook it for a part of the ruined Pendor castle. Almost Ged allows himself to gaze into the dragon's hypnotic eyes, which would be a fatal mistake.

"Eight sons I had, little wizard," the dragon says. "Five died, one dies: enough. You will not win my hoard by killing them."

This is significant. Ged has proven himself worthy of the dragon's notice; the dragon will talk to him. In The Tombs of Atuan, Ged explains the matter this way: "The question is always the same with a dragon: will he talk with you or will he eat you? If you can count on his doing the former, and not doing the latter, why then you're a dragonlord." It is with this encounter that Ged enters into the ranks of the dragonlords.

The two fence with words. Dragons speak the Old Tongue which was used to create the world. Mortal men cannot lie in the Old Tongue because the words in it have such a one-to-one correspondence with reality, that you cannot alter their meaning without altering that reality. That is the basis for the Magic of Earthsea. Dragons, however, are a different matter; for them the Old Tongue is part of their very being. They can use it much more subtly than mortal mages can, and Ged must be careful when listening to the dragon's words and when answering.
"What is it that hunts you? Name it to me." 
"If I could name it --" Ged stopped himself. 
Yellow smoke curled above the dragon's long head, from the nostrils that were two round pits of fire. 
"If you could name it you could master it, maybe. little wizard. Maybe I could tell you its name, when I see it close by. And it will come close, if you wait about my isle. It will come wherever you come. If you do not want it to come close you must run, and run, and keep running from it. And yet it will follow you. Would you like to know its name?"
The dragon is playing mind games with Ged, just as Smaug played with Bilbo in The Hobbit. But Ged is here to bargain. He offers the dragon his safety. "Swear that you will never fly eastward of Pendor, and I will swear to leave you unharmed."

"You threaten me!" Ged might have killed the young dragonspawn, but he is hardly a match for a fully-grown dragon. "With what?"

"With your name, Yevaud." This is a calculated risk. Ged has been preparing for this encounter by reading all the dragon lore he can find. He guesses that this dragon might be the same one mentioned in old histories as being driven from the Island of Osskill by a previous wizard.

His guess is correct. The dragon backs down. He offers Ged jewels, but Ged has no wish for them. He offers to tell Ged the name of the thing which pursues them, and this tempts him; but Ged has an obligation to fulfill. At last, Yevaud agrees. He swears that neither he nor his sons will ever come to the Archipelago; an oath that he will be bound to honor.

The fisher-folk rejoice that Ged has ensured their safety from the dragon and would gladly let him stay in their community; but Ged knows that the Shadow will come after him. He needs to leave. And to be truthful, he has difficulty facing his friend Pechvarry, whose son he could not save.

Leaving the fishermen's community, Ged takes passage on a ship back to Roke; but strange winds keep pushing the ship away, even when Ged tries to use magic to blow the ship back on course. He realizes this must be the Roke-wind, a magical protection that keeps evil away from Roke. The creature which pursues Ged is linked to him so closely, that the Roke-wind blows against him as well. He has the ship deposit him on another island.

Friendless and alone, except for his pet otak, he continues on with no firm destination other than a vague idea of heading north and maybe returning to Gont. In one town, a friendly stranger suggests he go to the Court of the Terrenon on the Island of Osskill. Something about the stranger strikes Ged as peculiar, and Osskill has something of a dark reputation. The island is culturally distinct from the central island of the Archipelego and its natives, like all the northerners, it seems, save the Gontsmen, have lighter skin. More importantly, they practice magical traditions on Osskill different than the School of Roke; but as the stranger observes, their reputation may just reflect prejudice on the part of the Roke-mages.

Ged takes passage on a galley ship headed north. The captain does not accept the ivory currency with which the fisher-folk paid him, and Ged has no gold, so he offers to pay his passage as an oarsman.

The voyage is a long and dismal one. Most of the other oarsmen are slaves, leaving a considerable social barrier between the rowers who got whipped and the rowers who got paid. Few of the free men speak the same language as Ged. Once one of the freemen, a tough named Skiorh, tries to pick a fight with Ged. Ged does not rise to the provocation, but he catches something strange in the man's face, as if his features were slurring and changing; but a moment later it was back to normal.

Arriving on Osskill, Ged asks around for directions to the Court of the Terrenon. Surprisingly, Skiorh overhears him and offers to guide him there. Skiorh had never been particularly friendly to him before, and he is not the companion Ged would have chosen; but being alone in a foreign port, he has no other options.

