31 Aug 2015

Review: As the Crow Flies

It is not usual for me to indulge in publishing my reviews here on the Magical Realm; however, this particular work was recommended to me by a fellow writer. I, perhaps foolishly, elected to accept. And as they say: unusual situations demand unusual action.

Therefore, here is my review of As the Crow Flies, by Robin Lythgoe.

‘Alex!’ you interrupt; ‘but what the Ark, and all the things you promised? Are there not essays, and poetry, awaiting?’

Well, dear reader: you would be right. I will soon update the Magical Realm with the aforementioned. And since you are no doubt wondering what exactly I’ve been doing these past many days, the answer would be: writing an article. I have sent it to one OpenDemocracy —a small online magazine specialising in human rights, along with foreign and domestic policy alike—which shall consider it within three weeks. Or so they claim. If published, I will inform you here.

And to allay your curiosity: it concerns the FPTP voting system employed here in the UK, along with why it’s a failure, and what to do about it. If OD does not deign to publish it, I will do so here.

As for the Ark: it is under work. I have a few more planning items to concern myself with—I need to ensure coherency within the Ark’s universe, along with a full and accurate portrayal of the world—and doing so will demand more of my time in planning. But rest assured that with 62 pages a-written, progress is respectable.

I will write another episode in the Fallen Saga when time and the fickle heart of my writerly muse permit. Until then, check out my review. You may even want to consider reading the work in question—but not before you’ve read my own book, the Necromancer. I insist!

As the Crow Flies was recommended to me. This is unusual: it is usually I who recommend books, especially if they’re my own. In this instance, the opposite occurred—I was recommended a book, the recommendee being none other than the author herself. I suppose she would be a little opinionated in that though.

Anyway: onto the book. It’s actually rather good—and I don’t say that lightly, being an angry competitor fellow writer. I was most immediately struck by the writing (indeed it was why I was so kind as to review this) so let’s start with that.


Robin’s style is a curiously formal one; it is rare that one finds formal writing—even in self-proclaimed literary fiction, let alone ‘mainstream’ works—which was, therefore, in itself unusual. It speaks well of my own less-than-casual style. But enough of me!

Robin’s style is also a descriptive one: the details of the world are described beautifully—everything from the ivory figurines, the various and eclectic jewellery, and the manner of the attire—and in wonderful depth. One can easily imagine the sweeping rooflines of Marketh, the vast and desolate fields of the darker country (I found it eerily reminiscent of the Welsh black mountains) and the frightening but awe-inspiring presence of the dragons. As you can perhaps guess, I was quite pleased about this.

What I wasn’t pleased about? The lack of genuine aesthetic prose. Oh, yes; the prose is detailed—and Robin isn’t afraid to bring out the loquacious and the asperity—but there’s never a poetic element to it, never a sense of fully escaping the pages and entering your heart.

Which is a pity. But, there you go.

Aside from that, the minutiæ of the writing and the execution are worth detailing. Robin’s prose inevitably favours hypotaxis over parataxis, though at times I wished there were more of the latter—it would have worked well in giving the dark country a truly frightening portrayal, and in giving a sense of impetus and energy to some of the action scenes.

In terms of pacing, all was good: there were never times when one was left with a sense of ennui, nor did the action ever overwhelm the senses. I would however point towards the end of the tale, whereby the anticipation and raw energy that should have preceded the finale was instead broken up by far too many minor action scenes. When the finale did come, it was somewhat of an anti-climatic start.

All of this, however, leads me to what is arguably the strongest aspect of this work: the plot.


As the Crow Flies begins with our darling protagonist—aptly named Crow—attempting to... purloin a certain jewel, from none other than one secret wizard: Baron Duzayan. To be honest, I think it a disappointing start to an otherwise excellent tale.

Yes: there was action. Crow’s powers of theft, espionage, and roof-climbing are really quite remarkable; more foolish souls might even think him possessed of magic, though that is of course nonsense. At least for now. Impressive though they may be, the beginning fails to distinguish itself from more common, less remarkable tales.

Why? Well, because there isn’t a hint of the true scope and power of this novel. Crow, for all his charms, is just a thief. And it is Baron Duzayan’s remarkable wizardly powers that ought be hinted at, and far more insidiously than Robin does. The blurb, also, falls fowl to the same mistake.

The beginning aside, the tale then progresses to have our darling protagonist beaten—I love a good beating; did I mention? It makes for excellent empathic bonding—and is then placed in a dark, deep, cell. Crow, as his namesake suggests, is claustrophobic. Suffice to say that it made for amusing reading.

