Separate Ways…

In a time when everything sucks already, it seems appropriate that my wife and I have to announce that we have decided to separate.

This is something that we’ve been going through for the last year. We’ve been having a lot of discussions about our relationship, and it has become clear to us that while we’re still really good friends, we’ve simply grown apart.

It is 100% amicable, and we’re remaining friends. We will just no longer a romantic couple.

A couple of points that I guess need addressing:

This wasn’t the fault of lockdown. We’ve been aware of wanting to avoid making big life decisions during this time and that was part of our discussions. But what lockdown did was force us to address the issues and make this call.

This also was not the fault of polyamory. Becoming polyamorous was part of our growth together as a couple, not a symptom of a marriage in trouble. The people we’ve met in this life have been wonderful in helping us through this.

Despite this being an amicable decision, obviously it still sucks and we’re both feeling a little raw. But we’re there for each other. Any questions, feel free to ask.

We chose to announce it on the basis that this is a particularly difficult time for both of us (what with the pandemic and the world’s madness increasing) and we want each other to have our support networks rather than notifying people individually.

Thank you for your understanding and support through this time.

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Fires of Heaven

*SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS AND OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES*

Prelude: New Spring
Book 1: The Eye of the World
Book 2: The Great Hunt
Book 3: The Dragon Reborn
Book 4: The Shadow Rising

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We’re done with book five, and we’re really getting into the initial upward curve of the series. However, while The Fires of Heaven keeps up the pace and doesn’t have any significant issues, unlike The Shadow Rising I don’t think there are any significant stand out series highlight moments here. Until the end, that is.

 

We’re really starting to see how Jordan world-builds here. We have our first instance of his opening the book with scenes dotted around the world. I love this technique, and how it sets the scenes beyond the immediate world of the protagonists. How have past event impacted the rest of the world, and what is happening that will affect us in later books? 

This is carried this on with the scenes in Tel’aran’rhiod, where Nynaeve and Elayne are able to find glimpses of information in the dream world. These often mean nothing to the characters, but the reader has knowledge that us to fill in the gaps. We’re given enough to build on without it being forced on us. I’ve always thought this was really well done. 

 

Another good thing is we start to see some of the characters grow past their initial, more annoying stages. In earlier posts for this re-read I wrote about Nynaeve and how the fact that she starts off so irritating is mitigated by the fact I knew the growth coming in her character arc. Here is where that begins to show. Through pride she makes a huge mistake, and that kicks off her path of development into a more rounded character. And the fact this isn’t instant, but builds until later books, makes it even better. 

Matt also starts to get better in The Fires Of Heaven. Although it’s not so satisfying than Nynaeve. Rather than a significant lesson or moment of realisation, he simply stops sulking about everything and just gets on with things.

Unfortunately, there will be no growth for Elayne. She is simply an irritating character. Spoilt, whiney, entitled. It was bearable in previous read-throughs, but knowing she has no growth and will be this annoying for the remainder of the series just makes her grate all the more. I think this was on purpose on Jordan’s part, but I don’t think it works. 

 

Rand also gets another level of growth; the introduction of Lews Therin. This is interesting, as we are at a point where he could have become dull. Having completed his initial character arc, he has accepted his fate and gone on the offensive. He could slipped into the trope of “trouble hero”, but the intrusions of Lews Therin give us a new element to explore. Is this a past life coming through, or just an element of Rand’s own madness? 

This raises interesting questions about one of the series’ concepts. Reincarnation is established as a real thing in this world. That souls are born and reborn is a key plot device. But where we’ve seen it before with Matt it’s been simple, each soul is reborn. But where Matt gains memories from his past lives, here we have two distinct and separate personalities. It can be put down to the fact Rand is the Dragon Reborn, not just any reincarnated soul, but I’ll be paying more attention to this aspect going forward with this re-read.

 

And so we come to the one real significant event in this entry; Moiraine dies. And, for a significant remainder of the series, the first time reader will believe this is permanent. At least I did. I’ll be interested in seeing if I spot any hints to the contrary on this read through.

This is a signification point, as she is the first main character to die. And while it’s a big climactic  set piece rather than an indication that anyone can die at any time, it’s still a big moment. Especially after a couple more books when you can assume she isn’t coming back in some form. She’s gone. 

