Friday, December 7

And from Peter again:

On Dec 7, 2007, at 6:21 AM, Peter wrote:

Hm. That answers my question of where your caste system came from. I admit to having thought you were a libertarian, that's my mistake. I guess I assumed you sort of fit your own perspectives into the book under the guise of Duncan, as sort of a wise old man who could tell the answers as you know it. Knowing that you actually created the character gives me much more respect for you as an author, regardless of your political standings.

I guess he just does a great job of seeming to have the answers when he should when Hari needs a bit of a push, but I suppose that gets back to your idea of your characters rationalizing their circumstances into what they think they need. If so, nicely done.

Did you think that the 'Reality-TV-From-Hell' required, specifically, a business-based caste system, or did it require little more than unwashed masses and the rest is part of the eternal sci-fi idea of drawing lines into the future based on current problems and their evolving solutions?


A lot of people make that Stover-Must-Be-a-Libertarian mistake; one spectacularly dippy reviewer (I won't mention any names, but her initials are C. How Stupid I. M. Morgan) claimed she could tell I was a Libertarian by looking at my author photo.

Apparently it never actually strikes anyone that Duncan's good advice to Hari (essentially: keep your head down and inch toward daylight) has NOTHING TO DO with political philosophy; as for Duncan being the "voice of the author," it never seems to strike anyone that Duncan is consistently portrayed as being (periodically) ENTIRELY FUCKING BUGNUTS.

One would think someone might have noticed that Duncan gets his philosophical ass handed to him when he goes head-to-head against Tan'elKoth, who can be read as a direct personification of mystic fascism. Or that the only character who is more often right than wrong in either of those books is Deliann, who doesn't really believe in ANYTHING . . . he's just stumbling along, trying to do the right thing . . . and Caine, who doesn't believe in anything either, except that people he cares about are worth dying for.

But hey, that's the breaks.

Anyway: it takes more than the "unwashed masses" to make the Studio work, because Actors have to participate voluntarily (facing almost certain death or dismemberment -- not to mention the willingness to murder innocent people -- for the hope of economic advantage and social advancement). Unlike, say, Roman slave gladiators, who could just be given a weapon and thrown into the ring, an Actor has to play along -- has to create a character that people enjoy being, and portray that character convincingly. I could go into greater detail on the social mechanics of it, but that's the fundamental concept.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

Thursday, December 6

And Peter again:
On Nov 30, 2007, at 2:54 AM, Peter wrote:

I think I'm starting to get a good grip on where most of your writing comes from, so unfortunately my questions are starting to dry up into questions about suggested readings and such.

I'm still a bit curious about the caste system you used to create your future earth. It's been called dystopian, and Duncan suggests it's not libertarian, at least in the traditional sense. Yet it's based around business and exploitation, which are founded in libertarian principles as far as I can tell. The whole 'Leisureman' caste is about as libertarian as possible, and the implication of the fact that it's relatively small despite proof that advancement through the castes is possible seems to suggest that advancement is very difficult.

Some other things I've noticed about your system are that as you advance you gain the ability to simply use your power more freely (without concern for soapie intervention), and you also gain access to increasing amount of potential systematic safeguards based around your actual income. Basically, as you get higher up you can afford better protection and you automatically have implied power. As a connoiseur of political systems, I'm curious about where your system came from. I like its flavor in some ways, but in others it seems curiously and unnecessarily restrictive. Obviously you made it that way, but why?


This is a complex question. The caste system was created originally around the necessities of the novel's premise (i.e. what sort of society would have this Reality-TV-From-Hell as its #1 form of mass entertainment?), combined with a speculative extrapolation from the realities of American society -- You Are What You Do, and increased power (whether from celebrity, political connection, or simple wealth) brings with it proportionally greater immunity from legal jeopardy. Fundamentally, it is an expression of real free-market economics. In reality, there is NO SUCH THING as a "free market" -- because every privileged class organizes government (and hence, social economics) to protect its own privileges. What makes the caste system stable is that it preserves the mythology of the American Experiment: that hard work and determination enable one to rise above one's birth or social status. This is the ultimate incentive for the less-privileged classes to support the system; the dream that someday they (or their descendants) might join the ranks of the Privileged . . . so long as nobody makes waves. The caste system also arises from what I see as the innate tribalism of human nature; each caste carries its own mythology of exceptionalism (demonstrated graphically by Kollberg's disquisition on the superior virtues of Administration in HEROES DIE). The essence of Libertarian principle is freedom from government intervention. The caste system is the opposite of Libertarianism; it depends on rigorous regulation of all forms of social and economic interaction. It's a substantial mistake to characterize me as a Libertarian; I'm not. Even remotely. Duncan is (in spirit, anyway), Hari isn't. Heinlein was, more or less . . . and his Libertarian manifesto, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, is specifically referenced in HEROES DIE, with Pallas Ril taking on Heinlein's Scarlet Pimpernel persona of Simon Jester -- which leads her to cause more death and destruction than Caine could ever dream of . . .

I could go into a great deal more detail here, but the simple answer on the caste system is: I made it up.

In fact, when I originally conceived the caste system (back in the 80s), it seemed a great deal more outlandishly dystopian than it does today; now it largely appears to be a direct allegory for the emerging character of American society under Bushism: hands off the privileged, and fist-fuck everybody else.

Feel free to inquire further, if this doesn't answer your question.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

Thursday, November 29

More from Peter:


On Nov 28, 2007, at 5:43 AM, Peter wrote:

Good point on the philosophy thing... I think the reason why I (being the one who argued for that genre) fit Blade in particular there was because of the advent of Cainism. I tend to think of books as 'philosophical' when they make an attempt to define or state the perspectives of its characters explicitly, separately from their actions. Hence I like to put Atlas Shrugged, some of the new Star Wars work by Karen Traviss in particular on the Mandalorians, and Blade of Tyshalle into that genre. My favorite books have a perspective so well-defined that it becomes a philosophy in my head, and one of the reasons I like Blade so much is because your characters do the same thing with people instead of books. I like seeing that done and how it works out for your people.

