Thursday, February 15, 2018

Crosspost: Canon Fodder Diecast Episode 14: A Deft Hop!

 

Grab your gear, listener! The Diecast hits the road in Episode 14 as the crew continues to investigate the dragon cult and defends a wagon crew heading north towards Waterdeep. This episode is heavy in roleplay and combat. If you love it, please take a minute and leave a rating or review on iTunes!



Legal: Intro and outro music are "Evil Incoming" and "Five Armies," composed by Kevin MacLeod. Both songs are used within the Creative Common License. The Diecast is intended for entertainment purposes only. Dungeons and Dragons is the copyright of Wizards of the Coast.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reading Reflection: 12 Rules for Life

Hello, readers! Each time I finish a book in 2018, I will be dropping a Reading Reflection. These not-reviews are just a semi-organized collection of thoughts I have after reading a book. Give me a shout in the comments if you agree (or disagree). Warning: spoilers for each of the books I reflect on may be discussed.

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12 Rules for Life

I was unaware of Jordan B. Peterson's work two mo
nths ago. In fact, I was unaware of his work just a month ago. Towards the end of January, I happened to stumble on a video of a BBC anchor debating Peterson, who was calm, collected, and cutting. The BBC anchor, who was clearly trying to provoke or wheedle some sort of confrontation out of her interview, wound up looking like a shrill fool. But more important than that, Peterson's cool tone and ultimate message: that what's wrong in the world is not inequality, but a lack of responsibility and ambition, was really interesting.

I decided to buy his new book, 12 Rules for Life, by the time the interview was over. I'm really glad I did.


While I read through the book, I kept careful notes on my Kindle, trying to formulate how I'd approach reflecting on the set of rules Peterson provides. I wanted to present and reflect on them thoroughly and thoughtfully, but not in a review form. I wrote a bit about them in my bullet journal, and began to implement them. In fact, I even wrote them on my whiteboard at school and had the kids discuss and write about them, as I tried to grapple with the rules.

What I realized last weekend, as I tried to sum up my thoughts the first time, is that this is a book I won't be able to fully reckon with right now. Much like The Obstacle is the Way, another "self-improvement" style book that I hold in high regard, I suspect that I will need to read and re-read Peterson's book several times to really digest what it has to say. And, much like The Reactionary Mind, the book on Conservativism I read a few weeks ago, I don't know if I liked 12 Rules for Life very much. In fact, there are some parts I distinctly don't like. But that doesn't make them untrue.

If I'm reading him right, Peterson's core and central point is that we are the best possible agent of self-improvement in our worlds, and that our tapestry of religion and mythology provide the best possible (perhaps the only) road to a virtuous life. Living a virtuous life is something I hold dear; part of my readings on Stoicism, and daily practice of living, is seeking a virtuous life. The obstacle is the way, right? I lean into the wind, when I am conscious enough to recognize what direction it's coming from. As an atheist, I have a hard time swallowing that religion holds anything of value--but I also acknowledge and recognize a secondary point Peterson makes: the post-modern way of thinking, and a foundation for my particular breed of atheism--that is, relativism, an insidious force causing the left to cannibalize itself--is pointless. It holds no answers because it acknowledges every answer. But not all answers are valid, or correct, and therefore not all answers should be acknowledge as equitable. Therein lies the weakness of post-modernism. The relativity of truth is only so elastic.

Throughout 12 Rules for Life, Peterson relies on that idea: that there are some objective truths in life, not founded in the writ of God(s), but in biological hierarchies, in deep, ancient developments of our mentality. These patterns: Mother, Father, Child, for example, or the Dominance Hierarchies and chemical markers we share with lobsters, are so ancient and ingrained that the post-modern argument that truth is socially constructed, and therefore that culture is socially constructed, is therefore wrong. And if it's wrong, then we need to consider how following a wrong path effects us.

Not all of the rules resonated with me equally. While I'm sure I'll revisit the book and write more about it later on, these ones in particular stood out to me:

Rule One: Stand up straight with your shoulders back

In a gist, Jordan draws a comparison with our distant cousin: the humble, tasty lobster. When defeated, lobsters slouch and skitter (and sometimes dissolve their own brains). When they're successful, they stand up straight. Humans do the same thing, and an easy way that we can begin broadcasting ourselves as stronger, more confident people is to stand as if we are--even when we aren't. It's a roundabout way of establishing the validity of "fake it til you make it," but it's an easy one I can teach kids.