Once the imprisonment is over, however, Crow is given an ultimatum: help Duzayan procure a dragon’s egg (apparently fictional) or die a miserable death owing to Duzayan’s poison. Thus, we proceed to the real meat of this book.

The journey that Crow undertakes is a compelling one. We travel across vast and (relatively) varied landscapes; we meet bandits, a curious mute girl, and a mysterious old seer; and Crow is forced to travel through a strange underground cave, where dark echoes of a tragedy continue unabated. Here, he is temporarily possessed by the ghosts of the ‘Ancestors’—people burned alive in a terrible war of many years past.

And this is where things start to get interesting. At first, the Ancestors do no more than allow Crow a strange form of magic; he is able to sense emotions, to feel conscious minds, and to detect dishonesty. Later, they begin to speak; to bring long-forgotten knowledge to fore.

I could detail many more fascinating events. I could speak of the dragon, the strange order of magic-wielding priests that guard it, and a great deal more besides; but suffice to say: As the Crow Flies never fails to keep one’s guard up. There is always hidden danger, always unfathomable possibilities; there is action, and energy, and all that it should be.

In short: it is the archetypal High Fantasy novel. And as befits this wonderful genre, the age-old qualities are there—there are creatures of myth and wonder, powers strange and otherworldly (literally), and of course: there are strange new worlds to explore...

World Building

If the plot impresses with its grandeur and its conviction, then the world building comes up short. Sure: there’s detail—there’s imagination, too, in the manner of dress, the architecture (mediaeval and exotic among it equally) and in the cuisine.

But there’s an element of originality that’s missing. There is nothing untowardly remarkable about the technology, or of the language, or even—yes—the architecture. The world feels like another mediaeval fantasy world. Don’t get me wrong: mediaeval fantasy worlds are great—I wouldn’t have written a book in one if they weren’t—but this one is just a little unexceptional.

The religion, also, is elucidated upon: Crow regularly thanks the gods of thieves, of luck, and all manner of other deities. But I would have enjoyed a stronger elucidation still; I wondered at how the temples looked, what manner of rituals they performed, even their creation myths. In short: I wanted more.

Still, I did enjoy the descriptions of luxurious items, of beautiful designs, and of all the things that gave this world detail.


Crow is a wonderful creation. He is at once intelligent, and charming; both boisterous, and thoughtful; and erudite, yet accessible. I found his eye for detail entrancing—and his wits admirable. Crow always seems to have a devilish plan in store; he is able plan, to calculate, and to execute daring stunts with great alacrity.

Tanris, his former enemy turned friend, was also wonderfully well fleshed. He possesses great determination, analytic intelligence (as opposed to Crow’s cunning), and he is also very... human. We feel the pain of an imprisoned wife as if it were his. His mannerisms are unique; he always has a glare, a snarl, a gesture of compassion—he is always quintessentially Tanris.

We are also introduced to a girl, who is mute. This is unfortunate. For a long while, all she does is tag along—at most she is a distraction, more often a nuisance.

But Girl (as Crow takes to name lackadaisically) is more than that. Her muteness makes her easy to dehumanise—her regular crying fits not really helping, nor her simple name—but as time progresses, we begin to learn that she is all too human. She lost her only relatives to a vicious bandit attack. And she cannot voice that trauma. Who would be surprised at her crying; who wouldn’t cry, with no other release?

Robin even goes as far as to create the vestiges of an incipient romance. Girl’s surprising abilities—she is a deadly marksman, a fighter, and also an excellent cook (we love a good cook)—certainly do account for this. Crow’s fearless antics attract her; Girl’s enviable competence attract him.

Is it love? Not yet. But maybe.

I have however noticed that there is a lack of female characters throughout. This is surprising—for a modern fantasy author, and a woman at that—but is not that inconceivable, seeing as to how the tale usually deals with wizards, barons, and the powerful. For whatever reason (be it cultural, physiological, or both of those) women generally don’t populate that section of the population—especially in what is effectively still a mediaeval world.

(I guess it would be more correct to call it an Early Modern world, but I digress.)

Speaking generally, Robin has a perchance for characterisation: she can detail characters through their subtle mannerisms, through their internal struggles, and through some apt description. I cannot fault her in this.


My thoughts have been somewhat confused through this review. Allow me to be clarify, therefore: As the Crow Flies is an excellent, though imperfect, example of High Fantasy. The plot begins uncertainly; but it grows to occupy the mind with feverish insistence, and culminates in a very grand finale. The characters are well-portrayed and human. The writing is formal, accomplished, though at times requiring a little revision—shorter sentences, more parataxis.

All in all, I am glad to have read it. I await the sequel; for dragons and dark magic, my appetite was always insatiable.