The two men venture forth from the port town into the snowy hills of Osskill. Skiorh says little as the farms become fewer, the roads become rougher and the hills become wilder. Day is failing and the darkening sky threatens snow when Ged asks, not for the first time, "How far?"

"Not far," Skiorh replies, but his voice sounds like something inhuman. Turning Skiorh around to face him, Ged sees only darkness beneath the man's hood. The Shadow has possessed Skiorh; Ged actually saw it happen on the ship but didn't recognize what was taking place. Now Skiorh is a gebbeth.

Before Ged can summon his magic, the gebbeth speaks his name, "Ged!" Locked into his true form by his true name, Ged can work no transformations upon himself, as he did in the fight with the dragons. There is no one around to help him, even if any would help a stranger in this alien land. He tries beating at the gebbeth with his staff, but its body has become amorphous, like smoke, and he cannot harm it. Ged has no choice but to run.

He flees into the snowy darkness, with the gebbeth close behind him. He spots a light up on a hill and seems to hear a voice urging him to come. With his last bit of strength, and with the gebbeth clutching at him from behind, he reaches a faintly shining gate and makes it through the doorway.

He awakens in richly-furnished sleeping chambers. A beautiful lady tells him he is safe from his pursuer and that he has reached the Court of the Terrenon. She seems to know exactly who he is, which puzzles Ged. Although he does not recognize her right away, the lady Serret is the same young witch whom he sought to impress back on Gont, the daughter of the Lord of Re Albi, and who cajoled him into sneaking a look at his master's books of magic. She is now grown up and married to the elderly Lord Benderesk.

Was it coincidence that brought his path here? Ged cannot be certain. He has trouble thinking straight during his stay at the Court of the Terrenon. Maybe it's because of the overpowering guilt and shame he feels over his nearly disastrous encounter with the gebbeth; maybe it's because of Sennet's distracting beauty; maybe it's because of some enchantment of the castle, for it is a very ancient castle, raised by magic and not by human hands.

One evening, Ged asks about the Terrenon Stone, from which the keep gets its name. He imagines it it some splendid jewel. Serret takes him down to the bowels of the keep, to a locked dungeon-like cell. Ged's mystically-attuned senses recognize one of the rough-hewn blocks that make up the floor as containing a powerful magic.

"That is the Terrenon. Do you wonder that we keep so precious a jewel locked away in our deepest hoardroom?" Serret goes on to explain that the stone was made when the world itself was made, long before the islands were raised. If one puts his hand upon it, it will answer questions and reveal secrets. It foretold Ged's coming to the castle. "It might tell you... how you will defeat your enemy."

Ged refuses. He fears the power that dwells within the stone, and this time he is not afraid to admit it.
"My lady, that spirit is seals in a stone, and the stone is locked by binding-spell and blinding spell and charm of lock and ward and triple fortress-walls in a barren land, not because it is precious, but because it can work great evil."
He is afraid at first that he might have offended the lady; but when he speaks to her again later, she tries a different tack. She concedes that men of lesser power would risk grave peril trying to use the stone's magic; but Ged is a superior wizard: he has the power to control the stone. It requires both power and will to harness the stone's magic. Neither she nor her husband can fully tap into its powers; but Ged can. The stone told her he could. It was she who sent the friendly stranger to direct Ged to Osskill, and she, with the stone's help, who guided Ged's footsteps to the Terrenon's gate. And the stone can help him. "Only shadow can fight shadow. Only darkness can defeat the dark. ... You will be mightier than all men, a king among men. You will rule, and I will rule with you --"

Ged is sorely tempted. But in a moment he suddenly sees things more clearly. "It is light that defeats the dark, ...light."

Lord Benderesk comes in at this moment. He and his wife had conspired together to use Ged as a puppet, but she had failed to manipulate Ged as she had hoped. What's more, her husband heard Serret's suggestion that she and Ged rule things together and he is not amused. Benderesk is about to cast a spell of Changing upon his wife as punishment, but Ged stops him.

Ged and Serret flee from the castle. Although Lord Benderesk cannot fully use the stone's power, Serret tells Ged that her husband can raise the Servants of the Stone. As they leave the palace gate, Ged spots something half buried in the snow: the dead body of Hoek, Ged's otak, presumably killed in the fight with the gebbeth.

Serret urges Ged to transform himself so that he can flee the place. Vile, winged creatures out the prehistoric past, the Servants of the Stone, are on their way from one of the towers of the castle. Serret changes herself into a seagull and flies away, but Ged, burning with anger, uses magic to create a staff for himself out of a blade of grass and uses the staff to fight the beasts.