Rule Three: Make friends with people want the best for you

This one is fairly straight forward, though it's told with some personal history I didn't totally follow due to the disconnected and circuitous way that Jordan's chapters are generally presented (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't). Effectively, we are creatures of convenience or expediency, and our social bonds are no different. Peterson says that we ought to carefully consider who we befriend, and who we connect with, because convenient friends are unlikely to be good friends. If your friends don't act in a way that builds you up, encourages ambition, and promotes healthy action on your part, are they really your friends? That's all insightful and fair game. But what really stood out to me was the way that the chapter becomes an indictment against people (like me) who were reading it with the mindset of, "Well, I'm already a good friend. I want the best for others!" Without so much as a visible pivot, people like me were put on the stand and called to task: am I really being selfless and friendly, or do I have an ulterior, selfish motive? A less thorough thinker would have left it at the counsel to seek good friends; Peterson pushes harder and left me wondering if I am a good friend, despite the energy and attention I pour into my friends. A week later, I still don't know.

Rule Four: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

I've listened to a bunch of interviews with Peterson since reading 12 Rules for Life to try and learn more about this complex book, and this is a rule that I've begun to unpack in the extracurricular content. Obviously, we know that comparison to others is bad and you should feel good about who you are. That's what psychologists tell us now: self-love, baby. But actually, Peterson calls that into question, too. Maybe a bit of comparison is worthwhile. But comparing yourself to others is pointless, over all, because of the vast array of differences. Rather, compare yourself to who you were yesterday and measure your growth. One of the things he says in interviews and lectures is to built the life you want to have. Don't wait for it, don't just plan for it, but begin acting step by step immediately. Live as if you have that life, virtuously, or frugally, or healthfully, and you'll get there. Compare yourself to how you were yesterday, and see if you've made progress towards your ideal. Yes? Proceed. No? Change tactic. Like the pursuit of an ideal, self-review is never-ending, but always engaging.

Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful

Rule Four dovetails nicely with Rule Seven. We waste a lot of time. Most of us waste more than six hours a day by our own volition--checking social media, the endless news, watching TV or playing games. What could you accomplish if you wasted less time? If you pursued something more meaningful? Last night, Lindsey and I binge-watched 3 episodes of The Flash. That's two and a half hours of TV. While we don't do that often, many people do, and that compounds over the course of your life. If you spent two of those six hours a day working on your physical or mental health, or learning a new professional skill, or doing really good work (I'm reminded of Dave Ramsey's complaint that "People don't work at work anymore!"), how could you improve your life?

When I started reading about Stoicism a few years ago, I had this idea firmly fixed in my mind. Short of religion, I didn't have a moral code and I'd become sedentary, bitter(er), and angry. Stoicism straightened some of that out by providing me with a moral code I felt fit into my temperament well, and re-introduced the value of sacrifice into my life. Two years or so down the road, I'm healthier, better read, wealthier, and in a much better place. That started because I began to pursue things that were meaningful to me: job training; fitness; reading things that interested me professionally and personally; cutting back on social media and Internet use (I need to begin doing that again, I think). Pursuing what is meaningful--actively pursuing, rather than passively consuming--is a life-changer. It's hard, it isn't always interesting, and it's a hell of a lot easier to get home from work, toss your keys on the counter and turn on Netflix or the Xbox, but at the end of the day/week/month/year/life, the difference is that you got up and did things. When you're 75 and old, are you going to look favorably on the tens of thousands of hours you spent re-watching TV shows, or competing in online games? Are you going to have any recollection at all of the minutia of (fake?) news you read/argued about? Or are you going to look at your life through the lens of books you've read, places you've travelled, financial goals you've hit, and the wisdom of a life lived, not merely survived?

I know which one of those futures I want, and armed with my Stoic practices, my health and fitness self-teaching, and now Jordan B. Peterson's 12 Rules for Life, I have a damn good shot of getting there. It's incredible how suddenly, out of the blue, a teacher can appear and upend your world for the good. Peterson's message might be a dose of harsh medicine, but it's still good for you. I recommend anyone interest in self-improvement, in living an ambitious and meaningful life, give it a thorough, honest read.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Reading Reflection: Thor: God of Thunder Vol. 1: The God Butcher

Hello, readers! Each time I finish a book in 2018, I will be dropping a Reading Reflection. These not-reviews are just a semi-organized collection of thoughts I have after reading a book. Give me a shout in the comments if you agree (or disagree). Warning: spoilers for each of the books I reflect on may be discussed.

