My Watery Bridge Too Far

I’ve talked before about the flying snowman point, the point at which a reader or viewer is no longer willing to suspend disbelief to enjoy a story. There’s a similar thing that happens when certain things are depicted in the narrative, things that are so off putting that they ruin things, or at least leave a sour aftertaste.

I’ve read some people for whom that thing is rape, either survivors who don’t want to relive their trauma or people who just think it’s something that is too casually thrown around in fiction. For my wife it’s animal abuse or neglect. She can rarely push past that, once it comes up. I’ve always thought of myself as tougher than that, able to shrug off anything in the service of a narrative. A reader’s version of a cast iron stomach. Apparently, I was wrong.

Last year my wife and I took our belated honeymoon in Cambodia. It’s a beautiful, historic place, filled with friendly people. But it’s also the scene of one of the worst authoritarian regimes of the 20th Century. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s up to 2 million Cambodians died, either worked to death in a program of rural fixation or outright murdered as enemies of the state.

While we were in Phnom Penh we went to the Killing Fields outside the city, as well as the Tuol Sleng prison, from which many of those doomed people came.


Tuol Sleng is a former school and it’s been left largely in the same condition in which the Vietnamese found it when they rolled into the city in 1979. In fact, rooms in which prisoners were murdered just ahead of the Vietnamese advance still have blood on the walls and ceilings. Of the 17,000 of people sent to Tuol Sleng only a dozen survived (we met one of them). It’s easy enough to be horrified at the place just be using your imagination.

Not that you’re limited to that. Several rooms are given over to exhibits about what went on there. In one room there are implements of torture, as well as paintings done by a survivor of the various torture techniques. Take a look at this picture:


See the painting in the right, behind the rack upon which victims would lay while their fingernails were pulled out? It depicts waterboarding, simulated drowning, which was a crime against humanity when the Khmer Rouge did it, a war crime when the Japanese did it in World War II, but mere an “enhanced interrogation technique” during our glorious War on Terror. Whatever it’s called, it’s torture and the thought that it’s been done in my name turns my stomach.

Which brings me to Channel Blue, a comic sci-fi novel by Jay Martel. In the book a down and out Los Angeles screenwriter, Perry, accidentally learns that the Earth is actually a huge reality TV show run for the benefit of an alien race. Even worse, ratings are down and the show’s been cancelled – in other words, the Earth is to be destroyed. Perry does his best to save it, but each attempts tends to fail miserably and leads to Perry suffering in all kinds of ways.

The other night, while going through another of these episodes (it gets kind of tedious), Perry is identified as a potential terrorist, taken to a secret location, and waterboarded. Not for any good reason (he’s back on his way quickly enough), but, there it is – a depiction of waterboarding in what’s otherwise been a funny, light bit of entertainment. It stopped me cold.

It’s not that I object to any depiction of torture in literature or film. But it’s one thing to depict it as part of a serious work, perhaps shedding light on the brutality of the whole process. It’s quite different to put it in a comedic work even if the act itself wasn’t played for laughs.

But if that’s true, what about one of my favorite books (and others) of all time? Very early on in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the entire planet Earth is destroyed. It’s played completely as a joke – the Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Billions of people are killed. That’s never bothered me – why not?

I think it comes down to realism, oddly enough. Realistically, the Earth is not going to be destroyed, certainly not to make way for a hyperspace bypass by an alien race spouting awful poetry. The idea is so absurd that it’s not worth taking seriously. By contrast, waterboarding of alleged terrorist suspects is something we’ve done, and not in the recent past.

I’ll admit this is probably not a rational response. Most things like this are more visceral than intellectual (although not all). There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as people recognize it. I guess I do now.


Technical Brilliance Only Goes So Far

A few weeks ago my wife and I finally saw Mad Max: Fury Road, the movie that’s risen to the rarified air of awards talk genre pictures seldom see. It’s got an Oscar nod for Best Picture, after all. Although I’m not a huge fan of the old Mad Max flicks, I’m a sci-fi fan, fond of dystopia. My wife’s a big action movie fan. So we’re definitely in what might be the target audience for something like this. Nonetheless, when it was done, we turned to each other and asked:

“Is that it?”

Not that it wasn’t cool. The movie looks gorgeous and George Miller deserves a lot of credit for doing some really insane stunt work using real vehicles and people instead of wallowing in CGI overload. Who wouldn’t want a flamethrower guitar? Or keytar, maybe? I’m a keyboard player, after all. And, yes, it was cool to see such overt feminist overtones in a movie that comes out of a very masculine tradition.