Thanks for the answer to my question on your Genre. I tend to think of Science Fiction when I think of your favorite themes, but now that you put it into those terms High Fantasy and Science Fiction aren't all that different. I think Science Fiction brings the themes into a more understandable format because in most SciFi the people are just us with bigger guns (or whatev) and the power that accompanies better tools, but Fantasy is the same thing, changing physics instead of our point in history.

In my experience the main problem with fantasy is that the author writes a book playing around with their new tools instead of one where the characters are using them as though, you know, they grew up with them. Always breaks the suspension of disbelief for me. I like your way of doing it, it makes much more sense for people to think magic is a big deal if it's not intrinsic to their universe.

Gah, your stating of some of your favorite themes opens up a whole new field of questions. Mostly though, I noted that they tend to be things that everyone encounters in daily life, or would if they took responsibility for their own actions.

You seem to deal neatly with the idea of someone moving beyond their 'assigned' responsibilities through the caste system and how people break it in Heroes and Blade, but I'm curious as to how you designed the Caste system itself. Did you just sort of look at the castes inherent in business and codify them a bit? I'm also a bit curious as to how someone advances in caste. It's sort of explained through Kollberg in Heroes, but I didn't quite grasp it.

Quick Question; I'm always looking for more readings. Do you have a list of some good books you've found that address or use some of those themes?

In particular, I can never seem to find good books on the responsibilities of power which take into account chaos theory. They're always a bit too clear-cut for me. Got anything?


Well . . . none of my characters is entirely a product of their intellectual convictions (unlike Ayn Rand's, for example). But because I prefer to write about really, really smart people, they often have constructed a sort of philosophical framework to explain to themselves why they do what they do . . . but sometimes (usually, in fact -- viz. Caine, Deliann, Raithe, t'Passe, Tan'elKoth and all) the truth underlying their actions doesn't match with their personal view. In fact, it seems to me (speaking now as a reader, rather than as the author) that the only characters who aren't self-deluded to a lesser or greater extent are the simpler ones . . . the ones who tend not to think about themselves too much, like Kierendal, Majesty, Tommie, Orbek . . . there's a strong undercurrent of Nietzsche's observation that "Man is not the rational animal so much as he is the rationalizing animal: the primary use to which we put our reason is to justify our unconscious drives and desires."

Caine says that dual-valued systems always break down in contact with reality, but when he doesn't mention is that ALL systems break down in contact with reality. Back to Nietzsche:

"It is we alone who have fabricated causes, succession, reciprocity, relativity, compulsion, number, law, freedom, motive, purpose; and when we falsely introduce this world of symbols into things and mingle it with them as though this symbol-world were an 'in-itself,' we once more behave as we have always behaved, namely mythologically." [Emphasis Nietzsche's]

Or, for that matter, another of Caine's favorite philosophers: "The best system is no system."

Meaning that intellectual frameworks are valuable, but only so long as one constantly bears in mind that the map is not the territory, so to speak.

I don't know of any other books that integrate chaos theory with moral philosophy; the two are kinda incompatible (another example of systems breaking down in contact with reality). The quote on chaos at the beginning of BLADE is from JURASSIC PARK . . . while that novel doesn't really delve into the implications of real chaos theory, especially the spontaneous "islands of order" that inevitably arise within the boundary conditions of chaotic systems (I suspect Crichton understands even less about chaos theory than I do, which ain't all that much), that particular quote sums up the hole it knocks in moral philosophy.

To put it another way, I'll quote the eminent (now departed) historian Arthur Schlesinger:

"The future outwits all our certitudes."

I've been thinking about putting that one at the beginning of CAINE BLACK KNIFE.

Wednesday, November 28

And now from Rob, a long-time correspondent:

On Nov 22, 2007, at 9:52 AM, Rob Suder wrote:

Hey Matt, I always appreciate you taking the time to answer emails and such. So thank you, especially considering how busy you probably are with you current works. I have a mixture of questions, a few about writing and a few observations mostly about the Caine novels. I’ve been rereading Blade of Tyshalle and I’m about three-fourths the way through it, at the point where Caine has been moved from the Pit to the Shaft. Something I’m just not sure if I caught onto the first time or not regarding Tan’elkoth, Ma’elkoth, and Hannto the Scythe is how they could be viewed as a split-personality disorder. They way there’s countless personalities, but some are more dominant than others each believing they need to be in control, rather than Ma’elkoth truly being a God it throws an interesting view into Heroes Die when Caine first meets Ma’elkoth and wonders. It also parallels Deliann’s argument to Caine, that Hari is merely a mask so Caine could get by on Earth as a parapalegic. At any rate I know you do an enormous amount of research on the background sources for your novels, and I wondered if you did any into psychiatric disorders? Of course Overwold magic is still more…traditional…than it is on Earth in the novels, and sometimes the simplest answer is correct. But with a lot of the philosophy in the story, I’ve been trying to think (and hopefully not over-think) aspects from a different point of view. In regards to the philosphies, especially in Blade of Tyshalle, I was wondering which ones much of Caine’s, Duncan’s, and Tan’elkoth’s musing are based on? Tao for example? Or Hindu beliefs? I’ll admit my knowledge of them is pretty small, but I’ve tried to research them in the past and most of the books in stores or libraries don’t seem very accessible to the average person. Okay…now I have a few writing questions I was hoping to I could pester you with. I’ve been working on an outline for a story, and I have an overall plot but I find myself constantly stuck on the catalyst at the beginning of the story. I have my main character, where he’s at emotionally/personally and where I want him to go. I know the basics of the overall journey, but I’m having trouble finding an event that starts or prompts him to move through the story. So I guess I’m hoping you would be willing to give me a different perspective, when you hit a tought spot while working on a story? Did you skip past the trouble spot, and come back to it later? Have you found it more difficult to jump around when writing in such a manner? I haven’t really tried writing later events, because I’m inclined to try to write the story from start to finish. Regardless I’m grateful for any advice you might be able to give. With that I’ll wrap this up with one last, probably always asked question: How are things going with Caine Black Knife? Any news you’re allowed to mention? Thanks again for taking the time to write!