Rating: 4/5

24 Aug 2015

The Machinations of a Writer, Part II: Typesetting

Second in a Three Part Series on Software—See Part One First

‘Alex!’ you cry; ‘wherever have you been? You promised us tales of the Ark; and instead we receive macroeconomics courses and travel guides!’

And you would be correct. Though my interest in economics is substantial—as with numerous other academic deliberations—the Magical Realm is ultimately concerned with my literary endeavours. But rest assured: the Ark is indeed under work. I have completed chapter three; and currently I am engaged in editing, and seeking professional services.

I shan’t detail too much into that, for secrecy is important where it concerns upcoming novels. Instead: allow me to detail the minutiae behind the process of typesetting.


The Ark Screenshot

The purpose of good formatting is two-fold: firstly, it must allow for easy reading. Poor formatting results in poor comprehension; and that’s a real no-no for any successful book. But good formatting must also be beautiful. For the beauty of words cannot truly be discerned in a vulgar typeface—say, Arial. No: typography must mirror the aesthetic principles of that which it aims to represent.

In the case of the Ark, the typeface is Minion Pro. I have temporarily chosen as this as an excellent example of a well-designed, characterful serif; though it may not be the final typeface in use, owing to the decisions of the publisher.

Regardless, it serves to illustrate a key point: in the matter of choosing a font, you must select for beauty, readability, and suitability.

But What of the Software?

The book designer orthodoxy maintains that a proper DTP (desktop publishing) program—like, say, Adobe InDesign—is the force de rigeur for any kind of professional typesetting. But they would be wrong.

Do not mistake me: InDesign is in many regards an excellent piece of software. It has a set of impressive features (including excellent justification algorithms) and the interface is slick, if complex. But InDesign is expensive, and far from userfriendly; worse, performing tasks with it is unnecessarily complicated and timeconsuming.

Allow me to peruse some examples: creating a new document firstly requires going through a wizard, to either manually input all the desired parameters—such as the page dimensions, margins, etc.—or to select from a series of templates that rarely mirror anything you’d find in a bookstore. But even the very idea is flawed: manually inputting parameters is pointless—you’ll almost certainly end up changing them anyway—while switching templates is surprisingly difficult.

DTP software also tends to be overly focused on the idea of ‘Projects’—collections of files—that usually prove tedious and unnecessary for a book.

But it doesn’t stop there. Adding documents require that you use the ‘Place’ function (not the insert function, which does something else) and InDesign does not accept ODT documents; you have to convert them to Word documents, which often results in errors.

InDesign also requires that you pre-style the Word documents with headings, specific paragraph styles, etc. All of this adds time and effort—and all can be done much more easily directly with a word processor program.

Introducing: LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a free, open-source software suite that purports to deal with many office-related tasks; chiefly among these is wordprocessing, and this is where Writer comes in.

Billed a replacement for MS Word, I recommend it not only for being free—a nice perk—nor even for its native compatibility with Ubuntu, my recommended OS (see this). No: I recommend it for being well-suited to formatting, once you learn its idiosyncrasies. (For the record, Word is capable enough in its own right.)

Creating a book is simple. Firstly, you must either have begun it in Writer itself (not something I recommend); but more likely you have it written as a text file:

Gedit Screenshot

In the case of the latter, conversion is necessary. This is easy and error-free. Pandoc—a free, cross-platform conversion program—will do it; you can even automate the process, as I have:


(You can use Gedit’s ‘External Tools’ function to call up pandoc using the pandoc command.)

Once you’ve done that, prepare to add it to your Writer document using the ‘Insert > File...’ function. But first you must have created your book document. This is not terribly complicated either; allow me to illustrate...


From that menu, you may format the page. It’s easy to get away from the A4 default—input 15cmx22.5cm as the width and height (standard for many paperbacks) and voilá! You have something that looks like a book. Play around with the margins: I find that 1.6cm works best for the left and right margins, with 1.8cm top and bottom. If you like, you can even use specific formatting for left and right pages—allowing you to, for example, use longer inner-side margins.

Then comes the matter of the text. This in itself is a complex matter: you must take into account negative space—whitespace kept empty to allow for pleasant viewing—and headings require a lot of experimenting with different sizes, weights, and styles. Or you can even use different typefaces, graphics, and other assorted trickery; the possibilities are many.

In my case, I employed small capitals for all the headings. I also employed italics, different weights—Minion Pro medium in the case of the author name—and full capitals. You can modify all this using the ‘Styles’ sidebar, accessible using ‘View > Sidebar.’

Writer Styles

Once you’ve sorted this out to your satisfaction—don’t forget the copyright page, along with properly ordered Acknowledgements (if applicable), dedications, etc.—use Insert > File to add each chapter. Make sure to format the first page of your document ‘First Page’.


