Eligibility post 2021

Hello everyone! It’s that time of the year when I get to collect all the work published or release this year. So join me on this ride through the memory lane.

Novels

This is a kickass cover if I can say it so.

“Tempest Blades: The Cursed Titans” the second book of the Tempest Blades saga (and a book I’m very proud of), which came out July 2021 from the Shadow Dragon imprint of Artemesia Publishing. Cover is by Salvador Velazquez.

A tournament to decide the fate of the Free Alliance, new friends, new foes & a hero struggling with his inner demons. It’s the worst time for the Cursed Titans to rise again! In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible.

Short Stories

“Steel Serpents”. Roman engineering, Greek ingenuity, and a dash of the fantastic come to the aid of the troubled Emperor of the Greco-Roman Empire founded by Alexander the Great centuries ago, in this comedic alternate history story, published by Inklings Press anthology “Tales from Alternate Earths 3”

Episode 1103: “The Sound of Madness” at the Wicked Library Podcast. Exploring the cosmos is a risky proposition. Cold, silent, uncaring, vast. No matter how well prepared, how careful you are, nothing can protect you from the unexpected. Especially when it comes to finding signs that we were not alone in the universe, when those signs come from forms of life beyond our expectations or comprehension. It can go even worse when those forms of life are ancient, insidious, and can mess with your head for their own ineffable reasons.

Non-Fiction

“No elf is an island. Understanding worldbuilding through system thinking”, chapter published in Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, an academic book edited by Francesca T Barbini and released by Luna Press Publishing imprint Academia Lunare. Written in collaboration with my friend and beta reader Martha González-Alcaraz.

Book Review: Six Dreams about the Train and Other Stories

This cover is a good representation of the dream-like kind of stories inside.

Have you heard the term “Actor’s actor”? It refers to a thespian who is so good at their craft, that other actors can’t but admire them, because they teach them things that are not possible for the rest, without being a showoff or overbearing, because their work has an attention to detail, a finesse that is not seen frequently. Well, there should be a similar term from authors, an “author’s author”, someone whose skill with the written word only needs a few pages to shine.

The point of that intro was to say that Maria Haskins is an “author’s author”, and her latest book, a short story collection entitled “Six Dreams about a Train and other stories” is solid proof of that. Writing short stories takes a lot of skill because one as a writer has to do the same heavy lifting in terms of character development and worldbuilding in way fewer words than a novel, but without it being cumbersome for the enjoyment of the reading. Haskins does that with such ease that one can’t but marvel. The twenty-three stories on the book show a wide range of genres, philosophies, unabashed love for rock & roll, of liminal and dreamlike realities all woven into stories with a lot of heart. Some of them could easily be expanded into a novel, or even be transformed into a movie franchise, like “Tunguska, 1987” with its surprising twists and turns. Others, like “Dragon Song” or “Six Dreams about the train” could easily be made into animated shorts that should be included in the Netflix anthology series “Love, Death & Robots”. They are that good and need more recognition.

My personal favorite though, was “Seven Kinds of Baked Goods”, a fantastical mix of fantasy, bakery, following your own path, revenge, and humor. Some bits of it touched some personal fibers (not the revenge part, but the one of breaking the mold of your family to go following your dreams), others made me laugh. But to me is a masterclass in worldbuilding, the clever use of ‘Chekov’s gun’ trope, and a well-planned ending. Yes, I’m unabashedly a fan of Maria’s writing. This story is a reason why

My only complaint, as is a very small complaint in the larger scheme of things, is that there is a story that Maria wrote that I would have loved to see in the collection: “Stars Above, Shadows Beneath”, another personal favorite of her stories. Other than that, this book is a must for any lover of short stories.

It would be the perfect reading, the best present for this Christmas season. I suggest you get your copy now, you won’t regret it.

5 out of 5 Ninja Stars. Yes. 5. Because now there are 5 Ninja Turtles as well. And this book gets them all.

You can find the link to order the book at the Zon, here.

Next book in the dock? A Few Good Elves, by Diane Morrison.

Celebrimbor: a cautionary tale

Celebrimbor and Annatar (WETA Shadow of Mordor)

Note: this was an academic paper that my friend and beta reader Martha and I submitted for consideration to an academic book about the Tolkien Legendarium, but didn’t make the cut. So we thought in sharing it here for you to read.

Celebrimbor: a cautionary tale

Ricardo Victoria-Uribe

Martha Elba González-Alcaraz

Abstract

Fairy tales were meant to be cautionary tales to teach children about the dangers of the world. Like the legends and fairy tales that inspired it, the Tolkien Legendarium contains several lessons, including but not limited, to important ecological messages or how easy it is to fall prey of evil even with the best intentions. In particular, this last lesson derives from being responsible of our actions and considering their impact on the wider world, best exemplified by the tale of Celebrimbor.

Celebrimbor is possibly one of the most tragic characters of the Tolkien Legendarium. Previously only known by being the creator of the rings of power, fooled and later betrayed by Sauron, his life ended in a gruesome, sad way. His use in the videogames of Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War brought him wider recognition to the casual fans, speaking of how interesting this character is. In Celebrimbor’s character arc, it’s possible to see the practical application of the old saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. As the last surviving member of the House of Feanor entering the Second Age, Celebrimbor sought to redeem the evil deeds of his ancestors –especially those of his father Curufin, of whom he renounced- by creating works that helped others, by fostering friendly relationships with the dwarfs and by trying to be a good person. But it was in this quest that he fell prey of deception because he never stopped to consider one of the fatal flaws of his kin: it is not a question of whether you can do something, it’s a question of whether it is a good idea to do so. In a way, Celebrimbor is like modern creators that conceive objects at fast pace, rarely taking the time to consider the impact that their actions and designs have in the world around them.  This paper aims to explore the character of Celebrimbor and how it became a cautionary tale.

A brief review of Celebrimbor’s life and times

Celebrimbor was the son of Curufin, fifth son of Fëanor and Nerdanel, which meant that he was somewhat akin to a Noldorin prince by bloodline. During the First Age, when his grandfather dragged the Noldor back to Beleriand to recover the Silmarills from Morgoth –and in turn was included in the Doom of Mandos-, Celebrimbor fought alongside his family in the battles of Dagor-nuin-Giliath, Dagor Aglareb, and Dagor Bragollach. After that last battle, he moved alongside his father to Nargothrond, where he remained in good standing after repudiating his own father due to the later’s evil deeds and eventual banishment from the realm of Finrod Felagund. He later fought at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and in the Sack of Nargothrond. After the fall of Nargothrond due to the ill thought advise of Turin Turámbar, Celebrimbor moved to Gondolin where he integrated into the life of the city until its fall. Unlike the rest of his family, he survived the War of Wrath and decided to stay in Middle Earth.

During the Second Age, Celebrimbor established in Eregion, at the time ruled by Galadriel and her husband Celeborn. It is interesting to note a couple of things here, as Celebrimbor becomes a more present character during the Second Age than during the First (where he admittedly was somewhat of a background character). To begin with, his relationship with Galadriel. It is well known that Galadriel had no love for Fëanor or his house, as she didn’t return to Beleriand to follow him in his foolish quest for the Simarils, but rather so she could rule a kingdom on her own, and she even fought on the side of the Teleri during the Kinslaying at Alqualondë. She also had a marked animosity towards Fëanor, who requested at least three times one of her golden hairs, request that she rejected every time (unlike with Gimli, who only asked once and received three hairs in a crystal locket). However, it seemed that Galadriel and Celebrimbor were in good, or at least decent terms, as she allowed him to enter Eregion and even counseled him later on. Here is where things become a tad muddied as there are two versions of what happened next: in one version, Galadriel and Celeborn left of their own accord, moving to Lothlórien and eventually becoming its rulers after the last Sindar King, Amroth, was lost at sea, leaving Eregion under the rule of Celebrimbor. In other version, Celebrimbor staged some sort of soft coup d’état or peaceful takeover of Eregion from Galadriel, after which she and her husband left to Lothlórien (Voices of Geekdom, 2021). Regardless of which version happened, the relationships between both kingdoms and their rulers remained friendly.

It was as leader of Eregion, when Celebrimbor made the two biggest changes on elven culture at the time: The first was the friendship with the dwarves of Moria and the elves of Eregion. Of note was the creation of the West Gate alongside his friend Narvi, a renowned dwarven craftsman. It was this friendship that allowed to have peace and stability in the region for a time.