Hey, Rob.

I didn't do any research specifically into psychiatric disorders, though I have read any number of the novelized case histories (THE THREE FACES OF EVE, SIBYL, etc) that were popular in the second half of the last century, and I do keep up, more or less, with developments in the field.

The theory of personality that underlies HD and BLADE is largely my own, cribbed from my own experience as an actor -- how a character played with sufficient conviction becomes a secondary (sometimes primary) personality. It's not so much a question of MPD as it is that personality, in my view, is a perceptual framework one uses to filter experience. Personality is not a discrete feature of life, but rather an aggregate of certain habits of mind. Tan'elKoth's view of art is specifically a metaphor for this, for example. (It's also my personal view of art, but let that go.)

Duncan's political philosophy is grounded in John Locke, by way of Abraham Lincoln . . . though its primary basis is in the works of mid-period Robert Heinlein, specifically THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. There are ways HEROES DIE, specifically, can be read as a critical reply to Heinlein's political theories, but that's a side issue.

The theory of consciousness that underlies Deliann's discussions with Caine (and, for that matter, the metaphysics of Ma'elKoth), is mostly mine . . . though I have seen a few references in neuroscience journals in support of the premise, which is that the human nervous system is not the producer of the mind, but merely its receiver, tuned to a specific frequency of a greater "field of mind," which -- you will note -- neatly explains the results of "identical twin separated at birth" studies, as well as the occasional flashes of telepathy and insights one experiences while under the influence of certain "mind-altering drugs" -- as well as the personality and cognitive changes that proceed from traumatic brain injury . . . it also explains the physical changes in the wiring of the brain that we naturally produce when we learn . . . we're re-tuning our nervous systems. It also explains the effects of differing styles of religio-mystic training, everything from yoga to Zen to Catholic mass -- each of these is designed to tune the nervous system to certain frequencies that eventually result in a specific type of mental experience . . . and the type of experience depends on the type of training, if you follow me. The inspiration for that came from the Western mystic traditions (i.e. the Greek mystery religions, druidic lore, and some of the Native American shamanic traditions, as well as the works of Teilhard de Chardin).

The conceptual framework of Cainism is an outgrowth of Nieztschean perspectivism, leavened with a dash of chaos theory.

As far as the writing problem goes, it sounds to me like you're trying to start the story too early in the plot. The genesis of any good story is in the initial problem: you need to make sure than when we first meet your protagonist, he's ALREADY in so much trouble that he MUST act . . . and then his action produces a counter-action from his antagonists (whether they be villains, society, or an uncaring universe) so that it escalates the tension rather than relieving it. If you're just writing a short, then you need to start at the climax, and fill in the plot that led there as you go along; if you're writing a longer piece -- novella-length on up -- then you want at least a couple of escalations in there before you hit the climax.

Let me know if this helps.

--Oh, and can I post this correspondence on my blog? It seems to be a good way to keep the thing going, and some of these questions are worth sharing.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

Thursday, November 22

More from Peter:

On Nov 20, 2007, at 3:46 PM, Peter wrote:

Yeah, you definitely answered the question I was trying to ask, whether you felt there was an implied moral imperative in publishing your writing. Good to know there's someone out there not trying to force me to be like their characters.

The pre-moral stance bit is interesting. I find that I have a liking for science fiction (and truth that approaches it) for a reason which is beyond approval for the perspectives embodied in the work. I just like reading what happens when people draw lines into the future of science, or philosophy, or morality through fantasy.

I'm curious, did you choose your genre, or did it choose you?

I've had discussions with my friends over whether your writing is sci-fi, fantasy, or philosophy, and we figured it's sort of a gray area in the middle of genre. Did you set out to create a world where that was possible, or just tell what you wanted to and place it where it fit?


I don't think of my work as philosophy at all . . . unless you take the word philosophy to its etymologic roots, in which case any form of narrative can be considered to fall under that rubric; all narrative reflects the internal metaphysic of its creator(s) willy-nilly, even something as grossly pandering as a night-time soap or Robyn Williams film. The philosophy, it seems to me, arises of the act of interpretation; what I'm putting into the work is less philosophy than it is perspective. I write the world as I see the world--even when I'm writing about someone else's world, like Mr Lucas's, for example.

As far as "my genre" goes, what I really wanted to write was comic books -- specifically superhero books; I've always loved the stew of unrestrained imagineering that goes into the best comics. Which are always a mix of fantasy, SF, and psychological honesty. My favorite comics often deal directly with many of the themes that I seem to keep coming back to: the role of performance in the nature of identity, the responsibilities of power, the consequences of imposing one's will upon one's world, and the consequences of refusing to do so . . . all that stuff, and more.

I specifically chose to work in heroic fantasy because when I was starting out, HF was considered the lowest kind of trash-reading, with only very few exceptions (Donaldson, late Moorcock, Vonnegut, a few others) -- but from my reading, grounded in Greek and Roman myth, it could (and should) be the HIGHEST form of literature. It's the one where Everything's on the Table. Nothing's off-limits. But sadly, very very few writers can make a decent living at it, and I don't seem to be one of the few. I started strong, but (due to issues with my health) my average income from writing has been been static over the course of my career. Money that looks pretty good when you're thirty-three isn't so swell when you're forty-five . . . especially when it's not even keeping up with inflation.

The "tell what you want to tell" thing is great in theory, but when your work doesn't fall squarely into a pre-defined publishing category, a publisher has no idea how to market it, and such works tend to fell through the cracks. Kind of like HEROES DIE and BLADE did. I suspect that Del Rey has a better idea how to handle CBK, though. We'll see.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

Tuesday, November 20

Hey. I have risen. Or something.

Got the following e-mail from some thoughtful fellow upon finishing BLADE, and it's led to some correspondence that I think fans of the Acts of Caine might find interesting. So I'm putting it up here.

Hey, I finished Blade of Tyshalle and am rereading Heroes Die. I'm finding that the philosophies of Cainism resonate with the perspectives I use to act and am a bit curious as to whether you're planning on releasing a Cainist Philosophy book. Sort of seeing you as an Ayn Rand, with a book that shows your philosophies through characters and the potential for a more clear statement.

