Skysworn Book Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition, 257 pages
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (September 30, 2017)
ASIN B0762YQ2H8

And so we come to the end. For now. Will Wight's website says work on the next installment in the Cradle series will start after the summer of 2018. Thus, it is appropriate that a number of plot threads from the first three volumes get wrapped up here. 

Lindon finally faces Jai Long, his nemesis. Yerin achieves a final solution with her unwelcome guest. Someone finally catches up with Eithan. It is a time of endings.

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that reminds me of the four last things in Skysworn, but it does. There has been an apocalyptic element in the background all along, but this is the first time it comes to the forefront. Maybe it is Lindon's first real brush with death, with his own mortality. Or the Naru clan, with their angelic wings. Or maybe it is just the eldritch horrors that we finally meet face-to-face.

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell  By Hans Memling - http://mng.gda.pl/zbiory/sztuka-dawna/hans-memling/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1455943

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell

By Hans Memling - http://mng.gda.pl/zbiory/sztuka-dawna/hans-memling/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1455943

This fifteenth century triptych of the Last Judgment is oddly evocative of Skysworn for me, given that it in general the Cradle series has an Eastern vibe to it. Perhaps it is St. Michael in the middle, weighing souls, reminiscent of Suriel and Ozriel saving people from chaos. Or the glowing sword behind Christ's head. Or the fact that Christ is sitting on a rainbow. I could see a high level sacred artist doing something like that.

For all of the pan-Asian flair of the Cradle series, it has some of the aesthetics of Christian apocalyptic art. Of course, the apocalypse is not unique to Christianity. It is something like a human universal. Probably for the reason that the world does occasionally look like it is going to end.

But this is not the end for Lindon and his friends. Not yet anyway. He still has a long way to go before he meets his destiny.

My other book reviews

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Blackflame Book Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition, 370 pages
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (April 30, 2017)
ASIN B0716GZ8QX

One of the things I like best about the Cradle series is the pace. There are secrets to be discovered, but you don't need to wait forever to find out. Take Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn as a counter-example. Sanderson is slowly building up his Cosmere, a shared universe in which all his books somehow hang together. But hell, you don't even find some things out until you get to the Alloy of the Law series, books written more than three years later. And even then, Sanderson drips out his little hints, slowly, slowly.

I'm only three books into Wight's Cradle series, and I already know the backstory of the inhabited worlds and I have an idea of where Lindon is going to end up, and new information comes at a fast and furious pace, quickly linking up with things already established. And we aren't even three years into the whole series. I liked Sanderson's books, but this is just so much more satisfying. For example, Blackflame actually did address the question I raised in my review of Soulsmith: why hasn't someone invaded and pillaged the Sacred Valley of Lindon's birth? We don't get a complete answer, but we did get something.

“We could…go west,” she suggested hopefully. He started to tell her no, but hesitated. She was referring to a legend. In the mountains to the west of the Desolate Wilds, there was supposed to be a hidden valley that occasionally emerged to trade with the outside. The inhabitants were weak, but protected by a curse.
 
Spiral power

Spiral power

Much like Cole and Anspach's Galaxy's Edge series, the amount of Wight's world we can see gets bigger and bigger as we go along. The structure of everything is the same, but also simultaneously new and exciting.

As Lindon gains new abilities, he [and we] gain new insight as well. Things that were previously seen through a glass darkly suddenly snap into focus

 

In my review of Soulsmith, I said that the ranks of sacred artists on Cradle were something like natural kinds. There really do seem to be differences in kind, and not just in degree. Yet, part of the arc of Lindon's life itself is that isn't the whole story. Lindon, unsouled and unworthy, achieves things no one in his home would have thought possible even for the best of them, let alone poor Lindon. 

Orthos gingerly stretched out a leg, wincing at the pain. “Humans make every stage into a legend. A Lowgold is just a Jade with teeth. The only difference between Jade and Gold is a mountain of power.”

This pattern continues to repeat itself once Lindon escapes the Sacred Valley, and he is repeatedly discounted by his social betters, even as he vaults past them in power. As is typical for this kind of a book, Lindon himself is special, and he receives help, of a sort, from his patron Eithan, who sees Lindon as he is, rather than as he appears. 

What we don't yet know, is the depth of the games that Eithan is playing. In Soulsmith, Eithan takes Lindon and Yerin under his wing. Here in Blackflame, Eithan adopts them into his family, and his plans. What those plans truly are, we do not know. But there are hints that Eithan knows far more than he lets on, perhaps even is more than he lets on.

Yet even Homer nods. Eithan's games are high stakes. Eithan does everything he can to cheat, to better the odds in his favor, but things still sometimes go awry. The final battle of Blackflame was genuinely exciting to read, tense and gripping. I was actually surprised at how it all turned out, so I won't ruin it for you. You should go see for yourself.

