The Wheel of Time

Recently, I finished reading the last book in the Wheel of Time series. While walking home, I saw a copy of the book in a Free Library on my street and picked it up. I was reminded that I hadn’t yet finished the last book, and felt an immediate compulsion to do so.

I read the first book over 18 years ago, while on a student exchange in Japan. The book was a gift, and I brought it with me across the ocean tucked in my luggage. Doing so was costly, as I had to give up precious clothing space.  Being 16 and on my own in Japan had a profound effect on me, and so did the first book of the series, The Eye of The World.

The story is an epic high fantasy with hundreds of characters, different cultures, unique creatures, and a world incredibly rich in details. The books have over 10,000 pages in total, containing more that 4 million words. The first book was published in 1990 but sadly the author didn’t live to finish the series. Robert Jordan died in 2007, but left an extensive set of notes so the books could be finished.

Knowing the themes as well as I do, his death fits oddly well with his writings. Below is the first paragraph of the first book:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, and Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of time.

But it was a beginning.

The Wheel of Time deals with cycles. Death and rebirth, the balance of light and dark, the internal struggle we all deal with day to day. The theme of a beginning rather than the beginning is pervasive and repeated over and over.

I’m still trying to parse the final words of the series:

There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the tuning of the Wheel of Time.

But it was an ending.

In 4 million words, this was the first time an ending was explicitly mentioned. On the last sentence, on the last page, of the last book with the author long dead.

When I think about that, I’m filled with loss and hope at the same time. It seems to me this is exactly what the author was trying to convey the entire time.

Little Brother

I’ve had Little Brother by Cory Doctorow on my shelf for quite some time. I’ve shied away from it because it was written for younger audiences and I’m a big strong literary genius. I’m obviously not a literary genius and Little Brother is an amazing novel. It’s 1984 light, set in a parallel, almost present day San Francisco. The Amazon description is as follows:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

The terrorist attack is there only to set the stage and isn’t really talked about. It’s for the best really, as the attack isn’t the scary part, it’s our reaction. I say “our” reaction because the real world has followed many of the steps that takes place in the book. The goal of terrorism is to push an agenda with the use of terror. In Little Brother, fear come from Homeland Security, not foreign attacks. Those who where sent to protect San Francisco cause more terror than the initial attack. So it is in real life; there is so much security in today’s world, yet you only have a 1.28% chance of dying in violence and war. Diarrhea is at 3.15. The worlds population is twice as likely to die shitting themselves than being killed in violence. It’s not about what’s dangerous, but what’s perceived to be dangerous. We focus on the wrong things.

Little Brother is a world where we see what happens when the protection of people is the most important thing. More important than privacy, due process, the law and common sense. The argument used in the book is, if you are innocent, you have nothing to hide. Of course, that’s the same argument governments are making right now.

Maybe we don’t have anything to hide, but there are things we wish people didn’t know. Losing privacy means losing the ability to make a mistake and move on. If everything is on record there are no second chances. If every step is watched, no one will ever step out of line again. That’s a world in fear.

Little Brother was published in 2008. Before anyone heard of Bradly Manning or Edward Snowden and where people who claimed the government was listening to your phones were called crazy. That is no longer the case. Our lives are already no longer our own. It’s easy to find examples where unrelated events are dug up and used against us. (onetwothreefourfive) The government knows where you are, who your friends with, what you buy and what you are going to buy in the future. Little Brother is a quick look into what our world looks like when it’s used against you.