I don't know if that sort of thing would appeal to you, but I'm curious, so sue me.




No, BLADE OF TYSHALLE is itself my Cainist Philosophy book. Unlike Ms Rand, Cainism is descriptive, not prescriptive. It's not about how people should live, it's about how they do live, whether they want to or not. Caine's just the most extreme case . . . if you see what I mean.

And my philosophy isn't really my philosophy; it's (roughly speaking) a blend of Nietzschean perspectivism with classical Taoism, leavened with chaos theory. In other words (as some critics have pointed out), there's nothing particularly original about it. Which is okay with me, because I don't actually care about being original. I care about telling the truth as I see it, and about writing novels that people will want to read more than once . . . not necessarily in that order.

Thanks for your interest, and thanks for writing.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto


I think that's why I like it so much, it's a more real philosophy than most stuff I get smacked around with. More true to life instead of how things should be.

Aren't all philosophies just blends of ideas from before? Methinks you give yourself too little credit... or maybe this is the 'be humble in front of my fans' act. Either way, I like the ideas a lot. The chaos theory bit in particular.

Question; if your books aren't meant to be prescriptive, why do you pick a cast of characters? Heroes Die was all Caine, but showing a cast leads me to assume the people have something in common worth noting in your story. I know assumption is the first step into a shallow grave (or something like that), but how is it possible to write without being prescriptive while using more than one character?


Hmm. Some readers might take the story as prescriptive: "You should act like Caine, and you'll always win," or "If you act like Caine, your victories will always cost more than they're worth," or whatever (gods help them if they do . . .). That's a factor of interpretation, which is not my business. My business is telling a story as honestly as I can, given the limitations of my subject matter and the limitations of my personal insight and authorial skill. I don't approach my characters from a moral stance, but from an esthetic one; in other words, I don't much care whether they're Good or Bad, only whether I Like 'Em or I Don't. My bias in that regard might be read as an implicit moral endorsement or moral condemnation of their behavior, but it is not intended that way. The things BLADE's characters have in common are not moral factors, but mythological ones.

As I implied in BLADE -- and stated explicitly in STAR WARS ON TRIAL -- interpretation is subjective. What anything means, as Caine says, depends on how you tell the story. It also depends on who's hearing/reading/watching it. A book, as I've said elsewhere, is nothing but words on a page. The actual novel is what happens inside your head when you read that book. If there's something you can take away from that experience that you feel deepens your understanding of your own life, then that's a bonus -- but it's not necessarily thanks to me; people can find things in books that the author had no intention of putting there. A novel (a good one, anyway) is like a shovel you can use to excavate your own mind . . . find the treasures buried in there, polish 'em a bit, then hold 'em up to see how much they sparkle . . .

Hey, would you mind very much if I posted this correspondence on my blog? I only update the damned thing every three or four months, and I think it's due.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto


I would be honored to be on your blog. Just high-fived my roommate at the very thought.

One more question. For now. :)

If you're telling a story that you like and I like it too, i assume we have something in common. Some sort of shared perspective or common sense of entertainment which gives us that commonality.

If we both like Caine because he does what we've always wanted to do (true or not) or at least wanted to see done, and you put it there, are you pulling a sort of Studio shield? I just give the people, myself included, what they say they want, and how they take it isn't what I did it for. I'm in it for the money, so to speak.

Not saying that the Studio is wrong, I can often empathize with the idea of wanting a shield, saying that when you write a story the way you do, true to life's inner forms, it's more likely to cater to the people who don't want a shield. They're the ones looking for sparkly things in their heads, instead of in their bodies. Dunno if you know what i mean by that.

The question of this mini-rant is; are the 'moral factors' what makes a story prescriptive (more likely to be insubstantial), or is the knowledge of the idea of potentially prescriptive elements in the mind of the reader a sort of lens which causes stories which could lead to the sort of digging we both like to lose their potency.

Basically, do we make 'superficial' stories that way because we've got a heuristic for it, or do they perpetuate their own demise?

Your fault, or mine?

If it's my fault, do you think that the people looking for jewels do so out of a trained impulse, like others looking for prescriptions, or out of a desire to find what really entertains them?

wow. lotsa questions there. Running on no sleep... sorry.


I confess to not being entirely clear on the question. I'll do my best to answer what I THINK you're asking . . . then if I'm wrong, we can work it out from there.

The question, it seems to me, proceeds from a flawed premise: that our shared affection for the character of Caine proceeds from approval of his actions, and that this (presumed) approval translates into some sort of Kantian categorical imperative (which is something Cainism explicitly rejects -- see t'Passe's observation on sheep and wolves). I just don't see it that way. My affection for Caine (and that of most of his fans, I think) proceeds from what I would call a pre-moral stance, or even an anti-moral stance. It's a largely visceral reaction -- a hormone-driven one, I believe, with the dominant hormone being adrenaline, closely followed by testosterone. We like him because he gets us charged up . . . a reaction that takes place without regard to our moral sensibilities, whatever they may be.

Which is not to say he's without intellectual virtues or admirable qualities, but that's another discussion.

For the record, I DON'T give the people what they want. I give the people what I want. What the hypothetical people make of it, however, is inherently beyond my control. And I don't do it for the money (God knows!). I do it because I want to tell you a story that will keep you up at night . . . and maybe get you to spend some time, now and then, just thinking about your reaction to it.

I don't disavow responsibility for my readers' reactions, because much of what I write is intended to provoke reaction. I just can't control what that reaction will be, you follow? It's very much like Cainism itself: I control what I can control, and let the rest go. Because I have to; it's out of my hands.

In fact, I tend to disapprove of artists who insist on controlling your reaction to their work; that strikes me as crossing the line from art to propaganda. Ayn Rand would be a prime example, as would Steven Spielberg. We tend to find such things less objectionable when the points being hammered home are ones we already agree with . . . but I'm no great fan of the concept. I mean, when was the last time you re-read Aesop's Fables and found yourself thinking that "Geez, now that I'm older, I find myself kind of LIKING King Stork . . ."