It is only when he sees the creatures pursuing Serret, that he changes himself into a falcon and flies to her rescue. He is too late; the creatures have caught their prey, and now they turn to pursue Ged.
He flies to the edge of the island, whose shores the Stone's Servants cannot cross; and continues flying from there, driven by anger and fear, across the wide, winter seas.


NEXT: The Apprentice's Return: "You Must Turn Around:" The Shadow Pursued; the Two Castaways; A Happy Reunion; and the Final Voyage. Rules Change in the Reaches, so be ready for anything!

Friday, January 3, 2014

S'Truth

I heard someone pooping on another person's favorite film.   And, it made me wonder, why bother.   No, I didn't like the film in question, no I didn't think the points were poorly made.   I wondered why it mattered.   Yes reviews are great, they give you an idea of if you would also like what it is.   But, if someone says they love a movie, and you don't, isn't it enough to know that?

Taste is its own beast.

I like movies that you don't.

You like movies that I do not like.

It is the same with music, comics, games, television and more.

So, let us try to speak about things, without crapping upon other people's taste, and more, talk about why we liked or did not like, whatever it was.  This isn't directed at anyone, just a point.  I have cancer, and it sucks, but, it has kind of opened my eyes how we really insist instead of proving, no matter how we write or talk about products that fall entirely into the realm of taste, personal taste.

So just to say, here are some things I like.

Lord Dunsany's fiction moves my soul, and my love of fantasy.  It is rich, lush, thick with detail and beauty.

 H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos of Cthulhu is insanely creative, and deep, and for that reason, affects me.


Robert E. Howard's writing made me live in the world he wrote.

I like all of Jack Kirby's creations but particularly, OMAC and KAMANDI.   He wrote and drew uniquely and it worked well for me.


I love the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.


I love the music and lyrics of Billy Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins.


 I love cats, particularly my own, Katya and Sophie.





Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Wizard of Earthsea part 1: The Shadow is Loosed

Ursula K. Le Guin was among the first generation of feminist science fiction writers. There were women writing science fiction in the preceding era, such and Andre Norton, Liegh Brackett and C. L. Moore, but as a rule they had to use male or gender-neutral pseudonyms in order to be accepted by the male editors and predominantly male readers of the science fiction magazines.

Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy of fantasy novels is among her best-known work. Perhaps it is not as innovative and groundbreaking as some of her science fiction novels, seeing as it deals with the traditional fantasy theme of the Boy Growing to Manhood and Achieving Greatness, but she set her hero in a unique world. Despite drawing inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien, Le Guin managed to create a fantastic world of wizards and even dragons without copying him -- no easy task, as decades of bad fantasy series have demonstrated.

The Earthsea books are not a trilogy in the sense of many post-Tolkien fantasy works; they are not a single epic spread across three (or in the case of Robert Jordon, dozens of) books. Each novel is a complete work, a single individual story, linked together by the world of Earthsea and the central character of Ged, the young wizard who becomes the Archmage of Earthsea. Le Guin expanded the original trilogy with several short stories and two additional novels, but to my mind, the trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore, form a thematic unit showing the wizard Ged in his youth, his adulthood, and his old age.

For this series, we'll be looking at the first book in the trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea. Although written for a young adult audience, the Earthsea books are examples of that superior type of novel C.S. Lewis had in mind when he said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Le Guin calls her world Earthsea for good reason. If it is true that epic fantasies always start with a map -- at least that's the way it seems -- then that map usually depicts a continent. That's how Tolkien's Middle-Earth looked, and most of the fantasy authors who have followed him have taken a similar geographic approach. Le Guin, however sets her story in an archipelago, myriad islands scattered about a wide, encircling ocean. The chief means of traveling anywhere is by boat, and wind and wave have a much greater presence throughout the entire book than in other land-locked epics.

Duny, the boy who will become the wizard Ged, is the youngest son of the local bronzesmith in a small village on the remote island of Gont. The island is noted for producing three things: pirates, goats and wizards. There are no pirates in this story. When Duny shows an early aptitude for magic, his aunt takes him on as an apprentice.

Duny's aunt is only a hedge-witch and her knowledge of magic is mixed with rubbish and humbug. The author quotes a Gontish saying, "weak as woman's magic," and another one, "wicked as woman's magic." Which seems a peculiar sentiment to come from a feminist author, but then she is describing the attitudes of a culture rather than making an endorsement of them. Still, there are few female characters in A Wizard of Earthsea, and most of them are wicked to one degree or another. Many years after writing the Earthsea Trilogy, Le Guin wrote another Earthsea book titled Tehanu looking at wizardry from the female point of view, and revealing that the assumptions about women and magic found in the original trilogy had been largely shaped by male chauvinist wizards and the magical tradition outside of the males-only formal school of wizardry has its own power and value.