This is important for later. In short, you don’t want page numbers to appear on the first page of a chapter; additionally, designers usually refrain from including headers, footers, etc. While you’re at this, ensure that the FirstPage is formatted identically to your normal page. (That should be called the Default Style in Writer-speak.)

‘Alex!’ you cry; ‘why does my text look hideous?’ This is a fair question. Chances are, Writer has formatted your newly added text in Times New Roman—a ghastly, overused and heavily condensed typeface that should be avoided even in its intended medium (newspapers).

To correct this, head back to the ‘Paragraph Styles’ box in the sidebar. Click ‘Default Style’ and edit away. In the case of the Ark, the typeface is set to Minion Pro; the size to 12pt; the leading (known as ‘Line Spacing’ in Writer-speak) to 120%; and the text to justified. Make sure to enable hyphenation, or you’ll get ungodly typographic rivers. (Concerning hyphenation, make sure to implement a limit to the number of consecutive hyphenations; you may get undesirable results otherwise. Two will do.)

Another important note: the first paragraph of your chapter—and usually scene as well—should be formatted using a separate style: FirstParagraph. This is identical to the other paragraphs, except that there is no indent.

Speaking of which: yes, fiction is indented. Non-fiction generally isn’t. I recommend 0.5cm as a suitable first-line indent.

You must also edit your chapter headings. Ideally, they should already be preformatted to Heading3 (or whatever you deemed suitable in the markdown file) and you can just click on it, and modify the style from the sidebar. In my case, small caps are in use.

Pages Continued

To add more chapters, repeat the process above. If you have written your entire book and wish to speed things up a little, here’s a trick: use cat on a bash terminal to collect all your files into one (or use an appropriate 3rd party tool in Windows).


Then insert the whole file into writer; then use the navigator to go to each heading, and format from there. You can even download the ‘Alternative Search’ add-on, and employ regular expressions to automate the process.

However, there is one other matter to be dealt with: headers and footers.

Go back to the ‘Page Styles’ dialogue, and select Default Style once more. Don’t edit the FirstPage—that will remain as it is. Instead edit Default to include a header and a footer. You may choose to have only one; but in this, you must insert the page number using ‘Insert > Fields > Page Number’. In my case, the header alternates between left and right pages, showing either ‘The Ark’ or ‘Alex Stargazer’ in each.

Are We Finished?

Yes! We now have something that resembles a book. I have not taken to detailing the matter of scenes and scene breaks; but I believe I have instilled enough knowledge for you to be able to do this yourself. I hope this advice has been useful. Typography is far from simple—please feel free to ask for clarifications, advice and details in the comments.

With the second part of this series complete, the third part will follow. That will be a detailed explanation of the publishing process; but until then, I will have poetry, a brief essay concerning voting systems for the UK, and more details on the Ark.

As I say: keep following. The stars do shine, here in the Magical Realm...

17 Aug 2015

Hej Fra Danmark

Hail readers! Or should I say: hagl læsere!

As you may be able to ascertain, I am currently in Denmark; and though I am occupied deeply with the matters of the Ark—see this post for details—I will nevertheless endeavour to present you with some analysis of this peculiarly Scandinavian nation. Photographs shall also be present, though those shall arrive later: blame it on my lackadaisical efforts in amassing a suitable gallery.

EDIT: photos are now available! See this Google Photos gallery.

Firstly, however, please do get acquainted with the Ark, now complete with a second chapter. It has grown quite nicely—up to just under 40 pages—and will continue to do so as my efforts further in intensity. No more chapters shall arrive soon after these, however, for the Ark must remain secret until its birthday. Instead, expect to see analysis—both literary and personal in nature. The Machinations of a Writer series shall also be updated with a post concerning print formatting.

Now: onto Denmark.

Where is Denmark?

Located just south of Sweden, East of Norway, and next to Germany, would be the answer to that particular question. Denmark is a peninsula—here, in Aalborg, we are at the northern tip in the Jutland municipality—though its capital city, København, is located on an island.

This geographical position has translated into a nation with influences throughout its neighbours, and from its neighbours. The Danes are capable cheesemakers—much like the Dutch, their cousins—but also have a wide selection of bread (some very similar to those I sampled in Bavaria), and fish. I detest fish, however; and so I shall name a less well-known aspect of Danish supermarkets: wine.

Denmark’s position as a peninsula allows for the easy importation of German, French and other European wines. And the good news is: there’s no alcohol tax. Unlike Sweden, here in Denmark wine is purchaseable from supermarkets—and subject only to the standard 25% VAT rate.