But is that enough?

The best explanation I’ve read as to why Fury Road deserves consideration as one of the best movies of 2015 is from this article by Amanda Marcotte over at Salon. Her argument seems to boil down to it being a great technical achievement:

“Mad Max” is more than just a really good movie. It’s also a wildly innovative movie, one that plays with the very idea of filmmaking itself. The director, George Miller, tore up the book on how to make a movie, taking huge risks in doing so, and ended up making the movie that people could not stop talking about this year.


“Mad Max” barely has a script. There was heavy storyboarding, but in terms of a traditional script for actors to work from, nope. Instead, they filmed for months in the desert, collecting 480 hours of footage (which is three weeks, if you watch non-stop), which was pounded and then refined into a coherent story in the editing bay, with Margaret Sixel, Miller’s wife, at the helm.

As a result, she argues, it’s an

artistic experiment toying with how to use the tools of film-making to tell a story in an entirely different way than we’re used to

that happens to be “fun” and “moving.”

Therein, I guess, lies the rub. I’ll give Fury Road the “fun” label – it certainly wasn’t an experience I wish I hadn’t had when it was over. But I don’t get “moving” from it and, in retrospect, can see where the fact that it “barely has a script” is perhaps a main reason why. It’s not the film is incoherent (which is a credit to the editing work), it just doesn’t make much sense.

The talk about Fury Road reminds me a little of the buzz last year around Boyhood. It, too, was a great movie making experiment, filmed over years in order to capture the main character aging into adulthood. However, I remember, amidst the plaudits, that some critics dared to suggest that, at the end of the day, the finished product wasn’t all that captivating. Still, the audacity of its making carried it a long way.

Technical achievement is worth celebrating, but it’s not the be all and end all of art. Progressive rock, more than most subgenres of popular music, values instrumental mastery – it lionizes people who can play. That being said, there’s still something to be said for avoiding the “too many notes” trap). A flurry of sound might be impressive, but is it interesting or moving? Not necessarily.

So it goes with literature. Clever wordplay and narrative structure that defies common sense can be daring experiments and produce new ways of telling stories. But at the end of the day, if the story itself doesn’t connect with readers, it’s a lot of flash that, in the end, doesn’t produce much heat.

Same thing with movies. Fury Road is, without a doubt, technically impressive. I just didn’t get a lot out of it beyond that. To be truly great, as so many think Fury Road is, demands more.

Water Road Wednesdays: Sentinels and Mind Walkers

The Triumvirate is more than just a defensive alliance. By the time The Water Road begins, it’s almost like a nation unto itself. It has its own capital, the island city of Tolenor. It also has something like a military or intelligence wing, a group of highly trained men and women who answer only to the Grand Council of the Triumvirate, not their home nations. They’re called Sentinels.

I think “sentinel” is a term that’s been used in sci-fi and fantasy for years, but it seemed to fit here. In all honesty, it was front of mind when I started writing it because I had just discovered the album of the same name by Scottish proggers Pallas:


How can you look at that and not be inspired?

The main role of the Sentinels is to be gatherers of intelligence. A few of them are stationed in each of the numerous forts the Triumvirate erected on the southern bank of the Water Road following the first Neldathi uprising. There they collect information about the Neldathi and ensure the progress of the Triumvirate’s plan to keep the Neldathi from uniting again and threatening to come north.

Of those Sentinels, there is a small subgroup that provide an invaluable services. In the universe of The Water Road they’re called mind walkers, but you could also call them telepaths. Mind walkers can communicate with each other of long distances, allowing Sentinel agents deep in Neldathi territory to report back to the Sentinels in the forts. Mind walkers also serve as a means of long-distance communication for the military. Only a very small percentage of the Altrerian population has this talent and anyone who manifests it becomes a Sentinel. There are no Neldathi mind walkers.

Beyond the mind walkers and the Sentinels stationed at the forts along the Water Road, another group of Sentinels are stationed in Tolenor. Some serve as trainers and administrators at the Sentinel academy that’s in the Triumvirate complex at the city’s center. Others have a much less glamorous job – law enforcement. Since Tolenor is a city that doesn’t belong to any of the three Triumvirate members, the alliance itself is responsible for keeping the peace.