Be that as it may, under his aunt's tutelage Duny takes his first steps in learning magic. He delights in spells to summon animals, and his control of the birds of prey in the Gontish hills earns him the nickname of "Sparrowhawk"

One day sea-raiders from the Kargad Islands come to Gont and attack Duny's village. The Kargs are blond-haired and viking-like with white skin, and this is a subtle but important point that I missed when I first read the book and a lot of other people (including television executives) missed as well. Le Guin wanted to differentiate her story from the bog-standard European Medieval Fantasy and one of the things she did was give her protagonist and most of the other characters reddish-brown skin. It bugged her when illustrators, and the producers of the TV miniseries adaptation, made the hero Caucasian. In fairness, though, I have to say the point is an easy one to miss; she does not come out and explicitly mention Ged's skin color until a few chapters in.

As the boy Duny stands ready to defend his village with his father and the other men, he gets an idea. He improvises a spell, based on some of the weather spells he has learned, to conceal the village in a thick, enshrouding fog. The mists confuse the raiders and under it's protection the men of the village are able to scatter them and drive them away. Duny has saved the village, but the effort of creating such a massive enchantment proves too much of a strain to the boy. When the mists clear, the villagers find him standing dazed and in a trance.

He remains that way, in a virtual coma, for several days, until Ogion the Silent, the Mage of Re Albi, arrives. Ogion is the greatest wizard on Gont and is renowned for having stopped an earthquake which once threatened the chief city of the island. "The tale of his deed with the fog has come to Re Albi, which is my home," he says. "I have come here to give him his name, if as they say he has not yet made his passage into manhood."

Part of the culture's Rite of Passage into adulthood is to give a new name which will be his True Name, one which will be known only to himself and to his closest friends. This is important because the magic of Earthsea is based on names and knowledge of the True Names of things. The name Duny, which the boy was given at birth, is only a placeholder to serve until his thirteenth birthday, when he will be given his own True Name.

Ogion heals the boy, and when Duny's thirteenth birthday comes, returns to the village to preside over the boy's Passage. He gives the boy the name Ged. Then he bids the boy come with him to be his apprentice.
At first, Ged expects to enter a whole new world of magic, but during the journey back to the wizard's hermitage in the town of Re Albi, Ogion the Silent lives up to his name. Finally Ged asks him, "When will my apprenticeship begin, Sir?"

"It has begun," Ogion replies.

"But I haven't learned anything yet!"

"Because you haven't found out what I am teaching."

Eventually, Ogion sets Ged to learning the Six Hundred Runes of Hardic and the words of the Old Speech, the language of the Creator in which things are named with their true names -- useful stuff like that -- but what Ged really needs to learn is patience. His aunt promised him that sorcery would be his key to fame and fortune, but Ogion, who's supposed to be a great mage, lives in a humble hut and doesn't even use his magic to keep the rain off it.

One spring day, while exploring the meadows near Ogion's hut, Ged meets a girl who starts to chat with him and ask to learn more about sorcery. Ged recognizes the girl as the daughter of the local lord, and although he doesn't think her very pretty, he feels the urge to impress her. He summons a falcon with a spell, although the bird does not light on his wrist as he intended and instead flies away again. The girl asks if Ged can summon the spirits of the dead to come too. Ged tries to act cool. "I might if I chose."

She goes on to ask about transformations, and again, Ged boasts that he could change himself into an animal "if I chose." She wheedles and cajoles him to prove it, but since he doesn't actually know those spells, he puts her off. She mockingly accuses him of being afraid, which shames him.

After they part, Ged returns to his master's hut and pulls down the two great lorebooks that Ogion never opened in his presence. He wants to find a spell of self-transformation, but for some reason he stops at a page containing a spell for summoning the spirits of the dead.

To his horror, he finds himself compelled to keep reading the spell, unable to turn his eyes away from the runes on the page. The girl's mother is an enchantress, and she sent her daughter with the purpose of wheedling some of Ogion's secrets out of his young apprentice. Ged notices a shadow crouching near the door, darker even than the already darkened room. It whispers to him in words he cannot understand.
Then Ogion enters the room, much as the scene from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", driving away the shadow and breaking the charm Ged was under.

