The Illusion of Lineages

family tree with Neandertal component © www.family-tree-template.org
© www.family-tree-template.org

Recently, I became conscious of a tendency I have to think that I am part of a ‘lineage’: an instinctive feeling that I am on a path, with my ancestors behind me and, if I had children, that they would be on the path before me, walking into the future, with further on, further than I can see, more of my descendants. I suspect that this is not an uncommon way to think, but if so, I believe it to be a misconception—perhaps an unfortunate one—for various reasons.

We all know that, behind us, our ancestors proliferate exponentially.  We humans are famously bad at appreciating exponential growth.  The fable about the inventor of chess comes to mind. When asked by the Emperor what they wanted as a reward, they said a grain of rice on the first square of the board, two on the second, four on the third and so on. Is that all? asked the Emperor—not realising that he was being asked for enough rice, so the tale goes, to cover the whole of India up to the waists of its inhabitants.

We each experience our family as if we were standing in a spotlight. Our parents, our siblings and our children are fully in the light with us. Also with us are our grandparents, our grandchildren and the children of our siblings. If we are lucky, great grandparents, great grandchildren, the grandchildren of our siblings, stand, half-lit, at the edge of the circle of light. We may even be able to just make out our great-great grandparents as shadowy figures beyond the circle of our experience and memory.

That I might assume that I stand on any sort of line of descent might be because of the way generations follow each other in a somewhat regular, stepwise fashion. But, there is no line—only six generations back, we each have sixty-four ancestors, each contributing 1.5% of our genome, which is the same amount as each non-African carries of Neandertal DNA.

There are other sources for the conceit of a ‘lineage’, not least, ones that are related to inheritance of power, status and wealth—a line of royal descent, for example—but are these attempts to draw a line of descent more than an arbitrary or ideological choosing of one from a nearly infinite number of possible lines?

That I thought of myself as being part of a ‘lineage’ now seems to me not only fanciful, but harmful too: lineages suggest that families are moving along separate, parallel tracks, that some people are fated to good fortune or to bad, that the childless are not contributing to the future.

Isn’t the truth that we each emerge from a mass of ancestors we know next to nothing about, even as our descendants are destined to disappear into a mass of people that we can know nothing about? There are no lineages, just a mass of genes from which we leap, momentarily, like a dolphin out of the sea, only to disappear once more beneath its waves.

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 Wise

a Sapient of the Wise

The Wise are the third Power of the Great Balance. It is they who administer the Commonwealth as well as enforcing the statutes of the Law-that-must-be-obeyed.

Their power is obtained at the cost of terrible mutilations:

“They are in our world only by their skin. When they have achieved the highest wisdom allowed to those with eyes and ears, they are locked away. Eyes are sliced out, like a stone from a peach. The red spirals of their hearing are cored from their heads and the fleshy shells shorn off. Caustic inhalations destroy their smelling, and afterwards the useless meat of their nose is discarded. Their tongues are harvested like the saffron of a crocus. Once his mutilations are complete, a Sapient is left only feet and hands as the primary organs of his perception. Remote from seductive sensation, they can be entrusted with the deeper secrets. In the caverns of their cool, uncluttered minds they measure the currents of our vast world minutely” quote from The Chosen

Their hands appear cloven from the removal of the knuckle and middle finger of each hand, so that when they splay their hands, they automatically make the ‘sign of the horns’

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.

Subscribe to my Newsletter