Sentinels carry a distinctive weapon, a pikti. A pikti is a fighting pike, slightly taller than the average Altrerian, made out of the wood of a particular plant that grows only in one location in Telebria. Through a secret process, the wood becomes hard as steel but much lighter, resulting in a staff that is glimmering black. Due to their rarity and difficulty of use (pikti training is a key aspect of a Sentinel’s time at the academy) it is unheard of to see someone carry a pikti who is not, or was not at some earlier time, a Sentinel.

Guest Post: The Keystone by Sue Korb

This is a guest post by author Suz Korb about her exciting new project!

I’m doing something totally incredible. I’m going to blog the first draft of my newest novel as I write it! This is my new project as a way of getting me to write more every day. Follow my blog for daily chapters of my current work in progress.

The Keystone (Suz Korb cover)

This will be fiction at its most raw. Pure story. This is adventure as it unfolds in my mind, the most creative way possible for a writer to express one’s self. I’m going to have fun with this and you can join me for the journey, wherever it may take us!

Water Road Wednesday: Antrey Ranbren

Now that we’ve talked about where The Water Road trilogy takes place, it’s time to shift the focus to the people involved in the story. As you know from earlier WWW entries, nobody in The Water Road trilogy is a “person” in the sense that they’re human beings, but that doesn’t stop me from referring to them as “people” or “persons.”

The most important person in The Water Road trilogy is, without a doubt, Antrey Ranbren. The trilogy’s overall arc is her story, although it folds in a lot of other important characters along the way. Remember the post about how Napoleon’s exile and return sparked the idea that became The Water Road? Well, Antrey is Napoleon (after a fashion).

Antrey is a woman between worlds. In a world divided by species, by nation, and by clan, she has none of them. Antrey is of “mixed heritage” (as they say in more polite circles), product of an Altrerian father and Neldathi mother. Her surname, Ranbren, is a generic one for such offspring. They are generally shunned by both Altrerian and Neldathi societies, often left to fend for themselves in Altrerian brothels (children of mixed heritage cannot have offspring of their own, conveniently enough).

As a result of her parentage, Antrey was exiled from Clan Dost as a youth and made her way to Tolenor, the home of the Triumvirate. There she caught the attention of Alban Ventris, Clerk to the Grand Council of the Triumvirate. Alban took her into his home, taught her to read and write, and made her his assistant. It’s a good life, better than she ever expected, but it doesn’t make her any more a part of regular society:

It wasn’t as if she could blend in with the crowds. The city was jammed full of Altrerians of every shade of green, from the pale northern Telebrians to the dark hued Arborians. With her pale turquoise skin, Antrey was distinctive, a small patch of clear sky on an overcast day. At least she inherited her father’s slight Altrerian frame. It was difficult enough looking different. Having to poke out above the heads of everyone else by a foot or more would have been unbearable. She did her best to try and conceal her otherness. She kept her black hair, from her mother’s side, closely cropped so as to be almost unnoticeable. She did her best to ensure that as little skin was visible to the public as possible. Despite her best efforts, she stood out.

Most importantly, it’s a life that’s put her in a place to learn a secret that will change the whole world, not just hers, forever.

Weekly Watch: True Story

Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. It does not, however, necessarily make for a dramatic story, even if it’s an interesting one.

The true story behind True Story is plenty interesting. Mike Finkel was a reporter for the New York Times who had several big-deal pieces in the paper’s Sunday magazine. He pushes too far on one story, creating a composite central character for his narrative that doesn’t exist. As a result he’s fired and deported to the wilds of Montana (not deported – he actually lived there).

He’s trying to figure out how to get his life back when a reporter from Oregon calls about a murder suspect named Christian Longo. Wanted for killing his wife and three children, Longo flees to Mexico. What does this have to do with Finkel? When he’s arrested in Mexico, authorities learn that Longo has been posing as – Mike Finkel, reporter for the New York Times.

With that slenderest of connections (there’s no evidence Longo ever really did anything with Finkel’s identity, aside from get laid), Finkel heads to Oregon to meet the guy who pretended to be him. They wind up talking all through Longo’s trial. Their relationship is the heart of the movie.

Which is a shame, because it’s just not that interesting. For one thing, the movie largely consists of Finkel and Longo sitting across a table from each other talking. Some interesting topics are brought up, but nothing really lands all that hard. It comes across very staged, like it was once a stage play with only two characters that was adapted for the screen (which it wasn’t). It doesn’t help that the only other “main” character, Finkel’s then girlfriend (now wife), is given precious little to do, aside from a late confrontation with Longo where she is, hilariously, allowed to walk into a jail waiting room with a cell phone (cell phones are contraband in prisons).

