Review: “Opening Up” by Tristan Taormino

Finding books about non-monogamy is tricky. When you’re polyamorous, one of the things you notices about popular culture is how must it simply doesn’t get what polyamory is. A lot of resources out there are trashy, focusing on nothing but the sexual aspect. Others seem to have decided that they have worked out exactly what polyamory is, and make you feel that if you don’t want exactly what they say you want then you’re doing it wrong.

This is why meeting people in the scene is so important, as it means to get recommendations. (It’s all about the networking, people!)

(I was recommended Opening Up by my girlfriend. For the record, she is amazing a finding useful resources on numerous subjects. She’s smart like that. You should also read her blog. It’s really good.)

What Taormino does with Opening Up is present their work as an introduction for those with little or now knowledge of the lifestyle. It doesn’t seek to tell you the answers, but present you with information and case studies which allow you to take in information and make your own decisions. It leads you along a path and encourages you to determine what you want, rather than telling you what you should want.

For me, this is the main appeal of this book. At no point does Taormino claim they have all the answers. Or even that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to life a non-monogamy life (like some resources I’ve encountered). Opening Up recognises that not everything is for everyone, and that the first step into the world is to determine what you want out of it and build on that.

So if you’re exploring non-monogamy is any way, or know someone who is and want to learn more about it, then this is a definite go-to read.

The Wheel of Time Reread: Lord of Chaos

*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
Book 5: The Fires of Heaven

Book six done, and we’re almost halfway through the series. In the last book, The Fires of Heaven, it felt to me as if Jordan was taking a breath before setting up the next round of story arcs. Now, with Lord of Chaos, things start to get moving again.

Let’s start with the two big events that occur in this book. 

First, the Healing of Logain. Wha’s big about this moment is that we are far enough into the series that established elements seem just that; established. Nynaeve’s attempts at Healing Logain feel like little more than a distraction that must surely go somewhere else, but suddenly she succeeds. And with that, the established world is turned on its head! 

Parallel to this, I love how we start to see the Aes Sedai as real people, rather than omnipotent superwomen. This is a group that has spent literal millennia constructing their image. But now we see inside, and how while to all those on outside the Aes Sedai will always show a united front, within they have the same insecurities and internal politics as anyone else. 

The second, and even bigger, event is Dumai’s Wells. This is still one of my favourite moments in the entire series. 

Up until this point the Asha’man have been shown as a half-trained group. Something Rand has created in a desperate attempt to have another weapon for the last battle. Then suddenly they burst onto the scene as a super powerful fighting force. 

This battle significantly changes the world. Firstly, the existence of the Asha’man changes every power existing power dynamic. They are a military force that can use the One Power that one one saw coming. And considering attitudes to men who can channel, we know the Asha.man are going to terrify the entire word. Secondly, both sides were made up of groups not traditionally aligned together. We are no longer in a world where Rand is working with what came before, but mixing everything up. Just as has been prophesied he is breaking everything that came before. 

The events Dumai’s Wells also crystallise who Rand is becoming. 

After sort of taking a back seat for a while, the character is now showing himself to be taking hold of his destiny. He knows who he is, what he has to do, and what will happen to him afterwards. But to do this he is forced to cut himself off from his own desires. 

It’s easy to forget that Rand is meant to be more than 20 or so. This isn’t a man confident in his powers. He is barely out of adolescence and desperately trying to live up to be the man who he has to be. And the way he is tricked, and then the abuse he suffers before he is rescued, permanently damages him. How can he trust anyone, after he allowed this to happen? 

Everyone in the world has their own agenda they want his to follow. To a greater or less extent, they all want to use him for their own ends and the kidnapping shows just how far some of them are willing to go. From now on he feels he can’t afford to trust anyone

On to the actual writing. 

I seem to do this with every book, but once again I’m going to pour praise on Jordan’s skill at foreshadowing and world building. The way he uses Matt’s memories to fill in the history of the world. The way Elayne and Nynaeve spending time in the rebel camp allows us to see the Aes Sedai as more human. The way a Pedron Niall dismisses a series of reports that seem unbelievable as they don’t fit his worldview, while we the readers know some of them are correct. The way the kidnapping scene is set up, with subtle elements of preceding scenes setting up points so that Rand would not suspect anything before it was too late. 

I also want to highlight that at one point one of the characters has a Foretelling, and literally spells out the end of the final book, but in a way we won’t know until afterwards. That’s book fourteen! Jordan may not have meant there to be that many books in the series, but it really shows how much he had planned so far ahead. 