Denmark’s landscape is a flat one, reminiscient of the Netherlands; and yet it possesses its own distinct features. There are a fair few forests—though not as numerous as its northerly cousin, Sweden—while the amount of agriculture is surprisingly high. Denmark, you see, possesses arable land (more than Sweden and considerably more than Norway); hence, agriculture.

The greatest defining feature, however, would be the wind turbines. They are everywhere. And they spin! Yes; Denmark is windy, though these past few days have also been curiously warm. Do not expect this to be the norm.

The architecture is... somewhat unremarkable. Once more, I am reminded of Holland; though the Dutch tend to engage in more dramatic expositionism. The Danes are content with Spartan architecture—red brick is used extensively, likewise white brick, and the motifs are simple rather than grand—and forsake any pretence of grandeur. I have not seen anything approaching the floating houses of the Netherlands; the vast cathedrals of Italy, and their impressive collections of art, sculpture and treasures; nor do I see any landmarks like the Tour d’Eiffel or the Arc de Triomphe. Denmark seems a place to live in, not to visit.

Speaking of which: I must address the economy and political system, as befits the burgeoning economist.


Denmark is usually at the top of the ‘Nations by Taxation’ lists. And it’s not hard to see why: cars are taxed at 180% (not a typo, my dear!); the marginal rate of income taxation is over 50%, and applies to incomes above half a million kroner or so (~£50k), while more ordinary citizens pay around 30–40% in income tax; while VAT is at 25%, and is applied almost without exception on all goods. Denmark has even toyed with wealth taxes, sugar taxes, fat taxes, and taxes on alcohol.

But what does the ordinary Dane get from all this?

The benefits are considerable. Health services are provided gratis; education up to and including master’s level is free; subsidies and grants are given to students, and can amount to over 5000DKK per month (per month!); childcare is subsidised (or free, depending on which government is in power); maternity leave is one year, unemployment benefits are 70% of your income for several months, pensions are reasonable; and the roads—smooth! Straight! England ought be ashamed.

Is the tradeoff worth it, though? That depends on your family and financial status, of course—and on political position, no doubt.

If you are unemployed, few places are better to be in. Very few indeed. If you are a student, prepare for zero debt, and fewer worries with regards to accomodation and living expenses; if you have kids—you’re in luck. And as for the McDonalds workers: a quarter of a million kroner is your yearly salary.

This system is very unfortunate if you require the perusal of a car, however. The exorbitant tax ensures that new cars are out of reach for all bar a few of the wealthier citizens; cars are old, significantly more so than the UK (by quite a margin) or Germany; and the rules are many. Though that may be said of most nations.

The public transportation network is capable, and there are bicycle lanes in many places—though not to the degree of Holland— but cars are still a necessity for some. It is very difficult for a family of five to do their biweekly shopping on a bike or a train, for example. If I were king for a day, I would abolish car taxation. Instead, I would focus on CO2-based taxation.

That said, Denmark has high GDP per capita; low income inequality; and very good outcomes with regards to crime, health, and more. The UK would do well to consider the Danish model.

On Economic Myth

The Danish model is a wonderful case study for an economist—it allows numerous myths to be put to rest.

Myth No.1: Tax Evasion

Denmark has the highest rates of taxation in the world, but one of the lowest—perhaps the lowest, though difficulties in measurement prevent me from saying this with certainty—rates of tax evasion (NBER 15769). The cause is multifold. Firstly, Danes have a strong sense of civic duty—tax evasion is frowned upon, and the overall attitude is far less blasé than in Italy, for example, or Greece.

Secondly—and more importantly, as the study reveals—Denmark has very strong tax collection methods. The tax code is short and simple; exceptions few. (Or at least, this is the case insofar as when compared to the UK or US.) Want to dodge land tax? No chance: the Danish tax authorities survey areas by plane and using advanced camera-based systems. Corruption is almost nonexistent, too—no bribing the officials here.

The study also reveals that tax collection efficacy and auditing are more significant factors than the actual rates—high rates of taxation don’t lead to tax evasion, provided that the civic duty is strong... and the tax authorities shrewd.

Myth No2: Fecklessness

Another myth—perpetuated readily by our wonderful Tory government—is that of benefits for the poor and the disabled leading to fecklessness and idleness. Or to corruption. The latter is a myth easily dispelled: the government’s own figures show that benefit theft claimants are around 0.9%, with a grand total of just 0.7% being overspent due to fraud. (DWP).

Denmark’s relatively generous benefits also go to show that benefits spent on the poor don’t necessarily lead to the poor not working. This is firstly because working still provides more money than not working—a fact helped significantly by Denmark’s high-wages for workers—while the benefits themselves do not allow for a particularly lavish lifestyle.