I do think that readers who are looking for prescriptive elements in fiction are going to inherently miss some of the simple pleasures of reading -- because they're adding a layer of intellectual filtering that keeps them that much more removed from the immersive experience that good fiction should be.

I hope that no one's looking for jewels . . . because of that intellectual filtering thing, see? Besides, jewels sparkle all the more when you come upon them unexpectedly.

Again: I hope you find this response pertinent. If it isn't, please feel free to clarify your question.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

Saturday, June 30

Surrendering to the pressure . . .

Yeah, I know: I'm never here. Partly it's because I really don't care for writing about myself directly (of course, all my books are about myself--specifically, how I see the world--at least indirectly, but still . . .).

I've never forgotten a general social maxim from my dissipated youth:

Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events.
Small minds discuss people.

This, like so many bits of Received Wisdom, is less an observation than an ideal . . . and one that seems more honor'd in the breach than th' observance, as Hamlet might say.

Here's the Business Part:

CAINE BLACK KNIFE is grinding its way through the editorial process, somewhere in Purgatory--erm, that is, in the literary void between Del Rey (which is the contractee for publication) and Ballantine, Bertlesmann AG's local corporate viceroy, which is currently the employer of Caine's editor. It appears to be tentatively slated for publication in mid-2008, roughly the same time-frame as LUKE SKYWALKER AND THE SHADOWS OF MINDOR. Which seems like a long time to wait, but, y'know, right now I'm just grateful it's coming out at all.


I've been corresponding once more with Dan Moran (Daniel Keys Moran, for those heretics among you who don't know him--you can buy his books on Amazon, and you should). He did me the favor of looking over CBK for me with a semi-critical eye. I say "semi-critical" because he's also a long-time Caine fan . . . in fact, he's married to Amy Stout (now Stout-Moran), who was the editor who bought HEROES DIE for Del Rey.

Anyway, here's the point: Just for fun, I thought I'd send him a copy of the late, lamented REAL FLASH GORDON. But when I opened the file, some of the formatting was corrupted, so I've been cleaning it up, and in the process discovering how much I really like my own writing. I always say I write the kind of books I like to read. Well, I'm telling the truth. Even my lightweight crap. Especially my lightweight crap. I guess because I was writing to exactly my own sense of humor, this book tickles the hell out of me.

I just wish I could find a concept for a book or two of my own that is as much flat-out fun as FLASH.

I must have been in a REALLY good mood while I was writing that.

That's all.

Friday, April 27

Sick. Sick sick and more sick.

Here's the point: too sick to do my own research. To any and all available netmonkeys who still bother to show up here:

Who's the guy who wrote that book about his interviews with Osama bin Laden? I seem to recall it's titled something like "Talking to Osama." Along those lines, anyway.

I heard him talking about the book on the radio (late last year, I suspect); the salient point o the book was that in it, bin Laden specifically states that al Qaeda's long-term goal was to draw the United States into a endless guerrilla war in Afghanistan, where the mujahedeen could whip up on our military and break us the way they broke the Soviets.

This is pertinent because Our Glorious Bush cleverly avoided this trap (well, almost), and then -- perhaps out of a sort of professional courtesy, one nutjob fanatic to another -- created an all-new, improved version of Afghanistan out of a previously stable state (this being Iraq). Where we promptly locked outselves into an endless guerrilla war that is breaking our military, and our republic's will to fight.

I bring this up because it suddenly occurred to me that the Bush Administration could actually be correct (gods forbid!) in one thing: that the war in Iraq actually HAS been the reason there have been no further attacks here in the continental US. They haven't attacked us because they don't need to -- we're already doing exactly what they WANT.

This would be the al Qaeda version of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Which means that if we do pull out, there really IS an increased chance of a new attack. It also means that as long as we stay in, we're automatically losing. No matter how many people we kill. Because keeping us in is exactly bin Laden's strategic objective. Which Bush is intent on doing, which (from my limited political perspective) sounds a hell of a lot like giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Does anyone out there know the phrase "monkey trap"?

Well, we're the fucking monkey.

Thursday, April 12

Kurt Vonnegut died last night.

God damn it.

Never met him. Never wrote to him. The year I was born, he was writing his fourth novel. When it was published the next year, it sold 500 copies. It was called CAT'S CRADLE.

I don't feel bad for him. I feel bad for me. I feel like I've lost family.

The last lines of "Requiem," the final poem of his last book:

When the last living thing

has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if Earth could say,

in a voice floating up


from the floor

of the Grand Canyon,

"It is done."

People did not like it here.

God damn it.

Friday, March 2

Every Language Snob in the English-speaking world is now cordially invited to kiss my ass.

Remember all those stuck-up horsebutts who've told you, over the years, that there is no English rhyme for "orange"?

The next time some dumbass pulls that, look hiim straight in the eye and say --


Then tell him you stole it from me.

And send me a dollar.

If they want to pretend it's actually pronounced "or-raynj," say:


And send me a dollar.

And if they insist on pronouncing in the French mode -- "or-rahnj" -- say:


And tell them to shut the fuck up.

And, of course, send me a dollar.

Don't forget to inform them that every time THEY use this to embarrass some know-it-less-than-all, they have to send me a dollar, too. And so forth.

No rhyme for orange, my ginger-haired butthole.

Or whatever.
Back on moral clarity . . .

I just read over the final line of my previous post, and I was powerfully struck by the possibility that my insistence on nuance and uncertainty has a great deal to do with boredom.

It is an unavoidable fact that moral clarity in an unambiguous world just isn't very interesting. Or interesting at all.

Oy. Double oy.

As one of the villains in Crowley's MOONCHILD once memorably put it (with an exhausted sigh): "Consciousness is a burden . . ."

On the other hand, i just read an account of a testimonial lunch given in honor of the (now departed) Arthur Schlesinger Jr, the great historian. On that occasion, last December, Schlesinger remarked -- with his customary to-the-bone quotability -- "The future outwits all our certitudes."

Which I'm likely to insert under the title of the next Caine book.