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Thor: God of Thunder Vol. 1: The God Butcher

From a young age, I could have told you who Thor was: the guy with the hammer and red cape and the winged helmet and who had lightning powers. As a kid, I didn't find him sufficiently interesting to seek out more info than was required to read the comics/watch the movies. Then Thor: Ragnarok happened last year. I hadn't realized how connected Thor is to the rest of Marvel's space opera. I was enthralled. And no surprise; one of my guilty pleasures is Too Human, the much maligned (and deservingly so) videogame that Silicon Knights overhyped and underdelivered on years ago. But there's something totally frakking awesome about blending norse mythology--which I grew up reading--with space opera. Suddenly, I had to learn more.

Despite the enthusiasm, I went into Thor: God of Thunder: The God Butcher expecting goofy norse melodrama flavored with Kirby-esque sci-fi. But I didn't get that at all. What I got was an intricately woven, gorgeously illustrated, and emotionally affecting drama told across three segments of Thor's life. Young Thor is acting out a Beowulf drama a thousand years ago, when the decapitated head of a Native American god washes up on shore, horrifying him. Avengers-Era Thor is investigating missing gods and dead worlds, piecing together a steadily more blasphemous murder spree. Old Thor, last miserable God in the universe and alone in a fallen Asgard, awaits his death--which is withheld, cruelly, by the being that links all three of these men together: Gorr the God Butcher.


Gorr's character was really interesting to me. On the one hand, he's a coward. He can't stand to hear others' truths, and uses violence (sometimes artfully, sometimes not) to silence dissenting opinions. He's stuck working out some heavy trauma in the most brutish of ways, but the armor or cloak that he possesses--the comics do a good job of silently moving between medieval shadow-cloak and futuristic space-armor where appropriate--gives him god-like powers, and the ability to permanently slay gods. For eons he's wandered the universe, killing and inflecting his own pain on the pantheons of other planets, but from the shadows. Until Thor resists him and refuses to break, in one of the most interesting and unexpected reversals of the power fantasy I've ever seen, Gorr has been unstoppable.

That inversion of the power fantasy is this: Gods can't harm Gorr, really. They're on even footing with him, but because they're caught in their own drama, arrogant in their divinity, they won't really try to hurt him. They'll fight, but ultimately, his craven brutality will win. He's playing for keeps, and they don't know that, until it's to late. But mortal men can hurt Gorr. They don't give a crap whether he's a God or not, especially when they're a gang of viking berserkers kicking in the door to the cave because Gorr has Thor chained up and half-dead. Gorr doesn't fear gods, he fears mortals--perhaps, if we get a bit critical about it, because his ideology is centered around 'Liberating' mortals from Gods through extreme force. But if the mortals don't want it, he's just a butcher, like Thor says. And moreover, Gorr isn't true divinity. Mortals can physically wound him as well.

Told against the backdrop of this cave with Young Thor and Gorr acting out some heavily archetypical stuff (sorry, I'm reading Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life at the same time, so I'm acutely aware of archetypes right now), Avenger-Thor flies to the City of Omnipotence, capital of Divinity, to visit the universe's largest library, so that he can investigate missing gods. This leads to a really strange, horrific visit to a dead pantheon and an attack by shadow-dog things and alerts Thor to the return of Gorr. He hunts Gorr and his berserkers across the cosmos, but is ultimately forced to return to that hateful cave--and the City of Omnipotence, before he pieces together Gorr's ultimate objective: to travel back in time and kill all the Gods. And we see that plan in action, with Old Thor the last, endless victim of Gorr's plan, the only God not allowed to die.

The God Butcher does not mess around with other Asgardians. This is a distinctly monotheistic story, starring Thor, Thor, and Thor. The other gods are all made-up sci-fi gods that look like set extras from Star Trek, and rightly so. The God Butcher isn't about them, it's about Thor(s), and Gorr, and the unfolding hatred between them. It's a really story, and the art is finely tuned to the writing. Each illustration is packed with color, soft lines that do a wonderful job of breathing life into Jason Aaron's narrative, and the character designs themselves are stand-out.