But the other reason I like this is how its highlighting something in both Rand, and fantasy tropes. Rand, like a lot of “early” fantasy, has a problem with women. He refuses to see that as equal, but in a way he believes in honourable. Even surrounded as he is at this point by a literal all-female warrior society, he cannot bring himself to think of woman in the same way as men. He would argue the point, but essentially he believe’s women are weaker than men and must be protected, to the point he won’t harm someone as undeniably evil as Lanfear. He’s had at this point multiple experiences where if he’d been prepared to kill a woman he could have have a huge advantage but couldn’t take it.

And now, that’s lead to one of his main supporters dying. In a way he doesn’t learn from. This is an important point, and part of Rand’s learning the difference between “Hard” and “Strong”. Rather than him realising if he’d let go this cultural construct in his head he could have saved her, he instead starts to obsess on all the women he failed to saved. In continuing to think of woman as inferior to men in this way, as much as he doesn’t see it that way, all he does is weaken himself.

 

I’ll having a little break before beginning Lord of Chaos. Just to let myself get through a couple of the other books on my reading list. But I’ll be back on the re-read soon.

Review: Great Maps: The World’s Masterpieces Explored and Explained

I couldn’t tell you why, but I love old maps. I think it has to be something about the art of them, and how something with such political meaning and intention at the time they were created has bow become artistic and historical curiosity.

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I’ll always be drawn to collections like this. Seeing the ways cartographers tried to shape the world around them, whether it was claiming what they already knew or that which was being discovered and defined.

This is a pretty good collection, as they go. Most of the maps included reflect some aspect of cartography through the centuries, and the author makes sure to use examples outside of the western traditions, showing maps from other cultures and styles, some of which most people in western culture wouldn’t recognise as a map at all.

Isolation: A time for 12 hour movies

Isolation. Lockdown. It’s not a great time right now. There’s a lot going down, and we’re all dealing with issues ranging from actually dealing with the problems the world is facing to being locked away from it all.

But what is it useful for? Watching those films you never have time to see otherwise.

I’ve owned each of the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions since the week they came out. And as they came out when I was in university both the films and the DVD extras were watched and rewatched multiple times.

Except for Return of the King. I did sit through an all night viewing of the films at the IMAX in Waterloo, but they used the standard editions, so it didn’t count.)

The Lord of the Rings films are not three separate movies. You can’t watch one of them in isolation. They make up a single story that needs to be watched together for the full experience.

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Return of the Kings came out in my third year of university. When this happened we had a viewing party, but for a reasons I cannot remember I got called away and missed chunks of the film.

We had another viewing party a few years ago. But again, for some reason I was pulled away and missed sections of the final film.

But you can’t just rewatch the third film. You have to watch all three in order. So, despite having bought the DVDs fifteen years ago, I had never watch the extended edition of Return of the King.

Until Lockdown! Over the course of one week we watched one disc a night, meaning six nights of Tolkien goodness. And now I’ve finally see the full, extended Lord of the Rings Experience.

 

 

Review: Little White Lies by Philippa East

I finding myself enjoying stories like this one; smaller focused family stories, where people are forced to face the cracks caused by the tiny things done in their past.

A5D70964-D5B1-4301-81B0-6727CCE2C030_1_105_cIt’s similar to Emma Donoghue’s Room, in that it’s about a young girl who’s spent 7 years abducted and locked in an attic. Except here the story start with her being rescued, and told through the eyes of her mother and cousin.

The plot isn’t a rollercoaster. There are no real emotional peaks and valleys. The story is quite a low key presence. Rather than the events, “Little White Lies” focuses in the emotions of these characters as they try to process their own feelings and issues.

But there was something that stopped me getting completely lost in the book. I felt I needed more of Abigail. She’s been kidnapped and held away from her family for seven years, but until the climax didn’t seem that affected by it. She fit into her old life too smoothly. I think this was a conscious intent, as we are seeing her through the eyes of people desperate for her to slip back into her old life, but I felt it lacked a certain punch.

I think this is the book’s only issue. There’s fear, secrets, tension, but lacks any real conflict. I wanted Abigail’s return to upturn things. To disrupt her family’s lives more.

I think the author’s background in psychology is reflected here. I found the characters completely believable, but just a little detached.

I sped through this book. One of those stories that grabs you and keeps you reading. I can’t wait to see what East brings us next.