The second one was trying to recover, or at least preserve, what was left of the essence of the land where the elves had been living for millennia and that had been in decline since Morgoth arrived to Beleriand during the First Age. What jumpstarted the project was the arrival of Annatar, Lord of Gifts and supposedly a representative of Aüle, the Valar of craftsmanship. Under his guidance, and against advice from Galadriel, who didn’t trust Annatar, Celebrimbor and his Elven smiths forged minor magic rings and later on the Rings of Power. Unbeknownst to them, the technique taught to them by Annatar, incorporated secret binding spells. Said spells had a resemblance to what Morgoth did during the Song of the Ainur, pouring his very essence, and thus creating evil upon the land, on Arda. The rings just did it in a smaller scale. At some point Celebrimbor must have suspected something, for he crafted the Three Eleven Rings on his own and in secret. By the time Annatar revealed himself as Sauron, forging and putting on his finger the One Ring, Celebrimbor had sensed the treason and sent away the Rings to Galadriel for safekeeping and distribution among those elves she considered worthy. This ignited a war in which Eregion was devastated, the elves fled the region, the dwarves closed Moria (Scott, 1972) and Celebrimbor –after a valiant effort to defend his people– was captured and tortured, dying at the hands of Sauron. His body was later used by the orcs as a ‘banner’ of sorts as they attacked the elves. This ended the lineage of Fëanor and the Doom of Mandos was fulfilled, as Sauron casted a shadow over Middle Earth for millennia to come, until his final defeat during the War of the Ring.

Overcorrection, overconfidence, or gullibility?

It is interesting to examine Celebrimbor’s personality. Of the House of Feänor, he is the closest to his forebear in skill at creating things. One could say that the rings of power have as much weight historically wise as the Silmarils. However, Celebrimbor is for the most part described as the further opposite to Feänor and to his father Curufin.  While Fëanor was selfish and hotheaded, and Curufin, for lack of a better term, was devious and evil, Celebrimbor is portrayed in the stories as someone selfless, kind and who easily shared his creations with others. Even heroic in the defense of others, as his actions during the First Age wars and the defense of Eregion during the Second Age demonstrate. It was argued that he wasn’t prideful, but it is the belief of the authors that Celebrimbor was full of pride, although unlike his forefathers, he usually kept said pride in check, and channeled it by taking bigger challenges instead of doing boastful remarks about his skills. His character became taciturn and anxious once he sensed what Sauron was doing with the Ring of Power, but by then it was too late.

Going back to the point of pride, it could be argued that like Fëanor, Celebrimbor sought to transcend the limits of what was possible to do, of his own existence (Ellison, 1990). While Fëanor managed to capture the light of the Two Trees and transform something that belonged to all into a possession coveted by him and later both his sons and Melkor himself, Celebrimbor worked to create the Three Rings trying to capture something elusive: the atemporal beauty of a land that was no more. Both were overconfident in their skills because they were that good. But whereas Fëanor became overly possessive of the Silmarils and went to war against Melkor for them, Celebrimbor went the other way and parted with them to keep them from Sauron. Fëanor never allowed to let go of the Silmarils voluntarily –in fact, he refused to hand them over to heal the Trees after Ungoliant drained and poisoned them. Celebrimbor decided to send away the rings before they were captured by Sauron, thus leaving them open to the Dark Lord.

Another aspect worth noticing of Celebrimbor and how he differentiates for his forebears are his relationships with others, especially with the Dwarfs and Galadriel, as noted in the previous section. He sought friendship where Fëanor only sought adulation and domination, and where Curufin only saw either pawns or obstacles for his ambition.

This leads to ponder whether Celebrimbor was like that by nature: less selfish and more cautious; or whether he made a conscious effort to distance himself from the worst aspects of his family and kept the family pride in check. Some children develop the opposite personalities to their parents, and it is more marked when said children are immortal elves that have had millennia to develop their own personalities. In either case, this led him to ignore other flaws he had: his gullibility, or naivety.

Why did he trust Annatar? It is clear that Sauron, as a former Maia of Aüle, did know enough craftsmanship to teach things that Celebrimbor and his elven smiths ignored or weren’t capable of discovering on their own. It has to be noted as well, that in “The Lost Tales” it’s mentioned that on those times, Sauron still possessed part of his original Maia beauty and shapeshifting powers, and remained a powerful sorcerer, which certainly helped to keep his true identity hidden, with only the most insightful elves, such as Galadriel, suspicious of the real menace beneath. Added to an evil insight which clearly Celebrimbor didn’t have, the task of creating rings that could preserve things was an attractive proposition to the elf. Celebrimbor was eager to achieve the maximum expression of his craft, thus when a stranger came with teachings that allowed him to do that, he jumped at the opportunity. It was this flaw that Sauron exploited, as he was more devious than his own former master in that regard. Whereas Morgoth was evil like a hammer, Sauron was a scalpel, and thus perhaps more dangerous to the people of Middle Earth.

Even after Galadriel warned Celebrimbor against working with Annatar, the former kept doing it. Why? It could be argued that a combination of pride, naiveté and overconfidence led Celebrimbor to think that he could overcome any danger.  After all, he had survived the War of Wrath and the previous battles. It was only when Sauron revealed his hand that Celebrimbor realized the ruse. In his search to create a magical device that would preserve the elven lands as timeless regions, he had helped the Dark Lord to create the most powerful weapon Middle Earth had seen till then. It does sound familiar to what has happened in the real world with our technology and its impact.

The impact of our actions on the wider world

Although Tolkien was adamant to refute any suggestion that elements from his legendarium were inspired by events of the real world –and for this, we must take the intention of the author at face value- it’s hard to not draw certain parallelism with Celebrimbor’s actions and those from the developer of the first chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Without trying to fall into an argument by hindsight, the story of Celebrimbor and the Rings of power certainly draws parallels with the development and application of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), or with Oppenheimer’s development of the atomic bomb. While he lamented that the bomb killed thousands, he kept still looking for ways to make them more effective and never regretted having created it. It seems that he was actually proud of how well it worked. We are enamored with our technological development but barely consider the unintended consequences of their creation. But first, it is necessary to understand why the Rings, and in particular the Elven Rings were created.

In the elven rings, the elves projected their need to attempt preserving the world into which they were born at first and that had been severely scarred and in decline due to the wars against Morgoth. Decline that while initiated by Morgoth, the elves were complicit in accelerating, in particular thanks to Feänor and his sons. The Three Rings symbolize the fear that the elves had of fading away in a world increasingly dominated by Men –and not even the Edain-. It is in this bout of nostalgia and yearning for a past long gone, that Sauron wedges his influence under the guise of Annatar, Lord of Gifts, directing these desires into the crafting of the first sixteen rings, with the willing participation of Celebrimbor, who no doubt, thought this would be an undertaking that would rival the Silmarils or at the very least would be recognized as one of the finest and wondrous in all elven history.  

Celebrimbor had been around since the First Age. Had witnessed the best of elven creation and the horrors of the wars against Morgoth. It is a normal motivation to want to improve things, or to return them to a time where they were ‘better’ from certain point of view. Although warned by Galadriel, who suspected of Annatar’s identity and intentions (Voice of Geekdom, 2021), Celebrimbor continued. The fact that he forged the Three Elven Rings on his own and in secret could point to the assumption that at the end he was somewhat suspicious of Annatar, but not enough to cut all ties with him. He has just suspicious enough to try and use the magic techniques taught to him by Annatar on his own (Voice of Geekdom, 2021) to pour this ‘elven’ essence into the rings. In a crude modern analogy, it can be argued that all the Rings of Power, if they were software, share the same source code, although the Three Elven Rings work inside a walled environment that kept them somewhat freed from the One Ring’s corruption, but still open to Sauron’s influence if not used carefully.

This is where parallels can be drawn to modern technology. Isaac Asimov (1982) in his essay “Ring of Evil”, offers the argument that the Ring of Power, and by extension the other rings, works as an analogy of our dependence on technology and how it is causing severe damage to the world. We are reluctant of letting go technology that while highly polluting, it’s easier to use, cheaper. We are so bewitched by our creations that we prefer to remain in our zone of comfort rather than look for better options because they are unknown to us. The Three Elven Rings represent a similar desire to keep things within the familiar, the comfortable. Afterall, we now have the power to shape our own world at an unprecedented scale. Victor Papanek (1985), one of the first designers to speak about sustainable design once famously wrote that “Designers, have become a dangerous race”, for their ability to churn out products of little real value, to create needs people didn’t have before and making them more and more attached to their own possessions and technology (which on itself has an interesting parallel to the effect that the Rings of Power have on the Dwarfs).