Sunday, February 25


I'm still alive, but buried in work. And play. And generally happy about it, which is a switch.

Tip for the aspiring writer: write things that make your [gender-appropriate portions of anatomy] hard, and fuck the rest. Don't try to be like somebody else. Tell it your way, and be as honest as you can with exactly why it warms your shorts, both with yourself and in the tale itself.

Remember: not all honest writing is good, but all good writing is honest.

And post your own version of the Frameshift Oath somewhere you can see it, so you never forget.

[The Frameshift Oath, for those of you who don't hang at the forums I hang at, runs like this:

I Swear by the Power of All Dark Gods that I Will Write Every Fucking Word Balls-Out for Glory.]

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is my attempt to get the EU back to its pre-Zahn roots -- specifically, to evoke memories of my all-time favorite Star Wars books, Brian Daley's Han Solo novels. Sure, it'll be violent and somewhat broody and all (it's the Popeye Thing: I yam what I yam) but generally it's gonna be -- in the words of My Favorite Writer -- a pop-top can of 100% pure Grade-A whipass.

Sorry I never got back with the Siren Call of Moral Clarity thing . . . but I realized (though I do have things to say on this particular lust, as I suffer from it myself) that fundamentally, moral clarity bores the shit out of me.

Wednesday, January 24


A deafening silence from the Moral Certainty tubthumpers. How about that?

Y'know, Nicholas Kristof of the NYTimes had a nicely turned phrase in his column comparing Bush to Ahab of MOBY-DICK fame:

"The siren call of moral clarity."

Which got me thinking about just exactly what seems to be so seductive about it, and what kind of people are so easily seduced that they will cheerfully ignore reality.

More on that later; I have to get to work.

As for the couple of folks who claim that firefighters, cops and soldiers risk their lives out of moral conviction, I say: Pshaw.

Love, compassion and courage are related only peripherally to moral conviction, clarity or certainty. I don't need moral certainty to dive into freezing water or dodge among speeding traffic to save an endangered child (or even some drunken asshole who staggered the wrong direction). Shit, I'd do the same for a dog or a cat. But not for a squirrel or a raccoon. Well, maybe a raccoon. Or a coyote. But not for squirrels, opossums, or deer.

That's not a moral distinction; it's just a matter of taste.

Hmp. On reflection: it srikes me that many of our Tubthumper Moral Clarity Elite are really only trying to elevate their tastes to the status of Laws of God. More on that later, too.

Saturday, January 20

Goldberg responds:

A few quick points (well, okay, neither few nor quick -- but I hope you might find them worth reading nonetheless):

1.) Notice how his first, and only, idea is to attempt to denigrate and devalue me and my position without addressing any single argument. Without answering a single question, or even attempting to defend, say, his preposterous characterization of Socrates. ("I am the wisest of men, for I know that I know nothing.")

2.) I never accused him of believing, or even suggesting, that all moral certainty is always right; I accused him of shoddy scholarship in his examples, of using cheap straw men to pretend he's answering a real objection, and (by implication, anyway) of displaying, in a single column, nearly every negative intellectual characteristic of "moral certainty" short of advocating actual political oppression or violence.

3.) I do not feel threatened by any defense of moral certainty. I feel that our nation, and the world, is threatened by ignoramuses who act out of moral certainty. My objection to Mr. Goldberg's article was not that it was in defense of "moral certainty," though I find the whole concept intellectually bankrupt. My objection was to his misrepresentation of fact, and his substitution of slogan for argument, and his smears of anyone who might take issue with him (exactly, by the way, what he accuses his opponents of doing).

Breathtaking arrogance, indeed.

4.) The anonymous example of his "lot of email like this" is unfortunate, but hardly unexpected. My skill (or lack thereof) as a writer, which he takes care to insult, is actually irrelevant to any point in my original email. Nothing I said was predicated on my being anything other than the author of the Episode III novelization. My objections are based on the flaws in his positions, not on any presumed Authority as a Great Writer. Which flaws, I cannot resist pointing out once more, he apparently can't be troubled to explain away, or defend in any manner beyond a variation of the schoolyard classic: "Oh, what do you know anyway, you four-eyed dork?"

As for the opinion of the anonymous "fan," my vanity demands I point out that every major publication which reviewed my book disagrees with this anonymous person's assessment.

All is vanity, y'know. The Bible says so.

5.) If he (and his nameless supposed "email correspondent") knew half as much about my business as I know about theirs, they both would have realized that the scripts he has linked linked to his blog actually underwent considerable editing and redaction in the shooting process. Those may be shooting scripts; they are not transcripts of the actual film.

6.) As for the idea that I am misrepresenting what Obi-wan and Yoda trained Luke to do:

There's still good in him.

I also thought he could be turned back to the
good side. It couldn't be done. He is more
machine now than man. Twisted and evil.

I can't do it, Ben.

You cannot escape your destiny.

The anonymous fan may very well find some contorted way to pretend that Obi-Wan isn't telling Luke to kill him . . . but if that's the case, why would Obi-Wan not correct Luke's obvious misperception?

Especially, for example, a few lines later:

I can't kill my own father.

Then the Emperor has already won. You were
our only hope.

I am forced to wonder if Mr. Goldberg presented his supposed point in an "anonymous email" because he knew the "point" is a conscious, fully intentional and malicious lie. This is, at the very least, another example of Mr. Goldberg refusing to do the most minimal homework to support any of his positions.

But then, he doesn't have to have a reason to hold a position, does he? Fact is irrelevant in the face of his "moral certainty."

7.) The contention that Mr. Lucas had been, even in the Original Trilogy, a staunch advocate of moral certainty can be disposed of with reference to that exact scene, viz.:

Luke, you're going to find that many of the
truths we cling to depend greatly on our own
point of view.

Now, I confess I can't actually remember if that line ever appeared in the film; however, it does indeed appear in the script to which Mr. Goldberg has posted a link. Which seems to reinforce my suspicion that Mr. Goldberg must be too intellectually lazy to spend five minutes on the Internet to make sure he has his facts straight. Or to discover if he has any facts at all.