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Shadow Rising

*SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS AND EARLIER BOOKS IN THE SERIES*

Prelude: New Spring
Book 1: The Eye of the World
Book 2: The Great Hunt
Book 3: The Dragon Reborn

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With The Shadow Rising the series has really hit its stride. Now we’re through the initial “trilogy”, as I discussed in my last post, we’re able to get into the story proper.

Let’s start with my highlight: the history of Rhuidean and the Aiel. This is, in my opinion, a contender for the best moment in the whole series.

We were introduced to the Aiel in the previous book, and now we see their culture in full. This is the third culture we’re introduced to – after the “main” world and the Seanchan – and its differences. The way Rand learns their history is amazing not just because it fills in a large portion of the world’s history but for how it does it.

As I mentioned in my last post, we’ve also now established my favourite characters in the series; Perrin and Faile. It seems silly in a way, but I really connected with these two when I first read the series. Out of Rand, Matt, and Perrin, Perrin was always the one who seemed to me to just get one with things. He did what needed to be done, and with far less sulking than the other two. Not that there isn’t some, but less than the others.

And he meets Faile, a fiery, passionate woman from a different culture who challenges him and forced him to connect with him own passion, while at the same time let him ground her. To an English boy who met and married and Argentinean girl, this spoke to me.

And I still love them. More than any other couple in the series, they compliment each other. They’re always looking out for each other and striving for the best for the other, even when they don’t agree with what that might be.

The other thing that can’t be avoided now we’re well into the series is an issue that’s been raised a lot: the gender divide.

There has been a lot of discussion about the gender politics of The Wheel of Time. Some of it is valid, some of it less so. I’ll probably go into this in more detail in later posts, but let’s start here.

The Wheel of Time has a definite gender divide. The characters are always talking or thinking about how the other gender is impossible to understand. Women will talk about how men are impossible to control and never understand anything, and the men will do the same about women. It’s a theme that runs through the books, and a lot of people have focused on this as a problem.

But there are two sides to this.

The first is that we have to face the fact this series has the same problem all fantasy of its time has, especially when written by someone of Jordan’s generation: outdated gender politics are written into the world in a way that wouldn’t stand today. These books may only be thirty years old but that’s enough to have noticeably dated in some ways.

But the second point is a gender spilt is an intrinsic part of the world. This a civilisation whose founding incident was all male magic users going mad and literally the world. From that point on only woman could use magic without going mad. This would naturally leave a culture with a stark gender awareness.

So while we do have the problem of traditional gender roles being entrenched in fantasy literature, I believe The Wheel of Time gets away with it due to its design. A modern writer might have better addressed this – Brandon Sanderson, for example, would have handled this much better – but I think Jordan just didn’t see it as a problem.

Also, as much as the female characters can be somewhat problematic at time, they have full agency and control. They are in most cases doing their own thing. And while a lot of this revolves around a man – Rand being the prophesied Chosen One will do that – that’s simply an inevitable part of the story.

And now on to The Fires of Heaven. The characters are on the move, the established havens made unsafe, and everything uncertain.

Recommendation: “Lexicon” by Max Barry

Emily, a talented street grifter, is pulled off the street and placed in a school that teaches its students the true power of human language. Struggling against the strict discipline of this new life, she discovers her talents for persuasion are more powerful than she ever realised.

Will has no memory of the things the men who abducted him insist he was part of. The only survivor of an impossible to survive event, he finds himself on the run from an organisation that wants to pull a word out of his head anyway it can.

I got this book as my Secret Santa gift at work last year. It was a successful purchase.

I got pulled into the story straight away, with both Will and Emily’s stories are equally engaging. At no point was I annoyed when it swapped between one and the other, which can happen when there are two viewpoints at once.

It’s hard to go into some of the details without spoilers, but I’ll just say I loved how the two POVs came to interact. There were surprises, and while I managed to work some out in advance these were enough to make me fee smart rather than making the story feel predictable.

This book was fascinating. As I got into it I actually started to worry, as the concept got very close to one of my WIPs. Luckily Barry took it in the other direction to where I’m looking to go. I might still take some inspiration from here though.

I’m definitely putting Max Barry on my watch list. It looks like he’s got a few books out, so those are on my To-Read list once I get my current reading pile down a bit.

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Dragon Reborn

 

Book Three done.