Using the example about the development of the CFCs, these chemicals were developed to solve an increasing human need: to prolong food storage by keeping it cold for longer periods without using ice. At the time these chemicals were developed, it was unknown that they would create the ozone-depleting and greenhouse gas effects on the atmosphere, for these effects started being detected after 30 years of use. In both cases we can see that, by trying to make life more comfortable, the creations had bigger impact on the world than what was originally intended.

Fate or Freedom of choice?

Was Celebrimbor doomed from the start? It depends on which perspective it’s seen from. Let’s review first the basics of the Doom of Mandos, which comprised eight conditions (Tolkien, 1977):

1. No one who follows Fëanor or his followers will be able to return to Valinor.

2. Anyone under the Doom will suffer greatly.

3. Fëanor’s oath to recover the silmarils will drive their lives, but it will also betray them and cause them to lose the treasures they pursue.

4. Anything they start will end badly, even if it started well.

5. Those from the house of Fëanor and his followers will always be dispossessed.

6. They will have gruesome deaths. Either murdered, tormented or in pain.

7. Their spirits will not be able to return to life for a very long time and they will find little pity around them.

8. Those who don’t die will grow weary of the world and become as shadows of regret before the humans appear on the world.

There are a couple caveats to this Doom that have to be mentioned.  While it was aimed mainly to Fëanor family’s, it also applied to any Noldor that decided to follow Fëanor’s lead into Beleriand. However, Galadriel, her siblings and family barely escaped it because while they went there, it wasn’t because they liked or followed Fëanor, rather they had other ideas in mind, mostly protect their people from his madness or in the case of Galadriel, forge a kingdom of her own. Thus, they stayed out of the House of Fëanor misadventures, except when they involved in their schemes, as was the case with Turgon (founder of Gondolin) and with Finrod Felagund (founder of Nargothrond); or like Thingol, king of Doriath, who tied his kingdom’s destiny to that of the House of Fëanor by requesting Beren to go and find a Silmaril in order to allow him to marry Lúthien.

Although Celebrimbor didn’t join in the evil deeds of his father (even getting him expelled from Nargothrond) and grandfather, he was still of the House of Fëanor and left Valinor, and thus, the Doom followed him. The interesting thing with prophecies, -which is what the Doom ultimately is- is that they can be interpreted in all different ways, in order to fit the agenda or the historical perspective of those that follow it. The very same text of Lord of the Rings provides what is perhaps the best example of this via the ‘No living man being able to kill’ prophecy of the Witch King, which got upended by Eowyn cleverly pointing out that she was no man. Some prophecies, both in real life and in fantasy, on the other hand have the tendency to become self-fulfilling, as with Turin, which draws parallels to Oedipus’ own tragedy. Lastly, prophecies in literature are as much a study and a commentary on human nature as a fantasy element to guide the plot. Thus, it could be argued that the Doom Mandos casted upon the House of Feänor was a self-fulfilling prophecy because Mandos knew very well the kind of psyche Feänor had and had instilled in his own family. In a way, the Doom was as much a prophecy as it was a warning about how the flaws of the family would spell problems for them if left unchecked, which is what happened at the end.

From a meta level, of course, he was doomed because the story required him to be. Regardless of how Tolkien merged his initial legendarium with the later works of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, by the time the reader gets to know about Celebrimbor, his doom is a done deal, a necessity to explain the backstory of the Rings of Power. In the same meta level, the writer is the creator god of the story, manipulating the events to fit the narrative they wish to tell. Thus, the characters fit what a growing number of philosophers and even scientist argue, which is that free will does not exist and everything is preordained (Burkeman, 2021). This would absolve Celebrimbor of any misgivings because he wasn’t responsible for them. However, aside the fact that taking that perspective would open a can a of worms outside the scope of this paper, it would be better to keep an in-story perspective.After all, this paper is about the character as it exists within the story and not about the intention of the author when creating it.

Then, from an in-story point of view, like all the other Noldorin elves that followed Fëanor, was followed by the Doom. He showed again and again that he was willing to go against the tide that was the House of Feänor if their course of actions contradicted his own beliefs. The problem was, as mentioned above, and Mandos knew that very well, that the whole house shared some inherent traits and flaws, be it that they were inherited or instilled, and the biggest flaw of the house was pride. They were a prideful people, well acquainted with their own unparalleled skill that thought that any challenge thrown their way would be easily conquerable. In that regard, while Celebrimbor was described as having ‘an almost “dwarvish” obsession with crafts’ (Tolkien, 1980), he was also a more thoughtful, conscientious elf than his forebears, and yet, he still went willingly and helped forge the rings without asking himself not whether he could, but whether he should create them. An elf his age knew very well, or at least should have heard of the kind of trickery that Morgoth first, and Sauron later, were capable of. But he found very tempting the challenge to help Sauron as Annatar, to create the rings.

In Celebrimbor two major flaws collide, pride, like Feänor, and gullibility (Voice of Geekdom, 2021), which certainly is a curious contrast to his grandfather’s paranoia. The extremes touch at some point. Celebrimbor dedicated most of his time to his craft, which yielded tangible results. It could be argued that once he saw the development of the Rings of Power and decided to create his own improved version to prove himself the superior craftsman. Or craftselve in this case. Fisher (2008) considers that the creation of the Three Rings and their destinies, echo the work of Feänor and the Silmarils. Following this path, Celebrimbor, like Feänor before him, had at every moment an opportunity to back off, to change of idea, and in the case of former to investigate his new associate, of listening to Galadriel’s warning. But the pride and the allure of seeing himself as a legendary craftsman blinded him until it was too late, and the changes he did to the Elven rings were too little. However, in his defense, and unlike Feänor who coveted the Silmarils over anything else, Celebrimbor gave away the Three Rings to keep them away from Sauron and thus they remained somewhat unspoiled by the corruption. This proves that he had choices, that he could have changed paths if he so desired. It was just too late to change paths by the time things came to a head. Many of us tend to act the same way, forced to change our patterns or habits only when things have reached an extreme that puts at risk something we care –health, family, the planet-, not always managing to solve the problem.

Celebrimbor had the opportunity to change that fate by returning to Valinor instead of remaining in the Middle Earth after the Downfall of Melkor, but he didn’t. He fell prey of his own flaws because he never stopped to consider them, to reflect upon the failings of his predecessors and how they formed his own choices. Being member of an immortal race, one may have expected that his apparent superiority and long life should have made him more reflective, and yet, his pride over his craftsmanship won over. The pride that resulted from such action called forth the Doom and dragged him, the remaining elves in Middle Earth and pretty much the whole world into a conflict that would turn into the land a lesser version of what it used to be, the very opposite effect of what the elves wanted to achieve.

Conclusion

Celebrimbor serves as a cautionary tale in many levels: the need to be socially responsible of our actions and choices, the need to keep in check our own pride, to be aware of our own flaws, of the use of our technological prowess without carefully examining possible consequences. Celebrimbor is in a way, one of the best examples that the road to Hell, or in this case Mordor, is paved with good intentions.

Celebrimbor fell prey to Sauron’s tricks and although Galadriel warned him about it, he didn’t listen because he was busy trying to achieve the next level of craftmanship, which may or may not have equivalent to his grandfather’s Silmarils. Good intentions alone are not enough, we need to make a conscious effort to keep out worst instincts at bay and ponder the effects that our decisions have in the world at large.

References

Asimov, I. 1982. Ring of Evil. Asimov on Science Fiction. New York. Avon Books.
Burkeman, O. 2021 The clockwork universe: Is free will an illusion? The Long Read. The Guardian. Available through: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/apr/27/the-clockwork-universe-is-free-will-an-illusion [Accessed April 28 2021]

Ellison, J. 1990 “From Fëanor to Doctor Faustus: a creator’s path to self-destruction.” 5th Tolkien Society Workshop.

Fisher, J. 2008. Three Rings for—Whom Exactly? And Why?: Justifying the Disposition of the Three Elven Rings. Tolkien Studies 5, 99-108.

Mulder K.F. (2013) Impact of New Technologies: How to Assess the Intended and Unintended Effects of New Technologies?. In: Kauffman J., Lee KM. (eds) Handbook of Sustainable Engineering. Dordrecht, Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-8939-8_35

Papanek, V. (1985). Design for the Real World. New York. Pantheon Books.

Scott, Nan C. (1972).”War and Pacifism in The Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien Journal: Vol. 5 : Iss. 1 Article 9. Available at: https://dc.swosu.edu/tolkien_journal/vol5/iss1/9

Tolkien, J. R. R., & Tolkien, C. (1977). The Silmarillion. London, Allen & Unwin.