I know I was expecting bargain-bin comics storytelling with a Norse theme, but I was completely blown away by Thor: God of Thunder. I'm absolutely going to follow it up with Vol. 2, immediately. Thor, where have you been all my life!?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reading Reflection: The Reactionary Mind

Hello, readers! Each time I finish a book in 2018, I will be dropping a Reading Reflection. These not-reviews are just a collection of thoughts I have after reading a book. Give me a shout in the comments if you agree (or disagree). Warning: spoilers for each of the books I reflect on may be discussed.

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The Reactionary Mind

One of my goals for 2018 is to read more non-fiction. It was a soft goal last year as well, but what happened, largely, was an initial surge of non-fiction and political reading that definitely taught me a lot, but ultimately burned me out after the first three or four months. Out of that flurry of reading I discovered that I could order non-fiction books from the library from the comfort of any computer terminal, and I plan to rely on that again to provide me with lots of fun non-fiction this year.

However, I already have a decent library of unread non-fiction at home, and since I can't bike to the library due to the Long Night we're currently experiencing, I figured I'd start in on my own inventory. Further, I figured I'd start somewhere really pointed, with a book about politics to ring in President Trump's second year: I began with The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin. (Note: an updated version of this book, re-titled Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump has since been published, but I did not read that edition. In fact I didn't even know it was a thing until I went to find the image for this post).

It goes without saying that I am not a conservative. Anyone who has read my fiction, or listened to me talk, or spied on my voting habits can affirm that I'm a filthly shameless lefty (who likes to vote for myself whenever there's an unopposed ballot). Be that as it may, I am also someone who doesn't like absolutes, who dislikes simplification in favor of thoughtfulness, and who really, really dislikes the great pantomime of American Politics, circa the last three or four years. The increasing belligerence on both sides, refusal to communicate, and ultimately the election of an unequivocally unqualified, unhinged man by a base formed of discontent and frustration on both sides has me, as a citizen, as a male, and as a teacher, deeply concerned. This is not to say that I think the Republican party or their values are, broadly, bad, corrupt, petty, or stupid. The opposite, rather. But the nature of our discourse as a country, through the lens of conversation, social media, and traditional media, has become increasingly black and white (or, if you want, red and blue), and increasingly two-dimensional.

So, in order to better understand the men (and few women) behind the Trump Administration and the Republican Party, and to try and build my own capacity to empathize with and perhaps understand the origin of the legislation that baffles and frightens me: the removal of established and equal rights for anyone is in my opinion, not conservative but regressive, and regression is just another word for withering, right? I knew I was going to have both my assumptions and my privileges checked by Corey Robin, but I went into the heat for my own good, and so I could better communicate with my family and friends who paint with a different color.

I don't normally (or want) to do this with the Reading Reflection stuff, but I want to include an article that summarizes the author's lens into the entire analysis of Conservativism: far from being simpletons or cruel, 
"conservatism is a deliberate, conscious effort to preserve or recall “those forms of experience which can no longer be had in an authentic way.”
In other words, it is a calculated and strategic response not to the status quo, but to left-pushing progressive who threaten the status quo. With that in mind--that Conservatives are essentially trying to protect what they view as the "right" equilibrium of things, and more specifically to mitigate or reverse the flow of their power and social currency (perceived or otherwise) to other people's hands, the rest of the book then draws into sharp focus the rest of the book--and a lot of what's going on in the administration generally.

It's not my business here to get into analyzing the current political climate. I just want to think and write a bit about this book. But what I can't avoid thinking about is how, as a leftist, I totally align to the prediction of the book: I am deeply skeptical of the status quo and established systems of power, and their ability to rule and govern justly, let alone equitably and unanimously. I am deeply skeptical of hierarchies of class, race, or nationalism. Yet, having Robin's analysis readily in my head, I can also now perceive the other side of the argument more clearly. For a Conservative, the same degree of skepticism I feel for the established order is what they feel for the dissemination of power: effectively, I don't trust the old, abusive, arguably intoxicated "adults" at the wheel; they don't trust the "child" reaching to take it over.

I think that's a profound growth in my capacity to empathize with the Right. I don't think they're correct--but I see where they're coming from.