My other book reviews

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Soulsmith Book Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition, 286 pages
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (September 26, 2016)
ASIN B01M09PWJQ

I saw a line in another review that I'm going to steal: these books are like candy. I just can't stop reading them. Although I worry the implication of the phrase may be unfair to Wight; while fast and fun reads, the Cradle series has been anything but empty calories.

 
Ruth Benedict  By World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c14649, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1276865

Ruth Benedict

By World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c14649, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1276865

In Soulsmith, we pick up right where we left off at the end of Unsouled, Wei Shi Lindon is desperately fleeing the vengeance of the Heaven's Glory School, whom Lindon has robbed blind and shamed by killing one of its highest ranked members. Out in the wilderness beyond the Sacred Valley, adventure awaits. The fun lies in learning about the world at the same time, and mostly in the same way that Lindon does.

While this is fantasy, and thus not really an attempt to present some insight about the world in the context of an adventure story, there are nonetheless interesting elements of the world Wight has built. For the most part, fantasy relies upon historical examples of human societies to provide building blocks which are then reshuffled as needed to create the fantasy world intended without straining credulity too much.

A critical part of the culture of the world of Cradle is shame. I'm using the word in the same sense as Ruth Benedict did in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

True shame cultures rely on external sanctions for good behavior, not, as true guilt cultures do, on an internalized conviction of sin. Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism. A man is shamed either by being openly ridiculed and rejected or by fantasying to himself that he has been made ridiculous. In either case, it is a potent sanction. But it requires an audience or at least a man’s fantasy of an audience. Guilt does not. In a nation where honor means living up to one’s own picture of oneself, a man may suffer from guilt though no man knows of his misdeed and a man’s feeling of guilt may actually be relieved by confessing his sin.

Benedict, 1946, p. 223

 

The sacred artists of Cradle live within an honor code of vengeance and shame, like many real-world human societies, both past and present. Justice is mostly of the vigilante variety, with your blood relations the only people you can really trust.

Another building block of the culture of Cradle is the natural hierarchy that results from the ranks of sacred artists. I call it a natural hierarchy because the ranks seem to be natural kinds. There really is something qualitatively different about an Iron artist compared to a Copper, and between all the other ranks as well. Unlike many such theories in our world, whether social, racial, occupational, or what have you, there is an essence of Ironness that underlies the social distinction.

However, those essences are also very meritocratic. Ranks are earned, through hard work and discipline, and above all, through competition. When you put all these things together, a shame culture with a social hierarchy built on real distinctions of ability and power, and the need to compete not only for social distinctions, but for power itself, you get unending war.

This last bit is perhaps the most interesting to me. Lindon's home in the Sacred Valley has the same shame culture as the world outside, but the power levels to be found within are far lower. Perhaps in compensation, it is also a far less brutal place to live. Not only is life easier there, but there are valuable materials and items available there. I'm genuinely curious why someone hasn't rolled in from the wilds outside and taken everything, because it would be easy.

I'm hoping this turns into a plot point later. It would be genuinely interesting to see why the most pleasant place we have seen so far that is also the most undeveloped in terms of sacred arts hasn't been sacked and looted. As for the rest of the world, it must be something very much like Hobbes' state of nature, although we haven't yet been to the Blackflame empire, purported bastion of civilization. I suppose we shall see.

I'm pretty happy I picked up Soulsmith, and I'm looking forward to volume 3.

My other book reviews

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

LinkFest 2016-03-26

Holy Saturday Edition

Social_Construction.jpg

Ruby Slippers

Gabriel Rossman makes a persuasive case that social construction is real, but the concept is mostly used by people who don't understand it, and have no sense of proportion.

How Does America "Reshore" Skills that have Disappeared?

The first couple of paragraphs of this article accurately describe what it is like to deal with offshore manufacturing in China, in my experience. The article is mostly about training workers to fill new "reshored" jobs, but the beginning of the article is my favorite.

The Author of the Martian Wrote Ready Player One Fan-Fiction, and now it's Canon

Yeah, this happened.

RIP Andy Grove

In 2010 I linked to an op-ed by Andy Grove on American manufacturing. I still think it is relevant. Requiescat in pace Andy.

Book Review: The Art of the Deal

Scott Alexander at SlateStarCodex offers up an absolutely brilliant analysis of Donald Trump's book. Go read it, right now. As something of an odd duck, Alexander sees a certain similarity in Trump also being something an odd duck. 

Trumpism after Trump

Ross Douthat sees dark years ahead for the Republican party after Trump. I'm still curious to see what happens when Bernie loses the nomination to Hillary Clinton. Some Bernie supporters seem to hate HRC only a little less than Trump. In October, I pondered whether Trump and Bernie would both end up doing third-party runs, which would put us in the same kind of four-way race that elected Woodrow Wilson. Now that I think about it, that could actually be the worst possible outcome.