Benefits can also substantially improve the claimants’ educational situation. Without having to worry about eating versus heating, claimants’ morale improves; they are able to work more productively and vigorously; and it becomes feasible for them to attend university, for example, or some other educational course.

Though personal experience suggests that for every aspiring benefit claimant whose economic output increases due to benefits, there is one claimant that stays unemployed, or poor, or lazy. The net effect is neutral, however; and so it becomes a question of: why not help those less fortunate? This is especially pertinent considering the effect of decreasing marginal utility: billing someone earning £100K an extra grand in tax may not particularly affect their wellbeing—they’ll just buy a slightly less expensive Mercedes, or drop a room from their villa—but that £1000 will provide real tangible benefits for the working mum with 3 kids. Mansion, or heating for a family; which will it be?

To Finish

Apologies for my substantial essay on the matter. I hope my musings on Denmark have proven entertaining; and keep following for information on book formatting, for poetry, and for updates on the Ark.

Until then, may the stars be with you.

8 Aug 2015

Essay: On Greece

If you’ve been wondering ‘What of the Ark?’ allow me to alleviate your fears; the Ark—my upcoming novel, details of which may be found on the Upcoming page—is still very much under work. I have been occupied with certain important aspects of the plot; thus, my efforts in other areas were put on the backburner.

Additionally, I was busy with cleaning this accursed computer of mine. The amount of dust, dirt and grime that has accrued over the year is quite simply remarkable—the entire CPU heatsink was filled with it, likewise the ATX fan and the GPU fan. After two hours’ laborious efforts, I have been able to get it in a passable state.

Such matters aside, today’s post is concerned with an essay of mine. Previously submitted to the RES, I am now able to release it to you. It is about Greece—as the title implies—and, specifically: it examines the causes behind Greece’s economic situation, and offers some tentative solutions.

I base my conclusions primarily on empirical data, though I also peruse the macroeconomic theories of Marx and Smith; for a strong theoretical grounding is required in order to draw meaningful conclusions. My arguments are... unconventional, according to a teacher—but I believe the reason of my words and the evidence presented ought make for cogent reading.

Now—back to writing...

Read On Greece

5 Aug 2015

The Ark: A Beginning

Mr Stargazer is pleased to announce that a prologue—beginning in medias res, for the purpose of drawing inquisitive minds—along with the first chapter have now been written. This, as you can discern, is significant; for not only do the greatest of journeys begin with the smallest of steps, but so too is this a taste of things to come.

Before Mr Stargazer elaborates on the specifics (concerning writing style, character voice, world-building and so on), it is recommended that you, dear reader, ought take a look...

Read The Ark

Once you’ve done so, please consider giving Mr Stargazer some feedback. The latter is valuable for the still burgeoning writer—as even the more arrogant souls will admit—and it may allow him to improve upon his creation. Additionally, allow Mr Stargazer to delve into the specifics; he is ever so vain, is monsieur Stargazer, and you may learn a thing or two besides.

Okay, Al: What Am I Looking At?

You are looking at the beginning of the Ark. This may change; such is the fickle heart of a writer. Regardless, it is an important step. And it begins with a prologue, set towards the end of this grand tale.

I shan’t hint too much of it, for there is yet much unknown and much that ought remain unknown. What I will say: it is indeed what it appears to be. Our protagonists—one Conall Danann and another Casey Kearney—are at Ground Zero: a facility where the Ark hovers directly above, on the edge of space.

The exact means by which it is kept there are complex; ordinarily, such an object would be in a rapid free fall (likely exceeding 20,000mph) and would soon crash into some unfortunate corner of the world. Thankfully, the Ark’s ‘engines’—which are in fact powerful generators of an artificial gravity, and warp space to keep it stationary—prevent this.

Regardless, our protagonists are there to fulfil a simple goal: getting on the Ark. I shan’t say how they achieve this, of course—that would be much too simple.

What I will say: the writing style is a formal one, as befits both the nature of the character (a charming young poet) and the inclinations of its creator. Nevertheless, it is not devoid of informality, even slang; ‘bajanxed’ is one such example. I attempt to carry both fluency (a point on which the Necromancer was criticised, owing to its tendency to sudden expositionism and superfluousness) but also detail. Do I succeed? That will be for my readers to decide.

I will also admit to being disused to first-person narration; the matter being made particularly difficult due to Conall’s disturbing similarites with my own nature. He, a poet, and yet an erudite reader, presents a number of challenges: his vocabulary is remarkably vivid, complex, and vast; and yet he is young, not yet embroiled in archaisms, nor immune to informal expression. Combining the two is easier said than done, alas.

What About The World?