Tolkien, J.R.R., / Tolkien, C. (1980) Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Voice of Geekdom, 2021. Celebrimbor – Forger of the Rings of Power | DISCUSSION. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1mGQhhZt_g&ab_channel=VoiceofGeekdom [Accessed 27 May 2021].


Carved Dreams of Love & Sorrow. A Dark Dice Podcast Fanfic

Note: this fanfic is inspired by the Dark Dice Podcast (a live play D&D horror podcast), that I’ve been listening to in recent months as I work towards the release of my second novel next week. They have a fanfic contest and here is my entry. I haven’t write a fanfic in more than 10 years, so this was quite an interesting activity.

Withour further ado here is the story.

Carved Dreams of Love & Sorrow.

By Ricardo Victoria

Under regular circumstances, sleep would be the best respite for the weary, but not for Soren Arkwright. His weary bones claimed for rest after the latest hunt, but his mind wasn’t that kind to go there. To the dreams. Then again a hunter deprived of sleep is of no help to anyone during the job. It’s a risk. And Soren preferred to minimize risk if possible. In his line of work, the hunter that manages to live to old age is the one that gets into the practice of managing risk. And he was not planning to die soon, even if he felt like he had been living for thousand years.

 The barn that has been hosting him since his arrival to Ilmater’s Hope, while not exactly the best accommodation in the town, had something that the local inn didn’t have: privacy. For Soren’s dreams were not the kind to be shared by mumbling in his sleep. While he didn’t want to sleep, he would have to or he would collapse from exhaustion.

Soren took his equipment off, leaving it neatly accommodated in a corner near the improvised hay bed. Then there was the lamp. That accursed object that he has had for who knows how long. Really useful, utterly creepy, completely unsettling and cursed. And yet he couldn’t remember a day since he had become Soren, that he hadn’t have it by his side. The things it did to the souls of the dying or long dead was nothing but torture. But useful torture nonetheless for his line of work. He put it as far away as he could from his makeshift bed.

“No need to add fuel to the fire of the nightmares,” Soren muttered to himself, and the goats keeping him company. His best hope was for a dark void of dreamless sleep until the next morning. “Then again, I never get what I want.”

Soren looked at the makeshift hay bed. The owner of the barn had been kind enough to lend him a couple of threadbare blankets to use over the haystacks.

“I’ve seen worse,” he muttered. “I’ve had worse”.

It wasn’t the best bed in the world, but certainly beat sleeping in the cold floor, or worse, in the limits of the town, where the Dead Pines began. At this point in life, he would take this as an improvement. If only it meant that he could rest.

Soren lay upon the bed and staring at the ceiling of the barn, closed his eyes in an attempt to conjure a blank sleep.

This was one of those time he wished sleep had evaded him.

It always started the same way. Darkness, voices whispering the name of the “Carver of Dreams”, a temple lit by torches, a foul smell, his hand bloodied as he lifted a dagger from the open wound of a being he had sacrificed to It. To the god that had promised to return to him what he had lost. It was a weird experience to see himself from afar doing those acts, carving sentient beings with the help of his hooded followers. It was as if his body, his mind and his soul were separate entities now.

“Hahahahahaha!” Soren heard himself laughing. And his heart ached. The pain was so great that he dropped to his knees while grabbing his chest. As he struggled for air, gasping, the room twisted around him, rotating at incredible speed, as if he were at the eye of a small tornado.

Soren blinked a few times as his eyes accustomed themselves to the bright light of day. He was in a younger body, fitter, stronger, full of vitality.

“Soren!” a female voice called after him.

He knew Soren wasn’t his real name. Not in the dreams in any case. But he couldn’t remember his real, original name, if he ever had one. Thus in his dreams, he was Soren, as always.

Sitting under a tree, during a warm summer day after a hard day at helping repair the walls from the damage caused by the last monster attack, Soren was taking a needed break. Wearing only his leather pants and a white shirt, the young man was spreading avocado over a couple of toasted slices of bread.

“Soren! Soren! Where are you? Oh! There you are!”

Sored looked up to see who was calling for him and saw her. The woman that occupied his dreams and every free thought he had while awake. She smelled of raspberries. Her dark brown hair flowed freely as she ran towards him, carrying a small bunny in her delicate hands. Her most striking features were her eyes., Bright, full of hope and determination. Her voice was clear, melodic, sweet and but with a hint of hidden force. Soren couldn’t remember her name, as hard as he tried. But he knew his heart belonged to her since the first day he saw her at the castle.

Soren looked up to her.

“That is a nice bunny you have there.”

“Phillipus? Yes, he is. The only good thing from that meeting with another suitor. I hate those things. They are so vain, so boorish. They think that their riches make them better than anyone.

“Would you like to share an avocado toast m’lady?” Soren offered one of the toasts to her. “Maybe it will help erasing the bad taste said meeting left in your mouth.”

“That sounds delicious my gallant knight,” She sat next to him, set free Phillipus and took the toast.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. As Soren prepared a third toast, he looked at her and smiled.

“I don’t think your father would approve of you consorting with the likes of me, m’lady.”

“If I listened to my father,” she replied with a laugh. “I would be prancing around in silly dresses, blushing at the poor attempts of seduction from the entitled brats of the ruling families of this place. Luckily for us, I prefer to listen to my heart.”

“And what does your heart say, m’lady?” Soren looked at her eyes, making her blush.

“That I want to have a life outside this walls. To live a free life, next to a gallant knight,” she replied, staring wistfully to the few clouds in the otherwise fine day.

“Lofty dreams m’lady. But I don’t see how you plan to achieve that.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I have a good idea where to start, with the gallant knight,” She smiled this time. Her smile turning into a wide grin showcasing her pearl-like teeth. They made her eyes shine with greater intensity, like stars.

“Then allow me to offer you a helping hand,” Soren took her hand as he leaned to kiss her softly in the lips.

As he kissed her, the tornado engulfed them. Soren was transported once more to another time, another place.

+++

He was tending to his horse as the sun set in the horizon. It had been a long week of combat and he barely made it alive. If he didn’t know better, he could swear that his liege was trying to get rid of him by sending him into increasingly dangerous missions. But that would mean that he found out about Soren and his daughter sleeping together several times.

Right in cue, as it is bound to happen in the dreamscape, she appeared, running towards him. Her face betrayed her increasing fear. She grabbed Soren’s hand and led him to his horse.

“He found about us. I’m not sure how. You have to escape. My father won’t let us stay together.”

Soren looked at her. He knew this was a possibility and had been running possible scenarios in his head. Maybe if he talked with the lord. Maybe he had earned the right to be a suitor of her by virtue of his skills at the battlefield. Surely he would prefer to have a son-in-law capable of defending his domains from attackers, instead of those spoiled brats. But deep down he knew that wouldn’t ever happen. No. she was right. Running away was the only option. But not without her.

“I can’t leave you. I will face him if I must. I will earn his approval one way or another,” Soren said, looking at her and kissing her hands, to reassure her that everything would be fine.

“The only thing you will earn is your death!” her father yelled across the stables, followed by his two most trusted bodyguards, the same men that had trained Soren for years and had made him the most lethal knight in the land.

“I don’t want to do this sir. You are my liege. I bound to serve you,” Soren said, trying to defuse the situation. To gain some time.

“And yet you disgraced said bond by besmirching the honor of my daughter!”

“He has more honor than any of your sycophants, father!” She replied, interposing her body between Soren and her father. But Soren gently set her aside with one hand, as he drew his sword with the other.

“Silence child! After I’m done with him, I will deal with you!”

“You won’t do anything of the sort,” Soren replied through gritted teeth. He knew how the lord dealt with his wife when she disobeyed. Soren wouldn’t allow him to put a hand on her. “To protect her, I will do what I must.”

“Attack! You filthy brigand!” the lord launched an attack that Soren parried with effort. The old man might had been a great fighter in decades past, but not anymore. Soren was more concerned about the two bodyguards. They would prove a tougher challenge.

“Stand aside,” the lord said to his bodyguards with seething voice. “Honor demands that he is mine.”

A great fighter, Soren thought, but not a smart one. The duel was quick, barely a couple of parries and attacks before Soren’s sword skewered the man through the heart, result of the age gap. A quick and painless death was better than the man had deserved, and Soren was regretful of doing it in front of her, but the dice were cast.

The bodyguards launched into an attack to avenge their lord, while Soren prepared for the battle of his life. As he raised his sword to block an attack, the tornado swallowed all of them, and everything went dark.