That might have a potential to work, but it would need a better pair of sparring partners. Put bluntly, the version of Finkel in this movie is just a bad journalist. He’s entirely too naive about Longo and how he’s manipulating him. He doesn’t do any independent investigation of Longo’s alleged crime and doesn’t seem to care about whether he might be innocent or not. When the rug gets pulled out from underneath him, it’s less a shock and more like the inevitable result of his own foolishness, like when a puppy finally catches its tail and freaks itself the fuck out.

Outside of the conversations between Finkel and Longo, the movie exists in some kind of bizarre Neverland where the fact that Longo is on trial for capital murder is barely mentioned. There’s no mention of Longo’s lawyer and whether he or she approves of all these non-privileged conversations. In spite of the fact that inmate mail is routinely read and searched, nobody alerts the prosecution about Longo’s letters to Finkel. Then, once they do learn about it, they do nothing to get a hold of them.

This is another one of those situations where Finkel doesn’t seem like much of a journalist. When first confronted by a detective about his conversations and correspondence with Longo, he puts on a good front that suggests journalistic scruples are too important to allow him to cooperate with police. Then, once he realizes Longo is full of shit, he can’t run to them fast enough (even though they don’t want his stuff, in the end, for dubious reasons related to Finkel’s credibility). This is another potentially interesting issue that just never gets a full airing.

I may be griping about things that actually did (or didn’t) happen, so it seems a little shitty to possibly ding True Story for being too true. But as I said long ago, just because it’s real doesn’t mean it’s compelling drama. True Story may be all it claims to be, it just doesn’t add up to very much.


Water Road: Wednesday: The Triumvirate

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, there are a pair of nation-states north of the Water Road, along with a coalition of city states. When The Water Road begins, they’re all joined in an alliance called the Triumvirate. And I don’t mean these guys:


The where and why of the Triumvirate says a lot of what happens all during The Water Road trilogy.

More than a century before The Water Road begins the lay of the Altrerian political landscape is this:

On the west coast was the United Guilds of Altreria, a society organized around trades and vocations. Guilders don’t have families and tend to be very practical and open to new ideas. They were the first to jump on the Great Awakening, a movement during which most people lost belief in the gods.

On the east coast was the Bonded Realms of Greater & Lesser Telebria. As it suggests, the kingdom is a union of two smaller kingdoms, one each north and south of the River Teleb. It has a king (naturally), Ibel IV, but his power has largely been sapped away by parliament. Still, he’s a powerful figurehead and can definitely throw his weight around every now and then. Telebrians tend to be very traditional and stuck in old ways of doing things.

In between was the Arbor, a thickly forested portion of land consisting of lots of disparate cities and villages. Of those, seven are ancient walled cities of the most importance: Tomondala, Kerkondala, Vertidala, Maladondala, Felandala, Nevskondala, Durlandala (“dala” means “great walled city” in the ancient Altrerian tongue). They tend to be fiercely independent and suspicious of outsiders.

Around this time, a Neldathi leader named Sirilo united some of the clans and launched an invasion of Altreria. This was the First Great Neldathi Uprising. The Neldathi army rampaged across the Guildlands and threatened the rest of the continent. The Guilders and the Telebrians got together to form a defense alliance. However, they realized that without the Arbor involved that could provide Sirilo’s army a place to hide out, lick their wounds, and regroup. They went to the seven cities in the Arbor and convinced them to form a loose confederation, which became the Confederated States of the Arbor.

Thus, the Triumvirate was born, an alliance consisting of three equal partners – the Guilds, the Telebrians, and the Confederation. It established a city, Tolenor, on an island in the Bay of Sins on what was, essentially, neutral territory. It also served its purpose – a Triumvirate army chased Sirilo and the Neldathi back south of the Water Road, crushing the Rising at the Battle of the Hogarth Pass.

With the Rising crushed, the Triumvirate carried on, dedicated to keeping the Neldathi from unifying again and threatening the land north of the Water Road. Among other things, it established a string of forts along the southern bank of the river, in Neldathi territory. At the time The Water Road begins it’s been successful. But that’s all about to change.

Weekly Read: The Final Empire

As I said the other day, I’ve finally gotten around to discovering the work of Brandon Sanderson. He’s perhaps best known as the guy drafted in to finish the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan died. But he’s a prolific author in his own right and one of the hottest fantasy writers going (I swear there was one of those “a bunch of fantasy series that should be adapted for TV” lists that was made up mostly of his stuff).