In the first chapter, I concern myself firstly with introducing to you the peculiarities and wonders of this New World. Some aspects are really quite extraordinary: the Earth is constantly in a state of summer over the northern hemisphere, for example, but in a state of winter over the southern equivalent. Moreover, night and day can become off-kilter—days can last ages; nights can grip the world for long stretches, bringing all manner of troubles.

Other aspects intend to be humorous. The Sunshine! lamps, and their peculiarities—the yellow light, the incredible brightness, but also their tendency to vary in output unpredictably—are one such example. The latter is caused by a still developing production process, which results in substantial variation between the exact quantity and quality of the materials in use.

Whether this is indeed humorous is not within my ability to determine; hence my call for feedback.

With the various fascinating history, and detail, aside, I must address the most important matter of them all: Conall, and Casey.

A Question of Chemistry

Conall meets Casey in a twist of Fate, by fortuitous happenstance. And yet, there is an ease of communication between them; they seem to know one another’s mind, to mirror subtle messages of body language, and to achieve a kind of symbiosis.

That, at least, is the theory.

Aside from that, I do not neglect the physical aspects of attraction. Though the matter itself merits complex discussion concerning human sexuality, and various philosophical deliberations on normative versus descriptive elements of sexuality—on construed paragons, inherent desires, and so forth—I will bypass it all to present one simple message: they are teenagers. Sex is awesome. What’s not to love?

Most of all, I aim to instil a sense of desire—of hope, of wonder at human existence. Do I succeed? Once more, a question beyond my remit.

Parting Words

The Ark is as yet inchoate. I have a great deal more yet to write; and numerous difficulties of plot, narration, and characterisation are yet to be addressed. But, for all that, I hope you are as drawn to this tale as I am. I sense potential, excitement, possibility. Do you?

1 Aug 2015

The Ark: A Second Interview

Hail readers!

If my previous collaboration post on Socialism failed to capture your attention—’tis not my usual contribution to the Magical Realm, I admit—or if it merely irritated you, fear not: for today, I have updates on the Ark.

Chiefly among these is another interview—following on from the one conducted on our other main character, Conall Danann—which once again features the Guardian. This time, It concerns itself with asking our darling protagonist pressing personal questions on, for example, his fascination with technology.

Additionally, it also serves to bring in a few tentative details of the Ark: the shortage of leather, for example, is one such detail. There are numerous others.

With the second interview complete, the first stage of planning is over. Expect to see the prologue soon; along with, in due time, the first chapter. As mentioned previously, all posts concerning the Ark will be titled with the prefix. I will post parts of the Ark, in future, along with various analyses and personal insights.

Until then—here is the interview with Casey Kearney. If you wish to comment, do so. The Ark is as yet inchoate, and feedback is much appreciated...

An Interview with Casey Kearney

How remarkable, I think, as I examine these queer technological creations. There are a multitude of them: I can see microprocessors—new graphene and old silicone present among them—along with RAM sticks, GPUs (bright red and verdant green among the motifs), and many more computer innards besides.

I have always been amazed at humanity’s ability to invent; to create wonderful designs of creativity and ingenuity. Despite their inherent physical weakness, their impotence in the face of awesome divine power, humans have always possessed one thing the Gods do not: genius.

‘Impressed?’ he asks. ‘I’m Casey, by the way. I would ask who you are, but I’m more interested in how the hell you got here. What are you doing back here, anyway? The store is at the front.’

‘Call it idle curiosity,’ I say, as I examine him. He is broad, tall, and blond. His eyes glimmer softly, alive with the depths of a blue sea. He is dressed simply—jeans, the quintessential white shirt—and yet appears curiously elegant, in a manner quite unlike that of the ordinary teenager.

‘Well, sorry to burst your bubble—whoever the fuck you are—but idle curiosity won’t fly by my uncle. He’ll feed you to the vultures if he finds you squirming through his stuff.’

‘A pity,’ I remark, ‘since these, if my intuition serves me, constitute your stuff. And alas, the vultures have long since forsaken me; death is not a choice bequeathed to those such as I.’

‘Huh. I guess you’re right. What was your name again?’

I smile, entertaining possibilities. ‘I am the Guardian; but ask no more.’


‘You are not ready for the answers, even if you were to truly understand them. Now, instead—tell me this: why is it that you retain these technological paraphernalia of yours? Many, I see, are obsolete; and of the more modern specimens, none form a coherent whole.’

‘Call it a hobby. I collect old computer parts; I enjoy turning them into computers of the past, or even simply trying to make them work.’

‘A noble quest,’ I opine; ‘but what is it, fundamentally, that so draws you to them? Why do you embroil yourself so; and why do you entertain yourself with technology, as opposed to, say, poetry—or the other, more hedonistic aspects of your existence?’