8.) Please observe that I am devoting this post to answering his points, and highlighting the misrepresentation and general shoddiness of his "response." It's unfortunate that he has not seen fit to respond in a dignified fashion, but perhaps that was inevitable; when one can't attack the argument, all one has left is to attack the arguer.

9.) If my response to his response leaves anyone (including Mr. Goldberg) with an impression I am attacking him ad hominem, they are mistaken; any unflattering characterization of him in the post above is simply the result of reasoning from available evidence.

Moving on:

I would like to point out a couple of really offensive rhetorical tactics that cropped up in the comments section below that original post.

I'm not going to worry about the ones from people too gutless to sign them; I've deleted those posts already. However, there are others, which I am leaving above their byline, because I think they're indicative of the disease of "moral certainty."

"Ah, I think I begin to see. Another anti-Semite and seeing the name Goldberg set you aflame."

This is possibly the most insulting thing anyone has ever written about me on this blog (which is really saying something, as frequent readers will already know). If the author of this post as any evidence to support this incredibly stupid and inflammatory assertion, I invite him or her to post it. Otherwise, I invite him or her to apologize.

The poster goes on:

"I think you would prefer that Israel did nothing and allowed innocent civilians be killed because somehow in your twisted mind they deserve it.

You probably think the US deserved 9/11 don't you?"

Again: post evidence that supports this opinion, suspicion, or whatever you want to call it. Or apologize. Or future posts will be deleted without comment.

It's tempting to speculate why this poster uses a handle; I have noticed it's easier to be an asshole when you're pretending to be somebody else.

Me, I can be an asshole under my own name. Because I'm not a fucking coward.
Hi, everybody.

Just so you can't say you heard it somewhere else first:

I delivered a draft of CAINE BLACK KNIFE the week before Christmas. I've been keeping a lid on it because I still haven't heard an official reaction from my editor.

But my agent liked it.

I'm not thrilled with this story, as it stands. The individual scenes are better, I think, than anything else I've done, and the structure is ambitious, to say the least . . . but the ambitious structure has necessitated some internal compromises that I'm unhappy about. Which I know means fuck all to any of you, but the point is that this particular delivery is not yet cause for celebration. Once my editor, the estimable Chris Schleup, has had a chance to help me whip it into shape, I'll be considerably more cheerful.

Meanwhile: [a subdued] woo-hoo . . .

Saturday, January 6

This is where I sprain my arm patting myself on the back . . .

From the comments a couple posts ago:


Matt, I thought that these things might interest you:

My final project in English this semester is an essay centered around "Getting Away From it All." We could choose any novel we saw fit. I chose Blade of Tyshalle and developed the argument about how most of the novel is Caine's struggle to free himself from the limitations he had set for himself as Hari.

I earned an A. I might add it was the only A anyone received on the paper. And I feel quite confident in asserting that it was not my because of my writing that I got an was the book. So I owe you some thanks.

Also, I have lent my copy of Heroes Die to 9 people, all of whom are promptly going out to buy Blade. Just thought you'd be interested to know that your fan-base is ever growing and that you've shaped and changed many people's lives.

Including mine.

-Ryan Anningson
# posted by r.e.anningson : 2:33 PM


In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Ryan and I have corresponded a few times, and that I have always found him to be brilliant, scholarly, highly literate and in possession of impeccable taste.

But you knew that.

Here's the actual point: I really do try to change the world, one reader at a time. This is why, as the estimable Bob Urell trenchantly observed, my books don't hold your hand and drag you toward my point (or even my point of view); I really do try to just tell a story, and let each reader decide for himself (or herself -- Jenn, put down that knife!) what it means, or if it means anything at all. Because, try as I might to change the world, I can't control what it changes into, you follow? And trying to impose control on the world is the real path to the dark side.

Look at Darth Cheney, for example.

The coolest thing about my participation in STAR WARS ON TRIAL was that it gave me a chance to state baldly my fundamental beliefs about the nature of good storytelling (along with ruthlessly needling David Brin for a couple hundred pages).

Like here:

In all his talk of examining premises, and all the things that SF and fantasy and Literature in General Should Do For You, it seems to me that Opposing Counsel has been dragging around an unexamined premise of his own, a somewhat Puritan hand-me-down that needs to be dragged from the closet and shaken out in the sunlight every once in a while, because the mold that grows on it can choke art to death.

It's this notion that art has to be Good For You. That beauty is insufficient, and truth irrelevant, unless there's also some Crunchy Whole-Grain Goodness that's gonna Improve Your Psychic Bowel-Function along the way.

Opposing Counsel's view seems -- from my admittedly only semi-educated perspective -- to be a more limited case of this notion: that art should somehow serve as a comforting social glue. That it should shore up the values of our culture. Or -- as he likes to put it -- our civilization. That any work of art which does not do this -- which presents any other way of living one's life, or which might even, all gods forbid, actually criticize one or more of Our Mutual Sacred Values -- is . . . well, somehow wrong. Bad. Or, as the Soviets used to say, decadent.

Now, I'm not gonna claim he's wrong. There's an argument to be made there. I just think he oughta make it, instead of simply assuming everybody agrees with him.

Because I don't. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

And here:

I avoid stating the "core lessons" of any work of art, for two reasons. The first is that I don't believe the function of art is to teach me a lesson; the second is that such pursuits always result in gross oversimplification. As I advise young writers (advice I once received from a writer older and far wiser than myself): "If you can state your theme in a sentence, don't write a story. Rent a billboard."