When I finished reading it, my wife asked me if I liked the book. After a moment of thinking, I said. "I don't think that's the right question for a book like this." No one enjoys being shown their own short-sightedness, or how their own assumptions draw up short. Rather, I said, "I think this is the kind of book where you ask, 'What did I learn?'" And I did learn, a lot. Going forward, I have a new set of questions to ask and lead with when discussing power and politics with family and friends, and when thinking and writing that don't aggrandize my ideas of the left, but which task the other side with justifying their trust of the current administration--or its enshrined predecessors--and identifying why regression is a quantifiably more just alternative to progress.

There were a few chapters in the book, which is comprised of lightly modified essays Robin had written on the topic, that I didn't care for. The chapters on Ayn Rand and Antonin Scalia I found tedious and strangely singular, where the other chapters balanced history, recent history, and theory better. I understand why they were there, but I found myself skimming those sections more than the history elements that trace the lineage of the Conservative movement to the French Revolution through to today, or the elements crticizing "national security" as a legislative agenda, or the Conservative implementation of violence as a form of actualization. In each of those chapters, I found myself able to empathize with, despite disagreeing, the Conservative stance.

So in the end, I learned a lot. I see the logical line that mode of thinking follows, and where it derives the sorts of agendas and policies we see and debate. The Reactionary Mind is not a long book, but it is dense, and does traffic in some dry and academic language that readers may find tedious. Despite that, if you value political discourse, civic engagement, and compromise, I'd recommend you give it a read-through whether or not you identify as a Conservative. You might just learn something about yourself in the process.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Crosspost: DIECAST EPISODE 13!


 

Give your paper boats a good coat of paraffin and grab some headphones, Listeners! We're headed into the sewers of Baldur's Gate to search for the missing and murderous Robert Gray, who escaped along...a very foul detour.

If you're loving the show, please head over to iTunes or Google Play and give the show a review and share it with others. We love you!


Legal: Intro and outro music are "Evil Incoming" and "Five Armies," composed by Kevin MacLeod. Both songs are used within the Creative Common License. The Diecast is intended for entertainment purposes only. Dungeons and Dragons is the copyright of Wizards of the Coast.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Reading Reflection: Dark Run

Hello, readers! Each time I finish a book in 2018, I will be dropping a Reading Reflection. These not-reviews are just a collection of thoughts I have after reading a book. Give me a shout in the comments if you agree (or disagree). Warning: spoilers for each of the books I reflect on may be discussed.
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I picked up Mike Brook’s Dark Run because it was a recommended read from i09.com a couple of years ago. That, and to be frank, I liked the cover: the spaceship wearing a yellow ring like a Borg Cube taking a swimming lesson. I was eager to read a sci-fi novel, though, because I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy over the last few months and hadn’t had a good space adventure since…sheesh, I don’t even know when. Dark Run’s promise of character-heavy melodrama and “Golden Age Chic!” was good enough for me.

So, it’s good. It’s not great, but it’s good. Mike Brooks took on an interesting set of challenges by deliberately making the cast multi-ethnic, involving often overlooked or ignored minorities, and straining the credibility of 21st national politics into the 2Xth century, as the expansion just provides new fields of competition for existing geopolitics. And the crew is sufficiently melodramatic and antisocial to provide fodder for good dialogue and bad decisions. I like the focus on multi-ethnic futures; it’s something that for too long has been whitewashed and, ultimately, sadly one-dimensional

However, aside from the backgrounds of the characters (their roles are all too familiar, as are their attitudes) there’s very little that’s surprising, or daring, about Dark Run. For a galaxy “full of dangers,” it’s a galaxy full of convenience, little real danger, and not one that is substantially different from our own. Indeed, despite wearing the draping of a space opera, this is actually a relatively small story about a smuggling run gone wrong on Earth. It may take place occasionally on distant worlds, but none of that really matters. Dark Run doesn’t push the boundaries of science, or ask questions, or even use the lens of the future imagined politick to reflect on our own. It’s what I call a “popcorn read” with my students.