I’m excited for A Crown of Swords. So much is set up in Lord of Chaos to be fulfilled in the following book. Unfortunately, one of those is going to be very Elayne heavy, but that’s just something we need to live with. We’re still in the first good arcs of the series for the dip around book ten, so I’m currently excited to keep going.

Recommendation: “Big Sky” by Kate Atkinson

Once again, I’m blown away by Kate Atkinson’s writing.

I tend to find that when an author has an ongoing character they come back to with some of their books but not all – as Atkinson does with Jackson Brodie – I enjoy those ones less. And it’s true that I’ve enjoyed her non-Brodie books more than her Brodie ones.

But I this this was my favourite of the Jackson Brodie books, mainly because the way she uses him as a link between elements of the story, rather than the protagonist. This story isn’t about him. He’s simply part of it.

This book is masterfully written. If you want an example of “Show, Don’t Tell”, this is it. Each chapter is set in the POV of one of the characters, each going about their lives, and this is how we see the story. We’re never explicitly told what is happening, or who people are. Instead, we put it together as we see things from each characters perspective. When one character thinks about an event, the things they know combine with what we learnt from another, and we put them together.

Once more, Atkinson has shown why she is one of those authors that both challenges me to be better, and makes me despair that I’ll never be this good.

Review: “The Disciple” by Stephen Lloyd Jones

I enjoyed this book, but felt it only really got going in the second half.

There is a really good story here, with a core concept that’s incredibly interesting once you reach it. However, I don’t feel that the set up and initial feel of the book gels that well with the second, much better, half.

I feel the first half of the book could have been half as long and a lot more focused. I love Jones’ style, but it took me ages to get into the story to a point where I wanted to carry on.

But once you get through that, the second half is really worth working through for. The concept for the climax is really interesting. I would have loved to have the opening more focused around this rather than taking so long with character development that could have done with a lit of streamlining.

One thing I want to say is there is a massive improvement to the other of Jones’ books I’ve read. When I read his first novel, The String Diaries, I was disappointed by the tacked on happy ending. Sometimes a dark story needs to be brave enough to have a dark ending. And, without wanting to give too much away, The Disciple has an ending that perfectly matches the tone.

So not a great opening, but definitely worth pushing through until it focuses and pulls you in.

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.

 

 

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 – Review: ‘More Than Two’ by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

Day 1: Polyamory Week 2020
Day 2: What is Polyamory
Day 3: What Polyamory Means to Me
Day 4: My Polyamory

When coming into a new area of life, research is important. I may have all the necessary skills and tools for this life, but it’s possible that I don’t know how to use them. And it’s a simple fact that as much as I consider myself a modern, open minded person, I’ve had thirty-six years of conditioning that the romantic ideal is to find “The One”.

There are books out there designed to help people into the non-monogamy world. But we need to remember that just because someone has been living the lifestyle longer, and may even be seen as a leading figure in the scene, it doesn’t mean their advice is perfect.

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More Then Two, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert has been referred to in a number of circles as the “Polyamory Bible”; recommended as the go-to resource for discovering and working out the basics of polyamory.

More Than Two is comprehensive. There are sections aimed at those coming in to polyamory from different points of view – single to poly, couples opening up, families with children – and more general topics like communication. A lot of it seems simple, and I’m certain that everyone who reads it will find parts are just common sense. But I’m also certain each person will find a chapter that will really benefit them. There were parts I skimmed through, but there were parts that really made me think about what I was doing and how I was doing it.

There are also lots of real life examples, most often taken from Veaux or Rickert’s personal experiences. These are useful, as not every topic will be relevant to each reader and these examples show the real world application of what is being discussed.

However, Franklin Veaux has been revealed as a problematic source. And in the last few years he’s been called out by a number of women he’s had relationships, including co-author Eve Rickert, for being manipulative and emotionally abusive.

I’m not going to comment strongly on this area here. I don’t know a huge amount about about the situation. I would recommend visiting https://polyamory-metoo.com, created by Louisa Leontiades, and https://brighterthansunflowers.com/2019/09/02/thoughts-on-the-fifth-anniversary-of-more-than-two/ for the views of the co-author Eve Rickert.