Ogion rebukes his pupil, and Ged responds in shame and anger. "How am I to know these things, when you teach me nothing? Since I lived with you I have done nothing, seen nothing--"

Ogion ponders his student gravely. Then he offers Ged a choice. Although the boy is still young, he offers to send Ged to the Island of Roke, where the great school of wizardry is. Or he can stay in Re Albi and learn what Ogion has to teach him.

Ged is torn, because he does sincerely love his master; but in the end his thirst for magic wins out. "I will go to Roke."

Roke Island is located in the middle of the Inner Sea, a large body of water sheltered by some of the larger, more populated islands of Earthsea. As the natives of Easter Island called their home 'the Navel of the World', Roke could be thought of as the navel of Earthsea, where its greatest wizards learn in quiet contemplation.

Le Guin has said that the idea for her book came from wondering where wizards came from and how they became wizards. The Roke School is perhaps the first depiction in fantasy of a School of Magic, and few writers, perhaps no writers , have done it better.

Unlike Tolkien, who was vague about how magic worked and even had one character complain about how inconsistent mortals were with the term, Le Guin worked out a largely consistent Theory of Magic which she stuck to throughout the story and which became an integral part of the plot. Magic is based on knowing the True Names of things, and by knowing something's name you can control it to a greater or lesser degree. But in doing so, you affect the Balance; changing one aspect of reality has a Butterfly Effect on the rest of it. This is why Ogion declined to alter the weather around him, or even do much obvious magic at all, to Ged's frustration.

Ogion sent a message with Ged to the Archmage of Roke, who serves as head of the school, reading: "I send you one who will be greatest of the wizards of Gont, if the wind blows true." This is certainly news to Ged, who was unaware Ogion thought he had that kind of potential.

He meets two companions: Vetch, a darker-skinned heavyset youth from the far Eastern Reach of the Archipelego, a friendly, agreeable comrade who soon becomes his friend; and Jasper, a wealthy nobleman's son to whom Ged takes an immediate dislike. Both Vetch and Jasper are a couple years older than Ged and further along in their studies, but Jasper has a smug, condescending attitude towards Ged which infuriates him.

Is Jasper really that big a jerk? It's hard to tell, because we see him through Ged's eyes and Ged is blinded by envy and a sense of inferiority. He is certain that Jasper looks down on him and Ged is determined to wipe that smug grin off his aristocratic face.

The earliest spells the students at Roke learned were spells of Illusion, which made no changes to the physical world and therefore had little effect on the Balance; from there they spent an entire year simply memorizing long lists of names in the Old Tongue. "He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea," the Loremaster tells his students.

Ged pushes himself to excel. He graduates from the Loremaster's tower far ahead of his classmates. He studies other, more advanced forms of magic with the other masters of the school, and shows a talent for transformations, the very subject the young witch in Re Albi had teased him about. He also gains a new companion, a small, furry ferret-like creature called an otak who becomes his pet and likes to ride about on his shoulder. Still, Jasper regards him with his mocking smirk, and Ged's hatred of him burns all the hotter.

One day, their quarrel reaches a breaking point, and Ged challenges Jasper to a contest to see which can perform the greater feat of magic. Vetch tries to mediate between the two, to no avail. Jasper is dismissive of the goat-herder from Gont who only knows a few tricks and illusions.

"What would you like me to do, Jasper?" Ged asks.

Jasper shrugs. "Summon up a spirit from the dead for all I care."

A thoughtless jibe at one whom Jasper doesn't take seriously; but Ged accepts the challenge. He offers to raise the spirit of a legendary beauty, told of in one of the old songs sung by the bards. He knows he can do this; he remembers the page of Master Ogion's book that he read back in Re Albi as if it were right before him. Ged begins to conjure.

For a moment, the image of a beautiful woman, sorrowful and afraid, appears between Ged's outstretched hands. Then something opens, like a rent in the fabric of reality, and a dark creature like a living shadow, a hideous black beast the size of a child leaps out and pounces on Ged's face.

Almost immediately, the Archmage arrives, alerted by the disruption to the Balance. He drives off the Black Beast and heals the rent in reality. But like Ged's earlier deed of the fog, the effort of repairing the damage Ged recklessly caused is more strain than he can bear; the Archmage is fatally weakened and soon dies.
Ged, his face scarred by the creature's claws, lies close to death also, but he survives.

As does the creature of evil he has inadvertently summoned.


NEXT:  Ged goes forth, the Dragon of Pendor, pursuit by the Shadow and the Sparrowhawk's Flight.