From this point on in this series of posts I’m going to have to say *mild spoilers*. We’re getting to the point where discussing the plot of each book with reveal points from previous ones. It’s unavoidable. So if you’ve not yet read The Wheel of Time, or plan to watch the Amazon Prime show when it comes out without knowing anything in advance, then I recommend doing so before reading any more of these posts.

Prelude: New Spring
Book 1: The Eye of the World
Book 2: The Great Hunt

*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EARLIER BOOKS IN THE SERIES*

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I think The Dragon Reborn is where The Wheel of Time really starts to get good. The premise is set, we know the main characters, and have a grasp of the world as a whole. The foundation is in place and we’re ready to open things up and run.

In my last post I discussed how The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt mirrored each other; in the first the characters are running from something and in the next running to something. The Dragon Reborn concludes the introduction ‘trilogy’, if you will, by having them run for something. The characters are now becoming proactive.

Where we might start to get bored with the formula a little, the introduction of the world of dreams – both with Tel’aran’rhiod and the Wolf Dream – gives us a nice helping of foreshadowing. The first time you read these they open up possibilities and could easily mean very little. But on following read-throughs you know what they are hinting at. You get to see exactly how far ahead Jordan had planned the story. Elements we’re not going to see for several books are already hinted or at play. It’s masterful.

The only series to come close to The Wheel of Time when it comes to foreshadowing is the television show Babylon 5. If you know of any others, let me know as I’d love to have more examples.

And, critically, we have new antagonists: The Forsaken.

Two of the Forsaken turned up in The Eye of the World, but in that case simply appeared during the climax to act as a Boss Battle. By the end of The Dragon Reborn we know they are all free. Until now there were a distant threat, trapped but as risk of escaping. Now they are in play. And also they are all doing something far more terrifying than simply attacking the protagonists outright; establishing themselves and making plans. They are setting themselves as rulers, insinuating themselves into positions of power.

By the end of The Dragon Reborn we know where three of them are and that two of them are dead, but the others are all out there somewhere. And so now the series has a credible, real world threat. Until now we’ve had the Trollocs. Terrifying, but essentially mindless monsters. The Forsaken, on the other hand, are active, intelligent forces working against the protagonists. Each one different, yet equally dangerous.

Also this is the book that introduces Faile, and Faile and Perrin are my favourite two characters in the series. I’ll talk more about them in my post for the next book in the series.

The last thing is want to mention here is how annoying some of the characters are. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Take Nynaeve. I hate Nynaeve as a person, but love her character. She’s arrogant, stuck up, bullies people into getting her way, refuses to admit anyone else can ever be right, and her entire arch through the first few books of the series is based about seeking spiteful revenge against Morraine.

One of the things I love about this series are the flaws these characters have, and the reasons behind them. There are reasons Nynaeve is the way she is, and there will be ways she grows and tempers her personality without changing who she is.

And that’s fine. Better than fine. She’s not the only one, just the main example. I also feel Matt needs a good sulk to stop him sulking all the time. It’s easy to forget how young the main characters are sometimes. If they sound like they are being sulky and childish, they’re mostly teenagers still. And acting like any teenage with authority they’re not certain how to handle.

It’s important to be able to dislike a character. To be able to look at a protagonist and see how their thoughts and opinions are valid, but if you were in a room with them you’d just want to slap them for being so irritating.

But that’s what makes them interesting. It’s why no particular section feels boring. As the series progresses there are going to be so many new characters to keep in our heads, and it’s these character traits that stops them becoming interchangeable.

If I have a criticism for The Dragon Reborn, it’s that there’s a little too much exposition in the first third of the book. It suffers from the fact it was an early book in an epic fantasy series and needed to refresh the reader on the world and the story. When you re-read them in quick succession it’s jarring when the characters keep explaining everything to us. I don’t remember this problem from previous read-throughs, so hopefully it will stop being a problem in the next books.

 

And so on to The Shadow Rising. Rand has declared himself the Dragon Reborn, fulfilling the prophesies that make it impossible for the world to deny him. It’s time for our main party to split, and the Forsaken to start tearing the world up under their feet. And, happily, the this will be the last book in my collection is the terrible original cover art.