Easter, Early Christians and Cliodynamics

Peter Turchin points to data for the Christianization of the Roman world that fits a logistic model.

The Three Tracks of Criminal Enterprise

The Three Tracks

Crash test dummies are the people who are too unambitious, stupid, impulsive or unreliable to ever be given serious responsibilities or achieving major power in a criminal organization. As a result, they are treated as totally expendable.

Middle management types are the solid earners for the organization...

The players are the top dogs. The ones who really make the power moves.

The prime examples used are the Sopranos and the Wire, but this categorization seems to be able to apply to many movies and television shows. Intuitively, it seems to apply to the hoods on the street too, but I try to avoid direct experience in that area.

h/t The Fourth Checkraise

The Conscientiousness Gap

A 2006 article from the the City Journal on the Marriage Gap between more educated and less educated women got me thinking. Especially these two parts:

According to the strength-in-numbers theory, then, two parents are better than one much the way two hands are better than one: they can accomplish more.

But this theory finally doesn’t explain all that much. If two parents are what make a difference, then why, when a divorced mother remarries, do her children’s outcomes resemble those of children from single-parent homes more than they do those from intact families? Why do they have, on average, lower school grades, more behavior problems, and lower levels of psychological well-being—even when a stepparent improves their economic standard of living?

And

Others take an alternative approach to the question of why children growing up with their own two married parents do better than children growing up without their fathers. It’s not marriage that makes the difference for kids, they argue; it’s the kind of people who marry. Mothers who marry and stay married already have the psychological endowment that makes them both more effective partners and more competent parents. After all, we’ve already seen that married mothers are more likely to be educated and working than single mothers; it makes sense that whatever abilities allowed them to write their Economics 101 papers or impress a prospective boss or husband also make them successful wives and mothers.

The first quotation was something I already knew. I had not yet thought deeply about it, but it cuts against both an primarily economic argument for stable nuclear families and a naive kind of magical thinking that pairing up two people and calling it a 'marriage' somehow makes the family function better. I'm not knocking the stepfamilies out there, it is just that I've never observed them to be quite the same as traditional families where the parents are alive and are married to each other. It was the second passage that really struck me, however. What if the difference between those who stay married and those who never get married or who are divorced and/or remarried is a stable causative factor that also affects family life?

My new favorite explanation, conscientiousnes, seems to fit well. After all, what is C?

Conscientious personality (high ‘C’) – an ability to take the long view, work hard with self-discipline and persevere in the face of difficulty

This seems pretty clearly related to both getting and staying married, and the ability to raise children well. It is further strengthened by the heritability of C. Conscientious children will tend to behave better and get better grades, all else being equal. This seems a much better explanation than the author's, which is to posit that better educated women believe in the institution of marriage for raising children. If we are really looking at education as the variable, I would wager that more education tends to undermine belief in the value of marriage, which is the kind of thing the GSS is good for looking into.  However, having more education is more and more correlated with high C as time goes on, so we find that more educated women are more and more likely to be married and stay married, regardless of their beliefs on the subject. 

Concealed Carry in Establishments that Serve Alcohol

I had been thinking about this topic since it came up in July after Gov. Brewer signed the bills. Since the laws take effect tomorrow, it gives me the excuse to think about it again.

If anyone had asked my opinion, which they did not, I would have agreed with Zanzucchi that firearms and alcohol do not mix. It is unfortunate that the State legislature felt that this would be a good idea, but the thing is done. I don't respect the NRA for the same reason I don't respect the ACLU, they both take a good thing too far.

That being said, having considered the topic, I'm not worried about an upswing in drunken altercations involving firearms. The thing is, this law applies only to people who have already completed the process for acquiring a concealed weapons permit. In the State of Arizona, this requires one to take the required training class, be fingerprinted, and have a background check for felony convictions and other prohibitors.

The training class is shorter than it used to be, which is another thing we can thank the NRA for, but at least there is a class that presents both safe gun handling and the the relevant laws one must follow.

This seems like it isn't that much work, but in reality it selects for people with higher than average intelligence, law abidingness, and conscientiousness, which are pretty much what you want in people who are armed. For proof of this, we need only consult the statistics collected by the Concealed Weapons Permit Unit to see that in the last 15 years, 138,348 permits have been issued in the State of Arizona, and 972 have been revoked. That comes to 65 acts per year that result in revocation (mostly conviction of felonies or domestic violence) versus 29.059 violent crimes last year in Arizona (with a population of 6,500,180).

On a per year, per capita basis, that gives us 47 revocable acts per year per 100,000 permit holders versus 447 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2008. That is an order of magnitude difference, pretty darn good in sociology. People who get concealed carry permits are much more law-abiding (and less crazy since that is a disqualifying condition) than other Arizona residents on average. This is clearly a good thing. It would be undeniably better if the rate were even smaller, but this is what we find.