I was lucky enough to have met Louisa Leontiades at a party. When I started reading More Than Two I recognised Veaux’s name from posts she’d made regarding the issues with him that had been raised. So I reached out to her and asked if it was still valid to read the book. Her advice was it still was a valid resource, as long as those reading it kept in mind that the book presented polyamory through a single viewpoint; and knowing how Veaux had misused it to manipulate his partners was vital as a background understanding.

Reviewing More Than Two is difficult. It’s a useful resource of foundational knowledge. But it also filters polyamory through the point of view of a straight, cis, white man who believed it was something that benefited him over his partners. It is a book that cannot be viewed on its own merits alone, but requires outside context.

So, should you read it? I think it’s best put into words by co-author Eve Rickert (from the post I linked above):

I’m glad that people are thinking critically about More Than Two. I’m glad people are pointing out its flaws. This consensual nonmonogamy thing we’re all working on is not static, and no one has all the answers figured out for everyone. More Than Two represents, at best, a snapshot of what was important and how certain communities were thinking at a certain point in time, just like The Ethical Slut was two decades prior. Ideas and practices will continue to evolve, and that’s a good thing. Some or all of what’s in More Than Two may eventually be thrown out—and I think that’s okay, too. 

So I guess all I can say is: It’s flawed. Maybe it’ll help you. I hope it will. But be careful. Read other things. Take what works for you from each. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right to you, listen to that feeling. 

So would I recommend More Than Two?

Yes, I think I would. It’s not perfect, but no book on relationships will ever be perfect. If you’re looking to learn more about coming into polyamory it’s a good starting point, as long as it isn’t taken on its own. Do some further reading on Veaux, read the testimonies of the woman he talks about in this book, and indulge in some critical thinking.

Above all, take from this that there is no clear and easy resource to tell you how to “do” ethical non-monogamy. And just because someone’s been involved in the scene longer doesn’t mean they know more than you, or are necessarily doing it “better”. In polyamory, as in monogamy, people have their own issues that they bring to the table. Be aware, and be educated.

Wheel of Time Re-read: The Eye of the World

And Book One of my Wheel of Time Reread is done.

Three thousand years since the world was all but destroyed in the War of the Shadow, the Dark One has begun to stir in his prison. As those aware of such things begin to fear the coming of the prophisied Last Battle for the fate of humanity, Rand Al’Thor, a young farmer, finds himself fleeing his home pursued by monsters from legend. As he and his friends make their way into the world, he begins to suffer dreams that may well mean he is destined to save, or destroy, the whole of creation.

I first read The Eye of the World by the pool in a hotel in Spain. I was on my first holiday with my now wife, and I remember buying it as a whim at the airport. If I remember correctly the quote on the front cover said something along the lines of it being better than Tolkien, and I decided to pick it up so I could properly mock it for such a grandiose claim.

When I got home I immediately ordered Book Two.

It’s not the best in the series. I remember even at the time I thought the story was a little too close to the plot of Fellowship of the Ring. But there was something about it. I didn’t know what at the time, but now I recognise that it was a sense that the world I was being shown was so much bigger than the story I was reading.

Most fantasy books, epic or not, never manage to make it feel that their world is any bigger than the parts we see. The writers flesh out the areas the character travels, but there’s no sense that the world is anything more. As if the protagonist sees everything important, and the rest is inconsequential.

What Jordan managed was to make me feel is that his story is taking place in a small part of something much greater. As is usual in fantasy, the innocent protagonist is pulled from his idilic home into a bigger world. With each step he feels he’s seeing the biggest new thing possible, only to discover even greater still with the next. But with Jordan’s writing you feel there is still more out there.

There is the promise of so much more, teasing a story with a scope we haven’t yet seen.

And there is so much set-up here. The point I always highlight is how there is a passing exchange between two characters, no more than a couple of paragraphs, that set up something we don’t see until around book thirteen. That’s how forward planned these books were. They don’t dwell on it. There’s no “Look at that over there, it must surely be important. One day will will visit that place” dialogue. They just mention is in passing, along with a lot of other things, and let it lie.

So is this book perfect? No. It is a promise of great story to come? Yes.

If you’ve read enough epic fantasy the story won’t be original, but take that as an introduction and you’ll be letting yourself into something amazing.

And on a side note, look at how beautiful this copy is. I can’t remember exactly when this special edition came out. It may have been a twentieth anniversary print, or something to celebrate the series ending. What I do remember is preordering this baby without a second thought.

Now on to Book Two: The Great Hunt.