Is there a place for that? Yeah, there’s absolutely a place for this kind of read. Reflecting back on it, I’d compare Dark Run more to RA Salvatore’s Drizzt novels than I would to, say, Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels or any of Arthur C. Clarke’s work. I don’t know if those are fair comparisons, though; it might be like comparing a sedan to a helicopter. I suppose the author’s intent is ultimately known only to him, but regardless of (perceived) lack of depth or gravity, Dark Run is certainly entertaining. But the comparison to Salvatore isn’t a slight: there’s a reason I pack a Drizzt novel with me when I travel anywhere overnight. They’re short, highly entertaining, and a lot of fun.

My one real issue with the novel stems from the same issue I had with Jay Allen’s Shadow of Empire novel, which I also really liked, but did not love. The camp/pulp attitude of the story, which is centered on a dysfunctional crew functioning not only well, but perfectly, requires there to be no chance of any character coming up short in their duties. Despite being amoral, antisocial (or outright antagonistic), all of Keiko’s crew are absolute masters at their tasks—even when, in Jenna’s case, for example, a teenager who is also a master decryptor and hacker, capable of remotely accessing and controlling virtually any starship or computer system given just a few minutes—that doesn’t really bear out in the narrative. They have these skills and perform flawlessly because the narrative demands they must. I think there might be an argument to be had about whether that’s necessary, but it fell flat to me, just as Jay Allen’s Wolfclaw crew did.

There was never any real chance that the Chang twins would screw up, that Aripana or Captain Drift, or Jenna the teenage wunderkind, would actually not be able to pull it off, whatever “it” happened to be in that segment of the book.

Look, I’m beating Dark Run up, but I think I’m also holding it over a fire it doesn’t deserve. It’s a hell of a lot more readable than anything I’ve written, and that’s actually the strongest point the novel has going in its favor: this is a readable, legitimately binge-able book. In fact, I read about 80% of it in a single day’s sitting (well, laying; I had the flu and read instead of sleeping). Brooks has a really clear, very approachable style to both description and dialogue that sucks you in. Here and there, I think the prose got a little overwrought, particularly in the beginning, but that’s the pot calling the kettle black. For almost the entirety of the novel, Brooks writes with a rare clarity, providing an engaging window into a both foreign and recognizable world full of aggravatingly fresh geopolitics and sufficiently strange technology to be a believable far-future.

Am I looking forward to reading Dark Sky, the second book in his series? Yeah. I have no doubt that it’ll be an entertaining popcorn read to break the doldrums of non-fiction or serious Stephen R. Donaldson and Robert Jordan fantasy I have queued up. Mike Brooks writes legitimately fun swashbuckling sci-fi, and despite my complaints about the shallows it sails in, I think there’s a real role for that kind of fun drama that is under served. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, fast, and flashy sci-fi read.?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Reading Reflection: The Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn (Book 03)

Hello, readers! Each time I finish a book in 2018, I will be dropping a Reading Reflection. These not-reviews are just a collection of thoughts I have after reading a book. Give me a shout in the comments if you agree (or disagree). Warning: spoilers for each of the books I reflect on may be discussed.

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The Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn (Book 03)

I'm delighted to say that this is my favorite book in the series so far. Going into a 14-book long series, and knowing full well that there is a middle "slog" of several books, I have been uncertainly awaiting the boredom's arrival with the trepidation of the White Tower watching for the Dragon Reborn. In a word, what I liked best about the book, though was this: less Rand.

I don't think that Rand, as a character, is dis-interesting. But I think as a narrator he is weak and flimsy for the same reasons that Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins and any other number of powerful, destiny-chosen characters become tedious as their power accumulates. What Jordan has done, though, is what the many authors forget about: he gave Rand a limiting factor in the form of the madness that comes with males channeling Saidin, the male half of the One Power. Watching Rand's continuing struggle with his growing power and attachment to the tainted magic, as well as his slackening grip on his own reality, was an interesting part of The Great Hunt. But it was unsustainable in a third book, and Jordan rightly releases Rand into the wilds, literally, and made for some of the most unintentionally hilarious implied storytelling I've seen in a long time.

Because Rand's chapters are limited to just a handful, we only know by implication and rumor (back to that in a second) what Rand is up to. After the first 100 pages or so, he's effectively wandering in a fever dream towards Tear, in a semi-steady stream of Saidin's weirdness. In my mind, he's gibbering and rambling his way across the world, causing mayhem, Romance, and weirdness. The idea of the most powerful character in the world becoming a schizophrenic hobo is just somehow...really, really funny. When he eventually reappears at the end, climbing the side of the Stone, I busted out laughing because it was just so utterly ridiculous. But it's Rand. He's warping reality around him. So who knows.