And, finally, here:

Now, I have to tell you something about what I mean by Truth, too. I'm not talking about engineer's truth, here: the kind of truth that is visible by microscope, measurable by laser balance, or quantifiable by any contortion of mathematics. That kind of truth is commonly referred to as fact, and as such has no need for the upper case T. There is another, dicier aspect of reality also commonly referred to as truth, and that is the kind that we turn to courts and juries to decide. These are truths that are still describable in plain language, but about which there may be legitimate disagreement, because they can't be reduced to straightforward observation, or measurement. Guilt or innocence, proportional blame -- these are what we call decidable questions. Ones that have more-or-less final answers. That's what we're pretending we're up to here. But we're just pretending.
Because that's still lower-case truth.
When you get to Truth, in the upper case, you face questions of meaning. Maybe I should say Meaning. Upper-Case Truth deals with Who We Are, and What It All Means.
That's when direct language begins to fail. Closing in on that kind of Truth, direct statement falters on asymptotic approach -- the closer you get, the less useful it becomes. You need imagery to even get into the atmosphere, and metaphor for landing gear.
Which brings us back to Star Wars.
Because upper-case Truth is the real subject of Star Wars. Not who we might be, or what might happen someday, or what ought to happen or what we should worry about happening in the future. Star Wars isn't about the future.
There's a reason why the whole Saga takes place "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . ."
It's not anchored in time or place. It's not about some other galaxy. It's not about the future, or about 1977, or 1980, or '83, 1999, 2002 or 2005. It's about wherever is here, and whenever is now.
. . .
Star Wars is about Big Questions.
That's why we bother.
This is why it's worth your time to bother, too:
Because when you get to Truth, you don't get (pacé Regis Philbin) any final answers. You can't measure it, and you can't trust a jury of your peers to decide the question.
Only you can decide what it means, because in the end, what it means . . . is what it means to you.

If you substitute the phrase "my books" for the phrase "Star Wars," you can get a pretty good idea what I'm after. Which brings me back around (the long way -- call it the scenic route) to Ryan's essay.

Because what he got from it isn't what I put into it. It's what HE put into it.

In my mind, I wasn't writing on that subject -- but I was lucky enough to spark his imagination, so that he was participating in the creation of meaning and interpretation. So I get credit for his brains. See?

That means I win.

Thursday, January 4

On learning that Keith Ellison, D-Minn, the United States' first Muslim Congressman, will take his oath of office on a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson, I am put in mind of one of the inscriptions within the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.:

Taken from a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800 --

Almighty God hath created the mind free . . . All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens . . . are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion . . . No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.

I believe that pretty well sums it up.

Wednesday, January 3

I guess I'm feeling better.

Dear Mr. Goldberg:

Please excuse the late arrival of this email in response to your column on "Certainty" that apparently appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 28th of last year. I don't read the Tribune (and I'd be unlikely to read your column if I did), but my mother sent me your column as a clipping, since you bring up STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH. My own connection to that project is well-known, by those with any knowledge of the subject whatsoever; since you are apparently not one of these, it may profit you to Google my name.

I say you are apparently not one of these, because if you were you would know that neither Mr. Lucas, nor any of the films did, in fact, maintain "that the entire Universe is divided into light and dark sides." A somewhat more sophisticated commentator might remember that no one in the films speak of any such thing as "a light side," and that the dual-valued moral certainty whose loss you bemoan was never in fact present at all; this moral conviction was exclusively the province of the Jedi, who, even in the original trilogy, are portrayed as being consistently wrong. A simple example (among many possible such) is that the young hero's mentors both insist his sole purpose in life is to slay his father; but (as all Star Wars fans and most everyone else who was alive in a Western nation during the 80s can tell you) it was Luke Skywalker's rejection of Obi-Wan and Yoda's flawed moral certainty that saves the day. Instead of killing his father, he forgives him -- he offers human understanding and love to the icon of Evil -- and thus triumphs. Insidious moral relativism, no doubt, but the only hackery on display here is that of a columnist too lazy to do his homework.

However, though it was Star Wars that brought your column to my attention, your offhand misrepresentation of Mr. Lucas's work is not my main objection to your column. It is the succession of mistakes, misstatements and what seem to be outright lies. Your assertion of intellectual dishonesty in the critics of absolutism is an insult to whatever intelligence might remain in regular readers of your column; did you actually ask Anthony Lewis that question, and get that response? Have you asked Andrew Sullivan? Barack Obama? Me? (Well, okay, I'll let you slide on that last one.)

Before bringing Socrates into a discussion, for example, you might consider actually reading Plato (or at least Wikipedia); your characterization of Socrates as a man of absolute moral conviction is, quite frankly, entirely false. Thomas More is only a hero to some; to others, he's a dangerous anti-Protestant polemicist and an advocate of Papal control over affairs of sovereign nations. Your speculation as to FDR's motivations is similarly ill-informed. Men of great conviction tend to be more monster than hero, beginning with Joshua ben Nun and running by way of Pericles up to John Brown, Kaiser Wilhem, Rasputin, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao tse Tung . . . You can count heroes of conviction on one hand. Monsters of conviction you couldn't count using all the hairs on your head. I strongly advise you to read more and write less -- unless you are wholly incapable of shame.

"The fact is that unless you know where you stand, it's unlikely you'll have the courage to understand where someone else is coming from."

Leaving aside your misuse of the word "fact" (something else you might try looking up), is there any conceivable support for this preposterous assertion? Did you even read this inanity before allowing it to slip into print under your byline?

As to our supposed certainty that murder is wrong, does that certainty extend to, say, Osama bin Laden? Would you fight to save his life against US Special Forces bent on finding and killing him? How about Saddam Hussein? (And don't try to pretend Hussein wasn't murder; there was nothing lawful about either his trial or his execution.) Have you written a number of columns blasting Israel's use of targeted assinations? If racism is always bad, then why aren't you writing column after column insisting that Israel return all the land stolen from the Palestinians? Is it your position that all Palestinians should be made full citizens of Israel? If you don't advocate these things, how is that not racist? Should Ted Kaczynski's parents have loved him unconditionally (in fact, I believe they did, which is a strong argument against the absolute moral value of unconditional parental love)? If, say, Osama bin Laden's father was shielding and supporting his son out of unconditional love, would you applaud his moral uprightness?

Bear in mind that I am not "dismissing your ideas out of hand." I'm simply trying to elucidate a few of your false assertions, to illuminate your army of straw men, and to castigate the intellectual bankruptcy of your "arguments."

"Close-minded" does not, and has never, meant "people who disagree with me." "Close-minded" refers to people who are so smug in their self-righteous ignorance that they simply can't be bothered about facts.

Does that sound like anyone you know personally?

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto