The final book of the Second Edition released

The Third God

I am delighted to announce that The Third God, the seventh and final book of the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, is now available on any Amazon store as an ebook, and as a paperback from a more limited number of stores. I published it on the 21st of December, the winter solstice—well, it sort of happened over two days because I had all kinds of technical problems with the ebook. (Basically, I upgraded to a new MacOS, and the software I use wouldn’t produce an ebook, so that I had to fire up an old laptop yada yada…)

I hope that you like the cover—it’s the first ‘proper’ picture I have attempted for decades. It’s not as ‘finished’ as some of the images on the earlier covers, but it seems to me to convey more ‘feeling’. Given the context of the story, I see it—by contrast with, for example, the cover of The Mirror Breaks—as a tearing away of the mask to reveal the reality beneath.

So, the thoroughly revised, leaner and cleaner text of The Third God, with its completely new initial chapter, brings the Second Edition to a close. It has been a massive undertaking, but one that I felt compelled to pursue. I hope you will feel that it has been worthwhile.

I commend to you The Third God.

Seventh book of the Second Edition a bit delayed

I had intended to launch the seventh and final book of the Second Edition of the Stone Dance in November, alas I only received the copyedited text two days ago. There are a lot of corrections, and I need to put them in carefully, but I am reasonably confident that I will still be able to publish before the year is out.

Meanwhile, I have drawn a new map that I felt was needed to enhance the experience of reading the seventh book. I have also been working on a cover for The Third God—I thought you might appreciate a sneak preview.

It’s been a marathon getting this to you, and I won’t stop pushing for the finish line.

the sixth book of the Second Edition released

I am delighted to announce that The Mirror Breaks, the sixth book, of the seven that will constitute the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, is now available on any Amazon store as an ebook, and as a paperback from a more limited number of stores. I published it on the 23rd October—but have waited until I was sure that both editions are available to announce them.

The final book is nearing completion, and I am confident that I will have it out by the beginning of December this year—perhaps in late November. There is a lot to do before it’s ready. It is currently being copyedited. Also, I have drawn a new map for it that I feel will deepen your enjoyment of the book, and I will soon start on a new cover—the first proper piece of artwork I have done in MANY years!

The thoroughly revised, leaner and cleaner text of The Mirror Breaks, with its completely new initial chapter, will see Carnelian initiate an apocalypse that will envelope all those he loves…

I commend to you The Mirror Breaks.

the fifth book of the Second Edition released

I am delighted to announce that Dragon Fire, the fifth book, of the seven that will constitute the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, is now available on any Amazon store as an ebook, and as a paperback from a more limited number of stores. I published it on the 25th August. The final two books are nearing completion, and I am confident that I will have them both out by November this year.

This new volume begins the ramp up to the coming apocalypse…

I commend to you Dragon Fire.

Lobsang Rampa and what we choose to believe

When I was perhaps 14, I was intrigued with books by Lobsang Rampa, but I could only afford to buy very few books with my pocket money, and so I would buy another Asimov.

Leafing through one of those Lobsang Rampa books, I recall reading about the mummified bodies of giants hidden under the Potala Palace in Lhasa. I don’t know whether I knew anything much about Tibet then, or whether, indeed, it was this that kindled my interest. Certainly, throughout my life, an abiding fascination for Tibet has lurked in the back of my mind. It was invoked in Ayesha: the Return of She, H. Rider Haggard’s sequel to She—though I read that much later. It haunted me with visions of Shangri-La; though I only read Lost Horizon by James Hilton (another bestseller fantasy about Tibet) relatively recently, and watched (or re-watched? how else did I know about it?) the 1937 film by Frank Capra. Even as the Dalai Lama became an accessible celebrity, those giants under the Potala lurked in my unconscious; I still hold on to a notion of a Tibet that is inaccessible and hidden from the world—even though the Chinese have built a railway to Lhasa, and Tibet is exposed to the outside world, so that it would seem there is no longer anywhere for any of these sorts of mysteries to hide.

So, today, I was watching a spurious, though entertaining—fascinating, even—YouTube documentary about ‘Hollow Earth’ theories. None of it made much sense, but the narration was so earnest, and the ideas—bonkers as they are—so fascinating, and then Lobsang Rampa was mentioned, bringing him back into my mind, more than 40 years on, and I decided to look him up on wikipedia.

And what did I discover but that Lobsang Rampa was actually a Cyril Hoskin, a school dropout born in Devon, the son of a village plumber. This was the man who had written these books. When unmasked by a private detective (yes, really!), Hoskin claimed that his body was now occupied by the spirit of a Tibetan lama—Lobsang Rampa.

Hoskin’s books were bestsellers, and many people who went on to become academic Tibetologists and buddhologists said that “it was a fascination with the world Rampa described that had led them to become professional scholars of Tibet”. The same professor who discovered this added that, when he gave The Third Eye (Hoskin’s most famous book) to a class of his at the University of Michigan, without telling them about its provenance, the students were “unanimous in their praise of the book and, despite six prior weeks of lectures and readings on Tibetan history and religion, they found it entirely credible and compelling; judging it more realistic than anything they had previously read about Tibet.”

So, it seems that I was not the only one who had his views of Tibet formed by Mr Hoskin.

Even the Dalai Lama has apparently admitted that, although Hoskin’s books were fictitious, they had created good publicity for Tibet.

All of this seems to me to point to a rather interesting—alarming, even—characteristic of human beings: we believe that which we want to believe. In this case, many of us have become captivated—have fallen victim to—a mirage of Tibet that we cling to so tightly, that when a plumber from Devon spins fantasies of the place, they become bestsellers and reinforce, in the minds of many people, a collective hallucination of that land so appealing, that it eclipses its reality.

Beyond this, my other examples seem to have a common theme: things being interpreted through a white perspective. Hoskin, a white man, masquerading as a Tibetan Lama. Ayesha, a white woman, lording it over savages in Africa and then Tibet. In Shangri-La, white people stumble into a mysterious valley hidden somewhere in the Himalayas. Though this valley is ruled by lamas, it turns out that their head is a white Frenchman, who also masquerades as a Tibetan.

I am reminded of an interview I watched recently with the boxer Muhammad Ali, in which he riffed on how, growing up, everything white was good, everything black was bad. He pointed out something that, to me growing up seemed perfectly natural, Tarzan, a white man in Africa, was the one who understood the animals and could communicate with them, when the black men all around him could not.

All this could be seen as colonialism, racism even. More innocently, we could see this as just white people doing what people everywhere else do: interpreting the ‘exotic other’ through their own cultural forms and experiences. I grew up on this sort of storytelling—it illuminated my childhood and fed the growth of my imagination—how can I regret that? Even the Dalai Lama—with his characteristic grace—apparently said that Lobsang Rampa/Hoskin had benefited Tibet.

This said, now that we are all growing up from this sort of ‘innocence’, it is time to set aside this sort of white self-obsession, to put aside these distorting fantasies, to make an effort to see everyone in the world as they really are.

the fourth book of the Second Edition released

I am delighted to announce that The Darkness Under The Trees, the fourth book, of the seven that will constitute the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, is now available on any Amazon store as an ebook, and as a paperback from a more limited number of stores. I published it on the 20th June to mark the Summer solstice—the midpoint of the Second Edition, at the midpoint of the year of its release.

This fourth volume is the shortest of the seven for the same reason that the third is the longest—because the natural point to split the First Edition Standing Dead lies well beyond its midpoint.

Feeling that this volume requires a map of the Upper Reach, I have cobbled one together in the style of Neil Gower’s other maps.

This new volume is the dark heart of the Second Edition. I have sought to enhance it with a rather disturbing new opening chapter.

I commend to you The Darkness Under The Trees.

the third book of the Second Edition released

I am delighted to announce that The Standing Dead, the third book, of the seven that will constitute the Second Edition of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, is now available on any Amazon as an ebook, and as a paperback from a more limited number of Amazon stores. It was published on the 10th May, in memory of my father, on his birthday. It was meant to be published on the 11th April at Eastercon in Birmingham, but Covid-19 obliterated that convention and with it all my plans. Ho hum.

So far, this virus has not affected me too badly—I’ve been self-isolating for years! It is an anxious time, though—and likely to get worse before it gets better. Wherever you are, I hope that you and yours are keeping safe from this virus.

You will find this third volume noticeably longer than the others—a consequence of where I felt the natural break to be in the First Edition Standing Dead.

Though the Stone Dance was originally written in three volumes—unconsciously, I followed the six ‘book’ structure of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as I (and so many other fantasy authors) did his three volume structure. Things having been otherwise, my First Edition would have thus broken neatly into six ‘books’. However, under pressure from my publishers to finish the First Edition Standing Dead, I concluded that second volume earlier than I had planned. As a consequence, the third volume of the First Edition, The Third God, ended up being a monster. Containing matter originally intended to be in The Standing Dead, it quite naturally divides into three ‘books’—and so, Tolkien’s six book structure became the seven books of this Second Edition.

I commend to you the new edition of The Standing Dead. Happy reading!

Carnelian stands up for publishing freedom

I’ve changed the cover of The Chosen, volume two of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. I was working on the cover for volume six, when I noticed that the cover for volume 2 didn’t sit comfortably with the others: the image sat too low on the page. I experimented a bit, and created the new cover you see here. Comparing the new with the old, I hope that you will agree that the new cover is a great improvement. It is as if Carnelian, who was crouching, decided to stand up.

This seems to me a good example of how profoundly different the brave new world of self-publishing is; there is no way you could have made this change in traditional publishing. For one thing, you would have a large number of books already printed sitting in a warehouse somewhere. In such a scenario, it would be utter madness to change the cover—you would have to pulp all the existing print run and go through the vast expense of doing a new one.

What this demonstrates is that self-publishing has transformed books from being static entities, to being dynamic and fluid ones. For a digital book, this is unsurprising—even though most ebooks are still produced according to the logic of traditional publishing—but for a paper book this is a game-changing consequence of the near-miraculous technological leap that is print on demand.

The various technologies enabling self-publishing, have moved the book from being a bespoke ‘construction’—whose economic logic depends on mass production—to being something more akin to a software application—and this can even be true for the modern paper book. You may not have noticed, but my Second Edition Stone Dance books have already been updated several times—The Masters is currently at version 2.0g. The corrections I’ve made are subtle, but I am gradually perfecting each book, the way software developers do their apps.

There is an interesting coda to this little tale, and that concerns the value of books. Previously, when we bought a book, it would be one of a print run of thousands. With the process I’m describing, each edition may have several ‘versions’; so that the copy of a paper book that you own is likely to be one of a far smaller number of identical artefacts. Those of you who have a copy of The Chosen with the previous cover, now own a rare edition of which there were only a relatively few ever printed—there will never be any more books identical to the one you hold in your hand.

Continuing this theme of rarity, I have selected seven names, from a hat, from the people on my mailing list, to send one of seven proofs of The Chosen as a keepsake. These seven books are rare enough in themselves—each is one of eight (I’m keeping one for myself)—but four of them are even more unique, in that the colours on their covers are substantially different. If you want to see if you have won one of these proofs, please watch the video below.

I hope the winners will understand that, given the current lockdown with the Covid-19 virus, I’m not sure when I will be able to post them to you.

Keep safe.

some thoughts on Herbert’s Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert has been, and still is, an inspiration to me. That it should still be read by so many people—more than fifty years after its publication—is a testament to its greatness. I would suggest that a major factor underlying this success is how skilfully Herbert plundered history. He did not, as so many writers do, merely break European Medieval history into a handful of pieces and reassemble them to make his story—instead he took hold of a far greater spread of history, both in time and space, and, smashing this into fragments, put together a mosaic that forms a wholly original and distinctive creation.