‘You mean, why aren’t I fucking girls out in the big wide world?’

I can but laugh, amused at his indecorum. ‘Though I know it is not women that draw your fancy, yes: in essence, that is the question.’

‘Aside from not liking girls—I mean, what is it about tits? I never understood it—I’m not screwing every hot guy that passes me by because, well, tech fascinates me. We—humans, I mean—have developed these amazing inventions, based on nothing but looking at the world, developing hypotheses, testing them... basically: common sense. And through years of hard work, passion, and brains, we can send people into space; talk across the other side of the world; and have tiny little chips that do, like, billions of calculations per second. It’s amazing.’

‘Your creations are no doubt remarkable, considering the limitations brought to you. But even so I wonder: is there a personal element to this? Are you so fascinated by computers because of... something about them—something that calls to your analytical mind, your questioning thoughts, your fascination of the world?’

He takes rest on a nearby chair; I content myself with hovering above, lounging as if dispassionate at his amazement.

‘How do you do that?’

‘What? This parlour trick?’ I exclaim, as if surprised. ‘For one such as I, gravity is but a mere construct of a supreme imagination.’

‘Is that code for “I have this, like, really awesome antigravity machine; and fuck it, but I’m not telling you a damn thing about it?”’

My mouth pulls itself into a wry smile. ‘If by “awesome antigravity machine” you really mean to say “being master of the universe,” then yes; I do harbour secrets.’

‘Anyway...’ he interjects, as if suddenly remembering my former question. ‘About that. You’re right; there is a personal element to it. I’m fascinated by the interconnectivity of it all, for one,’ he elaborates, moving to one partially completed unit. ‘I’m fascinated by the fact that the motherboard recognises the processor; that the processor that communicate with the board to relay a variety of functions, such as sound; and that, somehow, when I plug-in the RAM, the PSU, the monitor, everything... it all lights up. It’s like magic.’

He begins connecting cables, tightening screws, and plugs in the power source. ‘Then—bingo! It all lights up.’

As if one cue, the BIOS screen flashes. I place my hand on the contraption; suddenly, blue zeroes flash. I don’t need physical contact in order to perform this, of course, though it does add to the drama.


‘Indeed,’ I confirm. I change the scene to show parts of the universe: stars collapsing; supernovae alight; nebulae, resplendent in their multihued magnificence, birthing new solar systems and galaxies.

‘That’s some trick,’ he exclaims, awed. I wonder if he has finally figured out that my powers do not stem from mere technological fancy. I suspect he did so the moment he saw me levitate; but he indulges in the charade, not yet keen to change conceptions about reality. (I would search his mind for my answers, but they can wait. Besides: it would be most impolite.)

‘But onto more important matters,’ I say, allowing the computer to boot normally.

‘Such as?’ he enquires unabashedly.

‘Questions about yourself,’ I elaborate, helping myself to one perfectly ordinary seat. It is fashioned from a synthetic leather (real leather being much too expensive these days), and designed in the minimalist fashion of former years. It is surprisingly comfortable, regardless.


‘What would you do if...’ I continue, tasting possibilities, ‘... you had to survive this Earth? What would you do if you—let’s not tread softly here—wanted to get on that ship?’

‘You ask difficult questions.’

‘So I am told.’

‘Well, let’s start with the worst, then. I would never get myself on that blasted ship if it involved foul play; if, according to my actions, I would hurt those more deserving than me. I am consigned to my fate, whatever it may be. And as for surviving, well—humans got this far, didn’t they? We survived ice ages, the plague, even managed not to fucking nuke ourselves all these years. What’s a few droughts gonna do?’

I smile, considering his words. ‘Noble thoughts indeed. But what if failure meant more than just survival, more than just escape from a difficult world; what if it meant abandoning the one whom you hold most dear?’

‘Love? This isn’t fucking Romeo and Juliet, Dr G,’ he responds, eyes questioning his nickname. I smile in amusement. ‘I will find new love, new possibilities—be they here or on that sanctimonious Ark.’

‘Very well,’ I concede; ‘think what you may. You have never experienced love; never felt your lover’s caressing hands, their soft kiss of life. But, as I so often say: time will tell. Until then, best of luck to you, Casey Kearney.’

‘How did you know my surname? You must have looked it up,’ he adds, though he is evidently uncertain as to how I might have done so.

‘Just as I must use that door to get out? Just as I cannot walk through that wall?’ I probe.

‘Nobody can walk through walls, Dr G.’

I laugh. His eyes are still wide long after I have passed through that wall. What fun he will be, I muse. And what majesty the world will see! Consigned to his fate, indeed...