++++

Soren’s body was aching, every bone in his body hurt, every cut throbbed. Bu the worst pain was that of his soul. If felt as if someone was carving his dreams for some nefarious purpose that eluded him. Soren opened his eyes once more. His body was older, as currently, bleeding from the left arm, as her, his wife was tending to his wounds. She smiled at him and Soren returned the smile. He looked around, they were sitting outside in the porch of their humble home, in the outskirts of the forest. They were wearing peasant clothes. Her hands were delicate no more. They had grown stronger and with calluses, the mark of hard labor. Her eyes were the same though, shining like stars.

“I’m sorry for having you dragged you into this life,” Soren said, breaking the silence.

“I have no need for material things. I don’t care if we have to sleep with the pigs during winter, and break our backs during harvest. As long as I have you at my side, I’m happy my dear Soren,” She replied with her sweet, melodic voice, barely changed by the years of hardship. “But I do wish you had left those soldiers alone. You are all bruised and you attracted more attention than needed.”

“I had to do what I was raised to do, protect others.”

“Always my gallant knight,” she said, as she kissed him in the forehead.

Noise of horses galloping in their direction broke the kiss. Both looked towards the road and saw a band of knights riding towards them. Soren stood up, looking for his sword, the only thing he hadn’t sold after escaping. The only thing left from his time as a knight. She took the pitchfork that was near the door and stood in front of him.

The riders stopped, and the leader of men, a man taller than Soren, decked in armor plater, with long, flowing hair kept away from his face by a silver circlet on his head, dismounted his warhorse and approached the couple, his hands raised in sign of peace.

“Soren Arkwright?” the man asked, with a deep voice and a thick accent.

“Who wants to know?” she asked.

“I’m not here to hurt you m’lady,” the man made a small curtesy towards her. “Or Soren. I’m here because I have an offer for you. From the king.”

“From the king you say?” She asked again.

“Yes. May I come in? I will leave my weapons outside, with my companions,” the man looked at the other riders, still on their saddles.

Soren and his wife looked at each other. Years of loving marriage under the stars had allowed them to develop the silent language that only soulmates can.

“Alright,” Soren said, looking at the man to the face, dropping his voice an octave. “But if you attempt anything or hurt her, you will see firsthand why I’m a wanted man.”

“That’s part of the reason why I’m here. I’m Commander Asphodel,” the man said, extending his hand to shake Soren’s. “Of the High Guard. The Darklands have become a very dangerous land.”

“Well,” Soren replied as he shook his hand and led him to the inside of the house “You can’t expect different from a land with such name.”

Soren, his wife and Asphodel took a seat at the wooden table that made the main piece of furniture in the room.

“Our King and the King of the Elves have been creating a pact with other forces that I’m not in liberty to disclose yet. With the aim to stop whatever is creating such perils.”

“And what does that have to do with me? With us?” Soren asked, confused.

“I’m under orders to put together a band of the best fighters, warriors, hunters on the region, to serve as strike force to destroy anyone or anything helping this source of evil in planned, secret and precise attacks while the Kings march to war. A covert team if you will. Of course I would like to have the fabled former knight Soren Arkwright in my team. Your skills at arms and as a tracker are the stuff of legends, even after this time.”

“It seems that what I’m not good is to keep hidden,” Sored replied, ruefully.

“No offense, but we knew where you and m´lady were staying since day one. Her father was after all, someone close to the crown. But the King is a romantic at heart so he ordered us to leave you alone as long as you keep your head down. Which you did until that bar fight. Was all that necessary?”

“Those guards were hurting the waitress. It was necessary,” Soren said with a tone of voice that left no room for further argument.

“Anyways,” Asphodel said, retaking the original topic of conversation, “The King wants you, like me, to join us in this effort.”

“And if I say no?” Soren asked, looking at his wife. “It’s a dangerous request. And I won’t leave my wife alone.”

“You will then be taken prisoner. Which really I don’t want. It will be a waste of resources.” Asphodel rubbed the back of his neck. “But if you say yes, and being aware of both the dangers and the need to keep safe your wife, the King has allowed me to offer you the following: just payment for every job you come with us, protection for your wife while you are away and within certain time, a royal pardon, freeing you from persecution from any past or recent crime. And after that probation time is done and the pardon granted, you are free to go. You could even take a few extra jobs of your choosing to get better payment. I think is a good offer.”

“What do you think my dear?” Soren asked to his wife.

“I don’t like the idea of being separated from you, or that you are risking your life.” She replied

“But it could free us.”

“Sigh,” She said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Ok, take the offer, but only if you promise that once you get the pardon, you will stop.”

“I promise.”

“Good,” Asphodel said, standing up. “We leave the day after tomorrow. I suggest you put your business in order.”

“The only business to order is spending the day with the love of my life.”

As Soren kissed  his wife, the tornado grew again, transporting him to another time. Taking him away from his beloved wife.

+++

“One last job my dear,” Soren said as he packed up his things.

“You always say that,” His wife replied, ruefully. “The King pardoned years ago and yet you keep taking jobs. You always promise that one last job and you break that promise. You have done it so many times by now that I don’t expect anything from you. It’s like you don’t want to be with me anymore.”

“Please, don’t say that.” “This is my last job, I swear. The payment I will get from helping to bring down that warlock and his cult will set us for the rest of our lives. I can finally give you what you deserve.”

“How many times I have to tell you that I don’t care for those things?”

“You say that. But I see you staring at the ladies in the town, and the dressed they buy, at their houses. I just want to give you the life you deserve”

“What about what I want?” She raised her voice.

“I swear. One last job and then I’m done for good. I will become a gardener here in town if you want.”

“If you exit that door, I can’t promise you I will be here when you return.”

“Yes you will. Because you love me as much as I do. And I always return to you and you know it.”

“Not anymore.”

“I will see you soon my love.”

As soon as Soren crossed the door, darkness swallowed him.

++++

“If you let me go, I will give you anything your heart desire. Riches beyond your imagination. Your own fiefdom.” The warlock said, begging for his life as he crawled away from Soren. They were alone, in the deepest part of the warlock’s hideout, a cave barely lit by torches. The fight had been long, as the warlock led a band of cultists dedicated to a god with no known name. Both sides had lost men, until Soren had managed to break the cult´s defenses and carved his way through them, chasing the warlock. A depraved man that had murdered countless as sacrifice for his eldritch deity.

“I don’t need anything of that. What I’m being paid to kill you is enough for me. And I already possess the most valuable thing I could want in this plane. And I’m going back to her as soon as I finish with you. Any last words?” Soren said, sarcasm dripping from every word he uttered.

“Ah, so you are one of those. A hopeless lover that regrets leaving who he loves behind every time someone hires you,” the warlock said, mocking Soren.

“Interesting last words you are saying,” Soren replied, pointing the tip of his sword to the chest of the man.

“Even love can be destroyed, fade away. People die. But if you let me go, I will give you that,” the warlock pointed to a lamp resting of a wooden table. “That lamp has the ability to bring back the souls of the deceased to their body.”

“They would remain dead anyways.”

“Not if you use the lit the lamp next to them right after their death. They will linger between life and death long enough for you to find someone to heal them.”

“You are lying.”

“I swear it is true. My god gave it to me. It never lies.”

“Well,” Soren smiled.  “There is only one way to verify that, don’t you think?”

He pushed his sword through the heart of the warlock, and the air echoed with a preternatural scream.

++++

Soren found himself walking under a fading snowfall, down the familiar road to his house. He smiled. His last job, and he meant it this time, had secured him a small fortune. Enough to take his wife away from exile at the edge of a forest and to a nicer house, with all the amenities she desired. As he walked, his smile faded away, for a column of smoke rose on the horizon, from the exact location where his house was. He dropped everything but his sword and the lamp and ran, as faster as he had ever run. Until his lungs hurt and his drumming heart was knocking the walls of his chest with force.

Knock.

Soren arrived at what was left of his home. Everything was burned to ashes,

“No. No. No! Not again! Not this.”

He grabbed the lamp and placed it near her lifeless body. If what the depraved warlock had told him was true, it could bring her back to the land of the living, just long enough to find her a healer. To make a miracle work. He was Soren Arkwright after all, the hero that had made the impossible, possible. He had done that to serve others. Why he wouldn’t do that to serve himself?

Knock

Seconds, more akin to eons for him passed. As if hit by a bolt, her body trembled and she sit, screaming at the horror of her bloody wounds, at the churning pain caused by her broken body.

“What you have done my love? Why you are making me suffer like this?”

“I… I… I need you.” Soren replied as he hugged her, sobbing. “I don’t want to lose you. I can make this better. I can find someone to heal you. To bring you back.”

“It can’t be my love. I’m dead. I have to go.”

“No! Please don’t go. Don’t leave me.

“There is nothing you can do my sweet Soren. You can’t change the past. Your abandonment.”

Knock.

“I know I could have done things better. I could have been a better husband. To pay you more attention… I know I can be better. I promise!”

“It is too late now. See, I’m dead now. A spirit about to cross to the beyond. You lost me, you lost us. You squandered our love. You are still alive. You have to return to the living, move on from here. It’s not healthy to remain trapped in this space..”

“No! Please let me stay a little bit longer. I promise I will never leave your side again. I will be a better husband!”

“It can’t be my love. I don’t belong to this plane of existence anymore.”

“Please I beg you! I will do anything!”

Knock.

“Anything you say?” Her smile turned into a wide, wicked grin showcasing rows of sharp teeth, her eyes shapeshifted into two red orbs, with a third one appearing in her forehead. It wasn’t his wife anymore, but a creature made of… the very same matter that nightmares are made of. A mockery of a human being he once loved with all his heart.

“Yes!” Sore replied without doubt, tears running down his face

Knock

“I can give you want. More time with her. If you seek me once more,” the creature whispered with a voice that didn’t sound human.

Knock

“I don’t care; I just want to see you again. I will seek anyone that can help me to achieve that.”

Knock

“Do you seek him?” the creature whispered before disappearing as if it were a mirage.

Knock

The knocks on the door became louder as Soren stirred from his sleep. Pulled from the deep well of memory, regret and sorrow, his mind broke free as he opened his eyes. Groggy, he stood up and lit on the lamp near the barn’s door. His breathing was heavy, his chest hurt and there was this void in the mouth of his stomach. The dream eroded from his mind as he took a few steps towards the door. It was nothing but a distant, confusing memory now.

Soren opened the door just enough to see who was. In the darkness of the night he couldn’t see anyone in his line of sight. He blinked a few times to wake up properly.

“Down here,” a female voice called, startling him. There was something… familiar in that voice. Something that reminded him of the past, of the lady in his dreams, a fading memory.

But it can’t be, he thought, as his heart gave a jump.

He looked down and stared at his interlocutor. In front of him there was a woman, a dwarven paladin. Her soft features betrayed the strength of her heart and the worries currently running through her head. But her most striking features were her eyes. Her eyes had a spark Soren hadn’t seen in… who know how long. Those eyes full of hope and determination that rekindled Soren’s soul. A reminder of another soul, another time that he yearned for but now it was long gone, to never return.

“Are you Soren Arkwright, the Monster Hunter?” the dwarven paladin asked. Her voice was clear, melodic yet firm and forceful. His heart ached, as the woman continued. “I’m Sister Tsavorite Cavernsfall, I here because I have an urgent matter to discuss with you.”

Soren smiled. Monster Hunter was a better moniker than the other whispered in his nightmares. He smiled at Sister Cavernfall. Maybe she would like to share an avocado toast while they talked.

The End?

Geeky updates and Free Cursed Titans chapters for you

As you can notice, I have fallen behind once more in updating the blog. I mean, I can see the cowebs al over the place. In part is because I’ve been so busy with my day job that I can barely have respite. Let me tell you, teaching online is not as easy as it sounds. I actually find it more stressing (although I welcome the rest of my work activities that allow me to do them from home, which is good for someone who suffers from anxiety and doesn’t get along with his colleagues). Another reason is that Geoff -my editor- and I have been putting the final touches on “The Cursed Titans” to get it ready for launch later in July. And the final reason, is that I have been missing motivation to write about something not being a short story or the Tempest Blades Universe. But I will try to correct that with some quick comments about the geeky stuff I’ve been doing:

-I wanted the Snyder cut. Much virtual ink has been written about it, so I will keep my thoughts succint: it’s is way, way better, the characters are more fleshed, more akin to their comic counterparts, specially Batman and Flash. The final scene with Flash rings true to what the character is actually capable of doing and not the comic relief that Whedon made him be. The use of Darkseid as the big scope villain was awesome (he is one if not my favorite villian due how nightmarish he is). And lastly but more important: Cyborg. He is the central character of this film, the heart of the story and the way Whedon mutilated Ray Fisher’s work is a travesty. Ray and by extension Cyborg, deserved better. But I’va learned that since the ending of the DCAU, WB and DC can’t avoid getting in their own ways when it comes to using their characters in media representation. I have no hopes for a larger DCEU and I guess I will have to settle for good individual movies.

-Marvel on the other hand is knocking it out of the field with their tv shows. Wandavision was innovative, creative and possibly, one of the best depictions of depression and mourning ever made in media. Very cathartic given the times we live. The ending could have been slightly better, but I’m eager to see what Wanda does in Doctor Strange 2. While Wandavision is the superior show, I’m enjoying more Falcon & The Winder Soldier. Despite it’s flaws, the way the stakes are increasing, the cast and above all the discussions on systemic racism and legacies are what make this show work. Wyatt Russell is doing a super job as John Walker and his slow descent into madness, Daniel Bruhl should have his own show/movie leading the Thunderbolts as Zemo, Sebastian Stan is portratying Bucky with the world weariness aura of a soldier tired of fighting but not knowing what else to do to redeem for his past mistakes (sound similar to Fionn). But in my opinion the best has been Anthony Mackie. His portrayal of Sam as a good person who is a hero because it comes naturally to who he is, is making of Falcon one of my favorite Avengers ever. Heck at this point I’m wondering if Mackie’s Sam will eventually be able to lift Mjolnir. Because he is worthy and you can see from the very first minute why Steve chose him as his successor.

-Also, I liked the ending of Attack on Titan, even if I find it depressing. No idea why people keep saying is a run of the mill shonen ending. It’s barely bittersweet!

-I might have plotted the whole Tempest Blades story for the next (and final) 2-3 books. More details later.

-Finally, and as courtesy of my publisher, Artemesia Publishing, you can read for free the first 2 chapters of Tempest Blades: The Cursed Titans, by using the QR code in the below promotional image. And remember that if you like that preview, you can pre order the book here (I will be sharing non-Amazon links once I have them).

P.D. Would you be interested in purchasing either a collection of storiestaking place in the Tempest Blades Universe, or a book in the vein of ‘World of Ice & Fire’, written in character by Harland and talking about the myth and lore of the Tempest Blades Universe.



New Year, New Book, New Cover for The Cursed Titans

So, first of all, Happy (belated) New Year! We survived 2020 and now we need to focus on surviving 2021.

That said, I have a new book coming out this year, on July 20th, to be exact. The second book on the Tempest Blades series, “The Cursed Titans” follows up on the consequences of the events in the previous book (but don’t worry, it’s written to be also a stand-alone adventure). And the main focus changes from Fionn to Alex (the 2nd book will be Gaby-centric and hopefully the 4th one will focus on Sam). So with a new book, comes a new blurb, and a new cover, which I will be revealing here.

The blurb is:

“The triennial Chivalry Games have returned! After helping to destroy the Withered King, Alex and the rest of the group find out that saving the world has consequences. While he is secretly battling with depression and with the Alliance on the verge of collapse, a diplomatic summit and the Chivalry Games—to be held in the far off Kuni Empire—may give everyone the opportunity to turn things around. Alex builds a team to represent the Foundation in the Games, facing off against the best fighters in the world.

When an ancient being tries to raise legendary nightmares known as Titans using the peace talks as a trap, Alex has to find a way to save everyone before it is too late. Alex must learn that he is not truly alone to save the world from the chaos of the Titans.

In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible.

And here is the full cover art. Like the last time, it was created by my friend and fellow Mexican artist Salvador Velázquez. I have to say, this one is more impressive than the previous one. On it, you can see Alex, Kasumi (new character!), Sam, and Sid battling a biomechanical wyrm outside a temple at the Kuni Empire capital.

This is how it looks with the blurb (ISBN barcode pending):

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And this is the Front cover:

You can start preordering the book at this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1951122208/

This is looking to be a pretty epic book, between the cover and the story. Remember, 20th of July. 

Forty Candles

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So yeah, in October of this year of the Lord, 2020, year of many, many, many events, I’m reaching my 40th birthday. That’s a big number isn’t? If these were the Middle Ages I would be considered an elder of the village. In prehistoric times, I would be downright ancient. So I’m taking this with some perspective.

If I’m honest, I never expect to reach this age. When I was 16, I had the odd feeling I wouldn’t go past my 30s’ at best. Why? I’m not sure. I guess a general sense of dread of the future plus depression at the time. That’s why I perhaps was in a hurry to achieve things, to leave a legacy.