His noble Houses, with their Landsraad, evoke the Germanic princely states of the Holy Roman Empire; it stands in stark contrast to the rise of Paul Atreides from the desert that, in language and sentiment, resembles that of Mohammed in Arabia. This is not simply history thinly disguised. The Emperor in Dune rejoices in the Persian title Padishah, Great King—a title of ancient usage in Asia; a title adopted by the Ottoman Sultans who, with their Sardaukar-like Janissaries, were a terror to the Germanic princes of Austria, but also held sway over Islamic Arabia.

The Bene Gesserit, with their Reverend Mothers, have an odour of the Catholic Church—more specifically the Jesuits—but the esoterica of their Weirding way takes in not only the martial arts of the East, but the sublime mystical powers attributed to Tibetan Lamas and Zen Buddhists.

This heady mix is enriched by the ingenious and central fixation with spice that parallels, in its economic power, the petroleum that similarly arises from the sands of the Land of the Prophet. Its cinnamon scent betrays the two thousand year old European obsession with Eastern spices, as well as evoking Yemeni frankincense that bled the Roman Empire of its gold. That this should, as oil does, power the transport systems essential to civilization, is a brilliant subversion, especially when one considers that, in the Dune universe, the Navigators effect this through an extreme addiction to that substance. This addiction extends throughout Herbert’s world and eventually to the Messiah Muad’dib himself. Spice thus somewhat subsumes the role of cocaine and heroin in our world.

Such a brilliant restitching of history gives Dune a relevance today perhaps even greater than when it was written. Herbert could not have imagined the means by which Bin Laden and his successors would attempt to recreate the Caliphate in Baghdad, but when one weaves a tapestry with such well-chosen strands, the result can never lose its power.

This is an updated piece I wrote for a Transworld newsletter some years back.

Phamie Gow releases her Stone Dance music

In 2003, I had only known Phamie for a year, but she had already become a cherished friend. She was only 22 years old then, but had already recorded two CDs of her own compositions; in the intervening years, she has gone on to release many more albums of her own music and to build a successful touring career. She sings and plays the piano, but it was her mastery of the clarsach—the Celtic harp—that caught my ear.

At some point I got the crazed idea of asking her to write a piece for what was my first website. My initial notion was that I wanted something like the court music that the sybling Quenthas play in The Chosen. Being conjoined twins, the Quenthas played with four hands; to emulate their playing, Phamie would have had to overlay two separate tracks.

Fortunately, when I actually came to make the commission, I had the sense to let her do her own thing. I merely asked her to listen to some virginal pieces by William Byrd, some Bach and some Toumani Diabate; a genius of the kora—a now world-famous, traditional harp from Mali.

When Phamie invited me to spend a couple of days with her at a cottage she was looking after in Galloway, I arrived to find that she had composed her first impression of what she chose to name Stone Dance of the Chameleon. Though beautiful, I saw this as only a beginning. I revealed to her some of the deeper themes underlying the Stone Dance, particularly the centrality of the number ‘three’. I went off to cook dinner; when I returned she had already—miraculously—magicked up two more themes to add to the first—each having at its core a triple of notes, in which either the first, second or third are stressed.

Through several more collaborative meetings, the piece evolved to match, somewhat, the structure of my story. One day, she came to see me and played the finished work.

Now, for the first time, she has recorded Stone Dance of the Chameleon and released it across all digital platforms.

I have to confess that, early on, I lost hold of my original goal. The delight, that I derived from collaborating with such a talented musician, became an end in itself. The result is far grander than anything I could have envisaged. It was even played at a recital given for the Dalai Lama.

The single is available on all digital platforms including iTunes and Spotify. Give it a listen and, if you enjoy it, please give it a like and share it to support Phamie.

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