Polyamory Week 2020 – The Future

Day 1: Polyamory Week 2020
Day 2: What is Polyamory
Day 3: What Polyamory Means to Me
Day 4: My Polyamory
Day 5: Book Review: ‘More Than Two’
Day 6: I Don’t Do Valentine’s Day

It’s the last day of Polyamory Week 2020. So where are things headed for me going forward?

One of the things that has become ingraining in my philosophies in the last few years is things change, and you can’t possibly foretell where your journey will take you. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have considered my life to be what it is. Who knows where I’ll be in another decade.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t think about where the person I am now will take me.

I suspect that some people would consider this lifestyle a phase. Something that you grow out of once you eventually find “The One” and settle down. When you’re younger it would get dismissed as sowing your wild oats, or just a fear of commitment. Luckily, as someone who’s come into this lifestyle after setting down, there’s less traction for those arguments.

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There’s still the old mid-life crisis, I suppose. But we started down this path years ago, and I don’t consider myself quite at “mid” life just yet.

My being polyamorous is here to stay. As I mentioned earlier this week, if for whatever reason I ended up with only one partner, or even no partners at all, I would still consider myself polyamorous. It’s a belief and a lifestyle, not a situation.

How will this affect my future?

A Growing Family

Well, children will be the big thing. Frankie and I have always planned on having children. We’d actually meant to have them by now, but life has taken us done roads and this plan has had to be postposed more than once due to health issues.

And when we do, it’s going to involve conversations with everyone we’re involved with. We may have decided we’re going to have children, but we can’t decide that other people have to be involved. It’s possible this may be a reason for someone to step away, and that would be hard. But it would something we’d have to face and deal with.

Personally, I love the idea of an extended poly family. I’ve nothing against the traditional two parent dynamic, but from a purely practical sense having more adults involved can only make things easier. And having a child grow up with multiple different adults in their life, each acting as a different type of role-model, be really speaks to me.

As with everything Poly, it will involve a lot of talking and making sure everyone is comfortable. Things might not end up the way I would like, but I know for certain there are ways to make it work. Nothing satisfying is easy.

In My Writing

I want to play a part in correcting how polyamory is portrayed in media. I have plans for a polyamorous romance novel. (I’d say ‘chick-lit’, but I hate that term.)

IMG_2440I was reading an article about books with positive depictions of non-monogamy, and every one on the list was science-fiction. Polyamory isn’t some futuristic idea only suited for high fantasy. I want to see it in a traditional romance story, just not as a gimmick or a fetish. And above all I want to avoid the trope of it being used to save a failing relationship. I want it to just be part of the protagonist’s life. Non-monogamy won’t be the cause of conflict or the pivot of the story. I want it to simply be there, as part of people’s lives.

I have rough ideas, but I’ve not put time into bringing it into shape. I have a couple other books higher up on the to-do list. But I’m not planning on leaving this one too long.

Learning and Spreading the Word

Above all, I want to keep learning. Engaging with this life has opened up whole new areas of culture and society I’ve not engaged with before. Sexuality, gender, politics, all of these are intertwined and fascinating.

There is so much in our perception of the world that’s been ingrained by society. Even if we think we’re more aware of these things, actually discovering something that you didn’t know that you didn’t know is enthralling.

nonmonogamy3-largeEthical non-monogamy has so many facets and styles and ways to live. I love meeting new people and discovering their journeys and lives, even if I discover things I have no wish to try myself. I want to keep meeting new people with interesting stories to tell. I want to learn more about what people feel and do. I want to be someone who immerses themselves in all those areas our culture has traditional avoiding talking about. Sex. Sexual health. Gender politics. Equality. Love and relationships. Different cultures and how they feed into each other.

And, hopefully, doing this will help me be a change for good in the world. Maybe I’ll be better able to advise people who need it. Maybe I’ll be able to open a door to a life someone didn’t know they wanted. Maybe I’ll be able to spread awareness so that people’s decisions may be a little more informed. To be someone who calls out these subconscious biases as well as I can, doing my bit to stop all these little inequalities that survived only because most of us don’t even see they exist.

Here’s to the Future…

My name is Tom, and I’m polyamorous.

I love Frankie. We’ve been together for fourteen years, and married for ten.

I love Aine. We’ve been together for almost a year.

I love my friends, both old and new, or everything they have brought into my life.

The future is uncertain, but above all I am determined to continue to learn and expand my mind.

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We’ll see you there.