Mistborn appears to be Sanderson’s magnum opus, comprising two trilogies and some other associated works. The Final Empire (or simply Mistborn, in some quarters) is where it all began. It’s a pretty fun read that does a good job of setting up the world in which Sanderson is playing, but it’s not without its faults.

The most intriguing feature of Mistborn is it’s system of magic (if that’s what it is), which is tied to the use of metals by particular people. The main branch is called allomancy and allows a person to “burn” a particular metal (already ingested) in order to enhance physical and mental abilities. A few people can use one particular metal with skill (although, naturally, the book is full with characters who can). But a very select few, the Mistborn, can burn all of them, turning them into, essentially, superheroes. There’s a less developed system, feruchemy, that also allows people to use metals in interesting ways.

Sadly, this system is dropped into a world that plies fairly common waters, with a black-hearted despot ruling a country full of put-upon subjects. To be fair, said subjects aren’t really bucking for rebellion (at least at first), which is a change. But the overall arc of the story is pretty clichéd. I thought, for a while, the big bad, the Lord Ruler, might be a more complex character than it appeared, but that didn’t come to fruition.

Allomancy also suffers from what I find to be a common fault in fantasy – it’s not very democratic. That is, you’re either born an allomancer (and of noble blood) or you’re not. And while it’s certainly up to each person to develop their inborn talents, there’s no question of someone really upsetting the magical applecart. Compare, for instance, the magic system in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which implies that anyone with sufficient knowledge can perform magic, regardless of birth or station.

Taking us through this world, naturally, is the young allomancer just coming into her powers, Vin, and her swashbuckling mentor with a dark past, Kelsier. At least they each have some interesting things to work through. Vin, in addition to being a budding allomancer, gets thrown into the deep end as an undercover agent in the halls of the aristocracy, while Kelsier has to deal with the growing quasi-religious reputation arising from his cheating death well before the book begins.

Kelsier’s main problem, however, is that he’s too damned competent. That’s particularly apparent once he’s dead (you read that right). There’s a point where it appears the grand plan to which our heroes have been striving is in tatters, almost a complete failure. It’s a setback that, nonetheless, presents some opportunities, if seized. Turns out, this was all part of Kel’s grand plan, which means it wasn’t in tatters at all. It comes across as trick on the reader and, worst of all, doesn’t even serve as a good basis for what Vin eventually does to win the day.

There’s also one technical issue, an odd choice from Sanderson that I can’t quite figure. For almost all of the novel the two point-of-view characters are Kel and Vin. We see everything through their (allomantically enhanced) eyes. Yet, as the book winds toward a conclusion, a couple other POVs pop up. These aren’t new characters, but ones who have been around all along. The new, scattered, POVs don’t really add to proceedings and threw me on my back foot because of the switch. A head scratcher, that.

One funny thing about The First Empire. As I read comments on Goodreads and whatnot, the more negative comments focus on how “slow” the beginning is and how exciting the climax is. I’m just the opposite. I loved the early world building and thought the ending felt rushed too by-the-numbers. To Sanderson’s credit, the book actually ends, while easily setting up the next volume in the series. That’s too rare a find these days.

The Final Empire isn’t without its flaws. But Sanderson’s built and interesting world, one I’m interested in revisiting. Hence, I already have the next two volumes downloaded, ready to consume – the ultimate endorsement!


I Want Swoopy Spaceships!

Confession time. I have been a consumer – reader, watcher, even listener – of science fiction for most of life. I consider it my first love, even though when I write I tend to drift into fantasy more often than not. That’s not the confessional bit (not in 2016, for crying out loud!). No, the confessional bit is this:

I don’t really care that much about the scientific accuracy of my science fiction.

There, I said it!

Now, I’m not saying I completely switch off my brain when something walks into the room with “sci-fi” written all over it. We all have our flying snowmen points after all. But some of the things I see other sci-fi fans complain about – like movies with sound in space or faster-than-light travel – just don’t bother me that much. I kind of appreciate it when somebody decides to get it “right” and see where that goes, but I’m perfectly happy to nod and move on otherwise, so long as the story and characters are engaging.

All this is a way of saying I’m deeply bummed by the current state of spaceship design in visual sci-fi. Particularly, I’m disappointed that the ships in The Expanse look so damned ugly.