Much of his story is, as I said, told through rumor and implication--that is, what the other, far more interesting characters are up to. In particular, The Dragon Reborn is about Perrin and Mat. They steal the show, as much as Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne did in book 2. While the girls are still a huge--and possibly the most important part--of the book, it's Mat's overdue characterization and Perrin's gradual and grudging exploration of his Wolfbrother powers that drew me in and kept me reading up late almost every night.

In Eye of the World and The Great Hunt, Mat is essentially a diseased weakling. His attachment to the dagger he stole early on in the first book is a part of the reason Moiraine drives them through the Ways to Fal Dara and the titular Eye of the world, and a huge part of the reason Rand has his adventure in The Great Hunt. The Dragon Reborn, however, sees Mat freed of the dagger, and finally able to go on his own adventure--with some new superpowers of his own. I absolutely loved this storyline, and can't wait to see how else his chance-altering powers effect the story line. In a story about controlling fate and destiny like this, someone who is the embodiment of lucky entropy is a really interesting wrench thrown in the gears.

Perrin, meanwhile, spends the majority of the book losing his battle with the wolves. Slow-moving, careful-thinking Perrin is my favorite character, and The Dragon Reborn has one of my favorite scenes, in a forge, that builds his character up incredibly, but subtly. The same is true of a scene in a stable with another Wolfbrother. Perrin's smaller, more emotional scenes absolutely steal the show, and punctuate major emotional movements in the book that neither of the previous books really had. This is simply a much more mature novel. Further, his growing affection for Faile, the Hunter who joins the party early in the book, mirrors his own slackening reluctance to shut out the wolves, and results in a fantastic and fascinating dream-sequence (?) wherein Perrin gives over to the wolfbrothers and aids Rand. Throughout the book, much of what we learn about Rand's progress is through Perrin's perspective, or the party he is travelling with, and his reactions to Rand make the entire travelogue work.

Of the three girls, Egwene really got the best development this time around. Given that she was enslaved for a good part of the last book, and previous to that spent her time being pious and penitent for the Aes Sedai, it was Nynaeve's fiery hulkishness that drew the attention. But come Dragon Reborn, Egwene, recovering from her enslavement, coming to grips with her new--terrifyingly immense--powers, andnewly elevated to Accepted, grows into both womanhood and person-hood as she explores her own budding powers. Her experimentation with tel'aran'rihod, and how that dream-world connected to both Perrin and Rand were really interesting, and reminded me a bit of the second-space from my own novel, Vagrant Moon. That aside, the three women's investigation of the Black Ajah was both engaging and fun. Despite the ending, I doubt that's the last we hear of that side-plot.

The only issue I had with the book was the end--specifically the setting. I loved Rand's conflict with the Dark One, and the infiltration of the Stone by all the other parties. It was the Stone itself I didn't care for, as a setting, or as a conflict. It just struck me as underdeveloped. The first two books followed the same pattern: everyone arrives together in the last 100 pages, and then a fight goes down. Dragon Reborn was no different, and suffered the same issue as Eye of the World where we heard a lot of vague stuff about the final location, but the conflict ultimately seemed dimensionless; the size of the stone, the interior, its purpose, and the suddenness of the ending all fell flat for me. But I was left wanting more, not being reeled. The world is left in a very different position at the end as it was in book 2: Rand is not only proclaimed, but has a focus for his powers that will (maybe) stabilize the insanity; the Aeil have their sign to return from the Wastes; the White Tower is purged of the Black Ajah, and...well, apparently Ba'alzamon was not who everyone thought he was.

I got a little lost there but I am hesitant to read more about it, for fear that I'll spoil myself on something. My take-away is that the world had been led to believe that Ba'azalmon was the mortal avatar of Shaitan, the real big bad; but I guess he is actually the warped and twisted first Forsaken, Ishmael? If that's the case, Ba'azalmon is less Lord Foul from Thomas Covenant that I thought, and more Sauron/Morgoth. That's fine with me.

I read Dragon Reborn in just under two weeks, and if you've read the other two books, it's a no-brainer to proceed. It's damn good fantasy.