Reaching 40 has put things in perspective. I’m in the middle of the way. Reaching this age in 2020 has a peculiar meaning to boot. This year, with all the things that are going on have made me meditate in the future -anxiety included- and in doing things I never imagined to do, like a will (yes, because you never know and you don’t want to leave problems behind).

But I consider mysefl lucky, perhaps priviliged, because I’ve been able to achieve some of the dreams-transformed-into-goals I had at 16. I was able to study a postgrad, to live in a different country for an extended period of time, to visit several countries, to get married, to write a book (more on it later). There were some goals I never considered, like owning a house (well, I’m still paying for it, but you know the meaning), doing road trips with not even where to sleep being planned, reaching the finales of a competition (Heroclix in this case), working on a comic book shop, and so on. Others were planned for after I reached 40 and yet I managed to do them last year (like taking my wife to her dream holiday to Tokyo, after a gruelling year of work and savings, starting something, which was Inklings Press). I’m not bragging. I consider myself lucky because not many can do or live what I have been able to. I know all of the above have been a privilige. That’s why this month, full of reflection is teaching me to not take it for granted. Because I know there are goals that won’t come to fruition and I have to learn to let those go and as a friend told me a few weeks ago, set up new goals to keep me motivated.

On the book thing (remember I said there was more on this), I recall I has this sense of dread that if I didn’t write a novel and publish it before my 30s’, I would never do it. I had this idea that to leave a legacy I had to be this famous writer. When the book didn’t materialize out of thin air, I moved the goalpost to my 35 birthday. Well, I started to write a book, but didn’t finish it till a couple of years later and certaintly took a couple more to get it published (because the reality is that the publishing industry is an endurance race). And fame hasn’t arrived. But I think that’s fine for a few reasons: I wouldn’t have been able to write the books, the stories I’m writing now, if I hadn’t had more life experiences, more maturity. I needed this growth in order to write a book that I hope, connects with the reader in an emotional level, beyond a simple thrill. And in the case of fame, well, fame is overrated. I mean, having extra money to pay my mortgage (or move to a better zone), to take my wife to more trips so she can increase her photograph catalogue, or adopt more dogs would be awesome (Netflix, call me). But paraphrasing and editing Master Yoda’s quote, “Fame. Fortune. A good person craves not these things.” I think it is more important to be a good person who learns to enjoy the little, the medium, the large, the simple and the complicated things life gives us. To enjoy the little triumphs we achieve (including getting up from bed in a bad day) and learn from the fails we endure. To help and lift others in whatever capacity we can. We are what we leave behind.

I still think that the Ancient Greek had it right. True immortality is the legacy, the memories, you leave behind. I just hope for the next 40-50 years allow me to leave a good legacy behind and people remind me kindly.

And I still want that TV Tropes page dedicated to my writings.

Science vs Magic in Tempest Blades. Part 1

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A few weeks ago, I posted a twitter an open request for questions from readers about the setting of Tempest Blades. The most intriguing questions that evolved into a long post were by Leo McBride:

You have magic and technology side-by-side in your world – are there notable examples of tension between adherents of the two sides, and was there outright conflict as technology was first introduced?

Yes, and in a big way. When the 3 species arrived to Theia, humans had lost all their tech. Samoharo took theirs to their continent and kept it hidden for millennia. Magick was exclusive of the Freefolk for their biology made them the only ones able to channel magick energies. While dragons (still alive back then) and samoharo served as mediators, the Freefolk soon became the major power of the world. Especially after the Titan Hunt. Humans being humans, developed technology from scratch to level the field.

Sometimes with help of the Freefolk (see titanarmors, which are basically magick infused armors), sometimes to fight them (rifles, explosives and so on). It all came to a head when the Asurian Empire declared war on the Freefolk (the whole species). An intercontinental war erupted between the two powers, with increased escalation (IBMs, bioweapons -see Buried Sins-), that ended by killing all the dragons, erasing the Empire from the face of the planet, and ending the power of the Freefolk.

The trigger point, technologically, that prompted that?

The Asurian Empire was an expansionist power that believed that they should police the world. They feared the Freefolk because their magick, unlike the human version, doesn’t require long, complicated rituals. 1 in 10 Freefolk can cast magick naturally. And magick back then beat most regular weapons. The Asurian had already conquered the Straits, were encroaching the Kuni Empire and wanted all the lands above the World’s Scar, for they are rich in ore. But those lands were Freefolk. When they clashed, the Freefolk handed them a massive defeat. So for the next century, the Asurians worked on developing countermeasures for magick, including enhancing tech that could allow soldiers to kill Freefolk with ease and ballistic weapons. That tracked and exploded in contact with the magick energies. That’s why dragons had to intervene to stop both sides from killing each other, and in turn ended dying.

What are the legacies of that in social terms in the modern setting? Prejudices, laws, etc?

The Freefolk are seen with distrust (although that stems from when they were shapeshifters, before the magick) because of their innate power for magick, so they lost most of their lands south of the Scar and there are political parties that use them as scapegoats. When things go wrong (like in the Great War, despite the fact that the Freefolk were victims of massacre during the war and only 3 of the actually participated on it, Fionn and Izia for the Free Alliance and Peremir for the Blood Horde). So they are subject of racism. Magick is usually only allowed within Freefolk territory, for magic shows, school, research, emergencies or with a special permit. Bioweapons and nukes are banned (although most of that tech got lost after the Fall of the Empire).

Fionn’s actions during the War and after, the peopletarian work of the Foundation, the arcanotech research, better education, and the threat by the Samoharo to step it (which scares the hell of everyone) has helped to erode the racism towards Freefolk, except from certain political parties across the Alliance that see them as rivals for power and refuse to return them their lands. The Kuni have good relationships with the Freefolk (as they were also enemies of the Empire). And the Freefolk mostly stay on their lands to avoid more problems. And the Empire is seen as the example of the worst of humankind, the cautionary tale of what not to do and most people would prefer to see it erased from history. Only its capital, Meteora, remains as a city state in the Wastelands, a hive of scum a villainy.

So there it is, a bit of info on the backstory of Tempest Blades that informs what’s happening currently in the books (yes, plural, more on that later).

The world of Theia. Part 2: Auris.

After long, long days of radio silence, because you know, I was busy writing a new book (which by the way it already has a tentative release date, but more on that later), I’m back. And what better thing to show in my triumphat return to my own blog, here is the map for the second novel of the Tempest Blades series: Cursed Titans,  drawn with the help of my friend Marco García.

Auris is the western continent of the planet Theia. Not as populous a Ionis, it does however contain its own set of legendary locations, exciting places and rich history and cultures. The eastern coast of  Auris is not that far from the western coast of Ionis (as you can see in the tiny map on the right lower corner), and given the Lyrian Ocean is ‘relatively’ calm, can be transversed by ship or warptrains that gro through the multitude of smaller islands.

Auris’ western side can be divided in three main regions, which also belong to the three main regional powers: the Kuni Empire, the Straits, and the Wastelands. As per the previous map, anything above the World’s Scar belongs to the Freefolk and the other continent, across the Straits and Azure Turtle Sea/Slender Sea, is Ouslis and belongs in its enterity to the Samoharo Hegemony, which means that can be described as ‘Here be dragons’.

The map, for the sake and brevity, only depicts places that are mentioned in the actual story or are really important (such as the three main cities). There are more places there, but it would have been madness to fit all in that space. So this is a primer on the places marked there.

The Kuni Empire: one of the oldest human nations still standing, purveyor of technology, animated cartoons, and its own set of religious and combat beliefs. The home of the demonhunters capable to take down monster through the use of their rigorous training that put them on par of titanfighters -without having to use armors- and even of a Gifted. It’s capital is Kyôkato, where most of events on the new novel takes place. The Empire possess a network of Temples, such as the Quiet Water Temple, secretly interconnected between them, where powerful yôkais -spirits- reside or are trapped. Those temples are consecrated to a particular element or natural phenomenon. It’s weather is similar to that of Japan. The Kuni speak Kunigo, but most of them are also fluent in Core and Nawua.

Kasumi, a new character in the Cursed Titans novel is from there.

God’s Eye: a big volcanic island, right across Kyôkato, in the Sea Horse Bay. The volcano has been active since at least the Dawn Age, making it the oldest active volcano in the Core region. The Kuni -and interestingly enough, the Samoharo as well- consider it sacred ground for it was there that the Storm God, a mortal that ascended to godhood, and using the Tempest Blade Yaha, took down the last of the Titans.* It is said that those that visit the inland, beyond the tiny villages in the coast, can experience visions, no doubt it part due the fumes expelled by vents located all over the place.

The Angel River serves a frontier with The Straits.