The Expanse is another attempt by SyFy to regain its footing as a decent home for science fiction on television. Based on the novels by James S. A. Corey (actually two authors working together), it’s set at a time in the future where humanity has expanded into the solar system, but not yet beyond it. With that caveat, it’s a space opera as you can get, with character shuttling off from planet to asteroid to space station as the plot requires. The books (at least the first two) are damned good and the TV series is doing an all right job with the adaptation.

A big part of said shuffling involves a ship called the Rocinante. Yes, it’s named after Don Quixote’s horse. It also happens to be the name of the narrator’s ship in Rush’s epics “Cygnus X-1” and “Hemispheres” in which he is “sailing through the galaxy.” When I pictured the Roci in my head (because I don’t remember a description from the text) I imagined something sleek, swoopy, and sexy. Truth is, I almost always think of space ships like the Heart of Gold:

one hundred and fifty meters long, shaped like a sleek running shoe, perfectly white and mind-bogglingly beautiful.

On TV there is no such leeway, however. The Roci looks like it looks and, depressingly, it looks like this:


This may be a very realistic conception of what such a ship would really look like. But, damn, it’s dull. Others will disagree – some folks value practicality when making an aesthetic judgment and who am I to say they’re wrong? It just bums me out a bit.

I’ve seen a similar transformation in the design of race cars over the years. When I was younger and first getting into racing, this is what a top of the line prototype sports car looked like:




Now, as the black science of aerodynamics has continued to develop and every part of the car has to produce downforce, they’ve become this:

Audi R18 at the 1000km of Spa 2011. Picture was taken during the warm-up.

Don’t get me wrong – the modern car would run circles around the older ones. There’s something to be said for finding beauty in performance. But at the same time, it’s hard not to see that something’s lacking in the modern era.

Same goes with the modern visual depictions of spacecraft. Realism counts for a lot and I don’t begrudge anyone who prizes that in their sci-fi. But that doesn’t keep me from being disappointed.

I want my swoopy spaceships back. And race cars, too.

Water Road: Wednesday: The Neldathi Clans

As I mentioned last week, the Neldathi, who live south of the Water Road in the universe of The Water Road, are physically quite distinct from the Altrerians who live to the north. They’re different species, in fact, although they can produce infertile offspring. When it comes to how their societies work, the differences are even more pronounced.

While the Altrerians are organized into what we might call nation states (or city states, at least in the case of the Arbor), the Neldathi are organized into clans. Each clan is ruled by a thek (or chief), selected in various ways, from based on heredity to something more like democracy (without the coin flips). Some clans are patriarchal, some matriarchal, others more egalitarian. In other words, there’s a good deal of variety to how each clan is set up.

There are several other positions of authority in Neldathi clans aside from theks. Two of the most important are War Leader (which is just what it sounds like) and Master of the Hunt, each of which is responsible for ensuring the clan’s survival. Speakers of Time are individuals who become walking storehouses of knowledge – libraries with legs, essentially – and pass on the clan’s history, traditions, and laws. Finally, kels act as judges, settling disputes between clan members.

The Neldathi are nomads, which is why they don’t have “states” as we (or the Altrerians) think of them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t territorial. Each clan has a Great Circuit, a route along which they regularly move through the year. Each guards its circuit jealously. Three clans have circuits that cover the northernmost ground, near the Water Road itself – the Dost, Kohar, and Haglein. Three more stick toward the southern coast and the Islander cities – the Mughein, Elein, and Sheylan. That leaves five others – the Chellein, Akan, Volakeyn, Uzkaleyn, and Paleyn – who roam the most mountainous ground in the middle.

The Great Circuit’s aren’t defined with great particularity and clans don’t necessarily travel them in regular cycles. As a result, it’s not uncommon for neighboring clans to run into one another, which leads to violence. For example, the Volakeyn and the Akan have circuits that border one another. If they happen to wind up in the same space at the same time, they’ll fight over resources, same as anybody else. Neldathi don’t fight wars of conquest – they’d have no means of securing territory – but they do fight.

In fact, the Neldathi have a history of long-simmering feuds between clans, for several reasons. One is that if clans meet when circuits overlap, that frequently means resources are limited in that area and one side is bound to lash out. Another is that the same clans routinely interact with each other, breeding bad blood. Finally, the Speakers of Time tell stories of glory won in battle and of the evil done to their clans by their enemies. That allows feuds to grow and fester between certain clans.

That last feature, in particular, provides an opening that might be exploited by outsiders.