The Straits: a conglomerate of city states unified by shared culture and history (including their difficult time under the Asurian Empire). It’s nominal capital is Xelahú. Composed mostly of rain and cloud forest to the south (weather similar to Southern Mexico/Costa Rica), the Straits are renowned by their food, their music, their mines, their complex ecosystems, which include the Predacors -underground creatures that come to the surface every time there is an earthquake, which is frequently- and their peculiar veneration of the dead. It also has some problems with corruption. The Straits as polity usually delegate the international diplomacy part to their more powerful neighborghs, mainly the Samoharo -whose commercial and cultural ties have shaped the culture of the Straits- or in occassion to the Kuni, who have been their allies since the time of the Titans. As well, the Straits have reclaimed any territory below the Lion’s Pass, from what was left of the Assurian Empire, as ‘war reparations’.  Their main language is Nawua, but most of it inhabitants learn to speak Adapted Samoharo tongue, Kunigo, or Core. Some become fluent in all three.

Alex is from the Straits. Which explains a lot.

Albarran Point: the most soutwest point of the Straits, it used to be a holiday spot and place for sports tournaments due it’s accesible locations… that is until the first Incursion from the Pits took place a decade and half ago, where residents and vacationist, except a handful of students and a samoharo, were killed. The details of the event have been kept as a secret and the place has remained deserted since then, sans a port guarded by the few soldiers the Straits have. Albarran Point holds an strategic place -alog the Coyoli Archipielago– as they serve as entry point to the Azure Turtle Sea. Across it, lies Sotz’na, the only Samoharo port that allows humans and freefolk inside it’s walls.

The Wastelands: formerly the Asurian Empire, a vast desert nominally ruled by the corrupt hive of scum and villany that is Meteora. In the distant past, the Wastelands didn’t even have that name, for it was a vast amalgamation of climates and fertile soil that made it the Breadbasket of the Continent. But their experimentations with bio weapons & energy weapons, their constant warring and attempts to conquer the Kuni and the Straits, and their intercontinental, genocidal war against the Freefolk, rendered the whole region an unforgiving desert, as the Bestial sucked every ounce of life out of it. After that, the region collapsed into chaos, alternatively being ruled by a zealot theocracy or a tyrannic oligarchy, with only generations after generations of Sand Pirates (supported in secret by the Kuni and the Straits) offering some resistance to help the oppressed and to make water accesible for all. The Straits keeps most of its soldiers on the southern frontier of the Wastelands, across the Lion’s Pass, to keep raiders away.

Basically the place is cursed.

Carpadocci: the Buried City of the Damned and the Secrets. Most of the city is underground as in the past served both as a commercial hub and biological weapon developments facility. No one has lived there for centuries, mostly because of the experiments that escaped and killed most of its inhabitants. The city -which now possesses some sort of evil sentience- killed the rest, anyone who was foolish enough to try to unbury it’s secrets, or to escape from it. In a way, Carpadocci is the ultimate weapon.

Joshua, the protagonist of my short story ‘Buried Sins’ and a new character in the Cursed Titans novel, is from there. It also explains a lot about him.

So this is it. This is the other half (or sort of) of Theia. I hope you like it. And I hope to update dthe blog more frequently, now that the book is in editing stages.

*Titans: powerful beinhg, formerly mortals, that were granted amazing powers to keep the rest safe from incursions and the avatars from the God of the Pits. They became corrupted and enslaved most of humanity, almost killed most of the samoharo and were about to kill the freefolk if it weren’t for the Storm God -formerly a demonhunter- and the first titanfighters, who hunted the Titans down, one by one, to rip their core seeds from their chest and keep them secured at secret locations.

Reviews, reviews, reviews!

For obvious reasons, I have been able to catch up somewhat with my TBR pile, and with that, I have a few book recommendations for you. Bear in mind I’m not good with scales, so I will share just my opinion on the book and links as to where to get it.

Raven Steals the Light

By Bill Reid (Author, Illustrator), Robert Bringhurst (Author), Claude Levi-Strauss (Foreword)

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I’ve always thought that a fantasy writer should read as much as possible of history and mythology books from different cultures, if any, to help their world-building and learn from other cultures. I fell in love with this book (and the Haida culture) when I visited Vancouver a few years ago, but for many reasons, I couldn’t get it until last year that a friend that lives in Canada got it for me as part of our group of friends’ Secret Santa, but I digress…

Bill Reid’s life history on its own is pretty interesting and inspiring and this book is a reflection of his life work, as he rescued the Haida oral myths and put some of them in a book he illustrated as well. Most of the myths talk about the Raven, the trickster deity of the Haida, and its escapades both before and after the creation of the world and humankind, a time when dreaming and reality were one and the same. Beautifully written, it’s evocative of a world beyond our imagination, of possibilities. The Raven is a charming rogue that sometimes gets its comeuppance and sometimes helps to create the world as we know it while looking to satiate its appetites. Most tales in the (admittedly very short) book pertain to the Raven, but there are a couple about shape-shifting bears.

This book is a must, mostly for the heart of it and for the opportunity to know more about the First Nations’ beliefs.

Link to Amazon

Tales of Aerothos: Knights of the Wolf 

By Robert Nugent (Author), Christopher Wagner (Editor)

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Knights of the Wolf is one of the finest indie books for grounded fantasy. It was my introductory book to the world of Aerothos and in that regard, it’s the perfect place to start. I want to keep reading more stories in this world.

Rob Nugent is an accomplished writer, and this book proves three things he does really well: characterization, plot twists, and battle description. It’s really easy to picture this book as a movie or a mini-series. It’s an entertaining read for those that are looking for well-done fantasy and/or filling a GoT shaped hole in their hearts, like me.

Link to Amazon

Wrath of the Fury Blade

by Geoff Habiger (Author) and Coy Kissee (Author)

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This is the mystery thriller the fantasy genre needed to expand its horizons. This is the book Sam Vimes would read. It’s the mystery story I was looking for.

Mixing genres is becoming a staple of today’s SFF. Doing it right is not so common yet. This is where Wrath of the Fury Blade by Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee excels. It takes the popular genre of a detective story, with all its basics: an odd couple of detectives, a mystery with twists and turns, and social critic to the current world. And places it in a fantasy world where every detail is accounted for, to make believable how in a setting with magic and divination, it is still possible to attempt the perfect murder. Actually, how it would be easier to do it. Reva and Ansee, our pair of intrepid detectives are well characterized and written. I identified more with Reva, because let’s be honest, you can be good at what you do and still hate to have to do it, which to me feels like actual life. And seeing their friendship growing is a welcomed reward. But what I think is the most valuable aspect of the book is how it takes standard fantasy tropes and turns them on their head to make a social commentary. Addiction, segregation, political backstabbing… all of them prove that the usually perfect elves of standard fantasy, are more similar to humans than they would like to acknowledge. Their foibles prove more cumbersome to solve the mystery than the clever murderer’s plot.

While the descriptions can be at times a tad longer than expected, that’s logical as is the first book of a series and is setting the table for the adventures to come. With that in mind, I can only recommend the book to everyone who is looking for a new, different kind of fantasy reading, and eagerly wait till the sequel is out.

Link to Amazon

A Twist in time 

By Brent A. Harris (Author)

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Full disclaimer: I cheated a bit because I had the opportunity to read the ARC of the book before it’s upcoming release.

A great work by an upcoming star in the realm of alternate history narratives. In his second novel, Brent A. Harris has brought Dickens to the 21st century. A Twist in Time is fast-paced, action-packed, and still a heartfelt tale of a young man returning to his roots to provide others like his former self a new future amidst the intrigue and corruption that populates this steampunk version of the Dickensian London.

The book has a cinematic sense to it, in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s hectic camera work and forays into adapting classic tales to modern sensibilities. Actually, this book could easily be adapted by Ritchie. However is the characterization of the main three characters: Oliver Twist, Nell Trent, and their antagonist, the Artful Dodger (here in a female version of the character). The three of them feel like real persons with a complicated backstory between them, that resembles at times a tragic romantic triangle. But this ain’t a love story. Rather is the tale of a young man that decides to become the hero he didn’t have to look up when he was a child, using wondrous contraptions to move around a city peril. Main among said objects is a mysterious pocket watch that allows Oliver to bend and twist the flow of time to his will, giving him the chance to correct things that went wrong and… I won’t say more because it would a spoiler.

Let’s just say that this book showcases Harris’ skills as an author: layered plots, well-defined themes, and great characterization. If you are into steampunk, YA, or new takes on old classics, this book is for you. It’s the adventure of a lifetime.

Link to Amazon